This last weekend I finished a rough, rough draft of Book 2, my sequel to Renaissance Calling. It took a lot longer to finish than I expected, in part because I had to learn how to write a book in a non-sequential fashion. Between the length of time Book 2 covers (a year as opposed to two and a half months) and the need to fit fourteen backer-created characters into the story, writing the story from start to finish wouldn’t work, unless I was willing to write out a 300,000 word monster of a rough draft. So I started jumping around, writing scenes as I had them and working from both ends towards the middle.
It was interesting and frustrating, with a lot of false starts and dead ends, but ultimately it got me to the end of the rough draft and into revisions. As I move on with both this book and other projects, I want to take a moment and share with you some lessons about non-sequential writing I’ve taken from the experience.
Start at both ends and work to the middle
Starting at both ends and working towards the middle was the first thing I started doing. It made sense, since I knew how the story began and ended. Working from both directions, I can approach any problem I came across from either the front or the back. Sometimes I had to solve problems by writing the solution first, and building up to it.
Keep an eye out for lessons the protagonist needs to learn
By writing the end I gained a huge advantage; I figured out what the character needs to experience to have the impact I need her to have at the climax of the story. That helped me figure out what I needed to show the reader, versus what I could tell the reader. It’s a huge benefit to non-sequential writing to know what you don’t have to write.
Write scenes independently; don’t worry about flow
By flow, I mean the attention of the reader as they go from one chapter to another. I quickly stopped paying attention to flow for my rough draft. Scenes begin and end rather abruptly. Annoying, yes, but finishing the overall story was the main goal. Working on the flow is for the revision phase.
Don’t describe a secondary character when you first write him/her:
Jumping back and forth, I had no idea when this character or that character was going to be introduced. The first few times I wrote a character I included a description, but several times I later wrote them in an earlier scene. So I stopped writing descriptions. Instead, I’m saving the description until afterwards, then I’ll add them when I know where their first appearance is.
Keep a list of ‘Bits to Add’
Instead of jumping around to fix things every time they come up, I’ve been keeping a separate document where I write down the ideas I want to return to. The point is to get the side-thoughts out of the way without interrupting the work on whichever scene I’m focusing on at the time. There will be enough time to fix everything later.
I’ve already started applying these lessons to other projects. It’s really helpful to get things moving when something is getting stuck, or simply to just get words down and counted. One project in particular covers almost a decade of time, and already I’m making huge strides in it because of these lessons.
Have any thoughts or tips of you own? Feel free to let me know.
This morning the first backer built character for Book 2 was finalized.
For those of you who weren’t aware, backers of Renaissance Calling who pledged more than $100 got to build a character that would be included in Book 2 of the series. Twelve backers (two of whom did multiple-backings) are now creating fourteen characters.
Part of the reason for doing this was to give backers a reward for funding Renaissance Calling. And part of it was to hand off some of the burden of coming up with all the characters on my own.
Starting the Process: The Character Primer
I didn’t start with much of an idea of how to do, and certainly not any long term plan. I figured I would go with the flow, so to speak.
To start, I worked up a two page primer for the backers, to explain the particulars of Book 2, to give an idea of what I was looking for, and to explain the groups that most characters would fall into. I wanted to guide the backers into roles I knew I would have to fill, and avoid wacky characters that don’t fit into the story at all.
After that I figured it would be a back-and-forth to finish the character. With one done and several others being built, I’ve established the process more permanently. It has turned into a three-step process.
Step 1: Character Idea
The backer gives me a really basic idea of what their character is. What is interesting is that their responses will fall into one of two categories: either a character, or an impact.
Some backers have said, ‘I want a character who has this impact.’ One backer wants a character who teaches the Scientific method to the protagonist; another wants a character who reveals to the reader what the antagonists are like. From there, I build the character who will fit into the story the way they want.
Other backers have said, ‘I want this character.’ One backer wants a character who is interested in rebuilding medical technology; another wants one based off her son. In those cases, I figure out how the fit the character into the story.
Step 2: Character Framework.
Once I have the character idea, I build what I’m calling the Character Framework. It’s a three-part document that explains the plan for the character. Using the medical technology character for the examples, the three parts are:
Thoughts on the Character: What about the character needs to be true for the character to work
Example: The medical technology character is a civilian
Things that need to be decided: Additional options that the backer should decide on.
Example: The medical technology character can be from one of these three places
Scenes that the character will be involved in
Example: The medical technology character will be in a medical emergency scene
I spend several days going over this framework, building it up, rewriting, and repeating as necessary. Refining the ideas over and over again until the framework I send out is well founded. Ideally, I only need to get one response (answering the part two questions) from the backer to move on to the next step.
Step 3: Character Biography
The character biography is what it sounds like: given the answers to the Framework, I type up a biography that explains the character’s personality, appearance, history, and impact on the story. Even if a lot of the information doesn’t appear in the book, it does influence how the character will act and respond.
I have information bios for a lot of the characters already introduced; what I write here is more in depth, since I’m working with another person and I want to make sure we’re on the same page.
The backer can respond with any corrections or suggestions, and after approval, the character is ready.
So far, I’m enjoying the process. It’s fun to see how different people come up with their concepts. And the challenge of incorporating other people’s ideas into the story has been quite rewarding. There are still a number of characters to work on, but I can already see how Book 2 will be richer for their efforts.
With Renaissance Calling published, I wanted to take a moment to write down a lesson or four, to help anyone reading this who is thinking of publishing, and to remind myself down the line of mistakes I made. Renaissance Calling is my first book, so I’m not surprised I made some errors. With Book 2, I’m going to get these right.
Proofreading versus Editing
My editor was a huge help in prepping Renaissance Calling for publishing. She helped me refine my writing voice, clarify my story, and improve the general quality of the writing flow. I’m thankful she’s agreed to stick around for Book 2. But as it turns out, neither of us are proofreaders; we get into the flow of the story without looking at the details. So when several people who backer Renaissance Calling came to me with issues, I cringed.
Despite our best efforts, a number of small errors made it through to the first printing. Some of them were simple things (example: ‘while he attached’, instead of ‘attacked’). Others were a bit ‘how did I miss that’ (example: Horace spelled Horus on several occasions). One was downright ‘I didn’t know that was a thing’ (the single quotation marks would switch between straight and curly, sometimes on the same page).
A bit embarrassing, but a lot of books, even best sellers, have small errors. I’ve still gotten overwhelmingly positive responses to the story, even from people who handed me lists of corrections. So I’ve made the changes and I’m replacing the documents for future printings and eBooks. I’d like to say no one will find anymore, but I’m only human.
Lesson Learned: I need to spend more time and effort on proofreading.
How: A couple of things I can do.
I found a few mistakes when I was practicing reading out loud for my launch party, so I have made reading out loud part of my revision process.
A number of the detail-oriented people who handed me lists are willing to proofread future books, which will also help.
I’ve made some notes about common errors I made, and will endeavor to account for them in future projects.
The Kickstarter campaign finished in early November, and I had a tentative publishing date of February 10th (the main character’s birthday). All I had to do was write a Backer Book, finish editing Renaissance Calling, get ISBN’s and Barcodes, get final covers from my cover artist, and load all the documents to the printers. I could do all that in three months, right?
Well, not so fast. The Backer Book turned into a bigger endeavor than I thought it would, finishing at twice as long as I planned. The cover was some back and forth due to differences in RBG and CMYK formats. And it took a lot more time and money to proof test prints of my book than I thought it would (details in No. 4 below).
The date was pushed back to March 8th, then April 8th. As I wrote about before, I got accidentally published on Amazon when I forgot to change the publishing date on one of the publishing sites. This was a bit of a relief, as I no longer had to feel rushed about getting my stuff done and out there.
Lesson Learned: I need to set a publishing date far enough out that I can get everything done.
How: As I’m scheduling my next book, I’m considering how long it took me to get Renaissance Calling into print and adjusting for differences in the book size (I’m anticipating Book 2 to be noticeably longer). My goal is to have everything done, proofed and printed two weeks before publishing.
Figure out prices before committing
A minor error that I should have foreseen, but I assumed the costs of my books were going to be $12 for paperback and $16 for hardcover. I don’t know how I came to those numbers, but I was pretty certain of that going in. So much so that I had the original barcode for the paperback made with $12 on it.
Turns out, however, that after printing and distribution costs (particularly for the hardcover), sticking with those princes was not feasible. If I had, I’d be making less than a dollar on the paperback, and I’d be losing money on the hard cover. I had to raise the price for both formats.
Not a huge deal, except the first round of paperbacks got printed with the price still listed at $12. That’s been fixed and the correct price will displayed on future printings.
LessonLearned: Do all the math before you set something in stone.
How: Not difficult; most printers and distributors have calculators to help you figure out the math. Take advantage of the tools. Work it out before you commit.
Proofing and Printing
(Note: Proofing in this section was not for content or spelling, but for formatting errors when converting from Word to PDF and PDF to print.)
Proofing printed copies of Renaissance Calling turned out to take longer, and be more expensive, than I anticipated. A lot of this was due to this being my first book, and not being experienced enough to understand what I was doing.
With Createspace, the process is pretty easy. Once a PDF of the internal documents is loaded (and their website can convert Word docs to PDF), it can be proofed through an online viewer that organizes it as if it was a book. I should have spent more time reviewing it online, instead of ordering a proof copy and finding formatting errors in that.
Ingram Spark is much more complex. The files being uploaded have to be corrected by you, the author, which can result in some issues when the formatting is off. Issues that are a pain in the ass to correct, since Spark is so particular. Luckily there is an option to ignore the issues and continue, so when you’re black and white PDF is being kicked back as having color (Yeah, I never figured out what this was), you can tell it to continue with a little waiver. They do provide a PDF to proof, but not the snazzy online program Createspace does.
In both cases, it took a bit longer to get physical proofs than I expected. It also cost a bit more, since I had missed that Ingram Spark requires $50 to set up a file and $25 to correct. With two books set up at Ingram (hardcover and backer book), one correction each, and two proof copies of all three books, I spent well over $200 just proofing. If I had been on the ball, I could have saved about $100.
LessonLearned: Give enough time to proof and print thoroughly, and be careful before you print off a copy.
How: There are a number of things I can do for this one.
Both: Convert the document to PDF and check thoroughly. A lot of errors come from this step, so checking the PDF should catch most of them. Check it several times.
Createspace: Proof the online program several times before confirming.
Ingram Spark: Proof the provided PDF several times before confirming.
As this was my first novel, I’m not surprised I made a few errors. But the point of an error is to learn a lesson. By writing these down now, I am going to remember them when I get back into the publishing process, which should be sometime next year.
If you’ve got any of your own tips, feel free to share. Thanks!
Hard to believe the year is almost over, and a new one about to being. As I’m closing up 2016, and looking forward into 2017, I take a moment to consider both.
In terms of writing, I didn’t get a whole lot done. Sure, I finished the rough draft of a fantasy novel, which is great, I’m glad to have another one under my belt, but I did little other writing.
I spent most of this year working towards publishing; I went through a number of artists trying to get artwork done; I worked with an editor to get Renaissance Calling finalized.
I spent a lot of time getting a plan in place for when the project is done and Renaissance Calling gets published. Learning the who to go to for what seemed daunting, but you cut through enough advertising you can find what you’re looking for.
I ran a successful Kickstarter campaign. That was a bit nerve wracking, but I got it done.
I commissioned and artist for cover artwork. A few rounds of back and forth later, I’ve got a cover (which I will be releasing soon).
And now I’m close to being done with my first book.
I have a number of goals for 2017.
For starters, I plan to finish the publishing process and get Renaissance Calling to print.
Second, I plan to finish the rough draft for Templar Scholar, Book 2 of the Renaissance Army Series. A decent start is already underway, awaiting the arrival of characters created by the backers.
Third, I want to finish the rough draft of the fantasy trilogy. Book one is done, and the other two are outlined. I want to get the three books done so I can make sure all three line up before I get the first one ready for publication.
I don’t want to set too many goals for 2017, but I want to stay focused. Ideally, I’ll publish two books in 2018. Now, I know that’s a large amount of work (now more than ever) but I think I can do it. I’m already writing more efficiently: now that I know how much changes between rough and final drafts, I’m not so focused on getting the rough draft ‘just right’.
So as I close up 2016 and look into 2017, I want to thank you for reading this and supporting me, and I hope you have a great new years.
A lot happening this month, and all of it leads to publishing.
Started my publishing company, Impending Imagination. Took me a lot of time (and many searched on thesaurus.com) to find a name that I liked.
Made my Facebook Author Page, so my personal and professional pages are now separate.
And moving into the final steps of beginning my Kickstarter campaign. A little behind schedule, but I’m working towards it.
What does all this mean? PUBLISHING!
These steps are not just ‘the next ones’. They signify a shift into my publishing years, from an enthusiastic hobby to an active business. Every day, I have to do something, otherwise I’m letting myself down.
This is the starting line of what comes next.
As part of this, I’ve added message boards on the website, and loaded up wallpapers for download.
Probably some kinks to work out, but I’m eager to get going.
As 2016 begins, I look ahead and ask myself, as a writer and author, what do I expect to do? What do I want to do? I’ve wanted to publish for years and I constantly trip over myself. I’ve got projects I revisit from time to time. Lots of things I could do, I want to do, I should do.
So, realistically, what am I planning for 2016?
I’m planning to publish my first book.
I’m so close, only if I give up completely will I fail to do so. The third draft is a few chapters off from being done. I had an editor lined up (and some options if it fell through), a company to help with publishing and promotion. I’m researching Crowdfunding and Social Media. And I’m staying focused.
I’m looking forward to holding a book in my hand and seeing my name on the cover.
I’m planning to finish writing a second book.
If I want to make a career as an author, I need to be able to write them faster than I have been. Luckily I’ve learned a lot about myself as a writer, and I believe I can finish as least one more before next New Years.
The book I’m hoping to publish is the first half of a book I cut in half; so with so much work done on the second half, I write the second book pretty quickly. I also have a fantasy book I’ve been working on that I might be able to finish.
Maybe I’ll finish a third book as well?
I’m planning on reducing the projects I’m working on.
A few weeks ago I counted myself as having 17 Projects in some stage or another. Some of them were ‘hey, this could be a fun idea and I should think about it’, some of them were already underway. This year I’ll figure out which ones I will focus on, and which ones I will put into storage.
Where do I want to be when 2017 starts?
I want to be a published author with at least one more book lined up and moving towards publication.
When I wrote the first draft of my book, I decided to include an antagonist’s story line, that is to say, a thread of the book from the perspective of an opponent, and not just people the main character has to deal with in her story. The two characters never meet, never know each other’s names, or come within a hundred miles of each other. I included the story line for two reasons.
First, it allowed me to explore more of the world. The main character is fairly parochial in her view point, and does not travel far from home during the course of the story. She learns a lot, but she can’t learn everything I want the reader to know. The antagonist, being removed, well-traveled and experienced, could provide more of the framework the heroes are working against.
Second, his actions during the course of the book allowed me to toss a wrench into the main character’s story line, and to do so logically, without a feel of deus ex interruptus.
This worked for the 1st and 2nd drafts, though I must admit I was never quite happy with the actual wrench being thrown in. When I started working on the 3rd draft, where I cut the book in half, I put the antagonist’s story line to the side. I wasn’t sure (and I’m still not) that I would have room for it, and what kind of wrench he would throw into this one. He would provide more of a world view, which in the long run may decide the issue.
Now that I’m nearing the end of this draft, I’m coming up on the point where I have to decide if I want to use his story line or not. The first reason, world building, certainly still applies. And I think the ending could use a wrench-toss to spice it up, make it more interesting for the character to overcome. On the other hand, I’m not sure how long the book is going to be, and an extra story line could add too much. And there is the aspect of writing a story where the reader learns alongside the character, reducing the chance of an information overload and surprising the reader along with the character.
I’ve got a tentative deadline of the 31st to finish writing this draft, so less than four weeks to decide if the antagonist stays or not. Stay tuned!
The current section of my primary project is an argument between several characters. This section brings two challenges for me.
First, keeping the antagonist as a challenger. It always bugs me when the author gives the antagonists the worst arguments. Like any conflict I’ve written, it has to be a real threat. The other side HAS to try to win, otherwise it’s just a poor read. As I’ve been planning, I’ve paid attention to both sides to keep it an argument.
Second is the strength of the arguments. The topic is ‘When is it okay to rebel against tyranny’. Now I have plenty of thoughts on this topic, but I don’t consider myself an expert on it. And neither are most of the debaters, which makes their interactions relatively easy to write. But one of the characters is much smarter than I am. Planning his section is difficult because I want him to win, but I don’t want him to win because the other guy rolled over.
My answer to both challenges is research. Not every character will be able to quote philosophers, but experience can be used to make similar points. And the intelligent character, who probably can quote philosophers, probably should.
I used to think that every book needed a prologue, basically a chapter which introduces the reader to the story. I’m not sure why, just one of those things you never really question until it’s challenged.
I was sent this article by a friend of mine. A lot of these I’d heard before, but the ‘Avoid Prologues’ one stuck with me. I always started a project with a prologue; it was what I thought I was supposed to do.
This resulted in a number of conversations with friends and family, and I realized that a prologue, like any writing convention, isn’t always useful. Most of my prologues were really just first chapters, with nothing but a POV shift into the book.
A prologue sets up the story, but is separated from the core of the book, either by time or distance. The point can be world building, establishing the conflicts and challenges for the character, or just an awesome hook, but if it rolls directly into the meat of the book, it’s probably just a first chapter.
(On Basilisk Station is a good example: the prologue is a ground of politicians who appear only in the prologue, and make a decision that impacts the main character for the rest of the book. )
Most of my books don’t have prologues anymore, they’ve all been renamed to Chapter 1. It’s become something of a challenge with a project, to consider any prologues I might write for it that could be separated enough to work. Most of the time, nothing comes of it. Which is okay. If anything, it’s a fun exercise in creative thinking.
Any examples of a nice prologue, let me know, and as always, keep on writing!
I noticed something as I was revising my book: my chapter sizes are all over the place.
With 18 chapters written, I’m averaging a little less than 3000 words a chapter, which is not bad (I don’t think). But that’s the average. The smallest chapter is about 1500, the largest about 5200. Most are between 2 and 3 thousand, with a number of 3000+ and two 4000+.
I’ve never really thought about chapter size before. For me, a chapter is simply a segment of the story, and some are going to be larger than others. But I’m wondering if I should be thinking about paying attention. Perhaps I need to cut some of the chapters up into smaller bits? Will one long chapter or one short chapter ruin the enjoyment of the book?
Do you have any thoughts on chapters? Is it important that they’re all the same size? Or is it completely irrelevant to enjoying the story?