Archive | Fiction Writing RSS feed for this section

My New Book on the Snowflake Method

The cover art for my book How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method.Why are so many writers around the world using my Snowflake Method to write their first drafts?

Because it works!

Let’s be clear that different writers are different.

Some writers thrive on the “seat-of-the-pants” method. Stephen King is a pantser. So is Anne Lamott.  They write great fiction and SOTP works for them.

Some writers work from a highly detailed outline—a synopsis that may be 50 to 100 pages. Robert Ludlum was famous for his long outlines.  He was a great writer and outlining worked marvelously for him.

But some writers love the Snowflake Method—a series of steps in which you start with the germ of a story idea and build it out bit by bit.  Some writers’ brains are wired to work this way.  And many of them write great fiction.

About the Snowflake Method

The Snowflake Method doesn’t make you more creative. You already are incredibly creative.

The Snowflake Method just suggests where to apply your creativity next.  It makes Snowflakers more efficient in writing their first draft.

There is no one method that works for everybody.  The Snowflake is the method that has worked Xtremely well for me.  And it’s been thrilling to hear from so many writers around the world who say that the Snowflake works for them too.  The Snowflake page on this web site has been viewed more than 4 million times.  Every month, it gets about 50,000 more page views.

Several years ago, I heard from a writer in Nigeria who had visited my site that January and got inspired. By July she had written her manuscript (about Nigerian scammers), got an agent, and sold her novel to Hyperion. A couple of years later, that novel won the Africa Commonwealth Prize.

Your mileage will vary, of course. Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani brought a ton of talent, drive, and creativity to the table. The Snowflake Method gave her a simple path to follow to get her story written. But she had to walk that path.  You have to walk your own path, and it won’t be easy.  But the Snowflake Method is designed to guide you along the way, to shorten the path.

My New E-Book

I’ve been working really hard for months on a new e-book solely dedicated to the Snowflake Method, and I did something different this time.

I wrote the e-book as a story—about a young writer with a dream to write a novel.

All her life, she’s been doing what other people tell her to do, putting off her dream and being practical.

Now she’s tired of doing what other people want.

She wants to follow her dream.

But she doesn’t know how to get started.

She needs a little direction, so she decides to go to a writing conference.

Below is an excerpt from Chapter 1. You’ll see right away that this story is quirky, zany, and over the top.  As you get into it, I hope you’ll find that it goes deep into the art of story.

You’ll see that the story itself practices what it preaches.  In the chapter on Disasters, there’s a disaster.  In the chapter on the Moral Premise, there’s a Moral Premise.  The chapter on Reactive Scenes is a Reactive Scene.

My goal is to make learning simple and easy, by showing you a real live example of how it’s done.

Excerpt from “How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method”:

Chapter 1:  The Impractical Dream

Goldilocks had always wanted to write a novel.

She learned to read before she went to kindergarten.

In grade school, she always had her nose in a book.

In junior high, the other kids thought she was weird, because she actually liked reading those dusty old novels in literature class.

All through high school, Goldilocks dreamed of writing a book of her own someday.

But when she went to college, her parents persuaded her to study something practical.

Goldilocks hated practical, and secretly she kept reading novels. But she was a very obedient girl, so she did what her parents told her. She got a very practical degree in marketing.

After college, she got a job that bored her to tears—but at least it was practical.

Then she got married, and within a few years, she had two children, a girl and then a boy. She quit her job to devote full time to them.

As the children grew, Goldilocks took great joy in introducing them to the stories she had loved as a child.

When her son went off to kindergarten, Goldilocks thought about looking for a job. But her resume now had a seven-year hole in it, and her practical skills were long out of date.

The only jobs Goldilocks could qualify for were minimum wage.

She suddenly realized that being practical had made her horribly unhappy.

On a whim, Goldilocks decided to do the one thing she had always wanted more than anything else—she was finally going to write a novel.

She didn’t care if it was impractical.

She didn’t care if nobody would ever read her novel.

She was going to do it just because she wanted to.

For the first time in years, she was going to do something just for herself.

And nobody was going to stop her.

* * *

About the Book

The cover art for my book How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method.The first 18 chapters of the book are the story of how Goldilocks takes her dream from a wispy idea all the way to a very concrete plan for her story that she can write right now.

The 19th chapter is a quick summary of the Snowflake Method.

Chapter 20 shows the complete Snowflake document  which I used to write the book. A Snowflake about the Snowflake! Very meta.

I’ve just released this e-book on all the major retailers.

Amazon has a cool new tool that suggests the price that will earn me the most money. They suggested that I price the book at $5.49. But I rejected that suggestion.

My goal right now is to get my book into the hands of lots of writers, so I’ve slashed the introductory price to $2.99.

See the e-book on Amazon$2.99

See the e-book on Barnes & Noble$2.99

See the e-book on Apple iTunes$2.99

See the e-book on Kobo$2.99

See the e-book on Smashwords$2.99 (any electronic format, including PDF)

Please note:  Prices outside the US may not be exactly $2.99, but I’ve done all in my power to get them as close as possible to that price on as many retailers as possible.

Will There Be A Paper Edition?

Yes, there will be a paper edition very soon. I’ve submitted it to Amazon’s CreateSpace service and I’ve jumped through all the hoops. I’ve ordered the proofs of the paper edition, and they should be arriving shortly. It will take me a day or two to check through them, and then there’ll be a short delay to complete the process. I hope the paper version will be done within about a week. Paper costs more than electrons. At 233 pages, the book will have to be priced at $9.99. I’ll let you know when it’s ready.

The Unsafe Road to Writing Fiction

So you’re writing a story and you know it’s a heartbreaking work of staggering genius, except that … it isn’t. In fact, it’s bad. But the reason it’s bad is NOT that you’re a bad writer. The reason it’s bad is because you’re using a technique that’s not familiar to you. What do you do?

Hamish posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:

Hello!

Ben reading your blog for around two years now, it has helped me greatly, thank you!

My question is this: I love first person, I despise third person. I love the knowledge of a single character, knowing them like the back of my hand, creating them however I want. I love being able to make my reader feel! Which, is something I’ve found I can’t do in Third Person.

This, however, is where I run into a problem. The stories I want to write my ‘staggeringly heartbreaking work of genius’ is best written in third person.

The real problem is that, when I write in Third Person I feels if my writing is poor of quality, and I hate it. So, how do I overcome this? When my story i best suited to third person? But, I myself am dismal when writing third person?

Apologies if this is a question asked many times.

Thanks.

Randy sez: Well, now, there’s a dilemma. You’ve got a story that’s screaming to be written in third person, but you are better at first-person than third-person. What do you do?

Tough question, and there’s no easy answer. This is why we call it a dilemma. This is a judgment call, so I’ll give you my judgment, even though I can’t prove it’s correct.

Let’s look at your options.

The Safe Road

You can take the safe road and write it in first person. This is what you’re familiar with. You believe you’ll do your best work in first person. The only problem is that you think the story would work better in third person.

There’s a possibility you might actually be wrong. It might be that this story would work just fine in first person. You could probably find that out by writing a few scenes or chapters and see how it’s working.

But let’s assume that you’re right—that the story would best be told in third person. If you take the “safe road,” what’s going to happen is that you won’t do this story justice because you’re using the wrong tool for the job. And that’s just not acceptable, at least not to me. I don’t want to work on a story unless I can do my best. So this is not the road I’d take.

The Unsafe Road

The unsafe road is to write the story in third person, even though you believe that you can’t do it well.

I suspect that if you give it a chance, you might find that third-person isn’t any harder than first-person. It’s different, but it’s not harder. You can give your reader a Powerful Emotional Experience in third-person just as well as you can in first-person.

Writing in third-person is not harder. It’s just less familiar to you, Hamish. Which means that at first, it won’t feel right. But I’d bet that if you try it for a few scenes, you might start getting more comfortable with it.

Third-person lets you do interior monologue and interior emotion just as effectively as you could do them in first-person. (These are two of the five standard techniques novelists use in writing fiction. All five techniques are explained in great detail in my book Writing Fiction for Dummies, so I’m not going to try to repeat all of that here.)

But in third-person, your interior monologue can be indirect—it doesn’t have to be an exact verbatim transcript of the character’s thoughts. Instead, it can be a summary of those thoughts, which is sometimes an advantage.

Third-person also has another slight advantage over first-person. In third person, your narrative voice can be different from the voice of the point-of-view character. This lets you, the author, use your own narrative voice when you need to. You don’t have to. You can write a whole novel in which your narrative voice is always the voice of the point-of-view character. In first-person, you have to do this. But in third-person, if you want to, you can pull back a bit from the point-of-view character and inject your own voice.

Hamish, it’s not my job to tell you what to do. But here’s what I’d do if I were you. I’d try this story in third-person and see if I can grow into feeling comfortable writing that way. Every writer needs all sorts of tools in his toolbox. One of the most useful is the third-person point of view. If you don’t develop this skill, you’ll be limiting yourself. In fact, you’re limiting yourself right now.

Try it. See how well it works. Study the works of other authors to see what tricks they’re using to make it work. Keep trying.

That’s how you learn in this business—by trying things. Whether it works or doesn’t, send me an e-mail in a few months to let me know.

If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer the ones I can, but no guarantees. There are only so many hours in the day.

 

The Official Rules on Head-Hopping

So you’re writing a novel and it’s a Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, but somebody told you head-hopping is a no-no, and now you’re worried because you like head-hopping. What’s the deal?

Agata posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:

Hi Randy,

I’ve been reading your blog and it’s amazing. I’m planning/writing a novel and your posts are incredibly helpful in organizing everything. I’m writing here because I have a dilemma about the POV characters.

I have two POV characters, sometimes they have their own scenes and sometimes they are together. In that case, I don’t always know which one should be the POV. Is it acceptable to go from one character’s head to another? Like here (I’m just making it up, but it shows the structure of my scenes):

Emily looked up when the door opened.

“you’re late” she hissed. God, he was so irritating.

“what do you want from me?” he snorted.

“to act like an adult” she left the room, slamming the door behind her.

Josh stood there, wondering how to apologize to her this time.

 

So Emily is the POV when she’s alone and when Josh comes in, but then she leaves so he has to be the POV. Is that ok? If so, can I swith POV when they’re both in the room as well, or should I adapt the “God’s eye” approach throughout the story and not show anyone’s thoughts?

Hopefully my question makes sense, I’m just not sure what I should stick to.

Thanks a lot

Agata

Randy sez:  Let’s define terms. “Head-hopping” is the practice of switching point-of-view characters within a single scene. This is not the same as the omniscient point-of-view, which would allow your narrator to know things that none of the characters know.

If you want to start a war among fiction writers, a golden way to do it is to tell everyone that they can’t hop heads. Or tell them that they can.

Why Head-Hopping Is Said To Be Wrong

Those who oppose head-hopping make their case this way.

The purpose of writing fiction is to give your reader a Powerful Emotional Experience. You do that by putting your reader inside the skin of one character in each scene. The reader sees only what that character sees. Hears what she hears. Smells what she smells. Feels what she feels. Your reader becomes that character for the scene.

Then in the next scene, your reader may become some other character. The reader is never confused. The reader is always having a Powerful Emotional Experience.

This is the one and only way to write fiction.

Why Head-Hopping Is Said To Be Right

Those who believe in head-hopping make their case this way.

The purpose of writing fiction is to give your reader a Powerful Emotional Experience. You do that by putting your reader inside the skin of one character at a time. The reader sees only what that character sees. Hears what she hears. Smells what she smells. Feels what she feels. Your reader becomes that character for a part of a scene.

If you need to transition to another character in the same scene, you do that in a way that cues the reader that you’re about to hop heads. And just like that, the reader becomes that other character. The reader is never confused. The reader is always having a Powerful Emotional Experience.

This is the one and only way to write fiction.

Randy Settles The Argument Once And For All

So who’s right? The hoppers or the non-hoppers?

Randy sez: Personally, I’ve never hopped heads. That has worked for me, and I’ll bet that 99% of my readers don’t know or care that I’m a non-hopper. Readers just care about whether the story is working for them.

But I have plenty of friends who hop heads all the time. So far as I know, they all write romance, and in the romance category, head-hopping is accepted. Why? Because in a romance novel, the relationship is the most important character in the story. Not the hero. Not the heroine. The relationship. So the reader likes to know what both the hero and heroine are thinking in each scene.

As far as I can tell, this works for my head-hopping friends. I’ll bet that 99% of their readers don’t know or care that they’re head-hopping. Readers just care whether the story is working for them.

Po-tay-to. Po-tah-to. What really matters is how it tastes in the soup.

What do you think? Leave a comment and tell me your opinion.

If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer the ones I can, but no guarantees. There are only so many hours in the day.

Agents in the Indie Age

So you’re an indie author writing fiction and you’ve been thinking of writing a novel for a traditional publisher and you need an agent. How do you make that work? What are the rules for working with an agent in the Indie Age?

“Jane” (not her real name) posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:

Hi Randy,

I recently made a connection with a literary agent who is willing to represent me. I wasn’t seeking an agent; this happened through recommendations from a small press who is publishing my next series. I did all my due diligence and this agency totally checks out positive, but I need some advice from you.

A little about me: I have two ebooks indie published (one available in print), a contract with a small press for a digital serial style series with the option of print on demand copies later, and more ideas and drafts then I know what to do with other then publish them one at a time myself.

I looked over the contract and the exclusive clause gave me pause. They did say they could include an addendum that would allow me to continue indie publishing if I wanted, but made it clear they want access to all my writing since they will be putting work into my success as well now.

I’d love to have an agent, to be a “hybrid” author, but I’m not sure how realistic that is. The publishing industry has changed dramatically, yet lots of people are still in the same routines as before. Would signing with an agent be detrimental to me at this point?

I highly value your advice. Thanks for any input you can offer.

Randy sez: Well, I’m hesitant to give advice when I don’t know you and your work well. And I’d be hesitant to give advice even then. So consider this blog post to be “Randy’s thoughts” rather than “Randy’s advice.” I’ll tell you how I run my own life. That may or may not apply to how you should run yours.

You only need an agent if you’re working with a traditional publisher. That is, if you’re completely indie, then you don’t need an agent.

My opinion is that if you’re working with a traditional publisher, even a small one, you need an agent. Publishing contracts these days are complex, and you need somebody to explain the nuances of each contract and fight for you on the clauses that are important. The word I’m hearing is that contracts are getting less author-friendly, so you need all the help you can get.

In my experience, virtually all agents want to work with you exclusively–meaning they don’t want you to have two agents. If you happened to be working in two wildly different categories, it might make sense to have two agents, but that’s rare.

In my opinion, it’s reasonable for you to give an agent exclusivity on your traditionally-published work. An agent puts a lot of work into each client, and that effort needs to be rewarded.

Some agents are a lot more indie-friendly than others. The important thing is that you have an agreement with your agent on what your indie activities are going to be. Your agent is your business partner. You must keep them informed on what you’re doing, if you’re doing any indie work at all.

If you and your agent don’t agree on your indie publishing, then that’s a serious problem. It sounds like this agent is happy, in principle, with your indie publishing. The addendum to the contract sounds like a good idea to me, but you should also discuss it  verbally to make sure that you both agree on the meaning of the addendum.

Some agents, in my experience, are just not a good fit for indie authors. Indie authors typically believe that the more books they produce, the better, because each book promotes the others. Some agents just plain don’t buy that reasoning. (And it looks to me like most publishers don’t buy it either.)

If you believe that your indie titles help promote your traditional books, and if your publisher insists on a strict non-compete clause that keeps you from producing indie books during some long window of time, then you have a serious conflict. You need to have an agent who agrees with you on the issue. And not all agents do.

If you’re going to work with an agent, you need to have roughly the same set of assumptions. Some of the points where indie authors disagree most with traditional publishers are the following:

  1. Life of the contract. Should it be limited to a set number of years? Should it terminate when sales volume gets “too low?” What does “too low” mean? Or should the contract go for the life of the copyright?
  2. Option clause. Should the publisher get an option on your next book? Or your next TWO books? If so, can you live with the terms of that option?
  3. Non-compete clause. What is the length of time that you’re willing to NOT publish any indie material that might compete with the traditionally-published book? How broad is the clause? Who decides what “compete” means?

You need to be on the same page as your agent on all the important questions. Any decent agent will of course be working in what he believes to be your best interests. But if the two of you can’t agree on what your best interests are, then you’re working with the wrong agent. And it’s best to figure that out before you start working together, rather than after.

Publishing is more complicated than it used to be. The trend is for more and more traditionally-published authors to do a bit of indie-publishing on the side. The trend is for more and more agents to help them with this. The trend is for more and more traditional publishers to pursue contracts with successful indie authors.

Because of these trends, I’m guessing that ten years from now, all authors will be hybrids or indies, and there won’t be ANY authors who are solely traditional. I can’t prove this. It’s just a guess based on what I see, and so it could be wildly wrong. But ten years from now, if I’m right, then I’ll say I told you so.

If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.