This week’s Thursday round-up comes to you slightly late from a Residence Inn while I move across state lines.
Archive for October, 2010
In recent years, Nanowrimo has grown to such massivity that it’s impossible to keep up on the forums anymore, but back when I did, I noticed a fairly common phenomenon known as Plot Death.
Plot Death goes a little like this – Person wakes up one day with a fantastic story idea. They are so excited. They can’t wait to get started on writing it. So they do character profiles and interviews. They draw maps. They research time periods, exotic locales, interesting viruses, different octopus species. They figure out each scene, each chapter, every step of the story in as much detail as they can manage. Their outline is threatening to reach Nano sizes itself.
And then it happens. Somewhere along the line the person realizes something’s wrong. Something’s wrong with the plot, something’s wrong with them, something – but all enthusiasm they had for the project is gone. Instead, they dread November. They try to pump life back into the plot, but it’s too late. The story is dead.
Plot Death is a horrible affliction, but it’s easily avoidable. So, in 2005 or 2006 or somewhere around there I started preaching Nano Zen. The idea is simple. You take everything you have for your story – plot, characters, setting, etc. – and you put it in a box in your mind. And then you close the box and put it in a corner and DO NOT TOUCH IT for the entirety of October.
I realize this is a little late for this year.
People say to me “But Kit, how can you be prepared enough if you don’t think about your story for a month?” That’s just the thing. It’s not that you’re not thinking about your story. In fact, by not thinking about your story you actually think about it more. Your subconscious takes over. You start to get scene ideas in the shower. The person across from you on the train reminds you of your main character. The radio manages to give you a major plot twist.
Some people need a huge amount of organization to write a story, but the fact of the matter is that for a lot of us it’s a more organic process. There has to be some room to let the story grow on its own. You can know a lot about the story without killing it, but the truth is it might take you a while to figure out what your comfort level is.
Because Nano has time frame rules – you cannot start writing until November 1st – some people channel all their enthusiasm into planning and end up overplanning. How much overplanning causes Plot Death depends on the person, but overplanning has been proven to be a direct cause of Plot Death. So lock your story away. Let it grow naturally. Channel that energy towards making friends on the forums or within your region. I like to make icons and banners and covers to drain off some of that excess energy. It allows me to work on things related to the story without actually worrying about anything. (I am terrible with graphics. It still helps.)
So take a deep breath. Stop worrying. Nano is supposed to be fun. Relax and let your story grow on its own.
Yes. Absolutely yes.
At this point in the internet I think everyone who writes or is in some way related to writing is aware of the existence of Nano, no matter their opinion on the subject. I know agents and publishers live in dread of the uneducated masses who will heap their unedited “masterpieces” on the world come December and I know some people just can’t figure how anything useful comes out of stuffing 50K words into a month.
Reasons why Nano is Awesome and Everyone Should Try it:
1. It gets things done. Nano claims to promote “literary abandon” – the idea that you should just write without dwelling on whether you’re using too many adverbs or if your first character has a silly name or if space octopi really would eat only kumquats. The point is that we get hung up on things all the time; Nano encourages you to just push past it and let the story flow.
2. It builds community. Yes, writing is a solitary activity. Only you can write your novel. However no one said you had to do it alone. Admittedly sometimes when I attend a write-in occasionally I spend more time socializing than writing, but Nano has helped me find critique partners, beta-readers, and a writing group, all of which have been instrumental in helping me improve as a writer.
3. It’s not that hard. Some people will probably want to punch me for saying that, but it really truly isn’t. If you want to be a writer, if this is something you want to do with your life, it’s not that hard to write 50K in a month. I try to write 2K every day. It takes me about an hour and a half, give or take (depending on the flow and if I need to research something, etc). You should be writing, editing, submitting, polishing or in some way working on your writing every day anyway. Dedication of a few hours of your day to the craft is something to be expected. Especially if you have at least a basic outline beforehand, Nano can fly.
4. It’s fun. Now, you don’t need to do Nano to write 50K in a month, but if you do, then you get to experience Nano. It is truly unique, unlike any other writing contest or challenge I have ever participated in otherwise. Nano is a force of nature, a wild, crazy, exhilarating ride. It’s silly at times, profound at others, but always itself. And between the word wars, plot ninjas, plotbunnies, trebuchets, lesbian pirate cabbages and all the other madness that gets mixed in (to the event, not necessarily your novel) you will never ever be bored.
5. It allows experimentation. Now, at this point, eight years into the madness, I work mostly on serious projects, even during Nano. But Nano is a time when anything goes. You can try out new genres. You can try out new POVs. You can try out new structures. Everything you’ve ever wanted to try, why not try now? The forums are full of people who are willing to help you out on whatever endeavor.
6. It’s life-changing. When I first did Nano, I wrote occasionally, mostly short things I thought would amuse my friends, a short story here or there, several stalled novels, nothing to write home about. I would have said I liked to write, but not that I was a writer. That first Nano I didn’t win, but it opened the flood gates. It allowed me to say – hey, I like this, I want to do this. It taught me that I have the ability to plot an entire novel and, perhaps most important of all, that I was fully capable of doing so.
I know I’m not the only one who’s felt this. I’ve seen the awe with which Chris Baty (the founder) is regarded (though he always seems a little confused by that fact). One Nano staffer told me last year that someone from elsewhere in the States stopped by the office on vacation and honestly burst into tears when she met Chris. The realization that you are capable, the good things Nano brings with it – they are heartwarming.
And nothing, nothing my friends, compares to crossing 50K. Even if you’ve done it before. Even if you suspect you left a plot thread in chapter three. Surrounded by people doing the same thing at the same time, cheering you on – knowing that, until December, all that’s important is the journey.
Do Nano. It rocks.
Last year, I published Hidden Worlds, a fantasy adventure novella, through Lulu. Why I chose to do this particular project myself instead of going a traditional route is another blog subject.
What’s important to this blog is that I received good interest and reviews and I am putting out a second edition under the Turtleduck Press label later this year. So, in the interest of making the book as widely available as possible, in addition to Lulu I am also releasing the story through CreateSpace and Smashwords since there are no exclusivity contracts with any of these services.
Now, there are tons of articles out there arguing about which POD service you should use because of royalty rates, distribution, professional services, quality of product, whatever. You are free to read any of those that you would like. What I’m going to focus on is ease of getting your product together and ready to go out into the world.
As I said, I published Hidden Worlds on Lulu originally. I had done some work on an anthology published through them and had been fairly pleased with the experience, so I chose them because they were familiar. Lulu is straight-forward; you pick what you’d like to publish (hard cover or paperback), put in a title and author name, and go through a variety of options (binding, size, paper type).
CreateSpace works more or less the same way here. Their language is a little different but it’s not too hard to figure out what they’re talking about.
Lulu will then ask you to upload your interior file. It then checks it and lets you know if it thinks there’s something wrong with your formatting. Lulu converts it into an interior file, allows you to view it, and then moves on to the cover. You can upload your own wraparound cover or use their cover creator, which is fabulous. There’s separate templates for front and rear covers. The whole thing is easy to use and versatile enough that I didn’t find it hard to adapt it to what I wanted the book to look like. Again, after it has converted the file, you can view it and make sure everything looks okay.
And when I revised the book for the second edition, it was as easy as uploading a new cover and a new interior file. Lulu automatically updated the product page, the preview, and kept my ratings and reviews with it.
CreateSpace also asks you to upload an interior file. But, unless I am missing something (and my Google Fu says I am not) there is no way to view this file once it’s uploaded. This is a Bad Thing. Hidden Worlds uses a non-standard font for the title page that sometimes does not translate over when I upload the pdf. Lulu’s preview functionality has helped me catch that issue before the book is released for public consumption. I have no way to know if the font copied over properly until I receive my proof copy in the mail. Admittedly I won’t release the book until I have the proof copy, but I shouldn’t have to wait two and a half weeks* to see if I need to fix the interior file.
CS also lets you upload a complete cover or use their cover creator. Their cover creator, however, is not nearly as versatile as Lulu’s is. You cannot pick and choose different templates for the front and back covers. And there is exactly one template for a full front cover which means you’re stuck with the back that comes with it. Yes, it is easy to use. Yes, CS lets you preview your cover file to make sure it looks as expected, and it does warn you if the graphics you’re trying to use are low-resolution. But the lack of versatility is a major issue in my book.
*CS requires that you buy a proof-copy of your book before you list it with them. That’s fine, I think most of us would agree that we would like to see what we’re putting out and make sure that it’s something we’re willing to put our name on. The issue here is that the shipping prices are ridiculous. Hidden Worlds, for example, costs $4.38 for the proof. (Which is admittedly quite decent. My proof at Lulu is $7.91.) Shipping is $3.61 but it takes almost three weeks to arrive. If I want it in two weeks, it goes up to $6.39. If I want it in any sort of reasonable length of time, is costs twenty-five dollars! I ship books all the time. It costs me $3 to send a book across country priority mail through the US Postal Service. Those books arrive in 3-5 days. Lulu, admittedly, is pretty expensive/slow on shipping as well but not to this extreme.
Now, since I am waiting three weeks for my proof, I cannot tell you how easy it is to make changes if necessary and get the product out to the public. I do not know if I will need to buy another proof before I can release the book if I need to upload a new interior. Those are subjects for another time.
But based on my experience so far, in terms of ease of use and ability to get your product to look how you would like, I think Lulu’s winning. We’ll see how things play out in the long run.
Out of all genre fiction, poor fantasy is hated on the most. (I think the reason literary fiction hates on genre in general is because it is not fun and it knows it is not fun and is jealous of the fact that genre is. So it hides its envy under its “sophistication” and “social commentary” and what have you.) This is truly unfortunate because fantasy is perhaps the most varied and rich of all genres out there.
When people think of fantasy they picture Tolkien rip-offs (what is known as the Sword and Sorcery subgenre) being read by overweight, hygenically-challenged individuals lurking in their parents’ basement. Or, if someone manages to get past that old stereotype created in the 80s, then they tend to be of the opinion that fantasy is only for children, that as adults they are too mature and worldly to indulge in flights of fantasy. That it is beneath them.
Even when I talk to fans of science fiction – a genre that is intimately tied to fantasy – I get a lot of weird stares when I ask them what fantasy books they’ve picked up recently. As if spaceships and aliens were any more relevent than dragons and werewolves. A kraken is just as scientifically possible as extraterrestrials lurking on Mars (and, in my opinion, infinitely more fun. Now, if there were kraken lurking on Mars, well…).
Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to tell you that if you are not reading fantasy you are missing out. So you don’t care for elves and dwarfs? So what? The brilliant thing about the fantasy coming out these days is that anything is possible, that the sky – and beyond – is the limit for what this genre encompasses. There are so many subgenres out there, spanning from only the merest hints of something supernatural in a modern or near-future world to secondary worlds populated with creatures so strange Tolkien wouldn’t know what to do with them. There’s steampunk, alternate history, alternate universes, urban, contemporary, paranormal – the list goes on and on. Every mythology, every legend, every cultural memory humanity has ever had can be found woven into stories in unique and fascinating ways.
And not only that, fantasy mixes seamlessly with other genres. Science fiction? Nobody really knows where to separate the two anyway. Romance? Absolutely. Mystery? You betcha. Thriller? Without a doubt. People have even managed to get some fantasy into Westerns. A little hint of magic and mystery can do a lot.
If you think you’re too old for fantasy, think again. Fantasy’s grown up. There’s a depth to the genre, to the characters, to the plot. Sure, once it was a teenager, concerned with saving the maiden and swinging its sword around without a thought of where it would hit, but that was years ago. It went out into the world, found itself, and grew into its own.
So I dare you to give fantasy a chance. If you like historical fiction, try alternate history (His Majesty’s Dragon, Naomi Novik). If you like science fiction, try steampunk (Leviathan, Scott Westerfeld). If you like mysteries, you might take a look at Jasper Fforde’s The Big Over Easy. I guarantee you can find something out there that you will like without the stereotypical elves or vampires.
Though those are there too, if that’s what you like. We’re a very inclusive genre.