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Monthly Archives: June 2012

The War Within

I’m a ham. Not literally–though my gut speaks to the contrary–but in the sense that I love attention. I’m a theatre kid who loves telling stories and acting and generally entertaining people. It’s a big passion of mine. And it’s why I turned to writing books. It gave me another outlet to entertain people.

All of that is to setup the fact that I’m being torn between Traditional Publishing and Self-Publishing.

Because I love attention and recognition. And I’m sure I’m other -Tions as well. Call me vain or self centered, but it’s in my nature.
So when it comes to the two forms of publishing, Traditional speaks to that nature above the other. Can you get attention and recognition from Self-Publishing? There’s no doubt you can. Amanda Hoking has both. But even she moved over to Traditional Publishing when given the chance.
Why?
Because there is just something about having that physical book available on a physical shelf. There is something about an Editor saying, “I really like this book and want to get it out into stores for others to read.” And for me, a sense of legitimacy.
My brother, also a writer, is firmly in the Self-Publishing camp. His arguments are that we don’t need Publishing Houses and Editors to say whether or not our work is good enough to be out there. He revels in the fact that the middle man is getting thrown out and the artist can directly reach their audience.
I can see the allure. The power to succeed or fail is in your hands. The turn around for your work is faster and the amount of money you can (potentially) make far out paces that of a traditionally published author.
But then, your level of obscurity is far greater in my opinion.
The amount of Self-Published work out on Amazon is staggering. But let’s be honest, the bulk of it should have been left on the author’s computer. And the more we go digital, the greater the disparity of good work to bad will increase. And the harder it will be to get noticed.
Is it still hard to get noticed as a Traditionally Published author? Absolutely. But at least I will have significantly lowered the pool I’m competing with.
You see, it’s not about the money to me. I want to entertain people. I want to make people feel something. Make them laugh or cry or get angry. I want to be at a point that I’m showing up at conventions to talk at a panel and have people dressed as my characters. Where forums pop up and debate whether or not my character could be Batman–of course they can’t, by the way.
You can look at it this way. My choices are to sit in the slush pile and never see the light of day. Or sit in the caverns of Amazon wallowing in obscurity. Most people would go for the latter. Me, I’m going for the former. Because it’s more important to me. And if all else fails, Amazon and Self-Publishing will still be there.
What will I have lost?

The End is Nigh

The final chapters of my novel are coming on fast. And I’m starting to feel a bit lost in my own story. Which is a strange place to be in when I’ve outlined the story. But so much has changed as I’ve been writing that I feel a disconnect between what has made it onto paper, and what was originally planned.

This puts me at a crossroads. One part of me just tells me to finish it and clean it up later. Which I would tell anyone else to do. And a piece of advice you’d read pretty much everywhere.

But since I’m hurtling toward the climax, the other side says I should stop. Go back and read my entire book up to this point — still no editing, just note taking — and get a clear idea of what my end goal is. Specifically some of the finer details.

Probably a bad idea. Considering how close I am.

Ultimately it comes down to butt in chair, hands on keyboard (for me that should be pen to paper). Taking my own advice is the best solution.

I’m almost there. There is no intention of giving up. Just the intention of having a solid foundation to edit off of.

You are the chosen one

Being the chosen one. It’s one of the oldest tropes in storytelling. And I’m growing sick of it. I feel that it’s an easy way out to get your character into the thick of it. “Oh, I need to propel my character into the story and give them motivation. Easy. They don’t have any other choice because they’re the chosen one!”

Sorry. That’s too easy.

Why don’t we attempt to push ourselves as writers. There has to be another way to setup your protagonist in your story. And I would imagine the other choices are far more interesting. There is a perfect example of this.

Original Star Wars trilogy vs the Prequals.

Luke wasn’t a chosen one. He was a farm boy with big dreams. Obi-Wan didn’t come to his house one-day and say “You are the one destined to defeat the Empire! Go forth and do great things.” Kind of the opposite. Obi-Wan was trying to hide Luke from Vadar. If anything, he was trying to keep Luke away from it all.

It was the unfortunate deaths of his Uncle and Aunt that forced their hand. So they buggered off Tatooine. Did they leave to go confront the Empire? No. Let’s be honest. Obi-Wan was trying to squirrel Luke off to another planet. Too bad that planet got blowed up.

All of this created a much more interesting story and character arc for Luke. We get to discover his true past and connection with the big story over time. Which creates a more engaging story.

The Prequals stomped all over this. Anakin was the Chosen One! And so he was just pushed along by everyone around him. The motivation wasn’t really his own. It was everyone else around him. All of the choices Anakin made were coerced out of him by others. And it made the character fall flat to everyone.

I won’t get into how this all could have been fixed for the prequals. There are enough blogs that deal with “what ifs.” And all of them are better than what Lucas did.

But I think the two trilogies illustrate my point.

Anakin was handed a destiny.

Luke made one.

Don’t jump the gun

One of my favorite sites is Reddit. For those not familiar, it is a news aggregate that is user supported. People find cool links to news articles or other blogs and submit them. One aspect of Reddit is being able to submit a text link. Basically like a forum post.

One particular subreddit, r/write–a reddit section geared to a specific topic–is geared to people posting their work for critique. I check it out from time to time but never really post there myself. Mostly because I’ve noticed a trend there that I don’t particularly enjoy.

Many people submit something and say this:

Here is my first chapter, should is it good? Should I keep going?

My initial reaction to every one of these is to say, “No.” Even without reading it. I understand a lot of these writers are insecure about their work. I understand that they are looking for validation before spending a lot of time on a piece of work. But there are two things I believe in that would help them greatly.

First off I believe you’re better off finishing a terrible book than writing and stopping one. Because with the former, you have something to work with. Bad writing can be tweaked and nuanced into good writing. It takes thousands of man-hours of writing bad first drafts in order to be able to write good first drafts. Which leads me to the second point.

Of course it isn’t good. It’s your first draft. And showing it off to complete strangers on the Internet isn’t going to get you anywhere. Some will stroke your ego. More are going to smell blood and rip you to pieces. Find a local critique group to meet with and get a focused, well informed opinion.

Basically, I feel these people are jumping the gun. They wrote a few hundred, maybe a few thousand words, and need to show everyone right away.

Stop.

Take a breath.

Tweak the work over a week and do a few edits. Then show it to some other local writers. Take their notes and then do some more tweaking. There is a reason they say writing is rewriting.

Prologues and why I hate them.

My friend Matthew Quinn got on my case about having not updated in nearly three weeks. I didn’t feel I had much to say lately, so I didn’t feel like padding things out just for the sake of it. Luckily, a recent conversation with some friends of mine gave me a good topic.

Prologues.

My current stance on Prologues is that if they are that important, just make it Chapter One. I don’t particularly see the different between naming something a Prologue and Chapter One.

During the discussion with my friends I mentioned that I’ve known people to skip Prologues. They were all appalled by this. Even claiming that they’ve never met anyone who has. But I think that’s more of an indication of the types of readers we associate ourselves with, as well as the types of books we read.

It has been my experience that Epic Fantasy and SciFi novels, on the whole, use the Prologue often. While more literary works stick to just chapters. But, I may be wrong about that.

So, why use one?

I did a little research and found these answers on Foremost Press.

1. To outline the backstory quickly and economically, saving the author from having to resort to flashbacks or ruses such as conversations or memories to explain the background to the reader. This is commonly done in science fiction and fantasy to show why a certain quest is being undertaken or what will happen in the future. The prologue is a better option than a first chapter bogged down in detail.

2. To hook the reader and provide the story question right up front, giving them a reason to keep turning the pages to find out the answer. Quite often the prologue relates to a scene near the end of the story, and the story itself then shows what has led up to this moment. When is this justified? Perhaps when you want to introduce your characters in a more leisurely fashion, and your reader’s experience with ‘meeting’ them will be enhanced by some sort of foreshadowing of what is to come.

And the first point kind of rankles me. It smells of info dumping which is something I try to avoid. I would urge anyone to find a way to sprinkle that information throughout the book in a natural way. Remember, you’re writing a work of fiction, not a history book.

The second point isn’t much further from the first. If you’re first chapter can’t provide a reasonable hook, then I would venture to say that you’re story is lacking to begin with.

Personally, if I were to ever use a Prologue, it would be to show a scene that is removed from the actual novel. Either by time or distance. Where the information provided is fun and supports the book, but isn’t necessary to know. I feel you should be able to skip it and still know what is going on in the book.

But, maybe I’m in the minority there. Maybe people love Prologues. They can’t get enough of them! And I’m some crotchety young man who wants to deny the reader the satisfaction of reading the first chapter titled Prologue.

/shrug

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