Posts Tagged “windshifter”
Hi everyone! Pike here. I’ve decided to try something; specifically, I would like to write a series about my own adventures in writing, editing, and self-publishing. I know a lot of people out there are interested in this process and I thought some of my own thoughts on it might be helpful and/or interesting to people. So here we go!
So you want to write a book
Congratulations! You are about to embark on a journey that will probably take years (and I know what you’re thinking, which is that you can do it faster. Well– we’ll see when you get there ;3 ), and which will teach you much about yourself. Of course, before you start, you need…
Ideas can come from anywhere and strike at pretty much any time. I’ve had ideas that have turned into full-fledged books while driving, while in the shower, while at work, and even while dreaming. An idea can be very simple. My idea for Windshifter, for example, was “I want to take a bunch of old characters I invented when I was a kid and have fun with a steampunk-inspired fantasy world.”
Good ideas can’t be rushed. You let them come to you.
Now, you can’t write a book on an idea alone. You also need a plot, some concepts, and an emotional hook.
Plot is pretty easy. It’s what your English (or whatever language you speak) teacher taught you back in the day. It’s a few lines describing what happens in your book. What the action is, what the conflict is, and how the characters resolve it.
Concepts are ideas and themes that you want to explore in your book. My Idea for Windshifter was to write a fun steampunky book with airships and clockwork. My Concepts included things like touching on the ideals of open source/free software, and talking about the nature of technology and science and our place in a world where both are more important than ever. Often one of those Concepts will sift away from the others, like gold from sand, and shine and glint more brightly than the others. And suddenly you will realize with a jolt that that particular Concept is your…
Every good story needs an emotional hook. You could have interesting characters, a great plot, and some neat concepts, but if your readers aren’t emotionally invested in your story, then they won’t care. Ideally your emotional hook is something that most (if not all) of your readers will be able to relate to– the characters can relate to it in a specific way, but everyone can feel those feelings.
With “Windshifter”, the emotional hook is loss. Several of the characters have lost something and are dealing with it in different ways. Heck, the dragon race as a whole lost something and is dealing with it in different ways.
I don’t know how it is with other writers, but for me, Emotional Hooks are often the very last thing to come to me when I’m planning a story, and it usually hits me like a lightning bolt triggered by personal experience. I wrote a book a couple years back called “Cricket Song” which I am currently in the process of editing. “Cricket Song” was born from the Idea “I want to explore a story about a girl and her imaginary friend.” This Idea was kicked around in my head for a good few months while I hemmed and hawwed over how to best go about publishing “Windshifter”, and I was really starting to feel rather overwhelmed with this, and it was in the midst of it all that the Emotional Hook of “Cricket Song” came clear: “What it means to do what you’re good at when everyone else is good at it too.” And suddenly, just like that, I had a story.
A quick note on characters: You’ll notice I don’t have a specific spot on the list for characters. Personally I think that characters are “born” from things like plot and concepts and emotional hooks. Or maybe you’ve just had a character in your head for a while. Who knows! But I tend to come up with them at the same time as I’m coming up with the other story elements.
How it all gels together
When I was in film school, one of the professors’ favorite examples for, well… pretty much anything was Finding Nemo, because it’s such a solid film and because Pixar is a storytelling genius.
With the disclaimer that I don’t know exactly how Pixar cooked up this film intact, let me tell you how it would have gone if I’d made it:
Idea: I want to make a story about fish and sea creatures lost in a big ocean.
Plot: A young fish is captured by a diver and put into an aquarium, and his father rushes off to find him. Along the way they meet a lot of interesting characters and learn a lot about themselves and each other.
Concepts: Disabilities, anxiety, family, friendship
Emotional Hook: What it means to “let go” of your comfort zone.
I said earlier that Pixar is a storytelling genius and I meant it. If you watch Finding Nemo you will see just how expertly they weave that Emotional Hook into the fabric of the story, which beautifully peaks as Dory tells Marlin “it’s time to let go!” when they’re stuck inside the whale that swallowed them. It’s subtle, but not too subtle. It’s comforting. It’s emotional and raw. And people love it.
A final word on all of this stuff: Don’t rush it. Let it come to you. You can have a good Idea without an Emotional Hook (or vice versa). You can have Concepts or Plots without a home. Let them all float around in your head, mess with them a little, play with them, put them together and take them apart like legos, and see what you can make. Once you find something you think you can make into a book, it’s time to jump into the next step… which we’ll talk about next time!
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Been wanting to read my book “Windshifter” and not wanting (or able) to read it on your computer or an ebook device? Well fret not! Your problem is now solved: You can order a high-quality, 6″x9″, 338 page paperback version for $12.99 USD!
You can buy it now from either Amazon or CreateSpace.
CreateSpace will net me more royalties but please order through the website that you prefer to use.
If you like the book, please tell your friends and family about it and review it either on Amazon or on GoodReads. That would mean the world to me!
Help me sell 100 copies, guys! 😀
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Exactly two years ago to the day, I sat down and decided, spur of the moment, to participate in NaNoWriMo and started making up a story on the spot.
After no less than nine drafts and several false starts, that book is now ready to go!
To read the prologue for free, click HERE.
For FAQs and a briefing about the book, click HERE.
- Amazon (Kindle): US, UK, DE, FR
- Barnes and Noble (Nook): Here
- Lulu (ePub): Here
- Lulu (PDF): Here – Note that the Lulu versions are $1.99 because I was having problems getting it to accept $0.99. I apologize for any inconvenience!
A print-on-demand version is being looked into and will be announced as soon as I can.
Other versions (PDF, etc.) will be looked into if there is enough demand.
Oh, and I have also been added to GoodReads!
What I’m Looking For Now… If you read the book and enjoy it, please tell your friends or (honestly) review it! Lend it to people– all versions of the book are DRM-free so you should be able to.
This has been a fun little ride and no matter what happens now, I’m happy. This euphoria could last a week and then the book could fade away into obscurity and I’d still be happy, because I accomplished my goal, which was to prove that I could make a book from start to finish. I never went into this with any sort of loftier goal, so yes… no matter what happens, I’m happy.
But I can always dream, of course…
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It was dark– the dead of night– and would have been darker if not for the gas lamps that brightened irregular patches of earth and grass and tall buildings. One or two men in uniform walked about, their ears pricked and their green reptilian skin dappled by the lanterns. They did not notice the figure lurking through the shadows.
Sparktender crept by, pressed up against a wall that turned into a gate. He was moving slowly and methodically, taking pains to stay out of the light and not give himself away.
His imagination was not making it easy. Fragments of memories from his past pushed themselves to the front of his mind, but he shoved them away and forced himself to focus on the task at hand, using his own movement as a mantra. Slowly… slowly…
A twig underfoot. Sparktender froze midstep, watching helplessly as a nearby guard turned and looked straight into the shadows where he was hiding.
The fugitive didn’t move and he didn’t breathe and finally the guard dismissed the noise and moved off, leaving Sparktender frozen very still for a few moments until he felt it was safe enough to begin moving again.
He was almost to the gate now. It was open. It never closed, though. It was supposed to lull its detainees into feeling a false sense of freedom, of this Sparktender was sure. Because no one was truly free here, as was evident by the guard standing right there, ready to stop any who passed, since it was past curfew.
Sparktender paused and observed this guard. He wore a patch on his sleeve shoulder, indicating that he was a slightly higher ranked guard than most of the others that had been patrolling that night. Shrewd eyes peered out from underneath his hat and his pea-colored skin was illuminated by an eerie bluegreen glow emanating from the lantern he was holding up.
Sparktender gulped. The shadows alongside the wall of the gate were dark enough that he could possibly sneak through unnoticed– possibly. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to risk it with this guard. No, he’d have to outsmart him.
He racked his brains, constructing a few ideas in his mind and knocking them down quickly and then building them up again. He was well-acquainted with this process, though he’d never had to use it under this much stress before. But again, he forced himself to adapt– he had to.
After some thought, he decided that with his limited resources, perhaps the simplest solution would be the best one. Particularly since this guard looked restless and eager to hop onto anything… yes, he could turn this to his advantage.
Being careful with his actions, he reached into his jacket pocket. His fingers first closed around a small box– the still-raw memories began to trickle back, like water through cracks in a wall, but he willed them away– and then he found what he was looking for: a penny.
He decided on a small pile of rocks next to a tree a few paces from the guard, aimed, and then fired. The penny plinked off of the rocks, and as he’d expected, the antsy guard jumped on it. And as he stepped away, Sparktender inched up to the gate and passed through. He was leaping to make a dash for it, like a bit-chomping ceradraco at the races, and as soon as he felt that he was far enough out of the compound, he broke into a sprint.
He dashed for a small clump of bushes and trees and upon reaching it, exhaled a sigh of relief when what he was looking for was still there. Just as he’d left it.
It was an airship.
Just a small, personal craft, rickety and dilapidated and probably not far from falling apart. It was all he’d been able to afford, having pawned off his watch for it earlier that day. Even that was something he’d barely been able to pull off, only being able to do so because his watch was of his own build and as such it was of such fine make that it was worth more than most. It had been just enough to secure himself the cheapest aircraft he could find and then drag it to this location. It wasn’t much, but it would have to do.
Grim and determined, he began to climb inside.
He jumped and whirled around, his mind racing so fast he couldn’t keep up with it. But the two people he was now facing– barely discernible in the distant lamp light, were not guards.
“…Tye Windshifter… and Rydeck Galespringer?” Sparktender’s eyes were wide in surprise.
“They’ve got you too, I see,” said Tye, and his voice was level but tinged with sadness.
Sparktender looked away. “A week or so back, yes,” he said finally.
Rydeck spoke now, shaking her head as she did. “They’ve had us almost a year,” she said bitterly. “They took us mere months after our wedding, in fact.” Then she added, “Things have certainly worsened since school, haven’t they?”
“It’s wrong,” Sparktender said, his own voice inflamed as well. “Wrong in every sense of the word. And I didn’t know you two were here also, or I’d have…” he glanced at the airship in the bushes. “…I’d have figured out a way to get you both out as well. This craft will only seat one…”
“We understand,” Tye said quickly. “It’s good that you’ll be able to get out of this place.”
“I have to,” Sparktender said. “I have… unfinished business.” His face was pained and his eyes unfocused.
“You go,” Rydeck agreed. “We’re better off staying here anyway; there’s been some talk of a rebellion. Perhaps we can help. But we do have one favor to ask of you.”
She stepped forward; she was holding something and now she held it out to Sparktender. It was a small bundle…
“A child!” Sparktender exclaimed.
“Ours,” said Rydeck. Despite the situation, she and her husband smiled a little, and Sparktender did as well.
“A boy or a girl?”
“A boy,” said Tye, a touch of pride in his voice. “A little Windshifter.”
“He was born here,” Rydeck continued. “But… we don’t want him to stay here. Not like this. Not with his creativity redirected toward who knows what atrocities. Sparktender… take him.”
“Take him. Please.” She held the baby out to him, and he took it gently, though his face was still a picture of bewilderment.
“This too,” Tye said, pulling a gleaming watch out of his waistcoat pocket and unclipping the chain from a button.
“The watch I made you?” Sparktender’s eyebrows were furrowed.
“Keep it with him,” said Tye, handing it out to Sparktender.
Sparktender nodded, taking it gingerly and tucking it into the baby’s blanket.
Tye and Rydeck were holding each other now, bittersweet emotions welling up in their eyes.
“I– I don’t know if I’ll be able to properly raise him. I’ll be an outlaw,” Sparktender ventured.
“Do my ears detect a problem that needs to be solved?” Tye teased gently. “I once had a wise classmate who had a saying for that…”
Sparktender snorted, amused. “Suppose I can’t back down from that challenge.”
Rydeck spoke up now. “Regardless of how you go about it… we trust you’ll do what’s best for him.”
Sparktender was touched by their faith in him. He looked down through his spectacles at the child, who was calmly looking around at the goings-on with big blue eyes, taking it all in.
“We’d best get going,” said Tye. “I imagine taking off is going to cause some commotion– we’d better get back before that starts.”
“Alright,” said Sparktender.
“Take care of Lyte,” added Rydeck.
“I will. I promise.”
And then just as suddenly as they had appeared, they were gone, leaving Sparktender alone with an infant and an airship. He looked at one and the other and then with a deep breath, he climbed onto the small craft, setting the baby down gently behind him. He wasted no time in getting to work, loading up a furnace with small blue-tinted logs and then rushing over to the controls. This was an unusual ship, designed to be piloted by one person rather than the typical crew, so all of the controlling mechanisms were up front and Sparktender, who had never been inside an airship before, much less controlled one, initially felt at a loss for what to do. He cast his misgivings aside, though, with a leap of faith that had enabled him to solve problems in the past.
“Alright, let’s see here…” he mumbled to himself as he ran his eyes and fingers across the many dials and levers, trying to maintain calm and draw upon his basic understanding of machinery. As a trained mechanist, he had an advantage. But he didn’t have much time: gearwheels were spinning, propellers were whipping through the air, exhaust was billowing from the ship and it was rising now…
Startled by the noise coming from just outside the compound, several guards dashed up, and in the lead was Mistdrifter, the guard that had been fooled by Sparktender’s penny. All of them ran up to quite a spectacle: an airship, of all things, rising from the bushes.
“Halt!” Mistdrifter yelled, standing almost underneath the ship now. “You are not authorized to ride that airship. Halt!”
Sparktender ignored him, still messing with levers and with a large wheel, trying to steer the ship. “Come on, come on, come on…” he muttered through gritted teeth. He tugged on one promising-looking lever, but it snapped clean off in his hand. He looked at it incredulously. “Oh. Well.”
Mistdrifter watched as the ship continued to rise; now it was out of earshot, no doubt, so yelling warnings would be of no more use. He turned to a nearby guard. “Alert the sergeant and officers. We’ve gotta stop him before he hits three hundred meters.”
Sparktender had figured out how to control the airship– sort of– and was now gripping the wheel tightly, turning the ship so it was facing the direction of his home. He glanced at the altimeter: he had just passed one hundred meters in altitude. Then he looked down below at the Corporation grounds that he was now hovering over, and saw several guards boarding their own airships. He had a good lead on them, but they had weapons and piloting knowhow. Slowly they began to rise, and he watched as they turned themselves expertly and headed straight toward him.
Focus, focus, Sparktender told himself, willing himself to look straight ahead. Don’t think about them. He was going away, far away, and if he got some more altitude he knew they couldn’t catch him. Again he looked at his altimeter– his lifeline– he was closing in on two hundred meters.
The sound of a great propeller coming up from behind was getting louder now, and baby Lyte let out a cry. Sparktender spun around. A guard’s ship was on his tail. The man standing at the wheel was holding something made of brass, about the size of his fist. He turned it and wound a key on its back.
“…clockwork?” Sparktender was confused, but before he could give much thought to it, the brass object was hurtled into the air– and, like an angry insect, it made a beeline towards him.
Thinking quickly, he dropped to the floor, and the object zipped over his head with a buzz. He knew it would be back, though, and this time he would be prepared: he took hold of the broken lever and, wielding it like a bat, stood back up.
Sure enough, the fist-sized clockwork instrument made a wide turn and was now heading back at him. Repressing the deep innate repulsion he felt at damaging such an intriguing device, he shut his eyes tight and swung– and hit, feeling the impact reverberating through his makeshift weapon as the smashed mechanical insect went flying.
Feeling a bit emboldened by his victory, Sparktender glanced over at the altimeter. Two hundred and seventy meters.
Another airship was closing in, now. On board a guard loaded a cannon and aimed it at Sparktender’s ship, readying it to fire. Sparktender threw himself on the floor, scooping up the baby Windshifter and holding him to his chest, bracing himself for an impact…
A guard put his hand on the shoulder of the man at the cannon. “Hold fire.”
“He’s at three hundred meters. We can’t legally touch him. He’s gone.”
Sparktender was looking at his altimeter. Three hundred meters and rising. A slow smile crept onto his face. He looked behind him– his pursuers had stopped chasing him. He was free.
He peered over the edge of the ship, watching with wonder as the world fell away behind him and he became one with the aether. It was an amazing feeling, as though flight fulfilled some deep seated need in his soul that he didn’t even know existed.
But he felt another void still, so Sparktender clenched his teeth, took firm hold of the wheel, and flew resolutely towards his destination.
Mistdrifter was far below on the ground, watching, crestfallen, as his prey got away from him. There had been plenty of escape attempts before, and a few of those attempts had even been successful, but none had been of this sort of spectacle before. He had failed, and everyone in the compound– guards and drafted workers alike– could see it.
“Mistdrifter…” The voice was low and tinged with disappointment and Mistdrifter knew full well who it belonged to. He gulped and turned, facing a tall, shadowy man in a greatcoat, accompanied by two burly guards with blue glowing eyes. “Y– yes?”
“Windshifter” will be available in its entirety very soon…
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Hey. Hey guys. That book I’ve been working on for two years now?
Yeah. I think it’s done. FINALLY. I’ve passed it along to my dear boy, Mister Adequate, to give the whole thing a final proofread and then I’m going to e-publish it. And link to it here (and everywhere, I’m sure), of course! So, consider this your official heads-up!
And now to answer some FAQs:
What Is It?: The title of the book is Windshifter. Although I’ve had a couple of the characters and concepts knocking around inside my head for years, 98% of this thing was something I made up on the spot for NaNoWriMo 2009. I surprised myself by turning it into a halfway decent draft, and I’d like to think I’ve carved a nice little story out of it since then. At least, I think it’s nice for a first effort!
What Is It About?: It doesn’t really fall nicely into any set genre. I tend to tell people that it’s a “steampunk-inspired alternate universe” story. I think it also skews a bit “young adult”, although ultimately I wanted to make a story for all ages to enjoy– think Redwall or something. Speaking of Redwall, this is kind of similar. There are a lot of fuzzy creatures, and a race of people descended from dragons. But they have guns and airships and things. So basically, think steampunk Redwall and you’ll be in the right ballpark.
What Else is it Similar To, Besides Redwall?: I had test readers compare it to everything from Final Fantasy to The Golden Compass/His Dark Materials to various Disney movies (The Great Mouse Detective, for example), and honestly that’s a good selection of the sort of thing that inspired me. I was going for a fun romp through an unusual new world. I’m glad my beta readers seemed to pick up on that!
When Will It Be Available?: I’m shooting for “by the end of October” but that’s closing in rather fast. Still, I’m really hoping this will be ready within a few weeks.
How/Where Will It Be Available?: I’m thinking I’ll start with Amazon (Kindle), B&N PubIt (Nook), and also through myself as a pure PDF file. If there is enough interest in other outlets or in a physical copy (via Lulu or something) then it’s something I’ll definitely look into right away.
How Much Will It Cost?: Probably $0.99.
That’s It? Don’t You Think Your Writing is Worth More?: Trust me when I say that this is something I’ve been looking into for months, and I’ve read all sorts of very long and thorough arguments both for and against the 99-cent price point, and after studying all of that I find myself leaning “for” it. I might change my mind if I see something very convincing in the next week or two but it’s still going to be very cheap. Less than a few bucks. I want everyone to be able to afford my story. If there’s enough demand for it I might set up my PayPal so that you can pay-what-you-want for the PDF. And obviously a physical copy, if I offer one, will cost more.
Why Aren’t You Traditionally Publishing?: Partially because I want to get the story out there faster instead of waiting around for years– I know a lot of you have been really waiting patiently for this. Partially because I like the idea of eBooks and e-publishing. I’ve always had a lot of admiration for, say, indie game devs and I see this as being similar. And partially because I sort of consider this story to be a big warm-up exercise more than anything, so I figure I’ll go ahead and use this as an experiment to see what sort of bites I get.
Okay, I think that about covers it. Any more questions? Just ask! And wish me luck!
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As you may know if you’ve been following me for a while– for months I’ve been sitting on a book, wondering how to go about publishing it. I’ve had a lot of people telling me I should e-publish for various reasons, and then I’ve also had a lot of people telling me that I shouldn’t and that doing so would be shooting myself in the foot. And so, for at least six months now, I’ve been sitting here trying to weigh the pros and cons and decide which option would be the best for me.
Then, two things happened. First, I saw this, and second, I realized that if I continue to sit around trying to decide how to publish it, it’s never going to get published. So, I’ve decided to commit to e-publishing. Here are just a few reasons for my decision:
Rainbow Dash talks almost as much as I do.
Now, I know there are a lot of downsides. Believe me, I know, because I’ve been agonizing over this decision for months. I realize this is a risk I’m taking, a big leap of faith that requires me to be a little brave, a little hopeful, and just a little bit conceited– and that last one there is probably the hardest for me. But if I don’t try, then I’ll never know!
So, that is that. Once I do actually have the thing online, I’ll link to it pretty much everywhere, so I’m sure you’ll see it. It may not be for a few months, because I want to give the manuscript some final edits, but I’m pretty committed to all of this actually happening. We’ll see how it goes, eh?
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Wow, I stink at updating this blog, don’t I? I’ll admit, I kind of fell out of it for a couple of weeks. As such, I also owe you all lots of Classic Video Game Mondays. Derp.
Exciting news, though, if you are one of the two people who haven’t heard yet because I’ve posted/shouted this everywhere. A publisher… a real, live publisher… has the manuscript to that novel I wrote a year or so back. Yes, they liked the query letter and synopsis I sent them and now they’re reading my book. It’s got me terrified and it’s giving me the weirdest nightmares about sudden random major errors in my book that I forgot to fix.
ANYWAYS, if everything goes well, they’ll like what they read, and hopefully this will eventually lead to physical copies of this mythical Pike Project that I’ve been dropping hints about for so long.
Oh, and my apologies if this turns into a Writing Blog for a while. I was attempting to dump all of my Writing Rambles in one spot, namely another blog that no one reads– which is fine, since a lot of my rambling is for my own benefit more than anything– but sometimes I get that itching for feedback, so you might see some stuff here, as well.
TODAY’S WRITING RAMBLE: Writing down a story is like pulling a tooth. It just sits there and bothers you until you go through the painful process of pulling it out, which sucks, but then it feels a lot better when it’s out.
(“Weird Metaphors” is my middle name.)
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Editing was a difficult beast to wrangle with. I’m not sure if it’s because there was no real National Novel Editing Month graph to ride my butt, or if it actually was simply more difficult, but I’ve basically been locking horns with editing for the last six months. (By contrast, the actual writing process took about a month and a half.)
Now that I’m gearing down on editing and getting ready to actually move on to the scariest part of the writing process– publication– I have compiled a list of things I wish I had known, well, six months ago. By popular demand!
1.) Print It Out
Reading your book on the computer is, on the one hand, very handy because it means if something needs to be changed you can do it right away and eliminate the middleman, so to speak. The drawback to this is that if you change something, and then on the next page realize why you did what you originally did, you have to go back and change it back. (And yes, this happened to me a lot.)
But the main villain here, in my opinion, is distraction. If you are at your computer then you have e-mail and Twitter and everything else sitting right there distracting you. So unless you can turn off the internet or have rock solid willpower, print your book out, put it in a binder, and take it somewhere comfy with some pens and post-its. Speaking of post-its…
2.) Post-It Notes are Awesome
During my first editing pass, I just scribbled my notes and changes in the margins of my printed copy. This seemed to be the logical, straight-forward way to do it, and it worked fairly well. I noticed something interesting, though– namely I started to stumble across more and more writing sites that suggested using something like index cards or Post-It notes during the editing process. I wasn’t sure why they were suggesting it, but it seemed like a legit idea, so I tried it out with my latest editing take.
Pretty much immediately I realized why everyone was making Post-Its such a big deal. Aside from giving you more space to write your ideas down on, the real benefit becomes clear during the actual editing process on your computer, allowing you to quickly and easily flip ahead to the next Post-It, do your change, and then pull it out. No more having to wonder if you already performed a change or not, because your Post-It actually isn’t there anymore if you did. I dunno, I thought it was a great idea.
And everyone loves Post-Its, right?
3.) Your Book Does Not Suck
This syndrome seems to afflict a lot of people who write & edit so I am going to warn you all about it right now. What happens is you see all the problems that your book has, so you convince yourself that you are a horrible writer and have accomplished nothing of worth and it’s the end of the world as you know it and you don’t feel fine.
Okay, well, I suppose there is a possibility that all of the above is true, since I don’t know your writing abilities, nebulous readership, but I like to assume the best, so let’s assume it’s not true. Convincing yourself of this is harder than it would seem. This is what I did to pull myself out of a rather pessimistic slump:
I pulled out one of my favorite books of all time and started reading. Because I was still in hardcore editing mode, I hadn’t hit the bottom of the first page before I found stuff I wanted to change and “fix”. At this point I came to the conclusion: You know what, if I want to scribble in red pen all over one of my favorite books, which got published, by the way, then my own stuff can’t be too bad.
Try it out if you hit your own editing slump. You will be surprised how many books are abandoned and not completed.
4.) Test Readers are Valuable but Not Gospel
This one was difficult for me to balance out. See, you’re riding a fine line here by reading test readers’ comments. Some of their comments are actual things that you should probably change, and some of their comments are opinion, and learning to sort out which is which will probably eventually come down to a.) how many other readers shared said thought, and b.) gut instinct.
Basically, you don’t have to incorporate every suggested change, but you don’t want to ignore them, either. Let new ideas that your readers suggested percolate in your brain for a while. Play with them and see if you can do anything with them. Learn to ignore your initial defense strategy of “I can’t believe they didn’t like [insert element of book here]” and figure out why they possibly didn’t like it and if it would be worth it for you to change it.
Also, remember your demographic. If you are writing a kids’ book, see if you can get actual kids to read it and then put more stock in their feedback.
Another tip: compile all the positive feedback you get into a text file somewhere and read it when you’re feeling down. Works wonders. (Thanks to Tami for this suggestion!)
5.) Don’t Spend Too Much Time Comparing Yourself to Other People
Millions of people want to write the next Harry Potter. We sit around and dream of movie deals and gigantic online fan communities making wikis for our book universe. And you know, it’s a very nice dream and an admirable (if a bit luck-based) goal. But that doesn’t mean you should try to change your book to make it more Harry Potter-ish. Now you’re probably thinking, “of course I wouldn’t do that!” but lemme tell ya, when you’re tired and you’re knee-deep in editing and your frazzled brain just wants this whole nightmare to be over and that dream of being the next J.K. Rowling dangles itself in front of your eyes again, you will be sorely tempted to change your word count or change your demographic or change something to make it more like [insert dream book here]. Because your subconscious figures it’s your best chance to climb out of the editing hellhole.
It is 100% okay to be influenced by your favorite books. It’s 100% okay to include homages to things that inspired you. I went in to my book wanting something that felt like the “His Dark Materials” series, not in plot or character, but in general feel, for lack of a better word. I wanted something that was science-fiction-ish without being afraid to do a few things that veered more toward the fantastic. As such, one of the greatest moments of reader feedback for me was someone who didn’t know that this was my intent, telling me they got a “His Dark Materials” vibe from my book. Gosh, what a rush when I read that. I knew I had succeeded in at least one of my goals.
It’s okay to have a goal like that. You just want to be careful that your desire to emulate your favorite authors doesn’t consume your own creation. If you think back to a lot of the books you like, I bet a lot of them were different. Being different is scary, because you don’t know if the publisher is going to like “different”. But think about something like “Watership Down”. You can bet the publishers were scared to publish “talking rabbits”, but now it’s one of the most popular books ever. And as an aside, has anyone else noticed the deluge of talking-animals-with-their-own-vocabulary-and-mythology books that mysteriously appeared soon after “Watership Down” did? I read a few. None of them were as popular, though, because they didn’t really do their own thing.
Let your story and characters be who they are. Comparison will come later.
And hopefully your comparison does not involve either of these two things.
Well, that’s it for the “Five Things I Wish I Had Known Before [verb-ing] My Book” posts, at least until I get published, at which point I plan on finishing the series. Might, uh, be a few years… don’t hold your breath for the next installment anytime soon… *cough*
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“Write a book” is one of those things that is on most everyone’s list of things they’d like to do at some point in their life, so much so that it’s almost become cliche, itself. Well as most everyone knows by now, I’ve written a few, and while I can’t claim to speak for the professional side of things seeing as I have not yet been published or anything, a lot of people still seem to be interested in the process I’ve gone through because they want to do NaNoWriMo or whatever. So here is my list of five things I wish I’d known beforehand, in the event that it helps anyone else! <3
1.) NaNo/Deadlines are AWESOME
When I was about, oh, 14 years old or so, my parents gave me a watch. It was accompanied by a little ceremonial sort of thing wherein I was informed that the present was because they knew I always made good use of my time. I don’t remember anything about said watch, I don’t recall what it looked like or even where it is now, but it was my first real “grown up” watch and I wore it everywhere, and thus launched both an obsession as well as the terrible feeling of nakedness I have if I am not wearing one.
Going without a wristwatch for a week while waiting for this thing to arrive was utter torture.
I digress, though. The point is that looking back on it I have no idea what my parents were on about when they said I made good use of my time. I really don’t. I mean yeah, I generally have a good idea of what time it is, because I am an incessant clockwatcher, but then I procrastinate… and procrastinate… and procrastinate…
Enter NaNoWriMo, which not only throws a deadline at you, but peer pressure, too. I dunno about you, but for me, this is a dangerously effective combination. NaNoWriMo’s little daily-word-count graph prodded me into writing 50,000 words in 28 days, all while I was working a full time job and trying to keep up with my WoW blog. In contrast, the seed of “Windshifter” had been percolating in my brain for at least a decade, through countless summer vacations before I even had a job. All that time to write, and I didn’t, because I had no motivation.
It’s funny because I had heard of NaNo before but never participated, primarily because I didn’t like the idea of having one’s creativity confined to a timeline. It sort of bothered my inner free-spirit-artist. Never again will I doubt, though.
Now, I will say that NaNo does not work for everyone. I know of some people for whom the deadline is a serious hindrance or distraction. But keep in mind that I felt that way, too, until I actually tried it. Any aspiring writer who has trouble with motivation should give this a shot at least once, in my opinion. If it works for you, the results will be amazing.
2.) Have an Outline
When I wrote my book for NaNo I quite honestly made it up as I went along. While a few of the characters had technically existed in my brain for years, they were completely revamped for this book, as was the entire story and even the setting of the story. The idea of my book when I started writing was very different than how it ended up being.
…somehow it managed to turn out all right (hopefully), but a lot of editing was needed to hammer everything into place. This all would have been a much smoother process if I’d had a basic outline (even just a couple sentences) that I was working off of, instead of just a nebulous concept.
3.) (If you want to be published) Don’t Just Write For “Everyone”
If you are one of those people who is of the mindset that your book is for whoever wants to read it, regardless of age, then congratulations, you are just like me and like tons of respected authors. The trick, though, is that publishers and literary agents don’t see it that way (did you know there are a such thing as “literary agents”? I sure didn’t, until I had actually finished my book. GG, me!)
I have come to the conclusion that you have to sort of balance the belief that your book can be for everyone but can still be marketed to a specific audience, because that latter one there is what the publisher is looking for. This is more complicated than one might expect, because for example, did you know that there is a type of novel known as “middle grade”? Yeah I didn’t know that either, until a couple months ago. From what I understand it’s the type of stuff you read in middle school. Well I look back at the type of stuff I read in middle school (Watership Down, His Dark Materials, etc.) and most of it falls into the “But that was a pretty deep book that I still enjoy as an adult” category, further muddling things up. As you can see, this whole thing can be pretty complicated.
As such, I wish I had known all of this before I started writing. I don’t think it would substantially change my book, but it might have helped to focus it a bit and perhaps given me some inspiration from similar books.
Man, this book is just an allegory for Linux! Pike must've written it.
4.) Your Main Character Needs Some Sort of Tangible Personal Problem/Character Arc
For the first draft of my book I went off of the idea that my main character was sort of a socially awkward geekface, and that would be his character flaw. Unfortunately I got some feedback that this didn’t work very well, because while being a socially awkward geekface is all well and good, it’s not really a tangible flaw, unless he stops being a socially awkward geekface at the end (which he really didn’t.)
Readers don’t really buy it unless the character has an actual flaw that manifests itself throughout the book and which said character learns from or corrects by the end. It sounds pedestrian and like something you’d see on saturday morning cartoons but there is a reason it’s pedestrian, and that’s because that’s really how stories work.
I managed to get away with this problem in the first draft because I had a secondary character (who I think could be argued as the “true” main character of the story) with lots of Emotional Baggage so I think I was able to keep the audience’s interest that way, but that is tricky to pull off and I think it’s best to make the most prominent character of your story have his own character arc.
And so here I am again doing tons of editing with a big ol’ scalpel which could have been prevented if I had planned this from the start!
5.) Ask Your Characters Questions
This is one of those ones that probably sounds either silly or insane, but it is endlessly useful. Learn how to pretend that your characters are real and that you are interviewing or chatting with them. Ask why they are helping your hero, or what their motivation is for doing some plot point that happens seemingly out of nowhere. This will help tons in the long run not only for making realistic characters but also for making your inevitable deus ex machinas seem not quite so deus ex machina-ish.
Welp, I hope that list was of some use to someone out there. NaNoWriMo is coming quick and it’s never too early to get a headstart on thinking about it. Regardless on if you plan on participating or not (and yes, I fully intend on doing it again… I want to make this a yearly thing from here on out, seriously), happy writing! <3
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It’s really weird to think how far we’ve come. How you started as a seed of an idea during middle school roleplaying sessions, went through this crazy metamorphosis last year, and turned into something even I wasn’t expecting. You are sort of what I wanted you to be and sort of not really what I wanted you to be, because at some point you took on a life of your own.
Of course, like any proud parent, I now tote hypothetical photographs of you around in my virtual wallet. Livejournal, Twitter, and the Brass Goggles Forums are, I’m sure, sick of hearing my constant allusions to you. I can’t help it though, really, when you’re always there in the back of my mind, poking me and reminding me that you’re still alive. (And believe me, you are still alive).
Re-reading you over and over and over again is always a bit of an adventure, and sometimes I’m struck by how little of you has changed since I dumped words onto a page for NaNoWriMo– when I mixed up two parts alphabet soup and one part primordial ooze in a blender and then poured it all over Open Office in the hopes that it would somehow sort itself out into something at least halfway interesting– and ya know, you didn’t do too badly when it came to sorting yourself out.
The definition of “What You Are” is rather less straightforward, though, and I’ll confess that the answer isn’t always a positive one. In fact, it usually isn’t. Occasionally I’ll think that you’re not too shabby, but then I read you again and I wonder: who wants to read a mess that came out of the blender of my brain? You are a pile of problems, that’s what you are. Problems that no one would ever want to read.
Of course, then you laugh at me and inform me that All Problems Can Be Solved, and go back to sitting quietly in the back of my head, waiting for me to actually start working on you again.
Those unicorns can't be trusted.
So, Book, we match wits again. You don’t make this easy, but as you like to remind me, you don’t learn anything from a problem that is too easy to solve.
Besides, anything involving airships can’t be all that bad. Right?
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