Best Fantasy and Science Fiction

Prisoner of the Crown

The first book in my Chronicles of Dasnaria series, PRISONER OF THE CROWN, is up for Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Book at Fresh Fiction! You can go there and vote for your favorites in multiple categories. I’m super delighted that this book was nominated. It’s up against tough competition, so I don’t expect it to win, but getting the nod is so gratifying.

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is “Spinning the Spiderweb of Complicated Plots.” Come on over for my thoughts!

Leveling Up – What Does It Mean to You?

This week at the SFF Seven we’re talking about leveling up and what that means to us.

Actually, the topic is phrased as: People always say they want to take their writing to the next level. Well, what are the levels, as you see them?

It’s a really good question. Come on over for my answer.

 

Characters Are Not Your Puppets

I put this photo on my podcast yesterday, but social media declined to show it, so I’m reposting! I spent time on Sunday lying in the sun and reading. The depthless blue skies were perfect for contrails, which seemed to appear from between my toes. Really lovely.

There’s been lots of talk on social media about the final season of Game of Thrones. Episode 4 aired on Sunday night (5/12/19) and there’s two episodes to go. While the battle scenes have been as epic and sweeping as promised, many people feel the show has gone off the rails. This is not the ending many of us hoped for.

Of course, all along, we were braced to lose beloved characters. The story created by George RR Martin has taught us well. Characters we love will die, sometimes suddenly, often brutally, and frequently without warning. He’s a master storyteller and he’s deliberately subverted the heroic fantasy tropes, enticing us to love and believe in a character, and then killing them suddenly. It’s so deftly done that, in retrospect, you can absolutely trace how the character’s personal flaws – hubris, naivete, etc. – lead to their untimely demise.

So, I don’t know about you, but I was braced. I had a checklist in my head of who’d be likely to do something stupid and die. I didn’t WANT to lose those characters but I accepted that it had to happen. Especially as the title of the show (which departs from the books) promises a life-and-death tournament leaving a single person on the Iron Throne. Also, as the story progressed, it became clear that the threat of the Night King and the devastating hordes from the frozen north posed a much greater problem than who got to be in charge. Former enemies became unlikely allies – in a tremendously satisfying way – to band together to face this world-killing threat.

I won’t go into details of how that aspect of the plot has failed our expectations of the dramatic progression of events. Instead I’d like to address why some of what’s going on feels so disappointing. It’s something I see happen a lot in TV and movies, especially long-running ones.

See, visual entertainment is necessarily plot driven. There’s a lot of reasons for this: visual narratives don’t allow for internal exploration of characters (which is why they sometimes resort to clumsy voice-overs); they appeal to a much wider audience that expects a faster pace of events with no “navel gazing;” and plot-driven stories are easier for a team of writers to produce. (They’re easily outlined in advance and produce clear dramatic beats.) I’d argue that this is why Romance seldom works in a visual narrative since love stories are character-driven.

Now, George RR Martin is a character-driven writer. Yes, the plot of the series (which is called A Song of Ice and Fire, which speaks much more to the Night King arc than the Iron Throne arc, just saying) has a complex set of plots and subplots, but they all arise from the character motivations. What the characters want drives the narrative. What happens in visual entertainment, when plot takes over as the primary driver of the story, is the character motivations can become subverted to serve the plot.

In other words, people suddenly stop acting like themselves and do things we don’t believe in order to advance the plot.

Sound familiar?

So, yeah, if your favorite Game of Thrones characters seem to be acting, well, out of character, it’s because they are. They’ve stopped being the complex, nuanced individuals (likable or not) that drew us into the story, and have become finger-puppet versions of themselves acting against a spectacular backdrop of dramatic plot.

Another example of this that will forever stand out in my mind is a late-season (this is a THING) episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where Spike attempts to rape Buffy. It’s a clumsy scene, shocking – and was written specifically to address a rape-prevention week theme. Now, I’m all for preventing rape, education, and using story to reinforce that message. But for those of us invested in those characters, it was a total WTF moment. Spike nursed a soul-deep, unrequited love for Buffy (and we know she loved him, too), and he would NEVER have hurt her. It made zero sense. The plot made him into a paper cutout to demonstrate an issue.

As a character-driven writer, this drives me crazy. As a viewer once-invested in beloved characters that have been eviscerated into paper cutouts, I mourn. Really, I’d rather have wept over their deaths than see this happen to them. I’m not even sure I want to watch the last two episodes, frankly.

Anyway, it’s too late for the show. What’s done is done. But the takeaway for writers of all kinds is: RESPECT YOUR CHARACTERS AS PEOPLE. They are not puppets in your personal play, no matter how much you might feel like you are the god of your world. As creators and storytellers, we owe allegiance to the gift of these people entering our stories. We do them honor by listening to them.

To do otherwise fails us all.

 

 

After the Gold Rush – Making a Living as a Writer Today

THE DRAGONS OF SUMMER, my standalone and RITA(R) Award Novella Finalist from the SEASONS OF SORCERY anthology is now up at all the retailers! Including in print, for those collectors among you. You know who you are. Very shortly I’ll have print versions available in my website store that you can have me sign, personalize, if you like, and mail to you.

Last night I had occasion to scroll back through the ancient history on my Kindle. I was looking for a story with a particular scene that’s stuck in my mind, from a book I was given to read and possibly blurb back in early 2016. (See? Totally ancient history so far as my Kindle library – sorted by Most Recent – is concerned.) I remembered the scene, but not the author or title of the book. So I scrolled back and back, through the 608 digital books I’ve acquired (I know I have nothing on some of you) since March 5 of 2009 when I bought Jeaniene Frost’s HALFWAY TO THE GRAVE and kicked off my eReader life.

Which means I just passed my ten-year anniversary. Go figure!

Anyway, I went back considerably farther than 2016, because I couldn’t find the book and wasn’t at sure when I’d read it. And something struck me as I did: So many of the authors there had disappeared from my awareness. Some of them have disappeared altogether, perhaps into new pen names or other professions. This somewhat jolting discovery came at the same time that a lot of authors are talking about having to take day jobs again, because they’re no longer making the money they once were from writing. There’s lots of theories about this, but this is what I think is happening.

On April 19, 2011 – isn’t it weird how these thoughts come to me around the same time of year? Could be doing taxes – I wrote a blog post called Silver and Gold and Cautionary Tales. It’s all about the gold rush in self-publishing and thinking long term.

Back then, a lot of people were talking about all the newbies flocking to self-publishing with starry eyes and dreams of getting rich quick. And some did.

Many of us predicted – myself included – that the ones who didn’t get rich quick would soon bail and move on to the next gold rush. And some did.

What I didn’t forsee is what I think is happening now:

  • Self-publishing floods the market with cheap books. This is especially true of Romance.
  • The undercutting of the Romance market causes traditional publishers to cut their losses in the genre. They no longer make the same profits, so they offer their authors – even bestselling Romance authors – worse and worse deals. Even a bestselling author no longer gives them the profit margin they want.
  • Authors once happy at traditional houses feel forced into self-publishing. Whether they want to or not, if they want to publish books and put food on the table, they have to self-publish because the trad houses sure aren’t paying anymore.
  • More and more once trad-only authors become hybrid, bringing more books into the market. To be competitive, they price the books low.
  • The dilution effect really kicks in – more authors might be making more money overall – but many individual authors see their annual earnings drop, including early adopting self-publishing authors who once did very well.
  • What comes next?

 

I think we’ll still see authors moving on to the next gold rush. The money stopped being easy a while ago, so those who don’t care about WRITING at its core will find an easier way to make a living. Readers have become more discerning, following particular authors and no longer wasting their time on free and cheap reads that simply aren’t worth their time, no matter the price. We have a huge and avid reading community, which is a wonderful solace to so many of us.

Here I am, for example, ten years with my Kindle (third one) and reading strong.

I’m curious – what was your first eReader purchase? (On Amazon you can go to your account, your content and devices, then sort by Acquired Date: Oldest-Newest.