Story planning and creation – developing the protagonist’s story

Text over a line drawing of a city - Story planning and creation: Developing the protagonists storyFollowing on from the previous posts where I’ve been outlining a new novel, we now know a little about the story world and its conflicts. It’s a world where:

  • the supernatural intersects with the mundane
  • a woman is in trouble because of her new youth.

So what do we know about the protagonist, Rose Thorn, and her situation?

  • She wakes up with no memory of what’s happened to her.
  • She’s much younger than she was.
  • Time has passed – several months.
  • She has a daughter called Hope, and Hope’s going to be used against Rose by the antagonist.
  • Depending on your definition of what it is to be human, Rose no longer is. She’s transforming into a dryad. I think a ticking clock might be useful here.

We don’t really know much more about Rose at this stage, so let’s focus on fleshing her out a bit.

What she knows

Rose has to realise she’s ‘different’ very early on in the story, but can’t remember what happened too soon. It’s a question that will be answered as the story progresses.

All she knows initially is that she had a normal life until she woke up youthful again after going missing for several months. As her foggy memories return they will be balanced with the physical changes she’s going to have to rely on to survive.

She quickly learns someone is after her, and because of that her daughter is at risk. This needs to become clear during the first quarter of the story to develop the story’s main conflicts and threat.

Story drivers

Her lack of knowledge creates story drivers. She needs to figure out:

  • how she was gifted or cursed by a dryad
  • what becoming a dryad means
  • why this happened to her. Red herrings (or real scenarios) could be:
    • something she did (is what happened to her some form of payback, or a gift for some favour/help she gave)?
    • something she found/stole – a Magic McGuffin which turns her into a dryad?
    • wrong place – wrong time (bad luck)?
    • she escaped some supernatural attack and this was the result?
  • did the dryad have her own motivations?
    • does the dryad have a secret?
    • is the dryad playing her own game?
  • how can she use her ‘gift/curse’ to help herself and her daughter.

What happened to her can either be directly related to the antagonist (ie, Christian inadvertently caused it, for instance), or totally unrelated. Either way, it draws her into conflict with him as she has something he wants.

What does she know about Christian Godson, the antagonist?

She doesn’t know who’s after her or why (initially), though she eventually discovers Christian wants to use her gift and has the means to take it from her. The main things I need to figure out here are:

  • How exactly will Christian gain from this?
    • Just a long life, or something more?
    • How is this furthering his goals and hurting his enemies?
  • How will her ‘gift’ affect Christian?
    • Will it make him instantly younger?
    • Does it take time to work?
    • Will it cure any illnesses he has?
    • Does he have minions he can share it with?
  • What does he need to do to attain it?
    • If he catches her, can she be forced to just ‘hand it over’?
    • Does he need to do something drastic to extract it?
  • Could Christian be someone she trusts (plot twist?)?

How will the secret of her youth hurt Rose (emotionally)?

There must always be consequences/effects.

  • Does she go into denial?
  • Is she determined to find a cure and return to being human?
  • Does it affect her in other ways?
  • What will be the effects on her family?

How can she use her new knowledge about what happened to her advantage?

  • We can’t drop her secret into the story and give it no impact, or fail to provide her with any means of taking advantage of it.
  • It’s essential that it be part of the story’s resolution to produce a satisfying ending.
    • How can she use this change to defeat or destroy the protagonist?

A line drawing of a woman - head and sholdersWho can possibly help her?

She needs both allies and people she cares about. As well as help her, these ‘extras’ can also be used against her (they can be threatened, hurt, or killed, for example). Possibilities include:

  • Someone associated with Christian (an untrustworthy ally who plans to double-cross him (or her)).
  • Her best friend (I assume she has one).
  • Family/daughter.
  • A third party who knows about her gift/curse but is content to let her keep it
    • Why would they do this?
    • Christian’s enemies?
  • Someone who’s been through what she’s going through – the person (dryad) Christian really wants to get his hands on?
  • More than one of the above?

I don’t know that I want a mentor for Rose in this novel – it’s not a coming-of-age story, though it has similarities. I think it needs to be more of a ‘finding yourself’ or ‘figuring out what’s most important to you’ story, which implies signposts rather than a guide.

Lets put everything we know into a timeline

The beginning:

  • Christian (and friends?) seeks the fountain of Rose’s youth, and has for generations.
    • For him, it’s a temporary thing, requiring ‘top-ups’ at regular intervals to stay young.
    • Perhaps it has a law of diminishing returns – every time he ‘uses’ it the effects don’t last as long, requiring more and more.
  • Rose is transformed (is she left for dead and saved by a dryad/forced to change by a desperate dryad?).
    • She wakes up alone, in the woods, with no memory of what happened.
      • She has to claw her way out of a shallow grave
  • Rose discovers she’s youthful again
    • perhaps after being taken to hospital/a police station
    • some sort of test shows she’s the same person, despite appearances.
    • How does this affect her? How does she react? (does she go through the seven stages of grief over the course of the novel? – I might need to do a little research for this)
    • How do her family react?
      • her parents/siblings reject her
      • her daughter accepts the truth, and can therefore be better used to hurt Rose.
  • Rose tries to lead police to the place she woke, but can’t find it. No one can. This casts doubt on her story.
    • The dryad who transformed Rose is either gone or dead and all evidence of what happened to her removed.
  • Her family reject her – despite the evidence – they don’t believe she’s the same person.

The middle:

  • The supernatural world intrudes (don’t know how yet, but it needs to play a part)
    • Her nature is changing – that is the intrusion on her normal world
    • She resists what’s happening to her, though she’s forced more and more to rely on those changes to get by.
    • Possibly someone from her new world also intrudes at this point (another dryad? Someone from Christian’s line – distant relative he has issues with)?
  • She discovers someone is after her – they want her secret/gift.
  • Her family is threatened: not too serious yet.
  • She’s increasingly caught between worlds, with the supernatural world a huge temptation
    • The supernatural world offers safety and a way out of the mess, but it comes at a cost: her family remains in danger, keeping her from accepting.

The end:

  • Christian goes directly after her family (Hope) and tries and force her hand.
  • She must accept what happened to her in order to save her daughter, herself, and the bigger threat to the supernatural world.

That’s it in very broad strokes, with a lot of detail yet to fill.

How do you think it’s shaping up so far?

Story planning and creation: Names

Story planning and creation: NamesI find searching for the right name for a character, place or anything else I’ve created in a story about as much fun as seasickness.

Running through options to find the right name for an important character can suck up a lot of time, but the right name can add a whole new dimension to a story.

I used to choose names based on the ‘get it chosen ASAP and get on with the story’ approach, usually choosing anything serviceable at the time.

That usually meant taking the first name I liked.

If something better struck me after the choice was made all well and good, but I’d often accept anything that got me past the hurdle, whereas a little thought could have delivered something infinitely better.

Recently I took an unanticipated lesson from Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy, Angle, Firefly and more, when I realised a lot of the names he gave his characters have a deeper meaning, usually in tune with their part in the story.

Take Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for instance:

  • Buffy. The protagonist’s name is pure irony. What kickass vampire slayer would be seen in public with a name like Buffy? It perfectly reflects the show’s tone.
  • Angel. The perfect guy who turns into the perfect bad guy during his first moment of pure happiness. Another healthy dose of irony.
  • Dawn. Buffy’s new sister. A new Dawn (because Dawn didn’t actually exist prior to her appearance in season 5). Theme-wise, wow.
  • Faith. The vampire slayer who has no faith. (Whedon really loves his irony, doesn’t he?)

Following on from that logic, I’ve found it helps to choose names that fit the story and add another level of value.

Based on what we know about the protagonist from the previous posts, we need a name that suits her situation, and for that we need to revisit (and perhaps add a little more information about) her origins:

  • She wakes up alone and dirty in the woods and is forced to dig her way out of a shallow grave.
  • She has no memory of what happened to her.
  • Memories of her life beforehand are vague.
  • All she really remembers is her name, though other memories slowly return.

And here comes the ‘secret’ I’ve been holding onto so far – a dryad changed her; brought her into the team, so to speak. I’m not entirely sure what the dryad’s motivations are yet, but that’s another question.

What I do know is that it was the dryad who gave her her new name. So what would a dryad call a woman who’s just been turned into another dryad?

A line drawing of a rose on a stem with petalsAfter a bit of consideration, I’ve decided to go with Rose Thorn. Why? Because:

  • First name: Rose. It works for her newfound youth and her growing and sensuous ability to lure people to her.
  • Second name: Thorn. It hints at the hidden danger she represents despite her beauty; her unrevealed dangerous side.
  • It’s fun and unusual, but not unpronounceable or totally off the chart. Rose and Thorn are also real names, though you’d probably feel sorry for someone with both. Considering her recent origins, it fits well.
  • It sounds dryadish… I hope.

As mentioned, there’s a little bit of fun to be had in her name as well. Can you imagine being asked by some cop or medic what your name is?

Repeat your best Bond voice: “Thorn. Rose Thorn.”

They’d think it was a joke. And then there’s the fact she was born with another name she doesn’t feel is hers anymore, yet the people she loves and who love her still hold onto it (a name to figure out later.)

Another major character is her daughter. Hope would be a good name for her. Hope wants her mother back the way she was before the she disappeared. Hope may be a little too obvious or ‘on the nose’, but we’ll run with it for now.

And then there’s the antagonist, someone who seeks the fountain of youth.

A little research shows that Methuselah lived to be almost a thousand years old and he’s mentioned in several religions. That means there’s some pre-existing mythology surrounding him that we can lean on.

Perhaps that’s all we need at this point – the myth of a man who lived for nearly a thousand years, a man who had at least one child, Lamech. Lamech lived to be almost eight hundred years old himself, and was said to be Noah’s father (as in Noah’s Arc). A noble line, indeed.

Yet where does our antagonist fit into all this? Is he Methuselah? Lamech? Noah? Someone else entirely, but descended from the same family?

I don’t want to get too far into the myth/legend/religious history, so let’s go with the same family, but merely related.

He’s a bad apple in an otherwise distinguished group, someone who once had access to the fountain of youth but lost it, and now must take it by force to get what he wants.

Considering he’s the antagonist, let’s make him someone with no regard for anyone but himself. He’s a man who would do anything to get revenge on the people who made him an outcast, including destroying the very thing that gives them (and himself) their long lives.

That seems like pretty good motivation to me.

A sketch of a man leaning against a wall.For a name, something ironic would work here – the complete opposite of what he is.

How about Christian Godson? Outcast. Murderer. Would-be king. It also ties to the mythology surrounding his ancestry.

I like it.

And there we have it, the three most important characters in this story: Rose, Christian and Hope, with the added bonus of some strong character motivation backed up with a little ‘real life’ history.

Do you think they work for this story? How do you choose or create the names in your own stories?

Visibility for your book

A line drawing of a man thinking about marketingI often use this blog as a way of getting things straight in my head. Today’s no different, and lately I’ve been researching book marketing.

Marketing is one of those necessary evils most writers consider even less appealing than mixing nuclear waste with fresh sewage and catapulting it at that annoying possum who tap-dances on your roof at 2am.

To get past the whole ‘I feel dirty just contemplating marketing’ issue, it helps find a reason to do it. By that I mean a reason that’s bigger than your desire not to do it.

Start off with that change of mindset, and then move onto a new definition of marketing. Marketing’s not about selling. It’s about visibility. You want to make your book into a funny cat video (metaphorically) that people will share all over the web.

So how do you do that?

Hoped-for results

Firstly, you need a desired outcome; a clear and hittable goal – something like convincing tap-dancing roof possums to visit your neighbour’s place so you can get a good night’s sleep.

So state your desired outcome for your book’s potential. Writ it down. Something small, like: “Number one international bestseller” or “Get it into the hands of a hundred-million people in the first hour after publication”.

If that’s a bit scary (and rightfully so), how about something infinitely more attainable like: “Sell at least a copy a week for an entire year”? A small but constant stream of books going out the door might feel better than a single burst followed by the sound of crickets, and probably means your marketing efforts are working.

A goal that sits somewhere in the middle might be: “Sell enough copies to justify my incurable writing habit”. You’ll need to define what you mean by justifying the habit, but as long as you do, you can for it.

Whatever you decide, it’s got to be an clear and definable outcome that you want. Make it something presently out of your reach but still possible with effort.

Now, put your outcome somewhere where you can see it every day – taped to the bottom of your monitor, for instance. You’ll need to remind yourself constantly.

Have a reason

Next, find a purpose that will get you out of your comfort zone and doing the things you don’t want to do. What’s the point of having a goal if you don’t have a reason to do it?

So what excites you? Is it the potential for critical acclaim, the possibility of becoming a celebrity, or simply seeing people get pleasure from reading your book?

Break it down some more – define what your goal means to you personally. It could be anything you care about, such as:

  • selling enough copies will get you (monetarily):
    • financial security and the knowledge you’ll never need to go out and get another job again
    • your very own house and owning it outright
    • the ability to send your kids to private schools so they can have the best education possible
  • the prestige of being invited to visit readers groups
  • the chance to stand on a stage and talk to thousands of people at a convention
  • a future movie deal where you can walk the red carpet like a star
  • make your spouse/kids/parents/friends proud of you
  • all of the above
  • any of a thousand other reasons that excite you?

Whatever it is, it has to be emotionally engaging; something that means a lot to you. You won’t go out of your way otherwise. You’ve got to want it enough to care.

Make it visible

With your desired outcome sorted and an emotional reason to achieve it, you now need to figure out exactly how you’re going to achieve your goals.

How will you get the book in front of people both before and after it’s published?

Don’t forget that marketing’s about visibility, not sales. You want to convince people to buy it, not actually sell it to them yourself. That’s a job for the retailer.

Barring a stroke of luck on the scale of winning the lotto three times in a row, no one’s going to find out about your book unless you get it in front of them. It’ll get swallowed by the black void of roof-dancing possums and funny cat videos posted on YouTube.

So how are you going to make your book visible? Start by researching book marketing ideas via that mystical thing called an internet search and see what others have done before you. There are some really innovative and clever ideas out there, and at least some of them have worked. A lot may be out there, so pick a few you’re comfortable with for now and leave the rest on your long list of possibilities.

When you’ve got a list of ideas, break your strategy into three parts – pre-publication, book launch, and post-publication.

Pre-publication

Build a presence online to let people know you’re writing a book. Focus on one thing at a time, and when that’s sorted expand your reach. Start by:

  1. joining your local writers’ centre and finding people/groups to connect with (if possible)
  2. setting up a website/blog (if you haven’t already). Research how to get people to visit it and implement some of those ideas (producing content helps… just saying)
  3. create social media accounts and learn how to use them (if you haven’t already)
  4. join online writers groups.

Doing the above allows you to tap into a vast wealth of knowledge and experience out there, as well as becoming known to people that matter (readers and writers).

Use your social media connections ask for advice from the writers who’ve launched books before while subtly letting them know you exist and that you’re also about to launch a book.

Book launch

Unless you’re a superpower in the writing world, no publisher is likely to organise and pay for you to launch your book. If you’re self-publishing, that’s a given. So:

  • do multiple book launches if possible – conventions, writers festivals, bookstores; wherever readers gather (visibility, remember?)
  • tap into your network and find someone with credibility, pull and showmanship to launch it for you
  • you’ll need to do a speech, so practice it and deliver it like a pro
    • a little training here goes a long way.
  • write your own press release – you never know, some journalist out there may be looking to write an ‘underdog does good’ article, so give them an angle and a reason to choose you.

Post book launch

Think of this as long-haul marketing. Again, marketing’s not about selling, but about visibility, so be the next funny cat (or tap-dancing-and-nuclear-waste-dodging roof possum) video everyone’s tuning into.

Think of creative ways to get the book in front of people without being obnoxious about it; refer to your list and search the internet for new ideas if you can’t think of any yourself. There’s plenty out there.

  • Spend a few hours a week thinking up/researching and implementing ideas to make your book more visible.
  • To increase visibility and meet potential readers, get a table at:
    • the local markets
    • artists alleys at conventions
    • wherever else the opportunity arises (team up with other writers if you don’t want to go it alone).
  • Do book signings at bookshops.
  • Write the next book, and the next (and publish them too – more books = more visibility).

However you approach it, try and have fun. Treat marketing like an adventure and you’ll never be disappointed, even if some approaches totally fizz.

What’s your best marketing (visibility) tip? Please let me know in the comments, and share this post with other writers who might find it useful.

Story planning and creation – stories within worlds

Text over a line drawing of an ancient city: Story Planning and Creation - Stories Within WorldsMention ‘worldbuilding’ and writers start talking about like places, races, creatures, politics, religion, culture, magic systems, etc. While they’re all very important elements of worldbuilding, I want you to think broader. Much broader.

When Prophecy of Power: Prey (formerly Transcendence of Power: Genesis) was accepted for publication, I wanted a four-book deal.

The publisher at the time (Satalyte) was happy to go with that.

My agent, however, suggested it was the wrong move.

Why?

If the first book flopped I’d be stuck writing three useless sequels. I interpreted that as ‘years of my writing career which could be better utilised’.

I went with my agent’s advice, although there are arguments for and against (but that’s another blog post).

So rather than write three sequels I wrote four brand new novels, and here’s where the topic of worldbuilding kicks in.

I set each of these standalone novels within the broader Noramgaell Saga story universe – the same story universe as Prophecy of Power: Prey.

Why? Three reasons:

  1. It makes commercial sense. Although they are standalone stories, they share the same backdrop and therefore (distantly, or sometimes closely) tie in into each other. If readers like one story, the familiarity may lead them to the others without any need to have read sequels or prequels.
  2. It makes logical sense. Although I write fantasy I’m not primarily a worldbuilder, so it avoids duplicating effort in a process I’m not a huge fan of.
  3. It saves time. Wordbuilding takes up considerable time which could be better utilized for stories rather than writing story backdrops.

Reusing your worldbuilding is similar to writing a series of standalone books with a single protagonist (such as Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, for example). Same story universe, different stories. A whole lot of advantages.

Now take that concept and think far more broadly. Apply it to all of your story universe, not just the world surrounding a single protagonist. This then becomes more like the hugely successful Marvel cinematic universe.

A line drawing of hands holding a globe.A horror/fantasy short story I wrote called Wyvern’s Blood was my first foray into this concept, and it happened long before I understood there was a concept.

Wyvern’s Blood now forms the groundwork for two separate storylines (the purple and green sections in the circles diagram on this page), all of it within the broader Noramgaell Saga.

In a similar vein, I created a loose history between two races including a war that lasted a millennia, but I didn’t know much about that war. All I knew was which side had won. Around the same time I had an idea for a star-crossed lovers story where an immortal girl from another universe falls in love with a human boy.

Tying these ideas together created a whole new storyline set twenty thousand years before the Noramgaell Saga’s conclusion, and it too is partially built on the foundations I created for Wyvern’s Blood.

Putting it into practice

A diagram of how all my novels interrelate
How my novels interrelate – coloured-in means the first in a series or standalone, bevelled means it’s been written, and coloured outlines designate which storyline the novel belongs to. The smaller squares are short stories.
When I come up with a story idea now, one of the first things I do is figure out if it fits into an existing story universe I’ve already created. Of course many don’t, particularly high-concept stories, but when they do I try to take advantage of what I already have.

The circle diagram on this page represents where stories fit into the Noramgaell Saga story universe. Purple and green represent two separate storylines set here on Earth, in the present. The blue, red and yellow circles represent storylines set in the future on another world in a parallel universe.

And so here I am, beginning to plot a new novel based on a single image – a woman waking up alone in the woods with no memory of what happened to her.

It could fit almost anywhere in the Noramgaell Saga story universe, but as I know what happened to her (something I haven’t revealed yet), there are several places it would work better than others. Therefore I’m setting it here on Earth.

I know a lot of writers are working on their first novel and story world and may not think this concept is for them. While you can apply it at any point, it actually works best at the start of the worldbuilding process.

Here’s why. If you were creating a new world, how many stories could you set in:

  • a hospital
  • a police station
  • a war
  • anywhere in human history
  • another planet
  • another universe?

Just take a look at television and you’ll find the answer – lots. Hundreds. Thousands. More. Layering the groundwork at the start could save you massive headaches later on.

Consider it another way; human history alone is the catalyst for millions of stories, and that’s just one possible story universe you could explore. It’s also free and doesn’t take any effort beyond research.

If you’re not currently in the thick of worldbuilding, pick something you’ve already created and consider the possibilities it represents. Start with unexplored conflicts you already know about and then move into into history, culture, character beliefs, politics – whatever floats your boat.

That’s the true power of worldbuilding – the ability to extract endless stories from a single story universe and its history.

When you’re thinking about worldbuilding, I strongly suggest you think of story possibilities from the outset, not just detail.

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Story planning and creation – conflict and threat

An organge line-drawing background of an ancient city with the words: Story Planning and Creation: Conflict and ThreatFollowing on from the last post about creating your story’s premise, I thought I’d continue the thread and go through what my next steps (ideally) would be in planning this particular story.

While the premise I came up with is in the ball park of what I’m happy with, it needs… more. I’m not sure what ‘more’ is at this stage, but that’s part of what I need to figure out.

If you Google ‘questions to ask before writing a book’ or ‘questions to ask when planning a book’ you’ll get a tonne of responses with some pretty nifty ideas to consider.

They might include:

  • Who’s your story about?
  • Why should anyone care?
  • What does your protagonist want?
  • Who’s your audience?
  • How are you going to surprise your readers?
  • What are you promising your readers? etc.

They’re big, broad, generic questions, and worth considering, but they’re largely taken care of by the story premise or questions that require a premise before you can answer them.

If you missed the previous post, I’d recommend reading it first so you know how I arrived at my story premise. The premise I came up with was: A missing woman who reappears as a teenager tries to protect her grown children when they’re hunted for the secret of her youth.

It’s a little bit of a mouthful and not as tight or specific as I’d like. Generally, it doesn’t suggest enough about story world or protagonist, but there’s plenty of time to refine it. It’s not something you want to get too hung up on.

For now, well ask some questions that might make that clearer while developing the story at the same time.

Let’s revise what we already know

I kept the previous iterations of the premise because they contain some gems. Let’s pull out what we can, remembering that this is largely brainstorming – there are no right or wrong answers, and it doesn’t matter if ideas conflict at this stage.

Ideas we’ve covered:

  • She wakes up in the woods
  • time has passed – decades perhaps – yet she hasn’t aged
  • or – only a little time has passed (days, weeks, months?), but she’s decades younger. I’m leaning toward this option for two main reasons:
    • it makes the story more immediate and contemporary rather than a missing persons case
    • it’s a little more original. Missing persons who come back from the dead (sometimes after centuries) have had a bit of a run on television lately.
  • When she disappears, she’s:
    • a young woman (new mother? – doesn’t really work with my preferred option above, but it’s worth noting)
    • an experienced mother (kids are perhaps 8-10ish)
    • a career woman who probably doesn’t have as much time for her kids as she’d like (maybe in her forty’s with kids who have already grown up or are in their late teens).
  • She and society struggle with the fact she’s younger now.
  • Her family totally disbelieve her story
    • she’s shunned/on her own?
  • She tries and fails (at least initially) to reconnect with her extended family (mother, father, siblings?)
  • She tries to reconnect with her immediate family (teenage daughter, husband, other children?)
  • Someone/something/some organisation (antagonist) is trying to discover her secret and/or steal her gift
    • is the antagonist supernatural, or mundane?
  • She is forced to protect her family
    • her child/children are actively being hunted so they can be used against her with the intent to force her hand and reveal the secret of her ‘eternal youth’ or hand over whatever power she’s been invested with
    • if she’s got more than one child, does that mean the others are considered expendable by the antagonist?

Some of that’s very usable and not bad for no extra effort.

What we need to figure out now are the big issues: the story drivers. Knowing these will help with the detail.

Story driver 1: Conflict

A cartoon of a person being punched in the face with the word 'punch' highlightedMy definition: Conflict is immediate – it’s happening now, and it can be broken into three categories: internal, external, and interpersonal.

The obvious sources of conflict are:

  • She doesn’t know what happened to her (internal conflict).
  • The people she cares about don’t believe her (interpersonal conflict).
  • The antagonist does believe her and wants to take advantage of her (external conflict).
  • Her family is in danger because of whatever made her different (external conflict).
  • The antagonist wants whatever she has (external conflict).

That’s probably more than enough conflict at this stage, so let’s consider the bigger picture.

Story driver 2: Threat

A cartoon of a person about to use a slingshotMy definition: Threat is the potential for conflict, and usually has big consequences.

The main threat needs to stem from the story’s premise. In this case: she has something the antagonist wants. That alone isn’t enough. If there were no consequences, she could simply hand it over, right? For this to work, she can’t afford to lose it or let the antagonist have it.

The question here is: What would happen if the antagonist did get it? This is the source of the story’s main threat.

Consider the potential consequences if she loses it for:

  1. Herself:
    1. Will she die?
    2. If she survives but reverts to normal, will she lose the power to save her family/world etc? (the only answer is ‘yes’ if we take this path, which would mean she has to get it back or find another way.)
  2. Her family:
    1. Will they be harmed/killed if she resists?
    2. Are they likely to suffer more (long term) if she gives in?
  3. The mundane (normal) world:
    1. Something bad. For now, let’s go with the obvious and say the antagonist is a power-mad world-domination type and the consequences are dire. Bit of a cliché, but it’ll do for now. Think big and change it if something better arises.
    2. Nothing at all. This isn’t the mundane world’s fight.
  4. The supernatural world:
    1. Will it be destroyed forever? Again, bit of a cliché, but the higher the stakes the better. We can peg it back later if necessary.
    2. The antagonist gets to rule forever (as they’ll be immortal and therefore unstoppable?).
      1. To do either of these we’d need to tie the protagonist to the supernatural world very strongly – give her something far bigger than herself to care about.

Considering the info above, I’m leaning toward developing the main threats to her family and the supernatural world, and leaving threats to the mundane world alone, otherwise it gets too complicated: too many moves. I’d like to see it played out in the mundane world for contrast however: the supernatural world intruding into the mundane. Considering I write fantasy, having the main threat directed at the normal world doesn’t provide as much fun (or impact).

So now we’ve considered some of the major issues we can start making choices and building something of a working document/outline. We know the premise and have some good ideas for the main conflicts and big threats.

Plot-wise, it’s lacking a little in originality, but we can compensate in the world-building, characterisation and delivery (or come up with something more original as we develop the story). I don’t want to stray too far from reader expectations though.

Have you considered your story’s main conflicts and threats? What are they?

Story planning and creation – finding your story premise

the words Story Planning and Creation over a drawing of ancient architectureA few years ago I developed a method for distilling a novel-length story into a premise or elevator pitch. It’s quite simple and effective, yet difficult to pull off and it can take quite a while to get right, even with practice.

After experimenting with it, I found it’s much easier to do the exercise before you write a novel than after, as you don’t have to try and figure out what doesn’t go in and you won’t get frustrated by the problems it may highlight.

As well as define your story, your premise needs to imply genre and tone while providing an idea about who the protagonist is without actually naming them.

One more point – you have to be able to see a whole story in your premise.

To create your story premise in a single sentence, you need to know four things:

  • who the story’s about
  • what they want
  • who or what’s standing in their way
  • the story’s hook (usually found in the irony).

Unless you’ve already written the story you probably don’t know those things. A bigger problem is that if you’ve written the story and still don’t know those things, you’ve got a major issue that’ll take some serious editing/restructuring to iron out.

So the best time to figure out your story’s premise (elevator pitch, logline, whatever you wish to call it) is before you write it. You can always change the premise later if you come up with better ideas, but its a signpost at the very least, and if you get stuck while writing at least you’ve got something to guide you.

So how do you apply this when you’ve got nothing to start with?

Obviously you have to start with something – an image, character, situation, whatever. A kernel of some kind.

Now try to figure out the answers to those questions above. If you can’t, start with what you have. The answers will probably come to you.

A drawing of a medieval woman in the forestToday I decided to create a premise about a woman who wakes up alone in the woods (covered in dirt, scared, and with no memory of what had happened or where she’d been). It was little more than an image. I only knew two things about her (which I made up on the spot):

  1. As I write speculative fiction, I decided she needed something from the fantasy realm, so she quickly finds out she’s been missing for a long time. I wasn’t sure if she’d been gone a years, decades or centuries, but it had to be a significant amount of time.
  2. She’s younger now than she went missing. Much younger – physically. A teenager perhaps.

That’s all I had to work with.

The following premise statements show how I worked through ideas until I had something reasonably tight and strong.

  1. A young woman wakes up in the woods only to find she’s been missing for years, yet she hasn’t aged. (20 words)
    This is a starting point, and lacks quite a few things like conflict and the protagonists desires. It’s a statement about where the story starts and therefore doesn’t work as a premise because it doesn’t give me any idea as to what it’s about or where it might go.
  2. A young woman who wakes up a decade after disappearing struggles with the fact she hasn’t aged as she tries to reconnect with her disbelieving family. (26 words)
    This one is a bit convoluted, though at least it introduces some conflict and gives a hint about where the story might go, but its not nearly enough. There’s only a little bit of conflict implied, and that’s mostly internal.
  3. A young woman who hasn’t aged tries to reconnect with her disbelieving family a decade after disappearing. (17 words)
    This is clearer and implies genre, but its not where it needs to be. The implied conflict still isn’t very strong and it leaves out the disappearing part.
  4. A young woman who returns youthful after going missing for more than a decade tries to reconnect with her disbelieving daughter while dark forces try to discover her secret. (30 words)
    Even though it’s a little more detailed, it’s getting convoluted – you almost need a deep breath to get though it. I think it’s on the right track now though.
  5. A woman who returns as a teenager after going missing more than a decade ago tries to reconnect with her disbelieving daughter while dark forces close in. (27 words)
    Who are the dark forces? Why are they closing in? At least the first part is getting stronger, though still convoluted.
  6. A mother who returns as a teenager after going missing for more than a decade tries to reconnect with and protect her disbelieving daughter while enemies try to discover her secret. (31 words)
    Not really an improvement on the previous version, and ‘enemies’ is just a tad too vague.
  7. A mother who returns as a teenager a decade after disappearing tries to reconnect with and protect her disbelieving daughter while enemies try to discover her secret. (27 words)
    No real improvement, though it’s a bit shorter.
  8. When a career woman disappears and returns youthful a decade later, she tries to reconnect with her disbelieving teenage daughter while being hunted for her secret. (26 words)
    So she’s a career-woman now? Okay, that tells me a bit more about the woman. The conflict is getting more personal as well and the story shaping up a little clearer, but it’s still not very sharp. Also, if you need a comma to ensure it makes sense, rethink it.
  9. A career woman who disappears and returns youthful a decade later tries to reconnect with her disbelieving teenage daughter while being hunted for her secret. (26 words)
    I’m still a fair distance from being happy with it.
  10. A career woman who disappears and returns a decade younger is forced to protect her daughter while being hunted for the secret of her youth. (25 words)
    I think this is getting closer – its sharper, clearer, implies plenty of conflict and reads fairly well.  Even if I keep all the information I’ve got in some of the above versions, there’s no need to state it here. The irony’s stronger now too: discovering the fountain of youth might just kill her.
  11. A missing woman who reappears as a teenager tries to protect her grown children when they’re hunted for the secret of her youth. (23 words)
    I’m liking where this is going now. It’s clear, straightforward, concise and flows really well.

I might play with family members (should I have just the daughter or half a dozen children? Is the husband still in the picture? What about her extended family and friends – do they rate a mention here [probably not]?), but I think I’ve got to the heart of it now, and the hook is solid.

Hopefully you can see the path where the last iteration gets it closer to a tightly focused story with a single story problem. That’s all that matters here. Leave your subplots and excess characters in the ‘extras’ pile. They’ll find their place in the story eventually, just not here.

A close-up line drawing of a woman's faceWhat I’ve produced isn’t perfect by a long way, but I can see a whole story in it now when I couldn’t before, and it’s one which I might be interested in writing.

The next question for me is: “Will I continue planning it out and perhaps even write it?”

Maybe.

This was an exercise, but I think the idea has promise. Considering I’m one of the world’s worst planners (in the sense that planning’s the last thing I want to do when it comes to writing, so I either procrastinate or find ways not to), I might work though the concept here, start to finish, and see where it goes.

Or I might just wait for NaNoWriMo and belt it out based on the premise alone.

Please try writing your own premise and let me know if this method of distilling your story into a single sentence works for you.

The next post in the series: Conflict and Threat.

Focus pocus and new resolutions

Person jumping over a gully at sunsetNo posts for ages, and then suddenly a couple in a row. I must be on holidays or something. Oh wait, I am! Back to work Monday though <sigh>.

Speaking of work…

A couple of years ago when I started up Creative Manuscript Services, I made sure I saw a business coach (Leanne Shea Langdown of Achieve Beyond) as part of my redundancy package with CSIRO.

One of the things Leanne recommended I do was to choose a word to help guide me each year; an empowering word with some sort of significance and meaning for me. A word to live by for the year.

I was pretty sceptical, to be honest. I had New Year’s Resolutions, enthusiasm and drive. What did I need a motivational word for?

Unfortunately for me, New Years Resolutions rarely survive January and are quickly forgotten, while enthusiasm and drive are subject to Real Life (RL) intervention like jobs, running kids to events, and a billion other things.

So, New Year’s Resolutions have never really worked for me despite my good intentions, and neither does a list of goals and daily task lists (largely because I get distracted and forget to do them), and even the strongest enthusiasm wanes in the face of RL.

So this year I’m embracing Leanne’s philosophy in favour of a single word to keep me focused. Only what word?

It has to be just right. Something that’ll keep me motivated, focused and constantly achieving little goals on the way to bigger outcomes.

A hand and the world 'Achieve'Leanne’s word in 2017 is ‘Be’. She wants to:

  • ‘Be’ the person she needs to be to achieve her goals
  • ‘Be’ in the moment
  • ‘Be’ aware of the impacts her actions have on others
  • ‘Be’ a leader
  • ‘Be’ brave…

‘Be’ is a great word, but it’s not mine. Or, at least, it’s not mine this year.

Considering I need to focus my efforts, this year I’ve gone with the obvious… ‘Focus’.

Why ‘Focus’ specifically? Because I need to:

  • ‘Focus’ on achieving my goals
  • ‘Focus’ on the task at hand, not the mountain of tasks I can always see
  • ‘Focus’ on creating positive outcomes for myself and my family
  • ‘Focus’ on the reasons I care about what I’m trying to achieve.

That last one is particularly important – why do something unless you care about it, right? If I’m going to devote my down time to a project when I could otherwise be chilling, reading, catching a movie, etc., it had better be something I have a strong emotional connection to. What’s the point otherwise?

Focus is what I’ve lacked these last few years. I’ve wanted things, but I haven’t achieved them because I haven’t cared enough about whether I succeeded or not. I’d passed the ball and was letting others run with it.

What do I mean by that? Well, I’d started full-time work which took a lot of my focus, and I thought I’d already achieved a large measure of success just by landing an agent and publishing contract. Adding to that was advice from my agent not to write the sequels until the first book gained some success (which makes sense – why spend years writing and editing three what could otherwise be unsellable sequels if the first one is a total flop), so I kind of lost focus and let things slip rather than refocus on getting some new novels finished.

I half turned my attention to other projects, but not with any real determination.

Consequently I had no measurable outcomes. No more successes.

The words: Focus on what matters and a corridorThis year I’m determined to change that and keep my reasons for doing things in the forefront. This year I’m going to Focus on those reasons – and achieve the outcomes I’m after.

Maybe ‘Achieve’ will be next year’s word, but for now, I need to Focus.

What’s your word? Let me know if you have one, or don’t yet, but intend to figure one out.

Onward and… more onward

Satalyte Publishing LogoLast year was a bit of a write-off (excuse the pun) as far as my writing career went. I subbed a couple of novels I’d written in previous years to a critique group, but did no new writing and very little editing of my own work.

To top that off, I was planning a big year this year until my publisher (Satalyte, ran by Stephen C. Ormsby), folded. They were scheduled to publish Transcendence of Power: Genesis in the second half of 2017.

I was also planning on finishing the edits to a couple more books loosely tying into that novel – a long-term plan to develop and populate the story universe and its history.

Regarding Satalyte, it’s a shame (and not just for me) they shut down as they were taking risks on new Australian writers. Stephen C. Ormsby put three years of his life into creating his publishing dream.

With a little luck he’ll be able to resurrect Satalyte one day, but for now he’s earned a rest and a round of applause for his efforts.

Stephen gave it a red-hot go, offered extremely fair publishing contracts, and generally tried to do something good. Publishing in Australia is going to be much worse off without him and Satalyte Publishing.

So where does that leave me?

Finding a new publisher isn’t really on my menu. Even if successful, it would take years before I saw it in print.

I’m not interested in waiting that long, so unless disaster strikes I now intend to self-publish Transcendence of Power: Genesis, later in 2017. Unfortunately that’ll take up time I might have otherwise devoted to editing and creating new works, but it’s a much better option than searching for another agent and publisher.

Anyone up for a proofread when I get everything sorted?  😀

Dropped balls

Chris Andrews - head and shouldersIt looks like I’ve dropped the ball this year as far as writing goes (not to mention maintaining this blog).

Up until late last year I was working part-time which allowed me plenty of time to write, run my editing business, interact on social media, and blog. Since then I’ve been working full time, training for (and in October walking) the Kokoda Track (one of the toughest and most dangerous walks in the world), and now I’m moving house (which should be sorted by Christmas – hopefully) while trying to sell the old one. I also participated in a novel critiquing group (critting a novel a month) and began editing Transcendence of Power: Genesis with my publisher (Satalyte Publishing).

All in all a busy year, and next year may not be any less busy. January’s a write-off due to the Christmas holidays, I have to start training to walk the Camino (a month-long walk across Spain I’m doing in early 2018), and my novel is due to come out in the second half of 2017 which will require a lot of work in the lead-up (and follow-up). Of course I’ll still be working full time – certainly until the end of June when my current contract expires (and most likely after that as well), and perhaps even maintaining the editing business. Not sure about the last one. It’s a lot of work for very little financial reward considering the hours I put in – but if I charged even the equivalent of what I earn while working in a job the business wouldn’t get any customers.

So what does all that mean?

It means my writing is going nowhere lately. I’ve got four novels written that need editing/rewriting and three sequels that need to be written for the one Satalyte is publishing. I’d do more work of an evening, but it gives me serious eyestrain. Until I got glasses recently I was struggling to work for more than an hour or two a day before wanting to crash and sleep. At least they keep me going for the whole work day now, but more than that and I’m in trouble.

Yet the dream is still alive. One book is coming out next year, four are ready to be edited and written, and I’ve got more stories I want to write and things I want to do (like create short courses I can make available online).

So that’s me this year – very busy, but I don’t feel as if I achieved much. Next year however, I should have a published book in my hand. That’s what it’s al about, after all. I hope your dreams area just as successful, if not more so.

 

Update on the writing side of life

Chris Andrews - head and shouldersI can’t believe how long it’s been since I posted. Slack. Very slack.

In my defence I’m working full-time, editing and assessing manuscripts many evenings, and trying to fit a life in around that, including training to do the Kokoda Track next month. I haven’t written or edited my own work in months, and so you can imagine how high my priorities are for writing blog posts.

Still, here I am, plugging away at a writing career by what seems to be inches at a time.

On the good news front I’ve received a general publication date from Satalyte Publishing for my epic fantasy, Transcendence of Power: Genesis, which is set to appear on shelves some time during the second half of 2017.

Woohoo!!!

It seems almost surreal.

We’ve started the editing process, and I’ve even seen concept art for the cover which I might share later if Satalyte’s okay with it.

My next update however may involve photos from the Kokoda Track and me looking wiped-out, assuming my body survives ten days of mountainous jungle adventures over a hundred kilometre romp. The spirit is willing, at least…

Until next time!

Story timelines

Chris Andrews - head and shouldersThe other day I was talking to a mate about timelines, trying to explain my stories set in the past, present and future across two universes.

Although I had it all in my head, I wasn’t able to translate it to a lunchtime conversation very well. So, I sat down and put it into a table, and it was harder than I thought it would be.

I guess it’s probably not going to make a lot of sense like this, but I’ll try.

The upcoming novel I have with Satalyte Publishing (Transcendence of Power: Genesis) is set about 1500 years into our own future, but in a different universe. It’s the culmination of about 200,000 years of scheming by the gods of that universe. In that sense, everything else is a prequel.

Of the ‘prequels’, there are a bunch of stories set in our universe at our present time – urban fantasy’s, if you like.

Later this year, I hope self-publish the direct prequel to the upcoming book, set 3000 years beforehand (in the other universe)

It’s all in the table (clear as mud, right?):

Timeline: Caroline’s universe Events: Caroline’s universe Events: Our universe
0 (current) Noramgaell saga begins – Transcendence of Power: Genesis, etc (formerly Prophecy of Power). Approximately 1500 years in our future.
80 years ago Standalone novel – Lost in Darkness (unwritten).
3000 years ago Short novel: Leviathan’s Reach (this is the direct prequel to the Normamgaell saga, and should be out later this year).
3,700 years ago Event: Crystal wars – between shivras and simoraths – shatters the world (I’m not planning on turning this into a story as yet).
20,000 years ago Sellendria (from Through the Veil) is born. She also appears in Transcendence of Power: Genesis. Our present (unpublished novels): Epicentre, Through the Veil, Dark Genesis. Short story: Wyvern’s blood (published).
24,000 years ago Ellie (from Wyvern’s Blood) was born. Covenant with Wyverns is created.
180,000 years ago Event: Unicorn is killed. This event marks the first volley in the war between the Gods.
200,000 years ago War between the Gods begins.

Have you established a timeline for your stories, whether a single book or a series?

How busy are you?

Today was one of those days when I looked at all the things I’m doing (or planning on), and realised it’s no wonder I’m not getting any writing or editing of my own done.

For example:

  • I just finished teaching a 6-week evening course (which took just as much time if not more in preparation as it did in teaching hours)
  • I have to prepare for the next 6-week course (on a different subject, of course, so I can’t reuse much)
  • I have a novel to critique and report on in a few weeks (and another one every month thereafter for about five months).
  • I’m mentoring a writing student – we catch up once a week, and this also requires additional preparation time
  • I need to submit applications to local and interstate writers centres to do workshops for them (I have three major centres on my ‘next’ list)
  • I’m giving a writing workshop in two weeks – and as it’s a few hours’ drive each way, it’ll consume the entire weekend
  • There’s a potential writing weekend event I might be involved in next month, which will require planning and preparation as well as the weekend away
  • I want to put in an application for a research fellowship in the next two or three months
  • I want to put in an application for an arts grant in the next two or three months
  • I’m preparing to self-publish a novel by September, which is only just past the second draft stage (and needs more work before I send it out for critique next month)
  • I have to prepare workshops (and deliver other info) for an upcoming writers’ festival in September
  • I’ll be giving workshops at a writers’ convention in October
  • I have a novel with a publisher that will soon need editing when they get back to me – no publication date as yet
  • I have three more sequels I need to write in the series currently with the publisher
  • I’m training to do the Kokoda track later this year (a 10-day, 96 Kilometre hike through mountainous jungle in Papua New Guinea)
  • There’s an upcoming week-long skiing holiday with my family
  • I have two more 6-week courses to prepare for later this year.

And that’s just off the top of my head. It doesn’t include family stuff like sports on weekends or socialising with friends etc. Oh yeah, I’m also contracting in a job, so I’ll need to find more paid work about 6 weeks from now.

Occasionally I also write a blog post. Just saying.

How busy are you, and how does it impact your writing or other things you want to achieve?

The Darkest Hour with L. E. Doggett

Woman reaching out

L. E. Doggett is the author of more stories than I can count, and (I can honestly say) a great guy.

He’s had a darkest hour or two in his life, and I’m very glad he agreed to share them here with us. Hopefully you’ll find some inspiration in his story.

I am a writer, therefore I write. I am not a writer because I have stories and novels published, although I have one pro story, two indie novels, and an unpaid very short story out there.

I am a writer because it is part of my make up.

The same is true for every writer. However, I haven’t always written.

The first darkest #1 – not writing

L. E. Doggett and his wife.

NA is a young woman with a special ability  – she is a mage. She uses the ability to change matter and energy to help those in need, even while she has to learn to deal with her own many emotional issues.

It’s the hidden ones that give her the most problems but what is a freak to do?

At the same time NA has been placed into a situation that goes beyond any previous case or adventure she has been on. She has to stop another, more powerful, mage from carrying out a plan of vengeance that would kill many of her friends.

She thinks she was chosen for this by mistake, but it’s her job now, and she has a special geas to prove it.

Book Cover: Above my pay grade by LE Doggett

You might say that I have had two (or maybe one and a half) darkest hours.

Way back in high school, if not before, I wanted to write. I even dabbled at times, including writing in my head.

But other desires such as getting a job, getting married, and all that got in the way.

I didn’t really write for some fifteen to twenty years – a very long dark hour.

Now and then I thought of it. Twice I tried to write a story but kept putting it off until I forgot about it because it was too much work. I mean Work.

Sometimes I would write a story in my head, but I was too busy and too involved with other things to really make a go of it.

Eventually though, it started to come out more and more:

  • I have a real live floppy disk with over half of a story I wrote while I was supposed to be learning typing on the computer
  • I wrote more stories in my head while waiting in line
  • I wrote some tales on five by seven notepaper at work.

Finally, I saw Star Trek Strange New Worlds Three – I think it was three – and realized it was a contest for non pro writers.

I had to enter – not think about entering, or maybe enter – I had to.

That broke that darkest hour and opened the door. Reopened, maybe I should say. I wanted to write and sell stories.

I wrote a long novel and went on to enter other markets for short stories.

I learned a few things and found various writers on AOL. I found a group dedicated to Strange New Worlds that Dean Wesley Smith was more-or-less leading.

He was the main editor for the Strange New Worlds contest, and a writer who liked to share what he knew about writing.

That was some seven years ago. I write every chance I get now, and have learned a good deal about the craft.

Darkest hour #2 – frustration

The second darkest hour, and this one was darker, was a couple of years ago.

I didn’t really stop writing, but I was greatly frustrated with all the rejections I kept getting no matter how much I learned about the craft of writing.

Nothing showed in any way that I was improving.

I felt like ranting and venting at times, and this was after my one pro sell.

I finally said the heck with it and stopped sending out stories. I even sent out a note with my last set of stories stating this to some editors I had been sending stories to for a couple of years.

A couple sent back hand written notes I didn’t expect.

Sheila Williams, executive editor for Asimov’s, basically said that she understood my frustrations and added that she didn’t mind reading my stories.

That helped, and so finally I decided to write a story for me.

I ended up working on it to incorporate what I had recently learned about writing.

I sent it in <shoulder shrug> despite my intention to quit writing; another carefully laid out plan lost, yet it was enough to keep me going.

Since then I have given up writing for a week to a month, a few times, for the same reason.

Doesn’t happen often but it is frustrating when I see no sign that I am improving no matter how much I have learned and try.

One thing I have learned is that almost every famous writer has given up writing at least once. It seems to be the nature of the beast.

I should add that the one pro sell was to Strange New Worlds – the very last one. “A Taste of Spam” was an honorable mention. I like to say it was the fourth best story in that volume.

I have seven novels written, and as I said at the beginning, two are Indie published. Another one is close to publishing. Four still need to be revised.

Plus, I have over 175 stories not counting all of those I wrote for Strange New Worlds, a few written that are not for prime time, and another small handful of stories written for practice.

That makes me a writer.

~*~

L. E. Doggett (A Taste of Spam) lives in the Central San Joaquin Valley of California, the small city of Clovis to be exact. He lives with his wife of 37 years and a daughter of 26 years, along with two cats who adopted them. They attend a dynamic, hopeful church. Louis is a blue collar worker with a collage education. He is an aspiring pro writer (he has been a nonpro writer for quite a while). He has out two Indie published books and a story in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Ten.

L.E. Doggett’s blog is for musings on a number of subjects, even though his books and some other stories are there. He also has an Amazon Author Page.

~*~

If you enjoyed this post, please check out L.E. Doggett’s published works, leave a reply, and maybe visit some of the other posts in this series, such as Sabrina Chase’s inspiring Darkest Hour.

The Darkest Hour – Sabrina Chase

Woman reaching outToday I have Sabrina Chase here to talk about her experiences with the publishing industry and her reasons for going it alone.

This led to a Darkest Hour moment for Sabrina, but the results were well-worth it.

 

Fortunate Disaster

Head-and-shoulders shot of Sabrina ChaseThe true source of all disaster is boredom.

I like to read, mostly science fiction and fantasy.

My problem is I read a lot, and my favourite authors were not producing fast enough.

This lead to reading non-favourite authors and the utterance of the Fatal Words, “I can do better than this!”.

My first furtive scribblings were merely for my own amusement—until I learned that mere mortals like myself could, by some mystical process, become authors.

Dubious but willing, I studied how others had gone through this transformation.

All were in agreement, the path to glory was by writing short stories and submitting them to magazines. You got feedback fast, you could perfect your skills, and sometimes even get paid!

(It turns out I am a natural novel writer. I have nine books out and still haven’t sold a single short story, sigh…)

I started this effort in 1992. Years pass. I finish a novel, Firehearted, and submit it to an agent, who said: “Close but no cigar. Try rewriting.”

Another year down the tubes, but… the agent signed me on after that rewrite! Progress.

He starts sending my book around to publishers, while I write more books. I learn that publishers send their rejection letters on fancier letterhead than magazines do, but the content remains the same.

No worries, I keep writing.

This time it is a SF trilogy, the first book being The Long Way Home. My agent sends it around, and after a few years, I get nibbles.

Reward for patience! I just have to keep working…

An editor called about The Long Way Home. She liked it, but wanted some changes. I wrote them up. Another year gone.

But then I get a call from my agent, first warning me to sit down.

An actual offer had been made for the book! Finally.

After 13 years of work, I had reached the top of the mountain and could survey the glorious view, while triumphant choral music surged in the background.

There might even have been some lens flare.

Then I got the contract.

I wasn’t too shocked by the low advance ($6,000); it was low but not unexpected for a new writer. But the details were a bit vague, especially coming from a large and well-known publisher in the field.

“Author has five days to review proof manuscript” is fine, but when does the clock start to tick?

From when they send it, or from when I get it?

I sent all my suggested amendments back via my agent.

None of them had anything to do with money, or any additional cost or effort on the part of the publisher, just clarifications that should have made it better for everyone.

And the publisher refused. The contract was take it or leave it.

They were rude to my agent, who was furious (do not make a New Yorker angry; it never ends well…)

This was my Dark Night of the Soul, and it hurt.

I was desperate, after so many years of work and waiting, to be published.

I was SO CLOSE.

But then you start noticing the ink on the pen is red and sticky, and the paper feels like asbestos, and sure you don’t really use your soul that much, but…

It was the first book in a trilogy. I had already written the second and third books.

If  I sold The Long Way Home to this publisher they would have right of refusal for the next books, and it was unlikely I could sell them to another publisher without the first book.

The most leverage I would ever have was with this contract, and it was clear I really didn’t have any.Cover - The Long Way Home

I was risking the entire trilogy by signing, and the sense I was getting is I would get no publicity, no push from these people. In some ways, worse than not being published at all.

It felt like chewing off a limb, but I told them no. (My agent was actually happy, which tells you something about how bad that contract was.)

So many years of work, down the drain. Or so I thought. But I kept writing through the depression.

Fast forward to 2011.

I had been vaguely aware that electronic books were starting to be a thing.

My first book had been submitted to all the publishers and rejected, so I read up on how to format eBooks and decided I had nothing to lose.

Maybe the publishers would notice me if it did well!

It did very well. It sold the very first day it was available.

I didn’t care about the money at that point, someone was reading my book!

I had the SF series, and another standalone fantasy. I put those up too.

The series book, the one I was offered 6K for? (that I would have had to pay 15 per cent of to my agent, by the way…) Even after paying an artist to do a cover, and an editor, I made MORE than 6K in the first two years, and it is still earning.

The series is my best earner to date.

That horrible contract was the best thing that could have happened to me.

If the publisher had been willing to change it, I would not have tried indie publishing and would probably still be tied to them.

It’s sort of like getting an inconvenient flat tire at the start of a long trip, and later learning that you missed out on having a blowout while in a mountain pass, falling over a cliff, causing an avalanche, and getting trampled by a pack of mad yaks because of it.

Best flat tire ever!

Now I have freedom to write what I want, as much as I want.

It doesn’t get much better than this.

~*~

Sabrina Chase is a software test developer, writer, and recovering physicist residing in the Pacific Northwest. She usually describes her writing style as “two-fisted tales of space adventure”(The Scent of Metal, the Sequoyah trilogy) but has also committed fantasy (The Last Mage Guardian, The Dragonhunters, Firehearted). Her latest book is YA fantasy Jinxers, and the second volume of the Scent of Metal series, One Blood, will be out later this year. Further details are available at her website, ChaseAdventures.com.

~*~

If you enjoyed Sabrina’s post on her Darkest Hour moment, you might like to read Andy Goldman’s heartbreaking story.

Upcoming courses & workshops

Chris Andrews - head and shouldersHi all,

Just a brief post to let everyone know I’m running two courses at CIT Solutions in the first half of this year.

The Foundations of Story and Structure will run over six consecutive Monday nights from 1 February to 7 March, starting at 6pm, and will give participants a solid understanding of their readers expectations and how to meet or exceed them.

Creating Compelling Characters will run over six consecutive Monday nights from 2 May to 6 June, starting at 6:30pm, and help writers understand what their readers are looking for in a character, and how to put that on the page in the most compelling way.

Please let anyone know who might be interested, share the info around, and come along if you’re a local and keen to learn some new tricks of the trade.

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