Tag Archives: Belladonna

Short Stories, Revisions, and Advertising

As I’ve mentioned before on the blog, I’m currently working on a series of short stories that go along with my novels in the Arcana Revived series. I currently have about fourteen short stories written and in various stages of revision. One of them, Radiance, is already published as an ebook that you can download for Amazon Kindle. My plan for this summer, in between getting my first novel ready for publication, is to make some progress revising these stories.

Publishing short stories, however, is a relatively new and uncertain process. A few years ago, the idea of self-publishing a short story was one most people probably wouldn’t have considered. After all, before the ebook revolution, there wouldn’t have been much of a market for individual short stories. You can get short stories published in various literary journals and magazines, or as part of a collection with works from other authors, but that used to be it. A lot of this probably has to do with how impractical it would be to publish and print a hard copy of a 3000-10000 word story. Ebooks make this a whole different game, however, since an electronic copy of a short piece is more practical when it comes to publishing and distribution. You cut out the costs of the physical printing and mailing, which would otherwise make distribution of just a single story impractical and unprofitable.

A lot of authors I know have short works out as ebooks right now. My friend Elisa Knuckle has several short stories available for sale, including a sci fi story about virtual reality and death, and a fantasy story about the dangers of following magical wisps into the woods. I just downloaded these today and recommend checking them out. Drew Chial also has an ebook and audiobook called Terms and Conditions about the dangers of clicking “I agree” without checking first to make sure the fine print doesn’t say anything about losing your soul in the bargain.

Thinking about short stories like this makes me stop to think about what will happen to my current works after revisions are complete. At least one of my current shorts, Belladonna, is just about ready to be released into the world. But getting ready to send it out there makes me wonder how it will be received, and what I can do to try to make some money off my writing. I already have a bunch of free stories available on my blog, but publishing one as an ebook is an entirely different process.

First off, a published short story demands a lot more from me, as the writer. The short stories posted here on the blog don’t go through as rigorous of a revision process. I wrote them and revised them until I was satisfied, then put them online. The short stories I’m publishing for sale, however, go through critiques from my peers so that I can address any issues they might raise. A published story also needs more than just the story itself; the book needs to be formatted properly, including front matter, a title page, and cover art. All in all, it’s a longer and more complex process.

Then there’s marketing and advertising to consider. I mentioned awhile ago that I was experimenting with online advertisements for my short stories. At the time, I estimated that for my advertisements on Project Wonderful, in order to sell 1 ebook I needed to get about 80 “clicks” by people considering it, which took about 24,000 visitors to the advertising sites, and about 120,000 views from all of those visitors. This breakdown is an example of the sales funnel, which is a marketing concept that basically says you need to spread awareness of your product to a wide audience in order to get a smaller percentage of those people interested, then a percentage of those to give actual consideration to a purchase, then a percentage of those to actually make the purchase. In my case, this funnel represents online views leading to clicks leading to sales.

I recently started a new surge of online advertising. In the past two weeks, ads for Radiance have been displayed on hundreds of websites through Project Wonderful. The sites the ads have run on have garnered about 1.5 million views during that time (of course, there’s no guarantee that all 1.5 million of those views included someone looking at the ad on the sidebar instead of just at the website’s contents, but it’s a good number to start with). Those views have led to 171 clicks, which in turn have led to 2 sales. This is fairly consistent with my earlier results; about 1 out of every 80 people who take a look at the sales page decide to make a purchase.

In the future, I hope to continue with more extensive advertising campaigns, especially when my novel is released later this year. When the novel is out, I’ll most likely begin looking into some form of paid advertisements, instead of the free ads available through Project Wonderful. If free ads can lead to a couple hundred people seeing my short story for sale, I’ve got a pretty good idea what to expect in order to get the novel out there to be seen by thousands.

Revisiting Old Short Stories

As I’ve mentioned recently, I’m just about to the end of my current semester at Rowan University. As of today, I’ve completed everything for one class except the final reflection/evaluation (which is essentially an argument for what grade I deserve), and everything for the second class except final revisions of two short stories. After that (all of which is due by next week), I’m finished until the end of May, when my summer course begins.

Being at the end of the semester and realizing I’m about to have a lot of free time available is making me consider what to do next. For starters, I’ve refined my writing schedule with the hopes of finding more time to work in Arcana Revived over the summer. I’ve blocked out a minimum of 10 hours each week to be spent on that work (in addition to 3 hours writing blog posts, at least 4-6 writing paid Rowan University blog posts, 10 hours doing Graduate Assistant work for Rowan, and whatever additional writing I can squeeze in on my phone when I’m away from home [yes, that’s about 30 hours a week of writing in addition to my full time day job]). The question, of course, is how will that minimum 10 hours be used?

First off, I’ll be working on Manifestation in order to get the novel ready for release. Second, I’m continuing to write the first draft of Mutation (as noted by the progress on the red sidebar to the right). In between those, however, I also plan on working on some more Arcana Revived short stories.

I currently have 14 short stories written in the Arcana Revived universe. Two of them, Crying and There’s No Such Thing As Monsters are flash fiction pieces hosted on Ravenheart Press, run by my friend Eve Jacob. If you want to get a taste of my writing, I’d definitely love for you to check them out (along with the other flash fiction pieces at Ravenheart). If you enjoy those, there’s also my published short story ebook, Radiance.

The other stories I’ve written are mostly first drafts. One I’ve mentioned a few times on the blog, Belladonna, is on Draft 6. A couple of others are on Draft 2 or 3. The reason most of the other stories haven’t been revised is because my primary attention has been on Manifestation, since I want to get the novel out before releasing other short stories in the world. Since I’m close to releasing Manifestation now, it seems like a good time to start working on some of these stories. A few of them won’t be released for quite awhile, since they relate to the later books in the series. For example, Questioning Angels actually takes place in between Book 2 and Book 3, so I obviously won’t release that until after Book 2 is complete. About half of them, however, would be fitting to release after Manifestation, and my hope is to release them one at a time after Manifestation is out but before Book 2, Contamination is ready.

So over the next few weeks I plan to revisit some of these stories, revise them, and get them ready for publication. I might post a few samples from some of them, once I think they’re ready. In the mean time, stay tuned for updates on my overall progress on the novels, the short stories, and life as a whole.

Photoshop Experiments: Maelyssa Southeby

Maelyssa “Mae” Southeby is one of the major supporting characters in the Arcana Revived series. She’s also known as “the girl with the belladonna tattoo,” and in addition to her supporting role in the novels, she’s the main character of the short story Belladonna. Her character inspiration is a model I only know by her online username, “Ledabunnymonster.” Here’s an experiment with adding both glowing arcana eyes and the manifestation of Mae’s power pouring from her palm:

Mae with Arcana Eyes
Mae with Arcana Eyes

Critique Partners and Body Placement Diagrams

Manifestation Body Placement Diagram
Manifestation Body Placement Diagram

Getting critiques is always an interesting experience. After going through Rowan University’s Writing Arts program, I’ve been through quite a few workshop sessions, either group sessions (where the entire class reviews my work), or individual 1-on-1 critiques with a partner. These experiences helped me develop a thick skin for having my work read and criticized by others, and I’m always willing to listen to well-thought out, constructive critiques.

(Rude, insulting critiques written in aggressive language, on the other hand, are summarily ignored.)

I’ve been going through a lot of critiques lately, and I’ve been on both the sending and receiving end. In the past two months or so, I’ve had about half a dozen people critique the short story Belladonna that I’m revising, and I’ve gotten two critiques for my upcoming novel, Manifestation. I’ve also done at least a half a dozen critiques for friends, either for short stories they’re working on, or for sample chapters of their novel. I believe very much in a quid pro quo style of critiquing, and I’m always happy to offer my help back to the community that has supported me.

The beautiful part about having multiple critique partners is that they all offer something different. Each has a unique point of view and will notice things that others might not. Sometimes it’s simple things (both of my CPs for Manifestation caught some typos that the other one missed). Other times it’s more complex aspects of characterization and plot.

The diagram shown above was drawn by my friend Chris. He has a very tactical and visual mind. We’ve spent many years playing Dungeons & Dragons together, so he’s used to thinking in terms of strategic placement, movement through a battlefield, and other combat-oriented things. Because of this, he was able to catch some mistakes in one of the opening scenes of Manifestation, and he went so far as to draw a diagram pointing out how things would work (I photoshopped out some other elements of the diagram that contained spoilers). He’s also been extremely helpful in figuring out things like how some technology would work (for example, I had a few scenes where I improperly described a few things being done with a smartphone, where a tech-savvy CP was able to catch the errors).

My other CP for Manifestation is Eve Jacob (who has her own nifty site). By contrast to Chris, her notes more focused on specific character traits of the main characters in the novel. This is really helpful because many of these things are areas that Chris was silent. Part of the difference in the two CP styles may stem from the fact that Eve is a writer (and will therefore be more likely to notice things like plot and characterization), whereas Chris isn’t a writer and focuses more on things related to his areas of expertise. Having both perspectives simultaneously is helping a great deal with revisions.

I’ll probably have a couple of more people look over the novel after I’m finished going over these sets of notes. That way, since I’ll already have fixed the issues the first CPs pointed out, a new set of eyes will only be picking out new problems. The more eyes the better, since I need to put as much effort as possible into making this into the best book I can.

Starting Draft Five: One Month Countdown

So I mentioned about a month ago that I was sending Manifestation out for critiques. Well, this week I got some feedback from the wonderful Eve Jacob (who has a nifty site you should check out). I’ve also got a few more critiques coming in the near future, including one from a real-world friend of mine, Chris McKnight, who unfortunately has no web presence for me to link to.

Having critiques (and having not looked at the book for a month) means it’s time to start revising again. I’ll start working on Draft Five, and I have one month (until March 6th to be precise) to get it done. There’s a nifty little meter on the sidebar —–> which hasn’t been updated in awhile. For the next month it should be updated regularly to show how much progress I’m making.

Meanwhile I’ve also got Belladonna revisions to do, but they’re lower priority. I’ve already done five drafts of that story, and I have a couple of critiques I need to review still. Most likely I’ll work on Belladonna some more after I finish the next draft of Manifestation. Then both the novel and the short story should be released sometime later this year (I’m aiming for summer, since when school is out I’ll have a lot more time to work on them). I’m looking forward to adding some more works alongside Radiance to my shelf.

That’s all for now. Though tune in tomorrow for a research-related blog post. I’m in a research class at Rowan University and I may be deciding to investigate the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation. I’ll discuss more details about the research project and why I chose that particular subject in tomorrow’s post.

How Video Games Have Influenced My Writing

Most of the time, writers seem to talk about the books that have influenced their writing style. I’ve certainly been influenced by Tolkien (naturally), Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind, James Alan Gardner, and plenty of other authors. I’ve taken inspiration from many other sources, including webcomics like Girl Genius (the main character of that comic, Agatha Heterodyne, was one of the primary sources of inspiration for my character Tock Zipporah (whose proper name is actually “Minerva Agatha Zipporah”)). But since I’ve been playing video games since I was about six years old, gaming has definitely been another influence that has changed the way I write.

There are a few different specific ways that video games affected my writing, so I’ll address each one individually.

The Influence of Gods and Monsters

I write urban fantasy, and my work is steeped heavily in mythology, magic, monsters, and other classics of the fantasy genre. I try to veer away from overused creatures (such as vampires, werewolves, elves, dwarves, and dragons) and create a combination of my own homemade creations along with my interpretations of less-used mythological creatures.

One basic example of that is golems. Golems are creatures made from inanimate matter, and can range from magically-animated stone statues to living clay to robots that are powered by mana instead of electricity. I don’t tend to see golems used all that often in most of the books I read (though I’m sure I could name a few examples, like the animated suits of armor in the Harry Potter books). They’re a common sight in both video games and tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons. My character Tock is a golem-maker, and video games are definitely a big influence in the way I design her golems. Instead of creating animated stone statues or living suits of armor, Tock tends to go for things like magitech creations, similar to those seen in Final Fantasy VI. In that game, you see things like robots that fire magic-powered lasers, living war machines created by magic, and magic-powered mechwarrior suits (called “MagiTek Armor” in the game). All of these things have been a huge influence in the way I view Tock’s ability and the things she creates, particularly in Contamination and Collapse.

Another influence from the Final Fantasy games in particular is the design of their summoned monsters. Many of them are based on various real-world myths and legends, and you can go into a lot of detail analyzing how closely the games stuck with the mythological inspirations versus how much creative license they took.

I don’t directly draw from many of the summoned monsters in Final Fantasy, but my all-time favorite has always been Shiva. So much so that Shiva is a very direct influence over my short story, Radiance. In some of the later books in the series (including Book 4 that I’m working on a first draft of right now), there are other places where you’ll see the influences of Final Fantasy summoned monsters emerge. I tend to take things in a vastly different direction with a lot of creative license, so the results don’t have much in common with the games, but I can’t deny where some of the inspiration came from.

Visual Effects of Magic

Magic can take many forms in novels. In Harry Potter, we see characters using wands and chanting magic words in faux-latin. In the Sword of Truth series, we see a lot of mystic glyphs and arcane inscriptions. In the Wheel of Time we see magic described as a weaving of energies, which for me usually brings to mind the image of glowing threads creating a tapestry of power before they are unleashed.

Many video games tend to have more visual elements. A lot of this has to do with practical issues of gameplay. For example, you can’t expect a character in a video game to stop mid-battle and sketch magic runes on the ground with white sand in order to create a spell effect. Instead, there tends to be flashes of light that are designed to add to the excitement of a game while also adding a personal touch of style. These visual styles can be so distinct that you could easily identify which game a spell came from just by the way it looks, which adds something to the overall style of the game.

The magic in my books tends to be very visual. There is a complex rules system that determines how magic works, and that is far more important to the plot than what a magical effect looks like. But at the same time, I feel that vivid descriptions can make a battle scene more exciting and add more personalization to it. In some books, like the Wheel of Time series, there are times when two magic-users are simply staring at each other while an invisible battle rages between their minds. That can get fairly boring, whereas the more interesting battles are those with plenty of fireballs and lightning bolts being thrown around.

I also feel, however, that there should be a certain uniqueness to the visual effects of magic. Many of the book series I’ve mentioned have unique enough magic systems that if you were to see a description taken from each one, you’d immediately know which series that description is from, just from the way magic is described. Again, this isn’t a plot-central issue (and the way magic is related to the plot is far more important than the visual effects). But creating unique visual elements can be a good way to develop a personal style that will be associated with your particular books.

A good example of this in my series is the character Maelyssa Southeby, from the story Belladonna (which is currently in revisions). Like Radiance, Belladonna details a character’s journey as she develops a strange power that she doesn’t understand. Mae has a power that, technically, could have been created without visual elements. She could have used it with pure magical energies that couldn’t be seen by a normal person. Instead, however, I developed a design for her power that is more personalized and unique. I think it helps make the power more “hers” and not just “another superpower.” Part of the difference is purely aesthetic, but those aesthetic choices can be a good way to personalize something.

Combos

Some types of books have magic systems that have certain specific things they can do, and certain things they can’t do. In Harry Potter, for example, you’ll tend to see the same spells used over and over again. One thing you don’t really see is the characters finding a way to combine their powers.

Now, the idea of powers combined can, if done improperly, become cliche and trite. I tend to veer away from anything that requires characters to combine their powers in order to send a message about teamwork and how “together, we are stronger than we are alone.” That sort of thing gets a little too after-school-special for me.

However, there is another way that the idea of combo powers influences my writing. In many video games you can have characters combine two completely different abilities in order to do something that isn’t just stronger and more effectively, but which is actually impossible to do with a single character alone. I’m not just talking about increasing the power level to a greater scale (if you read the Wheel of Time books, you’ll see Aes Sedai “link” in circles for greater power, but they still just throw fireballs and lightning bolts; they merely throw BIGGER fireballs and lightning bolts).

When designing my magic system, I made sure to keep things very open-ended. There are no fixed “spells” that have to have a certain effect in a certain way. Many magical effects in my books are based on how creative the character can be in how they use their power. Because of this, characters can also find ways to use their powers in conjunction with each other to create unique effects. This leads to some interesting scenarios in the later books where the characters are able to puzzle out some unique solutions to the problems they face.

Leveling Up

In video games, the power levels of your characters tend to go up steadily throughout the course of the game. Books aren’t always like this. In the Harry Potter series, Harry might become more skilled in his use of magic by the end of the books, but he’s not casting spells that are more powerful (for example, he still uses “Expelliarmus” in the final battle, but it’s not like he’s able to disarm a dozen wizards at once). The same applies to some non-magical books as well; Katniss Everdeen starts off The Hunger Games as an expert archer, and there’s no real sign that her archery improves over the course of the books.

I prefer to have my characters grow, not just in terms of their personalities and flaws, but in terms of their skills and magic as well. So at the beginning of Manifestation, no one even HAS magic. No one has a clue how it works. Chaos ensues. A big part of the short stories Belladonna and Radiance is the way the characters first manifest their powers and have to learn how they work. Characters then grow steadily stronger throughout the course of the books, learning new ways to use their abilities and increasing the scale they can operate on.

There’s probably some other more subtle influences video games have had on my writing, but this is a pretty good run down. Of course, there’s always the chance my books will one day be made INTO video games, in which case these influences would come full circle.

Literature vs Genre Fiction

I’m currently enrolled in a Fiction Writing Workshop class at Rowan University. Since this is a graduate-level class, the intent is that we will learn things that go beyond just plot and characterization and show, don’t tell. The professor described it as a more in-depth course where we will be refining our writing on multiple levels and in as much detail as possible.

One of the issues that was raised on the first day is “What is the difference between Literature and Genre Fiction?” The answers varied, but in the discussion that followed we basically defined Genre Fiction (whether it be fantasy, sci fi, romance, mystery, etc) as books that are designed just to tell a story. They have a plot with a beginning and an end, and they are written for the purpose of selling books. Many authors who write a sci fi adventure book probably don’t say that they’re trying to send some epic message about the human experience. They may just enjoy those types of stories and think that they have a good story to tell.

Literature, on the other hand, was defined as writing that has some deeper meaning or message that goes beyond the story. It tells us something about life, and resonates in a way that will carry with the reader long after the experience.

Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t have Sci Fi Literature. If you picture it as a Venn Diagram, you’d have some overlap between various genres and works of literature. Some stories, however, are just stories.

To give a basic run down, I’ll go over some of the books I’ve read so far this year. One was George Orwell’s Animal Farm. This is definitely Literature. The story wasn’t just a story about animals taking over the farm. Instead, it was a political commentary about how power can corrupt and governments can take advantage of the people.

Then I read Frank Beddor’s The Looking Glass Wars, about the war taking place in Wonderland where Alice has to overthrow the Queen of Hearts (in a darker and more action-oriented tale than the original Alice in Wonderland, in a similar vein as the 2010¬†Alice in Wonderland film). This book didn’t seem to have any important political message; the war in the book was simply the Queen of Hearts grabbing power and ruling the land with an iron fist. You don’t really need to dig much deeper than that to understand the conflict.

Some books, as I mentioned above, can fall into both categories. For example, while there might be some individual dispute on this, I’d consider the Hunger Games Trilogy to be both literature and sci fi/action-adventure. On the surface, the first book is a story about teenagers being forced to fight to the death for the amusement of the evil Capitol that rules over the various districts. However, there can be parallels made to many social issues: youth violence (such as school shootings), poverty, the misbalance between starving third world countries and lavish capitalist societies, and the way media will depict any kind of tragedy or violence on the air just to get higher ratings. The fact that these events are taking place in a futuristic high-tech society that has force fields and such is just a matter of setting.

The questions raised in my graduate class, about the difference between Literature and Genre Fiction, has made me have to sit down and consider my writing in a new way. I don’t have any aspirations to be considered a literary writer or have my work have some deeper meaning (though if I sat down to analyze my work from a neutral perspective, I could definitely list a variety of ways that Manifestation and Contamination are critiques on how our society reacts to acts of terrorism, and the way blame is passed to people who aren’t responsible for the attacks just because society views everyone of certain “groups” as being equally to blame). I sat down to write an urban fantasy story, and if people later decide to consider it literature, then hey, bonus.

However, even though I don’t consider myself a literary writer, this class will require me to produce works of literary fiction. I still plan to make it urban fantasy literature, but I need to think more deeply about my approach. My goal with the class is to work on more short stories to go alongside Radiance, Belladonna, and the other shorts I’m working on for release along with the rest of the series. I may end up writing several new short stories, or one long one (since the class is open to either possibility). But for the new stories I work on to count as “literature,” I need to make sure there is a deeper meaning.

Is there a deeper message in Radiance? I would say yes. On the surface level, it’s a story about a girl gaining a magical power. Yet on a deeper level, it’s about faith and belief (which are themes that run though all of my writing, since belief is a very powerful force in the Arcana Revived world). So I’m considering how to look at the types of themes and deeper messages I tend to work with, in order to consider how to focus more on those things in whatever I’m about to write this semester. I haven’t yet decided how to go about this, but the ideas of belief and faith are a good starting point. I think I can say a lot about the power of belief and the way your personal perspective can change reality around you.

On one level, these are concepts I’m familiar with from my Communication Studies education; there’s a principle called Symbolic Interactionism that explains how our understanding of reality is changed by communication. This is a subtle effect, but can have a real impact. A small example would be if your parents treat you like you’re stupid, and you end up unmotivated in school, resulting in low grades, thus proving your parents right. Yet if they encourage you and tell you that you can succeed, you’ll try harder, get better grades, and prove them right. Your success or failure in such a situation can be determined by what kind of communication takes place.

On another level, this idea can be applied to fantasy works when considering the effect magic can have on you. The way characters like Gabby Palladino and Maria Vasquez communicate about magic in their world has a very real impact on how it functions. I don’t want to go into more detail because of spoilers, but it is something you can see in Radiance if you pay close attention to Maria’s thought process during the story and watch the nonverbal communication between her and the other minor characters in the book. There are some deliberate moments where people’s reactions reflect their beliefs in a way that causes literal changes in the world. It’s Symbolic Interactionism meets Magic and Mystery.

So in order to write literary works in this class, I think I’m going to take these concepts and focus on them more than I have in the past. Hopefully the results will be something my classmates say has a deeper message or says something about faith, belief, and society.


mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

CreateSpace and Amazon

and in ebook format through:

Kindle and Nook

When You Haven’t Written Anything New

So if you read my blog posts on a regular basis, you’ve probably seen a lot of posts lately about critiques, revisions, and my general thoughts on writing. I’ve been focused primarily on two projects this past month: revisions for both Manifestation and for the short story Belladonna. Both are being critiqued right now, and revisions are mostly on hold waiting for people to give me their feedback.

Since I’ve been so focused on revisions, however, I haven’t written much of anything new. I have made some progress on Book 4, but it’s not a major priority right now; I only work on it when nothing else has my attention (and I probably won’t focus on it for awhile, since revising and publishing Book 1 needs to come before writing Book 4). I also haven’t written any new short stories, or really anything other than blog posts, since December.

I’m starting to feel like my creative juices are backing up. I noticed recently that I’m spending more time daydreaming. Which is especially strange since I had noticed I barely spend any time daydreaming for the last year and a half. I am very focused when I daydream; I actually plot out elaborate daydream story lines and play them out for days if not weeks until they reach a conclusion. It’s something I’ve done most of my life. Yet the more and more I worked on my new novels, the less often I found myself developing these elaborate daydream story lines. I figured it was because I was channeling all that creative energy into my novels, and the fact that I’m daydreaming more now tells me I may have been right.

I will probably start writing some new short stories soon. After Radiance and Belladonna, there will be many more stories to come. I have a long list of ideas in mind right now, including origin stories for several more important characters in the series, and an adventure story where some of the minor characters get their chance to shine in the spotlight. I’ve been letting these ideas simmer for awhile, but they’ll probably get written soon, just because I will need an outlet.

I wonder if anyone else gets this itch when they haven’t written anything in awhile. Do you ever feel like you’ve got too much creativity bottled up, and you need to let it out?

How to Decide Which Story to Write First

If you’re like me, you’re usually juggling multiple projects at once. Often this leads to a question of which is the most important one to work on, and which can be put off. For the sake of this post I’ll set aside blog posts, school projects, paid assignments, and anything else with a deadline or schedule; those are things that “get done when and because they have to get done,” and therefore the decision is (theoretically) out of your hands).

Juggling multiple projects can come in a few different forms. Some people I know struggle between writing novels, television scripts, and plays. Others might have several novel ideas and aren’t sure which one to focus on. Or if you’re like me, you’ve got novels in revision, novels in writing, short stories, and poems. My personal “to do” list of writing currently includes the following:

  1. Finish revising Manifestation.
  2. Start Draft 2 of Contamination (and eventually also Draft 2 of Collapse).
  3. Continue writing Book 4 (untitled) of the Arcana Revived series.
  4. Continue revising Belladonna.
  5. Start revising any of the other 8 or 9 short stories I have in first draft form.
  6. Write new short stories.
  7. Revise poems for the second collection of The Poetry of Gabriella Palladino.
  8. Write new poems.
  9. Revise the musical novella Giapelli.

That’s a pretty hefty list. And that’s not counting blog posts, school projects, or anything that isn’t part of Arcana Revived.

So how to prioritize? Well, there’s probably tons of advice to be found. Googling “How to decide which writing project to work on” brought up 98,000,000 results for me. But rather than try to summarize any of that or rehash the advice of others, I’ll just go through my personal process.

First and foremost comes the question “What does my Muse want me to do?” Sometimes, she isn’t saying anything. Many Muses don’t follow YOUR schedule. They expect you to work until they’re ready to come along. In his book, On Writing, Stephen King said that he has to sit down and write every day, even if it means churning through without inspiration. Then, when his Muse is good and ready, he comes along and dabbles the inspiration. What this advice basically means is don’t wait for inspiration to come to you; work hard every day, and it’ll come when you least expect it (and hopefully it’ll come when you’re at the keyboard and not in the shower).

So if my Muse shows up and tells me to work on something, I listen, because who knows when she’ll be back? Sometimes that means I start writing a new short story despite having 9 other short stories that need revision still. It’s best to get down what I can while the inspiration is fresh, or else I risk losing it altogether.

But let’s say I’m not feeling any specific inspiration today. I therefore have a long list of things to do and I need to pick one. My decision making process basically goes like this:

  • Am I away from home? If so, I can’t revise because I don’t have Scrivener on the computers at school or on my phone. In this case, my solution is “Write a new (poem/short story/chapter of Book 4). When I write new, raw text I can do so on my phone’s Writer app, on my laptop, on a school computer, or whatever. Then I transfer the file back to my home computer afterwards. Polished, revised text, however, can’t just be worked on from any old device. I need my main computer (where I keep my primary files) for that. If I started using Cloud storage I might be able to work around this limitation, but even then, writing on my phone isn’t good for formatting and such. My phone’s app produces text files with no real formatting, so I need to copy those into a proper Word or Scrivener document to be cleaned up.
  • If I AM at home with access to Scrivener and my main WIP files, I prioritize revising over writing. After all, it doesn’t do me much good to finish writing Book 4 before Book 1 is released, now does it? The only reason I’ve made almost 20,000 words of progress on Book 4 so far is because I write on my phone (such as when it’s slow at work). I then come home, copy those words into my main document, and set the writing aside to focus on revisions for the rest of the night. This makes Manifestation the top priority.
  • If I’m home and plan to work on revisions, I might also ask myself “Do I need critiques/feedback before continuing this?” For example, I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts that I’m awaiting critiques on Manifestation. As a result, I’m working on revising Belladonna instead. Belladonna is a lesser priority, but I’ll work on that until I get the feedback I need. Likewise, later this week I’m probably going to ask for critiques on Belladonna. When I do so, I’ll probably work on a different short story or poem while awaiting those critiques. This can also be a good way to keep up with multiple projects at once: keep them on a rotation based on which you “can’t” work on right now and which you “can.”
  • Last, I’ll ask myself “Do I even know what to DO with this piece right now?” We’ve all been through this. You know you’re supposed to work on a certain project, but you stare at the screen, uncertain what to do with it. When I get like that, I switch to something else. While Belladonna is the primary short story I’m working on right now, if I were feeling blocked on it, I’d start working on Soldier of Light, Man of Faith, or Demons of the Mind instead, just to give myself something ELSE to do. That’s more productive than staring uselessly at the screen. And all of those stories are eventually going to join Radiance as individual ebooks, so they’re all important to work on.

So that’s basically it: Muse > Write New Stuff Away From Home > Revise At Home > Switch Gears When Blocked.

Anything I missed? What’s your process?

Characters

I’d like to talk about characters.

I’ve just finished reading The Looking Glass Wars, by Frank Beddor. I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. I don’t want to get into a full review of the entire novel (short version: great, imaginative story with stunning detail, but poor structure, plot holes, and problems with the prose), but one particular thing the book left me thinking about is the characters. I feel like the book had too many characters, and several of them came off as flat, undeveloped characters that didn’t serve a real role in the story.

How many characters does your story need? How much detail does each character need? How much do they need to be developed?

You could find thousands of different answers to those questions on various writing blogs. I’ve read a few before, and they all seem to approach the question from a different perspective. Some answer from the perspective of the role the character plays in the story: are they the protagonist, antagonist, love interest, sidekick, or something else? Others approach the questions from the point of view of character archetypes: the orphan hero, the mysterious traveler, the trickster, the wise sage, and so on.

I tend to approach this question from a slightly different point of view: are we being told this character’s story, or are they a minor player in someone else’s story?

Allow me to explain.

If you’re writing a novel from a single character’s point of view, then you’re writing their story. The Harry Potter novels are, when it comes down to it, Harry’s story. There are sporadic times when we see another character’s point of view, but it’s rare in those books to be taken away from Harry and see events going on elsewhere. He’s the central focus. In a situation like this, any other characters exist in roles relative to the main character.

You see this in movies all the time as well. Any superhero movie¬† tends to focus primarily on the hero. We see a great deal of Batman or Superman’s life, and very little of what is going on with anyone else. If we do see events taking place away from the character, it’s only based on how those events relate to the main character. For example, if we see what Lois Lane is up to on her own, it’s usually only to show the danger she’s about to get into so Superman can come and save her. That still makes it Superman’s story about how he rescued Lois Lane, not Lois Lane’s story about how she was rescued by Superman.

You can also have a central group point of view that functions the same way, if the characters remain together all the time. A movie like Saving Private Ryan is a good example. The entire movie follows six soldiers on a journey together. We’re never separated from those characters, and they’re on the same journey with the same goal the entire time. Other characters who appear serve a role in relation to them. The group encounters people who need to be rescued, but the focus remains on the soldiers doing the rescuing. They encounter other groups of soldiers, but only for as long as it takes to question them about where Private Ryan is. When the main group moves on, we never see these minor characters again.

So in the above examples, we have a single central point of view (whether it’s the point of view of a single person or of a unified group). Other characters exist only in relation to the main character(s). We never see more of those minor characters’ lives, so they don’t need much development. This is a good thing, because in a short book or movie, there’s only room for so much development.

But what if you have multiple POVs?

A lot of people say that for books around 50,000 words or so, you should stick with a single point of view (or maybe alternating between two points of view, such as between the two main characters in a romance novel as their relationship develops). This is because 50,000 words is only really enough time to get deeply into one or maybe two people’s lives. It’s better to focus your attention on them as much as possible so that they get the greatest amount of development. If you split such a novel up between 10 characters’ lives, we’d barely get the chance to know each of them.

Now, longer works are very different. Robert Jordon’s The Wheel of Time series, for example, has 15 books (14 + a prequel) totaling well over 4,400,000 words. There are no less than a dozen “primary” main characters who each have their own ongoing story throughout the series, and then hundreds of other supporting characters that end up tied to one of the main characters. In essence, by the later parts of the series, each main character develops a “team” of their own. Matrim Cauthon has the Band of the Red Hand, and multiple well-developed characters seen with him regularly throughout their many adventures. Perrin Aybara has the combined Two Rivers, Mayener, and Aiel forces he commands from book 6 onward, and his own team of supporting characters. Egwene Al’vere ends up leading the Aes Sedai with her own team of supporting characters.

So by thinking about a story like this, there ends up being several “tiers” of characters. When working on my own novels, I’ve developed four tiers that each character can be divided into. These go from the main characters, to their major supporting characters, to minor supporting members of their teams, to miscellaneous (often unnamed) characters.

An example of this setup would go like this:

Tier 1: Gabriella Palladino (Main Protagonist)
–Tier 2: Gabby’s major supporting characters: Her family (Mother, Father, older brothers Frankie and Anthony, older sister Adrianna, nephew Dante), plus her best friend Callia Gainsborough.
—-Tier 3: Gabby’s minor supporting characters: Classmates at her high school (Jacob, Rick, Charlie, Erica), her brother’s friend Matt.
——–Tier 4: Miscellaneous unnamed students, teachers, police officers, etc.

Based on that kind of breakdown, it would make sense that Gabby would get the most character development. She’s the one who is the central focus of her scenes, and we see supporting characters (such as her family) only as they relate to her point of view. We do not, for example, follow her dad to work and find out what his life is like away from his family. We do, however, follow Gabby to school and see parts of her life away from her family.

And that’s just one “team.” There’s also another team for Tock Zipporah, who has her own central story to follow. She also has major supporting characters, minor characters, and miscellaneous characters who are all a part of her ongoing story.

Here is also where the short stories I’m writing become fun. I mentioned recently that I’m working on a short story, Belladonna, which follows the story of Mae Southeby. Mae is a Tier 2 character in the main set of novels, which means she gets a lot of screen time and action, but we aren’t really reading her story; we’re reading Gabby and Tock’s story. Tier 2 characters can get tons of development, but they’re not the central focus. Writing a separate short story about that character gives them a chance to be Tier 1 in their own story. That’s also what I did with Radiance; Maria Vasquez becomes a Tier 2 character in Gabby’s team in the later books, but in Radiance, she’s Tier 1.

This is also how spinoffs work. The Sarah Jane Adventures gives the character Sarah Jane Smith, from Doctor Who, the chance to move from a supporting character to a main character. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. does the same thing with characters from The Avengers. In each of those series, there will be a new set of major, minor, and miscellaneous supporting characters. Plus, if a character from the original series guest stars on them, they technically become Tier 2 since they’re only a guest on the spinoff.

So based on all this, the question isn’t really “How many characters do you need?” It’s a question of “How many Tier 1 MAIN characters do you need?” In a shorter book (50,000 words), there should only be one or two Tier 1 main characters. Each of them can have as many supporting characters as they need, so long as those characters remain tied to the main character. In a longer work (100k-150k), you can easily have three, four, or five Tier 1 main characters, each of which can have their own groups (family members, friends, coworkers, classmates, comrades in a military squad, etc). Just remember who the MAIN characters are, the ones who get the most central focus, and think of the other characters in terms of how they support the main characters’ stories.