Perhaps one of the most prevalent topics we find on writer/writing fora online these days, aside from Imposter Syndrome missives, is that of being asked whether one is a “pantser” or “plotter” in one’s approach to ones writing style.
Does one, as it were, fly by the seat of one’s pants and improvise as one goes along with no firm structure decided as one writes or does one spend more time laying out detailed roadmaps, flow charts, character sheets, and so forth with a detailed and unassailably planned plot?
Quite the polemic subject, I can tell you! However I raise one point which I think is valid; since when did writers or artists in general conform to ‘standards’ or let themselves be placed into boxes? Artists are, by definition, nonconformist in their natures, that is what makes one an artist; one does not think about or see the world as everyone else does. Of course, this brings up the famous bugbear, with whom I get along not at all well; the Writers Rules! I think having a set of cast-iron rules for writers is about as practical as expecting all sides of the American political spectrum to be civil to one another for longer than five minutes…anyway, I digress (again).
Let us think about this for a moment; are you one, either, both, or neither? I volunteer that I am quite the impulsive type. Let me outline (haha) my manner of doing things;
The Fisher Method
I do have, in my mind’s eye, the place I want to get to. I know how it ends and am, perhaps, writing backwards, explaining how my characters arrived that that conclusion. Like one of those movies that starts at the end and then, in the rest of the movie, makes sense of that titillating scene. Only I write my final chapter and seal it away forever.
I have an idea of the structure, the general characters, how they think and who they are. I know about the society they live in, the world they occupy, and the enemies or challenges they will face. In other words I have the bare bones.
I like to create artworks of my charactersm as well as some key scenes in the story, some of you like them and have told me so, for which I thank you very much! This gives me an idea of what my character looks like, how they stand, what they wear, of their general mein and expressions. I also like to hide little clues to torment present or future fans with in these artworks.
I learned early on that the best way to develop a character and get into their skin is through the medium of short stories. Put them in situations that are different to those they’ll face in the main novel. Develop their backstory and let them play to see what they’ll do. In Empyraeum, these experiments became rather popular by themselves.
By dint of the things you learn in the previous two steps, your story map has probably changed just a little bit. Maybe you have added more characters. Maybe a previously unimportant character is more prominent. Maybe, like I did, you realise that themes and ideas uncovered in the shorts require further exploration.
A story is a living, breathing , thing. It is given life through you and through the imagination of everyone that reads it. Just as your charaters must evolve and develop through the course of the story, so too must your story have some ‘growing room’.
Keep your website or blog as a Central Lore Repository this is what the readers will use to refer to the lore and background later and become familiar with it now. In there modern times, your website is the public face of your world or universe.
Be aware, during edit phases, of any information that may need some ret-conning. This is why making sure the lore on your website is always up to date so you can refer to it as you edit.
What Does That Mean, Now? That means that I don’t think you need to be one or the other. I think an adaptive and fluid attitude to writing is what keeps both you and your readers engaged. I mean, if you are not surprised or engaged, how can you expect them to be?
I have said I am rather impulsive when it comes to storytelling and, while it does make for a good yarn or three, it actually requires a lot more discipline than you would think. Most people think that those writers of a more trouserly persuasion are too impulsive, unfoccussed, and more akin to mad scientists than writers (add A to B, shake in some F, and see if we live or change shape). Instead it involves iron focus, deep lore, awareness of the whole shape of your dynamic universe, and an awful lot of spare bits you may or may not use.
I think this latter part is very handy to have because, if you hit a wall (any but the 4th) and cannot get past it, cometh forth the left-overs! It may surprise many, looking at Empyraeum as it is today, to know that it was made of three or four reconstituated left-over projects I just could not get to work on their own, that something was missing. These were;
Bloodstar; a universe envisioned in my teens which ended up bearing quite the remarkable resemblence to Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 universe
Trinity; Gabriel and Sham’s world of mysterious angel/demon/human creatures of uncertain origin. Part of that (including Gabriel, Unity, and Sham) was brought over in to Empyraeum, the rest was folded into The Chronicles of Enoch.
Untitled Work: Hidden from public for centuries; a secret society made up of Alexander’s former elite soldiers, emerges into the modern world announcing his return.
Embodied Saga: Short stories detailing a strange series of natural disasters which reveals mankind’s secret noospheric connection to their own demise.
I have added a lot more and chopped off a few things that I may well find useful later. There is some lore I am wavering over the use of. I brought the Ghorkai back after some hesitation. I might bring back a couple of other fantasy inspired races too; Empyraeum has grown into such a complex universe that I may well have to rely on fans to create an Expanded Universe because I seriously don’t know if I can write as much as could be written.
Of course, having fans who want to write expanded universe works is my dream and I’ll be sure to help and guide anyone that wants to get involved in that once the main trilogy is finished.
“The only constants you can rely on are death and change…”
So said a wise person who has since experienced at least one of those things, probably both at this point. People only tend to quote you a lot once you’re no longer around to say “No! That is not what I meant!” have you noticed that?
Change, though, it the one thing that most people appear to hate with a passion. One needs simply to take a look at social media today to see that. People tend to like a constant, steady progression of events they are comfortable with and can easily predict. Consider this, one of my favourite quotes;
‘People like to be told what they already know. Remember that. They get uncomfortable when you tell them new things. New things…well, new things aren’t what they expect. They like to know that, say, a dog will bite a man. That is what dogs do. They don’t want to know that a man bites a dog, because the world is not supposed to happen like that. In short, what people think they want is news, but what they really crave is olds.’
– The Truth, Terry Pratchett
Why do you think that an endless progression of the same kinds of story never loses popularity? I watch, at times from boredom, a certain kind of late night movie on a certain kind of TV channel. They are painfully predicatable. Girl moves to new town or returns to old town. Girl has painful past and hates everybody male. Person she hates the most she falls in love with. Joy and albino pigeons prevail. Or man and woman have perfect marriage. Odd stranger appears. Stranger fame from past and oddly convenient events send either them or one member of the marriage on unrealistic murder spree which helps innocent party meet love of life. It’s boredom, OK? I’ve finised work for the day and I have the falsely optimistic hope that this one will break the mould! My wife laughs and refuses to watch them with me because I faultlessly predict the outcome before it happens, I’m missing my market here, I could write these things! I don’t ned you intelligent people! I’m off to make my fortune recycling overused tat, farewell!
Still here? Good, because I could never do that. I feel the purpose of great writing, the kind that stands the test of time, lies not in recycling the same predictable storylines in a slightly different setting. No, it lies in taking the unexpected direction. OK, we have themes which get reused, ideas and archetypes, those are there to stay. We’ll discuss those later on, in an episode or two. What is the difference? Themes can be used to misdirect as well as be slavishly followed, themes can be useful tools. Aaron Debimski-Bowden is excellent at this; presenting a hero, showing us his or her journey, only to bring it crashing down around them in the end. Graham McNeill is skilled at this too. People escape reality through fiction, they have newspapers and television to tell them the same old tales over and over again. Fiction and, I have noticed, especially science fiction, exists to challenge people. Sci-Fi has always been about pushing boundaries, going beyond the mundane, and exploring possibilities. Fantasy can be, too, but the genre has gotten quite tropy recently; full of what I call the ‘Pig-Farmer Prince’ type of thing, or the ‘Rise of Mary-Sues’. You know the kind, absolutely untrained around average person meets mentor, mentor reveals part of truth and trains them, they surpass mentor. Mentor dies or almost dies in battle with big bad (whch big bad survives and escapes from) and truth of average person is dramatically revealed. Average person is now nigh invincible and big bad’s defeat is only a matter of time and a lt of needless exposition and exploration of minor character arcs. Ok, not all sci-fi is immune from this either and we all like a bit of tropy here and there, don’t we? I’ve done a few of them myself, don’t think I’m hating on the stories that do this. In essence you write the story you want to write, not the story you think everyone wants to read.
There is some debate over this one. Does story shape setting or does setting shape story?
The answer is a little bit of both. This links back to our Consistency and Context topic from the last episode. You are building a world and a world has rules, many of which may well have to be broken throughout the course of the story, just to keep things interesting. Conflict – either that which the character creates or has inflicted upon them – is essential to moving a story along, after all. To my mind, though, the conflict and change inherent to it must be consistent with the rest of the world. It must be possible for such events to happen and not appear to be just thrown in for drama’s sake. It’s not a surprise if it doesn’t break a rule or two but it is not done well if you have have not been able to use the ‘tides’ of the world to foreshadow the coming tsunami either.
Back in Shakespeare’s time, he built his heroes with a ‘fatal flaw’, an element to the character which their experiences in the world had built into them. This flaw would cause the hero’s tragic fate in the end and it was foreshadowed throughout the tale. Just as the characters can have their ‘fatal flaws’ so too can the world itself. It can have personality, it can have moods and humours. In fact, the world is just another character you create. Like any other character, it reachs to and acts upon other characers and, if you write well, each is changed by the other. We know all about character development, don’t we? We know it is essential to a good story to have some kind of believable character development but what is it that makes that development believable? Your world does; the rules, laws, and norms of your world determine what is and is not possible. Everything you have written up that point contributes to your world and, if you’ve done it well, your readers will both feel that world and feel they are a part of it. The last thing you want them to do if fling your book at the wall with a cry or curse word because you pulled a surprise ‘twist’ out of your behind that doesn’t fit the world.
Look. Batman (from the original TV series) was always captured and placed in a needlessly elaborate trap. He would appear doomed but remember that he had just invented just the thing to escape with AND remembered to put it on his utility belt that morning. Terrible and tropy but it fit the world it took place in, people expected it and were disappointed if it were absent. The A-Team, always captured and locked up together in a location with all the raw materials and tools they’d need to create their manner of escape. We watched to see what outlandish contraption they’d build next.
If your world has smiling, indefinably ethnic old monks in it who may or may no have learned a secret yeti trick, their sudden return from certain death might be unexpected but not hated. You cannot have your character do something which your world has established is impossible without first saying why it is impossible and hinting at this one time maybe, so I have heard from a friend of a friend of a bloke I met in the pub, that it may well have been possible.
You can change what is classified as normal within the boundaries of your world as long as you make it consistent and constant within that world. You can have a world where men bite dogs habitually as long as you make it consistent and believable.
Most importantly of all, don’t be afraid to leave questions unanswered because the real world is quite literally full of those. Leaving a few gaps for the readers to fill with their own imagination is actually a great strategy because this invests them even further in your world. Why? If they start imagining answers to questions they have encountered about your world and inventing answers to said questions, then they believe in your world.
They believe in it and they understand it which means you did your job well!
Exposition; there is the rub, though in the absence of a question. Just how much is too much? That is the actual question.
I have seen this discussed, weighted, challenged and justified over and over on various groups and fora; it is called info-dumping, the Wall of Text…it is called many things and much advice about avoiding it to be found but none seem to answer the most important question for the apprentice author, for the journeyperson; how does one avoid doing it?
It is easy to do – I raise my hand in guilty associatin, I have done it – to be in the heat and passion of a scene, and to go off in detail about the background to a particular event, place, relationship, etc. It is likely that you have spent a lot of time, effort, and heart in creating your world and are justifiably proud of it, I know I am. You want to show how great it is to your readers and have them enjoy it as much as you do, I completely understand. I still have this awful habit at the moment of steering unrelated conversations to my writing, or dropping anecdotes about characters into relevent situations, it is causing both friends and family to “assume the expression” with me often.
Admit it; you know which expression I am referring to!
You are in love with your world, it’s like your child because you created it, you nurtured its early stages, you developed and taught it tricks and gave it direction. It is a part of you and you are right to be proud about that. Thing is, not everyone sees it that way.
Somebody giving one of my artworks a like does not know that it took anywhere between 3 hours and 3 days to create that, to tease and massage it into an acceptable shape. In fact a large proportion of viewers will not even see the finer details I agonised for hours over getting just right. But it looks pretty and conveys a feeling or three, so they click a button and move on, maybe even pass a moment held in its grip.
Equally, they have no idea how much time you spent deciding how to spell the word for sandwich in your work, how you spent sleepless nights debating whether your main character was a Steve, a Bob, or a Mark and why. They will never know the level of research that goes into inventing a whole language and its associated grammatical structure, or the layout of a space station, the configuration of armour, weapons, insignia….they just think we plucked it out of the air in our clever writerly fashion.
But, to quote a famous Spaniard; “Are they entertained?” That’s the goal isn’t it?
You all know the image; big chunk of frozen water, floating in the sea, most people don’t see that the bit we see is really small compared to the bit that we don’t. I read a quote somewhere from one of the effects crew in the Lord of the Rings movies. He said that they have a team of dozens, hundres maybe, of people designing everything from swords and armour, down to door knobs, the buckles on a belt, chairs, paintings in the background, cutlery and plates, etc. How many of you noticed anything special about the mugs the hobbits drank beer from, do you recall its look and feel? Nope. Someone put a lot of thought into that. Did you see the titles of the books in Elrond’s study? Probably not, but someone painstaking thought about each and every title.
Why, you might ask (if you didn’t please keep up), would they do that? Ahhh…now that is the right question.
Your goal, as a writer, is to have a stranger pick up your book and read it from cover to cover without being forced in any fashion, to enjoy it and, ideally, want to do so again with your next volume. We want to tell them a story they will never forget and have them hankering for more.
We need to draw them in and show them how much more beautiful our iceberg is, seeing as it afloat in a sea of icebergs. We must let them see that its penguin passengers are worthy of a look, that its unique algal blooms are quite stunning, and that, underneath the water, there is a frozen alien spaceship/ancient artefact/frozen caveman etc. waiting to be discovered if only they take the chance to stop their journey and look.
So, how much iceberg to show, just what do you display in order that your reader not only picks your one frozen leviathan from the hundreds bobbing in the ocean but stays upon in and is interested enough to find the secret door into its very heart?
You want them to be interested in, immersed in, and draw to your world. You want them to feel it so that they understand your characters’ struggles, the story itself, and why what happens actually happens. You want them to imagine and feel a part of it, even if they are only an observer. You want them to know what it feels like to be inside the skin of your characters, to see the world through their eyes and empathise with them.
There, my friends, is the key. Nobody will care about your character unless you can make them feel empathy towards said character, to identify and become invested in them. How do they do that?
Well, empathy means to imagine oneself in the situation of another. This requires a reciprocal relationship of sorts. The empathiser must find something in the empathee with which they can identify, a shared experience, even if it is a vague one such as shared humanity or a childhood experience. Shared humanity. Is your character a living, breathing, being in their eyes?
Here it comes. Dropping avalanches of information at a key moment of connection, as your reader tentatively explores the inner slopes of your iceberg and approaches the location of the hidden door might just sweep them off in the ocean to to eaten by orcas and leapard seals. Or accidentally stabbed by a narwal.
You have to give enough that they understand the character but not so much that they become lost or disinterested, losing the excitement of the moment. Compare these two examples;
“Well, you know, Steve did his thing, you know the thing with his whatsit? Well he was doing that when that thing with the cats happened and he remembered that other things and cried. So sad man”
“Brave Stephen considered his party trick – the one he had perfected at the age of seven and which much amused his friends. You recall? It was the one involving ferrets? Twenty-five years ago ferrets were outlawed as pets and most were exterminated, it was the smell, you see, many people were offended and there were riots, I think. Ferrets though/ Such wonderful and loyal creatures, easy to train, to share the affection and loyalty of. Quite, quite intelligent little fellows too! Why, I knew a man who had taught his ferret to… One such rioter, by the name of Marcus, he came from Greece or somewhere and was 25 years old at the time. He did this thing during a demonstration, his mother had taught it to him as a child and he remembered it fondly because she had died when he was a child and had few memories of her now. That may have been what caused Marcus to join the rebellion and, through the centuries that have passed since, inspire so many – “
See? In the latter, thread of excitement is lost completely and the eyes are becoming heavy as narrator drones on about ferrets and other unrelated things. These things might, in your mind, be of vital importance to the story and, thus, essential for the reader to know but how better to tell them?
Well, most, people wil tell you that dialogue is the trick and they are right, to quite the degree, but as you have seen above, that doesn’t always work. The sharper among you will notice that, indeed, neither example is correct because while the latter gives too much information, the former gives too little even though, most importantly, the former feels much more like a natural conversation.
I gave two extremes intentionally but felt the need to demonstrate an important point. How do we avoid movie trailer voice or insurance commercal conversations? How do we convey enough information while keeping the flow natural?
“So, we were talking about last week and Steve started to do that thing -“
“The one with the ferrets? Oh god, really?”
“Yeah,” he sighed. “Really.”
“That’ll get him arrested by the Pickers that will.” eyes dart around on conditioned reflex.
“Listen, I told him”
“Remember Greek Marcus, right?” she barely managed to suppress a snort. “Remember Greek Marcus.” voice low and solemn.”
Scraff! What did he say?”
He said those ferrets are all he’s got since…well, since, you know…” he ran a trembling hand over three days of growth. “Since it all went to sh-“
“Yeah…” she cut him off with a sharp gesture, suppressing a shudder. “Who can forget? Steve least of all..”
A little better right? Could be polished a bit as I made that up on the fly but you see the idea, a good starting point for a first draft. we’re invested in Steve, he has a tragedy somewhere that his friends are worried about and takes refuge in ferret tricks, it’s his way of coping. Maybe we want to know more about Steve now. Maybe we want to know what happened to him and why is friends appear frightened.
Like our iceberg, events and time reveal more or less about it. Our characters do not enter the story the same as when they exit or complete it. They develop, as they experience events or learn new information. Just as we do not reveal everything about our character and what is going to happen to them all at once, we should not with our world either. Not in the book, at least.
Publishing in the Information Age
We all know how much the world of publishing has changed since our literary heroes started out. Whether your hero author is dead, well established, or a Name, their journey was quite different to ours. We are both incredibly fortunate to have this new world and stymied by it at times. Let us consider the elements, as it were, of our information rich world as an author;
Self Publishing; the only barrier to getting published and having our book available to readers is actually finishing it. Of course, this is amazing, one can become a published author overnight! Of course, there are pitfalls and we have discussed those before and will come back to them in the next chapter.
Social media; One can establish a presence on a number of different platforms, or a combination thereof. We will discuss strategy in later chapters.
Author and Book Websites; they are (relatively) cheap to set up, host, and buy a domain name for these days; you can have everything for $20-$30 a month or even less. You can include all kinds of information there and this I will come back to shortly.
Author Blog(s); often an integral part of a website but can be an entirely seperate entity, depending on preference.
How does that connect to the topic at hand, I hear you ask. I believe it does because we have something those that proceeded us did not. We have the ability to do all our detailed expositioning seperate to our book, and, if we are really smart (and have the time to do it right) can actually blend all of that information into the ebook version of our work quite seemlessly. Amazon have a service, for example, called X-Ray which allows you to build a database of hyperinked words and terms into your ebook file so that the reader has simply to click on said hyperlink to learn more…you can turn your ebook into a truly interactive experience and allow the reader to choose how much they want to know. This is a very handy tool I encourage those with ebooks on Amazon to look into.
Next we have our website. as you know, the Empyraeum Enkyklopaedeia is a growing source of information for readers, as is the website as a whole. I encourage you to consider the same with your work. These days, everyone is looking for a website and will, if you do it right, spend a good portion of time studying it. Maybe this is a personal preference but I find myself these days, when reading a good fantasy or scifi book, having a browser window open to a good information source on that book and, when I come across an interesting term in the narrative, I find a relevent entry to learn more, often distracting myself away from the story entirely for a good 10 minutes!
Now, established series, authors, and IP’s have people to manage these vast volumes of information, to summarise and create great content but you, my friends, have not that luxury yet. It is, as the saying goes, on you.
The next chapter of this videoblog series will touch directly on these aspects of an author’s world in much more detail but I hope I’ve given you a few things to think about for today.
Some people say plot and setting are more important than characterisation because the former shapes the latter anyway. Others say character drives everything. Of course, both capms are correct because it completely depends on what kind of story you are writing. Is it plot-driven tale of epic proportions with a cast of way too many to pay sufficient attention to or a character-driven oddyssey where the choices and deveolopment of one person drive everything else? It can be both but that, my friends, is incredibly hard to achieve well.
The Empyraeum Cycle started off as a collection of such character-driven story arcs; first person short stories in the the Collections and tales riven predominantly by one character or another (though mainly from a third person perspective) in the the Novellas. The Empyraeum Trilogy of novels is going to be set in third person and will, as you may well have seen, have quite the cast of characters. Of course, there will be some characters who complete their own version of the famous “Hero’s Journey” throughout; Sean Ollimur, the mysterious Kat, Gabriel, and some others, together with their vast supporting cast. This is what makes Empyraeum such an ambitious project; it is aiming to be a part of the Space Opera genre, as well as something quite different; combining ancient history, sci-fi, myth, magic. and cyberpunk together with another influence or few. Those that have paid attention to artworks we have released can see many of those influences already.
Of course your character is expected to set out on a journey as part of the story, to leave behing their comfortable life – either willingly or unwillingly – to discover a new one along the way, as well as discovering a thing or two about themselves in the process. This is, of course, something we like to call character development.
As humans in our regular lives, I doubt any of us is exactly the same person we were in our teens. As life progresses and we experience, as well as learn, new things, we see the world differently and, whether we realise it or not, it changes us. I will use a personal example here; when my wife and I met, I had just come out of a period of incomparible difficulty and chaos I had allowed into my life; I was a nervous and insecure person in many ways. Over time I slowed down and, with her pregnancy and the birth of our daughters, my wife claims I underwent an incredible transformation. A positive one, of course, into a steady, calm, and decisive person who was afraid of nothing, at least n the surface. Now she doesn’t know I used to be like this decades ago and simply, thanks to her love and support, managed to recover my old self back, with a positive change or two thrown in. There is a lesson in this; not all change is new. Your character can experience trauma and recover a part of themselves they had thought forever lost. Not all backward motion is bad.
A character must change, though, for a major character that remains changless from their first appearance to their last is a two-dimensional one. This should be avoided unless said character is a Lesson.
A what? A Lesson. Let us say that Main Character is resisting a change they must undertake, a decision they must make, a direction theu must travel in in order to achieve their goal. Two-dimensional character does not change and suffers some mishap – either a permanent or temporary one – and serves a wake-up call to the Main Character; often taking the required step in order to honour the noble sacrifice – or stubborn stupidity – of said character.
A Warning to New Writers
Neither race nor gender defines a character. There is much pressure these days towards inclusivity. One must have a racially, sexually, and community diverse cast in your works. Must one? In my opinion, only if it fits.
In the Chronicles of Enoch, the cast is delightfully diverse because of the worlds it is set in. Ancient Eastern civilisations, lost lands, modern-day Atlanta and Albuquerque, to name just a few. Atlanta, for example, is one of the most ethnically diverse cities I have visited and lived near; East Asians of all kinds, Indians (from India) and Pakistanis, Jamaicans, Latins of all kinds, African Americans of infinite variety…it was impossible not to represent that diversity among my cast there. In Empyraeum, the core cast, as it were, are more monoethnic; proto-Greeks mostly with a character or two thrown in. However, anyone that has spent any length of time in the London of our world must surely know that the Lùndùn of the Empyraeum is going to be rather similar, especially once it effectively becomes the capital of first the Union and then resistance against the same. It’s only to be expected that a taste of London be found in Empyraean Lùndùn.
Now, none of my more ‘diverse’ characters started out as any particular race of belief. Acora the Kalshodar leader of the Sons of Nemesis just seemed to suit the race he took on in the artworks of him; his developing character seemed to demand it. Paxxi, the nonbinary trans augmented hacker character, just seemed to fit their chosen identity. Commander Soong appeared to develop his own personality and background. You see, the Empyraeum was founded on the idea of diversity, in its way, because Alexander never tried to impose Greek views of the world upon those nations he conquered. In fact he even adopted Persian and Babylonian customs himself and recruited people from those nations into his army. It stands to reason that he would not change that philosophy as he began to found the Empyraeum. In fact, in deveoloping ESG or Empyraen Standard Greek, we intentionally chose diverse linguistic influences from both extremes of the Empyraeum as some of the dominant ones in order to represent that.
My point? If the colour, ethnicity, sexuality, or gender of a character has nothing to do witrh their role in the story or development thereof, why include it? In many works, some such things are implied but never directly told. Anne Rice’s vampires are said to be bisexual but she has never directly said it. In the Chronicles of Enoch, there is talk about Asmodeus and Julian’s relationship but, I assure you, I will never go into depth on that because it doesn’t affect their story (and what some of your have imagined is quite impossible anyway). In Empyraeum, Paxxi’s identity is mentioned but they go on to be somewhat dismissive of it themselves and assert that it really is not something they think about a lot, people respect it anyway. The danger for those thinking inclusivity is mandatory is making a character of one archetype or another just to tick a box and creating a potentially harmful stereotype or obvious insert as a result; a character who behaves as they always did and not how someone of their ethnicity, community, or identity would; that there is no reflection of that aspect of their character anywhere in their behaviour or such behaviour is forced and artificial.
That will hurt the cause far more than the lack of such a character might. Giving them Free Rein I have often joked about this myself, often at length. That saying we writers have that characters appear to write themselves sometimes. Asmodeus started off as a boss-mobster-monster in the prologue and a single chapter and a half before dying later on as a plot device. Sham was a generic Mentor-to-The-Chosen-One character in the abandoned Trinity series. Both came to dominate their respective series and, I have chuckled, appear to have rebelled against their creator. In actuality, I do so love the trickster type character; the heroic anti-hero type who at times does the wrong things for the right reason; one that will do the things the heroes cannot but which need to be done.
I do enjoy getting inside the head of the complex manipulator who genuinely thinks that he is doing the right thing even though, on occasion, his best plans aft gan aglen! His motivations are always the most interesting and intriguing. Both Sham and Asmodeus as good people, deep down (though you have to dig a lot deeper with Asmodeus), and doing what they think is the only possible way to help those they care about.
The fact is that Sham and Asmodeus are extreme examples of the Free Rein Principle (patent pending) but they are also excellent illustrations of it. Their characters and the story itself needed them and their previously planned roles expanded to fit the need; enhancing the story rather significantly. Let your character be what your story needs them to be, is the lesson in that.
Sham became Indian because it suited him, Asmodeus became ethnically indefinable because that’s who he is; a powerfully chameleonic personality.
Let your character be who she, she, it, or they need and ‘want’ to be; not who you or the nebulous ‘they’ of the internet think they should be.
As you have seen, characterisation is often the hardest part of the art of writing. Who your character is, what they are, their thoughts and motivations, will actually shape the story around them. At times, they will shape the story and at others, it will shape them. All of our previous episodes and ‘lessons’ also come into play here because the fabric; the context of your world and your story are important because the ‘rules’ you have built into it will influence what your character can do and, therefore, how they can change. The influences and crises that will push this change will also be controlled by the environment in which they find themselves.
In short, you must realise that both story, plot, and character may well change one another unexpectedly. A challenging situation one character finds themselves in has multiple ways out of it and you had, previously. chosen route A. However, as your character develops, you realise that this course of action does not suit the character at all; in fact route B doesn’t either, only route C does. Route C, however, leads to unexpected developments in the story and some retrospective editing on your part. As annoying as this might be, I think it’s more important to be true to the character then to your original outline. right? It makes the story feel more organic and natural as it were.
When the idea of the modern and current Empyraeum was set out, it came with a nagging problem; Latin never came to dominate because Rome never rose in the vacuum left by Alexander’s death and Ptolemy’s failed legacy in Egypt.
Citizens of the Empyraeum, even in its current state would not speak a language we’d recognise. Latin languages wouldn’t exist. Turns of speech and even complex words would be quite different.
We touch on this is first acknowledging the rise of koiné in the invasion of Persia and hints toward what we called the argot or emerging conlang of the Empyraen army; the result of one hundred different cultures and armies melding into a whole. Some would learn the koiné, others would speak a pidgin of their native tongue and koiné, others would make up an odd mixture of both. By osmosis, an argot started to spread, even Neshaa and Kalliades started to converse in it.
Following formal foundation of the Empyraeum in Alexandria, the argot was formalised as ESG or Empyraen Standard Greek.
Early stages of its use can be found in the stories of the Collections and inside the Novellas. Place names and little terms and insults were replaced, just to give an idea of how different the world of the Empyraeum is. After much thought and linguistic play, we decided more was needed and below, we introduce you to a particular flavour of ESG, that spoken in Lúndún, the capital of Brytton, where much if the action of Book One “A Flame Undying” will take place.
What we consider Great Britain was never invaded by Rome, the Vikings, the Saxons. The Welsh and Gaelic tongues common in 4th Century BC remained the mother tongue of the common people who learned ESG later on, at school or for work. Also London of our world is known for its unique slangs and argots, as is Britain as a whole so our Bryttons will, of course, add and adapt words to their preference. Elements of Irish, Scots, and Welsh mix with the ancient Greek and, often, the two blend together;
Common Empyraen insults and slang of Lúndún Town
Kop = idiot/stupid Ease/Easy-G = ESG Myrt = slapper of either gender, a person of adaptable morality Moik = untrustworthy Kora = *uck Kopra = s*it Koraka = *ucker Kúna = bitch/dog Glàm = falsely flashy Laik = wimp, little bitch Proko = arse kisser Chalk = wiseguy, smartass, sort of a compliment of the backhanded type Myx = stubborn person Gràs = stinky Pòra = p*ssy, invaliant person Tod = overweight fellow, slang for aristocracy/the rich Pánastás = rebels, commonly known as Pans Hèg = boss or leader Kos = military unit or group The Choir = slang for the Keepers, Union Police Savs = Alexander Loyalists Savmor = The Kalshodar, considered a myth Gowl = clumsy person Gomb = trick, trap, ambush Felci = a fart, often used for an unfocused person Cach = crap, worthless Twm = jumped up officer, often pronounced ‘Tim’ Man = undecided, indefinite reply…”Man a well” means, ‘why not?’ or ‘might as well’ Pilli = Day dreamer, head in the clouds Clats = fight, violent disagreement Soomp! = Brilliant! Excellent! Cool! Sometimes simply “Soom” Lemb = Embarrassingly Stupid Moog = bad/dangerous Cleka = informant, grass, traitor Gaida = arse, annoying person. “On the Gaid” – messing around, fooling with someone. Skatagam = A Charlie-Fox, or complete and messy failure militarily Melit = one who favours DIY intimacy; an objectionable individual Och = multiuse term that can mean almost anything depending on context. “Gaid och” means ‘**ck it’. “Och soom” means indescribably amazing. “Och man” means ‘give me a minute to think about this’. “Och Aye” can mean anything depending on the speaker’s tone of voice. Tevo = a sneak or thief Gamina = multiuse word of emphasis meaning anything between ‘darn, ‘curses’,’**ck’, ‘**cking’ etc. Kàton = negative situation. “Dwin a lig gamina katon…” means ‘I’m in serious effing trouble here…’ Lig = a bit, a small amount. Often used ironically. Mor/Maw = big or large. Serious. Dwin = I am . “Dwin Pan, drae sior” is a common rebel greeting. More may be coming as time allows but, for now, enjoy playing with speaking like a Lúndolix using the clues I have scattered around.
In these trying times, a little doubt and anxiety of only natural, as is fear. Your greatest asset, though, is your passion and your belief in the fact that you are writing the greatest story ever told….You will get through this, you are enough, you are going to do this; I believe in you.
The Chronicles of Enoch is going to be a true Epic. It will have a cast of at least fifty (if not more) and will cover a period of approximately eight thousand years. That, in itself, is quite the challenging proposition. When you add a conspiracy or several, complex plots involving the military, the police forces, several religions, experimental science, and secret government projects….well, we are not even sure if there is a Kansas to be in any more, although we are sort of familiar with Kansas as a concept…
Let me give you a list of some of the topics we have covered so far;
The Hebrew Talmud
Sumerian tablets and carvings
Doggerland and other antedeluvian lands
Every conspiracy theory on Atlantis and lost continents
Fluid dynamics, thermal dynamics, and high pressure fluid dynamics inversions
Astronomy, especially regarding the Moon and Mars
Terraforming and how it could happen
Micro-electronics and experimental electronic theory
Every religion which has ever existed
The titular Books of Enoch and other Apocrypha
Jewish exorcism rites
Aviation history, space flight, experimental space technology, and theoretical physics
The Atlanta and Georgia State Police Force and SWAT Division
Child psychology and criminal psychology
ASD and Aspergers syndrome
Eurasian and North American mythology
Ballistics, sniper theory and practises, bullet manufacture
Chemistry and materials science
Esoteric lore from several sources
Misha of Jewish scripture and questionable sources
Almost every conspiracy theory I could find (except flat Earth because even the ancients weren’t stupid)
I actually stopped because I don’t want to overwhelm you. There is a lot more and I am only on the first book of a five-volume series.
On Appearing the Expert
If there is one person who does this well, it was Michael Crichton, he truly did an amazing job of appearing to be an overnight expert on his subject matter. Whether it was genetics and dinosaurs, aviation and accident investigation, law enforcement, or ancient arabian literature and viking migration and culture, Michael’s books communicated a confident knowledge on the subject. One could read his books and not only enjoy the story but actually learn something. That is a rare talent and he remains sorely missed.
He was a remarkably intelligent man but he did not become an actual expert on every topic he wrote so convincingly about, he researched and made use of actual experts instead, which proves just how intelligent he was.
I think it is important, when setting your writing in real places, referencing real groups of people, places, and lore, it is important to give a sense of authenticity, a flavour of truth to your work. This, I feel, is vital in drawing your reader into to your story. There is that famous saying about ‘the best lies/legends contain a grain of truth’ and your story needs, I feel, to contain at least enough grains to quarter fill a small salf shaker or enough rice to set a fried egg on.
What about science fiction, you may ask? Good question.
I refer you to the Illium/Olympus series by Dan Simmons. He had a curious idea; combine the Trojan War with the science fiction of a terraformed Mars, involve actual Greek gods who were in fact posthuman superbeings, genetically enhanced humans, killer robots, advanced benevolent robots, Shakespearean monsters, and Lovecraftian gods. He added real theoretical science as well as decent historical research into the books and made them rather interesting indeed, while still keeping the fantasy and sci-fi elements alive.
My point is, research is king (or queen, or elected official) of writing; you need to add elements of reality into your unreality in order to draw people in. Even if they are not experts in the field, it is going to draw them in if done well.
Doing It Well..
In today’s world, research is no longer as challenging as it once was. I remember the good old days of researching my now-abandoned first novel in my teens. You had to go to a library and first find the section of the library your book might be in, then you had to find one which suited your need, take it back because it was no good, come back overloaded with others, then spend hours leafing through them for the information you wanted before getting distracted by something interesting you found along the way. Do not get me started on microfiche archives either!
Today, you have Google. With the few strokes of the keys, you have access to everything, even Wikipedia…
There are a few problems with that. The old addage of “if it wasn’t true they wouldn’t let them put it on there” is not, necessarily, true. For some sites yet but Wikipedia is publically editable. of course, they curate it now, but we have seem a few worrying and a number of hilarious results of such editing. They catch it eventually, I should know, my backlinks lasted a week…
So; you have to be careful in what information you use, myou need trusted sources such as academic ones or verifiable sources of information when it comes to scientific or academic stuff, as well as historical events. Accuracy is key because trust me, you will encounter that one person who will pull you up on a fact and you can be sure that they will leave a review about it.
Spend the time, is my advice, check your facts and, check them again. You’ll be amazed by the results. I know it’s hard but, until we are famous, we can’t court experts to interview or hire researchers to do it for us. I keep telling you that this job is no even remotely easy, do I not…
Of The Dumping of Information
Don’t do it. That’s the best advice I can give for you to follow. Dumping information is never good and dropping a pile of facts and figures on the reader’s lap is going to make them feel like they are reading a text book. I know you spent a long time researching it, built some impressive knowledge and thorough notes on the subject and, if you follow my upcoming advice, may use a tiny fraction of it directly but it will matter when you retain rather than lose readers.
Use natural-sounding dialogue. Think Star Trek without the eleven syllable words and pseudo-science speak. Two colleagues just chatting about things such colleagues would naturally discuss under the circumtances. Look it how it sounds, how it flows and if it feels natural. Practise it with a friend and see how it falls off the tongue.
Short bits of internal dialogue. Again, watch the flow, fragment it with thoughts, feelings, or actions to break up what we call a WOT (wall of text). Think how you think and, if it’s nothing close to that, then change it. You might be surprised to discover that most people don’t think in paragraphs, some do but most think in short sentences. A whole page of thoughts is a definite no-no.
Exposition in easy to digest pieces. Ideally mix with the above, by way of short and concise explanation. Think of PBS or BB2 (or your local equivalent channel) science programs. They keep their facts short and to the point and intersperse music and action pieces. I recommend you do the same. Attention spans these days really are not what they used to be. I had to figure out a similar balance when dealing with Dr. Webb’s pieces in the ACARI facility in New Mexico and Asmodeus’ musings on the ICARUS program in Darkness Within as well as Kalshodar phsysiology in the Hegemony drafts.
It is all about practise, I’m afraid. It doesn’t come completely naturally and we have all suffered the consequences. Use the comparison to science and nature programs, it really does work if you visualise David Attenborough, Neil Degrasse Tyson, or Morgan Freeman speaking out your chunks of dialogue among the whistful nature shots and fancy special effects. If it sounds boring in Mr. Freeman’s voice, then you must fix it because next to nothing sounds boring with that voice; he could (British reference) read the Saturday football (not soccer) results and you’d actually enjoy it (American readers, enjoy the video below, I give you two minutes before you scream and run out of the room….)
So, Why Research so Much?
I’ve used this one before and I use it again.
WETA Workshop, the special effects company behind such blockbusters as the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Bladerunner 2049, and District 9 are on record saying that there is a massive chunk of the props, details, and details they created in those movies that 90% of viewers will not even notice, consciously at least. Subconsciously though, it helps draw them into a fully realised world and immerse themselves in it because every item on every elf is a little different, because no orc’s armour is the same, or because Deckard sees adverts in the right kind of Japanese or Chinese everywhere.
It’s about the atmosphere it creates, how the nuggests you drop show that you know a lot more than that but chose, chose mark you, to keep them for another time. I work in Customer Service in a rather manic industry (online gambling) and have learned tone of voice and implied confidence go an aweful long way in inspiring confidence in the person on the other end of the phone. I am not a sports fan, I hate horses, and am blaise about football but I can make it sound like I know what I’m talking about because I’ve researched and trained myself to recognise key phrases in conversation. My customers think I’m just like them (I don’t gamble) and therefore trust my judgement and what I tell tell them. Remember popular business maxim?
“It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”
To continue from my previous point, people will trust somebody who sounds like they know what they’re talking about before they will trust someone who sounds uncertain. You could be giving them completely accurate information but it you do not sound confident, they’ll listen to the tone not the words. They ask for a manager and you put them on, the manager says exactly what you did but because they said it confidently and identified as a manager, the customer accepts it, humans eh?
If you mention a few juicy facts, handle their delivery well, make your characters sound natural as they speak, think, or experience them, then your reader feels confident that you know your setting and your job. They enter your world willingly and relax into the story. Anything that jars against the expectations you gave them will shatter their confidence and ruin their experience.
If you research well, have digested it, and somewhat understood it, this will be obvious in your writing because you will drop the right fact or comment right where it belongs. I had a scientist character of mine deliver a brief keynote speech on a certain topic to see how it flowed. It didn’t appear in any of the books and it won’t. The speech is mentioned in passing here and there, and a brief excerpt or two show up but the entire 20-minute speech itself (together with a Q&A session at the end) is buried in the texture of the story.
If you do not know it, learn. If you find the facts, look again. if your facts clash, keep looking. You are building a world so contrary opinions are going to exist however, make your facts solid before you use them.
Do not infodump or include overy-lengthy expositions that stop the story dead and advance it not at all. Think of Morgan Freeman narrating and do not, just do not make Morgan say something boring. He fought hard for that reputation, try not to ruin it for him.
Use what you have learned, digest it, and (using a popular revision techmnique) rewrite it in your own words to show that you understood it. Do not paste directly from your source or repeat verbatim unless what you’re adding is an actual quote or there is a very valid reason to do so.
Use what you have learned and your ability to paraphrase it to sound confident and reassure your customer that not only have they chosen well and selected an author who did their research but one who knows their trade and can be trusted to deliver. Don’t be lazy, we readers can spot it in an instant.
Remember when we were readers before we were authors. Remember what you love and hate in books you have read and try not to repeat any of the things you, yourself, hate. Respect the reader enough to ensure that they will not part with their cash for anything less than your very best work.
Respect them and they will see it and they, in turn, will respect you.
“Your Greek gods were, let’s be honest, big children. They were free to do what they liked and punish any mortals and immortals that got in their way. Just look at how many demi-gods there were running around killing monsters! Let’s be fair, though, they’d lost their home and were a little confused…
One thing I admire in them is their absolute artistry in creative punishment; Atlas, for leading a rebellion against tyranny was to hold up the heavens. Our good friend, called Prometheus at the time for some reason, was chained in the Carpathians to a mountain and had am eagle eat his liver – which kept growning back every night – every day until he killed it and escaped. All for teaching the post-flood humans how to stay warm and cook their food! Then there’s Sisyphus…let’s not get started on Sisyphus!”
Ok, Sisyphus deserved it if any of them did but, still, overly creative and insane punishment. The fleeing nephilim that made it to the proto-Greek states and styled themselves as gods, casting out the others that were already there, were obviously quite traumatised by their experiences on Atlantis. They needed to make others suffer, that certainly explains their excesses and definately those of the ‘gods’ others became when they landed in distant Mesoamerica…
Struggling Forever Uphill
As an artist looking for that ‘big break’ – or even a small break, if we’re honest – this is how the task feels. For our hubris, the ‘gods’ harry and challenge us.
I’ve had my share and I’m sure everyone reading this has. We start this process by learning that we can publish our dreams and, perhaps, have a large number of people read it. We can do this for free and without the complicated process of years gone by. We not only have this but we have a community of others like us (quite a few writers are rather introverted) with whom we can both share our experiences and learn. It’s all rather heady and exciting at the beginning isn’t it?
You get on, filled with vim and vervour (and other new words you’ve learned recently) to write your manuscript. Sometimes it just flows and overflows, sometimes it does not, it drips erratically or the pipes get clogged up by some…ah stuff…you can can’t quite get at, like that itch right between the shoulderblades most people can’t reach. You start to realise that this might be the reason that dreams always take place while we’re asleep; because it’s far easier that way. Reality, it would appear, hates an optimist.
Let’s have a look at some of the reality;
You not only have support, you have competition. You are convinced of your ability, the briliance of your story and tjhe impact it can and will have. You may have poured your heart and your soul into it already or you are about to. One of two things is probably about to happen amd you are likely to dislike both of them. You will receive your first taste of scathing criticism or your first meal of patronising ‘good advice’.
There is a rather big world out there. Last count, I saw upwards of 500 writing and writing-related groups on Facebook. Let that sink in. I have seen thousands of new titles on Amazon and Smashwords per month alone. Pitmad Day on Twitter is the day I turn some of my notifications off and leave it to my management tools to aggregate them for me. The moment you realise you’re one pebble in a vast avalanche is quite a sobering one. Walking into one of the big bookstores and seeing the quantity of published books is nothing compared to that.
You do not just have your book to write. You have an awful lot more than that to do. You have social media profiles to create and maintain, you have connections to make. You either have to yourself or hire someone to design covers and webpage. You might need an editor. You need to build a readership and decide on a strategy you can maintain in order to do that. All this while working a job, managing your family and life, and trying to get your masterpiece written. That bolder is getting heavier, isn’t it?
You’re still learning. There are Rules, there is advice, there are guides to read but most of them disagree with one another. The Rules are viciously argued about on social media groups. How to Do Self-Publishing (irony) guides are everywhere. Here’s the shocker; this is quite a new market which Amazon blew wide open, it’s new to everyone. Not only to us little potential lemmings swarming towards the samw narrow doorway together but to those who think that they might like the taste of lemming.
That will do for now, now let me share what I experienced and the conclusions I drew from those answers. There; I qualified that I am not providing you with THE answers but what I consider to be good answers.
One piece of advice I will tell you that it is vital to listen to if you are just starting out (not a hard-bitten veteran like me with skin that’s like a melon’s) – It’s all just opinion. Nobody you find on a Facebook Group, Twitter stream, Mastodon server or anywhere can actually give you The Answers. The fact that they are in the same place as you means they are, if anything, marginally more successful than you. The people who are in the place you want to be, that of famous author, will tell you that there is no real answer, though they can give you advice if you’d like it (that or, sorry but I’m too busy).
Grow that glossy, melon-like skin like mine. Let’s be honest here, writers are rather ego-driven individuals. We can be opiniated know-it-alls at times, I accept these failings in myself but others don’t acknowledge them in themselves the same. Some may be quite forceful in expressing their version of things and quite dismissive of others, it happens. I personally, in a Facebook group I will not name, had some users comment only on character portraits etc I posted ONLY to draw attention to flaws or errors. Never did they engage in discussion or provide praise, just criticism. Now I don’t need the praise but it’s still nice isn’t it?
See this as the 2nd job that it is. The Chronicles of Enoch, if searched for in Google and Bing, will bring up predominantly my stuff in the main and image search results. It’ll bring up my paid ad too but we’ll look at that later. That takes daily work to maintain. I worked out and maintain my website (you need you own domain, there’s no way around it), I post to my blog daily, I’m always on social media either networking for plugging and I even work on establishing a Quora presence to add some weight. All of which leads on to…
There is no other way. These days, it seems, publishers see the trends and they see a way to save some cash. If the artist does all the advertising before they take over, they’ll just take over and help speed things up. I recommend the use of Social Media Management software such as Crowdfire and Zoho, which I use (more about them later), to help manage the load. You can then schedule and repeat posts, organise all your responses in one place and make it slightly less terrifying. This is all good training because, if you do get famous, there’ll be a lot more to do and less excuses not to do it.
Lemmings don’t have to jump. Ask yourself this single question; just how famous and successful are the people that are giving you all of this advice? How many books have they got on the NYT Bestseller list (really got them, not just saying it on their cover), how many of their books would you find at Border, Waterstones, or B&N? Exactly so they’re just like you. Even the Big’s who publish books on writing tell you that all they are providing is a guide, not Iron-Bound Commandments.
The Right Balance
If Sisyphus ever started to get used to his punishment, he’d realise that, no matter what he did, the bolder was going to get infinitely heavier once it got to the top regardless. So why hurry? He was going to get run over my a big heavy bolder and likely killed, he couldn’t avoid it. He had to push the big bugger up to the top of the slope no matter what. Eventually, I’d like to think, he learned to pace and balance himself, make Zeus wait for his daily giggle.
I won’t deny it, there are going to be days when you think the daily grind has achieved a grand total of nothing and feels like a waste of time. There are days when you’ll reach the most incredible of highs only for the bolder to suddenly get heavy and squash you flat on the way down. What matters most is whether you get back up again or not.
Let me share a few of my ‘heavy bolder’ moments;
Six months after publication of my triumphal series that would change our perception of history as a species and be turned into a TV steries with Kevin McKidd as Alexander, Sir Ben Kingsley as Sham (or Irrfan Khan perhaps would be better) was released, I realised that each book was filled with grammatical and spelling mistakes I had not corrected and that the covers were rubbish. I pulled down NINE books from Amazon but there are still copies floating around out there that are associated with my name. In this age of the internet, nothing goes away. I redesigned some much better covers for them or or improved the existing ones. I’ve edited just over half of them and will get to the others. Point is, that could have sunk me but it didn’t; it was simply Lesson One of a great many.
I tried to do too much. I had a job with an awful schedule which didn’t let me access the internet or use my phone much, twin baby girls, wife and other kids….and I tried to run all of this lot, edit, manage a website, upload a YouTube video every Sunday at least, do this, that and several dozen others while worrying about money and how to earn more of it. It should come as no surprise that I wrote those error-filled books between calls in a call-center I worked at, brought my open paper and printed them (no email access etc from work computers), scanned them at home, corrected the OCR errors, formatted etc. them in the scant minutes I was at home and not looking after my kids or helping out. I was interrupted a lot, my train of thought derailed. I would go back to things after a long delay and miss a mistake. Pace yourself, the only deadlines you have at the moment are those you impose on yourself. Lesson Two.
I got permanently and irrevokably banned from Facebook. I had been posting a series of blog articles which I knew were contraversial and likely to annoy some people but hey, no such thing as bad publicity is there? Apparently, Facebook disagrees. Apparently my series of articles touched a nerve or several; so much so that Facebook decided to lock me permanently out the very moment I was trying to share the the third. My finger had just clicked ‘share’ I kid you not. Click…sharing….oh, look, we found a security problem with your account and need you to verify the code we sent to a phone number you told us you haven’t used for years…Lesson Three? Diversify your message and know your audience. Facebook obviously thought I was talking about them (I was but I didn’t outright say it) and took exception.
The largest lesson of them all is this, though, DON’T THROW IN THE TOWEL. Things are going to get tough. You need to learn to diversify, to keep pushing and adapting, you have to treat this entire process like the longest job interview of your life.
You will get criticism of both the contructive and destructive kinds; the former to help you and the latter, perhaps, out of jealousy or pure vitriol; learn to distinguish the two and accept the former and bvursh off the latter. You get bullies everywhere and, ultimately, what makes them a bully also causes them to fail. But aware of not dismissing anyone that criticises you simply as a bully as those of weak political resolve do on certain fora.
You need to interact and contribute. Like, comment on, share and praise the work of writers whose work you like. It’s like karma, it you do not interact with others, why would others interact with you? You’re doing what some people call making friends and, if this is challenge for you, if putting yourself out there is hard for you or causes anxiety, I hate to say that this might not be the path for you. You have to learn to at least make it seem like you’re confident about your work when you’re presenting it. Only your passion, your drive, your conviction will make this work stand up and be noticed as something worth spending money on and/or dedicating several hours of their life to.
The Kid Gloves Come Off
Imagine, if you, like, the Sgt. Major pacing around you as you stand at ease. He talks to you as he paces, keeping his voice level but intense. He thinks you have potential, he knows you can do better but yelling and threats do not seem to be having the desired effect because his job is to bring out the best in you for the situation. Your job is to recognise that and provide.
We cannot pussy-foot around this part, it would be a waste of my time writing it and of yours in reading it. You are the one that is responsible for all of your failures in one way or another. You can blame circumstances, other people, and so forth but you were there. Perhaps the version of you that was there didn’t have the tools to behave any differently but the fact that you survived means you have learned and are no longer that person. it might even be safe to assume that you will not make the same mistakes again. Of course you are human so nothing is guaranteed!
Your work; your art, your writing, your books, your movies, your merchandise, your future dreams; nobody will be responsible for the failure of those but you.
Let’s leave that floating there and think about it for a minute…
Who decides that enough is enough?
Who decides you’re taking a day off?
Who decides to do this and not do that?
Right. The cat does. Even if you don’t have a cat, they still decide everything and I don’t have a cat but I was talking about his feet.
Joking aside; no cats, hoss, just you.
So, the question hangs diaphorously in the air….
How badly do you want this?
This is your dream is that not right? Since as long as you can remember, it’s been there, a part of you. It is probably one your Top Three list of Most Important Things of all time. Your children and some members of your family might be more import, your pets also, perhaps.
it is important to consider this hierarchy of priorities when considering what we have written and read so far and the two questions that will come next;
If your child was struggling at school would your response be; “ah well sod them, I’m busy/tired/get anxious about confrontation…flipping burgers can present great career opportunities and they get a uniform..”?
If your little pet sweetheart animaly-creature was sick and needed some medical attention although finances were tight would your response be; “bugger that ungrateful drain on money, we can get another one and I bet the kids won’t notice…”?
If you would answer positively to either of those questions, I would like to you quietly let yourself out of this blog and never return, the door’s over there.
Does your life’s dream deserve any less attention? No, it does not because it will fail if you do not put absolutely every iota of your being that you you can spare into it? Would you refuse a reasonable request from your small child for any reason short of being already dead? I didn’t think so. Would you leave your little doggie to get all unhealthy and restless because taking him for a walk is too much effort this week? Again no, right?
Book. It’s future. You decide. Now.
If things go wrong or not as you thought they might, evaluate, consider, adapt and keep going. If you give up, nobody else is going to do it. Do not use the ‘yes but this thing happened’ excuse either because I guarantee that somewhere in the world somebody faced that thing and did not let it stop them.
“Everything is about balance…your breath is about the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood; your natures depend upon the balance of chemicals you never see and rarely understand. Balance is everything. Put too much weight on one side and the balance will not only break, it will take everything else with it…”
Balance. Light with Darkness. Life with Death. Good with Evil. Happiness with Sadness…you can add any that you like to the age-old formula of balance. People die so that new people might be born. The sun sets that the darkness may have its time. Evil rises so that good may rise in turn to oppose it. Swings and see-saws, a model of Newton’s Cradle as large as the universe.
Nothing happens in isolation, nothing exists in isolation, every action generates reciprocity. Every. Single. One.
The Great Conductor
There are numerous reactions from the moment one understands this principle. We are not talking about any particular religious dogma (or catma even) here, let me make that clear. I understand the Chronicles have been thought of a work of a religious nature but it is not. Not really. Yes, we involve religious themes but it would be facile to attempt to chronicle the history of humanity without the, because, as you will see, humans have worked very hard to make them a part of their journey, to assign identity to the Great Conductor of this grand concerto.
One side effect of looking at the universe as, we assert, it actually is allows one to realise that one is both highly important and completely irrelevant at the same time. At a local level, your actions could have far-ranging consequences, obviously but out there, if there is anyone else out there, then they’ve probably no more heard of the Planet Earth than we have the Planet Oog-Wah-Groo-Gah. We might show up in their equivalent of movies and books sometimes but nobody really believes in us.
This is the perspective one needs to consider for this next part. Let us say there is some Great Conductor, an intelligence – divine or otherwise – behind and managing the universe; making surer the right atoms spin in the right directions, keeping everything balanced so that it doesn’t just collapse in on itself. Let’s just say that this being is either directly responsible for the material manifestation of the universe (important distinction, I feel) or the first result of it. What would such a being be like?
I have always had this problem with religious systems; a being who can create everything we see out of nothing is not going to be some list-keeping, petty-minded, old man with a beard in the clouds. To claim to worship this being, acknowledge Him as supreme and so forth, only to go on and assign Him very human traits and behaviours, is a little hypocritical to my mind.
To my mind, this beings is going to be impossible to understand from our highly limited viewpoint.; His (or Its) thoughts may take a thousand years or a millisecond to complete. He may see in dimensions we cannot even imagine. We don’t know and, to be frank, we never will.
Religion always has been and always been a tool to control the masses with menaces, that’s why they hate any signs of spirituality.
As we said before, everything is about and in a constant state of balance. Down to the deepest level we can look at everything seeks balance, it is one of immutable laws of the universe.
Darkness cannot exist without light or, at least, you don’t know it is darkness unless you have light to compare it to. Let us take someone who has never seen light (as unlikely as that is, many blind people can detect changes in light even if they cannot see them), they have lived their entire lives in complete, unilluminated darkness. To them, the darkness simply IS. It does not have or need a name because they have no need to compare it or identify it, it is there. It is the same as fish (if they have language) not really talking about the air or land much.
We need one to identify the other. We need one to oppose the other but we do not, can not ever let one of them win.
Think of Newton’s famous Third Law of Motion;
“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
There is a universal truth to that; wherever there is light, there is shadow. Your body will cast a shadow on them sunniest of days.
What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?
Something has to give, right? Not necessarily.
Agent of Balance
To move into the realm of fiction for a moment, let us consider the Chosen One trope. It essentially goes like this;
One force, that of Darkness, gains prominence and threatens to take over everything/kill everyone/conquer Light.
Previous attempts to stop them from doing that not only failed but made them more powerful
A Chosen One is discovered who can, usually through sacrifice or, at least, a willingness to do so, can topple the leader of badness and restore the Light.
Now we apply this to Star Wars, because we self-confessed nerds. Anakin Skywalker (he who becomes *SPOILER ALERT* the asthmatic cyborg we all love) was called The Chosen One and he was, it was alleged, created by the mythic Force in order to restore Balance to it.
Now, our friends the Jedi (except, perhaps, our small, wise, green friend with the grammar problem) thought that this meant he was to destroy the Dark Side of the Force and raise the Light Side to peace and dominance.
That is not, however, how it works and you would think an order of wise, knowledgeable warrior-monks would have figured it out by now. One cannot exist without the other. In order for balance to happen, Dark and Light must be equal.
Let us move back to combining Newton’s 3rd Law with our force and object quote. I push against a wall and, if it’s mass is great enough, it will, effectively, push back (or resist me). If the immovable object and irresistible force are equally balanced, they will remain in a state of conflict forever, in theory.
The Chosen One is never meant to be the champion of one side or another; he or she is the Champion of Balance. In the Star Wars Prequels, the Jedi Order was too powerful and needed to be reduced, the Agent of Balance helped make this happen. In the original trilogy, the representative of Darkness was too powerful and needed to be removed so the Agent of Balance again stepped in and sacrificed himself in order to restore Balance.
The darkness was not, however, gone forever while the heroes celebrated, completely failing to ask where the vicious cannibal teddy bears got all fireworks from. It remained and always will, right where it belongs, in the heart of man.
Neither One nor The Other
Or neither one nor t’other as my granddad used to say, which I much prefer the sound of.
You may well have gathered by now that the probable main/central theme of The Chronicles of Enoch is that of Balance. There is always Light in Darkness and Darkness in Light. Lucifer cannot win but neither can The Creator.
The Creator could no more destroy Lucifer than Lucifer can destroy The Creator. The universe would not allow them to do that because, to do so would result in imbalance. We need evil, we need darkness, we need a force to oppose.
If one is truly moral, truly good, truly committed to Light one is probably the immovable object. Evil or darkness, in this case, will be the irresistible force; they are in constant opposition but, deep down, each knows that they will never, ever win because, if they do, they will take the universe out together with their opponent.
Now, the thing about Chosen Ones is that there is only ever one of them.
Ordinary people are not unimpeachably good or irredeemably evil. Religions, to come back to them, capitalise upon this fact by generating guilt for all of your daily peccadilloes. We are all a work in progress because your average human does not, unfortunately, come with an instruction manual.
We will all commit acts of petty evil and middling good on a daily basis; holding a door open for the person behind us, dropping some change in a homeless person’s hat, cutting queue or not telling the shop assistant that they gave us too much change or didn’t charge us for that small item.
We do not, however, have a bearded elderly gentleman in a bed sheet sitting there either shaking his head or smiling as he makes notes on a very large scroll.
We are one hundred billion billion atoms in the fabric of the universe dancing to a tune that we cannot hear.
Notice that we are making no moral judgements or arguments on this topic, that is intentional. We have our beliefs but no guarantee that they are correct and, contrary to gossip, do not know everything. Nobody died and make us the judge of anyone.
So, balance…it is, essentially, everything.
The battle between Good and Evil, Brahma and Vishnu, God and the Devil, Odin and Sutur, Increase and Entropy, is eternal and an essential part of all that is.
The hero or Chosen One will ultimately triumph because that is the way of things but, perhaps, his or her Light will be stained somewhat in the process because, in order to defeat the Big Bad, they had to cross a line they never thought they would and are thus, revealed to not be as pure as they thought. Perhaps they were never as pure as they thought they were.
That may well be why we need what we call the bastard; the person that is neither good nor evil but a bit of both, in the middle, doing what they know best. In our case Asmodeus can do all the things that Sable could not but that are important, essential even.
Sometimes your enemy’s enemy is your friend and, on rare occasions, the person you thought was your enemy is, in fact, the friend you thought you did not have.
That is the thing about balance, it does not care about how you feel about things, it only cares about the result and will us both sides to get what it wants.
“Thou must be Found for success to come thine way!” Goes the cry. “Thou must have traffic and, verily, it needs must be organic and regular!”
Yes, I know that last part sounds like a diet tip but I didn’t invent the terminology.
This Writer’s Journey.
I have pretty much followed three primary Rules in my journey to date;
The Rule of Pocket; or what said pocket contained at the time, what I could afford. I started with what was free and what I could do myself.
The Rule of Discovery; I researched as extensively as I have for my books. I read blog articles, professional circulars, investigated my competitors.
The Rule of Adaptation; I tried everything and altered anything that didn’t seem to work. I improvised often as necessitated by the First Rule, but I put in the work.
That is the secret, by the way. There is no magical formula, only a lot of work which is tedious and feels deeply unrewarding at the time. It is hard and mind numbing work a lot of the time but, once it’s done, some of it is fairly self sustaining.
Let me lay it out, one step at a time, showing the mistakes I made and lessons I learned along the way;
Social Media. Obviously you need a way to communicate with fans and peers, to get known, as it were. Now, of course, the majority of people you will find, initially, are fellow struggling artists but relax. I set up my Facebook Pages, first for my Author persona and then for my books. Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, etc. are the go-to basics you need.
Web Brand Presence. I began on wix.com with their free package and built my website myself. My first attempt was…well, a website. It had everything a website needed except presence which we’ll get to later. My website, for which I have now purchased domains on GoDaddy.com , has seen four complete re-designs and numerous less comprehensive tweaks in order to reach its current form. It is not a masterpiece but you can check out the url at the end to see what I mean.
Product Presence.My wise friend, Syl Sebastian, calls this “the cine” of your art; the overriding theme. Others call it the brand. You can look at a cover, a web page, a piece of artwork and know that it belongs to a certain brand. You see a red soda can with a certain logo and can make an educated guess to what is inside of it. Your writing embodies your style, right? So too must everything you produce. Decide on a style and keep it. The last major re-design of The Chronicles of Enoch took place for that very reason.
Regular ‘Customer’ Interaction. You need a blog. You need to maintain an online presence. Retweet writer’s lifts, comment on content you like but do it daily. You need one to two blog posts a day, every day. You need to keep engagement and listen to those you engage with; you’d be surprised how far a good listen goes, it makes people feel important . I recommend a good Social Media Management tool here. I use Crowdfire currently but am shopping for alternatives.
Ways to Monitor and Influence Traffic. Here is where owning your domain comes in handy. You can use things such as Google Search Console and Analytics when you own your domain. You can see who visits, from where, and when and tailor your posts and interactions accordingly. Use your Social Media Manager to queue posts for peak times, cater to your audience demographics, etc.
Devotion of Time and Attention. As I have said, time is your most vital resource and largest investment. You must post to your blog, interact on social media, encourage people to interact with you, every single day. There are days – I know all about these – when you don’t feel like it or inspiration appears to desert you. You know a trick I learned? I wrote about that! Nobody is going to do it if you don’t. Making sure you give the time is the surest measure of how badly you want this.
Sisyphus Had it Easy
Our friend, the Titan punished with the interminable bolder-pushing task at least had no need to adapt, to learn; he simply has to repeat or stop.
In part it’s like that for us but not always.
Let me take you through my journey in more detail, warts and all;
1. I put together and edited the then known as “Alexander Collections” from old short stories, book idea fragments, and poetry. I designed my own covers when I disliked Amazon and CreateSpace’s templates and fought every self-publisher’s hardest battle; the formatting war! It took me many hours, filled with horrible expletives, to make my manuscript files work for my chosen paperback format. My wife found these times hilarious.
2. I added an Author Page to my Facebook account. This advertising took a lot of trial and error; which groups liked and accepted what, what I could post and when. You have been There, you know the pain. I spent a lot of time in Facebook Jail and became frustrated with low engagement, with negative comments. My first efforts were, of course, fragmentary and needed a bit of work.
3. Used Wix.com to create and design my rather generic author webpage. Used my half decent graphic design skills to make it look somewhat professional. This was before I realised that my website is my public face as an author, the first thing most potential readers will see. Still, I was proud of it and excited so I shared the url extensively and added to the content and blog often. I created my Twitter and Instagram for sharing too.
4. Over the course of two weeks, I wrote five novellas and designed covers for them. I uploaded each to Amazon and decided upon a rebrand; retroactively editing the Collection stories to fit the expanded narrative universe I saw emerging. This was, perhaps my first big mistake. I was a new father of twins and they, combined with work, took up a lot of my time, obviously and as it should be. I tended to rush my writing responsibilities. I heavily advertised these works and, I am ashamed to admit, they were riddled with errors of grammar and spelling. I have since pulled them from Amazon but copies were purchased. That stigma will remain.
5. I launched my YouTube Channel and devoted an hour each Sunday to my video blog. This turned out to a good decision. My poor decision was not being able to maintain that commitment. You see, there lies the greatest danger we will face; commitment. We can take on too much, promise too much, and come up with great ideas we utterly fail to deliver on. Our excitement and passion needs to be restrained at times. You’re trying to build a reputation in a very competitive market.
6. I became rather active on Facebook and was often sought out for advice (my channel was quite popular). One such advice seeker was my friend Joe. Together, to cut a long story short, we came up with what was to become the force that dominates my life; The Chronicles of Enoch. Joe has since handed to torch entire to me as he had other priorities and projects he wants to work on. I decided, as I started work on The Chronicles and, with sterling advice from Syl, to use my creative surge to start from scratch.
7. It started with an extensive redesign of the website and ended with the purchase of the chroniclesofenoch.com domain. I decided to build, from the ground up, a new website, Facebook Page, everything for The Chronicles and, with much experimentation, cement a definite “cine” or brand. The artworks I first created we’re, in all honesty, amateurish and awful but I persevered and I realised that there was a clear and obviously persistent style throughout them all. I had to find a way to make people say “Oh! That’s definitely CoE, that is!”…So I fiddled, tried, and mucked about until I found it and translated that style; one that matched that of the writing too, into a consistent image. I made the site mobile friendly too…that’s important.
8. I brought my WordPress, Medium, and Pinterest back to life. I experimented with Metatags and Keywords, I learned how to embed them in my site and so began the Golden Age, I thought…
9. Facebook, it turned out, had other ideas. I detail the struggle in other articles but, in essence, Zuckerberg and I had a falling out and decided to go our separate ways. Take this as the most valuable lesson I am going to reach today; perseverance.
You see, before that…difficulty…I was getting traffic of 50-100 visitors a day to my website and blog, things were taking off but 75% of that traffic came from a source that was, abruptly, cut off.
I had a choice, surrender or adapt. I chose the latter and am gone from Facebook, probably forever. Instead of surrendering, I found other ways, other sources and social media.
That is the lesson; it doesn’t matter of you get panned by a bad review; learn, adapt, move on. Come up against an insurmountable barrier; be as the river and patiently find a way. Never. Ever. Give. Up.
This is your dream and only you can take it away.
So, What Does That Mean?
You have my experiences, my mistakes, my challenges, and my lessons learned. You may have found hints in there but you need, I think, a boiled down and well-presented version to tie it all together, right?
Your wish is my command;
Decide your “cine” or brand early. As you write look at your themes, research any ‘competitors’ and work on the look you want. If you have that talent, look at creating a consistent look in your Social Media presence. You only get one chance to make a first impression.
You’re going to need; Twitter, Instagram, Tumbl (you’d be surprised), Reddit, Pinterest and maybe Wattpad. Look at what you’re going to use each for. I use Twitter for chat and networking (I have a few famous ‘friend’s even), Pintrest for covers and art, Tumbl and Reddit for sharing blog posts, Wattpad for posting excerpts. I duplicate my blog in WordPress and Medium.
You need a website. There are a lot of free hosting services out there but I like Wix. I went for their cheapest hosting package and bought my domain myself. They use a visual ‘drag and drop’ interface which is great for those of us that don’t code. I designed my own but you can find people on Fiverr for that.
You need to learn SEO and web marketing. Search ‘Chronicles of Enoch’s on Google and most of the results will be mine. Add your url on everything you use. Smashwords is a great alternative to Amazon and gets you lots of exposure. I could produce an SEO or web marketing guide but there are already dozens out there. Use your Google, read them all and filter out the bits that don’t fit your needs, time, or budget.
Having decided your look and brand, you can work on keywords. Wix helps you a lot with SEO and Metatags. I followed their SEO Wizard and recommend any of you that decide to use them do that same. Key words determine what kinds of search your page is found under. Metatags hide these inside the code of your website so when Google and the others “crawl” your code, they index these search terms against it.
Google AdWords. You set a budget, create your ad and pay only for clicks. If it gets too expensive (download the app to monitor that) you’re not tied to a commitment so pay off and disable your ad. I reasoned it like this; if Google stands to make money from your website getting clicks, they’re going to help that happen, right?
Blog every day. Use your book title and name (or pen name) as a hastag and include these in every post. I even use those popular inspirational memes as a vehicle. I share it using Crowdfire on Twitter and Instagram with my hastags hidden in the ones it came with. It gets shared and so do my tags = free advertising.
Find your niche. Your book is probably going to fall inside a certain genre (top tip: do NOT make it fit a genre or to a genre that sells, that’ll hurt you long term). You need to allow the same and appropriate voice fill your posts. Post topics your audience will like. Research and find your niche. I have taken the role of ‘O Great Writing Guru and Know-it-all’ because it appears to suit both me and my style. When my YouTube vlog comes back, it’ll be purely about writing.
Work hard. Learn. Adapt. Most importantly; Do. Not. Give. Up..
It is almost impossible to produce an absolute ‘one size fits all’ guide, as I have discovered. I have read dozens and find lots that does not suit my style, my audience, my pocket, or fit into my available time.
I tried to do everything and produced inferior results. I got myself banned from Facebook for not fragmenting my posts and content well enough. I had to pull 9 books down after trying to push too hard, too fast.
I’ve learned a lot of lessons the hard way and wasted time, work and, ultimately, my hard-won reputation on it. I’ve had to evaluate and rebuild.
Perhaps by reading this article, you can save yourself some trouble and avoid the biggest ones.