Oops, more than halfway through 2016

I haven’t been doing much personal writing as of late for two reasons:

  1. I do freelance writing now. It’s decent money to ghostwrite articles for strangers on the internet.
  2. I don’t self-motivate enough. I could get more done if I pushed myself harder.

There’s also a sort of writer’s block gnawing at me. In my current novel, I know what I want to say and how to say it, but I have difficulty getting the words on the page. I’m not bored and the text is a little too fast-paced in my opinion. Maybe I’ve just been working on this project for too long, or I need more research.

Maybe it’s all related to this quote I found earlier today on Twitter:

(Source)

Pantser vs Plotter

In case you haven’t heard these words before:

A “pantser” is someone who writes by the seat of their pants. They make everything up as they go along. A “plotter” is someone who plans out some/all aspects of their story before writing.

Both have merits and downsides.

Pantsers have more creative freedom, but their stories may become aimless or trickle off into nothingness. Plotters work within a predetermined structure, which can be limiting, but their plan enables them to write more consistently and achieve a good end.

I used to be a pantser. I’d get an idea, and write until my imagination had transferred everything to a page. The problem with this? I’d fizzle out and never finish what I started. I had a great idea and it would have nowhere to go. I struggled with direction. I couldn’t finish anything to my liking.

As I read more, and did research into outlining/plotting, I found a lot of useful information. And now I have a new view on the “pantser vs plotter” debate:

Pantsing is having an idea. Plotting is having a story.

I’ll probably use both methods. Some people work best with one or the other. You won’t know what’s best for you until you’ve had some experience.

Having structure seems important – a beginning, middle, and end. Instead of starting at the beginning or middle and trying to find the way from there.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll have a series of posts discussing types of plots. Stay tuned!

Commercial fiction versus literary fiction

From the New York Times. The article’s main points can be condensed into two parts:

So these are odious categories, “commercial” and “literary.” Mind-forged manacles. But they exist, yes, they do exist. We could point at their different velocities, commercial fiction being produced faster (and read faster) than literary fiction. We could say that commercial fiction is the stuff people want to read, while literary fiction is the stuff they think they should read.

and

To make the distinction between literary and commercial both meaningful and slightly less capricious, I prefer to use functional definitions for commercial and literary fiction.

Fiction that aims to, and often does, reach a wide audience and make a lot of money is, in effect, Commercial Fiction. Fiction that, one argues, has a value that exceeds its commercial appeal would be Literary Fiction.

And maybe Commercial Fiction is really great, or maybe it’s great the way a Dorito is great, but Commercial Fiction is in some way consonant with the market.

TVTropes always has something to say when books are involved, even if the site name is “TV” tropes. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/LitFic

Lit Fic – short for “Literary Fiction” – is a nebulous, broad term which emerged during the 1960s. Though it is usually contrasted with Genre Fiction […] in some respects, it is a genre unto itself, characterized by an aspiration to literary merit and a greater focus on style, theme and psychological depth – as opposed to the focus on plot and narrative typical of genre fiction.

[…] Rather, a piece of Lit Fic is much likelier to be about everyday people doing everyday things, dealing with everyday problems and eventually coming to realizations or personal transformations. A family struggles with cancer. A man struggles with death. A couple struggles with alcoholism. A child struggles to become an adult. There is very little escapism or Wish Fulfillment in Lit Fic.

One of my friends, who is always correct about everything, describes literary fiction as (more or less) a fancy language exercise. Characters and plots are secondary aspects to how an author composes sentences. Snippets of direct quotes:

  • the focus on plot rather than beauty of language is really awful for literature
  • it shouldn’t be character driven or plot driven, it should be language driven
  • the characters and the plot are “physical” things in your story, tangible more or less, as opposed to the language which is air, it’s words, but the language is what you’re sending to the reader, via the plots and characters that enable you to make use of really special formulations
  • the language is the “beauty” aspect of the work, and the characters and plots embody that beauty to give it a means of transportation, or a means of being “visible”, but the sense of beauty is the whole point of the effort you’re making when you’re writing it
  • I mean, I suppose the whole “character and plot” focus is the most commercial side of literature, GRRM type stuff, but if you want to be an artist it’s language where it begins and ends
  • you know, I remember Nabokov writing something really neat about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He liked the story, but he said that it was written in the completely wrong way. It lacked any tension, any focus on the sense of “I can not get out” that makes a tragedy like that really gripping. Now, Jekyll and Hyde is a classic story and it’s very famous and successful, but I really get where Nabokov was coming from and it could have been so much fucking better if it had that tension of frustration and anxiety that marks the core of the story.

6 questions I ask before buying books

When I reach a page on Amazon, I check for a digital version. I don’t have room for physical books anymore.

From there, here’s my approximate order of importance:

1. Is the cover good?

If an author doesn’t have a good book cover, it seems careless. And if you’re careless with the outside of your book, what does that say about the inside? A cover is the thing that grabs customers first, because humans are visual and emotional in nature. A great cover means more than a fancy title. Although to be fair, if your title is laughable or nonsensical, I won’t want to read it either. A title like “The Princely Unicorn Known As Mister Glitter Investigates A Crime” does not work for a horror novella. It has to make sense. Likewise, the cover has to make sense and speak to its genre(s).

2. What are the genres?

Basically I look to see that the book isn’t romance or erotica. A book cover doesn’t always mirror the content so I scroll down. Some of you are a lot more picky with genre. I tend to get behind hard science fiction, gothic horror, and high/low fantasy.

3. What does the sample tell us?

The sample needs to show good writing with adequate description. Nothing too flowery, nothing too bland. At the least, there needs to be professional-looking editing and formatting. It doesn’t have to actually be put together by a team of professionals. Just something that isn’t typd leik thiz. Samples are important. If you have errors and typos, I’ll go elsewhere without a second thought. I’ll only stomach them if I know the author.

4. What do the reviews say?

Good reviews are important, sure. But average/bad reviews can still show that the story holds promise. Some interesting stories don’t get great reviews, and resonate with a small group of fans. Some terrible stories get incredible reviews and have raving fans. Reviews are also subjective as all hell and need to be taken with grains of salt. Still, they often have common threads and compare the book to similar books. Skimming reviews can give you a decent idea of what to expect. Even then, I’ll take a chance on a book if I like the sample enough.

5. Is the price reasonable?

I’m looking at you, major publishers. Penguin and Random House, there is no reason whatsoever to price your ebook at $13-15 when the paperback is under $10. This is one reason why the self-publishing market is booming. Authors can price their work under $5 and people see that as a great deal. And it is. Do you want a 300-page novel for $15, or three 500-page novels that are $5 each?

6. Is the book description silly?

We’re not all looking for a book that’s original or the next big hit. We want a story that’s going to keep our interest and entertain us. Book descriptions are a shorter version of what we should see in the sample. I don’t want another copy-and-paste YA plot outline as a book description (or even something worse). Not unless I know the author, or can expect some twists.

#6 on this list is the most subjective: some people would swap it with #3 (what the sample says). A lot of people see the cover, read the description, check the reviews, then make a decision on whether or not to buy. I look at the cover, double-check the genre, skim the sample, then look at the reviews and price. The biggest common element is the cover. Your book cover has to be good. If not good, then at least passable.

Your Kindle Needs You

To update. The deadline is 22 March 2016.

Amazon is changing a few things – and certain models of Kindle could stop being 100% functional.

They’ve been sending out emails to Kindle owners. I already updated my Kindle and it was pretty easy. I just connected to my Wifi and the update was automatic. Depending on what model Kindle you own, this process may vary.

Business Insider and Snopes posted articles about this, in case there were doubts about authenticity.

In case you can’t get the update for some reason, don’t panic! It can be done manually. For more details, see Amazon: www.amazon.com/ku2016

List of Kindles affected:

  • Kindle 1st Generation (2007)
  • Kindle 2nd Generation (2009)
  • Kindle DX 2nd Generation (2009)
  • Kindle Keyboard 3rd Generation (2010)
  • Kindle 4th Generation (2011)
  • Kindle 5th Generation (2012)
  • Kindle Touch 4th Generation (2011)
  • Kindle Paperwhite 5th Generation (2012)

Science behind Science Fiction

For my story The Pillars of Idrapha I tried to keep a good portion based on real life science. I’m not sure if there’s enough for it to be classified as hard science fiction, but there’s some. The following is basically a “notes for readers who might want more information” post, so if you haven’t first read the short story, you can download a free copy from Smashwords. If you’d like to forge ahead without reading the story, feel free! It’s all spoiler-free science here.

At any rate…

Read More »

Do the British tell better children’s stories?

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/01/why-the-british-tell-better-childrens-stories/422859/

The overall point of the article seems to be that USA stories are more “real” and tend to feature a moral. A lot of information is there, and it’s worth even a quick read.

Popular storytelling in the New World instead tended to celebrate in words and song the larger-than-life exploits of ordinary men and women: Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Calamity Jane, even a mule named Sal on the Erie Canal. Out of bragging contests in logging and mining camps came even greater exaggerations—Tall Tales—about the giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan, the twister-riding cowboy Pecos Bill, and that steel-driving man John Henry, who, born a slave, died with a hammer in his hand. All of these characters embodied the American promise: They earned their fame.

Of course cultures approach storytelling in different ways. Reading tales from around the world is a fascinating experience. Whether a particular way is better than another… it doesn’t seem entirely clear-cut. The Atlantic’s article posits that the British are better than Americans because of their approach to fantasy.

It turns out that fantasy—the established domain of British children’s literature—is critical to childhood development.

It’s interesting to think about. And one final portion of the article really caught my eye:

“Stories serve a purpose beyond pleasure, a purpose encoded in analogies. Story arcs, like dreams, have an almost biological function.” – Jerome Griswold

The Pillars, Revisited

It took a while, but I finally wrote a new version of The Pillars and had some editing done.

Around 3 parts are the same as before, with relatively minor changes. The rest of the changes are much bigger.

  • Halved the number of characters
  • Removed or rewrote almost every major plot point
  • Answered (hopefully) every question that came up
  • New ending which leaves room for a sequel
  • Cut out 1000 unnecessary words

And more. This has been about a year in the making, so I think I’ve addressed all the problems people had with the original version. I’ll probably continue to make minor revisions to enhance the story, just because I have a mild problem with perfectionism.

Free through Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/603194

0.99 USD through Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B019UTSK80

Happy Holidays! And a repeat of the past

Hannukah has passed, Christmas is nearly upon us, and Kwanzaa comes soon after. The winter solstice was just yesterday. Whatever you celebrate – enjoy it!

Last year I wrote a blog post which I could probably just copy and paste since I’ve done the exact same things.

The Pillars is still being reworked, and I’m in the process of writing several other things (some I’ve been writing/rewriting for many years now). So, more or less, after a year I’m in the same spot – only with more incomplete work I should try harder to finish.

NaNoWriMo

The 15th of November is the halfway point, where each person should probably have 25,000+ words written by the end of the day. Some have a lot more, some have a lot less. Unsurprisingly I fall into the second camp. I’m not sure if I can even get to 25,000 by the end of the month! But that’s kind of alright.  With my busy schedule this is more or less a simple creative writing exercise.

It sounds odd to say, but writing is the most important part of writing. Planning, editing, publishing – the befores and afters seem easier to me.