Sunday, September 27, 2020

Plot and Character: the good kind of codependency


Henry James said, “What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?”

 

You go Henry.

 

 I suppose I had vague notions of the connection between plot and character not long after I began writing. John Gardner tried to tell me in his books on writing—classics often used in writing classes and used in one I took in college-- and I’m sure others did too, including myself.  Maybe I even understood, on an intellectual level, that there needed to be a connection.

 

But it was Robert Olen Butler that really got through to me with his talk about a character’s desire driving the plot of a novel or story. It made me think of character in a different way. Yes you had to develop the layers of a character, her history, her inner-life, attitudes, relationships to others, their world, their wants, their needs and desires (especially as relates to the story they’re in) and more. BUT this idea that plot and character were entwined was crucial to my development  as a writer.

http://www.robertolenbutler.com/

 

But here’s my crucial point—one that was a big part of my pushing forward as a writer. Character is not separate from plot. What a character does, she does because of who she is—how she sees herself & her world and what she wants and what she needs-- and what she does as a result of these desires causes things to happen to her and creates story.  She’s acting because she wants something or wants to avoid something BADLY (you need the badly; you need it to matter. If it does, then it will matter to the reader.).

 

The interplay between these two—character and narrative drive—in both small and large ways builds both character and story.

 

TAKEAWAY--You build character in many ways but one way helps you build story as well. What does your character want, desire, need? What gets in the way? That friction develops character and creates conflict which drives plot.

 

Thanks for reading. Also, I’m giving away my latest novel—A True Story from a Parallel Universe—on amazon on Wednesday, September 30. If you’d like a free copy on that day only— 

 

https://tinyurl.com/yynbj8qg

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Publishing A True Story from a Parallel Universe, publishing adventure month 1, launch advice


 

MY FIRST MONTH. I independently published for the first time about a month ago. How did it go? What is my most important piece of advice to someone who is launching their book?

 

Highlights of my first month: *A small audio publisher offered me a contract (with advance) to record and sell my novel. So, my audio will be published by them. I didn’t think I would have an audio so that’s pretty cool. *I decided (so much fun to say that because in traditional publishing you don’t get to decide much about publishing decisions) to have three free days during my launch when I gave away my novel and these got my novel on the Amazon bestseller free list--#40 overall & #1 on several special lists like Humorous Fantasy. *I gave away over 4500 copies in three days—which gave me a lot of exposure* I already have ten reviews on amazon—good reviews mostly, 4.4/5 avg. The bump of free giveaways seems to have helped me keep weeks of steady sales. Nothing spectacular but I went from no sales for the first few days before launch (no one knew the novel was there) to big launch numbers and steady sales since . Kindle reads have also been good, which helps because the subscription service pays by page reads. So overall it was a successful month. I was happy with my start.

 

There is a ton of things to learn about self-publishing and I’ve only been at it for a few months. I’ve used a lot of online free sources and several free short courses (meant to lure you in to pay for the longer and expensive—to me—courses). So far I haven’t paid for any courses but the five sources I’ve used most all offer courses and I imagine I will take one when I feel grounded in the basics of publishing. And if pushed, I might advise the new independent writer to wait, learn from the wealth of free materials online and get the publishing vocabulary down before you decide which course or courses to invest in. I say this, in part, because none of them are particularly cheap. The following are the sources I’ve used the most: Mark Dawson, Joanna Penn, David Gaughran, Nick Stephenson, and Dave Chesson. I’m sure there are many more but these have educated me a lot on the  business and art of independent publication. These all have many podcasts, youtubes, and books as well as courses.

 

One of the big problems every new author faces is how to get readers to know your book even exists. If you just publish it without any strategy you may end up with a launch no one attends—even if you do offer your book for free. We’re talking launch ghost town here. So my advice is that you get eyes on your book so it has a chance to be read. How do you do that?

 

There are various possibilities. But if, like me, you don’t have an email list or much of a platform and if you are new to all this, my advice is you try email subscribers. Putting your book up for free helps get you traffic. However you won’t have downloads if people can’t see your book. Email subscribers are most helpful when you offer your book for free or a deep discount—0.99 cents. These lists send out emails to their subscribers—tens of thousands or in the case of the best one, Bookbub, millions. They send them to specific readers that have filled out forms saying which genres of books they like to read, so in most cases you can hit your target audience. You pay to be on their lists, though I believe there are a few free ones. Some are more expensive than others. Bookbub—the largest charges the most and has the most subscribers and is difficult to get a place on but also can have great benefits.

 

Here are some others. The first three on this list  below are larger. They range from about $30-$80, depending on your genre, to get on their lists. The five after are cheaper-- $10-25 to get on their lists. These are only a few of the lists. There are many more. Look around online. 

 

I used the lists below in my launch and was able to get a lot downloads. One thing to remember—your cover has to be good, your blurb interesting and enticing, and the book itself well-written or exposure won’t help. But assuming these are all good, then these sites can be a good way to get some eyes on your book and get some readers who, in turn, will leave reviews and help you get more readers.

§   Booksends.com and EreaderIQ,  BookRaidEbookSoda Ebook Betty 

 

I know—believe me---it’s hard to give your book away after you’ve slaved over writing it for many months or years. But if no one can find your book then no one will see it. I wanted readers. Your goals may be different and you might use a different strategy, but if you want to find readers the combination of offering a free book and email subscriptions can be a good way to go.

 

Hope this helps you get started! 

 

Good writing…and publishing

Friday, August 21, 2020

REVISION TIPS

 REVISION TIPS

 

Tip number one is that you can’t really see your manuscript problems without distance. So after you have a solid first draft it’s helpful to get some perspective. Put it away. Take at least a week off  but a few weeks or a month might be better. You need the time so when you come back you have distance.

 

Tip two is a tip I read in Rachel Aaron’s 2K-10K. It’s about approach and it’s really been a big help to me. Work through the manuscript focusing on different problems. Start with the big problems. Like, for example, the motivation of a character is weak or the progression of a plot point isn’t clear or maybe not fully developed or an element of setting isn’t believable.  You identify these big problem. THEN---and this is the R. Aaron idea that was really helpful to me—you work on each problem separately. You don’t work through the manuscript in a linear way. You try to really focus on one problem at a time. Say you work on the motivation of one character. You work through chapter 1, 8, 19, 22 etc.… if that is where the character’s POV is or where the characters main scenes are. You just focus on this problem and then you go onto the next one. Like mentioned in an earlier post, I suggest you write out a bit of thinking (freewriting) on the scene you’re working on before you start it. This will really help you hit the main problems in a way that will keep you focused and engaged.

 

Tip three—focus on other aspects of the manuscript that you know need work but didn’t address in the previous big picture work. Maybe tightening dialogue or some aspect of setting you know isn’t quite right or description that needs more or less. Some writers overwrite. If you’re this kind of writer, maybe you go through one time just looking for places where you can cut. Some writers underwrite. If you’re this kind of writer maybe you go through one time just looking for windows—places where you can add to a scene or description. AGAIN –don’t force yourself to revise in a linear way. Work on whatever interests and excites you that day.

 

Tip four---change font. Print out a copy. This will help you keep a fresh look at the work. Now work through the manuscript in a linear way..

 

 

Tip five—Go through at least once looking for ways to improve language and whatever you can catch. This will probably be several passes. In the last one try to work on grammar.

 

Tip six--Give it to someone else—maybe several people---to get feedback. You’ll need it. Rework after considering feedback.

 

Revision is a gift. We can’t revise our lives in this way, but luckily we can revise our stories. 

Keep writing.






Saturday, August 1, 2020

WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR IDEAS? AND AN IDEA FOR A NOVEL


 

Most fiction writers write from a parallel universe. We drop into an altered reality by using written words to create whole worlds, people, and stories about those people. It all comes from thin air. Or does it? 

 

I started my novel playing with this idea about imagination. It’s not much of a thought, not developed in any way, but you don’t need much, just a spark. What this spark has to have, what’s essential, is that it’s enough to catch fire. 

 

But when readers ask writers where their ideas come from (some come up with elaborate stories, some just fall back on claiming the Idea Store and so on), they’re really asking where the initial spark comes from. No one knows. Here’s Neil Gaiman on where he gets his ideas. Spoiler alert. HE DOESN’T KNOW. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-C48jAkVlI0

 

 

My advice to writers is trust your intuition. Brainstorm. Come up with many ideas. Find one that will catch fire.  In other words find one that you have enthusiasm for. The characters and setting and story will come if you you’re excited about your story and you can keep that excitement. I’m not saying it will be great or even good novel but I am saying you will likely finish it. That’s a big step and a fine accomplishment. If you finish a work, you have a chance to make it the novel you hope it will be when you start.

 

In my new novel, A True Story from a Parallel Universe, I began with thinking I would write a true story from another universe because who, given our current restrictions on travel, could say it wasn't? Then I wanted that world to be different and interesting. So I did the what if question-- what if there was a world where any creature, fantastic or otherwise, that our creators of myths, books, and movies have imagined were real? I could have fun with that. Off the top of my head I thought of vampires, zombies, wizards, witches, ghosts, characters from Greek myths, Egyptian myths, legends like Big Foot, but as I wrote  I came up with many more. What if they were just natural to that world?

I started with this idea and with the idea of a main character who would have supernatural abilities but wouldn't know he had them at the beginning of the novel. Often I start with just a little thought about character and setting and tone and I'm off. The tone for this would be humorous--a little goofy, a little dark in places. My favorite funny people--those who do it for a living and those who do it just because they do--are the ones who mix a little serious in with their funny. One of my favorites right now who does it for a living is Russell Brand. He’s got this goofy absurdism about him—his delivery and his riffs—but there’s something more—astute observations about people and all kinds of things that give his comedy a little bite. All in good fun but it’s there.

 

So I had a spark, and developed a few ideas about character, a little about tone, a little about setting. I was excited. That got me started on my process for working on story and I was off. The result is this novel.

 

Thanks for reading my blog. Here’s a link to my novel. I’m launching this week so I’m discounting it down ito 99 cents thru Saturday and giving it away for free  next Sunday, August 9 and Monday 10. https://www.amazon.com/Story-Parallel-Universe-Detective-Agencyebook/dp/B08DYFYL9Q/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Brian+Yansky+A+True+Story+from+a+Parallel+Universe&qid=1596311023&sr=8-1

 

 

Keep writing.


Sunday, July 19, 2020

How to Begin a Novel

How to Begin a Novel

 

One school of thought to beginning a novel is do not plan or you’ll smother the life right out of your story. Discovery write. Put words on the page Think of it as puking on paper  (not the most enticing image, but there you have it.) And this method works great for some people. In the other corner would be those who want you to plot it all out. Often these hardcore outliners want you to plan not just the plot but also setting and character and then break  plot up—write out subplots and  chapters and scenes all in outline form. They think if you get this whole design down on paper you will know where you’re going all the time. You won’t get lost. To the Discovery writer getting lost is  the point since they think getting lost will lead to interesting places. They know they’ll have to revise a lot and they don’t care. The outliner is appalled. How can a person not know where they’re going when they don’t know where they’re trying to end up? Chaos. Absolute chaos. Order is how you efficiently get from point A to point B better known as beginning to end. Boring, the Discovery writer thinks. If you aren’t excited and discovering things as you write your reader won’t be excited by your writer either. 

 

An example of an outliner  extraordinaire would be John Irving—bestseller and winner of numerous awards for books like The World According to Garp and Owen Meany and many others. He swears by detailed plotting of a book. He says he spends anywhere from 6 months to a year and a half just planning his novels.. He begins his outline at the end and works his way back to the beginning. BUT 6 months to 18 months! Then he writes. And he writes great books. They take him years to write but they’re good.

 

In response to John Irving’s method of detailed plotting before writing a word of his novel Stephen King has said that though Irving writes great books he can’t imagine writing a book that way. If he knew where he was going it would take all the fun out of the trip. He does not plot at all. He starts with just an idea of a character and situation and off he goes into the night.

 

Both of these methods have plenty of true-believers. So which is it? Who is right? 

 

Therein lies the rub. They’re both right. And they’re both wrong. Because the truth is you have to find what works for you, your method, and then go with that. If you’re completely new to writing you should try out both or versions of both that give emphasis to one side or the other. If you’ve been writing for a while and you feel like things are not working—you’re just not getting where you need to go—then maybe it’s time to try to take at least some lessons from the other side of the writing process spectrum. Add some outlining to your discovery or some discovery to your outline. 

 

That’s what I’ve done.

 

In my experience most writers do come to a process that isn’t completely discovery or completely outlining but does lean strongly one way or the other. 

 

So my process has changed and these changes have made me a better and faster writer. I am a big consumer of writing about writing so a lot of my process comes from things I’ve read, advice taken from here or there from other approaches, and my own trial and error. 

 

I used to do a points on the map kind of outline which is what it sounds like. You have an idea where you’re going to end up in your novel. You have an idea where you’re going to begin. You plot out a few points in between. You’re on your way. I did this in a very limited way. I scribbled out a few ideas. I didn’t pay much attention to them once I got writing. They were more like brainstorming.

 

I still do a version of this but now it is much more detailed and I put some thought into those points. Just this one change has saved me a lot of time and helped me feel more confident about my fist draft.

 

EM Forster famously wrote, “How can I know what I think until  I see what I say.” He likely wasn’t the first to express this notion but he spoke for many writers. I NEED to write things down to understand and dig into the story I’m trying to tell. I can’t just work it out in my head. It’s too vague that way and what I need is more detail and some concrete direction. Writing it down gives that to me.

 

I start with a general idea of what story I want to tell.. It’s a Space Western set in a world like the old West or Roman Empire. A love story between an atheist and a believer or a country & western star and a heavy metal rocker. Whatever… 

 

Then  I work a little on the character and situation. What’s my main character’s situation at the beginning of the story and what will the inciting incident be that starts the plot moving forward thirty or forty pages in?  What does my MC want and what or who gets in the way? 

 

Next I try to come up with X number of big plot points. I brainstorm anything that comes to mind.  Then I brainstorm potential scenes—just one or two sentences to describe each scene. For example-- the hero meets his best-friend and they eat breakfast and talk about his girlfriend that the best friend doesn’t approve of. Anything that comes to mind. Then  I try to generally order the scenes. But, YOU WILL ADD AND CUT SCENES…all of this is just a guide. As you’re writing you’ll discover scenes that you couldn’t have seen before you were in the process of writing. You have to be open to following your intuition even though you have this outline.

 

When I have a couple of pages of potential scenes in a potential order,  I start writing. As I write, I’m not married to the scenes or the order of the scenes but just having these scenes helps me feel like I know where I’m going.

 

The next part is essential. I keep to the idea of writing out things first. Before I begin a scene I write for five minutes about what will happen in the scene or what I want to happen. I intellectualize what I’m doing in the scene, write bits of dialogue sometimes, maybe write how the characters feel and what their conflict is. Somehow just writing this down clarifies for me what should happen in the scene.  I SEE WHAT I WANT TO SAY. Then I write the scene. I don’t look at what I wrote usually. I just let the characters direct what happens.

 

So you can see this is a bit discovery and a bit outlining. I’m trying to use both.

 

The first draft still gets messy, of course. I still follow the motto LOW EXPECTATIONS for the first draft, but even though it will need several revisions it won’t—and this is the important part—require me to rework large sections. I haven’t wandered away from the story in big ways because of these outlining steps. It will allow me to focus on smaller problems and improving language much faster. And I still get the discovery in the actual writing of scenes.

 

So that’s how I begin a novel.

Friday, July 3, 2020

When Characters take Control

Most writers feel this, I think. I certainly do. I want to feel it. I strive to feel it. I’m talking about when your characters seem to take over and make things happen. Now, I’m not going to argue the authenticity of the feeling. It's happened to me so I believe I’ve felt it. Maybe it is just finding the groove, the altered state, which allows you to access that part of the brain that makes intuitive leaps. Or maybe you’re connecting to a higher power, any higher power.

Whatever it is that makes it happen, your characters come to life in the sense that it feels like they are writing the story. They take you places you hadn’t thought of or intended to go and these places are the right places for your story. Some of the truest writing comes from these moments because it’s coming from inside the world of the characters and story. You aren’t forcing it.

Often these moments will come when I’ve got the conflict right in a scene and characters are acting and reacting to one another. 

If it happens to you my advice is go with it. Thank the writer gods and write on.

Of course there will be other  times when you have to coax and force your characters forward so you can move the story. Alas, that’s the way of writing. Sometimes you have to get crafty and drive those words like a herd of wild horses or stubborn mules or angry cats. Writing fiction-- sometimes you fly and sometimes you crawl.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

I’m back

It’s been a while but I’m back. I want to blog a couple of times a month about writing issues. For example, I’ve changed some things in my own writing process and I’ve learned some new strategies for writing better and faster. I’ve been focusing on voice and particularly storytelling—plot and structure—over the last year. There’s a lot of new in my writing world and I’m hoping some of the new in my approach to writing fiction might be helpful to other struggling writers. In particular, one thing I’ll get to soon is strategies for writing better first drafts. I think my first drafts have become better and I’ve also written them faster because of new strategies. Yes, my first draft still sucks in many ways. Yes, I still believe a first draft slogan should be LOW EXPECTATIONS. But the way my first drafts have improved is that they have fewer structural problems. I don’t get forty pages into revision and realize that my first draft went in the wrong direction. I’ve done that many times and what it means is completely rewriting entire sections. It’s frustrating and time-consuming. Now, I can focus on the other numerous weak areas more as I go through my revisions because it has a narrative foundation.

 

 

For me personally, one new direction my writing has taken is I’ve finished a novel for adults that is a comic urban fantasy (sort of—bit of genre blending going on) about a detective who works for the Poe Detective Agency in a parallel universe. I say it is a true story from a parallel universe because, come on, who can prove it isn’t?. Unlike my five YA novels, which were traditionally published, this one will be an independent publication. Which means I’m behind the whole thing though I hesitate to call it self-publishing because I’ve had an editor, cover designer, and copy-editor/ proof reader’s help. If I write more YA, I’ll probably try to keep that in the traditional publishing world but I want to try the independent  approach for my adult Poe Detective novels. So I guess I’m what is called a hybrid author, which I must admit I kind of like the sound of. 

 

 

Anyway, happy to have returned to the blogosphere. Appreciate your reading this ramble. Hope to carry on soon with my story creating stories.