Shallee ● May 30, 2011
We all get great ideas for stories. Even people who never write the book have ideas they think will become the next bestseller. And while writers sometimes get asked, "Where do you get your ideas?" the truth is that ideas are a dime a dozen. What really matters is creating a fabulous STORY out of your fabulous idea.
So why am I telling you this? Most writers already know this is true. But while reading Story Engineering (again, I say, READ THIS DARN BOOK!), I realized there's an essential step between getting the idea and turning it into a story. First, we have to turn that idea into a compelling concept.
Uh, isn't a concept the same thing as an idea? Yes and no. Concept takes the idea to the next level. From my understanding of what Larry Brooks said about it, a concept is an idea that asks a question that implies conflict. The answer to that question is what gives you your story, and it often works best if framed as a "what if" question.
For example, the basic idea that got me started on Devolutionaries was this: What if telepathy were a form of devolution-- that when a person with certain pre-conditions cut back their verbal communication, their brain began to change back into an animalistic form of mind-to-mind communication?
There it is, right? The concept! Actually, NO. That was a fascinating idea, but where's the conflict? A concept needs to be a window into the story. It's not going to tell you the whole story, but it will show you the big picture. The idea of telepathy as devolution is cool, but it doesn't hint at a story. How about this:
What if a boy can stop a Government experiment in thought control with his own telepathy skills- saving his own grandfather- but must sacrifice his speech to do so?
Now there is the concept. Let's look at what is included that hints at the story enough to turn it from an idea to a concept. (You may notice these are the same elements I brought up to help you write your query-- a concept statement is a lot like a logline!)
1. Character. We know almost nothing about him. Some concepts will need a bit more, but not much. Not here in the concept statement, anyway. But he must be there-- a person to carry the story.
2. Conflict. He can stop a Government experiment in thought control. Whamo. You've got him versus the Big Baddie, with a goal the Big Baddie is trying to stop. There's just a hint, but can you see all the possibilities of conflict there?
3. Choice. There is a choice the character must make: stop the Government with his telepathy, or keep his ability to speak.
4. Consequences. Again, the stakes are only hinted at-- losing his grandfather, his power of speech, and even control of his own mind (Government mind control, remember?). But they ARE there.
In that one "what if" question, we find all the basics of creating a story. Now you have to ask another question-- is it fresh? Original? A new take on a familiar premise or theme? Here's the thing I've learned about creating a killer concept while writing my next book: Go big or go home. If your concept is like an almost-fresh head of lettuce-- still green, but a little limp and brown around the edges-- peel back those first few layers of "what if" to find the good crisp ideas underneath.
A good "what if" concept will inspire more "what ifs." If your original concept is sort of fresh, but not quite killer, start asking more "what ifs." Dig deep. How could it contain more conflict? How could things be WORSE? How could it be twisted in a different, more compelling direction? You'll find a more compelling concept if you go beneath the surface of your basic idea.
So, my friends, what is your story concept? What do you think makes a concept original and compelling? How can you take your next idea and frame it as a concept before you even start writing? Do you have any tips that helped you turn your idea into a killer concept?
Shallee ● May 27, 2011
There's an attitude among some writers and authors about marketing that is best described by the groan you hear when they mention it. We are writers, not marketers! they declare. And this is true.
Here's the thing, though. Marketing your own work isn't something to be afraid of. In fact, it's flat out awesome! You, the person who knows your books inside and out, gets to be the one to put them out there. You get to represent your own career! Yes, it's a little work, and yes, it might not be something you're familiar with, but a little knowledge can change that.
No worries, some writers say. I'm on Twitter, Blogger, Facebook, MySpace, Goodreads, Tumblr, and a million other places. Marketing is taken care of.
Well, sort of. Marketing is more than just tactics and tools. You need to have a marketing STRATEGY, and that means you need to know how to use those tools. Strategy is an individual thing, but the basics of marketing are always the same. Robison Wells, author of the upcoming dystopian novel Variant, gave a presentation on marketing at LDStorymakers. And he does this for a living, so he knows his stuff. (If you want his whole presentation, click here.) Let's dive in.
Strategy 1: Define your Brand
When trying to determine your marketing strategy, keep in mind that your direction is determined by your BRAND: a collection of all the impressions readers have of you. Are you sassy, witty, wise, intense, silly, helpful, or anything else? If you want to develop a brand associated with your name, all your marketing tactics (blogging, Twitter, etc.) need to point to the same (few!) impressions. That is your brand. And branding will affect and influence reader enjoyment and their willingness to buy your books. You can start defining this by thinking of the message you want to send your readers about you as an author-- not just about a single book.
Strategy 2: Understand the 4 P's of marketing
Marketing isn't just promotion and advertising. There are 4 basic parts to marketing, and the more you understand them, the more effective you will be.
1. Price - Unless you self-publish, you can't really control this. And if you do self-publish, do your research. There's a lot out there about setting a price high enough to ensure perceived value, and low enough that people will take a chance on you.
2. Place - This refers to where your product can be found: in stores, online, at conventions. It can also refer to self placement in a bookstore. You may also be able to sell your books in uncommon places, depending on what it's about. For authors, it's good to make connections at your local bookstores-- the more the workers there know you, the more they will promote your book to shoppers.
3. Product - What do readers get from you that they don't get somewhere else? This includes positioning, or your niche in the market. It can help to devise an internal statement that can help you determine your position: "For the reader who wants [genre], my book offers [similarity] and [difference]." This can help you promote the book to the right people.
4. Promotion - This focuses on your readers. Reader demographics can be broken into three groups: your fans (those who love you; family, friends, blog readers, etc.), those who will never be interested in what your write, and the swing group. The swing group are those in the middle who could go either direction.
When marketing to your fan group, it's fairly simple: keep them happy. Keep consistent with your brand message, and they'll keep coming. For the swing group, your goal is to pull them into your fan group. So do some market research: find out why the fans love you and use it to promote yourself to the swing group.
Strategy 3: Use your strategy to pick your tools
There are different categories of marketing tools, and some work better for writers than others. You can't use them all, so pick a few.
Advertising: This includes billboards, commercials, and anything that shouts at a customer. Not usually the best avenue for writers.
Public relations: Anything you do that's newsworthy. Getting interviewed on the radio or an online magazine might go here.
Personal selling: This is where social media falls, and it's very effective for writers.
Sales promotion: For writers, this includes things like contests and swag (bookmarks, etc.) This is also pretty effective.
Whatever tools you pick, keep in mind you can do things cheap, fast, or with quality. And you can only pick two of those. If you plan your strategy ahead of time, you have a choice in how you're going to do it.
Strategy 4: Find Friends
Here's the thing to remember about marketing: nobody cares what you say when you're the salesman. When you're "pushing product," people get annoyed and tune out. So what's the strategy here?
What people care about is what their friends say. This is where social networking really comes in handy: it's all about being social. Making friends. That's not to say you should have calculated friendships; that feels fake, and nothing turns people away faster than insincerity. Make friends for real! Talk about a fun way to market.
So, my friends, let's try a little experiment. Remember Strategy 1, defining your brand? Let's do a little market research! I'm curious what your impression of me as a writer (through my blog) is. If you leave a comment including two to three words you think of when you come to my blog, I'll come to your blog and return the favor! Let's help each other determine our direction.
P.S. Don't forget, if you want to achieve a writing goal through the month of June, join me for JuNoWriMo! You don't have to finish a 50,000 word novel unless you want to-- just make a writing goal and stick to it the whole month!
Shallee ● May 25, 2011
We all have writing goals. Sometimes we meet them, sometimes we don't. I was talking to my critique group last night about my goal-- I want to do a NoWriMo (novel writing month) in June-- writing at least 2,000 words a day. And they want to do it with me!
So...how about you?
For JuNoWriMo (June Novel Writing Month, of course!), you don't have to pump out a 50,000 word novel in a month. Pick a writing goal-- any writing goal-- it can be that you want to write 1,000 words a day all month. Or that you want to spend 1 hour a day pounding out your revisions. Or that you dedicate at least a two hours a week to your writing. Whatever the goal is, we'll support each other in it!
So here's the deal. If you want to join on your blog, sign up on the MisterLinky below and then post about your goal and link back here. Every Saturday (and anytime in between that you want), post an update on your goal progress so we can all follow along.
And for those of you on Twitter, we can have conversations about it whenever we want. Use the hashtag #JuNoWriMo, and you'll find support and help from your fellow JuNoers.
So far, you've got a friend in me, Rachel Giddings, Joel Smith, and Kevin Smith! Let's reach for our writing goals together!
Shallee ● May 23, 2011
Okay, folkses, in case you haven't noticed, I recently hit 300 followers! Thank you all! I'll be doing a giveaway of some kind soon. In the meantime, if you're giveaway-hungry, check out Afterglow Book Reviews for the beginning of summer giveaway!
Today, I want to talk about how to avoid flat characters. It's something we hear a lot, but after attending his master class at LDStorymakers, I recently read Story Engineering by Larry Brooks and he had a great take on it. As a sidenote, READ THIS DANG BOOK!! It is absolutely the most concrete, helpful, insightful craft book I've ever read. It kind of made me go like this:
Three-dimensional characters are complicated and conflicted. Whether we like them or not, we root for them to win. In order to have a three-dimensional character, we must look at three levels of characterization. And we're going to do it with a little help from the Doctor. As in Doctor Who.
And yes, I did include a picture of the previous (tenth) Doctor. Because David Tennant is the TV equivalent of smothering something in chocolate. Mmm.
In Doctor Who, for those who haven't seen this masterpiece of sci-fi television, the Doctor is a time-traveling alien. He is now on his 11th incarnation as a character-- you see, whenever the Doctor is close to death, his alien anatomy allows him to regenerate into a new body with a slightly different personality. When I first learned this, I thought the writers were crazy. That means we have to get used to a WHOLE NEW CHARACTER. Right?
Kind of. The Doctor is a multi-layered character, and we're going to explore how that works well for re-incarnating him. Let's take a look at those three levels I mentioned earlier.
Level 1: The mask- what you see
This is the basic level of characterization-- and for some people, it's the only level they get to. It's made up of all the surface traits, quirks, habits, and personality of a character. It's the level the world sees, and therefore it's very important. This is what we see of almost everybody in the real world, too.
This is the stuff most characterization sheets are made of. What they look like, what are their likes and dislikes, what are their quirks, what are their talents and flaws. In Doctor Who, this is the level of the Doctor that changes with each new incarnation. He has a new favorite outfit, new favorite foods, new quirks, and a new personality. There are some little things that carry over, but it's fun to see what a new Doctor will bring to the show.
Like I said, this level is only the first, but it IS tres importante. Without it, you have nothing to base the rest of your character on! But if you want to take it to the next level, you have to explore...
Level 2: The inner landscape- why you see it
All those first-dimensional characteristics are nothing until you assign MEANING to them. Why does a character portray those first dimension traits? What makes him love one thing and hate another? Why does he act a certain way? What is his backstory and agenda?
This level takes things deeper-- it's what allows readers to empathize with your character. If they just see a character turn away from helping someone who's gotten mugged, they will have no sympathy for the guy. But if they learn that he turned away because he himself was mugged and spent three weeks in the hospital because he fought back, and now he's terrified just to be out on the streets alone...well, now your reader gets it. They understand the why behind the surface reaction to run away.
In Doctor Who, this level doesn't change from Doctor to Doctor. He is the last of the Time Lords. He has lost everything, and in a lot of ways, it's his own fault. There is a reason why the ninth Doctor is so hateful and cruel toward an alien creature that's being held captive-- it's a member of the race that helped destroy his own people. Because this level never changes in each incarnation, we still have the same empathy and connection to the Doctor each time he regenerates.
Level 3: The true character-- who they really are behind the what and the why
A character shows his true self through his choices when there is something at stake. This is the level where your character will really take on life. In fact, it is usually the level where the character arc appears-- a character may take certain actions at the beginning of the book that are weak in some way, due to the demons in his backstory (level 2). But by the end, he must conquer those inner backstory demons to show a stronger self by the end of the story. Who that character is-- the actions he takes when all is at stake-- has changed (or perhaps not, depending on the arc), and that's the making of a truly deep character.
Again, in Doctor Who, this is something that stays consistent. Or at least, consistently changes. It was particularly strong in the growth from the ninth Doctor to the tenth Doctor. His true character-- who he is at the core of his being-- is always the same. Or rather, it stays at the same place as it was when we left off, allowing the next Doctor to grow and change from a familiar place as we watch him.
And that's why, despite the fact that there have been ELEVEN different Doctors, he is still just ONE Doctor to those who have watched. His outside may change, but inside, he is always the same person we love and relate to and empathize with.
So, my friends, are your characters three-dimensional? What are some of your tips for deepening characterization? Who are some of your favorite 3-D characters? Do you love Doctor Who as much as I do?
Shallee ● May 19, 2011
Today I'm being interviewed on Chantele Sedgwick's blog! Go check it out and learn more about me (you know...if you're interested. :D) Chantele has a great blog-- her Weird Word Wednesday posts always give me a laugh while expanding my vocabulary.
AND my husband was playing random songs on YouTube yesterday, and this amazing song started. And I went, "OMG, Ash [the MC in Devolutionaries] would love this!" And it became the theme song for Devolutionaries. It's a little scary how excited I am about it. Who knew the story would become a little more real to me with this song? So without further ado, I give you Uprising by Muse. (Sorry, it won't let me embed it.)
So, my friends, do you have theme songs for your stories? Anything you listen to that gets you in the writing mood?
Shallee ● May 16, 2011
So I'm pretty excited to announce that I'm now a reviewer for Afterglow Book Reviews! It's a fabulous place to find reviews of books that people really loved-- I've been adding to my Goodreads list for days.
I'll still be doing book reviews for writers here, but my reader's reaction will be on Afterglow. Today, I want to talk about The Healing Spell by Kimberley Griffiths Little.
Eleven-year-old Livie is terrified when her father insists that they bring her comatose mother home from the hospital. How can she look at, much less touch and care for, Mamma when she alone knows that she caused her illness? As Mamma continues to languish in bed, Livie grows more and more estranged from her family, a chasm that begins to close only after she gathers her courage to visit the local traiteur, who gives her the formula for a healing spell. As Livie collects the spell's necessary ingredients, she begins to open up to the knowledge that she is loved and cherished by her family.
As a writer, one of the things that stuck out to me in this book was the setting. I think setting is not always something that we writers focus on, but it's an aspect that can really make a book stand out. In The Healing Spell, the Louisiana Bayou becomes a character unto itself. Here are a few take aways I had.
The bayou has shaped the characters. It has created not only a rich cultural aspect to the book, but richer characterizations, especially in Livie. Her history with the bayou is an enormous part of who she is, and feeds not only her character, but the actual conflict of the book.
The characters have a relationship with the setting. The bayou means different things to the different characters. To Livie, it's an old friend. But it's also a place that holds as much guilt and fear as it does love. Her relationship with the bayou isn't just a simple, "I love to play in the woods" kind of thing. Like her relationships with her family members, it's complicated and multi-layered.
The setting takes on a life of its own through the character's eyes. This is one we hear a lot: describe things through your character's eyes. But it goes beyond description in this book. Because of Livie's history and relationship with the bayou, she sees it completely differently than her father or her cousin. Her father sees it as a source of food; her cousin sees it as a terrifying mystery; Livie sees it as a friend that can help her family heal despite the tragedy that's happened there. Because of that, the bayou takes on a bit of mysticism that filters through the rest of the book.
So, my friends, not only do I highly recommend The Healing Spell, but I'm curious about your thoughts on setting. How do you use it in your writing? Where have you seen setting used in a deft and deepening manner?
Shallee ● May 11, 2011
Now, I want to make something clear right off: I don't believe in writer's block. Don't get me wrong, that doesn't mean I don't believe in getting stuck. Heaven knows I've gotten stuck myself. But writer's block implies that you are blocked. You can't move forward. You should just go sit on the couch and eat a gallon of ice cream and watch Doctor Who because there's no point in even trying.
Taking a break is often a good way to clear your head, but there are some writing techniques that can help too. So now, I give you the Illustrated Guide to Inspiration. This can work if you're stuck or not; you can take it literally or literarily, and either way it's a great way to find inspiration.
Get a different perspective on something familiar
For our anniversary, the hubs and I had a rooftop dinner at a charming little cafe with an open roof. It looked out over the place we got married. As I looked out over the beautiful Salt Lake Temple, I noticed things about it I hadn't seen from the ground. It was beautiful, and I saw the place a little differently, which meant I thought about it a little differently.
Try this in your book. You naturally assume, after thinking and working on it so long that the way things are going is the way they should go. Take a look at the troublesome scene again. View it from another character's POV, or imagine what would happen if you twisted those familiar moments.
Don't be afraid to get lost
After dinner, me and Hubby decided to wander around Salt Lake City. Someone had told us where to find a lovely little park where several historical figures were buried, and we set out to find it. We went completely the wrong way, but we found some gorgeous places and just enjoyed the springtime. And eventually, we found what we were looking for.
Don't be afraid that if you wander around in your story, you'll never get out. Not only will you find some really stunning twists along the way, you just might get where you wanted to go.
Go somewhere you've never been
The building where we ate dinner was built 100 years ago exactly as the old Hotel Utah. It was the swankiest hotel in the west, and MAN is it gorgeous. It was built back in the day when everything was elaborate and attention to detail was important. I've been to other parts of it before, but I've never just lingered in the lobby. Standing there took me back to a time when ladies in fancy dresses and men in suits and cravats mingled in the magnificence.
Don't be afraid to go somewhere new in your story. Try writing something a few scenes away, or try taking your characters somewhere you didn't plan. Immerse yourself in something completely new, even if it's a different story. Just wandering around can help you find what you want.
Don't be afraid to ask for help.
As we wandered the lobby, we asked a worker if there was anything else he would recommend we look at while there. He pointed to a conference room where a gorgeous old buffet table sat. It was 300 years old and originally sat in a castle in Scotland.
I'm a sucker for historical things, and it fascinated me to run my fingers over the polished wood and imagine the castle where the table had sat and the people who had touched it before me. In the meantime, my husband discovered something different: an intricate Asian chest that was just as beautiful as the buffet table.
Don't be afraid to ask for help from your critique group and friends. Not only can you get some great ideas from them, but you just might discover some ideas of your own along the way.
So, my friends, what do you do when you get stuck? Feel free to share any helpful tips!
Shallee ● May 9, 2011
So. The LDStorymakers Conference on Friday and Saturday was amazingness served in a bucket of awesomesauce. This was the second year I've gone, and it was even better than last year. Five hundred fellow writers. Three amazing agents-- all of whom I'm planning to query. Incredible authors and presenters.
This year I didn't think I'd be able to afford it. It's actually cheap, as conferences go, and it's less than an hour drive from my house. But things are tighter for us this year. However, I decided I wasn't going to miss out, and asked for extra hours at work. It. Was. So. Worth it.
There are a million amazing helps for writers on the internet. There are blogs, podcasts, chats, Twitter, and Facebook. But there are a few things that you can only get at a conference that make it absolutely worth the money to go.
Encouragement - Blogging is great for getting encouragement from fellow writers. But there's something about actually being there, meeting each other in person, that makes the encouragement stick. You get to meet those who've made it, and those who are where you are. You're all reaching for similar goals. You sit down at a table with complete strangers, and in five minutes you're all friends because you get each other. I met some incredible people at Storymakers, and got to catch up with friends from last year.
Networking - There is literally nothing better than a conference for networking. There are pitch sessions and panels with the agents, and other authors and writers to meet. People are there to help each other. What can I offer you, and what can you give back? It's also a great place to realize editors and agents are people. They're funny and friendly and get a little nervous before giving a class. They want to talk to you. I was lucky enough to get introduced to agent Sara Crowe by her client Dan Wells. (And I finally got a picture with this author and friend who has helped me in my own writing!) Whatever happens, you meet people and are in a position to help and be helped.
Education - The classes offered at Storymakers were amazing. After attending Larry Brooks' master class (taken from his book, Story Engineering, which I HIGHLY recommend), I have a whole different take on the writing process. Hearing him talk about it, even after I'd read parts of the book, is what really made the information sink in. He had us apply what he was saying to our own work-- literally write things down, sort of a mini workshop-- and things just clicked. If you go for nothing else, getting an education from the professionals is more than worth the money of the conference.
Entertainment - I don't know how it is at other conferences, but Storymakers is just flat-out fun. The MC, Sarah Eden, was hilarious beyond words. Her videos (matching authors to genres, her 7-year-old explaining book genres, and Love's Secret's Passion) kept the entire crowd wiping laughter tears from their eyes. The fellows at Writing Excuses recorded a live podcast including agent Sara Crowe. When they played a game cobbling together random bits of stories to make a new one, Sara got stuck (and really, how you could weave a high-stakes poker game into a Matrix-like world with a harlequin heroine and a jock is beyond me). So Sara just rejected the story! I couldn't stop laughing (and neither could Howard Tayler). There are few places in the world you can go where people get your writing jokes, and you get theirs. While not a vital component of a writer's education, it sure makes it a lot more fun.
You can get a lot of these things in other places. But getting them all bunched together in two days? There's no better place than a writing conference!
So, my friends, have you been to writing conferences before? Are you planning to someday? What are your thoughts and experiences?
Shallee ● May 4, 2011
Yesterday at the store, I found this.
That's right, my friends. Fanta in a glass bottle. I'm sure that doesn't thrill you nearly as much as it does me, but Fanta in glass bottles is practically a meal staple in Ghana. I've never seen it here in the States, but it tastes SO MUCH BETTER than the Fanta you get here. There's less sugar and less fizziness than in American soda. See that cheesy smile? Yeah, that's me on cloud nine, reminiscing about buying a warm Fanta out of a cooler for 3,000 cedis (30 cents) from a lady on the side of the road who calls me "obruni kakraba." That means small white girl.
Another thing that makes me happy is this.
For the first time since the Kiddo was born, Hubby and I are having a little getaway. Happy fourth anniversary to us!
And this also makes me happy.
I'll be at the LDStorymakers Writing Conference on Friday and Saturday, and I can't wait!
So, you won't see much of me around here the rest of the week. I will be (hopefully) tweeting from the conference, though, so keep an eye out for some awesome writing tweets! I hope you all have a happy week. :)
Shallee ● May 2, 2011
The book Wither by Lauren DeStefano caught my eye for several reasons. The gorgeous cover. The sci fi/dystopian aspects. The polygamy. My own grandmother was born into polygamy, and was lucky enough to have an enterprising mother who escaped with her. So the story had my attention.
And it did not disappoint.
When scientists engineered genetically perfect children, everyone thought it would ensure the future of the human race. Though the first generation is nearly immortal, a virus causes all successive generations to die early: age 20 for women, 25 for men. Now, girls are kidnapped for brothels or polygamous marriages to breed children. Rhine is taken from her hardscrabble life and sold with two other girls to Linden Ashby. Though they live in a palatial Florida home surrounded by gardens and treated like royalty, the girls are sequestered from the outside world, and Rhine longs to escape. Her growing affection for her sister wives, her pity for Linden, and her fear of Housemaster Vaughn, Linden's manipulative father, keep her uncomfortably docile, until she falls for servant Gabriel.
First off, the writing is gorgeous. Rhine's voice is mature, and the books reads smoothly. It's one of those that I got so swept up in, I didn't even analyze it as I went. I just wanted the story. I found the science aspects fascinating, and I loved that it was kind of a dystopian made small. The dystopian aspects of the world took place within the mansion where Rhine lives-- her small world is seemingly perfect, but it is a cage nonetheless. I also loved the book's apocalyptic aspects-- a world that is very slowly dying.
But what I loved most about this book were the relationships. Obviously there are some very heavy issues at hand here-- characters who are dying, kidnapping, polygamy, teenage brides. The emotional poignancy of these issues is enhanced by the relationships of all kinds: the sister-wive's, the wives with their husband, Rhine with Gabriel, everyone with evil Vaughn. As writers, this is one thing I think we can take away from this book.
I talked about character relationships recently, and Wither is a great example of how relationships between characters strengthen a story. All of the characters in the book were complicated, and each of their relationships was as well. For me, that's what made this book with such a far-out premise real. I believed the characters, so I believed their story. I admit, there were a few world-building aspects in Wither that felt flat (and one that I found down-right unbelievable). And yet, I still loved the book because of the characters and their relationships.
If you're looking for an emotional, gripping, and fascinating read that you can learn from as a writer, I highly recommend Wither!
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