I’m writing this post on my phone because for some reason, my computer has decided it hates WordPress. I’d rather post something as opposed to not. I think it’s important I post on schedule, so here I am, but I do ask for some leinency for lack of pictures and any other errors.
A while back, I posted about chracter sliders. I mentioned that characters need to grow, but today I want to warn against characters who only have a high value in one category.
I don’t think charaters like this work. If you have a character who is amazingly competent, it won’t matter if he’s unsympathetic or not proactive.
Some may argue characters have to be symoasympat, and I like those characters, but sympathy alone isn’t enough.
I wanted to try and explain this with a character study, but I simply can’t think of a character who only has one high-value characteristic. I’m honestly atill thinking, and I can’t name one.
So let’s assume you all agree with me that characters need to be sympathetic; what else should they be? Well, that’s the luxury of choice.
A proactive character would, I think, inspire characters and motivate readers to keep trying. This would be a character like Naruto.
A competent character would challenge the reader. He would force the reader to keep up while simultaneously frustrating readers with his tendency to not act. Doctor Strange is a good example here. He’s totally motivated by selfish reasons. By choosing to take action and help defend Earth, the reader is satisfied and excited by his involvement in the fight.
Why are two mandatory?
Well, let’s again assume most feeling characters just be proactive.
If he doesn’t do anything, the reader will lose interest, feeling as though the character won’t ever answer the call to action
If the reader is also incompetent, the reader will put the story down because even if that character decided to take action, he’d probably fail.
My point is a character can’t just be sympathetic, proactive, OR competent. There needs to be a second element to create tension during the rising action and satisfaction during the climax.
What are your thoughts? Can you name any one-dimensional characters?
I’m sitting at an airport getting ready to see the family. As I considered what to talk about (I’m a discovery writer at heart, so mosts of my posts are organically conceived if not written), I came across a post on FB about George Lucas and how he had to fight to get Star Wars out to the people. THAT post reminded me of a conversation I had with my sister recently.
I think if I die, and anyone cares to throw out a quote from me, I’d like it to be this:
Failure is a choice; success is an inevitability.
At any point in time, an individual is free to decide he or she no longer wants to pursue those goals. The reasons can be disappointment or a new opportunity that’s of more interest, but it is the individual who chooses to stop.
But what happens to those who decided not to give up?
Here are a few of the (perhaps a bit less known) stories of those who didn’t give up. My source for this is storypick.com, where you can find the full story here.
Brian Acton was turned down by Twitter and Facebook before he and Jan Koum built WhatsApp.
Steven Spielberg was actually rejected by USC’s School of Cinematic Arts because of his C average. He took an unpaid intern job at Universal and waited for his chance. I think it worked out.
There are more stories. I’d be interested to hear yours (if you feel you’ve arrived) or another. There are a lot I’m aware of, so I’m particularly interested in stories people may not already know, but that doesn’t preclude you from placing whatever story of inspiration you wish in the comments below. I’d love to hear them.
Why is it, in stories we demand characters who perceiver through failure, but fail to recognize the lesson that teaches us. Anything worth having is worth working for.
I’ve published two books so far. I’m not ever going to stop writing. I’ll either make it, or I won’t, but I believe I’ll succeed in time if I just keep at it. I believe the same of you.
If you choose to let go of this path, don’t choose because you’ve decided to be a failure. Instead, choose to move on to something new. If you look at it that way, you weren’t a failure, you simply found something more worth your time. But if the thing you’re after means everything, I implore you to be willing to risk everything to get it. That’s my point of view.
So strive. Fight. Work. Do so knowing it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. You will get there, so long as you keep working.
As I mentioned yesterday, The Journals of Bob Drifter (2nd Edition) is live (and currently that ebook is only 99 cents). What it took to get there is something that frustrated me. All my life, I’ve believed in learning. I think the best way to learn is to teach. My mentor (hi Chip!) told me the obligation of someone who is taught is to “pass on what you’ve learned as freely as it was given.”
Well I paid for what I learned. I paid in time, and a lot of money I didn’t need to spend. So what I’d like to do is save a lot of you a lot of money.
First, the funny part: I thought my design skill would be a great asset to the process. Well, for the paperback, it was. But the ebook was another story. You see, e-readers aren’t design readers, they’re text readers. So if the reason you’re pay anywhere between $200 and $2,000 to publish your book is, “I never designed before,” you needn’t worry.
I’m actually not against people paying the $200 price. What you’re buying isn’t the fancy design, it’s the time you could spend writing. I, on the other hand, don’t have enough capital to pay for something I know how to do myself. If you need to save money, this is one heck of an easy way to do it. You can publish your book for free, saving that money to do things like pay a better cover artist, edit the book again, or invest in tables at conventions.
The basic trick of it is, is to think about your book the same way you would about formatting an essay. I’m still figuring out the best way to get that table of contents working, but I found a way around that too.
First, if you use Pages, just know most people don’t like it. If you want to know how to do this using Word, I can’t tell you. I bought a Mac. It has Pages. It’s what I use. But, if you’re a Mac/Pages guy like me, and you want to publish your book, it’s far easier than I made it.
Design Trick 1: Use page breaks. I use them between chapters, and this is a very common thing. Doing this allows you to edit in previous chapters while guaranteeing the next chapter will still start on a new page. So, when you’re done writing one chapter, don’t hit enter until you get to a new pages. Instead, go to the top menu bar, select Insert > Page Break.
Design Trick 2: Use a heading or create one. I won’t go into how to create one in this blog because I’m trying to keep it short, but it’s not hard. You want to use a heading though because that will make your table of contents clickable. (I also won’t go into my back door to a clickable TOC. I found a thing that works, but I want to find the tool that makes it easy.) You want to do this though. When you type up the chapter’s name, highlight it. On the right side of your window, you should see a “document” panel. If you don’t, click the “Document” icon on the top-right of your menu bar. Once you see it, go to the “Style” tab. At the top of that tab is a dropdown box. Use this to select whatever heading you want. Pages has at least three pre-made headings. If you really want to make your own, just format it however you want, and click the “+” sign in that dropdown box. Name it whatever you want, and then use that item for the rest of your book.
Design Trick 3: Photos. This was the part that really took me a while to figure out. I would “place” my photos, but then use the wrap text feature. Placing photos (going to the top menu bar, selecting “Insert > Choose” is absolutely the right way to do that. Then, click on your photo. Get the size the way you want. Once that’s done, click on the photo again just to make sure it’s selected. That will change the panel to your right to the photo’s options. You’ll have three tabs: “style,” “image,” and “arrange.” Click the “arrange” tab. Ensure that “Move With Text” is selected.
Then, go to the “Text Wrap” dropdown menu and, believe it or not design folks, select “In line with text.” This is frankly counter to everything every designer was ever taught, but if you don’t do this, your photos will look skewed and out of place. If you want to center the image or align it right, click just to the right of the photo. Make sure your cursor is blinking to the left of the image, then click “center” or “right” just as if you were moving text. That will make sure your images stay high quality and where you want them. If you want the image anywhere but the left, center, or right of the frame, I’m afraid I can’t help you there. That said, I’ve never seen anyone want to place their images in those sorts of places. My books have chapter icons and “scene-break” icons. Those are all centered.
Design Trick 4: Export as a Word document. Then upload.
The point is, KDP has made their ebook conversion process so that you don’t actually have to do much more than you would if you were formatting a high-school essay. If you need help, just shoot me an email or PM on Twitter or Facebook, and I’ll be happy to help. Just make sure that you only pay money for design services because you have the extra money or lack the time. (I’d make the time if I were you, paying someone to do this simple a task is just throwing money away). I’m not a master at it yet, and I may have a glitch or two to work out, but the point is I can go to one more convention a year than I previously could because I don’t have to budget $200-$400 for design.
The main reason I wanted to do a 2nd edition was to gain more control over the price and make it easier for people to purchase. I also wanted to be able to have electronic e-sales. Making this decision allowed me to do another editorial pass. In truth, I did three.
By my count, that means I’ve done about 41 total passes on this book. This isn’t to say I’ve rewritten it, I’m proud to say I only did about three “full” revisions. These were drafts where I changed or rearranged content. The rest were proofreading drafts, and that’s where I want to focus my attention.
There’s this term, minimum viable product. I’ll be honest, I hate that term. To me, it connotes, “get it printed as quickly as possible, and don’t worry about the quality.” Perhaps I take that term too far, but I’ve read work completed under that banner, and to be frank, it never works out well. The typos and issues pull me out of the story and away from the plot.
However, the other side of that coin is even worse. You see, at some point, you have to let it go. This is why I hold so firmly to my process. It’s the balance I’ve found between ensuring the best product I can get to my readers while ensuring I actually release something.
Too many people ever finish a book or never publish it because they want it to be perfect. Here’s the brutal truth: You’ll never be perfect. Of the 41 times I’ve read Bob Drifter, I’ve never failed to find a rather significant number of issues. It’s simply going to happen when one writes 133,000 words. Now, this version is FAR cleaner than the last, and it should be. I’ve been told that the industry standard for “number of errors” in a book is 3% (author and editor friends, I’d appreciate confirmation of this). That means I could theoretically have more than 3,900 typos in Bob drifter, and I’d still be “within standard.”
I never counted, but even after paying my editor to do a pass on the book, I found an embarrassing number of grammar errors and typos. I even noticed a minor continuity issue. (It appears Richard used to own a house that changed color. I fixed that.) I assure you, my editor did a fine job. I promise I gave my best effort the other 40 times I went over the book. The simple fact of the matter is the book will never be “perfect.” I have to give you readers the best, high-quality product I can in a timely manner. That means taking a breath, and letting the story get out into the world at some point.
I don’t in any way agree with the philosophy of “just get the product out.” Those who disagree with me are welcome to, and you can even comment if you wish. This is simply my opinion on a common topic of discussion in the industry.
What I do support is the idea that you have to, at some point, release a book.
What I recommend:
Develop a plan, and hold to it. I’ve mentioned my plan a few times in a few different blogs, but because I can’t think of any one to refer you to, I’ll just go over it.
Discovery draft: get the story written.
First draft: Fill in holes. Flesh out the plot. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors. (This usually takes me between 3-7 “passes.”)
Alpha draft: Get alpha readers’ feedback. Take information under advisement and address concerns. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors. (This time it usually takes me 2-5 “passes.”)
Editorial draft: Sara gets her hands on the product and provides her developmental edits. I take those recommendations into consideration and make appropriate changes. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors. (The remainder of these “read-throughs” usually take between 1-3 passes.)
Beta draft: Send the draft out to the target audience. Apply their feedback. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors.
Copyediting draft: This one goes back to Sara. She looks at the structure and grammar. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors.
Proofreading draft: The last draft before I send it to publish. Simply read out loud until I can’t find an error.
Proof draft: When I get my proof (digital or physical), I read it out loud, making any changes I catch. I don’t repeat the process, I simply correct what I catch.
Is this too much for you? That’s OK, you can’t minimize. I wouldn’t be angry at someone who doesn’t do “read out loud” passes until the copyediting draft.
Arguments against my way: “What do you pay an editor for?”
I’m glad you ask. I pay Sara to catch what I miss. The more errors I blatantly ignore or don’t bother to look for, the more likely she is to miss something. I’m sure Sara would much rather I send her my best than if I send her a group of random fragments for her to polish into a book. If I did that to her, I may as well give her credit as a co-author. She’s the editor, but I’m the writer. It’s my job to give her my best product, and her job to make it better.
However, once I finish my process, I let the book go. I haven’t even looked at Sojourn, even though it’s not even scheduled to be turned in until later this winter. I followed my process, and I trust it. I’m sure people will note errors, and I’ll note them and offer my thanks to any who tell me about them, but I did my best with the time I gave myself to develop the story.
This is the process that works for me. You can use it, use your own, or use mine to develop something new. The point is, give your best effort. Don’t expect your editors to take your “least” efforts and make it stand out, but don’t edit a 30,000-word story 30,000 times and take years to release what should come out in a matter of months. (I’m delaying my releases because of a marketing and momentum plan, but those products will be finished well before my “deadlines.”)
A note: Please don’t feel insulted. Perhaps you have a different definition of “minimum viable product.” I’m happy to hear it, though I’ll probably still disagree, it doesn’t make you wrong any more than it makes me right. Like I said, find what works for you. The point is, give your products the love you want your readers to give those products, but remember they can’t love the books at all if you never publish.
What I hope is this post motivates you to publish that book you’ve edited 40 times. Get that story out in the world because you worked hard on it. If you’ve just finished the first draft of a product, do the story a favor and give it a few passes to make sure it’s the best it can be. Perhaps if they called it “most timely viable product,” I’d be more willing to accept it, but that’s not the case.
I hope this motivates you either way. I’m very eager to hear editors’ and authors’ opinions on this matter.
As November approaches, which is a pretty big month for me, I’ve seen quite a few NaNoWriMo posts, and that got me thinking. I’ve written some 10 manuscripts in my life, and I’ve never once participated in NaNoWriMo. I’m not going to participate actively this year either. However, that doesn’t in any way mean I don’t appreciate it.
The spirt of November is to get people writing. I have quite a few conversations with people who say they want to be writers, but sure enough, whenever I ask what they’re working on, they never do. NaNoWriMo is a beautiful idea designed to force people who say they want to write to actually write.
When I’m drafting (the portion of the writing process most directly related to NaNoWriMo), I end up writing at least 1,000 words a day, and I average 2,000 on the weekend. So let’s see, that would equate to about 38,000 in a month. So I can’t proclaim I write 50K or have ever written 50K in one month, but I feel confident I’ve done it. At one point while drafting New Utopia, I’d written 10K in a single day just to see if I could. New Utopia is a ways down the road as that’ll need extensive revisions. The point is, I commit to writing everyday. Oddly enough, that makes me think of Christmas or one of those heritage month celebrations.
I honestly love Christmas. It is, in fact, my favorite holiday, but I promise there’s a correlation. I get upset during heritage month celebrations because they always feel like pretense to me, which is offensive. It feels like, “Today is the day we’re going to acknowledge that people of different races, nations, or sexual orientations are important.” Meanwhile I stand there and wonder why we can’t just be respectful every day of the year? Why can’t we carry on the spirt of Christmas all year?
Do I claim to be perfect? HA! Not remotely. However, I do make a serious effort to be generous whenever possible. To me, generosity is the spirit of the holiday known as Christmas. I also happen to feel personally that it was the day my savior was born, but that’s a different subject.
I also try my best to actually ignore differences. At work, I’m very unconcerned with what color you are, where you’re from, or who you sleep with. All I care about is your ability to perform your job. I love culture. Maybe not “experiencing” so much, but certainly “understanding” it, so I’m prone to asking blunt and endless questions. If I meet someone who’s been to or from another country, I tend to pepper them with questions. I remember when a dear friend of mine became Vegan. I was amused on one degree, but also curious. You see, culture is what makes each of us special, but I’m a firm believer that when someone points out differences, you’re creating segments. So I make it a point to focus on what we all have in common (the work).
So here comes NaNoWriMo, and a bunch of people will sit down and finally start writing. (Hopefully they’re writing their submission for The Power of Words.)
My feeling, personal though it may be, is that NaNoWriMo takes away excuses. It’s beautiful. I’ve never needed a reason to sit down and write, but if this is what gets young writers in front of keyboards, then I love it.
No, I’m not going to try to write 50K, but I am going to try and get another draft of Repressed done (getting Bob’s second edition on shelves takes priority). That brings me to the spirit of NaNoWriMo, and in that spirit, I offer any first-time participants this advice.
Commit to a word count, but start small in the beginning: This is all the more important if you’re cold starting. Someone who has a few books written or has at least grown to writing every day probably don’t need to worry about this step, but beware overextending. If you say you have to write 1,700 words a day, and that first day you only manage 700, you’ll feel defeated and quit. You will gain speed and word count as you write every day. Don’t panic or quite if you only get a few hundred words out the first week. The more you write, the more momentum you’ll generate and be able to write. I promise!
Write, but just write: I see my students fall into a trap. They want the thing they’re writing to be perfect on the first try. That’s impossible. I’m releasing the second edition of Bob Drifter and even that won’t be perfect, but it’ll be better. There’s more to it, but the relevant part of this is that when I draft, I don’t revise or edit. I just go. It took me, oh, I’d say two years to learn to let go of the desire to be “perfect” when I draft. The first book I ever finished writing went through 21 additional complete rewrites. Each time, I felt more and more defeated. There were many problems, but my biggest hangup was that I kept thinking, “This draft will be perfect.” I don’t think writers ever finish a book; they just run into deadline or realize they have to let go. I leave it to you to decide how many revisions and edits you should do, but if you never write the darn thing in the first place, you’ll never publish anyway.
Make every month NaNoWriMo: Never stop. I don’t draft nearly as much as I write, but I always push forward. Lately, I’ve done a better job of committing to a project. I finished Sojourn before I worked on Bob’s second edition. When I sent that to the editor, I drafted Repressed, and even accidentally drafted The Worth of Words. Now that I have Bob back, I’ll get it on shelves (hopefully by the end of November), and then I’ll turn my full attention to Repressed. But even when I send that out, I’ll shift right over to Worth of Words. My point is, I’m always working. I motivate myself by finishing projects, and having that project I want to get to planned. It sort of tempts me. You see, I’m excited to write Betrayed (the sequel to Caught). That means I can’t wait to finish those other projects so I can get to this one. The more you do, the more you will do. So have fun out there. I may not be with you in function, but I’m absolutely with you in spirit.
I want to touch on two things that really stood out to me. There’s really a lot to glean from that book, and I honestly recommend it, especially for those working on improving their outlining skills.
Write first. Explain later: I’m a fan of long fiction, and, to be honest, I don’t know how many people abide by this rule AFTER they’re established. But it’s still a valid point. Writers feel like they have to really get their readers to connect with those characters, so they tend to want to draw out a moment or give back story. What that usually ends up becoming is a bunch of exposition that just bogs the story down. I saw this in practice with my Beta Readers for Sojourn in Captivity. Most of them liked the story (I may even go so far as to say loved it), but to an email they all said the beginning was too much. I wanted to establish Elele’s relationship with her family, her spoiled upbringing, and her skill with math. I also wanted to do some world building. This only served to give my readers a large terminology lesson before the book started moving. I tell my students this many times: The delete key is almost always the answer to your problems. What’s now the first segment, dives right in. I take the time to explain a few things here or there, but I start the story with the tension and let it build to her confrontation with the recognized god of her alien race. My editor liked it much better.
That brings me to the second point of discussion I appreciated in Bell’s book.
Happy people in Happy land: That’s what he calls an overdone part of a book. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about that segment. What it gave me was food for thought. The entire book is essentially about keeping the tension and conflict going. With no tension or conflict in the beginning (i.e. happy people in happy land), what concern should the reader have for the characters? Why should they keep reading.
Here’s my example: Do you go for walks? I do. Do you stop randomly and stare at the window of a quite home? I don’t. But what do you tend to do if you hear screaming and shouting? See where I’m going?
I thought about that segment of the book and felt the desire to argue. What I ended up doing was changing my inference. I wouldn’t say Bell goes so far as to tell you to start off with miserable people in miserable land. Instead, show the scene that’s true to the arc of the character, but make sure you give the readers that insight as to the conflict that represents the burning embers of the inciting incident. If there is tension in the characters’ minds or hearts, make sure the reader can see it.
Let’s go back to those houses. Maybe they aren’t screaming. But maybe you hear a door slam? Maybe, through the window, you catch a glimpse of a woman and a man sitting apart. (I promise I don’t just randomly walk by house windows and peek in. This really is just a hypothetical example.) The point is you need some sort of disturbance to draw the reader in.
This book has a ton of helpful hints, a few case studies and even an example outline. It’s a great tool to help readers identify how to bring each scene to it’s highest intensity. I recommend this book to new writers looking to understand what keeps readers turning pages. It’s also good for people trying to figure out outlines.
The first thing I’m a fan of is the case studies. Each arc description is summarized and supported with examples to help illustrate how such a plot plays out in different movies. I should explain that this book is a bit different from what I’d call plotting.
In plotting, you’re marking the key plot points and events in a story. This is so readers see progression in the overall narrative. I’d wanted to improve my development of characters as they progress through the plot points. This novel did that. Weiland breaks down three types of arcs: The positive change arc, the neutral change arc, and the negative change arc. She breaks negative change into three more I can’t recall off the top of my head. The case studies and benchmarks she provides are things I plan to pull out while outlining my next main project and editing whatever I’m working on. I think understanding these types of character arcs is a must for writers. How you feel about them and how you apply those thoughts is as unique as the storyteller in my opinion, but understanding them matters.
Another thing I’d like to highlight is the idea of “The Lie Your Character Believes.” That resonated with me. I won’t go into it here because 1) I fear copyright and 2) I think authors, especially those who feel they struggle with outlining, should give this book a read. I actually listened to the audio edition, and that was super helpful for a guy like me.
I’m less inclined to be entirely beholden to some of the more rigid benchmarks. Weiland gives specific percentage marks for each point of the story. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I completely disagree, I just don’t know that I’d be that militant about where certain shifts in the story happen. What I will say is those benchmarks are great guides, but stories need a bit of leeway.
What I intend to do with this book and information is weave some of the elements of this book’s character plot points with my plotting. This should keep the sense of progression my stories have (which I feel are solid) and give me a way to plan the emotional journey of my characters a little more carefully.
Creating Character Arcs is a great outlining tool that provides informative case studies for each type of arc. Authors or aspiring authors should pic this up and add it to their toolbox of story building tools. I’m a fan of “how-to” books that are this simple to understand and through in presentation. I can’t say enough about those case studies!