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Adrian, a spy for the King, sees a nobleman murder a servant. His desire for truth is pitted against the dangers of a high-stakes political game. When his friend Draken insists on pursuing justice, Adrian must protect those he cares about as the political games of powerful men alter the lives of everyone around him.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Salt Lake Comic Con Fan Xperience (FanX)

I attended several panels at FanX this year. In general, the writing panels were targeted more toward beginners than at LTUE. Even so, there was a lot of fun to be had and things to be learned. Somehow I managed to miss getting pictures of a couple of the panels, but most of them are shown below with a summary of my notes.

In addition to the panels, several authors published through Xchyler Publishing along with me got together to staff a booth to sell books. It was a great experience, and it was nice to have a full-sized booth. We were sponsored by my wife Kelly Olsen, a Realtor. Go and give her Facebook page a like, and remember her when you need a geek-friendly realtor to help you buy or sell a house in or near Salt Lake County. :)

Now on to the panels!


Pantsing or Plotting: Discovery Writing and Outlining

Shannen Camp, Angela Corbett,Julie Frost,Jennifer Jenkins,David J. West,Dan Willis

The panelists talked about several different plotting methods such as Save the Cat, Seven Point Story Structure, Three Act Structure, Hero's Journey, Thirty Point Beat Structure (attributed to Stephenie Meyer), Snowflake Method, and so on. One reason there are so many is that people's writing styles differ, and what works for one person may not work so well for another.

Our panelists were all to some degree a hybrid between pants and plotter, with some having tried seat-of-the-pants writing without plotting, and decided it was too much work. The problem is that writing without an outline means you will spend a lot more time in editing as you fix the technical details.

A better approach is to use that seat-of-the-pants creativity to fill in the details between the main points. Some other fun hints are to write your back cover blurb before you write the book.

Building the Scene: Step-by-Step Instructions for Fantastic Fiction

Sean A. Hoade

Sean's web site has lots of videos and stuff from his past presentations.

Scenes are what make fiction dramatic. Short fiction can bend things a little more due to its sometimes experimental nature, but novels really need scene styructure because scenes use a pattern to impose order on what happens in the story.

He covered some of the basics, such as what goes into a scene.

  • Character Goal
  • Opposition to the Goal (a person or nature)
  • Conflict
  • Resolution

The thing about resolution is that it can take several forms, some more interesting than others. It's important to know when to use each.

  • No. The character failed.
  • Yes. The character succeeded. Generally boring and should be avoided.
  • Yes, but... The character succeeded, but has a new problem surface.
  • No, plus... The character failed, and other bad stuff has been piled on.


I've Written a Book, How Do I Get It Published?

Dave Butler, Richard Paul Evans, Heather Rubert, David J. West, E.B. Wheeler, Michelle Witte

The panel had a mix of self-published, publisher-published, and a couple of acquisition editors. The panelists were asked what they would have done differently if they were staring over now. Two responses were to self publish anything not aimed at a publisher a lot sooner, and to get involved in the social side earlier with critiques, alpha and beta readers, and so on.

Self-publishing taught one of the panelists that writing is running a business, not applying for a job. If you think your job is to write and toss it over the fence for a publisher to do the rest, you're wrong. More publishers, particularly smaller publishers, are getting their authors involved in marketing, building a platform, maintaining contact with a readership, and taking more responsibility for their own success. This makes self-publishing and going through a publisher a lot more similar than in the past.

If you have a niche book, you might be able to find a matching niche publisher. There are a lot of small publishers out there, and many of them know exactly who their narrowly defined audience is. Different books and different publishers have different goals.

Character, Setting, Plot: Making Your Writing Do More

Frank Cole, Peggy Eddleman, Claudia Gray, Mikki Kells, J. Scott Savage, James R. Tuck

Everything you write should either illuminate a character or advance a plot. If you aren't doing one of those two things, you should either change or get rid of it. (Of course no rule is absolute, but this is a pretty bad one to ignore unless you have a good reason.)

Some interesting tricks to improve the power of your writing are to work to see scenes through the eyes of the character. A scene will be seen differently based on the character and what will seem important to them. Another idea is to figure out what lie a character may believe. This gives you a chance later to have a big reveal later to put the character through a transformation.

Four-Part Pacing: A Guide to Better Storytelling

J. Scott Savage

Scott offered to send his slides for this presentation to those who asked. I haven't contacted him yet, but his web site should work to ping him. He talked about dividing stories into four different parts. Each was labelled as "the most important part." :)

  1. Setup, sub-conflict, planting seeds, and introducing characters. The sub-conflict is resolved at the end of the first quarter as the main quest kicks in. Clues are given, and there is foreshadowing.
  2. Start the quest. This is often a false path where seeds are sewn to reveal the true quest at the end of the second quarter.
  3. The true quest is revealed. Major obstacles appear. The main characters have internal and external dilemmas which collide. Tension increases, and beliefs are questioned. The characters may discover something they have always believed is wrong.
  4. A major revelation. You don't want the reader to put the book down in the last quarter. Main character has a plan, and the plan fails. It's extra cool if you can get the reader to guess that plan before it is used. Don't cheat the reader, and deliver what was promised. In the end you have lessons learned and personal change.

Future of Biotechnology

Charlie Pulsipher, Blake Smith, John Steiner, Eric James Stone, Eric Swedin, Cassidy Ward

I missed the first few minutes of this one because of way too many people to talk to on the way. I ended up not taking a lot of notes, but this was an interesting panel to bounce back and forth between some very science-literate writers who have a lot of technical expertise to draw upon.

To apply this to writing, you're not going to be an expert at everything. When you need to do something new, you can get the details right by drawing upon an expert. Nanotech, biotech, anatomy, physics, whatever it is, someone will know their way around your topic and can steer you away from things that will seriously annoy people when you get it wrong.

Things I Wish I'd Known Starting as a Writer

Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta

Kevin and Rebecca gave a list of points to consider. Normally this is a 2+ hour presentation, so they had to rush it a bit and trim some of their stories out.

  • Act like a professional. Never be a jerk.
  • Talk, act and dress professionally. Branding is a big deal. Unfortunately, he's had to deal with those who need reminders on basic hygiene like brushing teeth, bathing, and combing hair.
  • If invited to participate in a writing project, be on time, be the right size, and on the right subject.
  • Don't whine. If you've signed a contract, it's too late to complain about its content.
  • Don't make enemies, start feuds, or try to correct critics.
  • Don't put others down, especially in public.
  • Do your best work. Never phone it in.
  • Build and maintain your reputation. Save quotes from others because you'll have good chances to make use of them later. Publicity is cheaper than advertising, and you're always on stage.
  • Publishing is a business, not just an art.
  • Don't quit your day job.Life is expensive, and hope won't pay your way. Build a financial buffer.
  • Learn the business, and keep up with changes.

Steampunk: Beyond Goggles

Dave Butler, Steve Diamond, David Farland, Cindy Grigg, Aneeka Richins, Scott Taylor, Dan Willis

Steampunk is a broad and widely inclusive umbrella. I'm in the Steel & Bone steampunk anthology, and it includes time travel, alternate recent past, alternate worlds, and a whole raft of things that all count.

It's a great way to challenge expectations and build a new world and setting, yet still have a few things to help you deliver quickly when showing your world to the reader.

Main draws are the sense of discovery and romance of an age gone by, but with some cool alternative tech.

The best steampunk work hasn't just had gears and goggles painted onto a story for flavoring. It needs to somehow rely on steampunk for the core of the story. There hasn't been a deep, meaningful story in this genre that really rips into you emotionally, and such a story would help cement the genre as a staple among fiction categories.


Writing Heroes, Antiheros, and Villains

Angela Corbett, Matthew J. Kirby, Sara B. Larson, Kevin L. Nielsen, Craig Nybo, Wendy Toliver, Julie Wright

The difference between an hero and anti-hero is often PR. You can have someone universally disliked in their world who does great things, with others getting the credit. You can have a morally gray character who helps others by coincidence. Snape from Harry Potter is a good example of anti-hero because he's a jerk to Harry, yet by the end you see that he was protecting Harry just as he'd promised. He never promised to be nice to him or to be a replacement fatherly figure.

Interesting questions for anti-heroes are like asking what it would take to betray those you love. Characters are defined by their trials, so you can play with the concept that everyone has flaws, and the way we react is important, but can be unrelated to how it impacts others. Inconsistency (with a reason) can be a great tool.

How much bad to you put into your anti-hero? It depends. Whether you have them go through an atonement or redemption can also vary. This also doesn't mean you fix everything for them. It's more about coming to an understanding, to see why a character is the way they are.

Bad guys need something to care about or sympathize with, or admire. It humanizes them and makes them look smart, capable, caring, or whatever positive aspect you want to give them.

Writing a Great Opening, Engaging Middle, and Perfect Ending

Kevin J. Anderson, Larry Correia, Peggy Eddleman, David Farland, Megan Hutchins, Erica Schultz, Eric James Stone

This is why I take pictures at panels, and what happens when I don't. I think we may have been missing Kevin J. Anderson on this panel. If I had my picture, I'd be able to tell for sure. Sigh. It would be easier to tell if I hadn't seen him on other panels.

Open with questions. You want to have your reader wondering why things are the way they are. This is different from a confused reader wondering what's going on. Confusion is bad. Boring is also bad. Never confuse or bore the reader. An opening must start with an inciting incident up front. The type of incident can vary widely.

The emotional pull of an opening should match the overall story. Your initial emotional promise and eventual emotional state need to match, just like your opening incident and resolution need to match. If you open with something funny, the reader expects a comedy, for instance.

Your main character needs to be in emotional pain for readers to care. Another way to make them care is to "pet the dog." The example given was to have someone, even a horrible opponent, do something to humanize them so people are engaged and care about them. Interest can also be built by giving a character an interesting ability people can relate to. We're attracted to powerful people.

Everything needs a purpose. You can't just toss in action for the sake of the action.

One attendee asked about whether you can have too many hooks. The panel agreed that it's really hard to have too many, so long as you fulfill all the promises you make to the reader. Don't write checks you can't cash.

Beyond Creation: Diversity in Writing

Sara B. Larson, Briana Lawrence, Valynne E. Maetani, Jared Quan, Ilima Todd, Robison Wells

One of the points here is that you shouldn't  go into check-box mode where you pick out genders, races and other features just so you can include them in the story without having an underlying story-based reason. Stereotypes can also come back to bite you. Valid, realistic portrayals of diversity with a story-based reason is a great goal to shoot for.

Diversity is a tool to show different types of hero. If you're upset about something done too little or done wrong, do it the way it should be done!

It's also good to remember that no matter what you write, odds are high someone will dislike it. One person may complain your characters are too much ---something--- while others will complain that they're not enough ---something---. Fill in your favorite check-box.

Use diversity to broaden the appeal and flavor, rather than to try to appease any particular audience.

It didn't come up in this panel, but a good example came up locally a week or two back when a white artist painted a picture of a black Eve. Was it a case of helping people think and broaden their view, or was it racial appropriation for commercial gain? Should we limit what people can portray to those attributes they have? In my mind, that's the opposite of diversity, which works best when we accept and promote a wide range of ideological input and tear down walls rather than dividing up based on tribal lines. Disagreement is a natural consequence of broading our exposure to the world, but we'll all be better off when we understant that disagreement does not mean hate.

Writing Action

Larry Correia, Steve Diamond, Mikki Kells, Adrienne Monson, Christopher Paolini, James R. Tuck

Action scenes increase intensity. This does not mean you should run full action full time, or that becomes your new normal, and there's nowhere to go from there. It all turns ordinary without the ups and downs, the lulls and fast parts.

It's possible to overshadow a story by putting in too much action without giving the action a purpose. It should always be there for a reason. Never misuse action. Don't sacrifice character development or plot by replacing it with meaningless action.

Some interesting points to consider:
How does inflicting violence change someone?
How does receiving violence change someone?

If your action scenes have a lot of sentences with He... She... He... then you're check-boxing, and trying to give too much detail of what's happening and not enough of what it means.

Yes, action scenes can get long and boring, and drag if you put in too much detail.

Violence must have a price and a consequence so it means something.

Two books to look at are The Face of Combat and On Combat. The first one may be the wrong name, since I only see stuff like Faces of Combat and The Face of Battle on Amazon.

Plot Devices and Twists: The Art of the Page Turner

Quincy Allen, Jason King, Craig Nybo, J. Scott Savage, Eric James Stone, Ilima Todd

The panelists gave lots of pointers.

The first line, paragraph and page really need to kick things up.

The first line should tell something about the character, and it should not be passive.

The first paragraph should expand on that first line, and grab the reader's interest.

The first page should pose a question and show what drives the character forward.

Jason King, one of panel's acquisition editors, says he generally knows by page 10 if he'll want a manuscript. Eric Stone told of when he was reading slush and said he liked to be disappointed up front rather than at the end of a story. The end must match the start.

It's generally frowned upon to start a book with dialog. We don't know the character enough to care yet what they say. We need an interesting character doing interesting things.

It's important to balance information vs. intrigue. The reader should know the "what" even if they don't yet know the "why."

Paragraphs, like chapters, can benefit from having conflict or tension on a smaller scale. Characters reacting to stress is interesting to readers.

Several things can draw a reader in, like pain, sacrifice, humor, or nobility. These can be built in as part of the character's personality.

Surprises and twists must promote the plot, and bring about conflict. Twists should be the result of specific decisions. It's best to plant seeds up front so those twists seem to have been inevitable when you look back on them.

Foreshadowing is great, but you need to be sure that there's a reason in the plot for the thing being foreshadowed.


So, there you have it. We sold a pile of books, had a lot of fun, and learned more about writing. What else could you ask for from a convention?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Salt Lake's FanX 2016 and Symbiosis

I'll be at FanX this year, just a bit north of Artist Alley. Several authors published through Xchyler Publishing have banded together to rent a booth, and we'll be selling and signing books. Stop by to say hi and enter a drawing!

Those attending are, in alphabetical order (just because I'm left brained like that):

  • Jay Barnson
  • Ben Ireland
  • John M Olsen
  • Sarah Seeley
  • Scott Tarbot
  • Scott Taylor
  • Candice Thomas
We'll have anthologies and novels ranging through steampunk, dystopian, horror, Shakespeare rewrites, and fantasy.

I will have two books with me. "Steel & Bone" (a steampunk anthology) and "It Came From the Great Salt Lake" (a Utah horror collection).

One of the reasons we can afford to have this booth is that my lovely wife Kelly is sponsoring the space as a local Realtor and will have some goodies to give away. When I explain this relationship to people, the typical response is for them to think for a few seconds, then it all clicks. Their next statement is often about how it's cool to have a relationship that benefits both the authors and the sponsor.

The authors get a cheaper place to show their wares and interact with fans. The sponsor gets publicity and interacts with potential clients. That's what you call win-win.