Writing isn’t easy. World building is even harder.
It’s been nearly a year since I made the decision to go the self publishing route and one of the main reasons why I wanted to do so was the ability to control your own creative. The only person making decisions on what I will and won’t write is myself. That is such a liberating and freeing experience.
However, that also comes with my large imagination.
Since I can remember I’ve always been a fan of large stories with many characters and various plotlines running throughout the entire story. From Lord of the Rings to Imajica to Star Wars to The Dark Tower series, epics have always intrigued me. They also require an extensive amount of world building and if the creator of such a tale does not have all of her or his ducks in a row, so to speak, it can wind up being a muddled mess.
Use What You Know
When crafting the world of The Dea (the fictional universe that was introduced in The Brothers Locke and will continue in the Dorian Delmontez series) I had a hard time knowing where to start. I knew the world in which all of these characters and stories would exist had to be massive but it had to make sense within its own confines.
How do you get such a massive undertaking mapped out.
Well, I used what I knew, which was painting and outlines. Now, outlines are more common with authors. Some even construct outlines that are over 5,000 words in length. I prefer to use bullet points and continue from there.
But that wasn’t enough. I needed something tangible, something that I could point to and go back to when I hit a dry spot in the story or want to know where to go next. So, I turned to oil painting, a hobby that has come and gone from my life multiple times.
Using what I knew – a brush, canvas, and paint – I was able to start creating over three dozen landscapes, portraits, and scenes that to this day I reference when thinking about and writing future stories in that fictional world.
Of course, if you’re not an illustrator or a painter this may not be the technique for you. However, it does illustrate that using something outside of the realm of pen-to-paper (or keyboard-to-screen as it is now) can be just as helpful, and sometimes more helpful, than banging your head against the desk looking at a blank piece of paper wondering “what do I do?”.
There are many other techniques that can be used from building family trees to writing entire histories and backstories to your various characters to chronicling a fictional historical document about places and landmarks within your world. In the long run, it can take the guessing out of the process of writing when you can pull up a picture or a chart or a graph and know where everything fits.
The main thing is to have fun and let your imagination lead the way. Don’t confine it, let it sprout and grow in any way possible beyond just writing the story. The world will grow with whatever mechanism you use to define it.
No, it’s not the Nike slogan (or whatever shoe that was), but it IS an answer to what so many keep asking:
How do I start writing?
I always answers with “just do it”. I know that’s been used over and over again, but honestly that is what works best for me and many others.
Sit down and just start writing whatever. It doesn’t have to be good. There’s this tendency to think that we have to write everything perfect the first time. Not at all. That’s what editing is for!
Write. Even if it’s just a description of the scene you want to flesh out later, write that down and come back to it later.
You’ll find so much more freedom and energy when you just put pen to paper or fingers to keys.
As I’ve become an indie publisher and ebook maverick over the last six months, I do come across people every so often who ask me “is it in stores”?
It’s a question every author hears and one that makes every indie author start figuring out a polite way to respond to their friend. Ultimately, you get to the same place we all do of explaining that it sells more online etc. etc.
But, does having a book on shelves really matter?
Considering how most brick-and-mortar stores are going the way of the dinosaur (not just book stores, retails stores across the board), it’s kind of a silly question but you must consider it’s a standardized question. Most of the public still has this idea of books being on shelves and the new digital age hasn’t quite married with their concept of what a book is.
For me, The Brothers Locke is in a few stores right now so I can answer “yes” to this question, but the sales from said stores amount to $2. Unless you’re a major player (the Kings, the Rowlings, the Pattersons, the Childs) having my book in stores is not really a benefit. Unless you have a big name in the industry, even if you do get your book into stores, it’s going to be way in the back somewhere (if they even put it on the shelves) where no one is going to see it unless by accident.
It’s not important for indie authors to have their books in stores.
We make way more money, and have much more influence, online with digital stores like Kobo, iBooks, and of course Amazon.
The one thing that always makes me laugh though is the people who ask this question often haven’t read a book in years. The question suggests that they’d likely read it if they can pick it up at a store but they also have no clue as to where the nearest book store is nor have set foot in one since before the last Harry Potter movie hit theaters.
So, don’t get discouraged by the question as a writer. As readers, many of you know the quality of a story or a book is not in where you buy it but what is in it.
Being an indie creator you deal with a lot of attitude and divisiveness over what you do. Despite the huge gains in popularity and money, some of the out-of-touch sectors of the world still look down their nose at what you do.
As an indie author and YouTuber, I get this a lot, not only from random people but from friends as well.
Recently, I had a conversation over the whole Pew Die Pie controversy, and while I’m not going to legislate that here (I know very little about what actually happened with him) I did get the response of:
Oh, he’s a YouTube guy
Now for those who don’t know, Pew Die Pie was one of the first YouTubers who put original, self-made content on the site and gathered a massive audience doing it. He’s got some ridiculous numbers in the tens of millions. More people watch him than people watch most TV shows. However, because it’s on YouTube and he’s not a creation of some corporation, or because he makes video game videos, or because he’s not part of the old media, he and those like him are looked down upon.
The same goes for any indie creator. If you’re an indie film maker, you’re not given the same respect for your craft even if you have a hit like Ex Machina or The Blair Witch Project. If you’re an indie author, people piss on your work, even if you’re Amanda Hocking or Mark Dawson. Independent YouTube artists, musicians, even freaking indie pro wrestlers are all looked down upon by the mainstream and those of the mainstream mentality (more on that later) unless your fans carry you on for years and years to the point you become iconic (see: Pulp Fiction, Twilight etc.)
Should you really let this bother or deter you as a creator? Of course not.
We have the benefit if we’re fortunate, make the right decisions, and work hard at it, to be successful and make a living on our own terms. Currently, I make a pretty decent income from my “hobbies” as I call them, getting to the point where I might be able to give up the 9-to-5 in a few years if I continue down the path I’m on.
Those with the mainstream mentality — especially those who aren’t part of the old media and are just consumers — don’t get it nor do they appreciate it. To them, even if you’re successful at it, you weren’t chosen by the elite old media wizards and gods and sages, so clearly what you do isn’t really that good, you just have a lot of weirdos who look at your stuff. That’s the mentality.
Personally, I tend not to get too annoyed by this, although it is rather insulting. I understand for many of the people who take this attitude towards us that they (I know from experience) often tried and failed to achieve their goals in the old media, and I suspect there may be a bit of jealousy mixed in with the condescension towards those who had success doing it the other way. But they are not DIY people, they want other people to pick them and do stuff for them. The lottery mentality as I call it.
You as a creator cannot spend too much time worrying about these people. I’ve seen enough indie writers, YouTube creators, Fiverr workers, indie actors, indie movie makers etc. to know the tide is changing out there anyway. The way technology is going today and in the future, more and more independent minds will be able to achieve their goals without relying on some gatekeeper to determine whether or not their stuff ever gets seen. The public (and your ability to market yourself) will determine whether or not you’re successful, not gatekeepers.
The good news: the next generation seems to not have these prejudices. If you write fan fiction, or make videos about different sounds (asmr), or make a video game that becomes super popular on XBox’s indie platform, you not only make a living for yourself but you call your own shots, something many who became successful in the old media cannot.
The democratization of content is creating new opportunities
In the end, I’ll just leave this final thought. People who spend time trying to tear things down are doing so because they are disappointed with their own lack of achievements, for those who are achieving don’t have time to tear down, they’re too busy building up.
Writing a novel or even a short story has a certain structure to it. There is always a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Episodic fiction is a different animal altogether. Some may think it’s writing chapters and dividing them up into “episodes”, which can be true for some.
What I found when writing The Brothers Locke is that you’re trying to advance the story as a whole while providing clues and hints as to where it’s going. This is much different from writing chapters which can be whole scenes in themselves. Episodes in literature are very much like episodes in television.
What conflict am I introducing?
What resolution can I present in the short amount of pages I’m writing?
How does this advance a particular character or theme?
That’s a lot to do in under 60 pages but it is possible.
The one word that kept coming into my mind when writing the series was “discipline”. While it was sometimes tempting to elaborate excessively in parts of the story, I had to keep in mind the point of this style of fiction is for a quick read.
It has to move fast, it can’t be too self indulgent.
Another major concern is how many episodes are you going to write. The Brothers Locke average around 30-45 pages per episode, so eight episodes in itself is a full length novel. I first thought it would be thirteen episodes but I soon found out by episode 4 that it would require a lot of stretching of the narrative to get to thirteen, so I decided on eight which was extremely helpful in getting the story where it needed to go.
Of course this is all based on your writing style. What works for me might not work for you. However, if you find yourself having some of the same issues I did when writing your first episodic literary series, some of these tips might be helpful.
The next blog post on this journey is about how to format these episodes for the eBook format.
The Brothers Locke is an 8-episode eBook series coming January 1st 2017.
The first novel for my Young Adult Fiction epic series Dorian Delmontez was written about two years ago. At some point in the last twelve months I got the bright idea:
I should introduce people to the world and the series by writing a short episodic fiction prequel involving supporting characters from the main storyline.
Yes, essentially I added another few months of work before I actually release the Dorian Delmontez books. But, there were a few benefits to it.
One in particular is realizing that there is a decent sized audience for short, episodic fiction especially in the eBook universe.
There are a few others that seem to do well in sales:
Kindle handles eBook series (or Serials as they’re sometimes called) much like TV shows. Each book or chapter is handled as an episode and you have the option of releasing them all at one time – ala Netflix – or release the series over a number of weeks, months – ala traditional television which is weekly.
While I have still yet to consider which format is best, I am leaning towards the weekly release schedule.
Netflix has made “binge” consumption of entertainment a new thing but in respect to eBooks, where it does take time for some readers to get through episodes, getting the next release might be a more exciting avenue to go down.
Readers could download book one and then each week when a new episode is released they will be notified, which helps to reinforce the brand and the name of your work in their mind.
The next blog post I’ll talk about how I structured my upcoming eBook series as the flow of such stories is different than traditional novels or short stories.
The Brothers Locke – an 8 episode Young Adult Fantasy series is available January 1, 2017.
I tend to write in specific genres: fantasy, dark fantasy, horror and young adult. One of the hardest things to do when writing in those pillars of literature is being able to inject some humor into your work.
Some of the best novels I’ve ever read are the ones that inject humor in the middle of heavy drama or between scares. A good punch line or a well-timed bit of irony, either in dialogue or description, can add good pacing to your writing.
But comedy is tough in general, not to mention in the written word. Much of it has to do with timing, just like it does in film and television. It takes a bit of work to cleverly craft your prose to lead up to a good one-liner or to accurately describe a funny situation when the crux of the story is centered around a more serious tone. The wrong wording, the wrong placement, the wrong usage can make a joke fall flat and become disruptive to the reader.
The last thing you want someone saying when they read your work is “where did that come from?” in a negative way.
As with anything, the best advice is to practice. What is funny in your head might not translate to paper, but just because it doesn’t immediately read back as funny doesn’t mean you should scrap the joke. Rework it, switch things around, play with what comes before and after the punchline and see what does work.
Your best help does come from friends and family. Never be afraid to show them your work. They know it’s in progress and they’ll often give you good suggestions. They can also be good sources for funny material as well. Take notes, observe, remember and apply.
Comedy is a big part of any genre if you use it correctly. Don’t be afraid to use it. Even in the most serious or most dramatic works of fiction, humor has a role – often an important role – in fiction.
Samantha Geary has a new project called Chimera – a collaborative journey in epic writing, where I will interpret the cinematic scores of audiomachine’s Tree of Life album to create an original, music-driven tale. Previous chapters are listed HERE.
Readers who leave their feedback in the comments section below, will be entered to win an ebook of The Immanent World from our featured author, KC Hunter! The commenting window for each post will remain open until October 30th!