Archive for category Writing
Last post, I talked about the increasing popularity of series, novellas, shorts and “episodic” writing. Of course, this assertion probably stirred panic in those writers who simply aren’t wired to write series. Personally, I would like to try writing a series, but we’ll see. I might be a stand-alone gal, too.
Let me offer a bit of comfort. The rule that we shouldn’t write to the market still holds true in this case. Just like we shouldn’t decide to write a Vampire-Post-Apacolyptic-Self-Help because those are hot, we shouldn’t take on shorts or series if they aren’t our thing.
Epics, Shorts, and Series are NOT New
What many people might miss is that epics and shorts are not new. With the advent of the nifty thingamajig—the “printing press”—pamphlets were all the rage back in the 1800s. In fact, if we look at early writing, we see two very divergent sizes. On the end of brevity? Ben Franklin Poor Man’s Almanac or even Sir Author Conan Doyle’s short stories. The deep end? The breathtakingly-long-and-detailed-OMG War and Peace by Tolstoy—which demonstrates clearly that, when an author is paid by the word, he will pad that sucker more than a freshman term paper.
Even Charles Dickens danced both sides of the length-spectrum. A Christmas Carol versus A Tale of Two Cities.
In the early 20th century, pulp fiction was extremely popular. People loved short works that fit in a pocket, ergo, the term “pocket books.” But, as the traditional publishing model evolved and books became bigger business, publishers realized they could charge more money for a longer book. This didn’t mean the audience for short stories and novellas suddenly went away. It had more to do with a business model than reader preferences.
We see the same with epic high fantasy and science fiction. When I was a kid, books big enough to brain a burglar were hot. Um, Clan of the Cave Bear? Ah, but the publishers realized that long books presented a couple of problems.
First, if the word count got too big, the font was so small readers needed a microscope to read it. Secondly, a big fat honkin’ book took up a LOT of shelf space. Why would a publisher bank on FIVE 140,000 word books when they could encourage writers to limit word count and be able to shelve and sell TEN 70,000 word books?
But again, shelf space, cost of paper/shipping/shelving, profit-models didn’t mean that readers who loved 140,000 book died off or evaporated.
The Digital Paradigm Revival
When I began as a writer, agents were quick to turn down short stories, novellas, epics, poetry, etc. It wasn’t because there weren’t readers for these types of writing; it was that the profit simply wasn’t there in a paper-based-brick-and-mortar model. And, to be blunt, I can’t blame New York. I remember being a young whipper snapper inhaling Tolkien, but my eyes were better.
By the time I reached my adult years, reading 1200 pages with 9 font was far too grueling.
The e-reader has solved this problem. It’s made short works profitable. For those who are great at writing shorter works or serialized works, you can now access the audience that loves them and in a way that doesn’t automatically land you in the red.
For those who are strong at more epic fiction, now you can either publish one long book or break it into installments. I know I never would have been able to read Game of Thrones in paper without going BLIND. With my Kindle? I can now enjoy those super long adventures I adored in my youth.
Yes, there is a lot of chaos, confusion and growing pains as the publishing world shifts and grows and molts the old skin that no longer fits. In the midst of this, however, there is now room for more writers, more works, and more types of work, which should be very encouraging.
Also, writers can now enjoy far greater flexibility. Sure, if you want to publish traditionally, you can! But if you have the right contract, there is nothing stopping you from writing shorts or novellas or series or testing other genres in between books if you want to. Keep the fan fires burning in between.
There is ALWAYS an Audience
If you want to write stand-alones only? Great. Do it. That is your strength. Don’t feel that because series are hot you need to suddenly retool everything. There is just as much of an audience for the stand-alone as there is for the shorter or way longer stuff. The only difference is that publishing has been feeding your audience for the past couple decades, whereas those who liked super-short or uber-long had to read older books or look to magazines or e-zines.
If you DO, however, want to write a series, there are some fundamentals to ensure that your plot skeleton is strong and compelling. Plot is the delivery mechanism for character. Our characters can only be as strong as the problems they face.
Last post I talked about loving Battlestar Galactica. I can SEE why this series is so iconic. Hubby and I went back and watched Caprica because we were interested in what happened before the Cylon revolt. How did the Cylons come to be? The first few episodes? LOVED them. Now? I can see why the series wasn’t renewed. The overall plot problem is too small and too weak. There is no impending threat, so the series, for me, is fizzling.
Also, without a BIG and COMPELLING story problem, the individual characters aren’t as strong. The pressure is weak, thus the characters are too. Instead of truly heroic feats, I am seeing more and more melodrama and getting to where I hate almost everyone. Why? Because in Battlestar Galactica characters did awful, bad and stupid things, but we could forgive them. They were running for their lives and staring into the face of extinction. The story PROBLEM permitted us to give them grace.
In Caprica there is no large problem so this makes the characters petty and unlikable. Also, in Battlestar Galactica we knew the log-line. The human race must destroy or evade the Cylons and find Earth before they are rendered extinct by their own creation.
The audience in ONE SENTENCE knows the story, whether it is three episodes or thirty. GOAL: Find Earth. Every setback that keeps Earth out of reach or dashes hope of even finding Earth or any hint Earth might not exist makes us nervous. It is true dramatic tension.
Caprica? Once I got an idea of how the Cylons came to be? I grew bored. There is NO imminent threat, no crucible, no idea of an overall problem in need of solving. Each episode is just “stuff happening.” It is breaking one of the core rules of a good series. Every episode should be able to stand alone. Every episode should have a clear smaller goal that is a step toward reaching the larger goal.
And, to be blunt, Caprica might simply be facing the problem most prequels have. We already know the end. We already know the Cylons will rebel and wage war and nearly wipe out humans. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy I watched Caprica because now I understand the Cylons more and the humans sorta deserved what they got. But, it is tough to have a ticking clock and a disaster to be averted when the audience already knows the humans will “lose.”
Whether we write short works, long works, in-between works, serialized or unserialized, the same “rules” apply. We’ll talk more later about how to write a strong series, but a great start no matter what kind of story—short, long, in-between, connected, unconnected—is to create a clear, compelling, story-worthy problem.
What are your thoughts? Do you have series that fizzled for you for the same reasons? There wasn’t a strong problem or a clear problem? Can you think of stories you loved versus ones that lost your interest because it devolved into confusion or melodrama? Are you contemplating a series? Why?
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To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
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The world around us is always pushing this notion of “perfection” and, I don’t know about you, but sometimes I wonder what “reality” looks like. All the models are tall and thin and young with poofy lips (and men have their own variety of the super model stereotype). They have fabulous clothes and new cars and go on expensive vacations.
Even our homes! When I look around my house that’s littered with toys, my sink full of dishes and two baskets full of laundry (even though I just DID laundry) I wonder what a real home is supposed to look like? Where do I fit? Sure NOT on Pinterest.
Granted, there are areas I KNOW I am slacking (*cough* Christmas tree is STILL standing) and let’s not talk about the state of my drawers and closets. But, I generally (when the washer ISN’T broken) wash the sheets 1-2 times a week. I make the beds. I clean the toilets all the time because Spawn is 4 and we are still working on AIM.
But I am nowhere near the homes in magazines or on TV, even though I live in an apron. I will never wear skinny jeans and I am unwilling to go into crushing debt to keep up with a world who portrays a “reality” that is geared to make me emotional, make me feel inferior and therefore buy stuff. Or work more, do more, more, more, more.
Why do I bring this up?
Because perfect is an illusion. There is no such thing. Our society has gotten into this GO BIG OR GO HOME attitude, and sure, that might be okay in one or two aspects of our lives…but ALL OF IT? I cannot look like a fitness model, write 4 novels a year, have perfect social media, make crafts with my kid, volunteer, drive a BMW and have a house that should be featured on HGTV.
Maybe you can. I can’t and won’t. Not worth it.
Thus, we need to list our priorities and it is okay to let the other stuff be less than perfect. But, in light of this argument, I also want to say this isn’t a pass to be lazy or mediocre. We should strive for that nice healthy balance. When we get out of balance, something or someone will suffer. I have to be careful I don’t get so focused on writing and business and cleaning that I forget to be a mom.
I have to take out time to run with Spawn through the house with NERF guns looking for zombies. The dishes will be there. I know. I’ve tested this hoping they’d disappear but they apparently mated and made more.
You want to be a writer? Great. Here’s the good news. If you’re writing, you’re already a writer so stop the angst. Just do it. This is one of the reasons I am such a huge fan of blogging. Writers write.
My mom can post on Facebook and The Spawn has been known to tweet, but neither of them blog….because they aren’t writers. Blogging is training for the professional pace.
Blogging is THE most stable form of social media and it trains us to be better writers. We can write leaner, meaner, faster and commit. No Writer Warden is going to show up and take us to jail if we don’t blog/write. To be professional, we have to be good at keeping and meeting self-imposed deadlines. Not only does blogging make us better writers and create a stable platform, it also trains those self-discipline muscles.
Even if you don’t blog, commit to writing something daily. Write a 100 words, then work up to 200 then 500. When I started, 1000 words was SO HARD, so I started with 100, but it was a beginning and we all start somewhere. The trick is to START.
I’ve read writing books and inspirational/leadership books that I wanted to punch. The last leadership book I read, the author talked about the importance of taking time to think, how he goes to his office and just sits in the quiet and thinks for an hour by himself in his special thinking chair. How cute.
I can’t even go PEE alone. 99% of the time, I have two cats and a dog fighting for attention while The Spawn hits me with a sword or begs me to help him level up on Angry Birds.
Can I JUST go to the BATHROOM….ALONE?
Whenever I hear of an author who recommends traveling to a location for a book and staying there a month or two to absorb the experience? I think, “Sure. Uh huh.” And this isn’t to be negative, because I do have that as a goal. But, for most of us, that won’t be reality for a long time, if ever. But we still have to get the words on the page. We might have to use Google Earth, Google Images, or tweet a friend in the UK to help be our eyes and help us with setting and dialogue.
And the point of all of this is the best time to do anything is NOW. Just something. Don’t wait to be perfect. Just start. Baby steps are steps and one of the reasons I feel so many of us fail is because we buy into the lie that those tiny steps don’t count. That if we can’t GO BIG, we aren’t trying hard enough. That’s ridiculous and wrong.
Learn to SHIP
Blogging trains perfection out of us. Ship. Too many blogs falter and countless books are never finished because we’re too focused on perfection. There’s no perfect book. I could win a Pulitzer and still have people who hate my book.
Finished books are far more valuable than perfect ones.
The house? Hey, if I can keep from making an episode of Hoarders? Score! Sure, my goal is to organize a drawer a
day, week…ok month. But I can make my bed. My finances? My goal is to be completely debt free. I can start by not making more debt. For instance, I’m going to the Laundromat until I can save for a new washer.
I already eat clean, because I have a zillion food allergies. But, I haven’t been working out like I used to. Why? Because I was an IDIOT. I was caught up in the GO BIG OR GO HOME and gave myself such bad tendonitis that I had to lay off all exercise, other than maybe walking or yoga, for over a YEAR to fully heal.
I decided this weekend to revisit the p90X workout. I’ve done it before but I pushed too hard and injured myself. This morning, even though The Spawn was up all night and I had no sleep, I got up to my alarm and started. Did I do the whole thing perfectly? Nope. Was kind of a flabby train wreck, but I did it.
The trick to all of this is to:
- Contemplate what is TRULY important. Might have to sacrifice the immaculate house for a finished novel.
- Make a plan and one that is BALANCED. Somewhere between mediocrity and insanity is a nice happy place.
- Give permission for failure. Failure teaches far more than success ever has.
- Learn to ship.
- Be a finisher. My mantra is “The world rewards finishers not perfection.”
- Finish small and eventually we’ll finish big.
- Just start. If we have a hiccup? Life blows up? Just start again. Simple.
I want all of you to reach your dreams and still have sanity, friends and a happy relationship/marriage/family. No perfectly clean house, no amount of money, no number of best-selling books can take the place of what’s really important. But, beyond that? REACH.
Ignore a world that’s out to tell you you aren’t trying hard enough and you aren’t good enough. YOU ARE. One foot in front of the other and celebrate the little things, because all the universe is constructed of tiny things ;).
The largest, brightest star is still made up of tiny atoms of Hydrogen and Helium. Every book is made up of a combination of 26 letters. Every healthy body is the cumulation of small, sound choices. Baby steps. Relish them and celebrate them.
Anyway, what are your thoughts? Where do you struggle? Are you bad about All-or-Nothing Thinking, too? Do you tend to go to extremes, either overdoing or being a tool slacker (raises hand)? What ways do you keep yourself pushing on? How do you handle setbacks?
I LOVE hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of February, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
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