fiction

Jump-Start Your Writing With Ridiculously Easy Goals

I’m not a firm believer in writer’s block, but I have my tough writing days just like anyone else. Today’s one of them. Or rather, it’s becoming one because I’m forcing myself to work on Frobisher instead of Hubris Towers. Writing Hubris Towers is currently about like eating kettle corn. Once I’ve written a few paragraphs, I can’t help but write a few more. Frobisher, on the other hand, is getting so long and clever and funny and deep that it’s starting to feel like there’s no way I can bring it to a satisfactory fulfillment, and now I’m getting toward the end where I really need to figure out the extra-clever solutions to the very interesting problems I’ve been raising.

And the thing is, if I were to just sit down and write some stuff, it would probably be, on average, just as good as all the other stuff I’ve written, which is currently intimidating the hell out of me. Worst case scenario, it wouldn’t be, and I could delete it and write some more. It’s not like I’m facing bears or razor guns or something.

razor-gun by wiledog via DeviantArt

A razor gun, apparently.

But I managed to get myself into a mindset that’s more focused, I guess, on trying to figure it all out in advance rather than just writing it and giving myself more raw word count to shape into something exceptional. I’m finding every excuse and non-essential task I can find to avoid sitting down and actually writing.

It doesn’t help that my monthly target is looming, with 7,500 words left to write in the next few days (when I usually shoot for 5,000 per week).

I got out of it by making my goal easier. 7,500 more this month is too much to think about. Let’s start by adding 1,000 today. No, still intimidating. Maybe 500. Better, but that’s like half an hour unless I hit a groove, which isn’t looking likely. 250? Not at all scary, but what would I write? That’s still nearly a page and the whole point is I’m not sure what’s next

Bear in mind, of course, that if I were to just look at the page I’d probably manage to figure out what’s next. But so far I’m just arguing with myself while working on other things.

So I set a goal of 50 words. Seriously. That’s three minutes, one if I’m fast, five if I’m being ridiculous.

And it worked! Or at least it’s working. I’ve gotten moving on the writing, and as usual once I get out of my head and start spilling story it gets the flow going and soon I don’t want to stop.

There are a few reasons this works so well:

  • It cuts out the cost of trying – I can attempt 50 words any time I have a couple minutes to spare
  • It also cuts the cost of failing – who cares if I have to delete 50 words?
  • It gets my logistics in line – once I’ve done my 50 words, I have my tools in place and my Scrivener project open and ready for more
  • It forces me to look at what I’ve got so far, which gets me thinking about the story again
  • It provides an easy win. Once I’ve got 50 words (which is almost immediately), I can go for another 50. Then another. Then why not 100 this time? And by then I’ve finished 250 and that’s a quarter of a day’s production. A few more of those and I’m breaking actual targets.

So that’s what I’m dealing with today. Really am excited to see what I come up with for Frobisher now that the story’s open and growing again, though. In other news, I’m nearing completion on the paperback layout for The Stone and the Song. So much exciting in so little time! Stay tuned.

Cheers!

—Ben

Catching Your Reader’s Eye. Also Tapirs!

A writer wants to express how amazing her books are, but she can’t seem to pin down which details are the ones that will catch a new reader’s attention. Will she be able to overcome her misleading instincts, or will years of effort and emotion be wasted as her stories gather dust in endless obscurity?

Ok, so that was a prototype.

I just read a book by Libbie Hawker called Gotta Read It! – Five Simple Steps to a Fiction Pitch That Sells. I recommend it. It’s an inexpensive purchase and a quick read, and gave me good insight into what I currently find one of the trickiest parts of my job as an author: writing compelling product descriptions.

Baby tapir!

A couple quick takeaways (one of which is from her recent appearance on the Self Publishing Podcast, which also includes tapirs):

– Authors tend to write about what’s unique about their books, while it’s often more effective to show a reader how the book is like other books they’ve loved.

– Authors often try to summarize the plot and/or describe the awesome story world, which can do more to dilute the story than to promote it.

While the main substance is fairly familiar territory if you’re at all acquainted with how stories work, I found a lot of value in the simple and effective way it gets applied to writing product descriptions and the extremely practical, actionable steps. Plus Ms. Hawker just seems very fun and smart (in fact, she’d probably want me to call her Libbie), and she also writes historical fiction, much of it set in ancient Egypt. Can’t argue with that.

Through all this I also discovered Libbie Hawker’s blog, which has some great posts on the writing life and the publishing industry, from the perspective of a smart, frank, and funny successful full-time novelist.

Link: Gotta Read It! by Libbie Hawker

Cheers!

—Ben

What Counts as Magic?

The more I think about it, the more I’m having trouble defining ‘magic’ in the context of fictional worlds. You could say it’s performing unpredictable, incomprehensible, or impossible acts, but the most satisfying fictional magic has a system behind it, sometimes a whole science. It’s not inexplicable or arbitrary, though it may be difficult.

But engineering is difficult. If you have a world where a small class of people can, through their arcane arts, create a pile of stones that hold each other up in midair over a rushing river, such that people and even whole cartloads can pass over them dry as a bone, is that magic? No. It’s a bridge.

At least, I don’t think that counts as magic.

Let’s get a couple red herrings out of the way early on:

  • Illusions don’t count; if it’s just a clever use of curtains and trap doors, that’s not magic for our purposes.
  • I think we can also exclude the purely arbitrary; call it chaos. If it’s fundamentally, inherently inexplicable (not just obscure or difficult), it’s more tautological than magical. A whale appeared because a whale appeared. Poof.

Ok, I’ve been trying, but I can’t seem to get away from Clarke’s Third Law here. The tricky one is technology. Broadly speaking, we could define a technology as something that systematically harnesses natural forces in order to carry out a process with greater power and/or efficiency. That’s off the top of my head, but I think it’s a decent start.

So why is a laser gun technology and a staff of lightning magic? They’re both tools that use knowable (if obscure) systems to harness natural forces to accomplish something with more power or efficiency.

It’s not about a visible causal chain, chanting spells instead of yanking a lever. Plenty of technology uses invisible, mysterious forces. Like a radio. Or an airplane.

It’s not about complexity, or simplicity, or incomprehensibility, or difficulty. It’s not that science is systematic and magic is fuzzy; some of the best magic systems ever written are the most rigorously systematic. (Why else are schools or universities of magic such a common trope?)

It’s not that science is more egalitarian than magic; you could (and many stories do) have a technological or scientific elite working as a secretive ruling class. It doesn’t make them magicians; in fact it’s often a running tension that the ignorant populace thinks they’re sorcerers even though they’re not.

And what about the fuzzy boundary? Is teleportation magic or sci-fi technology? What if you call it apparition? Is alchemy science or magic? (Or both? Neither?) Is Asimov’s Second Foundation advanced technology or rudimentary magic?

But if there’s no clear difference, why are the categories so persistent? Even if we can’t pin down the definitions, most of us can easily categorize a list of tools or actions into magical or non-magical. Fireball. Dynamite. Resurrecting Aslan. Destroying Alderaan. Summoning demons. Warp drive.

Easy, right?

The closest I’ve come to making sense of it is that magic involves crossing a boundary between worlds. Depending on the story this could mean drawing on metaphysical energies, crossing into a fae/interplanar/supernatural realm, seeking divine power, or whatever.

Next project, of course, is to define ‘worlds’ more rigorously in this sense of it, but it seems that as long as something is explicable entirely in terms of one world, it’s scientific/technological (or natural), but when it involves crossing boundaries, it’s magical.

What do you guys think? Leave me a comment and let me know.

Cheers!

—Ben

Friday Fiction Freebies!

The weekend is almost here! Time to grab a good book and a cup of tea (or coffee, or, as the case may be, whiskey) and settle in. To assist, here are some free books I want to share with you.

Cheers!

—Ben

The Dream World Collective

The Dream World Collective

Five friends quit their jobs to change the world. Sort of like Friends, but with more art, geekery, and tea.

Chapters 1-8: PDF | Kindle (Mobi) | ePub

Chapters 9-14: PDF | Kindle (Mobi) | ePub

Chapters 15-18: PDF | Kindle (Mobi) | ePub

More FREE episodes posted regularly at: http://bit.ly/latestdwc


argentstar1_2cover

The Argent Star

What if your decisions affected an entire universe?

FREE on Amazon today and tomorrow!

Learn more | Get it now at Amazon

Living on the last surviving island on Earth, Ren has put herself on the path to become an archaeologist. She’s defied her father’s wishes and gone out on her own, barely keeping in contact with him as he commands an army somewhere across the universe. And it was all going well until her brother Elian discovered a planet.

Lost for centuries, Novae was thought to be a legend. It vanished years ago and since being rediscovered the Monarchy has stepped in to take over. What Ren didn’t realize was that she and Elian and their father are the chosen leaders of Novae, thanks to a scorched piece of paper that claimed her ancestor named the star Novae orbits.

With suspicion and doubt, Ren is forced leave her life on Earth to go to Novae with her estranged father and rule over the planet she doesn’t think wants her there. Her suspicions are confirmed when she learns there are insurgents hiding in the darkened forests, and her father assigns her a guardian, Sheridan; a woman with a threatening gaze and silent steps.

Now Ren is just trying to stay alive long enough to figure out what the Monarchy is planning for the planet, because she doesn’t believe that they’re on Novae for the good of the people. But going against the Monarchy means going against a government that spans across galaxies, and Ren doesn’t know if she’ll be enough.

Novae is already at civil war that gets worse with each passing day. Ren doesn’t have long before the Monarchy decides to “neutralize” the threat. Will she be able to stop the hostile takeover? Or will her actions ignite a rebellion across the universe?

Learn more | Get it now at Amazon

February in Review + March Goals

Some pretty cool writers I follow are writing month-end reviews and goals. It’s a great idea. I might make a practice of it, too. Certainly last month was great and this month is exciting, so I’m going to try it out today.

February Accomplishments

  1. I released my first story,The Stone and the Song, on Amazon. Lots of work, but a smashing success!
  2. Released 2 more sections of The Dream World Collective.
  3. Launched my mailing list and got 2-3x industry average open and click rates. Because my people are awesome. Sign up here for friendly notes and mysterious missions.
  4. Wrote more of The Unaccountable Death of Derelict Frobisher. Uncharacteristically, I’m not sure how much.
  5. Recorded about half of the audiobook version of The Stone and the Song.
  6. Established rough concept for Hubris Towers, an upcoming serial fiction collaboration, with Bill.
  7. Wrote a blog post every week day.

March Goals

  1. The Unaccountable Death of Derelict Frobisher – Current word count: 96,642
    • Minimum: Write 12,000 words (avg. 3,000/wk)
    • Target: Write 22,000 words (avg. 5,000/wk)
    • Stretch: Round it up and hit 120,000 words total. (That’s my projected total word count! Could finish the rough draft this month! That’s crazy!)
  2. The Dream World Collective
    • Minimum: Release 2 sections on Patreon
    • Target: Release 3 sections and overview remaining rewrites needed before launch
    • Stretch: Release 4 sections and overview
  3. The Stone and the Song
    • Minimum: Keep encouraging readers to leave reviews
    • Target: Release paperback
    • Stretch: Release paperback and audiobook
  4. Hubris Towers
    • Minimum: Sketch characters, setting, and rough arc for Season 1
    • Target: Above plus sketch concept for each episode in Season 1
    • Stretch: Above plus write partial episode to test process and develop speed projections
  5. Write a blog post every week day.

Oh, man. This is such an exciting time! Let me know in comments or at byfaroe at gmail dot com if you’re interested in beta reading, collaborating, or chatting about the art and business of writing. I love this stuff and I love finding other writers who are serious about making it a career and/or lifestyle.

Cheers!

—Ben

Last Chance to Pre-Order!

The Stone and the Song, coming Feb 21, 2015 (!)

The Stone and the Song, coming Feb 21, 2015 (!)

The Stone and the Song releases tomorrow!

Pre-order now before the price goes up from $0.99 to $2.99.

You can also subscribe to my new mailing list for news on upcoming projects, including a possible audiobook version in the works as we speak!

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In a world where words are power and magic is song, a voiceless girl must defeat the sorceress who betrayed her.

But soon she will find that the evil touches more lives than her own. A sculptor of near-living statues, a fakir with the power of sight, and a band of children chasing dreams in the desert all play their parts. And at the center of it all lies a heart of stone that may hold the secret of unending life.

The Stone and the Song is a story of betrayal and of sacrifice, of love and of dreams, of strength in weakness and life beyond death. Wrapped in lush imagery and poetic language, it is a tale that will draw you in again and again.

150211.0655 Stone & Song Rank - 14 FT, 9405 Overall

When Characters Make Up Characters

I’m not sure if this is the sign of a horribly fractured psyche or what, but my characters not only help me with my creative process, but they’ve even been known to make up their own characters. I mean, it’s pretty routine to hear authors talk about characters “taking on a life of their own,” but this is at a whole different level.

Best example is probably Otto, resident geek and aspiring technomage of The Dream World Collective. Partway through the story it became evident that he has a “consortium of highly skilled gremlin and gremlinoid adventurers” that he consults and/or bickers with from time to time. Funny thing is still get them mixed up—Griphook and Grumbles and Tickleback and…I think there’s another one—but Otto has a live and vibrant relationship with them. He does know that they’re imaginary, though. That’s key. (Intriguingly, so do they.)

The part that really interested me was when Otto’s characters took on a life of their own. In one chapter Otto finds out that Grumbles is married. Otto didn’t know it, and I certainly didn’t. It really took me by surprise, though I suppose it stands to reason that if a character can develop an independent identity to the extent that he’s making up characters, those characters could do the same.

So that’s all fun, but where it becomes useful is in letting those characters who have developed a rich independent identity start pulling their weight in the creative process. I’ve done this in various ways. Sometimes I interview characters to learn more about them and get insight into where their story is headed. Lately I’ve been experimenting with character improv, where I just give two characters a prompt and let them play off each other—this has been a ton of fun and I’ve started releasing some of these as patron perks.

One of my favorites, though, has been holding board meetings with my characters. I basically imagine a boardroom with all of us in it, provide and/or ask around for agenda items, and let the discussion unfold sort of like I would when writing a scene or dialogue. With richly-developed characters it can result in surprisingly productive discussions.

In fact, early on in the development of The Dream World Collective there was a character named Max. During a board meeting he started being a jerk, and we realized we didn’t want him in the story. I think he came to the same conclusion and left. Then we held auditions to fill his spot, and that’s how Alex joined the book.

Fun fact: Max makes a cameo in Episode 1.

DWC 46-51 Text Art