Tuesday, July 29, 2014

On Being Ready As A Writer

I hear warnings to new writers: don't publish until you are ready. Excuse me if I express considerable doubts about such advice.

In all the other arts, performing and showing your work and skills starts immediately. Music and dance recitals begin with the most amateurish of performers because showing your work is a skill as necessary to acquire as the skill itself. You don't wait to show your dancing or your playing. In sports, you don't wait to play until you know the sport, you play the sport. In painting, your work goes into shows. That's the nature of the arts. Nobody is going to hurt the arts by doing it wrong.

Yet for writing, not showing your work is considered crucial, which is just absurd. You write, you publish, and even if you are not ready, you somehow manage to avoid kill the sacredness of the delicate western literary tradition, partly because you don't matter and have no literary impact, but mostly because nothing is going to happen no matter how badly you do it. There is no simply no penalty for publishing before you are ready, other than poor sales, and the western literary tradition is simply in no danger.

In today's self-publishing market, there are numerous skills to master as you must see your work through to publication, so learning the ropes and learning to present your work means knowing how to walk out on stage, make a fool of yourself, and keep on playing with a smile. Those skills won't get learned if you wait until you are ready to publish. In fact, it's the other way around. You want to practice your publications skills on your worst works so that you can learn the self-publishing game. When you do develop your writing skills to the elite levels, and you begin selling to readers because they like what you write, then you will have the skills necessary to see that success through.

So go ahead, new writers who can't get published anywhere. Publish. There's everything right with doing that. That's how you learn to play the game.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Secrets of Creating Characters in Written Fiction (Part 23)

Individualism Without Individualism

In a very mechanical sense, how do you make characters stand apart? It’s a simple question with a huge importance. Simply because it is simple does not mean that the question is not downright fundamental. In all senses of the phrase, your characters literally revolve around this question.

In visual stories, telling characters apart is easy. Most people look different. On stage and in films, you have professionals who determine the look of every character and every actor. Most characters have no name and no speaking roles, but by their costumes, we can tell what we need to know. This extends to primary characters as their costumes, too, give us vast information about the character.

In a book, as you don’t have visuals constantly reminding the reader,how else can you differentiate characters?

A character’s job or role helps make them unique. The very fact of a character being an army general makes that character vastly different from a buck private or a drill sergeant. A cook is different than a smith. A shepherd is different than a cowboy. Once you know their job, you know something about how they interact with the world.

Starting from a job works better with minor characters, as their job is dominant. For primary characters, a job is less dominant but is still informative, often providing action or providing interference with the plot.

Some characters have roles to play in a story. Which characters voices moral concerns? Which character pushes for a fight? Who is the voice of reason? Who is the leader? Who is a font of information? Who is the ingenue?

Social status is another aspect of differentiation. The bank president is not the homeless man by the subway, who is not the high school student walking home after basketball practice. Simply picking a status informs the reader of the character.

Sometimes, what differentiates a person is not who they are, but what they mean to the primary character. That cashier is the bank president’s daughter, and she is friends with a homeless man.

Natural disagreement is another powerful tool. Characters will have different world views or opinions. Acknowledging those opinion difference, exploring them, and wrestling with them is exactly what writing is about.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Production Update

"All the Saints Are Dead" has gone off to my first readers. I'm getting good feedback on the thing. The book is about a dragon rider working for the floating city of Astrea. While it's out, I'm taking a one month break to start the follow-on book, "The Wind Before the Storm."

I'm busily working on the cover, improving my overall composition skills and pushing my covers into ever more professional designs.

Here's my first try at the cover. It's technically correct in so many cool ways, but totally and utterly fails to convey genre or feel. The writing along the top says "Dragons Are Forever," which was the working title for the book. The large text reads "East Wind." The big font is used by US Navy planes. I might use this if all my images could be large, but this cover looks like a cartoon when shrunk down. The image itself is of the Dragon Rider Project logo. The cover also feels a bit too flat for my taste.

Here's my second try. The image itself, Chang'e Flying to the Moon is Ren Shuia Ying and is in the public domain in China, which means that it's in the public domain in the US. This particular image is from Wikipedia Commons. The work catches a great deal of the verve that I want. It still isn't perfect, but it sure is eye-popping.

I came up with some material as I designed the covers. The slogan "No fear. No mercy." will become the Dragon Rider group's slogan.  From the second cover, I got the series description "Wind and Wave." I had been thinking that the series should have a different title, but "Wind and Wave" catches the themes far better.

The biggest problem with the cover above is finding more paintings with the same feel. Branding is going to be a mess if I use that image. I also can't produce more images like that, nor can I find images of the same resolution or quality.

I have a few months to work this out. At my current pace, I should have the book out the door somewhere around September-October. Exact timing depends on the availability of my editor.