Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Writing Wednesday: Tips for Great World Building

Hi folks,

Rachel refused to come out of her writing cave this morning. Something about Dragons, interruptions, and tasty with ketchup. So it looks like I'm going to be doing the blog post today. Mwahahaha! Last week was a business post, so this week I'm going to try to keep it writerly with a post on settings and world building.

Writing Wednesday: Tips for Great World Building

I've been making my own settings since sixth grade. Not for books, but for the table top RPGs that I run for my friends. Surprisingly to me, this experience has been invaluable when I help Rachel world build for her series. In fact, one of the most crucial contributions I make to Rachel's books have to do with her settings. She's even written a post about my world-building help called My Husband, the World Wrecker. 

(RACHEL NOTE: This is true. All of my settings were either blatantly stolen from or enormously improved by Travis. Also, YOU GUYS, he is the best GM ever! Seriously. I learned so much of what I know about stories from being a player character in his games over these last 14 years. Just goes to show that you really do pick up novel writing skills from everywhere!)

I'm not a writer like Rachel, but this is something I've done a lot both together with her and on my own, so today I want to share with you some of the things I've picked up over my two decades and countless worlds worth of experience into what makes for really good world building. Now, this will be less "how to world build" and more "how I world build", but I hope that you all find this interesting none the less.

Starting Out, the Big Hook

All my best worlds start with a hook. The setting itself needs to have a core component that invokes curiosity, "OMG factor," an exciting twist, has implications, or invokes a sense of irony/dread.

However, I'm not a fan of every type of world hook. I definitely feel like some are better than others. Specifically, I'm a big big believer in the power of,
The contradiction. Aka, the mystery, the thing-that-doesn't-add-up, the glaring exception...
All the coolest settings I know of (including Eli, Devi, and Dragons ^_~) have the contradiction deep within them. Our brains are desperate for order. We instinctively crave for everything to make logical, or at least explainable, sense. When we see something that doesn't make sense, say a broken rule of the universe or society, the urge to know why it doesn't drives us nuts.

In story, just add on the fact that not-knowing might have deadly consequences and you'll get some great baked-in tension.

For example,

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

How to Build Your Newsletter Using List Bait

Hi Folks,

Today I'm going to talk about the Heartstriker short, Mother of the Year. I'm going to go over what it is, why we made it, and why it's available as it is. I'm sure ya'll will find this educational as there's a lot going on here. So far this experiment has been a rousing success, so read on and we'll get into,

What We Did With Mother of the Year and Why

This post started when Tom Sweeney asked,
"My only question (you didn't think i was going to politely leave without a question, did you?) concerns the Mother of the Year gambit.
I know you are not selling it, just making it available for those on your list, and this likely resulted in a LOT of people signing up. I'm just wondering how effective it was for the end game goal, not building a list per se but selling books. I understand your data probably doesn't have enough granularity to determine how many of the new signups went ahead and bought one or more of the Heartstriker series books. You could have each sold lot of MotY copies at $.99, so do you think you came out ahead with enough Heartstriker books sold to cover the loss of revenue had you sold MotY?"

@Tom Thanks! Also, I love questions! Please feel free to ask away.

My reply was a wall of text and I realized that it'd be better as a blog post. So let's talk all about Mother of the Year.

First off, what is Mother of the Year?

MOTY, the short story you can download, is an interview with Besthesda, The Heartstriker about her 5th autobiography titled Mother of Year. It's about 4000 words long and is less of a story and more of a TV show transcript. The work is supplemental to the main series, meaning that you don't need to read it to appreciate Heartstrikers. So while it might make some parts cooler, it's not essential.

It is only available for people who sign up for the new release mailing list. This last bit is the most important part. You cannot buy MOTY. It is list exclusive content.

Why is it list exclusive and not [also] for sale?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Writing Wednesday: Creating Settings Readers Can't Forget (And You Can't Mess Up)

What ho, loyal readers! Rachel back again from the word mines where I have been slaving under dragons (very nice ones, but dragons nonetheless) to talk about...settings!

{Insert Cool Stuff Here}
Settings are one of those writing necessities that too often gets overlooked. If you've done any writing research, you've already read dozens of articles about crafting characters and worldbuilding and plotting. But while these elements are all very important, surprisingly little ink, digital or otherwise, is spent on how to craft and imagine the actual physical space your characters, world, and plot inhabit.

This is especially weird when you consider how important set design is to other story telling mediums. Theatre, movies, television, and video games all have professionals who've made careers out of set design. Likewise, comics--both American and manga--spend an enormous amount of time on backgrounds.

In all of these, what the space where the action takes place looks (and sounds) like is clearly a huge part of the experience of the story. So why do we as authors, who have the entire reader imagination at our disposal, who spend months to years perfecting our characters and plots, so often delegate our setting to cliches like "dark forest" or "big stone castle"?

The obvious answer here is that, unlike all the things I mentioned above, writing is not a visual medium. Other than our covers and the very occasional illustrated edition, we don't deal in pictures. Quite the opposite. Saying accurately what something looks like is one of the hardest things to do in writing. "A picture is worth 1000 words" can be a literal statement when you're writing a book, and who wants to waste that kind of narrative space on what's basically a long, info-dumpy description? No one, which is why one of the most common pieces of writing advice I see in Fantasy circles is "don't stop to describe the scenery."

Make no mistake, this is good advice! We've all read (and most likely put down) books that stop the action completely to spend 5 paragraphs describing a castle on a bluff or the crowds in a city market. These are both setting-establishing elements that a movie director could establish in one camera pan, but would take us writers pages of tension-breaking description text to achieve the same effect, which is why you don't see them much in good fiction. They simply take way too long to do.

At the same time, though, creating an interesting, memorable, atmospheric world is a huge part of writing memorable fiction, especially in genre. However interesting your characters, plot, and world are, if you set them in a very generic Fantasy setting that relies on cliches to fill in your backgrounds, you are setting yourself up to be at least partially forgettable.

So how do you strike a balance? How do you create and then describe a setting that's unique enough to be memorable without spending a thousand extra words and killing your tension in the process?

It's a tricky balance, but there are definitely a few best practices I've learned over the years to make it easier. So, without further ado, let's talk about...

Writing Wednesday: Creating Settings Readers Can't Forget (And You Can't Mess Up)

"Sci-fi City" by JadrienC on DeviantArt
Unless you have a very strong image of a place or scene in your head already (or you're actively writing one right now), chances are you haven't given much thought to your settings yet. To be clear, I'm not talking about World Building. I've gone over that whole other kettle of fish in detail already. This post is all about actual, physical location. The places where your characters live and your action takes place.

If we were working on movies or video games or any of the visual mediums, we would call this set design, and it would be a huge freaking deal. How many movies have you watched where just looking at the set was enough to create strong expectations of what was coming before any characters spoke or any plot had been laid down?

Hobbiton, I'm looking at you.
Oh yeah, that's powerful mojo. Of course, we writers don't have these visual elements to work with, but that's no excuse not to have creative and interesting locations. We are still storytellers and entertainers. It is our job to be as interesting as possible, and creating really cool settings is a huge part of that, so let's talk about how to do it.

The Foolproof Guide to Settings #1: Matching Your Emotions

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Book Marketing Tactics Round-Up

Hi Folks,

I'm sure you are wondering what I'm doing here on a Wednesday post instead of Rachel. Well, after last week's blogging ate three of Rachel's mornings, we have come to the long-building conclusion that we're both blogging too much. Books aren't getting written and that means Things-Have-To-Change(TM) around here.

We're still going to update everywhere Wednesday with new advice and helpful posts, but Rachel and I will be alternating who's up each week.

Anyway, there's been a lot of requests for marketing posts and, as I'm always asking for post requests, I'm going to try my best. Marketing is a HUGE topic ya'll. People get degrees and spend lifetimes perfecting it as a skill. In a way, we're always talking about marketing here in some form or another.

Since "marketing books" is too big a topic, I'm instead going to list and talk about every single book marketing tactic that I know of. It's going to be a,

Book Marketing Tactics Round-Up

We all need some practical, effective, actionable information to sell books with. While there's loads of abstract marketing strategy we need to talk about, books still need to sell and we all have work to do. SO, let's focus on the pragmatic stuff today and I'll have more abstract strategy talk for ya'll on another day.

What, specifically, can you do to market a book?

I'm going to try to list things in the order of power/importance they will have on your book's sales.