Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Writing Wednesdays (Special NaNoWriMo Edition!): AMA Thread Highlights #4!

Wow, what a November! I think this was my most diverse and interesting NaNo thread ever. Seriously, the questions were awesome. Here's the last set of highlights for the year, and super big thanks to everyone who participated!

I hope you enjoy!

Writing Wednesdays (Special NaNoWriMo Edition!): AMA Thread Highlights #4!

First up, we have a question from R Beckett about naive characters and "gotcha" endings.
I have a character who is a puppet master for the events of my story. He also happens to be my main character's best friend/love interest. So since I am telling the story through her eyes, there is not much hinting to his devious ways since she is blinded by her love for him to see it. Is it going to be too off putting to readers to reveal he was the bad guy the whole time? Or put into a broader question, how much of a "Gotcha!" can I get away with.  
Actually as I am writing this I realize Disney did this kind of thing in Frozen. I should watch definitely go watch that and earn another Procrastination badge today... But I would appreciate your thoughts as well. 
My answer:

You pose a very interesting question. For me, this kind of thing is all about execution. A good gotcha is something the audience should be able to see coming...if they know what to look for. This is where the execution challenge comes in. You have to balance your information reveals just right. Show too much, and the audience will see the bad guy coming from miles away, causing them to lose respect for your heroine when she doesn't pick up on the clues as quickly. Show too little, and the villain reveal will come out of nowhere, making it seem like a cheap "gotcha!" trick you pulled out of your butt rather than something you'd always had planned.

Frozen is actually a great example of this sort of thing done right. (Warning for Frozen spoilers, assuming there's someone on the planet who hasn't seen it yet.) If you're looking, the signs that Hans is not the stand up prince he appears to be are always there--the constant wearing of gloves (a classic movie villain with a secret trope), his incredibly overly helpful nature when it comes to getting Anna out of the castle so he can be in charge, etc.--but the movie always takes care to hide them under all the other action, meaning we the audience don't actually put the pieces together until the big reveal. (Which, for the record, I thought was masterfully done).

How you handle this problem in your own text will depend entirely on your story and action. The balance you want to strive for is one where the audience can feel smart for picking up clues but still be surprised when those clues come together. A great way to do this (and a classic of all mystery novels) is to have characters assume (and thus lead readers to assume) that the clues are leading in one direction when really they're pointing at someone else entirely. This works especially well when the clues are pointing in a direction the characters don't want to follow, such as a main heroine suspecting her boyfriend.

Don't feel like you have to get this absolutely right in the first draft, either. This kind of subtle information game often takes several passes to get right. You'll also want to get some good beta readers and listen to their opinions to make sure you pulled everything off. Ultimately, though, what you describe is totally doable, you just have to be willing to put in the work necessary to pull off this kind of delicate balancing act.

Next we have limelikesjam with a question about exposition!

How early on in a fantasy novel do you need to start explaining the magic people/rules/powers of the fantasy world? Throughout the first chapter I give the big hints and general facts: they're immortal, they have magic powers, and identify the two sides that are at war. Do I need to explain everything more in depth? Or can I use the mystery to keep people interested and save the explanations for chapter 2 or 3?

My answer:

My rule on this is that I explain how things work to readers when (and only when) it's important enough for them to care. This doesn't mean I don't talk about them, of course! As a Fantasy writer, my magical systems/creatures are often the big hook for my book--the reason people picked it up--and I often bring them right right off the bat to keep that hook going, but this doesn't mean every little thing needs to be explained right away. Readers are very smart. If a dragon flies overhead, they can pick up an enormous amount of information about dragons in your world just from context. Did people cheer for the dragon or run away? Did it burn the city or was it just part of the background? Was it evil looking or beautiful?

All of these hints are worldbuilding in action, and so long as you make sure to sprinkle them around whenever you get the chance, there's no need to stop the narrative and have a character say "That is a dragon, they have protected our city since the fall of..." It's just unnecessary. We can infer the basic nature of the dragon from the worldbuilding, and any other important facts--how they breathe fire, the political situation, etc--can be saved until it's narratively important. For example, if your MC goes to a party where a dragon is present and commits a giant social faux pas by asking if he eats humans, this is a great and natural chance in the narrative to have another character explain dragon culture to the MC and, by extension, your reader. This same logic applies to your magical systems or natural phenomenon or what have you.

Basically, if you just make sure that you save the dry, technical explanations of how stuff works until after the reader has a narrative reason to care, you'll be golden. Otherwise, showing these things in context and background is fine. Just as we don't have to understand how a car actually works to ride in one, the reader doesn't have to understand how magic works to appreciate a good spell. Of course, you will have to explain it eventually, but it can wait until after you've given the reader a reason to be curious enough to sit through the explanation.

Finally, we have leekoven with a question about traditional publishing and "risky" books.
I'm working on something cross-genre: cyberpunk romance with some people of color. At this point I've been told such a story would be considered "risky" and niche in romance and genre fiction, and pretty much any traditional publisher would take a pass. 
Here's another industry question: should I even bother sending it to traditional publishers, since they can take a long time to get back to the writer (two months per publisher, and only one publisher at a time)? I'm not on a timeline for any monetary purpose, but that sounds like a lot of waiting for a lot of disappointment. I have no concrete plans to write a series and am not sure I could write to deadline. 
Do you believe in trying given the tricky sale proposition, or should I just do the work of going indie? Finances are not a consideration, I enjoy my day job. If I do submit to publishers, should I start with romance or science fiction ones?

We actually had some great responses to this from both my husband Travis (who was kind enough to help me out this year) and super cool Fantasy author Anne Lyle! I've included my own below, but the whole thread is definitely worth a read, so feel free to check it out!

I'd have to read your book to know for sure, but cyberpunk romance w/ POC doesn't sound risky at all to me just from that description. I mean, it doesn't sound safe or predictable, but those are GOOD things. Just going off what you've said, your book sounds awesome to me (I'm down with both kissing and representation and I LOVE me some cyberpunk. I'm still dying to write a Shadowrun novel if I can ever convince someone to let me do it!). Again, I haven't read your book, so maybe there's something else going on I'm unaware of, but I can't see any major, mainstream publisher passing based on those elements alone.

Your next question is more tricky. First you won't be submitting directly to publishers, you'll be submitting to agents. (If you're not sure what a literary agent does or how to find one, check here). Note that agents can take a VERY long time to get. Almost all of them accept simultaneous submissions, meaning you can query a ton of agents at once, but most take weeks to months to reply. My own agent took me almost a year to get from first sending the letter to getting the famous offer of representation phone call. (Still the happiest day of my life, btw!)

Once you've landed an agent, though, the wait still isn't over, because now it's time for your agent to submit your book to publishers, which can take several more months depending on how much interest your agent can drum up about your title. I have friends who've sold books the very first day it went out and friends with books that took years to sell. It really is a matter of finding the right editor at the right time who wants your book right then.

If all that sounds like a LOT of hurry up and is. Traditional publishing is SLOW. The contracts are slow, editors are slow, everything is slow. Even when you've got a super hot book on the fast track, it can take a year or more before it hits shelves. Part of this snail's pace comes from inefficiencies in the system, but most of it seems to be just a necessary evil of the business. You have a lot of professional all working on multiple projects at once, and getting those schedules to all line up at once just takes time.

So is trad worth it? Well, that depends. If you have your heart set on a big book launch and seeing your novel in bookstores, then yes. Suck up the waiting and start working on the next book.

If all of that waiting sounds like hell and you'd rather get your book (and your money) this year...are you sure you're not just being impatient? Self publishing is awesome, but it's a LOT of work and it's not for everyone. You're probably going to work your ass off for a very long time before you ever see a profit, and you still might flop. Self pub is not guarenteed success. It's possible to pour thousands of hours and dollars into your self pub career and still end up with nothing. At least if you go trad and get rejected everywhere, you're just out your time and postage. That's a lot cheaper than hiring an editor and buying a cover.

If this sounds like I'm pushing for Trad, I'm absolutely not. I encourage every author to do their own research and pick the path that's best for them. But if you're dismissing Trad just because you're impatient and don't want to wait...that's a really bad reason to self publish. Self publish because you want to keep the lion's share of the profits or because you want creative control, or just because you want control period. There are so many good reasons to self publish, but impatience is not one of them. This is your book and your career, possibly for the rest of your life. You need take your time, do your research, and make an educated decision on which path has the highest chance of leading to your idea of writing success.

So that's my advice. Again, going just off the short description you gave, I can't see any reason this wouldn't be of interest to Trad publishers (and if that's your goal, your first step should be to finish that sucker and get an agent ASAP). Also, since you make it clear you're not really in this for the money (which is one of the biggest reasons to go indie) I'd give trad a serious look. If you dream of book store signings and being famous, Trad is the most direct way to get there. If you dream of making $30k in a month off book sales, then indie is probably your ticket. Both of these are totally valid writing dreams and both have their ups and downs. Which you choose is entirely dependent on what you want for your career.

And with that, we came to the end.

Thank you again to everyone who participated in this year's thread! I'll see you all again next year for another round. Until then, you can always follow this blog or find me on the Social Media of your choice (TwitterFacebookTumblrGoogle+) for more writing posts and such what. I do new writing posts here every Wednesday. :) 

Thank you again for reading, and until next year, keep writing!!

Yours always,


Kessie said...

That ... is the weirdest spam comment I've ever seen.
Thanks so much for posting these! I've enjoyed your whole series. And are you sure Heartstriker isn't as close to Shadowrun as you can get? That's one reason I enjoyed it so much--because it's like Shadowrun!

Ken Hughes said...

For R Beckett and "gotcha" endings: *Frozen* is an excellent use of the Evil All Along "friend," but it has a particular advantage that your story might not. That is, it's only movie-length, and it uses that 140-minute juggling act of covering everything to keep Hans off-screen for most of the movie. Also, Hans was pointedly someone Anna had just met, so they weren't implying she had years of off-screen trust in him built up, which would have made her seem even more naive and Hans even darker.

Simply reducing the time the character gets (onstage and implied) makes walking that suspicion tightrope easier... if you can plot up good ways to let the character make his impressions and impact the plot but then get him away again. Which is tricky stuff, considering how we expect a "best friend/ love interest" to have so much time, especially if you've got something longer than a short story.

Either way, it's one of the nastiest tricks a writer can explore, and I salute you for trying it. :)

Joe Lyon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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