Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Voice of Audience

The act of writing a story is a solitary endeavour; storytelling, however, is not.

I’ve heard a lot of jokes and commentary, lately, about the process of writers, and likening them to trolls under a bridge that resent the noisesome progression of the goats above them. Writers, apparently, are supposed to sit in small rooms, writing big stories, and remain aloof and apart from their audience. Interaction and audience involvement, I’m told, ruins the writer and buggers up his story. Don’t take anything your audience says to heart, I’ve heard, because it is your story, and they don’t know what they’re talking about anyway.

I have two words to sum up the above notions: “Bull” and “Shit.”

You can write in solitary confinement, locked away from the rest of the world, until your fingers start to bleed and your ass goes numb, and that is fine. But storytelling requires that you ‘tell’ that story to someone, which requires you to interact with the outside world. Once your story is complete you have to share it with people; whether you get it published and present it to a wide audience, or slip it quietly to your mum so no one else sees, that story needs to be ‘told’ to complete the cycle.

Audience feedback and criticizm is a big part of the life of a published author, whether you are tiny and just starting out like me, or selling a few million copies of each book. We crave positive feedback from the people who read our stories, be they strangers or dear friends, but rail against anyone who says anything negative about our writing.

This, to my mind, is integral to the craft of storytelling. When you get positive feedback it tells you what works. When you get negative feedback it lets you know what isn’t working quite right. It allows you to examine your work through another point of view, and helps you hone your skills as a storyteller.

There will be, of course, people who say negative things just for the sake of spreading discord and being a pain in the ass, and will have no basis or examples for their hatred. This is the kind of criticism you should ignore; to paraphrase Sam Sykes: Some people are just assholes.

So, as I go along through the writing life, I revel in the positive comments, think about the negative ones, and ignore the people who are just trying to piss on my campfire. That feedback, I think, is critical to making my next story better than the last one.

Remember that your audience is important. It is very true that you need to write your story for you, but when that phrase is said it is geared more towards the idea that you have to write a story you are passionate about, and avoid chasing any kind of story market (if someone tells you to put zombies in your story because it would sell better, feel free to poke them in the eye with your index finger). Once your story is told, the voice of your audience will give you the feedback you need to examine it with a ‘sober second sight’ and make the next story a little better.

Remember something else: If you put a story out there, and everyone who reads it tells you it sucks, it might not be them who are wrong. Just saying…

Thanks for reading. There is more to come.

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The Long Road

I am many things, but patient is not one of them.

Whether it is in my personal, work or writing life, I don’t particularly care to wait for things. At times it is a boon, because it drives me to finish things – so long as the horrid disease called procrastination hasn’t infected me – and at other times it makes me a little difficult to deal with. I know this, and I apologize.

Recently, my first novel, The Watch, was published. Once this was completed, I had certain expectations in my head of what was going to happen. I had viewed all the hard work as done: I’d written the novel, edited the novel, re-edited the novel, found a publisher, edited the novel some more, talked a couple of people far smarter than me into giving me blurbs for the book, and seen it published. Now, I thought myself, is the time to sit back and let the praise and awesomeness roll in.

That, as any sane and reasonable person can tell you, did not happen. Me, being the meat head that I am, was horribly shocked. I was not prepared for the long road ahead of me.

If I were Stephen King, or George Martin, or any other super big name author, published with a super big name publisher, that might happen. But I am not any of those people. My publisher, Dark Dragon Publishing, is professional and legitimate, but they are small, as they will tell you themselves. They believed in my story – and me – and gave my first book life, and a place to call home, which is damned important. But when it comes to advsertising and promotion I have to get off my ass and help, because they do not have a staff of a dozen people to do it for me.

I had dreamed of having a book launch in a big book store, where I’d stand up in front of a raptly attentive audience and read from the brilliance that is my writing, and then sign books for a legion of fans. I found a big book store that was willing to host the event – so at least of part of my delusion was going to come true – but I discovered, to my horrible disappointment, it would be difficult and costly, and most likely would just not work out.

My delusion crumbling around me I climbed into a good Snit and wore it like a cheap suit.

I did a great deal of complaining: to my wife, my friends, my co-workers, random people on the street who gave me worried glares over their shoulder as they hurried away from me.

Once I had calmed down and stopped ranting, my wife told me something that fits even better than the snit: “Sometimes you want too much, too fast.” Looking back now, she was absolutely correct; I was looking for things that I didn’t particularly deserve, and having a bit of a tantrum when I didn’t get them.

Another of my friends helped me move past my delusion, and start building a game plan to promote my book. She pointed me in the right directions, gave me ideas for planning an affordable book launch, and told me to start pounding the pavement and take responsibility for myself. She said, “This is what we call ‘earning your way,’ and we all have to do it.” .

Yet another friend told me, and this struck me the most, “Keep writing, because your story is the only thing you can control.”

Sufficiently calm to listen to the sound advice being offered me, I peeled the Snit off and took a few deep breaths. Once again it became apparent that the hard work does not end when the story is finished, but is really only beginning.

We small authors, who are not signed with the big publishing houses, have to take responsibility for our own work and do what we can to promote ourselves. We have to put together the best story we possibly can, pouring significant pieces of ourselves into the writing, then work even harder to get it into as many hands as possible. The comforting thing is to know that we are not alone, and there are hundreds of other storytellers out there who are struggling through their ways just as much as we are.

At this stage of my writing life, the whole process really is about the story. I do not have – nor can I have – any notions or expectations about monetary success. That may come, some day, but for right now the biggest priority is making sure the story is good, and then trying to get people to read it. If people do read it, I want them to like, not feel cheated of their time.

It’s a long road we walk, we small house/independant authors, but there is company and support along the way, and I’m glad to have it.

It is time to put away the snit, and get moving. I cordially invite you to tag along.

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Storyteller’s Responsibility

Storytelling is in danger, because Reality TV is trying to strangle it.

I don’t watch a lot of television, but when I do I am disturbed. The types of shows I grew up with, hour long dramas/adventures/comedies, with strong writing, relatable characters and a story arc are being hunted to extinction by ridiculous people who are famous because they behave poorly and someone puts it on television.

I saw an advertisement today for a show dedicated to a toddler – and her family of terminally obese loud mouths – who, apparently, competes in pageants (what kind of ‘pageant’ I don’t know) and is known for being ‘sassy’. During the commercial that child spoke continuously for thirty seconds and the only words I was able to decipher was “You better recognize!” And this, they tell me, is what is ‘Taking Television by Storm.’

May the gods help us all.

A story needs two things: Conflict and Arc. Everything else related to story – plot, characters, development, etc – will come in conjunction with those two things. The problem with reality TV is that, for the most part, it is Conflict without any Arc. People – highly ridiculous people – get mad, swear, have tantrums, stomp their feet, slap their relatives, fornicate with people they don’t want anyone to know they’re fornicating with and generally act in a manner that we would vehemently hope our children will not emulate. There is plenty of Conflict, but the characters don’t grow, change, or learn anything about themselves. Each ridiculous act is only a segue to another ridiculous act, and there is never any conclusion to it.

There is no Arc, therefore there is no story.

Story is important. Story helps us to learn about ourselves through relatable experience shared with one or many characters. Story allows us to escape and experience things we would not be able to see on our own. Story entertains us and allows us to make sense of our world when no sense is apparent. Story teaches us lessons that we need to learn, and helps us figure out who we are. Story does so many things, that they cannot all be listed here by a layman such as myself.

Story is important, and cannot be lost.

Our responsibility as Storytellers is to ensure that our current, and subsequent, generations are not left with nothing more than stupidity caught on camera to occupy their minds. It is our job to take our own lessons and experiences and share them with others through our stories.

It is not important what those lessons are, or what experience you want to share, the important thing is that the story is created. The story must be told, with your own, individual, valuable and infinitely important message embedded in it. Some people may hate it, and others love it, but I guarantee it will be deeply meaningful to someone. And if you can reach only one other human being, but it is on more than a superficial level, then you have done your job well.

Times have changed, and the further we go the quicker they change. My childhood companions were Stephen King, Jack Whyte, Terry Brooks, R.A. Salvatore, Robert Jordan and a dozen other authors whose ranks were bolstered by others as I got older. Kids now are accompanied by Kim Kardashian, Snooki and an overweight, ‘sassy’ toddler, who don’t want to tell them anything except how to be a rich pain in the ass who does nothing at all.

You, and I, and anyone else with a story to tell has the responsibility to get it down and put it out there, in whatever form speaks to you, because there has to be something for people to grow with, for them to cling to when times get rough, that says something besides “Oh my God, that is so hot!” or “You better recognize!”

So get to work, there is much to do.

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