Fear and Loathing Of The Blank Page

Picture this scene as I sat down to write this blogpost.

INTERIOR – JOHN’S OFFICE – MORNING

A man in an Alice In Chains t-shirt and a pair of basketball shorts coughs three times and sits down in a beat to all hell office chair with a cup of tea in hand. He sips, stares out the window and sighs. 

He touches the mouse and the PC’s screen flicks to life. He sips the tea and stares at the white space on the screen. Then he stares out the window. Then back to the white space. Then out the window. Then he thinks about butts and that makes him giggle. Then he has a giggle contest with himself. The white page is still blank.

He makes a disgusted “Ugh” noise, and picks up his phone instead. 

Yeah, that’s how today started. This post will go up on Monday, which is Memorial Day, and I know that the majority of people will be off, and I did have loads of thoughts about “just put up a fluff piece then go strong on Wednesday”, but skipping a day means I can find ways to procrastinate (yes, I know I have editing and translations due in 2 weeks, so it’s not completely procrastinating, but like, blog procrastinating, blogcrastinating), and I’m not gonna skip a day.

So what do I do? I think of my tiny muse. Yes, I have a tiny muse. Imagine a way cooler Tinkerbell who totally gets memes and eats Mexican food and ditch the wings. I’m not sure about the whole constant shed glitter like it’s dandruff thing, I think that’s a weird question to ask a muse (hey do you have glitter dandruff, did I just make you nervous about your hair, wait, where are you going?), so let’s not get hung up on the muse’s awesome hair and go back to what the muse does for me.

In my head, there’s this churning sea of ideas. I always want to be talking about something, explaining something, giving out information. The hard part is that transmission is work, and like a lot of people, I don’t want to work. I want to sit there and have the world come to me, mainly so I can sit on the couch. But that’s grossly unrealistic, so if I’m going to manage the waves of ideas, I have to do the work to get them out. The blog posts don’t write themselves. The edits don’t happen while I’m playing Prison Architect or Sentinels of the Multiverse or watching Netflix.

Bridging that gap is where the muse comes in. So that the blank page changes from “Ugh”, as in oh-dear-sweet-alleged-deities-what-the-mothersizzlestickbits-am-I-going-to-do-with-this-melonfarming**-blank-page-and-the-pressure-I-feel-to-write-something-so-damned-amazing-that-hundreds-of-people-see-it-ugh, to “Okay this space is mine, and I’m going to use it to convey an idea.” **note: yes, I said ‘melonfarming’.

Here’s the idea – the blank space is blank not because it’s a daunting sheet that requires only perfection touch it, but because it’s an empty space hungry for anything to go up on it.

That urge to be perfect is inextricably tied to the idea that only perfect things get read by people. I have over a thousand twitter followers and they can read everything from a writing tweet to my random observations that make me laugh, so I know that I say plenty of imperfect things that people can see, and I don’t think twice about them unless the spelling errors are egregious or the idea is presented unclearly.

So what makes the blank page intimidating? I have conducted extensive scientific research (meaning: I had a second cup of tea and listened to Metallica) and discovered that I’m afraid of being judged negatively. With the potential for the words to go up and stay up there, and be judged negatively (depending on the topic it’s totally possible) while out there, I keep a lot of my dissenting views (dissenting when compared to the majority of my professional and personal circles) to myself. #somanyparentheses

The tricky bit is that I don’t know if the words are going to be judged negatively. I don’t know if they’re going to be judged positively either. They’re Schrodinger’s Words. So if I want to see how they’re going to be received, I have to put them out there. I need to pump the brakes on the page-fear, and think of that page as an opportunity. To help. To explain. To do the stuff I love to do.

And then suddenly, that “Ugh” goes to “Ooh” when I realize that I just found a blogpost and put it together.

See you guys Wednesday. Have a great Memorial Day. Happy writing.

Paragraph Building Blocks, Part 2

Good morning, welcome to Friday, let’s get down to business.

Earlier this week, I began to answer some questions about paragraphs. Today, that discussion continues.

Looking at our list of questions:

a) What defines a paragraph?
b) How long should a paragraph be?
c) Should some paragraphs automatically be of a certain length because of where they are in the story?
d) How many paragraphs should there be in a chapter?
e) How many beats per paragraph?
f) When writing, should [the writer] be thinking about the bigger picture of story construction (as in I just wrote 4k, so that’s a chapter), or is it more important to get the story out whole then divide into chapters as an after-thought?

We’re halfway through, and I want to throw in a bonus question:

g) How do paragraphs affect dialogue?

i. How many paragraphs should there be in a chapter?
We need to define “chapter” I think, if we’re going to be able to answer this question. A chapter is a collection of scenes wherein some amount of plot and/or character development happens. What that “amount” is (and yes, that amount can be zero, though it really shouldn’t be) depends completely on the size of the development over the course of the whole manuscript, as well as how you want to present it.

If, for instance, you have a really short progression, something you can break into three steps, then each step would likely make sense as a chapter. But if these three steps require a lot of moving parts or there’s some complex imagery (I’m imagining a lady walking to her closet, picking a shirt, and wearing the shirt, but between the walking and picking there are some extensive thoughts about all the kinds of influencers on her choice), then you might have a chapter that isn’t the progression, but the build-up to progression.

That might be unclear. So let’s think about pizza. We can slice it into thirds. But if we need to feed more people, we can slice those thirds down the middle and get six slices. The act of subdivision is an option for extending (and slowing) progression so that you can give it more weight and emphasis. BUT (and this is a large one, like your mom’s) padding out the chapter count can also be a great way to bloat your manuscript and lose the readers when there’s too much padding and the pace slows to a crawl (again, like your mom).

Which is why a chapter has as many paragraphs as it needs. Because the chapter, and in turn the paragraphs, are delivering plot and/or character development.

ii. How many beats in a paragraph?
A beat, for those people who may not have checked out FiYoShiMo, or who might not know, is the smallest unit of storytelling information, and it’s when something happens, is felt, or is discovered.

A beat fits into a sentence, and yes, a beat can have multiple actions in it, so long as they’re all related to the same moment (like a guy who sees his friend get shot, screams, picks up his buddy’s gun, then shoots the aliens while tears stream down his face).

Since we can put a beat in a sentence, and a paragraph is made of sentence(s), then we should be able to put multiple beats in a paragraph, right?

Nope.

Here’s why.

A beat is a snapshot of activity. It’s a moment in the story, it’s events or ideas that we visualize as we read, and we need those moments to be clear and distinct so that we can picture them, then add them to what we already have. These jigsaw puzzle pieces have to fit together to show us the whole picture, but each piece has its own curves and nubs and spaces. You could pull a beat out and have it stand on its own as a vignette, though I don’t know why, outside of marketing.

When you cram lots of beats back-to-back, even when they’re related, they’re not distinct. They lump together and congeal into a larger whole that might lack the definition and clarity of the individual pieces (like how you add eggs, flour, sugar, and water together to make a dough but once the blending happens it just becomes … dough). Keep your beats per paragraph to a low minimum of one, maybe two.

Of course there are edge cases and I’m sure someone on the internet will go to great lengths to prove me wrong.

iii. When writing, should [the writer] be thinking about the bigger picture of story construction (as in I just wrote 4k, so that’s a chapter), or is it more important to get the story out whole then divide into chapters as an after-thought?
When we’re drafting a story, it can be really tempting to take a day’s chunk of writing, especially when it’s large, and call it a chapter. That’s part of what this question is asking – is there an auto-cutoff for chapters based on wordcount? The other parts have to do with breaking the story into that progression I mentioned about then figuring out the chapters in advance or just writing the whole thing then slicing it up.

The answer has some different parts, all moving together. Chapters don’t have a set length, and when you’re thinking about writing the MS, the number of chapters isn’t a factor. Whether or not you think about what development happens in each chapter does matter though.

For instance, I tell clients to map out their development by chapter, because I want each chapter to have the beat(s) relative to how the story is playing out.

Like this:

1 – John wakes up, gets set up to start his day
2 – John reads the news, has breakfast, gets discouraged at the state of the world
3 – John puts his butt in the chair, clears his head, and starts writing

I could have easily condensed that into 1 chapter of “John starts his day and then gets to work”, but I can spread the whole concept out over multiple chapters and give the components some depth. In this example, the “gets discouraged at the state of the world” might have been only a sentence or two if this were in one chapter, but it can be the whole load-bearing pillar of its own chapter this way.

That said, you can divvy up the chapters after the fact, so long as you place the breaks in reasonably expected times – before or after major developments, mid-action moments so you create tension, spots where you shift from following one character to another, etc. It’s just not something I’m a fan of.

BONUS QUESTION TIME.

iv. How do paragraphs affect dialogue?
For a long time, there was an unspoken prohibition on dialogue being long and paragraph heavy, because people don’t speak in giant paragraphs. Even the most well-crafted political soundbite is a sentence or two. One of the reasons we call a Bond villain speech cliche is because it can be so cumbersome to work your way through the text and think that there’s supposed to be an actual human doing the speaking.

Paragraphs in dialogue aren’t verboten. No one will come kick you out of the writer clubhouse when they read your MS and find out that Marcelle spent a page and a half telling Julian where he can stick his infidelity and passive aggressive comments that her sister Lucia is hotter.

But a paragraph, even as a ramble, has to still sound like a person could say it. That’s the big rule for dialogue. No, I don’t care if the “person” saying the lines is a half-alien cyborg, the reader is presumably a human, and humanistic speech patterns make sense to us.

If you’re asking what that looks like on the page, here you go:

She looked out her window to watch her beloved city burn.
      “Everyone knows that out of all the Good Humor desserts on a stick, the Strawberry Shortcake is clearly the best because strawberry and the strange freeze-dried cake crumbly bits that sheath it in deliciousness.
     “Good Humor, has for years produced quality desserts on sticks, rich with nostalgia and taste alike, because what the world needs now is not our arguing on this, our veranda, but true love and cooperation before Emperor Trump’s cyborg racist troopers kick down our door because our gardener is slightly too swarthy according to National Color Gradient Chart 16.
     “So, here, do you want the damned ice cream or not?”

Start each paragraph with an opening quotation mark, and only close the quotations when you get to the end of the last paragraph.

If you’re gonna sneak tags in there, then punctuate just like you would if the dialogue and tag were on its own line.

See you guys next week. Enjoy your weekend. Happy writing.

Paragraph Building Blocks, Part 1

Did you enjoy Monday’s Batman v Superman rewrite? Ready for more words on blog action? I hope so because we’re taking Inbox Wednesday and stretching it out over the next few blogposts (also I’m trying for shorter posts, because some of you said that 3k per post was kinda tough to read), because there’s a whole mass of questions all about the same sort of thing. So for the six people who have roughly asked all the same stuff, here are the questions getting answered over the next few posts:

a) What defines a paragraph?
b) How long should a paragraph be?
c) Should some paragraphs automatically be of a certain length because of where they are in the story?
d) How many paragraphs should there be in a chapter?
e) How many beats per paragraph?
f) When writing, should [the writer] be thinking about the bigger picture of story construction (as in I just wrote 4k, so that’s a chapter), or is it more important to get the story out whole then divide into chapters as an after-thought?

Today, we’re doing the first 3, and we’ll do the back 3 on Friday.

i. What defines a paragraph?
This is a construction question. We learn in school that a paragraph is about a single idea and has at least one sentence in it, and while that definition works when we’re talking second graders making first forays into story, it doesn’t cover the idea that a single word as a paragraph can be impactful for the story (like Rosebud in Citizen Kane). This means we need a new definition to suit our needs.

A paragraph is a delivery system for an idea, and the sentence(s) in that paragraph develop pieces of the idea. Now maybe that’s one-word paragraph (Rosebud), maybe it’s multiple sentences describing how Harry lives in a cupboard, maybe that’s a giant block of text as a suicidal Dane figures out what he must do.

This leads us straight to question 2 pretty nicely:

ii. How long should a paragraph be?
It should be as long as it needs to be to develop the idea with whatever details, nuance, connective tissue, facets or shading necessary. Sometimes that’s going to be short, sometimes not. But the length is going to be secondary, and even overlooked, if the details in it are more of a red flag. Too many details, both in number (do you really need some many adjectives to convey that the table is set for dinner?) and digression (do we really need to know so much about the table when the point of the moment is that people are going to sit and talk?) fatten and ultimately bloat a paragraph, reducing its readability and slowing down the reader’s eye – which is not a great idea.

No, this is a not where I say swing that pendulum the other way and write particularly lean and spartan (unless that’s what you like, but you’re not forced to write that way. You’re free to build paragraphs as long as you need, provided they get the idea across.

But what do I mean when I say “idea”? Let’s look at a scene, because a scene is composed of many ideas all cooperating. If we have a dinner scene, we’re going to have some basic ideas – the table, the room, the people sitting, what they’re eating and talking about. Each of those are ideas under the umbrella idea of “dinner scene”, but I wouldn’t expect to see all that information in one paragraph, unless it was less important or just something to get through before you get to the really interesting stuff you want me to focus on.

These constituent pieces warrant their own paragraphs, because if you’re laying a foundation, if we’re building towards something as part of beat structure, then the details in those paragraphs helps me as a reader to picture things.

iii. Should some paragraphs automatically be of a certain length because of where they are in the story?
Positioning, whether we’re talking about opening chapter or climax or resolution or the ninth paragraph of the seventh chapter, has more to do about the pacing and story momentum than manuscript geography. If the short punchy single sentence paragraph helps convey the idea in chapter 4, awesome. If chapter 9 really calls for slower and more descriptive text, great. Whatever you write has to serve the story, so while you can make a case that an intense fight scene benefits from a lot of short sentences and fragments, that’s not an inflexible maxim.

Remember, the goal is to tell the best story through the breadth of tools and creativity. Paragraph structure is one of those tools, but don’t lock in to too narrow a mindset about them.

See you guys on Friday for more. Happy writing.

How I Would Rewrite Batman vs Superman

batman-vs-superman

image from a comic book, found by Google search

Okay, I meant to do this sooner, but I didn’t want to argue over spoilers, so much like the last time I talked about this movie, I’m only going to use the information available in online reviews and trailers.

We have to start somewhere, and we have to make a decision at the basest of levels – is this a Batman movie, or is this a Superman movie? No, it can’t be both, anymore than having half a turkey club and half a cheeseburger is going to be as satisfying (and not as gluttonous) as having a whole. Now, we already have a Superman movie, so we could continue a Superman series, but, we also have to be aware that this is a whole universe of films, so maybe it’s time we introduce a new character, the same way we pivoted from Iron Man to Captain America to Thor. We’re going to start by making this movie a Batman movie.

From that decision we have to figure out how we’re going to connect backwards to the Superman experience we’ve already had. The two easiest options are a post-credits scene, Marvel-style, or set up Superman within this film as another character, but that runs the risk of bloating and slowing the momentum down. A trickier, but more interesting idea would be to tell these two stories in parallel, even though one has already been seen. So let’s set this Batman movie during Man of Steel.

Let’s go one step more, and set it in and out of Metropolis, so we can use the existing world and expand it with Gotham. This also sets up a nice duality that you see in the comics, that Gotham and Metropolis are two sides of the same coin – big city, one lit in sun with the hope Superman represents, one cast in shadows, with the vengeance Batman represents. In fact, we can use this light vs dark interplay throughout the story. We can visually describe this in cinematography, we can use this as scene building tools, we can thematically approach this in dialogue. We won’t go so far as to beat a dead horse by putting this as words in a title, but we can use a graphic and its lighting instead.

In our Batman movie, we can either tread the familiar ground of Batman origin, or we can assume our audience is smart enough to know what’s up, and just take us straight to Batman, the same way Burton and the later Nolan films did. Because this is Batman, we can use the breadth of the rogue’s gallery available to us, so long as we can tie to Metropolis, because we want to mesh these two stories together without fusing them into one. Let’s take a pretty mid-level Batman villain, Firefly, because he’s got a very visual gimmick – fire – and go from there.

We can even go so far with our fanbase to say that this movie will be part of what later develops into a Justice League, and we can start laying groundwork for that by also saying this film will develop a Legion of Doom as well. That way, we’ve built a power scale to future films and we ask our audience to pay a little more attention, even before we call quiet on the set.

With all that out of the way, I now present my rewrite of Batman vs Superman, which is now basically an untitled Batman film.

We open on Gotham City, a long shot as we sail through buildings, past cars, past the gothic architecture, maybe it’s raining. We see the scale of the buildings, these long steel and glass teeth from an ever-hungry maw. All we hear is rain, hard, stormy, but not that cliche thunder and lighting, just soaking rain.

Then we hear the ga-chick of something fired, and cable unspooling. We see a shadow, a mess of wet black streak up from the bottom of the frame to the top.

This is BATMAN. He’s out in his city, these buildings and these shadows are more his home than any stately manor. He’s wet, bloody, and smiling. Hanging from a lamppost a few stories below are three criminals (let’s make them a man and two women), all bound and unconscious, a car is smashed against the lamppost, the steam escaping the radiator. We get a quick insert shot of the car’s contents – guns and money – before going to back to Batman running to the edge of the roof and diving off, before we hear the ga-chick again.

A graphic in the lower third: Beginning. The screen goes to black as we hear police sirens approach.

We transition out of the black to the polished black of a boardroom table, so polished we can see BRUCE WAYNE (yes, I’m going with Affleck) in it, as he gives a presentation to some suited people. He’s talking about expanding Wayne Enterprises into Metropolis, how he sees the potential in Wayne-Tech reaching new cities, and in a final slide, to the stars (this image can be re-used in the Justice League as the Watchtower).

They’re very surprised by the whole tenor of the presentation, and express doubts, particularly the parts where Wayne Enterprises looks to be expanding directly against LexCorp in Metropolis. Bruce dodges the question with a winning smile, and assures people it won’t be an issue.

We move forward in time, to the night, where Bruce-now-Batman is sitting in the Batcave talking with Alfred about the meeting earlier that day (we can button the two together with dialogue – maybe “Ambition is a hallmark of Wayne business”, and oh, we’ll keep Jeremy Irons as Alfred). They banter, and establish to the audience their relationship.

They get interrupted by reports of a building explosion in the Narrows. So off in the Batmobile we go, with Alfred in Affleck’s ear giving situation details. We reach the building as the first fire trucks are cordoning off the area, and Batman grapnels his way inside via an alley.

The building is hot. Flames, heat, smoke, a bad scene all around. Even with a gas mask, it’s tough going. Batman searches the area, narrowly avoiding the firearm, and comes across the arsonist making good their escape. He tails FIREFLY through the building, but is cut off from pursuit by a floor collapsing. The floor collapse drops the Dark Knight square into the middle of a pack of firefighters, injuring one, and sending the rest into a “Holy shit!” panic. Thinking quick, Batman grapnels away. He’s outside and across the street by the time the firefighters clear the building and the structure collapses. Four dead inside. One injured firefighter. Batman to blame.

It’s a sleepless night as we race back to the Batcave, the Batsuit covered in ash and smoke, singed in a few places. He’s not half out of the Batmobile when Alfred updates him on the wounded firefighter. Broken leg, possible severe spinal fracture. One more weight upon the Bat’s shoulders. He wants to get back in the car, but Alfred grabs his arm. “Some things are for Batman, some things are for Bruce Wayne.”

Batman, from the cave, makes some calls to have the Wayne Foundation pay for the firefighter’s medical bills as well as a stipend to cover the family’s expenses. He’s right back to Firefly’s trail, and tracks down the building schematics. The arson was deliberate, and carefully planned. The building hadn’t been occupied legally in some time. Fingers fly over keys. No police reports of vagrants in the area. Were they squatters?  A pause. Alfred toggles a switch on the wall, and a replacement Batsuit is revealed. He’s used to this.

Back out now, Gotham’s in full evening swing, and so’s our hero. We find COMMISSIONER GORDON on the roof of the GCPD building, sipping coffee from a styrofoam cup. Batman stealths up behind him. Gordon doesn’t react, he just keeps sipping.

We get a conversation between the two men. It’s friendly but distant. The GCPD are out hunting for the Bat. The four bodies in the morgue weren’t vagrants, but local contractors, builders and a city planner. Batman tells Gordon he’ll need more coffee, Gordon starts to quip, but it’s cut off by a building explosion in the middle distance. Not the Narrows this time. The Industrial district.

Batman’s off the roof before Gordon, and we get a shot over Gordon’s shoulder of him barking orders to the cops as Batman sails across the city towards the explosion.

The site in question is a small chemical manufacturing facility, and the explosions are the holding tanks for run-off and by product. The Dark Knight reaches the tanks and sees silhouetted in fire our arsonist Firefly. This time he won’t get away. They do fight, and Batman takes slightly worse than he gives. His suit singes, his lip bleeds. It’s a close and dirty fight. We see the raw ferocity seep out. He’s enjoying this. He may be the world’s greatest fighter, but he’s not invulnerable. Which is how he wants it.

Take flaming fists out of the equation and Firefly is a chump in a suit. One good kick or batarang to the fuel hose, and Firefly’s just a fly. And flies get swatted. Which is what happens. Or it’s about to happen when there’s an explosion in the distance. And that makes no sense if the arsonist is currently getting beat down.

Batman stops punching the snot out of Firefly when the fireball lances into the sky.

“Gotham burns and screams and there’s more coming. You can’t stop us. These are your darkest nights.” says Firefly before Batman goes ferocious and nearly pulps Firefly’s face. He zipties the firebug to a water pipe and heads off to the next explosion site.

Alfred’s in his ear seconds after the Batmobile fires up.

“Sir, do you think it’s -”
“If it were, he would have made sure I see him.”
“I’m also getting reports of two bank robberies. One at First Capital and another at Gotham Savings. There’s no way you can be in three places at once. Should I call -”
“NO!” The answer is too harsh, too emotional. Too raw.

“No,” Batman says. “He’s got Bludhaven now, it’s fine. I’ll handle it.”

With the flick of a switch, Batman sends four small batdrones into the air, setting them to patrol and recon everything. Each drone is about the size of a shoebox, fitted with expensive tech and high end potential.

“When a drone finds something, send the info straight to Gordon. I’m going after the next explosion.” He mashes down on the accelerator and fire tongues out the rear of the car.

But it’s too late. By the time Batman has made his way across town, the fire has spread to the whole block. Ambulances, police, fire fighters, families all watch as building after building go up in oily smoke. He slams the steering wheel in frustration and narrowly avoids detection by a patrolling GCPD car.

We come back to the Batcave, large digital clock on the wall reads 5:17am, and Batman, cowlless but still suited yawns. He’s staring over aerial photos. The explosions and fires cut canyons into his city, but there seems to be no discernible pattern. The death toll, according to early reports is at 12. The damage is in the low millions, not counting the lawsuits and agony money. Alfred appears at Batman’s side, and offers a tray of food.

“Not a great night.”
“Not every one is going to be.”

Morning now as Bruce Wayne enters an elevator at Wayne Tower. A small woman hands him a schedule.

“You’ve got a 9:15, he’s already waiting.”
“I have a 9:15? I thought the meeting with the Koreans was at 10.”
“They canceled, you’ve got a 9:15.”

Coming off the elevator and down a hallway of famous Wayne portraits, the office door is already open and a bald man stands with his back to the entering Bruce.

“Mr. Wayne.”
“Mr. Luthor. What brings you across the bay?”
“Business, Bruce, may I call you Bruce.”
“May I call you Lex?”
“No. Bruce, I want to talk about this development mess. There’s going to be a world of trouble if you keep doing what you’re doing.”
Tight in on Bruce’s face, then cut to the Luthor’s.
“And what am I doing, Lex? I’m trying to do what’s best for Gotham. Thousands of jobs. New prosperity. You certainly can’t be opposed to that.”
“No one’s opposed to prosperity Bruce. Opportunities are legion.”

He tosses some papers onto Bruce’s large desk, we see a graphic overlay: Development.

The men talk about recent crime waves and tragedies. Vague allusions are made as to how each city is worth saving and how the sons of the city have a responsibility to legacy and the future alike. In the conversation, Luthor talks about the fires and the building collapse, giving details that Bruce heard only on the police scanner. Additionally, he references the sons and legacy from earlier, saying, “We have to be fireflies in the darkest night, don’t you agree?”

The conversations wraps, and Bruce is left staring at the sun kissed Gotham. Even now the shadows are long. He sits in an office chair and we wipe to him sitting in exactly the same pose, only now in the Batcave.

He’s looking at new pictures. Enlarged photos of building paperwork and the minutes of a meeting the city planner help before her death. All reference LexCorp in some way. He exits the cave and heads up to the main house, where Alfred is straightening books on a shelf.

“Alfred, have you ever thought about legacy?”

The old man sighs, and for the first time, we get a sense of his age.

“All the time. Yours and mine. It’s a funny thing. We build it every day whether we mean to or not, and we always misjudge it. We think we’ll be remembered for the little mistakes, or even some of our larger ones, but we’re just as much known for what goes right that we don’t recognize.”

The two men talk more, they finish the conversation seated as equals, a father and son, under the watchful eye of the Wayne portrait, the other father and son.

“I’m going to Metropolis for a few days.”

It’s here that we cut back into Man of Steel, as this is where we get the General Zod broadcast that sends Clark to Metropolis. Bruce’s plane lands just as the broadcast starts, and he carries his own bags off the jet and into a waiting car. We presume one of those bags has a Batsuit.

It’s night in Metropolis, and Batman is scaling buildings. He reconnoiters the area, and places a few bugs on phone lines. From his hotel room, he patches into the Batcave computer and establishes a link back to Alfred.

“Sir, that broadcast, what was it?”

“No idea. But I’ll be ready.”

The rest of the day is spent sifting through phone logs and various LexCorp data. Eventually the conclusion is reached that he’ll need to be in the LexCorp building during the day to get more information.

Word from back in Gotham is that the GCPD has secured and even stopped two more bombings, though one of the bank robberies remains unsolved. This comes as both relief and ill omen, something prickling the back of Bruce’s thoughts. He lays out a good suit and orders room service.

Come morning, we see the car pull up to LexCorp and Bruce Wayne enter. Over his shoulder, people begin to gasp as the TerraFormer from Man of Steel lowers itself into position. Bruce looks at it with a sense of wonder, then quickly moves past the crowds exiting the building.

He’s the only one going in as so many are going out, and he makes his way to the server room, where he sets up another relay with Alfred. They discuss the TerraFormers as well as the destruction in Smallville. Bruce queues a series of downloads and we watch a UI tracking bar tick up to 100%.

And that’s when Superman comes crashing through the building. Amid all the debris, the Man of Tomorrow rights himself, floating, and locks eyes with Bruce Wayne.

This is the moment. This is the first time we see them on screen together. There is a look of fear and awe and wonder in Bruce’s eyes, something we’ve never seen in a Batman before. No words are exchanged, and Bruce yanks off the relay, download incomplete, and starts to run, which is good, because Zod busts through the wall and the building starts to collapse.

Communication with Alfred resumes as the building falls. Pennyworth has been shouting this whole time.

“Alfred, we’re not alone.”

Days later, as the graphic in the lower third tells us, and we’re in the Batcave again. Half-suited, Bruce has a whole dossier worked up on Lex Luthor, and found a series of shell company moves routing $95000 to Ted Carson, a disgraced firefighter, ostensibly to take out several buildings in Gotham, though the reason isn’t clear.

Alfred enters and tosses the Daily Planet on the table. An article with a Clark Kent/Lois Lane byline greets us face up.

“Maybe you should talk to Miss Lane.”

He pulls the cowl up. Our closing shot is Batman silhouetted as we’d expect, wearing the same smile as he had on in our opening.

Credits, yada yada.

I’m pretty happy with this film being not quite a traditional arc structure, since it’s got to be such a foundational piece of a DC Universe. We can end here practically mid-action and whatever the next film, it could open pretty easily with Lois Lane, making her the conduit the same way Agent Coulson functioned in Marvel’s Phase 1.

The tricky element here is Luthor. If you set him up as the movie’s antagonist, it doesn’t make sense to use him later with a Legion of Doom/Justice League ensemble story. Treating him like Marvel’s Loki, could work, but then this rewrite would have to focus on Superman. This whole DC universe is an interesting space, moreseo than Marvel for me, because the DC universe has been so mismanaged (bordering on bungled). So maybe future blogposts will see me back rewriting things.

Let me know what you think. Are the rewrites interesting? Can you see some of the storycraft elements we talk about? What else would you like to see rewritten?

See you on Wednesday. Happy writing.

Character Dead-Ends

Good morning, welcome to Friday. The weekend is looking pretty awesome, so let’s start it with a discussion of characters, because okay that’s a terrible segue, but it’ll all be okay because you don’t check this blog out for my recommendations on drinks (PS anything with rum was my jam) you’re here for the breakdown of story elements.

Off we go. Buckle in.

Earlier this week, we talked plots, and now we’re going to look at character. To me, there’s nothing more integral to the story, no matter the plot or genre, than the characters, because we follow them, and ideally, care about them.

We’ve talked a lot about character building, about how they need a philosophy, about how they need to exist larger than the plot, and one day we’re gonna talk about how characters need to setup their own success, but right now we’re gonna look at characters who go all sad trombone flaccid and seem to blend into the background just when the action they’re supposed to be doing is sometimes the biggest part of the story.

Characters need a reason to do stuff. And they have at least one reason, which we’ll call plot-reason. Plot-reason is the “because the plot says so” answer to the “why is the character doing that” question. Plot-reason matters most within the sphere of the plot (it’s really gonna suck for Boise Idaho if Boise Idaho is reduced to ash thanks to a neutrino dragon from the alternate dimension), and provides a limited reason for the characters to take action (if they’re a Boise resident, they don’t want to be dragon snacks).

A writer will buttress the plot-reason with a really shallow personal agenda, or often a romantic subplot that develops because of plot-reason (like the anti-dragon warrior falls in love with the mayor of Boise while trying to save her AND Boise, but we’re led to see that because she’s the top-billed actress in this movie, we’re supposed to believe the leading man is just going to love her … because plot-reasons).

Doing that makes two things very clear: the writer thinks a thin coating of character development is “good enough”, and that a subplot’s job is to be the plot’s sidekick. Neither of those things are true, because of the character(s) involved.

Character development is what we’re expecting to experience over the course of the story. No, not all development is positive, I mean we can watch the psychopath get more psychopathic and feel satisfied because the character stayed on target like an X-Wing pilot. Development just means a change so that we know the actions that prompted that change matter. You know how you talk to someone and they tell you they want to see real change in your behavior, and if you go right back to do the thing that prompted the conversation in the first place, you’re basically showing them that you aren’t capable of change? Yeah, it’s like that.

Likewise, if you use a subplot to support the primary plot, you’re saying the subplot itself isn’t worth developing outside the main plot, which is kinda like calling it parasitic or vestigial. Subplot is its own plot, separate and profound. It’s not the main plot, because the main plot is just where the writer is putting attention.

Characters intersect with the plot, they’re not always and only working in parallel. The plot is ONE THING that helps develop them, and it might be a BIG ONE THING but it is still just one thing. That fact that it’s where this stack of pages and words is wrapped is (and I believe should be) secondary.

A character isn’t going to feel realized if they’re just around to do plot-reasons. A character that you’re devoting story and page-space to isn’t a character you should be able to easily unplug and replace like it’s a weird off-brand USB device that you can never seem to eject normally. And yes, you want them to feel realized, especially if you’re going to take these characters and this world to series or at least a sequel.

So what’s beyond plot-reason? Personal reason. This is usually where that romantic subplot shows up, because romance is personal, and that’s good enough right? NO. Giant flaming neon NO. It’s not about good enough. If it were all about good enough, I’d still be considering a career as a pharmacy technician or convenience store clerk. We can all do better than good enough when it comes to our characters.

How do we do better? We ask a child’s favorite question: “Why” Why is the character doing whatever they’re doing? If it’s because plot, find a better reason.Find a bigger reason, find a reason that resonates with a core value of the character and really do more than just explore it on some superficial level, like “he’s a cop so its his job to do the right thing.”

Because the superficial is obvious and it has the footprints of so many people who have walked that ground before. Go deeper. Dig into the story-earth. Maybe there’s a character backstory (that you’re going to do better than share with the reader than via flashback or dream sequence, right?)

The personal reasons not just tie to this current plot, but also possible future plots (what’s up series writers), so long as each future plot seed is distinct within the logic of the world and story you’re telling. What I mean is this: If you’re telling the story of a space gigolo looking for love across the galaxy, it would make sense for the character to have a running theme of not finding meaningful love on the regular. It would not however make sense that this space gigolo is always embroiled in galactic space politics, even if his preferred clientele are space congresspeople. (Sort of like how the latter Die Hard movies have John McClane happening to the them, rather than McClane being the receiver of the movie). It’s important because when the character is bigger than the plot, you lose the element of risk for that character. Risk for a character gives them challenge, and feeds into the risk they’re also facing thanks to the plot.

Lastly, characters can’t stop being themselves when the plot is over. Okay, fine, if you kill the character off and don’t have any supernatural elements in your story, the character isn’t themselves anymore, but barring a catastrophic face-first meeting with a flamethrower and paper shredder, a character can live past the plot. Ideally, they do this having been changed by the plot in more than just big picture ways (yeah, if you blow up Boise it’s gonna be hard to live there, but also the trauma of having Boise blown up should persist). It’s the little ways change can be shown that give the writer the most space to show off their craft.

Just because the plot is over doesn’t mean the character’s life is.

Stop making dead-ends by connecting the character to deeper feelings and plans and goals than just what the plot needs. Not easy, but worth it.

See you guys Monday. Happy writing.

 

 

InboxWednesday – Plots To Nowhere

Hey everyone, welcome to Wednesday. Hope you’re doing well. Let’s go jump into the inbox and see what’s up. Today’s question occurs 15 times in the inbox in various shapes and sizes, so I’m hoping this answer can serve as a proxy for all them.

My MS got rejected for a weak plot, I don’t know how to fix it, what do I do?

To start, we’re going to need to invent a plot. Let’s go with two, and we’ll make them dissimilar.

Our protagonist is a person with a past, and they’re trying to do everything they can to avoid trouble, but they get sucked into a giant-scale battle for the fate of all mankind with Galactic Overlord and douchenozzle Dale.

AND

Our protagonist is a quiet, hardworking cubicle drone who is routinely taken advantage of for a variety of reasons, until one day when they’ve just had enough of co-worker Dale’s douchenozzlery.

I want to start off with a quick set up that plot is one of the three critical pieces of story structure (the other two being character and world), and it’s one of the most diverse parts of storytelling, because anything with a conflict can be a plot.

And we can take a step back to say that “conflict” is another word for “challenge”, since the actions of a plot do represent a challenge to the characters’ status quo. Whether that’s a galactic dictator or an office jerk, there’s something or someone that prevents the main character from achieving their goal, even if their goal is just to keep hanging out and having Cheetos.

When we talk challenge, we have to talk scale of the challenge, because disproportionate scale is a manuscript killer. A disproportionate scale is one where either the problem or the character it’s affecting is way too great or too small but not played for laughs – think about a kindergarten class trying to stop Godzilla, or Superman trying to keep a fly off his potato salad. So when we create a plot, you need to frame that scale relative to the world you’re building.

This is where I talk about world, and I don’t mean just the single literal planet. The world of a story is the stage it’s set on, whether that’s the office building or a galaxy or the local high school where dreamy Dylan is aloof and all Brenda wants him to do is share his feelings. The scale of the problem has to fit within the world, and it has to fit in the world as well as being significant to the characters who are going to be doing something about it.

So in our intergalactic Dale story, our world is actually several worlds, and our heroine is a captain on a ship. We’ll give her a crew for good measure and throw her smack into the middle of the battle between Dale’s forces and the scrappy revolutionaries, because if I call them rebels, I’m sure Mickey Mouse will show up to my office and break my legs or something.

In our cubicle coming of age story, we’ll make our heroine a data entry technician, and Dale can be the brownnoser who sits on the other side of the cubicle partition, the guy who always takes credit for everyone else’s hard work. The world is just the office, and maybe a local lunch spot so we can keep the story fluid, but we’re not going to fly across country or maybe even to the next county in order to make this heroine get her shit in gear and give Dale a beatdown.

Working with all that, we have the basis for story. We’ve got crude bozzettos we can fill in with other characters and some details where applicable so that we’re not just telling the A to B progression.

Which brings us to the other plot assassin: linear progression.

In simplest terms, linear progression is the simplicity and speed a character takes actions that resolve the plot. For instance, if our plot is to get across the room, then we have progress from our chair to walking across the room and getting to the other side. This is a short progression. Granted, it’s a really simple example, and we don’t need to fatten it with something like an earthquake or hostage negotiation unless the story is really supposed to be about those things.

Let’s look at both our Dale examples. We know that in the end the respective Dale is out of commission. The specifics don’t matter for this discussion, though we can assume they’re relative to their respective worlds. Office Dale isn’t likely to get disintegrated by a quantum rifle, and Intergalactic Dale isn’t going to lose his hold on the galaxy thank to his Powerpoint presentation being swapped for animated GIFs of clown porn. (Again, we’re not playing this for laughs, since comedy would allow us the stretch the seriousness of the plots.)

So long as we know the end results, we can reverse engineer the plot by asking, “How did that happen?” until we reach the starting point in Chapter 1. Like this:

Office Dale is fired, heroine is promoted
How did that happen?
Heroine swaps thumb drives with Dale when he isn’t looking
How did that happen? 
Heroine’s best friend gives Dale her number.
How did that happen?
Heroine and best friend conspire after nearly getting fired.

Etc etc.

In this way, we’re making a kind of outline from back to front, where all we need to do is keep in mind that whatever the plot, however we choose to answer these questions, we have to show the heroine as having changed from however she was at the beginning of the story. It doesn’t even need to be positive change, it can be negative – say she gets all vindictive, or our space captain loses her faith trying to do what she thinks is best. You don’t need to stretch either of those elements out into support structure for every beat unless you’re trying so show office culture to be inherently selfish, or space faith to be corrupt.

Wait, let me slow that down. It’s a big deal.

To show a character has changed, you have to take something you established at the beginning (a fear, a doubt, a talent, a skill, a lack of skill, something about the character) and demonstrate that because of the plot, that thing isn’t the way it used to be at the end of the story. A hopeful character being broken down, or a bitter character gaining faith are the obvious and extreme examples.

But it doesn’t need to be so extreme in order to be workable, it just needs to be believable, and the reader will believe whatever the context of the character and the world can support.

In our office story, so long as the heroine is shown to be quiet and not assertive, and that she doesn’t develop mutant powers in order to stop Dale from being a jiggling bag of crotch weasels, there’s plenty of credible ways to show she’s assertive, the most common being a scene where she stands up during the Johnson account presentation and delivers the performance of her career.

For our space tale, if our captain is not a fan of the no-win scenario, and a Vulcan isn’t handy to be killed off in the third act, then she’s going to have to come to terms with some kind of loss that may put her on a redemptive arc later in subsequent stories. Maybe she’s stripped of her command and has to become one of the pirates she always hated.

How long does that take? Don’t know. There’s no specific answer to give you, because there is no magic number. But I can tell you that if you collapse the progression, if you shorten it, the audience isn’t going to believe it’s a viable arc. It becomes too convenient, as if the character just walked over to the closet and found the box labeled “plot fixer.”

Stretch it too far, and you’ll lose the momentum and reader focus. I see this a lot in science fiction and fantasy, where the quest to go put the magic doo-dad in the special place (sounds super dirty, you’re welcome) gets spread out over all these planets and with these side characters that contribute really tiny value to the story, but they’re great evidence that the writer loves to show off how many different words they can puke and masturbate into existence.

Again, this isn’t the screaming of one editor that you don’t need to keep the pendulum either on anorexia or obesity, but hey, there’s a whole realm of story between all or nothing that you should totally go check out and mine and live in and do something with. (for the record THIS IS THE SCREAMING OF ONE EDITOR SO THAT YOU KEEP WRITING AND STOP GOING TO HUGE EXTREMES IN ORDER TO GET THE RECOGNITION THAT YOU CAN ABSOLUTELY GET WITHOUT THE TREND-CHASING OR SOCIO-POLITICAL SOAPBOXING)

Plot weakness is about the choices you make, because it’s not enough to just choose the specific words but also the idea you’re trying to develop via those words. Remember – Writing is the act of making decisions.

The value a plot point contributes doesn’t have to be equal sized, but we’re telling a story, not working on the brunoise of an onion. Be willing to challenge not just how complex the plot is (because complexity does not guarantee quality any more than bombastic line delivery guarantees acting, I’m looking at you later years Pacino) and take that further to challenge the specific contributions of each plot point and plot participant.

Oh, and if you have an office or intergalactic Dale in your life, don’t you dare let them stop you from creating.

See you on Friday. Happy writing.

Our Plate And Buffet

It’s Monday, and I hope you had a great weekend. I had a pretty good one, the weather was warm, I got to wear shorts, and I remembered that there were soft pretzels in the freezer. It was awesome.

Today I want to start the week somewhat picking up where we left off on Wednesday with social media, because it was pointed out to me over the weekend that while knowledge of social media is good and critical, you have to make the time to use it. And people frankly suck at that. So let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about sucking at making time to do stuff.

Normally I think this argument is a load of applesauce and horsefeathers, because if something is important to you, you will make time for it. You enjoy the procrastinating, so you spend an extra hour watching television. You like the comfy spot in bed, so you sleep an extra half hour past your alarm.

Just like a diet or a fitness plan, where you’re trying to change your weight or your exercise habits, there are sacrifices to make. Gone is the double portion of daily dessert fudge. The extra steakchos are given the heave-ho. These sacrifices are tough initially, because we crave the feelings and/or brain chemicals they used to provide, and our brains panic because we’re not getting flooded with the same stuff we used to, and change is scary so let’s all freak out.

It’s right around this time that people start getting a little huffy, because when I say “make sacrifices” they don’t mention the binge watch on Netflix, or the weekly phone call with a family member that just sucks the life and joy out of them. They mention the time with the kids, the bills they have to pay, the spouse who feels overlooked, the house tasks that need to happen. And they get defensive because they make this jump where I’m saying success comes at the expense of “the important stuff.”

Where I think people go off the rails is in how they define “the important stuff”, because when I talk to them, they list other people and other things. Their family. Their job. Their income. Their bills. They skip themselves.

Now maybe I see this because I don’t have a family the way they do, and I don’t have a lot of the bills they do, but you have to count yourself as important, because making that time to create a thing, making that decision to do more than just hobby around, is important.

Your book isn’t going to get out the door if you treat it like the ten other things you’d do if you had more time or more money. People aren’t going to even know that they can buy it unless you take the seconds or minutes to compose a message saying so.

If writing is a hobby for you, great, then relegate it to the time when Tiny House Hunters is over and just before you look at different flowering plants to put in the bucket in front of the house.

But if you want to make that transition from “this is the thing I do when I think I can, and I don’t take it seriously like that (more on that in a second)” to “I’m getting this book out the door, this is what I want to do, it’s important to me”, then Tiny House Hunters and those begonias are going to need to wait.

When the “take it seriously like that” part comes up, and it comes up quite a bit in my workshops and seminars, some people get upset. If this weren’t writing, if we were talking about you spending more time with your kids, then we’d talk about how you’re gonna have make that effort to do more with them on a regular and consistent basis, even when initially it feels super weird and your brain throws off a ton of excuses about why you can’t. But you have to agree that you can’t say you’re committed to spending time with your kids when you’ve only added in an extra 3 minutes every other Tuesday just before they go to bed. That’s an insult to the concept and a disservice to your kids.

I don’t see much difference between that and writing.

Maybe it’s in our definition of “serious.” To me, a serious writer is someone who sets time out of their day, every day, to do something that advances them towards their goal. If they need to be writing chapter 11, they’re doing it. If they need to communicate with people to build an audience, they’re going for it. Maybe just one thing, maybe both, maybe fifty other things. But they’re not screwing around and talking more while doing less. They’re doing what they want, they’re taking the steps, they’re not letting the excuses keep them back. How are you defining it?

All this is good, but this isn’t the practical side. People bring that up like they’ve trumped me, and the truth is I don’t know your schedule, I don’t know how you work, so I can’t give you (the non-existent) one-size-fits-all schedule. What works for me does so because I can divide my time a certain way to play to my strengths. I figured out this schedule because I was honest about how I spend my time, and took a guess as to what I thought I could do about my goals within that time frame.

I wrote down all the things I did. I spent a Saturday breaking down my not asleep hours in 30 minute segments. I tracked what I ate, when I ate, how long it took me to eat, how long I dicked around on Facebook, how may times I stared out the window. I wrote it all out. I didn’t judge it, I just documented it.

The judging came later, when I looked at my schedule and saw all the places that could get trimmed or changed. Gone was the 35 minutes on Facebook during breakfast where I vainly hoped someone would tag me and say nice things about me. I cut my “number of stares out the window” from 30 to 26.

It’s not like I gained hours. I didn’t. There weren’t hours to gain unless I shifted my sleep schedule and gave up the go-to activities that relax me. But I was able to repurpose those minutes so it felt like my plate – the way I was spending the day – got bigger, because what I was doing was more productive.

Instead of 35 minutes reading about people complaining about politics or social inequality or sharing pusheen pictures, I got 35 minutes to read a book about how to write. Or 35 minutes to read a chapter in a biography. I could sneak in part of a podcast, so I started my day with a laugh rather than a “oh good grief, this is what people are complaining about today? Can they just not be the center of the universe?

Your writing isn’t going to be revolutionized by hurriedly and radically changing your schedule. That sort of massive transformation can often be an impulse, a knee-jerk reaction to perception or anxiety, like a fad diet over a weekend so you can wear an outfit on a Monday. Those changes aren’t often sustainable because you can’t mistake a burst of energy for the inertia of routine.

We talk about “having so much on our plate”, when it’s our plate at the buffet of our own design. These are our choices and their consequences portioned out to us on our plate. Here’s that eight hour chunk of time at the job you sort of like and stay at because it allows you to take those two weeks off and go to Vermont. Splat. Here’s that relationship with the people you grossly disagree with that you maintain only because you’re afraid to jettison it and get flak from other people. Splat. Here’s a heaping helping of impossible goals you set because you want so badly to be praised and be successful while making other people happy so that you aren’t abandoned or ignored or belittled. Splat.

I’m not saying give up the job. I’m not even saying give up the negative stuff that you’ve built into your day to day life. I can’t ask you to do that. What I can ask you to do is look at your experiences, look at where you are, look at where you want to be, and exercise some portion control. Where you likely want to be, what you want to do, that’s going to call for a little less time doing A so you can do a little of B, since B better gets you towards your goal.

Yeah, it’s your buffet, and it is all you can eat, but you gotta be willing to say no to extra spoonfuls of the stuff that doesn’t get you where you want to be.

I’ll see you guys Wednesday. Happy writing.

 

 

InboxWednesday – Social Media

Holy mother of chicken fingers, Wednesday crept up on us pretty quick there. Next thing you know, it’ll be Friday and I’ll get a tweet from someone about to get turnt up for the weekend. (The first time I heard that phrase, I thought someone said turnips, and pictured someone having a really good weekend playing Stardew Valley.)

But we’re not there yet, creatives. So until then, let’s do what we do on Wednesdays and grab a question from my inbox. Remember, you can ask me any question you want, because even the ones that don’t go on the blog get answered.

Let’s do this.

John, I’m a 57-year-old man writing his first novel. My two kids are in college, my wife works full-time. I am financially stable, and I thought writing would be a good thing to do. My question is: what’s the point of social media? What good does it do me, when I’m not a teenager or not really good at it, and what platforms should I use for what purpose? My schedule in the evenings and weekends is open, so time is not a problem, but how do I best use these apps? – J.

J. (you asked not to use your real name, no sweat), thanks so much for your question. Congrats on taking the dive into writing. What you’re asking is big and good and it’s got some moving parts, so let’s do this in pieces.

These are my opinions, other people may disagree, and that’s totally alright. I want you to first know that you need social media. NEED it, like critical in the modern day NEED, because the traditional publishers aren’t going to dump buckets of money at your door to do the marketing for you. You know your book, and you know who you are way better than they ever will, so there’s freedom to being your own marketing machine. You can develop a system that’s custom  to you, and because it’s playing to your strengths, you’ll use it with less difficulty.

What I’ll do is breakdown each platform with a definition, an example where I can, and the pros and cons. Then I’ll use my social media as a case study. J., follow me on this, this is gonna be a lot of words, but you can do this, it’s just one step at a time, it’s not overwhelming unless you let it be. Don’t quit on this, let’s rock and roll.

Can I give you two ground rules? These are important. Write this on a post-it note. Carve them into the foreheads of your enemies:

1. Social media IS NOT just sales link spam. There’s a reason it’s called “social” media – being a person who does X (in your case, writes books) is the honey to the sales spam vinegar when you’re building a group of people you interact with.

2. Practice using it. Regular use, even if you’re just goofing around with filters or hashtags or puns or whatever will help you get better when you do have something important, like links to a blog post or a fundraising page or a promo for an event you’re attending.

Primary Platforms
What I call a “primary platform” is the social media where you’re the most comfortable. Maybe you’ll develop more than one of these, and that’s awesome. A primary platform is where you can reach a certain number of people, and you’ll know you can reach them without having to do anything that you haven’t already done before.

Secondary Platforms
A secondary platform is social media that’s new to you. You’ve never used it before, or you barely use it, and if you gave it more time, and did a little research, you could get better at it, but you’re maybe okay with it being more on the perimeter of your social media stuff.

I’m going to spot you one free primary platform – email. You’ve written emails before. It’s pretty comfortable. And along with the ability to write emails, you’ve got a list of people to sends email to, so that’s a prepped audience. I know what you’re thinking, “John I can’t email these people that I’m writing a book.” And I’ll go ahead and ask you what about being creative is so bad that these people would run from you like your a clown on fire handing out mayonnaise and guacamole? It’s okay to let the world know you’re creative.

With me so far? Let’s look at specific platforms then. Each platform is going to take some time, especially when you’re just learning how to use it. No, you don’t have to be perfect at it, there is no perfect at it, but you’re going to need to take seconds/minutes to write things occasionally. Even if/when they’re wholly unrelated to the specifics of the book you’re writing.

Facebook
For me, professionally, Facebook isn’t my best option. It’s great when I want to tell people about work like we’re sitting on the porch with drinks and I’m just chatting about the day, or I want rant a little about video games or my weird neighbors, but I have a hard time turning that into sales. That’s not to say it’s impossible to do it, I know plenty of people who make that happen, but I know just as many people who keep the sales off Facebook, and use it more as a social pool for communication – one more way they can be a person first and a selling entity second.

The Pros: Everyone’s on it. Okay, not my mom, not that one guy I know who believes in chemtrails, lizard people, and nanochips inside vaccines that will one day activate and subjugate us, but like, loads of other people. Whether you just have an account for yourself, or you get a Page together where you specifically interact with an audience because of something you do or a way you identify (an author, a publisher, a whatever-er), you can communicate with other humans. It’s pretty easy to use, you just type in a box at the top of the page, you click Post, and boom, done.

The Cons: There’s a lot of people on it, and they’re going to talk about everything from politics to babies to work complaints to strange anime references to screeds about how they deserve preferential treatment to questions about robot apocalypses. That signal-to-noise ratio can be tough to parse through, and something as earnest and interesting as your “Hey I started writing a book” can totally get blown out of the water by your friend Sharon going on a rant about how the brown people are ruining this country and how we need to feel guilty about something that happened three hundred years ago that started our alleged national dumpster fire rolling down a hill.

Twitter
Twitter is my jam. I love Twitter. Each tweet is 140 characters, and that includes spaces. Yeah I know, there’s talk about expanding that, but even if they did, I’d keep it to 140. The concision Twitter has trained me to develop is critical when I’m speaking and editing – words are potent, and having to pick and choose how I describe something means I put a premium on clarity over flashy vocabulary.

The Pros: You can find a lot of like-minded people on it. I follow a heap of writers, creatives, editors, agents and people whose opinions and ideas interest and encourage me. Also, because of its fluid nature, I can jump into conversations or start my own pretty easily.

The Cons: It can feel like you’re shouting into the Grand Canyon while standing in London fog. You may have no idea that your words are reaching anyone, and especially at the beginning, it can be discouraging. But every once in a while, you may get surprised about who reads what you’re saying, who replies, or who shares what you say with their heap of people. (I have had a few “Oh shit, that person knows what I write!?” moments in the last year, they’re awesome).

If you do go with Twitter, and need a person to start with, start with me

Google+ (Google Plus, G+)
I have to admit J., I fell out of love with Google+. We grew apart because we both changed – G+ changed its layout, I found my groove with Twitter and other platforms. But Google+ is a viable longer form platform that you can use and build circles of people with. These communities share interest (you can build a writing circle), and there are large and active groups of people doing the same stuff you do, but as with any large mass of people, check that signal to noise ratio and don’t let the negative people poison your progress.

The Pros: It doesn’t have the glut of extraneous content the way Facebook does. It isn’t capped at 140 characters the way Twitter is. You can say a lot on a topic, you can read a lot about a topic, and you can get eyes on what you say. It sounds ideal, right? But …

The Cons: In a world where you’ve got other, more visual social media popping up, where there’s more immediacy and speed and interest, G+ can become an afterthought. Even with this blog, G+ is just one more place where I put posts, and occasionally chime in to specific groups, but otherwise, my attention is elsewhere.

Snapchat
This is a new one for me, as in I really started getting serious about it less than a week ago. This is the first of three platforms I’m going to talk about where you can use stills, video, and audio to get a concise message across. I’m hugely in love with the concept, and it’s easy to use once you check out how other people are using it.

The Pros: Again, concision is valuable. Short video can be personal and effective. Captions and filters can help put together an idea and package it for the current moment.

The Cons: A lot of snapchat is aimed at fashion or celebrity, and a lot of snapchat (at least when you google people you should follow on snapchat) skews younger than you or I, J. But don’t let that throw you off, because you don’t have to interact with that userbase if you don’t want to. It’s not the most intuitive interface, so you might have to fumble a bit early on to get a handle on it, but the good news is that the snaps you do send out only last 24 hours, and so there’s no great lasting shame in the snap of the inside of your pocket while you went to the grocery store, as happened to me earlier this week.

Instagram
There’s an intimacy possible in the visuals we present to the world. They’re a glimpse into our lives that goes beyond “buy my thing”, and I think the sharing of you-see-what=I-see is super important if you want show that what you do is not mysticism or impossible, and that you’re grateful for life. Instagram is tons of photos, it’s primarily visual, and it’s a great tool for showing (literally) more than telling.

The Pros: The peek behind the curtain is interesting. It’s honest, or at least it should be. It’s got a great interface, you can knock it out with a few clicks on your phone. Getting comfortable with hashtags (think of them as indexing tools) will make your production that much easier.

The Cons: If you’re like me, you suck at taking photos you’d call interesting. This is in part due to a lack of practice, and also due to a pressure I feel from the signal-to-noise discussion that Instagram is “supposed to be” all pictures of lunches and random bragging selfies of people better looking than me doing things I can neither afford nor have the means to do.

Periscope
Here now we’re at the fringe of my expertise. Periscope is a video broadcasting tool, that allows you to stream video to an audience. It’s not something I’ve really gotten my hands dirty with yet, but I’m going to be changing that over the course of this week.

The Pros: Streaming video! Live broadcasts! That’s huge. Gone are the static walls of text (said the guy writing the blogpost), and interactivity is at a premium. This is a big deal if you have something to say and want to get it out with immediacy and emotion. But …

The Cons: Building an audience to check out the broadcast takes time, as it does for any of these platforms. Also, given the projected nature of this content, you’ll need something to say or show – a lot of “Uhh” and “Um” won’t hold an audience’s attention. No, I’m not talking production values, I mean pure content. Figuring out what your content is goes a long way to helping steer it out of your head and to other people.

Anchor
Another new one for me, it’s an audio platform where you record short notes and receive other short notes or responses in return (they’re called waves, because nautical theme). I have barely tried this once, and haven’t even set myself up yet, but that’ll change over this week too.

The Pros: If you’re like me, you tend to have a logjam of thoughts that sear your mind and need to be let out, and quick bursts of audio are great for me when I’m feeling particularly laden with urgent purpose. And because you don’t have to see me, I don’t have to feel as awful about being one of the not-pretty people as I do what I do (note: this discomfort comes up for me on Snapchat something fierce) I need to play around with this more.

The Cons: If you’re like me, as you talk, you gesture. You work in the visual space in front of you, making air quotes and hand-based diagrams. They don’t always translate to audio, because despite allegedly having moves like Jagger, you can’t hear my hands make the “so this is like this and that’s like that” gesture.

Pinterest
Pinterest is a repository for static content (like blogposts), where you can collate information about a particular topic. You can have a board (a group) of pins (links) about whatever topic you want, although I have to say they’re a little draconian about butts, curves and intimacies.

The Pros: If you’ve got a lot of blog content to give out, if you want a lot of content to read, Pinterest can be a gold mine. With one of the big two browsers (Chrome, Firefox), you can get an extension to allow you to pin stuff through a simple right-click context menu, and it is an easy way to have a lot of resources at hand.

The Cons: It can be a swallower of your time. There’s so much stuff out there, and so much of it more signal than noise that you can blow a day pinning material one thing after another, stepping away from that writing that needs to happen because “just one more Pin” turns into “three hours later” pretty quick.

Blogging
I was on the fence about calling blogging a form of social media, because social media is becoming more and more conversational and concise, and blogging can range in length and frequency of use. But blogging has a communal aspect, so it’s social media for our discussion.

The Pros: You can say what you want, how you want, as often as you want. Your blog can be a home base for what you’re doing, giving you an unfettered and uninterrupted space to paint your internet real estate how you like.

The Cons: Audience growth is slow, and you can get discouraged by staring at views and thinking you’ll never get past ten or thirty or whatever. You can, you will, you just need to consistently put out good ideas in clear ways. Good content gets read, so make stuff that expresses clearly what you want to say and how you feel.

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So let’s use me as a case study. Out of the nine social media platforms I just talked about, I’ve got accounts on all nine, but I would call Twitter and this blog my primary platforms. I’m more comfortable here and at 140 characters professionally than anywhere else. Facebook sees daily use, but that’s more personal or anecdotal. I talk about what I do, but I don’t really do what I do with the people on Facebook. It feels weird to me, like I’m asking my family if they want to help me out, and I suppose that idea will need to change, but right now, I like this divide between pro-John and off-hours-John.

Snapchat has been my new vector for socializing, and my small as all get out following is clients, friends, a few celebrities who don’t get annoying, and professionals I learn from. My goal there is to get better at using the service, and I’m not going to do that without giving it a go myself. If you want to find me on Snapchat, I’m at johnwritesstuff.

Instagram and I don’t really know what to do with each other. It’s there, I am following some interesting people, but I don’t post much, mainly because I don’t know what to post. I don’t work visually, so I struggle to put up anything other than various doughnuts or foods I’ve eaten, which perpetuate that social pressure and make me feel bad, so then I use it less, and onward and onward that cycles. But I’ve got a youtube video queued up to watch after I write this post, so maybe I’ll learn some new stuff.

Pinterest is my recipe and idea hole. It doesn’t seem very conversational, but it’s a great education tool for me. Want to learn about business strategies,  enchiladas, candle-making, and old movie posters? I can do that all in one fell swoop.

The remaining platforms are on my “To check out” list, and I said on Twitter the other day that I wanted to try Periscope later this week, I’m thinking Friday. Hmmm.

On the whole, I divide part of my workday into check the various feeds, but not all at once. I’m on twitter throughout the day, I check Facebook in the morning and while I eat lunch, I snapchat now when an idea hits. I blog three times a week. I pinterest or read pinterest usually after work, because some of that relaxes me.

Because time is the most precious business commodity, I’m picky about allocating it. Were I new and starting out, I’d pick one or two platforms and get comfortable. I’d give myself a wide deadline of like 3 months with daily experimentation to see how it fits for me. If a platform didn’t work out, I wouldn’t go back. You don’t need to have all of them going in order to market your work successfully, and you certainly don’t want a pile of responsibilities that take you away from the writing when they’re supposed to be supporting it. So, J., you do what works for you, and if that’s one thing, awesome, if it’s eight or more (because there are more platforms I didn’t cover), awesome too.

I believe you (and anyone regardless of age or gender or genre or whatever) can learn to use this stuff and connect with other people both professionally and personally. It might not be instantaneous, but it can be done.

Hope that answers your question J.

I’ll see you guys on Friday for more blog times. Have a great middle of your week, don’t let the jerks get you down.

Happy writing.

The Writer, The Professor, The Worker

Good morning. I know, it’s another Monday, and for some of you that meant commute and re-shackling yourself to a cubicle, something something TPS reports.

For me, I have made the commute from the bedroom to the office, so its now time to rock and roll some blog goodness.

Today I want to do something a little different and show you three different ways editors work. I’m going to do this with three different editors: me, The ProofProfessor, and Old School Editor X, who just wrote me an email saying I couldn’t use their name, because they are too busy being not-an-editor in their very professional career where they have to wear dress clothes all the time.

Here’s the disclosure – no one paid me jack to talk about these methods or their businesses. I am not under any obligation to say people are awesome and that they’re perfect, nor are their methods perfect and flawless. But these two people were nice enough to answer some email questions, so that’s why they’re here. Cool?

Now you be you, and let’s say you want an editor to look at your manuscript. Let’s assume your MS is 75,000 words. Let’s give it a genre … it’s historical fiction. So now we’re going to look at what would happen next, if you picked one of these editors to give you a hand.

Old School Editor X
It starts with an email. You’d hash out a price (.09 a word because it’s the low-end of the old school rates) and a schedule for how the work happens (a chunk of chapters a week at a time or 15000 word sections over 5 emails or one giant email when it’s all done, etc.)

Then the editing happens. The manuscript gets triple-spaced and marked with various editorial marks and lengthy notes in margins, but no in-line editing.

The Pros: There’s no doubt that editing your manuscript has happened, because you get novella-length notes in the margins and a pile of hieroglyphs that you’ll end up googling to decipher.

The Cons: This can be pricey. (.09/word for our sample 75000 would be $6750)  And the length the comments can be incredibly overwhelming, because maybe a comment ends up longer than the sentence or paragraph it references. The lack of in-line edits can seem cold, with a sort of sterile work-at-an-Apple-Store atmosphere. Lastly, the tone of this relationship can be adversarial, where the editor knows best and the writer needs to be led out of darkness and ignorance. (I can speak from personal experience that this sucks. I drank this Kool-Aid, and oof. My bad, you guys.)

The Proof Professor
Let me tell you about Matt. He’s a cool guy. We’ve exchanged a few emails, and I totally get the sense he’d be pretty pleasant to have at a dinner party. He’s the Proof Professor, a UK-based editor with a really unique twist – he’s got software to work through the manuscript and compile a list of edits.

Seriously, dude’s got software. I’ve seen it. I’ve had it run through a manuscript of mine and see the output list of problems and reasons-the-problem-is-a-problem (like this: further || farther when talking distance)  This software doesn’t do the editing for him, it’s a compliment to the rest of his editorial toolbox.

You’ll pay in blocks of words, so for our 75000 word MS, you’re paying £348. (The whole breakdown is on the website here.) and you’ll get your MS edited in-line, software’d, and commented on.

UPDATED INFO: Matt also offers a “pay per error” option, which is the first I’ve seen of its kind. You pay for a set number of errors, in groups of 10, at a flat rate. If they find fewer than than amount (say you pay for 20 and they find 9), they refund you for the 11 you didn’t use. It’s an amazing system, great for those eleventh-hour publishing needs, and really dovetails nicely with the software. (chances are I will figure out my own version of this and shamelessly use it)

The Pros: The software adds a unique touch to this, to the point where I want my own copy of this proprietary material (Matt totally doesn’t have to share, it’s all you dude). Also Matt gives a shit. He care about his clients, he cares about their success, and he’s a genuinely nice person, judging on our correspondence. Editor X also gives a shit, but they’ll never admit to it.

The Cons: I’m not a fan of the per-block editing payment system, it’s always felt square peg-round hole to me, but it works for other people. Also, if you’re in the US, don’t forget there’s not only the financial conversion but also the time delay between here and there. I know those sound like minor points, but they’re worth highlighting if you’re racing a deadline of some kind or have a tight budget.

The Writer Next Door
We’re wrapping this part of the blogpost up by talking about me, because it’s my blog, and because I felt like putting myself first was way too obnoxious.

Just like the other editors mentioned, we toss some emails back and forth to establish a price (let’s go with .03/word) and a schedule (you want this done in 60 days), then put all the relevant info into a contract and I get down to business.

Editing is both in-line and marginal comments, along with emails detailing points when they’re egregious or I think I wasn’t clear enough within the orange-salmon comment box in Word.

The Pros: I care about your success. I am not out to rub your nose in your mistakes like the puppy encountering a carpet that needs to know who’s boss. I do my best to be clear about flagging the problems as well as why they’re problems, because  I think the knowing the “why” helps prevent the problem from perpetuating itself, and people feel better with a reason instead of just “because someone else says so.” I’ll also help spread your marketing goodness, show you how to do it (or do it better), and walk you through any part of the process you have questions on.

The Cons: Even at 3 cents a word, it can be considered expensive, which can make people think that editing is luxury, to which I counter that a plumber is expensive, and do you consider a not-leaking sink a luxury? Also, sometimes, I come in like a ball of fire, and that can off putting for some people, but that’s just because I want to see you be your most awesome creative self doing your most awesome creative work.

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So, writer, what should you do? Which editor is best for you? I can’t say. I so badly want to say I’m the best, but I know I’m not. I’m human. I make mistakes. (Even Matt’s software isn’t perfect, but nothing’s going to be).

I believe you should use an editor, even if you’re going to traditionally publish and they’ll have an editor in their process too. I think getting your manuscript into the best shape possible, and getting better at the craft of writing will only benefit you in the long game of your career, even if that career ends up being one or two books ever. Being better at something never hurt anyone (if you can prove that false, someone will give you invisible internet dollars).

Shop around. I DO NOT MEAN send 2 pages of your manuscript to 40 editors as a “test drive” so that you don’t have to pay for a whole edit, because that’s completely reprehensible. I mean talk to the editors and see if you can get along with them. I’m not a fan of “test pages” because while a few edited pages can give you a technical awareness of the problems the MS has, it doesn’t say much about the person you’re going to work with, and that relationship is critical, so find a good fit.

My great thanks to [EDITOR NAME REDACTED] and Proof Professor for letting me talk to them and mention them on the blog, I hope I’ve done them justice where appropriate.

See you guys Wednesday for a swim through the inbox … I think we’ll do a social media question.

Happy writing.

The Lessons of 400 Posts

Wow, 400 posts. I’ve been on this blog longer and more seriously than some relationships I’ve been in. Do you think we should be wearing tuxedos? I’m wearing a blue t-shirt and Captain America pajamas as I write this paragraph during breakfast, is that celebratory enough?

I’ve blogged on several platforms for years about many topics, but it’s here, in this incarnation of my voice and content that I’m happiest. I take an enormous pride in these posts and building an audience, and I want today to break down some of the things I’ve learned in 400 posts. This won’t just cover blogging, I’m going all over freelancing, writing, and publishing.

Before I get into this list, THANK YOU. Thank you to every one of the thousands of readers I’ve had over this blog’s lifetime, and thank you to everyone who I don’t know about who’s read my words after they ended up on Facebook or Tumblr or tweets. It means a lot to me that anyone would even look my way, and I am grateful for every view, share, comment, and like. When this blog started, it was because I wanted to get people talking about publishing and writing, and I think that’s happening now more than ever. THANK YOU. Whether this is the first time you’re reading my stuff or the 400th, this success is as much yours as mine.

Alright, it’s lesson time. Let’s rock and roll.

i. YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH not only to chase after your dreams, but you can also make them happen. I want to start with this idea, because there are days when I just can’t put two words together if you handed me velcro and a blowtorch. There are days when I just want to skip all the work and play a video game or stare at videos. There are times when I see what other people are doing, when I see how successful they’re being, and how effortless that appears, and think to myself that a bag of paperclips and rabbit poop is more talented and successful than I am.

It’s wrong. Plain and simple. I might not have an agent. I might not have 300+ clients yet. I might not be at the forefront of coaching writers, I might not be the editor everyone goes to for all the things, but that’s no indicator that I should retreat and go back to folding towels and getting yelled at by entitled mall customers.

Opportunities are the byproduct of effort, and by that I mean, when you work and hustle, when you put all your energy into being your best self, doing your best work, you’re going to find yourself is situations where doors open up to you. It might not be the door you expect (to date none of my screenwriter friends have tweeted to say, “Hey John I’m writing the new Nero Wolfe or the new Macgyver, do you want to jump in?”) but I’ve been lucky enough to get interviewed by talented people, guest spot on blogs, give presentations and do Q&As all over the place.

My dream is simple: I’m going to help as many people as possible get their stories, games, scripts, comics, and ideas made.  I’m going to give writers and creatives the best tools they need to make that stuff happen, and I’m going to do it in a way where I’m happy with the efforts and outcomes.

Therefore, I need to do stuff that helps make that happen. I need to blog. I need to tweet. I need to snapchat (yes snapchat, you can find me at johnwritesstuff). I need to give more seminars, presentations, and workshops. I need to play my game and help people tell their stories.

This isn’t to say I’m not doing other stuff while that happens. I’m playing with a lot of Lego, I’m playing video games, I’m hanging out with friends and family. You can say that those things don’t make me an entrepreneur or as successful as possible, but those things fulfill me. They keep me going.

You can make your dream happen. Whatever it is. There are actions to take, some big and some small, but you can succeed.

ii. Life throws plenty of curveballs, and they don’t all get knocked out of the park, but you have to keep swinging at them. My medical history is packed with bad diagnoses, hospital visits, illnesses and big scary concepts like “terminal” this and “depression” that. I could, and it’s been suggested to me, that I pull all the way back on what I do and spend the next few years just “being happy” while I can. That advice is probably among the worst I ever received, because it comes from the premise that doing what I do doesn’t make me happy.

Yeah, my health sucks. Yeah, it’s going to suck harder in the future. But that doesn’t mean that right now, I still can’t do the best I can to get to my goal (see above). Having said that, I gotta talk about the obstacles poor health puts in my way: things like not being hired or contracted because people don’t want to stress me out, or because fear that I’ll get sick for a week or month will throw their project schedule off, or that my quality of work will suffer. And I get that. And yes, I think for a few weeks there, my work did suffer, I can own that. But to totally cross me off the list in the present because I have a rocky medical future ahead is frankly cowardly, short-sighted, and discriminatory.

I wasn’t kidding when I said I’m doing my best work ever. Talk to my coaching clients and they’ll tell you and show you the effects of an hour meeting with me. Talk to my editing clients and they’ll point to finished books on the shelf. Talk to my marketing clients and they’ll point to high sales. Good work is good work, and while the future isn’t the super field of daisies and rainbows, that’s no reason to give up, run away, or not keep going after the dream.

Is it hard? Oh hell yes. There are days my chest capital-H HURTS. There are days where I get so tired the fifteen minute nap turns into a two hour nap. There are days I have to dictate from bed or the couch. But hard doesn’t mean “nothing gets accomplished”, hard just means I have to adapt and keep going forward.

You’re going to face all kinds of problems and obstacles. Some you’ll have zero control over, some you’ll manufacture without always realizing it. But you have this goal right, you want to be a published author, a professional painter, a screenwriter, a whatever, and you can go do that. You should go do that. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

iii. It’s a drama culture. Outrage is popular. You don’t have to buy a ticket to that circus. The number of people I know who use social media as a soapbox to espouse criticism, complaint, and hostility instead of support, success, and compassion is staggering. Two minutes scanning down the tweetdeck stream, and I really start to wonder if some people are only ever happy when they’re complaining or pointing out other people’s faults.

One of my least favorite parts of social media is the idea that if you don’t agree with a particular point, you’re wholly a member of the opposition. If you don’t think this one person is right and should be automatically supported, you’re just as bad as the person who aggrieved them, and in fact you’re re-aggrieving them by having your own opinion.

That, friends, is friggin’ stupid. We need everyone to have their own opinion, to make up their own minds. Social media has given us all the ability to share that opinion, but the loudness of your projected voice is not the same as the quality of your projection. Spending your day screaming over the problems rather than putting your head down and doing something about how the problem specifically affects you is not getting your work done. It does however, give you the convenient excuse of “Well I can’t do what I want, because of X problem!” Remind me again: Was your goal to live behind the excuse wall, or was your goal to make your creative stuff happen?

If it’s better for you, if it’s helpful for you getting to your goal, to complain and spew venom, and be a black hole where nothing’s right because of A B C factors, great. Do that. Do the best you can at it. Some of us, and I’d argue many of us, won’t be doing that. That doesn’t mean we don’t care, or that we’ve sided with the “enemy” in your us versus them model, it’s just that our individual path doesn’t look like yours, and that’s the cool part about living and taking steps towards goals.

iv. Rejection means quit if you either want it to, or wanted to secretly have a reason to quit. Rejection letters are thing that happen. You write a thing, you query it, it gets rejected. The specific reason doesn’t matter at this second. It hurts. I know. It sucks to hear that your work didn’t meet the criteria or expectation (yours or theirs). It can really mess with your head. But a rejection letter is not a mandatory eviction of your creativity, and it’s not a permission slip to stop being creative, unless that’s what you want. No one is in charge of you giving up, except you.

I know a lot of people who queried, got rejected, and stopped writing. They point to the letter as evidence of them not being good enough, and that other people pushed them in this creative direction against their will, and this letter is proof they weren’t then, and never will be, good enough.

Except a rejection letter doesn’t say that. Believe me, I write rejection letters and rejection letter templates. It’s never [YOUR NAME HERE], We don’t want your work so stop writing, stop making that thing, in fact, just stick to breathing air, but like, go way away and do it, because your cooties are really a problem. Signed [PROFESSIONAL PERSON].

A rejection letter just says that the query didn’t make someone want to read the manuscript or that the manuscript wasn’t what the reader was looking for at the time they read it. That’s it. If you get rejected, change the query, work on the manuscript, and keep trying. Remember too, that the query-and-publish model is just one way to get your story out into the world. Don’t you dare give up.

v. Answering your email promptly and fully moves you towards your goal. You can also say “making phone calls, answering phone calls, replying to tweets and messages, being more than a one-way distributor of awesome” moves you towards your goal.

I’ll put on my Parvus Press hat for second. Let’s say you send in your manuscript. Let’s say I dig it, and email you on Monday saying I want to talk. If you don’t answer that email until six Mondays from now or eleven Thursdays from now, do you know what that tells me? That you’re not serious about going forward. And I wanted you to be serious. I hoped you would be, because getting your book out into the world helps every one of us.

Prompt email response, even the “Hey, I got your email, but I’m picking the kids up from school, so a lengthy reply will happen in like 3 hours after dinner” matters (I want to point out that writing that sentence took me 38.78 seconds, yes I timed it, are you saying you don’t have 40 seconds while the kids clamber into the car to write a response?) because the people involved in that correspondence know they didn’t just scream out into the void. No one likes void-screaming, so please answer your emails. Reply to those tweets. I know, it takes time, but it’s nowhere as long as you think.

vi. If you’re creative, you’re going to have to do things that support that creativity, even when those things aren’t creative, or you think they suck, or that you suck at them. The era of the giant advance is dead. The era where all you have to do is sit back and write while other people handle everything else (ever notice how that makes the writing part sound so easy?) is dead. I’m sorry. I’m sorry because it means now you, the creative, are going to have to be responsible for some of the business-y stuff that other people used to do for you.

I’m talking about marketing. I’m talking about talking about what you’re doing and that you’re proud of it. I’m talking about getting the word out that you’ve got this stuff available and you’re willing to accept cash in exchange for your stuff.

You might not like doing that. You might resent that you have to do it. You might feel like you’re no good at it, and that you’re not-goodness at it is actively hurting you. You might feel stupid doing it. It might be hard. It might be awkward.

You still have to do it. Look, I wasn’t always great at Twitter. I used to use it like glorified text messaging, and it wasn’t until someone pointed out that reading my Twitter feed was like hearing half of really interesting conversations that I got my shit together. I’m not great at Twitter, but I do well enough. I just started really getting into Snapchat, because it’s going to be the next big thing. I’m super not good at Snapchat. It is a little embarrassing, and I have to remind myself to do it. But that won’t always be the case. I’ll get into the habit, and it will get easier.

And it’ll do that, not because I’ve got a superhuman aptitude for social media, but because I’m going to do it more often and learn from my mistakes. I’ll get better at doing it. So, it might be weird now, but I have the confidence that it won’t be later. And that’s where I’m aiming – this place in the future where I am all over social media delivering knowledge and encouragement. See the goal, work towards the goal, even if the work is hard or scary or frustrating.

vii. Write everyday. Even if that’s one word. It’s this point where some of my friends say it’s impractical or impossible. They’re so busy with work and kids and bills and whatever else that there’s just “no time.” I don’t buy it. I roll d20 and disbelieve. I think it’s a crock and it’s just an excuse. There IS time. Remember earlier when it took me 38 seconds to write an email reply? I refuse to believe that you can’t muster at least a minute to write something.

What I really think is going on here is that people have an expectation of what writing should be. They think it should take a big block of time, and involve a big block of words. If that’s possible, do it. But it doesn’t have to be this dedicated chunk of the day in order to prove that you’re really a writer. Besides, who are you trying to prove that to?

I so passionately believe you will either make time for the stuff that interests you, or you’ll make excuses why you’ll never be able to make that happen. I see it in my own life. It’s way easier to sit and talk about how it would be nice to have X happen, or I could go take the time to do X, but X sounds like it’ll take time, be hard, maybe I’ll get tired, and like, it means I’d have to get off the couch and I’m just in the middle of a good episode of the West Wing. Excuses are avalanches. Excuses are momentum-eaters.

Even one word a day, one more word than you started with, is progress. It might not be progress in big huge giant strides, but the size of progress doesn’t legitimize it.

Write everyday. Write or have your idea starve to death.

ix. Writing is power dynamics, risk, gain, and arc. If I had to boil down writing a manuscript, not counting genre, a story is about power and change. Who has it, who wants it, who’s losing it, how are they losing it, how are the people getting it, what benefits are there to getting it, what’s everyone risking, how do those risks change or challenge the characters?

Most manuscripts stall because power is either challenged by too many or the dynamic isn’t suitably challenged enough. Let’s say we’re writing high fantasy and there are twelve factions vying for the crown. That’s TWELVE groups to follow and develop in a story. TWELVE! How different can number 4 be from number 11? Why so many? Does it show that the writer is trying to get praise for complexity? Complexity isn’t always the best storytelling element to hang a hat on.

Or let’s say we’re a group of mercenaries infiltrating a corporation in a cyberpunk world. We’ve breached security somewhat, because we need to get the weapon plans from the vault, but the writer really wants to show just how  gritty they are by stacking the odds against the protagonists. It’s not that the heroes always have to succeed, but how is there any room for growth against steep odds?

Don’t neglect character arc. A character starts somewhere and has to be somewhere else, for better or worse, at the end of the story. No arc despite plot invalidates the plot. No one’s going to save all of time and space then go flop back down on the bed and read comics. If it’s big deal, show it.

x. Write for yourself, not the market. Unless some company called “The Market” contracts you to write a thing, you’re not writing for the market. Never ever write for the market. It’s faceless, it’s ephemeral, it’s vague, and hard to please. Just because futurist stories are hot right now does not mean you have to write one in order to get published. Write what you want, seriously, someone out there will want it. It might not be the someone you expect, but there’s a home out there for good work.

And while I’m at it, don’t just write to appease the audience. Audiences are way too fickle and can feel too entitled. You can write the exact topic they ask for and still get one-star reviews, because of how you wrote the topic. You’re not going to please everyone, and you shouldn’t spend your time trying to.

Give the audience what they need, and that’s most often your story in the best shape of its life. Know the market it’s going to, so that the story can find the hungriest consumers. A well told story in its best shape will always have an audience, so long as the writer gets the story to that audience. At least until we have instantaneous brain downloads, teleporters and that Star Trek food machine so I can have a Roy Rogers roast beef sandwich right this second.

Thanks for 400 posts. Here’s to 400 more. I’ll see you wonderful creatives back here next week for more awesome words. In the interim, find me on twitter and come check out snapchat.

Happy writing.