Monday, May 30, 2011

Showing Backstory

I've been diving deep into my characters and plot for Book 2 and turning up all kinds of interesting things.  I'm doing this up front because it was one of the things I didn't do for Book 1 until very late because I didn't know any better.  As I work, I'm seeing what I can do to round out the characters and the story.

This has led to some interesting questions that I had to answer.  For example, the tension in the story starts when the main characters prevent a little orphan girl from being abducted by a local witch.

The witch gets away but the girl, Amanda, is safe.  This poses the question why did the witch want Amanda in the first place?  Was it convenience or is there something about the girl that is special.  I had already decided that Amanda was the fifth of five girls the witch wanted for a sacrifice to a demon.  In this way, the witch hoped to acquire knowledge and power to cement her hold on the town.

Ultimately, I decided that there had to be something about Amanda, something special because if there wasn't then the witch would find a different girl and perform her ritual after not abducting Amanda.  Not a lot of tension there.  But by making Amanda special in some way, I create more tension.  Now the five girls are selected for a reason and the fact that the heroes of the story have one of the girls sets up a reason for the witch to attack them.

But the real problem I had was, what was special about Amanda? My first thought, that she had the ability to learn and use magic seem too easy, too pat.  I wanted something else.  Something we wouldn't think twice about that the heroes of the story would.  And then it all fell into place.  It was Amanda's astrological sign.  And then it hit me; what the witch needs was four girls for the four basic elements, water, air, fire, earth, and a fifth girl to represent magic.  That was perfect; it explained why the witch needed five girls and why those five girls.  It let me nail down the signs of the zodiac for my fantasy world (which I'm sure I'll use again) and tied those signs to the system of magic I developed for the first book.

All very nice and neat.  And the most the reader will learn about all this is that if the witch is planning to sacrifice the girls she had abducted they need to have the right astrological sign.  The story's demon hunter, Evan, who knows all this does not elaborate because the other characters understand what he means.  To ensure the reader does too, I have them discuss it a bit.

And this is perfect example of the amount of backstory that is often required to make the story work.  Often I can't show more than the very tip of it.  And this is also the issue I have with showing the characters as completely as some people want.  I can't (or I won't) do it at the expense of the story.  It has to fit in with the story I'm telling.  In Book 1, there weren't many subplots or side stories.  In Book 2, each main character has one, specifically to address the comments I received on Aure, the Topaz.

And I've planted seeds in Book 2 that I will pick up in Book 3.  And in this way, the story, the characters, and the readers all grow together as the series progresses.

I only hope Book 2 is well received.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me!

This blog turns 1 tomorrow.  I really don't believe it.  I never thought I had that much to say.

Looking back, I've learned a few things about writing fiction.  For example, if you ask for help, be sure the person you ask knows his or her stuff.  I've worked with several "editors" that weren't very good and probably caused more harm than anything, sending me off on the wrong direction.

Also, when in doubt about something, ask your fellow writers.  There are plenty of them online.  Or find a book on the subject.  I've read many and they reminded me of things I had forgotten about.

Trust your instincts unless you are sure they are wrong and then use the experience to learn from.

There are no bad ideas, but there are badly written stories.  If yours isn't working find out why and fix it.

Be sure to read, read, read and write, write, write.  This is the core of the craft and you can't improve if you don't do both.

Learn to listen to yourself.  You have something to said.  Find out what it is and express it, even if it is not what you expected.  Often the best idea is one that surprises you.

And to that end, let yourself take risks.  Suppress nothing.  If a writing experience doesn't come out well, use it to learn from and file it away.  Never delete it or throw it away.  You may want some or all of it later.

Built a good support network for yourself.  Find people who can read, critique, and review your work.

And above all enjoy your writing.  If you don't, how do you expect anyone else to?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Better Late...

I'm just getting to my blog today, Monday evening.  Usually I've got the Monday post written by the morning.  But today, I was nowhere near my computer until now.  I had a seminar to attend.  So I had no choice.  But no matter, I probably could have skipped this post as I have little to say.

But I feel an obligation to my readers so I'll keep this brief and will not bore... hopefully.

Life continues as I wait to hear from my publisher.  I continue to listen to my characters and develop their subplots.  The main plot is well-defined but the sub-plots of all the character need to be developed as I round out this book and plan for the next one.

And it's a good thing I'm doing this.  I've already found one issue; I have two scenes that are very similar.  I'll have to merge them and create a new scene for one of them.

And I need to work as fast as I can.  Up till now I've been waiting for the revision of the first book to be complete.  Well, that's history.  If I want to have a second book to be ready by the end of the year, then I need to hustle.

There are no guarantees on that and if the first book is accepted I may have more delays with book 2 as I work out a few details on book 1.  Even if it is not accepted I will have to prepare it for self-publishing.  All the more reason to type as fast as I can.  Now if all the other elements of my life would cooperate, I'd be all set.

But I'm not expecting that.  So it's one day at a time and see how far I can get before I'm derailed.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Onward and Any Direction that's not Down

The revision of my first novel, Aure the Topaz, is in the hands of my publisher now.  If she likes it and wants it, she publish it and all the self-published versions will quietly vanish.  If not, I will republish it myself and lower the price.

Then on to Book 2.  I've been surprised by something in this story.  The characters in the story have started to demand time on camera.  By that I mean I decided to revise a few early scenes to give the main characters more time to express themselves.  This seemed like a good idea because early in the story they each have a scene to themselves.

But what surprised me is that these scenes uncovered details I hadn't fully realized and are now forcing the additional of other scenes as I explore more aspects of my characters to round them out.

The biggest surprise has been with the one character who is the flattest, Iriel, the elf.  I've had a hard time writing her well and now I discover she had a troubled past.  Worse, her mother is working with some of the bad guys.  When I hit on this idea, I realized I needed to follow this because in Book 3, Iriel will met her mother again after 40 years.

So in Book 2 I want to set up the details and then move on.  Now some of you might ask, should all this be in Book 3 if that is where the conflict is?

I certainly thought of that.  But the current plot for Book 3 does not lend itself to revealing Iriel so much.  This is only a subplot after all and should not take priority over the main plot.

Also the divisions of these books is artificial. In actually fact, this is one story told in seven or eight installments.  From the perspective, I need to place this information about Iriel where is fits best.

Personally, I like these developments I hope the reader will too. We'll see.

For now, it's onward and hopefully upward.  But I'll take any direction that's not downward since the path to publication is seldom a straight one.

Monday, May 16, 2011


Today it my wedding anniversary (twelve years today) so I won't tarry long here.  However, this is a time that I look back on things.  For example, the blog is almost one year old.  Its anniversary is later this month.  It's been an amazing year too.  I never expected to be able to sustain the blog this long and there are certainly times when I'd rather pitch it in to the sea.  And yet I'm still here and I keep finding things to say.  Go figure.  I guess you really can't shut up a writer...

Another amazing thing is my first novel is published and I've got several short stories posted here, in Scribd, and in Wattpad.  I expect to submit my revised version of the novel to the publisher who wants to read it later this month.

After that I am done tinkering.  It will have its own life.  The publisher will either accept it or not.  And if not, the novel will be released to the public through Smashwords, Wattpad, Amazon, Apple, and other places.  I expect to drop the price to $0.00 too.  That's right.  I will be giving it away to encourage people to read it.

Why?  Because so far, sales are low but downloads from Smashwords are respectable.  So I'm thinking to encourage people to read the book, make it free.  So far, the people who have read it have not been disappointed.  So I need a way to get more people to try it.  Removing the price is one way.

That does not mean the other books in the series will be free.  On the contrary, just the opposite.  And speaking of other books, I am starting to tackle the work needed to bring Book 2 together.  However, it may take longer than I thought.  This time around I need to explore all the main characters more and that has led to more writing and more complications.  But the work progresses.

That's about it for me.  Until next time, keep writing.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Not All eBooks are Created Equally

As part of my learning more about Kindlegen and how to make Kindle books, I took source from Project Gutenberg for Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, two of my favorite books.   As an experiment, I decided to use this content to create my own eBooks.

I had already purchased free versions for my Kindle and my phone and I have a paper copy that I purchased my years ago. Once I had generated books for both stories, I looked through each version and discovered something interesting and important.

The free Kindle versions do not include images of my original paper version. And the images in the ePub version (from the Apple iBook store) has completely different images.  What's worse is that in Through the Looking Glass the poems are missing. No Jabberwocky, no Walrus and the Carpenter.  This makes it hard to follow the stories or really appreciate the genius of Lewis Carroll.

Back in college, one of my professor told me that not dictionary are equivalent; some have more words that others.  Apparently, some dictionary makers leave out works; this is often true for paperback editions.  I now realize that a similar rule is true for eBooks.  Free eBooks might now be worth the download, particularly for older classics.

So a word to the wise, you might want to pay a few pennies for a copy of an eBook to ensure the story is complete.  In fact, very soon, when I go replace my paper copies of Dickens, I plan to purchase the ones with the original illustrations.  They all are under a $1 and it will be worth every penny to know the book is complete.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Creating eBooks for the Kindle

Being the kind of person to like to learn how things work, I decide to delve into the process by which one can create a Kindle eBook.  One reason for this is the Kindle book Smashwords created for me does not appear to play well on Kindle devices.

I've been creating books since then with Scrivener, which does a much better job. It calls Kindlegen directly. Amazon gives away this program for anyone who wants to make their own Kindle editions.  

Accompanying Kindlegen is a sample eBook.  It's the User Guide for the Kindle that is pre-installed on the device for you.  I looked at the source files to see how to create an eBook according to Amazon's rules.

Basically, you supply HTML files (one per chapter).  The files should reference an external CSS file for styles and you should create one or more folders for the images you want to use in the book, if any.  In this way, an eBook is identical to a web site.  So if you've ever created a web site you are most of the way.  However, if you look at the Kindle formatting guidelines, not all HTML tags are supported and not all CSS definitions work.

In addition to the images, style sheet, and content you provide, you also need to create three files that create the eBook when Kindlegen is run.  The first file is an OPF file.  This is an XML file that defines the HTML files to use, provides metadata about the book and a few other things.  It is self-documented so I won't bore you here with the details.

The second file is a TOC file, called toc.html.  It provide the table of contents for your ebook.  I recommend making one so users can jump to specific locations in your book.

The third file is a NCX file.  This is an XML file that defines the sections of your eBook, like the TOC file, and controls navigation in the eBook.  Again I won't bore you with the details here.

When you supply these files and tell Kindlegen to process the OPF file, it creates an eBook with the name, where xxx is the name of the OPF file.

Using a version of Kindle software for your computer, you can then preview the book to see what is working and what it not.

And that's about all there is to know. Happy Kindle generation.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Books, Books, and More Books

As a Kindle owner for two months now, I've been exploring the availability of content.  I've been impressed and, frankly, surprised at the sheer volume (sorry, no pun intended) of material available.  I estimate that most of my library (covers many topics and types of books) is available digitally.  What's more I think the Kindle can store them all.

I'm not exactly sure since acquiring many of these books electronically will cost money.  But many are also free.  Project Gutenberg is an excellent source.  And many book sites, such as Amazon, Kobo, and Wattpad, offer free ebooks as well.

Now here's the catch.  The quality of the e-books is not always the same.  Example:  I downloaded Alice in Wonderland from Project Gutenberg.  To my surprise the ebook had no pictures with it.  The picture are available elsewhere on the site but not integrated.

Then I checked my devices.  I have a Kindle version and an epub version (an iBook from Apple).  The epub version has pictures too but not the same ones from Project Gutenberg or in my paper copy.

Sigh.  So if you think you can replace your library one for one with a digital version, you may be disappointed.

Additionally, some of my favorite books are only available in paper.  For example, I have all 11 volumes of the History of Civilization by Will Durant.  As far as I can tell, it only exists in hardcover.

Likewise, the Time-Life series of the Enchanted World is only available in paper.  I suppose it is just as well because the Kindle only displays in black and white so the Enchanted World series would be hard to show well.

The other thing that I'm sure they never replace in books is the feel of them.  I have many old books from the 1920's.  Many in poor condition but that does not bother me.  It is the feel of the old book that I like and in some cases what they old tomes show.  For example, I marvel at old atlases because they reflect the view of the world at that time.  I even purchased an old atlas from the 1920s.  You'll never be able to replace that digitally because even if you scan all the maps, the feel of the old paper in my hand will be lost.

Even though I like my Kindle, there is something to be said for paper books now and in the future too.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Spring is Finally Here

I went into my backyard the other days and realized winter is finally over.  The grass is green and growing.  My tulips are up.  The trees are budding or flowering, and the first leaves on rose bushes are out.  All of a sudden, spring is here.

That means yard work for me, which means less time writing.  And the yard needs a lot of attention.  Mulch needs to be put down.  Trees need pruning.  Grass needs mowing.  Compost needs turning over. Weeds need pulling.

I suppose I won't mind so much but I'm just about to sink my teeth into a final revision of Book 2 so it will be ready for release late this year or early next year.  Yard work is the last thing on my mind.

And yet... I like to do the yard work.  It takes me out of myself.  Gives me time to think.  But it also slows me down.  One reason my first novel took so long was all the yard work I was doing while I was writing it.

Case in point:  yesterday was a beautiful day here and I went out into the yard work to finish mowing it and address a few other things.  When I was doing, I had no interest in writing.  I was too hot and that didn't change later in the day.  By then I was stiff from sitting and tired too.

So I need to find a way to do both.  Or I need to remember not to take on too much while writing.  I think that's closer to the mark.  I'm always taking on new projects when I shouldn't.  I'm amazed I ever finish anything because I'm always starting new projects.

What I need is a project of just the right length, something I can complete without too much effort and that can be completed in a few hours.  But no, I always take on big projects that stretch on for days. Perhaps someday I'll learn.  But for now I think I'll restrict myself to weed pulling while writing. That's easily done and easy to stop and restart.

So Book 2, here I come...