Alycia Christine

Enchanting Tales, Intriguing Art

Tag: writing advice

Writing as a Business: The Myths of Self-Publishing, Part 3

A few weeks ago, I began a new mini-series on my Writing as a Business blog outlining a step-by-step guide on how to self-publish a book. Before we begin the main guide, however, I wanted to prepare by writing several posts dealing with some common self-publishing myths that can cause stumbling blocks for those new to the game. If you haven’t read the first or second self-publishing myths articles, I suggest you do that before tackling the article today. For those of you who are all caught up, let’s continue.

Writing Myth #6: Getting It Right on the First Draft

No matter the area of expertise, the difference between a professional and amateur is lots of practice. Consequently, you need to prove yourself as a professional by putting in the work required of you. In the case of writers, this means that the first draft of a manuscript is never good enough to publish no matter who you are or how long you have been writing. Professional writers know that publishable material only comes after several drafts of a manuscript are complete.

In my case, I finish a rough draft and let it “rest” for at least a couple of weeks. I come back to it with fresh eyes, and rewrite a second draft of the manuscript. If the second draft meets my expectations of quality then I’ll send it to my alpha readers. I write a third draft based on their suggestions, send the third draft to my copy editor, and write the fourth draft based on her critique. With four drafts under my belt, I should be done, right? Wrong! Instead, I’ll send the fourth draft to beta readers and write the fifth draft based on their comments. If all things turn out well, the fifth draft of the novel goes to the proofreader and the sixth draft is the one that sees final publication. However, before I click that publish button, I have to oversee the manuscript’s formatting for multiple book additions including three e-book formats and, at least, one print version of the work.

What about the streamlined version of the writing/publishing process?

Sorry but what you just read is my streamlined version of how to take a manuscript from rough draft to publishable form. If I find plot holes or other inconsistences in the book at any point during the second draft revision process, it will require additional rewrites for part or all of the manuscript. Skinshifter, for example, required about eight drafts before it ever even saw my editor. Dreamdrifter only took three.

If this all sounds like a lot of work to you, well it is. I know other writers—independent and traditional—who are far less picky in their revision process and, quite frankly, their lack of effort shows. They may call themselves professionals, but their writing still proves them as amateurs because they haven’t revised their manuscripts enough. To put it in simple terms, they haven’t put in the amount of practice required to write on a professional level.

So how much practice is needed?

That depends entirely on the writer. I’ve heard estimates of five to twenty years before a writer can be considered a master of the craft. I’ve also heard the 10,000-hour-rule applied to writing proficiency. One writer, the popular blogger and author Hugh Howey, recommends that the amount of practice a writer needs to be adept at his or her craft can be achieved by writing five hours a day, five days a week, for five years. If you do the math on that you get: 5 hours x 5 days x 52 weeks x 5 years = 6500 hours total. This is considerably less than the rule of 10,000 hours of practice that I’ve heard from other sources, but I suppose it’s possible to write on a professional level after five years if the practice is deep enough and the writer adept enough in skill. The truth, though, is that writers never really master our craft because there is always more to be learned.

For me, that journey of discovery and learning is part of the joy of the vocation. I love learning and so I try to discover something new about writing every day. I’m always reading to increase my general knowledge and to deepen my understanding of writing. As I read and as I practice the act of writing itself, I grow in my appreciation of this incredible craft as a means of shared communication and artistic expression.

Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better.

Alycia

~

The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) blog is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with vivid fiction, deep love, and epic art for all. As always, contact me with any questions or thoughts. Thanks!

Books:
Skinshifter | The Dryad’s Sacrifice | Thorn & Thistle| Musings | First Fruits | FREE STUFF

Artwork:
Drawn Art | BW & Sepia | Animal | Earth | Flowers | Trees | Mountains | Objects | Urban | Water | MORE

Writing as a Business: The Myths of Self-Publishing, Part 2

As I explained in my last blog post, I’m beginning a new mini-series on my Writing as a Business blog outlining a step-by-step guide on how to self-publish a book. Before we begin the main guide, however, I need to make sure that you are in the proper mindset when it comes to self-publishing. Consequently, the last post and this post deal with several self-publishing myths. If you haven’t read the first three self-publishing myths, I suggest you do that before tackling the ones today. For those of you who are all caught up, let’s continue.

Myth #4: If You Publish It, They Will Read

In the beginning of the self-published book gold rush during 2008-2011, tons of indie authors hit pay dirt just by writing books and clicking the “publish” button on Amazon. Now, not so much. The book market is flooded with tons of self-published titles now and that makes it all the more difficult to compete with your own work.

Indies’ saving solution to this problem is direct marketing and networking. Since self-publishing cuts out the middleman (publishers) between authors and our potential readers, it means that direct marketing is one of our best options to engage readers. Thanks to the internet and social media, authors and readers can enjoy a more direct relationship than ever before. Direct contact to readers allows authors the ability to find out what readers want and when they want it.

However, direct marketing gets tricky. The last thing most readers want is to be spammed with “Read my book!” every time they turn around. Instead authors need to use social media to build relationships with potential readers around common interests. That is time-consuming work, but part of being a professional author is being sincere and truthful with your readers in every piece of writing you create—whether it’s a novel or a text message. After all, readers are the reason writers exist, so they deserve our best efforts.

Again this is a slow-growth game. Since most authors—indie or traditional—start out with zero marketing power behind their names, we all have to rely on direct marketing and networking to reach potential readers. The simple act of being available on social media is the first step toward finding like-minded readers. Through natural discussion, we can build relationships with those potential readers. As with anything, we must prove ourselves to be trustworthy toward others. Only after we build that relational trust in ourselves, will we begin to see readers’ trust in our products.

So what does this all mean in terms of your writing and publishing career? It means that you must be prepared to make a monetary loss on your first few books because beginning relationships with your clients is more important than profits at this point. You need to be willing to invest money to insure product quality without expecting an immediate return on investment. You need use the quality of your books and the sincerity of your actions to build reader trust in your unique products and the brand that they represent: you.

Myth #5: Self-Published Books Don’t Have Much Value

In ancient times, the written word was hand-copied and distributed as tablets, scrolls, and, much later, leather-bound books. This painstaking process meant that books were scarce and therefore of high value and price. For millennia, only the nobility and the rich owned books and benefitted from their information. This began to change as advances in printing press technology and the rise of pulp fiction began to make books much more affordable for the poorer masses. Gone were the leather bindings and hand-tipped gilt pages in favor of full-color paperbacks. The downgrade in material quality paired with cheaper prices and wider distribution meant that more people of less financial means could read and, possibly, better their circumstances through the education gleaned through books.

Fast forward to today when the cheapest and most cost-efficient book format choice is e-books, which don’t even incur a cost for printing on paper. Now, anyone with a smart phone and an internet connection can read hundreds of books for cheap or free. Thus the once-prohibitive cost of education and entertainment via even paperback books has once again plummeted for readers. Does this mean that e-books are worth less? Not remotely. The gilt pages and hand-tipped illustrations may be gone from the pages, but what they leave behind is a great story. If I’m honest, I’ll admit that readers buy a book for the story or information that it holds, not the pretty frills that it includes. This is one thing that makes e-books such a powerful tool for indie authors.

Even more important than this, though, is the fact that e-books enjoy far greater distribution to a worldwide audience through internet distribution than any book in hardback or paperback has previously enjoyed. This huge customer-base and high demand means that what self-published books lack in price, they can make up for in sales volume. This means that my self-published books can be read by people I will never meet in countries whose names I might not even be able to properly pronounce. It means that a worldwide reading phenomenon like the success of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series can and will be repeated with more and more frequency as readership expands across the globe.

Even with the cheaper prices requiring bulk sales, I’d argue that the perceived value of a good book is a thing measured by more than just dollars and cents. After all, I can still remember the name of the book that first turned me into a lifetime reader as a young girl. I also remember the name and the author of the book that started me down my writing career path. Such books are almost as precious as long-time friends to me—as they are to any reader whose life they’ve helped improve. If written, edited, distributed, and marketed well, my own self-published books have the potential power to help someone else find hope and better education in the darkest and humblest of circumstances. That is a priceless fact.

Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better.

Alycia

~

The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) blog is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with vivid fiction, deep love, and epic art for all. As always, contact me with any questions or thoughts. Thanks!

Books:
Skinshifter | The Dryad’s Sacrifice | Thorn & Thistle| Musings | First Fruits | FREE STUFF

Artwork:
Drawn Art | BW & Sepia | Animal | Earth | Flowers | Trees | Mountains | Objects | Urban | Water | MORE

Writing as a Business: The Myths of Self-Publishing, Part 1

At the request of a reader, I’m beginning a new mini-series in the next few weeks on my Writing as a Business blog. My dastardly plan is to give all of you a step-by-step guide on how to self-publish a book. I plan to start with a general overview of the steps I personally take to publish each book. I’ll then discuss each step in the process in more detail during subsequent posts. Depending on your feedback, I can change and add to the blog schedule as needed. Before we begin the main guide, however, I need to make sure that you are in the proper mindset when it comes to self-publishing. This means that this week and next week, we’re going to be busting several self-publishing myths.

Myth #1: The Ease of Self-Publishing

People think that self-publishing is easy and I can’t really blame them. Compared to the seemingly endless cycle of submissions and rejections that a single book manuscript can go through in the traditional publishing world, self-publishing a book looks easy. It isn’t. Self-publishing may be a simplified publishing process, but that doesn’t make it easy. Anyone who tells you differently is likely trying to sell you the literary equivalent of snake oil.

As I have little faith in literary cure-alls and have zero patience for their petty proselytizers, let me tell it like it is instead of wasting all of our time by sugar-coating things. Self-publishing is a slow-growth business. If you want to be an indie author, then you need to understand that you are in this for the long term. You as an indie author are a self-employed entrepreneur. And, like most starting, self-employed businesses, you won’t get rich quick. In fact, you may not get rich at all.

Myth #2: Getting Rich Quick

It’s rare that I meet an author—indie or traditional—who can make a full-time living through his or her writing. Those that do are usually the ones willing to do whatever it takes to put out the best-quality, more-professional products they can as quickly as they can. Full-time professional authors are the ones who have broken their backs writing and revising book after book. As I’ve said in a previous post, it’s usually the most persistent and persevering authors who win this race even over the most talented authors. Of course, those who strike it rich in this business usually do so because they have all of the talent, persistence, and luck on their side. To use a baseball metaphor, full-time authors are the major league players in our field. They are the fortunate few that spectators want to pay to watch even though there are millions of kids and adults who actually play the sport. To make a living as an indie author, I have to play harder, smarter, and better than many of the major league players hitting home runs in my genre.

The reason that getting rich as an author is so difficult is because book authors are the ultimate freelance writers. Unlike regular employees in any regular service industry, authors aren’t paid for the time that we work; we’re paid only for our end product. That means that we need a variety of products (books) to satisfy our customers (readers), and that we’re going to incur production, marketing, and distribution costs before we can ever see our product in the hands of our customers.

Authors get paid from the royalty off of every book we sell. For traditional authors, that royalty is usually 12-30 percent of every book’s sale price (not including any sales or vat tax). For indie authors, that royalty is often 30-70 percent. Indie authors get a larger cut than traditional authors because we do more work. Indies act as both the author and the publisher, which means that we are ultimately in charge of all aspects of the book. We deal with the writing of the book as well as its editing, formatting, legal protection, cover art, back copy/marketing description, retail distribution, pricing, and more. The extra royalty isn’t free cash for indies; every extra cent is well-earned.

Myth #3: The Small Cost of Self-Publishing

One of the biggest misconceptions I find among new authors is the notion that self-publishing costs less than traditional publishing. I never have understood that idea because when you self-publish as an author you are taking on the responsibility of publishing your own book in addition to writing it. This means that you will incur every single cost that an author and publisher will incur just to see your book as a finished product. Consequently, self-publishing costs more time, money, more commitment than traditional publishing.

If you are going to self-publish, you need to understand this high cost of self-publishing. While writing a book can be a hobby, publishing a book is never anything less than a job—complete with overhead costs, distribution deals, sales figures, taxes, and more. You as the publisher of your book will be in charge paying for the costs of editing, proofreading, cover art, marketing, and distributing your books. Note that I said books, not book. As I have previously said, a wise publisher knows that a profitable publishing business is built on a variety of products, not a one-shot wonder.

Such publishing projects can cost anywhere from $500-$10,000 per book. Depending on your individual strengths and skills, you may be able to mitigate publishing costs by taking on one or two of the publishing projects yourself; however, I caution you against doing things yourself or on-the-cheap unless you have a professional background dealing with the project in question. Remember what I said earlier about playing harder, smarter, and better than many of the major leaguers in the same genre? If your book’s writing, editing, cover art, or marketing copy can’t compete with the professional players, then you don’t have a prayer of stepping up to bat with readers.

Of course, my reasons for telling you all of this is not to discourage you, but keep you from walking into the role of an indie author blind. This publishing route is a very rewarding pursuit as long as you remember that it has its drawbacks just as traditional publishing does. I hope this helps dispel some of the misnomers associated with being an indie author. Next week, I’ll bust three more self-publishing myths.

Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better.

Alycia

P.S.-I am happy to announce that I’m looking for beta readers for my book Dreamdrifter, the sequel to Skinshifter. If you’re interested, contact me!

~

The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) blog is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with vivid fiction, deep love, and epic art for all. As always, contact me with any questions or thoughts. Thanks!

Books:
Skinshifter | The Dryad’s Sacrifice | Thorn & Thistle| Musings | First Fruits | FREE STUFF

Artwork:
Birds | Bugs | Graphic Art | Flowers | Landscapes | Leaves | Mammals | Romance | Objects | MORE

The Judgment Trap

Skinshifter_Text_Banner_2-4x6Could someone please tell me what insanity I just strayed into? A few moons ago, I encountered a group of social reform advocates who are absolutely decrying the evils of Christian rock music. Specifically, they were bashing the large Christian rock tour called Winter Jam and claiming that its mission was the work of Satan because of the “loudness” of some the music involved in the tour. I’m sorry, but are you kidding me?

For those of you who don’t know, I’m a hard rock fan. No, I have never listened to Metallica and I could care less about AC/DC. I have never bothered with Korn, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, or any of the mainstream rock bands that have been popular in my lifetime. Instead I grew up on legends like Audio Adrenaline, DCTalk, Newsboys, and Switchfoot. Now I listen to bands like Fireflight, RED, Skillet, Superchick, and Veridia. All of these bands are varying degrees of “loud” and all of them are, incidentally, Christian.

My reasoning for listening to these bands is that their overall message is very good. For me, it’s refreshing to listen to the soaring riffs of an electric guitar without enduring the acrid lyrics about the superficial pleasures of sex and drugs that so often accompany it. It’s also nice to listen to Christian bands who don’t feel the need to preach to all the world about the sublime goodness of God every single moment. Instead these are bands talk about the facts that life is not always pretty, human beings aren’t always perfect, and our mistakes can be rectified through Jesus’s love and grace. These are songs about confronting the darkest parts of ourselves, conquering addiction, overcoming grief, and letting go of toxins like hatred and rage. These songs speak of spiritual warfare: the constant duel between darkness and light. Their lyrics are a constant reminder for me to be vigilant against the war within myself as a flawed human being. I don’t always choose right over wrong and when I don’t, evil wins and others get hurt.

For someone like me who has used to these bands and their messages both heavy and light to help myself overcome some of the darkest episodes of my life, the rants of this particular reform group struck a nerve.

I will grant that I am somewhat on the extreme of Christian music tastes, but so what? Whether we agree on music or not, my frustration with this group was not the fact that they didn’t like the same music that I like. My problem is that this group of well-meaning people passed judgement in their self-righteous pride on something that they have no right to condemn.

Let me be crystal clear. Judgement is not a bad thing. In point of fact, it’s a very useful tool that helps us humans categorize and organize our world. However, if I judge others from an attitude of pride, then I am wrong. If I judge others with an attitude of love and humility, then I honor God. I as a Christian am called to love God and others. I am called to live a righteous life that helps others. I am called to spurn sin in any form it takes so that I can live life truly free. However, I have to be very careful what I call bad and what I call good. Jesus gave a great test for this in Matthew 12:33-37 with his “rotten fruit” test. If a person’s actions produce rotten results then those acts are bad and I need to take steps to stop the damage. If a person’s actions produce good results, then I need to support and encourage those actions. It’s that simple.

This is why I have no problem with hard rock Christian bands. I don’t bolster them because of the “Christian” label; I support them because of the good fruits I’ve seen them produce in my life and in others’ lives.

The same can be said about writing. I once wrote an article about the Writing Comparison Trap and the fact that it leads to self-doubt as a writer and a creative. I think the Judgment Trap that I’m discussing today does something similar. Both situations give me an unhealthy dose of pride to overcome. So my best guess is that I should avoid both of them by focusing my calling and my mission as a creative instead of comparing myself as better or worse than others.

No one will perceive the world quite in the same way I will. Likewise no one will interpret life experience in the same way I will. I think the themes of love, loss, grief, hope which exists in my writing are universal enough to capture other people’s interest and to build common ground between us. However, I also know that my chosen fiction genre, fantasy fiction, will not appeal to everyone just as my favorite form of rock music will not send people’s hearts happily aflutter. And that’s okay. I am not trying to enrich the entire world. I am merely attempting to build common ground between people who are somewhat similar to me. My hope and my prayer has always been that my writing would encourage and inspire others. If my writing does that, then I’ve served my mission well. If my writing harms; however, then I need to reevaluate what I’m doing.

At some point, I know that I will probably receive quite a bit of flak from the fact that I don’t shy away from darker themes and that I use magic as a simple way to explain God’s and Satan’s power to people who have yet to recognize them. That’s okay, too. Those that decry me for the genres in which I write are missing the point. I’m honored to stir up controversy. After all, my own savior Jesus knew that his message of sacrificial love and grace would be controversial especially to those who were already perfectly content to judge others as worse than themselves. Jesus didn’t come to heal the self-righteousness. He came to heal the broken-hearted, down-trodden, and those who know that we’re just not perfect. He came to heal me. I find it rather amazing that he uses my major passions of music and writing to deepen that healing.

Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better.

Alycia

~

The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) blog is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with vivid fiction, deep love, and epic art for all. As always, contact me with any questions or thoughts. Thanks!

Books:
Skinshifter | The Dryad’s Sacrifice | Thorn & Thistle| Musings | First Fruits | FREE STUFF

Artwork:
Birds | Bugs | Graphic Art | Flowers | Landscapes | Leaves | Mammals | Romance | Objects | MORE

Writing as a Business: Becoming a Panelist

"Bashful Flamingo" - Tap to enlarge or buy

“Bashful Flamingo” – Tap to enlarge or buy

The past three weeks have been so exciting! I turned Dreamdrifter into my editor on March 26 at just over 137,000 words. Once I delivered the book into the capable hands of my most talented mutilator, I prepared for AggieCon. This year marked a rather special AggieCon for me. After attending the con for ten years, I was invited to be a speaker on four different discussion panels. The invitation marks a promotion of sorts for me as a writer. Until now, I had always come to the convention to listen to the panelists and learn from the things they share. Now I find myself speaking as one of them. That isn’t to say that I don’t still learn as a writer, but now I’m at least in a place where I’ve practiced a few things long enough to be able to share with others what works and what doesn’t for me. It’s a welcome transition that has come through a ton of hard work.

Of the four panels that I helped run, the Self-Publishing Panel was by far the most interesting for me. The attendees had some excellent questions and some of those questions are what I want to address today. Since I’ve written quite a few articles about the business of writing, I wanted share several of my past discussions on the subject. Here is the list:

I hope each of these help you progress in your knowledge of the craft and of the business! Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better.

Alycia

~

The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) blog is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with vivid fiction, deep love, and epic art for all. As always, contact me with any questions or thoughts. Thanks!

Books:
Skinshifter | The Dryad’s Sacrifice | Thorn & Thistle| Musings | First Fruits | FREE STUFF

Artwork:
Birds | Bugs | Graphic Art | Flowers | Landscapes | Leaves | Mammals | Romance | Objects | MORE

What’s the Best Weapon against Writer’s Block? Find Out Now!

Rivulets_AC4x6Sometimes writing isn’t fun; sometimes it’s a real chore. I guarantee that you’ll have to trudge through episodes of writer’s block just as much as you’ll skip past easily-crafted scenes. But never fear because we authors have a few weapons in our arsenal to help us break down those ugly creative barriers to get to the beautiful prose on the other side.

One of my favorite personal siege engines against writer’s block is research. Now calm down before your collective groans start drowning out my sentences. Research can actually be a ton of fun because it helps satisfy our natural curiosity as human beings. The other reason research is fun is because it makes our jobs as writers much, much easier.

Imagine this: you are writing a scene where two characters are eating in the middle of a deli-style café, but you’ve never actually set foot inside a deli. It’s going to be very difficult to accurately describe what’s going on around your characters or even what they’re eating if you have no experience in a similar sort of setting, isn’t it?

We writers have words as our only essential tools for building a story, so we must describe everything to our readers. That is extremely difficult to do if we don’t understand how something works or the way an object or person looks. This is why research is so essential to writing and why it becomes one of our most important weapons against writer’s block.

There are essentially two types of research. One is what I call focused research and the other is called ambient research. Ambient research is a type of research that most people don’t even know they are doing when they do it. Ambient research usually happens while writers learn something new about a subject while they are doing something unrelated to an actual focused study of that subject. This could be anything from learning a piece of trivia while playing a game or experiencing a new place for the first time while on a vacation. Ambient research is very different from focused research.

When most people hear the word “research”, they immediately think of hours spent studying dusty volumes in the stacks of a local library. Library reading is part of what I call focused research and it is quite useful when authors need to answer specific questions in their writing. However, focused research is much more than simply wading through library bookshelves. Focused research also means that an author might need to interview a key expert in a particular field or participate in a certain activity in order to “really get a feel” for a specific aspect of his or her story such as its plot, setting, or characters. While focused research seems to happen more often for nonfiction writers, I promise that fiction writers will find it just as useful no matter their genre.

We’ll use me for an example dealing with the two types of research since I am an easy target. Like any good author, I write what I love. I am a fantasy author and I also love watching movies and reading books in the fantasy genre. I learn a lot from fellow speculative fiction authors, but I principally read their stuff because it’s highly entertaining. Keeping all of this in mind, let’s say that while I’m watching the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides movie for the thousandth time that I suddenly become interested in reading more about pirates. I pick up Tim Powers’ book On Stranger Tides, which loosely inspired a couple parts of the movie. After I read that book, I go on to Michael Crichton’s Pirate Latitudes novel because I’m still interested in reading more stories about 18th Century buccaneers—both real and fictitious. This is called ambient research because I have learned more about a particular subject through various forms of entertainment without doing a serious study of it. Some of what I have learned will be inaccurate because the information that I learned came from entertainers instead of scholars; however, some of my new knowledge—like the basic parts of a ship—will be accurate. However, if I suddenly decide that I want a deeper knowledge of the actual pirates who lived in the 1700s, my interest is now intently focused and so my research will be specifically directed toward nonfiction sources such as The Republic of Pirates by Colin Woodard with the specific goal of gaining a deep understanding of my subject. Hence my research will become focused research.

Because I write what I love, I don’t mind doing research of either type because the research that I do—whether ambient or focused—is about subjects that I find genuinely fascinating in the first place. I often like to approach writing a specific story by reading fiction and nonfiction books of a similar nature or subject-matter before, during, and after the writing process. This constant flow of focused research, ambient research, and general inspiration helps me more easily work around those writer’s blocks caused by a lack of knowledge. I also love to use photographs from my and other people’s travels as a guide to help me describe certain scenes more easily. I use focused research in the form of personal experience, expert interviews, scientific journals, and full-on, library-haunting study sessions for those more persistent blockades.

Whatever research you do, please remember that the key to getting the most out of research is to always make sure your stories reflect your personal interests. Making your stories personal and your subject matters interesting will help drive your passion toward them and your passion will help you ensure that your stories are written accurately. Accurate research is one of the best ways to create high quality writing that readers adore, so make it count. Your readers will pay attention to your story’s details and they will complain when something is incorrect. The last thing you want is to be remembered as a lazy writer, so get your details right before you share you work with the world.

For instance, if your story is set in downtown Chicago, make sure that you know what downtown Chicago looks, feels, and smells like. If your story is set in early 19th Century Montana where horses were the main form of transportation, then talk to cowboys about how they care for their steeds. Study horse anatomy, western-style riding, and tack terminology. Then give subtle hints of your new-found knowledge to build your story’s accuracy. Even if your characters set foot in a completely imaginary realm, you should do some research to find out what realistic place and time period most closely resemble the fantasy world you are trying to build. Remember, good writing drops the reader smack-dab into the middle of a story’s scene. Good research should do the same for the author.

Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better!

Alycia


The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with love, art, speculative fiction books, and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts about this particular post and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Writing Dynamic Character Arcs

BeautyBeyondtheBarsACS4x6I post this month’s writing advice article with a heavy heart. Whether by divine providence or cosmic coincidence, I actually wrote today’s article several months ago as part of a writing advice letter given to one of my dearest friends. Now, however, I find myself sharing a piece of writing both timely and sad given the recent death of actor/director Philip Seymour Hoffman from a suspected heroin overdose. I had saved this section of the letter dealing with dynamic character growth so that I could publish it in February for the benefit of my fellow story-tellers. Little did I know how poignant my character arc example was about to become. Here is the article:

A good story requires its characters to change and grow from the beginning of the tale to its end.

The personal growth of a character through her dealing with each obstacle in a story’s plot is called character arc. Character arcs occur in “good” characters and “bad” characters just as they happen in “good” and “bad” people in the real world. Good characters can become better or worse just as bad characters can become better or worse.

Often these dynamic changes are spurred by the character’s specific reactions to a certain set of circumstances. Is there some whisper of darkness that will tempt your “good” character to turn evil or, at the very least, rogue? Is there some spark of goodness that will tempt your “bad” character to try to redeem himself? To know your characters is to know their individual journeys and their personal arcs. Whether you prefer to work with your characters to hone the story’s plot or you like to use your characters as tools in service to your plot, please be mindful that different types of stories will require different types of character arcs. Make sure that your character fits the arc and the plot that you want to use.

For example, tragedies usually require that a “good” character be ultimately defeated by the events within a story plot. That character will still grow to overcome many of the obstacles she faces, but ultimately she will be crushed under her adverse circumstances. Such stories prove heart-wrenching because we as the readers become so invested in that character. We relate to that character in some way and so we cheer her on when we see how hard the character works to succeed. Her ultimate defeat feels like a slap in the face to us because the character came so close to triumphing over the hardship in her life.

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is the oft-mentioned literary example of a tragedy, but one of the best portrayals of tragedy that I know is a real-life example. It is the newspaper headline that reads something like: “Beloved Actor Found Dead in his Beach Home, Drug Overdose Suspected”. Here I see an actor who has proven successful enough in his career to have fame, fans, and fortune enough to own multiple houses. He has fought through the cattle-call auditions to achieve a chance at those starring roles that I love. He has won prestigious awards for his inspiring performances and gained the adoration of legions of fans like me who identify with his on-screen characters. And yet he cannot conquer one thing: the white lady. It started when he was younger; smoking and snorting was a way to beat back the frustration and loneliness of the job and to smooth out his nerves before the next audition. Now cocaine has become his personal nightmare, always dragging him back into its embrace and begging him to sink deeper into the darkness of its clutches. I am sympathetic to his plight. After all I have seen him voluntarily enter rehab clinics time and again to overcome an addiction that he just can’t seem to shake. He has been doing so well; he’s stayed clean for almost a year now! And yet on Monday morning, I scan the news articles and stop dead on his name. The words “drug overdose” repeat over and over in my mind like a scream. The police haven’t confirmed it yet, but I know deep in my heart that the coke finally killed him. I shake my head and whisper, “No, not another good one dead!” I crumple the newspaper and hurl it into the trash, too sick to my stomach to read any more.

Ouch, what a tragedy! What makes this tragedy worse is that it holds a lot of truth. After all, I have friends and family members who have wrestled with the same demon of addiction. But what if, after reading that story, I find a book the next day that details a woman’s rehabilitation from the same substance that killed the actor. In this book, a crack-addicted mother recounts how the loss of her children to CPS spurred her desperate struggle to get clean and get out of the projects. After several ups and downs and by the “grace of God”, this woman has been clean and continually employed for nine years! Then, after years and years of searching through foster agency records, the mother is finally able to be reunited with the children that were taken from her home more than a decade earlier. The book ends with her crying as her two-year-old granddaughter hugs her for the very first time. Instead of watching a mostly “good” person go downhill and die tragically young, I now get the chance to watch a “loser” overcome the bad in her life and find something beautiful.

There are many story arcs and character arcs to discover between the boundaries of the inspirational story and the tragedy. An important note to remember is that not all character-stretching circumstances are bad. Some are actually quite good. Let’s say that I have a character who is totally prejudiced against people of other races, but particularly with people of Asian-descent. What is the easiest way to grow her out of that bad characteristic? How about I have her car crash on the outskirts of Chinatown and she is rescued from the wreckage by a fireman who is second generation Chinese-American? The first situation is life-threatening, but the rescue is actually more stressful for our main character because her world view is being challenged by an act of kindness from someone whom she would have never trusted. Thus a good circumstance actually challenges the character to learn and change.

Have fun interweaving your characters’ arcs with your story plot. If you do this well, you will be amazed at how many events actually surprise you while you are writing a story. You might even end up with more plot twists and turns than you ever thought possible when you began the project.

Until our next meeting, may we each rewrite our world for the better!

🙂 Alycia

P.S.-I give my deepest condolences to Mr. Hoffman’s family and friends. May you find God’s peace in this troubling time.


The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the desk of Alycia C. Cooke and/or Alycia Christine Sears at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with love, fiction books, and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts about this particular post and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!

SCRAWLS: Putting Personal Passion into Your Prose

Sumaris_Solitude_CoverThe start of my official fiction writing career began in 2006 when I sold my first short story “Sumari’s Solitude” to Hadley Rille Books for distribution as the lead short story in their Ruins Metropolis anthology. While I have written better-crafted short stories since then, I am still extremely proud of that tale. Here is why: the story was the first short story that I had ever written that dealt with a deeply personal issue of mine.

My story’s main character was the first female high priestess of her temple. Because of her spiritual and political position, she could not marry the man that she loved. The tension of Sumari’s occupation interfering with her love-life was one that I knew quite well. At the time of the story’s actual publication in 2007, my soul mate and I were living over a thousand miles apart. I had moved to a new town with very few friends, was working as the youngest reporter that my news publication had ever hired, and I was stuck in the middle of one the most politically charged offices I had ever encountered. I did not realize it at the time, but I desperately needed to vent my feelings about the whole maddening situation in a way that would not point fingers or fuel any gossip trains. Fiction writing became my solution.

I poured my conflicting feelings of frustration and longing and hope into the character of Sumari. I made her feel like a living, breathing person who shared some of my sorrows. The story’s creation did not change my situation, but it did help me cope with it better.

I wrote and edited the 6000-word short story in less than a month—a great feat for me in those days. The story was then accepted for publication by the first publisher to which I submitted it (Hadley Rille Books). I am now firmly convinced that one of the main reasons “Sumari’s Solitude” was accepted for publication so quickly is because I poured a genuine piece of myself into its creation.

All of this brings me to my writing advice for today: great writing is always deeply personal and passionate. It takes true bravery to write well because such writing requires the writer to share things that he or she deeply cares about with the reader. Such truth can be scary; however, its rewards are incredible.

Some authors have described writing as a form of therapy. I heartily agree with this statement. There are, of course, some published authors who can put together an entertaining story with little depth in either their characters or their story plots. You can still make money with shallow stories, but do you really want to be remembered for a so-so caliber of work? I do not and therefore I try to avoid writing shallow stories as much as possible. To be sure, deep writing is harder because it cuts further past your comfort zone and dips under your personal defenses to spill your greatest hopes and fears out onto the page in stark black and white for all to see. This is unnerving, especially when other people can so easily criticize your efforts. In the end though, I would rather use deep writing to help bring hope and encouragement to other people who have gone through some of the same problems I have endured. If one person finds help through the honesty in my writing, then it is worth a thousand of the harshest critics’ screams.

My passion for my writing drives me through mounds of discouragement. In the end, I am always the biggest fan of my own work just as you should be the biggest fan of your own writing. Your dedication to your writing will make or break it in the minds of others. Making your stories personal will help drive your passion toward them and your passion will help you ensure that your stories are well-written and therefore well-remembered in the mind of your readers. Your writing is your only real way to communicate with and make a good impression with a reader, so be as personable and honest as you can be with them. Those who learn to trust and appreciate your good work will become your most loyal fans and in turn offer you encouragement when you need it the most.

Until our next meeting, may we each rewrite our world for the better!

🙂 Alycia


The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the desk of Alycia C. Cooke and/or Alycia Christine Sears with love, fiction books, and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts on this particular topic and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!

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