Tag Archives: writer’s tips

What's Stopping You?

I’ve run into this as a writer and a reader a few times. No, not an actual brick wall, though as someone who used to read and walk at the same time I’ve come close. Preconceived notions have stopped readers from trying my work and has stopped me from reading others.

In the first case, I have two good examples. There are people who didn’t listen to Archangel because they were afraid I would preach at them. I also recently had a reader who said that they didn’t typically read any stories featuring gay/lesbian/trans characters because they tended to bash conservatives. This could have stopped them from reading “Compass Rose”. Thankfully, there are people that climb over the brick wall of preconceived notions and find the garden inside.

I’m not above this, myself. These days I tend to stay away from anything that looks like traditional/epic fantasy. Too often, the author is rehashing the same old tropes and I get bored. I’m sure that as a result I’m missing out. I could very well have missed out on Ravenwood if I had stuck to my guns. I’m glad I didn’t.

So I have two questions, which I think is really just one question. How do we avoid this? As writers, how can we encourage readers to check out our takes on stories they may be disinclined to look at? As readers, how do we open our minds to the possibility that we’ll find a gem in an unexpected place? Is it a matter of the right cover or book jacket blurb? Is it possible at all?

To answer that I guess the real question is, what made you pick up that book that you would have ordinarily avoided?

If at First You Don't Succeed

Well, in case you haven’t heard (and if you’re reading this you probably have) I have my first publication credit! I have a short story called “Power in the Blood” for which I’ve been paid (in pounds sterling!) and you can find it it at Hub Fiction.

I wrote this story years ago and actually podcast it as an interstitial podcast episode between Valley of the Shadow and Legion. I submitted it to PseudoPod before I did that and it got rejected. The editor was very kind and gave me some feedback. When I recently decided to get serious about getting published, this was one of the first ones I picked to send around. As you can see, persistence sometimes pays off.

So that’s what I want to tell you. If you’re gonna write and try and get that writing published, don’t let the first few rejections throw you off your game. Keep plugging away at it.

And if you read the story (fair warning, it’s graphic) and feel like dropping a comment, here’s the place to do it.

Sympathetic vs. Interesting Protagonist

In the latest feedback episode of the Cybrosis podcast novel an email I sent sparked a conversation about writing your protagonist as sympathetic vs. interesting and the challenges therein.

In my own writing I tend to try and make my main characters likable (or at least sympathetic/understandable). I’m not necessarily looking to make someone who you’d want to go out and have a drink with, but I want them to at least have something appealing about them. If you can’t like them then you should at least be able to say “I can see how they got there”. I want you to want to know them better or at least care about them and what they’re going through.

When they were talking about characters that are more interesting than likable/sympathetic, they seem to fall into talking about the ones that you love to hate/hate to love. I find Cyris, P.C.’s protagonist, to fall more into this category. While not the most interesting character in the story, she is interesting and that does save her and the story. It sounds like he’ll be transitioning her into a more sympathetic character as the novel progresses. That will be a nice trick if he can pull it off. I say that, not because I doubt P.C.’s skill, but because making that change without losing who you’ve built her to be in the course of one novel would seem to be quite the challenge.

So, sympathetic or not, your main character has to be interesting. As I said, I want my protagonists to be both interesting and sympathetic and I think that’s what most writers are really shooting for and what most audiences want to see. On the other hand, writing/watching anti-heroes or real shady characters can be a lot of fun. But if you go that route, the more unlikable they are the more interesting they have to be to strike a balance.

Some examples of unlikable, but interesting protags from my tweet stream are Grendel, Thomas Covenant (yes!), Sandman, Perry Dawsey (yes and yes!), Tony Soprano, Dexter, Francis Urqhart, Cal Mcaffrey. Looking at that list, the ones I’m familiar with, definitely show that to take the real chumps/rotten apples and maintain your audience’s interest in them you definitely need to make them interesting. I recently wrote a short story for Great Hites and I’m not sure which camp Bogdan falls into. (Maybe you can give it a read and tell me?) I don’t really like him or what he stands for, but I can at least see why he is what he is and feel sorry for him. My hope is that that tension makes him interesting even if you hate him.

So what’s your experience here? Can you think of some (un)sympathetic protags that weren’t interesting enough to save them? How could they have been improved?

Public Critique

I asked a question on Twitter last week, the gist of which was, “why do I only see praise for podcast novels in the public stream. It generated quite a brisk conversation. I decided to create an audio response to the feedback. I hope you enjoy it!

Shows/People referenced:

Zach Ricks
Brand Gamblin
Dan Rabarts
Rich Asplund Jr
Pip Ballantine
Tee Morris
Rick Castello
Michael Falkner
Marnen Laibow-Koser
Dan Absalonson
Alasdair Stuart
Steve Eley
Nathan Lowell

Blogs mentioned:
Why Michell Plested cares about critiques and feedback.
Why Odin One-Eye reviews podcasts.
Svallie’s take on reviewer’s ethics.

Suspension of Disbelief

According to my thirty seconds of research (thanks Wikipedia!) the phrase “a willing suspension of disbelief” was coined by Coleridge.

It was agreed, that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith

Apparently fiction that involved the supernatural had fallen out of favor (thanks secular humanism!) to a degree and he was intent on bringing it back. As such his audience needed to set aside their rationalism and approach the story as though it’s fantastic elements were plausible, but he realized that they could only do that (provided I’m parsing this sentence right) if he granted his characters a certain “semblance of truth”.

Since then, and it’s been a long strange two hundred year trip, that three word phrase “suspension of disbelief” has been a burden placed on authors who seem unable or unwilling to paint their characters as realistically human in spite of fangs, fire breathing, or incanting. If we don’t enjoy a B-movie or a cult favorite it’s not because the writing wasn’t good or the characters were so thin you could see through them. It’s because we didn’t “suspend our disbelief”.

This is akin to movies were I am told I must “turn my brain off” to enjoy them. Believe me, I know that sometimes that helps. There are certainly plenty of books/movies that “over-thinking” will destroy utterly. And you know what? Part of me doesn’t mind that, but another part of me objects when entertainment asks me to be too dumb.

So this raises some questions to both the readers and writers out there. How much of a burden should be on the writer vs. the reader? Is it true that the farther/zanier you go with the plot, the more human you must make the characters (or vice versa)? How far can you (or the author) go before that’s just not possible or before the fiction becomes so implausible that you just can’t finish? How much will you as a readers forgive in terms of the absence of a semblance of truth before the shadows fade away? How dumb is too dumb?

And a bonus question. What have you read and enjoyed that everyone around you thinks is complete drivel? I won’t call that a guilty pleasure since I don’t think you should feel guilty, but that’s what it’s commonly known as.