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Setting Goals by Christopher Patterson

 

We all feel like we are floundering at some point in our lives, and in many aspects of our lives. I think as writers, we experience this even more. We have those all too common questions: What am I doing? Am I wasting my time? Where am I going? What should I write? Have people wasted their time on me? And the list goes on and on.

As a teacher and coach, I am constantly talking to both athletes and students about goal setting. It is an essential practice for anyone wishing to achieve anything. Rarely do we see people who achieve some sort of success without establishing well thought out goals. And yet, I never talk about it to myself in regards to my writing. I set goals as a teacher. I set goals as a coach. I even set personal goals in regards to my faith and my fitness. But up until recently, I haven’t set any goals for my writing. I mean, I have had goals in mind, end dates, release dates, finish dates, etc. But I have never actually put something down on paper. What the heck? Why?

I think we as writers think, firstly, that goal setting stifles our creativity. You can refer back to another blog post I wrote about creating a plan for your story. I couldn’t begin to tell you, as I did some research for that blog post, how many writers out there refused to plan out their stories. And for that very reason…it stifles their creativity. Don’t put constraints on yourself. Be a free spirit. Be a thinker. I think it couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Secondly, most of us writers aren’t full time writers. That may be the goal (see, there it is) but that’s not the current reality. The time we give to writing is extra, carved out of a rather busy day that is consumed by full time jobs, kids, spouses, and other commitments. I think there is a fear that we won’t live up to our expectations, i.e. we will fail the goals that we have set.

One of my coaches, and now very good friend, said something to me once that was very profound, and yet, very simple. He was talking to us about goals and he told us that he couldn’t guarantee success. As an athlete, that’s not necessarily what you want to hear. You want to hear that, if you put in the time and effort, you will achieve success. But he was brutally honest with us. However, he added that if we do everything we need to do, everything required of us, we at least have a shot. A glimmer of hope. A light at the end of the tunnel. If we don’t do all those things—the prepping, the hard work, the running, the lifting, etc.—the one thing he could guarantee us was failure. Before we finished that talk, he made sure to add that the one thing most people fail at—they do all the physical and even mental prep—is writing down our goals. Wow! By not establishing and writing down my goals, I am hurting my potential for performance. And as a coach, I can tell you, its true. This is the one critical piece of the puzzle that many athletes over look and forget. Why are writers any different? We’re not.

I talk to my students and athletes about SMART goals. You may have heard of them before. I think they are a great way to establish goals, so lets talk about SMART goals in regards to writing and art.

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time Bound. These are individual aspects of a goal that, when put together, make a goal more achievable. Let’s talk about each individual part.

S—Specific—Your goals need to be specific. State specifically what your goal is, when you will achieve it, how you will achieve it, etc. Its not good enough to say, “I want to write a book someday.” It’s not even good enough to say, “I would like to be done with my book by the end of the year.” First thing you need to do is use definitive language in writing your goals.

“I am a published author on January 1st, 2020.” Speak about it as if it has already happened.

“I am the author of XYZ: Book two of the XYZ Chronicles on {insert date}.”

When we aren’t definitive in our language and if we don’t establish specifics, it gives us an out when we don’t meet that goal. We can throw our hands up and say it wasn’t in the cards. Rather, when we establish the exact goal we want to achieve, with an exact date, with an exact process, with whom we will achieve this goals, and any other specific you can think of, if we don’t meet that goal, we can go back to the drawing board and really figure out why we didn’t achieve our goal.

M—Measurable—Your goals need to be measurable. How exactly will I know that I have reached my goal? This is certainly related to Specific, in that I need to have an exact date with an exact publication, but how will you feel, who will you be with, what will you do. Are their checkpoints that will help you measure your road to achieving your goal. You will reach 10% of your book by this date, or chapter 10 by this date. You will find an editor by this date, or you will raise enough money for a cover by this time. Understanding what each step will look like, feel like, etc. makes the process so much easier to believe in and understand.

A—Attainable—Your goal needs to be attainable. They need to be realistic. If you have never written even a short story, and your goal is to finish a polished novel by the end of next month, that’s not realistic or attainable. If you have one published book that has done okay in terms of sales, and your goal is to go full time by the end of this month, that’s not realistic. Do you have the money, the time, the skills to achieve this goal. And if you don’t, how do you plan on making them and developing them.

I often refer to this step as the mini-goal step. This is the step in the goal setting process where a person needs to establish mini-goals that will help them achieve the greater goal. How many words a day do you plan on writing? How much money will you set aside a month to pay for editing and cover art? How many emails and newsletters will you send out for marketing? How many contacts will you make?

This step in our goal setting process might be the most important, simply because it hold your feet to the fire. You have to do a daily, weekly, monthly check to make sure you are track. You have to truly be real with yourself in regards to your goals. I am definitely not a dream killer. There are enough of those out there and if you are an aspiring writer, I am sure you have come across more than one person who has literally laughed at your dream of being an author, writer, producer, or poet. So, I am not saying you can’t chase your dreams. What I am saying is you must be realistic about your dreams. If you don’t have a lot of experience in writing, but you want to be an author, you may need to take some classes, invest time in your craft, and reach out to people. If you are terrible at marketing, you need to spend time honing that craft. If you don’t have any money, maybe you need to get another job to pay for all the things that make a good book good. Let me give you an example of what the attainable portion of goal setting might look like.

·      I will write 1000 words a day.

·      Publishing will cost me $1000, so I will set aside $100 a month for publishing costs.

·      I will spend 30 minutes a day searching for a reputable editor.

·      I will spend 30 minutes a day looking for a cover artist.

·      I will spend 30 minutes a day reading a book from the genre I write.

These are just examples of those mini-goals you might write to achieve the overall, big picture goal. And make sure they’re realistic. If you have four kids, work 50 hours a week, and do family night every Wednesday and church every Friday, maybe 1000 words a day is too much. Dial it back to 500. If you barely make ends meet, maybe $100 a month is too much to set aside. Do $25. And then if you find that you have become better at managing your time and money, adjust from there.

R—Relevant—This aspect of goal setting is always an interesting one because it forces people into a gut check moment. Is your goal relevant for you? Wait…what? Let me give you an example. I have had wrestlers who have told me, told their teammates, and written down that their goal was to be a state champion, but then when we actually sit down and talk, I find out that that isn’t their goal at all. Their goal is to get into shape for football, lose some weight, get stronger, etc. You see, their goal wasn’t relevant to their real, well, goals.

When it comes to writing, why are you writing? It’s perfectly okay to write a story that only you ever intend on reading, or you only ever intend for parents and family and friends to read. Don’t worry about the expectations of other people, worry about what you want to do with your writing. Don’t let people pressure you into spending time and money on editing and publishing if that is truly not what you want to do.

If you don’t know how to write, you can learn. If you don’t have money, you can raise it or work extra. If you don’t have resources, you can find them. If you don’t have contacts, you can build them. But if you don’t have the desire…well, you will never produce your best product if you don’t have the desire. Go after your goals. Not your parents’ goals for you. Not your teachers’ goals for you, or your friends’. Go after your goals and be okay with what they are.

T—Time Bound—This may be the most infuriating and frustrating of all the aspects of goal setting. Create deadlines. Its that simple. And if you don’t meet those deadlines, readjust and revisit why. But one of the worst things we do when we set goals is we set these arbitrary, wishy washy deadlines that aren’t specific. Set a deadline, stick to it, and if you don’t meet your deadline, figure out why, and set a new one.

Before I move on, let me say that it isn’t okay to miss deadlines. I mean, it is, but it isn’t. Don’t be okay with missing deadlines. Again, too many people will set a deadline, not hit it, and then just shrug their shoulders and give an “oh well.” Make sure you really know why you didn’t meet your deadline. It may be a really good reason (notice I didn’t say excuse) and that’s okay. So move on. It may be a terrible excuse (my wrestling coach told me once that excuses are like buttholes, we all have them and they all stink) and you can then figure out why you’re not devoting time to something that matters to you.

Aspiring authors out there, set goals. Take some time and make sure you hit each point in the SMART goal method. And then, once they’re written, do one more step. Take your goals, print them out, and tape them to your bathroom mirror. When that is done, read them aloud every morning when you wake up, so its they’re on your mind all day, and every night before you go to bed, so they embed themselves in your subconscious. Will it guarantee success? My wrestler coach would say no, and I would agree, but it does get you one step closer.

Have a great day and HAPPY READING!!!

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CHRIS 2 - YouTube

www.christopher-patterson.com

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By Bobbe Arnett

Twenty-eight years ago this month, my sister Tricia and I opened Mostly Books.  We considered Beaucoup Books and a few other names but settled on Mostly Books as that is what we had in the store.  We began with used books, unique greeting cards, and gifts.  Our dad wondered what we were going to do with so many empty shelves in the store but it did not take long to fill them up by trading books for credit toward used books. Soon we started putting books on the top of shelves and then adding bookshelves to every nook and cranny we could find. 

As the years went on, we added more and more new books as customers kept requesting them.  We worked with many local authors to promote their books.  We have always sold fiction, mysteries, children’s books, non-fiction, psychology, romance, westerns, southwest books and many other subjects. When the big chain bookstores moved into Tucson we adjusted our inventory again adding more and more backlist books.  We greatly increased our selection of recovery books and we now carry all things recovery related including medallions and gifts.  Selling books at offsite events and conferences also became critical to our survival.  We look forward to the Tucson Festival of Books every March because we know we will sell tons of books, meet authors and market to thousands of new customers.

When another used bookstore moved into our shopping center, we increased our new book selection, t-shirts, mugs, sleep shirts and other book related merchandise.  Our book inventory is now about half new books and half used books.  Our greeting card section continues to grow as well and many of our customers say we have the best selection in Tucson.

Online booksellers, e-books and e-readers have also affected our sales tremendously.  When people could buy the same book cheaper online and with no sales tax, they went for it in a big way.  A lot of book lovers’ family bought them e-readers as gifts.  We responded by selling Kobo e-readers and Kobo e-books on our website.  The e-book trend has also inspired more people to read and has even help increase sales in our new books.  People are finding that they want the physical book as well as the digital copy when the book is amazing.

Everyone who works in the bookstore is a book enthusiast.  We love talking about books, discovering new books, open boxes that only contain books - if books are involved we are happy.  So of course we all read A LOT and most of us belong to several book clubs.  The nice thing about employing only book lovers is that our book selection is very selective.  We try hard to find amazing authors to introduce to our customers so that our shelves never stay stagnant.  It also means that are staff is happy to recommend a new author to our customers and, even better, will tell you that they have already read it and found it to be incredible.  Our personalize customer service has help create loyal customers, and we truly won’t be here without their continual support.

Many people come in and say they want to open a bookstore when they retire so they can sit and read all day.  We find that quite amusing and tell them we only get to read at home, not while working.

If you live in Tucson, you can find the wonderful people of Mostly Books and their extensive inventory of books at the Monterey Village, 6208 E Speedway Blvd. Also, give them a call at (520) 571-0110. Mostly Books is extremely friendly towards Indie and Local Authors - I know from experience - so make sure you support them with a visit and your business. You can also find them online at http://www.mostlybooksaz.com/

 Make sure you visit Christopher Patterson’s website atwww.christopher-patterson.com and also make sure you sign up for his monthly newsletter where you can keep up to date with what’s going on in his world, his articles and blogs, get access to freebies, and experience promotional material. You can sign up for Christopher Patterson’s email newsletter at http://eepurl.com/b5AUa1

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Make a Great First Impression

Christopher Patterson

The first thing a reader sees is your book cover. Think about it. Think about the last book you read, think about the last movie you saw, even think about the last magazine you picked up. Be honest. It was the cover, or the poster, that attracted you. It wasn’t necessarily an action packed, fancy, super artistic cover. It could have been very simple. It could have related to the genre well. It may have just struck a chord with you. Whatever the reason, that cover or poster attracted you to spend money on something. Now, there is a very real possibility that whatever it was you spent money on—a book or movie—wasn’t that good. Maybe the cover mislead you into believing it was going to be action packed and it wasn’t, or filled with great dialogue and romance and fell short. That happens. But the fact remains, you paid money for that thing. And, unless it was just so awful you couldn’t stand it and asked for a refund, you didn’t get your money back.

 

More so than the first sentence, or possibly even the title of the book, the most important aspect, feature, or part of a book is its cover. Again, think back to a book that had an awful title, or even a title that wasn’t really catchy, but had a fantastically engaging cover. If you are like me, a self-published author, you need to invest in a great cover. You need to be willing to find someone who has experience in designing books covers, can show you some of the other stuff they’ve done, and pay them for their very valued services. Don’t do what I did…at least at first…do your own cover.

 

I had this great idea, this vision in my head of what my cover should look like. And, at the same time, I didn’t have a whole lot of money. I was struggling, I knew that one of my friends dabbled in photography, and I figured we could create something amazing…and then best part—it’s FREE!

 

Big mistake. I say that, but it really was a great learning lesson. The cover looked amateur. And isn’t that the criticism that so many of us receive as self published authors. It’s amateur. It doesn’t look professional.

This is the uphill battle of all artist who have tried, or are trying, to go the DYI route. If you’re a musician, the music is great, the songs are meaningful, the musicians are talented, but it needs a professional studio’s touch. If you’re an actor or filmmaker, your work would be great if you only had access to MGM’s film studio, or Denzel Washington and Gwyneth Paltrow. Even visual art faces this struggle, in that there are major limitations to marketing and showing one’s work without being attached to a recognized school or studio.

And as the artist, we want our work to do the talking. If we are truly an amazing musician, artist, writer, signer, actor, etc. shouldn’t our skills alone be enough? I wish the answer was yes. I wish we could just somehow get our masterpiece in front of people and let them experience our imagination. Why should we have to pay for advertising and marketing and Facebook ads and space on the local radio station?

The real issue here is that for every musician or writer who is amazing at their craft but wasn’t fortunate enough to have parents who owned their own publishing company or a friend who’s cousin is the acquisitions editor for Penguin, there are a score or more of people out there who need to recognize that perhaps, they should focus on a different dream. And so when someone hears the term SELF anything, they have a perceived notion of what they’re getting.

Now, I am not a dream killer. I think someone who isn’t a spectacular writer can become a good writer with help, work, education, editing, etc. I think I fall into that category. But the problem is, so many self-published authors are so stuck on doing everything themselves, they have a hard time recognizing that they need help, and therefore never improve at their craft. This in turn hurts our industry, at least the DYI side, because now people pick up a subpar book and think that’s what they’re going to get every time they pick up a self published book.

I digress. How does this translate into book covers. Like I said before, it is the cover that first attracts attention. It is the cover that alerts a potential reader to the idea of the book. What is the genre? What is the mood? And what lies in between the covers means little if we give a poor first impression. Think of an interview. If you showed up to an interview in basketball shorts, no shoes, messy hair, and a wrinkly shirt, it doesn’t matter how hard of a worker you are or what level of education you have, you won’t get that job. The assumption will be that you are lazy. You may be anything but…but that is the impression you’ve given. Same with books. Amateur covers, at least in the mind of a reader (however unfair it is) equals amateur writing.

But you’re an artist you say. Anything you do looks anything but amateur. Sweet. Congratulations. You probably have more artistic talent in your pinky than I have in my whole body. You still shouldn’t design your own cover. Why, you say? It’s the same reason you shouldn’t edit your own book. Objectivity. You have an idea in your mind. You see it, no matter how bad your cover is, because it’s yours and you can see beyond the picture. Others can’t. They only see what they see. And if your job isn’t designing cover artwork, then you don’t know what you’re doing, no matter how good of an artist you are.

The whole job of a cover artist is beyond the art itself. Their job is to know what people are looking for, in advertisements, books, music labels, whatever it is they’re doing. The book cover artist isn’t just a really good artist, a good drawer or painter. No. This is a person who understands the industry. It is very similar to a book editor. Again, someone who is an amazing writer or poet or essayist isn’t necessarily a great book editor. I would say look for someone who has some experience, but just like us, as self-published authors, they may be trying to get their break. So take a look at their interests, their education, etc. I think it’s okay to have someone design your cover if they have a little professional experience, but what is their background, do they know what they’re doing?

And how much should you be willing to pay? Well, depends on your budget, of course. You can find people who are willing to do your cover for relatively cheap, because they’re trying to build a portfolio. You can go on Fiverr and find someone who will do it for $5. But, my general rule of thumb is, god quality and good work is going to cost. Think of you as a writer. If someone wanted you to write something – an article, poem, essay, resume – for them, would you do it for free? I hope not. This is your craft. If you’re good at your craft, it costs. Don’t shy away from pricy work. The law of averages tells us it will be good work. But, generally, expect to pay about $200-300 for a good cover. At this stage in your career (which is the same stage I am in) I would not pay more than $1000 for your cover artwork.

Also, don’t be afraid to look outside the country (if you live in the USA). The woman who does my cover artwork lives in Spain. There is almost no lag time in communication and she is awesome.

I added her website to this blog posting so if you want to see if she can help you, that would be great.

 https://adipixdesign.com/

I hope this helps.

HAPPY READING!!!

Make sure you visit Christopher Patterson’s website at www.christopher-patterson.comand also make sure you sign up for his monthly newsletter where you can keep up to date with what’s going on in his world, his articles and blogs, get access to freebies, and experience promotional material. You can sign up for Christopher Patterson’s email newsletter here

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You can now purchase the audio version of A Chance Beginning through Audible! How exciting is that?

Here is the link:

A Chance Beginning Audible Version

Thank you and HAPPY LISTENING!

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Planning isn’t just for City Councils by Christopher Patterson

 

It stifles my creativity.

I’m not in high school anymore.

I know what I want to write.

I’ve heard all these excuses when it comes to outlining a book. I’ve heard them all because I’ve used them all. We don’t need to outline. Things like NaMoWriMo are for amateurs and people who really shouldn’t be writing in the first place. Outlining and drafting are just unnecessary work, taking away time better used to execute my craft. Here’s my favorite excuse:

I’ll just let the words take me where they will.

And…that’s why I have done several rewrites on my books. Because I wanted to buck the system, be my own, independent person, blaze my own path, and do things my own way.

I think there is credibility to some of the responses authors have to the suggestion that they need to outline, plan and draft. We don’t want to be so regimented that it takes away from our creativity, and the outlining we do for writing fiction is definitely different than the outlining we learned in high school. You should know what you want to write. That’s the first step…coming up with a story. Finally, there are times when we have to let the words take us. There are times when we are writing and the Muses take over. We create something—a sub-arc, a back story, a new conflict, a scene—that we never intended and its beautiful, magical, wonderful, and more.

But let’s compare outlining to some other professions, some other areas of life. I do this because I think we think as writers, we are so different. In certain ways we are, but if you want to be a successful writer, ought we not look at our writing like a profession, a job, a career?

Would you be okay with a surgeon who just opens you up without a plan? They know what the issue is. They have a general idea how to fix it. But they didn’t plan. It would stifle their creativity as a surgeon. They take their idea, open you up, and away they go. No one would be okay with that. Perhaps the very best surgeons in the world could do that, if they absolutely had to, but even they don’t. Even they plan.

Would you be okay with your financial advisor meeting with you—perhaps a meeting for which you are paying—without a plan? They know the market. They have a general idea of how the economy is doing right now. They have a general idea in regards to your finances and goals.  But they simple execute trades, transfer money, and place you in retirement vehicles as the winds blow, as they just “feel” something. No one would hire a financial advisor like that. In fact, the whole financial industry has rules in place so a financial planner can’t do that. Of course, your Edward Jones or Charles Schwab agent might get a feeling from time to time, just as you might get a creative intuition that allows you to break from your plan, but the majority of the time, they stick to the plan.

I love to workout, lift weights, wrestle, and grapple. What happens to those people who just walk into the gym everyday not having a clue about what they are going to do that day? They make fun of the gym-goer walking around with a pen and a pad of paper, recording their sets and reps and weight, but that’s the person seeing results. That’s the person who took time, at home, planning out the week, planning their next mesocycle or macrocycle in the gym, establishing goals, and keeping track of their progress. If you were paying a personal trainer $50 or more per session, would you be okay with them just deciding what you were going to do that day when you walked through the door? No one would be okay with that, so why would we as writers? Why should our readers be okay with that?

While I was doing a little research to write this blog, I came across an editing group based out of New York who would strongly disagree with me. Now, they have big name editors working for their firm. They are based in one of the literary hubs of the country. They have credibility. But one of their first statements was, “Planning your novel ahead of time increases the likelihood it will be dead on arrival.”

????

Does that statement confuse you as much as it confuses me? We can over plan. I have stopped going to writing groups because they are filled with authors who have been planning their book for ten years. They blocked out a whole Saturday to outline paragraph 3 of chapter 4. They spent an hour contemplating the title of chapter 10. So, yes, we can over do it. You don’t want the planning process to get in the way of writing. But, please, explain to me how planning something out, laying out a general framework of what we will be creating, if you will, writing the blue print of the story, increases the likelihood that it won’t work.

Planning makes writing feel like work. Uh huh. Is that a bad thing? Listen, if you are writing simply because you want to get ideas on paper and could care less if someone else ever picked up your ideas and read them, cool. If you are writing something only for your family and friends and know that they are the only ones that will ever buy your book, great. But the majority of you, if you write, want people to read your story. You want to make some money with your craft. You want to be a best seller. How is, then, writing not work?

Now, that statement wants me to go on and on about how modern Americans are becoming lazier and few work with disdain and that is root of many of the problems we have in our country—and if you’re in a different country, I’m sure you could relate as well—but I won’t. I will simply say the only way, in my opinion, to make something of your writing, to get published and get read and sell copies, is to treat it like work. We have to write when we don’t feel like it. We have to continue our education to get better at our craft. We have to push through moments of writer’s block and boredom and stress. If you want writing to help pay the bills, or pay the bills plus some, then it has to be treated like a job, and planning your story is a part of that.

Planning stifles creativity. I had an epiphany in one of my first years as a teacher. Another teacher was mentoring me and when he found out I wasn’t using the textbook that most of the other teachers were using, he obviously asked why. I said, “I don’t like the textbook. It stifles my creativity,” to which he said, “it’s not about you. It’s about the students. You can be creative and still use the textbook.”

First of all, even though I have said this myself, I don’t know how planning out your story stifles any creativity. But, secondly, it’s not all about me. Am I the only person planning on reading my story? If so, I can do whatever I want. In reality, I don’t even need to write a story. I could be totally content with my own imagination. What is my audience going to find enjoyable? How do I attract a larger audience? I mentioned this in another blog, but more than once, I have had an editor tell me I needed to cut whole chapters, several chapters, get rid of a character, etc. If it were all about me, I wouldn’t have done it. But it’s not all about me. I want people to read my story. I want people to enjoy my story. Planning doesn’t stifle your creativity. Planning perpetuates your creativity.

Not to beat a dead horse, but we can over plan. However, appropriate planning can and does (I am speaking from personal experience here) prevent rewrites. Another critic of planning stated: “Rewriting is a part of the writing process.”

True. I agree. But how many times do you want to engage in rewriting? Are we truly writing if the majority of our time is devoted to rewriting our story.  Rewriting can be mind numbing and demotivating. We thought we were done. Nope. There is no better way to take the wind out of a writer’s sails then to tell them they aren’t done—in fact, they are nowhere close to being done—when they thought they were. Speaking from my own experience, let’s go ahead and publish, get some decent sales, have some decent reviews, and then tell a writer, “Nope, we need to redo some things.” That was life changing and one of those moments when I questioned whether or not I wanted to write. Do I think that could have been avoided if I had engaged in proper planning? Yes.

How do we plan, then?

There are a number of great ways to engage in the planning process. I used the book Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt for a while and it worked very well. You can purchase the book. It’s relatively inexpensive. And if you buy the actual book (I bought the e-book) it comes with a workbook that you can copy and fill in. It's simple. It’s laid out for you.

Many authors use resources through NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month. This organization has hundreds of resources to help an author “write” a novel in a month. Are you truly writing a novel in a month? No. But the idea is get the whole process down, get the plan and the framework down, in a month and watch your story explode into something great.  

My current editor has me write a simple paragraph explaining what each chapter is about.  At the same time, he has me use the Michael Hauge story arc model, in which certain things—Action, a Turning Point, a Climax—need to happen at certain points in the book. I know. Some of you are already saying to yourselves, “Don’t tell me when something is supposed to happen in my own story.” We need to get over ourselves. It works. I also use a simple character sketch. What this character sketch allows me to do is write a quick backstory without having to include it in my story. Most readers don’t care about the backstory of minor characters, but I do. The most helpful part of this character sketch? The first question is simple. If I could choose any actor to play this character, who would it be? You would be amazed at how beneficial that is. All of sudden, my characters truly come to life.

I like this method because as I write each chapter, I can reference my quick paragraph. If I start to get off track, I keep myself in check. If I want to change something that I had originally written in that paragraph, I have to justify it to myself. It’s accountability.

Before I bid you adieu, think on this…Robert Jordan, the author of the Wheel of Time series, spent 20 years writing 11 of what was going to be 12 books. Robert Jordan, regardless of whether or not you enjoy his work, is arguably a literary genius, but he had notes, outlines, and plans. His wife was able to turn all this over to Brandon Sanderson who, in turn, seamlessly finished Jordan’s massive series. If you read these books, you would never know it wasn’t Jordan who wrote them (there ended up being three more instead of one).

The bottom line is, there are a thousand ways to plan out your story. But plan you must. Are there a few literary geniuses that could write a book with planning? Yes. I am not one of them. Eat a very big piece of humble pie, Google “How to plan your story,” take a day and do the dirty work, and save yourself time, energy, and heartache in the future.

HAPPY READING!!!

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Avoid the Info Dump by Christopher Patterson

For those of you out there that are Science Fiction and Fantasy fans like me, especially if you have grown up loving a genre that has shaped imaginations around the world and created trends followed by billions of people, then there are a couple things that you know very well, things that you have accepted about the genre.

We know that sometimes we will pick up a fantasy or sci-fi book that just isn’t all that great, but the action is so cool, and the story would make a killer D&D adventure, so we read it anyway. We expect some crazy names—of people, places, new creatures and races we are being introduced to. Only in sci-fi and fantasy will you see a glossary attached to a story. We expect the unreal, magic, heroes, villains who are clearly evil, etc. And we expect info dump.

I love Lord of the Rings. I also love the Wheel of Time series (although, I will admit that I have yet to read the last several books). The Song of Ice and Fire is another favorite of mine. They are great pieces of literature that transcend the boundaries of genre fiction, have influenced many of authors in a very impactful way, and have brought entertainment to millions of people. One of the things that I notice about all three of these series, and a number more within my beloved genre, is they are descriptive. I know what everyone looks like. If the protagonist walks into a room, I know what that room looks like. I know how the food tastes. I know the backgrounds of every character—major and minor. They are ripe with explanation and information. And I like that. The problem…

… the majority of readers do not like it. You see, the majority of readers don’t need to know the whole back story of Thrak, the hard headed and grumpy dwarf—why he’s so grumpy and how he got that little scar on his cheek and the tragedy that he experienced as a young child. If you love playing Dungeons and Dragons, or any other role-playing game for that matter, you are probably thinking, “Why the hell not? Why wouldn’t I want to know this guy’s backstory?” I’m with you. But it doesn’t move the story.  

Now, don’t think that I am criticizing these three authors. They have or are clearly doing something right, and I enjoy all three of them. But Tolkien, Jordan, and Martin I am not…and neither are you. Maybe we allow them to get away with being overly descriptive because of the epic-ness of their tales…or because of how foundational they are…or because they just do it better than anyone else. But we, the author trying to become like these three, cannot get away with.

Let me back up. Maybe we can get away with packing our pages with tons of description and backstory and whatever else, but it will limit our audience. You see, I never realized how much my stories get bogged down by description and back-story, until a professional pointed it out. The reader doesn’t need to know the whole motivation behind a minor character’s action. They don’t really need to know any of it. They just need to know that they acting and how it affects the protagonist. You, as the writer, are really the only person that needs to know why they act they way they do. You need to know their motivation.

As a side not, I don’t think I ever realized how much I would write—and save—that would never end up in any of my books. Maybe that’s why Tolkien wrote the Simarillion. He just couldn’t handle having all this stuff saved away somewhere.

Someone reading fiction, especially fantasy and science fiction, wants movement. They want action. They want adventure. I am not saying they don’t want introspection and suspense and themes that cause us to think, but they certainly don’t want those things if they cause the story to stall. I have been living by a simple method recently, sometimes doing it very well and sometimes not—by the way, this method is forcing me to outline and plan my writing ahead, which I am not very good at—called the Hague method.

Anyways, what are some great ways to reveal information about characters or situations without overloading the reader with description, stalling the story, and info dumping?

1.     Dialogue. Get really good at writing dialogue. Conversations between characters can be a great way to introduce background information about a character or a situation. In fact, this kind of dialogue can be easily interwoven into action and conflict, therefore enhancing the story and allowing it to move forward instead of stalling it out with large sections of prose. Mundane description and backstory is boring.  We’ve already established that it halts the movement of the story, but why? Well, it takes the reader away from the story. If we are doing our job as writers, the reader feels like they are a part of our story. A stop, a break into detailed description or gigantic backstory slams on the brakes. And it’s a sudden brake. Its not a gradual slowing that the reader knows is coming. It’s a hard, jarring stop. What better way to give the reader an insight into characters by revealing conversation?

So then the problem is the dialogue. This is one of my strengths, so I’ve been told. There are probably a lot of areas I need to improve in with my writing, but I do agree that my ability to write dialogue is pretty good. What I find with so many fantasy and science fiction writers is our dialogue seems off. So how should we write our dialogue? Think about how you would speak. Certainly, they may be certain phrases and words you wouldn’t use in this world that you have created, but just write as you would naturally speak.

And what better way to introduce why Thrak is so grumpy or how he got that scar by one character asking him? We can reveal so much through conversation. In fact, do we not in real life? Rather than writing paragraph after paragraph of prose giving a well-crafted backstory, introduce it in the dialogue.

2.     Write a series of short stories about your minor characters. If you really want your audience to know why a character acts the way they act, or how they got to where they are, then try your writer’s hand at some short stories. Firstly, readers know what they are getting into. Secondly, you get a chance to explore a minor character’s actions and personality in much greater detail than a simple info dump, and at the same time add things like dialogue and action related to this story. Obviously, use the same story arc that you would use for your novel. And if your readers are faithful, and if they really enjoy your writing, they will read your short stories.

And as an added bonus, these short stories, as long as you write them as if they are stand-alone stories, can be a great marketing tool. Offer them for free on Amazon, or just email them to your mailing list. Use them as a carrot to hook readers. If they like your “free” short story, they will also enjoy your eBook for $4.99.

3.     Don’t get too attached to what you have written. I know that is easier said than done, but necessary. The very first person I ever had edit A Chance Beginning—several years ago when a small press had offered me a contract—told me I had to cut the first three chapters. I was crushed, devastated, horrified.  But I did it. I cut them out. And…it was better. I have learned that readers are interested in my story, not how fancy or intricate or intellectual I can get with my language. If something I write doesn’t move the story forward, it won’t work, no matter how much I like what I wrote. I mean, in reality you should like what you wrote. You wrote it. That’s why we have editors that we curse in the beginning and praise at the end. The story won’t change, but the words on the page will. It’s inevitable. And if you’re not willing to accept that change, then you have to be willing to accept the fact that a larger audience will never experience your story.

These are just several of many suggestions that I have for avoiding info dumping. All you have to do is a quick “info dump writing” search on the Internet and you will find tons of resources.

Avoid the many costly issues that I have had to endure. I am thankful for them and super thankful for the help from the folks at Wheatmark and the help I have gotten from my awesome editor Graham. My first manuscript was ripe with info dumping.  And then it got better and better and better. There are probably a lot of things we need to avoid as a writer, but a big one is info dumping.

I hope this helps you in your writing efforts and I look forward to you all reading A Chance Beginning, Dark Winds, and the soon to be released Braking the Flame. HAPPY READING!!!

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For those whom accept the challenge and choose to write an epic fantasy tale, a firm grasp of the world you want your characters to populate is as important to the story as the story itself.  Authors will painstakingly map out entire worlds, filling the landscape with beautiful cities and thundering rivers, enormous mountains and pleasant meadows.  And all of these places will have to be given a history and assigned a name, or designation, some sort of reference.  And to further deepen the antiquity of the sites, cities and rivers, perhaps even the characters themselves, they might be known to different peoples, different races in different regions, by different names.  If you look at the character of Aragon in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, you will find him known by many names including Strider, Estel, Ranger and eventually King Elessar.

Historical Fantasy

I write historical fantasy.  To write historical fantasy, an author must judiciously research the region of the known world where the story will play out.  This doesn’t mean we cannot add unique buildings, forests, towns and other elements to the world, but the base must be sound, the major markers identifiable.  The author will also have to map out the time period, the past of that area and the people who once lived there, their language and customs, the artifacts and impressions they left on future civilizations.  In my tale, The Crystal Crux, the city of Parthenope or Naples is one of the major metropolises.  Although it is Italian, its roots are in Greece, in the adventurers who created the first settlement.

It is fantasy, but the author of historical fantasy will want to stay as true to the facts concerning the real world as possible.  A writer will want the reader to question their knowledge of history, wonder what is true and what is not.  To accomplish this, the author must have done their homework, combing through dozens of historical documents and books, atlases, religious script, as well as various manuals concerning art, architecture and indigenous plants and animals.  All this gathering of information will ultimately fill myriad notebooks and there will be stick-it notes everywhere.  If one is not careful it is quite easy for all this research to become overwhelming and ponderous, and eventually of little use.

Research and Prepare

Before you begin researching, I advise the writer to devise a storage locker, a final resting place for all this gathered information to be assembled and collated.   Ask yourself, ‘How will I find this information again once it goes into the locker?’

The locker doesn’t have to be a physical file although some of us still prefer this tangible system over electronic options.  You can create a locker on your computer or in the ‘cloud’.  Just make sure you understand how the filing system will best operate for you, be it dates, places, methods, names, titles, whatever.

Grab the Readers' Attentions

No matter what type of book you are writing, it will require a powerful beginning, something to grab the reader’s attention.  And I don’t mean the opening few lines.  There are many theories on what works best but from what I’ve seen and read, when it comes to epic fantasy, there really are no rules.  Most people who read epic fantasy already know what they are getting into.  They are going to explore a world that goes beyond the first opening lines.  They are going to give the whole first chapter a chance. 

“For a story to truly be epic, there have to be dozens of characters in several lands. There must be divisions and plot twists that ripple across seas and shake mountains.”

This elaborate mapping of a fantastical world the author labored to create is going to eventually have to become a part of their reading mind.  It’s not going to be simple and straightforward no matter what the first sentence says or even how the first chapter reads.  There are going to be multiple characters in dozens of locales plotting various machinations to achieve numerous goals.  It won’t be as pedestrian as a single protagonist versus a single antagonist.  There will be many of both.  And sometimes, protagonists will become antagonists and antagonists will become protagonists.  There will be minor characters that enter.  We will learn a great deal about them, even learn to care about them, and then they will simply go away.  An epic, by definition, is going to bear the reader through an ocean of emotions and a tsunami of events.  I don’t think it really matters to the epic fantasy reader which character, locale or plot you begin with.  The story is going to grow way beyond that moment and most readers of epic fantasy are educated enough to know that.  The author needs only guarantee that the opening chapter makes them want to be sucked into that world.

Keep the Readers' Attention

Once the reader is sucked into your world, that is where the real challenge for an author begins.  How do you expand the world without losing cohesion?  I have read George R.R. Martin’s ‘A Song of Fire and Ice’ series and I will tell you there were plenty of times I had to backtrack to remind myself where in the world I was.  He challenged us constantly.  He would start a new book with a region and set of characters not even spoken of in the other books.  Epic fantasy of any kind demands much from the reader.  Martin seems to demand even more.  But this demand, in turn, means there is a colossal onus placed on the author to write so well, that the reader will continue reading this strange new material believing it will eventually mesh with what is known.  If the writing is weak and the palette no longer vivid and full of life, the reader will become lost and lose interest.  It all comes back to the writer’s ability to make the fantastical sound tangible.

I have also found as an author, you want feedback from readers accustomed to reading the epic fantasy genre.  Readers of other genres have different expectations and often find epic tales, no matter how well-written, to be obtuse and long-winded.  They hate the constant flipping from one character to another to another and so on.  I’ve had others tell me that flashbacks drive them mad – and I use a lot of flashbacks.  I start my first book with a flashback. 

In truth, no matter how you present the history or culture of the world you have so shrewdly researched, readers unaccustomed to epic fantasy will deem much of what you write to be wholly unnecessary.  They will advise you remove it, shorten it up. 

While we understand that every word written must be worth the author and readers' time, we are also seeing the larger picture.  We want to bring that whole beautiful landscape to life and there is simply no condensing that.  For a story to truly be epic, there have to be dozens of characters in several lands.  There must be divisions and plot twists that ripple across seas and shake mountains.  We can be obscene and throw thousands of dragons, vampires, hydras, griffins and unicorns into the story to please the audience but it is the elaborate setting that gives their existence purpose and meaning.  The complexity of the world we create, be it historical or imaginary, defines great fantasy from all the rest.

About Allen Werner

The Crystal Crux - Betrayal, is the first novel by Allen Werner, and the first in 'The Crystal Crux' series. Allen Werner is a past winner of the Wisconsin Regional Writer's Association Jade Ring contest.  Allen Werner is a history enthusiast with a passion for the Middle Ages, Greek, Roman and Norse mythology, as well as Native American studies. He follows the Way of the Sacred Names, Yahweh and Yahshua, plays soccer religiously and is an ardent supporter of rock and symphonic metal bands. Allen Werner lives in Southeastern Wisconsin with his wife, Susan. They have three daughters, three grandchildren and loving host of self-proclaimed extended children and grandchildren.

You can find The Crystal Crux - Betrayal at Amazon.com

Make sure you visit Christopher Patterson’s website at www.christopher-patterson.com and also make sure you sign up for his monthly newsletter where you can keep up to date with what’s going on in his world, his articles and blogs, get access to freebies, and experience promotional material. You can sign up for Christopher Patterson’s email newsletter at http://eepurl.com/b5AUa1

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