Planning: a story is more than an idea

When you start to think about a story, what you usually have are some episodic ideas. Despite their quality, those ideas are not a story, even less a novel. Those need a plot and a structure.

I’m not saying that your ideas are not necessary. Every time you have an idea, you should take note of it with all the details, situations, and pieces of dialogue. It might be useful when you have the actual story. Some of those ideas you’ll use, some you will not. You’ll never know which ones are good enough at the moment they occur to you, so write them all down.

Major steps of planning

Writing a good story or novel takes some planning. Planning a good story takes some hard work.

When preparing your story, make sure you have all the main points worked out before you start writing the first draft. For that, you can’t neglect four important steps.

1. Know the genre

First of all, you must know the genre you’re trying to write in. There is no other way of doing this than read a lot of books in that genre. Study them.

Observe their structure, realize what they have in common, the distribution of the scenes, the rhythm. Try to find out why is the book interesting (or not). The most you know about it, the better.

2. The conflict

No conflict, no story. The most critical part of your story is the conflict. It is what makes your audience interested and catch your readers.

There is no story without a conflict, which makes it a massive step towards your goal. Take all the time you need in it. Do some research on tips and good practices. The conflict is the center of everything, and you need to think carefully about it.

3. Organize your ideas

Remember those ideas you wrote before? The ones that came into your mind in the most unexpected places? That’s right. It’s time to get and organize them.

Reread what you wrote, improve the best ones and try to see where (if) they fit in. At this point, you are already working on the actual structure of your story. Start choosing what goes in each chapter.

4. Go deeper into each scene

Before you start writing the first draft, retake a look at your former ideas. At this point, the best ones should already be scenes for your chapters.

Observe what you have now very carefully, and go deeper into each scene. Add descriptions, dialogues, and other essential details. That will make your life easier when it comes to the time to start writing.

Outline

Outlining your story is, without a doubt, a great help. There are, nonetheless, authors that refuse to use an outline. Well, that’s okay, it’s not exactly mandatory, but it will definitely, make your work faster and easier.

With an outline, you can try ideas, explore them without making them permanent. It allows you to explore more without so much commitment.

The outline gives you the possibility of not being stuck at one point. You’ll always know what to write next, and as you’re writing, new ideas will keep coming to your mind. All of them help to turn the original plot even richer.

Inspiration is hard work

Many people think that a great writer has a stroke of inspiration, sits down at his desk and write the next Nobel Prize nominee. That’s far away from the truth!

Inspiration is the fruit of several months (sometimes years) of hard work. The good news is that, in the end, you might have that masterpiece after all.

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It’s time to publish!

After studying all the possibilities within your reach, you probably still feel like you have no idea what to do with your manuscript. You are not sure how to choose the publishing method that really fits you and your work.

That’s completely normal and you are not alone. It’s a tough decision with no right answer but there are some topics you should think about that might help you make that choice.

Validation

When you are an author, you’d like other people to recognize you as such. It’s actually your right, but that doesn’t always happen.

Writing is not the kind of job that makes it easy for you, and the way you publish might help or harm your image. The truth is, there are still many people who will not consider you a “real author” if you go with self-publishing.

Sometimes, even the authors themselves have these kinds of thoughts. So you must think about how each option would make you feel about yourself. You need to feel confident in order to give it your best while writing. From where I’m standing, this is crucial.

Entrepreneurial

Let’s face it: self-publishing is hard. You must have the kind of personality, full of willpower and entrepreneurial spirit in order to succeed at it. You’ll probably need to hire some professionals to help you, and still do a lot of the work yourself. If you are not that kind of person, you should consider having a publisher to see your work forward.

Pressure

Pressure might be good or bad depending on the circumstances and the way you deal with it. Having a publisher that gives you deadlines might help avoid procrastination. On the other hand, you may feel blocked by the pressure that builds up.

If you like to have more control over your schedule, the design of the book, etc, a big publisher might not be the best option for you.

The rhythm of production

How productive are you? How many books do you write in a year? How regularly do you want to publish?

These are very important questions. Self-publishing authors recommend that you publish at least 3 or 4 books a year. However, in the case of traditional publishers, they will not let you do that. According to them, you’d be adding unnecessary competition to your work, since you’d be competing with yourself.

Convenience

Again, with self-publishing, you have a lot of work and most writers “just want to write”.

Well, let me start by telling you this: those are unrealistic expectations. You’ll never be just writing since there is a lot of work to do other than the writing itself. It will, however, be significantly reduced, if you choose the option of a traditional publisher.

Instincts

You know yourself better than anyone else. Follow what feels best for you.

Marketing Issues

This might be a major problem for any author and raises bigger questions. So, first of all, let’s face it: you’re gonna be doing it anyway, so it’s better to be thinking about it from the very beginning. The publisher will help you when your book is doing well already, but in the beginning, marketing will mostly be your responsibility.

The Indie author has more profits from each book, so this is probably an advantage. This sounds weird, right? The publishing business is never to help the author. There are many valid reasons to find a good publisher, but if you go there for the money, then you’ll be disappointed.

Royalties are paid every 6 months (sometimes once a year), and most of the time you don’t have any. Publisher expenses cut the check and usually, a publisher just pays you when you reach a certain threshold. This way, probably, all you spend in marketing is gone.

Self-published authors lose a lot of money too, but if you sell a single book, you’ll receive the value for it.

In any case, marketing is always the worst part of the process, you really need to believe in yourself, your work and its quality. A little bit of luck will likely prove critical as well.

Publishing: what a nightmare

 

We had talked before about how difficult the “publishing step” might be, the problems with the publishers, the doubts… should I choose self-publishing? Online? Should it be a physical book or just an ebook? Perhaps both?

When our story is done, the worst part of being an author begins. And many times, you don’t even know all the options or even understand them and all their nuances. So I researched a little and tried to make some sort of summary of each option together with its pros and cons.


Traditional Publishers

When I started writing, this seemed to be the safest course of action, but is it really? Let’s see.

We all probably understand that it’s a huge step to get published by a big company, one that everyone knows. That will be good on your resume, maybe change your life as a writer (trust me, not exactly), but it’ll definitely make you feel great about yourself! Yes, you are allowed to feel that. Competition is hard and you still got it. It’s amazing. So the pros are probably easy to understand, right?

So now, let’s focus on the cons. You’ll face many problems with them. First of all the great amount of rejections that seem, so very often, to come down to a very unfair decision, especially in the giant publishers, where you’ll probably receive a rejection form which just goes to show you that they don’t read more than a couple pages or perhaps even the synopsis (if they read anything at all, you’ll never quite be sure).

They still rely on you for the marketing of your own book. Yes, it’s true. If you are as naive as I was, you’ll probably be thinking that it’s their job to promote the book, right? It’s the best part of having a big publisher on your back, you’ll have more visibility. Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily true. I mean, they will promote your book, IF, it’s already going well…

And, let’s talk about those contracts… You usually receive an advance for them to publish your book (they are smaller and smaller nowadays), you are the one in charge of the marketing, as we have seen in the previous paragraph, and there is, almost always, a clause to the contract that stops you from publishing with another publisher form a certain amount of time or that all but forces you to give them your next book. You probably don’t want this…

In any case, I still think that they can make a real difference in your career, especially with a little bit of luck to dodge any of the worse contracts. So, if that’s what you want, you probably need to put yourself out there. One of the best things you can do, conferences, also have a downside to them. They are amazing opportunities to connect with other writers and publishers, but they tend to be expensive, so it’s something to think about carefully.

 

Self-publishing

Self-publishing has been growing in the last decades, mostly because of all the problems and difficulties I mentioned above with traditional publishers and especially the lack of opportunities.
What most authors say is that they have more control over their work and they receive more for each book they manage to sell. Even if they sell fewer books, sometimes it’s financially better anyway and thus an appealing choice.

Obviously, it also has plenty of cons too. First of all, the prejudice: for many people, if you go for self-publishing, this automatically means you just weren’t good enough to make it in the traditional environment. Promotion is also a problem, but it is a problem in any case…
With all the evolution surrounding it, you have now so many different options and platforms that can help you do this online (Amazon, B&N, Apple, Kobo, Google Play, etc…)

 

Vanity Publishing

There was a time that vanity publishing was considered self-publishing, but there is a huge difference between them. In vanity publishing, you pay someone to publish your book. You take all the financial risk, the other person has the work and, obviously, a cut of your profits.

As you might imagine this is an amazing open ground for abuse of the system, in a myriad of ways. First of all, because of the way the profits are split and some other details such as not caring about the costs, they never end up conducting a good market study to prevent spending unnecessary and frankly absurd amounts of money.

Many people have tried this kind of publishing, but almost every author will tell you: it’s a terrible idea.

 

Hybrid Authors

This kind of publishing choice is very simple to understand, the same author has some books traditionally published and others self-published. Technically it’s the best of both worlds, but sometimes, you might face problems due to the publishers’ demands for exclusivity.

 

Small Publishers

This must sound the same as traditional publishing, but I decided to separate them because there are some significant differences between publishing with a small publisher or publishing with a big company.

Small publishers have few employees and usually give more attention to new authors. Besides, most of the time, they give you better royalties on e-books than bigger publishers.

However, there are fewer and fewer of these small publishers, they seem to be disappearing as more and more authors go for the self-publishing.

 

E-books and Print-on-Demand

They are two different things, but I put them in the same category because they both have no costs for you and most of the authors that go for these options, decided to do both of them.

The e-books, as you probably know, are sold and delivered electronically. Despite the fact that many writers still prefer the physical paper book, for some fiction categories, most of the sold books are e-books.

Many times, the author gives the readers the opportunity to get the paper book, through the print-on-demand option, meaning that the book will be printed only after an order is placed, which makes each book costs a higher amount than it would otherwise have to, but there are zero risks involved.

The publishing world is changing fast and the options tend to grow with all the technological advancements in our society. Keep updated and choose what best suits you and your work.

No conflict, no story

The conflict is the center of any story. You have a conflict, and subsequently a story but NEVER, ever, the other way around.

When you’re thinking of writing a story, the first thing to think about is the conflict and your plot is to be built around it. If there is none if it seems not to be ideal for whatever you were imagining, then think again. You might not have a story there.

Usually, you have this sort of structure: you have a main character that has a goal, but there is something keeping him from reaching it, a problem to solve, then your character will take action to solve the aforementioned problem, usually other issues and difficulties will be showcased along the way (most provoked by his actions to solve the first one, the big one), then he solves the main problem and the story ends. Simple.

The “problem” might be something as simple as an argument, unrequited love or someone just trying to sabotage your character. It doesn’t need to be (but could very well be) a world-changing problem.

So, how to do it?

It’s actually quite simple and you don’t need to have a tremendous epiphany to start. Usually, when you’re thinking about a story, you have a character in mind. Now, think about a goal for that character. Something that makes them move, tick, or something they otherwise want very much.

Now, the problem. What will actively try or passively keeping him from reaching that goal? Or who? How? What is going to happen?

Now that you have the main part, you just need to think, about what your character is going to do to solve the problem or get rid of their obstacle. These actions will most likely raise new problems and new actions need to be taken to solve them.

And, with this, the hardest part of your job is done! Next, you develop your scenes, starting from this last point onwards to the main goal.

How should I present myself?

If you want to be an author, this is a question which you’ll sooner or later you’ll have to deal with. The name you choose might make a huge difference in the success of your body of work, even if you’re not aware of it, and the most important thing is that you should never change it. It’s your brand, for the long run, so you must choose wisely.


Nowadays, this is an even more difficult task, since you have to think about not only the name as it will appear in the published book, but also in social media and the increasingly fundamental website or websites that back it up. They will help you establish your own brand and they are quite important marketing tools.

So, choosing your author name might be a huge problem without a single specific and correct answer.

Three different platforms, three different names. Now, put them together.

According to Randy Ingermanson in his amazing advancedfictionwriting.com, there are 3 different situations you must think of, before choosing your name. Let’s think about each one of them.

Published books

Unless you want to use an alias, you probably are thinking about using your real name, even if you need to make some alterations to it. There are many names that are common, so if you’re using your first and last name, there is a big possibility of finding another author with the exact same name.

As much as you dislike it, this, usually, is not a big issue, unless we’re talking about an extremely famous author or if you both write the same exact genre. In these cases, you might consider using another name.

Social Media

The name you choose to use on social media doesn’t have to be exactly the same as you use for your published books, but should obviously be related and clearly identifiable as being the same person. That said, you might change a few things that don’t make you go off-brand and remember, short strong names tend to work best on social media platforms.

Website

There is another problem. You must have a website, as it’s quite important for your brand and work. In my opinion, for the website domain, you should have the same name that appears in your published books. However, that might need some adaptations.

It’s important for it to be easy to write, when you listen to someone mention it or hear it on the TV, without needing anyone to spell it out for you and without too much confusion between similar words.

 

After this, I’m pretty sure you have a lot to think about. Just pay attention at each of the things you must consider and try to find a good in-between that works for you. You’re a writer, think of it as another creative task and I’m sure you’ll figure it out!

Dialogue: bringing characters to fruition in 5 tips

The dialogue between characters is one of the most important parts of a novel or short-story and it’s important to get it feeling just right.

When someone is reading a story, the ways in which characters express themselves and what they’re saying is very important for the reader to feel like they’re getting to know them and to build some empathy with the characters. When writing, you should always remember how you’d feel as a reader as well.

Feeling natural

For the dialogue to feel natural, it can’t just be comprised of a couple sentences that someone said. You must create a sort of movie in readers head, helping them understand the character and feel what they might be facing. However, you should be very careful not to use language that might be too polished or poetic, as those tend not to feel natural at all.

Voice

Each character should have a different voice and it must show through what they say. Different people use different kinds of sentences and vocabulary, and so should the characters.

It’s important to give them a unique voice, but it’s also important to remember that a conversation might have a lot of repetition and that it could prove boring to read, so you can add some summary into your dialogue, shortening the parts of it that your readers might not need to read in a tremendous level of detail. The reality is that most people would not go to such depths while elaborating or explaining themselves, at least not at first glance. This will also make the character appear more realistic and grounded.

Importance

As I said before, some parts of the conversation might become boring to read. You must decide what’s really important for the story and things that are just normal, boring chatter. If your character is a mechanic, it might be important for the story to know what’s going on with the car he is fixing, but you probably wouldn’t place him describing meticulously what he is doing with all the steps, for each of his tools, right? Good dialogue works vaguely in the same way.

What you say and what you think

In real life, you don’t always say everything you’re thinking (as many times, that wouldn’t be correct, or polite, at all). Your character shouldn’t neither.

To feel natural, your dialogue must contain hints of what your character is really thinking or what he or she would like to say, but sadly can’t or somehow struggles to. Give your readers something to think about.

Silence

What can you say about silence? Well, it can say as much as words, for starters, right? So, in order to enrich your scene, interrupt the dialogue sometimes, describe a character’s body language and you’ll have a richer picture and a greater scene to present your audience with. This might actually paint a fuller picture than some additional lines of dialogue ever would.

This blog serves the purpose of helping all of those who likes to write to get technical information as well as, having a safe harbor to discuss ideas.

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