My Top 15 Favorite Writing Books & Why (In No Particular Order)

Today, I thought I’d list the 15 writing books I find most helpful to my writing and teaching writing and offer a little explanation as to why. Hopefully some of these are useful and helpful to you. I am doing these in no particular order of priority, but instead based on how they fit with each other.

The first 8 are part of an excellent Writer’s Digest series called ELEMENTS OF FICTION WRITING. These are by no means all of the books in that series. All of them are excellent, but these 8 are the ones I have referred to most often myself.

  1. Beginnings, Middles, and Ends (Elements of Fiction Writing) by Nancy Kress — Kress takes you through not only the importance of these three pieces of any good story but also the hows and whys of writing them in a very organized and useful way.
  2. Characters and Viewpoint (Elements of Fiction Writing) by Orson Scott Card — Excellent examination of building characters that spring to life and dealing with points of view.
  3. Conflict, Action & Suspense (Elements of Fiction Writing) by William Noble — No good story can exist without conflict, action, and suspense, and Noble tells you what they are, how to write them, and why they matter succinctly.
  4. Description (Elements of Fiction Writing) by Monica A. Wood — one area I had the most to learn when I became a novelist. And Wood expertly helps you learn the hows, whys, and wherefores.
  5. Dialogue (Elements of Fiction Writing) by Lewis Turco — Dialogue has always been one of my strengths (or so I was always told) but this book helps examine things like etymology, accents, and more which go beyond just good every day dialogue.
  6. Plot (Elements of Fiction Writing) by Ansen Dibell — A key resource on an essential tool for any writer and something most books live or die on: plotting.
  7. Setting (Elements of Fiction Writing) by Jack W. Bingham — An excellent how to.
  8. Voice & Style (Elements of Fiction Writing) by Johnny Payne — Wanna know the difference? Wanna develop your own? Look no further. Truly eye opening.
  9. Checking on Culture by Lee Killough — A tiny little tome about a huge subject that just nails it. Her checklist alone is indispensable. Not to be missed.
  10. How To Write A Breakout Novel by Donald Maass/The Breakout Novelist by Donald Maass — Technically two books like the next entry, these two are by one of the most successful literary agents in the business and give you real insight into what editors and agents look for and what you need to write a sellable book.
  11. How To Write A Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey/How To Write A Damn Good Novel II by James N. Frey — Two books by a top author and teacher which examine key elements of successful novels, different areas are covered in each book. Essential reading.
  12. On Writing by Stephen King — If you don’t know King, this book gives you insight into his background as a person and his approach to writing. It’s incredibly useful as a writing tool and resource in addition to being a damn compelling autobiography.
  13. Screenplay by Syd Field — The essential book on 3 Act story structure, indispensable for novelists and screenwriters alike. This one was key reading in Hollywood for decades.
  14. The Emotion Thesaurus by Becca Pugliosi and Angela Ackerman — The one writing book I never write without, this one helps you nail the internal and external and mental signs of various emotions so well, you can describe them without ever mentioning the emotion. I use it daily while writing.
  15. The Ten Percent Solution by Ken Rand — The single best revision and editing book I have ever read. Like Killough, it is deceptively slim, but every word counts and it will revolutionize how to revise and edit your own work. Essential.

So those are my Top 15 Writing Books and briefly why. What are yours? For what it’s worth…

Write Tip: A Trick Every Writer Should Know About Writing Scenes (In Medias Res)

When I went to screenwriting school, the key thing they taught us about writing scenes was a concept called in medias res: to enter a scene as late as possible and get out as soon as possible after that. Forget the niceties. None of this:

Bob walked in the room to find Guy sitting on the couch, chilling.

“Hey, dude, whassup?” Bob asked.

Guy shrugged, not even glancing over. “Nothing. You?”

“Meh. Me either.”

No. You’d better have something more interesting. We can assume they’re nice, normal people but we don’t need to see their mundane, routine, room entering banter to prove it.  Show us that and you’ve lost our interest. Why? We can see that every day. And when  you write it out, it’s quickly apparent how boring our lives have become.

Instead, you want to start with as dramatic a spot as possible.

           “Why am I here?” Hachim choked out. Sweat dripped off the arms of the chair as it soaked through his robe. After twenty minutes alone in the interrogation room, he looked like he’d fallen into a lake. Tarkanius and Aron shook their heads, and Aron was thankful he wasn’t present for the odor. They watched through the one way glass as the Major Zylo stopped across the table from the sweaty Lord, staring at him.

            “You know why you’re here,” Zylo said.

            Hachim coughed. “I’ve done nothing wrong.”

            “So you always sweat this much when you’re innocent?”

            Hachim grabbed the towel Zylo tossed across the table at him and began wiping the exposed flesh of his face, brow, neck and arms. “It’s hot in here.”

            “I’m perfectly comfortable.” Zylo sat in the seat across from him and leaned back, watching as the Lord cleaned himself. “You’re gonna need a new robe.”

Are you hooked yet? I hope so. This scene should be a lot more interesting. If not, go back to your boring life. I hope you’re very happy there.

The difference between scene 1 and scene 2 is that when scene 1 starts, nothing is happening. The characters aren’t even all that interesting. In scene 2, the drama has started before we’re allowed in the room. Hachim’s already sweating, Zylo’s already hostile. It’s obvious right away Hachim is guilty of something, at least as far as Zylo’s concerned, and Zylo intends to get to the bottom of it. We’d like to as well. To me, this illustrates well the craft of getting into a scene as late as possible. Something interesting is already happening. No wasted space. No chit chat.

Now let me show you the rest of the scene so we can talk about point two: getting out as soon after.

  “What is this about? You have no right to detain me without cause!”

            Zylo nodded, then slid a datapad across the table, watching as Hachim set down the towel and began to read.

            “Conspiracy? Assassination?” Hachim’s eyes darted up from the screen. “I had nothing to do with it.”

            “You knew about it.”

            Hachim shook his head. “If you could prove it, you’d have already arrested me.” He smiled smugly.

            Zylo laughed. “The Alien Leadership Summit.”

            Hachim’s eyes raced to finish the charges. “What about it?” Hachim slid the datapad back across the table and shot him a confused look that wasn’t very convincing.

            “What’s the location?”

            “That’s classified for the Council.”

            “I have clearance, trust me. I’m on the security team.”

            Hachim hesitated, then melted under Zylo’s stare. “Idolis.”

            Zylo shook his head. “Buzz! Wrong answer. And it was all over the news.”

            “So? I am not the only person privy to that.” Hachim leaned back in his chair, attempting to appear bored, but Aron saw the fear in his eyes. And Zylo saw it, too.

            Zylo chuckled. “Yes, you were.”

            Hachim looked at him again, startled. “What?”

            Zylo nodded, smirking. “Each Lord was given a different location.”

            Hachim frowned. “A different location? They can’t hold the Summit in more than one place…” His voice trailed off as the implications sank in. Zylo raised a brow as their eyes met. “Lies? A trap?”

            “A security precaution. How many people did you tell?”

            Hachim shook his head. “No, I’m innocent. I’m not going to tolerate this abuse.” Slowly, he stood from his chair and took a step toward the door.

            Zylo shoved Hachim back into the chair. “Sit down and start answering.” Hachim looked offended at the treatment. Zylo wasn’t even phased. “Now!”

            Aron looked at Tarkanius, wondering if it were time for them to join the interrogation. Tarkanius shook his head. “No. Let him suffer.”

            “Then their fate will be yours.” Zylo shrugged and turned to casually stroll toward the door. Hachim’s eyes widened.

            “It was Niger’s idea,” Hachim began. Zylo turned back as Hachim’s shoulders sank with his weight in the chair.

Can you see how fast it moves? And the whole thing is fairly dramatic. In fact, you don’t even get to know what he tells him. Why? Because talk is boring. It’s more interesting to show that in the scenes that follow. In context, this opens Chapter 12 in my forthcoming novel The Returning, so readers will actually know more coming into it than you did. They’ll know, for example, that Hachim has been betraying his trust as a public servant. That people’s lives are at risk if he’s leaked the data as suspected. People we care about’s lives. Still, it illustrates my point well. It’s tight. It’s dramatic. It sets up the character’s relationship quickly. The characters are revealed through action and dialogue. There’s tight pace. And it holds your interest. Plus, even both pieces combined, it’s short. In late, out early.

Try it. Not only will your pacing automatically be better. Your readers are likely to turn pages faster. And your writing is even going to be more fun. Yes, this is an interrogation scene. But you can do the same thing with any scene where there’s conflict, and, frankly, most of the time, if you scene doesn’t have conflict, you shouldn’t be writing it. Seriously. Conflict is the heart of good fiction. If you don’t have conflict at the heart of a scene, find a way to dismiss it with a couple quick telling sentences and skip to the next dramatic moment. Your readers will thank you for it.

In any case, that’s how you get in late, and get out early. I hope it helps you improve your craft. Feel free to comment, ask questions, dialogue about it. I won’t bite…well, then, part of the dramatic tension is your not knowing for sure if that’s true. For what it’s worth…

WriteTip: 8 Things You Must Know About A Character To Write Them Well

The following is an excerpt from my book How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, Chapter 2:

Readers want your characters to seem like real people, whole, alive, believable, and worth caring about. People become, in our minds, what we see them do, so first thing first, your character is what he or she does.
But just seeing what someone does isn’t enough in good storytelling. To truly know a person, we need to understand their inner self, their motives. Motive is what gives moral value to their actions. And what a character does, no matter how good or bad, is never morally absolute. A character is what he or she means to do, but we all make mistakes, we all have flaws. So, the intention they have and the ideal they desire to be and will become by the end of your story is even more important. Even if their motive is concealed from readers for much of the book, as often is the case with the antagonist, and even if they themselves are not always certain what is driving them due to some psychological trauma or issue, you need to know their motive clearly as you write, and they need to have one.

Here are some key things you need to know about your characters to write them well:
Their Name—This may seem obvious. But every once in a while, you get some person who thinks they are clever and decides to write a mysterious unnamed character. This is very hard to pull off and poses and number of problems, but even if you try it, you still need to know their name. Names tell us lots about a person, from their background and history to ethnicity, culture, age, and more. A name is invaluable to helping know your character and to helping readers know them as well.
Their Past—Our past, however we might revise it in memory, is who we believe we are. It shapes our image of ourselves.
Their Reputation—Characters are also restricted and affected by what others think of and expect of them. How are they known? Who do others think they are?
Their Relationships—Who is important to them? Who do they love? Who do they have relationships with that are good, and who do they have bad relationships with and why? And how does this affect their motives and actions and their self-perception? Not all of these relationships will be used in the story or appear on screen, so to speak, but they are part of who the character is and is becoming and what drives them, so you need to know them.
Their Habits and Patterns—Habits and patterns imply things about a person. From personal tics to emotional patterns, we form our expectations based on these characteristic habits that suggest how they will behave in any given situation; often these traits communicate unspoken things about the character’s state of mind, emotions, and more. Many story possibilities can emerge from these. And they make the character seem more well-rounded and realistic because every real person we know has these aspects if we take time to study them.
Their Talents and Abilities—Talents do not have to be extreme to make them a part of a character’s identity or even important to their fate. But what they do well and don’t do well does matter to us, to them, and to those around them, and also to how they take action and respond to the world around them throughout the story.
Their Tastes and Preferences—Someone can like all the same things you do and still not be someone you want to spend time with or would trust to care for your pets or kids. Tastes and preferences tell us a lot about someone while also opening story possibilities and potential conflicts that can help drive the story and build characters and relationships.
Their Appearance—What color are their eyes? Do they have any handicaps? What color is their hair? These are not characterization alone, but they add depth and they can affect self-esteem and how characters are perceived by readers and by other characters, so they matter.

In filling out a character profile that identifies all these characteristics, observe people you know. Think about people you have seen and encountered. What stands out about them? What annoyed you? What did you love? And can any of these things be used to make a real, interesting, dimensional character?

There are three questions readers will ask that must always be considered. And they expect good answers at some point to hold their interest. In fact, your honeymoon with readers lasts only a few paragraphs, so you must constantly keep such questions in mind.

  1. Why should I care about what’s going on in the story?
  2. Why should I believe anyone would do that?
  3. What’s happening?

Fail to answer these questions at your own peril. It may sound harsh, but do your job and it will almost never be an issue. Uncertainties can be part of storytelling, but even intentional uncertainties must be clear, so readers will know you meant it to be that way and continue to trust you to pay it off later. Trust between reader and author is key to any novel’s success. As always, you need to know a lot more about your characters than readers may need for understanding the present story. Some of this stuff may never get written directly into your book, but knowing it may profoundly impact how you write your character and will be very useful in keeping clearly in mind who they are and how they move through the world and interact with it.

Write Tip: How To Register Copyright For Your Prose

NOTE: This is a reprint of an old post which wasn’t a WriteTip but should be. Still relevant. Hope it’s useful.

In the current climate of instant everything, protecting your work is important. Anything you post online or email to a friend could potentially be stolen. So how do you protect yourself? One important method for serious creatives is by copyright. Now copyrighting is handled by the Library of Congress a Federal agency. It’s not the best approach in all cases, because it’s not inexpensive. At a cost of $35-65 per written work, that can really add up. But it does provide security. By law, copyrights last the author’s lifetime plus 50 years and can be renewed indefinitely by legal heirs. You’re also listed and a copy kept on file in the archives at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. which can be used as evidence in legal proceedings should you face the misfortune of having to sue to protect your intellectual property. So there are advantages to this but it may not be right for you in every case.  Much information can be found on the Library of Congress sites at www.loc.gov and www.copyright.gov.

By law, Copyright exists from the moment of creation. So protections are already in place under the law. However, registration of copyright can be important in providing stronger proof and enabling you to sue for more damages in the case of infringement. This post examines how to go about officially registering a copyright claim and when it might be a good idea to do so.

How To Determine If Copyright Registration Is Necessary:

1) Is your creative work at risk?  If you post it online, the answer is yes. If you turn it in as a class assignment, the answer may be no. Most professors would never violate your copyright. And in most cases, when you are first learning, school work isn’t going to have serious potential for marketing. So the likelihood of your work being stolen and distributed is pretty minor. What is the intended audience and how is the work being distributed? If your work is really at risk, then copyright may be a good idea.

2) What is the type of prose? If it’s fiction, poetry, or nonfiction on a significant topic, copyright is wise. But how do you know it’s significant? What’s the subject? If it’s scientific with unique contributions to the study of the topic, involves a subject of great interest (celebrities, political issues, religion, etc.), then perhaps it’s worth copyrighting. Some raw scribbles, probably not. It’s up to you to determine and in this day and age, caution should be the watch word, but do use wisdom.

3) Do you own it? If your work is a work for hire, you have no right to claim it. A work for hire is a creative work instigated by someone else but created by you on their behalf. In most cases, your contract stipulates that they own all rights. If not, that should be worked out. If you are writing technical manuals for a product owned by a company, the copyright will belong to them. If you are creating something original from your own mind for them, that’s another question. But you must own a work to claim the copyright. If your work is derivative of another property, such as a Star Trek tie-on novel, you likely cannot copyright it. If you can, you can only copyright the original portions which were not previously created by the originator.

4) Is Your Work Valuable? If you are just an unknown person posting on a blog, putting copyright notice (c) on the blog itself should protect you. The law states that your copyright is owned by you the moment you publish the work and suggests putting appropriate notice. Registration through the Library of Congress is merely a formality for extra protection in court or legal matters. It’s a way to prove definitively that your claim is valid. If you are a celebrity or you work will be significantly distributed, then the chances are it will come to be of such value as needing extra protection.

Once you’ve determined that it’s appropriate to register a copyright, then you need to get the materials necessary together.

What You’ll Need:

1) A clean copy of your manuscript--Typed for clarity is best. And make sure it’s the version you want to protect. Do all editing and other adjustments. Formatting itself is not copyrighted, only content, so layout is not the concern, just the content itself. Also be sure and put your name, address, phone number and other relevant information, including a copyright notice on the work. Don’t put a date as that won’t be official until you actually file.

2) Form TX–the official copyright form, which can be found here: http://www.copyright.gov/forms/formtx.pdf

3) A check or credit card–to pay the filing fee which is currently $35 online and $65 by mail.

4) A stamped envelope–if you intend to mail your submission.

Once the materials are ready, then you can file as follows:

 1) Fill out the appropriate form in detail. List all pertinent information as concisely and clearly as possible. Be sure and save a copy of the form for yourself in case it 1) gets lost in the mail; b) you need it for reference, etc.

2) Paperclip the form to your work and place in envelope. Mail it. No need for Priority, Registered or Express or tracking. All of these cost extra. You will get confirmation that it’s been received by mail when your copyright certificate arrives. However, if you have the money and want reassurance, you can pay for these as you wish.

To file online,

1) Find the Electronic Copyright Office online at: http://www.copyright.gov/eco/ and register yourself. Read the relevant information about acceptable file types, etc. When you are ready, fill out the form here: http://www.copyright.gov/eco/help-registration-steps.html

2)  Once the form is filled, attach your document. You will be prompted. Again, view the list of acceptable file types above to verify yours will be accepted in its present format.

3) Make electronic payment. This can be done online with credit or debit card or electronic check and you will be prompted.

4) Submit. Click the button to submit when you are finished.

Processing time can vary, and the Copyright Office site issues the following warning:

 The time the Copyright Office requires to process an application varies, depending on the number of applications the Office is receiving and clearing at the time of submission and the extent of questions associated with the application.

Like everything else in life and especially when dealing with government, you will have to wait, but you will receive a copy back of your registered form signifying recognition and acceptance of your claim with the official date of copyright. This can be kept in a safe deposit box or file.

That’s it. Allow a few weeks for a record of your copyright to be searchable in the Library Of Congress database.  But you can rest assured you will soon have a legally registered copyright protection for your work.

An example of a listing can be found here.   I own several copyrights to musical works as listed. Not everything under “Bryan Thomas Schmidt” is mine, however.

I hope his helps you better understand the copyright process.


WriteTip: Using The Five Senses

The following is an excerpt from my book How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, Chapter 3:

Many of us are guilty of falling into the habit of using one or two senses and ignoring the rest. For most of us, sight is the dominant sense—the sense through which we first encounter and examine the world. So how things appear will dominate most narratives naturally, closely followed by sound. But we have five senses, and all have the power to bring useful imagery into your storytelling.

Good description employs all five senses—sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing—and employs at least one every two pages, sometimes more. A few well-placed details can totally embody a character or place and make them come alive for the reader. And nothing takes us deep inside the character’s mind and experience like sensory details. All good settings are rich with detail, so you should have plenty to choose from. From the appearance and smells of a restaurant or grocery store or market to the touch and sounds of the outdoors to the taste of food, there are numerous opportunities to add color and vividness to your prose using these kinds of details.

Here are some suggestions for aspects of each sense to consider:

Sight—Color is usually one of the first things that comes to mind, but studies actually show that spatial dimensions tend to be picked up first by the brain. How large is the area? How high is the ceiling? After dimension, the source of light tends to be noticed next. What is lighting the scene, and what is its source—artificial or natural? Is it bright or white or mixed hues? Then, color impressions form. The dominant color tends to take on significance. Next comes texture, like shadows or rough and smooth surfaces, etc. Finally, there’s contrast. Superimposition of colors and other aspects affects how much objects, people, and places draw our attention.

Sound—Sound can be described by the loudness or complexity—simple or multiple sources—tonality (soft or hard, harsh or gentle, etc.), and the location of its source and distance from the hearer. Also, is the sound unknown or familiar?

Smell—While smells can be often overlooked by both writers and in real life, smell can reveal a lot. Is the odor pleasant or unpleasant? What emotions does it evoke—fear like smoke from a fire, or is it the steady everyday scent of vehicles, animals, or insects in the environment that almost goes unnoticed because it is so common?

Touch—How do things feel—rough or smooth, hot or cold, sharp or dull, etc.?

Taste—Does the character notice sweet or bitter, salty or acidic, pleasant or unpleasant, etc.?

If you’re like me, these kinds of details may not come naturally. So, I recommend two key resources that have really helped me up my game on writing sensory content. The Emotion Thesaurus by Pugliosi and Ackerman and Setting by Jack W. Bingham. These two resources are so invaluable, I often keep them with me on trips and beside me as I write and refer to them often, because writing such visceral descriptions is not first nature to me, and it can be very easy to fall into personal clichés and patterns that repeat the same details and descriptions over and over, which quickly becomes repetitive and glaring to readers. The authors also discuss body language and internal sensations, which can be described to show, not tell, the emotions of characters, the atmosphere of rooms, etc. Additionally, author David Farland describes this as the Kentic, Audio, Visual Cycle and offers useful tips on his website at https://mystorydoctor.com/the-kav-cycle-part-1/.

Sensory experiences and emotions evidence themselves in three ways: internal sensations, external sensations, and body language, and all three are important ways to describe them and help readers experience them too. For example:

Butterflies danced in her stomach as she entered the audition, and she fought to control her face as she took in the other dancers. There were famous faces she’d seen in numerous Broadway shows and performances. What was she doing here? She swallowed and licked her lips, which had suddenly grown parched. Her arm was twitching. She had to make it stop, but it wasn’t listening to her internal commands, so she shoved it tight against her side in an attempt to control it.

I don’t have to tell you she is nervous and intimidated. The descriptions do the work. This is what you are aiming for. If you are unsure about a particular smell or taste or even sound, Googling can provide impressions others have had of familiar things that can be adapted for your prose. I also recommend practicing by going to a mall or price club or anywhere else and sitting down to take notes of all the things your senses notice as they occur to you. This will give you practice not only at writing visceral (i.e., instinctive and emotional) details but also in noting how they naturally affect you and might also affect your characters.

You’ve probably deduced by now that description is the art of picking the right details at the right time. Stories are about movement, so be wary of stories where your characters reflect and remember a lot. Instead, action and discovery go hand in hand. As your characters go and do things, they discover sensory cues that provoke memories, emotions, and reactions and inspire further action. People move through life on two levels simultaneously: physical and emotional. Physical movement follows plot and events that unfold A, B, and C, while emotional movement follows character. The physical tends to move with the emotional. So meshing plot and character is the key, and good description is key to your ability to do that well. As Monica Wood writes in Description: “A story’s pace is controlled by the physical and emotional goings-on in the story, and those goings-on are controlled by description.”

Another element where description is especially important is context. Establishing the scope of a story can be vital to making it work, giving characters a scope in which to love and hate each other, to conquer or fall to adversity, discover or lose themselves. Context uses metaphors and symbols to reinforce emerging themes and organize the movement of a story into beginning, middle, and end. Wood writes: “The breadth of the story should dictate the breadth of the context.” Contextual details, small or large, reveal character and can serve to contrast with the story itself, adding power. The order in which details are noted can tell us much about a character’s values and priorities as well as how they view themselves in relation to those around them. Are they rich or poor? Powerful or weak? Confident or insecure? These details can reveal so much about them.

So, how do you choose which details to use and when? Well, that depends upon what you need the readers to know to understand and connect with the story at any given moment. Let’s look at an example from John Connolly’s Charlie Parker book A Song of Shadows:

The woman stank of cats and cookies, of piss and mothballs, but Cambion, whose sensory abilities had long been ruined by his disease, and who had grown used to the reek of his own decay, barely noticed it.

How do you not remember that? Ask yourself what you most notice about particular people, places, and things. What do you remember? What stands out about them? What did you notice first? What sticks with you most when you have been away from them awhile and remember? These are the beginnings of finding the most definitive choices to use in describing them because they hint at what stands out when you encounter those people, places, and things. Let’s look at another example from Brazilian author Jorge Amado’s Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands:

Delicate, pale, with that pallor of romantic poets and gigolos, black hair slicked down with brilliantine and lots of perfume, a smile that was a combination of melancholy and allure, evoking a world of dreams, elegant in bearing and attire, with large, pleading eyes, the Prince would have to be described by very high-flown words: “marmoreal,” “wan,” “meditative,” “pulchritudinous,” “brow of alabaster and eyes of onyx.”

So much said with just a few words but very colorful, visceral, and intriguing because every word count. This is what good description is all about.

For what it’s worth…

WriteTip: What Is A Premise and What Makes It Good?

The following is an excerpt from my book How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, Chapter 1:

The Premise

In his bestselling book How to Write a Damn Good Novel, James N. Frey describes a premise as “the E = mc2 of novel writing.” The premise, he contends, “is the reason you are writing what you are writing … the core, the heart, the center, the soul of your expression.” He defines it as “a statement of what happens to the characters as a result of the core conflict in a story.” Agent Donald Maass defines a premise as
any single image, moment, feeling or belief that has enough power and personal meaning for the author to set her story on fire, propel it like a rocket for hundreds of pages, or perhaps serve as a finish line: an ending so necessary that every step of the journey burns to be taken.

While you might say to yourself: What’s the big deal? A premise is an idea—a premise is so much more than that. Ideas are common. Original ideas are almost nonexistent these days. Everything’s been done. So, what makes your premise special is not the basic simple idea but the unique spin and angle you bring to it. A premise is as much in the execution and unique approach to a concept as it is the idea itself.

Again, in How to Write a Damn Good Novel, James N. Frey compares a novel to an argument and writes: “The premise of an argument is a statement of the conclusion that will be reached through the argument. Each part of the argument must contribute to the premise if the argument is a good one … the premise of a work of fiction is not provable or arguable in the real world … not a universal truth. In a novel, the premise is true only for the particular situation of that novel. But nonetheless it is proven by all that leads to it. Your novel’s premise is the conclusion everything in your story leads to.”

In his bestseller Writing the Breakout Novel, mega-agent Donald Maass writes of a premise: “Not just any idea, though, but one with soil rich enough to grow a highly memorable novel; one that will both feed the author’s imagination, and, finally, nourish millions of readers.” An idea is not enough. It must be backed up by all the details of character, setting, conflict, and theme. It’s an idea with something unique and special to say, something we haven’t seen, told in a way we haven’t encountered that pops off the page. Maass calls it “a breakout premise,” implying that truly hit, breakout novels start with something special at their core. I’m sure we’d all love to write a hit novel that breaks out. So, what is it that makes “something special”?

First, a premise should describe an experience that is unusual, one not encountered by everyone, at least not firsthand. The experience also takes place in a vivid, wholly realized world that is compelling in its details and stands apart as unique yet real and fascinating on multiple levels.
Second, a premise should involve a character or characters who are larger-than-life, who talk, think, and act in ways not everyone does or can. These types of characters have a boldness, drive, and determination to pursue journeys we only dream about and take risks and actions we only wish we had the courage to take ourselves. In the process they undergo growth and changes we admire greatly, that inspire us, embolden us, and leave us breathless with admiration.

To create such a premise takes effort. It may not arrive fully formed right off the bat. Some great premises are discovered in the course of writing and discovering a story, but all successful writers learn to identify them and cling to them with all their might when they do. The best premises have the power to illuminate and confront, challenging our most deeply held beliefs, our hopes, our fears, our faith, even our very wills and nature. They engage readers’ imaginations and emotions and raise questions, hopes, fears, and more that have them yearning to turn the pages, cheer for the heroes, boo the villains, and reach the inevitable climactic confrontation that sets everything right again and resolves the mystery and uncertainty it evoked when it began.

Such a premise is so much more than just boy meets girl and falls in love or boy sets out to save the world. There’s something unique and special about the boy and the girl, what draws them together, where and how they come together, and why they are willing to fight for their love. The boy is someone special who believes he might actually save the world, after all. No ordinary Joe would dare undertake such a noble quest. It takes a certain level of courage, even determination, a refusal to surrender to insecurity and incredible odds, and an undeterred drive to keep going no matter what. I don’t know about you, but while I have met such people, I have found them to be few and far between. And those few-and-far-between people are the heart of good, successful stories. So, your premise requires one. Character is story. Story is character. Story flows from character. There really is no chicken or the egg question here about who came first. Who always leads into What.

So, to write your novel, you first need a really good idea with premise potential. You may not devise all the pieces before you write, but you must write looking for them to fall into place, and you will certainly need a solid concept to get you started. How you come up with it is something I cannot teach. It really is between you and your muse. Singer-songwriter John Denver used to say the ideas for his songs came from the aether—just floating out there waiting to be discovered, and he was the lucky soul who connected at the right moment to find them and give them life. In some ways, this is the way stories tend to work as well. Your ideas will come from your life, people you know, places you’ve been or want to go, things you’ve done or want to do, etc., and then your imagination should take over and start working on the rest. There is a certain magic to storytelling that can be neither easily described nor taught. That’s where the talent comes in. But it will take more than talent to write your novel. It will also take determination and a drive to push through the struggles and keep going no matter what. And so, the more passionate you are about your premise, the more likely you are to succeed. If nothing else, pick a premise that fires you up, not just the first seemingly viable one that comes in your head. Find the one that hooks you and won’t let you go. That’s where your great novel will surely come from.

Let’s look at some examples Frey gives of premises from famous novels:

The Godfather by Mario Puzo (the story of the Corleone Mafia family over generations): family loyalty leads to a life of crime.

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (the story of an old Cuban fisherman who struggles against a marlin far out in the Gulf Stream off the Cuban coast): courage leads to redemption.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (the story of a miserable, cheap, bitter man who is visited by ghosts of past, present, and future and learns the meaning of Christmas): forced self-examination leads to generosity.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (the story of patients oppressed at a mental hospital): even the most determined and ruthless psychiatric establishment can’t crush the human spirit.

In effect, a premise is like an argument. A story can have only one premise, because you cannot prove two arguments well at once. Your story’s conclusion will have a cause-and-effect relationship with what came before. In most cases, the argument within the premise is about a dilemma the characters confront. If you start first with characters and think about your premise, you may come up with it as you consider the characters’ flaws and the obstacles they face, as well as their goals and needs. Frey writes: “There is no formula for finding a premise. You simply start with a character or situation, give the character a dilemma, and then meditate on how it might go.” By opening your imagination and letting it run, usually the possibilities are endless, and your premise will come to light in the process. Frey quotes Egri as saying: “Every good premise should contain an element of character which through conflict leads to a conclusion.” So in essence, what are your three Cs (Character, Conflict, Conclusion)? Identify them and you have your premise.

Since the story of characters changing because of dramatic conflict makes good fiction, your premise will define such a situation. Old high school friends meet after 20 years and fall in love despite her terminal illness. The coach of a small-town basketball team with a history of losses recruits the first black player to help lead the team to a championship. A tough technophobic cop must team with an android partner to solve his partner’s murder. Can you see the three Cs at work in all these examples?

A good premise will give your novel focus and power that carries readers through to the end. It will hold their attention. Keep them turning pages. Make them long to know what happens next. And it may well do the same for you as you write. In fact, it should, even for the dedicated outliners. Everything in good fiction propels and leads you to the conclusion of the story, which is also a decisive conclusion or answer to the argument of the premise. Anything else should be cut and dropped. So a well-conceived premise is inherent to a well-written novel and key to your success. You must know where you are going to successfully complete any journey. The premise is the target on the map of your storytelling journey. Start without it at your own peril.

The concept, idea, or premise is a start. Craft and work will do the rest.

Write Tip: 5 Basic Plot Elements All Novels Must Have

The following is an excerpt from my book How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, Chapter 3:

In Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass identifies five basic plot elements that all plots must have. They are:

A sympathetic character
Conflict
Complication
Climax
Resolution

So, every good plot starts with character, specifically a character we can care about. Then that character encounters obstacles that create conflict. This can be another person or group of people, some natural or other issue, etc. Then the conflict is complicated by various other obstacles and barriers that stand in the way of the character resolving it. This leads to a climax wherein the character must confront the opponent—person, animal, or thing—head on and see who will win. This leads to a resolution. These five elements make up any solid, well-developed plot.
We’ve already talked about how the plot is a series of questions asked and answered, so now let’s look at a key question we must always ask to make our plots stronger: What’s the worst that can happen?

You start with conflict and then consider what the complications might be. In doing so, there may be a temptation to like the character too much and not want to make things too hard on him or her. But that is the death of good drama. Instead, you need to ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” and consider the more dire possibilities. This is what makes good drama. Maass writes: “What makes a breakout novel memorable are conflicts that are deep, credible, complex, and universal enough so a great number of readers can relate.” So, don’t go off the deepest end necessarily, choosing something so dire and outrageous that it seems too hard to believe. You want to complicate and create disasters and dangers, not create incredulity in readers.

What you do want to do is push your problem far beyond what readers might imagine. Maass suggests: “Push your characters into situations that you yourself would never go near in your own life.” Remember that the characters should speak and act in ways we only wish we had the courage to do. This is what inspires us to admire and follow them. So they will be capable of facing situations we wouldn’t dare take on ourselves. The key is to push things to utter extremes while still managing to make them feel familiar to readers. Not outlandish, then, but familiar. In other words, possible.

When we create conflict that is credible, relatable, and familiar, we create stories with tension on every page. These are the kinds of stories that keep readers turning pages and coming back time and again to the same authors for more. John Grisham, Nicholas Sparks, Michael Connelly, Jonathan Maberry, Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Heather Graham, J.K. Rowling, Rachel Caine—these are examples of authors who have mastered this technique. If you want your plots to become breakout, hit stories, you must create tension on every page. Make us desperate to know what happens next. Create urgency in the questions the plot asks. This will drive the story forward, increasing the stakes and tension with each scene and page, until readers may feel they or the characters can’t possibly take anymore, but they do every time. And we are dying to know how they manage it and can possibly survive, so we stay up all night reading to find out. We’ve all read and loved books like that, right? Imagine what it would be like to write one.

One technique that aids this kind of tension is nonlinear narrative. Grisham is a master of this: constantly holding information back from his readers to surprise them with later. Nonlinear narrative is storytelling that increases tension by telling the story in a nonchronological fashion, using flashbacks and other such techniques. Basically, you start telling the story in the center of the action at the most dramatic place and then go back and fill in the backstory and details as necessary through the course of the novel.

For what it’s worth…

Write Tip: Developing A Novel’s Theme

The following is an excerpt from my book How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, Chapter 1:

“If a powerful problem is a novel’s spine,” Donald Maass writes in The Breakout Novel, “then a powerful theme is its animating spirit … It starts with you having something to say.” Theme is one of those topics that makes many people’s eyes glaze over. They think of the theme papers they hated writing in school, perhaps. Or find it abstract and hard to conceive. But theme can and should form the unifying narrative structure of your well-written novel. What is theme? Theme is what a story, at its heart, at its moral core, is really trying to say, what it’s about. It’s why you are telling the story. It is what you have to say. Theme, in essence, is not the argument, but the moral derived from it. It is the lesson(s) and life truth(s) embedded and demonstrated through your story.

In Theme and Strategy, Ronald B. Tobias defines theme as “the central concern around which a story is structured.” He writes, “Theme is your inertial guidance system. It directs your decisions about which path to take, which choice is right for the story and which isn’t.” In essence, theme is what unifies the whole and informs it beyond just a story about a guy or girl who did so-and-so into something memorable with lasting impact that speaks to the human condition. Choosing the right theme will help you unify your story. It isn’t something you should just wing or make up as you go, but something you should think about early on, even as you plan your story, and keep in your mind with every scene you write.
Maass suggests three facts to keep in mind:

All stories are moral.
Readers tend to seek out stories that are in line with their beliefs.
Fiction is most compelling when it pulls readers into points of view that are compelling, detailed, and different.

Readers crave insight on the world around them. They want to be pushed to expand their minds and see things differently, through different eyes. Readers become most engaged when the characters’ beliefs capture their attention and make them think. Whether you know it or not, you have something to say, and having the courage to say it through your story and characters will imbue your novel with power that makes it memorable and lasting. Deep down, all writers believe they have something that must be said, some insight on the human condition the world cannot do without, and these demonstrate their own morality and views of right and wrong in the universe. Ask yourself what that is, and let your story speak to that. Have it in mind as you write. This will create a unified story with resonance far beyond just entertainment. As Maass writes, “stories without fire cannot fire readers.”

Because readers are moral people, they inherently look for the moral compass that drives characters in fiction. Whether they agree with it or not is not the primary concern—understanding it is. Powerful beliefs and messages imparted through characters are far more effective than writers preaching or teaching directly, because characters who have beliefs that drive them will take concrete actions that reflect those beliefs. The consequences of these actions then speak powerfully about life, people, and more in ways that direct lessons can never accomplish. The key is embedding these morals and beliefs in the characters’ actions. When characters live what they believe, readers will accept the validity of those beliefs and be impacted by the results.

Tobias suggests several major patterns, which can be summarized as follows:

Plot as Theme—Much of popular fiction is driven by this theme, in which plot is paramount over any other concerns. Escapism is the goal here, and as such, while the novels may not carry long-lasting moral messages, they earn big points with readers and generate bestseller after bestseller. They are not striving for great literature but rather great entertainment, and this has made them hugely successful. Agatha Christie, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Dan Brown, John Grisham, and many more create works that fall readily into this category.

Emotional Effect as Theme—Terror, Suspense, Romance, Comedy—in this case the emotional effect of the story is the driving theme. Works by authors such as Stephen King, Peter Straub, Gini Koch, Christopher Moore, John Grisham, Heather Graham, Nora Roberts, Nicholas Sparks, and more deal with this theme.

Style as Theme—This theme encompasses a small minority of movies and books because the theme is the artistic style and approach rather than other concerns. The art films and literary novels by auteurs such as John Hawkes, Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Margaret Atwood, and more have this focus.

Character as Theme—Character studies, like style-themed art, also lend themselves to literary concerns. The focus here is the characters, their growth, and how the world and events of the story affect them. Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield, Gustave Flaubert’s Madam Bovary, and films like Raging Bull, The Great Santini, Taxi Driver, and The Godfather embody this approach.

Idea as Theme—Of all the patterns, this one is most successful at creating memorable events and characters that jump off the page. Idea-themed works affect us profoundly, change the world, change lives, start wars, or at the least, make us think because the whole point of ideas is to make us ponder them, ask questions, discuss, and draw new conclusions. These are often the books whose themes are erased during conversion to movies, leaving us to complain that “the book was better.” Idea as theme is less cinematic, less exciting, but its power cannot be denied. Examples include Robinson Crusoe, Don Quixote, The Graduate, and Shane.

Moral Statement as Theme—The most dangerous of theme categories, this one is most likely to become preachy and heavy handed and turn readers off, so it must be used with great care and attempted only by skillful hands. If the characters are sincere and the plot gripping and storytelling is your focus, though, you can pull this off. According to Tobias, Fatal Attraction and Wall Street are two examples of films that fall in this category. In both cases, the moral results from the story rather than the other way around.

Human Dignity as Theme—These are the stories where the fight to hold on to dignity in spite of circumstances is the focus. Stories like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Rocky, On the Waterfront, Gladiator, and even Roots employ this type of theme.

Social Comment as Theme—Criticizing or shining a light on our culture can be accomplished with great power using fiction. The trick here is finding the right story. Great examples are The China Syndrome and The Grapes of Wrath. The key is to let the characters’ convictions argue for you.

Human Nature as Theme—“What is Man?” is a question that has been explored for centuries and still captures readers’ interest. Stories that fit here include Deliverance, Lord of the Flies, and Robinson Crusoe. (Note: Stories can combine more than one theme. More on that later.)

Human Relations as Theme—Terms of Endearment, Ordinary People, Love Story, many a Nicholas Sparks book like The Notebook or The Wedding, and more all explore this theme where the relation of humans in community, small or large, is the focus.

Coming of Age as Theme—This one I know a lot about as it has been the theme of six of my novels and several short stories to date. The exploration of finding one’s self and confidently staking one’s place or recognizing one’s role and purpose in the universe is a theme found in Star Wars, Rocky, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, and many, many more.

Once you know your theme or themes, you must then decide several things:
1. Who are the characters who can best embody this theme?
2. What plot is best suited for the theme?
3. What kind of setting will best fit the characters and actions necessary to portray the theme?
4. What voice and style is best suited to the theme?

All together, structurally, Theme works with Plot and Character as shown in this diagram.
Your theme informs all these decisions, which is why knowing the theme first is so important. As the diagram demonstrates, theme is at the center of the core elements of your story’s structure. Additionally, many stories explore more than one theme. If the themes are compatible, this is a very powerful and easy thing to do.

As moral people, readers will turn to fiction for affirmation of their values or the values that underpin the world as they see it. They seek deeper understanding, answers to questions, and more in great stories, driven by the desire to know that what they believe is right. Maass suggests it matters less whether the moral is widely accepted than that it is developed in depth. “The key is your antagonist,” he writes. “If we believe in him, we will believe what he believes.”

We buy into Star Wars because Luke Skywalker believes so passionately in his cause—the Force, the right of the Rebels over the Empire, good versus evil, and what is just. The same can be said of Rocky and many other films, even The Godfather, wherein the protagonist is a criminal corrupted by his world and relationships over the course of the film. The viewer’s agreement with the decisions being made is less important than the conviction of the character. It is in the character’s anger, weeping, fear, and determination that we are inspired to believe, that readers feel it is imperative to know their stories. This is how knowing your theme and developing every scene from that perspective can transform a simple, ordinary story into a life-changing, memorable classic.

So, whether you are a planner or a pantser, outliner or discovery writer, thinking about theme and allowing it to inform your writing will make the difference between your novel being plain or something special, blending in or standing out from the pack. Theme is that vital, that key. And so, as you move forward to plan your premise and the structure that will best bring it to life, theme is an important component of your process which must be considered and carefully weighed.

For what it’s worth…See you next Wednesday.

Write Tip: How To Structure A Scene

The following is an excerpt from my book How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, Chapter 3:

The scene is the basic building block of dramatic structure for any story. If written correctly, each scene leads to another scene and another. According to Jack M. Bickham, in his book Scene & Structure, all well-written scenes use the following pattern:

Statement of goal

Introduction and development of conflict

Failure of character to reach his goal or a tactical complication/disaster which creates a new goal

Notice how these parallels the three-act dramatic structure of the entire story. It is not an accident. Scenes have three acts just as the entire story will. Scenes are not static. At their heart lies conflict. One character or group has a goal and others have other goals, and these meets and create obstacles to be overcome. Hence, conflict. Most scenes start with the point-of-view (POV) character walking into a place with a clear goal in mind. (As discussed in Chapter 4 the point-of-view character is the character from whose vantage point a particular scene is told.) Success of the scene dramatically depends upon your ability to interpose obstacles between your hero/heroine and the obtainment of this goal. Sometimes the goal carries over from the previous scene. Sometimes it is the overall goal in the story. Other times, it is a sub-goal required as part of the many steps to reaching the overall story goal. In any case, usually the goal is stated early on either through internal monologue or dialogue of the character.

For example, Luke Skywalker enters the workshop and cleans the droids per Uncle Owen’s instructions (goal). In the process, he finds something jammed in a slot on R2-D2 and tries to free it, unleashing the video of Leia pleading for help. When the message is unclear, he asks R2 to play the whole message and R2 refuses by first pretending not to know what he is referring to, then saying that the restraining bolt is preventing it in order to get the bolt taken off (obstacles). The disaster comes as R2-D2 escapes, forcing Luke to chase him down.

To work well and increase dramatic tension, all scenes must end badly. Whatever the goal going in, whatever the action taken, the result must be a failure of some sort. It can be an actual failure, a twisty complication, or additional unexpected tasks, but it constitutes a delay to success regardless.

But there is another key element at play as well. When the character’s goal is stated, the reader asks a question.

Goal: To get the golden key to the temple where I can retrieve the sacred scroll.
Reader Question: Will (character) get the key?

Whatever the question, the resolution (or answer) must be a negative. Sometimes a character does the get the key, but other objects are required to find the temple or open the door, and the character must go seek them before getting the scroll. The answer to the question, the disaster, the end of the well-written scene, always creates further complication on the character’s journey through that story.

There are several key points to keep in mind when determining goal, conflict, and resolution:

1. The goal of each scene must clearly relate to the larger story question; the question evoked in readers by the stated goal of the character for the major story arc.
2. The conflict must be about the goal.
3. The conflict must be external, not within one’s self. Either with an object, animal, or person or more than one.
4. Point of view should be maintained from goal to resolution in the same scene. It is best not to break it up into different points of view to avoid confusion and loss of tension.
5. Disaster always works by pushing the character away from his or her goal.
6. Readers will tolerate much if you keep making things worse and worse in every scene. This is how you build tension and suspense and create a compelling read.
7. Since the end of each scene dictates what will happen after, scenes cannot be written in isolation from the overall arc, goals, conflict, etc. of the story itself if they are to work well.

Plots are made up of a series of interconnected scenes that create a larger story. Since a plot is the storyline arc of the overall book, and the book is a story that is like an argument with a premise, a plot consists of a series of questions asked and answered. What you ask when, and how soon you answer it, affects the tension and pacing of the overall story. Some questions get asked and answered in the same scene or chapter. Some carry over multiple scenes and chapters. Some may carry over to another book. Some carry from chapter 1 to the final chapter. The questions have various levels of stakes to them. More intense, important questions tend to take longer to answer. One great way to figure out if your story makes sense and has good pacing is to go through and identify all the questions asked and answered and when and where they are asked and answered. If you are missing any answers or questions, you have a problem that needs fixing.

Since some stories have several plots—usually an overarching main plot and subplots—and not all scenes relate to each plot, but all relate to the main arc in some way or affect it. All plots and subplots have three acts just like the overall story, so sometimes identifying which plot and subplot(s) relate to each scene is key to making them work and determining in what order the scenes need to occur to best tell the story. To be clear, a subplot is a lesser plot that is less important than the main driving plot and sometimes focuses around a specific character, location, or aspect of that larger plot and points readers back to it.

It is also important to know which characters are in a scene. Too many characters can make a scene confusing. And too few can make it ineffective. Most importantly, the person with the most to lose is usually the best POV character for that particular scene, so keep in mind whether you have multiple POV characters or not. That will determine your character use in each scene. Remember also that individual characters can have conflicting goals, and that can further complicate scenes by creating competing tensions or conflicts that add layers and depth to the scene and further obstacles to the resolution as well.

In Medias Res

The last point I’ll make is the number one rule of good dramatic writing I learned in film school: Get into a scene as late as possible in its action, and end the scene as soon as you can after that. The literary term for entering a scene when the action has already begun is in medias res.

Scenes are more dramatic when they start within tense moments of action or conflict, so skip all the slow buildup and setup like greetings and small talk, how the characters got there, etc. which would slow things down, and instead get right into it. Telephone scenes, scenes sitting around a table, on couches, or in a car, etc. have a casual, slow feel that does not lend itself well to drama, so these use sparingly. The pacing and power of your story will go up in spades, and your readers will thank you for it.

Here’s another example, one of my favorites: the opening scene from the film Lethal Weapon 2.

The film opens with Riggs yelling and pounding his palms on a dashboard as horns honk and traffic roars. Then he and Murtaugh are arguing about speed and strategy. They are in a car chase. We don’t yet know who they are chasing or why, but we are immediately thrust into the center of tense, fast-paced action, and the details will come. We soon learn there are two car chases with two teams of cops, and as they fight traffic and near misses with other vehicles and race to keep up with the fleeing criminals—Murtaugh driving his wife’s station wagon, which hardly seems up to the task—the bad guys start shooting and taking more and more chances. The goal is to catch the bad guys. The conflict comes from disagreements between cops and from all the obstacles.

When the bad guys ditch them in airport traffic, Riggs jumps out and continues the chase on foot until Murtaugh untangles the station wagon and catches up. Riggs then insists on driving, and he pushes the car even more to its limits, practically destroying it in the process. So now they are fighting each other as well (more conflict). Then the other chase ends at an intersection, where cars collide and a helicopter comes in to rescue the bad guys with automatic gunfire leading to a shootout with cops (Failure 1). Riggs and Murtaugh, meanwhile, continue their chase until their baddie flips his car over a black-and-white cop car that blocks its path and crashes into a building. By the time Riggs and Murtaugh get to the car, the bad guy is gone (Failure 2), but they find Krugerrands, the currency of South Africa, and so their quest begins.

This is a great example of getting in as late as possible and out as soon as possible (in medias res) while still including all three core building blocks of a great scene.

To download a free copy of How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, click here.

Write Tip: Four Act Structure

The following is an excerpt from my book How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, Chapter 2:

The four-act structure is a more recent rethinking of three-act structure. Proponents claim it is much better and more effective because it more naturally follows the flow of dramatic story. I certainly agree that for motion pictures this is probably the case, but I am not sure about novels. Regardless, the rule in writing is to use what works for you, so I present it here as an option that might be more helpful to some of you than the three-act structure.


Fundamentally, the difference between the three-act and four-act structures is that act two is now two acts, with each ending in a plot point or establishing point. Act one ends with an establishing point where the hero has a life-changing event that spurs him or her to action, essentially enabling circumstances that lead the hero to launch into the quest or journey that makes up the rest of the story and results inevitably in a confrontation with the antagonist in act one. In act one, there is no midpoint but instead an establishing point that generally consists of a hero-ally confrontation in which the hero is forced to give up his or her flaw. Act two becomes about establishing a relationship with the ally while the hero tries to hold onto his or her flaw and still complete the quest. The establishing point here reveals that the flaw is an obstacle which must be overcome to achieve success.

After that establishing point, instead of a second half, we enter act three, which ends with an establishing point where the flaw is finally resolved, and the hero enters the ring against the opponent in preparation for act four’s final confrontation. Act three thus consists of the hero demonstrating the growth of overcoming the flaw or at least conquering and controlling it as he or she prepares with the ally to take on the antagonist. Act four is the climbing into the ring where the hero faces his or her opponent to see who will triumph.

In theory, using four acts makes writing the longer middle easier for writers by breaking it into two logical halves. It also puts more emphasis on a hero-ally confrontation where the flaw is confronted and overcoming begins. This can be a physical or emotional confrontation, but it is a key turning point that functions much like the midpoint in the three-act structure. This often serves to strengthen the relationship between the hero and his or her key ally.

A great example of this four-act structure can be found in the film Rocky, which is considered one of the best-structured films of all time. In act one, Rocky is on the mean streets of Philly and considers himself a loser, but is a nice, bright guy who won’t even stoop to breaking legs for work with loan sharks or other things. Then he gets the chance to fight for heavyweight champion of the world, his establishing point or life-changing event.

In act two, Rocky tries to react to this challenge but is dragged down by his lack of self-confidence. Allies come in the form of his wife, Adrian, and manager, Mickey, who push him to believe in himself, but he can’t do it until he finally confronts the memory of his father telling him he was too ugly and stupid to be anything but a boxer, so he’d better be good. Once he articulates and faces this, he regains a sense of purpose and confidence in an establishing point wherein he determines to prove his father wrong.

Act three is then the training surge when Rocky prepares for the fight with Apollo Creed and begins to think of himself as capable and strong and smart, not a loser, mentally changing and transforming into being ready for the fight.

Act four is the final fight against Creed.

As you can see here, the four-act structure depends more on character development for its turning points than the three-act structure does and really defines and clarifies the characters in a different way, which may be helpful to some of you in structuring your story and thinking it through before writing.

To download a free copy of How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, click here.

Write Tip: Three Act Structure

The following is an excerpt from my book How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, Chapter 2:

A sketch that will inform your outline, the three-act structure nonetheless identifies the core dramatic points of a story. Some of you may be discovery writers like me, preferring to let the story unfold organically. But at some point, you will be required to outline as a professional writer. And when faced with a tight deadline, the more organized you are, the more efficient you can be. The first thing you need to do is understand the dramatic structure that underpins your story. So we are going to talk about a very simple, basic way to identify key points that can help you write more quickly and efficiently to meet a deadline.


While outlines are multiple pages of detail, the structural diagram will be no more than a brief paragraph or a few sentences describing each required point accompanied perhaps by a paradigm sketch. The paradigm shown is based on Screenplay by Syd Field, a classic writing teaching book employed by many film schools, but in Western literature, the principles also apply to any dramatic story, including those told in prose. The outline is for three acts. In a screenplay, those are act one, which is 30 pages, or a quarter of the text; act two, which is 60 pages, or half; and act three, which is 30 pages, or a fourth. Your page numbers will vary, but the fractions for each portion should wind up roughly the same.

The key turning points between acts are called plot point 1 and plot point 2. These are events which force the protagonist, and sometimes the antagonist too, to turn in new directions and take new action in pursuit of resolving the conflict. Plot point 1, at the end of act one, will require agency, or action, from the protagonist in pursuit of finding the solution and determining what must be done. Plot point 1 propels the protagonist into act two, which is an ascending action involving discovery and a journey to find the solution and achieve the goal without yet knowing all that is required. In the course of act two, the questions will be answered until you reach plot point 2. Plot point 2, at the end of act two, will occur when the protagonist discovers what must be done and where, and with whom, to resolve the conflict and achieve the goal. And thus, it propels him or her into act two, which is the climactic, descending action to reach that point.

When I write any story, I always start with some idea of what my plot points will be and how it will end, to give me a sense of focus and direction as I write, even when allowing it to unfold organically. Now, just as the overall story has three acts, so will each plot and subplot, and each act. As such, each has a mini turning point called the midpoint or pinch that twists the action a bit and propels us into the second half. In the first act, this is called the inciting incident. This inciting incident often provokes a change in the protagonist’s routine—something new they experience that could either challenge or encourage them. In The Silence of the Lambs (1991), FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) meets with Dr. Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). The confrontation of both parties is nerve-wracking. But it intrigues us and sucks in Clarice and leads to the rest of the story. Other examples are Indiana losing the golden idol to Belloq at the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark, which then sets up a rivalry that drives the later journey as Indiana Jones seeks to get the Ark before Belloq. Morpheus choosing Anderson in The Matrix sets up all that follows after. In The Sixth Sense, without the opening confrontation and gunshot, nothing else that follows could occur.

In act two, you have a pinch point for each half, and in act three, you have the climactic confrontation before the denouement. These may not be as dramatic as the inciting incident of act one, but they nonetheless inspire the protagonist or antagonist to take further action and move forward on the journey. Whereas the plot points are both major dramatic developments, the inciting incident, midpoint, and pinches can be more internal than external but of significance to the characters’ hearts and minds such that they cause them to change course and move in a new direction or with renewed vigor toward the goal. These are like lesser plot points, in a way, but nonetheless significant points in the framework of the overall dramatic arc that drives your story.

Let’s talk examples. In Star Wars: A New Hope, the inciting incident starts with Darth Vader’s ship attacking Princess Leia’s rebel ship and forcing her to load the Death Star plans into R2-D2, the droid, and send him to escape. He lands on the planet with his companion, C-3PO, and they wind up in the hands of the hero, Luke Skywalker. When Luke discovers a message from a princess that reports danger and points him to a mysterious figure named Obi-Wan Kenobi, he sets off to find out what it means, and that leads him to Old Ben Kenobi, whose shared surname is an obvious clue. Kenobi rescues Luke from Sand People at the midpoint of act one and takes him back to his own home. There, they view the message and Kenobi gives Luke a lightsaber and tells him about the murder of his father, a story Luke never knew. The Empire and a Rebellion, which until now have been mostly rumors far away, have entered Luke’s life, and when Kenobi takes him home, they find that the Jawas who sold Luke’s family the droids have been murdered and torched. Fearing the worst, they race to Luke’s home and find Luke’s aunt and uncle have been murdered and their homestead torched. Plot point 1 is when Kenobi tells Luke they must go rescue the princess together and find a way to deliver the plans hidden in R2-D2.

Act two starts with their trip to Mos Eisley spaceport where they must find passage, and they end up recruiting Han Solo, evading Stormtroopers searching for the droids, and head off for Alderaan. Then, we see Luke in training for the inevitable confrontation, while Vader and Tarkin attempt to extract information from Leia, and ultimately destroy Alderaan. Luke, Han, and Kenobi’s discovery of this is our pinch point for act one. That determines they must rescue Leia themselves and deliver the plans. Then they are caught in a tractor beam and pulled aboard the Death Star. The midpoint comes during the attempted rescue in the Detention Block when they are trapped. The pinch point for act two is when Kenobi confronts Vader to help his friends escape with the droids to the rebellion. Plot point 2 is after they fight their way clear and escape to the rebel base, where the plans reveal the Death Star’s flaw. The Rebels unveiling their attack plan propels us into act three. Act three is the Rebel attack and the Imperial counterattack, and the climax comes as Luke faces off against Vader in the trench run and ultimately destroys the Death Star with surprise help from Han.

So, now that we have seen how this plays out in a story we are all familiar with, it’s time to identify this structure for your story. Keep in mind that this is only a blueprint. Plans can change. As the story evolves, if required, your plot points, as well as pinches and midpoints, and even your climax, may change. The point of this is not to set anything in stone but to have goals to guide your work. It will help direct you as you write and set up each character and point required to reach each marker. If that ultimately requires the markers to change, it’s okay because these are tools to help you achieve a whole.

Here are the things you’ll need to know to develop this paradigm outline.
Who is your protagonist?
Who is your antagonist?
What are their goals?
What are the obstacles each faces in reaching that goal?
What growth must each undergo to make success possible?
And finally, what do you think the final confrontation needs to be?

Answering these questions is just a temporary means to an end. The answers may change, but the idea is to think through key elements of your story to allow you to write with blinders off and have some goal points along the way to work toward. That will allow you to write faster and spend less time wondering what the heck you should do next. As you actually write, these goal points may need to change, and that is okay.

To download a free copy of How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, click here.

Tomorrow: Part 2-4 Act Structure
Friday: Part 3-How To Structure Scenes

For these and other WriteTips, click here.

Write Tip: Character Narrative As A Plot Device

Our tip for today regards using character narrative as a plot device. Now, to begin, let me define character narrative. In the present case I am defining it as the narrative embraced by a character or person as the lens through which they view the world. We see this all the time in politics. The Democrats have a narrative. So do the Republicans. And we hear accusations all the time, not all false, of media bias wherein reporters report angles on stories that match their narrative and leave out the rest. All characters have narratives too, and it is often the differences in narratives that cause conflicts between characters. That being the case, why shouldn’t writers consciously employ narrative as a plot device?

I think they should.

We often talk of the villains being the hero of their own story. This is narrative. The same is true of every character and where those narratives, or worldviews, clash, is where we find them coming into conflict with one another. So understanding your characters’ narratives and where they come from and how they differ can be a very useful device for helping you shape your stories. And the degree to which you get into the details of it will determine how useful it is.

Good stories have nuance and nuance is depth, so the more you know, the deeper you can go and the richer the results will be. With some minor characters, you may never know their narrative. With supporting characters, you will examine it only on the surface a bit. But with your major characters, the deeper you dig in, the better they will be and the better your story will be for the effort.

So how do you build a character’s narrative? It is similar to how you write a character history or bio. The easiest way is to develop a series of key questions to ask and answer about each character and build from there. The base questions will be the same initially for every character but as you go deeper, unique questions will arise that are unique to specific characters and demand answers. You answer one, another may crop up, rinse and repeat. But the result will be a deeper look inside your characters’ beliefs, motives, personalities, and more. And what you discover in the process will be useful for all kinds of things.

You can use what you glean to help shape your character’s personality, actions, and reactions, even their internal monologue. And the more information you glean, the more specific you are, the more interesting the results will be as you discover key differences between your characters and yourself you never suspected. Building the results into your story will add a lot of layers and depth and nuance that just adds to the experience for readers and makes the characters pop off the page and come more alive like real, unique individuals, not stereotypes or archetypes. There will be nothing run of the mill about characters examined so deeply.

So consider adding examine your characters’ narratives as a possible tool to add to your writer’s toolbox. It’s also a useful tool for interpersonal relationships, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post which poses a whole different set of potential conflicts, so we’ll leave that be for now. Regardless, I hope it’s a Write Tip that pushes you to think about your stories and characters with a new perspective. For my narrative, that would be very satisfying. For what it’s worth…

5 Days Of Comic Con

I took a break from blogging regularly for a few years now, but with the publication of my latest book How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals Of Fiction earlier this year, I have been wanting to revive my blog. In particular, the weekly Write Tips feature that was so popular.

So to celebrate San Diego Comic Con’s 50th, which I will be attending and participating in as a panelist, I thought what better time than now to relaunch Write Tips. So each day the rest of this week, I will feature a new Write Tip, and then every Wednesday that follows, will present another one. It is my hope these will stimulate and assist you in your writing process. I know they are things that help me.

As a bonus, Wednesday through Friday, I will be giving away free downloads of How To Write  Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction in each post.  So happy 50th to San Diego Comic Con, the original Comic Con that started it all, and happy writing to all of you.

Here’s the posting schedule for this week:

Tuesday- Character Narrative as a Plot Device

Wednesday – Three Act Structure

Thursday – Four Act Structure

Friday – How To Structure A Scene

Just look for the Write Tips logo starting tomorrow. For what it’s worth…

Shortcut Finished

The novel Shortcut is finished in first draft and we are negotiating the film rights contract now. This could take a while I am told by knowledgeable industry friends. In the meantime, I will be working on a new screenplay from an old idea called The Art Teacher so I will fill you all in when I can. Meanwhile, have a Happy 2019. I hope 2018 was a good one for you all!

New Project Commencing

I am currently launching a new novel in association with Hunt Lowry, a film producer who produced A Time To Kill, Donnie Darko, and is currently developing Grisham’s next movie adaptation, The Testament. It will be all consuming so I will likely not have much head space for the blog for a few months. But stay tuned. Will post some updates from time to time on my Facebook and Twitter.

Novel Writing Boot Camp Starring Me

Some of you know that in late 2017 and early 2o18, in association with Inkitt, a new young publisher that is still finding its way, I wrote and hosted a series of novel writing videos which were short versions of material I later wrote in How To Write A Novel: The Fundamentals of Fiction, my first nonfiction book which was published by Inkitt this Fall. Well, the videos—there are 10 of them—are now live and you can watch them for free. They are slickly produced and I am proud of them. They also tease material I develop more fully in How To Write A Novel, so you can check that out too here.

Here is the link to Inkitt’s Novel Writing Boot Camp.

Guest Post: Which Comes First—Character or World?

daysofdead_banner_v1-1

by Gail Z. Martin

Ask three writers how they do their worldbuilding, and you’ll get four opinions. Maybe more, if our characters get to give their own answers.

That is to say, there’s no wrong way to worldbuild as long as the final product ends up satisfactory to readers. The trick is to come up with an approach that works for you, that creates a realistically detailed and nuanced setting, and—most importantly–seamlessly and believably supports your plot and characters.

How detailed should your worldbuilding be? That reminds me of the old joke about how long a man’s legs should be—long enough to reach the ground. You want your world to have age and depth and weight to it. It should feel like it’s been thoroughly lived in and hard used, not like one of those false-front fake Wild West villages at amusement parks. Your characters and plot should feel as if they rise organically from your world, as if they couldn’t possibly happen anywhere else or be the same in any other setting.

If you’ve ever traveled somewhere unfamiliar, whether it’s across the state or across the world, it’s the little things that made you aware that you were someplace far from home. The menu choices were unfamiliar. The brands of soda were different. The money looked odd and came in strange colors and sizes. People went about their daily routines a bit differently than back home. Signs are not what you’re used to seeing. All those little details aren’t important by themselves, but collectively they are the stuff of authenticity, and to the extent that you have thoroughly thought these things out, your readers will have a richer, more immersive experience.

I believe that immersion was part of the genius of the Harry Potter books. In a million different little details, J.K. Rowling signaled that we weren’t in our own mundane world but someplace wondrous and frighteningly different. The best books give us enough of these nuanced details that we don’t feel infodumped or overwhelmed but we do grasp that we’ve been whisked away to somewhere new.

As for which comes first, character or world, that’s like the chicken/egg dilemma. If you think hard about the circumstances and experiences that shaped your character, you’ll know a lot about the world he/she came from. And if you build out your world convincingly, you’ll know what kinds of characters arise from its climate, history, culture and society. Start wherever you please; you’ll end up in the same place.

How do you drill down to those details? Some writers like to ‘interview’ their characters, sitting down and having a mental chat with their creations who proceed to spill their guts. I’ve used that successfully. Sometimes, either the world or the character just comes to you full-blown, and you have to figure out the rest around the edges. I’ve also built series that way as well. For me, I want my world to be a character in its own way. For example, in my Deadly Curiosities urban fantasy series, things happen that are quintessentially Charleston, SC so that if the action were to happen somewhere else, it would have to be different. The city of Charleston is woven into the fabric of the story in a way that can’t be undone.

If you’re still struggling with worldbuilding, think about the places you’ve been (or go on a day trip somewhere new) and note the details. Jot them down and pay attention to everything you notice that differs from back home. Now think about how you might pull that kind of nuance into your fictional worldbuilding. It could be easier than you think!

My Days of the Dead blog tour runs through October 31 with brand new excerpts from upcoming books and recent short stories, interviews, guest blog posts, giveaways and more! Plus, I’ll be including extra excerpt links for my stories and for books by author friends of mine. You’ve got to visit the participating sites to get the goodies, just like Trick or Treat!  Get all the details about my Days of the Dead blog tour here: http://bit.ly/2eC2pxP

holdontothelight-fb-bannerLet me give a shout-out for #HoldOnToTheLight–100+ Sci-Fi/Fantasy authors blogging about their personal struggles with depression, PTSD, anxiety, suicide and self-harm, candid posts by some of your favorite authors on how mental health issues have impacted their lives and books. Read the stories, share the stories, change a life. Find out more at www.HoldOnToTheLight.com

Book swag is the new Trick-or-Treat! All of my guest blog posts have links to free excerpts—grab them all!

Trick Or Treat with an excerpt from my Deadly Curiosities Adventures short story Buttons http://bit.ly/1v5t9Zf

A free excerpt from my Deadly Curiosities Adventures short story Coffin Box Deadly Curiosities short story http://bit.ly/SDCIjx

Trick Or Treat w excerpt from The Big Bad II anthology http://www.darkoakpress.com/bigbad2.html

Use your free Audible trial to get my books! Ice Forged Audible https://amzn.com/B00EP1C1HK

Trick Or Treat excerpt from Espec Books https://especbooks.wordpress.com/2016/07/18/winner-war-machines/

Try a free excerpt from my m Reign of Ash http://bit.ly/1oCEa5j


About the Author

Gail Martin, Dreamspinner Communications
Gail Martin, Dreamspinner Communications

Gail Z. Martin is the author of Vendetta: A Deadly Curiosities Novel in her urban fantasy series set in Charleston, SC (Solaris Books); Shadow and Flame the fourth and final book in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga (Orbit Books); The Shadowed Path (Solaris Books) and Iron and Blood a new Steampunk series (Solaris Books) co-authored with Larry N. Martin. A brand new epic fantasy series debuts from Solaris Books in 2017.

DoDecaCon Schedule, September 16-18, Columbia, MO

dodecaconbtspicThis weekend, I will be a Special Guest at Columbia, Missouri’s ComicCon:  DoDecaCon. Fellow guests include New York Times bestselling author John Jackson Miller.

Here’s the layout of booths. I will be at Special Guests Table 2. (click to enlarge)

dodecancon16layout

My panel schedule is Saturday only, with the following two panels:
2:00 PM Special Guest Q&A with Bryan Thomas Schmidt, John Jackson Miller and D.A. Roberts-Main Stage
3:00 PM Writing in an Established Universe with John Jackson Miller-Panel Room A

Barnes and Noble, Columbia, will be selling my books and I will sell others at my table. To help me out, please buy my Baen books from B&N then come have me sign or personalize. I will likely do signing times each day at B&N as well (TBD). The rest of my books will be on sale at my own table, Special Guest Table 2.

Look forward to seeing you!

Bryan

Forthcoming Works & WIP Release Schedule 2016-2017

As I revise this site and get back to blogging and regular updates (soon, I hope), I thought I could start by updating you on my various forthcoming projects and works in progress and their release dates (as I know them).

So here they are. As you can see, 2017 will be my busiest year ever as not only editor but author, too.

Forthcoming works 2016:

the returning cover front WFPTHE RETURNING: Author’s Definitive Edition, (Saga of Davi Rhii Book 2) (WordFire Press), August 23, 2016

 

 

 

X-Files_Secret_Agendas“Border Time” by myself and Kate Corcino in THE X-FILES: SECRET AGENDAS, edited by Jonathan Maberry (IDW), September 27, 2016

 

 

 

Forthcoming in 2017:

Baen logoLITTLE GREEN MEN–ATTACK!, Coedited by Robin Wayne Bailey (Baen Books), March 7, 2017 includes “The First Million Contacts” by myself and Alex Shvartsman

 

st martins press logoJOE LEDGER: UNSTOPPABLE, Coedited by Jonathan Maberry (ST. MARTINS), 2017 includes “Instince (A Ghost Story)” by myself and Claire Ashgrove

 

Baen logoMONSTER HUNTER Anthology, Coedited by Larry Correia (Baen Books), 2017 includes “Hoffman Strikes Back” by myself and Julie C. Frost

 

Titan Books logoPREDATOR: THE HUNTED (Working Title) (Titan Books), October 2017 includes a story by myself with Holly Roberds

INFINITE STARS: A Definitive Space Opera Anthology (Titan Books), November 2017

THE EXODUS (Saga of Davi Rhii Book 3) (WordFire Press), TBD

“The Greatest Guns In The Galaxy” by myself and Ken Scholes in STRAIGHT OUTTA TOMBSTONE, edited by David Boop, (Baen Books), TBD

Schedule: 2015 Longview Literary Festival, Metropolitan Community College

This year, Claire Ashgrove, my Finish The Story editing partner and I are guest speakers at the Longview Literary Festival in Lee’s Summit.  Here’s our schedule for the day, which is Friday, October 23, 2015.

 

TIME  CAC 114 – READINGS CAC 116 CAC 118 BLACK BOX THEATER
10:00 a.m.   Editing 101: A Workshop by Claire Ashgrove and Bryan Thomas Schmidt    
 
11:00 a.m.       Panel Discussion:  Working with Small Press:  D.L. Rogers, Sean Demory, Marshall Edwards, Bryan Thomas Schmidt
12:00 p.m.  Closed for Keynote Speaker  Closed for Keynote Speaker Closed for Keynote Speaker Keynote Speaker – Claire Ashgrove –Writing Contest Winners Announced
 1:00 p.m.   Closed for Featured Speaker Closed for Featured Speaker Featured Speaker – Bryan Thomas Schmidt
 
2:00 – 4:00 p.m. Bryan and Claire at Vendor Table  
4:00 p.m.       Panel Discussion:  Editors are NOT the Enemy:  Claire Ashgrove, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Sara Lundberg
 

5:00 p.m.

Bryan and Claire at Vendor Table      
6:00 p.m.  Closed Closed Closed Closing Remarks – Announcement of Winners of Contests Occurring at The Festival

GUEST POST: Howard Andrew Jones on How I Write

 

Today, my friend, Howard Andrew Jones, one of my favorite writers, shares with us about his writing process.  His latest Pathfinder Tales novel, Beyong The Pool of Stars, is out now from TOR and Paizo. But I’ve enjoyed his previous Pathfinder and original novels very much as well. Check them out and enjoy his wise words.

9780765374530_FCA writing career is a work in progress. I’m always striving to better my writing process.

I suppose I still live in hope that I’ll produce 5k or more of workable prose every day like some of my friends do. And it happens for me, sometimes. More often, though, I’m a 2k to 3k guy. And I’ve decided that might just be the way it works for me, so more and more I’m trying to make sure that the 2 or 3 thousand words I produce are useful ones.

Bit by bit, tweak by tweak, I’ve come to my current method, and it’s served me well for Beyond the Pool of Stars as well as for the book that immediately preceded it and the two books currently on my hard drive. I’ll detail it for you in the hopes you’ll find it useful.

First, three steps I have to take once I have the germ of the novel’s idea:

  1. It probably goes without saying that you have to know your characters. Develop principal characters – and keep that number small – that fascinate you. If you don’t find them interesting no one else will.
  2. Find out what their goals are, then find a way to keep them away in an entertaining way.
  3. Know your villain and what she wants. And make her interesting as well, or you’ll be just as bored as your readers whenever your characters interact with her.

Once I have those pieces I set to work on the outline. I block it out loosely, imagining important scenes. I try to take my characters to fascinating places. Why not create backdrops of wonder with a few lines of description it would take a film company millions to create?

Once I have a basic feel for beginning, middle, and end, I get to plotting chapter by chapter and scene by scene, and my current favorite trick is to block it out like a play.

I write entire scenes with just dialogue and occasional stage direction. It might be that I can perfectly picture the tone of voice or even a moment of description, and if I do, I go ahead and drop it in even during this rough “stage draft.” There aren’t any hard and fast rules for what I can or can’t do at any stage, after all, and if I picture something I really like I try to get it down, even if it’s just a few quick notes.

Once I get the scene working I can either move on to the next section, or punch away at it, getting the dialogue just right. If the scene’s working properly then the more I work on dialogue, the better I can picture it… and the more solid the scene or chapter becomes as I polish. I add detail as I work until that dialogue is surrounded by useful prose and the stage descriptions of what characters are doing transforms into fluid actions.

A stage draft enables me to experiment with the dialogue and flow without investing a whole lot of energy into finessing metaphor and getting into a character’s internal thoughts. If something doesn’t work and the scene goes off the rails, I haven’t wasted hours polishing fool’s gold. And believe me, I’ve done that before.

Neither this method nor any other can work for every writer. If a method worked perfectly for everyone, there wouldn’t be so many writer self-help books out there.

I think it’s been successful for me because I’ve always found that dialogue comes easily. You should always be aware of your weaknesses and work to overcome them. But during the initial composition stages, whatever methods you, try to play to your strengths.

 


Howard Andrew Jones is the critically acclaimed author of The Desert of Souls, The Bones of the Old Ones, and Pathfinder novels Plague of Shadows, Stalking the Beast and the hot off the presses Beyond the Pool of Stars. A former Black Gate Editor, he also assembled and edited 8 collections 31020477of historical fiction writer Harold Lamb’s work for the University of Nebraska Press. He can be found lurking at www.howardandrewjones.com. Follow him on Twitter @howardandrewjon

For Immediate Release – SFFWRTCHT on Twitter Will End in 2014

Sffwrtcht-flat

Update: SFFWRTCHT has always been a celebration of community: what unites us, not divides us. Although I can’t keep up with the weekly grind any more, given other obligations, we will continue with twice monthly chats beginning in early 2015 after a brief hiatus. More details to come. 

160 shows, 165 guests, hundreds of thousands of hits–when I started SFFWRTCHT (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat), I did it for two reasons: 1) I wanted to network and learn from so many awesome writers and editors who were using twitter, and 2) I wanted to contribute to my new SFF community and family in a positive way. I never expected how successful it would become, not how time consuming it would be. But I don’t regret a minute.

However, after a lot of soul searching, I have decided the time has come to end the weekly live twitter chat that is SFFWRTCHT. Much of this is selfish, I admit. I spend 25 hours a week, including reading time, question and guest prep, booking guests and more per episode. And as I get busier professionally, that is coming to feel more like a chore than the delight it once was. It’s hard to find time to read for fun or to research for my own projects. I am locked to home or at least a place with good Wifi every Wednesday night. And trying to keep it fresh requires me to search for guests who are new, not just repeats, so that I am not asking the same stuff of the same people over and over.  In the beginning, with my being out of work with plenty of free time, this was easy. And the industry embraced it which made booking guests easy. But as I’ve burned through the most active Twitter users, and become an almost full time editing professional, it’s more and more work to find time for SFFWRTCHT, a volunteer effort, which, while rewarding in its own way, requires a serious time commitment to do right.

When our original host site for the cleaned up interviews shut down for similar reasons to my own expressed here, SFSignal welcomed us. But I also find myself competing with their interviews with the same people, and that makes my interviews less useful and relevant, and less helpful as promotional tools for our guests. I don’t think repeating what someone else is doing is a compelling use of my time or our guests.I’ve toyed with recruiting help. But even my regulars, who are delightful and whom I adore, have their own lives and no one has jumped up to volunteer. I toyed with cutting back some, but then how would people know when to look for us or where?

So, in the end, it seems best to back off the weekly grind of live interviews and instead convert to regular email interviews. Whether this will be weekly or monthly, I don’t know. Where they will appear, I don’t know. But I have several month’s worth of past transcripts I can start with cleaning up and posting, and as I plan to continue to December in present format, I’ll have even more by then to give me time to sort all of this out.

In the meantime, I express my thanks for the kind support and regards of the Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror writing and publishing industry and fandom. It’s a pleasure being a part of the family and I appreciate the opportunity to contribute positively to community building. I hope to do so in the future in new ways. I know many books have been purchased and many writers encouraged and even taught through SFFWRTCHT. I’m humbled an honored by that.

In the meantime, you can still find transcripts, links, reviews, etc. on our website, which I will be maintaining here. I look very much forward to what the future brings.

Kind regards,

Bryan


Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. His anthologies as editor include Shattered Shields with coeditor Jennifer Brozek for Baen, Mission Tomorrow: A New Century of Exploration, also for Baen, Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6, Beyond The Sun and Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter as @SFFWRTCHT.

Website/Blog: www.bryanthomasschmidt.net
Twitter: @BryanThomasS
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bryanthomass?ref=hl
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3874125.Bryan_Thomas_Schmidt

WriteTip: 6 Things Any Writer Can Do To Make Science Fiction and Fantasy Better

WriteTips-flatYou may have noticed there’s a lot of yelling going on in Science Fiction and Fantasy these days. Some yell because they’re angry. Some yell because they’re sick of the yelling. Others yell to be trolls. And the cycle never seems to end. I’m not much for yelling myself. It may serve as a great vent for your emotions, but it rarely actually serves to change anyone’s mind. Instead, it often makes people tune you out. BUT on the other hand, there are things I and every writer can do to make things better. So for this week’s Write Tip, I thought I’d suggest a few.

1) Don’t Write the World as it is but As You Want It To Be. — It’s real easy to complain about the world not changing or wishing it were better. But one of the great advantages of speculative fiction is that writers can invent worlds and make them into what they want them to be. Take advantage of it. Don’t just imagine the pessimistic world in which you live. Imagine one that’s better. Write a world that models what you’d like our world’s future to be. It’s a great way to demonstrate possible viable changes in attitude, culture, etc. without preaching at people. It’s also often a lot more pleasant experience for yourself and readers. And it certainly would help avoid a lot of cliches and rehashing that so commonly occur.

2) Avoid Placing Female and Minority Characters Solely in Traditional Roles. —  Just as the world can be whatever you want it to be in your imagination, so can people. NO housewives or Mexican gardeners. Instead, you can write of black women in power or gays in a majority, etc. You can invert the norms you see around you and imagine roles for people that might not exist yet. This is another way to demonstrate a viable future without preaching, and to promote positive change in the process.

3) If You Want Diversity, Write It. — Seriously. It’s very easy to write what you know. And sometimes that means falling back into writing about people like you. But the world is full of people who don’t look and act like you, and if you’re creating a world that can be even more so the case. So if you want to see it, make it so, as Captain Picard might say. If you can imagine it, you can write it, and what a great way to paint images that stimulate the imaginations of others by doing so.

4) Don’t Preach A Message, Show It In Action. — Yep, Show vs. Tell even applies to this. People hate being preached at. Sometimes, even if they agree with you. So instead of pounding them over the head with message fiction, just demonstrate the results of what you desire to see. Not just with the setting and characters, but the actions, dialogue and culture surrounding them. Model the future you’d like to see. Write it so it’s real for readers. Because chances are, if they couldn’t imagine it before, you can enable them to. And imagination is always a key step to real change in cultures and societies. That’s one reason the arts have always been so powerful.

5) Channel Your Passions. — There’s a lot of anger going on for many reasons in our world today. And the Science Fiction and Fantasy community is certainly no different. Channel your passion into great storytelling. Worry less about preaching or arguing with people and more about telling stories that will inspire them to change themselves and want to change the world. Sounds hard, I know, but the list of books that have influenced the world for the better is a long one.  And I know more top selling authors who avoid politics and religion and instead bring out their ideas through good stories than I do who spend hours and hours arguing and angrily decrying those who don’t share their beliefs. Certainly there’s a time and place for that, but being nasty creates an ambiance, frankly, whether you’re wrong or right, and that can affect readership and publication. Readers want to read pleasant people. And publishers want to work with pleasant authors. I know you’re passionate. You’re an artist. You have to be. But just remember that the bigger the audience and outlet, the more people hear you, and it’s easier to be heard with great art than angry diatribes. By channeling your emotions into characters and story, you can add a vivid reality to your storytelling that will speak louder than you ever could alone, really affecting and connecting with reader’s hearts.

6) Be The Kind Of Citizen You Want Others To Be. — Okay, I admit, this one is inspired by my belief in “doing unto others,” a biblical notion. But it really does ring true. If you treat others with respect and kindness, most will return the same to you. If you want equality, treat others as equals. If you want respect, be respectful. If you want to see diversity, surround yourself purposefully with diverse people. Go where you can meet them, get to know them, interact and befriend them, and hang out. I could go on and on, but I won’t. I just know that some of my best friends and best teachers have been people I met in places an upper middle class white boy from Kansas would never expect to be. And those have stuck with me for a lifetime. It’s transforming to see the world through others’ eyes, but you can’t do it if you don’t take time to know others who aren’t like you and listen to them. Chances are, if you surround yourself with diversity, readers will be encouraged to do the same. It’ll also infuse your writing and worldbuilding for all the suggestions I made above. And you’ll be seen as someone who lives what they believe, not just someone who suggests it in words alone.

Well, there you have six suggestions, some easier than others, but all truly possible, for how you can make Science Fiction and Fantasy better. I hope some of you will try them. I have been and will continue to do so. I know there’s room for improvement, but I want to make change, not just talk about it. How about you?


Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthologies Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012), Beyond The Sun (2013), Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age (2013) and coedited Shattered Shields (Bean, 2014) with Jennifer Brozek and is working on Monster Corp.A Red DayMission Tomorrow, andGaslamp Terrors, among others. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter.

 

Guest Post: Genre Mashups by Michael J. Martinez

Daedalus Incident coverI love a good genre mashup. Elves in the 1940s? Awesome. Cybernetic werewolves? Bring it. Steampunk dragons? You bet. Horatio Hornblower in space?

…actually, I wrote that, more or less. Crashed a frigate into Mars and everything. Anyway.

Take your favorite sci-fi and fantasy subgenres, critters and tropes, write them on 3×5 cards and shuffle the deck. Chances are, when you draw two, you’ll end up with a whiz-bang clash of genre goodness. Unfortunately, turning that pairing into a setting, let alone a piece of fiction, isn’t quite so easy.

When you combine different genres, you have as much potential for an unholy mess as you do for greatness. It may sound good (“Dude…cybernetic werewolves!”) but I would suggest that it’s harder in some ways to create a mashup than to stick to one particular genre and make it your own.

Readers, I’ve found, are exceptionally and, at times, annoyingly perceptive. When something doesn’t make sense, their antennae twitch. Some can’t keep suspending their disbelief and have to put down the book. Others will keep reading, but look for more errors along the way, and may even take issue with stuff you’ve meant to put there. Two (or more) disparate genre elements can create a lot of potential for twitchy antennae.

Thus, genre mashups may start with an “ah-ha” moment and an aura of geeky awesomeness, but getting them to stand on their own requires discipline and diligence. This is where traditional world-building techniques come into play, but with special attention to the mashup elements. So you have cybernetic werewolves…OK, awesome. What happens to the hardware when they change? Do they have the mental capacity to use advance tech in their wolf-man state? Who, exactly, had the insane notion of rigging up a werewolf (a ’ware-wolf?) in the first place?

When I created the settings for The Daedalus Incident, I asked a ton of questions like those, often with answers leading to multiple additional questions. And as I wrote, I was careful to note other problems and disconnects as they arose, so they could be dealt with all together, at the same time, so that there’s a continuity of setting.

Now, I would say perhaps only 50% of that fully fleshed-out setting is in the book…but I’ve plenty of fodder for the next ones.

And of course, setting is only part of it. One of the mistakes I see in some genre mashups is that it’s enough to have a very cool mashup setting…sometimes at the expense of plot and character. Of course, any good book needs to have strong characters and a well-developed, well-executed plot. The mashup can’t serve as a crutch to prop up the other two.

Likewise, the plot and characters need to interact with the setting organically. You can certainly overlay a noir detective plot over an urban fantasy setting, but that’s not entirely original, now is it? How do the particulars of your mean-street faeries and vampires feed into that noir plot?

The point is, you have to stand strong against the geeky aura and do the hard work. People will expect a lot from a genre mashup – either because they love the idea, or because they think it’s a gimmick and it’s up to you to prove them wrong. The intensity and depth of your world-building after your ah-ha moment – and your plot and characters – will determine whether or not it turns into something great.


MJ MartinezMichael J. Martinez is the author of The Daedalus Incident, coming this summer from Night Shade Books, and is serializing his novella, The Gravity of the Affair, on his blog at michaeljmartinez.net

 

Write Tips Guest Post: Bestseller Tips for Writing A Fiction Series by Faith Hunter, author of the Jane Yellowrock series

WriteTips-flatHey Y’all. Thanks for having me here today. I’ve been a commercially published writer since I sold my first book in 1989. I know that makes my first book older than some of you, but like any good mom, I remember the birth-day of the book quite well. However that is a post for another day. Today we are talking about things every writer needs to do in order to write a successful series. The bestselling part – well that is up to the fans and readers. They make or break you, and if they love you, you are golden. So, (in no particular order) on to it!

  1. Keep it all straight or your readers will remind you for YEARS about how you missed this or that. I live in constant fear of breaking this rule. I am about to hire a continuity editor, someone who will create for me a bible of the Jane Yellowrock world, with every character’s: description, history, weapons, skill, ability, diet preferences, clothes, house floor plan, love life, and more. Also, history of the world Jane lives in. To this point in my writing career, I’ve never written more than a 4-book-long series, and it was easy to keep up back then. Now, not so much.
  2. Blood-Trade-Blog-Tour-175Develop a thick skin. There will be good reviews and bad reviews. There will be people who love you and your work and people who call you bad names on book review sites because you did something in your book they didn’t like.  I am very careful when I read reviews to pick ones that don’t A.) Call me names. B.) Seem to have an ax to grind against the world, and picked me as the whet stone. C.) Love me and everything about my books. When I read reviews, I pick ones that do  A.) Seem rational and calm and mostly sane. B.) Seem to have actually read the book and the series that came before. C.) Offer constructive criticism. I get really good ideas from reviews that are reasoned and well thought out. But mostly I am kind to myself. No matter how thick my skin is, I don’t torture myself and end up depressed.
  3. Maybe this should come first or last, for emphasis, but let your characters develop and grow. One of the first things a writer learns is to have good character development in every novel, but in a series, it is paramount to let them change and grow through problems and really develop. If you want a more in depth overview how to make your characters develop, there a lot of really good posts a www.magicalwords.net, a writing site created by two writing pals and me years ago. Here is one I wrote back
    in 2009 http://www.magicalwords.net/faith-hunter/character-development-%E2%80%93-what-is-it-really/ where I break down the how of character development.
  4. 9780451465061_BloodTrade_CV.inddBe willing to try new things. One of the worst things writers can do is let their writing get stale. Take a break, write something different every now and again. I have been writing inside the Jane Yellowrock world, but outside of Jane’s Point of View in short stories lately, and I am really enjoying it! In the series, I am locked into a first person POV, which I adore, but it can be limiting. Writing from third person, from another character’s POV, is very freeing, and also, it lets me see my main character through eyes of the secondary characters in the series. I had no idea she was so lean and menacing. And cuddly. Depending on the POV I am writing from.
  5. Voice. I think this is probably the most important part of a successful series. Finding the different voices in the stories and keeping them true.  There are many different voices in a novel: A.) Voices of each and every character, both internal thoughts (depending on the POV, of course), and dialogue patterns. Every character should not sound alike. Just like real people, they should have unique verbal and physical tics, and unique word placements and phrasing. B.) Narrative voice. This is the writer’s voice. It is composed of many disparate things: the tone of book, the setting, the character’s temperament, sentence length and the number of detached non-full-sentence-dangling-phrases to name a very few. This voice should remain constant throughout the book.

I hope this helped. Check out my books and website, and my latest release, BLOOD TRADE, from Penguin/ROC! Faith Hunter www.faithhunter.net https://www.facebook.com/official.faith.hunter?fref=ts

Faith Hunter is the fantasy author of the Jane Yellowrock vampire hunter series and a long time professional fiction writer. Including her other pen name, Gwen Hunter, she has over 25+ published books in 28 countries around the world. Her latest addition to the Jane Yellowrock series, Blood Trade, was released by Penguin/ROC on April 2nd, 2013. She is an original creator of and regular contributor to MagicalWords.net, an industry blog for sci-fi and fantasy writers. You can find out more about Faith at her home on the web, FaithHunter.net, or visit her official Facebook page to connect with her and other fantasy fiction fans.

Write Tip: Using Nuances and Subtext to Bring Characters and World To Life

WriteTips-flatOkay, this week’s write tip is going to be a bit different. I want you to watch this video first before you read the rest of this post. And you need to watch the whole thing to really get what I’m saying here. Watch it. It’s not cheesy. It’s surprisingly touching and funny. And you won’t know what I mean if you don’t make it through the first two minutes. So you have your assignment. Watch and then we’ll get to the tip.

In case you have trouble with the embedded video in your browser, find it on You Tube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tcVXCeWk0PE

Now. Showing this to people I’ve gotten several varied reactions.

1) Oh, I would never make a fool out of myself like that.

2) Best dad ever!

3) That’s cute!

4) How creative and fun!

5) I couldn’t do that.

My own reaction: this is a man who loves his daughter enough to demonstrate it and celebrate it.

The typical father-daughter dance at weddings is symbolic. We all know why. It’s the passing of the torch of responsibility for the care of the daughter from father to husband. It signifies a letting go, a goodbye, an acknowledgement of leaving home and that everything has changed.

But not really.

What do I mean?

He could have just danced with his daughter. “Butterfly Kisses” is without a doubt one of the best songs written by a father for his daughter ever. It evokes memories for almost anyone who hears it. F0rget about the mention of Jesus and that it’s from a Christian singer. What makes this song work is that it paints pictures of experiences almost every father and daughter have shared and recognize instantly. And it does so over a moving melody with touching arrangement and score.

It’s the perfect tribute for a memorable moment. And in and of itself, I’m sure that it will be the song by which singer Bob Carlisle is forever remembered. So at any wedding, and it’s sung at thousands every year these days, it makes for the perfect accompaniment to this symbolic moment.

But something happens here. Something unexpected. Something that knocks us out of that moment and into another. It could have been cheesy. It could have been ridiculous. But it’s not. It’s done so well and with such good spirits that instead it is perfect. It absolutely makes for one of the most memorable and meaningful father-daughter dances I have ever seen. Because what I see here is a father who is remembering being silly with his baby girl and celebrating that by doing it one more time. He’s saying, “this dance is not for you or what you think, audience. This is for me and my girl. And it’s a moment we’ll never forget.”

It gives me chills. It’s a celebration of a father’s true love for his daughter, of the joy they find in each other. Of the magic that exists in a parent-child relationship. It’s one last chance to marvel and wonder at what they’ve found together in each other. And it’s a fearless example of self-sacrifice.

This father in no way looks like the type of guy who would just shake his booty like he does here. Now, I don’t know him. He could be a trained pro dancer for all I know. (I doubt it. He wasn’t slick enough, but it doesn’t matter.) The point is that instead of letting a moment be entirely melancholy just because it’s fitting, he decided to turn it into a celebration of the joy of fatherhood with his daughter.

Honestly, that’s love.

And to me, it’s a great example of nuances and subtext.

As an editor, I’ve seen a lot of beginning writers who write transparently. They don’t know how to impart subtext intentionally. Occasionally it happens, but it’s all an accident. It’s a lesson I admit to having to learn and continuing to learn myself.  Because for a story and a world and a character to be real, we as readers need to recognize them. And real people live lives full of subtext and nuances in everything they do.

The simple act of a father dancing with his daughter is just an example. You could assume the motive is transparent. It’s tradition. It’s something you’re expected to do. He doesn’t want to disappoint his daughter or family. It’s that simple.

And if all they had done was dance to “Butterfly Kisses,” that might be all we see here. But that’s not what happens.

Instead, they break it out into something quite different and unexpected and delightful. And from their expressions, their enthusiasm, we can see that it’s about so much more. Missed it? Watch the video again. Seriously.

These are not people who have rehearsed so much that they look like robots. They clearly rehearsed. They match their dance moves too closely for that not to have been the case. But it’s clear they are enjoying it. It’s not done rotely or robotically with no emotion. They look comfortable, relaxed and happy doing it. This is from the heart.

As a result, for me, it’s magic. And that’s the kind of magic we as writers need to earn to work into our stories to make them jump off the page and come alive.

You character hugs his wife goodbye before heading off to battle. It’s what husbands do. What soldiers do. But what else could be behind it? Maybe their marriage has grown cold and routine, and they have to work harder to recapture the passion they had when they first fell in love. Maybe they don’t touch like they used to, and the husband wants to remind the wife one more time that she matters to him, that she’s in his heart.

Or maybe the husband is remembering all the previous times they’ve said goodbye, not knowing if they’d see each other again. Maybe it reminds them of the friends, other married couples, who played out the same goodbye only the warrior never came home.

All kinds of things can be going on.

Our job as writers is to figure out what those things are for these characters and find ways to evoke it through their actions, their thoughts and their words, without necessarily spelling it out directly. It takes subtlety. And it takes good set up. Little hints and moments before and after that multiply together to tell us what’s going on in that moment. But it’s these nuances and the subtext that results which add a depth and poignancy, when done well, that brings both characters and world a level of realism that makes it pop. And sells it to your readers as s0mething they can imagine really happening.

So yes, it’s a wedding video. But I hope now you can see why I’m saying this is so much more. Because I think it is. And our stories need lots of moments with so much more, too. At least, if we want to elevate them beyond the ordinary to the memorable and special, that is. And I know that’s what I’m shooting for. What about you?

For what it’s worth…


Beyond Sun Cover.inddBryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction including the novels The Worker Prince and The Returning, and the children’s books 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (Flying Pen Press, 2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun (Fairwood, July 2013), Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age  (Every Day Publishing, November 2013) and Shattered Shields with co-editor Jennifer Brozek (Baen, 2014). He also edits Blue Shift Magazine and hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and can be found via Twitter as @BryanThomasS, on his website at www.bryanthomasschmidt.net or Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/bryanthomass?ref=hl.

2013 Projects

AbeLincolnDino_CoverV2I thought perhaps some of you might be interested in what I’m working on. Especially since my blogging has dropped a bit in regularity, in part, due to being so busy. I enjoy blogging but at a certain point, between writer’s block for blog ideas, and just sheer busyness, it becomes work, so I have been reluctant to push myself to produce posts if they aren’t going to have some substance. Who wants to hear about what I had for lunch or darning my socks?

Anyway, here are the projects I’m working on for this year.

Books:

Abraham Lincoln Dinosaur Hunter: Land Of Legends — copyedits turned in Feb. 1 for February release (Delabarre), this is a children’s adventure series for early readers.

Duneman, Book 1, The Dawning Age — out to agents. This is my first of three fantasy novels in an epic trilogy. I hope to sell it to publishers in the near future for 2014 release.

The Exodus, Saga Of Davi Rhii Book 3 — This is 75% written, first draft. I stalled on it and polished Duneman so I could get something on the market. The Worker Prince, Book 1, has earned back its advance but The Returning, Book 2, is really not moving quickly with sales. I am wanting to seek a mass market paperback deal perhaps before I even try and release Book 3, so this is on hold while I seek representation, although I may finish drafting The Exodus in the next few months.

Belsuk The Half-Orc — This sword & sorcery novel is half done first draft. Will get back on with it later this year.

Falcone Files — This time travel scifi noir is also half done first draft. Hope to pick it back up as well.

Amelie’s New Home — My poodle is credited as co-author. It’s the story of a poodle who is abandoned and wanders, then finds a new home. Early reader book. Meant for young kids as a story of belonging and hope. Need to revise and get this on the market.

I’ll be working on Believer, Dawning Age Book 2, as well as another Abraham Lincoln Dinosaur Hunter and a Kansas Joke Book. Beyond that, we’ll see what develops.

Raygun Chronicles cover v2 with words 3Anthologies:

Beyond The Sun — I have to finish editing one story then assemble the manuscript, format it, and add interstitial stuff like story intros, bios, etc. then I will send this to Fairwood Press in mid-March for preparation to release ARCS in April and May. Great author list and stories. Very excited about this one.

Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For A New Age — This one is in Kickstarter. If that doesn’t fund, it will go away, which I hope doesn’t happen because we have some great stories and authors lined up for this as well. Right now focus is on funding. Editing for this will begin in mid-March if it funds. [Closed to submissions.]

Shattered Shields — We just sent back the contract to Baen Books with some requested clarifications and changes. Once Toni responds, we’ll get the contract settled. Stories are due mid-August for this one, and we have some amazing names lined up. Co-editor Jennifer Brozek and I are quite excited. This will be my first book with major distribution and for a major publisher. Expect a fuller announcement later this month. [Closed to submissions.]

Choices — This is the latest, and my first YA anthology. Intended to be mostly reprints, I will be packaging and seeking a publisher. So far I have interest from Cory Doctorow, Robert Silverberg and Mike Resnick. Looking for quite a few more but awaiting responses. Except updates soon. [Closed to submissions.]

World Encounters — This one was my first anthology idea and is still my passion. Mike Resnick helped me assemble a heck of a writer’s list but so far, we have not gotten a publisher. I will be trying again later this year, in association with John Helfers who has signed on to co-edit. It is first encounter stories from cultural perspectives other than Western World. [Closed to submissions.]

Space And Shadows — An anthology of spec noir, Co-editor John Helfers and I will be assembling a writer’s list and looking to find a publisher soon for this one. [Closed to submissions.]

Writing With The Masters — My first non-fiction/fiction mix, Co-editor Rich Horton and I will be looking for a publisher. The goal is to combined essays, interviews, and stories old and new from all the Damon Knight Grandmasters still alive.

Invasion — Another new concept of invasion stories which I am beginning to develop. [Closed to submissions.]

Beyond that, there are a few less developed ideas in the works, including an SFFWRTCHT Benefit anthology. I’ll update as things develop. I also have two issues of Blue Shift to finish and get published and no doubt more will come along.

Those are what I have in the works. What are you working on?


BTS Author PhotoBryan Thomas Schmidt is the editor of Blue Shift Magazine and an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exoduswill appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends from Delabarre Publishing.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press (July 2013), headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, and Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age for Every Day Publishing (November 2013). He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

 

Kalimpura Launched to Conclude Jay Lake’s Epic Fantasy Green Trilogy

Kalimpura - LakeIn Chicago this past summer, I finally met my friend Jay Lake. I’ve known Jay and talked with him online for over two years, but it took World Con to finally get us in the same physical space. As expected, Jay was a delight. We also did a panel together, which I moderated. But he also told me about his latest cancer diagnose, and it broke my heart. Jay and I may not agree on politics and religion much of the time, but we share a common passion for people and helping each other and for community. We’re both bluntly honest about our lives in ways that can be both offputting to others and very vulnerable for us. Nowhere did Jay demonstrate this more than his The Specific Gravity Of Grief, a limited release novella from Fairwood Press about a protagonist’s self-discovery during cancer treatment.But if you asked him, I imagine Jay would tell you he wouldn’t have it any other way. And I find transparency to be immensely freeing myself.

That said, I’ve also enjoyed Jay’s work as writer and editor. From his wonderful steampunk novels (Clockwork Earth, TOR) to his short stories and the fun anthology All Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories, one of several he’s coedited, his world-building is fantastic, character development masterful, and his themes resonate long after you put the books down.  So when TOR asked me help promote Kalimpura, the conclusion of his Green trilogy, I was honored and thrilled.

While I have not yet read the Green books, I have heard people rave about them.

 

In the first novel, Green, Green’s father sold her to the Court of the Pomegranate Tree, where she was trained as both courtesan and assassin. Instead of winding up as so many of her peers, Green takes a knife to destroy her own beauty, and kills her intended master.

In the second, Endurance, Green has won her freedom. Yet she is still claimed by the gods and goddesses of her world, and they still require her service. Their demands are greater than any duke’s could have been. Godslayers have come to the Stone Coast, magicians whose cult is dedicated to destroying the many gods of Green’s world. In the turmoil following the Immortal Duke’s murder, Green made a God out of her power and her memories. Now the gods turn to her to protect them from the Slayers.

In Kalimpura, the final book, Green is forced to leave Copper Downs for Kalimpura, where the maleficent Surali has overtaken the Lily temple aided by evil sorcerers and cultists. He’s taken hostage two children along the way and Green makes an oath to retrieve them. To do so, she must seek out Red Man, a mysterious cult exile and two special knives, all where caring for her own newborn twins.

Describe as epic fantasy “sensual, ominous, shot through with the sweat of fear and the intoxication of power,” this is not Tolkien but something else entirely.

I interviewed Jay a while back about his writing. Since he’s in cancer treatment and unable to do interviews and promotion, here are some excerpts:

SFFWRTCHT: Jay, how do your stories start? With character, question  or situation?

Jay Lake: It varies how I start. Often it’s just with an image or a situation. Visual or language cue, maybe. I can gin up a story from a very small seed. It’s one of the pleasures of the craft for me.

SFFWRTCHT: Your prose is so dense and tight, how many edits does it take to get your sentences throw so much weight around?

JL: Believe it or not, a lot of that happens in the initial draft. Though a novel will have four or five passes.

SFFWRTCHT: How much did your exposure to “other” while growing up as the son of a diplomat effect your writing?

JL: I think growing up overseas in a diplomatic family is a huge part of why I became interested in writing the other. My entire childhood was made of ‘other’. The world is fractally, gloriously complex. Genre fiction re-opens those doors for me.

SFFWRTCHT:  The third in your Green series just came out. Are the Green books a trilogy? Will there be more books after Kalimpura?

JL: Kalimpura is Green 3 and finishes out this story cycle with a logical close. But there might be more if readers and the market want.

 

SFFWRTCHT: Don’t you find inspiration comes from genres diff from what you’re writing, e.g. non-fiction?

JL: Absolutely. That’s why I try to read (and DVD watch) outside my genre. So I don’t grow stale. It’s also why I shoot a lot of photographs and seek out new people and experiences in real life.

SFFWRTCHT: How do you feel about writing/marketing across different genres?

JL: Writing across different genres seems a fine thing to me. I’m not wedded to Fantasy and Science Fiction, it’s just my first and best love.

SFFWRTCHT: You remain very open about your cancer struggles on Facebook and the blog. And one of your departures lately was The Specific Gravity of Grief, a novella about a man going through cancer.  Has that been hard for you to write about?

JL: Cancer is everywhere in my writing, directly and indirectly, but I don’t think it has dominated Primary colon cancer was first diagnosed in April, 2008. Lung metastasis in April, 2009. Mistaken diagnosis of liver metastasis in July, 2010.  I talk openly about the cancer because so many people don’t. I get more fan letters off my cancer blogging than off my fiction. It’s difficult to talk about it sometimes, but it’s also something I can give back/pay forward for all those who have loved me.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you work from outlines or let the story unfold as it comes?

JL: Outlines, for short fiction? Never. I “follow the headlights.” For novels, always. But the process changes every time. The outlines for Sunspin are fantastically more detailed than ever before. The Trial Of Flowers outline was five paragraphs.

SFFWRTCHT: Did you ever consider giving up the day job for full time writing?

JL: No. I need the steady income and the benefits. Cancer means I can never be a full time free lancer.

SFFWRTCHT: What does your writing space look like and do you have any software preferences?

JL: My writing space looks like a MacBook Pro. I can and do write almost anywhere. As for software, I’m a dinosaur. I’ve been using Microsoft Word since it fit on the same floppy as the Mac OS, back in 1985/1986. Or maybe I was using MacWrite back then. But it’s been Word since forever.

SFFWRTCHT: When asked by other writers, what advice do you most commonly offer them?

JL: I like to tell new writers to “write more”. Whatever you’re doing, do more of it. Plus I’m a big fan of putting down the TV and the videogames. Nothing wrong with entertainment, but things that scratch your plot bump will keep you from writing. The question is: do you want to be a producer or a consumer?

SFFWRTCHT: Can you be both?

JL: Of course you can be both. We are all consumers by definition. But to be a producer, you have to shake off some of the habits of being a consumer.  Another comment that comes up a lot is.”Publishing is meritocracy, but it is not a just meritocracy,” which is to say being good is a necessary but not sufficient condition for success.  Writing a lot to learn and grow is exactly how we succeed. Nobody is born a literary genius. You would expect to practice a martial art or a new instrument or a foreign language. Why wouldn’t you practice writing? And write new stuff. Don’t spend years laboring over your Great Work. Trust me, it’s not that great. Go write another one.

SFFWRTCHT: Can’t some consumption lead to inspiration? Read to write idea?

JL: Absolutely. It’s called filling the well. Imagine a chef who never ate anyone else’s cooking. But time is an issue. People complain they don’t have time to write, but they’re in WOW every night, or watching House. Or whatever. That’s a choice.

SFFWRTCHT: For a while you were doing quite a bit of anthology editing. Any more of that on the horizon?

JL: Maybe another anthology or two on the horizon. Mostly I need to find publishers who want to work with me. I love editing anthos. Great fun. But the administrative side of it is tedious. And I don’t want to fund any more.

SFFWRTCHT: You’re amazingly prolific. Sometimes it seems like everywhere I turn I see a story or book you’ve written. Any advice about dealing with rejection?

JL: Yeah, the million bad words theory. I wrote and submitted regularly from 1990 to 2001 before making my first sale. Probably about 800,000 words of first draft before I broke in. At this point, I’ve probably written close to 3,000,000 words of first draft and sold over 2,000,000 of those words.  I still get rejected all the time. More often than I get accepted, I think. Submitting fiction is kind of like dating. It helps to be cheerful and bullet-resistant. Did I ever want to quit? Lots of times. But I kept going. Because, well, this is what I wanted.  And it’s been years since the last time I wanted to quit. Success is its own reward. It takes an inordinate amount of self-motivation to get this far, though.

 —

Sadly, Jay tells me, he may not write any other books. All depends what happens with his cancer treatments. He and some well known friends are raising money to help pay for an experimental treatment which could save his life. You can donate here (21 days left): http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/Sequence-a-Science-Fiction-Writer/38705. Here’s a man who knows he may miss his daughter’s high school graduation, wedding and so much more. There’s also a documentary crew following him around to document his experiences with the latest bout of cancer, and you can support them here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1060155945/lakeside-0

But you can also support Jay by buying his books, so click here for KalimpuraAnd if you pray, do keep him in your prayers.  Regardless, thanks for your support!

Jay Lake photoAbout Jay Lake:

Jay Lake lives in Portland, Oregon, where he works on multiple writing and editing projects. His 2007 book Mainspring received a starred review in Booklist. His short fiction appears regularly in literary and genre markets worldwide. Jay is a winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and a multiple nominee for the Hugo and World Fantasy Awards. Jay can be reached through his Web site at www.jlake.com

About Bryan Thomas Schmidt:

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the editor of Blue Shift Magazine and an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exoduswill appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends from Delabarre Publishing.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press (July 2013), headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, and Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age for Every Day Publishing (November 2013). He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

 

Stories In, Kickstarters Out, and More News

Well, I’m getting a slow start on blogging in 2013. In fact, I was so busy the last half of the year, it was hard to stick to even my steady schedule of two posts per week (Mondays and Thursdays). But 2012 ended with the sale of another children’s book and 3 anthologies to publishers, including 2 which involve Kickstarters, and the marketing of several more anthologies and a fantasy trilogy. I’m still working on prepping the fantasy trilogy for agent queries, in fact. Just a few more polishes. Add to that steady editing and blogging work for a number of clients, and I was pretty exhausted.

AbeLincolnDino_CoverV2But at this point, some of that is moving to the next stage, which is a good thing. Abraham Lincoln Dinosaur Hunter: Land of Legends, the first early reader chapter book in a new adventure series is due out this month (delayed due to cover art issues), and stories for Beyond The Sun, the colonist SF anthology I funded on Kickstarter, are rolling in (with the January 15th deadline fast upon us). So far I have great stories from headliners Robert Silverberg, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, along with stories from Jamie Todd Rubin, Jennifer Brozek, Autumn Rachel Dryden, Jason Sanford and Maurice Broaddus. In the queue awaiting decisions are stories by Cat Rambo, 2012 Philip K. Dick Award nominee Jean Johnson, Dana Bell and Anthony Cardno. It looks like I’ll have a harder time choosing whose stories to reject than finding good ones to fill the remaining 9-10 slots here. It’s a nice problem to have, as they say, but I hate rejecting writers, especially friends. Comes with the territory though.

The Kickstarter for Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age is supposed to launch next week, and we are working on the Kickstarter page now.  That will run for 6 weeks with hopes we can start finalizing story contracts and get the headliners working on some great new tales. Plans include an OryCon 35 launch this November, and it will be my first hardback release. Some great writers involved (see the link under the title).

Additionally, Jennifer Brozek and I are awaiting a contract on a military fantasy anthology which sold to one of the big pro publishers. We can’t announce until the contract is final, but for me, it’s my first pro-qualifying book sale, and we have some amazing authors involved. Can’t wait to get that going. It will be turned in by December and released in 2014.

I also am getting gamma comments in on Duneman, my epic fantasy, book 1 of The Dawning Age trilogy, and I am going to do some clean up and polishing and query agents later this month. One of my writing heroes, AC Crispin is kindly helping me polish my query, so that’s also a thrill and quite good fortune. I’m hoping to enter the next phase of my writing career quite soon.

Triumph Over Tragedy cover

I have a story out tomorrow (1/08/13) in Triumph Over Tragedy, which is raising funds for Red Cross efforts to aid victims of Hurricane Sandy. An ebook only release, it will be available for only a limited time but has stories by Robert Silverberg, Timothy Zahn, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Elizabeth Bear, Michael J. Sullivan, yours truly and 20+ others. Some great stuff in there. I was one of four editors helping put the project together. My story is titled “Duncan Derring & The Call Of The Lady Luck” and is a tongue-in-cheek science fiction story about a demolitions expert who must help a starliner escape space tumbleweeds. Originally written for Wandering Weeds, which came out in November, it’s an updated, more polished version. My first resold story.

The Exodus, Book 3 in The Saga Of Davi Rhii, is 3/4ths done first draft but I’ll have to get back on that as soon as Duneman is finished. I may not send it out to a publisher if I can get a mass market deal explored via agents. That all has to wait on that process. I had already decided, for various reasons, not to go with Diminished Media Group for this one. I have interested from another small press, but since The Returning is not selling very quickly, it may just have to wait a while so I can focus on that.

Speaking of The Returning, I will be doing a review blog tour for that soon. I really need more reviews on Amazon to boost sales. Book 1, The Worker Prince, is getting regular sales via Amazon now because of it’s 24 reviews, and so I need to catch up The Returning and get that moving as well. The more people who discover and like The Worker Prince, the more likely it will be to sell, of course, so I’ll be continuing to promote that as well.

Last, but not least, I am marking a future Olympics themed anthology called Galactic Games, which the publishers I approach all seem to like but which no one has bought yet. It’s headlined by Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick, Esther Friesner and Robert Reed. I’m hoping to push it out for release during or just after the 2014 Winter Olympics, but for that to happen, I suppose I’ll need to find it a home first.

In any case, lots going on here. I’ll do my best to get the first Write Tip going for 2013 on Thursday. And be sure and check Finish The Story, my editing site, where we have new 2013 rates and some specials going on, including a nice coupon or two on our Facebook page for $100 off. Three published authors and editors at your service with a good track record and developing client list. It’s what we do to support ourselves while writing, so we’d love to help you if we can.

Thanks for checking in.

Bryan

The Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing Authors logoThe idea behind The Next Big Thing meme is pretty simple: another author tags you, you answer ten standard questions, and then you tag five other authors, propagating the meme through the interwebs like some sort of virus. So R.T. Kaelin tagged me in his post, and well, here I go spreading the infection:

1) What is the working title of your next book? 

Duneman.

It’s book 1 of The Dawning Age, my first epic fantasy trilogy.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book? 

In part, it was inspired by two of my favorite fantasy reads: Lord Valentine’s Castle by Robert Silverberg and Lamentation by Ken Scholes as well as Walter Miller’s classic A Canticle For Leibowitz. The first chapter started as what I thought was a short story but clearly revealed itself to be much longer when it was finished.

3) What genre does your book fall under? 

Fantasy for sure.

Epic Fantasy more specifically, although some will label it steampunk or even science fantasy because I employ airships, guns and electricity in the setting, which is a world transition from an age of faith and magic to that of technology and science and all that entails.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? 

I’m gonna skip this. For one, I never think that way. I almost hope Hollywood never adapts my books. I went to film school and spent years working in movies and television. Hollywood loves to screw up other people’s stuff. If I got as popular as JK Rowling and could get creative control, I might change my mind but otherwise, I’m not interested, sorry. I will say that the role of Smithy is very much inspired by John Rhys Davies’ performances as Gimli in Lord Of The Rings, Sallah in Indiana Jones, and Rodrigues in Shogun.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? 

In  a world transitioning from an age of faith and magic to one of science and technology, an amnesiac man launches a quest to recover his kidnapped wife and son and rediscover his past.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 

As soon as the gamma reader notes come back and my synopsis is finished, I am querying some top agents, thanks to intros from writer friends who are their clients.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? 

Nine months. January through September 2010.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? 

I’m not a big fan of self-comparison. It comes across as either pompous or self-serving. But I did aim to be family friendly and fun in the vein of Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria books. I mentioned the influence of Scholes and Silverberg. I think fans of David B. Coe’s Lon Tobyn and Brent Weeks’ Lightbringer would enjoy it as well.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book? 

I love epic fantasy. And after spending so much time on my space opera trilogy, The Saga Of Davi Rhii, it seemed natural for me to try my hand at fantasy and expand my writing palate, so to speak. Plus, the amnesia thing, which Silverberg did so well in Lord Valentine’s Castle, is a great device, and I wanted to see if I could take it further than he did and stall the reveal of past and identity in many ways that would be compelling while still keeping readers guessing.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest? 

A traditional fantasy setting with airships and steamships, guns and more mixed with swords, horses, and the classics. Trolls, dwarves (little humans not the Tolkien kind) and women who fight alongside the men. A story of a man discovering himself along with us, with lots of intrigue, mystery and twists and turns. Some surprises, too. And a story about loyalty, honor, family, and friendship. All of these and more.

AbeLincolnDino_CoverV2My next book release is coming this month from Delabarre: Abraham Lincoln Dinosaur Hunter: Land Of Legends, a early readers’ adventure about young Abe traveling back in time with Davy Crockett and learning to survive amidst dinosaurs. Full of humor, action, dinosaurs, bears, sabretooth tigers, and more,  it was as fun to write as I hope it is to read. Abraham Lincoln is a timeless character and I find adults get as excited about this one as kids. You can read an excerpt at the link from the title.

Every person below has proven to be both a good writer and very nice. I am glad I have gotten the opportunity to know them all. They may have done this before. I had a hard time finding people who haven’t, but if they haven’t and want to here they are:

Guy Anthony DeMarco
Claire Ashgrove
Robin Wayne Bailey
David B. Coe
Linda Poitevin

 

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the editor of Blue Shift Magazine and an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exoduswill appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends from Delabarre Publishing.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun for Fairwood Press (July 2013), headlined by Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Mike Resnick and Nancy Kress, and Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age for Every Day Publishing (November 2013). He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.