Where I’m At

I am sitting on my back porch, under an umbrella, consumed by a contemplative state of mind that has been circling me for some time. 

The chaos of the holidays gave a welcome relieve from the routine of writing.  I have a tendency to fixate on one idea and hound after it.  Just before the holidays, at the beginning of NaNoWriMo, I finished a major edit of the first book, At the Lady’s Behest Comes….  In the euphoria that comes from completing a major task, I rushed off a query letter to an agent.  My urge to act rashly sated, my calmer brain has had time to grind on the problem of going from author’s draft to published work. 

For the record, the agent never responded to my query letter.

Good Marketing Trumps Writing Skills

One thing made clear in conversations with published authors is that the decision of who gets published is made on business merits, not artistic ones.  To get noticed by agents and publishers, an author needs to show they understand that fact and are prepared to market their own work.

Time spent building a brand is time not spent writing.  But thanks to two years of NaNowriMo I have a reasonable working draft of most of the second book, and chunks of what will be in the third book.   It is a good time to broaden and bifurcate my focus,   especially if it helps me acquire a decent agent or publisher.

Creating An Online Presence

The first step to presenting a good image to agents and publishers is to have a professional looking website.  Boring is better than bad, but of course cool counts for something.  My current website is a glorified blog with links to sparse content.   Closer to bad than boring. 

I am by trade a computer programmer, but almost all my work has been on the Windows PCs, not the web.  Developing applications for Windows keeps a roof over my head, and so that is where I have focused my skill set.  I have recently took up the study of  HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript.   They are skills I must master anyway if I am ever to move over to web development, and doing a simple site that would better represent me and my work is good motivation.

But before you build a web site, or any application, you must have a concept of what it will contain, and how it will display that content.  For example, there should be a landing page with a nice graphic and clear options to take you what content is there. 

Uh…Graphic?  What graphic?  What precisely is this graphic and where the heck and I going to get it?  I know my artistic limits, and graphic design is not my strong suit.  Is this the point to talk with someone with professional experience?  How much money would that cost?    

Content Is King

An “about the author” page is needed, with a picture of me that isn’t blurry and which won’t frighten small children and farm animals.   A high standard. 

Putting my chapters online are a given; but what is the best way to get the user to the desired chapters with the fewest clicks and choices?  

Should I put up documents about the world?  Maps, explanations of the language the wizards speak, background mythology, and the like? 

Should I include information about the characters?  Is so, how much should I reveal about them, their history, their story arcs, etc….  Should I try to get pictures drawn of the characters and  display it next to their bio?

Should I do the chapter readings or not?  I enjoyed doing the first two, but they are time consuming.  The more I learn about how to manipulate the audio the more I play with edits and the longer it takes to complete.  Is it time well spent on something that will attract visitors/readers?  Or is it more spinning my wheels and creating obstacles  for myself?  Slowing me down when I should be speeding up? I’ve held up finishing the reading of the third chapter until I resolve this debate.

Kathryn has started creating music for my story.  Originally to put at the beginning of the chapter readings.  I like what she has done very much, and will certainly include MP3s of it on the  website eventually.

The Call of Writing

In addition to all of these thoughts, I am also preparing for the Magic City Writers edits to my eleventh chapter, …Cause All to Cry ‘Havoc’.   I do not doubt that there will be significant edits after their review, and I will likely use that as an opportunity to revisit chapters twelve and thirteen. 

And from there I might well lose myself in work on the second novel, …Demiurge, Unbound,….  Time spent writing is time not spent building a professional online presence or searching for an agent or publisher.  But it does move me closer to having a fully completed story, even if it is an imperfect draft like the first novel.  That might be the strongest selling point of them all.

I would greatly appreciate the thoughts anyone has on how best to address some of the choices I face.  I am a stranger in a strange land, and am uncertain how best to proceed.

Where I’m At

I am sitting on my back porch, under an umbrella, consumed by a contemplative state of mind that has been circling me for some time. 

The chaos of the holidays gave a welcome relieve from the routine of writing.  I have a tendency to fixate on one idea and hound after it.  Just before the holidays, at the beginning of NaNoWriMo, I finished a major edit of the first book, At the Lady’s Behest Comes….  In the euphoria that comes from completing a major task, I rushed off a query letter to an agent.  My urge to act rashly sated, my calmer brain has had time to grind on the problem of going from author’s draft to published work. 

For the record, the agent never responded to my query letter.

Good Marketing Trumps Writing Skills

One thing made clear in conversations with published authors is that the decision of who gets published is made on business merits, not artistic ones.  To get noticed by agents and publishers, an author needs to show they understand that fact and are prepared to market their own work.

Time spent building a brand is time not spent writing.  But thanks to two years of NaNowriMo I have a reasonable working draft of most of the second book, and chunks of what will be in the third book.   It is a good time to broaden and bifurcate my focus,   especially if it helps me acquire a decent agent or publisher.

Creating An Online Presence

The first step to presenting a good image to agents and publishers is to have a professional looking website.  Boring is better than bad, but of course cool counts for something.  My current website is a glorified blog with links to sparse content.   Closer to bad than boring. 

I am by trade a computer programmer, but almost all my work has been on the Windows PCs, not the web.  Developing applications for Windows keeps a roof over my head, and so that is where I have focused my skill set.  I have recently took up the study of  HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript.   They are skills I must master anyway if I am ever to move over to web development, and doing a simple site that would better represent me and my work is good motivation.

But before you build a web site, or any application, you must have a concept of what it will contain, and how it will display that content.  For example, there should be a landing page with a nice graphic and clear options to take you what content is there. 

Uh…Graphic?  What graphic?  What precisely is this graphic and where the heck and I going to get it?  I know my artistic limits, and graphic design is not my strong suit.  Is this the point to talk with someone with professional experience?  How much money would that cost?    

Content Is King

An “about the author” page is needed, with a picture of me that isn’t blurry and which won’t frighten small children and farm animals.   A high standard. 

Putting my chapters online are a given; but what is the best way to get the user to the desired chapters with the fewest clicks and choices?  

Should I put up documents about the world?  Maps, explanations of the language the wizards speak, background mythology, and the like? 

Should I include information about the characters?  Is so, how much should I reveal about them, their history, their story arcs, etc….  Should I try to get pictures drawn of the characters and  display it next to their bio?

Should I do the chapter readings or not?  I enjoyed doing the first two, but they are time consuming.  The more I learn about how to manipulate the audio the more I play with edits and the longer it takes to complete.  Is it time well spent on something that will attract visitors/readers?  Or is it more spinning my wheels and creating obstacles  for myself?  Slowing me down when I should be speeding up? I’ve held up finishing the reading of the third chapter until I resolve this debate.

Kathryn has started creating music for my story.  Originally to put at the beginning of the chapter readings.  I like what she has done very much, and will certainly include MP3s of it on the  website eventually.

The Call of Writing

In addition to all of these thoughts, I am also preparing for the Magic City Writers edits to my eleventh chapter, …Cause All to Cry ‘Havoc’.   I do not doubt that there will be significant edits after their review, and I will likely use that as an opportunity to revisit chapters twelve and thirteen. 

And from there I might well lose myself in work on the second novel, …Demiurge, Unbound,….  Time spent writing is time not spent building a professional online presence or searching for an agent or publisher.  But it does move me closer to having a fully completed story, even if it is an imperfect draft like the first novel.  That might be the strongest selling point of them all.

I would greatly appreciate the thoughts anyone has on how best to address some of the choices I face.  I am a stranger in a strange land, and am uncertain how best to proceed.

Fighting Inertia

I have been avoiding writing lately.   Partially this is due to an overly tight schedule, but mostly it is due to a convergence of thoughts that inspire near paralysis. 

In recent weeks I came to realize how I needed to trim and structure my story to make it more accessible to new readers.  These thoughts have raised the possibility that I need to rewrite or majorly edit much of what already exists in the first book.  This in of itself is not the core problem, as much of that text needed to be rewritten or seriously edited anyway.  The problem is that the focus of the chapters need to change in order to develop the character of Tara much more.  This means I must develop her character much better than I have to date, and that is not easy.

Also the changes I am considering require me to trim or eliminate much of the scenes centered on Artemis, a character I find interesting to write, but who really isn’t the center of the story and shouldn’t be.  To put it simply, I know what I must do with her character, but I don’t want to do it.  It is tempting to make her the focus of everything, but she is not the right character to do that with.

Then there is the danger of the “infinite edit”.  The possibility of simply going over and over the same material and never moving onto the larger story.  Part of me wants to forget what I have written so far and dive into writing only new material.  Tempting as that thought is, I do need to edit what I already have, to make it better and eliminate what doesn’t work.  If for no other reason than I must prepare some of this text for submission to the Magic City Writers’ Group.

I am uncertain how to proceed.  I may need to establish a more rigid schedule in which I devote certain days to editing and other days to writing new material.   Even that is difficult to do however because of other demands on my time, demands that are not going to go away.  I am dedicated to following my new exercise program, something especially crucial given the serious back problems I experienced over the last year.  And making plans for my upcoming wedding requires copious amounts of time. And writing for this blog and the one I maintain for the Magic City Writers’ Group takes a few hours every week, assuming I have the time to spend on them.  All this, and I haven’t even mentioned my day job yet. And in the meantime development on my new website has fallen by the wayside.

I feel like I am in an ocean and can feel the water recede in the way it does right before a massive wave surges forward.  This is not to say I feel like I am about to be swamped, rather that I am in the quiet mood that precedes an enormous burst of activity.  I am an inconsistent worker, sometimes doing incredible amounts in a short time, and other times being still to the point of doing nothing.  During my quiescent moments I can feel thoughts lurking below the surface as my subconscious mind works out details that my conscious mind is not yet privy to.  At some point the paralysis I have been experiencing will pass and I will tackle the problems before me, I just hope that moment comes soon.

Resolution Delayed

I have been forced to scale back some of my good intentions due to my recent back surgery.  I spent much of last week either sleeping or otherwise incapacitated, and right now I can only sit in a chair for a couple of hours before I must go walk, lay down, or recline for a spell.  That said, I am much better than I was a week ago, a day before my surgery, when I was timing how long before I could take my next narcotic painkiller.  In any event, my posting on blogs has taken a back seat to more pressing issues.

This not to say I haven’t been thinking about my story, or what I plan to do next with this website.  I still plan to devote a fair amount of time to producing new material, but it might take me a few weeks to reach my stated goal of 20-30 new pages per week.  I plan to first write down a brief chapter-by-chapter outline for the overall work in more detail, starting with the ending and working backwards.

That Sounds Bass-Ackwards

Yes, I plan to outline my work in reverse.  The reason why is because I know what the ending is, and by reversing the order I can more clearly see the sequence of events that lead up to the ending.  That foreshadow and make the final plot-twists and revelations obvious in hindsight.

Time Is Not On My Side

What I need is time to do everything on my rapidly growing to-do list.  I have editing to complete on existing chapters, new chapters to create, outlining to do.  I need to arrange a new meeting for the Magic City Writers’ Group.   I need to port existing drafts to PDF and XPS format and post them on the website.  I need to add additional sections to the website so I can post maps and my background mythology. I want to create MP3 readings of the various chapters and post them on the site.  Add to this list my lengthy to-do list for my day job, keeping up with two blogs, physical therapy and exercise, and my efforts to upgrade my home theater.  (The new Denon 4810 receiver is drool-worthy.)  I need more hours in the day, and my surgery means I have actually fewer hours each day.

I’ve been here before.  Too much to do and not enough time to do it in.  I know the drill.   Focus on each task one at a time, do it well enough that you will not need to look at it again for some time to come, then move on.  Slowly each task will fall to the wayside, some will become unimportant, and the rate that new problems are added to the list will decrease to a manageable level.  It takes time, in this case likely months, but eventually the tsunami will crest and recede.  

And with that I bid adieu for now as I go to research a topic for my Magic City Writers’ Group blog.

The Tell-Tell Sign of Boring Characters

Last time, I posted about a video critique of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and mentioned that it had lessons applicable to anyone trying to tell a story.  Today I would like to discuss one such lesson: how to tell if your character is boring.

At one point in the video, the reviewer poses a challenge: 

Describe the following Star Wars character WITHOUT saying what they look like, what kind of costume they wore, or what their profession or role in the movie was.  Describe this character to your friends like they ain’t never seen Star Wars.

StarWarsChar1

Ignoring the double negative in the last sentence, and without dwelling on the characters the reviewer refers to, consider the point of the challenge itself.   It is a test to see which characters the audience remembers, understands, and (most importantly) cares about; and which ones they don’t.

With that thought in mind, I will reword his challenge slightly in order to make one of my own.

My Challenge:

Describe a character, from your own work or another’s, without saying what the character looks like, how they dress, or what their profession or role in the story is.  Do not mention details of the story’s plot, or the genre of the story itself.   Describe this character to your friends as if they have never seen or read the story for themselves.

If a reader or viewer can reasonably described a character out of context, without going into specifics of the story itself or even the genre in which the story resides, then the character is more universally understandable.  The audience can form an emotional connection with the character; will come to like or dislike them, to care about what happens to them.  If the story is told well, the character will be remembered and talked about with others who also experienced the story.

If a reader/viewer cannot describe a character, then there will be less of an emotional connection.  They may not care what happens to the character.  If the character is central to the plot, then the audience may become bored with the whole story.   If they do talk with others about the character or the story, they will have little to say, except perhaps to mention how forgettable both were.

For myself, I am reconsidering my central characters and seeing how well they withstand my challenge.  If I cannot write down a satisfactory description that meets my stated requirements, then I will know I have a problem, that the character needs to be reconsidered and possibly reworked.  

I plan to add a section to my new website where I will include these character descriptions.   I hope it will serve both to remind me of my intentions for these characters, and to help me write them honestly.

Such character descriptions are not sufficient for making interesting characters.  The descriptions themselves are a form of “telling”, and (as mentioned here and elsewhere many times) a writer should always strive to “show, not tell”.  Nonetheless, if a writer cannot create a “telling” description of a character filled with interesting facts, odds are they will “show” their audience someone boring and forgettable.