Tag Archives: Craft & Skills

Don’t Forget to Tweak the Recipe

Bakery dessertsAs Guy discussed yesterday, sometimes it’s necessary to change up an author’s approach and writing style when developing stories in very different genres. It’s also important to make sure different stories in the same genre feel unique and fresh, even though they’re recognizable as written by the same author.

You can use your own special sauce, but still need to tweak the recipe so stories don’t feel so similar readers feel bored or frustrated.

A great example comes to mind. Long-time favorite author, David Eddings. He wrote great epic fantasy, and part of his special sauce included large casts of endearing characters. Sure, a lot of those characters easily fit into fantasy tropes, but he portrayed them with flair and humor and made them real. As a young reader, the characters felt alive to me, like long-time friends, and I was eager to share in their adventures.

Eddings introduced some of my all-time favorite characters in The Belgariad, a five-book series that followed the development and growth of the simple farm boy Garion until he matured into Belgarion, the mighty sorcerer and king of a league of nations. Cool stuff. Belgarath, the ancient and grumpy old sorcerer was a hoot to read about. Silk, the spy/assassin/thief, fascinated me, while Barak, the hulking viking-type warrior was a classic brute with a heart of gold.

Then in The Mallorean, Eddings again launches into a very similar tale, using the same beloved characters. That second five-book series was one of my favorites as a teen. The characters were well developed, they played off of each other extremely well, and their adventures were fun and creative. Eddings even poked fun at the fact that the second series was so similar to the first, and that actually worked really well.

A later series that Eddings wrote offers a cautionary tale, though. The Elenium, although a fantastic series in its own right, included perhaps too much of Eddings’ special sauce. Although on its face the story is very different from the epics centered around Garion, it explored very similar concepts. The most striking similarity was how the characters interacted. The makeup of the protagonist team was very different, but it felt like they were falling into the same patterns as the group of companions in the Belgariad and the Mallorean. For me that made it harder to enjoy the books because it felt like Eddings was trying to imbue the same hearts into his cast. That was sad, because they were really good books, but they needed a little more space of their own to really shine. I wonder sometimes, if I had read them first, would I have loved the Elenium more and felt the Mallorean was too much of a copycat?

I still recommend reading all of those series. They’re classics and well worth the read. I’ve found that with pretty much every favorite author, there are lessons I can learn. With Eddings, it’s distinguishing the different series a little more. I’m grateful to find examples of what works and maybe what doesn’t already out there to learn from and make my own writing that much better.

So develop your special sauce, be aware of it, and at times be sure to change up the recipe with a new story or series.

About the Author: Frank Morin

Author Frank Morin
Rune Warrior coverFrank Morin loves good stories in every form. When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities. For updates on upcoming releases of his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or his fast-paced Facetakers Urban Fantasy/Historical thrillers, check his website: www.frankmorin.org

Sexual Tension in Fiction

Attraction is easy. Desire is a deep and constant companion for most people. Even advertisers know this. We all have idle thoughts. People go out on a weekend looking for sex, and may find it or not. This is not sexual tension.

For sexual tension, you need a compelling sexual attraction – something that really pushes a character to do something they might not do otherwise.

Often sex and romance get lumped together in fiction. Both serve similar functions in a story, and often the protagonists’ sex is an expression of the love.

But not always. People can strongly desire sex with people they don’t love first, or at all, and it can have consequences other than love. Sex can also be an exchange, or a pressure, used in relationships characterized by imbalanced power. People can deny their true sexual attraction and still have pleasurable sex with others – even of different genders than their natural preference – who are not their first choice. Or, all of the above at once!

Sexual tension is a thing of the body, of the senses, of the id. It is the realm of the cad, the rake, the femme fatale – and yet, it is for all of us. It is manipulative and often shadowy, if not actually dark. It is our selfishness, our self-indulgence.

In fiction, sexual tension has something inappropriate or unwise – from the character’s view, or from the story’s. I don’t mean to demonize sex, or advocate a subtle puritanism, but fiction is always a distorted and extreme depiction, and sex is always a vulnerable state.

Characters can deny it, or give into it. Giving in is inherently heedless – if the sex were uncomplicated, they would just have it. It may lead to ruin. It may be for the good of the persons involved if not the society that denies them. It may even lead to romance and love, but not easily, and not without great disturbance in other aspects of the characters’ lives.

For good or ill, sexual tension leads characters astray.

The endless no

Not all attractions get acted out. Sometimes they linger, unacted on. Long enough and these denials can age like wine into bonds of friendship, or fester into ugly thoughts, or simply drag at us, like tides from a moon we’re bound to.

This works well for series characters, whose relationship can develop over several stories. In a standalone, the reader often comes in the middle of the relationship. In either case, seeing the tension is often more economical than backstory.

Be careful, however, to keep it in its place – after all, the characters are by definition in denial. When we see two characters drunk, or on their spouse’s arms at cocktail party, you can get to mutual sexual interest quickly and believably. In a crime scene investigation, it’s unprofessional, badly comic, and disorienting.

Locks and keys

As I said earlier, uncomplicated sex is not tense. If sex starts with a tension beyond simple anticipation, an attraction has to be more than the opening of a door. It has to be an unlocking, or a hacking, someone gaining access.

The disturbance I mentioned comes from this access, or can precede it. A person otherwise capable of denial might have had a separate major change in perspective making them less in control of their emotions. Or, they might simply find a person uniquely attractive person. I combined these in my novel The Demon in Business Class. When my rival protagonists first meet, they respond deeply on a sensory level, each for their own well-foreshadowed reasons. They’ve also both been through enough change in their recent lives that they are too compelled by their feelings. As my Gabriel later admits, “I was tired of doing the smart thing.”

You don’t have to underline what the character wants. You can even provide them with regular dollops of something they don’t want, even if it’s their normal. Charlaine Harris did this overtly, making Sookie Stackhouse unavoidably psychic, and vampire Bill Compton her first experience of not knowing too much.

Conditional attraction 

The ugliest sexual tension is also the most interesting – when it isn’t mutual. A character’s deep response to a disinterested, or manipulative, other gives the other power.

Usually these come on fast, giving the character no time to think. Also, once another is empowered, they quickly take what they want, or develop contempt.

Remember that even in this situation, you need to consider both characters. It’s not enough that a person find themselves vulnerable to a predator. Why? It’s rare that another is so compelling to a healthy ego; maybe the character’s real weakness is a belief in a distorted version of their true self.

Meanwhile, the predator has to know its prey. Maybe it adapts to attract a known mark, or just happily senses the particular insecurities it knows how to enthrall.

The empowerment can come after the possession, too, like Scheherazade’s tales. If a powerful person takes on an inferior for a lover, but then is drawn into vulnerability, the stakes for the attraction become more compelling.

The movie Looper has a lovely and strange conditional attraction. The mother seduces the young hitman, not for any specific reason, and with a powerful excitement – an intuitive empowerment. She wants him when he is most lost, to get him to protect her son. It’s never stated, it’s hot, but it’s clear he’s the one changing, not her.

Closing the deal

Just as the moment of attraction says more than backstory, the sex that comes from the tension can express the tension economically. Sex isn’t a mindless act. Even if characters give into passion they still know themselves. They also tend to enjoy it. In positions of weakness, or sudden strength, they can still embrace that pleasure.

Sex goes great with any mature genre. Enjoy exploring all the unromantic reasons characters get together!


Anthony Dobranski writes stylish fantasy and science-fiction novels with big ideas and desperate characters. His first novel is the modern-day international fantasy The Demon in Business Class, from WordFire Press. He is currently writing his second novel.
He is a native of the Washington DC area. In his first career he worked for AOL, in Europe and Asia-Pacific, which gave him the international corporate background for Demon. When not writing or reading, he likes odd movies, challenging theater, and skiing.

Trashing Your Novel Might be the Only Way to Save It

PhoenixHappy New Year!

As we discuss new beginnings this month, I’m talking about those times when you must begin at the beginning – again – when to decide to throw away your novel and start over.

It’s a scary idea to consider for any writer, no matter how experienced. We slave over our work, sometimes for years, pouring our heart and soul into our new creation. It’s like our baby, a precious part of our identity.

So when do we kill it?

The answer to that question is kind of a sliding scale. As new authors, it can be a shock to realize that revisions are necessary, that we have to cut and chop and operate and rebuild our story, perhaps several times. At a minimum, some of those precious little nuggets we’ve worked into our story might have to get chopped as we refine and perfect the story. Other times, we have to cut and change more, making some fundamental shifts in our plot, characters, setting, etc.

And occasionally, we have to throw it all away and start over. In these cases, it’s usually because the story we thought we were telling was the wrong story. Or our skills as developing writers just wasn’t up to par with the story we were trying to tell, and there are such critical flaws in the story that it’s simply not going to work.

In those cases, to save the story, we must kill it. Like a phoenix, the story might only live to be amazing only through the ashes of its previous life.

I know what I’m talking about. I’m arguably the king of the phoenix. My first novel – the four-year, three-hundred-thousand-word monstrosity that I was convinced was going to take the world by storm – wasn’t. I cut my teeth as a writer on that story, and I still love it. A big, fat, epic fantasy that had some amazing elements, but was not a professional-level product. It simply was not going to work.

The day I realized that was a dark day. I faced a choice, as we always do when facing revisions of every kind. Either cling to my pride and embrace that parental impulse to protect this precious story I had worked so very hard for so very long to produce. It’s understandable, but that approach would have guaranteed the story never succeeded.

Or – kill the story and start over. That’s what I did. I threw it away (really should have held a solemn ceremony with a huge bonfire in the back yard). Then I started over. Page One.

I took the elements that had been good – some of the worldbuilding, some of the characters, etc. And I redesigned an entirely new story. It was a painful process, but it was also amazing and awesome because the resulting story was ten times better. I will likely release it this year.

You’d think after all of that, I’d know how to write a first draft that was mostly good and only needed minor revisions.

Nope. Not me.

Set in StoneMy second book – Set in Stone – book one of my popular YA fantasy series – suffered its own issues. I actually outlined this story to the Nth degree in the hopes of a near-perfect first draft. Problem was, I was outlining the wrong story. By the third draft, I realized there were fundamental flaws with it.

So I chopped about 80% of that novel and rewrote it again. The result was amazing. I added the humor, which is such a big part of the series. And I plunged deep into the unique magic system and added several new characters, which are some of the most popular characters in the series. If I had clung to the original draft, the story would have tanked and I would have wasted an entire world and years of effort.

So shredding that story and rebuilding it again was the only way to save it. Phoenix number Two a success.

Just about every other novel I’ve written has also required massive rewrites. Maybe you’re smarter than me or better skilled and your stories don’t require such overhauls. But don’t hold back. The story is what matters, and first drafts are sometimes a process of discovering what your story’s heart really is. Rewrites are when you get to polish the story and craft it to perfection to make that heart really shine.

This week, I’m enjoying a rare writing retreat where I’ll be diving into edits on my next Facetakers time travel thriller. I’m not expecting to need such in-depth rewrites, but as I get into the revision process, I’ll do what it takes to make the story shine.

The story deserves it. My fans deserve it. So I do the work.

I’m a storyteller. It’s what I do.

About the Author: Frank Morin

Author Frank Morin
No Stone UnturnedFrank Morin loves good stories in every form. When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities. For updates on upcoming releases of his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or his fast-paced Facetakers sci-fi time travel thrillers, check his website: www.frankmorin.org

Learning To Market My Book – Guest Post: Tony Dobranski

 

Learning To Market My Book

Guest Post: Tony Dobranski

I signed my book contract in March 2016. Since then, my professional life has been a crash course in marketing, a mix of constant research and the ongoing leap of faith that I knew how to reach my audience.

*A Marketing Primer

Marketing is how you tell your audience about your book. Because it’s a message, it can have creativity and artistry to it. Marketing is always a business act, however. It connects you with your audience so your audience wants to buy and share your book.

The huge changes brought by ebooks, independent publishing, social media, fan conventions, and giant corporate media mergers have completely upended the publishing business. Whatever business structure helps you get your work out to the world, you are your best marketer, and you will be for years to come.

*A Marketing Plan

When WordFire Press asked for the manuscript of The Demon in Business Class, they also asked for a marketing plan. I took it very seriously, examining my market, publisher, and novel, with an honest if enthusiastic eye. Never hide from the truth of your book. All lemons are potential lemonade.

Demon is a hybrid novel with corporate thriller and romance elements and a literary style. It has a forward-looking, niche audience, not in the mainstream of the fantasy genre, and aimed at mature readers. It’s also an outlier in the WordFire Press stable, which tends to more adventure and to an all-ages audience.

This gives a granular answer for where I find my audience: eager for novelty, happy with a relaxed approach to genre, wants good writing but also a plot. Comfortable with mature content, even pleased to have it. Interested in travel. It suggests their likes, their touchstones, how to reach them and with what kind of attitude. It’s clearly a market my publisher has yet to tap.

Plus, this audience spans genres. Romance readers, thriller readers, and people who care what the New Yorker reviews all have a subset with these same tastes. With a scenario that depends on magic, fantasy is my natural starting point, but modern shopping makes genre labels less prominent. You don’t browse Amazon aisles the way you browse bookstore aisles.

For all these reasons, it was clear Demon would depend even more than most books on word-of-mouth – a long process, but one where an author can help.

*Learning to Con

It took eight months from when I signed my contract to when my book could be bought by the greater public – on the most aggressive timetable possible, to get to fall conventions before shopping season. The WordFire Press staff pushed tremendously hard to make a stylish, bold product in double-time. I needed to be ready to be its author!

One major outlet where an author can make a personal impact is at fan conventions. If you don’t think your niche has them, you haven’t looked hard enough! It’s a good idea to attend them before you have a book to sell, to see what works for you as a con-goer and what you need to do to make being a con-guest worth your while.

In the science-fiction and fantasy genres, cons differ widely. Festival cons, or comic cons, have tens of thousands of fans celebrating all fantastic genres, but emphasizing the visual. Though these cons have discussion panels and interviews with artists, they are foremost a huge marketplace, with the added draw of the costumed shoppers themselves. You can find readers there – if you’re eye-catching and fast. They are budget-conscious and overwhelmed by sights, but they are eager for some new thing. If you have that thing, it’s a positive connection.

This inspired a banner and marketing materials narrowly tailored for my audience’s sensibility, with edge, wit, and maturity all quickly established. It helped to have an amazing cover!

dobranski-banner

 

So far it’s working. I see my title or cover or banner catch eyes and draw smiles, long enough at least for me to engage people. Readers with different tastes walk on by, which is just as good – better no sale than an angry bad review!

Literary cons are smaller, scholarly events, with a pronounced emphasis on readers and writers. Though the membership is only in the hundreds, these fans are deeply connected in the word-of-mouth fan communities, and eager to discuss their genre with creators and with other enthusiastic fans. The high writer-to-reader ratio makes for engaging discussions in hallways and at bars and suite parties. New writers will find both fellowship and validation.

You may get a reading slot or autograph table, but new writers get noticed on panels. Be courteous, especially when you disagree, and knowledgeable. Engage questions creatively, and as positively as you can. You and the other panelists are together an event for the audience. Look for creative ways to turn questions around.

Involve the crowd. Remember – in each audience are likely readers of your book.

*Social Media

Curated corners of social media still feature long-form writing, but blogs are passing. If you look at social media as a marketing channel, you’re competing with many other voices – sometimes, your own friends! Make your posts image-driven, eye-catching and quick to read.

For a book release, YA paranormal writer Shannon A Thompson makes single image “book teasers” with a character’s backstory and a clipart image. https://shannonathompson.com/2016/06/15/ww-how-to-create-book-teasers-on-a-small-budget/ I saw them as a great way to create interest in the story. Not only were they vastly less expensive than a video trailer, each one could be shared on its own.

Keeping in mind my core audience, I wanted to share my style and my hybrid setting. One night, while drifting off to sleep, I remembered my old Star Wars trading cards. Perhaps it was my dreamy state, but I imagined them as a kind of shattered and reassembled movie trailer, with important moments in random order, something familiar yet offbeat. Perhaps I could make the offbeat a path to the familiar.

I developed my own trading cards, online images with sly quotes from the book, and clip-art lookalikes of my characters that I made more expressive using the online Prisma app:

dobranski-cards

I made fifty-six, to release daily on social media in the two months spanning my release, my first readings and my four fall cons.

They were popular, and easier to share across multiple platforms. People told me the quotes and visuals gave a much better sense of my book than the title alone. You can still see them on my Instagram! www.instagram.com/adobranski

People crave original content, even if it’s commercial. If you can express your sensibility in small, steady streams of content, social media can send it far and wide.

* Check Your Tech

Tablets and smartphones are tough for long-form writing, but they are essential for social media. Remember the Prisma app for modifying stock photos to use on Instagram? Prisma is ONLY made for iOS and Android, not for computer desktops. While you can view an Instagram feed on a computer, you can’t post to it – handhelds only.

I hope my approaches inspire you to take a fresh look at how you can find your audience, creatively and entertainingly. Each book has a different main and secondary audience, and a different publication path – giving a unique set of marketing opportunities. Maybe next year will be your year of marketing!