My Journey as a Professional Writer, Part 3: Obstacles

Today’s post is inspired by an obstacle that I’m dealing with at the moment. Specifically, my internet is down.

Your first question is probably, “How are you posting something online without internet access?” Which, actually, is the point of this post.

Obstacles are always going to pop up throughout your life. Errands will need to be run, bills will need to be paid, accidents will happen, and the services you rely on every day will occasionally fail.

When that happens, you have a choice. You can decide to let the obstacle get in the way, or you can find a way around it. I’m writing this post in an app on my cell phone called “Writer,” and I’m going to post it using my WordPress mobile app. It’s a bit more difficult to do it this way; typing on my phone is slower, and it’s harder to access WordPress’s formatting options when using the mobile app. However, I made a commitment to myself that I would set a posting schedule and stick to it, so here I am.

Being without internet access is causing me a lot of other issues, too. I’m finding ways to get around them. Yesterday, I went down to school to use Rowan’s computer labs to write a paid blog post for the Rowan University Admissions Blog. I didn’t ‘have’ to; I’m not on a fixed posting schedule at Rowan, so I could have skipped a day. However, I’m trying to make a living off my writing, and the lost hours would have led to a lower paycheck. So to make sure I got the work done, I found someplace to get online and do it.

There are lots of other ways to make sure obstacles don’t get in the way of your writing. For my revisions, I keep “Manifestation” on a flash drive I can take with me anywhere. This means I can revise on my laptop, or at a school computer when I’m on campus. Cloud programs like Dropbox can also be useful for making sure you have access to your important work, wherever you are. By using such tools, you’ll never have to use “I wasn’t at home” or “My computer was down” as an excuse not to work.

Heck, even “I was busy running errands” isn’t a great excuse. I’m writing this at Walmart right now while I do my grocery shopping. I write at the laundromat. I write when I’m in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. I write at my restaurant job when I’m waiting for an order to be ready. I never go anywhere without my phone, and so I’m never unable to write.

Think of all the times and places you see people texting. That could be you, writing.

My internet should be fixed tomorrow morning. I COULD have just put all this off until then. But when something is important, I think I should find a way to bypass the obstacles and make sure nothing gets in my way. Especially considering I am working freelance, which is the equivalent of running my own business. I’m not going to be successful if I don’t learn to get past whatever problems get in my way.

Thankfully my obstacles so far have been small. I’m not sure how I’d adapt to something bigger and more tragic. But if I find myself facing a larger obstacle, I’m not going to give up. I’m going to step back, regroup, and come up with a new plan fitting to my particular idiom.

Advertisements

My Journey as a Professional Writer, Part 2: Research

I’d like to tell you a story (as is my wont as a writer).

When I was in high school, I was really good with computers. My dad works in computer programming, so my family had a computer in our home in the 1980s, long before having a computer in every home was “normal.” I grew up playing computer games and learning to use the early DOS systems. I remember using a computer before there was a hard drive on it, which meant I had to insert a floppy disk just to boot up the operating system.

I’ve always been just slightly “above average” in computer skills. I’m no computer genius, and there’s lots of intricacies that a real computer expert would understand but I don’t. However, I know more about handling my computer and resolving its issues than most people I know. I’ve taken my computer apart, changed out components, etc. I can fix my own issues without needing the Best Buy Geek Squad.

To make a comparison, I’m the equivalent of a guy who can change a tire, do an oil change, and install new brakes; but who needs a professional mechanic (or at the very least, a manual or Google) to do a really complex repair. “Real” computer people laugh at my “skills,” but I know enough to take care of my own computer problems.

Because I’m above average in computer skills, I thought I could get an education in Computer Science and pursue that as my career. I started taking programming courses in high school, and I was the top of my class. I then decided to enroll at Rowan University in the Computer Science major.

My freshman year, I was getting straight A’s, and helping other students when they couldn’t understand things. My sophomore year, I got mostly A’s and some B’s, and one of my teachers showed one of my programs to the class as an example “an innovative approach” to the problem. Had I continued in the Computer Science major, I could have learned enough at the junior and senior levels (and then later, on the job) to become one of those “real” experts I described.

But I was bored.

I remember to this day the exact moment I realized the Computer Science major wasn’t for me. I was on the computer lab at school, working on a program for class. There were several other students there, discussing things that were slightly above my head. Prior to this point, I was used to being the top of the class, because my above average skills placed me ahead of all of the other less experienced students. By junior year, however, the program had weeded out the students that were only taking the classes for Gen Eds or for a minor. Students who decided “this isn’t the major for me” had dropped the program to pursue something else. I was about to become one of them.

The more advanced students, while discussing things I could almost, but not quite follow, began discussing articles in computer magazines. They talked about independent study that they did, and things they had learned outside of class. And that’s when it hit me.

I’d only ever be “average” (or slightly above average) if I only learned what they taught me in school. If I wanted to excel, I would need to do independent research, apply myself outside the classroom, and expand my learning so that I was teaching myself things the “average” students would never learn.

And I didn’t want to do that.

I had no real “interest” in computers. My entire reason for becoming a Computer Science major was because I was good at it, and I figured I could get a well-paying job with the degree. I had the ability, but not the passion.

Which is something I should have realized when I started writing stories in my notebooks instead of taking notes. One semester, I filled two spiral bound notebooks with a hand written story, and got a C in the class. I still have that story, but I don’t remember one damn thing I learned in that class.

These experiences taught me something: if you don’t have the drive and passion for something, it’s not worth doing. I could be a computer programmer today, and I’d be miserable at work. I’d probably be spending my spare time at work writing on the side, when I had time between assignments (in fact, that’s what I do now at my pizza delivery job; when there are no orders up, I write on my phone, and in fact that’s how I’m writing this blog post now).

Which brings me to the main point of this post: Research.

In order to become the best at anything, you need to learn as much as you can about it. What you learn in school isn’t enough, though college is a good start. Some people will say “You don’t need a college degree to be a writer.” They cite people like Neil Gaiman, who, from what I understand, never went to college. He’s also a frickin’ genius. If you’re NOT a genius (and most of us aren’t), I recommend getting the best education you can get.

In his book, “On Writing,” Stephen King describes four “skill levels” of writers. To paraphrase: Picture a pyramid. At the bottom, the widest point, is the vast bulk of “unskilled writers.” These are average people who have likely never studied writing beyond what they learned in high school. At the very top, the narrowest point of the pyramid, are the elite, genius writers. Bestselling authors whose skill leaves many of us in awe.

The middle two levels are where most of us, as writers, will fall. You can be “good” or you can be “great” without necessarily ever achieving the level of genius writers. Now, more of us are probably just “good” instead of “great,” but that doesn’t mean you’ll never improve. Climbing the pyramid, from good to great (or maybe, just maybe, from great to amazing) takes more than natural talent. There are no “natural savants” in writing. There are no writers comparable to musicians and composers like Mozart, who was composing symphonies when he was five years old. No writer has ever written the Great American Novel before grade school. Writers simply aren’t born; they are made.

So if you want to become an expert writer, you need to hone your skills. You need to learn as much as you can. I recommend college, because I learned a LOT in Rowan’s Writing Arts program. Then there are writer’s conferences, seminars, and books like Stephen King’s “On Writing” or Sol Stein’s “Stein on Writing.” I recommend both; each one taught me a lot.

Even if you get a degree or attend a seminar, however, you’ll need to do more. If every other writer out there has been through the same education and attended the same seminars, you’ll be the same as them. You’ll be “average.”

I don’t want to be average. I want to be great. I don’t think I’m there yet; I know I’m a good writer, but I have a lot of room for improvement. So I research. I read books about the craft of writing. I search online, studying everything from grammar and punctuation to publishing and market trends. I ask people on Twitter for advice. I don’t sit in a little writer’s bubble, the way I did as a Computer Science major, thinking that I know enough. I devote a large portion of my time and energy into learning independently, as much as I can.

Because I study so much, I know some things about writing and publication that others don’t. I’m sure others also know things I don’t, and I try to share my knowledge and learn theirs whenever possible.

I bookmark websites with writing advice. I reread passages over and over trying to absorb what they say. I keep a copy of “The Elements of Style” by my computer, and take notes in the margins. I never stop learning.

So my advice, as a new and still learning and struggling professional writer, is to research as much as possible. Learn what you can, when you can, and never stop asking questions. If you don’t know something, look it up. Dictionary.com is one of my most used bookmarks, because I’m always trying to understand words better. Study grammar. Research what it takes to get published. Find out what the real differences are between self and traditional publication (I may just write a future post about that particular subject). Learn everything you can on the side. The difference between a writer who researches and studies on the side versus one who doesn’t is the difference between an A versus a C student. It’s the difference between average and successful. It’s the difference between doubting whether you’ll make it versus finding the tools to make SURE you make it.

I was just a slightly above average computer programmer. I intend to become a great professional writer.

My Journey as a Professional Writer, Part 1: Time

I’m now a professional writer. I say “now” because I’ve only recently started thinking of myself as one, even though I’ve been getting paid to write for several months now. Before this recent shift in my perceptions, I thought of myself as an “aspiring writer” or a “pizza delivery guy who writes on the side.”

No longer. Now, at the very least, I’m a “professional writer who delivers pizza on the side.”

(Even though I’m still earning a higher percentage of my income from the pizza place than I am from my writing jobs.)

Because I am now seeing myself as a professional writer, first and foremost, I’ve decided I need to make some adjustments. I’ve already been changing many things in my life to focus more on writing than ever before, but most of the changes have been things I didn’t necessarily plan or decide consciously. From now on, the changes will be more deliberate.

Which brings me to this blog post.

Those of you who regularly read this blog know that it is fairly random and disorganized. I started the blog as the first draft of “Manifestation,” before I even knew that story would grow into a full novel. I later started posting “Storytime Mondays” stories as free fiction, but I’ve more-or-less run out of “good” fiction to post (the other old stories on my computer I’m too embarrassed to share with anyone). I also post blog posts, but at random and with no real focus or purpose.

I need focus and purpose, if I’m going to succeed as a professional writer. As such, I’ve decided to set a blog schedule and force myself to stick to it. The schedule will be Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday, primarily because those are the days I have the most time available to devote to this. I’m even going to set up a nifty reminder in Google calendar so I don’t forget (and you can feel free to nag me if I miss a day).

In addition to a schedule, I think the blog needs a bit more focus and a focused topic. This part is easy: the blog has already been focused on writing, from the stories I write to the posts about my revision process. But to keep it even more focused, I’m going to assign myself more specific topics. “My Journey as a Professional Writer” is one such topic. Any posts with that title are going to be my attempts to share what I’ve learned. I know a lot about writing. I’m no master, and there are tons out there who know more, but I know a lot. I have a degree in the Writing Arts from Rowan University, I’ve had poems and short stories published, and I’ve learned a lot through professional ghostwriting (even though I haven’t been at that last one long and I know I have a LOT to learn still). I don’t by any means think my advice is more valuable than that of published authors and professionals who have been doing this twenty years or more, but I know that I’ve learned a lot by age 33 and through my years in college.

So I’m going to share what I learn, by posting here about lessons I’ve been through, troubles I’ve had, successes and how I achieved them, and failures and what they taught me. I’m hoping that by sharing my experiences, I can help others find new ways to think about their own writing and their careers. I’m also hoping to learn from others; I have a lot left to learn, and any comments and suggestions people post here will help me, hopefully in the same way I can help others. With any luck, I’ll keep learning more as I continue my new career path, and maybe I’ll learn things that others will benefit by hearing.

So with that in mind, here is the first big lesson I’ve learned about being a professional writer: Time.

I don’t have a lot of free time. I never hang out with friends (literally every friendship I have right now is on Twitter, even counting people I know in real life since I haven’t seen them face to face in months). I work long hours, then I come home and work more jobs from home, and somewhere in there I find time to continue revising my novel. All of that takes time, and I’m learning more and more that time is a decision.

There was a time in my life when I’d come home, watch TV for an hour or two, play some video games, and write “when I found the time.” I always KNEW I should “make time” to write every day, but knowing I need to make time is like knowing I need to watch what I eat; knowing is only half the battle (G. I. Joeeeeeee!).

Notice i said “only” half the battle. Flint and Duke never told us what the other half was. I had to figure that out on my own.

It’s “decisions.”

Every decision I make is a decision not to do something else. Turning on the TV is a decision not to write. Playing a video game is a decision not to work on something that pays. Even writing this blog post is a decision not to revise my novel (though I’ve already decided, I AM doing that right after this). I have to make these decisions every day, and I’ve only recently started thinking about them in a more deliberate manner.

Am I saying “Don’t waste time with TV, video games, and going out?” NO! I’m saying, doing such things is a decision.

Getting out to see friends, relaxing, playing games, and having fun are ALL important things in life. If you’ve ever played “The Sims”, you know that the “Fun” and “Social” meters are just as important as everything else. But you CAN make deliberate decisions about how you’ll manage such things so they don’t interfere in your writing or your career.

Last night I played a video game, Civilization V, for about an hour. I wasn’t being lazy. I wasn’t slacking off. I wasn’t neglecting my revisions. I was tired, stressed, and grumpy after working a ten hour shift delivering pizza. I decided, deliberately, that I needed a fun, distracting activity to help me relax and get into a better mood. I worked on revisions after the game, and the work was better because I was in a better frame of mind.

I made a decision to write this blog post tonight. I knew I’d be trading time I could be revising, but I decided it’s worth it. I want to start a more structured dialogue on this blog, give people more reason to come back, give people more reason to leave comments, and increase my traffic. Short term, this has the benefit of sharing information and hopefully learning from others. Long term, I increase my readership and gain a bigger potential customer base for my book, once it’s published.

Looked at in that way, the time spent working on this blog post is an investment.

I make other investments. I write part time for the Rowan University Admissions Blog. This writing is for a paycheck, though it’s not (and never will be) enough to sustain me full time. It is, however, helping me a LOT with paying my grad school tuition. Thus, time spent writing there, while giving me less time to write elsewhere, is an investment in my future.

I freelance, including proofreading, editing, and ghostwriting work. I’m not currently making enough there to let me quit my pizza delivery job, and I’m actually making a deliberate choice not to pursue certain high-paying jobs because they take more time than I’m willing to invest. If I take on a job that eats up most of my free time for a week, I’ve traded that time (which I could have spent on revisions) for the pay that helps me cover the costs of tuition and student loans. I’m willing to trade that time, but there are limits. Some job offers that I could pursue involve taking 1-3 months to ghostwrite a novel. I’m not willing to put my own novel on hold for up to three months while I get paid to write someone else’s. So I choose the jobs I’ll pursue based on the balance between the pay I’ll earn, and the time it will cost me, time I know I could otherwise be devoting to “Manifestation.”

Lots of factors will influence how you spend your time. There are things I’m willing to sacrifice to get time to work on my novel. Sometimes I don’t go out to the movies because that’s three hours I could be revising. Sometimes I turn down a shift at work because I have writing I need to do. Sometimes the pay is more important, but other times the investment in “Manifestation” and its future have to come first.

Because I’m not just writing for fun anymore. I’m writing for success.

Figuring things out, One step at a time

Revisions have been fairly overwhelming lately. As I mentioned before, my novel currently has too much backstory. I’ve needed to trim a fair bit of it, but I have had a hard time nailing down what had to go and what had to stay.

I figured out that the best way to handle it was one step at a time. I’ve got two major sections that needed to be trimmed down: Gabby’s opening story, and Tock’s. Between them, there’s over 99 pages that fall in the “uncertain” section. I’m definitely not cutting anywhere near that whole 99 pages, but all the things I DO need to cut fall somewhere within that range. That was an overwhelming amount of stuff to look at, and I was lost for a couple of weeks trying to sort through it all.

So I made a decision: just focus on Gabby’s sections first, and ignore Tock’s. This is easy to do at this part of the story because it’s before their paths directly intertwine, so I was able to look at each character separately.

Then I broke Gabby’s sections down even further. There are 3 chapters in that section, so I looked at them one at a time. By doing so, I was only looking at a 5-10 page section of the 99 pages. That made it a lot easier to focus on what I needed to do. I’ve cut 3600 words so far from just one of those three chapters. I haven’t touched the other two yet. I’ll tackle them next.

It made a big difference, I think, being able to look at the revisions this way. I’m a lot less stressed now. I haven’t even looked at Tock’s sections yet (and I know hers has the greater amount of cutting to be done). I’m not going to give her section a moment’s thought until the current set of revisions is done.

One step at a time. It’s a lot easier that way.

Number Nerd, Part 10

Some time back, I made a post about being a Number Nerd. This is the second post in the Number Nerd series, so it’s part 10.

(Half of you will get that joke, the other 1 in 10 won’t.)

This has been an epic week for my #NumberNerdery. It started with the day I had

Binary Tweets
Binary Tweets

Binary Tweets! In this moment, I had exactly 220 following/followers! It was a most epic moment indeed!

But the binary fun didn’t end there, for a few moments later I had to post a tweet about it:

Binary Tweets 10
Binary Tweets 10

(Almost no one got the joke.)

And now, today will be the LAST time for a long while I can claim binary status again, for today I reached

#FF1111 Following and 1111 Followers!

Yes, I am an FF!

That’s 15*15 which is 255 for you non-hexadecimal people.

This is a proud moment for me. Some people celebrate hitting 1000 or 2000 or some other lame-base-ten number like that. I prefer thinking in different terms.

So, celebrate this moment with me, for it’s the last one I’ll have for a long, long time! It’s now impossible for me to be binary again until well after the 10k mark.

Here’s to the little moments in a #NumberNerd’s life!

Reordering Scenes to Add Suspense

I’ve made over 3600 words of cuts this week. I’m trimming the fat, getting rid of a few scenes that I think weren’t helping to keep the main story moving.

The main issue I’m having right now is knowing the exact line where the story begins. I have quite a few scenes that I think are going to be cut as backstory. Some might be saved for later, to be used either in flashbacks or in future short stories. At least one has enough good material in it that it would be a pretty good short story by itself.

The other issue, and my concern during today’s revisions, is what to do with the structure and order of the remaining scenes. The early chapters don’t flow from one to the other as well as I’d like. The middle of the book (where I’d really gotten into the flow of things, and knew where the main plot was headed) has a good back-and-forth flow between each of the characters, building the ongoing story while maintaining a strong level of suspense between them. The early chapters, however, have a few spots that drag, and a few spots with poor transitions.

Sol Stein, in his book “Stein on Writing,” says that “suspense is achieved by arousing the reader’s curiosity and keeping it aroused as long as possible.” He suggests always ending a chapter with some unresolved tension and danger, and then introducing a new kind of danger in the next chapter. In a book like mine where there are multiple character POVs, I am trying to follow this advice by cutting from one character to the next as often as possible.

What this basically means is that I’m ending a chapter with Tock in some bad situation, then starting the next chapter with Gabby. I then end Gabby’s chapter without resolving whatever situation she is in, and I cut back to Tock. At no point should the reader be left thinking that either Gabby or Tock is safe, sound, and secure, with no problems remaining.

The middle of the book does this quite well. I switch back and forth between various dangerous situations. There is always a moment where you’re in a new chapter thinking “But what about what was going on in the LAST chapter!?!?” This is a great way to increase tension and suspense.

I need to figure out how to do this with the early parts of the book. I’m working out some ideas now. Most of it involves changing the order of scenes, and choosing where each chapter ends and the next begins. When combined with cutting the scenes that are dragging the pace down, this should result in an overall stronger and better paced opening.

Real Men: A Story

“Real Men”

Why are you crying?

It should have been a simple question to answer.

A real man wouldn’t cry. He’d have self control.

When he was ten years old, his parents never listened to him. Never asked him for his opinions or asked what he wanted. Looking back, it might seem silly, the things a child yearned for. But they were important to him.

“My son doesn’t cry. He’s not a baby,” his father said.

He didn’t get to pick the movie they went to see, nor the restaurant they went to for dinner. He didn’t like mustard on his burgers or jelly on his sandwich. He had to eat them anyway. “Just eat it,” his father said. “The only reason you don’t want it like that is because your sister likes it.”

He learned not to complain. He learned not to cry. Even when his parents divorced, he kept his feelings to himself.

A real man suffers in silence. He hides his pain.

He learned to keep quiet, and to keep his opinions to himself. He kept a journal, and hid his pain inside it, since there was no one else to share it with. No one taught him how to cope with his problems, because they didn’t even know what his problems were.

“What’s wrong?” his teacher asked, as he struggled to fight the tears. “Did something happen?”

He was a teenager, and he hadn’t cried in front of another human being in years. He tried to open his mouth and explain what happened, but no words came out.

I just lost my book, he wanted to say. The one my sister loaned me. She’ll be mad… It was nothing worth crying over. It was just a book. Real men didn’t cry. Even though he knew his sister would be mad.

“Can you tell me what happened?” his teacher asked. He couldn’t find his voice. “Okay, I’m getting the guidance counselor.”

No, he tried to say. It was just a book. It wasn’t a big thing. It wasn’t something worth crying over. It wasn’t something people needed to make a big deal out of. But they saw him fighting his tears, and assumed something was wrong. The guidance counselor came, then the vice principal. The more people who got involved, the worse it became. They all saw him crying, and the embarrassment became worse than losing the book. Real men didn’t cry, especially in front of others. They called his father to pick him up from school, and that just made it worse. He couldn’t tell his father why he was crying.

“You’re crying over a god damn book?” He knew that was what his father would say. “That’s nothing to cry about. Grow up. No son of mine is a crybaby.”

When his father got there, what he actually asked was, “What happened?” But the fear of confessing the foolishness that had started it stole his voice.

“You’re my son. I love you.”

He said nothing.

A man would be strong. You’re not strong. You’re not a man.

The first time his heart was broken by a selfish, cheating girl, he hid his pain. He didn’t tell a single person what was going on. No one knew why it was all spiraling out of control. He quit his job. He dropped out of school. Not for her, no. It wasn’t her who ruined his life.

It was having no one to talk to.

“I don’t understand what’s going on with you,” his mother said. “But I’m not going to support you while you sleep in and sit around the house all day. You either need to get back into school, or you need to start paying me rent.”

He moved out. He’d rather pay rent to a landlord than his mother. A landlord wasn’t supposed to care. A landlord wasn’t supposed to comfort you. A landlord wasn’t supposed to hold you while you cry.

Why are you crying?

A lifetime of keeping it all inside. A lifetime of being told “Men don’t cry.” Through breakups, hardships, and death, he never cried in front of another human being again. Except with her.

He tried to hold it in. He went to work, putting on a brave face. He wore sunglasses when he went out, to hide the redness in his eyes. He didn’t tell anyone what he had lost, or how much it tore him to pieces, because real men didn’t do that. He smiled and made jokes, and let people think what they wanted. None of them knew the sacrifices he had made. None of them knew the depth of his pain.

He stayed silent. He stayed strong. He made sure everyone saw only what it was appropriate for them to see. Because that is what real men do.

Why are you crying?

Because I thought that with you, I finally could…

Conflict and Aliens

My problem with alien invasion movies.

Most alien invasion stories have the same basic plot. Aliens appear, there is little to no attempt at communication, they start attacking, and it becomes a genocidal war for the very survival of all mankind.

For basically, like, no reason.

War is conflict, but in a good story, conflict cannot exist without purpose. In real life, war happens because of competition for scarce resources, breakdowns in the diplomatic process, perceived incompatible goals, political differences, and so on. There is usually a buildup of tension over many years before war breaks out. It doesn’t “just happen.” Except in alien invasion movies, where it does.

Some movies will handwave an explanation. Independence Day had one short scene explaining that the aliens were traveling the galaxy and stripping all planets they found of their natural resources. The Day the Earth Stood Still had a brief message about protecting the ecosystem. Yet others, like War of the Worlds or the horrible flop Skyline, have no attempt to even explain WHY the invasion comes.

Audiences don’t seem to question it. Likely that’s because it’s a long-standing trope that aliens aren’t going to be peaceful when they come here, because why else would they travel millions of light years to find us if not to start a tussle.

I’d like to see an alien invasion movie with more background and sense of purpose. A good example is Avatar (the one with the blue aliens, not the Airbender). Technically, it’s a “reverse alien invasion,” since humans are the one invading another planet. However, it has several aspects that other alien invasion movies lack, and I’m not talking about special effects or the moral message of loving the environment and respecting living things.

In Avatar, we start by seeing that humans and the Navi have had contact for some time. There was a school built, and attempts were made to communicate, negotiate, and find a common ground. Those efforts failed, and led to conflict (over “scarce resources,” one of the real life reasons I mentioned above). The war doesn’t start until like halfway through the movie, giving the audience a chance to see WHY it happened.

A movie like Independence Day, excellent as it was in terms of action and special effects, would have benefited a great deal by building to the conflict with more meaning and purpose. I’d rather see the aliens arrive and negotiate, with the full and honest intent (at first) of finding peaceful coexistence. I’m not talking about things like the TV show “V,” where the aliens faked being friendly but wanted to do evil things from the beginning. I’m talking about genuine negotiations that break down for a believable reason, whatever that reason may be.

The conflict, like all real conflicts, should have moral grey areas and reasons to see the good in both sides. Sure, it’s much easier to just say “the aliens are evil nazi conquerors and they all need to be stopped.” But in many real life wars, people on both sides want to avoid conflict (even if their governments don’t). I’d like to see civilian aliens protesting the war, wishing for peace with humans, and so on. Likewise, I want to see some humans as instigators, so that some of the aliens have reasons to see the humans as the bad guys. Give me an alien invasion movie where I can’t decide whether I want the humans or aliens to win, because both sides have merits and flaws. I don’t need to watch another “humans are the good guys and aliens are the bad guys” cliché flick.

Maybe there’s a movie (or better yet, a book) already out there with these themes, and I just haven’t seen it yet. I’d like to get my hands on one, though.

Maybe I’ll write it myself.


mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

Backstory

So, I’ve been doing a lot of revisions in my head lately. That is, I’ve been reviewing the scenes of “Manifestation” and considering how best to improve the book. I’ve also gotten some advice from outside sources that helped me reconsider how I’ve handled a few things in the book.

The idea I’m bouncing around right now is “Where does the STORY begin?”

My first few chapters are, I think, essentially backstory. They were crucial in some cases for me, as the author, to better understand my characters. However, I don’t think some of those scenes are necessarily crucial for the reader. In fact, I think that cutting some of them would add a touch of mystery and suspense to the story.

This could mean cutting a lot. Thousands of words. That’s not going to be easy. I’m not good at making cuts. I know sometimes they’re needed, no matter how much I might like the stuff being cut (on the other hand, there’s at least two sections that I just hate and want to kill with fire). But I think it might be necessary, whether I like doing it or not.

Hopefully what’s left will be stronger as a result. And I still have the backstory for myself in case I ever need it to remind me where the characters started.

So how do you know where the “story” begins?

That can be a bit difficult to say. It requires you to really think about what the focus of the story is. If you say something like “The story is about Character Y,” that’s not really defining the story. A story about Character Y could begin anywhere from their birth onward and end with their death. You can’t tell someone’s entire life story most of the time. Sure, there are exceptions, but most books I read start with the character already as a teen or adult. If the story starts with the character as a baby, that’s usually more of a prologue (Harry Potter, for example, skips from the death of his parents straight to when he is an adolescent, skipping the intervening decade entirely).

So instead of saying “The story is about Character Y,” you should say “The story is about Character Y did A, B, and C.” Harry Potter’s story is about his adventures in school, not just about Harry himself. The Lord of the Rings is about Frodo taking the ring to Mount Doom, not about Frodo growing up in the Shire. And so on, and so forth. The story is a snapshot of that character’s life, and it has to start where the snapshot begins, not where the character begins.

Anything about the character that isn’t part of the story is your backstory.

My story is about Gabby and Tock and their troubles during a disaster. Everything before the disaster, except parts specifically leading to that particular point, is backstory. It needs to be removed.

Now that I know what happened in that backstory, I can use those elements where they fit throughout the rest. If I think it’s important to know certain details of their pasts, it can be revealed as part of the story. If it’s not needed for the present-day part of the story, it’s just history.

I think part of the reason I originally wrote so much backstory was that, at first, I only had a vague idea of where I was going with the main plot. I had lots of ideas about certain things I wanted to do, but none of them were concrete (and most of my plans changed drastically, as is their wont). It’s only looking back at the whole book now that I can point and say “THIS is where the real story begins!”

So I’m going to have to do that. Wish me luck.