Sunday, November 27, 2016

NaNoWriMo Done

Well, we've come to the end of another NeNoWriMo, and I must say...thank God.  It shouldn't be a secret that I detest this artificial creation of writing desire.  I think that if you need a special month someone else designates to write, then you don't really have the motivation to be a successful writer.

To start with, writers write.  It's what we do.  It should be all year, not just the 11th month of the calendar because it's suddenly a fashion trend.  If you can only find the motivation to write in November, how do you think you'll sustain that the rest of the year?  Yes, I know that some people say that NaNoWriMo inspired them to really get into it, but I view this as the exception rather than the rule.  It's like all those who make a New Year's resolution to go to the gym - they go the first three weeks, and then they abandon the project since they were artificially inspired(meaning the rest of us who actually go to the gym regularly can get back to our workouts in peace).  Motivation has to come from within or it'll fade.

Then there's the lack of quality in NaNoWriMo inspired work.  Yes, I think a person can write 50,000 words in a month(I've done this ac couple of times myself), but most work produced so quickly is more of a vomit of vague generalities rather than a serious production of work.  Maybe that 50,000 words is meant to be a first draft, and God I hope so, because most of that produced so quickly isn't likely to be very good.  I can write 2,000 words a day when I'm doing a new book, but it's not a stream of thought - I consciously prepare for what I'm going to write so it has sufficient depth and isn't just a jumble.

And although technically 50,000 words is a novel, I think it's little more than a shallow one.  Most novels, in my opinion, need to be at least 80,000 words to give sufficient depth to the story.  Perhaps folks use NaNoWriMo to get started, but I've found that most either think NaNoWriMo is for a complete novel, or they abandon their project once December 1st rolls around.  Like I said - lack of year round motivation will not produce success.

Now maybe this will all piss you off.  "How dare he!" you'll exclaim.  "I love NaNoWriMo, and he shouldn't disparage it!"  If you like NaNoWriMo, then why should the rantings of an unpublished author matter to you?  I find it shallow, but so what?  If my disparaging of the month is enough to discourage you, then you were never going to make it anyway(see above for motivation).  Either you're inspired to write or you aren't.  If I'm sufficient enough to piss you off about your favorite month as an arteest, then imagine what flipping the calendar to December would do.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Getting Started

The first time I started writing with any passion was when I was in the 4th Grade.  My teacher, Mrs. Joyner, gave us all little blue notebooks and told us that we would spend an hour on Fridays writing something creative.  Afterwards, we would choose a few stories to read to the class, and I was determined to be one of those chosen.

As we began this little endeavor, I found that it fired up my imagination.  I was a big Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers fan, and the sci-fi of the late 1970s and early 1980s fueled my imagination, so I designed my own space opera saga.  It was a dumb little story about Earth staving off a massive intergalactic empire with a cast of only 20 warriors, but I was nine, and I didn't have the depth and context of realism at that point.  I just wanted a story where things would go boom and folks would fight impossible odds against a demonic alien.

It also gave rise to my lifelong desire of writing.  Despite my weak plot and laughable story, my nine-year old classmates were enthralled(like I said, we were nine).  I found the aphrodisiac of storytelling, and it was then that I knew I had to write.  I kept going by expanding the 4th Grade story into a full novel in 5th Grade(which turned out to basically be a Star Wars story with new names and settings), and then I worked with some friends on a V inspired story in 6th Grade.  After all this re-imagining, I felt something was missing and quickly determined it was originality.  These stories were fun, but they weren't really mine.

I think a lot of writers underwent a similar journey - find a story you like, rework it a little(since we know how to make it better), and then finally figure out that we need to create our own worlds.  How did your love of writing begin?  Was it early in life, or did something trigger it later?

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Justifying The Story

A while back, I wrote a post in which I spoke about justifying the ending of a story.  Basically, it said that in order to have a great ending, the story must be equally epic.  The more I pondered it, the more I realized that the reverse is also true - the ending also has to justify the story.

Here's what I mean by that - Johnny Carson used to say that the longer the build up in a joke, the funnier the payoff needs to be.  In other words, you can't just pull the audience along and then give them barely a mild pop in the conclusion.  The building of suspense and the creation of tension is great, but it has to result in something that makes the audience go, "HOLY SHIT!"

This came to me as I watched Designated Survivor recently.  The show is creating a lot of intrigue, both political and action.  However, I wondered how much longer this could go on.  The story has to eventually reveal the people behind the plot to blow up the Capitol, and the longer they go on without doing so, the more the audience will expect it to knock their socks off.  Perhaps the producers are afraid of the big reveal because, after that, the show essentially becomes The West Wing with Keifer Sutherland.  In the movie Sneakers, the story writers spent so much time building up such great suspense that when they finally revealed that the villain behind all the intrigue was a lone guy with a megalomaniacal personality, it was like deflating a balloon.  I was similarly disappointed in The Da Vinci Code when it was revealed that (*SPOILER ALERT*) Teabing was the bad guy the whole time, something any competent reader could've picked up on halfway through since he was one of the only major characters, and I doubted they'd make Robert Langdon the villain.  The Da Vinci Code made it seem as if there would be a lot more behind the search for the Grail, but it ended up being simplistic and a major letdown.

Keep these things in mind when you write your novel.  I think some of us are so worried about writing a good story that we forget about the ending.  We craft intrigue and allude to big things, only to write an obvious or underwhelming ending.  That will piss the audience off in a heartbeat.  Richard Matheson, I think, did a great job of justifying his story in I Am Legend(the book, not the horrible, horrible movie).  He brought us into a world of one man against the vampires, and then revealed to us that Robert Neville was the real monster of the story and was feared by the vampires trying to rebuild society.  It was one of the few times when reading a book when I went, "Whoa!"  Had Neville simply gone in, wiped out the vampires, and restarted the world, I'd have been okay, but the book wouldn't have been a classic.  Matheson's end point made the path we traveled worth the journey.

So remember both parts of your work.  Both the story and the ending are important, and one can't exist without the other if you want to get more people interested.  Focusing your creative energies on only one aspect would be like working out only one arm - your right bicep may look great, but people will avoid you because you look weird.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Planning The Beginning

As I've said previously, my first novel, Akeldama, comes out next May 18th.  Some have asked why I'm waiting so long since the novel is ready.  Couldn't I just go ahead and upload it to Amazon now and be done with it?

There are a myriad of reasons I've waited, but the biggest one is that this isn't some lark - it's a business.  Were releasing this novel merely a one time deal, or if this was only going to be a hobby, then I could better understand just putting it out there.  However, I intend this to grow into a full time profession.  So, some ask, why then the long lead time?  Does it really take so long?

The short answer is - of course not.  On the other hand, I'm otherwise still employed, have been out of the country, and I have been unable to devote my full attention to this venture.  Now that I'm starting this in earnest, there are lots of things to consider - tax IDs, creating an S-Corporation, setting up an imprint, setting up my business account, etc.  These things don't happen overnight.

Moreover, planning these things out also doesn't happen overnight.  If you're a traditionally published author, with an agent and a publishing house, they aren't the kinds of things you give a lot of thought to.  At the same time, traditionally published authors should also not rush headlong into this process, since they have to consider querying, who to query, how to write a synopsis, and so on.  Each route takes time; it's simply a matter of what you spend that time on.

That's the whole point to me - take the time to plan.  Lay out all of your options and plot the best path forward.  Sure, you can go out and do stuff in about a week, but you'll put forth a shitty product.  The layers involved in this are so complex that it takes time to understand them all and how they interact.  There are other considerations too, like tax seasons.  I know that half the audience's eyes just glazed over, but what sense does it make to incorporate and prep everything on December 5th?  That creates a tax burden for that year for hardly any season.  Why not wait until January to do what you need to so that you have the luxury of work behind you?  Yes, maybe that's lazy, but I want to have something tangible before combing through IRS regulations on April 15th.  And sure, maybe you got started at that point because you had some great insight into the market(maybe 10,000 people said they wanted your book by Christmas), but that's rare.  Most book purchases take place in Spring or early Fall(taking advantage of either upcoming vacations or the start of school).  If you release when the market doesn't care, you'll sabotage yourself from the get-go.

All I'm saying is to be patient if you can afford to be.  Building a successful business takes meticulous planning, and it still might fail.  Don't increase your chances of failure by rushing into stuff before you're ready.  Remember, writing your novel is the easy part.  Making it a success is where most folks fail.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Overwhelmed By Events

Sorry, folks, but no post this week.  Life became overwhelming recently.  This is one of the reasons I went to one post a week, and, unfortunately, I can't even make it this week.  I'll return next week.  Until then, my apologies.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

On Being A Snob

I am a pretentious prick who scoffs at most of what passes for literature out there.

No, I can be honest and admit it.  I'm not the usual consumer of mass marketed books that everyone seems to love.  For example, I hated The DaVinci Code.  I thought the plot was simplistic, the characters lacked depth, and that I could've written a better and more compelling book while sitting on the toilet.  I think Twilight is drivel designed to appeal to the base emotions of 14-year old girls who don't fit in in high school.

To some people, this makes me a bad person.  At the very least, it makes me extremely picky.  I look down my nose at most books out there because I think most aren't very good.  If people choose to shun me as a result, that's fine.  I know what I like, and I won't change that to fit in.

The reason I consider myself a snob when it comes to novels is that I want smart books with depth and characters that seem real.  Endings I can see coming a mile away annoy me, and any book not consistent within its own universe strikes me as lazy.  I can get shallow by reading the front page of any newspaper, so why would I waste my time on terrible stuff?

And I know I'm not alone.  Mas market books appeal to society at large, but let's be honest - most of society doesn't regularly devour books.  Most people read two or three books a year, usually on the recommendation of a friend, or because it happens to be the "in" thing right now.  True readers, the ones who gobble up books at more than one a month, know how hard it can be to find an enthralling story.

Here's the thing, though - those of us who are snobs not only have to accept that fact, but we also have to accept that it's going to be hard to find a book we really like.  We have to accept sifting through tons of debris out there to find the occasional gem that we can go back to time and time again.  It means accepting limitations on our selection rather than shaking our heads in frustration because what's out there just isn't good enough.

It's okay to be a snob.  It's okay to be picky.  Embrace it.  Don't worry about what other people will say when they find out just how discerning you are.  Also accept that you don't have to be picky about everything, and that the occasional guilty pleasure(maybe you like Warhammer books) is a great escape.  Stop worrying about what other people, including other snobs, think about your tastes.  After all, reading is supposed to be enjoyable, and even snobs deserve enjoyment.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Pulling The Rug Out(aka - Twist Endings)

I think there's this push/pull dynamic at work for most writers.  We want to be edgy and unpredictable(to a point), but we don't want our audience to be screaming for our head.  It's this dilemma that plays into how far afield we take endings that aren't in line with the way we set things up.

Twist endings can be great.  So long as some of the seeds are planted along the way so that a discerning reader can go back and say, "Aha!  I missed it, but it's right there!," then a twist ending can make a good story great.  Unfortunately, so many of us get so caught up in wanting to make an impact that we create twists simply for the sake of twists, and we end up looking stupid.

Readers have certain expectations.  When reading a mystery, they expect to not necessarily see the end coming.  Absent that, though, they want to see things like the main character's love life resolved or for grandma to save her farm.  Undercutting them leaves them without closure and usually pisses them off.  And remember that pissed off readers rarely return.

I'm not saying to get all predictable where any five year old could see what you have in mind 400 pages down the road, but don't swerve just because you're feeling froggy.  M Night Shyamalan has become a joke because he does almost nothing but twist endings.  It was fine with The Sixth Sense, but it got tiresome after a while because audiences started trying to figure out the twist that they knew was coming.

That's another part of the point - by being "unpredictable" all the time, aren't you becoming...unpredictable?  Surprises aren't surprises if everyone expects them.  You need a good reason to occasionally throw a curve, and it needs to be so overwhelming to the audience that they forgive you for not fixing things up the way they wanted.

The best advice I can give on this is to not be a douchebag.  Give your audience closure, and save your twists for those rare works you want to stand out.  Otherwise, you'll be shoved to the back by your readers.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Cultural Appropriation

I recently ran across a few articles about a writers conference in Brisbane, and some apparently controversial remarks made by Lionel Shriver.  Shriver is most famous for the novel We Need To Talk About Kevin, a book about a disturbed young teenager who commits a shooting spree at school.  The novel has received critical acclaim and was even made into a movie.

At the conference, several writers criticized Shriver and her remarks about cultural appropriation.  They said that only a person from a particular background can write about characters of that background.  Many complained that their own works were being outsold by others not from their ethnicity and that Shriver, and others, should stick to their own ethnic groups when creating characters.

Pardon me while I say...what the fuck?!?!

Okay, maybe I'm violating one of my own rules by wading into the cultural/political arena, but this one concerns one of the very essences of writing, making stuff up, and happens to be absolute bullshit.  Writing about others is the soul of writing.  Does anyone seriously believe that you should only write about people that look and talk just like you?  Do any of these namby-pamby-offended-all-the-time social justice vigilantes know what such stupidity and separation would've done to literature over history?  Would we have ever gotten Carrie, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Madame Bovary, or even any of the Harry Potter books(after all, JK Rowling isn't a teenage boy)?  We're writers; we make stuff up.  We borrow histories and people from other cultures all the time - that's what we do.  To limit yourself to only those you look like would constrict writing and make the world both dull and separate.

I wonder if those who were upset that Shriver outsold them ever considered that maybe she's just a better writer.  The market decides these things - if people like your book, they'll buy it.  If they don't, then they won't.  It's that easy.  Unfortunately, we seem to live in a world where everyone is looking to get all butt hurt because people don't do exactly what we say or adhere to our ideology and have the temerity to be public about it.

"Cultural appropriation" is a complete farce, and it's a form of separatism and prejudice.  It's a way to gather unto yourself all that is yours and can only be yours, and others better not try to play in your sandbox.  It's infantile and reminds me of a toddler screaming "MINE!  MINE!  MINE!"  If writing about something with which you're unfamiliar crosses the line, then the market will let you know, but these holier-than-thou PC freaks need to let this stuff go.  Part of cultural diversity and inclusion is allowing others into your circle.  It brings us together when we look to other cultures and try to form bonds between them.  Writers have to look outside their own experiences in order to write stuff that appeals to more than a few people.

In other words, to those who got mad at Shriver(and others like her), take the fence pole out of your ass.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

On Shrinkage And Being Overwhelmed

I wish it hadn't come to this, but I have to reduce my number of blog posts for the time being.  With my work schedule being what it is right now, keeping up three blog posts a week is a bridge too far.  I've also found myself repeating topics, and I know it's hurting the quality of this site.

Therefore, for the next three months, I plan on doing only one posting per week.  Don't worry - I'll still be here; it'll just be a little less often.  Since my book launch for Akeldama begins in earnest in January, I'll get back to three postings per week at that point since I'll have more material.  However, expending the energy at this point, along with a work schedule a lot more intense than I thought it would be, would be crushing.

I know some of you may think that this is the beginning of the end.  You'd be wrong.  I first have to put food on the table for my family, and I want to be sure I'm ready when the march towards May 18th really begins, so I've got to scale back.  It won't be for long, but I have little choice.  I'll put up a new post each Monday morning so you'll have something to read for the week.  Hopefully it'll make Monday a little less boring as well.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Clichés To Avoid

Clichés are sometimes unavoidable, but that doesn’t make them less annoying.  Usually, clichés are the hallmark of a lazy writers, something used to appeal to a reader without making him or her think.  I thought I’d review the clichés that need to be avoided, if at all possible.

- Prison stories that involve male-on-male rape.  Yes, this plays to nearly every guy’s primal fears, but it has been done to death.

- Clean cut bad guys.  It seems that the only people you can make villains nowadays are bankers dressed in three piece suits.  Anytime I pick up a mystery or crime story now, it’s pretty easy to find who the bad guy is going to end  up being – I just look for the neatly dressed guy who has been successful while everyone else around him is poor.  Stop it.

- The rogue hero with a heart of gold.  This is almost standard in every cop drama or war novel,  We like to see guys with a rough exterior that we can peel away into a teddy bear.  I guess this goes to our notion of how we can change things for the better.  For a twist, make the rough guy really be a rough guy.

- Brilliant doctors/scientists who have an amazing epiphany at the last possible second.  Look, I get the need to build drama, but I can’t tell you how many times it’s that last second insight that solves everything.  Aside from being a lazy catchall, it makes me wonder why this supposedly brilliant person couldn’t think of it earlier.

- The hurt athlete.  It seems that every story involving a great athlete has that person get hurt in order to “find themselves,” as if tragedy is required for greatness(or maybe that we just hate jocks).  Perhaps an athlete should sometimes just be an athlete.

- The government conspiracy is behind everything.  Good God I get tired of this one.  It seems we’re so afraid of offending anyone that we resort to the eeeeevvvvvviiiiillllllll government(almost ALWAYS being the American government), as the catalyst for every villainous thing out there.  The complete lack of creativity involved in this makes me want to drill a hole in the side of my head so I can get the idiocy out.

These are just a few, but if you’ve seen it over and over and over and over again in either print or on your favorite TV show, find a different way.  Sometimes it can’t be avoided in order to stay true to the story, but most of the time it makes you look like a hack.