Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Character Appearance and Personality: Tips For Showing Instead of Telling

I try to talk a lot about inclusion here on my blog, firstly because I want to help people avoid making writing mistakes, and secondly because it's a smart move on your part to make sure you keep your potential audience as wide as possible. And though this is a topic I've touched on before in posts like How To Write A Strong Female Character, there are just certain mistakes that a lot of writers keep making when they try to bring characters onto the page when they don't share a lived experience with them.

But... what is she WEARING?
If you haven't read the guest post 5 Mistakes Male Authors Make When Writing Female Characters, I highly recommend you do so. It has invaluable information in it for a lot of us out there. Today, though, I want to focus on one of the mistakes this article mentioned that crops up a lot when it comes to female characters written by men in general, but it's a mistake that shows up a lot when the author has no experience to rely on when bringing a character across that I see a lot.

Using someone's appearance to imply their personality.

Books and Covers

As Savannah Cordova points out in the above article, this is an age-old trick used by men who have trouble writing women; they simply describe the character looking a certain way, and use that description to imply who she is as a person so save time and effort. Whether it's her wild mane of raven hair, or the glint of mischief in her eyes, or the defiant way she folds her arms; all of this is meant to convey who she is in an instant. This trick goes back at least as far as the pulps and short story magazines, where authors didn't have the page space to waste on big exposition or establishing shots, because they had plot to get to.

A specter in black, with a grim expression and a devil's fire in his eyes.
But if you stop and think about it, this trick is both really lazy, and sort of creepy. Most of us have literally been taught our entire lives not to judge people based on the way they look, and manipulating your audience to do that can come across as creepy. Especially when they catch you doing it, and get annoyed that your manipulation is so obvious.

Showing Is Facts In Action

A lot of writers who rely on this lazy trick defend it by saying they're showing the audience who someone is instead of telling them... but really, you're not. You're just pointing at an object at rest, and using description to lead the audience to a certain conclusion. That's just telling disguised as showing, and you're not doing yourself any favors. In fact, it's actually a lot easier to just dispense with the complicated subterfuge, and focus on really showing your audience who a character is.

All right, boys, show 'em we mean business!
You need your audience to judge your characters by their actions, instead of by their appearance. To that end, if you want to establish a character is a certain way, you need to show them acting that way to confirm that it's actually who they are. That way it's not just hearsay; we have evidence to back up our knowledge.

As an example, don't describe a woman's business attire and end it there; show how she conducts herself. Does she have a firm handshake and eye contact? Does she walk with confidence, overriding objections smoothly during negotiations? Is she aggressive, or stoic? If we see her later does she conduct herself the same way she does when she's at the office, or is the persona we've witnessed part of the face she wears for business? Or is the only thing that changes her choice of more sensible shoes and a leather jacket instead of a blazer?

The same is true for almost any aspect of a character. If you want to establish they're strong, show them lifting something heavy with ease. If you want to let us know they're a capable fighter, show them get into a scrape with someone. If you need the audience to know this character is smart, showing them doing something that requires them using their intelligence (playing chess is a favorite, as is hacking into computers, or talking about quantum physics before realizing no one else in the room can understand them).

What you should not do is just use inflammatory adjectives to get your point across; show your characters doing things, and present them as objectively as you can. A little flavor here and there is good for your prose, but make sure you're not using it in place of presenting your audience with facts to draw their conclusions from.

The Deductive Approach

There is an alternative approach to always showing your characters in action, but it's something that needs to be handled very carefully. Because you can sprinkle hints into a character's description to give your audience clues about who they are, and what they're like, but the key is that these hints need to be facts about the character, and the deductive implications of those facts.

It's elementary, really...
If you've ever read a Sherlock Holmes story, then you've seen how Conan Doyle laid this all out for the reader. Holmes takes the facts of a situation, and then deduces meaning from them. You don't have to get as intricate as the great detective, but you do need to follow the same kind of logic.

As an example, say you're meeting a character for the first time. He's dressed in an expensive suit and seems friendly, but what do the details about him in this scene say? Well, the college ring on his hand says West Point, so we can deduce where he went to school. His palm is calloused despite his expensive clothes, the pattern implying that he practices regularly with handguns. A Texan drawl tells us where he grew up, or at least where he's lived long enough to acquire an accent. The scent of cigars tells us he's a smoker, the particular odor saying they're mid-range in price, and the faintness implying it's not a regular indulgence.

Now, we haven't seen this character actually do anything, but each of these little clues has given us a bit of insight about who he might be behind the tie, and it fleshes him out. I talked about this over on my gaming blog in the entry Do Clothes Make The Adventurer, as well, if you're looking for more examples for how to imply a character's history through these little details. Generally speaking, though, you're looking for things like tattoos, cultural markings, voice tics, scars, and even tan lines, and providing context for the reader to help them draw the right conclusions. It takes work, and it's a tough habit to get used to, but it's a great deal less problematic than just using leading descriptions and hoping your audience goes along with the railroading.

Like, Follow, and Come Back Again!

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

In The Age of Audio, Why Don't You Have an Audio Book?

I'd like to start this post with a moment of real talk; I didn't listen to music until I was a teenager.

Now that is not to say I didn't know what music was, or that I'd never heard it before. I was raised with Disney classics the same way any kid was, and my parents listened to tunes on the radio while we were out driving. I had a few cassettes from a handful of singers that I would sometimes listen to while I did chores. However, I didn't actually know what the radio function on my tape deck was for until my age was measured in double digits, and although the massive cassette box I kept under my bed was full of tapes, about 90 percent of them were just audio books.

Read to your kids, people.
The story told around my family gatherings was that, from the time I was born, my dad would read me stories. Even while I was in the hospital, and I was there a long time since I was a preemie. Grimm stories, literary classics, penny dreadfuls, it was all the same to me. As I got older, I always wanted my family and my teachers to read to me. Even when I could read myself (something I apparently did pretty early), I never lost my love of listening to people tell me stories.

Then, when I started making friends in middle school and high school, I learned how absolutely weird that was. Nobody I knew purposefully listened to audio books. Most people knew what they were, and a few people had heard them on family trips or in English class, but no one had preferred readers for certain texts. And radio plays... well, that was something nobody else I knew growing up had ever heard of.

And it makes sense, when you think about it. Books on tape were sort of a niche thing, listened to primarily by old folks who missed the days of radio, traveling salesmen, and those who couldn't see to read a traditional book. Worse, these things were expensive. Even when you used volunteers, including people like Edmund Kemper, the Coed Killer (seriously), these things took a lot to produce. Time, energy, tape, distribution, and so on, and so forth. That meant that it was something you usually needed a big publisher backing you for if you wanted to get it done.

However, these days, you can get an Audible free trial and two audio books just for the asking over at Amazon. What a time to be alive, eh?

What The Hell Happened?

The Internet has changed everything, and that includes the way we create and consume content. You don't need to have an entire recording studio, a sound engineering degree, and access to dozens of special effect archives to make an engaging audio book anymore. Now all you need is a halfway decent mic (the Samson Go Mic Portable USB microphone is one I can personally recommend for a tool that gets the job done for under $40), a computer with some free recording software on it (Audacity can work wonders), an Internet connection, and a nice, quiet place to record in.

Mixing boards are fun, but definitely not required.
But once you've put in all the effort to finish the book, how do you get paid for it? Well, you could theoretically put it on a platform like YouTube, but as I said in Writers On YouTube? Prepare For An Uphill Battle, that is a lot easier said than done. And, of course, if someone can just listen to you read your book for free, then why would they bother buying a copy of it? While a free sample on a platform like YouTube can be a great way to whet your listeners' appetites, you need more than that.

That's where ACX comes in.

Your Destination For Audio Sales

While far from the only platform out there, ACX is one of the go-to places for people who want to get an audio version of their book out there to be listened to. Once you have an account you can either upload audio that you've recorded and cleaned up yourself, or you can put out a call for someone to record your book and enter into an agreement with a reader. This second one is more involved, as you have to listen to auditions, and you'll end up splitting your royalties with whoever you pick, but a good reader goes a long way in making sure you have a quality product when all is said and done.

You get what you pay for in this racket.
Once your audio book is recorded, you can put it up on Audible, iTunes, and Amazon, attaching it to your existing book and getting as many sales as you can manage.

It Really Is That Easy (If That's The Right Word)

Getting an audio book on the market is worlds easier than it once was. In fact, anyone with access to a computer and a mic can get it done, if they're willing to put in the time, energy, and to get over the learning curve to edit the audio and smooth it out. That doesn't make it easy, anymore than writing a good book is easier just because you can publish your novel online in this day and age. But it is one more roll of the dice you can take, and one more thing you can do to stay competitive.

After all, someone who loves to listen to audio books on their commute might be more than happy to give you a try because they like your reader. Then once you've got them hooked, they'll start working the way through the rest of your catalog. Happens every time.

Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned!

That's all for this week's Business of Writing! If you'd like to see more of my work, take a look at my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Don't Worry About People Missing The Point (Because They Will)

The world of fiction is filled with great satires, as well as stories that make poignant arguments on social issues, morality (or the lack thereof), and the state of the world at the time. Books that act as take-downs (as well as send-ups) of political ideologies are a dime a dozen, and you've probably read at least that many in your lifetime so far.

And you know something? Good or bad, poignant or sloppy, subtle or obvious, there are people who missed the point when they read them. And even when you explain that point to them, they still just... don't get it.

Wait... what do you mean he's the bad guy? I don't get it!
That's going to happen. No matter how clever you are, or how clear you think you're being with your book, some people are going to misinterpret the subtext, the meaning, and the motivations of it. There is nothing you can do to stop it, so just accept that it's going to happen even if you spell it out in plain black and white.

Not Everyone Is Going To See Your Perspective

Communication is a difficult thing when text is the only tool you have to work with. Especially when you consider that, try as you might, you have a very specific set of experiences and frame of reference that goes into your work. Someone who doesn't share those aspects with you, or who has been conditioned to see certain aspects of a character, story, or situation as white when you're painting them as black, and vice versa, isn't going to walk away with the same message you laid down.

One of the more famous misreadings of a text comes from Alan Moore's comic (and the subsequent film) Watchmen. The graphic novel is a deconstruction that shows just how awful it would be to live in a world with real superheroes, and the sort of damage that life of unbalanced violence can do to a person as well as a culture. Atomic Junk Shop talked about this recently, and in it they mention how horrified Moore was to the American reaction to his cast.

Because, you see, the character we're supposed to empathize with is Dr. Manhattan. He has the power of a god, but rather than bringing him happiness, it's disconnecting him from the world around him. He's having a harder time seeing things from the simple, moral sidelines so many mortals occupy, and he can only view the world on a grander scale, or on such a microscopic one that it's beyond anyone else's comprehension. By contrast, Rorschach is the character who is meant to embody everything that is awful about what a real-life costumed vigilante would be like. He's a product of a horrifying upbringing, was regularly abused, has a skewed black-or-white vision of reality, lacks empathy, is a sexist, a fascist, and a serial killer. He can barely communicate, he has no hygiene, and he's left behind his actual life and identity entirely to become this thing. He exists as a brutal, awful ideal comprised of splintered bones and broken teeth in a world where might makes right is the whole of the law.

And that's the guy American readers could NOT get enough of!

Some of you don't seem to understand...
It didn't matter how awful Moore made Rorschach, just like it didn't matter how terrible Tyler Durden was, or how absolutely insane the actions of characters like the Punisher or Judge Dredd are. No matter how clearly they're coded as villains (or as characters who are broken, hurting, and violently dangerous as opposed to the sort of people you'd want to model your life choices after), there are readers who are going to see them not just as heroes, but as examples. Maybe that's a cultural difference, maybe it comes from a misreading of the subtext, or maybe it's because these readers just have a bizarrely different frame of reference from the writer, but they not only missed the intended point, but they picked up an entirely different point than the one being made.

The important thing to know is that, in the end, it's out of your control. Additionally, it may not even matter!

For The Last Time, It's NOT About Censorship!

In 6 Books Everyone (Including Your English Teacher) Got Wrong, it's pointed out that Fahrenheit 451 is not actually about censorship, according to the author himself. While it's easy to get that impression, given that it's literally about state-sponsored fire teams going building by building and blow torching books, Bradbury has gone on the record by stating clearly and explicitly that his book is about television, the dumbing down of the audience, and the shortening of people's attention spans.

Which, sure, you can see that. If you squint really hard, and tilt your head a bit.

The point, though, is that in the end it didn't matter what Bradbury's intended message was. The book became a condemnation of state-sponsored censorship, whether that was what he meant it to be about or not. Some people might argue that his vision should be respected as the creator, but communication is a two way street. If you make a statement, and there are alternative interpretations of that statement (good or bad), then the fact that you didn't intend them is irrelevant.

In other words, you can control what you said all you want. But what you cannot control is what the audience actually heard. And sometimes that's frustrating. Sometimes it leads to your book becoming a champion of a cause you hadn't intended, or getting latched onto by a group you'd really rather not have as fans. But that is, as they say, out of your hands.

And look at it this way... people still have to buy a copy and read it before they can misinterpret what you wrote.

Like, Follow, and Come Back Again!

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Know Who You're Selling Your Book To (Before You Start Writing It)

Most people think they have a pretty good grasp of the writing process. You come up with an idea for a book, and you go through whatever pre-planning you need for your plot. Once you're ready, you pump out a first draft. You let it cool, then go back over it for a second, third, and maybe even a fourth draft depending on your preferences and style. Then you hand it over to your beta readers, and you have them read it over for mistakes you missed, plot holes, spelling a character's name differently halfway through chapter six, what have you.

Then, when you finally have a complete manuscript, you engage phase two... finding somewhere to sell the damn thing!

Got a minute to listen to my pitch?
If you're one of those writers who puts off the marketing aspect entirely so you can focus on your writing, then you might want to pick your head out of the sand for a moment. Because you should already know where you're selling your book before you so much as put the first word on the first page of your first draft.

But You Can't Sell A Book Until It's Written!

Right you are bold, italicized text! However, I am not saying that authors should be pitching their books to publishers when they don't have the manuscript ready to go. That sort of behavior is utter folly. However, it's a mistake to think of the writing process as two separate halves; creating the book and selling the book are just two sides of the same coin.

Which is why you can, and indeed should, be working on both of them simultaneously.

Sacagawea would approve.
As an example, while I was putting together the stories for New Avalon: Love and Loss in The City of Steam, I was also in talks with the few publishers I knew at the time to gauge who might be interested in the project once it was complete. And, in the event no one on my list was interested, I was combing through that year's copy of Writer's Market and compiling a list of alternative publishers to query. I already knew I was putting together an inter-connected collection of noir steampunk short stories, and I knew that I didn't want to publish it myself, so I made sure I had a list of potential homes that I could query as soon as it was ready.

That preparation paid off, though there was a hiccough or two in the road. One of the publishers I'd worked with before expressed interest almost as soon as I reached out to them, and even gave me a contract, but the project eventually fell through. Fortunately, because I'd already done the legwork, I had a list of other publishers to query with the project once that ship sank. It eventually wound up with JWK Publishing, who polished it up, and took care of the rest of the publishing process for me.

Could I have written the book, and then done all that work to get it placed with a publisher? Absolutely. However, much like writing, doing market research and submissions prep isn't something you should try to hammer out all in one go. Instead, it's more like going to the gym; if you do a little bit every day, and ease into it, then pretty soon you find you're really proficient. You know all the different options you've got, and all the different angles to work in order to get the results you want, and it's not likely to strain you.

This Goes Double For Self-Publishers!

I see you in the back of the room trying to sneak out. You're thinking that, because you're self-publishing, then you can work on your own schedule without bothering with the rest of this. After all, there's no reason to send emails, make calls, etc., until your book is done because you can't actually start the rest of the publishing process until your manuscript is ready.

Ah, but that's where you're wrong!
When you're your own publisher, it only makes sense to start the plates spinning as soon as possible so you have as little work left to do once the manuscript has reached completion. For instance, before you start writing you should make sure all your formatting is going to work for your platform of choice (because there's nothing worse than fixing 300 pages of using a Tab for an indent when you should have just set your preference in your Paragraph menu and let the technology handle the rest), and if possible you should have cover art picked out and ready to rock long before you reach the final chapter.

If you haven't checked out Looking For Cover Art For Your Book? Try Drive-Thru RPG!, then you will certainly thank me once you have.

Additionally, if you're confident in your ability to deliver your book on time, you can start the marketing machine early. If you run a blog, a YouTube channel, or a similar platform, give your audience updates on how the new book is coming to get them excited for the release. Reach out to reviewers, and get them lined up so they're ready to look over your advanced reviewer copies once they're ready to rock. Schedule interviews, guest blogs, etc. and stay on top of that schedule so that you can seamlessly transition from, "writing the new book," to, "selling the new book."

You Don't HAVE To Start Both At Once

Everyone's different, don't get me wrong. Some authors know by the end of chapter one how many words this book is going to be, and how long it's going to take them to hit that number. Other authors may meander a bit, needing some spare months to do re-writes and to backtrack from false starts and unnecessary plot points.

Writing books is tough, and it's not always a straight line to get from A to B.

We're working with a lot of variables, after all.
However, once you're sure that your project is going to be carried to term, it's a good idea to start preparing for its completion. Because just like having a baby, you want to have a sitter, a crib, some formula, etc. already waiting in the wings for the day it's finally here. Because arranging all of that while your newest creation squalls in your ear is a lot harder (not to mention more time consuming) to do from square one.

Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned!

That's all for this week's Business of Writing! If you'd like to see more of my work, take a look at my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Paintings on The Ceiling (Why Your World Building Needs Immediacy)

Picture your story as a grand cathedral. There are gleaming tiles, niches filled with statues, and candles that shed light and provide ambiance. Subtle signs are left out, and ushers direct your readers to their proper places, ensuring they can follow along with the ritual of your tale. The acoustics lets your narration reach everyone, drawing them along in the wake of your story.

Your world building, in this case, is all around your audience. It's the smell of the wood polish, the quality of the light, the murals on the walls. However, most people who show up are there for the sermon, the grand tour, and the story you're telling. They don't show up to admire the walls, because they're just there to set the scene.

Sure, this is fun... but is this what matters right now?
That is not to say that all those details are not important to your story. But the question you need to ask is whether those are the things you should be focusing on?

Because if the elements you're pointing your readers' attention at don't matter to the story, then they have no immediacy. There is almost no faster way to lose someone's attention than that.

Paintings on The Ceiling

Give you an example of what I'm talking about with a conversation I had with a fellow creator a while back. Names shan't be mentioned, nor details given, as they aren't necessary to understand the point being made.

This person had their world all figured out. They'd laid out the ages of history, which parts were known and which parts were unknown, and what sorts of relics had been left behind. They understood the world's magic system, as well as what level of technological development was in which part of the setting. It made for a fun mixed bag of sci-fantasy, which was fun and engaging, giving the reader a lovely world to romp around in.

And if they'd just stopped there, they would have been fine. But the ball wanted to keep rolling.

No, really... you can stop building now...
Because, you see, there was not just a world but an entire cosmos at play here! There was space travel, and alien empires, and extraterrestrial organizations of cybernetic peace keepers, and all sorts of other cosmic craziness. And there was nothing wrong with any of that. It was fun, it was engaging, and it was interesting.

But it did not enhance the story that was being told. All it did was drag the focus off the primary setting (this fun little rock with it's odd nations that were one part post-apocalyptic badlands and one part nouveau medieval kingdoms with wizards and shotguns in them), and add a bunch of additional stuff that was just going to be a distraction.

All that other stuff was the fresco on the ceiling of the church. Sure it might be beautiful, eye-catching, fun, and filled with all sorts of amazing details, but if it isn't actually a part of the sermon you're there to listen to, all it's doing is making you tune out, lose focus, and miss big swaths of what's being said.

The Need To Know Basis

When you're writing a story, you only give out information on a need-to-know basis. You, as the creator, need to know all the little nooks and crannies of your world. If it's pertinent to you to know that the sword your protagonist found in a tomb was forged in fires heated with the bones of dead warriors, and the carbon that introduced into the process is where the steel developed such unusual properties for an iron age style setting, then by all means put that in your notes. But don't take time out of your book to have someone explain the intricacies of chemical changes during the forging of a blade if it is in no way relevant to your story, and it does not move your plot forward in any way.

I love this documentary, too, but don't waste the reader's attention.
This applies to basically all your world building; it needs immediacy in order for it to be relevant, rather than a distraction.

Now, that doesn't mean you should just ignore things that aren't on the straight path of your plot. If a major city is the headquarters of the Wyvern Knights, mention that. Have them flying around, or put one of two of them in the background. But don't step away from the story you're actually telling to give us a history lesson on that order, and on wyverns in the region if it's not germane to the story you're telling. If your setting has two moons, you should probably mention that during a night time scene, but don't go on for an entire paragraph about what those moons' affects on the planet are, or the mythology surrounding them if it doesn't affect your main cast and what they're doing. If there's a wizard in your scene, and they're doing wizard shit, describe what we see rather than giving us a big damn aside about how magic works in this world, unless you have a novice character receiving a lecture about it, and that lecture somehow fits into the journey that character is taking.

Everything, and I do mean everything should be in the service of immersing your reader into the story you're telling. Let them drink in the details, but remember that those details are not your story. They're stage dressing. They're atmosphere. Let them be that, instead of putting them in center stage so you can talk about them. Because unless these facts are important for the readers to know to understand what's happening, all you're doing is distracting them.

And if you do need to explain to your readers what's happening, don't just have your narrator do it. Work it into dialogue, build scenes around the learning process, or provide enough clues to pick up context. We don't need to know the intricate process of becoming the Sanctum Dominatus of the library, but we can probably figure out by the way other people react to the title that this person is serious business, and that if they are displeased with you then you're in a lot of trouble.

Like, Follow, and Come Back Again!

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Writing a Bestseller is Like Winning The Lottery (How Facing Facts Can Help You Beat The Odds)

Have you ever stopped to consider what the odds of writing a New York Times bestseller actually are? Well, in case you haven't looked it up yourself, both Forbes and Free Money Finance say that your odds are about 1 in 200. On the one hand, those odds are significantly better than winning the Powerball (about 1 in 238,000,000 in case you're thinking about buying a ticket), but those odds still aren't great. Especially if you've got to put in sweat, blood, creative juices, and years of hellish effort just to get that one ticket ready.

Come on, baby, papa needs a new laptop!
It's pretty easy to find that discouraging. However, if you can face the facts, and accept that you probably won't beat the odds, you'll actually find the game is a lot easier to play.

Ancient Greece, Acceptance, and Spinning The Wheel

In case you're not an etymology geek, the word happen comes from the Greek hap, which referred to chance and fortune. While today we think of happiness as something we have, as a commodity generated from inside ourselves, in the ancient Western world happiness was something that literally happened to you. It came and it went much like luck, ebbing and flowing with fate and favor. And while people still had bad times, the philosophy of the language was basically that you accepted what the gods and chance gave you, because there was nothing you could do about it one way or the other.

And you would be amazed at how freeing that can be in a professional sense.

Let me give you an example.
As a quick for instance, not long after I released my pulp fantasy novel Crier's Knife, I held an ebook giveaway for it. As promotional devices go, these giveaways are a smart bet. People like free stuff, it increases the traffic to your page, and you see a lot more action than you otherwise might. I moved 700 copies over a weekend, which at the level I work at was a pretty decent success. My previous giveaway, which was for my steampunk noir collection New Avalon: Love and Loss in The City of Steam barely hit 500 copies, so I was making clear progress.

Was I involved in that process? Absolutely. I was the one who decided when to host the giveaway, I was the one who made the social media posts, and I was the one who made sure the book was ready for prime time, so to speak. I kept the comments going on the forums, and I was the one who drew as much attention to it as I possibly could. At the end of the day, though, the downloads were only partially determined by my efforts; mostly, they were determined by raw chance.

Every part of this process was affected by so many factors that were outside of my control. Facebook and Reddit's group algorithms decided who saw my posts, and more importantly who didn't see them. I also had no control over the reaction people had to my post. If they were in a good mood, or a bad one. If they decided to download my book since they liked free stuff, or if they down-voted my post because they didn't like something about my description. I had no control over who shared the link with other people, who actually read the book once they downloaded it, and of the people that did read it who left a review.

I was tossing a message in a bottle out into the ocean, and hoping against hope that a YouTube influencer with millions of fans found it, then told all their followers to go buy a copy. That didn't happen, but at the same time there was no guarantee that it would. No magic assurance that my book would become a success if I just tweaked these words in the description, or posted it on this platform as opposed to another one. There is no magic formula to bring a stampede of people with their dollars held out for more of your story.

And the sooner you accept that, the easier it will be to keep trying to make that very thing happen.

You've Got Enough of The Burden as It Is

Don't misunderstand me, here; this is your job, and you are a big part of what goes into it. You're the one who writes the book, helps with the promotion, and who is the face of your brand. You're the one turning up at shows, making your pitch, and getting people interesting. You are, in other words, the one who is buying the ticket.

You simply have no guarantee that the ticket you buy is going to be a winner.

You can, however, stack the odds in your favor.
I said this back in If You Write One Story It May Be Bad. Write A Hundred, And The Odds Are In Your Favor, but it bears repeating. The more you create, the more your put out, and the louder your signal gets, the better the odds you have of people actually discovering you. Much like how buying one ticket might only have a small chance of winning big, but if you buy a few hundred, or a few thousand, well, the odds are looking better all the time.

Because if you put out one book, one article, one YouTube video, etc., your odds of going viral overnight are pretty slim unless you already have a massive fan base of people interested in your work, or you have a gigantic budget to pay for the advertising machine it would take to acquire all those eyes. However, little successes add up over time, and every person you win over as a fan is one more snowflake to stack on your mountain. You pile them up slowly, and eventually there are enough of them to cause an honest-to-goodness avalanche.

Sure, there are some people who buy one lottery ticket as a goof, and win millions of dollars by sheer happenstance. Just like there are people whose books just happened to be in the right genre, or who told just the right story at the right time to get everyone's attention. There's no rhyme or reason to it, because it happens to good books and bad, to books that are heavily promoted, and indie darlings no one has ever heard of.

But don't you worry about that. Because whether the odds are with you, or against you, doesn't matter. Because sometimes your luck will be good, and sometimes it will be bad. But if you focus on telling good stories, on spreading the word, and on cultivating your little crop of readers, you'll get there eventually. Even better, you'll get there without "what-iffing" yourself inside out, wondering why other books got more attention, sold more copies, or got more likes than yours did.

Are there factors you can quantify? Sure there are. But they're only a tiny slice of the pie, and the sooner you learn to accept that luck is a huge part of whether you succeed or fail, the sooner you can get back to work without that huge weight of worry on your shoulders. Do your best, and let the rest take care of itself, because you cannot force fortune to turn your way.

Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned!

That's all for this week's Business of Writing! If you'd like to see more of my work, take a look at my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

Thursday, August 1, 2019

An Examination of The Chivalric Hero

I've been on something of a character archetype bender of late round these parts. I started with an examination of classic anti-heroes, and then moved onto the barbarian hero, but there's one more archetype that I think is worth examining. One that I think we're all familiar with, even if we know them by other names.

The Chivalric Hero.

My strength is as the strength of ten, for my heart is pure.
While we often ignore or ridicule Chivalric Heroes in the modern-day, there's a lot we could learn from them by reading between the lines. Both in terms of understanding what makes their stories work, and what makes these heroes appealing in their own, unique ways.

Classic Heroes, and The Age of Chivalry

I've talked about this in the previous installments of my explorations into heroes, but just so no one has to backtrack and we're all on the same page, a Classic Hero is not just the story's protagonist. The term refers to certain traits that were shared by characters who fulfilled the role of hero within the story in antiquity.

These traits include, but are not limited to:

- Unique Birth: The children of kings and gods, Classic Heroes are special from day one.
- Surety of Action: Classic Heroes did not doubt themselves, and they acted quickly.
- Lack of Flaws: Classic Heroes often lacked flaws, or simply had a single, Tragic flaw.
- Were Attractive: Whether charmers or not, Classic Heroes exterior beauty reflected their power.

And so on, and so forth.

So where does chivalry come into this?
As time went on, and we entered the Romantic period (that is to say, stories written in common language, which also happened to feature knights, ladies, courtly love, and other hallmarks that grew into today's idea of the romance genre), we developed the Chivalric Hero. Characters like Lancelot and Arthur, Gawain and Galahad, as well as historical figures like Charlemagne and Alexander the Great were fitted into this mold when their stories were written around the heyday of John Milton.

While there is a lot of overlap between the Chivalric Hero and the Classic Hero, there is one notable difference right off the bat. The Classic Hero (characters like Achilles or Cu Chulainn, for example) fought almost exclusively for themselves. While they could be claimed by their nation or their people after death, in life their deeds and struggles belonged only to them. Chivalric Heroes, by contrast, fought for something higher than themselves. They fought for a lord, they fought for a code, and in many cases they fought for the idea of a nation, or for a god.

That difference in cause is, in some ways, one of the most significant things about the Chivalric Hero. It also explains where they draw their power from, and why the challenges in their stories are often of a baser, and more inner-directed variety.

You Need To Build Up Your Power (And You Can Lose It)

One of the most obvious aspects of many Classic Heroes, as well as the Barbarian Hero archetype, is their raw physicality. From Conan, to Tarzan, to Enkidu, these characters draw their strength from within. Their bodies and their skills are the wellspring of their ability to affect the story, and it is through them that they triumph over those who stand in their way.

For Chivalric Heroes, though, that often isn't the case.

A vow, inside a steel shell, is strength eternal.
Chivalric Heroes are often powered by external forces that are dependent on them performing certain tasks, or avoiding certain temptations. Dedication to a code, subservience to a king, or a willingness to keep oneself pure even through great hardship, are all common themes of these characters. And it is their actions that builds layers of strength around them that helps turn them into heroes.

Heroism is not something that most Chivalric Heroes have simply by virtue of existing; it has to be prompted by something. The character has to dedicate themselves to the service of god, to their lord, or to the code. They draw symbols and protections to themselves as well, layering them on in order to gain strength from those things. And when those symbols break, it is as if a part of the Chivalric Hero has also broken.

As an example, a Chivalric Hero's sword snapping in a duel would be devastating to them, if that sword was part of the layers that built up their strength. In many cases it isn't just a tool, but rather an extension of the character. Whereas someone like Kull or Conan, infamous barbarian heroes that they are, would simply toss the broken weapon aside, and snatch up another from a fallen foe. For a Chivalric Hero, that moment of their steel breaking is often symbolic of failing a test of some sort, and of being rocked to their core.

The threat of losing their power if they make a false move is a central theme for many Chivalric Heroes. Even Marvel's Thor (at least in his early comic incarnations, and his first film), had to prove that he was worthy to wield his powers. If he became cruel, or ruthless, or gave into vanity, then his strength would desert him, and his hammer would refuse to be wielded. This is not dissimilar to how characters like Lancelot or Galahad were considered titans in battle as long as their hearts remained pure, and they upheld their vows and oaths. It's also why temptation tends to be a central theme to their stories, and how resisting it is the true act of a hero.

From Tristan and Isolde, to Lancelot and Guinevere, to one could argue Samson and Delilah, to Gawain and the Green Knight, the true test of a Chivalric Hero is rarely in how many foes they can fight, or how mighty their blows are. It's whether they can resist temptation to do what it is easy, what is pleasurable, or what is beneficial to themselves over what is right. And the point that those stories make is that it is your ability to endure these things without giving into them that underscores you as a hero.

Like, Follow, and Come Back Again!

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!