Villainous Thoughts

The good guy may get the girls but it’s that bad guy that keeps the pages turning. I find writing a compelling villain is tougher than a book’s lead character. Male or female it is that villain that will be the measure of how good your protagonist truly is. Even when that antagonist isn’t a person, you must write about their actions that the reader can make no mistake about their villainy. Myself, I like cunning villains more so than overly powerful ones. I also like villains who have a morality too. Huh?

Think about it this way, in Marvel’s X-Men, Magneto is the villain to Charles Xavier. Yet all Magneto is interested in is the well being of his fellow mutants and protecting them. His methods vary drastically from Professor Xavier’s, but the moral compass for both points in the same direction. The challenge in writing about a character such as this is making sure that his or her actions remain true to that morality.

Another fun type of villain is the off the rails amoral variety. The sheer chaos of writing for one of these characters is demanding. Still the end result can be very rewarding as your hero rises and meets every nefarious deed. Yet all is not lost even for these types of villains. I’m thinking about Godzilla here. Obviously he or she was the villain of the first movie in 1954 but latter movies would see the unstoppable force of nature become the hero protecting humanity. That he or she had to destroy half of Tokyo to do it is another matter.

In both these examples you can have a wide range of villains that combine components of each, though like I said before I like my villains morally guided if not socially minded.

For Information’s Sake

Those who know me, know that by day I am a librarian. You may not know that librarianship covers a wide range of disciplines. My main draw to librarianship was, and still is, studying how people interact with information. The events of the last year have really given me concern over that choice.

Recently we’ve been beset with information to the point that we can’t possibly take the time to process and evaluate it all. Worst of all we have taken to tuning out any information that would give us cause to reexamine our opinions. This is anathema to everything I’ve worked for and stand for as a librarian.

As I see it there is no such thing as fake news. There are facts and there are conjecture. Willing one to be the other so that your opinion is validated is the utmost in ignorance. Yet we accept this every day. Have you seen Facebook? Why is this? Is it just that much easier? Do we need so much validation that we are perfectly happy locking ourselves in our own echo chambers oblivious to when we are being lied to? Then again that just may be my inner librarian talking, but at times this is what it seems we have fallen into.

The academic in me is interesting to see how this experiment plays out. The librarian in me screams at every meme that passes disinformation off as fact. Never mind truth, because that is often in the eye of the beholder. A democracy lives or dies on the ability of it’s people to make informed choices. Sadly I  fear information has taken a back seat to opinion. Until that is recognized we can only slip further into our self defined fog.

If 6 Was 9, Ambiguity Will Get You Every Time

With all apologies to the Hendrix estate, there is a funny meme on the internets with two figures standing on opposite ends of a large painted number. One argues that it is a six while the other argues that it is a nine. The moral is both are right according to their perspective. A followup meme points out that one is definitely wrong because whoever painted the number set out to paint either a six or a nine. Both made me chuckle and both told me there is a lesson in them for writers.

Ambiguity is the bane of communication. It can often crop up in our writing because we know what we mean in our heads but sometimes the words leave it open to interpretation. Nothing you write should ever be open to interpretation, this isn’t painting. Then there are the little things that you don’t even recognize someone might have a question over. For example, does your scene take place at night or day? It might not mean a whole lot at the point in the story but a scene or two later could be ruined if your reader thought it was daylight and your reader is in the nighttime hours. Ambiguity in the details you reveal makes it harder for the reader to connect with and buy into the story. Most of these will come out in beta readings or from your editor. Still, always being aware of instances where what you say can be taken a couple of different ways will make your writing that much stronger.

Why You Should Read Weird Fiction

This is a great guest post from blogger Claire Quigley at Book riot. Why You Should Read Weird Fiction

My first experience with Weird Fiction was of course H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror. Following that I was hooked and soon started righting my own weird stories. As the post suggests, Weird Fiction works best in the short form. I think that is because you are able to maintain the sense of dread and uncertainty through the whole length of the piece. In something the size of a novel this would become unbearable about half way through and turn off many readers. Not that it can’t be done. You just have to work in increments and even then, to me at least, the end product is not as powerful as a short story. I urge you to click on and read the post and then try out something from the weird, you might find you like it there.

When Genre Writing Is In Name Only

zombie hordeActually I have never met anyone who acts in pornographic movies so I don’t know for sure, but I think I would. Where I intend to go with this concerns an article I saw, Why Science Fiction Writers are Like Porn Stars, on io9. The piece is a rebuttal of sorts to Glen Duncan’s review of the book, Zone One in the New York Times. That is where you will find the comment about intellectuals dating porn stars in regards to literary writers tackling genre fiction. Now having read the review but not the book I am sorry that I am committed that much to this internet dust up. That being said I thought my two cents on genre writing might be worth, well, two cents.

I aspire to write literature, I mean who doesn’t. What I think most do not understand is that, much like history, it is up to the decision of time. Using fancy words, or complex plot structures, or even nouveau cliches only gives your work the semblance of aspiring to be literary. On the other end of the spectrum, throwing zombies into your look at modern life only makes it genre in the same way McDonald’s made pizza. Writers are a fickle lot and nothing grinds our gears than someone writing poorly in our chosen genre or even writing quite well and making more money. What separates true genre writing is not what is in it but what would be missing if it was not there at all. Gadgets and Victorian clothes do not make a Steampunk novel any more Steampunky (?) than a strong protagonist with a wit and a bit of a rebellious nature do. If you remove the airships and Tesla Cannons and the story reads like a Wild Western Romance, you haven’t written a Steampunk novel. The same goes for horror. If the monsters are a metaphor for the ills of society, or even worse, nothing more than set  dressing you haven’t written a Horror novel. What genre writers seem to get better than others is all of the pieces matter and not just the ones that assemble the main picture. I think that is what Mr. Duncan was alluding too but somehow went about it in a very literary way.

Said is Dead, Or Is It?

While strolling across the blogosphere I came on Heather Squires’s website that had an interesting graphic. Said is dead. The graphic is a handy tool for alternatives to using , “said.” While I agree in principle that no reader wants to stare down a whole page of, “he said, she said, he said.” Equally taxing would be a page of, “he stated, she replied, he mumbled, she questioned.” There is no need to raid the thesaurus every time you want to write some dialog. Like anything else in life a little bit will do you.

The goal of writing good dialog is keeping the reader on track as to who is saying what. Throw in some thoughts and this can become quite a challenge for even the best writers. I find it most effective to blend in actions. To break up the dialog and cue the reader in to who is speaking without relying on a said or any other word. For example…

“Do you know where the scissors are,” Dad asked.
“No,” Kim replied.
“Of course. Nothing is ever where it’s supposed to be,” Dad mumbled angrily.

Let’s try that same exchange but with a little bit of action.

“Do you know where the scissors are,” Dad asked.
Kim looked up from her book, “No.” Then went right back to reading.
“Of course. Nothing is ever where it’s supposed to be.” Dad mumbled as he stormed out of the room.

Now this is just a simple example and in a longer bit of dialog the writer would mix up actions and expressions along with said, asked and so on. The goal is to keep the reader aware of who is speaking but at that same time giving them something interesting to read. So remember, “said,” may or may not be dead, but to keep your writing off of life support explore the alternatives and mix things up.

Steps to Publishing

I was recently asked for a summary of a few things you need to do to get a book self-published. I thought about and then crafted a nice reply, then thought some more and decided this would also make neat post. So here are a few of the things I have learned.

First write a good book. I recommend working with a writers’ critique group or editor. I used 2 for my last book. One read for content and character and the other for copy editing, though both had a little hand in the other.

Know your word possessor. The book will need to be formatted a few different times. Know how to create uniform headers, footers, page numbering, set margins and line spacing.

Get some software. You’ll need to create special files to upload to the various publishers. You should have and know how to use, Calibre (for making epub books), Sigil for editing (epubs), and Mobi Pocket Creator (for creating kindle ebooks). If that last sentence freaks you out know you can upload word or document files to some publishers and they will create the eBook format for you. You just give up any control over the process and have to take what they give you. You can also hire someone to do this part.

Design a professional looking cover. If you don’t know your way around Photoshop then hire someone to do this, Out of the 2 million + books on Amazon the first thing anyone sees is your cover. Make it one that sticks out.

Sign up for accounts with the main e publishers, Amazon Kindle Direct and Createspace, Barnes & Nobile Nookpress, Smashwords and Lulu. Familiarize yourself with their website and help files.

Get yourself a website/blog to promote the book. Domains are cheap so if you want to look the part, yourname.com helps. So does your own email address: yourname@yourname.com.

Become your own publisher. Haven’t taken this step myself but all you have to do is register the name of your name as a publisher with your state and buy yourself a chunk of ISBN numbers from Bowker.com. This is the route to go if you want to control everything. Actually, I’m pretty sure there is more to it than that.

Lastly get your expectations in check. This book is not likely to pay for a Ferrari, at best maybe a nice dinner, but most likely something from the dollar menu at McDonald’s. It is a learning process and the next one will always be better and go smoother.

That’s all I can think of for now.

Are Your Bad Guys Bad Enough?

Image by http://www.ign.com

Image by http://www.ign.com

I am sitting in my office thinking on how busy I’ve been this summer and looking at a poster on my wall. The poster is from a video game released in 2005 for the Sony Playstation 2 called Shadow of the Colossus. The premise of the game is that you control a boy who must find and kill 16 giants the game calls Colossi to restore the life of a girl. So you spend the game wandering the vast land on horseback encountering these monstrous beings, climb up them, find their weakness and slay them. When you get all sixteen the game ends.

Now I can’t tell you what happens at the end of the game for two reasons. One, that would spoil it if you have any intention to play an eight year old game. Two I never made it to the end. About two or three Colossi into the game I came to realize what for me was a game killing fault. I am tasked with killing these beings with very little context or reason other than saving the young girl, yadda yadda yadda.  The only problem was the means of encountering them. You just come upon the first few Colossi. By the third one, lacking this story context I began to see the Colossus as a victim. At this point n the game the story has not revealed enough of the main story to give you a strong enough reason to go forward with the killings. The lack of context when you find the lumbering brute just wandering a meadow makes it even harder to scale it’s body and shove your sword into it’s unguarded flesh. Had I encountered other characters fleeing the Colossus or maybe see it ravaging a village, I would feel that I had to kill it. As it was I simply couldn’t justify the killing.

In a story the antagonist is the foil, obstacle, thing that must be scaled and defeated so that your protagonist can move onto the ending. While the reader does not have to hate the antagonist as much as your protagonist does you have to make it clear to the reader that the antagonist needs to be dealt with. The more extreme the dealing with for the more extreme the hurt, hate or adversity. After all you want the reader to root for your protagonist.

We’ve all read about the heroes you love to hate, but a bad guy you hate to love? It’s gonna take some special writing to make that happen and unless you nail it the whole thing is going to blow up in your face. Depending on the story you are crafting, there could be a whole host of activities, behaviors and traits you can bestow upon your antagonist to make the reader hate him, her, it. The only thing to be aware of is if your desire to write something that isn’t so black and white it becomes cliche. The last thing you want is to give your antagonist enough sympathetic qualities that the reader begins to see the antagonist as a victim. When the time comes for the protagonist to triumph you do not want the readers tasked with picking a side, even if they see multiple sides, they always must side with your protagonist.

In the case of my video game, the part of the story that made me want to continue with the slaying of these creatures took too long to appear. I could see the creatures were dangerous formidable opponents but that was not enough. I took this as a lesson and use it in all of my writing. My bad guys have to be bad, my obstructions have to be massive. There can be no question of motives.  This way when the time comes for the protagonist to triumph it is a victory shared by the reader as well.

Why Isn’t Your Book Selling

So you spent the last eight, twelve, eighteen, thirty-six months, working, slaving, sweating and bleeding into your manuscript pages. Your characters are so real they are now a part of your life. The plot is honed, buffed and not a hole in sight. Your style is so well crafted that the prose dances off the page. The book hits Amazon and only your mom buys a copy. Houston we have a problem. What the fudge could have gone wrong? What could these people be looking for? What could you possible have forgotten? What does a writer have to do to sell some books in this crazy digital tromping traditional publishing environment?

I chose my first two books on Amazon primarily because they were never going to find a home with an agent or traditional publisher. They don’t really fit into a clear genre and would have a small audience no matter what. So they were my experiment and I did not have really high expectations. That being said, my sales have have lived up to those expectations. I have since raised them for my next book, Undead Heart, so I eagerly read this article when one of my fellow writers shared it with me. Thank you Gale. The article is from The Creative Pen and I urge you to add it to your RSS feed, as it is a great resource.

“Help my book isn’t selling. What can I do?”

I flirted with some of these ten tips previously but for my next book I am working my hardest to use every single one. Some of these will involve spending money and that is the hardest thing to wrestle with. How much is enough to spend and how much is too much? You must always be aware of the return on your investment. They key to being a professional is to think like one. Spending more than you can or should reasonably expect to make is just bad business. But as the saying goes it takes money to make money. I think I might append that to say, “it takes money to make money and treating your work as a professional is the first step to being professional.”