fiyoshimo

FiYoShiMo Day 31 By The Numbers and Thank You

So, we’ve reached the end of FiYoShiMo. Wow.

THANK YOU

Thank you for taking this ride with me. I hope it has proven helpful. What you’ve done is shown me that the big fancy dreams aren’t wasted. Get up every day, put up over a thousand words on average on topics ranging from characters to chronology, and watch people respond. It really makes me so happy to read tweets and emails where people have been helped by the last thirty days.

As many of you know, I’m not a well man. On top of a terminal heart condition, I’m currently fighting pneumonia, which is a really craptastic one-two punch. But I got out of bed every morning for the last month and put up a post. I did it because I had a goal. And yeah, sure, I went back to bed after, or I sat in the chair and caught my breath, but I did what I set out to do. There’s nothing so valuable to me as the confidence this last month built.

It’s okay to have goals. It’s okay to have big dreams. But you have to go after them. Not wait for them to be brought to you, not only visualized, not waited on until stars, moons, and other people line up for you. These are you opportunities, these are your goals, so you take your dream, you make a plan to make it happen, then one word, one action, one step at a time, you chase your dream.

Some days you’re gonna make huge strides, some days you’ll run for miles on the adrenaline or excitement of reaching that goal. Other days you’re gonna crawl like you’re pulling yourself forward by your fingertips. But you’re making progress. And it’s that progress that separates the people who wish for things, and the people who make things.

There are going to be days where you just plain don’t want to do it. You’re not going to want to write. You’re not going to want to try and tweet. You’re going to sit there and find every excuse possible, manufacture some new ones, and still not get anything done.

And that’s when you need to get your ass moving. That’s exactly the moment where you need to be making that choice to get up and go after your goal. Your biggest obstacle isn’t the difficulty of your plan, it’s not the loftiness of your goal, it’s the person looking back at you in the mirror. The person who maybe doesn’t think you deserve the success. The person who thinks that since you’ve never done anything like this before that it won’t work. The person who thinks that if you do this thing, you’re gonna get judged or shunned or shamed for it.

You gotta believe in yourself. You gotta find whatever small spark you can fan into a flame so that you don’t give up on your dream. You gotta build a plan out of a steps that you can do, even when there’s a challenge in there every now and then.

That’s what Fix Your Shit Month has taught me. It’s solidified that. It’s the biggest blog thing I’ve ever done. And I’m proud of every word on the page. I’m proud to have sat there and tweeted out links. I’m proud of myself.

Here are some numbers, if stats are more your jam:

The number of words (not counting this post) written during FiYoShiMo — 38,828

The average length of each blogpost per day during FiYoShiMo — 1,294.2

The number of posts I wrote mid-FiYoShiMo to rewrite the Star Wars prequels. You can read them here, here, and here. I had been saying I’d rewrite them one day, and I’m glad I did. I just didn’t think I’d be doing it while writing the biggest blog-project of my life – 3

The number of times I doubted that FiYoShiMo had any value to anyone – 8

The number of times that doubt stopped me – 0

The number of hours spent giving myself “This is going really well” peptalks about FiYoShiMo – 14

The number of posts WordPress ate, resulting in them being written a second time – 6

The average number of times per week I would look see the blog stats, hoping for any numbers greater than 3 – 13

The number of people who asked for FiYoShiMo to be produced in a single volume – 57

The number of nights where I got less than six hours sleep worrying about FiYoShiMo being produced in a single volume – 3

The number of jokes about bikini car washes that got cut from the Day 13 post – 2

The number of jokes about 80s montages that got cut from Day 6 – 9

The number of times I thought I erased the entire blog post archive thanks to WordPress UI elements being poorly laid out – 5


 So What Did I Learn?

With a goal and a plan, anything is possible if you take action.


 

I may not have the most interactive audience, I may not have a blog fat with comments, but I know that people do read what I post, and I’m comforted by that. Too many times I find myself struggling with some notion that a blog is only as good as its comments, even though so many comment sections are cesspools of spam and hateful things. I suppose it comes from a longstanding thought that as a writer or producer of things I’m only as good as the people who tell me I’m good. When I write that out, it does sound really shitty, and I know I deserve better than that. Part of today will be spent reflecting on that for sure.

When there’s been a response to FiYoShiMo, it’s been positive. And that makes me happy. Now more than ever, I believe that learning the craft of writing isn’t supposed to require years of abstract study in miserable classrooms, and that the writers who choose to spend their time teaching craft have somewhat of an obligation to present the material in ways that don’t only demonstrate their genius, but instead make the material accessible to people. It’s not alchemy. It’s not rare magicks that only the royal court wizard should know. It’s storytelling. It’s creativity. It’s universal.

There’s tens of thousands of words on what I think the principle elements of writing are, and I worked hard to make them not suck. After so many unpleasant academic experiences, after reading crappy vague books and brag-heavy blogposts by “experts”, what began as something I thought I might do ballooned into this sort of challenge. First, it was getting started, then it became about getting it done. The middle bit, those middle ten days, I don’t think I ever plateaued, more like I hit some sort of stride. This month very much changed the way I approach writing.

The big discussion now is turning this into something more than blogposts. With this damned pneumonia, my momentum and energy level are cut way down, but I do want to turn this into something. A book. A thing you can have for yourselves. The hard part is that my Smashwords reach is capital-T Tiny. Did you know I’ve got material for sale? I admit to sucking at marketing my own stuff, usually out of fear that buying my stuff after reading it seems unnecessary or that you need that $3 for something more pressing. But, if you want to buy some books, I’d appreciate it.

So I’m strongly considering trying to get this mass of words traditionally published. The downside there is the time it would take to get it published is time when it wouldn’t be available to you. And I want it to be available to you. It should be available to you, since you know, it’s FOR YOU. I’ll give it some more thought today.

Would I do this again? Yeah, yes I think I would. As crazy and as taxing and stressful as it was, it was a challenge I rose to. It motivated me, it helped me sort out my thoughts, and I like to think it made me a better coach and blogger.

This is the last blog post of 2015. I’m taking a few days off next week, and then I’ll resume the Monday/Wednesday/Friday posts. But I earned the hell out of some time away from the blog, and I’m going to take it.

Thank you, truly thank you, for reading FiYoShiMo. It means so much to me that even 1 person came to my little slice of the internet and read my words. If I could, I’d drive to each of your homes (or, if you want something less creepy, we could meet somewhere) and thank you in person. You’re the reason I do this. The potential of your work is worth sharing. Seeing you succeed is a good thing. And you deserve to succeed.

See you in 2016.

Posted by johnadamus in amazing experience, believe in yourself, check this out, Coaching, fiyoshimo, 0 comments

FiYoShiMo Day 30 Writer’s Toolbox

On my desk in the office, I keep a rolodex. There’s a second one in a binder in the first drawer of the desk. There’s a digital one in my inbox. There’s a supplemental one in a folder in my Dropbox. There are a number of large D-ring binders on my bookshelf. I’m 37, and I’ve spent twenty years collecting information for writers during my time as a writer, editor, word consultant, story developer, game creator, marketing guy, teacher, coach, and professional creative.

And it occurs to me that me having all this information is great, when you know I have it, and when you know you can access it. Hoarding the info does neither of us any good. So today for FiYoShiMo Day 30, I’m opening my rolodex and notebooks and giving you some material so you can start your own toolboxes.

Software You Can Use

While there is no perfect software that will do everything for you, I have recommendations for you as to software that will make your working easier.

Scrivener – For writing things
I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t Scrivener to the fullest. I use it, I love it. It makes my writing feel more polished and substantial, thanks to a lovely UI and clean lines, but I’m likely not cranking it up to 11 the way I think many other people do. It’s worth the $40.

Evernote – For collecting info
Guess what? I don’t Evernote to the fullest either. Again, I use it, I think it’s great now that I’m using it in more organized ways, but again it’s something that I will over time get even better at. Don’t let the tiered price tag scare you off, it’s worth a little money if you tend to assemble heaps of research. Or just different articles to read later when you should be writing.

Scapple – For clarifying ideas
The Scrivener people have a great piece of mapping software that I use even when I’m just making goofy ideas for games. Scapple is incredibly versatile and in using it to build FiYoShiMo, it’s very much helped my decision making process. Totally worth the $15.

Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Prime Music – For focusing on things
You can track what I’m doing during the day based on what sounds are coming from the office. Lots of music without singing? I’m writing. Lots of music I’m singing along to? I’m working on Noir World. Lots of music and I’m cursing? I’m probably losing at a video game. I can no longer work in silence since I got sober. So I work in stereo. Spotify Premium is my go to, though Pandora and Amazon Prime Music make any work I do on the couch pretty awesome too.

Need a playlist while you work? Try this one or this one.

Amazon Prime – For getting things
FREE Two-Day shipping on any office supplies, food, tech, gifts, random stuff? Access to movies, cable TV, and TV shows? A huge library of music to listen to? How have you not signed up for this already?

Old-Fashioned Tech

A Pen
These are the best pens I’ve ever used, lost, left at friend’s houses, or accumulated in cups throughout the house.

Notepads
Need to write things down? I have dozens of these, all color coded.

Business Card Holder
Stop stuffing a stack of them in your pocket with a rubber band around them. Put them in a case. Look like the professional you’re becoming.

Business Cards
Yes, get some.

No, it doesn’t matter if you go Mac, PC. Your OS doesn’t matter. Your phone doesn’t matter. What matters is that you find the best tools that you can use comfortably that help you do the stuff you want to do. What works for me may not work for you, so if you’re already doing something and it works well, stick with it.

Tomorrow, we wrap up FiYoShiMo with a breakdown and my closing thoughts.

See you then.

 

 

Posted by johnadamus, 0 comments

FiYoShiMo – Day 29 – Query Letters, Part 2

Note: As I said yesterday, this post is about query letters. There’s no perfect query template, and a lot of what goes into a query letter is up to you, depending on whatever you’re writing. So what you see here is an example and your own query can look very different and still be “good.”

We’re continuing our discussion of query letters today with a sample query, as well as some common query problems that I get asked about during workshops and seminars. I’m going to write an intentionally bad query first, comment on it, then fix it. Any comments I make are going to be written as ((number)). It’ll all make sense when you see it.

Bad query ahoy!


To Whom It May Concern ((1)),

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be able to make dreams come true? Not your dreams, but other peoples’ ((2) dreams? ((3))

STEVE PROTAGONIST used to think he’d never be anything ((4)), and then one day he found a magic lamp while walking on the beach preparing to drown himself during a vacation designed to re-ignite the spark in his marriage to MARY SECONDARY-CHARACTER, who he’s been married to for the last eleven years, three kids, and two houses.((5)) Steve is ((6)) down on his luck, just waiting for the chips to fall where they may ((7)), and this magic lamp has some magic in it after all.

So our ((8)) hero wishes for the ability to make other people happy, and initially his powers really help. That is, until he meets TIM ANTAGONIST, his boss ((9)). Tim discovers Steve’s power, and began ((10)) to abuse it. They have a showdown on the roof of their office building after Tim discovers his own magic lamp and Steve finally gets his own wish granted  when Tim gets sucked into Dimension X ((11)).

GUYS WITH LAMPS is my ((12)) first complete ((13)) novel in the wish-fulfillment science edutainment genre ((14)), and is 790602 words unedited ((15)). My name is FIRST-TIME AUTHOR and I am so nervous to be writing you this query letter! ((16)) I hope you like my story, and that you’ll email me back, because I’d really like to be a published author 🙂 ((17))

Happy holidays to you and yours ((18))
FIRST-TIME AUTHOR

(pretend I got WordPress to right-intend the contact info, it goes on the bottom right)
My Name
iamafirsttimeauthor@thisismyemailaddress.org
http://iamanauthorwhodoesnotblogoften.com
Twitter: @johnmakesupanauthor

Actual postal address
Town, State/Province, Country
Zip or Postal Code


 

Okay, that query letter sucks with a capital “Suh” and a capital “cks”. Let’s do the numbers:

((1)) If you’ve done enough googling and social media investigating, you should know the name of the person you’re corresponding with. This isn’t one of those ValPack coupon things in the mail, this is your effort in getting your manuscript published.

((2)) Grammar issue – Treat an s-apostrophe on a word that ends with an “s” as though it’s an apostrophe-s. So here “peoples'” means that you have multiple groups of people, and you’re saying peoples’s. You just mean people (one group of many) apostrophe-s, since that one group owns them.

((3)) This is not an elementary school book report. You don’t have to, and often shouldn’t, open with questions to the reader. Start the query where the action is.

((4))  A character IS already something. You’ve made them special because you’ve put them in this story. Again, keep the query’s momentum growing. The sentences here are supposed to make the reader jump at the chance to read the manuscript.

((5)) This whole breakdown of Steve’s crappy life is wholly unnecessary and uninteresting. This is material that goes in the manuscript, not the query. How does this information here, in this spot, make the reader want to read the rest? Yes, sure, writing this out here makes it sound like the author did their best, but the query has a job to do, and that job isn’t making the author look good.

((6)) There’s a shift in tense here. Pick a tense and stay in it.

((7)) Look at all the cliches. See how, much like that one aunt who still thinks she can pinch your cheeks, they take up space and contribute nothing good to the situation? Write better sentence(s).

((8)) He’s not “our” hero, because the query isn’t written in that conversational or conspiratorial tone. Had that started from the top, “our” wouldn’t stand out so much. But it does, so this whole sentence needs overhaul.

((9)) If the antagonist is the character’s boss, and the character has presumably had this job for some time, how has our protag just now met his boss? Even in the most Office Space comedic scenario, you know your boss, even if you don’t interact all that often.

((10)) Here’s another shift in tense. This one is particularly clunky because it’s the second verb in a sentence.

((11)) Is that the book’s ending? Queries aren’t supposed to spoil the ending. Queries aren’t summaries, they’re amuse-bouche.

((12)) There’s a tricky shift to manage here, going from talking about the MS to mentioning you-as-the-writer. Because it’s really hard to do well, I advise people not to do it until they’re really comfortable querying. Keep the focus on the MS.

((13)) Since you don’t query incomplete work, calling it complete is redundant.

((14)) Don’t invent your own genre. The person reading this query has to take your MS and be able to make it sound interesting to other people up and down the respective publishing food chain. Making up your own stuff (even if you did it just so your MS would stand out) makes their job harder.

((15)) If you’re going to use the word “unedited” in a query, you might as well just label it “sloppy”, because no matter what you mean, that’s what’s coming across. Also that novel is like 7 times the size it needs to be.

((16)) One: Don’t use exclamation points in a query when you’re talking about yourself. Two: Don’t tip your hand. It’s okay to be nervous, everyone on both sides of this exchange knows that nervousness is a thing that happens. But it’s not relevant here, and it makes you sound desperate.

((17)) Again, this is desperate and PLEASE OH PLEASE don’t put any emoticons or emoji in a query.

((18)) You don’t know, and shouldn’t presume to know, how your reader spends their time. Thank them for their time and get the hell out of the way.

Got that? Make sense?

Other things to consider:

If you have anything else to add, like how you found the person you’re querying, or if you’ve got other published work, or something professional that’s worth pointing out, it goes in the last paragraph.

See the part where I put the personal/authorial info? Yes, it goes on the bottom, after all the query stuff. Right-indenting it isn’t a bad idea, but so long as it’s all together, it isn’t critical.

Now let’s go fix this query, applying all the tools we’ve talked about over the last 28 days of FiYoShiMo.


Dear Agent/Editor/Person’s name,

It really sucks being STEVE PROTAGONIST. He got passed over for three promotions at work. He’s pretty sure his wife is going to divorce him. His kids think he’s a loser. And he can’t even figure out how to end it all as he stands in waist-deep ocean tides.

And then that damned lamp comes into his life.

One rub, one genie, and one wish later, Steve starts turning his life around. At least until he has to go back to work, and discovers that no wish is without costs.

GUYS WITH LAMPS is a 115,000 word science fiction thriller about hope, dreams, genies, and office jobs.

I’m a first-time author with years of experience staring out windows and making wishes while working office jobs.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

FIRST TIME AUTHOR

First-Time Author
iamafirsttimeauthor@thisismyemailaddress.org
http://iamanauthorwhodoesnotblogoften.com
Twitter: @johnmakesupanauthor

Actual postal address
Town, State/Province, Country
Zip or Postal Code


A query is a text-based movie trailer, where your manuscript is the film people have been waiting to see in IMAX 3-D at one of those theaters with the reclining sofas and chairside food and drink service.

The query can and should build hype while giving some of the plot away. SOME. Not all. Just enough to set up some expectations or give a groundwork for what’s going on. The goal is to get the reader into the manuscript.

Since there’s no one single always perfect query, there are only queries that are perfect for that manuscript in that moment. You can pitch the same book twenty times in twenty different ways and see lots of different strengths and weaknesses.

Which brings me to the last common question I get — can I query different people about the same manuscript at the same time?

You can, I mean, you possess the faculties to send emails to many people. But if you do, don’t mass e-mail everyone in the same email, and don’t use the same query twice. New reader, new query. Also, in that last part of the query, you do need to mention that you’ve sent the same MS elsewhere. Yes, that’s a huge risk, and a lot of people will red flag and reject you for it, but you do have a responsibility to be professionally forthright.

Or you could just do one at a time and be a bit more reasonable.

Tomorrow’s FiYoShiMo will be a list of resources for writers – contact info for some people to work with, some books to read, some tools that might help you get stuff done.

See you then.

Posted by johnadamus, 0 comments

FiYoShiMo – Day 28 – Query Letters Part 1

Disclaimer: Day 28 (and Day 29) of FiYoShiMo cover query letters for a more traditional publishing route, and I’m taking a few lines up top today to state that there’s no one single best use-this-without-fail query template. Believe me, if I had one, I’d give it away for a dollar to every writer I meet. So what I’m talking about here are some boundaries and ideas of what works, and I’m leaving the particulars up to you. Let’s do this.

A query letter (or just ‘query’ since the letter part had to do with things being mailed by hand) is a document that describes and entices a reader (often a reader with the power to advance or retard publication) to read the manuscript. That’s it. It’s not a contract. It’s not a dissertation. It’s not an email pleading for someone with business cards and an office to please-oh-please-oh-please-spare-a-few-moments-for-me-that-I-might-feel-good-about-the-things-I-did-every-morning-I-dragged-my-insufficiently-caffeinated-self-to-the-laptop-at-some-ungodly-hour-before-making-my-kids-breakfast-and-then-started-the-usual-rigors-of-life-in-modern-pants-wearing-society.

I don’t think there’s a large enough font available to me right now that I can use to express that query letters are neither mystical nor scary. They’re no scarier than blog posts or holiday cards, but since so many people balk at writing those, I guess queries are supposed to be scary.

But they’re …. well, they’re not. Not if you make every effort to stop telling yourself they’re some super critical make-or-break thing that you have to win Olympic gold at else you’ve wasted your time and life. You haven’t. Please let that seep into your brain.

Let’s talk Olympic athletes. Presumably you could say the medal winners are the three best people on the planet to perform this task, whatever it is. The person who didn’t win a medal, they’re still the FOURTH BEST PERSON ON THE PLANET AT DOING A THING. Since there are 7.3 billion humans on the planet, this 4th-place athlete is better than 7,299,999,997 people at doing whatever the hell they just tried to do. How is that not good enough?

Contrast that with one additional thought – Olympic medals are finite, publishing isn’t. My apologies to the people who still perpetuate the idea that you have be, I don’t know, an old straight white man, in order to write a particular genre, or that you must have attended some institution and read this or that author, but that’s such a crock of hot applesauce and horsefeathers.

Given the right tools, targeting the right audience, anyone can get published. Whether or not they should be published is a different question, one dependent on critique or the amount of energy spent on the efforts, but the process of getting published still has the same core steps.

Note: I’m talking about traditional routes of publishing here. I’m not talking about self-publishing, which has different avenues, and often replace query letters with things like summaries and managing your own publishing details like ISBNs, file formats, and editing.

If you do want to self-publish, go for it. There are loads of great services out there, just do your due diligence and understand that you’re going to be managing different things than just writing a manuscript. Self-publishing turns you into a creative publishing outlet, so the non-writing parts come into play, and they are important to understand. I don’t advocate one publishing model over the other, they’re all tools in the toolbox, and I think some manuscripts lend themselves better to one route than another. When in doubt, ask!

The first big element of a query letter is its length. And just like those kids in high school used to say, size does matter. Get everything (including your name and contact info) onto ONE SIDE OF ONE PAGE. Do not exceed 450 words at the absolute maximum. You can do a lot in 450 words, but consider that your hardest of limits.

Because of this size boundary, a query letter needs to make the story warrant being read, it needs to introduce the author, and it needs to give some concrete details about the MS, all before the bottom of the page. Let’s break that down.

Make the Story Want To Be Read
If you had to decide whether or not an MS gets turned into a book, would you want that MS to be explained to you in the most boring and dull way possible? Have you ever been on the phone with someone and they’re telling you a story about seeing a mutual friend, but somehow they’ve elected to start this story about how they met up with Nancy eleven hours earlier when they were getting a latte after spin class?

Start the query with some action. Make the person want to go straight from query to manuscript because of how your word choice and development of ideas (remember, you’ve got less than 450 words to do this in, so make decisions and be impactful) interests them. Telling the story of a juggler-turned-senator? Don’t spend your precious query-words getting that latte after spin class, go straight for an action beat. (Unless that latte is the action beat because the latte is secretly laced with nanites that your antagonist is using to mind control everyone at the coffee shop)

A query letter is not a plot summary. It doesn’t need end on some open-ended bullshit question like an episode of the 1966 Batman TV show (who gives a shit how Batman is going to escape from the giant cake made of quicksand), but it does need to tell the reader enough to make them want to get into the MS so they can find out how the story blooms. Start the snowball rolling downhill, give an idea of the projected path, then let the reader take it from there.

Introduce the Author
The bulk of your query is going to be focused on what’s going on in the story’s plot. But you do need to spend some time talking about yourself. Now maybe that’s just a few words saying that you were a finalist for an award, or if it’s your first book. Your info should be somewhere on this piece of paper (I like either at the end, in a small chunk of text, or the upper right corner). Info should include your name, email address and one other way to reach you. Like this:

Your Name
Email AT Email Address dot whatever
A website (preferably) or some means of finding you on text-based social media like Twitter or Google+. No, don’t send your Instagram, no don’t do your Facebook author page with the 2 likes from your parents and spouse

Yes, you need to include some way to correspond with you. The actual you, not the pen name you’re using so that the people in your basket weaving club don’t shun you because you write stories about fish politics. No, they’re not going to sign you up for Weird Shit Of The Month clubs, this is a professional presentation of who you are. Don’t assume you’re communicating to a jerk and you won’t get treated like one in response.

Remember though, that correspondence is a two-way street. Yes, they may tweet at you, but they can also read your tweets. Like those six you did when you chugged that entire bottle of wine and tried to livetweet making a grilled cheese at 3 in the morning after the booty call didn’t pan out. This is also why I don’t say to include your Facebook page, because let’s say you have a whole lot of photos of you hanging out in a sea of red cups and bongs (as the kids say, getting turnt), you might be sending the wrong professional message. You don’t need to be a crusty stiff with a broom handle taped to your spine, but this is important. Do all you can to give your MS the best avenue to success. You deserve that.

MS Bookkeeping
I tell clients to include this stuff at the end of query, in its own paragraph. You’ll want to include:

The title of the MS (put it in ALL CAPS)
A word count (not an approximate one, a specific one)
A mention of the MS’s genre (don’t invent your own)
A polite statement thanking the reader for the time (NOT THEIR ATTENTION, NOT THEIR PROMPT ATTENTION)

Tomorrow, for part 2, we’ll look at a sample query and some word choice issues that arise in it.

 

See you then. Happy writing.

Posted by johnadamus, 0 comments

FiYoShiMo Day 27 Packaging Options

Hello! Ready to get back to work?

We’re in the final week of FiYoShiMo, and before we go forward, we have reached an important crossroads.

For the remainder of FiYoShiMo, I’m operating under the assumption that your goal is to get your MS published. If you’re not doing that, it’s not the end of the world, this is just the assumption I’m making so that tomorrow and the day after when we talk about queries, there’s a point to it. But that’s for tomorrow.

Today we’re looking at packaging your story. Now I remember a time (I feel like I should tell a youngin’ to take a seat on my porch while I sip my lemon drink when I say that) when the only packaging option was a thick manila envelope with a heap of postage on it when you send it off to some gatekeeper who could axe your work over a dispassionate cup of coffee. Scary times kids. It’s a good thing that times, like underwear, change.

Packaging is how you want to disseminate your story to the reader(s). There’s no one single “best” way to do this, there’s no “wrong” way, and no one is wrong or bad (or meant to feel wrong or bad or stupid or whatever) for picking their package. Unless they’re picking their package in full view of children, because that’s gross and be better than that.

What I’m listing below is by no means a definitive list, it’s a list based on how frequently I see these items.

A Single Manuscript, abiding by Submission Guidelines
This is the most common way you see an MS, as a single document, formatted to submission guidelines. For those that don’t know submission guidelines are the set of instructions that a publisher (no matter whether they’re a traditional publisher or a website or whatever) has regarding publication. They often include things like word count, margin size, font size and typeface, a breakdown of rights and ownership, as well as page enumeration and chapter breaks. It may include things like payment schedules based on word count, and if you’re emailing it, whether they want it as an attachment or pasted into the body of the email.

As you can tell, the guidelines are incredibly variable, and just about every publisher has some, even if it’s just a bullet point or two about who to email and how long the response time might be. Unlike other guidelines, submission guidelines are meant to be followed explicitly. No, I don’t know why they’re called “guidelines” and not “rules.” I didn’t name them, and I agree, they need a better name. It’s a big deal to follow them, and I know this for two reasons:

a) Nearly every time I tweet about following them, every agent and editor I know retweets me
b) When I talk to writers about why they got rejected, they tell me that they didn’t follow them, and that’s why their rejection came swiftly

Follow them. It doesn’t take very long to change the format or font in a word processor. It isn’t going to break your fingers off to add a line break here and there. The word processor does the hard work, so let it.

Serialized, Complete Portions
Here’s an alternative to dropping some huge 110k super-document on someone’s lap. Let’s say your 110k MS is all about a woman who discovers love after she abandons her career as a TV weatherperson and takes a job with an erotic puppet troupe (hey, don’t judge, I’m making this stuff up).

Serialization means taking an MS and breaking it into smaller pieces. “Complete Portions” refers to breaking it up into pieces that more or less stand on their own, except they’re part of this larger story. This isn’t a series (that’s later in this post), but it’s one story that breaks at key points.

In our example, that 110k could be 4 portions of 27500 words each, so long as we break it at these points:

a) Where she attends her first puppet workshop
b) Where she goes on her first date post-puppet performance
c) Where her parents find out she makes puppets do the no-pants dance
d) The story wraps up with a pretty bow on it

We break that story by its development – after the first act, during the buildup, the climax, and end it at the resolution. If you’re going to break down the story into portions, you want those breaks to be organized and logical. Don’t just divide it up by number and wherever the word count falls (even in the middle of a sentence), you chop. Some pieces can be larger or smaller than the others.

Serialized, By Chapters
For over 170 years, this was how stories got distributed. You got a chapter per issue of a magazine or periodical, and although it gave you a short columnar summary of events prior to the installment, it was in your interest to be reading regularly. There are still journals and magazines that go this route, most of them are digital subscription services.

Here, it doesn’t matter how long the chapter is, you get space for 1 chapter. Yes, because this is part of a periodical, your space is further constrained by the other elements of publication (column inches, ad space, etc), but this is a dependable way of reaching an audience.

Let’s say our 110k sex puppet lady story has 35 chapters. You’d likely not see 35 installments, so maybe they’d crunch the numbers and say that each chapter is around 3150 words, so maybe they’ll do 9450 words per installment, giving them 12 installments, enough for a year’s run at one installment a month. (Publishing math is the one kind of math I can do)

In Series
When we’ve talked serials, we’ve talked 1 MS broken into smaller chunks. A series is a set of complete MSses that forms an arc unto itself. Each MS is complete with its own internal plot, but each completed MS also feeds into a larger canonical plot. Instead of having only chapters be climaxes, now books are series climaxes, and within those books you have climaxes (and yes, the editorial note for that is climax-climax), so everything develops on a macro and micro level somewhat simultaneously.

And series can be lucrative, well, they used to be, when publishing had great heaps of money not spent on cocaine and private parties, before people fell prey to pyramid schemes and supermergers with golden parachutes. (No I’m not bitter, not at all, whatever would give you that idea?) But things change, and series money is reduced now, and series are no longer the fast track to major authorial fame.

The average series length is now 3 or 4, down from 10, which was down from 15. Series come in two flavors, open and contiguous. An open series is where the stories are independent of each other more often than not, with very few elements cohering them beyond chronology or significant development. Many mysteries are like this (Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe), and television shows are often like this, when you don’t count two-parters for sweeps week. The only constants in this series are the titular characters, maybe their ages as well, and everything else is variable. An open series is a chance to develop characters and change a lot of circumstances, then like an Etch-A-Sketch, clear the screen and start all over with the same indivisible building blocks.

A contiguous series is a series where each successive story is dependent on the last. This is the kind of series fiction we’re most used to. Harry Potter does this, where knowledge and series plot is discovered incrementally over the course of each book, and the end book is the culmination of all previous books’ events.

Series are often published a book at a time (sometimes, but rarely, you see a whole series released at once … the exception being things like internet television shows, where the whole season goes live on a particular date), and that’s a great point to wrap up today.

Starting tomorrow, we’re spending two days on query letters, which you know, you’d need to write if you want to get anything published by someone else.

Have a great day, see you tomorrow.

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FiYoShiMo – Day 26 – Revisions!

Note: I know in the original outline this day was called “What Comes Next”, but as you’ll see, I changed it for a good reason.

I’m assuming that for this last week of FiYoShiMo your manuscript is done, or nearly done. “Nearly done” is at least 80%, for the sake of today’s topic.

Oh right, this is the final week of FiYoShiMo. And today we’re talking about revisions and editing. Yes, we’re going to talk editing on the editor’s blog. Weird, I know. But we’ll get through this together. I have confidence in us. And in your friend’s mom.

The First Thing I Look For When I Edit –> Consistency in Names
Technically, the first thing I do with a manuscript is read it all the way through, just to make sure it’s complete and to see if there are any giant glaring errors or red flags that prevent me from going forward (see below).

For the moment, let’s assume the story is complete and there aren’t any huge problems. I read it through, probably in chunks over the course of a workday, or printed out and triple-spaced while I hang out on the couch with a cup of tea and the dog.

Depending on the length or complexity, that read can take between a few hours or a few days. During that reading, I make a list of all the proper nouns – character names, location names, object names. Then I go back to the MS on the PC and count the number of times each name shows up. If character A is named “Tom” 390 times (I’m making up numbers), but then turns into “Steve” 1 time, I know to flag it. Likewise if a named thing (city, power, object, whatever) changes names, I know it gets a comment.

The Second Thing I Look For When I Edit –> Arcs
Every character of substance in the MS should be on a journey, from a start-state to a changed-state. And their progress should be trackable, not necessarily quantifiable. I don’t need to see 3% growth every chapter like the character is a mutual fund, I need though to be able to see the character moving in some direction based on their actions, philosophy, motivations, and intent.

Then I make sure the plot goes somewhere, and that the characters intersect with that plot. A plot that doesn’t move, or it slows down without reason, or characters that don’t engage with the plot (or just in general) all get flagged with comments.

The Third Thing I Look For When I Edit –> Sentence Construction
We all fall into patterns when we write (or speak). When you start seeing someone use “really” (it’s my example) in paragraph after paragraph, and then you notice that every paragraph happens to be three lines long, and that each line has a comma followed by an “and” … and that there are more “I” in the sentences … You see where I’m going with this?

It’s a function of the fact that I’ve been doing this over half my life. I see patterns. I like patterns. They’re very telling. Was something written by a man or a woman? Have they gone to college? How much? Are they a parent? Is this their first book? What bad habits do they have? These are some (but nowhere near all) the questions I can answer by reading the first few pages. (Ask any client of mine, they’ll tell you about it)

Sentence construction can also lead to problems in grammar. Incorrect tenses of verbs, misused punctuation, weird structure, and spelling all get checked at this point. Comments begin to swell here if they haven’t already started to.

The Fourth Thing I Look For When I Edit –> Character Engagement
Okay. There’s this thing called a “Mary Sue.” Maybe you’ve heard of it. Maybe not. It’s used pejoratively to describe any character who is too perfect and goes unchallenged regardless of situation. It comes from Star Trek fan fiction (seriously), and involves a lot of wish fulfillment or the projection of a “strong” character who can handle everything.

Maybe you’ve been to the movies lately, and seen the Internet burble forth some applesauce that a certain female character in a very successful space opera franchise that involves a distant galaxy in the past with laser swords is a Mary Sue, because despite having a limited character history, she seems pretty capable in any circumstance. (I danced around some spoiler stuff there)

She isn’t a Mary Sue. She’s just a character who’s capable of doing stuff. Compare her to pre-existing characters, she’s pretty much on par.

No, this isn’t where we’re going to talk about how “it’s about time for a woman to be strong”, because that’s not what FiYoShiMo is all about, we’re just looking at how the character is going to connect to the audience. This character in particular DOES connect, and I think will continue to do so in subsequent films. In this regard, her gender is not relevant, since she’s not a character with an active sexual agenda, and she’s demonstrated to be an equal or peer among the non-female cast.

Does that address the charge that she’s not challenged by circumstance? Not entirely. I can answer that though by saying this: We didn’t expect the other protagonists to be out of their depth, and we never claimed they were Marty Stu (the male equivalent of Mary Sue). Being a “fish out of water” doesn’t mean a character is a quivering mass of incapable gelatin, it just means they’re in a new circumstance, and the only thing they can do is apply the skills they do have to their new situation. It’s what a character does, regardless of gender.

This editorial pass is all about concepts like Mary Sues. Does Character A (and B and C and however many more) feel realistic and could a reader connect to them? Even if they have powers or abilities or stuff that the reader doesn’t or couldn’t have, is there some avenue for the reader to invest?

The Fifth Thing I Look For When I Edit –> Good Parts
I realize that I’ve spent about a thousand words talking about how I look at the wrong stuff. But even the manuscripts I send back to authors saying, “This needs way more work”, it’s not all bad. There are good ideas, they might just be poorly expressed. There are good characters, they just need more developing. There are good things. I do call them out in separate comments. They’re worth mentioning.

There are additional passes for dialogue (does it sound like a person would say this?) and pacing (how quickly does the plot happen, is it sensible), but I could spend another thousand words detailing all the different passes I can do, or I can talk about the big giant red flags.

THE BIG GIANT RED FLAGS

No one is perfect. No draft is perfect. Mistakes happen. There are plenty of chances to change things, plenty of chances to make new decisions. A writer is never without options. And that’s all important to remember when these red flags come up.

Red Flag #1 Dull characters doing dull things for no discernible reason.
We all get a good laugh out of how Seinfeld was a “show about nothing”, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. Your characters should be sufficiently developed that they can do stuff and we figure out why they’re doing it. Ideally, they’re doing whatever they’re doing because the plot requires these things get done, or because the character believes that they need to do them so the plot can get done.

The good news is that you can fix this by making the character(s) and/or what they’re doing more interesting, and the motives for doing whatever clearer. Yes, it requires you to make some decisions, so maybe don’t do this while you’re shotgunning cold medicine, but this is fixable.

Red Flag #2 A plot that gets resolved too conveniently.
The saying “No driveups in the third act” works for a reason. The later you introduce something into a story, and the more that thing does to resolve the story, the less satisfying the story becomes. This is why it’s so important to build the characters and their efforts over the course of the story, not just reach some arbitrary page number or chapter and dump the big action in there.

Don’t rob the reader of the satisfaction of the ride the story takes them on.

Red Flag #3  Dialogue that sounds like it came from ransom notes fed through a paper shredder, then Google Translate, then shredded again.
People talking is supposed to sound like people talking. I don’t care if those people are aliens or robots. Or sentient yeasts. If you want the reader to connect to them, the character(s) need a bridge to them, and how they speak is ONE of the ways you build that bridge.

So read your damned dialogue out loud. Then let someone else do it too.

Red Flag #4 Unnecessary and confusing elements that are just there to show to someone (no idea who) that you (the writer) are “good enough” to be a writer.
Ever want to watch me lose my shit? I mean, as much as a guy with a heart condition is medically able to freak out? Show me writing that’s embellished with flashy, poorly crafted, even trendy elements.

Look, just because ((FAMOUS AUTHOR NAME HERE)) writes ((FAMOUS STORY)) this one particular way, does NOT mean you have to write your story that way. Yes, really. Even if you and AUTHOR are in the same genre. I swear.

You’re good enough to write. I know this, because I’ve got your manuscript in front of me. You made it this far. Your “good enough”ness is not in question. Don’t listen to the fuckstains and dipshits who convinced you that you’re only good enough when your book is on some store’s shelf. You get to decide what success is for you. Always.

And that also means it’s your decision as to how you tell your story. No, I don’t mean you get to invent a new verb tense or poorly break all the rules. I mean you get to do your best, inside (and outside) of the rules, to the best of your ability. Tell your story your way. Your best way.

*

I’m going to always advocate that once you’ve gotten the manuscript written, and you think it’s complete, get an editor to look it over. No, not your friend who you have lattes with while your kids eat their socks, although she can read it too, but I mean AN EDITOR. Someone with training who can take your MS from where it is to where you want it to go.

It’s not a sign of failure that you need to ask for help. It’s a sign of strength, recognizing that you’ve gone as far as you can, knowing what you know and doing what you do. To take those next steps, you need help. So get some.

Tomorrow we’re going to talk about series, serials, and how to tell a story across multiple parts. I look forward to seeing you back here for that.

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FiYoShiMo Day 24 – Your World and Tone

Today’s the last day of Worldbuilding on FiYoShiMo, and we’re going to tie many pieces together.

When we talk the tone in a manuscript, we’re looking at the word chosen to convey the way the MS should feel to the audience. I know, we’re always technically talking word choice when we talk writing, but let’s not split hairs.

Think about the world you’re telling the story in. Think about the plot, think about how it affects the world. Got it in your head? It’s okay if it’s unclear, you’re not going to have to write the whole thing out today.

Get a piece of paper. We’re going to make a Feel Document, only now we’re going to call it a Tone Document, because I can rename it whatever I want.

Put the title of your MS on the paper. No title? Call it “The Untitled Book I’m Writing” or something. Call it Gary, let’s not get hung up on this point.

Did you have any scenes in your head? A moment that really stands out, either because you’ve already written it, or you’re excited to write it. can you get that scene boiled down to a sentence or phrase that fits on ONE LINE of the page?

On the line below that, draw a line.
On the lines below that, start listing adjectives to describe how that scene feels TO THOSE CHARACTERS INVOLVED IN IT.

Like this:

A guy walks down a creepy, dark hallway looking for an axe murderer
———————————————————-
Tense
Fearful
Cold

Now in my made up scene, that guy is going to take an axe to the face at some point, but that action beat is pretty straightforward in terms of tone (pretty sure it’s going to suck to be him), so I want to really spend my words on the moments before axe-meets-face. The more I can put down there, the more buildup I can create to make the killing strike a bigger deal.

Do this for all the scenes that stand out to you. Do it for all the scenes you have written already.

Once you get all the scenes tonally listed, see if there are any common threads or even repeated words. These repeated adjectives are indicative of your world’s tone. They’re signposts that you don’t want to stray too far from when writing. Treat them like landmarks when you feel like you’ve gone off course. Navigate not based on action beats, but on how you want the MS to feel to the reader.

Ask: “Okay, I’m reading this, I’m in place of the character in this moment, what would I feel if this were happening to me?

The two skills I’m suggesting you strengthen here have names. Reflection is when the tone remains consistent even when scene types or character arcs change. Treat it like an Instagram filter – the photo’s subject changes from your kale and horseshit sandwich to the pair of shoes you artfully balance next to your green juice and whichever bullshit book you think makes you look worldly, but it’s still sort of sepia and overblown. (I may have said too much there)

Reinforcement is when the tone gets cemented as more information gets added to the existing material. Think Lego – you’re building some monster-sized playset, and all the bricks are the same shade of grey, because the spaceship you’re making is grey. A red brick thrown into the middle would stick out, and likely irritate some part of you that appreciates appearance and your efforts.

Scenes need to fit tonally with each other. If you’re writing a snarky blogpost, it would feel weird to suddenly get all serious. This isn’t like when a boy band breaks it down while reaching out to the audience, this is more like when that record scratch moment when someone makes a bold statement just when everything gets quiet.

The arc of a character has to ride along the rails of tone while they experience whatever it is they’re going through. Yes, I mean boundaries. They help keep out the extraneous leakage of emotion and add a vector for the arc as you stay on target towards character change.

Your world’s tone needs to be reflected across all different types of elements. Want your dystopia to feel dirty and gritty and a little hopeless? Express those ideas in as many different ways as possible. There’s a balance there, to be sure, but when you’re getting the ideas onto the page, trust that revision will suss out when you’ve beaten dead horses. This isn’t time for revision, this is a time for production.

Practice, map it out. The more development you can do, the more you can solidify the idea in your own head, which will make those moments of “What am I doing here on this page?” easier to bear.

You can do this.

Tomorrow is Christmas, so there’s no FiYoShiMo. We’ve both earned a day off. See you on the 26th when we talk revision and other decisions. The homestretch of FiYoShiMo awaits!

Have a great holiday, if that’s your jam.

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FiYoShiMo Day 23 – Worldbuilding and Characters

As we near our giftiest of holidays, let me give you a nice package with a bow on it.

theme-holidays-gifts-man-black-suit-holds-exclusive-gift-wrapped-black-box-gold-ribbon-bow-isolated-56344485

Don’t search “man with bow on package” recklessly.

Today on Day 23 of Fix Your Shit Month, our characters get put into the world. And our world gets put into our characters. It’s pretty exciting stuff.

We’re going to work today with the protagonist, but what we’re doing is going to apply to all the characters, and after you try this with the protag, run some other characters through this process and see if you like the results.

Start by taking your protagonist and putting them in their seat of power. A seat of power is the location where the character exists in the most comfort and agency. It’s where they feel their best. It’s their Batcave, their Sanctum Sanctorum. Whenever the character is in that location, then they’re at their most capable.

This is NOT the same as the character doing whatever they do best, this is about the location. So picture it. Detail the hell out of it. Even the parts or inches of it that the character doesn’t interact with. The ceiling of the Batcave, the crown molding in the Oval Office. Those non-interactive spaces help give the place a sense of realness.

If you only describe the space they use, you’re limiting yourself in terms of what development you’re broadcasting. For instance, I’m in my office. I can describe the desk I’m sitting at, the chair I’m sitting in, maybe the window and shelves next to me. It’s easy for me to take for granted the carpet under my feet, or the small box that my computer’s subwoofer is sitting on, or the stack of DVDs that need to be filed but are now stacked on the floor. I don’t talk about them because they’re just … there, and although I love sitting in this space, and no other space (in the house or otherwise) feels as good as this space does when I’m working. We take things for granted, and when our writing highlights one of those things, we’re adding an additional splash of color to our mental pictures.

Alright, protagonist, seat of power. Now consider that seat. Is it common in the world of your story? Are there similar ones elsewhere (I don’t just mean Batman has spare Batcaves, I mean does Batman have one, does Tim have one, etc)? If these seats are common, what distinguishes your protagonist’s seat from the others? Think about it in terms of the aesthetic (maybe our protag’s office is painted blue), but also in terms of functionality (maybe it has an extra window).

A caution though about functionality: Giving a protagonist a place of super capability can really reduce the threat within a plot. Something like that can verge on deus ex machina, which cheapens the strength of your story. Don’t rely on the seat of power to be your character’s solution engine. The ability to solve the problem lies within the character, not wherever they’re hanging out.

Back to the seat – where is it in relation to the locations in the world where the plot is happening? The Batcave is outside Gotham City, so we need to give Batman a way to reach the City. The offices of Nelson and Murdock are in Hell’s Kitchen, but we still need to give Daredevil a way to reach the action. If we want the character to be able to interact with the plot, we don’t need to spend much time on how they get there – just get them there. (Unless the plot IS the journey somewhere…)

Let’s switch gears. Think about locations in addition to the seat of power that your character frequents. Can you split them into a list of locations where the character has positive experiences and negative experiences? Think about this both in terms of what’s plot-specific and relevant, but also globally (because we learned early on in FiYoShiMo that characters exist as larger than the plot, remember?).

Our protagonist feels best in her living room. She has a great experience every morning at the gym with her best friend and confidante. She has a miserable experience nightly at the local bar. She has a day job where she’s often at odds with her boss or her co-workers. The plot will take us through these locations.

If our plot is a bank robbery, we’ve got a scene of the crime. We’ve got offices or a precinct or something so our protagonist has a seat of power. We’ve got locations where the suspects are found. We’ve got a location for a tense climax. All these locations should be accessible at anytime, even if we don’t need to be there until a specific time. Sure, we can have a climax on the moon, so long as we have given ourselves a way to get there before the climax happens.

In order for a character to feel lived in, their experiences in the world need to be understood by the reader. We all have the moment of frustration when we’re in the bathroom and realize there’s no toilet paper. We’ve all gone into the kitchen, opened the fridge door, and then forgotten what we were looking for. We’ve all been hurt and wanted comfort. We’ve all really enjoyed dinner and wanted to take off our pants afterward.

To do that, we’ve given our characters places in the world where these moments can happen. Something’s relatability is proportional to its description combined with its narrative development.

You might mean “sofa” but if you describe it as a “long cushioned surface”, we’ll end up thinking different things. Yes, I get it, you want your character to feel futuristic in their futuristic world, but it’s just a future-sofa. Help the reader understand. Do all you can to give the character a world that feels like the reader’s world, even if we’re hurtling through hyperspace in a giant city-ship after narrowly escaping time traveling alien cockroaches with ray guns.

When a character feels connected to the world, the reader is more accepting of details. Yeah, the idyllic suburb house sure does have a picket fence. Of course it does. That fits with our mental picture of a suburb. And yes, our protagonist does rock a pearl necklace while vacuuming. These details help get the picture across because they reinforce our accepted ideas.

When we introduce conflicting information, like maybe while our protagonist vacuums, the automated babysitting murder robot (I’ve been playing Fallout 4), is telling our infant son that it’s totally okay to murder the vicious raider gang from the other neighborhood. That info, at face value, doesn’t fit our idyllic suburban view, so we need to alter our view — if we transplant our suburb to a wasteland full of raiders, radiation, destruction, and monsters, our pictures get tinted, shaded, expanded, and become more realized.

If a character feels out of place (example: picture Elmer Fudd in an episode of the West Wing), then no amount of world description is get that character into place. When in doubt, check the character. Adjusting the world is a much larger solution, but it has too many trickle-down ramifications. Don’t reach for the bazooka when you need a fly swatter.

Take what we did here and put all your major characters through their paces. Give them seats of power, connect them to the story locations. Adjust as needed.

Tomorrow, in our last day of Worldbuilding, we’re going to look at World Tone. See you then.

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FiYoShiMo Day 22 – Worldbuilding and Plot

FiYoShiMo charges forward.

Okay, okay, wait. Let’s just take a minute for some disclosure. I’m writing this after spending 12 hours in a car, oh so thrilled that WordPress doesn’t want us to have nice things, because it ate ONLY the finished piece for Day 22. I’ve decided to rewrite it, but add in my post-trip exhausted commentary, which is usually what I’m saying to myself or the dog while I’m writing.

It’s Day 22, and today is sort of a big huge linchpin day, because now we’re going to intersect your plot with your world. So, if you haven’t got it handy already, write down your plot one more time, and get all the worldbuilding notes you’ve been taking.

We’re going to break down your plot into a new set of components. We’re not changing your plot, we’re just going to deconstruct it.

This sounds scarier or more complicated than it really is. Basically, we’re going to look at your plot in pieces. You’re gonna be fine.

A plot has some basic elements:

a) A central conflict where there’s a risk and danger
b) Opposing people or views looking to take sides in that conflict
c) Consequences for either being on the achieving or losing side of that conflict

Let’s define these things:

Central conflict is the problem or source of tension that has the biggest resonance relative to the scope of the story, most connections, and most intense connections to people involved. This isn’t walking the old lady across the street when you’ve introduced this whole big planet. Keep your scale in mind. What issue covers the most of that scale, affects the most characters, and does so in the most intense ways?

If we’re just telling the story of a 9 year old kid earning a merit badge by walking the old lady across the street, then we don’t need to know the geopolitical issues of the country or solar system this kid is in, because the focus of our story is on this kid getting his merit badge. The larger stuff is irrelevant.

A lot of people try and make a pair of scopes, so they can say they’re making a huge series by laying groundwork all through the story (especially if it’s the first one), then they can yo-yo the reader in and out of scope to demonstrate …. something that usually comes across as the panicky writing desperate to keep the reader attached to the author. You don’t need to bungee cord your reader around. Keep the scope focused, keep the story moving. Since not every damned story is a series in the making, your need for elaborate groundwork may be eating into the space you need to tell the actual story in front of you, not the one six stories from now.

Opposing forces are the people or person(s) who take differing sides based on the conflict. This doesn’t have to be binary (good vs bad, Jedi vs Sith, Gryffindor vs Slytherin, mustard vs ketchup, Captain America vs Iron Man), but characters do need to have some sort of side in the conflict. Staying out of it can be a side IF they need to be persuaded to change sides, but don’t confuse being Switzerland with being the kid too cool at the lunch table to sit with anyone.

Okay, did I mention I’m hella tired? Let’s work on that metaphor — If we have two sides, A and B, then we put our characters into one of those two camps. If we have a third option, C, that’s fine, so long as C has a vested interest in staying out of A-B rivalry. If C doesn’t even interact with the rivalry, why are they in the story? The central conflict is one of the chief things tying your characters together, either in terms of circumstance or necessity or common ground.

Consequences for both sides of the conflict have to matter, meaning they have to make a provable, visible, tangible difference in the lives of characters, otherwise it’s not much of a threat. The prospect of me losing Internet is going to lead me to take more direct action out of fear and worry than if you’re going to tell me you’ll be taking away my three hole punch. If the risk seems negligible or doesn’t motivate a character to action, then it’s not really a risk. That’s why badguys kidnap family and friends instead of not calling on the hero’s birthday. The danger has to matter.

Yes, I did totally picture Skeletor staring at the phone but not calling a crying He-Man.

What’s the conflict in your plot?

Look now at the world your plot takes place in. Is that conflict, based on the world, going to matter to the character(s) involved?

If you make the risk bigger, you don’t have to alter the world. Likewise, if you shrink the world, you don’t have to alter the risk. Yes, they’re related. When we think about a story that works, the risk involved in that story is relative to how big the “world” of the story is.

Like how in a Mission Impossible episode, the whole world could be at stake, and we know that, because our agents have to jetset all over the world and negotiate various dangers.

When this doesn’t work, you’re talking Phantom Menace, where we know it’s called Star Wars, and we have a whole lot of planets that we know exist, but for some reason, we’re supposed to think that this one planet with Uncle Remus and Natalie Portman/Kiera Knightley is the biggest of big deals. (Hint: It wasn’t, and that’s one of like 90 gazillion reasons that movie didn’t work)

Are there sufficient sides that are clearly delineated for your characters to take up? Yes, I know, I just talked about how it doesn’t have to be binary, but looking binary for a second, see how clearly each side has its boundaries? Every side, no matter the number of sides your polygon has, should have clearly marked and clearly differentiated sides.

This is particularly true when we look at fantasy or science fiction or genres where we aren’t completely grounded in the modern present. We may have a prophecy (I’m making something up here…) where we have people who believe in it, those who don’t, and then this third group where they’ve never heard of it. Those are distinct groups, and that third group can be drawn into the other two groups through a variety of story means. We can’t however, have a fourth group who believes in this other prophecy all together (not just a reinterpretation of the first one), but not give them any opposition.

And that’s because we don’t really need that second prophecy, and because it doesn’t really connect in any meaningful way to the first….

Now if you’re about to say, “But John, it totally could…” and then tell me I need to read more of your story, I’m going to stop and ask you why you didn’t just fold the two prophecies together.

Every side in a conflict needs to have ways to mark its members. Teams wear uniforms. There are ways to distinguish one side from another, even ways that aren’t physical (outfits, colored laser blasts, etc).

Are there consequences for each side? If A “wins”, or gets what they want, how does the world change? What if they “lose”? Does every side in this conflict have consequences they’d like to achieve or avoid?

No, they don’t all need to be the same consequences (otherwise why are they on different sides of the issue?), but they do need SOME consequences that matter to them.

My last point today is that the world and plot need to “fit” together. When they don’t mesh well, it becomes so much harder for the reader to engage with the material. What do I mean?

I mean … a story about a disavowed secret agent trying to get back in his agency’s good graces but the next 17 chapters of the book are all about this spy’s romancing the woman who owns the cupcake store, and we jettison the part where he wants to be a spy again.

I mean a world where robots are on the verge of enslaving mankind, but we’re telling a story about two puppets who come to life and have zany non-robot-related adventures.

The plot has to be relative to the world you’ve built, and vice versa. Otherwise, a reader challenges why it matters, and that leads to questions of why they’re spending their time with your work. And that’s not a scenario with a lot of good outcomes for your work.

Today, go weave your world and plot together. Tomorrow, we’re going to weave your characters and world together.

Posted by johnadamus, 0 comments