Tag Archives: Nathan Barra

And Now for Something Completely Different

When it comes to giving advice regarding plot structure, I have found that most everyone seems to focus on the time from the beginning of the book to the climax. In a way, I completely understand. After all, that’s where the majority of your story happens. However, I find that some people seem to forget that after the climax the story must come to a graceful ending, and that this resolution is as essential to the story as any other part. You’ve made the characters struggle and suffer for their triumph, so they deserve a little time off right?

The denouement is more than just sympathy for a cast you’ve spent years torturing. It’s a matter of practicality. The climax of a story is supposed to be the defining challenge of the protagonists’ life and potentially for the entire world they live in. It doesn’t matter if the story takes a single volume or a twenty part series to tell, once the climax is resolved, the story is done. Young authors need to learn to let go even when, or perhaps especially when, you don’t want to.

I really admire a storyteller who knows when to take their bows and move on to the next work. After all, we are writers people! We are not limited to a single story. Sometimes the best endings for an old story is the beginning of a new one. The more one writes, the better the stories get. Often it is best for our career to work on something else for a while and then return to an old project when the time is right.

Over the past couple years, I’ve been pursuing a deal in traditional publishing. For the first time, I’ve had a story that I knew was good, and that friends who I trust to be honest with me say is near publishable. I’ve devoted all my time and attention to this single story. Not just drafting and editing, but also networking and promoting myself in an attempt to secure a traditional publishing contract. I’ve been obsessed with the idea, and in my attachment forgot to move on.Don’t get me wrong, the story’s not dead to me. I still believe in its potential and will continue to shop it until I find a good home for it. Publishing takes a long time. With eight months to a year between submitting the story and hearing back, I just can’t afford to wait for it anymore. It’s like trying to fish with only one line in the water. You might eventually catch something, but you may be waiting a while for that first bite.

So, in 2016 I’m going to work on something completely different. Up until now I’ve written fantasy, both the sword & sorcery and urban varieties. In order to force myself to grow as a writer, I am trying my hand at a bit of science fiction. So far, it’s been a fun ride and has forced me to rethink many of the assumptions and tropes I had grown used to relying on. Even better, once I finish drafting and polishing this new manuscript, I’ll be able to cast a second line into the pool. Then I’ll start again. And again. Eventually, I’ll get a bite.

Try/Fail Cycles of Writing Advice

The Internet is filled with blogs, discussion forums, and clever tweets about writing. Though my writing friends and I do our best to keep up with the latest news and tricks, it feels like trying to drink from a fire hose. Go Google “writing advice” and you’ll find nearly half a million results!


Clearly, there is no shortage of people willing to talk to young authors about writing. So thank you for choosing to spend some of your time with us, sharing the Fictorians with your friends, and reading our thoughts and words. We appreciate your patronage and hope you find us helpful in your own writing journey!

Though we writers want to learn from the successes and failures of others, it is essential to remember that what worked for a New York Times best seller may not be effective for me, and that’s perfectly okay. Ultimately, any piece of advice should be judged based on its efficacy for the end user, not the prestige of the source.

As an example, I once read that the “best” way to be a prolific writer while also working a day job is to get up three hours early each day and spend the time writing. Not only will there be no distractions in the early hours of the morning, but your mind is freshest right after waking up, right? Okay, I gave it a try… and failed miserably. I am a morning person, but I am NOT a getting out of bed person. It’s mostly a matter of inertia. I have an alarm clock I keep across my bedroom in addition to my phone on my bedside table and set, on average, six to eight alarms a day. However, once I’m vertical and have some momentum, I’m good to go. Unsurprising to anyone, getting out of bed three hours earlier than I absolutely needed to be never happened. That piece of advice, though effective for others, failed me miserably. Oh well! Moving on.

But what if it wasn’t when I write, but rather HOW I write that was slowing me down? Kevin J Anderson swears by his dictation method for first drafts, and he’s by far the most productive author I know. He is able to hike up 14,000 ft mountains while spinning a yearn, send off the recording for transcription, and then edit the resulting manuscript into a best seller. This technique has resulted in over 23 MILLION books in print. I do a lot of driving, biking, and hiking, so why not double dip that time? Furthermore, physical activity works wonders to get my creative mind juices flowing, so I took a risk. I bought a recorder, a copy of Dragon Naturally Speaking, and spent the better part of a year practicing dictating my stories and blogs. Though I can do it, the technique just doesn’t work as well for me as it does for Kevin. Instead of a steady stream of consciousness, I stutter and stumble, resulting in a file that DNS has a rough time converting into comprehensible prose. I then spend hours cutting, reworking, and revising that mess into a finished product. In the end I spend as much total time as if I were to sit down and use manual entry from the beginning. So, for most circumstances, I have stopped using the recorder.

Beyond the basic act of producing prose, there is the fundamental question of what to write in the first place. While the basic dramatic structure has been thoroughly explored, every book or blog on story I read seems to tout a system of “rules” that are absolutely, positively, 100% mission critical to ensure success, fame, and fortune. You must always have a shot clock, must always allow time for thoughtful sequels, must always have a love triangle, and must always do this and that and whatever or you are doomed to failure, remaindered books, and discount book bins. While all these elements can work wonders to spruce up your fiction, not every technique translates well across genre boundaries.

For example, I have read advice from a big name romance writer that insisted that all stories need a happy ending. That’s a great guideline if you are writing for a romance audience. Their main emotional interest is the vicarious experience of falling in love. However, a story of romance and seduction isn’t the only payoff, else they’d be reading erotica. A romance book is a story in which two lovers are able to overcome the factors that stand in the way of their happily ever after. The relationship is as important as the sex.

However, other audiences aren’t so picky. Look at the success of the Song of Fire and Ice (Game of Thrones) books. There aren’t very many happy endings, but the story is plenty thrilling and surprising. The grimdark audience is looking to fulfill a very different set of emotional needs. Different audiences, different stories, different rules. Consider what every genre has to give, but do what works best for your readers and story.

Over the years, I have read thousands of pages of writing advice and have found that there is no one-size-fits-all answer. The best advice comes from people with whom you resonate. Look for those who have had success in similar genres, the writers you liked to read growing up, and industry professionals who are involved with authors who write like you. Find those who have overcome struggles similar to what you deal with and figure out how they did it. Read as much material as you can get your hands on, but don’t feel bound to listen to any of it. Ultimately, your writing tricks and habits should be organic, always growing towards the goal of increased productivity. Steal what works for you and leave the rest eating your dust.

Not All Cons are Created Equal

For fans, conventions are all about having fun, meeting people who share your interests, and having a weekend of unbridled and unapologetic geekiness. We gather at convention halls to meet our favorite authors or film stars, to attend panels, and to shop for art, books, collectables, costumes, and gadgets. Conventions are inherently a celebration of all that is nerdy, and so it only makes sense that they be as varied as the fans who attend them.

However, as authors, conventions are also a business trip. At a convention, we can sell our books – both to industry professionals and directly to fans. By observing what is popular, we can keep our fingers on the pulse of fandom and learn the tastes of our target audiences. The convention hotel bar is a great place to meet people, network, and make friends who understand the struggles of being an aspiring author.

Even though conventions are an invaluable experience, I know of very few people who have an unlimited budget and the freedom to travel as they please. The rest of us need to choose carefully how best to use our vacation time and financial resources. Even if you don’t consider all of the seminars and workshops offered, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of conventions worldwide. The task of narrowing down your choices may seem overwhelming, but if you approach selecting conventions with your goals in mind, you can make the process much more manageable.

Though all conventions are unique experiences, I’ve noticed that most seem to fall somewhere along a series of five continuums. By properly placing the perspective convention, I have found it easy to evaluate the convention’s personality and utility to an aspiring professional.

CONTINUUM 1: Big Cons vs Small Cons
Much of a convention’s personality is a function of its size. Cons with larger numbers of attendees have more leverage with local hotels, businesses, and governments as they represent a massive and predictable influx of tourism. As such, they will be able to secure special rates with the nearby businesses, and convince local municipalities to shut down roads and parks. They will attract the attention of higher profile guests and be able to pay for their appearance fees, travel, and lodging.

No matter how much good the influx of a hundred thousand people does for the local economy, there is a draw back. Larger cons are inherently more chaotic, have longer lines for events, and tend to react more slowly to change. They can easily become overwhelming for someone who is unused to or uncomfortable in those sorts of crowds. It’s also very hard to get noticed in such a large group. If you are looking to shop a book, for example, I’d recommend somewhere a bit more intimate, where you can take the time to get to know agents and editors rather than have 2.5 seconds of their attention as you pass in the mass of humanity.

CONTINUUM 2: Party Cons vs Business Cons
Some conventions, like World Con or World Fantasy, are largely focused on getting business done. Sure, there’s still partying, but most of that is geared towards networking. Editors and agents go to these sorts of conventions to acquire new talent and catch up with old friends in the industry.

On the other hand, conventions like Dragon*Con or Salt Lake City Comic Con lean more heavily towards celebration than business. Though it’s possible to seal a deal at these sort of conventions, the odds of getting the attention of an industry professional are not in your favor. They are, however, a fantastic place to meet and interact with fans, as well as sell lots of books in the dealer’s room.

CONTINUUM 3: Narrowly Focused Cons vs Multi-Track Cons
When you are in charge of organizing a con’s content, how do you choose? Some cons focus on a single vein, such as steam punk, horror, anime, or even the works of a particular author. For example, JordanCon is a convention held each spring in Atlanta. Its founders chose to focus on the works of Robert Jordan and all things tied to the Wheel of Time. On the other end of the spectrum, Dragon*Con, also in Atlanta, is a sprawling agglomeration of every possible fan interest. You get a lot more depth at a convention like JordanCon and a greater variety at a gathering like Dragon*Con. Both approaches have their advantages.

CONTINUUM 4: Content Cons vs Dealer’s Cons
Though every convention is going to have some sort of dealer’s room, some conventions, such as World Fantasy, focus mostly on the panels, parties, and other social interactions between fans and guests. On the other hand, conventions like San Diego Comic Con have massive dealer’s rooms and much of their attendees’ focus is on acquiring merchandise and collectibles. If you are looking to learn something, go to a content con. If you are looking to buy from vendors or sell to consumers, go to a dealer’s con.

CONTINUUM 5: Static Cons vs Traveling Cons
Some conventions, like Bubonicon or Space City Comic Con, are held in the same city, even some times on the same weekend, year after year. They are inherently easier to plan for, and tend to have better relationships with local business and governments. Additionally, local celebrities and authors tend to adopt a “home convention” that they attend year after year.

Other conventions, such as any con with the word “World” in the title, travel to new destinations each year. What they lack in stability, they gain in variety of experience and often leverage with the locals. After all, Spokane, Washington likely bent over backwards to win their 2015 bid for World Con. Albuquerque, New Mexico on the other hand probably won’t go to the same extreme for Bubonicon, which is held there year after year.

Want to see the world? Follow a traveling convention, but you’re travel costs will likely be proportionally more expensive. It’s often best to catch such events as they cycle through a city near you.

So, how do you know what sort of convention you’re in for? It’s simply a matter of research. Your social network will go a long ways to help you with this. Find friends who have been to the convention in question and ask them their opinions and experiences. Another good option is to peruse the convention website. What sort of guests are they expecting? Cons with guest lists heavy in celebrities and authors often are content cons while those who have tons of artists lean more towards the dealer’s floor. Additionally, you can search through public media, blogs, and social media sources for coverage of the previous year’s event. Those sorts of articles will often report attendance numbers and focus on the perceived high points of the convention’s programming.

Ultimately, only you can know what sort of convention will best fit your needs and interests. Are you actively trying to sell a book to traditional publishers? You might focus on finding a small, business focused con. Or, are you trying to meet your favorite author or celebrity? In which case, you should look for a large, narrowly focused, static con. Do you want to be entertained at a party, content focused convention, or are you trying to find a rare printing of a comic book at a dealer’s convention? There’s a buffet of experiences ready for you to sample. All you have to do is pick up a plate and make a decision as to where to start.

Finding Inspiration in the Writing Life

Writing is hard, lonely, and often underappreciated work. Authors spend years, if not decades, practicing and perfecting our craft with the hopes of someday being deemed “publishable.” Each year, thousands of aspiring authors risk ego and scathing rejection for the chance to see their name in print. Most fail and give up. After all, walking away from the dream is easier and less painful than going on.

However, the truth is that there is only one person that can end the journey from novice to pro. Published authors aren’t victors, but rather they are survivors. They are those who have risked, been rejected, and stood back up to go another round. Whether traditionally or independently published, authors and hopefuls alike need to be constantly putting themselves out into the world. We need to attend conventions and seminars to network and learn. We need to keep writing, submitting and resubmitting until the popcorn starts popping. Most importantly, we need to remember why we chose this path in the first place. It is that self-awareness that will keep us sitting down in front of the keyboard.

Though we have spoken extensively on business and writer’s craft here on the Fictorians, few of us have gone into our raison d’être. Largely that is because those experiences are deeply personal and often painful. However, the industry isn’t getting any easier. So, this month, we’ll talk about our motivations and inspirations with the hopes of sharing our strength and experiences with each other and with y’all.

I write because I believe in the power of fiction. To tell stories is to be human. Even our most ancient ancestors painted stories on the walls of caves so the exploits of great hunts and mythic figures could be shared with the future. Stories provide comfort and companionship to the weary and those in pain. They excite and invigorate the bored, and provide a safe place for the tormented or insecure to seek answers to the greater questions of life. Through books, we are able to live another life, experience another’s thoughts, and have sympathy for types of people with whom we may never interact. Our stories allow us to reach well beyond ourselves and help or inspire others.

I have heard some of these stories, and so know the power of fiction first hand.

Because of fiction, soldiers earn purple hearts by jumping on grenades to save the lives of their comrades.

Because of fiction, teen aged girls leave an abusive home with nothing more than a backpack of clothes and a single beloved book.

Because of fiction, a young man found hope in the midst of depression.

Fiction has power because we as authors feed our energy, the product of our imaginations, and the strength of our beliefs and convictions into the stories. However, for that world changing fiction to exist in the first place, we must understand ourselves well enough to know that we can never give up on the dream.

About the Author:NathanBarra_Web
Though Nathan Barra is an engineer by profession, training and temperament, he is a storyteller by nature and at heart. Fascinated with the byplay of magic and technology, Nathan is drawn to science fantasy in both his reading and writing. He has been known, however, to wander off into other genres for “funzies.” Visit him at his webpage or Facebook Author Page.