Respect…

With all the shutdowns and kerfuffle around the Covid-19 situation, I’ve been watching the publishing and media news with interest. Some of what we’re seeing has been on the way for a while. Some things were a bit of surprise (I didn’t expect Disney execs to cut their own pay until there were no other options…). One huge through line in it all is a lack of respect.

Media companies…  writers… directors, they don’t seem to respect much except their own ideas and agendas. They don’t respect their audiences. They don’t respect their characters or the cannon of their worlds. They don’t even seem to respect other writers, directors, and companies.

Respect for audience.

No, you don’t have to cater to every whim of the audience. Sometimes they’re not sure what they want. Often, they want you to tell the story instead of asking what they want. But…  it’s a lousy idea to deliberately piss them off. Lately this has been happening a lot.

“Hey! People don’t seem to like our female Doctor in the Doctor Who series. Guess what, we just retconned the series so the original Doctor was female!”

“You know what? Batman’s Chinese now. Yeah, and instead of a butler, he’s got a gay uncle.”

“I’m naming my new characters Snowflake and Safe Space. You know, to empower people and junk!!!!”

By all the Gods, I wish I was kidding…

That last one (Snowflake and Safe Space) is my favorite. By the responses I’ve seen, the author pissed off the usual audience and offend the people he’s trying to ‘empower’.

The writing represented by these examples does no good for your audience or your relations with them. Spend more time figuring out who your audience are and how to grow that audience without alienating them.

Respect for characters and lore.

Sadly, I wasn’t kidding… Hartnel is supposedly no longer the first Doctor and Batman’s Chinese now (he’s also apparently back in high school). This problem has been going on for a while…

Your readers and viewers love the backstory and mythology that come along with characters. That stuff takes thought, effort, and commitment. You and your reader/viewer will have to put in some time before characters and story mythology are really known and developed. That’s part of why the piolet episode of a series seems so awkward when you go back and watch it after season six or seven.

When you go changing things up for a character, there needs to be real consideration for the character, the character’s world, and what would ‘really’ happen.

Just deciding “Ok, Thor’s a chick now!” or “I’m bringing back Palpatine and I don’t have to justify it,” Is jarring to the audience (please don’t throw them out of the story with ‘what the @#$%#$#!!! was that?’ moments).

Please don’t throw your reader/viewer out of the story by being stupid about how you use your characters. I’m not saying they can’t do something out of character (sometimes that’s good!) but there should be a reason for it that makes sense within the world and your character’s story.

Also, please don’t pirate a character’s name and storyline just because you’re too lazy to do the work for your new character.

I could get behind a rich Chinese kid in high school as a character; just don’t call him Batman and trash a lifetime’s worth of known history and lore.

Want to pass the baton to a new generation of Jedi? I’m good with that. I’m also good with a female Jedi main character.  But do you really have to trash Luke in the process? I don’t think so.

These kinds of changes aren’t improving the character, they’re just the mark of a lazy writer who doesn’t want to pay his/her dues in creating a new character. In story terms they’re about the same as the guy who plays Call of Duty once then goes around telling everyone he won the Congressional Medal of Honor when he was fighting the Tsarist Nazis in Vietnam back in ’96.

Summing up.

When you lose respect for your audience and characters, you make your stories unreadable/watchable. The golden rule applies to characters and audiences: do unto them as you would have them do unto you. Yes, this can mean more work. Yes, it means you have to earn the audiences respect and build the story and popularity of your characters. But it’s a lot better than making useless garbage and pissing off the people you want to resonate with.

That’s it for this one, dear reader. Think about your audience and work with your characters. I’ll be doing the same. I’ll see you next post!

We interrupt our regularly scheduled…

Well dear reader, it seems even we in ‘happy valley north’ are affected by the Corona virus… As I’m writing this, I just got word that my local school district is closing until early next month. So… Instead of sitting here working on the wordy stuff, I will spend some time helping my team.

For some of my thoughts on dealing with crises and my YouTube team try the attached links (there they are again if you missed them: Crises and YouTube team).

Take care of yourself and your loved ones dear reader. And, I’ll see you next post.

Controlling the uncontrollable

“One of my characters and I have spent years trying to tell thunderstorms when and where to thunderstorm,” with that thought I realized a big piece of why it irritates me when people try to dictate (or even interfere with) when and where I write. I’ve spent years trying to control this, channel it, and now someone wants to come in and change it?

Words come at weird and inconvenient times. If you haven’t experienced this phenomenon, you haven’t been seriously engaged in writing for very long. I have found those “Aha!” moments popping up in the shower, while driving, during meals, and at “annoying o’clock” in the morning. And I’m not the only one. One of the best, most important, and most powerful things you can do for yourself as a writer is to make sure you have a way of remembering those thoughts and words, and recording them promptly.

If you don’t record them, you lose them; that’s just the way it works.

Another of the best, most important, and most powerful things you can do for yourself as a writer is to train yourself (and those you live and work with) to a writing schedule. It won’t protect you from those random thoughts while soaping up or trying to sleep, but having a regular writing schedule and a good place to write, that suit what your working on, makes writing much easier.

When you train yourself to a schedule, you are providing a regular time to get writing done.

When you “just wait for the mood to strike me” you never really seem to get around to writing. You definitely never get around to editing (which is usually less fun in the first place).

When you find or create a writing space for yourself, and use that place for writing, you create environmental stimuli that help your mind understand “I’m supposed to be writing now”. You might even bring in or create stimuli that help you find ideas and solutions to writer’s block and other problems, or help you get your emotions in the right place to do writing work (even editing!).

It’s about creating opportunities for the words to come. It’s about making a place for you to communicate your passions, to tell your story.

And sometimes we have to defend that time and space.

Now, I’m not giving anyone permission to go spastic on a spouse, child, or neighbor. But there comes a time where you need to calmly stand your ground and explain to someone that you are working. You are getting productive and useful things done, and those things need to happen.

You also may have to be a little flexible. If the house is burning down and your wife is having a baby, please call the fire department and take care of your wife. The universe understands and the words will come back (if they were really meant to be). Other times you may need to do things like use the bathroom or rebalance the load in your washing machine (or deal with some other nerve jangling non-sentient stimuli).

The point is to create a time and space where you usually can get some decent writing done. There will be times you don’t get much done, but if you succeed more often than not, you’re winning.

This is the same logic as my decision to average at least a thousand words a day. Ok, Monday this week I got zero words. Tuesday, I got around 1,750. Wednesday, I topped 2000! As long as you’re averaging at or above your goal, you’re doing ok. And looking at the average helps fight the idea that “Ok, that was word number 1,000. Time to turn my brain off!”

Ideas come at weird times. You need to be ready for them. You can help them come more regularly by creating a scheduled time and a familiar place in which to write.

And sometimes you will have to teach those around you that this is your writing time and space, and they need to respect that.

Well, dear reader, I suspect we should both get back to writing now. So good luck. And I’ll see you next post.

Not politically correct, but…

Merry Christmas dear reader. Merry Christmas to all!

There are those who would tell me not to say Merry Christmas, that saying Merry Christmas is somehow offensive. Well, I’m not going to say they aren’t entitled to their own feelings, but most of the “Don’t say Merry Christmas” crowd that I’ve met either don’t understand what the phrase Merry Christmas means, or they don’t want you to have a Merry Christmas.

Yes dear reader, there are people in our world that don’t want you to have a Merry Christmas; there are people who don’t want you to have peace, joy and hope! But, to you and them I say Merry Christmas.

Christmas is a Christian holiday. I know that there are Christians among my readers. I also know that there are Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus and many others… And I respect your rights to follow whatever faith you choose (if you’re at a place where you choose not to believe I respect your right to do that too…). I also expect others to respect the fact that I believe what I do. My beliefs come from a lifelong process of learning and seeking for understanding. I do not believe the things I do lightly.

Christmas is the celebration of a birth, the birth of a person who would spend his life teaching all who would listen regardless of race, gender, or social class. This person, our Savior, then capped those teachings with a personal example. He laid down his life for us and then took it up again.

To teach what you believe, even when it isn’t popular, takes courage.

To live the things you teach takes even more.

So, if you don’t accept Jesus Christ as our Savior. I’m ok with that. I hope you change your mind but I’m not here to force or silence you; that’s against what I believe in. But please accept that I celebrate the life of one who “walked the walk” and “talked the talk”.  Please accept that I have considered beliefs and that when I say Merry Christmas, I am wishing you love, joy, and peace; and celebrating the life of someone who not only taught principles, but lived them.

I am also celebrating the fact that we (all of us) can practice what we preach. That we have the right and the ability to both say and do according to our beliefs and principles. That’s what Merry Christmas means to me dear reader.

And so, Merry Christmas. And, I’ll see you next post!

Don’t give up…

Yep, it’s been a couple weeks. But, I’m still alive.

Sometimes you want to work, but life has other plans. Sometimes you just can’t put off that scary step any longer (at least not if you want to finish the project). Sometimes you find someone or something isn’t what you thought, and you have to change plans.

Yes, sometimes it’s an uphill fight.

Sometimes it’s an uphill fight featuring 100 mph winds, precision guided ball lightning, and terrestrial laser sharks.

But, if the project is worthy, don’t give up.

All success comes at a cost. At a minimum, you could have done something else instead. In the middle range, that ‘easy’ success results from learning and practice. And then, there are the successes that come only with great personal cost.

Writing and other creative activities are definitely not at the easy end of the spectrum dear reader.

So, why do we do it? Well, here are a few of my answers, feel free to add your own…

  1. Because we love it.
  2. Because acts of creation rank among the most God-like things a human can do.
  3. Because anything else that’s worth doing will also be a struggle. So, we might as well work on the one in front of us.

You might have to put things on hold.

You might have to hire a little help.

You might have to learn a little more.

But, don’t give up dear reader. If it’s worth doing, don’t give up.

Next week (I think) we’ll be talking about office supplies and gearing up for NANOWRIMO…

Don’t give up dear reader. And, I’ll see you next post…

The in-between…

As I write this, I’m in one of the scariest positions a YA writer can be in, I’ve got young adults reading my unpublished manuscript.

It’s scary, but it’s what needs to happen. It also means there’s not a lot of point in working on it too much until I get some feedback.

So, while I’m waiting, I do what writers (at least writers called Farangian) do… I’m catching up on the worky icky managery portions of writing, trying to get my house/workshop/office back in order, and watching way too much Curse of Oak Island.

The thing is, all of this stuff is necessary, and part of the workflow, even the binge watching.

The manager stuff and the organizing stuff cover thousands of little things that need to be done, the ones that get hard when you’re ‘heavy focus’ on an exciting project. (That’s why my office looks like a library/print shop exploded come December 1st)

The binge watching helps me think about stories I’m not working on, and in searching for new ideas and interesting alternate ways to look at ideas. It’s a way of replenishing my store of story bits while letting the ‘creative fields’ rest. It helps, but resist the urge to get stuck in that mode too long.

Eventually we all have to get back to work.

Eventually we all have to face what our audience thinks about our work (even if we are our only audience).

But, in those quiet times between, don’t feel bad about getting the dusting done instead of pumping out epic numbers of words per day.

Feel good about getting the shelves stocked, the bills payed, and all those other things that need doing done.

And, binge watching/listening/reading? Well, we can call that research… Just remember we have to get back to our own work when the time comes.

I should be back to work next week dear reader, hopefully with some encouraging reports from the teens. See you next post!

Audience expectations

Playing with what our audience expects can be dangerous. Sometimes you can pull it off. Sometimes it really backfires. This week we’re looking two audience expectation failures I’ve found.

Email oops…

First, early this week, I got an email from a spice monger I buy from. The first couple of lines were what you would expect, “Hey we have some great deals and a free offer!” Then, instead of telling me about the great deals and wonderful spices, the author hits me with two rambling paragraphs about the president and the Muller report before getting on with talking about the spices

I will not go into what I believe, or don’t believe, about the Muller report. This isn’t the place for it. And, an advertisement for spices wasn’t the place I expected to find it either… Mulling spice, probably. Mulberries, possibly. But Muller the ‘special council’, no.

The author was passionate about the report and presidential politics, but he was talking about them in the wrong place. At best, he got a “Huh, what?” response.

Or, he could get “this is click-bait $#$@#%@$#!!!” and the audience stops reading.

What if the author was actually successful with those paragraphs? The reader rages about presidential politics and forgets to buy spices!

We can, and do, have many interests and many things to talk about. When we are writing, or talking, we need to think about our purpose and what we’re trying to achieve in a piece.

If we’re here to sell spices, we need not talk about politics.

If we’re here to talk about politics who cares whether the Cumin is available in a quarter cup jar and the three-quarter cup bag.

And, if we’re supposed to be talking about either of those topics and somebody lurches into “why rainbow suspenders are cooler than bow ties”… Forget it! I’m out!

When you come to your audience with a topic and a subject line, you probably want to stay on topic (or at least explain why you’re changing topic and make  your topics somehow related…)

Video Voops…

Unfortunately, switching topics without a clutch isn’t the only way to offend your audience and violate their expectations.

One of the basic assumptions a good audience has is that you are a credible source. And if you mess with that belief you can get yourself in a lot of trouble.

Ok, in fiction we have the unreliable narrator, that’s a device authors can use in telling a story. It isn’t the author screwing up or failing to do research. It also isn’t the easiest technique to use in fiction. In non-fiction, it’s better to stay away completely.

The day I wrote this I watched a non-fiction video about exotic weapons and watched the narrator/writer’s credibility burn on impact. The problem: the narrator/writer put up a wacky old pistol design and proclaimed it had 20 barrels and 2 chambers. He then described the function of the mechanism, and just like his picture, his description proved he didn’t know the difference between a barrel and a chamber.

It wasn’t just a onetime mistake. He made the mistake three times in that description and then made it with multiple other museum pieces…

Ok, the gun community has debates and wierdnesses about terminology. In practice, the person on the street probably doesn’t care whether you call them clips or magazines (stay away from clipazines though…). If you really have to call a revolver a wheel gun I’ll try to be patient with you. But, when you describe things in a way that is obviously wrong, even to people outside the field, there’s a good chance you will come out looking like an idiot.

For other examples, just turn to the customer reviews at Amazon or other online sources. Somewhere, right now as you read this, somebody is posting a review calling a pipe wrench @$@#!!! because it doesn’t ‘hit down’ the screws right…

One of the basic audience expectations is that you have some basic knowledge about your subject.

In fiction, that means you know something about genre conventions and the lore of the world you’re in. (Please, please do not show up at the Star Trek convention and talk about the time R2-D2 piloted the Serenity straight into a black hole while Captain Reynolds watched from the Bridge of the Galactica…)

In non-fiction (and in fiction) you need to do your research. You need to have some understanding of the subject.

When you claim knowledge you don’t have, your readers will figure that out. Maybe not all of them, not right away at least, but some of them will figure it. And, readers talk to other readers, especially in the day of social media.

When your readers figure out you don’t know what you’re talking about, say goodbye to your chances to get them to do anything, and (probably) your chances of them reading something else you wrote.

There are times and ways to play with audience expectations, but going off topic unnecessarily or proving that you don’t know what you’re talking about aren’t good ones. The good ways of playing with audience expectations take skill and practice; and even then you only want to do it when there is a payoff for you and the reader.

That’s it for this one dear reader. If there’s something you’d like to say, or a way I can improve in my fulfillment of audience expectations, leave a comment. And, I’ll see you next post.

Yep, still here!

Yes dear reader, I’ve missed a couple weeks on my blogs. Occasionally life gets in the way and this time around it had two conferences, some illnesses, a surprise change of young men’s activities and some wrinkles in my new editing process for backup.

One of the greatest lessons we can learn is that we will have challenges. And, the important part is how we deal with those challenges.

Sometimes things that seem terrible can work out for our benefit. It all depends on how we respond to them.

As you’re reading this, I’ve just crossed the halfway point on this editing pass for Unintended Consequences. I’m also brining a couple other new challenges under control and doing a little good in my corner of the world.

I should be back on schedule next week (at least I hope to be).

Do good in your corner of the world dear reader, and I’ll see you next week.

Beginnings and entry points

When I started Johnson Farm (my first published novel) I started with events found in the second half of the story as it reads today. Most my first ideas are in the story’s ending.

My entry point into Unintended Consequences (hopefully my second published novel) was, I thought, in the middle of the book. It turns out my entry point is actually the beginning of the second book in a trilogy.

A similar thing happened yesterday in a real life conversation, I had to help someone ‘catch up’ to where I was in a conversation so I could make my point.

As writers, this is something that happens all the time; the point where we enter a story is seldom correct entry point, the correct beginning, for the reader. And, the same thing happens in many real-life situations.

A customer may walk in wanting to buy a car, but that doesn’t mean she/he is ready to buy the car you want to sell.

You may need to explain to a doctor what symptoms are bothering you before he/she can find a correct course of treatment.

The students in your class probably need a review of previous studies and a transition into how that stuff relates to the current topic before they’re ready to move on to that capstone project about new material.

Understand who you’re talking to…

It’s said in writing classes all the time, “you need to understand your audience.” Well, here’s a practical example. If you want to persuade, or even entertain, you need to understand where your audience is coming from, and then set up the entry point into your story/lesson/sales pitch or whatever else you want to say or write.

If you’re telling a fantasy story, or a science fiction story, or a horror story or… You need to give your reader some idea of what the rules are before you dump things on them. (Not everything at once, but give them a starting point!)

In any story, fiction or non-fiction, you need to give your reader some orientation to where they are or what’s going on; even if that orientation is “Hey! You have no idea where you are or what’s going on!”

Sure, there can be a twist later. Sure, you can turn the tables on someone in a debate. But if you don’t give the reader/watcher/hearer some grounding, you’re not turning the tables or creating a satisfying twist. Without that grounding you’re cheating, or convincing the reader/watcher/hearer you don’t understand what the @!%”$#@$@$!!!! you’re talking about.

And that’s a sure way to make people unhappy. And unhappy people don’t buy books, do stuff you want them to, learn stuff, or share things with their friends.

But, how do I know where the beginning is?

Well, you might not when you start out. Once you have an idea you need to think about who you’re talking/writing to and figure out what the right beginning point is based on your idea and your audience. That might take effort. It might just mean learning about your audience and your idea.

Remember, texts and tweets are about the only place a first draft is acceptable, and even those first drafts can be iffy. It’s a good idea to think before you hit that send button or return key.

Get a little meta. Think about what your purpose is and who you’re talking to, not just your content.

In the last few years I’ve talked to several people about the subject of diabetes. One of the best started with, “So, what do you know about diabetes?’ The single worst started with hand puppets.

The presenter who asked “What do you know?” was coming in at the last minute and was doing an impromptu presentation. The one with hand puppets knew for at least a week that she was doing a continuing education class for a group of mental health and social work folks (most of whom had master’s degrees!).

It doesn’t matter how much time you have to prepare if you don’t think about your audience. If you don’t think about them and start at the wrong place, you will struggle.

It’s the nature of life dear reader. We love our own ideas. We understand our own views and positions better than those of others (If we don’t understand our own, it actively hinders us in understanding other people’s…). But, we can’t just assume that the person we’re talking to is at the same place. We have to find the right beginning for the person we’re trying to communicate with.

Otherwise, there’s a really good chance he/she will be too confused and annoyed to go with us through the whole story, much less to do something more.

Knowing where to begin is a success skill. It creates a foundation on which we build.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Find your beginnings, help others understand what you have to say. And, I’ll see you next post…

Worth Saying?

It’s been said before, and I’m saying it again… If you’re going to be a writer you need to do three things:

  1. Read
  2. Write
  3. Read about writing

In a book I’ve been reading the author puts a lot of emphasis on having a salable story. It’s a valid question: is your story salable? It can also be an off-putting question.

On the other side of the writer’s pen I find people worried about writer’s block… One cause of “writer’s block” is the false belief you have nothing worth saying. Putting emphasis on a salable story can double down on that stress and fear.

Do I have a saleable story? And, do I have anything worth saying? Are both worthwhile questions, but never mistake them for the same question!

How do you define “worth saying” (or worth writing)?

Salability, a trait marking people’s willingness to pay money for a piece of writing is one way to measure worth, but it’s not the only one.

What about the things we say and write that make someone else feel loved? You might not be looking to be paid for those.

What about words that save a life? You might say or writing those words for a purpose other than the ‘almighty dollar’.

The question “Do I have anything worth saying?” can be properly rephrased as “Do I have anything to say that’s worth the effort I will put into it?”

I hope you have something worth the effort to say.

I also hope you put the effort into your ideas, all the ones you write and say that are worth saying.

What do you want out of what you write? Once you know, you can figure out what to say and make it worth saying. It takes a lot of work sometimes, but it is possible.

What is your purpose in writing? What do you want out of it? What interests you? What drives you? Once you have those answers you can, and will, find that within you and your world that is worth writing.

We all have something unique in our experience and perspective. We all have something worth saying.

We have to find it.

If we want people to read what we write, we also have to work it into something salable (but that’s a different question…).

Salability

Salability is a measure of whether, and how much, someone else will pay for the things we say and write.

Salability is as much about how you present your words and ideas as it is about the ideas themselves

It doesn’t matter how brilliant your idea is if your query letter reads like it should have been written in crayon. You probably aren’t going to be taken seriously as a publisher if you present an unreadable business plan. At the bank, you won’t get your funding if no one believe what you’re saying.

If your story contains more profanity and epithets than anything else highly doubt it will be salable as a children’s book…

Salability is about presentation and audience as much as it is about the idea. That means almost any idea, even a silly one, can be salable if you package it right and present it to the right audience. Remember the fidget spinner? The pet rock? The Tide Pod Challenge? All of those went big!

Salability is a question of research; figure out how to work your idea and who to present it to.

Chances are, if you have an idea worth saying you can make it salable with work (but it can take a lot of work).

If you’re not willing to put in the energy; if you don’t think the idea is worth saying, it will not be salable (at least not by you).

Be careful putting out ideas like that… Someone else may find them; find them worth saying; and then figure out how to really make them salable.

So there it is dear reader, two separate but related questions to get you where you want to go as a writer.

  1. Is it worth saying? If it is, work on that idea! If not, find something that is worth saying. You have something to say, trust me on that.
  2. Is it salable? It can be if it’s worth saying. You just have to figure out how to make it happen.

They’re real and important questions dear reader. And they’re questions every writer needs to ask regularly.

That’s it for this one. See you next post