The Inner Dialogue: A Method for Figuring Out Your Stories

So if you didn’t hear, a novel I’ve been working on since college is getting published, and I’ve been working with a professional editor to make sure that the story is the best it can be before publication. During the revision process, we agreed that the number of flashbacks in the story were actually getting in the way of the story, so I should nix them. Unfortunately, that meant a third of the book went out the window, and another third that relied on that first third had to go as well.

Yeah, that got me depressed for a little while, and it took a lot for me to climb out of that funk. But I’m not here to talk about that. I’m actually here to talk about what happened with my story. Because you see, now that essentially the majority of the novel had been chucked out, I had to figure out where to go with the story. I couldn’t go the original direction of the story, because the flashbacks I’d tossed out were so essential to that direction.

Luckily, I was able to come up with a new direction for the story using a method that I’d never used before, which I call the inner dialogue. I can’t remember where I picked this method up,* but it’s stayed in the back of my mind for years, and I figured this was as good a situation as any to use it.

The inner dialogue is where you simulate a conversation with your inner writer (we all have one) when you’re struggling with what to do with a story. This could be trying to overcome writer’s block, figuring out why what a character is doing in the story feels wrong to you, having to rewrite a majority of the story, or any other issue you may be having during the writing/editing process of a story.

Here’s what you have to do:

Get a notebook and pen, or a typewriter and paper, or open up your preferred writing program on your computer. Imagine that you’re sitting down with your inner writer at a cafe, in your favorite writing spot, in a dark basement underneath a seedy dive bar, wherever you feel most comfortable talking to your inner writer. And have an honest conversation with them, writing down what you say and writing down what your inner writer says back. Think of it like texting, only you’re texting with a part of your mind you use for storytelling.

Bounce ideas off them, talk about the criticisms people have with the story, discuss what about the story is bugging you. Something about this method, writing out the problems and some possible situations to remedy this, allows your mind to open up and see new possibilities and solutions.

It might also make people wonder if you’re channeling spirits and doing automatic writing and/or if you’re having some sort of psychological crisis. But I think that’s a risk worth taking for finding what you need to make a story as good as it possibly can be.

Here’s an example conversation of me and my inner writer (who I’ve found to be very sassy during our conversations) discussing a hypothetical book idea I’ve been working on. My dialogue is written normally, while my inner writer uses bold letters:

So we’re doing this again, are we?

Yes, we are. Alright, let’s talk about my idea for a novel I’ve been working on. It centers on a group of cheerleaders.

I’m sure it does, you naughty dog.

Ha ha, very funny. Anyway, we’ve gone over what would happen to them once they arrive at the main setting of the story. But why does it happen? There’s always a catalyst that sets things up. Even if we don’t see it until the end of the story, there’s always something that starts the horror off.

Not always, baby boy. Remember The Haunting of Hill House? That really didn’t have a–no wait, that’s not right. The catalyst was that they entered the house for the investigation, and one of the subjects is mentally still very much a child, which puts her the most at risk to the house’s charms.

Yeah, catalysts in stories can be debatable or hard to pin down sometimes. But what could be a catalyst for this story. Why does this happen to these characters?

You were playing around with the idea of the setting being an illusion, weren’t you? Something created by the characters and the dark secrets in their minds. Can we do anything with that still? Maybe a variation?

You see where this is going, right? But it is very effective. I got ideas for this hypothetical novel just from doing an inner dialogue here in this blog post. And if doing it as a demonstration in this blog post can give me ideas for a novel, imagine what it can do for your work at home.

With that in mind, I just want to leave you with a couple of tips for doing this. You don’t have to use them, but I find them useful:

  • Be honest and write down everything. It may be a lot of work, but you’ll find it helpful to write down everything in these dialogues. Especially if you want to go back and see what you’ve come up with. Any thought, any idea, could prove useful, so write them down, even if your thoughts are kind of weird (mine certainly are).
  • Give your inner writer a voice. Like in your stories, the inner writer is also a character, even if they only exist inside you. That being said, you’ll want to give them a voice, motivations, everything you’d give a normal character. That way, they can speak to you just like any other character, and make the dialogue that much more effective.
    It also helps to give the inner writer’s dialogue some distinguishing characteristic, so it doesn’t get jumbled up with your own. A different font, italics, as long as it helps you differentiate, it’s all good.
  • Mark the dates and times of the dialogues. Often these dialogues can last a while. Mine lasted two weeks while I was trying to find a new direction. So mark the date and times you had these dialogues in the document you’re using. You’ll find it very helpful for later.

Nobody wants to find out a story is flawed or that they can’t figure out how to fix its problems. But there are a variety of methods to overcome these issues. Perhaps the inner dialogue is a good one for you, and will help you write, edit and publish your best work. You just have to sit down, and commit to talking to yourself for a little while. You never know what you’ll unlock.

*For some reason I think it might have something to do with Stephen King, but I think I’d remember if I came across this method in a King novel. If you have any idea where it came from, let me know in the comments. I’d like to give a proper acknowledgement to whoever or wherever I got the inner dialogue.

Lengthening Your Story

I know it’s about three months too late to say this, but Happy New Year, everyone!

Now, to the main topic: has anyone ever told you your story, one which you might have worked months on and is already tens of thousands of words long, is good, but needs to be longer? I have: back in my senior year of college, I had written a novel called Rose for my senior thesis. Near the end of my last semester, I met with my thesis advisor to discuss the novel one more time (at that point in its second draft). We talked about a number of qualities with the novel, its strengths and weaknesses, and where I could go with  the next draft. One of the most memorable suggestions? Make it twice as long as it was already.*

At that time, the novel was about forty-thousand words long, so doubling it seemed like an impossible task. However, two years later I did somehow manage to add about that many words, and it actually did help the story. How did I accomplish this feat? Well, here are some of the steps I took to lengthen my story, which might be of some help to you if you ever find yourself in a similar situation.

1. Figure out if the story really does need lengthening. Every story, like every person, is unique. And some are meant to be shorter. If your story works at about seven-thousand words, don’t expand it to twenty-five thousand because you feel it won’t do well that short or to fit an anthology’s needs. Instead, think long and hard about whether the story itself would be better if longer. And if you’re not sure, ask for a second or third opinion. It wasn’t just my thesis advisor, but two other early readers from Ohio State who told me to make it longer, so that’s what I did. See if anyone in your writing circle can give you an objective opinion on the story and if it needs to be longer.

If you get a positive on that question, then here are some strategies you can try.

2. Try expanding a scene.  In two instances in Rose, there were parts where the protagonists remembers episodes in her life that had a lasting impact on her. In between the second and third draft, I felt that those scenes should have more happening in them in order to maximize their effectiveness. Sure enough, those scenes were made more powerful by going deeper into them and expanding the action.

And speaking of expanding:

3. Add a new chapter. This one, I’d treat as a sort of last resort. In Rose, it was necessary: I needed to reveal a ton of information to the reader, and couldn’t put that info into a previously-established chapter. A new chapter was necessary. So only write a new chapter if it is absolutely necessary, and if adding the new scenes or information can’t be done in any previous chapter.

4. Go deeper into a character’s character. Some characters might benefit from going deeper into their personalities or histories. Perhaps you can expand on what a character is thinking in a certain situation, showing us what thoughts lead to their actions. Or maybe you’ll want to go into why another character is very passionate about something, and relate it to something in their past. In Needful Things by Stephen King, one character is passionately against gambling. This is partly due to religious reasons, but later it’s revealed his father was an alcoholic gambler who abandoned the character’s family several times due to drinking and gambling debts. It’s an interesting reveal, and added depth to an otherwise stock character as well as a few more words.

5. Add a new character/expand a minor character’s role.  In the first and second drafts of Rose, I mentioned two characters who had a big impact on the antagonist. However, they’re only mentioned by other characters and never actually seen. In the third draft, I not only added scenes featuring these two characters, but created a third character who also had a big impact on the antagonist. Doing so added a new level of depth to the antagonist, which my beta readers loved.

6. Add a new element or two to the story. I did not do this with Rose, but it’s still a legitimate strategy. For example, in 2007 an anime adaptation of Romeo and Juliet aired in Japan and later was released internationally.  It was twenty-four episodes, and part of the reason an anime based on a two-hour play was able to be that long is because they set the anime in a fantasy universe complete with flying horses, a rebel army, and magic trees (I haven’t seen it yet, so I have no idea if that works, but apparently a lot of people like it, so I guess it worked for some people).

You can do something similar with your own stories, though it doesn’t have to be so dramatic as changing the entire setting and genre of the story. What would happen if you added drag racing to your story about lovers from different social classes? Or what if your protagonist is given a disability that they must overcome along with whatever obstacle faces them in the story? The only limits are your imagination, and you can create some interesting new scenarios when you add new elements to the story.

 

Not all stories need to be longer than they already are. But in the event that they need to be, there are several ways to go about doing that. As long as you do it well and it’s not shoehorned in awkwardly, anything you add can only add to the story. Both in word count and in story quality.

What tips do you have for expanding a story? Have you ever had to make a story longer? How did it work out?

*At least, I think that’s what he said. It may have actually been add another ten or twenty thousand words, but I’m pretty sure he said double it. Not that it really matters, in the end.

Finding a Narrator on ACX

Many of you may remember the article I wrote on using Audiobook Creation Exchange, or ACX, which helps authors who want to put their books into audio form meet narrators and then get them onto Amazon. Well, about four months ago, after a lot of thought and getting feedback from some of my friends, family members and readers, I decided to get one of my own novels turned into an audio book. This past Saturday I finally found a narrator and finalized a deal with him.

Based on my experiences over the past four months, I thought I’d write another article for anyone thinking about using ACX to produce an audio book. This time, I’ve got tips on how to find your narrator.

First, don’t expect narrators to come looking for you. We like to imagine that the clamor to be the narrator of our audio book is like a bunch of knights taking on quests of courage and valor in order to win the hand of a princess, but in reality it’s more like you’re the princess’s father or mother and you’re writing various knights and princes to get them interested in your darling daughter. Believe me, even if narrators are proactive about finding projects to work on—and many of them are—there are new books being uploaded onto ACX every day, and yours can become quickly lost among the others.

The best thing an author on ACX can do—especially if your name isn’t JK Rowling, George RR Martin, or Harper Lee—is actively seek their own narrator. ACX has several thousand narrators, many with multiple audio samples for you to listen to and decide if someone is right for you. And you can narrow down your choices based on specific factors you’re looking for: age, gender, language, accent, and even what sort of payment they’re willing to take. When you find one you like, you can message them and invite them to submit an audition for your book if they’re interested.

Just keep in mind, really good narrators or ones who can do difficult accents can be hard to get sometimes. For my own novel, I needed someone who can do an American Urban accent, and when I first started searching the number of samples for that sort of accent was over three-hundred. Sounds like I could have my pick of the lot, right? Wrong! After eliminating narrators I didn’t like or I felt didn’t fit what I was looking for, I found that a lot of narrators who could do an American Urban accent were either busy or they charged for their services. In fact, one narrator told me after I told her I couldn’t afford to pay her that a lot of the best narrators or those who can do particular accents often charged for up-front payments and royalty shares.

That’s not to say you can’t find a great narrator who can do a difficult accent or voice who fits your budget or needs. I found one who is good at what he does and was willing to meet my needs. It just took a lot of work to find the guy.

You also have to sometimes deal with the fact that sometimes particular vocal styles, languages, or accents may not have a lot of people who can read them. I played around with the search tools a bit, and found that only twenty-two samples came up when I looked for samples of Japanese accents read by women or men attempting to sound like women. I wonder how much they charge.

Another thing to be aware of while searching for a narrator is that some books get stipends. This was something I learned while searching for my narrator. Twice in the first two weeks a book is available for auditions on ACX, it is evaluated to see if it is eligible for a stipend based on factors such as reviews, past print and e-book sales, and length. Especially length. The longer the better. If your book receives a stipend, then even if you can only afford to do the royalty share option, your narrator will receive some money after the completion of the project from Audible, ACX’s parent company. How much depends on how long the book is, usually $100 for every completed hour of audio and up to $2500. Books that are stipend eligible are marked by a green banner on the book’s profile page.

Now my book wasn’t marked stipend eligible, but it’s something to keep in mind. ACX actually recommends waiting during the first two weeks to see if your book is eligible for stipend. Though perhaps that may only be feasible for that five-hundred plus page novel that’s been selling like hotcakes you published a while back.

I have two final points to make. One, is to be aware that ACX sometimes loses messages sent through its system. This is something I learned ACX has a problem with. Messages sent to me or that I sent would sometimes disappear into the ether and I wouldn’t know if I wasn’t hearing back because the other person’s life has gotten crazy busy, or because once again the system gobbled the message up. Just a heads-up so you know when you wonder why the enthusiastic narrator you came across hasn’t gotten back to you after a week even though previous messages have always been returned in two or three days.

And finally, don’t stress out if you don’t have immediate success finding someone. It took me from early August to late November to find my narrator, and I spent quite a lot of lunch breaks looking through ACX’s databases. It can be grating if you don’t hear back from someone, or if someone you thought was a good match doesn’t pan out, or nobody you come across you like. That’s just sometimes how things work out. If you need to, take a break and worry about other stuff. When you come back, you may find things will go quite well for you.

What tips do you have for finding a narrator on ACX? How did you find yours?

What I Learned About Facebook Parties

Like many of us, I hang out on Facebook too much. While perusing the streams (and my own invites) I’ve come across many events, including  Facebook Parties. Though I accept many invites (by clicking the Join button), I’ve personally participated in roughly two author parties (by commenting on one post each) and several jewelry parties. Being a Facebook Party Host virgin, I was a bit unprepared for my party, so I wanted to share some things I learned.

1 – What is a Facebook party? A Facebook party is an event that takes place for anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days (I set mine to last for six days. Oh my.) There are games, puzzles, giveaways and (hopefully) lots of author/fan interactions. Sometimes authors share parties. Many authors have a third party organize and run their party. I’m thrifty, so I did it myself. (If you’d like to see an example party, this is the link to mine.)

2 – To set up a Facebook party first choose a date at least one month in advance (I’ll explain later) and then choose your theme – I’m going to guess it’s for a book release, so that should be pretty easy. Go to your Events menu option (click “events” on the left side on a PC) and then use the blue Create button. In order to make Facebook recognize that your party lasts multiple days, you need to put in a starting time. 

3 – You need at *least* one month to get everything organized! Because this is the *only* giveaway/event I’m planning for several months I went a bit crazy on the prizes, so not only was there time to plan what all the games would be and make all the graphics, but I needed to wait for everything to arrive so that I had all the prizes ready to be mailed after the party was over. I actually started ordering prizes in August for my October Party.

4 – Speaking of Prizes…  You will want to give things away. Most author parties I’ve seen do some ebooks or autographed books, or an amazon gift card as a grand prize. As I said I have participated all of twice in these parties (no offense guys!) but if I’m a fan then it’s a pretty good chance I already have those books, and if I’m not a fan I probably have a kindle crammed full of books I paid for, so those free books have the potential to land at the bottom of my TBR list. Unless the book really catches my eye, I’m not going to bother entering that game (I will enter for signed paperbacks from authors I love, however, because those I rarely own). But, play a game with the prize of a piece of jewelry (A lot of which you can buy for $.99 on eBay) or nail polish, or stickers, and I’m more likely to play. I’m not a unique person, so I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t offer autographed bookmarks, or even those free ebooks as prizes, but pepper it in with some little fun stuff that appeals to your ideal audience. (Though we do want to have fun with our readers, the goal of a party is to endear ourselves to them and get new ones – and new people will be turned off if the event and prizes feels exclusive to current fans). My theme was my vampire series -that is primarily written in a female POV -so jewelry and nail polish were popular items, but so were the more unisex “vampire” items such as bloody hand print decals and a cool vampire baseball hat.

5. Prizes don’t need to be expensive. I mentioned the $.99 jewelry on ebay. My grand prize was a set of awesome dolls I traded some art work for, and with the exception of the paperback version of the Amaranthine Handbook, none of the items cost more than 5$ and most were $.99 to $1.50. But, that cheap stuff comes with loooooong shipping times (read, it comes from China), so again, leave plenty of time between concept and party time. Also, people don’t care so much WHAT they’re winning, just that they are winning. I posted several “random” games where the tagline said “I have no idea what you’ve won. It may be from a gumball machine” and people still entered because they just wanted to win something. (Plus, some of us love the grab bag random idea. I do.)

6. Not every thread needs a prize. My guests had so much fun talking to each other that they were happy to share and chat on question posts, even with no prize attached. (Things like “What are you doing for Halloween” or “What’s a memory you have from school”?) In fact, we had so much fun we’re having a chat get together on November 13th – no prizes, just a group of vampire lovers hanging out for a few hours.

7. Have all your links/sites/info/social sites ready to go. One question I kept getting asked (that I did not anticipate!) was where to get my books in paperback. Each book page on my website has a link, but giving people a list of links is annoying for both of us, so half way through the party I had to take half an hour and code a quick page (which looks bad, but got the job done) listing all those links. Don’t make my mistake. Have your info ready to go.

8.Have your games ready ahead of time. I made graphics for all of my games, but you don’t need to. Either way, name your graphics in numerical order or write them out IN ORDER in a word document so that on party day you can copy and paste them in. This prevents hurried typos and makes you feel less stressed. Also, match up which prizes go with which games, and if you want to post photos of the prizes, take those ahead of time, too, and save everything in a folder together.

9. Choose a variety of Games. Some examples of Facebook “games” we played

  •  A scavenger hunt – the first person to find images of a list of items/or to find keywords or the answers to questions in a book excerpt wins – this one went *really* fast and did not generate much chatter, so I only recommend it for lightning rounds.
  • Question answering – such as “Would you say yes to immortality” or “What is your favorite vampire movie?” People are there to connect with you BUT everyone’s favorite topic is always themselves. I got more responses on the Question style games than any other, and the less specific the question, the better, for example the “Name an interesting fact” had the most entrants. These generate a LOT of chatter and keep the party active.
  • What is your __ name? – These are those charts where you use your birthday and the last letter of your last name to find out what your sparkle fairy or Christmas elf name is. For my party I let people discover their vampire names, their vampire author pen names, and their Amaranthine book titles. These may involve making graphics, unless you can find some pre-made ones that fit your theme. These were the second most popular games, but they generated moderate chatter – after guests had found their name ans the names of spouses or friends, there wasn’t much left to say.
  • Picture Games – these can be anything from “Who should play X character in a movie?” to “Show us a picture of your pet.”  I used “Find a funny vampire picture”, “Share the fifth picture in your gallery”, and “Find your ideal vampire mate” among others. I found that these were the best when you let people post multiple times – for instance the “Share your photo from your gallery” devolved into a thread of pet photos – and that’s okay! The point was to have fun, not be a forum enforcer. This generated a lot of chat, too, but some people had trouble posting pictures.
  • Number picking games – these games usually involve an image that ties in to your theme, with each item being numbered, for instance:
Jorick is throwing pumpkins at a character he doesn't like.
Jorick is throwing pumpkins at a character he doesn’t like. 6 was the winner.

A number has been pre-selected by you, and when someone chooses that numbered “item” they are the winner. This game went slow by luck because the winning number was the last one picked, but it has the potential to go super fast and it doesn’t generate chat.

  • Last but not least are puzzle games. Puzzle games ask the guests to solve a riddle of some sort – find the differences in the pictures or find the hidden funnies in a paragraph, etc. For my genre and guests I found that these kind of games were the least popular (we played one and had three participants which contrasts to the normal 17-30), but if you’re a mystery author, for instance, your audience might love them.
  • Of note: I did NOT do the ever popular “invite your friends and win” game because A) I don’t like it because it’s a popularity contest that bloats your numbers with people who are probably not really going to attend and B) I have never had a good response to it on any of my previous giveaways. Nor did I do the “Share this to win” because, again, I have never had worthwhile results. If you have in the past then this kind of game might work for you.

If you don’t know what kind of games to use, then experiment on your facebook ahead of time (I started my experiments in June). You can use either your personal page, or your author page, but post some different style games over a few weeks and see which ones your potential party attendees respond to the most.

10. Invite (most of) your Facebook friends. There’s nothing wrong with skipping those you know don’t like invites, but at the same time you might be surprised. I had two friends who were literally upset because I didn’t invite them, and two of my biggest commenters/participants were people I invited on a whim and didn’t expect to stop in. BUT, at the same time, don’t annoy people. This is a delicate line and one you just have to feel out for yourself.

11. No matter how much you advertise people will still miss it. I mentioned those two friends – one did not even know I was having a party until it started, despite the invite, multiple blog posts, newsletters, facebook posts, and contests that started two months before the party, because somehow they just “didn’t see it” – and with Facebook cutting down on post visibility and people’s busy lives, I believe it. I know I miss things a lot of the time. In other words I’m saying don’t be offended if someone doesn’t show up.

12. Joins, maybes, and actual appearances. I don’t know what other authors stats are (I assume many have better turnouts than I did) but I can tell you mine. I had 10 maybes, 89 going and 303 who ignored the invitations (Not all invited by me). Of those 99 (maybes and goings) I had 65 who actually participated, and of those 7 only posted once (or on one game). 2 of those were maybe attendees, and the other 63 came from the “going” pool.  What I’m saying is don’t feel bad if your “going” count is much higher than the actual participation. There are a lot of people out there who click “going” to everything (like I do because I figure it helps people pad their numbers) or who meant to go or who went but were too intimidated/shy to post, or, especially if you used that “invite to win” game, who clicked going to satisfy/help a friend.

13. Explain the rules first thing. At the beginning of the party make sure to post how the party is going to work, and if the party runs for multiple days, remind them each day (it may be the fist time a guest is joining you). Also, on each game do a quick rundown of that game’s rules, including how long it will run for (one hour, two hours, until someone finds the right answer), how the winner will be chosen, and how to play (even if it seems obvious to you).

14. Make closed games and winners clear. When a game closes, make sure to comment on the game (and even better edit the original post) to say that the game is closed so latecomers don’t feel like they’ve wasted their time when they later stumble on the winner post. Also make sure your winners KNOW they won. Tag them if you can (On the phone app you can tag people who are not on your friends list or in the join list, so long as they have commented on the thread previously – but you can’t tag them in new posts. On the computer they have to be your friend or else a guest to be taggable at all.) Send them a message congratulating them, asking for their address, telling them when you plan to send prizes, and thanking them for coming.

15. Keep a list of the winners. I had a word document with each prize listed. Under it, I put their name and, when I got it, their address, so when the time came to send prizes I could just start at the top. If the same person won multiple prizes I moved that item’s name up to their previous entry. You may have a different or better way. The important thing is to keep this organized.

16. Keep the conversation flowing. Just like any good party, conversation is where it’s at. These people are your fans for a reason – your writing resonates with them, meaning that you probably have things in common. Yes, this is your party, but making it all about YOU is the fastest way to bore guests. Instead, make it about THEM. Get to know what they like, what they don’t like, places they’ve been, other franchises they enjoy. Not only could this be used as a goldmine of data for tracking exactly what kind of people like what you’re putting out, but it also makes you seem cool and interested AND frankly it’s fun. If you’re a lucky author with several hundred participants, this may be harder to do, but I still suggest you give it a try.

17. Let guests ask questions. Not just to you but to your characters (if you write a series or book that this works with). This is especially great if you write a series because it lets you see your fan’s opinions of your characters; what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong. Does everyone hate the villain? Is the hero resonating with them? What are they asking about (aka what do they want to see more of?)?

18. But, remember, it’s not just about YOU. I mentioned this in point sixteen, but I’ll say it again. Sure, it’s your party, but don’t make it a boring party. Invite guest authors you think your fans might like. If you have guests that run businesses that might appeal to your fans, showcase them. (For instance I have one who runs jewelry parties, and with jewelry being popular with my guests, and also given as prizes, it was a natural to include her contact info).

19. Be ready for spontaneity. Yes, have your games and prizes planned, but be flexible. If you have extra bookmarks, for instance, and you get a lot of participants in a game giving a set away, maybe do a second, or even third round to offer others a chance. Let your guests guide the party. For instance I had a guest who spontaneously started sharing images of what she thought the characters looked like, so I showcased that post and asked for other people’s opinions and we had a lot of fun with it. You can even do random games with random prizes (my random winners got string people keychains from the grocery store gumball machine – literally).

20. Leave yourself time to run your party. I stupidly thought (considering my usual turn out for things) that I would have the same ten gusts I had for my past blog event (which was three years ago) and so I’d be able to log in once an hour and then spend the rest of the time working on my book. During peak time (9 am – 11am and 7pm to 9pm central) I was pretty much glued to the event page to keep up. The rest of the time I did get some other things done, but the whole thing took a lot more time than I thought it would and a the slowest I had to check in every half hour. (Luckily I’d set up to enjoy that time writing, so I had the it free). Be prepared to be on a lot and if you’re only available for a certain time a day, then schedule the events for that time. Nothing is worse than a party without a host. On a side note, I don’t recommend trying to do a six day party by yourself. If I do another it will probably only be two days.

21. Budget enough money to mail those prizes! As I mentioned, I went nuts with prizes because I didn’t do a blog tour with my last release, and I’m not planning one for my next book. (That’s another post in itself). I had twenty-five planned prizes, seven random surprises, and four sets of bookmarks (I offered bookmarks to anyone who had played a game but not won anything). Add in a pair of thank you cards and I spent $58.00 in postage. Wowsers. Because of that I had to split the mailing up and some prizes went out a week later than I had planned. While I don’t think anyone is upset about it, you want to make sure that you’re not ending up with a cost you can’t cover that makes you look like an irresponsible author who doesn’t follow through.

22. Most of all have fun! Because if you’re not having fun, your guests aren’t having fun.  Don’t stress over details (I posted the wrong game at one point and blamed it on one of my characters), don’t feel bad if you have dull, quiet times (I found that 11 – 12:30pm things died, then picked up until 2pm where they petered down slowly until 5pm when it died again until 7), don’t be crazy about rules (games are supposed to be fun!) and most of all don’t bite off more than you can chew or you may find yourself having a facebook breakdown.

BONUS: For those who want graphics for their party but can’t make them (marketing statistics say that a post with an image catches the eye much quicker than a text post and I believe it) then here are some places to get images:

  • random vector style pics: http://www.vectorportal.com/ – I used owls, a TV, and other images for random games. Right click on the images and SAVE AS – do NOT download as they will be zip files of image types that facebook won’t let you post.
  • Text-based images: http://cooltext.com/ & http://glowtxt.com/ – I used these for headlines for random threads, but you could use them to punch up winner posts, or even to draw attention to game posts.
  • photos: http://search.creativecommons.org/ search the Flickr option for photos you can use via Creative Commons license. Be sure to leave a comment of credit under the image with a link to the photographers photo stream – it’s just good karma.

 

Have you hosted a Facebook party? Do you have any tips to share with us? 

 

Avoiding the Info-Dump

I graduated from college back in May after a very busy senior year, during which I was fortunate enough to not only do a senior thesis, but to do a novel that I really wanted to write as a senior thesis and get excellent feedback from my advisor and a fellow senior. Around April my advisor, a creative writing professor with quite a few books published, my second reader, a favorite teacher of mine who was as much a nerd and an even bigger science-fiction enthusiast than I am, and I met for my thesis discussion, where we’d go over the progress of my novel and where I would go for the third draft once I got around to that.

While they generally liked my story, which is titled Rose, they had a number of very good suggestions on ways to make it better. One of the suggestions, and something that I hadn’t even considered, was that a lot of the information received about my antagonist came in three big bursts over the course of the story. They suggested that maybe I should space out when such information was given, and maybe vary my sources. In fact, they pointed out that one character seemed to be there only just to dole out information about the antagonist. He didn’t really serve any purpose beyond that.

This stunned me. And you know what else? I realized they were right. I was doing a lot of info-dumping in this story, and that it was actually working against the story I was trying to tell. Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about ways to avoid info-dumping in this and future stories, and I thought I’d share some of those tips with you.

But first, what exactly is an info-dump? It’s when a huge amount of information is deposited in a single place. In fiction, it’s like exposition, only it’s too much exposition. Think of it like this: if any of you watch Once Upon a Time, you know that flashbacks are a big part of the show and that the writers take care to reveal new facts over time, peeling away layers so that there’s always a bit of mystery left in the characters you think you know very well. Now imagine in one episode they took all the backstory of a single character and reveal it all at once? That’s so much information, it’d make for a five-hundred page biography! And all in the course of forty-two minutes. You’d be overwhelmed. That there is an info-dump, and it’s something writers should take pains to avoid.

So how do you avoid the info-dump?

The key is to space out the information you reveal. Don’t reveal everything about a character, a place, or an object all at once. Instead make sure it happens gradually, over a long period of time, and between reveals make sure there’s time for the characters to do other stuff and for the reader to focus their attention on other aspects of the story. After all, between flashbacks on Once Upon a Time, there’s still evil witches or monsters or manipulative adolescents to deal with.

Another good tip is to make the information come from multiple sources. Look at Voldemort from the Harry Potter series. How do we find out about him, who he is, where he came from and what he did? Well, we find all that out over time, but we also find out about him from many different sources. We first learn his name and the night he disappeared from Hagrid in the first book. We later find out what happened to him after his defeat from the villain himself at the book’s climax. In the second book we find out about his life as Tom Riddle and a hint at his political views from the piece of his soul in the diary, in the fourth book we find out how he came back to power when he tells it to his followers, in the fifth book we find out about the prophecy from Dumbledore, and our information is completed when we find about him from the flashbacks Dumbledore provides us in the sixth book.

But how do you decide when information is to be revealed? Well, that’s for you as the author to decide, but info should come when it fits or works for the story. Back to Harry Potter for a second. There’s obviously a lot of information about the Wizarding World. So much, that not all of it was revealed in the books and JK Rowling is still giving out snippets of information to us through a variety of sources. Wisely, she only gave out information when it was relevant. Would it have really have helped us, the reader, to know about goblins’ attitudes towards wizards keeping their works in the first book? It would’ve been interesting to know, but it wouldn’t have mattered much to the story at that point. And while we wondered if Hogwarts was the only school for magic in the world, the existence of other schools was only revealed in Book 4 because other schools were a big part of the story. In a similar, you should only reveal information when it’s relevant to the story you’re telling.

Another thing to keep in mind, especially in terms of characters, is we should already feel we know and have an opinion about someone or something before the information is revealed. In one of my favorite anime, Code Geass, we get to know one of the main characters early on, not through the info given to us about his past, but by his personality and actions. We get to know that he is kind, selfless, and will gladly put his life on the line for others, even when it doesn’t make sense to do so. It isn’t until halfway through the first season that we find out the incident in his childhood that made him this way, but by that time we already have a very positive and sympathetic view of this character and the info reveal does surprise us, but doesn’t color our opinion of the character as much as it would’ve if we’d learned that piece of information at the very beginning of the series.

Another great example is Annie Wilkes from Stephen King’s Misery. Early on we don’t know much about Annie besides what she chooses to reveal, and we can’t even rely on that. Why should we? She’s nuts! She’s violent, obsessive, and can switch from sweet to scary at the drop of a hat. By the time we find her scrapbook later in the book, we already know her and how we feel about her. The info in the scrapbook is certainly revealing, but it only adds to our dislike of the character. It isn’t what we base that dislike on.

There’s more I could say about avoiding info-dumps, but that’s a very long article to write. Let’s just finish it by saying that learning to avoid giving out way too much information is something we earn through time and practice. With experience, great tips, and a good bunch of people around you, we learn how to do it while still telling the excellent stories we want to tell.

All that and more will certainly help me when I get around to the next draft of Rose. I’m looking forward to seeing how that turns out when all is said and done!

What tips do you have for avoiding info-dumps? How have they worked out for you?

Guest Post: How I Came To Know That Writing An Interesting Article Can Be Tough

I wanted to share a guest post by Robert Hunt with you today. As authors we often find ourselves writing articles not only for our own blogs, but for guest blogs, blog tours, you name it.  Mr. Hunt has graciously shared some tips that can help with just such a task.

 How I Came To Know That Writing An Interesting Article Can Be Tough

If you told me, a few years ago, that I would become a freelance writer at the age of 28, I would probably say you were talking nonsense. When I was growing up, I had no interest in writing at all. However, when I read various articles and blogs on the Internet, the interest to write slowly crept up inside of me. At that time, I wanted to see if I could write, so I began by writing posts for my blog, which I never found interesting. It was difficult for me to come up with an interesting topic to write about even though I knew there were plenty of exciting topics and things happening around me. It was quite overwhelming but the constant support from my family, friends, and followers made feel as if I had nothing to lose, so I gave it a go and ever since then, I have never looked back.

A question that many people around me ask is, how do I write an interesting article? As you already know, articles are defined as small pieces of details that appear in media such as newspapers, newsletters, magazines, and of course, the many websites on the Internet. These articles offer readers information, and at times, in-depth information, about a certain subject. Questions on a particular issue need to be answered and the answers need to be interesting in order to grab the attention of the readers. Writing an interesting article is not an easy thing to do because the definition of ‘interesting’ differs from one person to the other. Some topics may be interesting and engaging to a group of people, but strongly opposed by other readers. More often than not, the articles will only appeal to a certain group to whom the articles are targeted.

From my experience, in order to write an interesting article, the subject needs to be researched thoroughly. Next, you need to construct an outline for your writing

piece that contains:

Headline

Introduction

Body

Conclusion

And/or Resource Box

Headline

This is definitely the most important part of an article because it is the first thing that attracts readers. Without a catchy headline, you will fail to grab a reader’s attention.

Introduction

Your introduction needs to be appealing, as well, because those few lines will determine whether the readers will want to continue to read the rest of the article or not.

Body

The body of your article is usually filled with possible solutions to the question of the subject or with useful details or information on a particular product or topic. It is imperative that you break down the solution/details to separate paragraphs or points, and then, discuss them in-depth in the body. This will make it easy for users to access the targeted articles when they search for them using one of the many popular search engines.

Conclusion

This final outline of an article should contain a brief summary of the entire topic and it should call for the readers to take action. For example, if you are writing an article about the latest fall wedding fashion trend, you should conclude it by asking the readers to make a decision on which style to choose.

Resource Box

If the article you are writing is about medical issues or law and regulations, then you should provide links to websites that you used to research on the topic. This helps readers to access the websites and learn more about the topic that you might not cover.

Therefore, if you feel the itch to write an interesting article but you do not have the confidence to do so, my advice is to stop contemplating and just go ahead and write one. You might just surprise yourself, as well as your loved ones
Robert Hunt is a freelance writer and single father living in Seattle, WA. When he’s not contributing to online education resource DegreeJungle.com, Robert spends his time tutoring local high school writers and playing with his 3 year old daughter.