Jewel wrote in a message today! If she ends up sneaking me a link to her stuff, I’ll put it in here. :P But until then…
Jewel says: My “method”, if you can call it that, is indeed madness. Before I’m finished with a piece, I’m already rewriting it. Specifically, I have a big problem wanting my beginning to be perfect and to catch everyone’s attention.
However, no beginning (or middle for that matter) is going to do any good without an ending. Therefore, I have a few questions:
- How do you decide where to end a story? In the case of a serial, where does the first story end and the second start?
- What do you recommend for staying on track from beginning to end? If I have a dozen ideas of how to start a story, how do I settle on one until I write the ending?
- Reading aloud is a decent way to tell if a story “flows” well, but how do you blow apart the stuff you don’t like without needing to re-write the entire story?
- How and/or where do you self-publish? Do you recommend putting short-shorts or “out-takes” on a person’s website?
Let’s get to business. I’m going to hit these a little out of order, and they’re all going to bleed into each other, so try not to skim read!
2. How do you stay on track? How do I settle on ideas without getting distracted by all the shiny?
HEY. HEYYYYY. Focus! I know there’s lots of shiny in the world, but you gotta keep your eyes on the prize. And that prize, at least when you are still writing, is not having a perfect story. Instead, the prize is having a FINISHED story. As the great Neil Gaiman says, “Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.”
Not to be a jerk and quote myself, but this was also said in one of our videos for Writers’ Bloc. “You are never writing to reach THE END. Writing is only the first step in a much longer process.” Your first step needs to be looking for the horizon as you construct your story. Remember that you are not making any ostensible progress until you actually have a piece of literature that is “complete,” relatively speaking. It should have a general plot arc, and have a page that says THE END, before you should even begin to think about any editing or marketing.
3. How do you avoid rewriting while trying to write?
I will say that I’m glad that you read aloud, Jewel! That’s the sign of someone who’s very conscious of the way their book is constructed on multiple levels, and shows some skill. The fact that you’re also spotting hiccups in the flow - and no doubt some random grammar problems along the way - is a great thing.
How do you keep from constantly doing this though? I suggest two things. Firstly, MAKE AN OUTLINE. I know a lot of people like to write “by the seat of their pants.” Believe me, I do too - I love to write like a jazz musician, and let the story take me where it needs to go. But your story is kinda like a kitten: it wanders without any real objective or purpose, and chases things at random for the heck of it. So while sometimes this kitten-story will sometimes do something cute that will land you millions of views on YouTube, more often than not it’ll just roam around and get stuck up a tree. it’s probably better to keep that little kitty under control.
Your outline is not a prison. Just because you plot out your story in advance doesn’t mean you can’t improvise certain parts of it as you go. Like Jack Sparrow once said, you outline is more of a guideline than actual rules. If you have an outline that can serve as a general blueprint for your story, you’ll always have something to keep you focused, and you’ll always know where you’re going in your story. If you do have a really good idea that alters the plot, reflect that alteration in your outline, and continue from there.
Most importantly, and I know this might sting a little, BUT DO NOT EDIT WHILE YOU WRITE. If you are in the writing phase of your story, DON’T EDIT.
I know this from experience. I used to rewrite as I wrote all the time. For perspective, I have been writing for 10+ years and only have two published works to my name. That should show you how effective this method is…
You are in writing mode. So you’ve gotta focus. There will be plenty of time for rewriting later, I promise. Your first draft is guaranteed to be a turd. That’s not to say you’re a writer. That’s saying that all writers are terrible writers. We think we’re alchemists crafting gold, but frankly, our drafts are usually minefields of illegible rigmarole. When you finally have THE END written on your last page, you can go back and find all the problems in your story, and fix them in a timely manner.
1. How do you know when to end a story, especially in a series/serial?
I wish I had this perfect little explanation that illuminates everything for you. But I don’t. Ending a story is kinda like trying to tell when you’re really in love with someone. It’s an irrational marker that you just have to place in your story and say, THIS IS IT. Some stories have this built in - it comes intuitively in the plot to break the story up into large sections, and it wouldn’t flow well if the story just droned on and on. Other stories are much more irrational, and you simply know you’ve reached the end when you’re there - no logic, no reason, it just FEELS right.
The easiest measure of when to end a story, though, is by the conclusion of a plot arc. Let’s look at Harry Potter for a second. Book 1, Harry learns he’s a wizard, goes to school, learns of evil Voldemort and evil plan to do evil things, stops Voldemort from doing evil things, leaves school, THE END. It’d be weird if Potter started his next adventure at the end of the first book, and to continue it on the next.
The way to know you’ve reached the conclusion of your arc is by asking two simple questions: why was my character doing [insert thing]. Did she accomplish thing? If yes, THE END, if no, keep going.
Since we’re also talking about series of stories, however, we’re working from a unique perspective and advantage. Because a series of any style means the story isn’t really over! In my serial, Star Sailor, I’ve made the episodes very short but with a full plot arc, just like a full-length. I end my stories whenever they reach the end of their arc.
Other series take different approaches. Some will wrap up at a random, arbitrary point, call it the end, and say “TO BE CONTINUED.” There’s nothing wrong with this, although it can leave some readers feeling like things were incomplete. It’s best used when the central conflict in your story is resolved at the end of the main plot arc.
The other option is to end on a cliffhanger. You build up tension in your story, stress the reader out, and then say THE END. It kinda sucks sometimes, because it’s really frustrating. But some people love that frustration, because it hooks them, and they feel the need to return to the series to see what will happen. The TV show True Blood built a career off of ending on cliffhangers, and its popularity speaks volumes.
4. Where do you self-publish your stories?
For some general advice before I get all biased, the meme speaks truths. My personal belief is that the more places you make yourself available, the more likely someone is going to see you. The biggest problem with self-publishing is that there are LITERALLY HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF OTHER PEOPLE DOING THE SAME THING. If books were unique little snowflakes, Bowker counted 235,000 unique little snowflakes for 2012. It’s expected to double in 2013.
When you finally start publishing, visibility will be your biggest concern. It’s so hard to get spotted, especially if this is your first venture into the literary realm. This is why many people prefer traditional publishing firms which have a greater visibility and more clout to be shared (although there is debate about how useful they actually are.
Which brings us to the original point: publish everywhere. Except for the Kindle Select program, there are no real reasons you shouldn’t publish in as many places as you possibly can. It means a little extra work, but increases your scope of visibility.
Here’s an example. Let’s assume that Ryan Gosling wants to read a good book.
By some whimsy of fate, the book Ryan Gosling wants to read is yours. But Ryan Gosling doesn’t really like Amazon and doesn’t have a Kindle; he also doesn’t use Apple products, so there’s no way he’ll download from iBooks; Nook, psh, don’t be silly. Ryan Gosling STRICTLY uses Kobo, because he loves their ethical standpoint. If you didn’t publish your story on Kobo, RYAN GOSLING WOULD NEVER READ IT, because he might not know it even exists! Sad days.
For my series, I do as I say! I publish almost everywhere. You can find Star Sailor on Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, and the iBookstore. (If you want to read, you can read the first few episodes for free by clicking here!). It aggregates to a few more places via Smashwords, but I haven’t really looked into them - as far as I’m concerned, the ones listed are the major players for moving serious works of fiction.
As a side-note, the most success I see (and that most authors I talk to see) is through Amazon. I know they’re not exclusively the best (I prefer Kobo too). But as a reader, I almost exclusively use Amazon because it’s easy and convenient. I’m sure I’m not alone. And while other places may give you success, Amazon is definitely the king of the hill at the moment. So there’s that.
4.5 Should you post teasers, outtakes, and clippings?
CERTAINLY! If you’re a consistent blogger/Tumblrite, and have people who are interested in your work, there’s no reason you shouldn’t tease it a little bit. Just remember not to give your audience spoilers! Even if the scene is great, don’t risk ruining the story for them later. Also, don’t tease your story too much. If you seem to give out snippets of your book all the time, people might get under the impression that your book is going to be free.
Flash fiction and short stories are also a good way of showing readers your style of writing while still giving them yummy content to read. Both flash fiction and short stories are also good practice for your style as a writer, and a good way to break through any perceived feelings of writer’s block you might be going through. It all goes back to visibility. If you think repping your own work to your followers is something they’ll enjoy, it’ll keep their spotlights trained on you, meaning when you release your proper fiction to the world, they’ll be the firsts to see it and share it.
AND WE’RE DONE. Hopefully that answered all your questions properly, Jewel. Hopefully it answered some other folks questions too! For anyone who has their own questions, drop one in our ask box and we’ll give you a response. If your question is kinda long or detailed, toss it in our submit box so you don’t have to deal with stupid word counts.
Hope everyone’s having a nice week!
[read Chris’ series for free here]