The Fictorians

Archive for the ‘Frank Morin’ Category

Don’t Break Your Promises

26 November 2014 | No Comments » | frank

Break PromisesAs authors, we make lots of promises to our readers. What genre is this book? Is it going to be a fast-paced adventure or a slow, character-focused drama? Is it funny, horrific, or simply entertaining? We set the tone in the opening of the book and the reader picks up on those hints and sets certain expectations for what to expect.

Betraying those expectations shatters a reader’s bond with a story and leaves an angry residue, no matter how good other aspects of the story might have been. This happens both in books and in movies. Sometimes false expectations are set in movie trailers or book jackets as a marketing ploy to suck in a wider audience, but any short-term gains will be lost in the long run as people realize the trick.

One movie that did this to me was Cowboys vs Aliens. The trailer made it look like an action comedy and I entered the theater with that expectation. Some parts of the story were well done, but I kept waiting for the punchline that never came. It wasn’t an action comedy. It was more like an action horror movie. Despite some quality acting and a halfway decent plotline, I left the theater feeling betrayed.

Another movie tried the same ploy. The trailer showed a hilarious scene that made it clear, this movie was a comedy. It wasn’t. It was a terrible flick with no redeeming qualities. Unlike some of those dumb comedies I remember fondly only because they made me laugh, this one was just dumb. Another betrayal.

Books are worse though, because we invest so much more time in them. A couple examples jump to mind. One novel, by a well-known author, started as a very interesting fantasy adventure with high stakes and a hero in deep trouble. I read on, drawn by the intrigue of how this hero could ever escape the predicament. I was looking forward to being amazed by the character’s wit and cleverness in escaping certain death.

What a huge disappointment when the climactic showdown resolve itself without any of that. The ‘magic’ saved them, the same magic that had been blocked in a thoroughly explained way that prevented it from coming to the rescue. The lame excuse offered by the author was that the hero just figured it out and boom – the magic solved all their issues.

I’m a fan of great magic systems. I read and write all types of fantasy, so magic is an integral part of many stories I love. But this was a cop-out, a deception, a betrayal of the contract the author made with me as a reader. Since then, I only ever started one other book by that author. In that one too, I picked up on a different deception. I put that book down unfinished, and that author lost me as a reader forever.

Is that harsh? Maybe. But it’s reality.

When we set expectations, we have to fulfill them. We can’t take the easy way out. If we set up our heroes with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, we’d better have an equally awesome solution. The hero has to figure it out, often in a split-second flash of understanding as they put all the pieces together we’ve worked into the script. We have as long as we need to figure it out and craft that moment so that readers exclaim in wonder at the hero’s creativity and then think, “Yeah, I can see how they figured that out, but that’s clever. I get it now.”

If we can do that, we’ve got a winner and readers will come back to us again and again.

Because they know they can trust us to entertain.

Not Another Edit!

13 October 2014 | 2 Comments » | frank

EditsMost non-writers, and many new writers, have no idea that finishing that manuscript and typing END is anything but the end. I know when I started writing, I couldn’t see beyond reaching that final scene. Of course, that first novel was a 300,000 word monstrosity that took me over two years to complete, but the principle is universal.

The first draft is not the final draft.

That truth is even more daunting when we consider how few wannabe writers actually reach the end of their first draft. Of those who do, many lack the determination to see the project to its full completion.

It’s easy to assume the tragic artiste pose and proclaim in an awful imitation of an accent from some European country, “This is my Art and the muse must be honored. The words were given to me like this for a reason.”

Not if you want to sell it and actually have someone read it.

This becomes the dividing line between those who like dabbling in writing as an enjoyable hobby and those who are serious about becoming a Writer as a career.

Some first drafts are pretty good, but pretty good isn’t enough. Every successful author I know recognizes they will need to make several editing passes through each novel before it’s ready. One of the reasons we’re encouraged to write what we love is because if we don’t LOVE our stories enough to work through them at least half a dozen times, we’re going to HATE them before the process is complete.

Many new authors don’t understand this and unfortunately in today’s ebook world, it’s all too easy to complete that first draft and throw the book right up on Amazon.

I for one have read some of those stories. After wading through the piles of novels that make me cringe when I look at the cover or read the first page, I’ve selected one that looked like it had real promise. Many times those ebooks turn out to be pretty decent, maybe have a great concept and tons of potential, but where the author wasn’t patient enough to really finish the work.

I find it tragic when I complete an ebook like that. When I think, “You know, that could have been a really good book. But it was only about 90% finished and needed more polishing.”

What a waste.

Not only of my time, but of the author’s time. They worked so hard bringing that novel to life, only to not put in the effort to get it that last 10%. It’s like Frankenstein stitching together the perfect monster only to not bother raising it up on the platform during the lightning storm. That last 10% is what infuses the story with it’s real life.

That’s one of my fears: that my novels won’t be ready.

I cringe when I think back to my first monstrous novel. With how little I knew about the industry, about editing, I was convinced it was a great work and totally ready to go. Had the ebook revolution already been underway, I probably would have self-published it.

I would have destroyed that story.

I’m glad I didn’t have that option and that the dozens of rejection letters finally clued me in that there was something missing. I’ve since thrown that novel away and rebuilt it from the ground up. The resulting story is ten times better and is one of the eight books I’m preparing for publication in my upcoming “Eight Books in Eight Months” publishing blitz.

Before I pull the trigger on those novels though, I’ve dedicated the time to rewrites, I’ve gathered honest feedback from beta readers, and I’ve worked with professional editors (including Joshua Essoe and Evan Braun) to make sure they’re really ready.

Even so, I still have to wonder, are they really?

This time I feel a lot more justified in saying, “Yes.”

Life vs Story

17 September 2014 | Comments Off | frank

Great SunsetWe’ve seen some incredible stories this month. I know I’ve enjoyed them.

Reading through the posts so far this month, I’ve been left wondering why real life is often so much stranger than fiction. Fiction is make believe, but it has its limits. They’re not the same limits set in our physical world or we’d never accept things like time travel, hobbits, and big magic. Yet those wonderful figments of our imagination are believed and embraced while some events that transpire in real life are rejected as ‘unbelievable’.

Why is that?

In fiction I can have purple unicorns or good fairies or soul-sucking demons and readers will clamor for more. But I cannot have serendipitous coincidences, unexpected miracles, or meaningless tragedy without risking the breakdown of credibility.

As authors it’s a critical element to understand. If we get it wrong, we knock our readers out of the story and they dismiss us as hacks. If we get it right, we suck people into our worlds and spin tales of wonder that can enchant for a lifetime.

First, it’s a matter of setup.

We define our worlds and transport the readers into them. We can set any boundaries we want, and sometimes we set some pretty wild ones.

I developed a story with my kids once that included a completely random magic system. We had a blast with that one because no one had any idea what might come next. It included assault rainbow ponies, fajita blaster go-karts, fifty foot pits of jell-o, and much more. And since we had defined it as a random chance based experience, all of that was believable.

The catch is, once we define the boundaries of a story, we cannot cross them. Once we build a world within those boundaries, everything that happens must be ‘believable’ within the context of that world.

So why are things that happen in everyday life not ‘believable’ in fiction worlds?

That’s the second piece to the puzzle. Life is not story.

Real life is unpredictable, chaotic, and often downright unfair. We don’t know what’s going to happen, and no matter how skilled or prepared or determined the protagonist of our lives might thing we are, there’s no guarantee we’ll win the day, get the girl, or live happily ever after.

A great example for me of the difference is the emotional balance of characters verses the emotional roller-coaster that is life. In a book we don’t like to see characters cry, even though in real life that is a very natural occurrence. We like our protagonists to be level-headed, calm, and kind all of the time, even though many people who should be adults regularly act like spoiled brats or worse.

Third, and most importantly, stories are entertainment. Reality is life.

We escape the stresses and challenges of reality through fiction and therefore it cannot be as unsatisfying as life often is. Authors take readers on an emotional journey that can drag them through the deepest abyss and transport them to the highest levels of heaven, but in the end we need to leave them feeling satisfied or fulfilled. If we don’t, then we’ve failed in our mission.

Life has to be lived, but Story needs to be enjoyed.

Write On

29 August 2014 | Comments Off | frank

TimePieceHave you ever heard anyone say, “Wouldn’t it be great to go back in time to high school and re-live those days knowing what we know now?”

I’ve always thought, “No way!”

If I could take my hard-won experience back in time, it wouldn’t be to high school. Maybe to college. At least then I’d be an adult and I could apply that knowledge to something useful. High school was a pretty crazy time. I didn’t know who I was yet, and no one around me knew who they were either. Getting stuck there with the wisdom and experience of an adult would probably drive me nuts.

There are no shortcuts to wisdom, and that’s probably a good thing.

One ancient proverb says:

Wisdom is knowing when not to do something stupid.

Wisdom is gained through experience after doing something stupid.

We can’t go back in time, but enough wisdom has been shared this month to prevent us from wasting a whole lot more time than we might have to if we all had to learn it all the hard way. I’d like to thank everyone who participated this month. Writing is a long-term commitment and the journey is rarely a simple cruise with smooth sailing. Then again, it’s from those struggles of life that we glimpse the greatest truths and learn the hard-won lessons that really matter. Hopefully now we understand a little better how to pick our battles.

Thanks to the excellent guest bloggers this month. Mark Leslie, Bobbi Schemerhorn, Lisa Mangum, Brian Herbert, and Peter Wacks.

At the beginning of the month, I suggested we’d hear some great advice, and this month’s posts exceeded my expectations. I hope you enjoyed the outpouring of hard-won wisdom and can apply some of it to your life and/or your writing.

Write on.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: