Thursday, February 28, 2013

Getting Noticed

How many writers are there in the world?  Given that over a million books get published every year(both traditionally published works and indie published ones), the number seems kind of high.  However, how many of those million can you even name?  How does a writer stand out from the crowd?
(Like this lighthouse, you've got to rise above everything)
Lots of people say that good writing trumps everything.  That sounds great in Should Land, but in the real world, it takes more than just being able to tell a great story.  You might have something that rivals War & Peace, but if nobody reads it, how will anyone ever tell?  Good writing is the foundation for getting noticed, but it isn't what will get you to the top of the mountain.  There are lots of good writers out there, but only a few rise to the top.
(One sweet delicious cupcake looks like all the others - maybe one should have sprinkles)
You have to get your writing in front of people's faces.  You won't hook everyone.  Shoot, you might not even hook 10%, but those who do notice you are likely to become loyal readers.  So, how do you do this?

There's an old saying that if you want a full day's work from a man, you feed him just enough so that he knows he's hungry.  Especially in the beginning, be prepared to give your work away.  No, not all of it, but enough so you can entice the reader to seek more.  People are more likely to read what's free than to fork over money for some no-name that they've never heard of.  Hand out copies at libraries and college campuses.  Join Amazon KDP Select if you want to juice up your circulation.  Even more than that, encourage those who've read your work to share it with others.  You're investing in your future.

Seek out reviews.  Encourage those who've read your work to give an Amazon Review.  Goodreads and Indiereader help tell the world about newly published work.  Even if the review is bad, do all you can to get them because it increases your notoriety.  Just don't engage with reviewers, especially the negative ones - that never works out well.

Don't be afraid to use whatever connections you might have.  Know a reviewer for your hometown paper?  Ask if he'll review your book.  Space available in your alumni magazine?  Ask if they can mention your novel.  Met a great author at a conference?  Ask for a blurb.  While you don't want to be overly pushy, what you don't ask for will likely never happen.

There are lots of other ways to get noticed.  Attend conferences and conduct free readings.  Get a local radio show to talk about you if you can.  The ways are myriad, but you'll never know unless you give it a go.  This is where a lot of writers fall short because they don't want to bother people.  Well, that's nice, but those writers better have great skills at something else, because they'll never make it full time as a writer until people know who they are.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Self Belief Versus Humility

Those of us who write have a special conceit - we think we're the most qualified people around to tell a particular story.  If we weren't, someone else would be telling that story.  In our view, the only person who can do justice to the tale in our heads is us, and we won't cede to anyone that someone out there might be able to do it better.

The line between belief in yourself and being an arrogant prick can be very fine.  Every person should believe in himself if he wants to accomplish the goals set out.  Hesitation and self doubt lead to squeamish insecurity that manifests itself in piss poor work.  However, that belief has always got to be balanced with a dose of humility, lest we turn people off, or worse, that we start making mistakes in our work that show we're not as good as we think.
(Nobody likes a cock)
Let's be perfectly honest - no matter how much we hem and haw, most writers consider themselves to be far better at the craft than some Joe Blow off the street.  When we pick up what others have written, we cringe with that special sensation usually reserved for an upcoming enema.  We know that such work will be riddled with mistakes, and wow, if only we'd written the piece, it would have been so much better.  Looking around, there might even be a little bit of truth to that.

However, as Sheldon Cooper's mom said in The Big Bang Theory, "It's okay to be smarter than everybody else, but you can't go around telling them."

"Why not?" Sheldon asked.

"Because they don't like it!"

A writer should be as humble as possible for several reasons.  First, a conceited writer risks turning people off.  Back in 1997, I met Tom Clancy.  I liked his books, but what struck me most about the man was how arrogant he was.  In fact, I don't think I've ever met a more cocky son of a bitch than Clancy, before or since.  I've turned my nose up at his books ever since, and that's one of the risks we run by not only believing we're the smartest person in the room, but by proclaiming it to everyone as well.  Our readers are our bread and butter, and if we turn them off, we might as well hang it up.

Another reason to reign in our own superiority is that a writer who is always shouting about how great he or she is risks turning out a less than great product.  The 1980 Soviet Hockey Team was one of the best ever, and they had no problem telling everyone they met.  Therefore, when they ran up against a hungry and competent US Team at Lake Placid, they put out a halfhearted effort and got schooled.  Obviously writers don't need to worry about getting beaten in a game, but we do have to worry about thinking we're so awesome that we breeze right through our work and give a less than stellar product.  I've seen that happen to some writers, and the public isn't very forgiving of such an effort.

At the same time, we shouldn't be so modest that we come across as fake.  Imagine that you got the chance to ask Stephen King or JK Rowling what makes them such good writers and they responded, "Eh, I'm just okay.  Most of the world is better at this than I am."  We'd quite rightly think, "Phony."  A writer has to find a way to understand how good they are and allow his or her passion for the craft to come through without peeing on the masses.  I know lots of people who have trouble with this from time to time, including myself on occasion.  I think that it takes a reflective mind and the drive to get better to help balance these conflicting impulses.  That's one of the great struggles of those who choose to participate in this peculiar craft.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

End of Act Two

I finished writing the next part of my new novel last week, and it continues to be the easiest novel I've written, with over 80,000 words coming out in just over six weeks.  This part is entitled "Act Two:  Conflagration," and it's about the new Red v Blue Civil War catching fire.  It all started with a single spark at the end of Act One, and events have now spun entirely out of control.

I have little doubt in my mind that most folks don't want things in our country to boil over.  However, I'm not sure enough people are engaged to prevent it should the right spark occur.  The debate is controlled by the edges of both sides of the political spectrum, and those in between don't pay enough attention to notice when things are going really bad.  Oh sure, they'll listen to sound bites on the news or skim the headlines on their favorite Internet blog or news site, but the few that even go that far will rarely dig deeper.

We're on the verge of a political budget act called the Sequestration.  This was put in place to force a deal between Republicans and Democrats, but no one can now agree what that deal should be.  The President wants any budget agreement to include new revenue and an increase in the debt ceiling while Congressional Republicans are saying they already agreed to higher taxes as part of the fiscal cliff deal in January, so they now want the promised spending cuts.  Each side is screeching at the other about the impacts, as well as whose fault it is.

The public could probably bring enough pressure to bear on one side or the other to force a deal, but unfortunately, the average American barely knows what the Sequestration is, let alone which course of action is best pursued.  Instead, most would rather see what the latest news is with Honey Boo Boo or which movie that no one saw wins Best Picture.  Budget talks around which accounting method to use or the rate of governmental growth or shrinkage are boring, and since most people wrongly feel that such things won't affect their lives, they don't care.

It's in this environment that Act Two rages.  The event at the border of Washington and Idaho has sparked a potential impeachment of the President of the United States, and each side decides to use the (contradictory) constitutional tools available to it.  Law enforcement, and eventually the state national guards, of the respective red and blue states get embroiled in the conflagration.  The agencies become tools for those at the top, and those tools don't understand how to get themselves out of it.  Some resign or try to sit out in protest, but the majority blithely go along with what they're ordered to do.

Most folks remain observers to these events.  Those caught in the middle of the warzones try to escape, but even then they find it's hard to escape(such as when Arizona cuts off electricity to southern California).  Instigators within several cities spark riots where a stray comment can spark a beating from neighbors who happen to hold different views.

Also, both the media and the Supreme Court become involved, with unforeseen and frightening consequences.  Media based in cities where extremists from the other side are the majority find themselves in jeopardy, not just for their journalistic integrity, but for their very lives.  After all, can anyone honestly deny that there are those on the Left that would like to torch Fox News, or some on the Right who would like to hang the anchors from MSNBC?  And then, since most of the nation has abdicated its own judgment to that of an unelected and usually skittish body - the Supreme Court - when that body still can't decide which way to go, the wheels of both government and the nation become paralyzed.

The only drawback is that Act Two is very much story driven as opposed to character driven, but that's about to change as the next part gears up and introduces a major player.  At the end of Act Two, the nation is in flames, with passions high for the edges, and those in the middle wondering how to get out from under the mess.  And in all of this, the US Military, unsure which side to support due to ambiguities with the way things have been decided, is in the middle, setting the stage for Act Three:  The Coup...

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Questions To Ask During Your Writing

(Something we all want to know - is there ever such a thing as too much bacon?)
Stories are like a canned good that no longer has the label.  Everyone wants to know what's inside, as well as if they'll like it.  The task for writers is to figure out how to make the essence of the story something the reader will want.  In order to do that, writers need to ask themselves several questions:

1.  Why does this story need to be told?
There can be lots of reasons for this.  Maybe there's a dearth of zombie love stories on the market, and your research has shown that people are looking for that.  Maybe something timely in the news has everyone talking, and your story advances the societal narrative.  Or maybe you've just been dying to tell this story for years and you'll burst unless you do.  Whatever the reason, it needs to be something compelling.  A "just because" isn't going to cut it if you want the reader to understand the passion behind what you're saying.

2.  Is it the character or the plot that's most important?
Every good story, of course, has elements of both plot and character.  No one would read a story about Bobby, the 49 year old used car salesman, unless Bobby was doing something exciting, just as they wouldn't read about this year's new yoga session unless someone in the story had a reason to be there.  However, every book is going to push one element over the other, even if that push is only slight.  As the writer, you have to decide which is higher in priority.

3.  How can you draw in the reader?
Most TV shows are boring because we all know that the main characters are going to be safe in the end.  However, one of the things I like about The Walking Dead is the unpredictability of it.  For Sophia to become a walker or Lori to die in childbirth was something I never expected, and it made me say, "Holy shit!  What else is going to happen?"  That's the kind of tension you need to develop if you want your reader to be reeled in.

4.  Why should the reader care about your character?
Most people don't really care if the person next to them lives or dies.  Sure, they might care in a "it's right to love your fellow man" kind of way, but they really won't notice if that person is gone.  It's up to writers to make the reader give a shit about the people in the story.  Did the main character go through a grave injustice that would turn any of us against society?  Did that widow lose her husband and try to move on with another man, only to find out her "dead" husband is still alive?  Is a child who grew up being beaten and abused going to find a way to get past that in her adult life?  One of the biggest tasks is to get the reader to relate to the character, to see the flaws in each character that might be present in themselves, as well as a reason to root for that person.

5.  What is original about your idea?
I swear that if I see another book on the shelf about some angst riddled teen vampire and his or her love interest, I'm going to vomit.  I've heard it said that there are no new ideas, but that doesn't mean everything has to be just a rehash of what was in stores only two months ago.  I like that World War Z looked at the beginning of the zombie apocalypse and what we were doing as nations to fight it instead of just dropping us off months or years after it had already happened.  11/22/63 took a unique look at the Grandfather Paradox and made it something we hadn't seen before.  The key to these books' success was that they introduced something no one had seen before.  They fired the imagination and let us escape into something original for a while.  If you, as a writer, can do the same, your career may have potential.

These are the main questions I try to answer while I'm writing a book.  What are yours?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Ending Things

I love to read.  However, one of my biggest pet peeves is picking up a book that doesn't know when to end.  This usually comes from those hefty tomes that populate high school libraries but which few people actually enjoy.  However, there are plenty of novels in the public sphere that get engaged in the story, and that story then becomes like the kudzu that is taking over the South.

One of the reasons I hate TV Shows like Lost or Twin Peaks is that they never got around to resolving things.  They continued to tease and make it appear as if they'd finally reach resolution, but they just kept going and going and going.  Even the best things in life can be overdone.
(How much sushi do you really need?)
Writers can easily fall into a trap regarding our stories if we don't prune our work.  A novel becomes exciting to write when the story takes on a life of its own.  We want to delve into the most subtle of plot points and the minor nuances of our characters.  However, we have to keep in mind that readers want stories to have a satisfying ending.  Unlike the real world, books are where we can go to get the kind of closure we wish we could in life.

I've run into this issue in my current work, and I've had to scale back some of what I want to say.  The complexities of a new American Civil War are too endless to hit every possible plot point and still end it before the book reaches gargantuan proportions.  Some of the characters are a little shallow, mostly because if I was to devote the space necessary to bring all of them into full fruition, I'd have a book over 200,000 words.  As much talent as I like to think I have, I realize that no one would read anything that large.

Sometimes, this requires forcing an ending.  I'm a realist, so I see the ways a story can spin off into infinity.  But that leads down rabbit holes sometimes, so I put an artificial stopper in the hole just so readers can hit the bottom of the hole.  This usually means inserting some plot point into the script that will lead to the story being resolved, even if it has to be finessed in order to stay in the spirit of the book.

Speaking of endings, even blog posts can go on too long.  Therefore, I'll just let this stuff sink in and leave you with this - make sure you end your stories.  No one likes what can go on forever.  That just means the reader will end it, often by no longer reading the author.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Knuckling Down(aka - Fighting Distractions)

As the dozen or so people who read this blog know, I've been working feverishly on a new novel.  I've set a daily word count goal of 2,000, and I go to 4,000 or 5,000 during federal holidays where I have the day off but my daughter has school.  This should result in my book being complete by the end of April.

However, some days are harder than others.  Sure, it's not an issue once I get started, but I have to get past my urge to see what crazy things I need to catch up on or finish that debate on some message board or social media site(usually Facebook).  That takes discipline to sit in the chair, open up the work, and not follow some random interest down a rabbit hole.  It might not sound like much, but those of us who write know that such distractions are tempting.
(Don't follow the dragon into oblivion)
If I want to maintain some sense of sanity in my family life, I have to limit my time on the computer.  My wife will tell you that I've been known to sit on the computer all day and just browse through stuff, and that means less time spent with her and my daughter.  In order to not spend my life staring at a pixilated screenand flirting with divorce, I have to ration my computer time.  This means making choices as to what to do.

This writing thing is my lifelong dream.  In order for it to work, I'll need to get my name out there as quickly as possible and try to build a fan base that will notice my work and want to find more.  However, if I want to meet my initial rollout date, I've got to stay focused on writing.  My first year or so in the realm of actually selling books, I don't plan to write very much(except for this blog).  That's not to say I won't start anything new, but it means I will want to focus mostly on marketing and distribution, so writing new novels won't be very high on my list.

As most of those who read this blog know, writing an entire book is a time consuming and all-encompassing effort.  To finish in a timely manner requires continuous output, and that means you have to make the most of your computer time, especially if you want an outside life.  If I was doing this full time, I don't think it'd be much of an issue - I could write during the "normal" workday while my wife and daughter are otherwise engaged, and I'd still be very productive,  However, in the crevasses in which I can find time to write - after they go to bed, when they're out shopping, etc. - I can't let the latest Facebook status or my addiction to political websites get in the way.

It's been hard to eschew these things, and I don't always succeed.  I love getting embroiled in philosophical debates(yes, I'm a nerd) or reading about the latest in the world of science.  They help keep me sharp, or at least feeling as if I'm sharp, but they're still taking time away from finishing my work.  Could I be better at getting away from this stuff and better utilizing my limited computer time?  Sure, but that requires a great deal of effort.  Sometimes I succeed, but I fail almost as often.

How do you knuckle down?  Do you have something to knuckle down for?  And how do you handle things when your mind wants to go off into La La Land?

Thursday, February 14, 2013


No one likes being criticized.  Sure, we can all talk a big game about how mature we are and that we can handle it, but inside most of us is a little kid trying to get out, screaming for people to like us.  Unfortunately, given the world we live in, not everyone is going to think we're cute and cuddly.
(We can't even get everyone to agree that Maui is an awesome place)
Why did I bring this up?  Because being critiqued is as much a part of being a writer as breathing is a part of being human.  Some of those critiques will be from people who just didn't care for your story, and they'll be polite or offer suggestions as to what they thought would've made it a better book.  However, some will be downright nasty about it, questioning why you ever decided to pollute their air by breathing.

Review on websites like Amazon and Goodreads are our bread and butter.  Most, hopefully, will be good.  However, even Harry Potter gets the occasional one-star review, but JK Rowling doesn't stay up nights and weekends wondering why not everybody liked her.  Unfortunately, in this world of crystal egos, some writers simply can't let it go.  There have been some very catty fights on Amazon over the person who said something bad about a book.

This doesn't help the writer.  In fact, it makes the writer look insecure and immature.  Lots of writers won't even read their reviews, and even some actors are this way.  They know themselves well enough to know that if they did, they'd end up getting in fights that would do nothing for the betterment of their careers.  This is the path I'd suggest for most writers.

Yes, we'd all like to open up Amazon and see those glowing reviews where people compared us favorably with Mark Twain or Ray Bradbury, but most aren't ready to see the review from that one guy who calls himself "FineLineReader"...the guy who gave us one star and compared our work to reading the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper.  And human instinct is to log in and take that asshole to task.  When we do that, though, nothing good ever comes of it.  Although most people are smart enough to overlook one poor review or two, they're not going to take kindly to you trashing a reader, no matter how badly that person acted.  Nope, the reader is going to envision himself or herself not liking one of your stories some day and imagine you jumping into the ditch to sling mud.  Instead of risking that, they'll quietly abandon you, and you'll find yourself wondering why no one is buying your books anymore.

When you want critiques, stick with a critique group you know and respect.  At least you'll be prepared for what comes your way.  But stay away from reading online reviews since you're bound to find one or five that pull you down and tempt you to fight back.  In the end, the only thing you'll do is hurt your own career.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Series versus Stand-Alones

(Which do you prefer?)
There are two basic types of books out there - ones that are meant to be part of a series of inter-related stories, and ones that are meant to be the only one in that particular universe.  When we, as writers, get an idea, we have to decide which of these paths we're going to travel down.

I have a preference for stories with a definitive beginning, middle, and end.  Although I get into the characters I'm reading about, I prefer the story that's advancing.  I'm not real big on getting into a character's universe and just following their lives as they plod through whatever big event happens to be going on.  This is the biggest reason I've never been able to get into the James Bond movies - there's no real suspense as to whether or not old Jimbo is going to make it, because there'd be no story if he died.

Don't get me wrong, there are some great series out there.  Harry Turtledove's saga about the way the United States would have been split had the Confederacy won the Civil War, or his telling of the way an alien invasion during World War II forever altered the way our world works, were awesome series.  However, each had a place to start and a place to end.  **SPOILER ALERT** In the How Few Remain series, the United States eventually reunited the country, even controlling Canada, and were going to put the pieces of a shattered nation back together.  In the Worldwar series, mankind made it to the alien Homeworld and overtook them in military technology.  I was satisfied with the end of each series, and it didn't leave me wondering if there was something else down the line.

Most of Stephen King's books, with the notable exception of the books that follow Roland Deschain in the Dark Tower series, are stand-alones.  No one ventures back into Derry to see if Pennywise is still around, nor to they follow Ben Mears after he destroys Kurt Barlow.  I can pick one of them up in peace, knowing that I won't have a lot of unanswered questions by the end.

Writers have to be careful about this.  The worlds we create can be like warm blankets, comforting us when we return to them.  However, if we're to keep readers satisfied and following us, we can't just create an everlasting series just for the sake of doing so.  I believe the plot is the most important element, and our books must have a coherent story, not just some rambling tale about a guy as he makes breakfast in the morning before his daily bowel movement.

Of course, I might be in the minority.  Which do you prefer?  Do you want a set story, whether through a series or a stand-alone?  Or do you like following a world with a character, unsure that anything will ever get fully resolved?

Sunday, February 10, 2013


Lots of people struggle with making their minimum daily word count goal.  They'll carve out 15 minutes here or 25 minutes there, hoping that the extra time will result in reaching that magic number, whatever it might be.  However, have any of the rest of you set a daily word count maximum?

I think I mentioned before that I won't write more than 5,000 words at a single setting, or more than 6,000 in a single day.  Some folks have asked me, "Why would you stop when you're on such a roll?"  The answer is easy - I'm afraid of overheating.
(Very few things look pretty with too much heat)
I have to make a deliberate effort when I'm writing to not get ahead of myself.  I get so excited about the story I'm telling that I'll begin to skip key elements, taking for granted that the reader "just knows them."  This gets worse the further into writing for a long time that I go.  Bits of my outline will blur together, and I'll stop describing the scene, instead putting only the most basic information on paper.  After all, the reader has been following along in my imagination up to this point, so surely they know what's coming...right?

Unfortunately for me, my mind-to-reader telepathy machine is broken.  Readers like to get into the momentum of a story too, but they expect certain gates to be met.  What kind of weapon does the President's Secret Service Detail carry?  That interstate that I keep writing about, is it over an open field, or are there lots of trees on either side?  That conniving politician, is he giving a speech in the Capitol Press Room or outside on the steps, and is it cloudy or sunny?

These middling details keep our readers engaged.  They want to get lost in our world, and if we forget that, lost as we are in the momentum of the story, we'll lose them.  My writing drifts into this area if I write too much for the day.

I wish I could explain it more clearly.  I wish that I could write just as crisply when I'm into the 5th hour of writing for the day as I was when I was only 15 minutes in and the juices are really starting to flow.  However, that's not the way my brain operates, and I recognize that.  I get fuzzy after sitting in front of a screen for too long, so I have to take a break.  I compare it to that gym rat that goes from machine to machine to get that perfect workout, but after 90 minutes, his form sucks.  He may think he's getting a great burn, but he's just going through the motions after a while.

Six thousand words in a day, or even 5,000 at one sitting, is a lot.  If a person were to do that for six days a week, he or she would have a 180,000 word first draft before a month and a half goes by...more than twice the size of the usual book.  What's the rush?  I believe in building an inventory, but even the best writers can't produce something of quality in that kind of time on a regular basis(authors like James Patterson are the rare exception).  Slow down and put your best effort on the page.  If your world goes fuzzy after five hours, your quality will suffer and your readers will notice.  Don't give them that chance - stay fresh...something that happens only when you are able to give your mind a break.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Breaking the Rules of Writing

Every writer worth his or her salt has heard about the rules of writing.  Show, don't tell.  No info dumps.  Drop the adjectives and adverbs.  Stay focused on characters.  Tell the story through a character's eyes.  It's all enough to make your head spin.

If you've ever seen Pirates of the Carribean - The Curse of the Black Pearl, you're familiar with the famed Pirate's Code.  You're also familiar with Captain Barbosa's famous quip that "the code is more guidelines than actual rules."  Writers would do well to remember this.
(Normally Barbie couldn't run with only one leg, but she could if you gave her a prosthetic)
I've seen far too many writers get tripped up by being so stringent in following the rules that they forget to give us a good story.  One of the biggest is in the Show versus Tell dichotomy that runs through the writing world.  We are always told not to just straight tell the reader what a character is thinking or feeling, but rather we're supposed to show it through actions.  Unfortunately, doing so sometimes distracts from the scene we're trying to develop.  The occasional telling of something in one sentence that showing might take three to do could allow us to get into the meat of what we want to get across.  In other words, we don't always have to have the character's face fall or describe them sitting all alone in a dark room; we could simply say, "Patti is depressed."

The focus on nothing but characters is another thing writers focus on to a fault.  Don't get me wrong - I love reading about folks I'm emotionally invested in.  However, there are times when the story matters more than who's in it.  Harry Turtledove does wonders in describing a world where the Confederacy won the Civil War and what the ramifications of that would be.  Yes, there are characters that move the story along, but they're merely traffic cops making sure we don't get stuck in the middle of the road.  He kills off these people with reckless abandon, but he always moves the story forward, from a Second War Between the States, to the end of a World War that pitted the Confederacy and England against the United States and an Imperial Germany.  Getting us from 1862 to 1945 was the most important part, and the folks that got us there were always bit players, replaced whenever the story needed to move to the next event.  It's rare when this is a viable option, but that doesn't mean a writer should be afraid to explore the possibility.

Great writers know when to break the rules.  Unfortunately, far too many are afraid to leave the confines of what society at large finds acceptable - the publishing world, in this case.  This limits what the writer can accomplish and leads to stale books.  This is exactly why a book like Charlotte's Web, a children's novel that took on the taboo subject of death, becomes an iconic classic.  It breaks the bounds of what writers thought was possible by ignoring the conventions of the time and plowing into unfamiliar territory.  Not every writer will be successful, nor will most stories break out, but without flaunting the rules from time to time, we'll be denied that next great masterpiece.  I find such a possibility beyond boring.  How about you?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Suspending Disbelief

(Slices of American cheese don't make good night vision goggles)
Every piece of fiction requires that we indulge in a bit of fantasy.  We have to believe that magic exists if we're to enjoy the Harry Potter series, just as we need to ignore the laws of physics and accept faster than light travel if we want to have fun with George Lucas and Star Wars.  These leaps of faith are benign and necessary bits in losing ourselves in the larger world.

However, authors don't always make these leaps easy.  There needs to be some aura of believability in the story or we'll just roll our eyes and move on to something else.  I can personally let a lot of stuff go, but the one area I can't let go in is with regards to human reaction and common sense.

I admit that I have a tendency to over think things at times - my wife says it's one of my best qualities - but I have a keen grasp of how the real world works and what's plausible.  That helps keep me grounded, and it also affects the way I write.  One of the reasons I couldn't get into the movie Avatar at all was the sheer idiocy of it all - if humanity had the technology to cross the stars and get to Pandora, and if they had knowledge of the location of the mineral they were there to get, why in the world would they risk a close quarter combat action against a foe who can only do you harm if you close with them?  Why wouldn't the mercenaries simply bombard the planet from orbit and take the mineral at their leisure?

Writers have a lazy tendency sometimes to just make outlandish leaps in our stories so that the story will work out the way we want.  The down and out family will win the lotto just before their house is foreclosed on, or our super-villain who was smart enough to determine the heroes latest plans will forget to activate the one camera at the lone spot our hero slips through to get inside the secret compound.  These things reduce our stories to parody, and they lower the intelligence of our work.

Don't make it easy as a writer.  You have to assume your audience is as smart as you are.  Don't exclude that subtle plot point that won't be important for another 50 pages - leave it in.  Have your antagonist remember to load a full clip into his weapon so your hero has to actually figure out a stealthy approach.  The average reader is smart - that's why they're reading - so reward their intelligence and allow them to believe your world.  If you can't grant them that simple courtesy, why should they ever read your work?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

High Emotion Events

I've spoken before about certain events and their effect on my writing.  As I thought more about it, I came to realize that it's exactly these kinds of high emotion events that allow us to write our best.  Try though I might to create new worlds out of thin air, I don't get the depth of intensity that comes only from events one might consider earth shattering.
(The best descriptions come from events of vivd detail)
This can be difficult.  I don't mean difficult in the sense of not having significant emotional events in our lives.  If we're at all human, we've had those things that have shaken the foundations of our world, whether it be a death, a birth, or some sense of terror that we would never wish to re-experience.  However, it's the translation of those things to the page that is hard.

We can't confine our writing to that time we nearly lost our child to some unseen factor found in the nick of time, or the battle we fought on some foreign battlefield in which we lost a friend.  Those are very specific personal events, and they wouldn't mean much to the average reader.  However, being able to twist the feeling into something original can produce superior writing.

In novels like Akeldama, I obviously haven't encountered a cabal of vampires bent on ruling humanity, but I was able to describe certain events within the book by drawing on my own experiences from my time in combat.  I recall the sense of helplessness I felt when I encountered a friend of mine who died on the battlefield.  I remembered the sense of righteous anger I had and what I wanted to do to those who'd killed him.  My writing allowed me to deal with that anger in fantasy in a way I couldn't in real life.

The main character in Akeldama also had to deal with an incredible betrayal that shook the foundation of his world.  After dealing with an event that I could match to that situation, I was able to better get across what the character felt.  Certainly it wasn't on the same scale, but I could translate a very personal situation at the time I was writing it to the scene, and it made for a much more in depth piece of work.

Tapping these situations is the difference between being a decent storyteller and capturing someone's feelings to the point where they care about the characters in your novel.  Think to your own life events, especially those that kept you up at night or caused you the greatest amount of stress.  Is there some way to can apply those events to your work?  Can your work evolve around such emotions?  Deep feeling and passion help us in bringing depth to what we write, and when we can make the leap between what we've experienced and our tales, we bring forth work that should make an impression on even the most emotionally disconnected reader.