Howdy, howdy! I recently started the initial read-through of LR (code name for novel attempt 2, draft 1) in preparation for beginning the editing process. Yes, I know I should’ve done that a couple of months ago, but I didn’t. So, here we are. This is the part of revision where I haven’t looked at the story in a while (about six months for this one), so I’m reading it mostly in reader mode. I have to remind myself that this is not the time for my inner editor to nag at every little thing, it’s time to just enjoy the story and see how it goes. However, there are things I keep on the look out for in the back of my mind while I’m reading. That’s what I want to ramble about today: the five things I look for during this read-through.
1. Gut reactions. What makes me laugh? What makes me want to cry? What do I glance over? I’m looking to see what parts of the story elicit emotional reactions and which parts are blah. I want to keep the former (if possible) and tweak or get rid of the latter. Also, I want to know if I still enjoy the story as much as I did when I wrote it. I’m only like six chapters into LR as a reader, but I’m actually super surprised at how much I love it. Yeah, it’s a shitty first draft, but the characters and story still really amuse me. It makes me think I’m doing something wrong, because I feel like I’m supposed to hate it at this point.
2. Continuity errors. Have I randomly changed someone’s name? Did I move an entire building somewhere else halfway through? Was someone right handed and suddenly they’re left handed? Stupid things like that. Some are glaringly obvious while others will only be noticed by a really close reading. I already know my main character randomly goes from fourteen to seventeen (because fourteen was too creepily young for this particular story). One of my “bad guys” changes her race halfway through because I originally couldn’t decide what group of shifters she belonged to, but then decided on one that was completely different from how I imagined her in the beginning. And of course there are a bunch of little things as well.
3. Plot holes. Have I left any threads undone? Did I randomly start something in the middle with no lead up to it? Is what the character’s doing feasible in the world I created? Is it something they actually would do? These are definitely things I have to make notes about so I can fix them or change them or remove them entirely. There’s this thing with a fox in the first chapter of LR and by chapter two, it’s been completely forgotten. I have no idea where that was going, but if I don’t figure it out by the end of this read-through, I either need to cut it or make something up. These are important changes for me to consider as I read.
4. Useless characters. Do I have any characters who are just there to do one thing and then they disappear? Can someone more pertinent to the story do the thing? Could that character become someone important? I know most books have at least a couple of superfluous characters, but I like to weed them out if I can. In LR, there’s the principal’s secretary whose sole job seems to be giving my main character his late slips for class. I’m debating whether or not to combine her with another character or just giving her a bigger role in the next book. Then again, I might keep her as she is because that’s life. Someone has to pass out the tardy slips.
5. Blatant typos and grammatical errors. These aren’t things I actually look for in this read-through, but if they pop out at me, I either make a note or fix them. I try to save this stuff for later read-throughs, though.
What about you? Do you have anything you look for when you’re getting reacquainted with stories you want to revise? Feel free to share your thoughts and comments here or on my social media pages!
Howdy, howdy! I’d like to take a second to thank Joseph Carro once more for his super helpful guestpost last week. I hope everyone enjoyed it. And now, for today’s post, I want to talk about some of the different types of people who make their way into my stories. I’ve actually been a little aggravated lately (I try not to be easily annoyed, but it happens). So, the different types of people I’m planning to talk about are usually the ones who die in my books and stories. Painfully. But don’t worry. It’s just a cathartic type thing. I’m not a sociopath. I promise.
Type the first: people who flake on me. These include, but are not limited to, the people who make plans then “forget” even though you talked to them that morning, the salespeople who make appointments with you then call two hours before they’re supposed to meet you to reschedule because of “conflicts,” and the people who offer to do you a favor then ghost you for six months in the hopes you’ll forget instead of just saying “hey, I can’t follow through, sorry.” I know, in the grand scheme of things, none of this is really important, but it’s still super annoying. And I will smile and pretend it doesn’t bother me, but rest assured… I’ve killed far too many people (some multiple times) for doing this stuff.
Type the second: people who insist on treating me like I’m mentally challenged (or whatever the proper terminology is today). I admit, after it’s pointed out that I’m perfectly capable of thinking and speaking for myself, most people treat me like a human being. But there’s always that one waiter/waitress who tries to walk away without taking my dinner order despite the fact that I ordered my drink perfectly well five minutes before that. I even had a professor in my community college who would always act super surprised when I answered his questions correctly even though he didn’t act that way with everyone else. To be fair, he was a nice guy and I loved his class, but it was a little annoying. It always is when people underestimate your intelligence. I don’t kill off this type of person very often, but sometimes it just builds up and I have to release my aggravation somehow.
Type the third: people who assume I have no life. These are the ones who call up or text and want to make plans for that afternoon/night. It’s not so much my friends who annoy me with this crap as it is companies. And it’s always medical supply companies. In the past couple of weeks, we’ve gotten two calls from people wanting to come out that afternoon or the next morning. I don’t wake up until the afternoon. And it’s a little insulting when they act like I should be home waiting for them. I have a life. Okay, I’m usually at home, but that doesn’t mean I’m not busy. Don’t just assume I’ll be here unless you make an appointment a few days in advance. And then, don’t flake on me. If you do multiple annoying things, torture will precede your death.
I think that’s enough ranting about the types of people who die in my writing. Of course, there are many other categories, but these are the ones that spring readily to mind when I think about this stuff. What about you? Do you use death in your work as a way to deal with people who annoy you? What types of people make it into your work most often? Feel free to share your thoughts or comments here or on my social media pages!
Howdy, howdy! Welcome to another guest post. This time, we have my friend and fellow Stonecoast alum, JosephCarro. He’s got some super helpful tips for working around writer’s block, which I struggle with a lot. So, read on!
On Writer’s Block
By Joseph Carro
Writing can be an extremely frustrating and hopelessly solitary artistic endeavor, and as writers we know and understand this when we choose it as our lifestyle. Yet it doesn’t make it any easier when we’re holed up in the basement, writing the next big thing on our minds. Whether you’re trying to write a blog post, a poem, a screenplay, or a novel – Writer’s Block afflicts us all. I know that personally, real life usually gets in the way and saps my creative juices with its constant demands, but to keep writing I have acquired several techniques which I use in order to get my brain jumpstarted again. My hope is to share a couple of my own techniques with you. I know that many of you have your own techniques, but as a writer – I usually appreciate any new ways in which I can defeat this annoying affliction. Feel free to chime in with your own methods below in the comments section.
WALK OR DRIVE: Walking, to me, is a lost pastime. And I’m not the only oneto think so. If you’re stuck on a certain spot in your manuscript or post or what have you, get OUT of that space for a little while. If you don’t like walking, then just sit outside or maybe take a drive. Anything to get yourself out of your stagnant state. Maybe you’ll see or experience something that will ignite that spark. You just have to step outside your comfort zone for a bit. Fresh air does wonders for the mind and the thought process needed for writing.
READ SOMETHING: As Stephen King once said; “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Writing is a skill in which you absorb technique and inspiration from reading other writers. To do so, you need to actually read. Sometimes, reading someone else’s work is the perfect way to jumpstart your own. In my case, I will sometimes put aside my writing for one day and try to finish the book I was already reading or start another one. By the time I’m through a few chapters, I’m usually chomping at the bit to get back into my writing project. Obviously, it’s “dangerous” to put aside the writing to do something else (because you can get too much into the habit of doing that), but in moderation I think it works. Just really pay attention to what the authors are doing; their prose, the construction of the novel or short story or poem or whatever, and the way in which the strongest parts of it make you feel as a reader. Try to infuse your writing with some of that magic, without trying to ape their style. Be you.
LISTEN TO MUSIC: This one is very divisive within the writing community. In one camp, you have people who absolutely cannot listen to music while writing. Or, they at least must listen to very quiet, ambient music rather than anything heady with lyrics. That’s okay, this technique may not be for you either. However – when I’m trying to write a certain scene or a certain tone to my short story or screenplay, I sometimes pick an appropriate piece of music. For a tone, I will generally choose a playlist I’ve created on Spotify or find a playlist on YouTube – for example, if I’m looking for a melancholy tone I will choose a playlist that’s labeled as “sad songs” or “bittersweet songs”. Generally, the mood conveyed through these songs, and the emotions they bring out enhance my writing. It’s all about knowing your tolerance for this kind of distraction while you’re trying to write. This also works if you just need to listen to a song or two BEFORE you write, rather than listening to entire tracks during your actual writing. Just make sure to fire up another song here and there to renew your creative juices and emotions, because sometimes sitting in a chair and writing prose does not automatically generate emotions until you really get into the meat of the story. Writing is both a technical skill and an art, and art comes from emotion. Sometimes, we wade too far into the technical aspects and lose the emotional momentum.
USE WRITING EXERCISES AND PROMPTS: This method is actually my favorite, and thanks to the internet, there are countless online sources for finding writing ideas. These aren’t necessarily meant to replace the project you’re working on, but are more for trying to write something in general when you’re stuck. However, if you need some distance from your novel, it’s okay to take a brief respite and write something else. A few of my favorite sources for writing prompts are from books I’ve found or have been given. My wife gifted me a sort of “activity book” called 400 Writing Prompts by PiccadillyInc and that one has given me quite a few ideas. A couple of other books I’ve found to be pretty useful are The Writer’s Book of Matches: 1,001 Prompts To Ignite Your Fiction from Writer’s Digest Books, What If?: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter, and The Pocket Muse: Ideas & Inspirations for Writing by Monica Wood. There are also lots of online sources out there as I mentioned above, and some of my favorites are Writer’sDigest, Poets & Writers, tumblr, and even reddit. Various bloggers like myself also dedicate entire sections of their blog to writing prompts. My own blog, Away With Words, has just such a section that you can find HERE. I try to do at least one weekly prompt, but sometimes I do more.
These are just some tools for trying to get back into the swing of things, and my hope is that by using these techniques and resources, you can dig yourself out of whatever funk you’re in and get back to writing. Remember – try not to be too hard on yourself. Writing is hard work, it’s thirsty work, and your brain can quickly become parched when it’s dealing with the same tedious task over and over. Give it some variety and keep yourself from getting mired. Good luck!
My name is Joseph Carro, and I am a Maine-based freelance writer and editor trying to make it in the big world of letters and semi-colons. I work currently as a barista to (barely) pay the bills, and in the meantime, I’m working on a YA novel, currently untitled, as well as various other works like screenplays, comic scripts, short stories, and flash fiction. Heck, you may as well toss in some comic books with that, too.
I live in Portland, here in Maine – with my beautiful wife and our five-pound chihuahua, Brewtus.
Howdy, howdy! When exactly did June get here? This year is flying by, isn’t it? Or maybe it’s just me. In the past week, a friend and I started talking about pen names and whether using one for certain genres is smart/acceptable. She’s worried that her name leans a little too much toward romance and the other things she currently writes, and if it would even attract attention if she branches out into other genres. Then, we talked about the process of actually picking a pseudonym (which is surprisingly difficult sometimes). It wasn’t something I had really thought much about or talked about before, so she was a little stunned that I already have one picked out. Anyway! Today, I thought I’d ramble a little about pen names and get other opinions on them.
Personally, I’m all for pseudonyms. I know a lot of authors who use them and a lot who don’t. The most common reason I hear in favor of them is that they conceal people’s identities when they aren’t comfortable being in the public eye. I think that’s a load of crap in this day and age (it’s far too easy to find information on people), but if they believe it works, more power to them. Mostly, I like the idea of pen names because there are some genres I feel more at home in than others. Those are the ones I want my real name associated with. Fantasy and horror are what my heart gravitates toward. Even though Shawna Borman doesn’t particularly evoke either of those things, I still want my name on anything I publish in those genres.
On the other hand, I also enjoy writing cozy mysteries (with a supernatural twist), but I’m not as comfortable in that realm. When I’m working on cozies or sci-fi or romance, I don’t feel like myself. So, my plan has always been to publish anything in those genres under a different name should I ever have the chance. It’s not that I’ll want to hide who I really am (any chance I get to be published, no matter the name, you guys will know). It’s just that using a pen name for those types of genres feels natural.
As far as choosing the name goes, the process is different for everyone. Mine came pretty naturally. I went through that weird phase as a kid where I named my non-existent children and, since I’m not having any, decided to put the girl’s initials to use. Then, I came across a last name that just felt right thanks to someone I used to know. Luckily, it doesn’t seem to be in use yet. Hopefully it’ll stay free until I need it (which is why I’m not sharing it yet). I think the hardest part of picking a pen name is finding one that doesn’t have too many other people attached to it on Google and social media sites. When I came up with my name, I wasn’t worried about marketing and all that, but it is something we have to think about as we explore our options.
What are your thoughts on pseudonyms? As an artist, are you for or against them? Do you use one? How’d you choose it? What about as a reader? Do you think people who use pen names are hiding something? Does it bother you? Feel free to share your thoughts here or on my social media pages!
Hello, hello! For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been having some issues with pain brought about by adjusting my seat cushion. Needless to say, it’s been interfering with my writing. For three days, it was so bad that I didn’t do anything productive. Since then, I’ve been able to focus on doing most of the stuff I needed to do. But I wanted to take today to talk about pain and when to suck it up vs. when to take a break because of it.
When you’re cripple, pain is pretty much a guarantee. Every doctor I visit inevitably asks if I’m in any pain, and my go-to response is “no more than usual.” It’s a given that my neck/left shoulder always hurt, along with my back and hips. It’s more a matter of how bad I’m hurting. Low-level (about a three) aches that randomly spike to about a seven on a scale of one to ten are my norm. Those are the pains I’m used to, and yes, you eventually get used to hurting. They’re the pains that I can ignore and go about my day with.
But what about the days those random spikes linger? What about the days when the pain is so different (not necessarily bad, just unusual) that it distracts me from the things I need to focus on? Honestly, most of the time, I pop some Aspirin and goof around until it kicks in, then get back to work. As long as everything eventually returns to normal, I don’t worry about it too much. Granted, sometimes I waste a lot of time trying to figure out why I’m feeling the way I do, but that could just be another form of procrastination for me.
Occasionally, there are days when the pain is higher than normal and doesn’t go away even with Aspirin. If I can figure out why I’m in pain, I try to figure out how to stop it, which can be a trial and error bit that lasts a couple of days (like with my seat). I know I’ll never be able to focus on those days. When I have pain like that, I usually move around a lot and have to sit in positions that make working at the computer impossible. Not to mention, pain makes it really hard to focus. My mind gets all jittery. Those are the days that I say screw writing and everything else I need to do. And that’s okay. We all deserve a little time off when we’re in pain.
So, if you’re not already aware of what kind of pain is normal for you, try to learn. It makes the decision to push through or take a break much easier. What do you do when you’re hurting? Do you pop a couple of pills and wait for them to kick in? Do you do yoga or tai chi or some other exercise in the hopes of working the pain out? Perhaps you meditate. Whatever your method of dealing with aches and unusual pains, feel free to share your tips and tricks here or on my social media pages!
Howdy, howdy! Apparently, May decided to arrive when I wasn’t looking. I don’t really have anything worth talking about this week (feel free to send me suggestions for topics), so I’ve decided to make my goals for the month public again. Motivation has been really hard to find lately. I have no idea why. But, hopefully this will help!
Here are my May goals, in no particular order:
1. Submit stuff 8 times (2 every Monday). This is the one goal that I haven’t failed at yet this year. I’ve gotten a bunch of rejections. One of my stories has been shortlisted, so I’ve got my fingers crossed for that one. And I have a bunch still floating in the slush pile limbo. Hopefully, I can keep up the submissions this month!
2. Write 1 flash piece OR short story. I’m super behind on this one. So far this year, I’ve only written one short story and revised a couple of flash pieces. I was hoping to have at least three new pieces to shop around by this point, but I don’t. Soon, though. I hope.
3. Read 2 books. I’m currently reading an ARC of The Oddling Prince by Nancy Springer to review this month. The book club I’m in will be reading The Wicked Deep by Shea Earnshaw, so I’ll probably also read that. If I have time, I also want to read the third book in the Howl’s Moving Castle trilogy, but I don’t know if I will or not.
4. Make time for people. My recluse skills have been on point lately. I avoid chatting on Facebook. I only text one person regularly. Can’t remember the last time I talked to someone on the phone. And I really shouldn’t be that way. I should randomly message people and try to make new friends. The problem is, I’m comfortable not bothering people. That’s a hard habit to break. I’m trying, though. I sent a few messages out yesterday. I’ll try to send out a few each week. We’ll see how it goes.
5. Finish revising short story. I’m still working on fleshing out and revising the short story I wrote a couple of months ago. It’s a bit more sci-fi than I’m comfortable writing, but I’m enjoying it. I actually took a character from a novel I haven’t finished and threw her in a new world as a younger version of herself. I think this world might be the key to all the problems that made me quit that novel. But that’ll have to wait until I finish everything else I want to do this year. For now, the short story comes first.
6. Submit story to critique group. It’s been a while since I’ve submitted anything to my critique group, so hopefully some of them will be up to checking the story out when I finish revising it.
7. Begin revisions on LR. I decided to go back to the second novel attempt and work on revising it first. I miss my dragons and shifters and everyone else in that book. It’ll be nice to get back to them.
Those are my goals for the month! What about you? Feel free to share your goals here or on my social media pages!
Hello, hello! It finally happened. On Saturday, I wrote THE END on the shitty first draft of novel attempt number three! Yay!!! I celebrated by doing nothing productive whatsoever on Sunday. Monday, I slowly dipped my toe into the revision pool by revising a micro fiction piece before sending it and another piece out into slush land. Which brings us to today (because I’m writing this on Tuesday). Now, the real revision struggle begins. Sure, I have a short story that needs to be doubled in length and smoothed out. That’s my immediate focus. But then, I have to decide which novel attempt to revise, two or three. And that’s what I plan on rambling about today.
Option 1: revise novel attempt two (LR from here on out). In my head, I know this would be the smart choice. For one thing, it would give me a break from the one I just finished, which is always encouraged so that when it comes time to trim the fat away, you won’t be blindly attached to it. I’ve had more than enough time away from LR to be able to make the hard cuts. I’m still super excited about LR, so that’s a plus. And I really do miss being around those characters.
The downside of revising LR first: while I love it, I’m not really sure it has much potential in the way of attracting agents. Are dragons even “in” anymore? Or are they passé? I know I shouldn’t worry about stuff like that, and I should work on whatever my heart tells me to, but it’s something I think about. I’ll have to do some research on the trends right now/where the trends seem to be headed. Plus, I’m concerned that if I get caught up in LR’s world, I’ll lose steam in the other one.
Option 2: revise novel attempt three (DS from here on out). Some of the advantages include that the plot is fresh in my mind and I still remember what all my little revision notes mean. From that perspective, it makes sense to dive right back into DS. It’s also a genre that’s always in high demand, but with a supernatural twist. So, I feel like it has a better chance of catching an agent’s eye. Plus, I’m completely in love with these characters and their stories.
The problem with starting with DS is that I wouldn’t have much time away from it, so I would probably still be super attached to all the fluff that needs to be chopped out. I have trouble decluttering my room because of sentimental values, decluttering a story isn’t any easier. It would also mean more time away from LR, which has been randomly popping into my head the last couple of months. Plus, I’m not entirely sure if the supernatural elements will be attractive in this particular genre or if it’ll be confusing and off-putting.
I guess I’ll read through both of them and see which one pulls me toward it more. Until then, I have a short story to focus on. What about you? How do you decide which projects to revise and when? What’s your method of making these kinds of choices? As always, please feel free to leave your comments or thoughts here or on my social media pages!
Howdy, howdy! How is everyone’s April going so far? Are you keeping up with all of your goals? I actually want to talk about how I’ve been doing with that whole “write every day” thing that I mentioned trying back in March. It’s been working! Every day in March (including Sundays and those days when I really didn’t want to), I wrote at least 50 words. Sometimes, I even made it up to 1,000 words. When April arrived, I upped it to at least 100 words a day. So far, I’ve kept at it! And I’ve learned some things from my experience thus far, which is what I’m going to ramble about right now.
Thing the first: Sunday will never be a good writing day for me. Right now, Sunday is set aside for things that take up most of the day, so I wasn’t sure if I would be able to keep up with even 50 words. I did. Even 100 words has proven to be doable. But I don’t think I’ll ever do more than that on Sundays. It’s actually kind of annoying writing on those days. I miss my day off.
Thing the second: I still write better at night. I’ve tried for a long time to adjust to writing in the late afternoon/early evening with mixed results. Sometimes, words flow easily and I finish my 1,000 words before I even realize it. A lot of times, writing the words is like pulling teeth. But, I’ve found that when I open a story around 11ish at night to write my words on those days I’m too lazy to do it in the afternoon, the words always flow. Granted, I’m usually only aiming for 100-150 at that point, so it might just be that I’m not pressuring myself with a difficult goal. It’s just something I noticed. But I’ve always been a night owl, so this is no surprise.
Thing the last: writing every day is not a stress reliever for me. A lot of people I know say that they feel so much better after they write their words for the day. It’s like a catharsis for them to get words on the page (even if it’s just 50 words). I am not one of these people. I usually feel the same or worse after I write, unless I hit one of those rare days where the words tumble out onto the page almost by themselves. Most of the time, I’m just happy that I can play games or read or watch anime or whatever without feeling guilty. At least until I realize that it’s too late to do any of that stuff, then I’m just annoyed that I don’t have a day off to do any of it.
In other words, my experiment with writing every day is going well. I’m about halfway through the last chapter of my current novel attempt (hoping to finish by the end of the week). When I switch to revision mode, I’m not sure if I’ll keep up with writing every single day, but I’m glad I’ve done it. I admit that setting low goals for each day is a helpful way of getting back into the sway of writing. Do you have any experience with something like this? As always, feel free to share your thoughts and comments here or on my social media pages!
Howdy, howdy! I want to take a second to say thank you to DerekHoffman one more time for his guestpost last week! I’m in the process of lining up more guests in the future, so if you’re interested in something like that, feel free to e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or get in touch via my social media pages.
And now, on to this week. Happy spring! I had zero ideas what to blog about this week, so Dad suggested I do a post of random thoughts I’ve been having lately. Therefore, if you don’t like this post, blame him. Anyway, here are five things that have been on my mind recently.
1. I’ve been wondering why it always seems harder to write words the closer I get to the end of a story. I still haven’t finished the shitty first draft of my current novel attempt (I know, I know… judge me all you want), even though I’m only a few thousand words away from typing THE END. Revision ideas keep popping into my head, but I make a note and then ignore them, like a good little writer. It’s like my brain doesn’t want me to finish. But I will prevail! I’ll reach THE END, then I’ll get stuck in the editing process and complain about that for a while. Am I the only one with this problem?
2. Recently, I finished reading a book and told myself I wasn’t going to start another one until I finished the one I put down without finishing for various reasons (none of which have to do with the book itself). The next day, I wore my Howl’s Moving Castle t-shirt and realized I hadn’t read the book yet, so I started reading that instead. I feel like a very fickle reader. Shame on me.
3. Honestly, I’ve been thinking a lot about my Stonecoast friends. I was feeling really isolated, especially since it’s pretty much writing con season (ICFA, AWP, StokerCon, etc.). But then I realized my Stonecoast people are magical psychic unicorns, because within a few days of my thoughts, I received a Facebook message saying someone was thinking of me and a surprise package in the mail from someone else. Also, I know I’m not the best at keeping in touch with people, but I really do appreciate them.
4. I want to start drawing again. It’s something I’ve randomly thought about for a while now, but I’ve been too lazy to see if my tablet thingamajig even works any more. It’s super old. Maybe I’ll just buy a new one so I don’t have excuses. (P.S. This drawing desire will fade soon, so don’t expect anything new from it.)
5. Multiplication tables. When I have trouble getting to sleep, I’ve started doing multiplication in my head. I start at one and go up to thirteen, then two to thirteen, and so on until I reach thirteen times thirteen or until I fall asleep. It’s actually been pretty helpful with the sleep bit, but I’m still slow at math.
There you have it. Five bits of random thoughts. Feel free to share some of your own thoughts here or on my social media pages!
Hello, hello! Welcome to my first quarterly (March/June/September/December) guest post. For the inaugural edition, please welcome my friend and fellow Stonecoast alum, Derek Hoffman!
How Transmedia Storytelling Can Kickstart Your Stagnant Writing Project
By Derek B. Hoffman
You have a story. Yes, that one. It’s the one you know you’re supposed to write, but you can’t seem to crack it (or regain inspiration to continue) and you cringe each time a friend asks how it’s going.
Yet it still calls to you. Whatever else you try to fill your time with, creative or otherwise, it’s the thing that won’t let go and won’t move forward. So what do you do?
Think outside of the screen, the pen, the shuffled stack of drafts you’ve shoved in a half-crushed Amazon box. Think transmedia.
I know, what does that really mean? To put it simply, it is a way of telling a story across multiple media. But it’s more than that, it’s also using multiple types of media purposefully because “each medium makes its own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story” (from “Transmedia Storytelling 101” by Henry Jenkins). You can find the wiki here, a couple great resources here and here, and a slew of academic articles here and here. It’s a lot to take in, but what it boils down to is a call to think in 4D about the story you need to tell.
Transmedia storytelling uses technology and media to broaden the story and engage a greater audience. In House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, the main book is a series of nested narratives that tell a story about a story, about an event. As a family unpacks in their new house, they discover it contains a mysteriously expanding labyrinth that holds more than a few secrets of its own. The narratives mimic the labyrinth, with text twisting and winding through the pages. Footnotes are peppered throughout, giving it a more academic and researched feel, though only 25% of the references are legitimate.
To give the story credibility, Danielewski published a website before the book release. The Internet was still capitalized back then, and the website played to the interests of an audience seeking hidden truths, long before the doubts of Fake News and strategic disinformation. There were also rumors Danielewski helped the manuscript go viral by dropping it at tattoo parlors and bars as a loose collection of papers tied with a string. The musician Poe (Danielewski’s sister) released an album of songs alongside the novel. Suddenly, readers could actually hear the echoes down the five and a half minute hallway.
More simply and more recently, transmedia storytelling can be seen in the 2017 show Thirteen Reasons Why, about a set of cassette tapes left by a girl who committed suicide. Jay Asher published the book in 2007 with hints to lead readers to, you guessed it, a set of audio tapes he had posted on a website.
So, how does this make your writing easier?
Well, maybe the reason your book isn’t writing itself is that it is more than just a book. Are there:
different entry points into your story?
multiple audiences you want to engage?
different perspectives, voices, or subplots that lend themselves to audio, video, blog, or website?
supplemental facts, graphics, maps, or historical details that could add dimension
Let go of the pencil and pick up the keyboard, microphone, brush, or camera to give your story new life.
Set yourself up for success
First, take a moment to set achievable goals. Unless you have an amazing amount of free time, and/or resources, be real with yourself and your story.
Spend a weekend breaking down your story to see what areas could benefit (or not) from a transmedia approach and our thinking sideways experiment.
Then think about your creative resources (e.g. your own talents, friends and family, and local schools and artists).
Take account of how much time and money you may be willing to put toward this endeavor (consider crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter as well).
Lastly, remember to think about any ethical impacts your project may have during execution. Don’t worry, I’ll talk more about this in a couple sections.
It’s time to break your story. What’s left inside when you peel back everything else? What is it that made you want to write it in the first place? A character’s tale that had to be told? An image that haunts you? An intimate, whispered conversation? A political or religious allegory? Or are you determined to buck every trope in a given genre? Whatever it is, find it (or remember it).
Anatomy of a breakdown
Since everyone’s results from this will vary, I’ll throw down first.
A girl stands in the shallows off the rocky coast of Maine. Her long nightgown is soaked up to the frilled collar. She walks forward into the ocean, grim and at peace.
Seventy years later, a reporter on hiatus because of a major screwup at her job visits her friend in Maine. Out of her morning newspaper drops a microfiche news story about the girl’s disappearance.
That’s all I had, but it bugged me for a year and a half while I attended my graduate program (in Maine). Every time I watched waves crash against the rocks under a foggy sky, I saw the girl. Six months left in my MFA. It was time to get this going. I thought about:
What was in the news story for the girl on the microfiche?
What did the reporter’s online newspaper look like? What stories had she written before?
Did the girl have a diary? What was her story? Why did she likely kill herself?
Maybe the girl had letters from a secret love???
Did the reporter have a personal blog?
Alright, that’s a good start for different ways to approach or enhance the story. What else? Since I was in this program with other creatives, could I directly engage them? During the winter, we stayed at a cool, old inn. A ghost story, perhaps?
Maybe “accidental” audio or video of the girl from the reporter’s cellphone/camera.
Find out the history of the inn. Would it fit with the girl’s story?
An evidence bag from the old missing person’s case left at the front desk or someone’s room?
Whoa. Hold on, now we are moving into ARG territory. ARG? Alternate Reality Gaming. It can totally be done. Check out some cool stuff from Lance Weiler here, but there are some major ethical considerations in going down this path:
What if someone believes your story is real? What kind of emotional/psychological impact could it have? Could they miss work or school? Could they report findings to the police? I know this sounds extreme, but you need to consider all of this.
Is there a way for people to opt-in/opt-out?
If you are performing research while executing your story (e.g. by using analytics on websites) are you obtaining permission? Is there a notice on the site that clearly states what is being collected?
Again, the above isn’t to scare you out of incorporating some really cool ARG into your transmedia project, but you need to be conscious of its potential effects and the rights of those involved behind and in front of the story.
Speaking of those behind the story…
Creative Role Call
Now you have an idea of what can be done. How do you do it? Well, there are several options depending on your social and financial resources.
You can form a creative collaboration with one or more trusted creative friends. These should be people whose work you know is solid, even if they aren’t professionals. You don’t want to have to manage people’s egos or confidence. Depending on what the work is, if it will be profitable, what kind of friendship you have, and more will determine how you might be able to compensate your team. Personally, even though I have some friends working with me on a transmedia project, and some have offered their services for free, or at a great discount, I want to pay them what their work deserves. It’s not that I have the financial resources, but I don’t want my creative friends to get burned or short-changed just because they are my friends. How will I pay them? We’ll get to that in a moment.
You can go it alone. If you have the skills to perform/create in multiple media, good for you! Make sure you have the time, and that it is worth the “life cost.” And whatever you plan for time, double it.
You can find creative resources online and locally. Do you need photos? Check Unsplash. It’s a great resource for free, hi-res photos that can be used however you like. They don’t even require attribution (though I highly recommend it). There is Fiverr for freelance design, translation, video, and more. Check out Artstation for inspiration and some freelance conceptual, environmental, and 3D artists. If you want to build a website for your project, check out Squarespace, Hugo, and WordPress/Themeforest. Also, contact your local community colleges and universities to see if they have a way for you to post what you’re looking for to students who might want some more real world project experience (and please pay them).
If there are self-publishing components to your project, check out Lulu and Blurb.
Now that you are finalizing your project plan and team, how are you going to pay for it all?
Show me the money
Short of your own financial resources, or those of a publishing/media company, you need to crowdfund. And for this type of project, the only option really suitable to the task is Kickstarter. If you have to go this route, you need to look at their tips for creating a successful campaign, and you need to do some math to make sure that your project funding goal includes fees for using Kickstarter, shipping, production, taxes, etc. It’s not just about paying your creatives. And whether you use a crowdfunding site or not, you need to prep your mind for selling your project. Whether it is to people who have cash they are looking to invest in a cool enough story, or people you want to pick up your book, think of how to pitch it, how to package it, and how to sell it. This is the story that won’t let go. Now’s the time to push it out there. You got this.
Which brings us to the why…
Maybe you’ve read though this anxiously waiting for the secret to reveal itself on how to move forward with your project. Maybe you found it, but more than likely you are half-pumped, half-scared, half-apathetic, but fully convinced I can’t do math. No, this is about thinking sideways to move forward. It doesn’t matter if you create the most amazing project plan and gather the most talented team of artists, if you can’t finish the story, you’ve got nothing.
You are a writer. Transmedia, whatever you may think of its use to you and your project, is just a tool. One you can put in your rusty, blue, metal box with the squeaky hinges. Put it beside the Passive Voice Detector and whichever Manual of Style you despise the least. But put it in there.
Transmedia can refine how you pitch and define your story by forcing you to communicate with a creative team, and the world at large. It is a storytelling tool as much as it is a marketing tool. And this alternative thinking allows you to more easily evolve your narrative regardless of whether you continue down the transmedia path or simply use bits and pieces of the methodology from your toolkit.
Now, get back to writing.
Derek B. Hoffman is a writer, designer, technologist, husband to a scientific wonder woman, and dad to two awesome boys. He can be found online at https://derekbhoffman.com and is happy to respond to your transmedia-project-induced cries for help at https://veracitybydesign.com.