Writing The Million Dollar Outline And Resonance In Writing With David Farland

Would you like to hear the advice that Stephenie Meyer used to create Twilight, one of the bestselling books of all time? David Farland taught her and today he shares his advice on million dollar stories with you.

In the introduction, I mention Mark Coker’s fantastic post about the realities for indie authors right now, how amazing the STORY conference was and my writing update: Gates of Hell is back with my editor for final edit, and will be out in the new year. Delirium, London Psychic Book 2, is now out in audiobook format. I also mention the fantastic Author Marketing Live online conference, and you can get $50 off if you use the promo code penn.

99designs-logo-750x200pxThis podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to: 99Designs.com/joanna

99 Designs financial support pays for the hosting and transcription, and if you enjoy the show, you can now support my time on Patreon. Thank you!

david farlandDavid Farland is a multi-award winning and NY Times bestselling author of over 50 science fiction and fantasy novels, including the Runelords series, as well as screenwriting and working in the games industry. He also teaches writing workshops and has several fantastic books for authors, Writing the Million Dollar Outline, and Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing.

You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcherwatch here on YouTube or read the notes and links below.

  • How David started writing in the 1980s and won a number of awards early on, as well as writing for many gaming and popular sci-fi properties plus green-lighting for Hollywood screenwriting. He started teaching and his students included Stephenie Meyer, James Dashner and Brandon Sanderson. His rules are that a project has to be fun and he has to be able to make some money at whatever he’s doing.

million dollar outlineWriting the Million Dollar Outline

  • If it is your goal to write a bestselling novel, then you do need to consider certain principles. Write what you love but then figure out how to write for a wider audience than you started with. For example, old and young, male and female. The Harry Potter books clearly appeal to many different age groups.
  • Transport your reader to another time and/or place. Generally speaking, the top 50 books and films of all time do this. We discuss the importance of length in this aspect – despite the recent move to shorter books, the biggest books of all time are doorstop size. You can use novellas over time to create ‘mega-novel’ series though, and a lot of people are using this strategy, particularly in romance.
  • It must score high on the emotional Richter scale. It needs to impact people deeply and be remarkable so you get that word of mouth
  • The word genre is really about emotions e.g. mystery = intrigue, thrillers = adventure, horror, comedy, fantasy & sci-fi = wonder, romance = love. Nostalgia is another powerful emotion.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 1.30.28 pmDrawing on the power of resonance in writing

  • Resonance arouses an expectation that you’re going to like this type of book. Genre conventions are one aspect, cover design another, mentioning other books that people like is another. This is why similar tropes and characters are reused, as they have built in resonance. A good example was the recent Lego movie which was packed with resonance.
  • This is not about plagiarism or re-using other material, but consciously choosing to riff off earlier ideas. David goes through the layers of resonance within Pirates of the Caribbean all the way back over centuries. You still have to be original, but add a twist on the past e.g. Meyer’s sparkly vampires.

Longevity and your career as a fiction writer

  • You have to be a good storyteller and be able to write well. There are a lot of skills you need to learn in order to be successful fiction author and it’s equivalent to getting a doctorate degree.
  • It takes about 7 years to become ‘publishable’ and another 7 years to become a bestselling author. To be one of the best, you have to take that onwards to the next level. [I love this because I’ve been writing fiction for 4 years, so I am halfway through the apprenticeship!] There are people who have some kind of special talent, but most great authors work really hard and practice over years.
  • On paying attention to dreams and writing them down. It’s your sub-conscious talking to you! David talks about his process, thinking about his plot before bed so he can dream about it that night and then write in the morning. Keep a notebook or computer handy at all times!
  • On fun and hard work as a writer. You have to consider your creative muse and not do the projects that don’t bring you alive. Figure out how to stay out of the ruts that the industry will try to put you in.
  • On author name and branding. Dave’s real name, Wolverton, put him on the bottom of shelves in bookstores so when he started writing, he changed to the name David Farland. That is less important in a digital market.
  • Loving the craft is critical for longevity, or why would you bother! You can always learn something new so there is a sense of a career path ahead. Understanding the markets and being aware of what people want is critical.

On self-publishing

  • my story doctorIt’s great to be able to publish in many different ways, and Dave self-publishes his books on writing. But sometimes authors are publishing too early and are slightly delusional in terms of their ability and expectations of income. It’s a great way to publish, but you need to learn the craft and get critical feedback before you can expect success.

You can find David and his books and courses at DavidFarland.com and MyStoryDoctor.com. You can also get 20% off his courses until Jan 2015 . This is a fantastic promotion, and if you want to learn more in 2015, check David’s courses out here. ** Due to technical difficulties, all workshops are discounted by 25% right now, and no code is needed**

Pitching Literary Festivals, Genre Boundaries And Crime Fiction. With Clare Mackintosh

I attend quite a few literary festivals and I always come away having learned something.

I definitely think they are worth going to for the new perspectives as well as the networking opportunities.

literary festivalToday on the blog, I interview crime author Clare Mackintosh, who also runs a literary festival in Chipping Norton in the UK.

She answers some of my burning questions about literary fiction and genre boundaries, running literary festivals and how authors can maximize their chances of being involved. You can leave Clare any questions about these topics in the comments at the bottom of the post.

Where does literary fiction cross over into crime?

The term ‘literary fiction’ makes me roll my eyes a bit! More and more it seems to be used by authors who think they’re a cut above the rest, but I think the distinction between literary and commercial fiction is becoming very blurred. Crime novels in particular often offer commentary on social or political issues: take Eva Dolan’s excellent Long Way Home, in which she tackles the issues of immigration and migrant workers.

What do you think about genre boundaries in a world where readers increasingly shop online even for print books?

In principle I really dislike the idea of genre boundaries, which trap books in pigeonholes. Readers can be very quick to say that they ‘never read chick lit’ or ‘don’t like historical fiction’, when it’s very possible they would really enjoy the very book they are dismissing as ‘not for them’.

That said, I’m not sure what the alternative is. Genre categories provide signposts for readers, and when so much of our browsing is done online, such signposts are crucial. Personally I find myself relying more on lists of ‘popular books’, than on restrictive genre lists, and I’ve discovered some real gems that way.

You also run a literary festival – why did you start that and what are some aspects about it that you love?

chip lit festI started Chipping Norton Literary Festival in 2011, and it ran for the first time in April 2012. I started it because I wanted to put authors into intimate venues in the heart of a town, instead of in enormous marquees. The experience is quite different.

ChipLitFest is a huge project, with thousands of pounds to raise every year, but its been very successful, thanks to the hard work of all the volunteers I work with.

We produce around 50 events, as well as an extensive schools’ programme, and receive fantastic feedback from our visitors. I love meeting authors, and reading outside my comfort zone (I try to read a book from every author who appears at the festival), and I like the challenge of running such a big project on a budget.

If authors want to pitch literary festivals, what are some of the things they should consider?

Don’t just send details of your book!

Literary festivals are about events, not just authors, so think about the sort of event you could provide. Craft a pitch of no more than a couple of paragraphs, telling the organiser what the event would look like, who it would appeal to, and what your credentials are for appearing in it. If you want to appear on a panel, suggest other authors you could appear with: make it easy for the organiser to say yes.

Finally, take the time to find out who to pitch to. I receive around 300 pitches, and the vast majority are addressed ‘dear festival organiser’. It’s impolite, and it’s counter-productive – I’m far more likely to read one addressed to me.

Switching your head from festival organizer back to author speaking at festivals :)

The author often has to pay to appear at these events – what are the benefits for authors in speaking at events, and when is it best to do other forms of marketing?

I don’t believe authors should pay to appear at literary festivals. Events at festivals should be programmed for the benefit of the (usually paying) audience, with carefully chosen topics that will sell well. Authors should then receive some sort of fee (ChipLitFest works on a profit-share basis, other festivals pay flat fees) and have their books made available for sale.

There are, of course, huge benefits as an author to speaking at festivals and other events, but it’s important to choose carefully.

Make sure the festival has a good online presence, and that their off-line marketing strategy is solid. Even if your own event is small – perhaps you’ve been asked to run a workshop for 20 people – find out what the total anticipated visitor numbers are, as these are the people who will see your name on the programme and your books in the festival shop.

You won’t sell lots of books at a festival.

At an event of, say, 100 people, less than 10% will buy books. But appearing at a festival helps to cement your brand and build loyalty, and you may well find that your book sales improve immediately following the event. Success tends to breed success, so a few events at small festivals can lead to speaking gigs at larger ones, where book sales may be better and promotion more wide-spread.

You’ve been wonderfully supportive to many indie authors, myself included, as well as Dan Holloway, a friend of the blog!

But most literary festivals still exclude indie authors and self-published books. How can we go about changing the culture to include indies at lit festivals?

Yes, they do, and I think that’s a really hard issue to tackle. Ultimately events have to sell, which means programming either a well known author, or a really enticing topic (or both!). We include a self-publishing event every year, but I confess I haven’t yet had a self-published author in a headline slot. Yet…

I’d like to see more indie authors pitching lit fests, but pitching well!

I’ve just glanced at the pitches I’ve had from indie authors for ChipLitFest this year and – sadly – I haven’t pursued any of them. Without exception the emails tell me how many books they’ve sold, how long they were in various online charts, and what the reviews say. That would be great: if I were a bookshop!

I let you goTell us about your book and who might enjoy it in particular.

I Let You Go is a psychological thriller about the consequences of a terrible accident. The story is split between the police investigation, and Jenna Gray’s decision to walk away from her life in Bristol. She tries to leave the past behind, but – as we all know – that’s easier said than done…

It’s an uncomfortable story, described by Elizabeth Haynes as ‘absorbing, authentic and deeply unsettling’, and I’ve been delighted by feedback from crime writers I really admire. Mark Billingham said the twist made him ‘green with envy’, which is as big a compliment as I could have hoped for!

If you liked Apple Tree Yard, Gone Girl, Into The Darkest Corner, or Close My Eyes, I think you’ll like I Let You Go. Let me know if I’m right!

How much of you is there in your characters and in the book? How much does it relate to your own background?

I was a police officer for twelve years, so in choosing to write crime I am undoubtedly writing what I know! I think it’s inevitable that a writer creeps in to their own books a little, but my characters aren’t based on me or anyone I know. DI Ray Stevens is a family man, who becomes so engrossed in a hit-and-run case that he loses sight of what is happening at home. He’s a fictional character, but the essence of his issue – that confusion of priorities – is something very common to police officers, and indeed to anyone with a demanding job.

clare mackintoshI Let You Go, by Clare Mackintosh, is published by Sphere. It is available in ebook and trade paperback from 6 November 2014, and in paperback in April 2015. Follow Clare on Twitter @ClareMackint0sh or via her website www.claremackintosh.com.

For information on Chipping Norton Literary Festival, visit www.chiplitfest.com or email info@chiplitfest.com.

Top image: Flickr Creative Commons Alexandre Dulaunoy

Writing Religious Thrillers And Storytelling Lessons From Commercial TV With Simon Toyne

It’s always fantastic to talk to mega bestselling authors and a few years back, Simon Toyne’s Sanctus series was one of the biggest books in the UK, as well as an international bestseller. In this interview, he explains the inspiration behind the books and how 20 years of TV experience taught him the most important elements of storytelling.

In the introduction, I talk about the launch of Business for Authors, my trip to Stockholm and the launch of 1 Fred’s Place in London, plus the audio edition of Day of the Vikings, available now.

This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets kobo writing lifethrough the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.

Kobo’s financial support pays for the hosting and transcription, and if you enjoy the show, you can now support my time on Patreon. Thank you!

simon toyneSimon Toyne is the bestselling author of the Sanctus trilogy, translated into 28 languages and published in 50 countries. Sanctus was the UK’s biggest selling debut thriller of 2011, and all three books of the trilogy were Sunday Times bestsellers in both hardback and paperback.

You can listen above or on iTunes, watch the interview on YouTube, split into two, here (for readers) and here (for authors). You can also read the transcript below.

We discuss:

  • Simon talks about the origins of the Sanctus trilogy and what inspired him to write the books. They are fast paced thrillers but they’re also about the identity of religion in the West, and the real identity of the main character.
  • sanctusSense of place: The importance of the city of Ruin with the medieval Citadel, and the mysterious Sacrament that lies within. What’s real and what is fiction.
  • On research and traveling for work – Simon worked for 20 years as a Director making travel shows, so a lot of that goes into the books.
  • How Simon took 6 months off his TV job to write his first novel. He took his family to France to take a real break.
  • On walking the line on religion on spirituality. There’s a lot of Christian ideas in the books, but also a lot of pagan mythology. It wasn’t intended to be religious in any way. On arriving in France, sleep-deprived after a storm, and seeing the spires of Rouen Cathedral, Simon found a quote resonating in his mind from Ralph Waldo Emerson “A man is a god in ruins.” That became the seed for the books. Simon mentions that The Name of the Rose was an influence (as it was for me!)
  • On the Tau cross (pictured on the cover) and how important it was to the myths in the book. What is the Sacrament and what does it really mean?
  • Simon’s now writing a new modern thriller series about a man who doesn’t know who he is, a story of redemption. It’s roughly based on the 10 Commandments.
  • On screenwriting as a way of understanding storytelling and an apprenticeship for writing novels. Lee Child and Simon both worked in commercial British TV and you learn a lot about story from that world.
  • Simon’s tips for writing worldwide bestsellers.
  • The changes in publishing and how Simon sees the industry right now

You can find Simon and his books at SimonToyne.com and on twitter @simontoyne.

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How To Write A Novel With The Snowflake Method With Randy Ingermanson

If you write fiction, or you want to, sorting out your writing process for a book is a core task.

snowflakeAre you a pantser? Are you a plotter? Or perhaps, you might be a Snowflaker …

Today I talk to Randy Ingermanson about his book, How to write a novel using the snowflake method, and how it can help those people who fall through the gaps. Plus, how to write 500 words a day as a habit, dealing with panic disorder and how our flaws contribute to our writing.

You can watch the video below or here on YouTube. You can also listen to the audio below or here on SoundCloud.

Randy Ingermanson is a physicist and award-winning geek suspense novelist, known as the Snowflake guy, America’s mad professor of fiction writing. His site, AdvancedFictionWriting.com is packed with loads of information and inspiration on organizing, creating and marketing your work.

We discuss:

  • How Randy established his brand when he wanted to talk about the process of writing, as well as the aspects of his novels. He brings the scientific approach and step by step process to writing a novel.
  • How the Snowflake method works – from something simple and small, to growing it out bit by bit to something complicated and beautiful. The book is told as a parable, which ‘shows’ the method through a woman at a writing conference who wants to learn how to write and is frustrated when she can’t use the pantsing or plotting approach.

The importance of only using writing methods that work for you as an individual.

  • Tips on writing the one line that sums up your book.
  • The scene list and what a scene actually is. [This really changed my writing life when I understood the concept of scene.] Scene vs chapter. How to write a perfect scene. A chapter is a fundamental unit of reader decision.

“Most fiction writers have a major bottleneck in their process. That bottleneck is that they don’t produce enough first-draft copy.”

  • On writing 500 words a day as a matter of habit.
  • [25 mins] Randy talks about his panic disorder which affected his public speaking opportunities. We talk about our flaws and how we deal with them in a really honest way.

You can find Randy at AdvancedFictionWriting.com where he has a brilliant free ezine, as well as loads more information on writing fiction. You can find his book, How to write a novel using the snowflake method on Amazon here.

Have you tried the Snowflake Method? Do you have any questions for Randy around writing fiction? Please join the conversation and leave a comment below.

Editing And The Writing Craft. Tips From An Editor

This is a continuation of the editing Q&A with my fiction editor, Jen Blood, based on questions submitted to me in a recent survey.

editingYou can read the first half of the interview here. It covers the different types of editing, how to find the right editor, price range and dealing with feedback. Here’s the second part.

How does the drafting, editing and rewriting cycle work?

In general, my advice to writers is to breeze through the first draft as quickly as possible. There may be times you’ll need to go back to rework sticky plot points or address other major structural issues, but the goal of the first draft should be to get the bones of your novel down on paper.

From there, there are several editing, revising, and rewriting cycles you’ll go through, ideally including beta readers, an editor, and a final proofreader in the process. Your ultimate goal is always forward movement—even if that forward movement can sometimes feel painfully slow. Every revised draft should feel a little bit better than the last, until eventually you have a complete, polished novel.

For a more complete analysis on the subject, read From Conception to Publication, my blog post breaking the writing, editing, and revision process down into ten unique stages.

How do I do structural revisions for fiction quickly and well?

I can write a certain number of new words per day–no problem! But I spend a lot of revision time staring out the window, wondering whether I’ve chosen the absolute best plot options.

First off, don’t just dismiss that time you’re staring out the window during the revision process—many times, that’s actually your subconscious mulling over what happens next. Of course, other times it’s just you staring out the window, so you do have to draw a line somewhere. When coaching writers through the revision process, I tell them to ask these questions about their novel.

(1)   What is the novel about? What is the plot, or central conflict?

First drafts tend to run incredibly long or incredibly short, but there’s rarely a middle ground. By clarifying in your own mind what you’re trying to say, you’ll be better able to edit your novel into a cohesive, saleable whole.

(2)   What are the secondary and tertiary plots?

Often, the secondary plot has to do with a romantic interest, but it may be another mystery, a subplot relating to the characters, etc. In one to two sentences, write down what the secondary plot is. In longer works of fiction, particularly sci-fi, there may tertiary plots, as well. Write down each plotline as succinctly as possible.

(3)   Where does the story begin?

This is key. Look at your central plot, and ask yourself when forward movement related to that plot actually begins. There’s a tendency to pack a lot of exposition into first drafts. Now is the time to start chipping away at that in order to determine how much is actually necessary, how it might be distributed more evenly, and how to convey that information in the least obtrusive manner possible.

(4)   How does each scene move the story forward?

Sit down and make a list of every scene in your book. What happens in each one? How does it relate to the book’s central, secondary, or tertiary plotlines? How long does each scene go on? Every scene in your novel, regardless of the genre, should be active and should move your story forward.

When you find yourself stumped during the self-editing phase, I’m a big believer in beta readers. If you have between one to three trusted betas, give them the manuscript with a brief rundown of your areas of concern. When they’ve completed the beta read, ask pointed questions about the issues bothering you. You can find more information on how to effectively utilize beta readers in this blog post.

The members of my critique group are trying to write our own books and/or short stories while learning the craft at the same time.

But every time we study something new, we feel that our previous works are wrong… so every week is like starting again.

What would you recommend to new authors about learning and writing at the same time?

As writers, we’re constantly learning new things about the craft. Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been scribbling for years, ideally you will always be growing as a writer. The downside to that is that you will invariably find things to improve in the work you’ve done. The key is to not let that stop you. Keep learning. Keep growing. Keep writing. Finish what you start, and move on to the next project—it will inevitably be better than the last.

If you’re working with a group, set some guidelines: You’re allowed to revise a story two or three times, for example, before you send it out to an editor or submit it for publication somewhere. Once you’ve gotten some outside feedback, you can regroup and look at it again. The same goes for novels—don’t get caught up revising the same twenty to twenty-five pages your group has critiqued over and over again, ultimately neglecting the rest of the novel. Take the notes your group gives you, and move onto the next chunk of the book. Strive for greatness, but forget perfection. Finish your story. Let other people read it. Take their feedback, integrate the lessons you’ve learned, and revise accordingly. Then, move on.

How do I make sure my manuscript is ready for a professional editor? What are some tips for self-editing?

Excellent question. A good editor costs money, and the rougher your manuscript is, the more money they cost. It pays to submit a novel that’s been self-edited to the best of your ability. First off, I recommend picking up a copy of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King. It’s an excellent resource for writers at every level, and if you’re hoping to make a living one day at this whole writing business, it’s indispensable.

In terms of concrete advice I can give here and now, there are a few things you can do.

The three most common issues I see as an editor are:

(1) Structural issues like plot holes, wandering timelines, and lagging pacing,

(2) Excessive exposition or lengthy chunks of narrative (telling versus showing)

(3) Awkward, clunky writing.

So, how do you ensure that you’re not sending a manuscript filled with all of the above to your editor?

Structural issues can be tough to spot when you’re sitting in the middle of your manuscript, and you’ve been stuck there for months. Follow the steps outlined in question two of this post to help guide yourself through the editing process. Additionally, it’s a great idea to call on trusted beta readers who will provide a read-through and call attention to anything you missed along the way.

For exposition and lengthy chunks of narrative, one of the most helpful tricks I use is to simply eyeball a manuscript. Are there whole pages filled with long paragraphs, broken up by very little dialogue? That’s the first clue that a story is heavy on the telling and light on the showing. Think in terms of a movie. How would each chapter play out on screen? Do you need a narrator to lay the whole thing out with lots of unwieldy internal monologues, or do you have dynamic scenes with strong dialogue and a particular goal for each of your characters in every chapter?

Awkward writing is less easily defined, and only comes with experience. Again, rely on your beta readers, but at the end of the day, your editor should be someone you trust who can help you hone your skills and ensure that the novel you put out is the best it can possibly be. Remember: Your novel doesn’t have to be perfect before you send it to the editor. That’s what you’re paying them for!

How do I know when to stop editing and move into the publishing phase?

This, to me, is the number one reason to have a professional editor on your side. Trust me, your editor will tell you when it’s time to stop editing and just publish already. If you can’t afford someone for a full edit of your book, many editors—myself included—offer partial edits of the first twenty, thirty, or fifty pages at significantly less than it would cost to edit the full novel. Even a partial edit from a qualified professional should give you an idea whether or not you need to continue rewrites or you can realistically start planning for publication.

Here at The Creative Penn, Joanna has taken a stand against the term “self-publishing,” arguing that there are actually many, many people involved in the independent author’s journey. This is especially true at this phase of the writing game. In my opinion, there is no way you can judge on your own whether or not your book is ready to publish.

If you don’t have an editor, turn to beta readers, preferably three or four of them. Ask them: If they were buying this book on Amazon, how would they rate it? Did it keep their attention throughout? Were the characters interesting to them? Did the plot make sense? Was the quality of the writing equal to that of a well-reviewed published novel?

Thanks to Joanna for asking me to answer these excellent questions on the art (and business) of editing! For any author, editing is an integral part of the writing process. Whether you’re new to the craft or an old hand, the key to a successful edit is seeking help when it’s needed. Ask for feedback. Recruit beta readers. Join a writing group. Hire an editor. We writers are a mighty tribe these days—there’s no reason to walk the path alone!

 Do you have any questions or comments on editing? Please leave them below and join the conversation!

Jen BloodBio: Jen Blood is the bestselling author of the Erin Solomon Mysteries, and owner of Adian Editing, where she offers comprehensive content and copy editing services of plot-driven fiction, as well as writing coaching and classes on writing and self-editing. She has worked as a freelance editor for Random House, Aspatore Books, Hyperink Press, Maine Authors Publishing, and individually for a long list of independent and traditionally published authors. Jen is currently accepting new clients, with a few spaces available through the end of summer and into the fall. Visit http://adianediting.com/ to learn more about her services, or contact her at jen@adianediting.com to schedule a $25 sample edit of your first chapter.

Contact Info:

Twitter: @jenblood
Facebook: http://facebook.com/jenblood1
Website: http://adianediting.com/

Top image: Flickr Creative Commons editing a paper from Nic McPhee