It’s not my first interview, but it’s the first ever interview of me as a writer. You can read it here. The interview was done by Amanda J Evans for her blog where she does a series of weekly interviews of Irish indie authors, and this week it was my turn.
Reading through it, I can’t help but feel there are things I should have answered differently, or things I forgot to mention that are more important than what I did say. Then again, I guess that’s normal.
Most of all, I’m a bit embarrassed about the question about who my favourite Irish author is. I’ve lived here for eleven years, and I’ve called myself a writer for almost half that time, but I know next to nothing about current local writers. I also don’t know much about current Swedish authors either, so I guess that evens it out a little.
I probably should try and read more Irish writers though. There seems to be plenty of them around, and I’m sure I’ll find something to suit me. It’s more a question of taking the time to pick out a book really – once that’s done, the rest will come easily, I’m sure.
Good morning, it’s Monday once more. Time for some questionable writing advice:
A story, or a book, is a promise. The book promises to tell an entertaining story, and the reader promises to stick with it until the end.
If the book breaks its promise, the reader is okay to do the same. If the book isn’t what it promised to be, why continue reading it – and why read anything else by the writer? Time is, by and far, the most valuable thing we have, so why give it to an inanimate object, like a book, that doesn’t keep its promises? (thanks for reading btw).
However, a book, in and of itself, can’t make any promises of its own.
The promises are understood by the reader based on their impression of the book. The cover image, the title, the blurb on the back, and whatever they see inside when they open it up for a look. In other words, you as the writer are responsible for making the book give the right kind of promise.
Pick a cover image that gives the right impression. Write a blurb that’s relevant to the story.
Write a story that lives up to the expectations it creates.
The promises don’t stop outside the book, but keep being made within. Whatever happens throughout the story sets an expectation in the reader’s mind for something that will happen later. It’s a promise of what’s to come.
Did I go on about this last week too?
Yes, I’m pretty sure I did, but I’m doing it again, because I think this is important. If you make someone a promise you have to keep it – even if it’s to a person you’ve never met and who only knows you from picking up your book.
So how do you know what kind of promise you make to the reader?
Simple answer: you don’t know.
You’ll just have to guess. You have to figure it out yourself based on the story you’re writing. With some parts of it it’s easy, and with other parts it’s not. This is one of the reason it’s a good idea to ask someone else to test read your stories and give you feedback before you release them into the wild.
Since you already know what’s going to happen, it’ll be hard for you to expect anything else.
Monday again. Time for another little commentary on writing:
This is about expectations and about how they affect our impressions.
The picture above is of a cup of coffee. Except, it’s in a mug made of glass, and there’s a candle behind the mug, so the light plays around in the shapes in the bottom of the mug.
It’s a black coffee, because there’s no milk and no sugar in it. But it’s also not super strong, so the light from the candle comes through on the sides and tints the coffee red. It could also be the coffee isn’t actually black, but really a very dark red.
When you read the phrase a cup of black coffee, you probably won’t picture anything like what you see in the image above. Right? You already have an expectation of what a cup of black coffee looks like.
Black coffee comes in white porcelain cups, and it’s proper black – perhaps with a few bubbles from the pour on top. Put the term into a google image search. You know what you’ll see – or, well, you won’t be surprised at least.
What does this mean for us as writers?
I get two things.
The first is that readers already know what a lot of things look like, so there’s no need to describe them. It’s enough just to mention what they are.
Time for examples. Picture the following:
A woman hurrying to work on Monday morning with a cup of coffee in her hand.
A woman looking out her window on a Sunday morning with a cup of coffee in her hand.
The two sentences are quite similar, but they paint very different pictures. There’s no information at all about what the woman looks like, and nothing at all about her cup of coffee, or how she’s dressed, but still we get an image.
Sure, the image might be vague and indistinct, but there’s something there, and there’s a vibe to it too.
We all have expectations of what things look like, and if you play to that, you can use it to great effect in your writing.
The second thing I’m getting is that things aren’t always what they seem. We all know that coffee is black, and we all know that snow is white and the sky is blue and the good guys always win in the end – right?
Except maybe that’s not always how it is. Sometimes black coffee is red, and sometimes white snow is blue, and sometimes the sky is all kinds of weird colours when the sun is setting and the clouds are on fire.
As for the good guys, well, life’s tough sometimes.
Keep this in mind when you’re creating your stories. Your readers will have expectations, and you can choose to live up to them, or to try and circumvent them. Either is fine, just try and make sure to pay attention to what expectations you’re setting for your reader.
Happy Monday everyone. It’s really Saturday on my planet, so it’s time to have a coffee and a snack and write about writing:
This ties back to the advice about how strong characters carry their own stories. You don’t have to be a hero to have an adventure or go on a big journey. Sure, big powerful heroes may go on longer, more dangerous, and more impressive journeys. They face greater challenges and higher stakes, but that’s not the point.
The point is to tell a good story, and the point is that stories are about characters.
It doesn’t matter if it’s about Frodo going to Mordor to destroy The One Ring, or if it’s about my three year old niece going on a train to visit grandma.
Okay, so it might actually matter a bit, and the stories will be very different. The example may be a bit of an exaggeration. What I’m trying to say is that an adventure doesn’t have to be epic in scope in order to make for an interesting story.
I write fantasy, and within the fantasy genre, it’s very common tell stories on a grandiose scale. The fate of the entire world hangs in the balance and it’s up to the one hero to save the day (and the night, and everything in between).
It doesn’t have to be like that. It’s kind of part of the expectations for the genre, but there’s plenty of room for stories about little people too. They too have things they care about, struggles to face, and challenges to overcome. The entire world may not be at stake, but their world might be – as they know it.
Now, back to my coffee, and to my own story that still needs a lot of attention.
My latest article for Mythic Scribes is now live. It’s about what I did to launch and promote my book Emma’s Story, and you can read it here.
It’s a fairly long piece that touches upon most of the various aspects of launching the book: selecting a date and setting up preorders, advertising and promotion, formatting for ebook and paperback. The article doesn’t go into great detail on any of it, but rather tries to give an overview of all the different things involved in self-publishing a book – and even then I had to leave some things out.
I’m always a little bit nervous when a new article is going to go live. There are expectations. Mythic Scribes isn’t some little personal blog for just me and my closest friends and family (hi mom). It’s a big site with an active community and tons of daily visitors. I don’t have any exact numbers to share, but the numbers are sky high compared to what I’m getting on this page. On a good day I get double-digit number visitors on this blog.
Regardless of the actual numbers, the point is that a lot of people will see my articles and read them. Hopefully they will find them useful, and usually I get good feedback, but I still worry. Mostly, my main concern is that I’ll get something significantly wrong, or that I’ll unknowingly express some really controversial viewpoint and cause an uproar.
So far that’s not happened, and it probably won’t. I’m a lot less nervous about it than I used to be, but that little nagging worry is still there. Ideally it won’t ever go away completely. If it does, it’ll mean I’ve lost the respect for what I’m doing, and then I shouldn’t be doing it anymore.
What I’m really going for here is that on Sundays when the articles go live I keep refreshing the site to see if it’s there yet or not. So too this time around, and when it finally happened I was met by a really nice and heartwarming surprise. Our site admin, BD, had found my Instagram account, dug out some of the pictures I’d taken of my book, and added them to the article.
Discovering this made me really happy. It’s that warm feeling of when someone goes that extra mile to do something nice for you even though they don’t have to and you don’t expect it. It’s amazing, and it was great way to start my weekend (I’m off Monday’s and Tuesdays).
Also, price hike
One comment I got on the article was that the price on the paperback version is too low. It’s cheap enough people might think there’s something wrong with the story. This obviously isn’t what I want, so I’ll be increasing the price to 6.99 in about a week.
It’s Monday again, time for a little bit of writing advice:
This ties back to the first post in this series (here), and it’s about how our minds and our imaginations are really quick about creating our own impressions – even if all we have is incomplete data.
When reading a story, did it ever happen to you that the text described something in a way that didn’t match the image in your head? That’s what this is about.
If I picture something in my mind based on something I’m reading I will fill in any significant blanks in the description myself. It’s difficult for me to imagine a person with long hair without also imagining that the hair has a colour. It’s much easier to just assume the hair is blonde, or black, or red, purple, ginger, whatever. You’ll have no idea what kind of colour I imagined the hair was.
Later on, the text reveals that the long flowing hair is not only brown, but also woven through with a garland of flowers.
That doesn’t match my impression at all. It contradicts my experience of the story, and I will have to either revise my internal image or ignore that part of the description. Both options are bad.
When writing, keep track of what information you have included in your description and what you’ve left out. Do not go back and fill in the missing details later as chances are you’ll contradict what your reader has imagined.
There are ways to get around this and to add more details later, but that’s a topic for another day.
It’s Monday morning again. It’s time for another piece of Canned Wisdom:
This it about inspiration. As writers/artists/people we’re often dependent on the right kind of motivation in order to get started with doing something. If we’re not motivated or inspired it’s easy to just mope around and waste away the time.
At the same time there’s all kinds of advice about doing what feels right and about how we should follow our hearts. I’m not saying that’s wrong, but it may not be very productive. Inspiration can sometimes be hard to come by, and if we wait until we feel inspired it could potentially take forever to finish writing that book.
Fortunately, inspiration is an internal force. It comes from within us and we create it ourselves. Sure, something we hear or see or do can be inspiring, but the enthusiasm and energy that comes from inspiration is something we generate ourselves.
I often tell myself that if I just sit down and start writing, inspiration will show up on its own. It’s difficult, and I don’t always listen to myself, but I know it’s true. It may take some time, but in my experience it almost always happen.
The only times it hasn’t worked is when I’ve been in a really bad spot emotionally and I’ve had too many other things to worry about.
Otherwise, if you just sit down and go at it, the muse will eventually grow curious and show up to see what you’re doing. She may even be a little bit jealous and burst out some extra ideas just to show you she’s still got it and you still need her – or him, if that’s how you roll.