Twitter – Time to get Social

First, a little disclosure.

  1. I am not a master of social media.
  2. I have made no money from Twitter.
  3. I have not sold a book via Twitter.
  4. I have a small number of followers (approx 300).

So, I’m not going to give you keys to the kingdom or anything; which is fine because that’s not what this article is about.

Instead, I want to talk about some things I notice as a Twitter user. Will they help you succeed in whatever endeavors you have? Maybe. At the very least, it should help you have more fun and see more value from Twitter.

Say Something

First off, Twitter is a social network. So why not get social? There are some amazing people on Twitter who are very giving, supportive and willing to go an extra mile for complete strangers. There’s people on Twitter that I’ve never met in the flesh, but I would trust their opinions when it comes to critiquing The Veil. If all you’re going to do is lurk about, you’ll never gain the full benefits of Twitter.

Are there great people on Twitter that you can just sit back and listen to? Yup. I’ve learned a ton from following people who have never actually spoken to me. But those who have really helped me, the ones I hope and pray will one day make the Veil a book worth reading, are the ones I speak to frequently. So for goodness sake, don’t just sit there, speak to people!

Fill In Your Bio

Another piece of advice, take advantage of the bio section of your profile. You don’t need to chronicle your life or anything, just say who you are and what you do. If someone new follows me and they say they are a writer, I automatically follow back. Not everyone does, but I do because I figure we have our writing in common and I might learn something from them.

On the other hand, if someone follows me and they have no bio, I don’t follow back. I know it may be some old school type of paranoia, but what do you have to hide? Are you so lazy you couldn’t take ten minutes to tell us about yourself? Heck, Neil Gaiman and his kin are uber famous, and all of them have a bio.

In regards to the bio, understand if your bio says you are a marketing type person and you follow me, I won’t automatically follow you back. Now if you start talking to me and I realise your focus is on book marketing, I’m your new friend! Like I said, get social.

Profile Picture

I know, not everyone wants their mug thrown on the internet for all the world to see. If you’re one of those people, do something creative. Use one of those “Create an Avatar” sites to make an anime version of yourself. Or take a picture where you use crafty methods to hide part of your face. In either case, having a profile picture that is original goes a long way toward me thinking you’re here for a good reason. Default pictures are all too often the domain of the Spambot.

Content

You’re going to read different opinions everywhere on the net. So here’s my opinion of what I, a normal average guy, like to see. Feel free to post personal stuff, to an extent. If there’s some movie you love, or even food you like to eat, I’m good with that. I don’t need to know where you are every second of the day.

Feel free to write about the things that influence your writing. Feel free to write about the books you’re reading. Please write about your trials and tribulations as you work on your Work in Progress. If you find something useful or interesting on the net, say so.

In short, let me get to know you, as a person and a writer. That’s part of being social.

Twitter does not have to be solely about building a money generating machine. In fact, if that’s all you’re doing, I’m unsubscribing.

Twitter can be a great tool to learn, network and get suggestions. In order to do all those things, you need to be honest, yourself, and put forth some effort. All good relationships need those things.

The Process of Creation – Concepts – Scenes

In this, my third article about the genesis of stories, I’m talking about a Concept related start that links between the World Concept, and starting with Characters. That is the Scene Concept.

Ever had a dream that you couldn’t shake? One where you watched something unfold between one or more people you didn’t know, but felt oddly drawn to? Or maybe you were listening to some music and an image popped into your head? All of these flashes of inspiration are usual sources for Scene Concepts. It might even be something you overheard at another table in a restaurant.

The fact is, we are constantly surrounded by potential scenes or interesting moments. The question is, do we see them?

While I wish I could impart some kind of wisdom in regards to how to recognize these moments, for now take comfort that it’s probably best to just wait and stick with the ones that hit you in the gut.

I do highly recommend you keep writing utensils near your bed. I’ve had more than one idea come to me in dreams.

But I digress…

I said at the start the Scene Concept is a bridge between the World Concept and the Character inspired story. Why? Because a scene gives us bits of both things. A scene can suggest rules and a world, but not to the extent of a World Concept. It also gives some characters and maybe a little of who they are, but nowhere near the fully fleshed Characters that become the basis of a story on their own.

Has anyone even done this? Sure. One of the most famous examples is the author of the Twilight series, Stephenie Meyer. She stated that Twilight originated as a dream she had of Bella and Edward lying in a field. At the time, she didn’t know their names, she didn’t know he was a vampire, and she didn’t know why they were in the field. But the scene was so strong in her mind, she plotted out the entire first book based on what brought them to that scene and what happened afterward.

Even if this type of inspiration hasn’t driven you to start a story, chances are it has driven you to the keyboard while your story has been in progress.

I’ve never found a scene inspired an entire story with me, but while I’ve been working on a story a scene I’ve thought of helps to drive the story forward, or maybe changes the nature of the story I was telling. Scenes are the building blocks of tales, and it’s not overly surprising that they could inspire an entire story.

Pitfalls? Same as the previous two, but deadlier because it suffers from the potential of both problems; thin plot and thin characters.

In the same way that being inspired by a scene can give you samples of the previous two inspiration types, it doesn’t flesh either out as strong. So it’s possible that both your plot and characters will suffer.

How do you avoid that?

Well, you have a bit of work ahead of you. The author who has a character needs to get to know that character to try and find the story. The author who has a World concept needs to find their story in that world.

If your inspiration is a scene, you need to find out both. Who are the people in your scene? Why are they there? What kind of world is this? And so on.

While having an inspiration for a scene set in a world I’ve already created, with characters I already know, is an exciting event, having it as the sole thing to go on for a story feels thin.

What do you think? Every had a story born from a single scene?

The Process of Creation – Here’s a Concept

I’m looking at how stories begin. Where do they come from? What compels a person to dedicate so much of their time to put words in order, just to tell a story?

In my post on Starting with Characters, I talked about how some authors start with an interesting character.

Today, I’m going to discuss the type of inspiration that always drives me to the keyboard; Concepts.

To save you all from eye-strain, I’ll be breaking this into three separate posts because there’s three types of concepts that lead to a story. The three concept related topics are;

  1. The World Concept
  2. The Scene Concept
  3. The Thematic Concept

Concept vs. Idea

I had mentioned the notion of concept versus idea in my post on Writing Like it’s Chess. However, if you don’t feel like clicking on the link, here’s the quick version;

  • A Concept is a vague notion – ie. A world ruled by evil dragons.
  • An Idea is a definitive shape that sounds more like a short synopsis.

For the purpose of these articles, I’m talking strictly about Concepts. These vague notions that will only become a story after a great deal of poking and prodding (we’ll talk about poking & prodding later).

The World Concept

The World Concept is much like what I used for my example above. It usually comes from thinking of worlds that don’t exist, or about unique and interesting ways to view our own world.

Strip all the story out of Harry Potter, what do you have? Imagine a world where magic exists alongside of us, but normal people are ignorant of it. Cool idea. Not overly original, but cool nonetheless. But it’s not a story. Instead, it is the beginning of an interesting world where a story will take place.

However, that can often be enough to drive someone to the keyboard.

Be aware, I also lump the “People with amazing abilities” type of concept into the World Concept because, after all, the world they live in would be different.

Starting with a World Concept, in my opinion, is the fastest way to story (in terms of the Concept category). Because a world already begins to give rules, and because of the rules of that world, the nature of its people begins to become apparent as well.

Take the example of the world ruled by evil dragons. Some rules have been established, such as, mythical creatures can exist in this world. If mythical creatures exist, it’s possible magic does too. Chances are the physics of this world are similar to our own, but it is likely at Medieval tech level at most (unlikely dragons would allow the scientific discoveries we’ve made). Humans in this world are probably of two types; those who cower in fear & serve and those who are filled with outrage and are always on the lookout for a way to rebel.

That took me 45 seconds to come up with. Sure, it’s not a story yet, but because the world and the people in it are taking shape, it’s not too hard to find the story. Will it be about those who are rebellious? Will it be about a character who currently cowers, but due to some event, rises to lead the rebellion? Or will it be about one of the dragons? This could go on for a while.

What’s the weakness here? In my experience, Characters.

Just like I cautioned that a strong & dominant character might overshadow their story, an overwhelming concept could cause characters to be shallow and act as nothing but standard archetypes.

Fact is, when you start with an amazing concept, it can blind you to the “human” side of the story. Who does a reader relate to? Who is the hero here? Is the author so preoccupied with their own concept that the story meanders and feels stagnant?

Been there, done that. Which is exactly why I throw it out there as something to look out for.

Just as in the Character inspired story where you need your story to meet your character, in the World Concept story you need characters who are just as interesting and compelling as the world they live in. Otherwise no one will care. Not to mention that the story will feel like a series of cliches.

Next article will focus on a closely related Concept, that of the Scene.

Zone of Enders gets some Revoltech Love

My love of anime, and therefore large, powerful robots, dates back to my childhood. At that time, shows like Robotech, Grandizer, Gaiking, Getter Robo & Voltron were the center of my world. Little wonder then that I was also a Transformers, ahem, enthusiast.

As I grew older and my geeky interests expanded, I found myself in possession of the PS2. I wasn’t as much of a gamer when I was younger. I was the moocher who hung out on his friends’ couch playing Nintento & Colecovision, but never owned a system myself until I was in my 20s.

The first system I owned was the original Playstation. The reason I had to own it? Final Fantasy 7.

I had become hooked on Final Fantasy playing my girlfriend’s Super NES (It’s cool, we’re married now, so I didn’t just mooch & run). So when I saw the glory of what was to be Final Fantasy 7, I had to own it. Funny story, I actually had my copy of Final Fantasy 7 prebooked before I even owned the Playstation.

So where am I going with this? Ummm, yeah, that single game turned into a gaming love affair. So when the PS2 came out, I had to own it.

One of the games that blew me away with its graphics and enjoyable gameplay was called Zone of Enders (given to us by the gaming genius of Hideo Kojima) . It didn’t hurt that you ran missions using a giant mech called Jehuty (that’s why I mention the mecha love earlier. See, it all ties together).

Jehuty was a great mix of the streamlined aesthetics of the modern era, but with the chunky boosters, missile launchers & sword of the mecha of my youth. I loved the design of Jehuty.

And now I can own him!!

Kaiyodo, those creators of awesome mecha toys, are releasing a Jehuty as part of their Revoltech line in April. Wonderful toy site Tomopop had the official news today.

Click on the link to read Tomopop’s article on the Jehuty figure.

I mean, c’mon, this lets you show your love for mecha & gaming all in one! I’m thinking this will be gracing my desk sometime in May.

The Process of Creation – First Came the Character

How do you start a work of fiction? What is the initial spark that lights the fire?

In these series of articles, I’m going to be looking at what starts the ball rolling. This isn’t about the first line or paragraph, this is about what made you want to start writing your story in the first place. Today’s focus is on Character.

The lady with the big gun is named Black Rock Shooter. She was first an illustration that was posted by Japanese illustrator Huke on his website and the illustrator website Pixiv on December 26, 2007. At that time, she was nothing more than an image of a character.

Soon after, Ryo of JPop group Supercell caught a glimpse of the character and was so inspired that he wrote a song about her. The band had Huke do drawings & animations for the music video.

The video was released on the web and garnered hundreds of thousands of views. It was so popular that soon a 50 minute anime was produced, which of course spawned countless figures, posters, etc.

So what’s the point?

The point here is that a story, and an entire marketing franchise, launched because of one thing; a cool looking character.

JK Rowling has often said that the character of Harry Potter just popped right into her head. The kind of boy he was, the scar, the boy he would become, all of it, BAM, into her head like a lightening shot.

In these cases, and many more like them, an author had a character in mind but no story to use that character in. The story was eventually born from poking and prodding the character to learn more about them.

Some writers compare this to an interview process. In fact, some literally have interview questions that they write and fill out by asking their character.

From the answers that they receive, the author begins to build a story. From the character they learn who their friends are, what kind of family they have, what scares them, what makes them happy. If the character has some sort of defining physical trait, the author probes deeper into it. Like, gee Harry, why do you have that scar?

Admittedly, I’ve never written anything this way. I’m more a concept person.

The potential for strengths I see in this are probably clear. First of all, most readers are hooked by a compelling and fully fleshed out character. That’s likely to happen when the whole story has been crafted around a character so compelling that the author had to write their tale.

Is there a downside? I can only think of one; a thin plot.

Reading the synopsis of the Black Rock Shooter anime, it’s pretty clear that either it was meant as a tease for future projects, or the story was only half conceived (when I’ve actually watched it, I’ll let you know my full opinion).

What it all boils down to is the author’s intent. Is the story beautiful & wonderful because of its character, or is there an amazing story that has an equally awesome character? I mean, would anyone argue that Harry Potter’s plot was thin and lacked intricacy?

In the case of Harry, I think what truly saved him wasn’t just the world he revealed to his author, but that it was populated with characters just as interesting and compelling as Harry himself. And that’s where careful steps need to be taken. A story usually involves several characters. If only one is formed in your head, there’s probably going to be issues.

What do you guys think? Are there liabilities to writing based on a character as opposed to writing based on a concept that you then populate with characters (that approach will be post 2)?

The Plastic People Are Coming To Get Me!!!

I just had to post this video here.

I’ve made no attempt to hide my love of anime. Recently I ordered a figure for a character named Black Rock Shooter (who is going to figure prominently in a future post).

Anywho, an anime that has proven to be immensely popular is K-On! a story about a group of girls in a high school music club.

Someone, who has an extraordinary amount of extra time on their hands, has used the highly pose-able Figma action figures of the main characters to recreate the opening of the show. It’s odd, maybe a little scary, but very well done stop-motion animation.

To Self-Publish or not Self-Publish?

It’s funny how much changes in the matter of a year.

This time last year, the Apple iPad had yet to be released. We all wondered just how revolutionary a product it would be.

Initially, people seemed underwhelmed. But if you followed bookish type people on Twitter, you started to see an increasing ripple of excitement. Maybe a healthy dose of fear and uncertainty as well.

While products like Kindle and Sony’s eReader had been out for some time, this was the first time a product was released that was capable not only of being an ebook reader but also of being able to display colour media. For some, this created intense excitement. Some of the products released to date have taken true advantage of the iPad’s abilities. Has anyone seen the official Bram Stoker Family edition of Dracula? Or War of the Worlds? How about Alice in Wonderland?

In the darker days of self-publishing, writers went to horrible expense to get their product into the hands of the public. And most of the time when they did, it was substandard in its print quality.

Not only that, but there was the stigma of being self-published. It was seen as an act of desperation to get a substandard product that wouldn’t be published by any sane Publishing House into the public arena.

But the current eReader products, including iPad, seem to be quickly changing that. And funny enough, the major product category at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show was, yup, you guessed it, tablets.

As a self-publisher, you now have multiple options for releasing your product to the public, and most of them at a very low cost (ok, if you’re willing to work at it, you can do it yourself for only the cost of your time).

There is Amazon, Kobo, iBook Store, Smashwords, & so many others. You can produce the book in several formats and sell it through your own website. In short, you now have access to a marketplace of thousands (millions?) of people as opposed to those you can hand a copy from the trunk of your car.

In this new paradigm of self-publishing, it is seen more as a choice of control as opposed to being a substandard product. Numerous authors are moving to ebooks as a method of being able to create their own artwork and pocket a larger percentage of the product’s sales.

In the modern publishing market, authors are largely left to their own devices to market their books. This is the message that comes across time and again when speaking to those in the industry. So as an author, if you’re going to have to have a huge platform online and in bookstores to promote your work for sale, why see only two or three percent of the sales as opposed to seventy to one-hundred percent?

I think what appeals to me the most about self-publishing is that I control every aspect of the book. In traditional publishing, you put all this work into crafting the words, just to have someone else decide on the font, cover art, bio, author pic, etc. As someone who is very visual, I think I would completely lose my mind if I had no say in my cover.

There is something immensely satisfying in the idea of creating the words, creating the images, choosing all physical aspects of the work and then seeing it out into the world for release. Every sale is like a victory of the hard work of the author.

But there’s an ego thing with being traditionally published. Being able to walk into a bookstore and see my book on the shelves (without me having gone in there previously with self-pubbed copies) is very appealing and a form of validation that I’ll have to do serious soul searching to decide if I can live without.

So what do you think? Is self-publishing rising from the less reputable position it’s held for years? What would your choice be?