Posts Tagged ‘writer problems’

Would you rather… Start a new project in a genre that’s completely unfamiliar, OR revise a project that you know is a bloody mess?

An unfamiliar genre can be researched. Research can be fascinating and fun. As long as said research doesn’t become an excuse for not writing the story.

A bloody mess can be painful if you have to take out a favorite scenes or significantly change the plot. It is also intensely rewarding to salvage what seems like the ruins of your work.

What about it, writer friends? Would you rather start a new story in an unfamiliar genre, or revise a project that you know is a bloody mess?

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The demon, Discouragement, has been visiting my house lately. Mostly this is due to me starting the preparations for self-publishing my next novella. I’m trying to assess whether my marketing efforts have made any difference. This can be depressing for most of us authors, and I’m no exception.

One of my resolutions for 2019 was to work harder on publicity. In particular, I’ve worked harder on my author newsletter. So many sources say that the newsletter is the goose laying golden eggs, and if I can bring that to life, I’ll sell tons of copies.

Studying up on this, I followed the format of asking a clever or gripping question, followed by my schedule of appearances, and finally a snippet from a featured book of mine. I’ve included subscription links in every e-mail and blog post, my author pages on Facebook, Amazon and Draft 2 Digital, and more.

The response has been… nearly nothing. As far as I can tell, I haven’t sold a copy of anything through it. Each monthly newsletter seems to result in another bounced e-mail. Likewise, my personal author page, which I update weekly, generates no sales that I can tell.

Hence, my demon, Discouragement, comes knocking.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t sold any copies. They trickle in. It seems like the best response I’ve been getting is from my blog and the connections I can forge with other writers. So maybe what Discouragement is telling me is that I have been trying the wrong things. If the monthly newsletter and author pages aren’t working for me, then I need to let go of them.

A good example of this is how much response we’ve had to the blog visit last Saturday by C. S. Boyack. Even if folks mostly came to cheer Craig on, they at least got a look at Wyrmflight, too. Rather than work hard on a newsletter nobody notices, maybe I’ll just blog and hang out with you, my virtual buddies.

But, Discouragement, you really can go away at any time.

Did you know I have an author newsletter? You can get it! I’ll even give you a free e-book for signing up. Just click here.

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Early in my career, my husband would suspiciously demand, “Is this character supposed to be me?” I said, “No, of course not.” I’ve never been sure if he was happy with that, or disappointed.

To be honest, there was a bit of one of our friends in there, but only a bit. Using a real person in your made-up story seems like an ethical problem to me. I mean, a person’s individual name and appearance are their most personal possessions. They should be held private, as any other personal information is.

As a fan writer, I witnessed a case where a family was in turmoil and two family members wrote a story that was aimed at another. It got by me, until the victim pointed that out how a character who was just like her died at the end of the story. That was a lesson I’ll never forget.

Writing stories about other people gives us a unique kind of power, especially if those people are injured or humiliated during the story. It can easily cross into grotesque bullying. Let’s say there’s a public figure you don’t like. (We can all fill our own disliked public figures into that blank.) It might be satisfying for you to write a story where a character just like them is shot in the head, but for the person? I would take that as a personal threat.

Everyone craves recognition. Some authors, especially crime novelists, may run contests where people volunteer to appear as a victim. If they sign up for that, then okay. But nobody wants to be mocked in public.

Never do this, friends.

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The words need not be perfect in order for your story to be great.

Believe it or not, this quote is from a conversation at work. A friend was telling me she wants to write a letter to a family member she’s been estranged from, but she isn’t good at putting words on the page. I encouraged her to write the letter anyway. I don’t know if she will, but I hope so.

Anyway, I have a couple of new followers here on Wyrmflight, so welcome to my fantasy world! I’m always interested to know what attracted your attention. If you have a question or suggestion about what you’d like to hear from me, by all means share!

Did you know I have an author newsletter? You can get it! I’ll even give you a free e-book for signing up. Just click here.

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One of my quarrels with the tired idea that “the villain believes they are the hero of the story” is that it contradicts the character’s own purpose in the story.

This is standing a bit outside the story, looking at it from the writer’s point of view rather than the reader’s. If you think of the story as a living thing, there has to be a skeleton beneath the skin of the tale. The writer assembles this skeleton so that it will “move” smoothly and all the parts work together for an effective telling.

In the skeleton, the hero has a job to do. In some ways, the hero embodies the reader and allows them to experience the events of the story. The villain has a job, too. They provide obstacles that make the hero’s struggle meaningful. A villain is not meant to be sympathetic in the way a hero is.

If the writer consistently finds that they are building more into the villain than the hero, then they might need to do some thinking. Who is this story really about? Would it be a better story if the villain was the hero instead?

As some of you know, I enjoy flipping things in my stories. I think you could write a great story where the hero was on a slippery slope and became a villain, and vice versa. But you have to build that into the skeleton or the outcome will feel arbitrary.

Blithely saying that the villain thinks they’re the hero is sort of like putting wrist bones where the ankle bones should be. Wrists and ankles are similar, but not interchangeable. It’s okay for a writer to keep their readers guessing, but they still have to know which is the wrist bone and which is the ankle.

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It’s a widely taught lesson among writers that “the villain thinks they are the hero of the story.” I am here to call B. S. on that myth.

Allegedly, this villain has some intense goal, and they do bad things for their cause. For people who who benefit by the cause, this makes the villain a “good guy.” Again, that is B. S.

Let me frame this with two different examples. First, the light-weight one. At the grade school where I work, you often have big kids taking things away from little kids. Basketballs, juice boxes, pencils. Why do big kids take things away from little kids? Because they’re bigger. Because they want that thing. Because the adults are going to mumble something about making good choices, and won’t actually stop them. (Except for me. I’m the Mean Lady of the school.)

Do these kids think they’re the hero of the story? No. They knew what they did was wrong, but they did it anyway. Would anyone looking at it from the outside think the bullying kids were heroic? Not likely.

Now for the heavy example. On September 11, 2001, a group of men hijacked several airplanes and caused them to crash into buildings here in America. Thousands were killed, and the U. S. later went to war in an effort to bring justice to the victims.

These hijackers believed in an intense cause. Did they think they were heroic? Maybe. But would anyone looking at it from the outside ever believe they were heroic? Again, not likely.

As writers, our most important job is to be honest. Even if we write something silly and flimsy, there has to be a core of truth. Don’t believe me? Read anything at all by Sir Terry Pratchett.

Writers cannot write some B. S. about bad guys thinking they are heroes and just leave it at that. “Oh, but they’re so noble!” No, they are not. If they truly were noble, they would find a non-evil solution for their problems.

Our villains know what they are doing is wrong, and they still choose to do it. We cannot make excuses for them. We have to own it.

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I have one lesson left from reading that book I didn’t enjoy. That is, even though it frustrated me, it was still worth it to read. Many of my author friends seem to feel that they have to stop reading in order to get their own stories written. Time is short, and they can’t do both. I certainly can see that a gripping book would distract you, but I still believe it’s a mistake to give up on reading.

For one thing, a writer sometimes needs a break. Especially if you’re a pantser, like me, and you need to think your plot through before proceeding. You can break a writer’s block by focusing on other things for a while.

More importantly, reading other books can give you great ideas. If you’re an SF writer, reading about the latest scientific research might spur a story. Romance writers who read about a heroic firefighter might get the spark for their next lonely lover. Even a familiar children’s story might inspire a contemporary re-telling.

Finally, reading other work can give you insights into your own. The whole point of this thread has been finding value in a so-so book, right? If you write in a specific genre, you have to keep up with what’s current in that genre, or you may hear from editors that your work is too old-fashioned. Do you want to work hard on a book, only to find out your whole approach is stale and tired?

So my last lesson is this: keep on reading!

Did you know I have an author newsletter? You can join! I’ll even give you a free e-book for signing up. Just click here.

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