Tag Archives: Writing

The Tide is Turning in Indie SFF Publishing, #SPFBO

45923234_1950019861714326_1544864126797348864_n

When I first posted my Self-Published Fantasy Guide, I had no idea just how far self-published and indie SFF lit has come. I still remember a time when “self-published” was synonymous with horrible paranormal romance books and…stranger things.

As of 2018 however, we’re seeing some major authors and titles emerging from the self-published and indie scene. Books with stories and covers comparable to (or better than) traditional offerings. This trend has increased to the point where the Barnes and Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog revealed the cover art for Rob J. Hayes’ Never Die.

Yes, this is real. The genre promotion blog of America’s biggest book chain just featured a self-published book. I remember talking to a fairly well-known author who’ll remain anonymous, and having him mention that “indie is the future.” That was not even a year ago, and as far as I can tell, we’re reaching that future at a shockingly rapid pace.

So yeah. The tide has definitely turned, and indie is getting bigger and bigger. I was told by the author Rob J. Hayes that some folks “took notice” of his SPFBO win, which goes to show what a useful tool that is for curating these titles. Which is something to keep in mind if any of you are planning books of your own.

If you haven’t bought any of his books yet, you can check out Rob J. Hayes’ Amazon page here. I recommend his piratical Best Laid Plans books, as they’re fairly unique in the fantasy space. Which is a trend Never Die seems to continue with its chanbara influences. It’s a book I think looks really kickass, and I’m glad Barnes and Noble seems to think so too!

Beware the Red Ripper! My Horror Short Story is Coming Soon From Gray Haven Comics (The Gathering: Horror V)

45583944_2066051650105280_9064856626594316288_n45351685_2066052040105241_7746463316406435840_n

So a while back, before I decided to write prose, I took a stab at writing comics. I made it into a couple of anthologies, and it’s largely thanks to these that I got my start as a writer.

The story is a riff on the classic “teenage boy becomes superhero” story, only said superpowers turn him into a slasher killer! Can Raul Garcia stave off the slow but inevitable transformation into a masked monster? Or can he save a piece of his humanity?

It’s worth noting here that I’m credited as “Alex Moya,” which…is my real name. Yes, Martin J. Ashwood is a pen name. Not for anonymity’s sake, but because I designed some mockup (novel) book covers and the name “Alex Moya” looked like garbage on all of them. Not exactly the most exciting Secret Origin of my author superhero name, but it is what it is.

The Gathering: Horror V will hit comic store shelves soon, so keep an eye peeled for the Red Ripper if you enjoy some horror/urban fantasy goodness. And check out the Gray Haven Facebook page for more info on Horror V and all their other comics anthologies!

I Bagged a (Book About a Were-) Deer, and Other Cool Stuff!

So recently, indie author C.T. Phipps was kind enough to send me these two books. I’ve been meaning to check out his Wraith Knight series for some time, and I’ve heard nothing but great things about his Bright Falls series of comedic Urban Fantasy novels. The blurb on the back of  Teenage Weeredeer had a masterfully so-bad-it’s-good pun that honestly made me laugh out loud. Think I’m gonna enjoy this one quite a bit.

I haven’t really done book reviews yet on this blog, in part because I’ve taken a bit of time when I read as of late. I used to be a lightning-fast reader, but my own writing projects have kind of taken a bit of that free time away. That said, once I get around to reading these, I’ll be sure to share my thoughts. What little I have read has been awesome so far, and once I finish some of my current epic fantasy reads, I will be checking these out for sure. In the mean time, I highly suggest you give C.T. Phipps’ Amazon Page a looksie. He has everything from Sci-fi, to Spies, to Superheroes to something called Cthulhu Armageddon, so there’s plenty of flavors to choose from here.

In unrelated news, I’ve found the cover artist for my own book! It’s quite exciting stuff, and his work is extremely impressive, unique and old-school, reminding me a bit of Mike Ploog’s work on Lord of the Rings. Much as I like the Warcraft aesthetic in games, I do find this gritter, more down-to-earth AD&D style much more to my liking. And my artist really captures this, but add a modern level of polish that really elevates it to a new level.

So yeah, between this and the books (Thanks, C.T.!) and the recently announced Warcraft 3 Reforged…November’s already shaping up to be a pretty kickass month for me.

The Spooktober Report! #SPFO, Writing, and more Author Interviews

October is probably one of my favorite months of the year, period. While I love the heck out of Halloween, it’s the whole cozy feeling of Fall that really makes me fall in love (no pun intended) with this time of year. October’s been a busy year for my writing as well however, and so I figured I’d post a quick update of some of what I’ve been up to…

As of now, I’m gearing up to write my book’s second draft. I’m working on a very, very detailed outline, as well as supplementary worldbuilding notes, which I suspect will occupy me well into next November. Draft 2 proper will likely carry me over into 2019, and will be ready sometime around summer or fall of that year, including edits and formatting and all that junk. Sometime in December-January-ish, I may be sharing some concept art for my book, as well as giving you all a sneak peek at just what in the heck it is. I can’t say too much at this point, though I will say I’ve been watching more than a few videos from the Townsends Youtube channel.

Author interviews are something I plan to invest a good amount of time in, and you can check out my most recent one here. The Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off is getting closer to declaring finalists, and when it does, I’ll be reaching out to them, as well as a few of the semi-finalists. Michael R. Baker, author of the Thousand Scars, is also doing many SPFBO interviews, and I strongly recommend you check those out! There’s also a possibility I may be interviewing a Special Guest related to the contest, so keep your eyes peeled for that as well!

Aside from that, I am continuing to work on some writing stuff in the game development space, and may be able to share some of what I’m doing sometime next year. When that happens, I’m hoping to begin writing about game narratives, and how to get started writing lore for video and tabletop gaming IPs. It’s a subject I’m really passionate about, and something I hope to share with you all very soon.

Anyways, that’s about it! Hope your October is festive and as full of tricks and treats as mine is!

An Interview with Christopher Wolf, aka “Slimebeast,” Creepypasta Author Extraordinaire

Taven-Interview-Thumbnail-C

‘Tis the season for spooks and scares, which means I’ll be taking a break from my general focus on fantasy to bring you some Horror! And not just any horror, but a sneak peek at the web’s weirdest and wildest writing sub-genre…the Creepypasta. These short scare-stories often make their debut as writing simply done for fun, but occasionally go viral in a big way, propelling their authors to internet stardom.

Christopher Wolf is one such author, responsible for the infamous Abandoned by Disney short story, and writer of several other horror-themed stories. I sat down with him recently to discuss Creepypasta, how the internet shapes writing, and the viral nature of web-based media.

MARTIN: So Christopher, as a fan of horror fiction and Creepy Pasta, I’m already familiar with your work. But I’m sure there’s still a lot of folks out there who have no idea what it’s all about. Why is it creepy, and where do noodles fit into all this? Can you give us all a quick rundown of what exactly this web-based horror subgenre is?

CHRISTOPHER: “Creepypasta” began as corruption of the word “Copypasta”, or “copy/paste”. The original term referred to bits of text that could be easily copy/pasted on various forums in order to share them. Creepypasta, naturally, is the horror version. Usually short horror stories that could be spread across the web. Creepypasta as an idea has grown a bit beyond that, including a lot of different forms of creative work. People consider images and games to be part of the Creepypasta “world”, now. It has also produced a lot of sub-genres, such as Cr*ppypasta, Trollpasta, Iconpasta, and so on.

MARTIN: You’re the author of one of the more famous Pastas, Abandoned by Disney. It’s gained a bit of viral fame, with dramatic readings and reactions on Youtube. In fact, I watched a Disney Parks fan video not too long ago and even they referenced the story! How does it feel knowing that a short web story you wrote has become that huge?

CHRISTOPHER: It’s nice to know people enjoyed it, and are still enjoying it. “Abandoned by Disney” was written during a period of time when I would sit on a forum at 2AM and just write out something strange until I was tired and went to bed. So, naturally, to see any of those stories shared on a global scale, translated into various languages, and inspiring other creators, can be confusing and wonderful.

MARTIN: So aside from the aforementioned “Pastas”, what other stories have you worked on, web-based or otherwise?

CHRISTOPHER: I’ve been trying to make the move away from Creepypasta, to “FearFic”, or “Fear Fiction”. Something that will ideally provide a more open area to work in, even if it’s just a label. With Creepypasta, there’s a strong idea that you must be writing something similar to Slenderman, Jeff the Killer, and so on. When you present work that very much doesn’t fit any of those molds, it tends to be overlooked or
rejected as not following the tropes and traditions. Prior to getting involved in the genre, I wrote comic book scripts. Mostly unpublished, but a few found homes with indie presses. I wrote a tongue-in-cheek graphic novel reimagining the 1920s film “Nosferatu” as a modern film in 2010, which is probably still available online somewhere. I also have another comedic look at horror, titled “Love Monster: The Ballad of Baghead”, which is available on Amazon. Beyond that, I’ve written short fiction here and there over the years, but nothing people would probably recognize. More for my own enjoyment and local distribution through zines, and the like. (You might also find something kind of interesting if you were to look up facelessinc.com, but it’s in the middle of getting a redesign.)

MARTIN: As a horror writer, do you ever feel that Creepypasta or horror fiction in general is a current target of scapegoating or censorship? I recently watched the HBO Slenderman documentary, and while I found it interesting, I also felt the film carried with it a slightly unfortunate message. The idea that internet-based independent entertainment is “dangerous,” especially for children. It almost feels as if it’s a modern (albeit less prevalent) version of the EC comics scare. Would you happen to have any thoughts on this?

CHRISTOPHER: In this case, I think Creepypasta benefited a lot from being a largely unknown genre. At least as far as mainstream news and entertainment was concerned at the time. Blaming video games, movies, and music brings in a lot of interest. Creepypasta, not so much. I think that, at a certain point, the majority of the “controversy” was coming from the community rather than outside sources… Sort of like a major PR issue would actually validate us. It was a weird time. I feel like we’ve successfully gotten past the problem. Slenderman as a character will always have the stigma, but I think the general realm of Creepypasta is unaffected, personally.

MARTIN: Can you tell us a bit about your Kickstarter project? Looks like some scary fun!

CHRISTOPHER: A few years ago, I wrote a story that “explained” where lost episodes of TV shows and movies come from. Essentially, it was a meta origin for a really popular sub-genre of Creepypasta. People would write stories about haunted VHS tapes, episodes of cartoons that suddenly turned scary, and so on. In my story, they were all created by a single person who was obsessed with re-cutting and replacing recordings of popular media. So now, I’ve sort of expanded on that general concept with the Creepypasta Field Guide. It lists 30 (or more, based on stretch goals) Creepypasta monster and killer “types”. The Stabby Teen, the Faceless Stranger, the Redactive Researcher, and so on. I then gave them various original origins and histories. Each character is described in detail so any prospective “victim” can identify them on sight. Basically, I’ve tried to disassemble all of the cliches and tropes regarding Creepypasta characters, and form them into a fun, funny read that will show off just what makes each type of creature unique… or not so unique, in some cases.

I’m hoping to fund the book well enough to commission an artist named Nikita Kaur to illustrate each of the original entries in the book. I feel like it lends an additional “Monster Manual” style to the project. Hopefully, this book will be something to go back and read over and over again as time goes on. Every time you see a new Creepypasta Icon emerge, you can go back and determine which type it is!

MARTIN: So what are some future projects you’d like to work on, or are currently planning?

CHRISTOPHER: Right now I have a bunch of projects going. I launched TooSpooky.com a while back as a place for authors to show their work, get critique, etc. without having to be “ready” to post them to other Creepypasta sites that require a finished version. There’s also FearFic.com, where I’ve enabled people to archive stories without the fear of having it deleted by staff for “not being horror” or being unrealistic, etc.
Beyond that, I’ve also launched a “Fear Fiction Podcast” on YouTube along with Abysmii and Dead Palette. We essentially take a look at any and all horror-related stories from the internet (even romantic fan fiction) and just have a good time discussing the content… and our reading errors. Pretty much anything I’m doing is linked at my main homepage, Slimebeast.com. Every so often I write an original story “inspired by” a popular pre exsting tale. I’m thinking of working with Eyeless Jack next.

MARTIN: How do you see the Internet affecting writers as a whole in the future. Like you said earlier, you were just writing these stories for fun, and they really kind of blew up. But with the advent of Youtube, Podcasts, Self-Publishing and even web serials like Worm, what do you feel the future of writing will be like?

CHRISTOPHER: I think the internet makes it a lot easier – and harder – for authors. It’s easier because anyone can (and should) publish their own work online, quickly and easily. It’s harder because that makes it very, very simple for others to take your work and use it inappropriately. For example, a Halloween mask company recently not only made a bootleg mask of a popular Creepypasta character (Laughing Jack), but actually had the audacity to copyright it. We’re in a weird place where creator’s rights are being trampled on a large scale. Since we’re talking about amateur authors for the most part, there’s little they can do about it. I feel like the future of writing on the internet will end up skewing toward authors becoming well-known/popular and then moving to closed platforms like Patreon. The more people are punished for freely sharing their art, the more we’ll all move away from the public forum. At least, that’s my personal prediction.

I guess if I had to give “advice” to anyone hoping to post “Creepypastas” or other creative work on the web, it’d be this… Enjoy yourself, do it for your own pleasure, and be ready to fight for your work. Don’t be shy about telling people what you do or don’t want. Look into Creative Commons licensing and pick the license that works best for you, then attach it to your work wherever you post it.

MARTIN: Aight, now for a spooky Halloween Question! As of now, you’re trapped in a room with the last horror monster you read about. You have at your disposal an iron crowbar, a crucifix, and a small bowl of mellowcreme pumpkins. On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being “not very” and ten being “I’m already dead,” how screwed are you?

CHRISTOPHER: I’d use the crowbar to open the door. 🙂

Christopher’s latest spooky creation, The Creepypasta Field Guide, is currently up on Kickstarter. With 40 days to go, there’s still plenty of time to jump on in and get yourself some backer rewards! You can also check out his website at http://slimebeast.com, or check out a narrated version of his original viral story for free on Youtube. Also, please consider liking and sharing this post on social media. Every share helps me get the word out about writing, and keeps the man with the traffic-cone face far away from your vital organs. Your precious…slippery vital organs….

And remember…avoid mirrors at 3:45 AM, or else ✡︎□︎◆︎🕯︎●︎●︎ ♌︎♏︎ ♐︎□︎❒︎♍︎♏︎♎︎ ⧫︎□︎ ❒︎♏︎♋︎♎︎ ■︎□︎⧫︎♒︎♓︎■︎♑︎ ♌︎◆︎⧫︎ ⧫︎♒︎♏︎ ♏︎❖︎♓︎●︎ ♍︎♒︎♓︎♍︎🙵♏︎■︎ ♌︎♓︎⧫︎ ♐︎❒︎□︎❍︎ ⧫︎♏︎❒︎❒︎⍓︎ ♑︎□︎□︎♎︎🙵♓︎■︎♎︎🕯︎⬧︎ ⬧︎⬥︎□︎❒︎♎︎ □︎♐︎ ⧫︎❒︎◆︎⧫︎♒︎📬︎

An Interview with Alec Hutson, Author of The Crimson Queen

Interview-Thumbnail
Alec Hutson is a Self Published Fantasy Blog-Off ’17 finalist, and the author of the critically acclaimed Raveling series. While a new face in the SFF community, his work is already making waves as a bold new example of Epic Fantasy’s rise in independent fiction. I sat down with him recently to discuss self-published fantasy, his experience living in China, and the shifting landscape of SFF fiction.

MARTIN: Alec, Your Raveling series has garnered quite a bit of buzz as of late! Not too long ago, all the positive feedback surrounding the first book in the series (The Crimson Queen) convinced me to buy a paperback copy of my own. And I have to say, I’ve been enjoying the heck out of this world you’ve created! So as a newer writer, and a self-published one at that, what’s your reaction to all the positive feedback?

ALEC: Well, thank you for the kind words. I have to say the success of Queen caught me pretty much completely off guard. I’d always wanted to write a fantasy book, but I never really seriously entertained the notion that my writing would resonate with others or that my book would achieve a small measure of success. When the positive reviews started coming in and the book began selling at a reasonable clip I was pretty shocked. It was like I was in a dream, to be honest. Along with the surprise, I did feel a small measure of satisfaction regarding the nature of The Crimson Queen – I would consider it very much a book in the mold of a classic high / epic fantasy, and a kind of book that it appears to me that traditional publishers have almost stopped publishing. One of the reasons I self-published was because I simply didn’t see many debut books in the mold of Jordan or Feist being trad published today . . . with the exception that sometimes a book like this does so well self-published that it is eventually picked up (like The Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington) Queen’s success in self-publishing *I think* is partly due to the fact that there is a large number of readers who still love classic fantasy, and their reading needs are no longer being well met by the big houses.

MARTIN: So for those here who haven’t yet read the first book, what can they expect from this world you’ve created? What sort of realms, magic systems, monsters and civilizations lie waiting for the curious reader?

ALEC: It’s a classic high fantasy world, with parts of it modeled after different Earth-analogous cultures. For example, one of the main empires is based off of Tang dynasty China (or, at least, the romanticized version that exists today in modern Chinese media), another is a more Classical-era Mediterranean empire, and others are cobbled from several different civilizations. For magic, I really prefer a ‘soft’ magic system – no formulas or complicated explanations. Hopefully, this preserves some of the wonder. Monsters also exist in the world, though they don’t run rampant over the country-side like in D&D. I have a race of ancient creatures called the Ancients who slumber in the deep places in the world, and I was going there for a Lovecraftian vibe. I tried to create my own creatures rather than rely on some of the fantasy archetypes. Basically, I wanted to pay homage to all the classic aspects of fantasy that I love – the magic, the world, the monsters – but put my own little spin on it. Comfort food, but filling.

MARTIN:  It’s interesting you bring up unique creatures and worldbuilding elements, because I kind of feel that this is the path fantasy as a whole is taking. Hero’s journey stories are obviously never going to go away, but the way we tell Epic Fantasy is bound to change over time. And I notice in more modern fiction that there’s a shift away from the Dungeons and Dragons mold of “oh look, here’s these archetypes you can find in the Handbook/Monster Manual,” and more of a focus on new and unique creatures and worlds. I even talked with some editors in trad on this, and they seem to agree. How do you as a writer, feel about this genre shift?

ALEC: I think it’s a good thing. Personally, anytime I browse a fantasy book and see ‘elves’ or ‘orcs’ it’s a pretty good bet I’m not interested in picking it up. Usually, it shows a paucity of imagination, and if the same recycled races are in a book, most likely the plot isn’t going to surprise me. That said, there are exceptions. Two of the best books I’ve read this year included archetypal fantasy races – The Gray Bastards, which had orcs and centaurs and elves, and The Kings of the Wyld, which was a great nostalgia trip with basically every entry in the old Monster Manual.

MARTIN: It’s also worth noting that you participated in the SPFBO last year, and made it as a finalist. As a self-published author, how does it feel knowing that resources and awards like that exist? Do you feel that the self-publishing landscape is improving for SFF authors, and what advantages do you feel they have over trad publishing?

ALEC: It’s fantastic knowing that something like the SPFBO exists. Mark Lawrence is a saint for putting up with the headache it must be to herd those cats every year. And yes, I do feel like the SFF self-publishing landscape is improving. I’m seeing more and more authors choosing to self publish good books and ignoring trad publishing entirely. And it has massive advantages. Perhaps the biggest reason I self-published was that I looked at trad publishing and I saw virtually no classic high fantasy debuts being published, despite my feeling that there was still a massive market for it. This was back in 2016 when every new debut competed to claim the title of darkest grimdark. I do believe that the big houses decide ‘this’ is popular this year or this season and group-think publish only a few types of books – perhaps the kinds of books that the editors and agents want to read, and I don’t really think they represent the average fantasy reader. Or, at the very least, there are massive groups of readers undeserved by the books coming out of New York and London. Which is why we’re seeing self-published taking a larger and larger chunk of the overall reading market – I believe the most recent numbers put self-published fantasy at something like 35% of the entire pie, which is pretty incredible if you ask me. There’s also, of course, the advantage of speed, and that self-published writers can earn a more fair percentage of the money their work brings in.

MARTIN: That’s something I’ve taken note of as well, and while you and I both love a lot of what’s coming out of established publishing (I too own Kings of the Wyld!), I kind of feel the same way about the Epic Fantasy genre in particular. The self-pub scene has seen some fairly big releases that are Epic fantasy, with Queen being one of those. As a fan of fantasy — not necessarily a writer — what would you ideally like to see coming from that scene in the future? Are there any sort of cultures, myths or Epic Fantasy subgenres you feel are under-served by trad that could see a rise in self-pub? Wuxia, or Space Fantasy (ie Star Wars), something like that?

ALEC: WuXia is actually the perfect example, and more particularly – I believe I’m getting the term right – Xianxia. I think with the rise of gaming readers today have an attachment to the idea of character progression or leveling, and we can see this is LitRPG, which is another subgenre that trad seems blind to. In Chinese Xianxia books the main character starts out weak, but through a cultivation of qi or another internal energy they eventually develop into powerful warriors. They go from losing fights to the schoolyard bully to throwing mountains at the gods. There are a few websites of poorly translated versions of the popular Chinese stories, and they have a growing following. Will Wight’s excellent Cradle series (this is the most addictive self-published fantasy I’ve read) is, I think, a really great version of a Xianxia story, and shows how it can translate to the West. I’m toying with some ideas along this line for my series after The Raveling. I live in Shanghai and have met several Chinese SFF writers, and one of them is keen to collaborate on a project together. I’m not sure if it will happen, but co-writing a Xianxia style-story that’s aimed at both a Chinese and Western audience with a local Chinese writer could be pretty cool, and it might be the first such collaboration ever in fantasy fiction.

MARTIN: So your most recent book, The Silver Sorceress, was recently released. Without spoiling anything, were there any cool elements you enjoyed writing in that one? Maybe a sneak peek for those of us who read/are reading Queen?

ALEC: As in Queen, my favorite chapters in Sorceress were those written from the villains’ perspective. I like stepping inside the heads of the antagonists because it both humanizes them for the readers and perhaps provides context or justification for some of their actions. And villains are just fun to write.

MARTIN: On your Amazon page, you mention you live in Shanghai, and grew up in a geodesic dome and a bookstore? I mean, that right there kinda sounds like something from a novel! Do you feel any interesting events or places from your life helped with worldbuilding?

ALEC: Probably not my early life, as that was spent in a quiet Northeast coastal town. Though there is a fair bit of history where I live – my family has lived on the same land since 1600 or so, and the family farm where my cousin and her family now reside has been in the family since 1641. According to an old copy of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not it’s the oldest continuously owned family farm in America. Also, my hometown – Newburyport – was mentioned in an HP Lovecraft story. So perhaps I’ve always had an affinity for cosmic horror having grown up there. The biggest influence on worldbuilding for me was living in Asia for the past 15 years and traveling around to places like Angkor and Bagan and Tibet. There’s so much rich culture here, and it all becomes grist for the worldbuilding mill.

MARTIN: So normally this is the part where I ask a crazy question to see what creative response my interviewee comes up with…but right now? I’m just curious about the food in China! What are some of your favorite regional dishes and street foods? The intersection of food and culture is always one of those things that really fascinates me, and I’m just dying to know what’s out there!

ALEC: Oh, good question! As most folk know, American Chinese is completely different than real Chinese food. Real Chinese food is absolutely terrific and quite varied. It’s hard to choose individual dishes, so I’ll run through my favorite cuisines.

1. Sichuan. This is the most popular cuisine in China. Famous for its numbing peppercorns and fiery dishes. I suggest everyone eating at an authentic Sichuan restaurant once in your life.
2. Hunan. The really spicy stuff. More hot than numbing.
3. Xinjiang. This cuisine is from the northwest area of China, and the people here are actually Turkish. Lots of lamb and fried bread.
4. Dong Bei. Comfort food. Heart dumplings and noodles. The northeast of China.
5. Cantonese. Fresh ingredients and natural flavors, and dim sum is amazing. Dim sum in Hong Kong from one of the Michelin starred cheap restaurants will change your life.

My favorite street food is called jian bing. It’s kind of a breakfast crepe – here’s a very accurate video of what you’d see on just about every street-corner in China in the morning:

MARTIN: And as an added bonus, what would your main protagonist’s favorite Chinese dish be?

ALEC: I think he (Keilan) would like something hearty and rustic, maybe some di san qian (potatoes, peppers, and eggplant in a garlic sauce). Or for a special occasion some guo bao rou (fried pork in sweet sauce).

Alec Hutson’s latest book, The Silver Sorceress, is now available on Amazon. For more of his work, please visit his Amazon page and website. For those of you who’ve already read his books, please be sure to leave a Goodreads review if you haven’t already. Also, consider liking and sharing this post on social media. Every share helps me get the word out about great SFF, writing and more cool stuff!

 

How to Overcome Your Novel’s First Draft

So at long last, I finished my first draft. It was a long process, messy, unbearably dull and frustrating, but I finished it at long last! So the celebrate this milestone, I decided to share some of what I’ve learned through this process. I’ll also be writing a follow-up to this specifically geared towards writers of speculative fiction, which goes into more detail about worldbuilding and such. I assume most of my readers are here for fantasy, but I’ve tried to make this post as general as possible, so writers of all stripes can hopefully find something useful.

So here’s what I learned while writing the first draft of my fantasy novel!

Stick to it, no Matter What

Okay, so I get it. This is like, the bog-standard advice one is given when looking for first draft tips. It’s almost as generic as the phrase “just believe in yourself,” or those dry-ass Cheerios you give to babies.

The thing is though, as someone who’s gone through like, four different first drafts that never made it because I gave up halfway through, I understand the appeal of looking at a barely-coherent trainwreck of a manuscript and saying “egh screw it, the next one I write will be better.”

Will that actually be the case though? Perhaps, but in all likelihood, by the midpoint of that “better” draft, you’ll be hatin’ life all over again, and repeat the cycle anew. Because no matter how objectively good your first draft really is, in your mind, it’ll still be Son-of-the-Mask-tier-bad. Everyone’s like this, even Hemingway and he’s better than you.

On the other hand, if you stick with it, you’ll at least have a basic framework that you can polish up and turn into something slightly readable for the second draft. For example, I once did a cyberpunk hard sci-fi short that I later rewrote as a high fantasy one. Almost nothing from the first version of the story made it into the second one, but having the basic skeletal framework of a narrative to work off of made writing the fantasy version a thousand times easier.

So just to recap here — thanks to writing out a first draft, I was able to write a second draft that was a complete and total tonal, thematic and genre shift, and yet readers still liked it. It came out alright. If I can do that, then you can polish up your story, or even make a new one out of the flaming clown car wreckage of your old novel. Again, no matter how good it is, you will think it’s horrible beyond repair while you write it. And chances are it is.

It’s kind of like those rice crispy treats and pipes and wood planks the Cake Boss uses to support those monstrosities he creates (is Cake Boss still a thing? I only use Netflix, so I dunno). I mean, if Buddy just stopped there and left the rice-krispy-treat-and-plumbing-tape sculpture at some event, everyone would scream and run. But when you add the sponge cake, and the fondant, and the buttercream ribbons, a few hours later the rice cereal mound is now a beautiful Squig from Warhammer.

Your first draft is basically that rice crispy treat nightmare. It’s unspeakably ugly, but if you don’t prepare those foundations, you’ll never finish your novel/pastry monster. Tell the Negative Nancy in your head to put a sock in it and trudge on anyway. Because heroes don’t quit.

Outlines are Everything (ESPECIALLY in SFF)

You need an outline. There’s no ifs or buts about it, you need outlines and supplementary notes, especially if you write Sci-fi & Fantasy fiction. Anything that involves even semi-rigorous worldbuilding requires notes, character profiles, a lengthy list of places that don’t exist, magic or tech systems, the menu for that one diner on Vance-VII your scuzzy space-faring bounty hunter hangs at…the whole nine yards.

Now some of you who are “pantsers” are probably soiling said pants right now at the thought of all these outlines and notes. And again, I wanna stress that this is coming from the perspective of a fantasy novelist, so if you do cozy mysteries or middle grade science detective books, then maybe this doesn’t apply to you as much. I doubt Chocolate Chipped: A Hawkinsville Bakery Murder Mystery requires anywhere near the amount of lore that The Wheel of Time does. But you still need to outline all your characters,the Hawkinsville Sweets n’ Eats shop, Mrs. Darcy, our intrepid baker/PI, and why Sheriff Patters’ body was found in a vat of cookie dough.

That doesn’t mean you have to organize all your ideas like Martha Stewart and have neat little notes and index cards and all that jazz, though. If that sounds like Chinese water torture to you, then there’s all sorts of alternate ways to outline. A quick google search will net you all manner of different ways you can visually organize your ideas, whether it’s corkboards, flow charts, or complex Rube Goldberg machines involving hamster wheels and electric wires. You name it, someone’s done it. And at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how you do it as long as you get your plot structure and story elements written down and accessible.

Outline-wise, I came up with one simple rule a while back, and it’s helped me a lot. Because I’m kind of an idea guy who’s always coming up with new things a mile a minute. And left to my own devices, a settling’s lore might drastically change for better or worse if I don’t pin it down and get it written. So because I have this problem, and because this problem is more of an issue in SFF writing, I came up with a simple rule that’s helped me ever since:

                                  Your ideas aren’t real until you write them down.

Keeping this in mind has forced me to take notes when I come up with ideas I’ll need later. To make visual concept boards of locations, armor, settings, foods and cultures so I can reference them as needed. And in the end, it’s helped me stay organized and consistent with my work. Worldbuilding is hard stuff, and especially when you’re writing genres that nerds like to read, you really need to put in that extra effort to make sure the make-believe logic of your world is consistent. Because not doing that could mean you get Red Letter Media’d by some blogger or youtuber who picks apart all the little inconsistencies in your book, and I wouldn’t wish that upon my worst enemy.

Again, depending on what genre you pick and how much of an “enthusiast” market it has, your level of outlining may vary. Would-be Tolkiens will need stacks and stacks of notes, while thriller writers may just need some characters, locations and a basic beat sheet/chapter outline written down. But either way, you need to write stuff down. As much stuff as you can stomach, and maybe more. It’s busywork and it can kind of suck at times (unless you’re a massive dork like me and you find that stuff fun) but in the end, your homework, outlines and notes will pay off.

Manage your Influences

So this one might just be me, but I’m throwing it out there in case anyone else is like this. Personally, I find that the media I consume while writing fiction ends up impacting what I write. This includes video games, TV, movies, and other books.

Now again, this may just be me, and you might be fine watching Winnie the Pooh before writing a groady crime thriller. I cannot however, and I mention all this because maybe the media you consume might be affecting you without you realizing it. This also goes back to the “use an outline and stick to it,” thing, because sticking to said outline is easier when you really get in the spirit of the thing. Now if you feel this doesn’t apply — then cool. By all means, ignore  everything in this section. But in the off chance you think it might…just try to manage what you watch and read, it might end up making a huge difference in how you write.

Write (Almost) Every Day

If you’re just starting out writing, following through with it can be really difficult. And even as someone who’s written in just about every other medium, I found myself struggling to finish my draft. The soul-crushing, brain-through-six-miles-of-broken-glass process of writing a story that’s borderline unreadable and might be anywhere from 40%-80% scrapped is…well, a daunting one, to say the least.

As someone who’s also been through this process at least 2-3 times, I can also safely say that it does NOT get easier the further along you are. If you can actually make it past the 2nd and 3rd draft, then yes. Based on my past experience with other mediums, I think once you acquire a knack for it, it gets easier to do. As of now, I could probably bang out a comic book script in my sleep, for example. But it actually gets harder and harder as time goes on, and the closer you get to your novel’s end, the more tempted you’ll be to simply half-ass it so you can be done forever with this nightmare of a story.

The only way you can reasonably keep this process up is to make it a habit. To type at least 2000 words every day into the word processor and only ever stop for bloody, screaming emergencies and birthday parties. Notice I didn’t say holidays. Yes, I even write on Christmas, Halloween and the Fourth of July. I do so while working around the usual celebrations (I’m not a monster — I celebrate with my family, but also work either really early or late after said celebrations are over).  If you fail to meet a deadline, you must punish yourself in a humane, but uncomfortable way. Maybe drink your morning coffee without sweetener, or do 200 push-ups, or sit through a full episode of Jerry Springer. Something to get you to think “oh yeah, writing that crappy first draft is at least better than this.”

Also, try to keep yourself accountable to someone other than yourself. I tend to post my progress on drafts on my Facebook, and seeing other, published authors like and comment on these posts has helped keep me invested in the process. It’s kind of a reminder that yeah, I’m not just doing this for me. You need to be like frickin’ Goku training constantly to improve your craft, or else you’ll end up like Gohan in Dragon Ball Super and stop being the Strongest Person in the Universe because you gave up like a frikkin’ nerd. Or in your case, stop being an active writer. Which would suck. Like Yamcha.

 

 Don’t be Yamcha.

Go Get Some Pizza When Everything’s Done

Okay, so maybe it doesn’t have to be pizza. Or food at all. You know that Spider-Man game that came out on PS4? Congrats, go ahead and grab that now, and play it for a few days, or hit the movies if something good’s out. Congrats, you earned it.

Writing fiction can be legitimately stressful, nail-biting or worse — dull and boring at times. And most people who start writing never actually finish their projects. As of now, I’ve finished the first part — the first draft, but that’s just like, one third of climbing Everest. But helping yourself to little victories can make all the difference in wanting to continue. I heard once (I think in a podcast somewhere?) that Brandon Sanderson would open a MTG pack after completing an especially difficult chapter, as a sort of reward. And honestly, I can kinda see why. Anything that helps train your mind to associate writing with something good can help increase morale quite a bit. Granted, I wouldn’t go so far as to eat an entire candy bar after every chapter (please don’t), but doing something nice for yourself as a motivator can really help you move along, even through the bits that make you want to jump in the sea and die. It kind of ties in with the “punishments” in that this is the carrot and those are the “stick.” When you do good, treat yourself within reason. When you mess up, or get lazy, correct yourself (again within reason).

Eventually you will start making a habit of it, and it’ll come easier. At least it did for me. Which is not to say it still wasn’t difficult at times (towards the end I had to force myself to get through it because it was such a flaming trash fire), but hey. Pizza. And if you don’t pull your weight, no soup pizza for you!

Again, I get that some of this stuff is pretty basic, but at the end of the day, it worked. Which is why I decided to write this piece shortly after the draft was finished. All this stuff is still very fresh in my mind, and in the off chance it helps someone, anyone, I’ll feel it was all worth it more so than it already is.

Anyway, that’s all for now. I have another draft to begin soon, and that one’s twice as long, I suspect.

On the one hand, I’m kinda excited. First Drafts are by nature, worse getting your teeth pulled by clowns. Clowns who use the laughing gas on themselves instead of on you. The second draft though, I hear is even worse than that, if you ask certain people. So