Monday, 24 March 2014

Writing tips 2

A gentleman by the name of Nicholas Rossis contacted me for help with a series overview for his books, which are No.1 in the Amazon rankings.

Here's what I said. You can get his books at

Think about these points:

Characters Good v. Evil
Drivers (usually emotional)
What happens if they fail.

You have to be fairly functional and matter of fact in a series outline. You lay out exactly what it is as a series.

e.g. The Pearseus series an epic fantasy/sci-fi story told over x number of books.

I've used this because you've kind of described it as such to me already. So use that. Just how would you tell someone about it, as a series if you were having a conversation about it? That's what you should say in your series blurb.

Consider what your theme is, not what the books are about. I say this because each writer, no matter the book, writes about the same theme every time. This is something integral to you as a human being. It's what drives you. Each story you tell is an investigation into your theme, but told differently each time.

For instance, I realised fairly early on in my writing career that the over-arching theme of everything I write is survival, and the things people will do to survive. Sometimes, it's mixed with secrecy - the things we keep secret so that we can survive. It doesn't matter what I write, or what style I write in, or the subject matter, it's always about survival.

Most stories are actually about survival in some form or other. Knowing this makes it easier to formulate an over view.

Also, consider this: you will find lots of references to there being 21 stories, or 30 stories, or 7 stories etc… in the world - and that all stories fall into one of the categories they cite. However, I've found there is actually only one story. Wow! One story, I hear you say, how come all books are so very different? And what is this one story?

Well, that one story is the quest. A quest for true love. A quest for treasure. A quest for a new planet. A quest to capture someone. A quest to win the war. A quest to survive in the face of a storm, or ghost, or enemy. It's always a quest. THE quest.

This being the case you simply look at your series in terms of the quest. What is the theme? What is the quest? Forget individual story arcs etc… just focus on the theme and the quest.

I'd say you're fairly safe with it being about survival and the things people will do in order to survive. Don't forget humans are hot-wired to survive in three ways - as individuals, as families and as species. We fight first as individuals - for ourselves. We fight second for family/tribe/country. We fight third for the species.

So, you have an introduction that tells people what the two books are - a series (with potential for more I assume), and that it is about a bunch of people on a quest to survive against all the odds on a hostile planet. During the duration of their occupancy they come up against various enemies/problems etc… which test their resolve over a long period, giving the reader the opportunity to get involved with the 'world' you have created.

Writing tips 1

Lately, I've been contributing to various LinkedIn writers' groups. On these groups I offered to give tips for writing blurb for their books. I've shared that advice below.

If you follow these guidelines below, exactly as I lay them out, you will create the perfect selling blurb.

1. Who is your main character? If it's an ensemble story then you need make that clear. For now though, let's suppose it's one guy.
2. Who is your main character's opponent, or opponents? Yes, he can have more than one opponent - these are the bad guys.
3. What is your main character's goal? Often it's not obvious. It's probably to strike out on his own and make a life - okay so there are sub-goals: robbing the bank for instance, but these should not get in the way of the main goal. This is often as simple as survival.
4. What is the emotional torment that your main character wrestles? This gives him an internal life and the reason for doing what he does.
5. What will happen if he doesn't achieve his goal? This gives him the desire to make things work - to achieve his goal
6. Where is it set?

Okay, so those are the most important things you have to put across in any selling blurb. (And if you do it right then you can do it for ideas too and then store these short paragraphs away and pull them out when you need a new story). 

Here…. I'm going to make a story up, using these six guidelines so you can see how it works.

When Arnie Dragonslayer (1) is called in by the mayor of Dragonsville (6) to slay (3) a Dragon (2) that has been plaguing the land for decades, he readily agrees, despite the fact that he has failed to kill a single dragon in the last two years (4). Each month a virgin is given up to the beast. Sadly, there is only one virgin left in the land; Princess Sweetcheeks. When Arnie meets the Princess he falls in love with her (again, 4). He can't abide the thought that his darling will be slaughtered by the foul beast, so he connives to replace her another. Even as he does this though, his conscience eats away at him (another 4 - ramping up the emotional torment). If he fails to kill the dragon then an innocent, yet not so virginal, woman will be killed (5). Yet even as Arnie races to save the woman, Princess Sweetcheeks is in the arms of another (2). What should Arnie do? Save the dragon's victim, or fight the Princess's new suitor?

So, there you have it. I just made that up as I went along, using the guidelines above. It's just an example, but you can see how you have to think to create a piece of information that will make a potential reader sit up and take notice. Hopefully, anyone interested in dragons and virginal victims will, by now, want to find out how Arnie copes with all this. (BTW, I'm not into dragon's but I've used this metaphor before in workshops to show students how to write this kind of thing and it works for the purpose of an example).