Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Fixing it in revision

I'm a plotter. When I start writing a story, I've already worked out the sequence of events, the character arcs, etc., to some degree of detail. There's always room for changes within those plots and outlines because it's not unusual for characters to inform me that they're going to misbehave. Things generally stick to the outline, though.

Well, except for Hawks & Rams. That one went straight off the rails and tore cross-country for a few miles. The outlines bore only a slight resemblance to the first draft.

Fix it in revision
That's what I said while I was writing it. Now it's time to do it.

Scale to fit
Since I was coming off writing Disciple, I wrote out four different plot/character arcs for H&R. That sort of complexity isn't at all unusual for a big series of fantasy novels.

Hawks & Rams is much smaller, though. I wasn't sure before I wrote it, but now I know that it really is a novella -- not a novel. I know which character has to make the big choice at the climax, and how he gets there. While the other characters have their own trajectories, they don't make the personal changes that my main character does.

Therefore, I only need to lay out one character arc and one plot. I know what paths the other characters will follow, but it's not the standard inciting incident, build to a climax and then resolution that my main character faces. The main plot -- the series of events that drive Heathric toward his personal crisis -- needs some improvement too...

Raise the tension
More challenges, more complications, more tension are always better. Well, within reason. Toward the end of Apocalypto (terrible movie, sadly) the climactic scene for one character consists of her being trapped in a well, which is rapidly flooding due to the rain, balancing one screaming small child on her head (because the water's neck deep) while simultaneously giving birth to the second that she's carrying... I was just waiting for piranha to show up. For a kitchen sink to fall on her. You know, something that would actually be a challenge. (/sarcasm)

Raise the tension without tipping over into ridiculousness. It helps to go through the sequence of events with a fresh mind (because you put the story aside for a few months and worked on something else) and re-consider why things played out that way. What would've been uglier/nastier/messier? What would've been completely unexpected? What would've been ridiculous, so that you know where your boundaries are?

Trying to write a query letter for the story and getting feedback on that can help too -- a fresh pair of eyes and questions from a different perspective can bring up ideas you wouldn't have thought of.

Devil's in the details
The trickiest part of revisions is, of course, all the little things that shift when events change. People are at a different emotional point, they say different things, topics drop out of conversation that needed to be brought up for something down the line... get out the fine toothed comb!

Have you fixed a story plot recently? What did it need?

IN OTHER NEWS: I've landed my first speaking gig! MRW is hosting a half-day writing workshop on October 26th, and I will be talking about world-building and character development.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The brutality of a muse

There's been more drama than usual in my personal life since my father had his stroke. He's home and doing well -- back to knitting -- but he's got a noticeable gap in his mid-range memory. He has no trouble with short-term memory tests, as long as he maintains his focus (we're all absent-minded types, in my family,) and his long-term memory is fine, but he honestly forgets things like the trip planned for late next month or that there are no cigarettes in the house for a good reason. The writerly side of my mind has been taking notes, of course.

Another source of drama that's somewhat relevant to my writing life is that I -- acquired? -- a muse. I'm not sure what the right verb is; that's like saying I acquired a bolt of lightning. My muse wasn't so random as lightning, though. Unexpected, but not random.

Classical Greek muse, courtesy of sxc.hu
If you're not familiar with the term, a muse is a person who incites artistic inspiration. The most recent fictive treatment of muses that I recall was a storyline that Neil Gaiman included in the Sandman series. In that story, a man was holding one of the Greek muses captive and using her to fuel his career. Sandman freed her, and punished the man with such a flood of inspiration that it amounted to a curse. It amounted to madness.

My experience with this muse has been closer to Sandman's curse than anything else. I had this idea that drawing inspiration from people would be a happy, exciting process -- rather like the brainstorming I did with fellow writers while at Viable Paradise.

No, this verges on frightening. Obsessive. Every thought, however tangentially related to my muse, throws out tendrils and sprouts into a story idea, like accelerated grapevines intent on choking my mind. Genre doesn't seem to matter: sci-fi, dark fantasy, urban fantasy... dammit, I don't even like urban fantasy*... And while that's difficult enough to wrestle with, I dread its end and the wound my muse will leave.

Dread and crave; what a peculiar masochism creativity entails.

Most of the posts I have seen about inspiration talk about drawing it from other books/films/music, or personal experiences that set off "what if" cascades. I can't remember anything about real-life muses. So if you have any experiences to share, I'd love to hear them.

*I kid you not, a few thoughts about my muse in order to write this and an urban fantasy idea spins out of nowhere. Had to stop and jot it down, since it came with enough details that it might work. Not all of them sprout that far on their own, but they all come with this urgent potential.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Indie Life: No guarantee of success, but...

Welcome to Indie Life -- the second Wednesday of the month! Time to talk about the realities of self-publishing in the middle of the ongoing sea change that ebooks have wrought.

Common question #43
Another question that often turns up when writers are looking at self-publishing: can I make a living at this? how long does it take to start making money?

From what I've seen, after almost a year of doing this, the answer involves a few factors
  • do you have a supportive family? Do they read your genre?
  • do you have friends online and/or IRL who read your genre?
  • how effective is your advertising?
  • do you have a backlist? (more than one publication?)
  • what genre are you writing in?
  • oh, and is your story any good?
Can you earn money by self-publishing? Yes. Will you earn back the money you invested in editing, cover art, etc.? Maybe. Will you do that and be able to pay your phone bill/rent/etc. with your earnings? That's a bigger maybe. Will you be able to quit your day job? ... well... uncertain shrug...

Will you earn money hand over fist like E.L. James or Hugh Howey? That's pretty much a no. Though it does happen, the statistical outliers are the ones that get touted as proof that self-publishing is the land of milk and honey. (Needless to say, it's not.)

Got supportive family and friends?
More importantly, socially active family and friends. Word of mouth is the best, but hardest to get, advertising. The support you get here really is priceless.

Got effective advertising?
Do your homework when picking an advertising venue or promotional service. Check the Promotional section at Preditors & Editors. Check the Bewares forum at Absolute Write. Information about promotional companies is spottier than for freelance editors, agents, or predatory book "publishers" but it is out there.

If you're considering buying a spot on book recommendation sites, look for the ones with acceptance standards and high traffic. BookBub, for example, has been reported to get good ROI, but they have minimum review/star ratings requirements and limited acceptance rates. I don't even qualify to apply to BookBub yet.

Backlist and genre
Having several published titles implies that you write well enough to keep publishing, that you're going to keep writing, and it offers readers a block of material to dive into. We all know how fun it is to devour a series of novels by an author you just realized you like.

Some genres do seem to work better for self-publishers. The big example is erotica, both straight and gay. Romance moves a lot of self-pub... but romance moves a lot of titles anyway. Urban fantasy seems to still be going strong, as do YA and the new NA designation.

Quality writing
Speaks for itself, and this is a whole 'nother blog post that I'm not going to write today. I'll also skip the part where I rant about how well crap sells (because crap does sell, and everyone needs to get over it.)

Be ready for the long haul
That's what self-publishing is. Don't expect big sales numbers. Stop checking your Amazon ranking and keep writing. If you can earn more money selling widgets, do that too.

I'm involved in the self-publishing community over at Absolute Write and of the people who regularly post their monthly sales, I'm consistently at the bottom. Yes, it's discouraging. Yes, I'm envious. Yes, I notice that people who post numbers like mine tend to disappear.

...but I haven't disappeared. Stop the violins. Let's get back to work.

Yes, Disciple, Part III is on sale now! 
More samples? Part IPart II

The gritty fantasy romance will continue...
Part IV (of VI) to follow in 2014.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Various announcements

Disciple, Part III is on sale!
I have survived the launching process, it would seem (pats self looking for wounds.) The official announcement post is here and I have a topic for next week's Indie Life.

Halfway through publishing Disciple -- wow, it feels like it's been a long year! I will definitely be dividing my life into "before publishing" and "after publishing." Will I be able to keep up the pace? My writing production is down substantially for this year, so I don't know. At least Disciple's finished and only needs polishing.

Next up: polishing and preparing Fire's First Kiss for my Kickstarter supporters. Hopefully I will finish this untitled short story I'm working on. Then... hmm, we'll see.

QueryCon at Unicorn Bell begins Monday, September 9th. For the first week, there will be interviews, posts about querying and submissions, and introductions of our judges. The second week, submissions of queries for critique will open up. Send yours in for posting or drop by to crit other writers' queries. Third week is the contest.

There will be two Google hangouts to talk about queries and anything else you like -- Charity will be hosting the west coast hangout on the 11th at 8pm (Western). I will be hosting the east coast hangout on the 13th at 8pm (Eastern).
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