Friday, March 30, 2007

Ten Elements of Bad Storytelling #8


Ten Elements of Bad Storytelling (we all use)

#8:  Wordiness and Overdescription

During the revision process of my first book, ELANTRIS, my editor sent me back a copy of the manuscript which proverbially bled with edits and suggestions.  One of the things he wrote on that piece has always remained with me.  It came in a particular place at the beginning of a chapter where I had tried to write something particularly poetic, had ended up using some rather uncommonly large words.  Moshe's response to this?

"Brandon, you can't be Gene Wolf for one sentence!"

Gene Wolf is one of fantasy's most poetic writers, a man who has a particular skill with words and language.  I've often thought about that statement from my editor, and its implications.  What does it mean to writing fiction? 

One of the things I often talk about with new writers is 'overwriting.'  Essentially, overwritten paragraphs are ones where the author is obviously trying too hard to make their prose sound poetic, and by doing so simply pack the sentences with adverbs, adjectives, and impressive-sounding words. 

Is this good for storytelling?  Obvious not.  Not only does it make for clunky prose, but it often stops the reader as they try to figure out just what the heck you were trying to say.  I often have to explain this to new writers, teaching them to be concise first.  If they can learn concision, I figure, they can then learn to be poetic when the time is right.

However, I now wonder if the time is EVER right for that in storytelling.  Now, I'm not looking at what creates beautiful prose or majestic writing in these essays.  I'm looking at what tells good stories.  And, in this point, I'd like to offer the argument that most of us writers tend to try to be poetic when it really isn't appropriate for telling a story. 

We do it.  I think we ALL do it.  We love language, and in loving language, we want to use our words to not just tell a story, but to evoke something beautiful as well.  That's great, but I think that when we do so (and I don't actually intend to stop) we actually do our stories a disservice.  A good example from Mistborn is the following pair of lines which start off a chapter in Mistborn 2:

"Mist swirled and spun, like monochrome paints running together on a canvas. Light died in the west, and night came of age."

Poetic?  I kind of think so.  However, the lines--particularly the second one--are rather abstract, and I think might come across to some readers as trying too hard to be poetic.  I think we writers, particularly fantasy writers, have a similar problem along this vein with simply using too many words to explain things.  Our descriptions get too long, our narrative internal monologues stretch for pages (my particular foible) and we have trouble telling a story in less than a five book series. 

It's a crutch, I think, that a lot of us use.  Are we going to change?  I doubt it.  I know I didn't cut that line from Mistborn 2, even though my instincts said that I should have.  In addition, you have a lot of authors writing prose that IS beautiful.  It distracts from their stories, in my opinion, but books like that aren't always about the story.  (One doesn't read A HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE to find out what's going to happen.  They read it for the language.)

Either way, that's why this concept lands at number eight on the bad elements of storytelling in which we pros continue to indulge.  There is something about poetic writing that has gained credibility in literary fields above and beyond the value of a well told story.  Even those of us who argue for the power of a good story still feel the need to prove ourselves, occasionally, through our language.  Even if we're not as practiced at it as others.

Next item on the countdown will probably be on Monday, though I might throw one up on Saturday.  Sorry for the lack of post on Thursday! 

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Warbreaker + Ten Elements of Bad Storytelling #9


First off, new chapter of Warbreaker:  Chapter Fifty Three

Find an explanation of Warbreaker, along with previous chapters, on my forums.

Now, for our feature:

Ten Elements of Bad Storytelling (we all use)

#9:  Overuse of Emotion

Melodrama.  We hate it, and we love it.  One of the most difficult lines to walk in writing books is this one: The line between having the characters react with appropriate emotion to important events, and having them go overboard and annoy the reader.

Now, this line is in different places depending on your genre.  From what I've read of romance (which isn't much, admittedly) they seem to get away with a lot more emotion as a part of the genre.  However, for purposes of these essays, I'm looking at the genres I know: Science fiction, fantasy, children's, and to a lesser extent mystery.

We like to write character-driven stories, though we define it differently in genre fiction than they do in literary.  (My experience has been that literary defines 'character driven' as having unique, interesting, and often unpredictable characters that the text investigates.  In genre fiction, character driven means sympathetic characters the reader cares about.)

Yet, how do you write sympathetic characters without overloading the reader on emotion?  It's appropriate sometimes, of course, but the adage 'less is more' tends to hold pretty well in most situations.  A friend of mine gave the rule 'never let your characters cry' because emotion that was hinted at and held inside tended to have a more powerful effect on the reader than explosions of effusiveness.

And yet, as writers, it's sometimes hard for us not to overdo it on the emotion.  We get so involved with our characters that we want to show everyone just how powerful their feelings are.  Yet, a lot of the time when we do this, we shoot ourselves in the feet by not saving the emotion for the right place.

A good rule of thumb I've heard is this one: the line between drama and melodrama can be looked at situational.  If the readers are invested in the characters, feeling as they do, and engaged by the narrative, the emotion will feel real.  If they're NOT invested enough, then emotion will come across as melodrama.  This is particularly a problem at the beginnings of books.  I've found that if you show too much emotion right off, before the reader cares about the characters, it will fall flat.

Of course, different writers have different skill levels in this area.  And, being able to use emotion often ties into your ability as a writer to tell vs show (which we'll talk about later.)  Still, one of the tricks of the trade is to know when to show a lot of emotion and when to hold it back.  I think we all go overboard some times--but we make sure to do it when the reader is so invested that they don't notice. 

Tomorrow, #8!  Also known as "Brandon, you can't be Gene Wolf for just one sentence!"

(Once again, sorry for the typos and errors.  This is a rough draft of the essay!)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Ten Elements of Bad Storytelling #10 + Amphigory

First off, a quick visual pun:



In order to get the pun, you have to know what kind of activity all these folks are engaging in.  Hint: It's more than just a simple dance. 

Now, onto today's feature article. 

Ten Elements of Bad Storytelling (we all use.)

#10: Coincidental Meetings and Discoveries

This is one of the biggest 'corners' that I've noticed we writers tend to cut.  In fiction, we depend a lot on coincidence.  A well told story covers it up, but the truth is that it's there. 

In a way, this makes a lot of sense.  I just wrote a chapter where I needed two characters to have a conversation.  I sent one looking for the other, and rather than spending a lot of boring time narrating the search (or even covering it in a paragraph saying "He spent a lot of boring time searching) I just had him run into the person coming the other direction down the street.

If you think about it, this is a terrible coincidence. And yet, narratively, it can stand.  Why?  Because the reader knows they're both in the city, and they're both out and about.  There's more to it than this, however.  Often, you'll read a chapter where characters go on and off stage in rapid succession, keeping the pacing up by having the main character talk to one, then another, then another.  Everyone arrives in a careful, behind-the scenes orchestration of timing.  Just as soon as we're done with one conversation, another character arrives from doing whatever it is that they need to tell the reader about and enters a conversation.

It's more common than you think--it works particularly well on a show like E.R., where the quick rotation of conversations and interactions gives an aura of urgency and immediacy to the storytelling.  Yet, you see it a lot in books, too.  Just as a character finishes thinking through a poignant problem, there will be a knock at the door, and we'll be moved on to the next important scene.

This works a lot with clues and discoveries, too--particularly at the beginnings of stories.  I'd call a coincidental discovery anything that occurs not because of the character's skill or intention, but something that they just 'happen' to see or encounter.  This is the discovery of a dropped wallet near the crime scene, or the time where a character notices an important detail that they normally would have passed over.

Is this bad storytelling?  In a way, I think it is.  For the purposes of this essay, I'm calling 'bad storytelling' anything where if the reader thinks too hard about what just happened, it will pull them out of the narrative.  Should we stop using it?  On that, I'm not exactly sure.  It fulfills a function in keeping scenes moving and flowing, and it gets information to the reader that simply NEEDS to be there.

However, used too often--or in to important a scene--and suddenly things begin to look TOO coincidental, even in a fabricated world like that of a fictional narrative.  We authors walk a fine line between illusion and reality, and when the illusion deteriorates, the realty that is left is simply a bunch of words on a page. (Or, pixels on a screen.)  Sometimes, the show 24 breaks down for me like this--too many coincidences in a row, contrived to keep the show moving at the clip it does, make me stop and realize that it's JUST a show.

And that's the last thing we storytellers want.

And so, I guess my thoughts on this item are this: Be careful.  Don't overuse a good tool.  When you have a discovery to give a reader, try and tie it to some kind of skill or aptitude on the hero's part.  Sherlock Holmes gets around some of these discoveries because of the foreshadowing of his power of observation.  Some coincidental meetings can be avoided by simply making an appointment beforehand. 

The trick with most of these things I'll be listing is that while they're technically elements of bad storytelling, they're still things that we HAVE to use occasionally.  The better a writer becomes, in my opinion, the more they learn WHERE to cut the corner and where to avoid doing so.  There are a lot of rules that writers like to give out as advice to new authors.  The thing is, we break our own rules all the time.  In a 200,000 word book, you often just can't afford to make every meeting foreshadowed.  Still, one could argue that this is a crutch, and so it lands at number ten on my list--least grievous of the sins we like to use, but still something to keep an eye on.

(And, all in all, this is one I have to watch out for--since I like things to tie up neatly in my book, it's easy for me to make the stories TOO tight.  If there aren't flaws or aberrations, it doesn't feel right--just like the airbrushed faces of models in magazines just seem too flawless to be pretty, to me.)

Next up: #9  What will it be?  More tomorrow!

(And, once again, this is a rough draft of the essay.  I'll edit, and probably cut down the size, as I polish.)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Ten Elements of Bad Storytelling Introduction + Annotation


First, Annotation:  Mistborn Chapter Thirty-One

Second, check out this awesome Deviantart profile where a reader is posting their fanart sketches of Mistborn.  Awesome!

Finally, onto the meat of the post.  As I mentioned last week, I'm going to run a feature on the blog over the next couple of weeks in which I'll discuss some elements of bad storytelling that we authors often use, and often get away with.  Today, I'll do the introduction.  After all ten are posted, I'll collect them into a single essay and post it in the appropriate section of my website, with a link from the blog.

Ten Elements of Bad Storytelling (we all use)

I used to play an RPG with a friend of mine, Nathan Jennings, who would often chastise the rest of us for trying to rush through things in order to get to the fights.  It became cliche for us that he'd yell out "Bad storytelling!" every time we'd cut a corner with our characters, being too lazy to come up with proper motivations or explanations for why we were doing what we did.

I've come a long way in my storytelling skill since then.  However, the more I become part of the publishing industry--and the more I talk to others about how to write well--the more I realize that there are some crutches that a lot of us authors use when it comes to telling our stories.  These are the short-cuts, the easy fixes--many of them things we tell aspiring writers never to do.  Yet, then we turn around and use them ourselves in our writing. 

Are we wrong to do so?  I'm not completely certain, to be honest.  That's part of the reason I want to write this essay.  I want to look at some of these things and see how vital they are to the process, and if we can even realistically escape using them in commercial fiction.  I'll ask the questions: Does bad storytelling always indicate a bad story?  Why do we use these crutches?  When is it laziness, and when is it good to use elements of bad storytelling?  (If that's even possible.)

Maybe in writing this, I'll realize that these are things that only I use, and thereby expose myself as a hack!  Perhaps Oz shouldn't show off the contraptions he uses to make his magic.  Or, maybe, people will claim that some of these aren't even accurately defined as 'bad' storytelling elements, but instead simply necessary tools for writing books. 

Either way, I suspect it will be a lot of fun to write.  And so, sit back and enjoy.  I'll count them down from number ten to number one, in order of which ones I think are increasingly grievous sins (particularly when used incorrectly.) 

Next: #10--Coincidental Meetings and Discoveries!

(Also, note, this is a rough draft of the essay.  I'll probably touch it up as I go, so some lines/ideas may change over time.)

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Annotation + Bird Poop

First off, new annotation:  Chapter Thirty Part Two

Sorry I'm a day late with this one.  Yesterday was hectic, as I was one of the guest speakers at the LDS Storymaker's conference here in Provo.  I was actually rather impressed with the conference as a whole, and I had a lot of fun signing books for people and talking about writing after my speech. 

I went back today, actually, for lunch.  (They had invited me to dinner last night, but I ended up unable to attend, so I decided to go back today) and had another very nice signing experience.  We must have gone through some forty books through these two days. 

The amusing thing to me about all of this is how surreal it is to sometimes be a pseudo-star, mister nationally published author man.  And then, I get to go home and muck out my pet cockatiel's birdcage.  Life goes on, even for mister nationally published author men.  I think that might be why it's easy to keep your feet on the ground in this business.  One day, you have a fantastic signing event where everyone praises you.  The next week, nobody shows up.

And between both of them, you have to get wrist-deep in bird poop. 

Be sure to check back next week.  I'm going to be doing a feature about bad storytelling conventions that even the pro writers have to use sometimes, and why they can get away with them. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Warbreaker + Writer's Commune

New Warbreaker Chapter:  Chapter Fifty-Two

As I've mentioned, this book his sixty chapters (Actually, I think it has fifty-nine and an epilogue).  That places us at about two months away.  I started posting chapters of this book back in June of last year, I believe, and I posted the first few in rapid succession before falling into the one-a-week format.  It's somewhat interesting to follow my life via the things people have been reading in Warbreaker.  When I posted those first chapters, I wasn't yet married.  I managed to keep it up through my book tour in November, and through the holidays.  Now, we're approaching the one-year mark.  (We'll probably post the last chapter in May, so it won't quite be a year long process.)

It's been very rewarding to post the book on-line.  We'll see how this impacts sales when the book actually comes out in stores, but for now, I'm very pleased with the feedback I've gotten and the community the book has created on my forums

In other interesting news, my house has become something of a writer's commune.  A good friend of mine lost his job recently, and while looking for a new one, has been writing a book.  His house is currently filled with children being baby-sat, so for the last few weeks, he's come to my house to write on my spare computer in my basement.  It's a somewhat interesting experience--two solitary authors typing away furiously on different floors of my house. 

Anyway, enjoy the Warbreaker chapter. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


As always, hint in the picture title--which LJ kindly removes.  So, first one who gets it on LiveJournal, please post a comment. 

And, just so that we're not only posting dumb puns, have a look at this picture:

Is that not the freakiest thing you've ever seen?  I've always had a morbid fascination with sharks, ever since I was a little kid.  I suspect that a lot of us do.  Anyway, this is a real photo, as verifiable via Snopes.  What exactly convinces a scientist to go out on a kayak a few feet from a Great White, anyway?  I mean really.  Was that necessary, other than the fact that it made for uber-cool bragging rights?

Monday, March 19, 2007


Here's a new Mistborn Annotation: Chapter Thirty Part One

So, I'm getting back into Dragonsteel, trying to write this book.  I've learned something about myself.  It's better for me to not start a book if I know I'm going to have to stop soon and work on something else.  It takes time to get the ball rolling for me, giving me the momentum it takes to write a novel.  People ask how much I write a day, and the truth is that it really depends on whether I'm at the beginning of a book or the end.  Or, really, how much I'm 'feeling' that book at the moment.

Stopping Dragonsteel to do the rewrite of Mistborn 3 was a bad idea, I think.  I got just far enough into Dragonsteel that connections were starting to work, and I was figuring out how to get the book plotted and created.  Then, I stopped, and all of that languished.  True, I had the forum posts to help me reimagine two of the characters in interesting ways (which ended up, I think, making those characters work a lot better.)  However, it's now tough to get myself motivated on the book again. 

We shall see what happens.  Anyway, thanks to everyone who came to my signing on Saturday!  It was a lot of fun.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Annotation + March Fantasy Book Madness

First off, new Mistborn annotation: Chapter Twenty-nine

We're hard at work on the new website.  It should be much more easy to navigate, once we've got it done.  We're shooting for May-ish to get it out, so until then, I'm sorry that it's so hard to find things!  We're working on it.

In another interesting note, Fantasybookspot has a fun idea going.  Instead of the traditional March Madness for basketball, they're running a fantasy book version where various books that came out last year are pitted against one another in brackets, striving for the championship.  Mistborn's on their list, but I think I got knocked out in the first round.  Ah, well.  I was probably like a 15 seed anyway. :)

Finally, here's a Pemberly Moment for you:  "You just don't know many vampires.  They ALL have saltine cracker teeth."  (Actual quote by my wife taken out of context.)

Don't forget my reading/signing tomorrow at the Jordan Landing Barnes and Noble!  2:00 pm!  First look at  copies of Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Warbreaker + Customization


First off, here's your weekly Warbreaker chapter:  Chapter Fifty-One

For an explanation, and the earlier chapters, see this thread right here.  Please feel free to make suggestions!  Don't be intimidated by the length of the conversation.  The only posts you need to worry about are the first one (with the older chapters) and the discussion happening about the current chapter (which, of course, starts right after my post saying "The new chapter is up!")

Anyway, on other things.  Doing that desktop wallpaper for Mistborn was a whole lot of fun.  As you might be able to tell from my Amphigories, like to play with Photoshop.  As you might also be able to tell from my Amphigories, I'm not really that good at it.  (There's a reason why I write books rather than drawing graphic novels.) 

Now, however, I've gotten into the whole desktop customization thing.  And that means customized Icons for each of my book folders!  I'm playing with the Mistborn ones right now, and so far, they're pretty simple. 

The first two are okay.  With the third one, I tried to move away from a square, but I can't get the edges to not look dumb.  More tweaking is obviously in order.  And, that's how I name the files and chapters of these three books, by the way.  MBFE is Final Empire, MBWA is Well of Ascension, and MBHA is Hero of Ages.   That MBWA icon is from another wallpaper I'm working on, which I don't have sized properly yet.  You can find it on Deviantart, and I should be posting it on the blog eventually.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Quick Amphigory + signing

Not much time today, so the Amphigory is a quick and dirty one.

Can you figure out all four puns?

Also, my reading this Saturday is ON!  If you saw the article about me in the paper, you'll know that they gave me some free advertising for a reading this Saturday at the Barnes and Noble in West Jordan (At the Jordan Landing).  2:00 pm.  Myself and Isaac, the interior illustrator, will be there signing books.  Plus, I'll read from some unpublished material, including some sections from Alcatraz.  So, come and visit!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Annotation + Wallpaper + Link Dump

First off, it's Monday, which means a new Mistborn Annotation: Chapter Twenty-Eight Part One  (and it's a particularly long one.)

I was poking around on Naomi Novik's website, and noticed that she had wallpapers up for her cool dragon series Temeraire.  I thought, why in the heck don't I have wallpapers?  I've got books.  I've got a website.  I've got...too much free time on my hands (apparently.)  And so, I whipped a couple up, using my mediocre Photoshop skills.  The first one is available for download at these links:

Screen Resolution 800 by 600
Screen Resolution 1024 by 768
Screen Resolution 1680 by 1050

The art is by the talented Isaac Stewart (a.k.a. Nethermore, a.k.a. Ctz Zed.) I got the backgrounds from a nice person on Deviant Art named merely-anger.  This is now MY desktop.  I think it turned out quite well.  Some have wondered if it is something of a spoiler.  I'll let you speculate on that, but know this: it doesn't quite reveal what you might think it does. 

Other than that, let's see.  I really want one of these.  Or, for my evil mastermind moments, one of these.  I'm probably too cheap to buy either one. 

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Dragonsteel New Chapter


If you didn't see my extended FAQ post yesterday, I suggest you have a look at it!  It answers a question I get quite a lot.

Now, as you may have noticed, I've finished with the Mistborn 3 rewrite, which FINALLY lets me turn my full attention to a new book. (The first one I've been able to work on since Alcatraz 2, which I wrote in October.)

My project of choice is The Liar of Partinel, a novel with which I'm planning to kick off a long series. (Named the Dragonsteel series.)  I want to express my deepest gratitude  to everyone who has been commenting on Warbreaker, as well as everyone who commented on the sample chapters of Dragonsteel I posted before.  I just stuck up a new chapter of Dragonsteel, a heavy rewrite of the first chapter, and wouldn't mind suggestions and comments.  You can post them on this thread.

With Warbreaker, it's--perhaps--more difficult for you to see how much help your comments are being, because my revisions to that one are done in very large sweeping edits. Here, I can target, and the book is still has a lot of room to grow and change. So, it's your chance to REALLY have an effect on the novel!  Note that I'm not going to post the entire book this time. (Already done that once, and I'm not even done posting that one!) I will post all of Warbreaker 2 when I write it, but for now, I'd be very interested in comments on this new version of Dragonsteel chapter one.

Friday, March 09, 2007

FAQ: My Publication Story + Annotation +Quote

First, Annotation: Mistborn Chapter Twenty-Seven

Second, Quote Board: "Secret princess princess does not need to see her own bare bleeding chest on a man."  -- Fellfrosch (In our RPG campaign last night.)

Third, I've finished the Mistborn 3 edit!  Yay!  Now I can finally write something new.  Dragonsteel book one, here I come.

Finally, as requested by a reader of the blog, I've decided to add a new FAQ post explaining how I broke in to publishing.  Sit back and enjoy:

FAQ: How did you break in to publishing? 

I made my first ATTEMPT at a novel when I was Fifteen. Tragically, I lost most of it. I wrote it in secret (because I was terrified someone would find out what I was doing and make fun of me--teenagers are so strange) on an electric typewriter. Those were odd computer/typewriter hybrids that looked like a typewriter, but could store material on a disk, then print it out for you. Kind of like a player piano.

Well, my machine used its own format of floppy disk. While I still have those disks, I doubt I’ll ever be able to get the information off of them, since the age of the electronic typewriter is long gone. Even if I had a machine, I doubt the information is still good on those disks. It’s been some fifteen years. . . It’s not a total tragedy, however, because I still have about twenty pages of hard copy from that book. Boy, was it terrible!

My first real attempt for a novel came when I was 21. The book was called WHITE SAND, and took me about two years to write. It was about 600 manuscript pages (300 page hardback) long, and actually wasn’t terrible. However, it wasn’t great either. I eventually took the setting and rewrote the book from scratch. Maybe I’ll publish it some day--I still haven’t decided.

Anyway, back about the time when I started the first version of WHITE SAND, someone told me that an author’s first five books are generally terrible. This depressed me, but I’ve long believed in the power of good, solid, determination. I knew that there were other aspiring writers who had more talent than I--in fact, I still have several friends that I’m convinced had more raw ability than I ever did.

I decided that others while might have more talent, I’d work harder than they did. So, I started writing. I finished that first book, then moved on to a second, then a third. . .eventually, I became a writer. Not because I’d published anything, but because WRITING became my life. It was more than a habit, it became what I did and who I was.

Once I finished ELANTRIS--my sixth book--I knew I had something special. About this time, a writer friend of mine (David Farland/Wolverton) gave me some timely advice. He suggested that I needed to start going to writers’ conferences. I went to two that very year. The idea with these conferences is to not only gain information about how to write and publish, but to make contacts. I don’t think you need to be an ‘insider’ to get published. However, if an editor can at least meet you and get a face to put with your name, I think it helps you get noticed and perhaps read.

Eventually, I met a newer editor at one of these conventions. He worked for Tor--a company I respected a lot--and had edited some authors I like quite a bit. We talked for some time, and I realized we had similar tastes in books. So, I asked if I could send him something. He said yes. I sent it as soon as I got home.

Eighteen months passed.

As I said, I don’t think you need to be an insider to get published. I didn’t gain a powerful key to getting published by going to the convention and meeting Moshe. (Indeed, I met dozens of editors, and most blew me off.) Even when I found one who would look at one of my books, that book still went into the slush pile. I still had to feel like I’d been forgotten. However--perhaps because Moshe HAD met me, and felt a little guilty at never reading my book--he eventually did pick up and read my novel. After reading only a small portion, he called me to make certain the book was still available for him to buy.

Unfortunately, by then I’d moved, so my phone number was wrong, my address was wrong, and I’d changed emails. Moshe, however, vigilantly Googled me and found my BYU graduate student page. From that, he called my new number and left me a voicemail. When I got home that day, I received the message that said something like “Hi! I don’t know if you remember me, but my name is Moshe Feder. I’m an editor at Tor, and you sent me a book eighteen months ago. Well, I’d like to buy it!”

I, of course, just about fainted from shock. ELANTRIS wasn’t the only book I had out for review at a publisher, but I had given up on ever hearing back from Moshe. Plus, as much as I had dreamed about that day happening, it was quite a surprise to actually have it happen.

After that, I called an agent I respected and asked him to represent me. He said yes, and he handled the contract negotiations (His name is Joshua Bilmes--and I highly recommend him.) Those negotiations, and getting contracts, took about seven or eight months. Then, editing the book took about a year and a half. So, overall it was over two years from the time I got the call to the them where I got to hold the book in my hands. But it was worth it.

What’s the moral of all this? Heck, I don’t know. Work hard, learn the business, write books. It’s a coincidence, I think, that I sold my sixth book (after hearing that the first five are terrible.) However, it is an interesting thing to note. Also, when Moshe gave me that call, I was at work on my thirteenth novel! (And I write mostly big fantasy books of 1000+ manuscript pages, so those weren’t short books.) I believe that writing is like learning any other art--you don’t start out brilliant. If you want to learn piano, you have to play your scales. Those books I never published were my scales. (And I don’t think you have to write six books to publish--part of what took me so long is that I wasn’t good at marketing myself early on, and I didn’t have very good revision skills. Once I learned these things, about the time I finished ELANTRIS, it only took me about three years to get a book deal.)

It wasn’t easy. I spent most of that time writing books working a graveyard shift at a hotel in order to pay the bills, go to school, and still have time to write. (They let me write while I was on-duty at the desk.) However, because I spent all that time working, I had a head start when I actually did get published. Some authors publish the first book they write, then have trouble writing a second. Others write first books that ‘feel’ like first books. I didn’t have either of these problems. (Elantris = three hardback printings, fourteen foreign sales, starred reviews in PW and Library Journal, Best SF/F book of the year via Barnes and Noble, best epic fantasy of the year via Romantic Times, yada yada.)

Either way, I spent most of my undergraduate and graduate years as a very sleepy, but productive, writer. I was able to quit the hotel job when I sold ELANTRIS, and now support myself with my writing. And that’s how I broke in.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Warbreaker + Writing Ramblings


First off, new Warbreaker Chapter: Chapter Fifty

We're in negotiations with Tor right now for a contract on this book, which is exciting and frustrating at the same time.  Exciting because I love working with Tor on books, and my editor really liked this one.  Frustrating because, like everything in publishing, negotiations and talks take a long, long time.  That's really no one's 'fault' really.  It's just how the industry works.  This will probably end up being a quick negotiation, when all is said and done.  However, that still means I have to wait for several weeks, all the while with a little voice itching at the back of my mind saying "Maybe they'll just decide you're not worth it, and decide to buy someone else's books instead."

I highly doubt that's going to happen.  Still, I wonder if that voice will ever go away.  Does Steven King worry that, in playing hardball on contracts, he's going to offend a publisher and end up with no deal?  Or, is that for those of us down in the mid-lists? 

I just added a very good chapter to Mistborn 3 (one it was needing) so I feel even better about the project.  I have to say this--thank goodness for writing groups.  I've found lots of authors, particularly those who get published, don't like writing groups.  And, in a way, they are a distraction from writing, and sometimes it's hard to sit there and be critiqued when you know the book has already been sold and that an editor thinks is's near perfect.

However, it's still only NEAR perfect.  Writing groups--at least mine--catch things that are important.  They don't usually have to do with book-wide chances.  More, chapter revisions, where they point out that a character's reaction to a certain event feels off, or that I've forgotten to include a character in a given scene.  These are a big help, and every time I do a revision, I'm happy I have those comments there for me to use. 

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Ha ha.  Here's a HINT if you don't know which band this might be.  Those heads are from female sheep, by the way....

My Mistborn 3 rewrite is almost done--maybe a couple more days.  Then I can FINALLY get around to writing something new.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Annotation + Just Say Yes

First off, New Annotation: Chapter Twenty-Six

Alcatraz's release date is still quite a ways off, but I finally got galley copies in!  Hurrah!  There's nothing cooler than seeing a book you wrote in print.  It still feels great, even though this will be my fourth published book.  The image below links to a full cover scan, with text from the inside flaps included.

As a reminder, the release date on this one is October First.  It's been very fun to work with Scholastic on this series, and I'm hoping for great things from it.  However, this business is never certain, and who knows what will happen? 

Finally, here's a funny video:

Friday, March 02, 2007

Fun game + Idea + Annotation

 Play this game.  It's fun.  Reminds me of the Grow games done over at Eyemaze, but with a different flavor.  It's not terribly long, but I like the art and the problem-solving.

 Also, how about a story prompt? 

IDEA OF THE DAY:  Dump planet.  Write a story about a planet that has, for one reason or another, become a dumping grounds.  Other planets use it as their junkyard, or maybe their nuclear waste dump.

So, you hear all of those stories about people in various cities not wanting a nuclear waste dump near them, or people in certain neighborhoods protesting plans for a new landfill nearby.  What if this happened on a galactic scale?  What if one planet ended up being the dumping grounds for an entire system or set of systems?  You'd have to consider several things.  First, is there something that could get dumped there that would make for an interesting and unique story?  Second, why don't the dumpers simply shoot the waste (whatever it is) into the sun?  Why not just leave it floating in space?  Why dump on this planet?  How does it affect the people who live there?  Did they decide to do this for economic reasons, or did they get the waste forced on them?

In a completely unrelated note, here's a new Mistborn Annotation: Part Three Wrap Up