WRITER’S BLOCK PART II: STORY

“Life goes by so fast, You only want to do what you think is right, Close your eyes and then it’s past.”
-Social Distortion, “Story Of My Life”

Characters can carry a story, but they also can hide the plot, and if it’s a good tale that needs to be told, then wouldn’t it be so much better to have both aspects be great? Just like relating to a character in some way, you can provide a relation to a situation in reality, even if your character (or you, you know you do it) lives in a fantasy.

Fact and fantasy (not necessarily the genre) are quite similar despite the obvious difference (that doesn’t make sense). Take a historical documentary for instance: The reader must get involved with the situation to understand the true degree of the words. Since it was in the past, and did in fact happen, there’s no possible way the reader can enter into the situation they will never encounter without using imagination to understand the truth. Despite what Back to the Future, The Butterfly Effect, or that new movie with the teenagers in it claims, time travel isn’t available (yet) so you have to use your imagination. In Driving: An Unofficial Guide, I talk about the daily commute, but through imagery and relatable situations the reader feels like they’re in the car with me (at least I hope they do) even though they probably will never be my passenger.

When it comes to fiction, the story must be factual in the sense that it must be consistent. An author or writer can make up a world, a crime, a relatable life situation, and so on, but it must be ‘true’ in order to write it per se. If you don’t believe in your story then your reader won’t either. In The Moirai Medallions, dragons are part of the world, they’re real, they’re fact in that story. In the current book I’m writing, Endless, the character is going through a fictitious, but realistic situation, so the subject matter, say it’s suicide (it’ s suicide), should be true to form if based on real life problems and the theme follows suit.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vn_PSJsl0LQ

A great story comes from a good idea and an even better outline. Let’s take a movie script for instance. The ‘experts’ say a screenplay shouldn’t surpass 125 pages, whatever, I’m sure many do, but it’s a good base. Find twelve main parts or big events in the plot (including beginning and end), and try to get ten script pages between parts; to break it down even more, add five subjects within the twelve main parts at two pages each and you have yourself a 120 page script.

With books you can do the same, but by word count. Of course the word count range is very broad depending on the genre, but we will focus on a fiction book. Five big parts, five medium parts to each big part, and then five small parts to each medium part; at 1,000 words per small part, you have a 125,000 word novel which would average around 500 book pages depending on the formatting or design. Organization for story development is very important (to me at least).

Three things I can recommend: Sometimes start with an ending and write how you got to that conclusion (the audience is in it to see what happens at the end, so you may as well put a lot of energy into that), Research every detail if you’re not 100% sure (research, research, research, and then research even more), and give the made-up world unique characteristics and make sure stories involving the real world are specific in culture and exclusivity (something we know exists, even in a futuristic world, like if the Great Wall of China was torn down during a war in 2568).

Be creative, be factual, be consistent.

WRITER’S BLOCK PART I: CHARACTERS

“We’d like to know a little bit about you for our files, We’d like to help you learn to help yourself.”
-Simon & Garfunkel, “Mrs. Robinson”

Characters make the story. You can have a wonderful tale, but unless there is someone (or something if it’s some sort of fable/fantasy-like work) then it’s difficult for the reader to relate or get lost in the world. It’s like putting a face to someone, but not really because you’re reading. We all know people love to compare their lives to other people: fictional, biographical, celebrities, dancing celebrities, random people stuffed onto an island or into a house, and so on.

Weather it is a book character, a real person, someone who is to be portrayed on the silver screen, or an individual a song is about, the readers or audiences need to feel for this character. They need to love them, hate them, feel sympathy, wish misfortune, laugh at and with them, question their actions, and do everything else you probably feel for a real-life family member or peer.

I created a template for my writing that helps me develop characters. One of the enjoyable things that guides me, though it may seem tedious, is giving every character a complete background even if they’re minor and it never comes into play during the story. It helps you understand why they act a certain way, why they speak a certain way, and also assists in writing the character with consistency throughout. Here’s a list of what is on the template:

CHARACTER: Their name or what they’re referred to as in the story. Ex: ‘John Smith’ or ‘Waitress’.
ROLE/OCCUPATION: Depending on genre and format. Ex: Male Lead/Data Analyst
HERITAGE: Even if they’re American, everyone’s family is from somewhere. Ex: English-Irish
RELIGION/POLITICAL: Two controversial character traits, especially in reality. Ex: Catholic/Independent
AGE/APPEARANCE: A vague range works. Ex: Late-20’s/Casual attire, lanky, brown/green (hair and eyes), curly hair, manicured beard, glasses, walks with a slight limp that is barely noticeable.
PERSONALITY: Don’t be afraid to use that Psych 101 material. Ex: Loaner, always rushed, doesn’t sleep much, hypochondriac.
POWER/ATTRIBUTE: Everyone is great, good, or at least average at something. Ex: Math and reading binary code (this can also be used in super-fiction or fantasy as a character’s abilities or powers).
FLAW: Nobody, I mean NOBODY is perfect. Ex: Gets nervous in public settings, stutters speech (this can also be used in super-fiction or fantasy as what can take down a character, like kryptonite).
QUIRK: Mannerism or vocal oddity that separates them from other characters. Ex: Always repositioning glasses.
BACKGROUND: This part can get fun. Ex: Single, every girlfriend he’s had has cheated on him, middle child, parents divorced later in their lives, older sister is married with four kids, younger brother is married with two kids, never participated in athletics, played the clarinet growing up.
GOAL/PURPOSE: They must have a point. Ex: Overcome nerves and unravel a family secret.
FIRST DESCRIPTION/APPEARANCE: Chapters or page numbers. Ex: Ch. 1/Ch. 2 (so John Smith was described by another character or the writer in chapter one, but doesn’t enter the story until chapter two).
TO REMEMBER: Don’t forget to jot things down you write during the story that has to do with your character. Consistency matters.
ADDITIONAL NOTES: The character is still your creation so feel free to add traits as you write.

John Smith has now become a person.

This may seem like a lot of information, but it really isn’t. None of these categories should really consist of more than a sentence, even a couple words at that, except maybe the character’s appearance and background. Keep in mind, this is for the author’s reference, it can be disorganized and grammatically incorrect as much as you want because the reader will most likely never see it until you pass away and it’s auctioned off for a million dollars (monetary compensation based off success of story). Just as long as you, the author, know what you’re talking about.

Three things I can recommend: Give your character something memorable in their appearance, give them a personality disorder, and don’t be afraid to have them break character. Ex: A man with a scar under his lip who is obsessive-compulsive and very serious, but he will tell a quick joke or crack a subtle smile every once in awhile.

So there you have it. You can be as creative as possible, but what it boils down to is that your character will probably be more like a real person (you know or know of), a description of yourself, or a representation of your ideology. Have fun and see if it works! Please feel free to comment questions or opinions!

SELF-PUBLISHING: ADVICE FOR THE CRAZY AND IMPATIENT

“I’m crazy for trying, And crazy for crying.”
-Patsy Cline, “Crazy”

The self-publishing process is attractive and intriguing, but not as beneficial and easy as one would think. Writers often, well not often, almost always have the desire to achieve complete flawlessness in their work in a way that only they deem adequate. The truth is that it will never be perfect in the eyes of the creator. God can probably vouch for that as well.

With that being said, though the word “self” is in the very popular form of publishing, there’s a need for support in other aspects of the process. It’s a difficult route, but also can be a rewarding learning experience, especially for ones vetting for discovery. If no one is going to offer you an opportunity to gain the all-important experience many houses wish you had, you may as well do it yourself. You’re a writer, you’re controlling, you shouldn’t have it any other way.

The writing process is similar to driving (you’re just saying that because you wrote a book on driving). Be that as it may, it’s true. An author can easily get into a routine just like a commuter takes the same route to and from their career at a fast food restaurant cash register at least 5 days a week. You become used to it, and very comfortable in your habits that it becomes a customary part of your daily life. Outlines, character development, draft after draft, edit after edit, re-wording, additions and removals, and so on. However, it’s your routine and no matter how you choose to approach your route, you perform with ease. Big house publishers are the other drivers, the ones that distract you with what they have to offer, the ones that force you to take a different approach or pace to work at, and other comparisons to what you experience on the road you can think of. I wrote a book on driving; it’s your turn to find the analogies.

Driving Cover Image
Photo courtesy of me

Control is a key aspect for the writer. It’s difficult to accept changes, but we must realize that it’s necessary. You can do it all by yourself, it’s not a capability issue, but another eye or another perspective never hurt anyone (unless you’re one of those sensitive people). For example, editing is the most important service one can use. I edited “Driving: An Unofficial Guide” on my own and the 1st edition has typos. Of course it does! I know what I wrote, and I know what it was supposed to say, therefore I read through it quickly because the words were already processing in my mind before my eyes could catch up. In a paragraph near the beginning of the book a starting sentence reads, “Rushing a though process.” It was supposed to say, “Rushing through a process.” The obvious irony has already been noted and joked about, thank you. I’m a very good writer (conceded much), and my grammar is very good as well, but editing with fresh, unbiased eyes is essential. If I edit your work it probably would have no typos, constructive criticism, and productive suggestions. If I edit my own work it could be embarrassing.

Design is another factor. Make sure you do your research on trim sizes, font choices, formatting, gutter and margin positioning, and so forth. You even have to take into consideration the fact that a standard tab at the beginning of the paragraph won’t adjust after formatting changes. It’s not a big deal, but maybe 3-5 spaces will serve as a more attractive insert on a 5” x 8” trim size than a full standard indentation. A tab may look like it’s starting at the middle of the page. Take your time and play around with all these functions; it’s better to have an end product you’re happy with that will be on the shelves or in the digital world forever rather than a rushed draft. A couple more weeks of precise work isn’t a big deal considering you probably just spent months, if not years, doing the same obsessive process while creating your work.

Cover design is a big deal. The old adage goes, “Never judge a book by its cover,” but we all know that’s hogwash. My traffic school instructor (again with the driving, geez) was pretty assuming towards the lawbreakers I shared a classroom with over the weekend, just like you look at the illustration or fonts on the cover of written work or CD album (if you still listen to those things). There’s no reason not to judge a book (literally) by its cover because you can’t read the whole thing for free. Finding a contract illustrator or designer will definitely help, or even someone that you know that’s a great illustrator. You wouldn’t believe how many friends you have that can draw or digitally create; it’s just not a hobby most people feel they should share anymore. Ask around, networking is a big part in the process of self-publishing for reasonable costs.

For example: I spent a whopping $325 to self-publish “Driving: An Unofficial Guide”, and it’s a success (definitions of success may vary from person to person)!

We can get into copyrights, ISBN’s, and what not another time, but please feel free to comment if you have any questions about the process. As of right now, let’s worry about the basics. Take it from a writer who has experienced it; it’s fun and rewarding, but patience is necessary. You don’t want to end up going crazy; on the other hand, it does fit the profession.