Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Back when I subscribed to a half-dozen or so magazines (like the 1980s -- many years before the Intrawebz became the "in" way to find something to read!), here's how I would consume said tabloids:
1. Leaf through the entire magazine just to get a quick overview
2. Then go back to the beginning pages and begin to read the shorter articles, etc. that got my attention during the quick overview
3. Then (and this could be days or even weeks after the magazine had arrived) begin to decipher the longer pieces, especially the "stories."
Yeah, that's right! I saved the best parts for last! Eating dessert came last -- like it is supposed to!
Even earlier in my tabloid-consuming career (the early '70s), one magazine I could not wait for every month was Boys' Life, a publication of the Boy Scouts of America! Now there's an eclectic collection of contemporary literature if there ever was one! And I relished the time spent reading and even re-reading the excellent short stories (at least at the time I thought they were excellent!).
But now, and I believe this is primarily due to the immediacy of the Intrawebz, I subscribe to no periodicals. But I still read short fiction now and then. That's right ... I satiate my appetite for short stories by reading ebooks!
And I'm almost embarrassed to admit it, but I don't read near as many stories as I did back in my days as a Boy Scout.
But did I read longer pieces of fiction as well? Why of course! In my heyday, I was probably perusing a novel a week! And did I even think about which kind of fiction I liked better? Not in the least! I wanted to read and I read ... read whatever was within my reach (to a certain degree, of course!).
So, what do the fine people of the Writers' Cafe have to say about this somewhat-related topic: are serials, as well as short stories, "quality" literature compared to full-length novels? And if they are, is it acceptable for short fiction writers to charge as much for those pieces of literature as others are charging for their novels?
For thesake of clarity, I've divided the commentary into two sections: "shorts are bad" and "shorts are good."
Now isn't that just an amazingly simple way to organize everything?
Short works are bad!
"Today I saw an author on Amazon. They had basically taken what really may have been good as one novel and split it into 4 books which were only 49 pages long and then tacked $2.99 on to each. Result? They had some good reviews but a vast majority of the folks said the same thing. It was too short and from what I can tell most grabbed it when it was FREE anyway. So the question is...
1. Should you just write a good novel that is 250 or 300+ pages long
2. Or chase the money and who gives a rat's *ss about the reader; let's just give them 50 pages of drivel and hope we can snag a few $2.99 sales?"
"I'd never read a book that was cut in pieces unless it was clearly stated that it's a serial. Well, and even then I'm not sure I'd be interested. Given the current eBook market $2.99 for 49 pages isn't acceptable. I would feel cheated if this ended on a cliffhanger, forcing me to keep buying more pieces. To me, it borders on the unethical (again, unless something is marked as a serial). While there are some writers who can churn out quality in very short time, I'm sure they're in the minority. I worry that the "write more books!" mantra is leading some to believe they just have to publish something, anything, and the dollars will come.The mantra should be 'write more good books!' Unfortunately, the slush is piling up and the readers are taking notice. I think this is the reason that some 'gatekeepers' like Bookbub are doing so well. With an overwhelming choice of titles, a lot of readers want someone to vet their material for them."
"My thoughts are:
- a story should be as long or short as it needs to be.
- too many self-pubbers are concentrating on the short term at the expense of the long term.
- Everyone has their own thoughts on pricing, but personally I feel that there is a certain point where XX pages for $X.XX dollars is just gouging people."
"I'm kind of torn on this one, but not for reasons that might seem readily apparent. First off, all of my books are full length books. I do have a couple of novellas I've published, but I've never actually split a book. Until now. Well, not exactly, so let me explain. I wrote a novel some years back that started a series I'll be writing for the rest of my life. It covers 3000 years of history, and each book is about 250 years of time. The first book was called The Tales of Reagul, and it ran about 500 pages. It was told in 'books' which were separated into chapters. But it was still one book. Not too long ago, I realized that the novel needed some fleshing out, so I reexamined it and realized that it could become multiple novels, although it would need a lot more writing. The three novels I split it into aren't just 1/3 of the 500 pages. I've been going through and developing each third into full length novels that will probably hit the 400-500 page range. So, each book will still be rull length novels. This is the only way I would ever split a book, and I think the series will be that much richer for it. The additions I made weren't just page fillers, but entire adventures and further fleshing out of some very significant characters. At least that's my take on the subject."
"We complain about the old system of gatekeepers, but those gatekeepers were set up by readers in the first place. They knew that if XXXX publishing house put out a book, that it would be a good book. They knew that if XXXX bookstore carried the book, it would be a good book. They knew that if XXXX reviewer liked the book, that it was a book worth reading. Authors had to deal with those gatekeepers on a daily basis, but readers started putting them out of their minds. To a reader, it all blurred into 'if a book is published, it must be good.' Because the gatekeepers kept bad books from getting to readers. Now, we live in a different world. And while many readers are excited that they can dig through the slush pile and find a gem, the vast majority will stick to their tried and true authors and occasionally pick up a book a friend recommends. Most fear (yes fear!) the idea of reading a 'self-published' book UNLESS they can be assured that it is of quality before they pick it up. Who assures quality? (i.e. acts as a gatekeeper). It looks like Bookbub and the like are being set up by readers as the new gatekeepers. It used to be 'if I can get a publishing contract, I have a shot' or 'if I can make it to the NYT Best Sellers list, I have a career,' but now it is 'if I can just get Bookbub to pick up my book.' What we are doing is seeing the building of new gatekeepers before our eyes. We, as authors, see the tearing down of walls which keep us from connecting directly with readers as a good thing. Many readers, however, see the swarming hordes of barbarian writers coming at them through the crumbled walls and desperately want some gates and protectors to keep them safe."
"Personally, I don't like serials, especially with cliffhangers. I couldn't even stand watching TV shows like Lost for that reason. So I don't buy short books for that reason. But as a business strategy, I have no problem with it, as long as they're upfront and readers know they're buying chapters as they go along, then everything is clear. I like books so I do pay attention to page count."
"I hate serials and I'd never buy them because I prefer to have a whole book. I picked up some first parts that were free and none of them felt complete to me. It was just a book butchered into pieces that weren't even interesting. Now I mostly avoid serials. There are thousands of full books out there, so it doesn't matter. Actually, I'd buy one part of the serial if I knew the story was complete somehow and if I didn't have to read the next one just to get the ending for the first. I'm sure some people prefer serials, so I'm glad there's something for them too. I laugh at the idea of quality, though. Who can define what quality is? Traditional publishers? Maybe, but they accept all sorts of books that they know will sell. Bookbub? Maybe, but they promoted books with homemade covers and without professional editing too. In the end, the only thing that matters is what people want to buy, so if they'll buy each part of a serial for 2.99$, give them serial. Who am I to complain? Can't blame anyone for offering serials. No one is holding a gun to my head and forcing me to purchase them."
"I've been told by every editor I've had that my second draft is basically what most publish. And I have been releasing the equivalent of one novel every six to seven weeks since I started at this 23 months ago. Perhaps I'm the exception. But as one, I take exception. I have done two serial trilogies. I will never do it again. My current one, The Delphi Chronicle, gets panned by readers who don't understand what a serial is. They just don't know. So they get annoyed. Astoundingly, they mainly get annoyed at the thought they would have to pay for the rest of the story. So they don't mind the form, they mind not getting all of it free. So that's a sense of entitlement wherein they want 160K of story for free, and get pissy when they only get 60K of it or so. I personally believe that's a very vocal and tiny minority, but who needs the problems? I don't. It's not worth the heartache, at least in my genre. Never again."
Short works are good!
"I also object, very strenuously, to the idea that short works are necessarily drivel. This is insulting to a lot of writers here, frankly. Plenty of readers and writers like shorts. They are particularly popular in certain genres, such as romance and erotica. Novels are not the only quality writing out there. Isaac Asimov wrote wonderful short stories. So did Daphne du Maurier, H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury... the list goes on and on. 'Short' does not equate to 'drivel.'
"I like serialized stories as long as I know that's what I'm paying for. 2.99 seems fine to me. I pay more for a cup of coffee from McDonald's."
"Splitting up a book is not the same as writing a serial. I've written several books and I'm near the end of my first serial, and believe me, they are quite different creatures. At my price of $0.99 for 40-60 pages per episode, readers seems willing to buy and I don't get complaints about the price."
"Serialised fiction has been extremely popular in the past. People like ongoing stories featuring the same characters set in a persistant world. The Kindle, and other ereaders, are a nice distribution platform for this kind of work. Check out the Perry Rhodan series for something that takes it to the extreme... well over 2000 novellas published weekly. A lot of vintage science fiction was serialised in magazines before being released as novels and many classic victorian novels were first published as serials. There is precedent for this kind of thing. I quite like serials in some genres. For science fiction there is an element of nostalgia. I bought Wool (some people may have heard of it) as a collected volume after the fact but I would have loved to have been buying each volume as it was released. For an author who is engaged with their fans I think the shorter release cycles can be fairly exciting and fun and lead to a more intimate dialogue between author and reader. If each volume has some substance and a narrative arc and isn't just the equivilent of some chapter pulled at random from a larger work. I don't find the $2.99 (£2 for me) price point objectionable. I read for an hour a day over a coffee that costs me £2.20 and takes me half an hour to drink. On Fridays I get a cake as as well, that costs around £2.50, that takes me about 5 seconds to eat. If a short part of a larger work can engross me for two or three of those lunch breaks £2 doesn't seem like an unfair price. Of course if the complete book is available and works out cheaper I'm going to buy that, but I do quite like (good) serials, especially reading them as they are released and anticipating the next one and I don't object to paying a little more to consume books in this manner.... of course that's only if I enjoy them. Another advantage of serials is that the first part is often cheap or free, so if they're not good no one is going to fork out for the second and subsequent parts!"
"Robert Crane wrote, what, six books last year? I've read them and they're good (his Girl In The Box series is kind of what the X-Men comics would be if the X-Men didn't suck) and he earns around 25K per month on them. This year he plans on publishing ten books. He's a damned fast writer and he puts out quality stuff. The speed=crap myth is just that: a myth."
"I put my word and approximate page count CLEARLY stated on anything that isn't over 50k/full-length novel. Be less concerned with what other people are doing, and you'll be happier. Unless it looks like an awesome strategy you want to try. I'm doing novels now, but my serials were the first thing I ever put out that actually sold well/i.e. demonstrated that demand for that particular sort of thing exceeded supply."
"Most of the self-published books I've picked up are actually books I enjoy. The ones that are crap, I can pick up a sample first and tell that it's crap within just a few seconds of opening that sample. I love the variety and originality that self-publishing brings, because now I can read books that surprise and excite me, rather than the cookie-cutter stuff that comes out from New York. In my experience, people who complain that vocally about price were never really interested in picking up the rest of the story. Taking a novel and splitting it into arbitrary chunks without a distinct beginning, middle, and end, that I can understand (and it's something that NY used to do all the time, especially in Epic Fantasy). But if you've got a series of shorter works, such as novellas or novelettes, and each one is a self-contained story that takes exactly as long as it needs to tell it--I don't think that that's somehow 'drivel' just because of the length. If you're really trying to judge a book's value by looking at the dollars to word count ratio, sort of like the cents per ounce ratio at a grocery store, you're probably not into the story all that much to begin with anyway."
"Some readers like series, some don't. Some readers like serials, some don't. Some readers only read novels, some are more eclectic in their taste. Writers are the same ... they like to write different stories of different lengths. Some actually write the type of things they like to read as readers. But writing shorter works does not equate to 'chasing money.' Some of us are actually writing shorter works of quality. As long as the writer is up-front about what the reader is getting, I don't see a problem. There's room for all types and lengths of fiction in this world. After all, part of the advantage of having 'indie' works out there is that readers can get stuff that they wouldn't be able to read otherwise."
"The readers are the gatekeepers. If they want to buy a 40 pg story for 2.99, then they will buy it. If they don't, they don't. That's on them. Why censor ourselves? I say write what you want, how you want, how long you want, and price it how you want and let the readers decide if they like it or not. I can write fast and I do. I put out novels, novellas, and short stories as I see fit. I'm in this to write what I want, when I want, and make as much money as I can doing it. And I won't apologize for it either."
"Using Amazon's page metric, 40 pages is approx. 13000 to 14000 words, i.e. novelette length. I sell novelettes (i.e. between 7500 and 17500 words) for 2.99 and so do many other authors. And yes, they do sell. In erotica, there even are people charging 2.99 for a 4000 word short story and those sell as well. In my experience, genre is a far better predictor of sales than price. A lot of people don't like short fiction just as a lot of people don't like serials. However, plenty of people like short stories and plenty like serials and they are willing to pay for it. As long as the author is clear about what the reader is buying (e.g. I always put wordcount and approx. page length in the blurb), there's no problem."
"There are some authors or series for which I would (and do…) pay $2.99 for a short story or $11.99 for a novel. There are others whose work I wouldn't even pick up for free. Also, time ≠ indicative of quality. There was a video on here not long ago covering someone's cover design. If you looked at the time stamp, the artist put that cover together in an amazingly short amount of time, but that's not indicative of the final quality—it's indicative of the artist knowing what they're doing. The same concept applies to writing. While I agree that authors shouldn't rush in seek of a quick buck, there's nothing innately wrong with serials, or with splitting up a novel, or with posting all but the last three chapters and a blog and making folks have to buy to read the end. If readers dislike it, they'll vote with their pocketbooks."
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
How to write descriptively without boring the reader
Eight years ago, when I started to work on Betrovia (which at that time was going to be a novel and not a trilogy), I was also editing a dystopian/sci-fi action/adventure novel for a friend. Actually, he wasn't really a friend: he was a guy I met via a NeverWinterNights public server. He said his name was Dan Brown (no, not THAT Dan Brown). How playing multi-player NWN led to us chatting about our shared hobby, I really can't say. But I do know that slogging through his book, revising and deleting text at-will, gave me a great sense of power. Did I ask him to read/edit/revise Betrovia? Not hardly! The book was still in the outlining stage. Did I at least give him any idea of what Betrovia was about? I'm pretty sure I did.
One thing I remember enjoying about editing/revising his novel was deciding what was "essential" compared to "frivolous." Dan's novel was interesting, for the most part, but quite a few paragraphs of frivolous dialogue and description ended up on the cutting room floor. In about a month, maybe a total of thirty hours of editing/revising, I finally shot "my" version of the novel back to him. A few days later, Dan responded with a polite "Thank you" and that was about all that I heard from him about it. I gave up playing NWN not long after that and so our communication ceased.
Zooming back to May 2013.
Ahank: Edelin's Revelation is one chapter away from being drafted. Right now the novel contains nearly 110K words. In comparison, Betrovia, book one of the trilogy, is around 94K while Lycentia, book two, is around 77K. The plan is to pare Ahnak back to around 100K. So that would mean saying good-bye to 10K words, or -- in paperback terms -- anywhere between 20-25 pages! Whoa! Does Ahnak contain that much "frivilous" stuff?
So, concerning the topic of essential vs. frivolous, what do the fine authors who frequent the Writers' Cafe have to say?
"I don't know. I tend to waffle on a bit when I get really into a scene. I like to use a lot of words when I could use a few words, but I kind of like it that way. I think it's good to, occasionally, cut loose and just really describe something. And, you know, sometimes I go overboard a bit. That's fine. Sometimes I'm kind of like... oh, okay, eww. Yeah, I could do that better. But far more often I find that cutting away this wordiness reduces the story. I know we're supposed to encourage the imagination, but I think that things like describing a sunset should take up a lot of words; it's beautiful, it has the character's attention, it's got ambers and purples and all manner of things. Some of the editing suggestions I'm getting back, in some of my recent work, feels like I'm cutting things down to the bone. "The sun set." Yes, it most certainly did, but that's... hideously boring. If the characters are going to enjoy a romantic evening together watching that sunset, I think the reader should be there with them too, right? I don't know. Maybe there's room for wordiness in books. Is there? Do we have to reduce everything to stage directions? Walk here. Sit. Talk. Sun rise, sun set. Get shot. Bleed. Die. Can't we use some of our words? Is it all just a race for the smallest word count?"
"I have the same issues. My WIP was 180K words fleshed out. I've cut the hell out of it and have it down in the 150K range and now I'm condensing two chapters into 1 to make it a little more phrenetic in that stretch, but it's getting dangerously close to being too much. Yeah, if the sun's gonna set, don't just tell me it's setting, give me some colors. Give me the mood."
"I have the problem of not being "wordy" enough... I tend to get bored when I read books with excessive descriptions of the mundane or a back history of a character I could care less about. Maybe that's why I avoid it."
"I think I am the same. My son is into the role-playing forums online and he wants me to add so much more description then feels comfortable for me. I struggle with who is right?"
"I know that when I'm reading and I hit a spot where the author is delving into needless (at least to me) description, I tend to start scanning the paragraph, searching for the point where he/she's done and the story resumes. So, because I'm like that, I tend to skip over it when I'm writing. One of the worst ones guilty of this is Dean Kootz. In his book, The Husband, he's pulling out the purple prose in the middle of a chase scene."
"I feel that the secret is in choosing what to get wordy about. Set pieces and moments like a sunset at the right moment are great times to break out the loquaciousness. The problem comes when you're describing rugs and drapes that nobody cares about and you do it every time someone goes into a new room. That's the point where you're not adding production values, you're hindering the flow of the story."
"Wordiness isn't defined by a specific number of words used. It's defined by using more words than is needed to convey the emotion you want to convey. Wordiness is that point where you stop invoking emotions and start treating the reader like an idiot who is incapable of getting the point. You may only need 20 words to describe a sunset in practical terms, but need 200 to describe that sunset in emotional terms. Use the 200 words. Wordiness is when it takes you 2000 words to describe a sunset and the reader is sitting there thinking: 'Alright! I get it! It's pretty! Moving on...'"
"I've seen lots of sunsets. This one had better be different if it's going to be worth 200 words. What's important to me as a reader is what this particular sunset means to the characters, and that can be anything from a sentence to a paragraph to a chapter to a novel."
"Waxing on about a sunset or something during an action scene probably isn't the best idea, but there is an audience for precisely detailed action. People love Lee Child and he uses a very detailed and quite detached style for much of his action. Clancy is another example with more mixed results when he veers from the action to spend a couple pages writing a Wiki article on the tech in use--but some readers eat that up too."
"I think it is like the rule 'show, don't tell'. For a novice writer (and I am definitely a novice writer), I think it means something different than what you anticipate at first. Descriptive exposition is not the breaking of the rule "be concise", but is the results of the rule being followed carefully. A example of this was when I went to go see The Fellowship of the Ring in the theater. When the first image of Hobbiton came on the screen, one of my friends whispered 'How did they take the image from my head and put it onto the screen?' The words that Tolkien used to describe Hobbiton were so precise and clear that everyone had a similar idea of what the Hobbit town should look like. He was able to put the image in his mind onto the page in such a way that readers could easily recreate it in their own minds. That is skill. And while some might say that Tolkien broke Strunk's rule of 'Omit needless words', are the words needless if they suit the function? Describing a sunset, for example, can be done in a perfunctory way. But if the intent of the scene is to show the beauty as the character sees it, then words that describe that beauty are not needless.
"Readers are not goldfish; we know that the girl's eyes are green and the guy is blonde. You can stop telling whenever she blinks or he shakes his head."
"Depends on voice how many words to use, but not a one should be wasted."
"There's two things.
1. Is this the right time and place for those words? Don't have big descriptions in a chase scene. Don't have too much purple prose in thriller. Don't have too much exposition at the start. etc.
2. Are all the words doing their job? Can a simpler sentence replace a longer one and give the same description, feeling and tone? Can a word replace a phrase? Are there any sentences that are repeating something already said?"
"Two of my favorite authors are Lucy Maud Montgomery who wrote Anne of Green Gables and (if you were looking for something more . . . robust) Richard Blackmore who wrote Lorna Doone. Taken out of context their descriptions would be the purplest of purple. But the thing is, their main characters would be thinking about their environment in those ways and they would be thinking about them at the time the author is talking about them. Blackmore doesn't interrupt battle to describe the frost on the fields and Anne doesn't muse about Barry's Pond when she's fighting with Gilbert. But the descriptions of the world are what makes these books more than just a schlocky romance and a stock coming of age book for girls. Or look at Jane Eyre- the descriptions of the environment and of the characters' physical appearance are actually integral to the plot. I think it's only when the story comes to a screeching halt that description gets tiresome. If it's part of the flow, not separate from it, I don't think readers have too much of a problem. Of course, there's always Dickens to mess that theory up though. He just alternated chapters, one description, then one action, repeat. But then, he was making money per word, so who can really blame him if he got away with it?"
"I know the voice of the narrator is not the same as the voices of the characters, but I also think they can't be too dissimilar or it seems jarring. If a wordy description is on the same page with a terse character, that might be the problem. Similarly, descriptions work best when the character has some reaction to whatever is being described. If the lovely sunset brings him comfort or makes him feel even worse about his dismal life or if he's the sort that hardly ever notices such things but the scene is showing that he's changing, then it earns more words than if the author thinks Joe should care but he really doesn't (or the author just gets carried away writing descriptions of sunsets)."
"I'm with those who say use as much as the situation calls for - the same sunset needs to be handled differently in a romance than in a thriller, and differently if the POV character is sitting admiring it than if the only importance is that the light faded. Skimming description is a habit of mine too, but books that have none, where characters seem to be interacting with people who are nothing but names against a colorless background don't do it for me either."
"Honor every word. Use them where they count."
"Nothing wrong with wordiness as long as its interesting."
"My personal ideal # of adjectives per sentence: 0 to 1. Sometimes you need to use 2 or 3. Let those sentences be the exceptions. There's an awful rhythm to work that has 2 adjectives in many sentences, but never 1 or 3. The dog was tiny and fiesty. Her bark was sharp and strident. My head felt woozy and foggy. The afternoon was pointless and bleak. Better: The s***flake dog's barking sapped my will to live."
"There are times you can dwell on things, times when you can really indulge. But it has to be something your readers will eat up as well. Asimov can spend a good page or two describing the mechanics of something, or the politics of a world, and I'm good with that because it's that type of thing I 'want' from him, and it's what he excels at. If I grab a book by RA Salvatore, and he spends three pages describing the local vegetation, I'm going to get annoyed and wonder why Drizzt isn't killing anyone yet."
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
I still like Amazon's KDP Select program.
You know what I'm referring to. If you don't, then you've enjoyed living with your head in the sand much too long.
Yes, I'm serious! I really do still like what Amazon offers for indie authors.
But as one old proverbial prophet once said/wrote/preached/shouted from the rooftops: "Don't put all your eggs in one basket." This then is why I took Betrovia, the first book of trilogy, out of Select. Right now, Betrovia can be purchased as a paperback or an ebook via Amazon. It can also be found as an ebook via Smashwords, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and even the Apple ITunes store.
And as of a few days ago, there's one more place where the book can be purchased in PDF, EPUB or MOBI formats: Leanpub.com!
I like Leanpub. The more I work with Leanpub's "social publishing" system, the more I like it. But who utilizes Leanpub to "get their stuff" into the hands of the knowledge-hungry, entertainment-driven populace?
For the most part, Leanpub has been around since 2009 to help computer programmers to disseminate their work.
Nothing wrong with that, right? If it wasn't for the free-software revolution that gave birth to Linux, etc. I might not be writing and publishing much of anything right now. (I've been using Ubuntu Linux here in the basement man-cave exclusively for over 2 years now!) As far as I can tell, the fine folks of Leanpub.com are able to offer their services because of the money they make from the computer programmers who sell lots of their ebooks.
More power to them!
I've been tinkering with the Leanpub system for about a month now. I plan to take the rest of my published works out of KDP Select as soon as possible and add them to Leanpub as well.
Now, if you look at my Leanpub author page, you'll see a few other things that I am working on. This is the strength of Leanpub's social publishing system! Presently, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and not even Smashwords offers this program!
Yes, I do like Leanpub.
Note: Below are the stories/novellas/novels that I've already published or plan to publish. I plan to have all of these listed on Leanpub.com soon.
The Land of BetroviaStories
- Into The Desert
- Pieter's Adventure
- Harrig and Bet-Rove
- The Building of Ahnak
- Tamara and the Paintings
- Viktor the young Netherene
- A Noran Kidnapping
- Lycentia: Harrak's Scrolls
- Ahnak: Edelin's Revelation
The Colony of Xyklan (my first attempt at a YA sci-fi novel)
The Bridge: A Parable
Life in Beatty Short Story Collection (4 currently available with maybe 6 or more to come at a later date)
- That Hoosiers Cap
- A Game of HORSE
- Pizza Surprise
- A Rusty Hook (The main character in this story is a 30-something adult who was a precocious teen in the three stories listed above)
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
"Those who fail to plan, plan to fail."
I don't know who came up with this little saying (could probably google it and find out) but there's a bit of truth to it. I suppose one could consider an architect or structural engineer starting a new building project, firing up their trusty copy of AutoCAD as they begin the process of turning a dream into a reality. From their computer-generated drawings a new house, office building or even sports car will be built. And exactly how could any of those things be constructed if there were no "blueprints" for constructing them?
I somewhat remember one of the first times I was required to submit an outline as part of a research paper project in high school. Having no experience or formal training in such a thing, I simply wrote the paper first and then jotted down the outline afterwards. Of course, the teacher wanted us to submit the outline first and so I did. Did I tell her that the outline was written after the final draft?
Now why would she need to know that?
A few years later, after graduating from the local university with a degree in English literature (once I realized it was time to "grow up" and get a "real job") I went back to the university to get a teaching certificate. The plan was to convince myself that being a full-time English/language arts instructor was going to solve two problems: putting food on the table as well as improving my own writing skills. Not long after that, during the winter of my first teaching contract, I got the notion of writing a novel.
But how to start? Of course! Create an outline! And how productive was that?
It didn't take long to realize that in order for me to know where I wanted to go with those characters and their conflicts, I needed a plan of attack. And so, once the rough, but fairly complete, outline was typed up, I felt I knew where I wanted to go. And that was the winter of 1984-85.
And where is the novel that was supposed to be the end result of that process?
About one-tenth of it has been turned into a handful of short stories that are currently available online while the remaining nine-tenths is tucked neatly away into 5 brown envelopes (that's right--no personal computer available in 1984!)
Since then, thanks to over twenty years of English/language arts teaching experience as well as sitting through nearly seventeen years of Sunday morning sermons given by a preacher who fortuitously passed out outlines for each of his sermons, I have to say that I am a dedicated "planner."
Now don't get me wrong; I feel no animosity towards the "pantsters" who call themselves authors (even if some of those may be former students of mine!). Planning to write something, be it some kind of academic dissertation or even a novel, has meant for me hammering out an outline beforehand.
Yes! Must have an outline! Must have a plan, a roadmap, a blueprint! Must conform! Must be right-brained! Must have control! Cannont allow those feisty characters to run around and do whatever their childish minds want to do! Yes, Mein Furher! Jawohl!
But what about the hard-working authors who populate the Writers Cafe? How many are planners compared to pantsters? Let's find out!
"I'm one of them (a pantster). Does it kill the story for me? To some extent. It also bores me silly. I want to tell the story, not outline it. I did try it once and wrote the WORST novel I have ever done, one that is not for sale for good reason, so the big point is that outlining just doesn't work for me in producing good, publishable novels. And for the people who say you can only write tight plots if you outline, I often receive comments on how tight and focused my plots are so take that for whatever it happens to be worth."
"For me if feels like if I outline the plot then I've told the story. It kills the magic, the muse, everything. Sometimes I actually wish I could outline because it's pretty scary being halfway into a novel and suddenly realizing you have no clue what is going to happen next. But of course there is no right or wrong way. The right way is whatever works for you!"
"I'm a pantster, and I feel that an outline would limit or constrain me in my storytelling. I know logically that's not the case, but there it is. On the other hand, outliners may feel every bit as uncomfortable in not having an outline as I do at the thought of having one. So I do think it's a matter of comfort in the process of writing. Personally I'd like to move a little farther along the spectrum not to 'full outline' level, but at least to a more organized note-taking stage."
"The story unravels itself as I write it. I can't explain it, but I find it more exciting to discover the story in the writing process than to plan it out. I outlined one book and got bored 2/4 in and quit. It felt like I was bumper bowling."
"I failed the first 5 times I tried to write a novel, because the outline made me think I had told the story, and I lost interest. Now I use a basic outline: maybe 30 jot points, in order. You could fit my novel outline on a single piece of paper. I think knowing the ending tells you how to write the beginning. BUT: as I go along, I start to discover things. I plant things that I know will pay off later. I end up adding to the outline as I go, knowing that I am setting up dominoes in the first half that will fall in the second half. Before I do a rewrite, I go through every scene on index cards to make sure nothing is pointless and that I am paying off everything I planted. That second outline is HUGE and very helpful."
"I hate the term 'pantser' but I think it's because I always picture someone running around pantsing people at random, rather than flying by the the seat of their pants. I'm weird. But yeah, outlining first doesn't work for me. I've really tried to do it first to help meet deadlines but all it does is make me feel the story is dull and predictable because, Look! It's right there! I outline after I write my zero draft/exploratory draft, and then write to that (mostly.. when the characters do what I expect and don't run wild)."
"See, this is an interesting conversation for me, because I honestly don't know where on this pantser/plotter spectrum I sit. I have one novel series in the works that I basically have to outline first because the story is easily the most complicated one I've come up with so far. Yet on the other hand, the novella I'm finishing up? I wrote it completely by the seat of my pants and it was awesome! The story however, is pretty straightforward. I guess in the end, my being a pantser or plotter depends on how complex my story/world is."
"The one time I attempted an outline, the book quickly became a homework assignment. For me, the thrill of writing is giving my characters free rein to take me wherever they choose. I rely on their good judgement and their sense of adventure."
"I don't outline because I'm not interested in controlling where my story will go. But I'm not a pantster, either. I usually make a ton of notes before I start writing, and arrange them in a rough order. But even that's always changing. It's no wonder you're bored if you try to get every detail in place before you even start writing."
"I write a brief synopsis for each chapter than I write it out from there. Is that considered outlining? I always wondered when I read about in-depth plotting and outlining. Anyway, if what I do is outlining, it doesn't kill it for me. And the final manuscript doesn't end up resembling the outline anyway. Just helps to get me started."
"The most I can endure is a very undetailed outline. For example, for my last NaNo, I knew that I was going to serialize my books, so I knew I needed 6 episodes, each satisfying as a standalone (well, not really standalone standalone since you still need to read the previous ones to get the whole story, but it needed to have some sort of specific problem to deal with, and advance the plot at the same time--like tv show episodes). I've drawn 6 frames on a white board and made sure each episode would be satisfying to read, and not just filler. That's the extent of the plotting I can do: three or for concepts per episode."
"I need to outline because of the level of detail I put into world-building. I can't say my creations are spectacular but they're deeply invested alternate worlds. I've written 200 pages of material to get the dates in a 40-page sci fi story correct. It's probably a result of a role-playing game background, I suppose. The way I keep it fresh is to make the outline tantalizing in it's own way, a discovery of the material. It's Carnavon's diary while excavating the tomb of King Tut, Indiana Jones' notebook, H.P. Lovecraft's commonplace book, Poe's dream journal. It has a few of the facts, a lot of speculation and some off-color asides which need to be tossed out for a general audience. Then, when I write the story, it's the archaeologist's vision of 'what really happened,' speculative dialogue and all. Probably a strange approach but it keeps the entire writing process very interesting. I'm good at tricking myself. I have to be."
"This is what I do, and for fantasy or sci-fi I might do a little world building before I start and draw a map as well. I outline mostly because I have so many ideas going through my head, that I forget some good things and can go off the rails. Also the outline helps me fight the I don't know where to go next kind of writers block. In the end of course everything is subject to change, and the outline is just me working though the story's broadest strokes in my head."
"Exact opposite for me. If I don't outline, then I feel like I'm floundering and THAT kills it for me. I get panic-stricken when I don't know where my story is going, which leads me to freezing up. Instant writer's block. Which just goes to show that we're all different and no one strategy is best."
"I will sometimes start a character-driven story without an outline, because outlines are not as crucial to character-driven stories as they are to plot-driven stories. Even then, I will get past the opening and feel overwhelmed, so I'll do a grocery list of Things that Need to Happen Yet. And a loose outline. No, outlines don't kill my excitement. Sitting down to write when my back is sore and I'd rather be in the tub reading kill my excitement. Sunshine and birds chirping. How few words I wrote yesterday. How many words and revisions I have left to do. Those things kill me, but not the outline."
"I'm a committed plotter, but I do give myself permission to deviate from the outline when an interesting plot twist comes up."
"Outlining is one of those things where the analytical side of my mind always wins. I can't write without an outline. My current WIP is a 150,000 word epic fantasy with 5 different viewpoint characters. I can't imagine keeping the storylines straight without having done some sort of planning. That doesn't mean my characters don't take me in new directions, and I will actively make adjustments in the outline as needed. But (most of the time) it ensures I have some sort of direction each day and definitely keeps me from going too far astray. For me, the outline is writing the story, just in an abbreviated form. It doesn't take away from the fun because it's usually at such a high level and I find pleasure in the details. There's no right or wrong here. It comes down to whatever works for you."
"I'm a mega-plotter; spreadsheets, plotting boards, index cards, notebooks. I'm also an anal-retentive control freak. I stress that if I pantser'ed a story I would paint the floor, with me in the corner, with nowhere to go. That is scary enough to make me plot."
"I'm an outliner, but it doesn't kill the inspiration for me. It gives me enough structure to be creative at a more detailed level. For example if I know that in the next scene the main character is supposed to get into big trouble with the group leader, I can be creative about how she delivers the news, and how he reacts etc. There is still lots of stuff to make up as you go along. I guess it depends how detailed the outline is. I don't like the word outline. Story map might be better, since that implies that it's function is to keep one from getting lost."
"I usually have some rough goal for the character at the end, but I don't really plot as much as I used to. How they get there is up to them and what is happening around them. Shorter stories can be gotten away with easier without plotting, however I believe big epics need at least some plotting to tie all the plot threads together. Not plotting worked great for my orcs book (60k), not so great for the epic I am rewriting for the forth time now (190/250k)."
"I typically write out a 2-3 page summary beforehand to set up the general story arc. But by the fourth chapter, the story has more or less taken over. Plot and character developments appear that I never could have outlined, and then it becomes a fun challenge to integrate them into the larger story. When I get stuck, I make a list of possible future scenes, highlighting the ones that *need* to happen in one form or another. Endings often change. Is it messy? Surprisingly, no. The plot, pacing, and character development end up feeling much more organic than in earlier projects where I outlined meticulously. Personal preference? For sure. Some can see their story clearly before sitting down to write, and in many ways I envy them. Me, I have to be inside the story before that happens. The upshot is that it becomes added motivation to write for the simple reason that I want to find out what's going to happen next."
"I bought Scrivener because of its awesome plotting capabilities. But like a cat with a cardboard box, never mind the toys, I only use a spiral notebook, after all. I like to brainstorm with a pen on paper, in the form of a list of random inspired ideas for scenes or conflicts, in no particular order. I then go through that list in no particular order, marking off each item after I incorporate it into the story. I am a hybrid plotter/pantser. I let the characters and story develop naturally, while also referring to my brainstormed ideas. Scrivener is great for formatting."
"Yes, I outline all the time or I can just stare at the blank screen. I don't have character sketches and background stuff but usually I must have a one page basic outline, and when I finish a chapter, I write a simple scene list for the next one. I always have something unexpected happen during the actual writing, but I rarely stray far from the outline. If I do, it'll be easier to throw away the story and start afresh. My third story is going to be a hybrid genre thing with a murder mystery--I can't imagine writing it without knowing whodunit! For me, I don't think outlining kills the momentum, because I get excited when imagining some awesome scenes in the middle and end, and this fuels me to keep writing so I can reach that particular scene. Of course, it's likely as well that what sounded awesome in my head turns out to be flat and flavorless on paper."
Friday, April 5, 2013
Who are these selfless ministers
of the Gospel?
These shepherds of the flocks?
The men (and even women!) who toil 24-7, 365 to somehow prepare
their congregations to become what the Creator wants them to become?
(Of course, not everyone reading this blogpost is presently under the care and supervision of a/some pastor(s) even though it is hoped that someday very soon you will be!).
But that is no longer the case.
PG is now a published author of both fiction and non-fiction. And this is a very, very good thing!
So just how did a minister of the Gospel, a shepherd of the flock, become such an accomplished writer?
(Guess you already figured out what was coming next, huh?)
What do you think is the genesis of The Rise of the Champion series?
This is an easy question to answer. The truth is that Rise started as a month-long series of dreams I had. I had been working on a series of lessons on spiritual warfare. When I went to bed that night, I found myself living Tal's life. Sounds crazy, I know, but while I wasn't Tal, I was present for everything he was going through. Ultimately, I think the dream was God's way of showing me another way to teach on the principles of spiritual warfare that every Christian needs to know in these troubling times ... a way that slips past our inability to focus for long on a lesson. Through Tal, we aren't told about spiritual warfare; we see it lived out where the "sandals meet the dirt", so to speak.
Why are you releasing this as a series instead of as a novel?
To be honest, I decided to release Rise as a serial because of my mother-in-law. She has been proofreading for me since my first attempt at a book. When I would give her a completed chapter of Rise, she would be asking for the next chapter before I was finished with it. After eleven chapters, she was like "Make this a book now!" However, it didn't have enough words to make it a novel, but several people that asked me about it have been pushing me to get it out there. After reading about serials, I thought "Why not?" This way I can get it out before the story is finished, plus it helps push me to finish this story.
In reference to Tal, the main character of the series, who should he remind me of? In fiction or in history?
I'm not sure he should remind you of anyone. I guess there are some similarities to a younger David, or several of the prophets in Scripture. I personally hope he will remind most people of the part of themselves that wants to get closer to God and know what His plan for their life is.
Is our present-day world a place where someone can be like Tal, fervently desiring to find "truth" midst the relativism that surrounds us?
I would have to say "Yes." There was a time when I myself was like Tal, questioning what I had been taught, looking for a way to grow closer to God, wanting to make a difference for the kingdom of heaven. So, since I have had experiences that have done that for me, I know that others can do the same even in today's world.
What have you categorized the series as? What genre, specifically? For example, how is it categorized via amazon.com?
Officially, it is categorized as Christian fantasy. Personally I've been describing it as a Christian urban fantasy with allegorical tendencies.
How are you balancing your job as a hard-working minister of the Gospel with that as a fantasy fiction writer?
To be honest, I see them as one and the same. One of my favorite historical figures is Saint Francis of Assisi. He had this saying that is kind of my motto in life: "Preach always ... use words if necessary." So, to me, writing whether fiction or a new teaching book is just that: sharing the Gospel in creative ways. So I write at my office in the church when I have nothing else going on. However it does, at times, get hectic. I'll have Tal or another of my characters dancing with my muse and in will walk someone needing to be counseled. I do what God puts in front of me and trust that he will arrange time for me to minister in person and time to minister through writing. So far it's worked for me.
You have also published a novel about The Old West and are working on its sequel. How are you balancing your writing efforts between the two genres?
That I leave up to my muse. I write when the characters decide to speak to me. After eleven chapters, Tal seemed to step back in my mind's ear and give another character a chance to speak to me. That was Nathan from my Redemption Tales series. Nathan shouted his first tale and most of his second before sharing the spotlight with Tal again. Now it's gotten to where I can say "Ok Tal, tell me what's happening in your life," and he will come whisper his tale to me. The same is true of Nathan. To be honest. it isn't that hard because even though the genres are different, the desire of both characters is the same: to follow where God is leading them and fulfill His call in their life. To me switching between the two is easy because they both exist equally in my mind's eye.
In general, tell me about your writing past, i.e. what other things you have written/published.
I've always been a story-teller. It runs in my family. We used to sit around spinning tall tales about the family and everyone was encouraged to get involved. But officially I didn't start writing until 2011 when I was having an online conversation with a fellow pastor about the advantages of prayer-walking your community to see spiritual breakthrough. The pastor asked me to send him an email with the information we'd discussed in it. As I was doing so, I realized this was more than an email: it had book potential. So over Thanksgiving week of 2011, I sat down and wrote what eventually became "Prayer Walking for Spiritual Breakthrough". After that, I wrote a booklet on the armor of God and then started having the dream that has become "Rise of the Champion". Then a bunch of ideas started cropping up. I now have Rise in the works and my Western series which has about five or six stories to be told. Then there's an end-times political thriller waiting in the wings. Right now I have four books published:
"Redeeming Reputation" (book one of the Redemption Tales)
If someone wanted to take either your Redeeming novel(s) or your Rise series and turn it into a movie, which one would you prefer they produce?
What a loaded question! That's like asking a parent: which of your two daughters do you want to be the next Miss America? How can I choose between them? Honestly I would have to say, as a movie, I would rather see the western. But if someone wanted to offer me a TV series of a mini-series of "Rise of the Champion," I would say "Yes!" in a heart beat.
Tell me about your writing routine, including this thing called "word-warring."
My writing routine is harried. I try to write a minimum of four hours a day, but most days I don't make it. I write when life doesn't intrude. When there is no one else at the church looking to speak to a pastor, I'm sequestered in my office adding words to one manuscript or another. When I get home, I grab Pepsi and some snacks for dinner and settle into my lazy boy, kick up my feet, trap my laptop and write ... most nights, until ten or eleven. Then I try to read an hour or two and hit the sack. Another great tool in my writing arsenal is word wars with my online writing partners. There are several of us on a Facebook group who challenge each other to writing contests. We write for half an hour or for even an hour to see who gets the most words. We call this "word wars". It helps all of us generate a higher word count for the day.
You've been communicating with other writers via Facebook for quite awhile; what do you like about Facebook as a tool for communication?
I like the fact that we can connect to like-minded writers from all over the planet. I have writing partners and friends as close as down the street or as far away as Austria and Japan. But we can share things instantly and encourage one another in realtime using FB messenger or even our writing groups. I love the fact that the Internet and Facebook have made our global community smaller and more accessible.
Thanks, PG, for taking part in this interview! It was a blast! Woot!
Saturday, March 23, 2013
One of the great things about having a blog is exploiting the freedom to do what you want with it!
And so, here's the first of what could be many interviews! Woot! Yes, that's right! I'm branching off into new, possibly mucky, territory :)_
The first "victim" of The Land of Betrovia blog-based interviews is Cynthia P. Willow.
So why is Cindee the first person to be interviewed for The Blog?
Here's a great reason! Cindee's giving away one of her fantasy paperbacks via Goodreads!
Now on to the QUESTIONS!!
Who/What inspired you to begin writing novels?
My own children were the main inspiration. I began writing shortly after they began school. They would bring home those Scholastic fliers with the books they wanted me to order circled. Then my son, who was in third grade at the time, said, “You should write a book, Mommy.” That day we came up with The Land of Serenity and the main characters.
What do your closest/dearest family members think of your writing "habit"?
They don’t really say much about it. My husband is a video gamer, but he does help me from time to time when I need advice about where a story should go. And he always gives his opinions about my covers while they’re being made.
The first novel of yours that I encountered is Hell's Christmas, definitely not a middle-grade fantasy story! Why did you venture into the MG fantasy realm with The Land of Flames series?
Actually The Land of Flames was the first story I ever wrote. I began Patty Gayle and The Legend of Kingsley shortly after, and then, I got the idea for Hell’s Christmas about midway through Patty Gayle. I only worked on Hell’s Christmas during the holidays. It gave me a break from young fantasy. But in all honesty, it’s not something children can’t read. It depends on the child. One of my biggest fans is only 10 years old and she loved Hell’s Christmas. So it really depends on maturity.
Referring now specifically to The Land of Flames: what do you see as its key theme?
The theme of The Land of Flames is good versus evil. As a Christian author, some people question why I have magic in this series. It is my way to show how we can take gifts and use them for good or for evil. There is not a direct God message in this story as there is in my others, but the morals that we as Christians are supposed to live by are apparent. The whole series deals with honesty, integrity, loyalty, love, and faith.
Would I have any chance of surviving if I met The Land of Flames' chief antagonist in a dark alley? Explain please!
Dave, I highly doubt you’d survive in a dark alley up against Ocamar. It would take a miracle. He is a dragon with a grudge after all.
Are any of the characters in The Land of Flames mirroring someone you know? Explain.
Hmm ... not really. It’s odd for me, too. My other books all have characters based on close friends or family. Not this series. This series is complete fantasy, and the characters are too unique to be mirroring anyone.
Tell me about the other books in the series. What are your goals for these future projects?
Book 2 in the series is called The Legacy of Zedbulla, and it is already available. I’m really excited about where this book went. It is a tad darker, but not too much. There is a new enemy in this one, and he is far worse than Ocamar ever could be. You see, Ocamar, much like Darth Vader, had a good side. He had a reason he turned to the dark side. He’d started out as good. Not Natas. Natas, the new villain, is just plain evil. He is completely without light of any kind. He’s bitter and he is full of hate. His only fear is the dragon, but I won’t say why. Book 3 has no title yet, but it is well on its way to being an exciting conclusion. It begins with a mysterious lady character. I can’t tell you who she is, but she will play a pretty big part. She will assist Natas in his pursuit to rule the land. A new king will be crowned in this one, but I’m still not sure who will earn it. There will be a wand duel for sure.
Please tell me in one sentence only, why everyone should read your book.
You should read The Land of Flames because it is a fun and easy read full of all the things fantasy lovers crave.
What is one book, besides The Land of Flames everyone should read?
Everyone should read the Bible. There’s no book that has better stories in it, especially true ones.
Now, for a question totally unrelated to writing: if you were stranded on a desert island, what 3 things would you want with you?
I have 3 children. I know they’re not things, but I can’t imagine not having them with me.
And here's another one! If you could meet one person who has died, who would you choose?
Oh man, that’s too hard. I first thought of C.S. Lewis since his books began my love for fantasy reading. However, I have to say that it’s my own imagination that helps me write. And I owe my creative imagination to a man who had a television show for children. I cried the day he died, although I was an adult and no longer a child. Have you guessed yet who I’m talking about? Mr. Rogers.
And the last one! You have won one million dollars; what is the first thing that you would buy? Explain its importance.
I’d buy my parents’ house they’ve had for sale for years now. They need it to sell badly. That’s the first thing I’d buy after giving a great amount to my church. I know that is the most common answer among Christians, but I truly would tithe first.
Thank you for this interview, Dave!
No! Thanks to you, Cynthia P. Willow, for suffering through the very first The Land of Betrovia blog interview!
And have a splendiferic day as well!
Friday, March 22, 2013
For some writers, writing is a private, personal thing. But for those of us who like to communicate with other writers via Facebook, writing has become a very public thing. We visit a certain friendly Facebook page on a daily basis and, once there, post our fears, foibles, fantasies as well as our vices, vanities and even victories! We share writing prompts, family stories, and prayer requests.
A new thing we have been doing is "Word War-ring." And what exactly is that? Basically, for a previously-agreed upon length of time (usually an hour), those who want to participate write as much as they can, as fast as they can, all for the inspired purpose of generating the greatest number of words in that sixty-minute time period.
For example, this afternoon a few writers (including myself) "battled" it out during two different 60-minute sessions. I didn't do as well as I had wanted to primarily because I was watching (with the audio muted, of course!) a few games of March Madness. But the main thing was to force myself to work on Ahnak: Edelin's Revelation (even though the "battles" of March Madness were being fought at the same time). And so I did!
I guess you could call it "accountability," if there's really a need to find another motivating factor. For me, I like "warring" for "words" compared to writing in isolation. But what about just setting a timer? Or even just asking a family member to keep track of my time? The answer is easy: it's fun to "compete" with other like-minded writers. Yes, it would be nice if Wifey wanted to "war for words" with me, but she is not much of a writer. And what kind of competition would that be for a "seasoned veteran" like me? Har Har!
There is conflict in writing. Writing something, especially a piece of fiction, that someone will enjoy enough to actually pay a few bucks for can be stressful. Yes, there's even tension when writing, the tension that comes with facing deadlines (even if those deadlines are entirely self-imposed). Conflict, stress, tension ... are they the same thing? Yes, for the most part. But in the process of writing a novel, it might be best to see them as three different things.
But what about the task of creating conflict between characters -- then to create stress and even tension in the reader -- what are some simple, but effective ways of doing this?
Here's what some stress-producing Writers' Cafe folk think.
"Conflict should always be introduced as quickly as possible. If your first three chapters are backstory and other throat-clearing, delete them. Readers need to know a lot less before the story starts than you think they do."
"If nothing much happens in the first four chapters, maybe you're starting your book in the wrong place. I try to start my books when 'something changes'. But, frankly, if this is the first novel you've ever written, stop stressing over it. Write whatever you want, put it in a drawer for a few months, and then re-read it. You'll learn more from doing that than you ever will agonising over whether you're starting it correctly."
"The conflict should at least be hinted at. A good way to bridge that tension gap would be to have a protag walk by a newsfeed talking about the worsening crisis, have his TV run in the background talking about clashes, maybe have a note arrive in his mail to receive a physical examination (for the draft), something like that. You don't have to start with a nuclear explosion, but the reader should get a hint that something big and potentially very bad is going on."
"Just write the story how you want to. It's a learning process and you learn by doing. Absolutely write the story the way you like to have a story told, and write the story that you want to tell. Simply be aware that readers expect certain conventions to be followed and if you want to sell the story, you have to take that into account. You can have an exciting science fiction story with no one ever becoming physical with someone else. Conflict doesn't necessarily mean a physical attack on someone. Conflict can be as mild as a child asking to be excused from the table to watch TV and the mother saying he has to finish his vegetables first. The kid says something like, 'But Mom, I'll miss the beginning.' Kid wants to do something. Mother prevents him. Conflict. A clash of wills. It can also reside within one character. Your protagonist sees an accident and wants to help but also wants to remain unnoticed. If he helps, he'll be noticed; if he doesn't help, he'll feel bad. Conflict. An inner clash. The conflict makes the reader want to go on: Will the child get his way, or will the mother? What will be the result in either case? Will the child learn to hate the mother, grow up spoiled and self-centred? In the second example: What will the protagonist do: Help or walk away? What will that cause in the future? Will he be discovered and hunted? Will his inaction eat away at him, leading him to a greater danger down the road? Read on to find out. Conflict, as another responder told you, should begin as soon as possible. Yes, you can have a protagonist that the reader won't particularly like. It's a more difficult process, and you'd be advised to ensure he has at least some likable characteristics. If we're not going to like him, then he'd better interest and intrigue us. But again, this is if you are writing for a wider public. If you are only writing for yourself, for practice or for joy, it doesn't matter."
"Readers today are impatient. Cut to the chase and get on with it. Nobody ever moaned about a story that was TOO exciting."
"Tension does not equate action. Does the reader know and understand that the main character will die if he does not get to play this game (or something equivalent)? We need to understand the stakes before we can care about the character's success or failure."
"I'm of the school of thought that having action or conflict in place as early as possible maintains the reader's attention and keeps them moving from chapter to chapter... not every chapter may need it, but certainly at or near the start you should have something to grab their attention and build the compelling curiosity/urgent need to keep turning the pages. The longer you keep them hooked, the more chance you have of winning them over and getting them to finish your book instead of discarding it for something more exciting/interesting/with a brighter cover/etc. For my works I always try to have an action sequence in the Prologue or First Chapter, and when I've written something without it I'd always go back and rewrite based on the beta readers experience. However, it's all a learning process and as each book (or chapter) is written you do gain deeper understanding in refining the craft and style required to make a book compelling. (DISCLAIMER: I've been writing books for the last ten or so years, but have only just started publishing in the last six months -- so my advice should be taken with a grain of salt!)"
"I don't know about sci-fi, but I definitely know in fantasy, you need to draw the reader into your world and its characters as soon as possible. It doesn't have to be some uber-battle or anything. It needs to be something that will make the reader want to keep turning the page to see what happens next. The first chapter is critical in getting the reader's attention. Too much buildup and it loses its power to capture a reader, and the story gets long, drawn-out and boring."
"I think people worry too much about forcing ACTION to the front of the book. It just has to be interesting in some way. Now, typically, backstory isn't all that interesting, even when it's interesting. As long as the character is doing something, trying to acomplish something that's interesting, then most readers will give it a chance. So, it's simple: just be interesting."
"A common mistake beginning novelists make is not recognizing they may need to write themselves into the story, but the reader will not appreciate that info dump, it's not the story. If you do, you'll get plenty of one star reviews such as 'this sucks,' 'I got up to chapter three and nothing happens.' You said you feel this way, so your readers will, too. They're not dumb; they pick up on this stuff. The biggest mistake I've seen from gamers that try to write books, is they write it like a game. They introduce characters that are not necessary to the plot and will never be heard from again, go off on too many red herrings, have way too many sub-plots so the 'story' gets lost, leaving the reader unsatisfied and confused. Make sure you have an over-riding story arc and every scene drives the story forward. Throw out those first three chapters and start with a mugging, for example, to find your conflict. It doesn't have to be action; it can be emotional, but it has to be there. Intersperse back story as needed, sprinkled in lightly."
"What works in an RPG does NOT generally translate well to fiction. Games tend to often rely on 'what do the rules let me do?' instead of 'what is the logical course of events?' Anyone who has gamed for a significant amount of time has dealt with 'that guy' who decides to pick pocket the King not because it serves any purpose, but because he has +16 ranks in Sleight of Hand and figures he can get away with it. Or the guy who just intimidates the guard instead of trying to use diplomacy because he is level 12 and can wipe the floor with the generic level 3 NPC guard. The most important thing is not to immediately jump to ACTION per se. The most important thing is to immediately engage the reader. As a reader, it doesn't matter to me if your character gets mugged or is fighting a dragon unless I care about the character one way or the other in the first place. I either need to care about the character's well being OR want to see him get what is coming to him. I don't have to like him. It's OK if I despise him, in fact, so long as I despise him enough that I can't wait to see him ripped to shreads by the roaming band of trolls! All that said, don't try to edit as you write. You will never finish the book. Get the thing down on paper. Then put it away for a month. Come back to it, and read it with fresh eyes. Then edit out everything that does not relate to the story you are trying to tell. Sometimes we gamers get too smart for our own good and we throw in NPCs that serve no purpose or plant false leads as if we are trying to string along players. Go back and pull out the stuff that either A) does not relate to the plot B) does not relate to character development and C) does not relate to world building. If it doesn't move forward the plot, build the character, or create a sense of place, get rid of it. Then put it away again for a week or two. Now go back and see what you are missing. Where is the character development weak? Where is the world building too thin? This is the best way I have found to handle it. If you try to "fix" it while you are writing it, you just get in your own way."
"An RPG need only be interesting to the five or six people seated at the table. Even if everyone else thinks it's crap, if it accomplishes that it's a resounding success. But follow that standard, and you'll get five or six readers. And you'll have worked hundreds or thousands of hours to get them."
"One thing to keep in mind when deciding how to start is how long you have to hook your reader. Amazon's The Look Inside preview is, I believe, 10% of the entire piece. So unless your story is over 220,000 words, your potential readers aren't going to get to even see where the story actually starts. However long that 10% works out to be, the one thing you have to do in it is make your potential reader care enough to become your actual reader. There is no one way to make a reader care: appeal to their emotions, appeal to their sense of curiosity, appeal to their sense of schaden freude, etc., but make sure you do it in that 10%, or you won't get many people reading your book. And the ones who buy without looking inside will likely be ticked off when they read the story and it doesn't even get started until almost a quarter of the book is has gone by."
"I don't think you should cut your story to start right at the mugging or dump the reader directly into an action scene unless you are setting the tone up for the rest of the book to be hard-hitting and able to keep up that pace. As a reader, I hate being dumped directly into an action scene right off the bat, except in the very rare instances where it is done well with out being confusing. This is especially true for Sci-Fi and Fantasy that requires world-building and explanation. If your book is taking place in some distant galaxy or alternate world, for example, you should ease the reader into it gently, avoid info dumps and BAM action scenes where the reader is trying to figure out what all is going on suddenly and, at the same time, trying to visualize the world it's taking place in. As a writer, I recommend writing your story how you are comfortable writing. Asking for advice on how to write your story will get you two hundred different answers from two hundred different people. Prologues are not pointless, in fact I think they are a lost art-form that are perfect for setting up the tone of your book for the reader and giving them a gentle push into the shallow end of your universe before dunking their head under water, like many books seem to do these days in chapter 1 in an attempt to grab readers who may have short attention spans."
"I wanted to mention that the genre (sci-fi, fantasy, literary, horror or mainstream fiction) is irrelevant to telling stories. Yes, some genres have 'expected' conventions, but the best writers create the conventions and don't pander to audience expectations. Give them something new. By this I mean, learn pacing, mood, setting, emotional hooks, character development, foreshadowing and metaphor. Tension and conflict can be established with nothing more than the choice of adjectives. Good writing , imho, is not a string of connected action sequences or explanations of why the action is necessary, rather it is a portrait of people experiencing life. The best sci-fi, again - imho, are the stories that connect the human experience of the far off world to the everyday present day reader. So, my advice is write the story how you see it unfolding. Prologues are great, when done well. Whether or not you start with an action scene depends on the character and type of story you want to tell as mentioned before. My other advice is to connect the emotions, history and personal conflicts (resolved and unresolved) and attitudes of the main character (all characters really) with the narrative. He should be consistent in thought and action, and with his history. This is one way to make him human in the 'show, don't tell' tradition. It is also a great way to get the reader to give a [crap]. These literary tools (devices?), when done well, create character empathy. Not sympathy - empathy. And this is what resonates with readers and one reason that books become bestsellers. Writing is actually pretty tough to do well. Write it and then work on theme, reinforcing it, character development and structure."
"Throwing my opinions in:
--Keep it interesting (character or world building, intrigue, tension, action... all of these can be interesting, it doesn't always have to be conflict)
--Don't break accepted formatting and/or grammar conventions/rules UNLESS you have a valid reason to do so (I like it better that way isn't really a good reason when it comes to grammar and formatting)
--There are no "rules" when it comes to writing, just accepted convention and expectations. Again, break them if there is a valid reason to do so.
--Write the way that YOU find pleasing. If others like it, you will be able to do it again and again with relative ease.
--Expect that no matter what you do, there will be people who will ding you for it. That's just the way it is.
--I'd get opinions from "non-writers" about your work before I'd seek critique from writers. You want to know, above all else, if your story is engaging. Writer's tend to notice the little things that many readers do not.
--Expect that your style will change over time. One of the great things about digital publishing is that you can see what works for your readers based on their reviews and emails. As long as you are willing to change and adapt as you see fit, your success (monetary) should only increase over time."