Standards and Deadlines: The Balancing Act

Standards and Deadlines: The Balancing Act

(All images taken from Pixabay.)

The phrase is “Minimum viable product.”

Home under construction
Sure, it has wood and rooms, but I wouldn’t want to live here.

There is a sense to the phrase, but people abuse its meaning at times.  The better concept is, “Create the best product you have in the time you’re allowed.”

I probably am more guilty of this very problem then I’d like to admit. While I have people who read this blog and my work, I don’t have droves of fans waiting eagerly for my next book. So what’s the rush?

Well, for me, I try very hard to release four titles a year. That’s simply not happening this year. Even before COVID-19, it was dicey to even try and get Betrayed out. Without making money on conventions and events (let alone book sales), I can’t pay Sara to edit. So that project becomes “stuck.” I can still work on other projects, so that once things start moving again, I still have direction.

So my goal is always to release good stories in a timely manner. It’s been that way since I was a journalist, and I don’t anticipate that viewpoint changing at all. But I have seen people shove out product without so much as a casual proofread. They do so and say, “Minimum viable product.”

So we’re forced to ask ourselves, “what is viable?”

lazy-1458443_960_720
Just because you did anything doesn’t mean you accomplished anything. 

I suppose that depends on the reader. If I’m cranking out stories devoid of editing and formatted like a blind man with a new inDesign account, but the readers are still buying and giving good reviews, I’d declare I’m doing it right.

What happens though is that people put minimal effort into their work and then want to complain they aren’t selling.

First, sales is way more about marketing and advertising than product.  I have every belief that if I could just find a way to gain attention in this oversaturated filed, I’d do well. I’d offer a hefty percentage of my sales to the person who offers me actionable information on how to do that, but I digress.

Second, I’ll always believe that effort yields results. While I’m not quitting my day job yet, I’ve improved every year I’ve been doing this. It’s a slow, agonizing process, but all the things worth having tend to be that way.

Each writer has to balance his own process. If you’ve edited your story 20 times and paid editors and tweaked that story to oblivion, then you need to release that story.  You’ve put in the effort, now let it go, and let readers decide if it’s good or not (that’s their job). If you’ve cranked out a draft 30 minutes ago, maybe let it sit a few weeks. Read it again. Find Beta (or even Charlie or Delta) readers. Hire and editor. Hire a professional editor. Listen to the feedback.

youtuber-2838945_1920I’ve talked about my writing process a few times. It works for me. I still make a few mistakes, but today’s self-publishing world makes fixing those mistakes pretty easy (and free).  However, I don’t just release anything and think, “Oh, I can make edits later.” I do know I can do that, but I don’t let that be an excuse to be shoddy in my work.

On the other hand, I have to get the product out, and so do you. Sure, I’m going to keep waiting for the next King Killer book, but I might even forget about it if it takes another five years to release. My anticipation is already nearly gone. However, I would still drop what I’m reading now to grab that book if it came out tomorrow. Most of us don’t self-published guys don’t have that sort of loyalty. We need product to be seen. We need to be on the “new releases” page. We need to build a library.

I’ve heard and seen data that says that’s not right. However, there is still a balance. You can’t have follow-on readers if you don’t have follow-on stories. It’s that simple. There is something to be said about taking a break from writing to market the work you have out there, and maybe that is a good option to look into during this crazy time in our life.

So, the factors to balance are: getting the product out, ensuring the product is of good quality, and marketing the product.

I’m not here to tell you how much time to put into which factor; I’m here to tell you what those factors are. I’m not anywhere near where I want to be in this pursuit, but I’m a lot farther than when I started. If you want to even get to where I am, you have to allot some time for each of these. I’m still learning. I’m still figuring my breakdown out, but if you don’t have one at all, that’s the problem.

My advice in this regard:

concept-1868728_1920Write a freaking book! If you aren’t writing or you haven’t finished the book, you don’t have anything at all to do. There’s no point. Now, while you write that book, you should start building a following. Start a blog. Do character interviews. Build an email list. Use the email list. But, don’t stop writing the book.

When you have a book ready, keep building that following and write at least two more books. Again, I understand that more product doesn’t mean more sales in and of itself. However, if a guy buys your book and wants more from you, shouldn’t you have more to offer?

So there are some who only have that one book they want to write. That’s a completely different circumstance. You’re probably not trying to make a business out of it. But if you are, I offer this advice for you to take or leave.

Once you have three books out. Plan out your release schedule and strategy. Make a business plan.

Execute your plan and evaluate how it’s working. Continue developing new product.

Some of that I did. Some of those things are things I failed to do. I’m convinced a large part of my struggles are do to those failings.

Whatever you do, stay at it. Keep working. If you choose to turn away from the goal, make it a choice you’ve made and a choice you’re ok with.

I hope this gives you encouragement and edifies you. Whatever happens, stay safe out there. My prayers are with you all.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

I’ve Started the Alpha Draft of Betrayed!

I’ve Started the Alpha Draft of Betrayed!

 

Greetings all,

caught-front-cover
You can buy Caught (the first book in the series) on Amazon or Audible

Betrayed is coming along. I’ve started the Alpha Draft, which is the draft I do after my alpha reader (in this case) has had a chance to look at it.

 

First thing’s first. I want to take a moment to thank Grace for taking the time to read this rough draft and provide the feedback she did. For us self-published authors, finding readers is hard enough, let alone finding a reader who’s willing to read a rough draft.

Now is the time I take her feedback into consideration and do another chapter-by-chapter pass on the book. This cleans the mechanics of the story up, but more importantly it gives me a chance to locate plot holes and timeline issues. This trilogy spans something in the neighborhood of seven years, and there are a lot of things that happen that have to time out correctly.

The other issue is character development and plotting. Kaitlyn and Kira in particular have some critical areas of growth. There are a lot of foreshadow elements that should pay off in Discovered. So while I work on this draft, I’m looking for ways to establish critical character development aspects without being heavy handed.

kaitlynI felt a touch of discouragement as I started the Discovery Draft exactly a year ago (as you read this Dec. 7). The truth is, writing is a war of endurance. When it’s not full time, you sit down and take what time you can. I’d expect to get through the Alpha Draft sometime in January. Then it’s off to Sara for the Developmental Edit. Assuming she gets it back to me in two weeks or so, I can start that draft in March. Then it goes off to Beta Readers.  They get a month to read it and provide feedback, so I should work on my Beta Draft in June. That means I get Sara another crack at it for proofreading in July, and so September or October 2020 is a likely neighborhood for the official release.

Things could go faster as I get time here and there, or they might slow down if finances make it hard to send the book out to Sara for either of her two rounds of edits. I feel confident that those dates are pretty solid.

While I’m waiting for feedback, I’ll keep plugging away on Discovered. I’m still outlining it at the moment. Using the timeline above, I think I could maybe get the Discovery Draft done around when Betrayed comes out.  My math says there will be about two months where I can’t move forward with Betrayed because I’m waiting on feedback. That’s way less certain than Betrayed’s fall 2020 release.

I know this is a big slowdown from the eight titles I’ve released in the last two years, but a lot of those releases were portions of other projects. I have other projects that are further along, but I’ve been trying to get the Oneiros Log finished for years now, and I owe it to those readers to get that finished before I start bouncing around as I’m want to do.

I promise I’m working as hard as I can, and I’ll keep putting out the best stories I can in hopes that you will find them entertaining.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

I’ve Finished Plotting Discovered!

I’ve Finished Plotting Discovered!

Greetings all,

caught-front-cover
You can buy Caught on Amazon or Audible

As promised, I’ve completed the plotting for Discovered, which is the final book in the Oneiros Log.

I don’t know that I’ve ever announced that I’ve finished plotting or not, so this is a good chance to tell anyone interested what that is.

When I’m working on my process, I always start with Character Generation.  Once that’s done, I plot out the stories of the main characters. For this, I ask myself what type of plot this character is going to have (or plots), and I ask myself what sort of character journey that character is on.

Then I type out brief scenes and moments of that journey. This lets the discovery writer in me play while still getting organized. For instance, in this story I gave a lot of thought to who would survive the story. This book ends in a pretty big psychic showdown (a few of them actually), and it’s hard to imagine a conflict going on like that without any casualties.

In stories, it’s one thing to know the plot points (what happens), but an author also has to know what’s going on with the characters. What do they learn? How do these events change them?  When I plotted Betrayed, one of the characters makes a very important decision. That decision impacts how things develop in this book as well.

Betrayed introduces two very important characters (not just those two, but two you’ll want to know about).  I can’t tell you about one (spoilers), but I can at least name the other. Mariana is critical to the trilogy. She’s a great counter to Kaitlyn because there are also similarities. Mariana only has about one chapter in her point of view in Betrayed, but she plays a prominent role in Discovered as one of the main characters. You will also get to meet Daniel, whose story I love.

Hopefully, Discovered brings the story to the place I’ve always imagined it, opening a new world with endless possible stories. Will I write them? Probably not. If I’m being honest, I have far too many other ideas I want to play in. My honest hope is a Netflix or Youtube or Hulu will take what I built with the Oneiros Log and decide it might make an interesting super hero series.

kaitlynIt does close out the story of Oneiros though. Other main characters for Discovered are Sal (of course), Kaitlyn (of course), and Kira. Where Dom got the love in Betrayed, it’s time to show the story from Kira’s point of view. Given how important these events are to her, it would have been unfair to take her moment in the spotlight away. Though this story has been (and will continue to be) pretty brutal to her.

I’ve started the outline for Discovered, which is when I take all the plot lines and weave them together in a much more traditional outline. This gives me the main thread before I start my discovery draft. I don’t imagine I’ll finish the outline before I start work on the Alpha Draft of Betrayed, but having the plotting done is probably 40% of my work on any story.

I have every hope that Betrayed will be out sometime in 2020, though when has more to do with finances and book sales (you all can help with that) than workflow. If I can’t afford the editing and art fees, I can’t move forward. It’s my sincere goal (especially now that Discovered is plotted), to finish the saga in that same year.

That will mean I can jump back to The 1,200 and start working on Mercer (my little procedural cop show with a Harry Potter twist). Then I’ll get to work on the rest of my to-do list.

As always, I just want to thank you all for the help and support you’ve given. I think that while my readership is small, you all are so loyal and supportive. It gives me hope that this readership will only continue to grow.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Betrayed’s First Draft Is Under Way

Betrayed’s First Draft Is Under Way

Greetings all,

As you can see in the title, I’ve started the first official draft of Betrayed.

caught-front-coverMy Process: Just last week, I talked about getting that first draft down. I’m so aware of the issues with mustering up the courage to put a story on paper that I’ve developed what I call the discover draft. It’s my way of cheating the system. When I’m writing this draft, I’m just getting the story down, and I’m not held up on anything because I don’t really think about it as a draft. That discovery draft is a very rough version of the story (some are more rough than others).

So what I did was get Betrayed’s general story down. Then I started re-reading the story. I made notes. Some were just me telling myself to check certain details. Most, because this is an area I struggle in, of my notes are just me telling myself how much more description I need. I also take a close look at the plot points and the characters to be sure everything is satisfying.

So without giving too much away, my biggest (non-description-related) notes were about making each scene more satisfying. There’s definitely one character who needs more screen time. I also need to push in on  some of the relationships and how they’ve evolved.

I’m pretty happy with this draft, and I’m excited to see what people who liked Caught think of how the story progresses.

The horror element is dwindling, but that’s by intent. This is much more action and drama oriented than Caught. The struggle is making the opponent seem worthy when Oneiros is a group of psychically enhanced people. I think I’ve done that.

Betrayed features Dom. Sal is still there, and Kaitlyn begins to take more of a lead role. I explore the relationship between those three characters and Kira. There’s a lot of friction in there, and poor Brandon and Chris have to try and keep things together. The government has finally decided to react to Oneiros and its vigilante operations. An old friendship gets shattered, and (as always in this series) more secrets are uncovered.

Betrayed currently has a prologue and 31 chapters, so I expect it will take 1-2 months to get this draft done. Then I’ll put out the call for Alpha Readers. With my family life, it could be some time before I finish the final draft. I have to take the time it requires to make this a quality story for you, but I promise I’m dedicating whatever time I can to the project.

Repressed_ACX_CoverIf you haven’t read Caught, I’m hoping you’ll give it a shot. Repressed is a short story based on Kaitlyn, and it’s a nice little update on things. I have free Audible download codes if you’d like to give one or both a try (seriously, I have 100 for each). You can email me for those.

I’ll get Betrayed out as soon as possible, and I’m outlining Discovered, which will complete the trilogy.  Please be patient as I continue to adjust from being a single guy with little to do but write, to a married man and a father. I will figure it out. Things might not get out as quickly as I’d have liked, but they are coming.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Let It Go: The Balance Between Deadline and Quality

Let It Go: The Balance Between Deadline and Quality

Greetings,

The Journals of Bob Drifter Front Cover
The cover is copyright M.L.S. Weech, any redistribution without my consent is a possible copyright infringement. All stock images are from Pixabay (This includes the feature photo).

As I type this, I’m waiting for the physical proof copy of the 2nd edition of The Journals of Bob Drifter. This reminded me of a few things I’ve discussed with others in the field.

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.”

horizontal-2071304_960_720I 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:

editing-1756958_960_720Develop 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.

ElelefinalHowever, 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.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

One Nut’s guide to Developing Characters

One Nut’s guide to Developing Characters

cocoons-329059_960_720Character development is a fluid process for me.  I consistently try new things and keep what I feel worked and get rid of what I don’t like.  Sometimes I bring those things I don’t like back because as much as I don’t like them, they help me create more realistic, sympathetic characters.

I put a lot of thought into how to present this because of how fluid my process is.  I thought about taking you through how I evolved and what I tried.  I can do that if anyone is interested, but what I think anyone would use this for is to put what I know I’m going to do when I start writing my eight book (Sojourn is a short story and Elele is already developed).

charcter-inventory-sheetQuintessential Editor covered some ground with his blog about using dice to create characters.  This comes in handy mostly because of the character sheets for me.  I did this a few times.  It worked, but I thought it was too time consuming, so I dropped the sheets.  Now I’m brining them back because some books have WAY too much for me to track.  I have word processing character sheets, and I may adapt those, but I need something that helps me track my characters, particularly physical attributes.

I also took full advantage of Brandon Sanderson’s online lecture about Character Creation.  That helped me mostly as it came to plotting.  (Note:  Today, I’m talking about development.  That way, I can talk about plotting later.)  But it does give me a snapshot, and it helped me streamline (in my case too effectively) my character sheets.

My character sheets start as simple pages in a word processing document.  They get larger as I start plotting the character.

A note on archetypes.  I outlined Caught using archetypes.  While I want to know the role my characters play in the book, what I found this ended up doing was make my characters too cookie cutter.  They fit their role in the plot, but it made them plot devices and not characters.  I think what I’ll do next time is add the archetypes to the character sheet, though this still scares me.  (NOTE: As I publish this, I’ve again decided against it.) I’m a very literal, linear thinker, and I don’t want to force my characters in a direction they wouldn’t go just so they fit some standard archetype.

character-1297502_960_720Where my ideas come from:  I teach my students about this concept where a writer has an idea for a story.  I got it from one of my sources we used to develop the course, Telling True Stories.  They call it the glimmer moment.  I exist in a constant state of glimmer infinity.  I constantly have flashes of imagination or insight that I think would be amazing.  I jot them down or commit them to memory (let the debate on memory begin here).  When enough of those ideas arrive to formulate one consistent narrative, I know I have a story.  The idea for Caught came to me when my mom told me about a nightmare she had had.  (Am I a bad son?)

I mention that because sometimes the main character develops clearly in my mind.  Sometimes they don’t.  What I mean is I have a sense for the emotional description of the character, but not the physical one.   When I see the character clearly in my mind, I don’t fight it.  When it doesn’t matter, I let chance determine those characteristics.  For Perception of War, the flip of a coin determined the gender of my character.  A four-sided die determined his ethnicity and color.  I’ll probably post a blog about this one day, but I think characters are people.

new-lion-iconThere are several fantastic stories out there where race, religion, and gender are arcs.  When they aren’t I feel silly developing a white male character simply because I’m a white male.  Sal, the main character in Caught is a protector and a Soldier.  He was always a man in my imagination, but I’ll tell you frankly the majority of the service members I respect most happen to be women.  It’s not a knock on one over the other, just a point I’m trying to work to.  He was a man, because of the dynamic I wanted to create with a few other characters.  He was white because my four-sided die said so.  He’s from Philly because that’s where my finger landed on a map.  When these traits matter, writers should take great care.  They always have significance though because they’re parts of what make a person who he (Sal) is.  None of those characteristics affected the plot, so I let chance decide because it’s fast, and in my mind, it’s the best way I have so far to make sure the diversity in my books comes anywhere near the diversity of life.

That brings me to character sheets.  Like I said, I’m going to bring more elements in, but here’s Bob’s character sheet.

START

coverrevealBob Drifter :  Robert Drifter

6’3”

230 lbs

Light brown hair

Brown eyes.

Bob’s exactly what I named him.  He’s a drifter.  In personality as well as occupation.  He’s accepted who and what he is, for now at least, because it’s all he’s known.  He’s kind and takes it upon himself to be more of a guide than a conduit.  Others in his field don’t take such measures, but a part of who Bob is demands a certain courtesy.   He doesn’t remember anything at all about his life before his work.  A part of him is curious, but, given his nature, he accepts things without much argument.  Things are.  Part of this stems from his belief that change isn’t possible for him.

END

Now take a look at Elele’s.  This is her character sheet from Sojourn.  Please know I’ve absolutely deleted a few spoilers, and that may cause some confusion, but I’d like people to read the book and be entertained by some of the twists.  Note the differences between her character sheet and Bob’s:

START

early-seferam
This was a very early, very rough sketch of Elele by an artist named Robert Quill. This image was developmental. I’ve had other people work on that, but it was hard because I’ve only JUST really gotten a good mental image of her. Hence why I need these sheets.

Elele’Therios

(The trouble with Sefaram is that they all look essentially the same.  Hair is a thing.  But they’re very hard to tell apart unless you look at their Faline.  These fractal patterns are the way Sefaram see one another.   Where humans look at skin color facial shapes (shapes are a thing for Sefaram too), Sefaram rely most on the inner-most ring of the faline.)

Age:  22

Occupation:  Mathematician

Hobby 1) Travel

Hobby 2) mathmatics.

Height:  60.8 inches – 5’1”

Weight: 161 pounds

Build:  Sleek. (She’s twiggy even by Seferam standards.)

Skin Tone:  Black (All Sefaram are)

Voice Quality: Analytic.  Snappy.  Quick.  Clips words.

Hair Color:  Black (All Sefaram with hair have this)

Hair Length:  Mid-shoulder

Hair Style:  Rolled and braided. What would you call cornrowed hair that is braided into multiple braids…then braided again? (I don’t speak hair).   (NOTE: I did some research and talked to a friend. The most accurate term I found was braided weave)

Eye Color: Black (All Sefaram)

Eye Shape:  large ovals longer than tall.  (deer eyes)  (All Sefaram)

Face Shape:  Round.

Freckles: None (Sefaram have none)

Moles: None (See above)

Scars:  None as of Sojourn. (SPOILER DELETED INFORMATION)

Faline:  Outter pattern (FAMILY IDENTIFIER):  Four tear-drop-shaped loops in which the points meet in the middle.  Inner Pattern (INDIVIDUAL IDENTIFIER):  A pattern resembling a seven-pedaled flower blossom. (NOTE: Faline are ultraviolet patterns on the mid-section of each Seferam.  Think of them as luminescent tribal tattoos that follow fractal patterns).

Clothing:  (All Sefaram leave their faline exposed.  Men usually go bare chested.  Elele wears what are considered prudish clothes.  No style or fashion (especially since the bad guy’s arrival).  She were’s a simple outfit that ties around the neck.  It covers her breasts.  Cloth covers her sides and becomes a mid-calf length dress.  It’s always a simple color with no ultraviolet patterning (a common fashion trend these days).  She wears simple leather shoes.  (SPOILER INFO DELETED)

Jewelry:  None. Sefaram don’t wear it.  Their bio-electro-magnetic power plays hell with metal.

faline:  For Seferam,  they’re an emotional cue.  They pulse in different ways the way humans blush or flush.

END

You’ll see a lot of elements from the above-mentioned Sanderson Lecture there.  Like I said.  I can promise you that second hobby gave Elele a dimension I never really expected.   Little things like that help me get deeper into her character.  I didn’t realize math was going to be such a huge part of her character until I gave her that hobby.  It then became her occupation.  It’s now one of her key assets to how she sees the world and progresses in her plot.

Not all of this became cannon. (Note the picture, she looks very different now that she’s all fleshed out)  I left in some of my self-notes.  They’re my musings, motivations or research sites for me to get a better feel.  I did delete a bunch of my self notes because they were far too spolierific for me to include.

rifts_character_sheet_scan_1_by_dragonfett-d5dhijfSo my next evolution will blend all of these to help me develop a character in terms of physical attributes, motivations, archetype, and plots.  Where Corey uses his D & D sheets, I was always a Rifts man myself.  I’ll let those character sheets provide the physical attributes.  I’ll let the Sanderson lecture round the character out.  Then I’ll let them work together to make the character more realistic.  Then I’ll let the plotting provide the finishing touches.

I feel this needs a summary:

1)  Identify character.  Leave what speaks to you alone and let chance determine all other physical attributes.  For Elele, I knew she was female, and I knew what species she was.  I also knew what culture I would borrow from most heavily for that species.

2)  Name the character.  (I’m all over the place here.  I do everything from a quick study of names, to popular names of other cultures.  Sometimes I look for what a name means in a language I best feel fits the culture of the character.  When all else fails, I use a random name generator.  For Elele, I realized I liked the idea of palindrome names.  There’s a mathematical significance to that (and also one of the other species in the book) that I felt was appropriate.

3)  Fill in physical attributes.  This includes race, species and other aspects of the character’s background.

4)  Establish occupation, hobbies and goals.  (this is where some plotting comes in).

2000px-heroesjourney 5)  Begin plotting.  This is the most critical step.  Every character is the main character in THAT character’s mind.  So I plot as if this character is in her own story.  I’m not married to this plotting or outline.  Elele’s actual arc has some significant differences from the outline, but not who she is or what she does.

This gives me the freedom to get to know my characters in my own natural way.  I’m a discovery writer at heart, and I need some room for that to work.  What I don’t ever do is start plotting before I get a sense for the core of my character.  When I outline one way, then realize my character wouldn’t do that, I don ’t fight it.   Early on in Elele’s arc in Images of Truth, Elele was supposed to act and work in one way.  Then I realized she wouldn’t handle that situation in the outlined manner.  Her decision was more heroic, and led to better conflict and emotional payoff.

(NOTE:  I’m talking about her role in Images of Truth, not SojournSojourn is a prequel to Images.)

Every character has a core just like every person.  I find that core by gifting them traits.  I take something from a character I love.  I take something from someone I love.  I take something from someone I don’t like very much.  Then I take something from myself.  I blend them together and it makes a new character I understand very well.

bobLet’s look at Bob:  His part-time job and love of reading came from me.  His drive to understand came from my mom.  His love of quoting things came from Beast of the X-Men.  I won’t tell you where his frustrating ability to mope comes from, because I’m not trying to dime out people I’m not actually a big fan of.   (Note, I said people I don’t like very much.  Me not liking a person in no way makes them bad or even unlikable.  I feel naming said individual would borderline on slanderous.)

Doing that is what gives me a picture for how they would handle situations.  We writers need to remember though that the horrible things we put our characters through is going to change them.  If it doesn’t, it won’t feel realistic.  I get a baseline from this, then let their experiences shape how they’ll handle future decisions.

I hope that helps.  Honestly, it’s just the way I do it.  How do you do it?  Was this helpful?  Any tricks or resources you like?  Feel free to say as much in the comments below.

Thanks for reading

Matt

Weaving Plots: A Way to Add Dimension to Characters

Weaving Plots: A Way to Add Dimension to Characters

compass-626077_960_720I’ve been reading a lot about plotting on blogs, and that always gets me thinking about characters with dimension.  I’m not honestly sure if there is a distinction in this term from depth, but I feel like there is because what I’m talking about today has more to do with plots than traits.

One day I’ll walk you all through how I develop characters.  I started one way, added a few things, twisted them around and landed at my process on character development.  I might have even touched on it here and there already, but while I’d like to give you one place to go for my method of development, I want to focus on plotting.

So let’s start with how I learn everything, utter failure.  I’ve said it a lot.  Failure is great.  It’s wonderful.  Oh, it never FEELS very good, but it’s still important.  I quite literally have scars on my body.  Each one (I promise I’m not exaggerating) was preceded by me saying, “This is gonna be AWESOME!” and then I hurt myself.

The first completed manuscript I wrote was AWESOME! (and by that I mean awful, and has since left me emotionally scared).  There are many reasons for this, but looking at this deep red line across the soul of my inner author, I think the biggest problem I had was that my characters each only had one plot, and those plots were all secondary to the overall plot.  People just don’t work that way.

10622720_10152199423997142_2466027726553469425_n
She was a freshman then (her eyes were shut in the image I took of us when I was teaching her to drive).  But this is me and The Junior on one of my vacations.  I’m so proud of the fact that she takes after her uncle.

Think about your day?  What do you do?  Even if you break your day down into “Go to work,” “Come home,” and “Go to bed,” that wouldn’t come close to describing your day.  As I write this, I’m on vacation with my family.  One of my elder nieces, (she whom I call “The Junior,” who also happens to be an awful lot like her uncle) and I had the chance to sit down.  I haven’t seen her in a year.

“So what’s been going on?”

“Not much,” she answered.

I went on to explain that I seriously doubt nothing much happened over the course of the year I’ve been unable to really sit down and talk.  Oh, social media and cell phones allow for the highlights, but I wanted the directors cut edition of The Junior’s life.

caught-finalThat got me thinking about my editor’s comments regarding my Fourth Draft of Caught.  We were discussing a lot of arcs and he told me “readers expect more in fiction.”  You see, even now, Caught is very cinematic in structure and prose.  I did that by choice, and I may pay the price when it comes to sales and reviews, but I desperately needed something faster after writing The Journals of Bob Drifter.  That doesn’t mean I ignored my editor.  In fact, I feel a lot more satisfaction with this Fifth Draft.

So how do I do it?  In short, I remember people do more than one thing a day.  Heck, sometimes people do more than one thing at a time (sort of, but don’t throw research disproving multitasking at me).

There are a lot of plots out there.  Some also call them structures.  Others call them arcs.  Quintessential Editor did a few blogs about them recently.

I didn’t really do this with Journals or Caught.  I’ve been doing it ever since.  What I do now is plot each character before I combine all of those plots into one outline.  I keep aware of what opportunities arise, and I’m not afraid to let them unfold.  This is where those dimension comes into play.  Let’s do an exercise:

smugglerThink of a character.  Need help?  Okay.  I’m going to flip a coin.  Heads for man.

*flips coin*  (I do this whenever gender isn’t a large concern.  I even did this with my main character in my seventh book).

TAILS…Woman it is.

How old is she?  More importantly, what does she want?  Well, since I’m here visiting The Junior, let’s start with what she wants.  She wants to go to college and study theater.  (See…I told you she was a lot like her uncle!) Sorry…I think VERY fast.   What just happened is a lot like my process.  I flipped a coin, determined a gender.  The gender got me thinking about someone I love.  I took that real struggle, multiplied it by the power of “Fantasy” and got this:

A Young Girl wishes to become a Mistress of Transformation.  Why?  To what end?   When I talk about character development, I’ll go into more detail, but I like showing you HOW I think.  Anyway.  I have my first plot.  Because I tend to subscribe to Sanderson’s online lectures, I call this particular plot a “travelogue.”  Why?  Because she wants to go to transformation school.   Where Frodo had to get to Mount Doom, from a macro perspective you have a character who is in one place (high school) and wants to get to another (college).

This can even be what I call the “main plot.”  However, on her way to becoming a college student, there’s more that happens.  She has to earn money.  She has to gain references.  She has friends in high school that she may leave.  She has to confront the Administer of Admissions. (I’m seriously developing a plot as I do this, I welcome you to do the same.)

Each of those other objectives are plots in and of themselves.  They’re side stories occurred on the way to the main objective.

wizard_of_ozNow let’s take an easier, better-known case study.  Wizard of Oz.  Would we care NEARLY as much for Dorothy if she told Scarecrow, “Thanks for the directions,” and moved along on her way?  She could have.  The Tin Man is an even better example.   Some subplots (at least for me) are discovered.  (Oh crap, my character wouldn’t just leave some poor tin dude sitting there frozen…well…I guess this book’s going to get a little bigger while I work this out.)  Others are plots you see coming.   (Well, the Wizard isn’t just going to jump to help her.)

My point is, you want your character to have many plots and objectives.  They may all arise as part of a single goal, but life isn’t that easy, so fiction shouldn’t be.  What sort of plots are out there?  Well, again, I put a LOT of stock in Sanderson’s online lectures, so I’ll just share that website with you here.   Brilliant teacher though I think he is, I know there’s more info out there, so please share it in the comments below.

Here are a few case studies:  (This is how I learn best, so I hope it helps you).

Wizard of Oz

Ender’s Game

I Am Not a Serial Killer

Star Wars

tatooineMost of those are best sellers or easily remembered, so forgive me if I don’t link to them.  My point is, if you watch this, do so with a pen and pad.  Write down the “events.”  When I teach my students, I teach them to break their features down into what I call the “Guy Does” test.  Break each event down into a subject-verb-object sentence.

Jawas Show Up

Uncle Buys Droids

Luke Sees Message

Droid Runs Away.

Keep going.  When you do this, you see the progression of your story.  You can reverse engineer each mini plot in what’s already been dissected to bits in terms of The Heroes’s Journey (the main plot of Star Wars).

If you dissect your character’s plot and only have one thing.  It’s not going to feel real to your reader.  Every character should be the main character in his or her own mind.  Anime does this VERY well.  Thinking about each goal and how the steps to achieve those goals will force new plots will help you create stories that have more dimension.  More dimension (in my arrogant opinion) means a better story.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Discovery Writers and Outliners

Discovery Writers and Outliners

I’d lipeople-316506_960_720ke to start this story out by telling you about my senior year in high school.  I promise, this is relevant.  I don’t know about you all, but my algebra class had a rubric which accounted for showing your math.  This infuriated me. I’d get the answer correct, but lose a point because I didn’t demonstrate how I got there.

I didn’t know it then, but this was an early indication of my writing style.  When you get down to it, there are generally two types.   There are discovery writers like me, who think, formulas be damned, here’s the book as I made it up.

Then there are outliners.  These are the people who toil and stress over each plot line and scene.

A few of those big names out there have different terms, but they all mean the same thing.

But wait!  Matt, you said you outline all the time!

Yeah, yeah I did, but that’s because I, like most authors, have found a little bit of both worlds can be helpful.

detective-1424831_960_720The first book I ever finished writing was discovery written.  I wrote a chapter a day for a few months and finished a book.  I made it up as I went.  I knew what my ending was, and I had a few general ideas, but I just sat down and typed.  I’ve mentioned before that book never worked, but while numerous drafts are a consequence of discovery writing, the technique isn’t a bad one.  I was just so inexperienced and raw, I didn’t know what to do.

The first act of The Journals of Bob Drifter was also discovery written.  I had to revise that part a few times, but I was also more experienced.  I’d been studying and reading. I was practicing my craft.  Then I sat down with my brother (primary alpha reader and main supporter).    We set out a few plot points, and I had an idea.

I decided to use my discovery writing tendencies to develop an outline.  This let me keep the freedom of letting the story take me where I wanted with the ability to make continuity and development adjustments.  I could switch things around without having to do a bunch of rewrites.  (Don’t let me mislead you, no matter what you do, you’re going to have rewrites.  I just mean I didn’t have to do dozens.)

blueprint-964629_960_720This is what I tend to do now.  I develop my characters.  I plot their progress.  I do this by typing a summary of their through line of the story.  If I hit a scene I really like or just want to flesh some things out, I do.  If my pace starts to slow down, I just summarize what’s going on and move forward.  I’ve written whole chapters that way.  Once all my characters are done and their through lines prepped, I tie them together in an overall outline.  Again, as I copy and paste these plots together, I let the 17-year-old me come to all the conclusions he wants.

Remember that story I opened with?  I did that then too.  I’d write down a formula or do a step or two if I was stuck, but once I felt like I was moving, I just kept going.  All I cared about then was getting to the correct answer. All I care about now is getting the outline done.

When I finish, I have my outline.  BUT, the discovery writer in me isn’t done yet.  After my outline is finished, I start what I call my discovery draft.  The rules change a bit, but I still have some freedom.  The rule change is I have to complete a manuscript.  I do this the way any writer of integrity and skill does.

I cheat.

gardener-1015584_960_720My fingers still fly across the keypad.  I don’t stop for anything.  Inevitably, I come to a new chapter, a new character, or pretty much anything that needs description.   Description is the molasses in my swimming pool.  I get better with every book, but inevitably, I get frustrated, or just flat out bored.  So what do I do?  I use parenthetical symbols.

The good guy kicked in the door, his 9mm Barretta (CHECK SPELLING) held just at eye level.  The room was like a nightmare. (BORING, WHAT MADE IT LOOK LIKE A NIGHTMARE).

Inside the parenthetical symbols, I use all caps and write a little message to myself.  I’ll do everything from say (DESCRIBE THE ROOM) to (FIND OUT WHAT SORT TACTIC A HACKER WOULD USE TO RESOLVE THIS SITUATION).  I’m not a hacker, but I know people who know people.  (NOT ACTUAL HACKERS).

So I just motor through my draft.  Sometimes I go back and clean things up.  But whatever I don’t fix this time around, I don’t worry about.  I just get everything on paper.  I use my first draft to address all those notes.  I find experts who are willing to help me with stuff and get rid of those. Then the dreaded editing starts.

puzzle-1020002_960_720I’ve found that really works for me.  It took just about three years to write my second book.  (That first book I mentioned, I wrote it 21 times through a 15-year period).  This new system allows me to write about one a year.  It still takes a hot minute to edit and make them ready to publish, but not nearly as long as Journals took me.

I decided to sit down today and explain this because it helped me.  But what if you’re an outliner.

That’s okay.  You’ll probably hate yourself less during editing, but if you find yourself stuck, I don’t want you to be afraid to just pound something out.  I have a few friends who can’t turn off their internal editors or cure themselves of world-builder’s disease.  If you find that you’re stuck, do something different.  I found that I hated how many rewrites I had to do, so I decided to outline in a way that still fits the way my mind works.

So what are you? Outliner or discovery writer?  Do you have a process you think works for you? Please share it in the comments below so everyone can try to add a new tool to their toolbox.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

My Routine: One Writer’s Habits

My Routine:  One Writer’s Habits

One of the more common questions I’ve heard is “How do you get through writer’s block?”  or “How do you find time to write?”

In my blog “confessions,” I talked about my work day.  I’m going to delve into that a bit more, but what I hope to address is the distinction between “finding time to read,” “writer’s block” and just plain prioritizing.

sport-1013891_960_720I’m a big believer in routine.  I think consistency breeds consistency.  Perfect practice leads to perfect performance.  I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination in any regard, but I’ve found a thing or two that works for me.

First:  My schedule.  I usually wake up at 6 a.m.  I get up, go the the bathroom, go right back down to my room and shut my eyes for another 10-15 minutes.  I don’t like waking up early.  I worked night shifts in my younger days, and the routine stuck.  My brain usually comes alive around 3.  My current schedule, my bosses and my students don’t and shouldn’t care bout my sleep work cycle, but it’s how I’ve always worked.  This is honestly harder each year.  Already, my body demands an earlier bedtime than it did four years ago.  Still, the thing that gets me out of bed is the fact that my students are there, and I love helping them.  My friends are there, too.  So I get up, get dressed hit the road and arrive to work on time.

I leave my job anywhere from 4:30 to 7:30 depending on a host of factors.  Do my students need extra help?  How much do I have to grade?  Am I prepared to teach whatever it is I’m teaching tomorrow?  Will I have to be early tomorrow?  How long has it been since I’ve worked out?

More often than not, I’m home no later than 7:30.  I’m happiest when I’m home by 6:30.  As impossible as it is to tell when I’m going to get home, I still get there.  If I get home first, I clean up and start/order dinner.  Once everyone is home, I take the time to hang with my family.  This goes until about 8:30.

k10780975Then I go back to work.  Only this time, it’s my dream job.  It’s the occupation I want to put on my tax form. (I do that now, but I’d like for my income to grow).

A Call to action:  My call to action book was On Writing by Stephen King.  I’ve recently read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.  Both books talk about a premise that I hold to be true.

If you want to be a writer, you should probably write.  I’ll blog about this at a later date.  Anyway, to write, you have to build a routine that works.  Some of you may disagree.  That’s fine.  This is just what works for me.

Step one:  Establish the Command Center

193._Keith_pilots_Red_for_the_first_timeSo when I go downstairs, I bring some diet soda and a few snacks.  I snuggle up in my chair and pull my table with my lap top right up against it, trapping me in what I call my Command Center.  You see, I grew up watching Voltron, and I liked the feel of having my chair lock me into my own version of a battle robot.  I’ve occasionally been heard making sound effects.  Don’t judge.

The term Command Center came from an old boss of mine.  He once told me, “You can’t win a war if your command center isn’t squared away.”  I hadn’t joined the Navy at the time, and he was a crusty old Sailor.  The term made a lot of sense to me.  I finish off the command center by making sure my 49ers blanket is wrapped around me in a cowl, my references are near to hand, and my distractions are literally out of reach.  I make sure I have a pen and something to scribble on is near by. So my command center is established when I’m locked in, everything I need is close to hand and everything I don’t need is out of reach.  The 9ers blanket is just because I love my team, and I like being warm.

Step two:  Clear the Distractions
video-games-1136046_960_720This is a bit of a trick.  Before I understood the importance of social media, all I had to do was make sure the X-Box controller and remote controls were out of reach.  Social Media has made that harder.  I can’t focus if I think there’s other stuff to do.  I think very quickly, and if I think a problem is coming, or I need to handle something, I jump to fix it.  This takes me away from writing.  So I have to clear the virtual distractions, too, so I do my rounds.   I have a Facebook, WordPress, and Twitter account.  I do whatever sharing, following, and Tweeting I feel is necessary.  I check on my sales.  I check my emails.  I make sure I’ve addressed everything that can come up.

Step three:  Establish the Mission

naruto-shippuden-capitulo-424So being in the military has given me an affection for being told what to do, even if I’m the only one giving orders. I COMMIT to what I’m going to do.  I PROMISE myself I’m going to achieve something, and every now and then, I promise myself a reward for meeting the mission goal (right now I reward myself by watching episodes of Naruto).  I’ll ORDER myself: “I WILL write 1,000 words” or “I will edit this chapter” or “I will write this blog.”  Then I offer my self reward.  I’ll say, “…and after I finish, I’ll watch ONE episode of Naruto,” or whatever I have to. NOTE:  It’s CRITICAL to me to be as strict with my reward as I am with my mission, otherwise I write one thing and watch TONS of Naruto.  That’s bad.  It’s a betrayal of my mission and a failure of my efforts.

Step four:  Clock in.

Time-clockLately, I’ll signal this by sending Quintessential Editor a quick message via Facebook saying, “Clocking in.”   We both know this isn’t an excuse.  It’s a commitment.  He knows I’m working.  He’ll usually tell me he’s working or how long he’ll be before he goes to work.  The point is, we’re professionals, who go to work.  We see our work as an occupation.  It’s not a hobby.  It’s not something we get around to.  It’s our job, and we have to do it.  We may only have to do it because we choose to, but the point is we’ve chosen to.  If you want to be a writer, write.  If you want to make money off your writing, treat it like the job you want to earn an income doing.  So I go to work, and I clock in.

Step five:  Meet the goal

Whatever objective I established for myself, I reach.  Sometimes, it’s fast.  For me, it’s fastest when I’m drafting and slowest when I’m editing.  That’s not to say there aren’t days when drafting is a pain.  Trust me:  The most important time to write is when you don’t feel like writing.  Now some disagree with me on this, but I have a few tips (which I’ll elaborate on in future blogs).

First…if what you’re trying to write isn’t working, write something else.  I have several projects going.  If Caught is really not working, I still work until I’ve met my objective, but I may take a different sort of break.  No, I don’t go to the digital water cooler and talk to Corey.  Instead, I shift gears to a different project.  Right now I’m drafting Images of Truth, world building Sojourn in Despair, reading something for my writers group or scanning 1,200.  Be wary.  If you ever want to be a PUBLISHED author.  You have to finish something.

hobo-826057_960_720I shift gears to another project only as long as it takes me to get a sense of momentum (more on this later).  Once the muse (I subscribe to King’s theory on the muse by the way.  I really do.) has had a chance to use the imaginary bathroom or finish his last beer (see “On Writing”), and I can hear him talking to me, I move back to my objective project.  I don’t take a break yet.  I won’t let distractions fool me into thinking I’ve actually done anything.  I finish the mission.  Again, I was trained as a Sailor.  I may have to take a break from photography or writing an article to stand watch or clean a compartment.  Those are important jobs too, but they’re not my main mission.

When I finish those collateral duties, I go back to work and finish the job I PROMISED myself I’d finish.  This is the hardest trick to figure out, especially if you’re someone like me who’s a fan of linear, one-at-a-time tasks.  But momentum is more important to me than anything.  The more I gain momentum, the easier it is for me to keep it.  If I stop, I’m hosed.  That’s all there is to it.

work-1515801_960_720Once the juices are flowing, I step away from the side project (promising that said project will in time become my primary mission) and get to work on my current objective.  I knock it out.  Then I revel in whatever reward I’ve promised myself.  If I’m on a role, I let it ride until I feel like I’m forcing it.

Rinse.  Repeat.

I can’t do one thing for extreme periods of time.  I need to shift gears.  I’ve learned I work best with about an hour of productivity and 20-45 minutes of rest.  This is just what works for me.

On a good night, I get through about three rotations.  On a great night, I get through three rotations, and it’s not yet midnight.  That almost never happens, but it’s beautiful when it is.  If I’m particularly sleepy or drained, I only do one rotation.  But I ALWAYS do one rotation.  Midnight is a benchmark for me.  If I have more time, or I feel particularly energized, I push it.  I usually end up going to 1 or 2 in the morning.

ball-1020348_960_720Momentum is everything.  I know myself, and as an author, you need to know yourself.  Identify your resistance (if you subscribe to Pressfield’s dialogue).  For me, I know I WANT an excuse not to write.  I want an excuse to step away.  That’s why I have to establish my command center.  I make sure I don’t have the “excuse” to get up to find something I need.  That’s why I clear the distractions.  I make sure I don’t have the “excuse” that I’m worried I forgot something.  Etcetera.

The more I write, the more I will write.  The more I accomplish the more I will accomplish.  The consequences of stopping?  A few weeks back I had a terrible headache.  I took the night off.  Now it was the right thing.  My head hurt so bad I saw spots and couldn’t see very well.  My body said, “Matt, get some sleep, or I’ll PUT you to sleep.”  So I let myself turn in early (very early).  I was fine the next day, but I didn’t get anything done for about another week.  Even when stopping is the right thing to do, it totally derails my rhythm.

I don’t believe in writer’s block.  I believe people don’t have momentum, so they stop because they can’t get started.  When I say it that way, with brutal honesty, do you see how little sense that makes?  It may be a real thing, but I’ve never had it.  Maybe something wasn’t working, but the trick I mentioned above always gets me back on track.

My routine PROBABLY won’t work for you.  It’s mine.  Maybe some theories will work, but you have to find a routine that works for you.  I hope mine has given you a few ideas.  This routine has evolved over twenty years now.  It started when I read “On Writing” and learned the muse needs to know when to come by.  (roughly translated it means go to work when you say you will, or write at a consistent time.)  It evolved and evolved as I found more distractors or potholes on my road to success.  I think it’s pretty solid now as I’ve written six books, and I’m about to publish my second book.  The main point remains.

If you want to be a writer, you should be writing.

Thanks for reading,

Matt