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“Dedicated to helping you create strong, vibrant, and beautiful fiction”
- David Farland, award-winning author, international bestseller

 

Beating Writer’s Block

Sequence 3, 9-00, frustrated writer

Many writers never have a problem with writer’s block, and so we sometimes say, “There’s no such thing.” But that’s not quite right. The truth is, there are various reasons why people feel “blocked,” which makes it hard sometimes to figure out why a writer is having problems.

Here are the most common reasons for writers block.

1) You’ve taken a wrong turn in your story, and something feels “off” about it. The answer to that is to go back in your story, reconsider what you’ve written recently, and try to figure out what’s wrong.

Very often, if this happens to me, I will realize that I’ve had a character who has gone off on a course of action that is inconsistent with his or her persona.

Let’s take a very simple example and say that I have a character who decides to try to solve a problem diplomatically. An evil wizard has captured his son and is holding the young boy hostage. Well, I might write a few pages about my protagonist’s diplomatic exploits, and then suddenly realize, “Now wait a minute—he’s a warlord. He’d just try to chop that wizard’s head off.” So I find that I have to erase the diplomatic mission and get back to the adventure.

When I get my characterization right, the story seems to unfold rather neatly.

2) You haven’t planned ahead well enough. In talking to authors, I find that almost all of them feel that at about the 60% mark in their novel, they suddenly find that they have to reconsider all that has happened and then slog through the next hundred pages.

It’s as if there are so many factors in play, so many characters in action, that the mind can’t quite hold it all.
That’s just normal. So when it happens, don’t feel discouraged. That’s the point where you look at the problems you foresee in the book and come up with some really creative solutions to them.

It becomes a puzzle, and you can have a lot of fun figuring out how to put the pieces together.

3) You just feel that you’ve lost interest. Hey, that happens. Maybe you should try a different project.

Sometimes you just don’t have an incentive to write. I’ve noticed that if a writer hits it big, his or her productivity will often drop to zero. How many novels have we seen from Rowling in the last decade? When was the last time that Stephenie Meyer wrote a book?

The truth is, that money is a nice incentive to write, and many authors won’t do it until the bank account hits zero.
Of course, that money doesn’t just come from writing. I have a number of friends who wanted to be writers when they were young, but they took jobs that paid well in order to support their families. Those high-paying jobs led to careers and stability, and after many years they look back and say, “Wow, I let my dream slip away.”

So what do you do? Set a goal to chase your dream. Visualize what you really want. Tell yourself, “This is my dream, and I’m going to make it come true, even if it means that I can only take an hour a day for my writing.”

Then write every day for two weeks, and use your enthusiasm to motivate you until writing becomes a habit. It’s like exercise. At the end of that two weeks, writing will have a part of your routine, and you will notice that you don’t feel satisfied if you don’t get some writing done on a given day.

4) You’ve got too much stress in your life. You may be worrying about family issues, or finances, or job-related issues, and suddenly you find that the added “stress” of writing just feels like too much.

If that happens, de-stress. Sometimes you may need to put other things before your writing, but usually you can de-stress while writing.

Just tell yourself, “I’m going to write for an hour or two. I don’t have to do it well. After all, it’s just a draft of my novel, and no one will see it anyway, because I won’t show it until I’ve made several drafts.”

Then sit down and write stress-free. At the end of your session, you’ll be able to see what you’ve done and feel a sense of accomplishment. One dragon slain, and just a few more to go.

An alternative to this is to write with a little mini-stress. Sometimes you can say, “I’m just going to see what I can write while I wait for this plane, or wait for this meeting with a client,” and you’ll find that a few stolen moments here and there eventually adds up to a novel.

Now, there are some neurological problems that people have that make writing more difficult—things like ADHD, depression, and so on. If you have genuine medical issues, see a psychiatrist or a psychologist, and take care of the issue as best you can.

In two weeks, registration for my Novel Rewriting workshop in St. George, Utah, will close. To learn more about the workshop, or to sign up, go here.

Negative Description

Character 7, protagonist 2, 2-32

Sometimes when describing a thing, it is almost easier to describe what it is not. For example, consider the first paragraph to Tolkien’s The Hobbit:

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

Notice how Tolkien doesn’t so much describe what the hole is as he describes what it is not? When he mentions a dirty, wet hole filled with an oozy smell and the ends of worms, I picture it precisely—just as the spade has opened a hole in the ground and chopped a worm in half.

In fact, by using this technique, Tolkien creates the barest image of three separate holes—two that do not exist, and one that he shall spend some time exploring.

I call this technique “negative description.” We simply describe something that it isn’t. “Marybelle wasn’t your mother’s kind of vampire, living in a crypt by day and sneaking into children’s bedrooms at night to suck their blood. Nor was she its modern counterpart—the sexy hip girl climbing trees in the forest and glittering in the morning sun. She was fat, and as her momma said, ‘You come in a plain black wrapper, Honey child, and you got to accept that.’ She tried to accept it, of course, she tried. But life ain’t no fun when you’re fat, and ugly, and you’ve got the blood Jones.”

In short, in describing any object, take time to consider how you can beat your audience’s expectations by comparing the thing that you want to describe with similar things.

Putting Your Story in Temporal Motion

video 4, 0-00, research
People are attracted to motion, particularly physical motion. But when describing a setting, some things are pretty resistant to moving. Houses, mountains, trees, and so on remain static. You can work around that problem. You can put things in motion around a house, for example, or you can describe the motionless object using metaphors or similes that provide an illusion of motion.

You can even talk about your character’s emotions, their changing feelings about a thing, and create an illusion of motion that way. For example, you might have your narrator to say, “Charlie had always hated pubs, with their smell of spilled ale and stuffy tobacco smoke, until he entered the Hart and Hound, and found a place that somehow reminded him of a home he’d never had.”

One great tool for bringing a place to life, though, is to give it a sense of temporal motion. By that, I mean that we might talk about its past or its future, as well as its present. For example, in describing a car, you might say, “The pearlescent sheen had faded from Mark’s Maxima. After seven years, he no longer saw the car as it was, but as he remembered it, gleaming white on the lot, with motes of blue and sparkles of red deep beneath the wax, so that when you looked at it, you couldn’t help but feel that you were peering into it, and seeing that the soul of the machine was pure and glorious.”

Do you see how we described the car as it was, comparing it to a duller present? We can even take it into the future. “The new car smell was gone, even to the most discerning nose, and all that was left in the cab was a waft of aging leather, a tinge of sweat, and the sun-baked vinyl of the dashboard. Someday soon, the car would begin to smell of its own decay, like an animal’s corpse. Even now, Mike could sense it coming, and it was a dull ache.”

When describing anything—a setting, a character, or even a conflict—consider ways that you might bring that thing to life by describing both its past and its future.

I will be having my Write that Novel workshop in Indaianapolis, October third and fourth. In that workshop we will cover:

- How to Make a Great Living as a Top Fiction Writer—Find Out Why Some Authors Are Always Broke While Others Live Out Their Dreams

- Secrets to Writing a Bestseller Through Wide Audience Appeal

- Personal Insights Into “Why Your Readers Read” that Will Almost Magically Sell More Books

- A Simple Diagram which Reveals Exactly Why and When to Step on the Gas in Your Plot

-Nearly a Dozen Inner Circle Secrets to Make Sure Your Books Hit on Bestsellers’ Lists

-How to Avoid the Deadly Opening Flaws which Prevent Most Authors From Getting Published

-Virtually Unrevealed Techniques for Guiding Your Readers “Into the Rabbit Hole” as You Explore Your Story’s Mysteries

-Of All the Ways Your Story Could End, Learn Which Grand Finales Are the Most Powerful, Satisfying and will Keep Your Readers Coming Back For More

-Why Publishers Don’t Have Time to Edit Books Anymore and How to Make Sure Your Manuscript Shows Up at the Publisher Virtually Flawless

-Having Worked as a Hollywood Producer, David will Walk You Through Secrets to Selling Your Film Rights and How to Maximize Your Income on Any Movie

- Tips for Eliminating Writer’s Block and Other Obstacles so You Can Keep Turning Out those Golden Eggs

- Nearly a Dozen Inner Circle Secrets to Make Sure Your Books Hit on Best Sellers’ Lists

- How to Make Sure that Every Book Comes Out Better than the One Before

- The Four Most Vital Keys to Writing a Bestselling Book or Movie

- Five Techniques to Exploit an Intellectual Property in Hollywood and Around the World

- The Right Way to Introduce Yourself to Editors, Agents, and Movie Producers and How to Get Yourself in Front of Them

- Is Writing Really Your Easy Path to Wealth and Fame? The Truth About the T.V. Image of the Lavish Lifestyle of a Successful Author—Here’s How Success Can Be Achieved, But Don’t Buy Into Some Pipe Dream. It’s Real Work

- Writing Tricks that have Turned Struggling New Writers Like J.K. Rowling Into Global Sensations

- The Ins and Outs of Self-publishing

- Why 98% of Wanna-Be Authors Fail . . . and more.

Sign up or learn more here

Don’t Give Fraudulent Reviews

Write Every Day, 1-12, focused writer

I sometimes wonder what God would say if He were to release new commandments to writers. I think that the first commandment might be something like this:

Thou shalt not post fake reviews of novels that thou hast not read.

The problem has become very widespread. Here are some examples:

1) A few years ago, Amazon.com used to hide the identities of reviewers, and then one day the real names showed up only in Canada. One person noted that an author had reviewed hundreds of books, panning them, and then slyly pointed out that if they wanted a really good book, they should go purchase his. What a scummy practice.
Well, the fans found out, and I do hope that hundreds of authors took the opportunity to give one-star reviews to this rat’s life effort.

2) Some people give one-star reviews to books just to weaken their competitors. Others do it because they don’t like the religious affiliation, political beliefs, or personality of an author. Sometimes people pan books just to give themselves a sense of empowerment.

I’ve encountered women who won’t give a good review to a romance written by a man, and I recently saw a gay reviewer dock a book for having a protagonist who was too straight for his tastes.

3) In some cases, negative reviews come in waves as a concerted attack on an author. I mentioned earlier this week that Rachel Ann Nunes discovered that a woman was plagiarizing her work. When Rachel asked reviewers about it, the plagiarist and her friends retaliated, hit Amazon.com and Goodreads, and plastered the sites with one-star reviews for Rachel’s novels. This crosses the line from being just nasty to committing libel, and so I started a fundraiser so that we can discover the identities of those involved and look at suing them in civil court for their actions. This will take a good amount of money, but I think that if we’re going to clean up the industry, we have to begin doing things like this. You can support this effort by going to GoFundMe.

4) But not all fake reviews are negative. I was online two weeks ago, looking at a newly released novel on Facebook. An author came on and said, “Hey, I’ll post a rave review about your novel if you post a rave review about mine.” The author of the new release said, “Sure.” So I made sure not to buy either novel.

5) A couple of years ago, there were sites on Facebook advertising that you could “buy” rave reviews. Some authors did just that, and were able to turn their questionable books into bestsellers. One author bought a package of rave reviews, something like a thousand of them, and sold hundreds of thousands of his book.

Even as the company that sold the fake reviews was being shut down, and the owner thrust into prison, Facebook sent me a new ad offering these same services.

6) Other authors use sock puppets, creating fake online identities so that they can tout their own works on multiple sites. Thus, an author can have a dozen blogs under different names, all existing to push just one work.

Sometimes the sock puppet really is another person. So they get blogs from their friends and act as one another’s publicity agents.

Between the sock puppets, the purchased raves, the traded raves, the fake negative reviews, and so on, the result has become that you can no longer trust indie reviews. The waters are too muddy.

I now look for reviews only from professional reviewers or from people that I know and trust. In fact, it has gotten so bad, that I recently came to a decision: I will no longer buy an indie novel unless I personally know that the writer is good or have seen positive reviews from trusted sources.
That saddens me, because I know of so many talented writers who are just on the cusp of breaking out—talented authors who have interesting and quirky novels. I’d love to see them publish as indies and get the respect that they deserve, but in this environment, they just can’t.

We need to have a review source for books both online and in print that is unbiased.

Don’t forget to share Rachel’s story of plagiarism and donate to/share her GoFundeMe. Help us win the fight again plagiarism.

When to Attack Another Writer

rachel-ann-nunes-01

I’ve been noticing a lot of bad behavior on the part of new writers—minor squabbles motivating petty deeds. So I’ve been thinking that perhaps I should write a little guide called “How to Play Nice with Your Fellow Authors.” In fact, I was going to write the article this morning, when I heard about perhaps the single most disgusting incident that I’ve seen in thirty years as a writer.

It happened last week to a longtime acquaintance of mine, Rachel Ann Nunes. Now, I have to admit here that I know Rachel. I’ve met her at conventions for years, and my daughter happens to be one of her fans. So I’ve probably known her for a good fifteen years, and I like her.

Last week, Rachel discovered that another author had plagiarized her book. It was one that was published fifteen years ago as a clean romance. The other “author,” writing under the pseudonym Sam Taylor Mullins, made some revisions to the published text, adding some erotica, and tried to pass it off as her own. (I’m assuming that it’s a female author, although we don’t know at this point for sure, since she won’t reveal her true name, and her accounts keep changing)

While the plagiarized book hadn’t yet been published, copies of it were sent out to reviewers. When one reviewer recognized what was going on and notified Rachel, Rachel tried unsuccessfully to get a copy of the book to see for herself. She then sent emails to six reviewers. Four of them looked at Rachel’s book and said “Yes, you’ve been plagiarized,” and then declined to review the plagiarized novel.

One reviewer said that she didn’t like the way that Rachel was handling this by talking to the reviewers, so she was going to complain to Rachel’s publisher and some other authorities, and claimed that Rachel’s publisher was her aunt. (A claim that the publisher said is false.)

Now, at this point, given the dubious lie, I’m wondering if the reviewer in this case isn’t also the plagiarist, Sam Taylor Mullins. Why? Because later the plagiarist told a lie in which she claimed that Rachel Ann Nunes was her aunt and that she had given Rachel the idea for the book in the first place, and that Rachel had given her permission to rewrite the novel.

In any case, a sixth reviewer suggested that Rachel was a much inferior writer to the plagiarist, and that perhaps Rachel should get a copy herself and take a nice long look at how much the new porn elements improved the book. In a leering manner, he suggested that the book would definitely make her blush, and one got the feeling that he would enjoy that.

The behavior of these two bloggers quite frankly astonishes me. In a way, it’s like having a rape victim shout for help, only to have the bystanders join in the attack.
Now, I don’t know these bloggers. I don’t even know their names. I suspect that these may not even be real people, that they’re sock puppets, or perhaps friends of the culprit.

But it gets stranger.

Sam Taylor Mullins provided a number of different accounts as to how the plagiarism took place.

In one account, a man in her writing group provided the original manuscript, said that he had been the coauthor and that it was no longer in print, and asked Sam Taylor Mullins to rewrite it. Unfortunately, he later died in a car wreck, so no one will be able to verify that story. But doesn’t it make sense that even if someone did come to you with a story like that, that you would recognize that it was a lie? Obviously, the book was far too modern to be in public domain, and even if you are the coauthor of a book, you can’t give away the other coauthor’s rights. So this is an obvious lie, an outrageous one, even on the face of it.

In another tale, Sam Taylor Mullins told one of the reviewers that Rachel Ann Nunes was her aunt, that she had given Rachel the idea for the novel many years ago, that she was therefore a coauthor, and that Rachel had given her permission to write the book. Well, Rachel says that that’s just not true. She doesn’t have a niece that would have been old enough to do that. Sam Taylor Mullins also claimed that she had consulted with an attorney who said that Rachel just doesn’t have a case.

Sam Taylor Mullins also claimed, in the same letter, that she didn’t want knowledge of all of this to get out, because she was widely known as a good member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and didn’t want people to know that she was writing porn. She claimed that it might hurt her marriage if people knew.

I have to tell you, I have no sympathy for that point of view. To say that you want to hide the fact that you’re a plagiarist, a fraud, a liar, and a pornographer because you want everyone in your private life to believe that you’re a good Christian is just an affront to people of all faiths everywhere.

But it gets worse. Once Rachel uncovered what was going on, Sam Taylor Mullins and her friends struck back at her by writing negative reviews of her books and posting them on Amazon.com and elsewhere, thus trying to hurt her career. By the way, this isn’t just bad manners, it’s called “slander” and “libel,” and it carries some stiff penalties.
It’s like having the rapist and his friends decide to piss on the victim just because she dared beg for help.

I have never seen behavior this outrageous from another author in all of my life. Yet to this moment, Rachel still doesn’t know who the perpetrator is. The plagiarist has taken down her websites and her books, and Rachel has not even named the reviewers who did her wrong.

A lot of authors have written to Rachel to offer her sympathies. I think that we should do one better. This is the kind of case where you can contact the authorities, and they will do nothing. They’ll tell you that it’s a civil case.

But suing a person requires money that I know Rachel doesn’t have.

This is the kind of case where it is in the best interest of all writers to see this criminal—and her cohorts, brought to justice. So I’d like to do just that.

Now, last year, most of you know that my son had a tragic accident, and I really feel grateful that many of you made donations to our family through GoFundMe. I want to thank you. You really saved our lives economically. My son is doing much better, but I’m still working for 90 to 100 hours per week trying to get out of debt. So I’m going to kick off the fundraiser with a payment of my own, and I’m just sorry that I’m not in the position to help Rachel even more.
But I’m hoping that some of you will recognize that what is good for one writer is normally good for all. It is in your enlightened self-interest to help Rachel in this case. This particular plagiarist exhibits many of the behaviors of a sociopath, and she will just as gladly steal from you and ruin your career as she will Rachel’s.

You can help by going to GoFundMe, donating to the cause, and sharing it with others. Even if you can only donate $5, if enough people do that, we can make a difference.

You might also want to help by looking through Rachel’s books, and perhaps ordering any that strike your fancy.

You can read Rachel’s personal account of this whole situation on her blog

Meanwhile, I’m going to be talking this week about do’s and don’ts with authors. How should we be treating each other, whether we are indie’s or traditional authors.

Again, please share the GoFundMe page, this kick, or Rachel’s own blog post.

Weighing in on the Amazon-Hachette Debate, Part 2

Sequence 11, 15-00, access internet

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the dispute between Amazon and Hachette. This week, a large number of traditional authors have put together a petition outlining some of Amazon’s negotiation tactics, and inviting authors to join them in asking Jeff Bezos personally to stop using authors as their economic football.

Read the petition and what you can do to make a difference here.

Our live Professional Writers Workshop is now up and open for sign-ups. It will take place March 16th-20th in Orem, Utah. This workshop is designed to help teach you the kinds of things that you can’t learn in most colleges—the ins and outs of the writing business. It’s $700 for the week. Learn more here.

We only have a few spots left for our live Novel Rewriting workshop, and registration ends on August 25th. The workshops will take place September 22nd-26th, in St. George, Utah. If you would like to go, learn more or sign up here.

Writing Emotions

Sequence 1, starting, editor

I’m not sure, but I suspect that writers and other artists tend to be emotionally volatile. In part, I believe that we create in order to try to express ourselves using heightened communication—our art. Yet there is a danger in trying too hard to express emotions. Let me explain. . . .

If you look at people, some are more susceptible to strong emotions than others. There is a wide range of temperaments. On one end, some people are emotionally dead inside, while others are stoic, on toward the middle-of-the-road types, and then to those who are highly emotional, often to the point of being ravaged by their moods.

Certainly you know people who are constantly in tears—tears of joy one moment, tears of nervousness the next, tears of despair a third.

As we write, I suspect that we try to express the world as we see it. In other words, those who are emotionally dead inside will portray protagonists who are very much like themselves, while those who are emotionally charged will try to portray people with rich and powerful interior lives, and both can be a problem.

I recall reading an author many years ago who had a scene where his protagonist’s mother is killed in a bombing attack on his apartment. The protagonist’s response? It might be summed up as, “Good thing I wasn’t home.” Seriously, I closed the book shortly afterward. The protagonist was dead inside, and I believe that the author was much the same. It just wasn’t me.

On the other hand, if an emotionally volatile writer pens a story, they will try to make every incident explosive. Writing a letter to apologize for missing a grown son’s birthday will drive the protagonist to tears. Opening a bill will fill them with dread. Everything is just over the top.

Now, it may be that if an author is emotionally volatile, he or she will attract an audience of people who are similarly affected. Like speaks to like. So the author’s protagonists would probably seem very “realistic” to others who are emotionally volatile.

The problem comes when the author tries too hard to arouse emotions. Very often emotionally charged authors will describe emotions at length, using metaphors in an effort to get them across. So we’ll get a lot of lines about a mother’s loneliness, perhaps, something like. “The silence of the house settled upon my heart like a dead weight, two hundred pounds of granite, crushing. I wandered from room to empty room, the padding of my feet the only sound, except the occasional creak of the house settling. The living room was so empty, like a tomb, never to be filled again, I realized. The last of my children were gone, and I missed their happy voices. Tears streamed unbidden down my face, raining on the plush carpet.”

I don’t know about you, but this just turns my stomach.
There are four problems that arise when an author tries too hard to express emotions.

1) The author often resorts to purple prose, so that descriptions of emotions become lengthy, with every noun and adverb having multiple modifiers. So you get things like, “A heart-wrenching scream broke the air, like white doves exploding from a cage.” Thus, the whole document becomes bogged down with emotive descriptions.

2) The author will often transition from one emotion to another too quickly, so that a character is laughing in one sentence, crying in the next, and petrified with fear in the third.

3) The author writes maudlin prose, which is overly tearful. Hence, you get multiple crying jags in every chapter. This is a huge problem.

I recall Orson Scott Card once mentioning that you should be wary about letting your characters cry. When they cry on the page, it creates an emotional release for your reader, so that the reader doesn’t cry. In fact, the more that your protagonist does cry, the less your reader feels.

Scott recommended that you let your protagonist be a bit more stoic, take a beating, and let the reader cry for him or her. Now, I think that there are times when your protagonist should cry, such as when his mother gets atomized by a bomb meant for him, but I think that we should keep the tear count to a minimum.

4) The author writes mawkish prose. A mawkish tale is defined as “sickeningly sentimental,” very often in a contrived way. In a mawkish tale, the author goes to extremes to try to arouse emotion by creating unrealistic events or sequences designed to arouse strong emotions. They’re consistently over the top, and of course they describe each emotion ad nauseam.

The truth is that if you want to arouse strong emotions in a reader, it’s really very easy to do. Simply create a realistic, honest scene that would arouse the emotions.

For example, let’s say that you want to create a powerful death scene for a character, Lisa. She dies in a traffic accident. Do you need to describe the “horrifying sound of metal grating on metal, like a bomb going off in a crowded cathedral”? Do you need to describe “the hot copper odor of her precious lifeblood as it streams from the gash in her neck”? Do we talk about the dread and sadness that she feels as she imagines the life that lay ahead of her, the life that she’s losing?

Not really. All that you have to do to arouse the emotion is to describe in very simple terms exactly what has happened. Let her bleed out with dignity. If you’ve set up the scene properly, by creating a character that the reader loves, then the scene will be emotionally charged anyway. As you relate tiny details as they happen, it lengthens the scene, makes it more real, and allows for greater emotional release for the reader.

But excessive prose that talks about the tragedy and emotes over it? It’s all garbage. The extra words actually get in the way, diminish the emotional impact of the scene.

As the poet T.S. Eliot taught, you as a writer can only lay claim to emotions that are supported by the facts of your story. He said, “The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an ‘objective correlative’; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.” (Emphasis mine.)

Thus, Eliot taught that Hamlet was an artistic failure because Hamlet’s emotional response to the incidents was too exaggerated. He might be right, though certain psychologists could argue that Hamlet was simply responding to internal forces that were too much for him to handle.

Still, I’ve seen plays of Hamlet that left me rather cold simply because it felt like “too much” emoting.

We only have a few spots left for our live Novel Rewriting workshop, and registration ends on August 25th. The workshops will take place September 22nd-26th, in St. George, Utah. If you would like to go, learn more or sign up here.

This workshop includes:

- Dave Wolverton (aka David Farland) a New York Times Bestselling author, editor, and creative writing instructor, will edit the first 75 pages of your manuscript, and read the following 50 pages and your outline (10 pages), in order to assess ways to improve your writing and strengthen your work.

- Then, in class, we will have daily lessons for three hours each morning, followed by afternoons and evenings spent doing editing exercises on your work. These sessions will teach you how to do triage editing, where we select scenes or story lines to add to your work, delete from your novel, or change dramatically. We’ll also spend time doing line edits to improve the quality and clarity of your work, voice edits to make your narrator and characters sound consistent, and we’ll do syllabic edits to greatly increase the pacing of your novel, and so on.

- Each author will be asked to read the first 20 pages of each manuscript, along with the outline for the manuscript. We will then critique that first 20 pages in class, so that we can laser in on how we might best approach that story.

The workshop is $799.

On Writing Fantasy

Plotting 8, Frodo leaves for Grey Havens, 4-00

In one sense, every story that is made up, or imaginary, is a fantasy, and a hundred years ago, if a writer were discussing fantasy, he would have used the term fantasy that way.

Today, when discussing fantasy as a literary genre, we more often are discussing a branch of literature that offers some strangeness as a primary draw, such as a strangeness in the setting for the story (such as imaginary places or magic systems), or perhaps in the characters that inhabit our own world—vampires and supermen.

Some people consider science fiction to be a subset of fantasy, though it can be quite different. Science fiction is most often a literature that deals with speculation about the future, and to some degree might even be predictive of the future in a way that fantasy is not.

The editor Donald A. Wollheim once suggested that bookstores create a section called “Wonder literature” that would include stories meant to arouse a powerful sense of wonder. Science fiction and fantasy would thus be sold together under his model. I rather prefer this. You see, we tend to categorize books nowadays by the primary emotions that they elicit—humor, romance, horror, thrillers, and so on. Wonder literature makes sense, though there are those who recognize that horror is often closely aligned to fantasy. After all, the strange is often terrifying as well as wondrous.

Some of the big players in the fantasy genre include people like Homer, Shakespeare, and Dickens. Most of the bestselling books of all time are fantasies—things like Harry Potter, Twilight, or the The Alchemist.

Sell Piece, Harry Potter Cover, 4-30

In fact, I’m going to make a prediction: eight of the ten top-grossing films this year will be fantasy or science fiction. I’m pretty safe in making that bet: it’s been true every year for the past 20 years.

Yet many folks don’t recognize how important fantasy is in our lives.

I grew to love fantasy as a child, sitting on my mother’s knee, as she told me bedtime stories like “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Hansel and Gretel.” I don’t think that I recognized that animated stories—cartoons like Bugs Bunny or movies like Peter Pan—were roughly the equivalent of those bedtime stories.

Yet fantasy permeates society and my love for it blossomed as a child—from bedtime stories to cartoon, from cartoons to comics and fables and myth, from myth to more contemporary fantasies in the form of novels.

So what is fantasy for? What good is it?

Quite simply, fantasy is what we as storytellers use to hold the attention of our audience as we prepare to tell them something important.

Whenever something strange is introduced in a story, it grabs the attention of the audience. Whether we speak of a haunted house, or bring out a ghost, or have a character sucked back in time as we introduce a strange conflict, that grabs the reader’s attention, but quite often the story carries lessons that are of more value than mere entertainment.

In Homer’s The Odyssey, we learn about the need for courage to face the future, but we also learn about the duties that soldiers owe to brothers, and the ethics of how one should entertain strangers in our own homes, and so on.

In the same way, fantasy today carries lessons for life.
I have a theory about fantasy. I suspect that the human brain is incapable of storing most of the information that we need to know in order to really understand the world. So very often, ancient history gets stored under the guise of fable.

Let me see if I can explain it more clearly. Take an incident from your own family history, something far in the past, and try to examine what you really know about it. The truth is, you probably don’t know anything—just the fable.

For example, I’m going to pick, “The day that my father killed the cows.” In our family, that was a significant day. For some of his children, it is proof that my father had an uncontrollable temper, and it has become something of a legend for most of the kids in our family. A couple of years ago, I was talking to my sister and she brought it up as one of my father’s notorious deeds. But I realized that she hadn’t been there, and didn’t know anything more about that day than the legend.

Here’s the legend: One day, my father got so mad at our cattle that he went out shot them all, along with our sheep.
And it’s true. He did go out and kill all of our cattle—seventeen of them, along with a couple of sheep and pigs.

He was in a fey mood that day, you might say, and it was a day that changed his life. You see, once he shot all the animals, he had to spend the next two days butchering them. Then he had to put an ad in the paper and sell the meat before it spoiled, since he didn’t have freezers to put them in.

From that incident, he got enough buyers that he decided to start his own meat company, and that led to a level of prosperity that he’d never had before.

Now, the simple “legend” is that my father had a terrible temper and went around shooting things. But the truth is far more complex.

He did kill animals when he got mad. I saw him do it at least a dozen times. He shot six of our neighbors’ dogs once when they attacked our sheep. A few days later, we had another neighbor whose dog kept howling, so my dad shot it. The same day, our neighbor’s rooster was crowing in our back yard, so it got blasted. For a few weeks there, it seemed like everyone was in danger.

But as I said, the truth is more complex than the legend. My father had been raising livestock for several years, and he was losing money at it the year he killed the animals.
Yes, killing the cattle while in a fey mood might seem impulsive, but he had talked about it earlier in the week, realizing that if he butchered the animals, he’d saved on feed, and ultimately might still be able to turn a profit.
More than that, the cattle had been breaking down the fences on our acreage–one steer in particular that seemed to think it was a game. He’d just push the fence posts over to get out.

This had caused my dad to be late for work several times the week before he killed our animals, and he was afraid that he might lose his job.

In fact, he’d been laid off his previous job, and he was really scared. You see, we were living at 1/3 of the poverty level, and his job in the sawmills was his income.
But my father had been working part time as a meat cutter for several years, and had always dreamed of starting his own business.

In short, one could look at his act of shooting the animals as proof of his nasty temper—or one could look at it as a wise business decision, or perhaps an act of desperation. In later years, my father talked about it as if indeed it had been a business decision.

But by simplifying the tale, by simplifying the history, we are able to hold it in our minds, along with thousands of other simple tales that are only partly true.

In fact, if you listened to my brothers and sisters, they’ll give a slightly different account than what I just did. The truth is that even though I was there when my dad shot most of those animals, I only recall it vaguely. (My mother had me run into the house, afraid that I would get shot along with the rest of the animals.) I remember only a few key facts because I’ve told them to myself over and over, and there might not be much truth to them at all. Did my father shoot those seventeen cows after killing the neighbor’s dogs, or was it really a week before? My brothers and sisters might recall it differently.

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Yet much of our history is that way. We have bits and pieces of events, without much context. The further we get from the event, the less substance we get at all. Our lives are like a tree rooted firmly in the present, and the farther back we go, we climb up limbs that taper off into twigs and then disappear into thin air, until all real truth is lost.

Eventually, only the fiction is remembered and becomes more significant than the fact. For example, most kids in America have heard about how George Washington chopped down the neighbor’s cherry tree and honestly confessed when asked if he had done it. He served as a model for integrity.

I have an ancestor, Martha Wolverton, who was George’s neighbor. She mentions spanking him for climbing on her picket fence when he was a child, but she didn’t record ever having him chop down her cherry tree. I suspect that the whole story is a fable, a lie meant to teach children to always tell the truth.

Which is more important today, the truth or the fable? I vote for the fable.

Ultimately, that is the value of fantasy: it allows us to delve deeply into our psyches for important truths and then shape them into enduring forms.

We only have six spots left for our live Novel Rewriting workshop, and registration ends on August 25th. The workshops will take place September 22nd-26th, in St. George, Utah. If you would like to go, learn more or sign up here.

At this workshop you includes:

- Dave Wolverton (aka David Farland) a New York Times Bestselling author, editor, and creative writing instructor, will edit the first 75 pages of your manuscript, and read the following 50 pages and your outline (10 pages), in order to assess ways to improve your writing and strengthen your work.

- Then, in class, we will have daily lessons for three hours each morning, followed by afternoons and evenings spent doing editing exercises on your work. These sessions will teach you how to do triage editing, where we select scenes or story lines to add to your work, delete from your novel, or change dramatically. We’ll also spend time doing line edits to improve the quality and clarity of your work, voice edits to make your narrator and characters sound consistent, and we’ll do syllabic edits to greatly increase the pacing of your novel, and so on.

- Each author will be asked to read the first 20 pages of each manuscript, along with the outline for the manuscript. We will then critique that first 20 pages in class, so that we can laser in on how we might best approach that story.

The workshop is $799.

Matt Harrill’s Hellbounce Book Launch

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:

After A Lean Winter Kindle
After a Lean Winter ePub
Nightingale Kindle
Nightingale ePub

Dave In The News!

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:

To Grow or Not to Grow

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