books

Put It On The Shelf

…or, the best way to fix your “baby’s” ugliness.

Ben’s post from last week resonated with me a lot for various reasons. Right now, I’m finishing up a B.A. in English so naturally I’m being exposed to piles and piles of papers written by other students. Sometimes, those papers aren’t bad. Other times, they would best serve as kindling.

This fact was most apparent in the “Writing Fiction” class that I took. I have no illusions as to the quality of my writing, but some of this stuff…

Anyways!

As a writer, there are so many different suggestions for how to go about self-editing, but one of the most effective ones that I’ve used to the suggestion to take your finished manuscript and put it on the shelf for some period of time. The most common suggestion is 6 months, but I’ve found that even 3 months can be enough if you have sufficient work to do elsewhere and you can change your focus.

With the end of the semester approaching, I’ve had so much on my plate that I’ve had no choice but to put The Hydra Offensive on the shelf. But with my time freeing up, ever so slightly, I’m back at the keyboard, editing Hydra.

I’ve found that leaving the manuscript alone and doing other work has given me a different perspective on the prose and has allowed me to make edits that I might not have made otherwise.

Do you use this method with your writing? How does it work for you? Any other suggestions for solid editing methods?

The Multi-Verse

by Joshua Johnson

Recently, I started work on a second series set on the world of Zaria. It follows a new set of characters and a new plot.

One of the aspects of fantasy worldbuilding that I’ve never really had a chance to explore (for one reason or another) is the concept of multiple storylines built out of from a common base.

Many of my favorite authors have done this in one degree or another, and I’ve always been interested in doing it. So I’ve started.

I’ve found it very interesting to begin planning multiple novels or series using common worldbuilding, without having them directly related. This approach has many benefits but many drawbacks.

I’ve found it convenient that I can use a lot of the same basic world information (length of the year, seasons, geography) when I’m plotting out the new series. I also have a lot of basic information about the nations of Zaria that I’ve been able to expand.

On the other hand, trying to manage multiple storylines has proven to be a challenge. While the new story doesn’t happen directly parallel with my existing story, there’s enough information that I’ve had to adjust the planning several times. I think that the biggest challenge has been managing multiple timelines and deciding where along the technology timeline each story is going to be and why.

So what authors have you read that have used a common worldbuilding base to write multiple stories that do or don’t intertwine? What do you think makes these kinds of worlds better or worse than linear or consecutive storylines within a series?

Welcome Back to the Blog

by Bruce Blake

The time has finally come…the return of the Guild of Dreams.

After a lengthy hiatus (if you choose to read that as ‘Bruce got lazy for an extended period of time’, I would probably be hard pressed to argue the point), the motley blog crew have returned to entertain and enlighten. Returning to the Guild are myself, Autumn Birt, Chantal Boudreau, Scott Bury, Joshua Johnson, AM Justice, Steven MontanoGuild-wglow 300, and Benjamin X. Wretlind.

So here’s the set up: we’re paring things down a little, with regular posts scheduled for Mondays and Fridays. That’s not to say you won’t see the occasional post on other days…special guests, book announcements, cover reveals, and the like may pop up at any time, so be sure to sign up for email updates over there on the top right if you haven’t done so already.

And what can you expect from the posts you’ll find on the Guild? The easiest way to figure that is to have a look back through previous posts. If you’re too lazy or preoccupied to find the time to do that, then let me fill you in: you’ll find pointers on writing, editing, formatting, publishing, and the like; you’ll find out where ideas come from, how characters are developed, and how to promote your own work. If prior patterns hold, you will likely also get to see some cool pics Steven uses to draw inspiration, stories of Autumn’s travel adventures, Chantal’s artwork, and Scott’s perspective on what the hell is wrong with the publishing industry and how to fix. Throw in Amanda’s writing chops (and Game of Thrones analysis), Benjamin’s creativity, and Joshua’s love of the writing process and tools, and I know there will be something here for everyone.

So sit back, pull up a chair, and the let the Guild of Dreams take you to worlds you never knew existed.

In Too Deep?

World-Builder’s Disease is a term some people use to describe authors who focus so much on developing their world, setting, and characters that they fail to work on the plot and story. So how do you know when you’re in too deep?

If you ask anyone in my circle of friends and family, they’ll tell you that I’m a bona fide workaholic. I work two jobs, have a family, and go to school full-time: I routinely bite off more than I can chew. This habit translates over to my writing with all too much frequency.

When I first started building the world for The Cerberus Rebellion, I made a conscious effort to avoid falling too far into Worldbuilding. I finished the book with a deep understanding of my world, but without burying myself in the details. But as I’ve moved on to the next book and started developing the rest of my world, other ideas have piled on to my original plans and I’ve found myself neck deep in worldbuilding. And not just traditional worldbuilding, like writing biographies or working out the societies around the world of Zaria, but also in writing stories that will act as backstory or origin material for characters in my main line novels.

For readers, this obsession with worldbuilding can manifest in a couple of different ways: longer waits between releases, or if you fall into heavy worldbuilding in the middle of a novel and add so much information that the reader can’t keep track anymore.

I think the best way to realize that you’re too deep into world-building is by looking at the progress of the main novels in a particular setting and asking yourself if you’re creating backstory to flesh out your world, if you’re expounding on backstory for its own sake.

And once you do catch yourself too deep, bring yourself back on track!

Have you come down with a case of World-Builder’s Disease? What did it look like? How did you dig your way out of it?

Side note: During the month of August, The Cerberus Rebellion is going to be on sale for $0.99 at all major e-Book retailers to celebrate the upcoming release of Book 2: The Hydra Offensive. If you haven’t already, go pick up your copy!

Playing the General

A lot of fantasy, and a lot of good, popular fantasy, focuses on the individual and/or the small group. As we saw in Autumn’s post (here) there are many different archetypes that may be included in a small group of adventurers out to complete a quest.

But not every story focuses on this facet of the story. In fact, there are a bunch of Epic Fantasies that turn this around on its head by focusing on the “General” and the large group action.

Now, this character doesn’t necessarily have to be a “General”, a King, a High Lord, an Admiral, or even a somewhat lesser ranked official or officer, just as long as they have some level of authority.

What separates the General from the Singular Hero is their responsibility and how they handle it. Like the Small Group dynamic, there are different kinds of Generals. Some of them will overlap with aspects of the small group, but others won’t.

1. The Field Commander (Lead from the Rear)

tywinWhen looking at possible roles for a “General”, the Field Commander’s job is the most daunting. It is their responsibility to orchestrate and coordinate the movements of an entire army on the battlefield. It is the Field Commander that gathers reports from all parts of his/her army and moves each piece in the way he/she thinks will best suit his/her goals.

Field Commanders very nearly never get their hands dirty. They sit in their tents, reading reports and moving markers across a map, trying to see their enemy’s moves before they happen and shield their own motives against discovery.

In a non-military setting, the Field Commander would be seen as the person who sends the small party on their quest. They have something that needs to be in order for the rest of their plan to be successful and they accomplish this through a mission given to a willing party.

A good example of a Field Commander is Tywin Lannister, from A Song of Ice and Fire. Tywin is not the sort to ride valiantly into battle and seek out the enemy face-to-face. Instead, he schemes and coordinates, plans and executes.

A challenge in writing the Field Commander is that there typically isn’t a lot of action to be had when you’re sitting at the back of the battle, watching things unfold. I have a character in my upcoming novel who fits this role and it was a struggle sometimes finding things to maintain interest. Interpersonal stress with advisors and the mental weight of the role are good ways to maintain tension and interest when writing these characters.

2. The Tactician (Lead from the Front)

tacticianThe Tactician, on the other hand, is going to be down in the mess of battle or the mud of the trenches, risking his/her life for the cause. Whether its a drive for personal glory, or an attempt to rally his/her men in a time of desperation, the Tactician feels right at home among the rank and file of the army.

Tacticians have a lot in common with the Hero (from Autumn’s post). They dash into battle without concern for themselves and lead their soldiers right into the heart of the fight. It is in the frenzy that they are most useful and at their best. They can see the ebb and flow of battle with their own eyes and, if they can take time away from killing an enemy, can micro-manage their forces with incredible precision.

This role is much more common in a lot of fantasy because it can still focus on the individual while they play a larger role in the fight. Aragorn from Lord of the Rings; Jaime Lannister Robb Stark from ASoIaF, all fit this role. They’re generals, but they lead their men rather than direct them.

3. The Strategist (Lead from the Middle)

king_in_forestStrategists are a much different breed than the Tacticians. They may still find themselves in the heat of battle, but when they do it is because they choice to fight, rather than felt the need to. Where a tactician makes adjustments on the fly, manipulating the flow of battle as it happens, the Strategist has planned everything out and knows what needs to be done.

The Planner and the Strategist find themselves in very much the same role. Both will lay out what needs to be done and will direct their assets towards the completion of the task. Strategists are methodical about how they will complete their task, sometimes to a fault. If there is a downfall with being a Strategist, it is that every plan must be fluid, because not even the best laid plans entirely survive first contact with the enemy.

Tyrion Lannister is definitely a Strategist. He lays things out and then waits for them to come to fruition; sometimes he finds himself at the sharp end of a weapon.

4. The King/Queen in the Castle

queenThe King/Queen in the Castle is much like the Field Commander, but on an even more grand scale. He/She manages the war, or the overall mission in a less-militant setting. The Field Commanders report to the King/Queen in the Castle and take their orders from him/her.

The King/Queen in the Castle truly sees the world on an epic scale. They don’t see the faces of their enemies or their allies, they see pawns on the playing board.

Sauron from Lord of the Rings is a fantastic example of this role. He sits in his mountain, pulling strings and manipulating armies on a vast scale.

 

In nearly every story some of the roles are present. They may not earn more than a mention as a hero and his small group set out on their journery, but they’re there, leading the rest of the world while our protagonist garners all of the glory 😉

What other roles do you see “Generals” fitting?

The Modern Writer: Pace

Continuing with the theme of the Modern Writer, today I wanted to touch on Pace.

With the advent of all of the modern technology that I’ve talked about in previous posts, and the explosion of self-publishing websites and services, the pace of writing has increased by a massive factor. But how fast is too fast, and how slow is too slow?

I know that every writer is different and that stories will come out when they come out, but at some point there’s the risk of losing readers if you’re too slow, or risking a non-quality product if you rush them out too fast.

For some authors, there isn’t really a pace that needs to be maintained. Whenever a new Honor Harrington novel comes out from David Weber, I’ll go buy it; millions are waiting for the next George RR Martin A Song of Ice and Fire novel (though we may be waiting a while yet on that one if history is any indicator). These authors have gathered such a reputation for their work that it doesn’t matter how long it takes for the next book: people will buy it in droves.

But on the flip side there are authors whose books I enjoyed and would have gladly continued reading, but they took too long to release the next one. I got distracted and never returned to the series.

Personally, I’ve been shooting for 1 book per year and I feel that if you aren’t a pop sensation or an author with a rock solid fan base, this might be a good pace to maintain. I’ve been a bit behind because of a variety of factors over the last 12 months, but I’m getting back on track. But what do you think? Is there a pace that you think that there is a pace that the average reader will accept? If you’re an author, what is your writing goal?

The Modern Writer: Writing on the Go

There was a time, I’m told, when writing required that the author be firmly planted in front of a typewriter, slamming away at keys, hoping to not make a typo because there was no easy way to correct them.

Then came the computer and with it the word processor, allowing authors to easily correct their typos and rewrite sections of their work as they saw fit. But they still had to sit at their desk and stare at their screen.

Those days, however, are long gone. With the development of laptops, tablets, and Smartphones, the Modern Writer has an incredibly diverse set of highly mobile tools that allow him or her to range free. From the couch, to the porch, to the coffee shop, the Modern Writer is not tethered to a physical location anymore.

But with this massive freedom of movement comes some new problems that require solutions.

When you had to sit down in front of a typewriter in some secluded part of your home or office, you could easily close yourself off from the rest of the world.

Writing in the living room, I can tell you from experience, is a trial of patience and self control. Between a rambunctious 3 year old, a 15 year old needing help with homework, and a spouse who somehow has “Josh sat down to write, ask him to do something” radar, I struggle with keeping in task. And that’s not even starting in on the topic of distractions on the computer itself.

Writing at a coffee shop would, I can imagine, be marginally easier but there you have the hustle and bustle of a business to contend with and if you’re not a regular, perhaps the glare of a barista who thinks you’re drinking too little to be staying so long.

Mobility doesn’t just affect the actual writing process, though. It affects everything before that. My smartphone has become a research assistant and tool, helping me look up topics and gather information.

The biggest task that my smartphone has made easy is writing down ideas and developing the seeds of a story before I need to sit down and write the skeleton of the story. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve found this to be a valuable method to keep story ideas moving and get them out of my head (so new ones can land and take up space).

But much like the world of constant connectivity and the loss of “space” between author and audience, the ability to work on something at any time can bring a weight of its own to an author’s life. There have been times where just the ability to write down an idea or tweak a concept has distracted me from my task at hand.

So what do you think about the increased mobility of our modern world? Do you think that the ability to write anywhere, at any time, has improved your writing process or introduced unnecessary distractions into it?

The Modern Writer: Research

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m writing a series of posts highlighting different aspects of the modern writer. Today, I’m going to talk about research and how it has evolved in the internet era.

For me, in my recent endeavors, it’s become important to research how flintlock and percussion cap firearms work, how far an army could march in a day, or how much food would be needed for an extended campaign. Each writer is going to research something different, dependent on the needs of their story and the world in which it lives.

When I started writing I didn’t really do much of any research. All of my works were either highly derivative, or created completely without basis or factual evidence.

As I’ve developed as a writer, however, it’s become more and more obvious to me that in order to write a solid story, some level of research is essential.

“Back in the day” research involved reading other books in the genre of your choosing, or going to the library and finding source material on the subject you wished to research.

Taking classes on a subject at a local college might be one way to study a particular field, including the copious amount of notes that would go along with that.

But those things took time and money. And for some situations, you might not even have a chance to read extensively on your

The Internet has changed the way that writers study. A quick scan of the Amazon categories, a Wikipedia article, or even just a quick Google search will typically render enough reading material to fulfill most research needs. topic. Gunpowder Fantasy wasn’t even a thing when I started reading. If I had tried to read other books in the genre, I would have been out of luck.

Not only does this allow a writer a much wider variety of content to peruse and research (some of my reading for Gunpowder Fantasy comes from authors in the UK and Australia) but it saves tons of times. No longer does a writer need to take a chunk out of their day to drive to the library to look up books and read through them.

library

There is, as always, a downside to using the internet as a research tool: the random dredges of society and the sometimes scattershot

approach that Google takes when combing through its massive databases for information.

n-helpful or downright harmful to the honest study of a topic. And if you search for two words, any website with those words anywhere near each other will come back on the results, sometimes creating false positives.Because anyone can have a blog, the search engines will often come up with results from people who are either less-tha

How has the internet changed how you research your work? How has it changed how you find new things to read
?

How Life Affects Art

The worlds that are created by authors are, naturally, extensions of the author that creates them. From the worldbuilding to the way that characters interact with each other, all of it will be shaded by the life and experiences of the author in some way.

Authors use their experiences as sources of inspiration, we draw on situations that we have been through to build scenes, navigate our characters through the minefields we’ve laid out for them, and to bring an emotional bond to our readers.

My father passed away a little more than 2 weeks ago. Burying him was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. But even in this I’ve found inspiration and things that I can draw on in the future when I’m writing scenes for my characters.

So even in the bad, find the good. What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger. And better writers.

Excerpt: The Cerberus Rebellion

CERBERUSrcoverThe Cerberus Rebellion, the first book in my Ansgari Rebellion series, is available now on Amazon and Smashwords

Additionally, I’ve started a Kickstarter Campaign to get it put into print! If you’re the kind of person who likes the feel of a real book in your hands, this is how you can help make that a reality for The Cerberus Rebellion.  http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/johnsonjoshuak/the-cerberus-rebellion-print-and-audiobook-campaig

Magnus reined up his horse in front of the largest tent pavilion he had ever seen.

And whose tent is this?” The gaudy purple canvas tent structure stood twenty feet at the center pole, at least twelve at the edge and was more than a hundred feet on each side.

Your Grace, it is mine!” a short man announced and then bowed. “Sir Byron Alfson, of Harristown.”

Ah, sir, you have me at a disadvantage.”

Magnus inspected the knight with narrowed eyes.

He had a mop of frail-looking brown hair tied into a short ponytail and a narrow nose that was flanked by light blue eyes. He wore a greatcoat that looked like it had been cut from the same fabric as his tent.

Harristown was one of the small villages that had sprouted up along the rail lines that ran from Agilard to Aetheston. The strange grape beer that had made the town famous gave its color to everything the town did. They had even changed their sigil to a purple field with a golden mug.

This is quite the pavilion,” Magnus continued after a moment. “I didn’t know that the grape beer business had so much money to be made.”

We do our best, Your Grace,” the knight said. “I hope my pavilion does not offend you, Your Grace. While it is my tent, I have shared it with many of the knights from Lord Tallet’s levies.”

It does not offend,” Magnus lied. If he had his way, the knights would be sleeping in camp tents with the rest of his soldiers. But his advisors had warned him that not giving the knights and lesser lords their symbols of pride and authority could drive them away. He had been reluctant to accept the counsel, but in the end the tradition of tent pavilions and knightly feasts had been upheld. “Carry on, Sir Alfson.”

Thank you, Your Grace.” The knight bowed again and disappeared into his purple monstrosity.