Author’s Advice Pt. 11

Don’t be afraid to mix and merge.

So you have a fairly successful series going, but now you’re experiencing writers block. You have fragments of two or three sequels written, but don’t know where to take them. You’ve even considered starting on a third, but haven’t gotten anywhere with it. You really like the first two and would love to continue one of them, but each time you get a line in, you stall and don’t know where to go. You wind up stopping for a week, only to come back and repeat the cycle.

Well…

Why not take those fragments, as well as your ideas for a third story and combine them? Take the central themes of one, the characters from another, and the story line from the third idea you have, or any combination as such. It may work, it may not, but I’ve observed it working very well for people many times over.

A good example is my book, Magnifica: Gravestalker. I combined a few sequels to create this story as I had sort of written myself into a corner, and my audience was somewhat… upset… with the ending to Magnifica: Tears of the Fallen.

I knew that I had to do something, but I didn’t know what. Gravestalker was a product of the above formula.

Author’s Advice Pt. 10

It’s NEVER too late to start over.

Are you working on a piece you’ve just lost all love for? Are you writing something that you really didn’t want to write in the first place? Do you really not care whether your newest piece get’s done or not?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, STOP! Close out of what your writing and hit the delete key, or tear the paper up. It may hurt at first and you may see it as time wasted, but it’s better than completing a project you really don’t feel enthusiastic about. Often it’s best to just admit defeat and start over.

I know it’s hard, but don’t look at it as time wasted, look at it as you just discovered one way to write the story that won’t work. So now you know not to go down that road again. Nothing a person creates with their own two hands is ever a waste of time, remember that.

Author’s Advice Pt. 9

Exposition is out of style and no one likes it.

This is my personal opinion based on what I’ve seen from my readers, as well as myself. There is no bigger turnoff to reading than seeing a huge, page-long, paragraph describing a person, place, or thing. I understand that sometimes they are needed and you do need to break up dialogue and action scenes, no one will argue that. However it is necessary to find a good balance and too often we see long paragraph after long paragraph, most of which can be explained in more entertaining dialogue or in other ways. Allow me to give an example:

Description one:
“The cave was a lengthy one. On the walls were tapestries that appeared to be from the baroque era. They were purple with gold tassels and looked reminiscent of the time period. On the tapestry was a large emblem that was most likely a coat of arms from some ancient royal line that had long since been forgotten. The material was felt and shimmered as though glitter had been spread across it. These were a stark contract to the cold stone wall behind it that was otherwise ordinary.”

Description two:
Tobias shook his head, “Oh man… this hallway goes on forever. Why are these places so big? You would think they would want to make a castle easier to traverse.”
“Perhaps,” Taryn replied, “but at that point, it really wasn’t possible!”
As they walked, Taryn inspected the tapestries hanging from the wall, “Wow… look at these, they’re beautiful! The purple and gold blend very well together.
“What do you think, medieval or baroque era?”
“Definitely baroque.” Taryn replied. “Look at the tassels, and the fabric. These were made with felt during the medieval time period. Also, that coat of arms is definitely not from the medieval time period. It’s far more intricate.”

Which description held your attention? Which just seemed like it droned on? Which is more likely to turn your readers off?

In classic literature, reading through a ton of exposition was normal. Perhaps at that point, people had better attention spans or reading was different, or perhaps it was just a poor translation of oral tradition as in speech, exposition is far more accepted. I don’t know, but in this day and age, what little reading people do has to be more fast-paced and has to hold people’s’ attention far longer. Thus, a lot of exposition is not a good idea.

There is a reason why movies with either long paragraphs of back story at the beginning or narrators who don’t shut up, don’t usually do well.

Author’s Advice Pt. 8

How difficult is it?

Heh, unbelievably if you go the traditional route! Even if you go the indie route, it’s difficult…

Okay, that’s the short -literal- answer. Here’s the real one:

So you’ve got an idea in your head. You’ve got a story you want to write, now you want to write it and get it published… awesome!
So how do you do it? How do you make yourself stand out and accomplish such a goal when everyone and his mother wants to get something in print.

First of all, put the thought of everyone else out of your head. You’re not competing with the literally billions of people who want to get something published, you’re not. Why do I say that? Take enormous number of people, now cut that number down by the amount of people who actually have ideas that can be put to paper, creative stories, recipes, historical reference, etc. Suddenly that Billions drops to a few Billion.Good, that’s a start.
Next cut out the number of people don’t actually WANT to write something like that down and/or who don’t have the time/drive/determination to do it. That brings the number down into the millions.
Finally, cut down the number of people capable of writing length manuscripts. I know it sounds like I am taking a stab at the intelligence of people and I’m trying not to… but we all knew those people in college that struggled to write a ten page term paper. Heck, I had people drop out of one of my advanced history classes when they found out that our final grade was a 30 page paper.

Now you are down in the thousands. Next, cut out all the people who don’t have the drive/time/determination after getting the book written to take the time to submit it to agents and keep getting rejection after rejection until one finally says yes. What does that narrow it down to?

Well, I can’t say, because I honestly don’t know. The truth of the matter is that there are an uncountable number of agents out there and each are looking for the next Harry Potter or Game of Thrones. Are you willing to keep at it? Are you willing to continuously send out, re-evaluate, and rewrite hooks and presentations to agents?

If you decide to go the indie route, are you willing to take the time to advertise and submit your book for purchase?

So I realize at this point, that I haven’t answered the question. How do you compete with the rest of the world? Well… you don’t. See after subtracting all those people and answering the above questions, the remaining number is 1. That’s right, you’re competing with 1 person; yourself.

You will be fighting the urge to give up, fighting frustration, fighting your own tendencies and shortcomings, and in the end, whether or not you’re able to get published lies completely with you and no one else.

Sound easy? It’s not. Facing down yourself is arguable one of the hardest things a person can do, which brings me back to why I said it was unbelievably hard. You’re going to get frustrated. You’re going to get depressed, and you’re going get discouraged and question whether or not it’s even worth the effort. How do I know? Because I’ve been there. I got rejection after rejection before I put Divinity on the back burner to work on Magnifica, but I think my cousin said it best, “You can get a million ‘no’s’ but who cares? All it takes is one yes. You get that yes, and all of those no’s are completely meaningless.”
Very true!

At this point, you may be expecting some sort of pep talk out of me, telling you to keep at it, to never give up, and never quit.
Be prepared to be disappointed. Honestly, I’m not going to say that to anyone because I am not going to lead you down a primrose path. Getting published is not for everyone and many would consider it not worth it. Even after you do get published, where does that leave you? Do you think Dean Koontz, Stephen King, John Carpenter, and the like get rich of their book sales? Think again.

The truth is, authors get closed to nothing for their books, it’s a very small %. The few that do make it big, do so because their book sells millions of copies and then get’s turned into a movie. At that point, the author’s income comes from going to conventions and giving talks at schools and such, as well as their share of the proceeds from the movie.

Most authors will never see that kind of money within the pages of what they write. So all I am saying is be realistic. If you are prepared for all of the above, then have at it and good luck to you!

If not, stop, put the pen down. Tell your story to your children as a bedtime thing or as an anecdote at a party. Writing isn’t for you and it’ll just cause you to neglect what matters most.

To steal a phrase from the NeverEnding Story…

“Kind people find out that they are cruel. Brave men find out that they are really cowards! Confronted by their true selves, most men run away, screaming!”
The same can be said for when you’re writing. The hardest enemy you’ll ever face is yourself. Think about that before starting this monumental task.

Anyway, that is it for this one. Catch you on the flip side,

-Jim

// // //

Author Advice Pt. 7

Taking criticism….

So there are a couple different types of criticism that I’d like to go over;

Positive criticism: This type of criticism is when a friend, family member, or other person gives you there opinion on something you’ve done in the hopes of helping you improve your work. It is well-meaning, and often quite useful. This is the type where you have to realize that someone is just trying to help. You may welcome it, you may not. You way want it, you may not, but it’s bound to happen. Take that criticism to heart and then decide what to do with it. As always, however, smile and be appreciative. Again, the person is well-meaning.

Negative criticism: Nothing’s worse than when someone comes up to you and says ‘Your work sucks!’ or gives your work 1 star on a book rating website without giving any explanation why… but it happens. You can get mad, you can let them have it… no doubt you want to, but at the end of the day, it solves nothing.
Ignore it.

Underhanded criticism: So I’m giving this one it’s own category because I’m really not sure it completely belongs in the negative… this is where a friend or family member will say something like ‘Wonderful, now that you’re published, you should write about (insert subject), you know, something people would actually read about.’
Excuse me!? Okay, I’m going to stop for a moment on this one because in these cases, it’s hard to tell if the person is trying in their own way to be well-meaning, or just flat out mean spirited. Before getting angry, stop. Think about who is saying this to you. Is this someone who would intentionally insult you or belittle your work?
The best way to handle something like this… at least in my opinion, would be to callously say something like, ‘What are you saying? No one would read what I already write?’

See where it goes. Then you can choose the action from dealing with constructive criticism or negative criticism.

Author’s Advice Pt. 6

Leave the politics at the door.

I was initially hesitant about writing this one, running the risk of being ironic, so I’ll apologize in advance if any of my own political beliefs make their way into this post (I am trying hard to prevent it!)

Now what do I mean by this? Well put it this way… have you ever gone to see a musical artist or comedian who stops right in the middle of their act and starts talking to you about how they hate (insert politician) and how people who don’t agree with/like the candidate they do are (insert misogynist/racist/lacking in nationalism/or is some other way prejudice)?

Sadly I have… a couple of times and it happens whether you’re on the left or right side of the aisle. I remember the entire time thinking ‘Shut up and play! I didn’t pay to listen to this crap!’).

Another good example is the Cracked.com Facebook page. For a few years now, I have tagged that page so that it shows up on my Facebook news feed… however I’ve been considering changing that recently given the large level of one-sided political viewpoints that have begun to show up on the page (which claims to be Comedy with a college education.) since it’s popularity picked up.

To me, this is like buying an awesome book about dragons, reading a few chapters, getting hooked, and then seeing that right in the middle, the author stopped writing the story in order to voice their opinion on a specific issue having NOTHING to do with the story.

Now does that mean we can’t put our personal/political beliefs in a story? No, not at all! If writing politics is your medium, or if your songs/jokes are about politics, all power to you. The rest of us who write on specific topics also include our personal beliefs in their books, but we do it in a different way.
Example:
Magnifica tackles racism and violence against women in a few chapters, but it does so by including those themes into the story and I made a special effort not to sound preachy when I wrote it.
The stories of the X-Men deal with prejudice and they do it in a very clever way as well. Marvel is famous for its low-key political commentary.

My point is, if you want to put your opinions and beliefs in your medium, please do so, but do it in a way that incorporates it into your medium. People who go and listen to you sing about love and life don’t care who you vote for, people who come to hear your comedy routine about crazy Sci-Fi themes don’t care about who you think they should vote for, people who buy your book about dragons REALLY could care less about your opinions on Bush or Obama.

Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have an opinion or voice it. Anyone who knows me and is a Facebook friend, knows that I am very outspoken when it comes to politics, but would you know that by looking at my book’s Facebook page, or this blog (before now)? Nope. Why? Because people don’t come to my blog or page to read about that. They come to read about elves, romance, angels, and other fantasy.

Anyway, that’s just my two cents. Take them for what they’re worth.

As always, I’d like to encourage discussion on blog, so please feel free to post a rebuttal, or a reinforcement, etc.

Catch you all on the flip side,

-Jim

Author’s Advice Pt. 6

Leave the politics at the door.

I was initially hesitant about writing this one, running the risk of being ironic, so I’ll apologize in advance if any of my own political beliefs make their way into this post (I am trying hard to prevent it!)

Now what do I mean by this? Well put it this way… have you ever gone to see a musical artist or comedian who stops right in the middle of their act and starts talking to you about how they hate (insert politician) and how people who don’t agree with/like the candidate they do are (insert misogynist/racist/lacking in nationalism/or is some other way prejudice)?

Sadly I have… a couple of times and it happens whether you’re on the left or right side of the aisle. I remember the entire time thinking ‘Shut up and play! I didn’t pay to listen to this crap!’).

Another good example is the Cracked.com Facebook page. For a few years now, I have tagged that page so that it shows up on my Facebook news feed… however I’ve been considering changing that recently given the large level of one-sided political viewpoints that have begun to show up on the page (which claims to be Comedy with a college education.) since it’s popularity picked up.

To me, this is like buying an awesome book about dragons, reading a few chapters, getting hooked, and then seeing that right in the middle, the author stopped writing the story in order to voice their opinion on a specific issue having NOTHING to do with the story.

Now does that mean we can’t put our personal/political beliefs in a story? No, not at all! If writing politics is your medium, or if your songs/jokes are about politics, all power to you. The rest of us who write on specific topics also include our personal beliefs in their books, but we do it in a different way.
Example:
Magnifica tackles racism and violence against women in a few chapters, but it does so by including those themes into the story and I made a special effort not to sound preachy when I wrote it.
The stories of the X-Men deal with prejudice and they do it in a very clever way as well. Marvel is famous for its low-key political commentary.

My point is, if you want to put your opinions and beliefs in your medium, please do so, but do it in a way that incorporates it into your medium. People who go and listen to you sing about love and life don’t care who you vote for, people who come to hear your comedy routine about crazy Sci-Fi themes don’t care about who you think they should vote for, people who buy your book about dragons REALLY could care less about your opinions on Bush or Obama.

Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have an opinion or voice it. Anyone who knows me and is a Facebook friend, knows that I am very outspoken when it comes to politics, but would you know that by looking at my book’s Facebook page, or this blog (before now)? Nope. Why? Because people don’t come to my blog or page to read about that. They come to read about elves, romance, angels, and other fantasy.

Anyway, that’s just my two cents. Take them for what they’re worth.

As always, I’d like to encourage discussion on blog, so please feel free to post a rebuttal, or a reinforcement, etc.

Catch you all on the flip side,

-Jim

Author Advice Pt. 5

One thing I’ve had to continuously tell myself over and over again is not to write with a bad attitude. I’m not kidding, if it’s time for you to write and you’re mad, annoyed, or just upset about something it’s not a good time to strike the keys. Stop, put the laptop down, and go do something else.

The problem with writing while angry is that unless it’s a seen that calls for anger or sadness, such as a character dying or a loss another character suffers, it is unlikely that any good will come from writing.

It’s tough to put the pen down, believe me I know, but once a bad attitude enters someone’s writing, it can be hard to continue or complete it. Writing can become a chore at that point and no longer something the writer is enthusiastic about.

Author Advice Pt 4

Rules of grammar and spelling…

I have a feeling that this one will get me a few rolled eyes, but we all remember or… partially recall studying where to place comma’s, how to punctuate, and how to spell. This is all stuff we know.

However, are those rules solid? Must they always be followed? Absolutely not!

You’re going to find in your writing that, when building a sentence to describe something that is ongoing that a rule or two may need to be bent or twisted. Maybe there is a scene that requires you to create a word like ‘deindustrialization’ or something like that. Dialogue is a perfect example of this. Nowhere else will you see more run-on’s, sentence fragments, or words misspelled. Why? Because that’s how some people talk.

Now, does this mean that the rules can be ignored completely? God no. Bad spelling and grammar will turn your reader off quicker than a poor plot ever could.

It’s important to know the rules, but it’s almost important to know that there are gray areas. A good example of the gray areas is when you’re writing in the past tense and trying to figure out when to use the words laid, lay, lied, lie. If you google one of those words and look at any grammar site, you’ll notice a good deal of discussion and disagreement on when to use each.

So I guess what I’m saying is follow the rules, but be conscience of when you can’t follow the rules and find a way to work around them that doesn’t degrade your writing.

Thanks all for me. Catch you on the flip side!

-Jim

Author’s Advice (Part 1)

The best advice I can give to any new authors out there is probably going to surprise everyone:

Completely disregard what your potential audience may want.

Yup, you read that right. I’m giving you permission to be completely selfish with your writing, because it’s just that; YOUR WRITING! The characters you create are yours, the world you set them in are yours, you are God in that world and no one can tell you what to do with it… (Unless they bought the rights and are publishing it for you… then you may have to change a few things, but for the most part, it’s still yours.)

When you write, don’t write for what you think people would like or base what you do with a character on whether or not it’s PC or what is considered ‘right.’ There are no rights and wrongs in writing. You are free to do what you want. This advice came to me when I was watching some of the interviews and documentaries following Lord of the Rings. I don’t remember the man’s name, there was an interview with a man who worked with J.R.R. Tolkien on Lord of the Rings. He mentioned how Tolkien was often dismayed over not really being able to find any stories he liked reading. Finally he decided that if he wanted a good book out there to read, he’d have to write it himself.

I took that comment to heart when I set to write my very first full length novel. A lot of my short stories were well received, but too many of them fell flat. Upon looking back at them, I realized that I had spent too much time trying to anticipate what people would like. I was being a fool. So I turned around and started writing things that I like, things that I would want to see happen in a story and characters that I could attach myself to.

Before I knew it, I had my novel written. I gave it to my toughest critic (my wife) and she loved it. (My wife doesn’t sugar coat things, she tells you if she doesn’t like what you’ve done. I’ve had a few stories axed due to her review). Within a few months it was polished, I had a cover ready, and my work was being submitted… a few weeks later I scratched one of my life-long goals off of my list:

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