Eclectic Ramblings From a Bike Riding, Sports Loving, Novel Writing Nerd.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Indie Inquisition

If you follow self publishing news you may have seen several stories recently about authors paying for reviews. This has of course created great consternation within the community. Bloggers haven taken to their web pages to lash out these authors, claiming these paid reviews tarnish the system and make it harder for consumers to find quality material. This position is understandable as many of these authors decided on self publishing in order to avoid the somewhat messy traditional publishing scene.  I have no problem with authors getting upset about paid reviews.

The part that really bothers me though is the witch hunt atmosphere that has emerged. Unfounded accusations are being tossed about. Even worse, unsupported blanket statements are issued, making successful authors look guilty by association. Authors are forced to try and prove a negative, leaving them in an untenable situation. They’ll never be able to prove a negative, at least not to the Inquisition’s satisfaction.

Accompanying the paid review witch hunt is something I find even more perplexing. Many in the industry feel that peer to peer, family/friend and trade reviews are just as bad. To clarify with some examples:

Peer to Peer - Writers from a co-op review each other’s work
Traded Reviews - Authors trade review for review with other authors
Family/Friend - If I have to explain this, well just stop reading now

There are other similar, unpaid reviews out there as well and the problem seems to be that these are not unbiased. Unbiased reviews can’t be trusted so we must do away with all of them.

I say: So effing what.

Seriously, how the heck are we supposed to make it as independents if we take away every avenue we have to get the word out? The few indie books that become successful do so by word of mouth. Where the heck do you think that starts? Mom, dad, drinking buddies, the guy you serve a grande nonfat mocha caramel to every morning at 6:45 who found out you were an author and couldn’t wait to see your book. They’re the ones that support us. Why can’t they have a voice?

If we want to support independent authors why are we tearing them down for being independent? Did Deathcab for Cutie tell their fiends to not talk about their first few albums (you younger kids can substitute Haim or MGMT for Deathcab if you want)? No, indie art gets out however the hell it can. Why in the world would we stifle that?

Some make the argument that you can’t trust these biased reviews. Well, tough. You can’t trust a lot of reviews. Some people rate all books a 5, they just love everything so much! Some people hate puppies and babies so they sure aren’t going to give your book more than a 1.

If you’re looking for something to read outside of your normal referral channels, the trick is to read a bunch of review. Pay attention to what is actually being said. Isn’t that why they publish the actual reviews on Amazon, so you can read them?

If you buy a book, site unseen, solely because it got a crap ton of 5 star reviews, well then don’t come cryin to me when it sucks. Read the reviews. See what people are saying. Take the “It’s the best book ever” and “This was pure crap” reviews with a grain of salt and pay attention to the ones that specify what was good and what was bad. You know, use your brain. It’s why we read in the first place right?

We can have the argument over whether paid reviews are OK if you want (although my argument will start with the fact that the traditional industry pays for them too). Let’s lay off the witch hunts and the snobbery though, OK? Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing and go create something. Yes, a multi-book deal with a massive advance would be great but that’s not why we do this. We do this because we love to tell our tales, to get those epic yarns out of our head and onto the page.

Let’s stop throwing stones and get back to telling stories. That’s what it’s all about anyway.



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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Breaking Bad and The Art of Storytelling

Jenny and I recently jumped on the Breaking Bad bandwagon.  I know we’re late to the party but it’s not without good reason.  We’ve always had a hard time finding shows we both enjoy.  I watched the first episode when it came out on Netflix a couple of years ago and realized right away Jenny would love it.  It only took me 18 months or so to convince her.  Actually, I didn’t even do that.  I just got sick of trying so I started watching it on my own.  She wound up in the room one night, playing Words With Friends on her phone, while I was watching and it just drew her right in.

It’s been a blast watching her get sucked into the show.  I have a long history of addiction to quality small screen programming. Lost, Doctor Who, Fringe, they’re just a small sampling of the shows that hooked me with the free sample then had me begging for more.  Jenny, not so much. In fact she actively avoided such shows after seeing how they tortured me with cliffhangers.

Breaking Bad finally got her.  After she admitted to an interest in the show we went back to episode one and started fresh.  I forced her to stop after three episodes and she just about shot me.  She’s had basically the same reaction each night.  We sit down to gorge on Walt and Company. She gets hooked.  She throws things when I make her turn it off. It didn’t matter that she had forty more episodes left.  She didn’t care that was no way to watch them all at once.  She couldn't quit.  She HAD to know what happened next.

Watching her get caught up in this show has gotten me thinking about the art of storytelling.  Well, that plus the fact that I’m reading Stephen King’s memoir “On Writing” right now.  Storytelling dates back to beginnings of language.  We’ve captivated each other with re-tellings of our conquests, our dreams and our inspirations.  Yet some of us do it far better than others.  

What is it that makes a great story?  Are there tricks?  Is there formula?  Is it just something certain people are gifted with?

I am very wary of anyone who says they have a sure fire formula for storytelling.  Sure, it can be done but it winds up being, well, formulaic.  You wind up with stories that all sound the same. The names and places change but the stories are all alike.  It may work once or twice but, for me at least, it doesn’t last.

The best stories are written by the characters themselves.  Stephen King likens it to excavating a fossil.  The writer has little control over what is there, only how much of it is uncovered.

 Stories aren’t souvenir tee-shirts or GameBoys. Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing     world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.”  [1]

This is also evident in Breaking Bad.  Vince Gilligan has admitted that Jesse Pinkman was originally supposed to die at the end of the first season.  Yet as the character developed, and the actor’s portrayal played out, Gilligan realized Jesse was actually central to the story.  Gilligan listened to what the character and the story were saying and let them develop on their own.

At it’s core, good storytelling gives us a reason to care.  Whether it’s the lovable nun turned governess (my kids are in the other room watching The Sound of Music so it's top of mind), or a bumbling school teacher turned psychopathic drug manufacturer, great stories wrap you up in the characters first.  Once you care about what happens to them they drive the story.  They can take you pretty much anywhere.

It’s been fascinating watching the characters and story evolve on Breaking Bad.  I think the combination of our binge watching schedule and my focus on story creating has helped me see things from this perspective but it truly is a phenomenal story.  I only hope someday I can create something a fraction as good.

Until Next Time!



[1] King, Stephen (2000-10-03). On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft (pp. 163-164).      Scribner. Kindle Edition.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo

Exiting times are afoot around here as I gear up for NaNoWriMo.  I started using the Snowflake method to hash out the characters and plot for Dogwood a few weeks ago.  I've already made more progress using this method than in last three months.  Sure, it's not actual draft yet but I've been able to mold my characters into real people, figure out where the story is taking them and how to get there.  I still have a few weeks of prep to go but I fully expect to have the journey fully blocked out so come Nov 1 I can start banging out text.  

When I tried writing this story in the past I just had a loose idea of what was going to happen.  Now I feel like I have a firm destination and a robust GPS to guide the way.  I'm sure things will change a lot along the way but I'm not in the dark about the in between parts anymore and that is incredibly exciting.  If all goes well I'll have a first draft completed sometime early to mid December.  

I've also jumped into the forums over at NaNoWriMo and it has been incredibly encouraging.  There are so many people out there with cool ideas and everyone has been really supportive so far.  I'm really looking forward to an exciting month of November.  

The writing office is set up (It's in the kid's play room but when you live in a small house you've got to do whatever you can).  I have my document all laid out in Scrivener and I've got three weeks to do about two weeks worth of final outlining.  I can't wait to get this going.  

Stick around for updates.  I also welcome any feedback and comments you care to send my way.



Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Backward Progress

Is it possible to move forward by going backward?

If so that's what I've done this last week.

I was feeling pretty excited last week when I hit 10,000 words on the novel.  I felt like,  even though it was only about 1/8 of the expected length of the book it was a really good start.  I felt like I was on my way.

Then a funny thing happened.  I was doing some research last weekend on writing styles, techniques etc when I came across this site.   This technique for outlining a book seemed tailor made for the way I think.  In just a couple of hours of reading I started thinking about the breakdown of my story and quickly came up with several great ideas.  I decided to give the outline a try and by the end of last week I realized I needed a complete rewrite of pretty much everything I'd written.  Everything I've put together will probably still be used but its all going to move around quite a bit, some parts will stay put, some will show up later, some will ultimately get cut.

The bottom line though is I knew I had a better story to tell than the one I had started.  So, 10,000 words down the tube but I know this book is in a better place today with essentially 0 words written than it was nine days ago with 10,0000.

I'll be working on this outline for the next couple of weeks which will lead to a scene map where I will lay out the overall path for the story.  I'm hoping to have it all laid out by Oct, 31 so I can sit down and bang out my first draft for NaNoWriMo in November.  If all goes well I should have a killer first draft, ready for Beta reading and editing.

I know this is going to push back my schedule but I really want this to be a great book when I'm finished, not just something that I finished only to say I did.  After laying out the changes that have come up so far I'm more excited today about it than when I first sat down at it this summer.

Anyway, wish me luck.  I'll keep updates coming regularly.  The short stories will be on hiatus for a couple of months too.  I'll kick them back up in December when I have a bit more time to devote to them.

Till next time!