Friday, July 31, 2015

7 Posts to Help You Use Hooks Better

Hi everyone, this is Travis. I realized that we have a lot of new readers lately. If you want to be a better writer, there's years of materials here on Pretentious Title to dig through!

But no one likes digging through years of old posts. So, to help you all out, I've put together a quick link round up of some of Rachel's most popular How To writing posts. Today's topic is: the Hook. What it is, how to use it, and some great examples of the hook in action.

I hope you find these links handy! If you'd like more of these roundups, let us know what topics you'd like to see covered in the comments below. And remember, One Good Dragon Deserves Another comes out tomorrow!

(Rachel takeover: REVIEWS! In addition to the absolutely wonderful FBC review I mentioned Weds, OGDDA has already racked up great reviews from The Midnight Garden and Notes from a Readerholic as well! SO HAPPY YOU GUYS! Thank you!!!)

And now, the links!

Rachel's Top Posts About Hooks

Anatomy of a Hook - Using 6 Word Stories to examine the hook in its purest form.

The Art of Story Velcro - Using every aspect of your story to hook readers so hard, they never let go.

How to Write a Great Blurb - Who says writing great blurbs has to be torture?

Where to Start Your Story - It's not always where you think.

Tension - Why hooks work in the first place. The alpha and omega of successful writing.

How to Write a Prologue People Won't Skip - For all my fellow prologue junkies out there!

How I Manage Large Casts of Characters - Using character hooks to keep readers invested.

Thank you again for reading, and happy Almost OGDDA Release Day!
- R & T

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Writing Wednesdays: How To Plot A Series Without Driving Yourself Insane (Part 2)

Eeeeee!!! We're at T minus 3 days from the launch of One Good Dragon Deserves Another! I can not wait for you guys to read this book! The ever-awesome Mihir already reviewed it for Fantasy Book Critic and he loved it, so I'm now 100% confident you guys will, too! SO EXCITED!!

Also, Audible has started recording for the audio edition, and it should be out in October. They got the same narrator as book 1, too. Things are coming up all aces around here!

*deep calming breath*

Okay, now that I'm temporarily done flailing my arms in happiness, let's talk plotting a series!

Writing Wednesdays: How To Plot A Series Without Driving Yourself Insane (Part 2) - Handling Your Metaplot

In part one, I talked about the 5 basic steps I use to plot the course a series. If you're familiar with my blog, you probably noticed these steps looked very similar to the ones in my How I Plot a Novel in 5 Steps post. That's not coincidence. 

The overarching story of a series and the self-contained story of a book share the same structure. Ideally, both have a beginning, middle, and an end, both have development and growth, and both have a dramatic narrative that builds to a climax. The only real differences between the two story types are scale, speed, and focus.

Because it is largely self-contained, the plot of a single book can be as big and move as fast as you need it to. Your narrative can focus on whatever part of the narrative is most vital to the story you want to tell. A book, in short, doesn't have to answer to anyone else. It can be whatever it needs to be--fast, slow, epic, intimate, first person, third person, giant cast, epistolary--to best tell the story. 

But when you sit down to plan out the overarching plot of your series, also known as the metaplot, your freedoms and tools are much more limited. Because a series is made up of individual books, each of which have to be good in their own right, you don't always have the freedom to tell your larger metaplot exactly as you want to. 

The needs of the individual books always have to come first, because those are what your readers are reading. No one sits down and reads a meta plot by itself. It always exists in abstract, the bigger picture you see when you step back and look at the series as a whole. 

This degree of separation puts a lot of pressure on metaplot structure. Your reader catches the big-picture meta plot only in glimpses through your other books, sometimes years apart if your series is still coming out. These are huge handicaps writers must overcome if we want our readers to keep our larger story clear in their heads. 

The easiest way to compensate for this is to just keep the metaplot simple, but not every writer wants to do that. I personally love a complex metaplot both as a reader and a writer. So how do you tell a complex, series-level story? How can you structure your metaplot to make sure readers can keep up without sacrificing the intricacy and depth that made you want to write that metaplot in the first place?

Like any problem in writing, there are a million good answers to this one. My personal favorite, though, is to always make sure that my metaplot isn't so much the story of my world as it is the story of my characters.

The Character Driven Metaplot

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Writing Wednesdays: How To Plot A Series Without Driving Yourself Insane (Part 1)

Today, I'm going to be taking the first in a three-part stab at answering one of the most frequently asked questions from my inbox: how do I plot a series? But first, I've got some big news! My writing book, 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love is now available on ebook vendors other than Amazon!

This is my little book that could. When I first put it up three years ago, I was hoping to get a few hundred sales and a handful of reviews. Now, with over 30,000 copies sold, 500+ reviews on Amazon at a 4.6 star rating, you could say my expectations have been surpassed, which means it's time to try something new.

So, for the first time ever, I'm taking 2k to 10k out of KDP Select and putting it up everywhere! You can buy it at AmazoniBooks, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, OysterInktera, and Scribd. And as always, it's still just $0.99!

There's also going to be an audio edition coming out soon, so watch out for that. For now, though, let's get this multi-part party started!

Writing Wednesdays: How To Plot A Series Without Driving Yourself Insane (Part 1)

No matter the genre, books in a series are universally popular. Readers love them because they give us more of what we already love. Writers love them because writing books sequels means you can write new books without inventing everything from whole-cloth every time. Publishers love them because they sell well. Everyone loves a series! Heck, if you're a writer of any stripe, chances are you've already thought of or even started a series of your own.

But while a good series can make your career as a writer, a bad series can sink it just as fast. Say you're writing a trilogy, and you screw up book 2, losing half your readers in the process. If these were standalone books, you could just start over and write something new, but for a series, you have to finish that final book. It doesn't matter if it's going to sell terribly, it doesn't even matter if you hate it. So long as your series still has a few fans (or you're under contract), that book must be written.

It goes without saying that this is not a fun position to be in. But while it might seem safer to only write stand alones, single novels never sell as well as a good series, especially in genre. Also, so many stories simply won't fit into one book. They need the room a series provides to be told properly.

So how do we avoid these pitfalls? How do we set off on a series with reasonable certainty that we're not going to screw up book 2 and doom our careers forever?

The secret (which is actually the secret to pretty much all successful projects) is planning.

If you want to avoid the dreaded Second Book Slump, if you want to be sure every book in your series is going to be better than the last, then the very first thing you need to do is stop and plot out exactly where your series is going to go. I don't mean you have to plot out every book, and you're free to change your mind later as the series progresses (in fact, I guarantee you will). But if you want to make sure your books really feel like a cohesive, well planned out series, you're going to have to actually come up with a plan.

Thankfully, plotting a series is actually a lot easier than plotting the individual novels. It's much more big picture storytelling and much less nitty-gritty detail. Me being me, of course, I've organized my series plotting system into steps, which I've listed below.

I'm not saying you have to follow this method exactly to successfully execute a series. This is just how I do things. That said, this system has saved my bacon on at least one series so far. It's also how I make my books flow together so well. They feel like they're all steps in one big story precisely because that's how I planned them to be, and this is the refined version of the method I used to do it.

Even if you're a pantser who hates planning, which is a perfectly fine way to write if it works for you, I still highly suggest going through the steps below. If nothing else, it's a fun storytelling exercise!

So now that I've hyped it up, let's get down to brass tacks.

How I Plot a Series in 5 Steps

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Writing Wednesdays: Taking Smart Risks

First up, just wanted to remind people that the giveaway for a signed copy of Rhonda Mason's excellent SF debut, THE EMPRESS GAME, is still going! You have until Friday to go check it out and comment for a chance to win a book, so go do that. :)

Second, my swag shop is now open!!! That means....POSTERS!

Banana for scale.
These things are gorgeous! We went with the slightly pricier matte-finish art prints, but the difference between these and the cheap ones is night and day. The colors are rich, the paper feels sleek, heavy, and expensive, they're just all around win!

We have posters of just the cover art without the text as well, so go check out the shop and pick up a smiling Julius for your wall! Posters of Marci and her cat army will be coming soon as well the moment we finish the proof process. Hooray for cool stuff!

Now that's all done, let's talk about one of first and most fundamental cornerstones to being a good writer: knowing how and when to take risks.

Writing Wednesdays: Taking Smart Risks

As I've mentioned here before, I'm a giant fan of Project Runway. I love it the artistic challenge, I love the catty judges and cheesy drama, I love it all! But even though I watch the show for pure entertainment value, sometimes I glean real bits of wisdom from the judges' commentary. The latest of these was from fashion designer Zac Posen toward the middle of Season 12, who said "Success in Fashion is all about taking smart risks."

This statement rang true for me on a lot of levels. The one line that gets repeated over and over on the show is that you can't just design based off what's popular now, because by the time your clothes walk down the runway, now has become then, and you're already out of style. To be successful as a designer, you always have to be doing something new and innovative that will catch and hold people's attention. You need to really think about who your customer is and what they will be buying tomorrow, not today.

If all of that sounds familiar, that's no mistake. Fashion design and writing might seem like the most unrelated of disciplines, but as creators struggling to produce consumable products that have both artistic merit and widespread commercial appeal, we actually have a great deal of overlap. It might seem silly to take writing advice from a fashion designer, but as Uncle Iroh said, "It is important to draw wisdom from different places. If you take it from only one place, it becomes rigid and stale."

So, with that in mind, let's steal a page from the Zac Posen Playbook and talk about what it means to take smart risks in writing.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Badass Ladies in Space: I Interview Rhonda Mason, author of THE EMPRESS GAME! (plus a book giveaway!)

Can you hear the squee echoing around the world? That's me, because today I have the fabulous Rhonda Mason, author of one of my favorite reads this year: THE EMPRESS GAME, which comes out today!

One seat on the intergalactic Sakien Empire’s supreme ruling body, the Council of Seven, remains unfilled: that of the Empress Apparent. The seat isn’t won by votes or marriage. It’s won in a tournament of ritualized combat. Now the tournament, the Empress Game, has been called and the women of the empire will stop at nothing to secure political domination for their homeworlds. Kayla Reunimon, a supreme fighter, is called by a mysterious stranger to battle it out in the arena. 

The battle for political power isn’t contained by the tournament’s ring, however. The empire’s elite gather to forge, strengthen or betray alliances in a dance that will determine the fate of the empire for a generation. With the empire wracked by a rising nanovirus plague and stretched thin by an ill-advised planet-wide occupation of Ordoch in enemy territory, everything rests on the woman who rises to the top.

Did you read that? This book is basically the Thunderdome of Space Opera! The main character is a total take-no-shit badass, the combat is unrelenting, and there's kissing! That's a recipe for Rachel catnip right there. Is it any wonder my blurb is on the paperback cover singing its praises to the sky?

Click to enlarge, and thank you Hisham El-Far for the picture! 

Seriously, it's really fun and good, and if you liked my Devi books, you should go check THE EMPRESS GAME out right now!

Now, me being me, the moment I finished the book, I reached out to author Rhonda Mason in a rush of fangirlish glee to invite her onto the blog because interviewing badass ladies who write SF is becoming quite the thing here on Pretentious Title. (Click here to read my last interview with Jennifer Foehner Wells, author of FLUENCY.) 

To my delight, she agreed. She's also going to be giving away a SIGNED COPY! 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Writing Wednesdays: The Not-So-Secret Formula to Writing Character Driven Stories

Wow, what a week! First up, hello to everyone from Writer's Edit! Thanks for stopping by!

For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, Writer's Edit is an awesome writing community and website that's been showcasing my 2k to 10k writing and editing process all week. They're also doing a bunch of giveaways, including copies of my favorite, can't-live-without-it writing program, Scrivener! I've been really impressed with what I've seen so far, so if you're looking for more writing tips and talk, go check it out!

Now that's done, on with the show!

Writing Wednesdays: The Not-So-Secret Formula to Writing Character Driven Stories

"Character driven story" is one of those writing phrases that gets thrown around a lot. You see it everywhere: in writing forums, from editors describing what they want, book marketing, the works. Everyone wants a character driven story, but what does that actually mean?

At its simplest, a character driven story is one where the primary narrative is driven by the characters. They are the ones who decide where the plot goes, not the other way around.

This sounds like a really simple requirement, but you'd be amazed how many stories don't make the cut. My favorite popular example in recent memory is the super-cast action movie The Expendables. Now, I'm not going to comment on whether or not The Expendables was a good movie (my husband was entertained), but as a character driven narrative, it failed utterly. If we'd gone in and removed any character from the story, the plot would have continued pretty much exactly as written. They literally were the expendables, as in they did not matter.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Let's Talk Numbers: Wild Speculation on the New KU

I know I'm supposed to be on vacation, but this was too exciting not to talk about!!!

As I mentioned a week ago, Amazon has changed the way it calculates borrows for Kindle Unlimited, their book subscription service. In that post, I was pretty optimistic about the proposed changes, and now that new system is actually live...well...I'm not really sure what to think. It could be absolutely amazing, or it could be the death knell for my (and probably a lot of other authors) participation in the program.

For readers, of course, the program looks exactly the same, but for authors with books in Kindle Unlimited, we will now be payed per page read rather than just getting a single payout every time a KU user borrows our book and reads past the 10% mark. Of course, this leads to the question of how much Amazon will pay us per page, and what counts as a page anyway?

These two questions go hand in hand. Of course, due to the vagaries of Kindle Select Global Fund payment system, we won't know how much per page Amazon is going to shell out until they actually pay. That said, many authors are speculating that the KU payout will most likely be around $0.005 per page.

They arrived at this amount using the numbers presented in this email which Amazon sent out to all its KU participating authors last month. Here, Amazon reported that "KU and KOLL customers read nearly 1.9 billion Kindle Edition Normalized Pages (KENPs) of KDP Select books" and that, due to this high volume, the Global Fund for July and August would be set to $11 million. By working backwards, we see that $11 million divided by 1.9 billion pages read works out to about $0.0057 paid out per page that KU readers read.

Half a cent sounds pretty pathetic, and it would be if Amazon was using the print page count, which is the one we're all used to. But hey, this is Amazon we're talking about! And as always with the 'Zon, the reality of the situation is much, much weirder.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Writing Wednesdays: How to Deal With a Character Taking Over Your Book

We're on a bit of a sudden enforced vacation here at Casa de Aaron Bach. We didn't realize summer camp was closed the entire week of July 4, so it's suddenly "madly run around North Georgia doing outdoorsy stuff with our son!" time. Because of the interruptions, today's Writing Wednesday is going to be a little different.

Every November for the last four years, I've done an AMA with writers over at the NaNoWriMo fantasy forums. These posts are super fun and one of the highlights of my year. The question format gives me a chance to write out a lot of my writing processes and strategies, some of which I didn't even think about until someone asked me. The result is a ton of information that I'm very proud of, but, due to the inherent nature of forum replies, can be pretty hard to read.

So today, in the spirit of posting something interesting while also not abandoning my husband for too long to the whims of a bored 5-year-old (THANKS TRAVIS!), here's one of my favorite question/answer pairs from the thread, conveniently extracted and cleaned up for your reading pleasure.

I promise we'll be back to the new stuff next Wednesday. For now, though, let's talk character wrangling!