Another Boltholer joins us on the blog today for some more ruminations on writing. Bod the Inquisitor aka Simon is a good friend of mine, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him twice at Games Day UK’11 and Black Library Live! 2012, where we spent a good amount of time talking about writing and other things. In his first guest blog for the Bloghole he presents a critical piece on a “How To Write” book, written by acclaimed SFF writer Orson Scott Card.
Hey folks, we got another guest post for you today. Joining us on the blog this time is writer, blogger and all-around great guy Jonathan D. Beer who also goes by the name Erunanion over on the Bolthole. He’s been doing a lot of reading recently about wars in various science fiction universes and some of his Black Library stood out for him and made him think deeper about the topic. Here’s what he had to say.
It is no secret that in the last four-five years, digital publishing has literally exploded and has quickly become a dominant factor in the book publishing industry. Whether it is indie authors self-publishing their work or the various traditional publishers, both big and small, transferring their dead-tree versions to the digital medium. There has even been the entry of publishers who only put out digital products. Undeniably, Amazon has led this revolution with its Kindle Books, its Kindle eReader and its strong, often ruthless, practices where digital book formats are concerned. Amazon is currently the goliath of the publishing industry and it doesn’t look like that will be changing any time soon. However, Barnes & Noble is on the rise as well with its Nook eReader and Apple is also taking tentative steps towards it thanks to their iPad tablets and their recent iBooks Author publishing app.
So where does all of this leave an aspiring writer? Well, the answer is pretty complicated and unfortunately too extensive and contentious a topic to be discussed in depth on this blog. All, the same, I would like to offer some tips and strategies to all aspiring writers who, like me, wish to break into the industry as bona fide authors and want to do so successfully.
Today’s guest post is somewhat different from the others. Indie author John C. Scott, a good friend of mine, is here today to talk to you about where he went wrong with his self-publishing venture. We both hope that his short and sweet reflections on his first published novel The Legend of Adam Caine serve you all in successfully navigating the murky waters of self-publishing.
I’m an idiot
I’m a complete idiot.
I’ve been asked (by my good friend Abhinav) to write about my experiences in the world of self-publishing. I’ve been looking back over the last couple of years, and my conclusion is that I’m an idiot, completely and totally.
Okay, I should explain first.
Self-publishing (for those few out there who don’t know) is almost how it sounds. Essentially, you send your manuscript to a specialised publisher who then prints your book through the print on demand system. They’re all mostly online these days so it’s just a case of emailing the manuscript or uploading it to the website itself.
My book, The Legend of Adam Caine, was published with Authorhouse, a trans-Atlantic company.
The problem is that self-publishing is for those with money. A lot of the paperback publishers have services beyond simply arranging the words on the page and printing it out. They offer editing of varying degrees, marketing, reviews, the works. But unfortunately, it costs… a lot, usually. Or at least that’s been my experience.
The alternative in self-publishing is the upload direct option, where they print off exactly what you copy and paste or upload to their website. Createspace is one I’m attempting myself, more for the experience and the special offer for Nanowrimo winners than anything else.
Another reason why I’m an idiot.
I’ve got no patience whatsoever when it comes to my writing. When I started publishing Adam Caine, I was so desperate for it to be done and out and in my hands I was literally on the edge of my seat and watching for the postman to deliver the proof. The only problem was that I was too impatient to get my free fifteen copies that I stupidly approved it before checking it.
The only problem was that the publisher only allowed a few changes to the proof before charging quite a bit for more. Joy. Insert tearing out of fur and enraged Wookiee growls. Not only that, but the actual editing would have cost me something close to six thousand pounds. Ouch. Cue more enragement and annoyed stomping.
Of course, no matter what I’ve done, what I may think of the process, I still get goosebumps whenever I pick up a copy of my book, so it’s not all bad, hey?
So to sum up, I’m an idiot, and self-publishing isn’t a bad thing despite the obvious stigma, but you need lots of money, time, and patience. Of those three options I have none. Probably shouldn’t mention that to any potential future agent or publisher, should I? Oops.
Anyways, I’m entering a submission to Black Library in May, hopefully it’ll be accepted. Who knows, maybe I’ll have my name on a Black Library novel this year? Probably not.
Oh yeah, that’s something else every author should have and don’t always have: confidence.
About the Author
John is an avid reader of Black Library fiction and just about anything else he can get his hands. His first novel The Legend of Adam Caine is currently available through Authorhouseand Amazon as well. Describing himself as an “insane hairly mumbler who likes to write stuff…” John has also participated in the National Novel Writing Month and his successful effort from 2011 is currently in the early stages of being publishing. You can find John rambling on his new blog Shaven Wookiee and also on twitter – @shaven_wookiee.
Next week’s Thursday post will be the January Artwork Round-up and the week following, I will be continuing the theme of today’s post and talk about some of the ways that you can all break into the e-publishing industry.
LordLucan, our friendly, neighbourhood Dementor brings to you the first article in a series where he talks to you about his approach to world-building for your stories, whether they be short fiction or full-length or anywhere in between.
World-building Tips Part 1: The Foundations.
Howdy everyone (and Schaf). For my first article I thought I’d talk to you all about a topic some people struggle with when creating a compelling setting for the stories they wish to tell. I speak of course of golf course management! Well, first things first, you need to get a sturdy lawn-mower, and several hundred willing members of staff and —
No, of course I mean world-building: the art of creating a unique and interesting setting while maintaining a coherent and consistent universe that doesn’t feel like a comic-book world cobbled together from the fragments of cool ideas you had once. This article will provide several tips to help you start the process along. These are rather loose ‘rules’ but they have helped me to develop some really outlandish worlds from a simple original premise. So, without further ado…
1 – The Root Divergence – Why Your World Is Different Than Earth?
Basically, you need to come up with the single biggest reason you wanted to create a different world. There has to be a reason your world is not just a carbon copy of the planet Earth with the serial numbers filed off (If your setting is no different to Earth, you may have missed the point of this article…).
The root divergence could be a geological or celestial quirk, like their moon being too close or something similar. The nature of the planet could be different; maybe it is a gas giant, or it is artificial or made from diamond? Look up some of the freaky phenomenon astronomy has revealed over the past few years and feel free to steal ideas from these bizarre worlds but don’t feel that your world necessarily needs to be physically possible. As long as your world abides by its own laws of nature, it should be fine.
If you’d prefer a normal-ish planet that is pretty much like earth, go for a point of divergence of a more psychological or sociological bent that would cause the entire setting to develop in unexpected and interesting ways. Perhaps someone invents a device which means nobody can sleep anymore, or the hallucinations of everyone in mental asylums actually become real due to some metaphysical event in the past. You could have humanity (or indeed, whatever race you choose to write about) having to share their world with creatures possessing a different kind of sentience.
The root point of divergence should be intriguing and easy for an outside reader to recognize and appreciate (For instance, a setting where cow’s milk isn’t used for breakfast cereals would be different, but potentially tedious and unnoticeable unless your protagonist was some cattle-advocate or was always conspicuously eating cereal all the time. Actually, if anyone can make that setting work, I shall laud you as a champion amongst Boltholers. Get ye to the fan fiction boards at once!)
But once you have your root idea, this is where the real work begins (but it is fun so no worries).
2 – Interrogation!
So, you have your idea. Whether whimsical or serious, you think it has potential. Now you have to interrogate it. By this, I mean consider your premise from every angle and every point of view. If your world is physically not earth-like, why isn’t it? How do people live upon the planet without dying? What population can it sustain? How do people make a living upon the planet? Did they evolve on that world, or were they brought there? If they aren’t native, who brought them there and why? Was it under duress or were they willing colonists? What is so valuable about this world that their home world would send colonists to a world which is dangerous or lethal to them? If they are actually natives, what adaptations have they got to ensure they survive and thrive on this world? So if they do not, do they use technology to survive? How advanced is the technology they are utilising? And so on and so forth. This applies to sociological quirks even more so.
Basically, imagine you are an unreasonably picky and pushy newspaper editor questioning your idea, desperately seeking a loophole or a flaw. However, as you are both protagonist and antagonist in this imaginary jaunt (imaginary, so don’t enact it in your front room, you’ll look mental…), you as a writer have the time to come up with an answer to everything this miserable editor demands of you. You can seal up each plot hole before it opens, and through this elaboration and explanation of your idea you will unwittingly create whole factions and sub-divisions within your new world, like the branching of a tree. You can use historical precedents and incorporate them into explaining each element, as often historical events are as weird as fiction and can provide believable excuses for things.
However, each time you add a new element, interrogate this new aspect to a similar extent. Maybe, just maybe, you could wring out some new detail or nuance you never considered before. For instance, why does one of your factions ride winged beasts instead of the widely abundant flying machine available? Perhaps it is a cultural thing, or maybe you suddenly decide that the technological factions have genetically-coded machines which the other folks on the world aren’t allowed to use. This then creates an antagonism, which can be interrogated further in a number of ways, such as why are they withholding technology? Are they afraid of the beast-riders? Or are they being compelled to discriminate against them? You can see how one idea then buds further branches of this increasingly-extensive oak of an idea.
3 – Factionalism
Remember also that the inhabitants of your world will not all develop the same way in response to the primary point of divergence; real life is testament to this fact. Everything can be interpreted differently by those with different creeds, cultures and prejudices. Consider all the ways an event can be misconstrued or taken out of context; just think about those people you sometimes see on the news who seem to completely misunderstand a news story in your opinion. These sort of people are a rich seem of inspiration for different factions or sub-divisions within factions.
You might think the moon getting replaced by a giant spaceship would be a source of terror to all, but you just know there’d be groups supporting the aliens, or groups who simply refuse to acknowledge the change at all (“Bah, the moon has always had a big laser on it. You lot are all just ignorant heathens, now get back to ploughing!”).
You must work out the point at which these cultures and groups diverge from the main body of your inhabitants and why they did so, for this will then inform what they are like. From there, the interrogation technique can be used to elaborate in detail on this faction.
Bear this in mind; everything is connected. If one faction suddenly gets a new piece of technology or social renovation, it would affect ever other faction in a myriad of different ways you must also consider. Look at the cold war, or even better the Reformation period in Europe; changes amongst one group spread and things escalate. Technology in particular is an interesting one. Depending upon the society would alter how it is disseminated across the world. In ancient China, technology was heavily regulated and much of the brilliant inventions of China never really left their borders. Yet with permeable borders and a more open society would mean technology could spread more easily (in fact, it’d be hard for one single power group to suppress the innovation once it was created).
Now we have the basic points, there are some things to avoid…
4 – Your world isn’t Hoth! Or Tattooine! No you can’t have a sarlaac! Ok, just one, but that’s it…
No mono-climates! Also avoid mono-cultures (the infamous ‘planet of hats’ trope). There is nothing more limiting in my view. Worlds are very rarely uniform in their environments. Sure, maybe your world was once a completely frozen wasteland (like earth was during its ‘snowball’ period), but planets and solar systems are dynamic things. Your planet will not always be like that. But if you insist upon having an ice world or something, please try to make it diverse or interesting on some other level; perhaps emphasise culture or the various environments within the bases and colonies upon the world.
But mono-climate worlds baffle me as settings, as their authors needlessly limit themselves. I hesitate to suggest it implies creative laziness, but there seems to be few other reasons for it (if you have some motivations for it, post them below as I’d be interested in discussing it).
5 – Beware exposition overload
Having exhaustive details about every aspect of your setting is brilliant and an excellent resource for you as a writer. But your readers may go mental if you go into too much minutiae when you actually come to write your story within your newborn setting. Remember that all this work was to help you get to know your setting as much as it was to create it. Your setting can now be used to guide you through your plot. You can also modify your plots to integrate with the world discreetly; you plan an aerial chase from the city of noon to the city of dusk, but you realise you’ve accidentally put an impassable mountain range between the two cities. But luckily the mountains of your world are hollow due to all the stone-worm burrows that criss-cross throughout them. The way is now obvious; your protagonist’s plane crashes, and the aerial chase become a scramble through the dangerous cavern systems!
Oh yes, and you’ll note I didn’t bother about the world’s name. In many ways this has to come last and I can’t really give you advice upon it; the world’s place names and languages will be informed by the cultures you fashion. I could draw up a list of cool-sounding names, but in the end they wouldn’t be as good as the names you’d come up with based upon your own creation. For instance, on the bolthole, we created a world that would be covered in oil and smoky natural fumes. We called it Nyx because Nyx means ‘dark’ or ‘black’ I believe. It worked, but only after we hammered out the basics of the world first.
So there you have it. That is my method for world-building. It may not be the best, but it works for me as if feel more organic than going for a more structured approach. Tell me what you think below. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to infest the vents once more.
About the Author
Lord Lucan (or LL if you have a think for acronyms…) has been infesting Black Library-related forums since the Black Library’s official forum, and his festering presence slithered through the vents to occupy the Bolthole after the official forums’ sad demise. He has remained with the Bolthole through all its manifestations. You can also find him at his recently created blog lordlucan1.wordpress.com (apparently there was already a Lord Lucan on the blogosphere, so remember the 1!). Otherwise, one can easily find him roaming the forum like an omnipresent cephalopod. For examples of world-building on the Bolthole forum, check out the ‘Noriad Nox Librarius’ or even take a gander at LL’s expansive 50K/60K universe fan fiction.
Hey folks, on this comfortably chilly Friday morning, we bring to you the next installment in our series of guest posts from the Bolthole forumites.This one is courtesy of He2etic, writer and video gamer extraordinaire.
Depending on who you ask, developing an idea for a story is the easiest thing in the world (in which case, stay away from these crazy creative people) or one of the most difficult things they’ve ever done.
Ideas are one of the things that we’ll never run out of. We’ll keep having them, and keep trying to apply them. But the joy of fiction is that if an idea doesn’t work in the marketplace or reality, it can still make for a good story. Hell, how do you think many bar tales began? With a terrible, terrible idea. In fact, how many comedy shows begin with one of the main characters getting an awful idea to get rich quick or get with the ladies?
You can capitalize on almost any idea if you find the right medium. So now that we’ve had our appetizer, let’s bite into the main course. How to come up with an idea.
The human mind is a curious, interesting and above all, powerful computer. It takes in information at a speed that our current PCs can only dream of, some in formats we don’t even know how to begin to make digital. We were once taught that we have a mere five senses; sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell. In reality, we have way more than that, including the ability to guess temperatures, pain, pressure. Every moment you spend conscious, your mind is absorbing data all around you. You don’t even realize you’re doing it.
As such, this data is collected and stored in your mind. It swirls around, sometimes creating a new idea consciously. And sometimes unconsciously, as in when we dream.
The more exposure to new data, concepts and thoughts, the more ideas are likely to come of it. Nothing stems creative like exposure to new things. Books, movies, food, travel. There is no shame in being open to new things and experiencing new cultures and suggestions, provided you don’t go over any cliffs or edges here.
Not all ideas are huge or amazing. Sometimes, they are tiny things which come out of no where. For example, just yesterday I went to see The Muppets movie. And oddly enough, one scene gave me a small idea for my novel submission next year. How does a movie created primarily for kids and families give any ideas that could relate to a universe where war and genocide are the norm? Who knows. But it did.
But one thing you must be on guard against is jumping at inspiration from a new source too readily.
For example, if you finish a book and try to draw too readily from the well of ideas and story, you are at a risk of potentially plagiarizing from that source material. There is a damn good reason why authors do not read fan fiction, even if written about their own work. You probably don’t mean too, but when something becomes your obsession, you need to give yourself some time to unwind and let your mind dissect the ideas and themes. Once these ideas melt in the pot, you’re free to create something fresh and new even if the originating source of an idea is something recognizable- so long as its different enough.
The glee I take from writing however, is that this is the time that the most number of ideas hit me.
I might get my start from a dream or a random piece of inspiration that strikes, but once the words hit the page, something starts. All of a sudden new ideas are coming out of no where. Some serious brain storming starts and flashes of illumination leave marks on the story here and there. Some are huge, like bold new characters or plot twists or even entire worlds.Others are tiny details which make the world complete and interesting.
Unfortunately, it’s quite common that in the creation of a new story, we writers have a tendency to get a little proud of our work. We just sank hours, days, weeks and even months into a new piece and we may think it’s perfect just the way it is. You have to keep reminding yourself that the first thing you write is always a draft. It’s not perfect. It’s not genius. And yes, you need an editor to beat the ego out of you. Sometimes, in your rush to deliver creativity, you can actually deliver one too many ideas. Other times, an idea needs to be worked out, the details expounded upon and developed. No matter how much you love it, an idea has to get cut.
But don’t be discouraged. If you have to remove an idea, do as Van Wilder said and, “Write that down.”
In the long run, an idea is actually the least amount of work you’ll do. The writing, editing, rewriting and pushing of an idea are where the work really is. An idea comes out of no where, with no way of really knowing how much time it took to create or devise.
But we can keep track of the time spent actually trying to turn the idea into something more tangible as we craft our stories. A lot of people tend to think, erroneously I might add, that the right idea is all it takes to change the world. It’s far more than that, because an idea has to be made into something. It has to be made into reality in some shape or form. The electric heater was a great idea, but it’s not the idea alone that warms my feet.
An idea is just an idea. Get used to having ideas and having to let some of them go. Get used to saying, it’s just an idea. Because you’ll be having tons of them.
Ideas will come. So write away.
About the Author:
He2etic is known for reading, writing and ranting on his personal blog, the Shoutbox and on Facebook. A gamer, programmer, amateur writer and generally up to no good, He2etic’s psychobabble can be found at http://he2etic.wordpress.com/ the only blog that comes with a warning from the FDA… Somehow.