“Dedicated to helping you create strong, vibrant, and beautiful fiction”
– David Farland, award-winning author, international bestseller
Many times as an editor, I will look at a scene and ask myself: “Does this scene belong? Does it move the story along? Does it change the story in new and exciting ways?” Too often, the answer is, “No, it’s wasted text.”
I recently looked at a novel that had a fantastic opening. The problem was, that that great opening didn’t come until fifty pages into the book. Any editor would have rejected the manuscript long before that.
Every single page was well written. The characters were fleshed out, the character’s voices and dialog were convincing, the details of setting were great.
The problem was that those first fifty pages consisted of people talking, relating their backstories, and introducing themselves to the audience, and it just didn’t work.
So here is a list of things that you might consider when trying to judge if a scene is needed:
1) Do your characters do anything, or do they just think? Too often, I will see scenes where characters just sit and think about what has happened. “How did I get in this mess?” The chances are good that this kind of scene is garbage. You’re trying to lead up to the action when you do this. Instead, let characters think while they are in action.
2) A character or a setting is introduced. This can go, too. There’s nothing wrong with introducing a character or a setting, but you need to have something happen. Nobody wants to read ten pages about grandma’s kitchen, or get an info dump about the first seventy years of her life before she ever comes on stage. That’s all backstory. Yet when starting a tale, too often that’s exactly what we get. The author begins looking for a place to open, and decides to encapsulate the main character’s life up to this point.
3) Two characters have a conversation—but nothing changes. Very often I see conversations that seem to be rather maid-and-butler, where one character says, “Gee, Bob, you know I think we have a major problem,” and the other says, “Yes, I agree.” That’s all a waste.
4) The scene happens in flashback. In many cases, authors will try to drag in some ancient history that is relevant to the story, but the story doesn’t depend upon the reader knowing the information. The question becomes, did I really need it, or was it just window-dressing.
5) The action in the scene repeats something that has happened before. For example, I’ve seen authors write a scene where Joe gets into a fight with his boss. We see Joe thinking about what he’s going to say. We then see a scene where he fights with the boss. We then see the boss repeating it from his view. We see Joe thinking about how it went. In other words, we’re shown the same fight from four different angles. In this case, the author is like a director trying to figure out how to film a scene from the best angle. He might try moving the camera a few times, but for the purpose of the story, it’s still only one scene that he needs.
When I was young, I would spend a great deal of time on a scene or a description, often to find that it just didn’t work as well as I wanted. I found that too often I was straightening the deck chairs on the Titanic.
A scene can only be justified in a few ways. Before you write a scene, ask yourself, does anything change in the course of this scene?
For example, does a character get new information that spurs him onto an unexpected course of action? An example of this might be: My CIA agent suspects that he is being followed, and takes steps to evade his pursuer—ultimately getting into a shootout. This kind of change hints of a new conflict that of course can be expanded upon.
Does the character change his mind about something? For example, perhaps your character Sarah has always thought cowboys were a bit . . . silly. Then she meets Duke, and suddenly finds herself wanting to follow him home to Wyoming. That emotional change in her, once again, leads to an expanded story.
Sometimes when a character changes his/her mind, it’s not an emotional change but an intellectual change that occurs. For example, a character might be sold on the idea of taking out a new life insurance policy by his wife . . . never dreaming that she plans for him to die in the very near future.
All in all, the chances are excellent that if nothing changes in a scene, then it can be tossed away.
Never get emotionally attached to a scene. With each scene, as you consider details of characterization, character motivation, setting, and dialog, ask yourself, “What can I cut to good effect?” Get to the heart of the story.
Get a new FREE e-book. I have a new book available for nanowrimo—100 of my favorite kicks along with inspirational quotes from other authors. Watch for it at mystorydoctor.com. You will be able to download it for free there when it is up.
If you’re looking for a little more inspiration for Nanowrimo, I currently have two books for sale in the nanowrimo bundle, which has twelve writing books for only $15. This is a fantastic deal, so check that out, too.
Last of all, we will be putting all of our workshops up for a 20% discount this week. Just enter the word “nanowrimo” as your coupon code.
Over twenty-five years ago I began editing professionally. I began by doing volunteer work as an editor for literary magazines, but my first job was for Brigham Young University, where I helped professors raise their work to publishable levels. Many of the people I worked with were scholars with tremendous expertise in their field of study but often they were not practiced writers. Some of them weren’t even native English speakers. So I helped edit articles, textbooks, history books, self-help books, novels, short stories, pamphlets and funding proposals.
Later I went on to editing technical manuals, and from there moved into fiction editing—both short stories and novels. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t exercise my skills in one way or another.
The past three years, I’ve taught workshops on novel editing. In the workshop, I edit the first 100 pages of one’s work, then teach novelists who are seriously trying to break into the market.
Here are some key points that I wanted my writers to take away:
In most writing groups, authors get a lot of feedback on the errors in their work, but don’t get much feedback on how to actually improve it. As a result, new authors focus on eradicating errors. So what they end up with is a novel that is pretty much unobjectionable. But that’s rather damning. You don’t want to be “okay,” you want your work to be great.
So in your rewrites, take the opportunity to add as many virtues to your work as possible.
Does your novel suffer from weak descriptions? In your first pass, put those descriptions in.
Would your work benefit by having stronger hooks at the opening to each chapter? Make a pass and put in some great hooks.
Could your novel be better if your character had a more distinctive voice, or if you showed more internal dialog? You can make your novel better in each pass.
Do you need to make your characters more decisive, or show their internal pain? Those can be handled in editing passes.
The truth is that there is so much to do to write a good novel, that many novelists find that it is better to focus on it in several passes, in just the same way that a painter creates a masterpiece by laying down the paint in a dozen layers, letting each one dry before working on it again.
Sure, you might find some weaknesses when you’re editing, but you should be more concerned with adding virtues.
Some authors naturally do one or two things really well. For example, Shannon Hale has a gift for creating gorgeous metaphors, and her use of language is lyrical and beautiful. Tolkien had a gift for world creation that was pretty much unequaled at his time. Orson Scott Card is fantastic at creating gripping arguments, showing penetrating insights into his characters’ conflicts. I love George R. R. Martin’s excellence at creating resonance, or Patrick Rothfus’s command of voice, or Dan Well’s control of tone and his gift for finding fascinating ideas.
But in order to become a bestseller, you normally have to develop a number of skills. On a scale of one to ten, you might look at yourself and ask, where am I? Am I at a five when it comes to creating character voices? Am I only at a one when it comes to world creation? Does my work completely lack hooks or foreshadowing?
If you’re average in most ways but manage to excel in two or three, editors will find you to be publishable. In fact, if you’re excellent at three things, it creates a pattern of excellence, and you’ll probably become a bestseller. That’s all that it takes.
Given that, when I’m editing, I try to work on developing new talents. For example, I might decide that I want to be at least a nine when it comes to creating hooks. Or maybe I’ll try to develop my themes to the point that I can honestly say, “I’ve never seen anyone handle this theme as well as I just did.”
I wish that I could say that there are great editors who can help you reach your loftiest goals. Maybe there are, but they probably don’t work in major publishing houses. Too often, editors for the houses don’t have much real training. Some went into the field with the goal of working as an editor, but I’ve worked with a number who came in from the secretarial pool. I recall one editor who didn’t like reading. Another had never read anything in the field of science fiction when she started, and so asked me for a list of the classics.
An ideal editor, I think, would need to have a profound understanding of story. She or he would have studied with great writers, read widely in literature, and she’d prosper due to her ability to take good writers and help turn them into great ones.
Most of the editors that I’ve worked with aren’t writers. They may be good readers and even good critics, but they have no experience with actually creating stories, and I think that can be a weakness.
So what does a writer do? Just hoping that you’ll find a great editor isn’t quite enough. You’ll have to find your own wise readers and critics and learn from them. For example, if you find a writer that you admire, you might look on his or her website and see if the author has any articles that might enlighten you as to how to better your own work. You might even take a class, if the author is teaching at a local convention, and arrange to take that writer out to lunch in order to glean some private advice.
Similarly, there are plenty of great books on writing, and for a small investment, you get hours worth of thoughtful instruction on the topic of your choice from an expert in that field.
Beyond that, look for people with expertise and invite them to join your writer’s group, or perhaps become a reader. If you look at Tolkien and Lewis, I have to wonder if either would have succeeded so well without the Inklings. Tolkien was a great world creator. Lewis was the pre-eminent master of theme. Each of them, I suspect, pushed the other to greater heights.
Look for people who can push you in the same way.
It is possible to hire editors, of course, and if you’re self-publishing, you should. Some professional fiction editors take on part-time work–after all, the field is notorious for its low pay. You can find people listed in the back of Writer’s Digest, or advertising online. You can also go to your local newspaper or to a magazine and find people. It isn’t usually enough to hire one editor—I often use three. Even after all of my years of practice (and in my performance reviews, I was told over and over again that I am a sensational editor), I still don’t capture my own typos. No one does.
Just as importantly, work on finding volunteer readers for your books. If you’re writing fantasy, see if you can find a few fans that would take a look at it and give an honest opinion. If you’re writing for children, check with an English teacher at a nearby school to see if you can find some volunteer readers. Don’t think that just because you haven’t published, people won’t be interested. The fact is, most people will be very enthusiastic in their response.
National Novel Writing Month starts the first of November, and a couple of times in the past week I’ve had people ask, “How can I make the most of nanowrimo?”
This November, more than 300,000 writers across America will set a goal to “write a novel in a month.” The novel is defined as 50,000 words in length. That’s an attainable goal for most people, but it’s also one that you have to struggle to attain.
In order to make the most of the month, I suggest a few things.
1) Write every day. Set a goal to get something done, and use that inspiration to create a writing habit. It’s a lot like going to the gym. The first few days when you try it, you feel beat up and sore afterward. But if you keep it up for a week, it turns into a habit. Keep it up for two weeks, and you’ll feel crummy if you don’t get to write. In other words, in time you’ll learn to write, and you’ll find it as a release.
2) Don’t rewrite. Instead of going back and fixing things over the month, leave yourself notes each day about edits that you want to make in that previous manuscript, but just keep plowing through it. Otherwise, the rewriting itself becomes something of an excuse not to write original material.
3) Try to write every day. I find that it is helpful to write at the same time each day. For me, that’s in the morning. A little routine is helpful. You might find that you like to turn on the stereo and listen to a soundtrack, or grab a drink of tea to set beside your computer. Whatever you need to do, get into a habit.
4) There are certain things to avoid. Don’t read your emails first, or let yourself go on Facebook, or play videogames. This is your writing time. In fact, communication where you respond to others should go out the window. The desire to write is born of the need to communicate, and if you’re talking to others, the desire to write will diminish.
5) Have a plan for your book. If you haven’t plotted your novel yet, you might consider that now. To help you, I have the Story Puzzle Course that deals with brainstorming and outlining a novel, or you can get my book Million Dollar Outlines and use it. (See the ad for the storybundle book bundle below.)
6) I do sometimes find that reading a little helps get me in the mood to write, but once again, it has to be a little. It doesn’t necessarily have to be fiction. For example, reading a little writing article might sometimes encourage me. For that reason, I’ll be giving out a free e-book for Nanowrimo called Daily Meditations: Writer Tips for 100 Days. This is a collection of 100 of my favorite kick articles, all rewritten, along with quotes for each day from other famous authors. The book will be available in about a week, so keep an eye out for it!
If you’re looking for a little more inspiration for Nanowrimo, I currently have two books for sale in a nanowrimo bundle, which has twelve writing books for only $15. This is a fantastic deal, so check that out, too.
Today I’m going to discuss a bit about what I call “grounding” the reader. Quite simply, grounding is the fine art of letting the reader know what is going on. You need to focus on some basics: Who is in a scene? Where does it take place? What is the major conflict?
Those questions need to be answered quickly with every scene in a book or story. Yet often, writers neglect to ground their readers. Sometimes they forget to give out important information, or they hide it, thinking that the reader will want to “discover” the basics. Even very good authors will do this.
In reading stories for Writers of The Future, I found a story that takes six pages before it gives any hints about the setting. In another, it was ten pages. If the writer hadn’t done exceptionally well in a lot of other ways, I wouldn’t have bothered reading that far. Normally, I want a setting by the end of page 2.
Last night, one writer went through six pages without naming his protagonist. I normally demand a name on the first page, unless there is a compelling reason not to reveal it. In this case, the author finally let on that the protagonist was named Jake, but then went back to using a generic “he” for a couple of pages. At that point, I quit even skimming. I normally reject such stories pretty quickly. I only read this one because I was interested in seeing how long the writer would try to play me.
Another couple of stories in the submission pile didn’t tell me how many characters were in a party. So, for example, on one ship, we have a hundred warriors fighting against folks on another ship. In each of the first dozen paragraphs, the author introduces a new warrior or group of warriors performing some neat action. That’s a problem with grounding. I couldn’t visualize who was there, or what the ship was like, or where the people were in relation to one another. There was obviously some intriguing world creation in this story, and some interesting conflicts. But I have to be honest, after five pages I couldn’t figure out who the bad guys were, what they were (humans, monsters, demons?), or what the groups were fighting about. All of those are “grounding” problems.
So ground your reader quickly with information about the characters and setting, along with a substantial conflict.
Spotting a lack of conflict is usually very easy. If you have your characters talking for two pages, or combing their hair while looking in a mirror, and the reader doesn’t get a hint of a conflict, then the story will begin to drag quite quickly.
You could do worse than to start a story with all three elements in the very first sentence: “Johann did not want to die on the moon, but when the asteroid struck the dome above Callisto Crater, it looked as if he didn’t have any other options.”
In many cases, knowing the “why of a conflict” is just as important as knowing what the conflict is. For example, let’s say that “Rachel is racing toward a Taxi.” It makes a huge difference if she is racing for it to escape a pack of zombies, or if she wants to get home in time to watch American Idol.
Of course, you can play the information out longer than just a single sentence. Creating a character may require you to give us a little action. If you’re going to show us a hero, you might want to create a scene that generates sympathy for the protagonist right from the start, perhaps by putting him or her in pain. In the same way, using all of the senses to evoke a setting may also require a couple of paragraphs.
So don’t withhold information too long, or the reader will grow weary and walk away. Remember, the most powerful way to hook a reader is to create a character, put them in a vividly setting, and put the character in jeopardy quickly.
NaNoWriMo starts in 16 days. We are still doing our NaNoWriMo bundle. If you could mention it to your writing groups or any other writing organizations or social media outlets, I would appreciate it. This bundle has books by the Writing Excuses crew, Kevin J. Anderson, Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, myself, and others. Get six books for $5 or 12 books for $15.
Going along with NaNoWriMo, I have my Writing Mastery Camp happening the first week of November, and I only have two more spots available. This is my most intensive workshop. You will have exercises, assignments, lectures, and time to just write. So if you are interested, learn more or sign-up before it fills up.
Then, I hope you enjoy these StoryBundles as much as we do, because we are starting an Urban Fantasy one today that has my novel Nightingale in it. Again, get six books for $5 or 12 books for $15. Check them out here
Unfortunately, there is so much covered under the umbrella of style and tone that it would take a good long book to deal with it. In fact, I’ve read several good books on the topic, and I can’t cover much here.
The word “style” when used in literary circles refers to all of the unconscious decisions that you make as a writer. It includes things like “What subject matter do you choose to write about?” “What themes crop up in your work?” “How do you write sentences and scenes in ways that make them distinctly your own?” In short, style includes all of the things about your writing that are impossible for you to control. It’s like your genetic makeup. It defines you.
But “tone” in writing includes the things that you are able to control—whether to approach a death scene seriously or to add just a tint of dark humor. It might include whether to throw in a metaphor here, a dream sequence there. Tone includes all of the conscious decisions that you make as you pen your story—your choices in phrasing, word order, and the attention that you pay to using words precisely or with a little creative flair.
In some ways, your tone is like the clothing. You select a new outfit to wear in each story.
I’m a bit uncomfortable critiquing someone’s style. It’s something that they are born with. If a young man came to you and said, “I want to be a quarterback in the NFL,” you’d first take a look at him physically. Is he big enough to take a hit from a 300-pound lineman? Can he scramble and throw? Does he make decisions quickly? If he fails these tests, then you know that his real chances are slim. He may not have the natural capacity to compete. Few people do.
It’s much harder to gauge new writers, where innate talents might lie hidden for years. You’ve seen yourself that many a brilliant storyteller can’t write worth a damn on a line-by-line basis.
So it’s difficult—and improper—to be brutal toward new authors. If you’re in a writing group with someone who feels smug and superior, who throws his or her weight around, who demoralizes others, you owe it to yourself to throw the bully out! Don’t you quit! Don’t let such people have their say, or they’ll just keep stroking their egos by beating up everyone in sight.
I don’t believe in beating up artists who are making their first attempts to write. At the same time, I don’t feel uncomfortable at all about going to a livestock auction and judging a steer based upon its conformation—its bone structure and musculature. We recognize that certain cattle are inherently superior to others even within the same breed. Writers are that way too. Some people just have gifts of genius, and they easily do things that others can’t duplicate.
Don’t let that bother you. The truth is that most of us have some gifts, and we often tend to discount the ones that we do have. We’re so eager to improve that we don’t take into account what we’ve accomplished. At least, that’s the way that I am. I tend to look for flaws in my work, but I can’t enjoy my own work. This was brought out to me a couple of years ago when I met a popular author. He gushed and praised my work, and then said, “You probably know this, but I’ve been trying to write like you for years, but no matter how hard I try, I fail. I’m afraid that I probably look pretty . . . well, I’m sure that you’ve noticed and think that I look pretty stupid.” I was stunned. This gentleman has sold many more books than I have. He’s won more awards, too. The idea I had anything to teach him had never crossed my mind. To be honest, I had often looked at his work and just felt a sickening sort of despair.
I think that it’s that way with most of us. As writers we’re always struggling so hard to improve that we never take the time to sit back and even recognize our own strengths, much less admire them.
So when I’m judging an author’s style, there’s a lot to dissect. How well does this person communicate with others? A great author has a gift for recognizing how people will respond to his words. I recall talking to Algis Budrys once, and he said, “You know, there is no such thing as a blockbuster author who isn’t a genius. The ability to communicate to a huge audience is a very rare and valuable gift. Too often, such gifted authors go unnoticed.”
I look at such things as how well an author empathizes with people who aren’t of his or her age, sex, political persuasion, ethnic background, and so on. Too many authors who can’t extricate themselves from their own heads. There are men who can’t write to women, Democrats who can’t communicate with Republicans.
How cognizant is an author of the complexities and potential beauty of language? In short, does he strive to put simple one-syllable words on paper, as Hemingway did, or does he recognize the music that lies beneath his words and seek to evoke even more beautiful tunes?
There are of course other gifts. Some authors have a genius for pacing, others for intellectual observations. Some create worlds that aren’t just believable, they become a part of mankind’s shared dreamscape. I know one author who has a remarkable gift for belittling in his writing, another who has a knack for writing about friendship.
Every author has dozens of strengths and weaknesses in his or her style, and if I’m to make an honest appraisal of a work, then each of them has to be taken into account.
Tone, on the other hand, we can control. We get to make choices about how we’ll approach a work—which words we’ll use, what scenes we will write, and so on. Indeed, I sometimes feel that we have more conscious control than we realize. I can even make decisions that will consciously counter my innate style.
I know that there are millions of ways that I can mess up a story, but I also recognize that with any given tale, there are ten thousand ways to do it right. My goal is to choose the “best right way” for me. In other words, I look at the alternatives, the ways that I can see that will tell the story well, and then I use the approach that feels the most artistically satisfying for me.
So when I’m judging an author’s tone, I once again find myself judging a thousand little things—the choice of adverbs that the author uses, or the details included in a scene—and I weigh the author’s performance against that of his or her peers.
If a writer clearly has deficits such as a wooden ear or the inability to create believable dialog, then I’ll know soon enough. Similarly, if the author has tremendous skills, that comes out, too.
I’ve had a number of new writers come up to me and say things like, “I feel like I need to discover my style.” I believe what they’re really saying is, “I want to write to my highest potential.” That happens naturally as you struggle to improve your writing, to communicate as clearly and profoundly as your soul demands.
There is a charity dinner happening tonight in St. George, Utah as part of a book festival. The dinner starts at 6 p.m. and attendees get to dine with the mayor and a handful of authors. Get all the information on it here.
Don’t forget about our NaNoWriMo Bundle. It has six books on writing for a minimum of $5, or twelve books for $15. Some of the money will be donated to charity. Two of the books in the bundle are my writing books, Million Dollar Outlines and Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing. Check out the bundle here
When you’re writing a tale, it almost always turns out better if you get deep into the head of your protagonist and tell the story from that person’s point of view. This is especially true if you have multiple protagonists, because it means that you will need to characterize those people by showing just how differently they relate to the world.
But doing that is a trick.
How does your character perceive the world?
You see, we all perceive the world in different ways. For example, I learn best from hearing, and so I tend to listen very closely to instructions. Often, I’ll catch nuances that others miss. Another person might learn by doing, while a third learns by watching others. So if four people are given the same lesson—say how to replace a headlight on a car—we’ll each benefit from different parts of our training.
What is your character habitually interested in when he thinks? What does he focus on?
As we go through our day, each of us has our own special area of interests. While I’m walking down an unfamiliar street, for example, I may pay close attention to the plant life. I’ll mentally “tag” houses by remembering who has the large willow tree out front, or who has the peach-colored roses. An architect, in the meantime, might tag the homes by noticing architectural details—the dormer windows on a ranch-style home—while my wife might tag them by color design.
When I was a missionary, I had a companion who remembered people’s cars. If someone had a red 72 Chevy, he’d see the car in a parking lot and say, “Hey, there’s John Thomas!” Then I would look up, and John was nowhere to be seen. I recall vividly one day how he began naming off people and saying, “There’s John, and the Metzgers, and the Sally Day, and . . .” I looked up eagerly, and there wasn’t a single person on the street. He named a dozen people just by looking at their cars.
The downside of this was, if we went to John Thomas’s house, he couldn’t remember what it looked like. Unless the car was out front, he’d invariably confuse it with another house.
So your characters will have their own way of relating to the world, and each will have his own biases and education level. They’ll each have their own focus. As a corrections officer, I always made note of unlocked gates or doors left open when I was driving through town. I’d watch strangers to see how they moved, where they put their hands. I’d be careful when walking into restaurants, making sure to place my back to a wall and give myself a clear field of view to see who had entered.
How does your character judge others
A young woman may judge a new girl by her designer labels, or her hair, rather than her friendliness and her smile. A young man may only be interested in befriending another boy if he thinks that the boy would be an asset to the football team. A third person may avoid people who are wealthy, while a fourth might gravitate toward people who have a strong sense of humor.
What are your character’s fetishes?
I read a story once about a killer who has a knife that is rather special to him. He used it to kill his mother and half-sisters, and he likes to finger it a lot. But the author didn’t describe the knife. What kind of knife is it—hunting knife, combat knife, survival knife? How long is the blade? What is the handle like? What kind of metal is it made from? What brand is it? Where and when was it made? Does he have a nickname for it? What does he imagine doing with it? By describing the knife, we show his interests. We show the thing that he loves most.
Similarly, if you describe a vampire, it’s likely that he would have a “thing” for necks.
Each of us has our own special areas of interest. I’ve known women who were experts on how to put on makeup, men who love mathematics, and so on.
What do you need to know to survive?
As a young parent, I was always keenly aware of how many diapers we had in stock, and where they were hidden in the house, or in one of the cars. I knew each baby’s biorhythms—when they would wake up, when they would pee, when they would need burping, and when they would want to play.
Similarly, an alcoholic will have his own special knowledge. He might be able to tell you every brand of beer down at the local 7-11 store. He knows how far it is to the closest liquor store, and he knows how much of a supply he has stashed around the house. He might know to the penny how much it will cost to buy a bottle of wine, and he may know the foods and medicines that he can filch at the grocery store that have an alcoholic content.
What does your character sound like?
The internal and external dialog of a character need to be consistent. Knowing the internal landscape of your protagonist is important, but more important than anything else, your characters need to have their own voices.
So when you’re creating your characters, consider carefully what the world will look like through each person’s eyes. Learn how they will think, how they talk. Eventually, you’ll need to make sure that each of them is different in a convincing way.
This Friday, I will be in Atlanta teaching a Greenlighting workshop that you can still sign up for.
Today is the last day that my writing workshops are 25% off on MyStoryDoctor.com
We’ve kicked off a new StoryBundle, a NaNoWriMo Bundle with six books on writing for a minimum of $5, or twelve books for $15. Some of the money will be donated to charity. Two of the books in the bundle are my writing books, Million Dollar Outlines and Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing. Check out the bundle here
When you’re describing a setting, it’s important to bring the scene to life. Part of bringing a scene to life, though, is to explore how your character feels about the setting.
I was watching American Idol once and Randy Jackson said something that you will hear over and over again when anyone discusses any art form, yet he said it simply enough to make it profound. He said, “The purpose of a song isn’t just to show off your skills, go through the riffs and croons, it’s to transmit emotion to the audience.” You have to make them feel, in order for the experience to be genuine. This is true in painting, it’s true in singing, and it’s true in storytelling.
Transmitting emotion isn’t hard. It can be done by fairly inept writers whose only skill seems to be in building interesting characters and conveying scenes just enough so that the reader is transported. Any bestseller is doing it. But you can take it to a higher level.
Ultimately, with every pass, every rewrite, you need to ask yourself, “Is this the right choice of words, images, and scenes to make the reader feel what I want? Have I selected the right details?”
Please note, some of you may argue with this. There are those who believe that stories should transmit ideas. Others will say that their purpose is to transmit culture. I will argue strenuously, though, that in order to transmit ideas, ideals, or culture, you must first transmit emotion—love, fear, longing—to the audience. Why? Because without experiencing powerful emotions as a catalyst, the reader will not recall the ideas that you’re seeking to transmit even a few hours later. Emotion is the catalyst that fixes an idea into permanent memory, as current research is showing.
So how do you transmit emotion?
Part of the key is to recognize that everything you describe—a room, a car, the local park—is colored by your character’s mood. So you pick details that reinforce the desired emotion.
In one early writing exercise, I was asked to describe my living room in a paragraph. I did. I talked about the sun slanting in through the windows, washing everything in gold. I wrote about the daffodils my roommate’s girlfriend had left for him on our table.
Then I was asked to describe the same room, only after having just returned from my best friend’s funeral.
Which details will you describe? Which do you leave out? A room that seems sunny and warm one moment, suddenly becomes dead and gray the next. The daffodils on the kitchen table now seem brown and desiccated at the edge of their petals. The fly on the windowsill looms larger than the sunlight. The jumping spider sidling toward it now seems the centerpiece of the room.
Emotion fixes certain details over others. Have you ever had a conversation with someone that you suspect dislikes you? You hear all of the nuances in his or her voice. You recognize when you’re being disparaged. Yet the person standing next to you doesn’t catch it at all. They’d report the conversation differently.
So in order to write a scene, you must first transport yourself emotionally. You have to feel what your protagonist—the lens through which the story is transferred—is feeling, and then report the details that he or she would emphasize, using language that transmits the emotion.
For a nice example of how this is done, look at the opening page of Hemingway’s “The Big Two-Hearted River.” In them, a fire has recently ravaged a forest, and the land is thick with black grasshoppers, which a fly fisherman uses for bait. Notice how “black” is repeated, which nicely reveals the inner blackness that, Nick, the protagonist, is feeling.
Some authors in the literary tradition insist that you should “show” emotions, not tell. So they choose details that reveal the inner emotions of the characters, as Hemingway did.
Of course, as an author I recognize that not all of my readers will be sophisticated enough to understand those clues. The reader might be too young or too distracted to recognize them. Or maybe for some reason—certain cognitive issues—the reader just isn’t skillful at hunting down those clues.
So is it all right to actually “tell” the reader how the character is feeling, too? For example, is it all right to say, “Jenny just loved Nate?”
It’s pretty weak, and the more that you do it, the lamer it sounds. But I would argue that it is all right, if you don’t lay it on too thickly, or too directly.
For example, instead of having Carolyn recognize that, after just one date with Nate, she’s in love, you might have her humming at work the next day, and have her co-worker say something like, “Sounds like love.” That gets the message across just fine.
In the same way, internal dialog can reveal a great deal about your character’s emotions, without being too “on the nose.”
If you do decide to write about emotions directly, make sure that you reinforce them. You can’t just say that Carolyn loves Nate, we need to see justification. Maybe she likes the way that his lips barely curl up under his cowboy mustache when he sees her. Maybe she likes the way that he stammers and takes off his hat when he tries to talk. Maybe she sees the loneliness in his eyes, and it echoes her own inner void. Maybe it’s the smell of Wrigley Spearmint gum on his breath, every time she meets him. Maybe it’s the way that he talks about his ranch in Wyoming, and the tenderness in his voice when he speaks of his polled Hereford prize bull, and his dreams of creating a “real herd.”
Simply put, as you create your setting, try to imagine how your protagonist feels about you setting, and then put your emphasis on the details that best depict that emotion, that scene, and bring both to life. Have fun with it.
Tomorrow I’m having my Write that Novel 2.0 workshop in Indianapolis, and I’m still open to last minute sign-ups. All you need to bring is a notebook or laptop to take notes.
Then next week, I will be in Atlanta teaching a Greenlighting workshop that you can still sign up for.
This week all of my writing workshops are 25% off on MyStoryDoctor.com
We’ve kicked off a new StoryBundle, a NaNoWriMo Bundle with six books on writing for whatever price you want to pay, or twelve books for $15. Some money will be donated to charity. Two of the books in the bundle are my writing books, Million Dollar Outlines and Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing. Check out the bundle here
We had Doug Dandridge do a guest post about how he sold 100,000 books on Amazon.
In this post, we are going to feature his novels so that you know which books got him there.
Exodus: Empires at War: Book 1 http://www.amazon.com/Exodus-Empires-Book-Doug-Dandridge-ebook/dp/B009TZSBJO
Humanity’s worst nightmare has again come out of the Dark. Can a human race in turmoil survive?
It’s a Fight to the Finish as Two Interstellar Empires go Toe to Toe.
When the human race faces extermination at the hands of an expanding species the last survivors travel a thousand years to reestablish the race ten thousands light years away. It is now a thousand years after the birth of the New Terran Empire. The race has aggressively expanded during that time, with a fleet that has never lost a war against an alien species. But the signs are there, the old enemy is back, and the Fleet will face its greatest challenge in a foe fifty times their size.
Science fiction in the tradition of Anderson and Weber, where the physics of normal and hyperspace dictate the strategy and tactics. Enormous fleets battle across the immensity of space with advanced technologies. Can the proud human Fleet hold off the tide of an advancing enemy, rallying allies and deploying new tech? Or will the conquerors achieve what they could not two thousand years before, and end the existence of the upstarts.
Other Books in the Series
Exodus: Empires at War: Book 2 http://www.amazon.com/Exodus-Empires-Book-Doug-Dandridge-ebook/dp/B00ANXO4K6
Exodus: Empires at War: Book 3: The Rising Storm http://www.amazon.com/Exodus-Empires-Book-Rising-Storm-ebook/dp/B00CZ1CNT8
Exodus: Empires at War: Book 4: The Long Fall http://www.amazon.com/Exodus-Empires-Book-Long-Fall-ebook/dp/B00FT1DT30
Exodus: Empires at War: Book 5: Ranger http://www.amazon.com/Exodus-Empires-War-Book-Ranger-ebook/dp/B00HJI3XXM
Exodus: Empires at War: Book 6: The Day of Battle http://www.amazon.com/Exodus-Empires-War-Book-Battle-ebook/dp/B00JXY43W0
Exodus: Empires at War: Book 7: Counter Strike http://www.amazon.com/Exodus-Empires-Book-Counter-Strike-ebook/dp/B00MVHZGV8
Deep Dark Well Series
The Deep Dark Well: http://www.amazon.com/Deep-Dark-Well-Doug-Dandridge-ebook/dp/B006S3GOKS
An Adventure Forty Thousand Years in the making
Pandora Latham was just a country girl from Alabama turned Kuiper Belt Miner. The last thing Pandi expected was to run into a ship from the future on the outskirts of Sol system. Even less expected was that the ship would fall apart while she was inside it, the Universe correcting the paradox. The wormhole in the center of the ship beckoned, and Pandi jumped through, forty thousand years into the future. She arrived on a massive station built around a black hole. Once the center of a Galactic Civilization, the station was used to generate wormhole gates linking the Cosmos. The empty station is a memorial to the civilization that once was.
One survivor, an immortal being called Watcher, remains, guarding the secrets of the station from those who covet its advanced technology. Watcher, lonely from his self-enforced exile, befriends Pandi. Soon the woman from Alabama discovers that there is more to Watcher than is apparent on the surface. What was Watcher’s part in the fall of civilization? The answer to this question will determine whether Pandora Latham survives in this world, or becomes just one more death added to the trillions who went before her.
Other Books in the Series
To Well and Back http://www.amazon.com/Well-Back-Deep-Dark-Book-ebook/dp/B00B3EWEEW
Deeper and Darker http://www.amazon.com/Deeper-Darker-Deep-Dark-Well-ebook/dp/B00M3I51Y2
Refuge: The Arrival: Book 1 http://www.amazon.com/Refuge-Arrival-Book-Doug-Dandridge-ebook/dp/B00830A0QI
In the year 2025 a nuclear war breaks out in Central Europe, the Russians trying to secure their old empire. The dimensional gates open to another world, a world of magic, where our dreams of fantasy are real. The evil Emperor of the Ellala sees the millions of transplanted humans as soul energy to forward his scheme for immortality. He orders his armies to capture the newcomers, to place them in concentration camps where they can be harvested. But the Germans, French, Polish and other peoples or Earth have other ideas. With the help of their American allies and the modern weapons of war they will fight back against the magic of the evil elves, while gathering their own allies in the fight for survival. For they are seen by the native peoples as the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy. And they have brought immortals with them to this world. men and women of great power on Earth, who become true demigods on the new world. So it is tank against mage, attack helicopter against dragon, and nuclear warheads against impregnable fortress, as the humans must use their technology while they still have it, and gain a foothold on a world beyond their understanding.
Other Books in the Series
Refuge: The Arrival Book 2 http://www.amazon.com/Refuge-Arrival-Book-Doug-Dandridge-ebook/dp/B008P3LRCY
Refuge: Book 3: Legion http://www.amazon.com/Refuge-Book-Legions-Doug-Dandridge-ebook/dp/B00EZ64ECA
We Are Death Come For You http://www.amazon.com/We-Are-Death-Come-You-ebook/dp/B00CD8LFNI
Humankind had a bright future among the stars. A dozen interstellar colonies thrive under the light of far stars, while at home there has been peace between the contentious system governments for several decades. There is even the hope that faster than light travel may be on the horizon, and with it a more massive expansion of mankind to the stars.
That future is put in doubt by the signal received from the Tau Ceti colony. First contact, five enormous alien ships entering the system. It was something humanity had dreamed of for centuries. And it was a nightmare. The aliens are death worshippers whose creed calls for the extermination of all life in the Universe. The aliens leave the Tau Ceti system devoid of life and head for Sol. We know they are coming, and have years to build up the fleet. But will it be enough to defeat an enemy that plies the stars in eighty thousand cubic kilometers of warships, with technologies beyond ours? Or will the human race become just another species sent into the long night by the Hsszat?
The humans are not without their own technological advantages, and the war making wisdom millenia of battling their own. Wil it be enough?
The Shadows of the Multiverse http://www.amazon.com/Shadows-Multiverse-Doug-Dandridge-ebook/dp/B0075XY9ZW
Ours is not the only Universe. Some have things we really don’t want to meet.
Can Three Unlikely Heroes, The Warrior, The Scientist and The Child, Save the Universe?
No one knew where the gates came from, the wondrous planet sized globes whose millions of facets led to destinations across the Universe. No one knew what had killed the thousands of civilizations that had once roamed space across the billions of years since the origin point. Whatever it was, it was back, with a vengeance, destroying the intelligences that might challenge its hegemony of multi-dimensional space. It is up to a few humans, endowed with the very powers the creatures fear, to save sentient life in the Universe, and end the threat forever.
Lucille Yamamoto is a warrior, the captain of an Earth Navy battle-cruiser. Howard Turner is a wealthy scientist, physicist turned archeologist, trying to discover the secrets of the ancients. Siobahn Hunsicker is the child of missionaries, controlling powers she does not understand. Together the three are the only hope for the extant intelligences of the Universe. If they have the time to survive the learning curve and challenge the weavers of reality.
Vampires like they’re supposed to be, evil
If you want your Vampires with teeth, not sparkly, this one is for you
Hooker, heroin addict, victim, Lucinda Taylor lived her life at the mercy of evil men. After her pimp leaves her for dead she is turned by a passing vampire. Satan’s plan for the undead is to spread like a plague, striking at the innocents of the world and turning them toward evil. When Lucinda’s master is destroyed she becomes a free agent. Now she has the power, and she uses it to strike back at the evil men who tormented her in life, while making sure that they do not rise again.
Crime boss George Padillas is dying of cancer. His power and money make no difference to the merciless disease. His choices for the afterlife unappealing, Padillas decides that the unlife of a vampire is the best way out. He has a plan, using as his instrument the priest who is chasing Lucinda, to become a free agent vampire.
Lucinda must avoid the attentions of the FBI agent, the priest, the ancient vampire, and the one she killed who rose again, in her quest to take down the crime boss of sunny Tampa. While at the same time controlling the vampire Hunger that pushes her toward evil.
Vampires in the tradition of Bram Stoker, merciless killers whose function is to feed, and feed again, The Hunger is a different take on the vampire genre. Warning: Strong language, violence, and sexual situations.
The Aura decides the fate of its possessor on this World of battling Gods. Those with a strong Aura are able to control the forces of magic. Those with weaker Auras are controlled by the strong. And those without an Aura are outside the game.
Triplets are born in an out of the way village to the headman and his wife. Ariel, the girl, has a more than double Aura, and is destined to become a mighty magic user, Mage or Priest. Aiden possesses a less than average Aura, and will be a soldier or laborer. Arlen has no Aura, and is seen as an abomination in the eyes of the Church of Baalra, the Dragon God. When Arlen is discovered the parents are killed by the soldiers of the Church. Ariel is taken to the capital to be raised to become the future Avatar of the God Baalra, while Aiden is sold into slavery. Arlen is rescued before he can be killed, to be raised as an Assassin of the Rosacaran Order, his purpose in life to destroy those Evil Priests thought to be too dangerous to live.
It will be up to the brothers to save their sister before she can be taken by Baalra, her soul destroyed and her body the powerful instrument of the Evil God. But can the triplets stand before the military and magical might of the Empire? Or will the boys die in a vain attempt to save their sister from damnation.
It is a world of magic where technology has stagnated for centuries. But the magic has been killing the world. Left is the last of the megacities, a million square miles of living land, and the last sixty million people. And the Shadows, the negative energy remains of the animals that used to roam the Earth. The Shadows prey on the living, and can only be kept at bay by light. But light requires magical energy, and that is in short supply. Daemon Corporation, the world’s richest company, controlled by the world’s most powerful mage, has found the solution. To rape other worlds of their life. Such a world has been found, and the innocents taken to our world to be sacrificed for their life energy. Something else has come with the little men from the other dimension. A force which cannot be stopped, on a mission to kill the men and women who are responsible. Jude Parkinson is a forensics’ mage, one who communes with the dead, and sees through their eyes the last moments of their lives. He uses this power to solve murders, and only he can find out who is sending this Daemonic force to kill and kill again. But he finds out about the genocide being committed by Daemon Corp. Only the Church of God Ascendant, the last religion in an Atheistic world, stands with him. Will that be enough? Or will the world continue down a path of damnation?
For today’s post, we have a guest, Doug Dandridge, who is here to tell us how he sold 100,000 books on Amazon.
How I Sold 100,000 Books on Amazon
First off, I want to thank David for giving me this platform to play on for the day. I appreciate the opportunity, as I have appreciated all of the opportunities that have expanded my positive presence on the net. I met David at the Superstars Writing Seminar earlier this year, and he is a great guy and a terrific writer. Buy lots of his books.
Saturday, September 13th, 2014 I woke up and checked the spreadsheet that I used to tally up my transactions, added the new numbers, and found that I had passed the one hundred thousand sales mark. I knew this was coming, and, in fact, had been writing a book about how I did it, which is now available on Amazon under the title, How I Sold 100,000 Books On Amazon. I could see the day coming almost a year in advance. At Dragon Con of 2013 I had already sold 49,000 books, enough to catch the attention of some big name writers and a couple of editors. As the sales kept rolling in from month to month it became apparent that I was going to reach that magic number. Sixty-seven thousand by Superstars, ninety-one thousand by LibertyCon, over ninety-eight thousand by this year’s DragonCon. Still, it seemed unbelievable when it finally happened. Like when you can see the Superbowl coming as your team rolls over all the competition, but it still surprises you when they actually win it.
I published my first two ebooks, The Deep Dark Well and The Hunger, on December 31st, 2011, on both Amazon and Smashwords. I had quite the backlog of what I considered good books, since I had been submitting for over a decade, and had received some very good rejection letters. Problem was, they were still rejection letters, and I was getting nothing for them, no readers and no money. It was very disappointing. And then someone told me about self-publishing, how people were selling millions of books at 99 cents and making a fortune. I sat on that for about eight months, getting some more rejection letters, from agents now, telling me how I was obviously a talented writer, but my books were not right for their lists. I started to get discouraged, and remember those things I had read about self-publishing. So I took the plunge and put out the two books, then some more, until I had six out on Amazon and Smashwords, and even got a few reviews on both. And in my first eight months I sold about sixty books on all the platforms they were on, Amazon, Createspace, Smashwords and everyone they distributed to.
My whole aim in self-publishing was to get some extra money to dig myself out of the financial hole I was in, and possibly to get the attention of some editors and publishers. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that getting a check for about twenty or thirty dollars each month was not going to do much to fill that financial hole. And sixty sales were not going to wow people in traditional publishing. In September of 2013 I actually sold over two hundred books. I doubled that number in October, and tripled October’s sales in November. And then I put out the Exodus: Empires at War series, which has made my success. Not that I don’t have other books that sell well, and some very good books that also sell poorly.
In March of 2013 I quit my job at the State of Florida, after selling almost nineteen thousand books over three months. I made one hundred and twenty thousand dollars off my writing that year, and am on schedule to make about one hundred and forty thousand this year. The future is bright, and people are taking notice. I have loyal fans, among them college professors, retired and active military, and even an honest to God astronaut. Every book in the Exodus series after number two has hit number 1 or 2 in the Space Opera and Military Science Fiction genres on Amazon UK, and in the top ten in the US. I have actually exceeded the dreams I had when first starting out.
In my book I outline all of my strategies for getting attention. Because the one who gets attention gets the readers. As long as it is positive attention. I will touch on four things I did that helped to get that attention. There are many more, outlined in the book, but I think these are the most important. I read lots of books by other people to see what I could do to spur my sales. I looked at blog after blog, and took the suggestions I thought might work for me. Not all of them did, and some worked better than others. So here they are, my best four suggestions.
First, you want to write books. Good books. They don’t have to be masterpieces, but if they are really bad, none of the other suggestions are going to work. And not just one book. You need to have a bunch of them out there, for two reasons. First, you don’t know which book is going to take off. I have books that I think are my best efforts, with reviews averaging in the 4.8 star level. But they don’t sell all that well, two or three hundred copies. If those were the only books I had online, I wouldn’t have been able to quit my day job. So you need a catalogue, while practicing your craft and getting better. Books 3-7 of the Exodus series are much better books than the first two, the introductory volumes. I wish books 1 and 2 were better, though they still sell really well and have a lot of fans. But you want people to look on your book page and see, on the also looked at column, a bunch of your books. It tells people that you are serious. If you only have one book out, get to writing another. I might take some time to build a catalogue, but it needs to be done.
Get a Twitter account (or Instagram if you prefer). Then get yourself some followers. Easier said than done, but very doable. Follow everyone you’re interested in. I started off following big time authors and publishers. Don’t just tweet about your book, but things of interest to people who might like your book. Then join a group that has a lot of authors tweeting, and retweet everything you can. You’re building up karma, tweeting them so they will tweet you back. After you’ve done this for several weeks, start tweeting your own, and see who retweets you back. You might only have a hundred followers by this time, but don’t be surprised if people with eighty thousand followers retweet you. Some of these people want to be helpful. Also learn hashtags, so you further your reach beyond your or others followers.
Start a blog. Now, I only had ten followers my first couple of months, but, like most other things, it will build slowly. Blog your books, or principles of science or mythology or, whatever, that are in your books. Blog about other people’s books, about movies, about cool things you’ve seen on the net. Whenever someone gives you an offer to blog on theirs, jump on it like a marine diving onto a hand grenade to save his buddies. You want reach, and grab it whenever it appears. When you publish your blog, tweet it, with hashtags if you have them. Post the blog to your Facebook page (something else you want) and to pages on Facebook that mirror your genre, as well as book promotion pages. Post to Google+ and Tumblr. Find blog catalogues and sign up for them. I only have about two hundred people who follow my blog, but my reach is much greater due to my posting.
And finally, do giveaways on Amazon. Now the proper way to do it is to go exclusively on KDP select, but you can get off after ninety days. Do a giveaway from three to five days, tweet and blog ahead of time, and go to sites like Authors Marketing Club, which have pages of sites that will post and tweet your giveaway. You just can’t put it out and expect people to find it, so blast it out to the world to hear about. A giveaway of The Deep Dark Well started my sales rolling. Some people say the giveaway is dead, but at the end of April 2014 I did a giveaway of Exodus 1, then sold over five hundred books each of all the Exodus books, including number 1, which I had just given away.
And that’s how I did it, more or less. There is more, but you’re going to have to get the book to get them.
Check out Doug Dandridge author page on Amazon for his books.
This week all of my writing workshops on MyStoryDoctor.com are 25% off. All money made will be used toward Ben’s medical bills, which, unfortunately, I’ll be working to pay off for some time. If you aren’t familiar with what happened to my son Ben, everything can be explained at this website.
A few weeks ago I reported that our investigation into a plagiarism and cyberbullying case had led us to a schoolteacher, Tiffanie Rushton, who has since been charged with numerous offenses.
Allegedly, Rushton plagiarized the clean romance of Rachel Ann Nunes, and then added porn scenes and tried to sell it as her own work. When Nunes discovered what was going on, she was suddenly hit with cyberbullying attacks, as were the bloggers who had been working with Rushton (who was writing under a pen name). Rushton then used sock puppets, fake identities, to promote her own work (in violation of Utah’s Truth in Advertising laws), and then used the same sock puppets to attack Nunes’s work, in an effort to damage her career.
In the last three weeks, things have gotten ugly. A second victim of Rushton’s plagiarism has been discovered. This time it was a wounded army veteran who had written a report on how he had gotten PTSD after his Humvee hit a landmine.
It was also discovered that the names of the sock puppets that Rushton used were taken from the third-grade children in her classroom.
As a result, she has been placed on administrative leave from her job as a teacher. But wait, there’s more!
I received two letters from angry parents who wanted the names of their children taken down in my blog posts, and I asked my assistant to take care of this. Then, on Nunes’s blog yesterday, Nunes got this note, addressed from one of the children’s parents, demanding that her blog be taken down and threatening legal action if it wasn’t: “This blog post needs to be taken down. My child’s name has popped up on other blogs because of this. Google Tiffanie Rushton and things are still popping up. ‘Redacting’ is not enough. I will report you and discredit your investigation. God help you, especially if you are LDS and held to a higher standard.”
Interestingly enough, though, this didn’t actually come from an angry parent. It turns out that it came from the computer of Tiffanie Rushton, the perpetrator, who has gone from using schoolchildren as sock puppets to impersonating their parents.
So, Rachel has incurred about $10,000 in legal expenses so far in trying to bring her attacker to justice. If you are interested in donating a bit, no amount is too large, in my estimation. Go here to lend support. If you’ve already donated, consider donating again. Then share the page with others to help spread the word.
This might not be an article for you, but it is for those that know and care about you.
Very often, I get asked, “What can I do to support my son/daughter/spouse as a writer?” Of course, each writer’s needs are different, but here are some things you might think about.
A) Time to write. When I was young and newly married, I used to sit down to write, and my wife would immediately think that “since you’re not doing anything, let’s have a conversation.” That’s a frequent problem for those who work from home. It might not look like I’m busy, but sometimes I really am busy.
In order to write, I have to get into what I call my “writer’s trance,” a state where I’m vividly dreaming about my world (with my right brain) while composing and analyzing my prose (with my left brain). So I have to work with full mental capacity, and it can take about ½ of an hour to get into that state deeply enough to get some good work done. So, if I’m in the groove, don’t bother me. I need time to focus completely on my work.
However, you might be interested to know that both halves of the brain are not always awake and functioning clearly. I do my best work in the mornings now. (When I was young, I sometimes worked best at night.) For some reason, the right side of the brain, the creative side, shuts down at about mid-day and takes a nap. I literally can’t compose most of the time at mid-day. At about two in the afternoon, my writing skills tank, so that’s a good time to talk to me.
The point is, you need to learn the biorhythms of your pet writer, and try to allow that person to be productive.
B) Let your writer out of his cage. Very often, we think of writing as a completely solitary art form, and it can be. If I’m deep at work on a novel, I will often try to isolate myself. I don’t talk, go to parties, or go to movies. I’ve known some writers who literally become hermits.
But recognize that writing isn’t just about composing works. Writers need to get out, do research, study, and mingle. In other words, part of the pre-composition phase of writing requires that your writer get out once in awhile.
Sometimes that means that I do pretty exotic things. In researching novels, I’ve stayed out all night in the bayous of Louisiana, castle ruins in England, and walked the Great Wall of China. In fact, I got stuck on a novel years ago, and I told my wife, “You know, if I’m going to get past this part of the story, I really need to go to Shanghai and work on a screenplay with some other fantasy writers.” A few weeks later, that opportunity came up, and my wife said, “Go to Shanghai for three months.” It turned out to be a great opportunity.
As far as research opportunities go, sometimes I just go to the library or bookstore and browse. I might pick up books on writing, costuming, or life in the Middle Ages. But at other times I may want to take a writing course, which may require travel. My wife has sometimes questioned why I would want to take a course when I already know so much about writing, but I like to hear the latest theories and discoveries of those who apply original thinking to the craft.
In the same way, writers often get fired-up by attending writing conventions or conferences. Going to them allows your writer to meet like-minded people and explore new ideas about how to run their career. So make sure that your writer attends.
C) Think about your writer’s physical health. Writers tend to get chunky from sitting in their chairs all day. They scarf down cola in order to stay awake. Their health habits are often terrible. Make sure that you take your writer out for walks on a regular basis. Force him or her to help around the house, or take them to the gym. After all, you’ll want the writer to support you in your old age.
D) Let your writer make friends. Writing can be a very lonely profession. I write lots of dialogue in my tales, but sometimes I get tired of talking only to myself. Very often, writers will find that writers’ groups help give them a connection to the world, or that a particular writer friend 60 miles away is helpful to talk to. Don’t be jealous if you’re writer makes friends.
E) Keep your writer comfortable. This might sound silly, but having a good writing space—a decent room, a comfortable chair, and a computer equal to the task—is all pretty essential. When I was young, I used to work in a dusty basement. My allergies made me sick all of the time. I used to have a chair that made my back ache. I got rid of it. I still have problems. I don’t have a little table next to my chair to hold my diet drinks. Someday, someday. . . .
Not all writers need the same thing. I used to like to listen to music when I write, but over the years, I’ve changed and now find it distracting. So I don’t need a stereo in the room like I once did, and if I do want a little mood music, I put in my earbuds. Some writers like inspiring vistas. I tend to look inward, not outward.
The point is, some people think that you should have to suffer for your art, but I don’t get any more work done by suffering for it. When I was in China, my back got so messed up from bad chairs that I had to walk with a cane. Did I get more work done? No. Did I get better work done? Not at all. I was in constant agony, and as a result, I’m sure that my work suffered in quality.
F) Your writer is insane. Remember that your writer spends a great deal of time in a dream world, talking to imaginary people, visiting places that don’t exist. Shakespeare often lamented about his poor mental health, wondering if he was a genius or a nut. He was obviously both. I once heard a psychologist say that “most writers are provably borderline schizophrenics.” I know that I am. I’m a science fiction writer, and being spacey is a job hazard.
If you’re writer is very lucky, he’ll also be paranoid, too. It proved a great boon to Lord Byron, Philip K. Dick, and Theodore Roethke.
So help ease your writer through his or her mental problems.
G) The sex lives of writers . . . is best not discussed in detail. It can be creative, shocking, wondrous. Of course with dull and unimaginative writers, it’s no better than sex with an accountant.
Beyond that, the care and feeding of writers is pretty mundane, much like the care and feeding of humans in general. Your writer will need to be washed, groomed, and pampered–just like any other exotic pet.
I’m giving away four cyberpunk story bundles on Facebook. Just like or share the giveaway post on my page (do both to enter twice). And I’m giving one away on Twitter. Just favorite or retweet this tweet (again, do both to enter twice).
Alternatively, you can simply pick up the story bundle here.
Over at StoryBundle, you can get six cyberpunk novels, including my On My Way to Paradise, for whatever price you want to pay (as long as it’s over $2.99). If you choose to pay at least $15, you’ll get seven bonus books for a total of 13. Money will be donated to these charities: The ALS Association, Mighty Writers, and Girls Write Now
A quick visit to Wikipedia will confirm that “cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction in a near-future setting. Noted for its focus on ‘high tech and low life,’ it features advanced science, such as information technology and cybernetics, coupled with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order.” But for some it’s always been about the radical change in social order over the high tech. It’s been about hackers, artificial intelligences, and megacorporations, and tends to be set in a near-future Earth that’s absolutely dystopic, not some far-future setting in a galaxy far far away. What’s important is the extraordinary cultural impact of the technology being twisted in ways its creators could never have imagined.
It’s dark. It’s gritty. It’s exciting and the books included in this bundle are designed to showcase that very trend. The bundle available September 10th through October 1st. You’ll find a vast and dizzying array of ideas here—important ideas, because that’s what this kind of science fiction is all about. There’s social commentary. There’s angst. Heartbreak. Heroes. It’s a grim near-future we’re facing. We see it in the news every day. So it’s hardly surprising that some of our best writers have taken this bleak future and laid it bare.
StoryBundle’s Cyberpunk bundle is curated by bestselling author Steven Savile, a man who certainly understands the genre. His brand new novel, as yet unreleased (it’s debuting here in StoryBundle first, a month before it will be available anywhere else for sale!) is a heartbreaking example of a future you wouldn’t want to live in, brought about by choices no man should have to make. He’s just written a cyberpunk computer game for a major studio, too. Joining him are New York Times and USA Today bestsellers, Kevin J. Anderson, and myself, David Farland; Kindle sensation Michael Bunker (whose Pennsylvania will challenge the way you think about SF); Rob MacGregor and his writing partner, Billie Dee Williams – none other than Lando Calrissian himself – Melissa Scott & Jo Graham (with a collaborative novel and a solo novel from Melissa), brilliant British novelist Keith Brooke and one of the founding fathers of science fiction, Frank Herbert. There’s a complete trilogy of incredible novels from David Bischoff and something really special, a debut novel from an exciting new writer, Milo Behr. If Wordsworth had written cyberpunk he might have done something like Milo Behr’s Beowulf: A Bloody Calculus.
Says Savile, “Some of these writers are among my favourites in any genre. I can honestly say I adore each and every one of the books in this bundle. I’m incredibly excited to share them with you, especially the opportunity to help launch what I think will be a dazzling career for Milo, one of David Farland’s students. Why do I think you should pay attention? David’s other students include Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, oh, and Stephanie Meyer. He knows a thing or two. More than anything, I think the books here do a fantastic job of showcasing the dark cities and darker edges of where this world is going and can’t help but capture your imagination in the same way that Philip K Dick and other great writers captured mine. I really hope you enjoy them.”
The initial titles in the bundle (minimum $3 to purchase) are:
• Resurrection, Inc. by Kevin J. Anderson
• Lost Things by Melissa Scott and Jo Graham
• The Infinite Battle (Star Hounds: Book 1) by David Bischoff
• PSI/NET by Billy Dee Williams and Rob MacGregor
• The Accord by Keith Brooke
• On My Way to Paradise by David Farland
If you pay more than the bonus price of just $15, you’ll get another six books, including the next two books in the Star Hounds series!
• Immortal by Steven Savile
• High-Opp by Frank Herbert
• Pennsylvania by Michael Bunker
• Dreamships by Melissa Scott
• Galactic Warriors (Star Hounds: Book 2) by David Bischoff
• The Macrocosmic Conflict (Star Hounds: Book 3) by David Bischoff
• Beowulf: A Bloody Calculus by Milo Behr
The bundle is available for a very limited time only, via http://www.storybundle.com. It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub and .mobi) for all books.
It’s also super easy to give the gift of reading with StoryBundle, thanks to their gift cards – which allow you to send someone a code that they can redeem for any future StoryBundle bundle – and timed delivery, which allows you to control exactly when your recipient will get the gift of StoryBundle.
Here are just a few benefits StoryBundle provides.
• Get quality reads: We’ve chosen works from excellent authors to bundle together in one convenient package.
• Pay what you want (minimum $3): You decide how much five fantastic books are worth to you. If you can only spare a little, that’s fine! You’ll still get access to a batch of thrilling titles.
• Support authors who support DRM-free books: StoryBundle is a platform for authors to get exposure for their works, both for the titles featured in the bundle and for the rest of their catalog. Supporting authors who let you read their books on any device you want—restriction free—will show everyone there’s nothing wrong with ditching DRM.
• Give to worthy causes: Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of their proceeds to charity. We’re currently featuring the ALS Association, Mighty Writers and Girls Write Now.
• Receive extra books: If you beat our bonus price, you’re not just getting seven books, you’re getting thirteen!
StoryBundle was created to give a platform for independent authors to showcase their work, and a source of quality titles for thirsty readers. StoryBundle works with authors to create bundles of ebooks that can be purchased by readers at their desired price. Before starting StoryBundle, Founder Jason Chen covered technology and software as an editor for Gizmodo.com and Lifehacker.com.
For more information, visit our website at storybundle.com, Tweet us at @storybundle, Like us on Facebook, and Plus us on Google Plus. For press inquiries, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A few months ago I booked a hotel in a small city. The hotel was fairly inexpensive and had hundreds of nice reviews online, but when I got there it seemed . . . a bit shabby, considering the rave reviews. Still, I checked into my room and slept well, but I woke in the night for some reason.
I went to the lobby and noticed the night clerk typing away at her computer. I’d come up behind her, standing only a few feet away, and she hadn’t even noticed me. I saw her type the word “cockroach” and immediately wondered what she was up to.
I stood quietly behind her for a moment as she wrote a review for a neighboring motel—talking about the cockroach in her room and a broken door.
As I waited, I felt rather surprised that she hadn’t heard me, but I watched as she closed the file and picked another neighboring hotel, where she complained about moldy smells in the bathroom.
Then she went on to blast another competitor. She left seven bad reviews about neighboring motels and one good one about her own. It was an effective use of her time, during a period when night clerks generally have nothing to do.
So I’ve learned not to trust the reviews at hotels.com. Instead, I look for chains where I know there are some minimal standards.
This practice of placing fake reviews isn’t restricted just to hotel owners or authors. In the past week I’ve heard from dozens of you on the topic:
A woman who makes apps for phones reports that in her business, when you finish an app and register it, it’s not uncommon to immediately have two or three companies contact you to find out if you would like to buy good reviews.
A man who distributes indie movies reported that indie filmmakers commonly trade rave reviews with other filmmakers and use sock puppets to promote their work, and so on.
A business major reported that they were taught to do these illegal techniques in college, where it is just considered standard business practice.
And so it goes . . . through every industry.
Maybe that’s why recently a poll of readers found that those who read indie books said that they bought half of their books based upon recommendations they saw on Facebook from friends that they trust.
That’s important. Real reviews from real people.
In other words, the most important reviewer in the world, as far as your friends are concerned, is you!
I was at my booth at the Salt Lake Comic Con last week when a fellow came up and looked at my first Runelords novel. Now, he was reading through some of the cover quotes about the book—from the likes of Terry Brooks, Orson Scott Card, Publisher’s Weekly, and dozens of other illustrious authors and reviewers. Just then, a fan came up and thanked me for writing the books and said how much he loved them, thanked me again, and asked to shake my hand.
I knew immediately that the fellow who was on the fence about making a purchase would buy a book. It seems that whenever a potential buyer hears a heartfelt endorsement from a non-interested party, the purchase follows within seconds.
In short, your endorsement of a book is the only one that matters to your friends and acquaintances. If you really love a book, then talk about it. Mention it on Facebook, tell a friend.
So here are a couple of quick reviews. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve read a couple of books that I liked. I just finished John Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars. Now, I liked the movie, but I loved the book even more. It allowed me to savor the story in a way that the movie couldn’t. Dare I say it? This was perhaps my favorite book of the last thirty years. It was brilliant and beautiful both in concept and execution. I’m going to have to pick up everything else that John Green has written.
I also read a cyberpunk novel three weeks ago by new writer Milo Behr, called Beowulf: A Bloody Calculus. It too was brilliant and beautiful—an epic poem written as a fiction narrative. The rhythm of the piece was mesmerizing in the way the Edgar Allen Poe developed a hundred and fifty years ago, though few writers have mastered the technique since. This was my favorite cyberpunk piece since I read William Gibson’s Neuromancer.
What I liked about it wasn’t just the luscious prose, the mesmerizing effect of the poetry, but also the profundity of the piece. Milo Behr’s work comments on economics, justice, morality, and politics in ways that are thought-provoking and brilliant. As I read, I kept thinking, “If Wordsworth were alive today and writing cyberpunk, perhaps he would have written something like this.”
I kept wishing that the author had submitted part of his novel for the Writers of the Future contest that I judge. I suspected that he would have won the grand prize for the year. I wondered why he hadn’t decided to take this to a major publisher, and so I asked him why he was going indie. He said, “I like the business model better.”
So, I pulled a few strings for him. My novel On My Way to Paradise is in a bundle of cyberpunk novels that are going on sale today, along with books by a number of other outrageously talented authors:
• Resurrection, Inc. by Kevin J. Anderson
• Lost Things by Melissa Scott and Jo Graham
• The Infinite Battle (Star Hounds: Book 1) by David Bischoff
• PSI/NET by Billy Dee Williams and Rob MacGregor
• The Accord by Keith Brooke
• Immortal by Steven Savile
• High-Opp by Frank Herbert
• Pennsylvania by Michael Bunker
• Dreamships by Melissa Scott
• Galactic Warriors (Star Hounds: Book 2) by David Bischoff
• The Macrocosmic Conflict (Star Hounds: Book 3) by David Bischoff
• Beowulf: A Bloody Calculus by Milo Behr
I asked the curator of the bundle to include Milo’s book for you. This gives you a great opportunity to discover a major new author while supporting some others that you may already know—or wish to discover.
You can get six of the novels for as low as $3–you get to pick the price. But in order to get all the novels, including Milo’s, you have to pay at least $15. If you are interested, head over to StoryBundle.com.
Many new writers struggle with characterization. If you’re trained in the literary mainstream, you’re taught that stories are about characters. In other words, the character is the “focus” of the story. That’s simply not true. Some stories do focus on characters, but many of the best tales don’t.
Orson Scott Card pointed this out eloquently in a book years ago with his “MICE” quotient. He suggested that when we tell tales, we often aren’t interested in the characters in a story at all. If you look at classic science fiction stories, for example, sometimes it is an “Idea” that is being explored rather than a character. What if you had a mirror that showed your reflection—but only from fourteen years ago? That was the idea behind a series of tales about “slow glass.” What if aliens invade the earth, only to discover giant creatures called humans? You may have seen the episode on a sci-fi series, where a child finds a “toy” spaceship and promptly destroys it. Is the child the focus of such a tale? Of course not. And he shouldn’t be.
What if a comet was about to hit the earth and destroy it? What would you do? In such a tale, you really want to focus on a character who is an “every man,” someone that the reader can relate to, not a character who is strange and obtuse.
Another type of story often focuses on the “milieu” of the story, the time and place that tale is set. Certain readers love reading medieval fantasy, for example. It may not matter if your wizard is pretty much just like Gandalf. If you create a milieu that is intriguing, it will draw readers. You’ve seen milieu stories in historical novels, in romances, in gothic horror, Westerns, hard-boiled detective novels, and so on. Some critics will often complain that modern stories often seem more like “travelogues” than real novels, and they’re right. Set a love story in Rio, or Rome, or Moscow, and it’s likely to sell well even if your protagonists ain’t all that riveting.
Of course, there are stories where the character is central to the tale. The movie Forrest Gump really is about the character of Forrest Gump, with his simplistic mindset, his naïve optimism, and his heart-breaking loneliness.
Scott Card created his acronym MICE to help readers remember that not all stories can or should focus on character. In his acronym, he uses “idea” and “event” for two of his acronyms, but I personally don’t see them as being much different. However, there is a type of story that I see as vital that he doesn’t mention, and I’ll call that the “Emotion” story. We buy tales based upon the emotions they trigger—romance, adventure, horror, humor, wonder. Sometimes, the tale is more about arousing that emotion than anything else. Years ago, the novel The Bridges of Madison County was a big hit. I read it to see what the fuss was all about. I don’t recall the names of the protagonists. They weren’t that interesting. I don’t recall the milieu, a single bridge, or even what state Madison County was supposed to be in. The milieu didn’t come to life. But the emotion triggered in the tale, the sense of romance and loss in that story, still lingers.
So you can have stories where the characters are only of minor importance. Or you can have tales where only some things are important. You might have a mICe story, for example—where a man finds himself in the center of a bank as it is being robbed, and because of his unique skills and mindset, he becomes central to what happens. Or you might have a MicE story, one where the milieu and the emotion are woven together inextricably.
The real point here is: Don’t get brainwashed into thinking that every character in your story must be fleshed out. Sometimes the doorman in your tale is just the guy who holds the door. I’ve read a number of books and articles over the years about how to write characterization, and while I’ve found a few gems of advice, the truth is that most of the advice that I’ve gotten was just gravel.
There is a fundraiser going on to help Rachel Ann Nunes in her case against plagiarism. The money raised from this box set, Unseen: United, will be donated to her cause.
Author Mette Ivie Harrison, whose adult mystery The Bishop’s Wife is about a Mormon bishop’s wife in Draper, Utah who solves crime by baking bread, offering to babysit people’s children, and then gets into filing cabinets and searches for secrets to solve crime, is offering a chance to meet with her editor, Juliet Grames, from Soho Press. The one-day writing retreat will take place Saturday September 27 in Layton, Utah and will cost $100 for a 10 page manuscript review by Juliet and a private consult, as well as other programming about writing. If you’re interested in getting on a list for more information, contact Mette at email@example.com.
Over the last few days I’ve been talking about some of the tawdry practices that go on in our industry, and I’ve been wanting to talk about rules of conduct when giving reviews. Too often online I’ve seen instances where people are buying reviews or selling them or trading favors.
Here are a few rules that I think you should consider adopting:
1) Don’t review every book that you are asked to do. In the course of your career, you will most likely get thousands of requests for reviews. On an average week, I get two requests for cover quotes. Unfortunately, reading a long novel (say 800 pages of manuscript) can take as a much as 20 hours. If I were to read two novels a week, I wouldn’t have time to write anything at all. So, here are some basic reasons why you must turn things down.
a) If you don’t have time to give a quote, just be honest. There have been times in my life when I really wanted to give a quote and just couldn’t. For example, one of my students, Brandon Mull, asked for a quote a few years back for his novel Fablehaven. I felt terrible, but his timing was just bad for me. (I’ve read the novel since, and I loved it.) He’s gone on to have a great career (#1 New York Times Bestseller), but every time that I see him, I just feel crummy. Now that he’s in my shoes, I know that he understands just how hectic life can be.
b) If you give too many reviews, then it devalues your reviews. Many authors set a limit of say, 2 per year. That’s a wise thing to do. Years ago, when Terry Brooks gave me a nice cover quote for The Runelords, I felt grateful. When I later learned that Terry almost never gives cover quotes, I felt even more honored. (I think that he has only given a couple of quotes in his life, as I recall.) So lend some credence to your quotes by restricting the number that you give. More importantly, if you really want to give a quote to a novel, make it a priority.
c) If the novel is not in the genre that you write in, then most likely the publisher won’t want your cover quote anyway. I write fantasy. If someone who writes horror or romance or mainstream or young adult asks for a cover quote, then I don’t feel that it does them much good to give them a cover quote. In fact, I’ve given a couple quotes that the publisher has never used, so aside from heartwarming the author, it really didn’t help.
2) Never give a quote for money. I know a couple of authors who, in an effort to cut down on the number of people who ask for quotes, have said that they charge a high dollar amount for a cover quote. The argument goes like this: it costs me a lot of time (and therefore money) to read a book. If I’m going to read a novel with an eye toward a quote, which may have a huge impact on sales, why shouldn’t I get paid to do it?
The problem is that it causes a moral conundrum. If I get paid for a cover quote, will it be an honest one? Won’t the fact that I’m getting paid skew my perceptions? I think that it would. So I would never pay for a quote. On the occasions where people have asked me to give quotes for a reading fee, I’ve always refused to even read the book. Sorry, it just feels weird. Of course it goes without saying that you should never offer to pay for a cover quote, nor should you offer to give another author a quote in return for a favorable quote.
I do know that some places, like Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly, do offer to review books for a reading fee. Personally, I wouldn’t do it. I realize that it takes time (and therefore money) for a reviewer to read and critique a novel that way, but I worry that this is one of those practices that gets a little too close to the line.
Please note that there are times when you may have an author that you admire who also happens to like your work. For example, I’m a fan of Brandon Sanderson, so I was eager to give him a cover quote on his first novel. In fact, for enjoyment I picked up his novel Steelheart this last Saturday and it is next on my readig list. Brandon recently gave me a quote on one of my novels. I also happen to be a fan of several other best-selling authors. So I wouldn’t feel bad if one of them gave me a cover quote, and I would feel honored if one of them offered a quote. That of course is different from agreeing to give rave reviews to a stranger that you’ve only just met online.
3) Be honest in your review. I’ve had people send me books that I just didn’t enjoy. This is tough. Can you give a plug to a book that you don’t think is really any good? If you read the first chapter, and you really don’t want to read on, you have to stop right there. You can be gentle with the author and say, “This really just didn’t grab me. I’m sorry.”
You don’t have to be brutal about it. Remember that as authors, whether we’re indie or traditionally published, we are all struggling to get better, and we may have different aims and different emotional triggers. A novel that doesn’t interest me may thrill someone else.
When I read, if I suspect that I’m not the audience for that book, I ask myself, “Is there an audience for this book? And if so, can I tailor my remarks to that audience?”
I recall one author who hated Lord of the Rings. When he was asked to review a fantasy novel that he also hated, guess what he compared it to?
That’s a little bit cynical for me, but the concept is sound, so long as your remarks are honest.
4) Phrase your wording carefully when giving a review. Remember that you need to have short bites that can fit on a cover. You can review both the author and the work.
For example, I recently read a science fiction novel that I loved by new author Milo Behr. It will be debuting this week, and I’ll let you know more in a day or two. I could say something like “Milo Behr’s novel Beowulf: A Bloody Calculus was the most exciting cyberpunk debut I’ve seen in twenty years,” and I’d be completely honest about the book. I haven’t seen one that I personally liked as much since William Gibson made his debut.
But what if the author so impresses you that you want to give him or her a quote that could be used for all future novels? In Milo Behr’s novel, he did something both brilliant and nearly unthinkable. He wrote his novel as an epic poem, then put it in narrative form. The result is that the novel has a hypnotic effect, unlike anything that I’ve seen outside of Poe and a couple of mainstream writers. So, for example, I might say something like, “Milo Behr’s work is brilliant and mesmerizing.”
5) Remember that as a reviewer, you’re not always right. Many years ago I reviewed a novel that, quite frankly, really bothered me. The protagonist was so reluctant to do anything at all that I just couldn’t relate. I wrote a review for a small magazine, then heard from some fans who loved the book. They said, “When I read that novel, that protagonist was me.” And I realized, that there was a huge audience for the book, but I just wasn’t part of it. When offering a review, you’re making your own artistic judgment. Others might not share your opinions.
What I want to emphasize here is that giving reviews can be tough. It will take time that you may not have to give, it will present moral challenges that you might not want to face, do it with caution.
Registrationg for the Novel Rewriting Workshop in St. George will close this Wednesday. The workshops will take place September 22nd-26th, so if you want to come, get signed up.
This past few weeks I’ve been looking at the business practices of many of our authors and felt pretty overwhelmed by just how nasty things have gotten. As a reader, I’ve always been careful about what I buy, but so many authors are misrepresenting their own works, that lately I’ve been considering whether I should stop reading or promoting indie works at all.
I ask myself, “If it is any good, then why doesn’t the author send it out to agents and editors the way that I did when I got my start?”
Well, times have changed, and there are genuinely fine authors who are taking the indie route, and I applaud them.
But there are still some huge problems with the way that some authors are promoting themselves. The problem hit the spotlight with the nastiest case of plagiarism that I’ve ever seen. The author Rachel Ann Nunes, whom I’ve known for at least a dozen years, had her work plagiarized by an indie author who then proceeded to try to bully her and attack her reputation online, using fake identities to leave a string of negative reviews not only of Rachel’s work, but attacking her personally as someone who was “self-righteous,” saying that all of her books were trash.
As a result, I decided to put my foot down—right on this plagiarist’s head. We started a fundraiser, got enough money to begin uncovering her many fake identities, and we’re going to sue her. This troubles me. In this case, it appears that the plagiarist is a schoolteacher with three children of her own. Lots of people are going to get hurt. She should have thought about that at some time in her criminal career.
There are plenty of ways for authors to promote themselves that are both legal and ethical. I’ll be talking about those in the next few weeks. But first I think that we need to delineate the problems.
Here are some things that you should never do, and if you do see other authors doing them, let them know that they are wrong.
1) Thou shalt not plagiarize. It used to be that I would see a case of plagiarism every couple of years. Now it seems to be happening online every day. If we’re going to stem the tide, we need to hold plagiarists accountable. That means that when they put things for sale online, then try to slink away when caught, we need to uncover their identities and hit them with the full penalties of the law.
Don’t just report plagiarized works online—attack the thieves who are doing it.
The worst of the plagiarists are creating “Frankensteins,” books cobbled together from one chapter here, another chapter there, so that technically the author can’t be held accountable for breaking copyright laws. The reader doesn’t know that he has been swindled until he gets a few chapters into the book.
We need to figure out how to catch and prosecute these kinds of criminals.
2) Thou shalt not create sock puppets. A sock puppet is an online identity devised so that an author can promote his or her own work, often by blogging. Authors who do this are guilty of false advertising, whether they are promoting their own work by giving themselves great reviews, or going online to attack the work of their rivals.
Some authors create dozens of sock puppets in an effort to promote their work. Let me give you a clue: spend your time writing better books, and I think it will help more in the long run.
3) Thou shalt not buy favorable reviews. There have been some online businesses where you can buy positive reviews for your books, getting dozens of them for a small fee. In one case, an author purchased a thousand. These businesses are illegal. If you find out about one of them operating, report the criminal who runs it.
However, in a related practice, some of the big traditional reviewers will now review your work—for a fee. While the reviewers that they use are pretty good at trying to be even-handed, the truth is that when a reviewer is being paid by an author, he is put in an untenable situation. He wants to say nice things that maybe he wouldn’t say otherwise.
I have never paid for a review from a major reviewer, nor will I. It’s just a tad too desperate.
4) Thou shalt not “trade” reviews. Now many people are getting positive reviews by giving positive reviews. I’ve seen them swapping openly on Facebook. This is just as illegal as buying reviews any other way, and it’s just as bad.
Some authors are even doing it in groups called “author rings,” where each author is sworn to promote the works of other authors in the group. Now, there is nothing wrong with promoting the work of an author that you really know and admire.
But even reliable authors on occasion produce works that stink. Don’t promote them. Don’t ask other people to promote your stinkers. A real friend will tell you when you have B.O.
5) Thou shalt not disparage the work of other writers for gain. A few years ago, we heard about a mainstream author who had gone online and attacked well over a hundred other writers, giving their novels lukewarm reviews, then telling the readers that the books were nowhere near as great as his own. I see this happening in reviews on Goodreads and Amazon.com. You don’t need to do it.
Now, if a book really is a piece of crap, you can be honest about it, just don’t sing your own praises at the same time.
I’m sure that there are plenty of other practices that I could warn you against, but my point is this: If we’re going to clean up this industry, we need to start with ourselves. We need to examine our own standards and practices. If you’ve done any of these things in the past, resolve to go clean. If someone suggests a course of action that you find questionable, don’t say “Yes” immediately. Take some time, think about it, and resolve to do the right thing.
In perhaps the most shocking case of plagiarism I’ve ever heard of, an elementary school teacher in Utah has been named in a lawsuit for allegedly plagiarizing the work of other authors, adding porn to the stories, and then using false identities (called “sock puppets”) to threaten and attack those who uncovered her schemes.
Few people ever commit the crime of plagiarism. It’s too easy to detect. Those who are caught generally just try to slink quietly away, perhaps to try again later. But in this bizarre case, it takes a darker twist.
The accused, a woman named Tiffanie Rushton describes herself as a Utah school teacher who has worked for the Davis County School District for 20 years, where she supervises elementary children, primarily in the third and fourth grades. She seems attractive and innocent, but online she takes on a bewildering array of dark identities.
As we reported three weeks ago, bestselling romance author Rachel Ann Nunes recently discovered that someone operating under an alias had taken one of her christian romance novels and revised it, adding pornographic elements, and was planning to release it online under the pseudonym Sam Taylor Mullens.
But when Rachel tried to get a copy of the suspicious work, she immediately found herself bombarded by a barrage of implausible lies as, under different identities, Tiffanie Rushton alternately claimed that a) the novel had been the product of her writing group, b) a man who was the coauthor had asked her to do it before he died in a car wreck, c) she was the coauthor of the work because she was the niece to Nunes and had given her the ideas, and so on.
When Nunes didn’t buy those excuses, Tiffanie Rushton began to attack Nunes using her different hidden identities. First Rushton accused Nunes of being the offending party and threatened to report her to her aunt, the CEO of Nunes’s publisher. Then Rushton threatened a blogger that she suspected would turn over evidence of her plagiarism. Then Rushton began attacking Nunes herself, writing blistering reviews of her work online on Goodreads and Amazon.com in an attempt to discredit Nunes and ruin her career.
When I suggested to Nunes that we start a GoFundMe campaign in an attempt to uncover the real name of her attacker, Rushton went to the GoFundMe site. Using various aliases, she tried to dissuade other authors from supporting Nunes by claiming that the campaign was a fraudulent attempt to get money, and in one case she said that Nunes was overreacting to another writer who only wanted to “settle the matter quietly.”
Now, let me be clear about this. This isn’t an attack on an indie author. Real authors come up with their own story ideas and slave over their work. I respect that. What Rushton did was something different. In one online chat, Rushton described herself by saying simply, “I write smut.”
There is nothing illegal in writing smut, of course, but it is illegal to steal someone else’s work and then pass it off as your own. It is illegal to cyberbully. It is illegal to create false identities to promote your own work. It is illegal to try to destroy the careers of your victims.
Oh, and while investigating, researchers found that Nunes isn’t the only victim of plagiarism here. There is an earlier novel. And under her aliases, Rushton is currently out soliciting new authors, asking them to send copies of their work for her to “review.”
Rushton has dozens of identities. Maybe you’ll recognize some of them as your own online “friends”:
Update: names have been removed by request.
Please do not send your works to her. In fact, you should be leery of anyone who goes online and solicits your novels. Ask yourself, “What will they be using them for?” So who is Tiffanie Rushton? Allegedly, under one identity she describes herself as a heroic Mormon woman who teaches disadvantaged Indian children and only writes porn by night. Yet using another identity she appears to be a bigot who disparages Mormons in general and says, “I’m glad I’m not one.” In one identity she is a teacher who tells children not to copy other’s work and not to bully. Using other identities, she’s a writer’s nightmare.
Having worked as a prison guard with a number of sociopaths, I think I know exactly what she is.
Rachel Ann Nunes has asked that you not attack or harass Tiffanie Rushton in any way.
But if you think that it is important to hold plagiarists, cyberbullies, and liars who use false advertising accountable, the best thing that you can do is to help support Rachel in her stand against plagiarism. Here is the site that is set up for this purpose. (You will notice that you can also learn more about the incident at this site.) http://www.gofundme.com/StandingAgainstPlagiarism
Please be aware that this funding campaign is mostly a symbolic gesture. We don’t know if any monies will ever be recovered. But personally, I think that this is an important step to take in order to crack down on this kind of criminal behavior.
Here’s another excellent article on the topic: http://johndopp.com/plagiarism-sam-taylor-mullens-busted/
I’d write more, but I’m on my way to the Salt Lake Comic Con this weekend. If you happen to be in the area, we will be having a special panel Saturday afternoon at the convention. The panel, “Authors Against Plagiarism and Theft,” will feature several New York Times Bestsellers; author participating include Margaret Weis, Brandon Mull, Tracy Hickman, Richard Paul Evans, Kevin J. Anderson, and myself. We will be passing around a donation jar to fund Nunes’s cause for this event.
This Saturday, join me and others as we celebrate Matthew W Harrill‘s book HELLBOUNCE at this Facebook event. I will be donating 100 copies of Nightingale and 100 copies of After a Lean Winter. Maybe you can get one. https://www.facebook.com/events/611192022321330/
You can redeem your coupon here:
Dave was in the news today. KUTV, a Salt Lake City-based television station, ran a spot on him in the evening news. You can find the video here:
If you want to understand how vital character growth is to good fiction, take a look at a few classic movies. Study such films as Good Will Hunting, As Good as it Gets, Orange County, and The Silver Linings Playbook. In each of these films, every major character grows during his or her time on camera. It’s a motif in Hollywood. Having a character grow as a person is practically a requirement for any comedy, any feel-good movie. But it’s not a new thing.
In fact, this pattern of growth remains consistent through nearly all great works of fiction ever written. (I only say “nearly” because as soon as I say all, someone is going to come up with something that doesn’t have growth, like Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises, and then we’ll have to argue all day about whether it was great literature.)
Note that in literary fiction, it is often said that the characters should merely “change,” not grow. But it is not nearly so enjoyable watching the demise of a protagonist as it is to watch one succeed. Change may intrigue, but growth inspires.
Indeed, here’s a key not only to understanding characters, but to understanding people: look at anyone who is feeling anger, depression, or sadness. Look at anyone who is acting out or trying to attract attention, and you will nearly always find one common factor: the person feels frustrated. He’s not growing, not progressing. It may be that he’s frustrated with his economic fortunes, his love life, his health, but somewhere these feelings of sadness, worry, and anger are rooted in frustration.
As organisms, we feel driven to constantly progress.
A pattern emerges in many of the world’s most popular stories. Consider for example A Christmas Carol, Lord of the Rings, and Ender’s Game.
In each of the tales that I mentioned, the protagonist starts out like a child, viewing evil as something outside himself. Poverty is not a problem that Scrooge normally worries about–it’s something that happens in other counties. Frodo’s Dark Lord is in lands far away. The Buggers are on another planet.
But evil soon strikes closer to home. The protagonist discovers that it’s in the people around him. Scrooge discovers that his best employee is suffering. Frodo confronts his Boromir. And young Ender Wiggins discovers that children who should be fighting evil are cruel and divisive.
Eventually, the protagonist of course discovers evil in himself. Scrooge sees himself as a moral pauper, to his own dismay Frodo claims the Ring at the Crack of Doom, and Ender finds that he is guilty of genocide. When the protagonist recognizes that evil is not a distant thing, that it’s something within him, he is forced to either accept evil, or to change.
First he must find the strength to change himself; only afterward can he hope to affect change in the people around him and the world at large. That’s what these popular tales are all about—the journey from moral darkness to enlightenment. This enlightenment is the goal of the mythic journey, and that’s what growth literature boils down to. Growth tales can be very compelling.
But you should also know that all literature isn’t growth literature. Much literature—even some very popular literature, is about stagnation. It may let us retreat from issues of growth, and return to that safe place we all occupied before we had to grow up.
In stagnation literature, the protagonist is almost always stuck at the adolescent level. He never grows up. He doesn’t engage in adult activities—such as marriage, the raising of children, taking a day job, or caring for an elderly parent. Instead, he remains an adolescent, without responsibilities, without ever recognizing his own need for change.
Let’s take a look at a classic: Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End. The name suggests a growth novel, but in this one, aliens who look curiously like Christian devils invade the world. They’re brilliant and they teach mankind a great deal. Eventually, the whole world becomes a hive-like organism in which people are but drones, and human society evolves into something new——and mankind leaves the planet. The only person left on Earth is the protagonist who refused to participate in the exodus. He remains alone and damned, the perpetual adolescent—and apparently unsure whether he has won something or lost.
In the same way, Heinlein’s characters never grow up. They like to go around saving the world, but have no day job. They recognize that everyone around them is wrong, but they’re . . . well, they’re supermen. They don’t fall in love, they just have lots of sex. In essence, his protagonists too are always trapped in the adolescent state, and they have no desire to move beyond it.
In short, growth is unimportant in these tales simply because this is “escape” literature. The story transports the reader back to a safe time in his life, to a time when the reader did not have to worry about the complexities of life, and that is a major appeal of the tale.
In case I make it sound as if only science fiction literature offers adolescent/stagnation literature, let me assure you it’s not. In fact, if you look at literary stories—the kind you read in The New Yorker—you’ll find that much of it is stagnation literature. Oh, sure, the college professor may be burdened with a wife and child, but he’s also usually out exploring sexually, discovering that his life is meaningless, and wallowing in sophomoric angst. In short, he’s an adolescent trapped in a world where he doesn’t want to grow up.
In every genre there are plenty of stagnation stories around, simply because so many people read in an effort not to confront their challenges, but to evade them.
These readers don’t want to grow up while reading fiction. Such challenges are too discomforting—the conflicts can become too personal, strike too close to home.
Think about it: ultimately, when your character reaches adulthood, he accepts personal responsibility for the world’s state of affairs and then spends the rest of his life in service to his community. In essence, he accepts a kind of death, the death of his selfish desires and dreams.
So, my challenge as a writer of growth literature is to figure out how to get beyond that. How do I sell the message that growth is good and necessary and beautiful?
That’s easy. You simply show that the community is good, that family is necessary and beautiful, so that when your protagonist sacrifices himself for these things, we as an audience see the nobility in it.
As you consider your tale, it will be up to you to decide: do I want my characters to grow or not?
Registration for my online writing workshops closes today. If interested, you can do register here