Friday, June 29, 2012

Publishing Industry News

What's been going on in the past couple of weeks in the publishing industry?

Industry News

Amazon pushes its ad-supported Kindle to consumers. This lowers the price of most Kindle products, with only the Kindle Fire lacking advertising sponsors. Experts also estimate that Amazon eats a $10 loss on each Fire sold. Consumers can also purchase 'ad-free' Kindles, but these are no longer considered the standard model and are more expensive.

The Google Nexus 7 Tablet will advertise its e-reading compatibility, and recommend ebooks.

New Leaf Literary & Media spins off parent company Nancy Coffey Literary Agency. The two literary agencies will continue to work together, with New Leaf handling sub-rights for Nancy Coffey Literary.

NewsCorp, which owns amongst many other companies HarperCollins and TV network Fox, will be splitting its publishing and media businesses.

California libraries will be lending 10,000 self-published books from Smashwords, and will allow library patrons to upload books to Smashwords for self-publication.

The Authors Guild, nine indie publishers, and Readerlink (a wholesaler) all submit protests to the DOJ against the settlements with Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster, based on the idea that the settlements will encourage predatory pricing by Amazon and will eliminate competition.

Odyl is launching the Facebook app Riffle, which it hopes will become the Pintrest of books.

Industry Blogs

QueryTracker's Publishing Pulse for 6/22.

What's the purpose of a query letter? It's not to tell the agent what happens in your book; it's to sell the manuscript to the agent. QueryTracker helps us write our "novel summary" paragraph by reminding us what it's all about.

QueryTracker also defines when and how to use dialogue tags and punctuation. Use dialogue tags when you're not sure who's speaking. Don't have long conversations without tags. If you put in body language or physical action, you can probably skip the tag altogether, but make sure you end your sentence with a period if the sentence is really over.

Ash Krafton on QT tells us where writing contests come in: the feedback helps us polish even if we don't win, and it looks good if we do. It's a good way to test the waters and discover if you're ready to submit to agents.

Everyone knows to start a story with active writing. But does this mean action? Not always; active writing is hook-you, grab-you-by-the-brainstem-and-rope-you-in, can't put it down writing. That doesn't necessarily mean a car chase or a death-defying stunt. Agent Kristen reminds us of the difference between the two. Sometimes this even breaks the show-don't-tell rule. If the author pulls it off, then the rule should be broken -  only if the author pulls it off! A reminder that rules aren't laws.

She also offers fantasy writers a blast of hope: apparently agents have been looking for epic fantasy lately. But if you're an urban fantasy writer, it's a tough market.

Rachelle Gardner discusses how agents choose a publisher when there's more than one offer on the table. Is the whole team enthusiastic? Is the editor a good match for the author? What are the contract terms, and what history does the publisher have with this genre? What's the author's opinion? And what's the money?

Heather Kopp guest blogs for Rachelle Gardner with a discussion on why you should go ahead and start blogging, even if you're unpublished. On the other hand, Gardner reminds us that unpublished novelists' first duty is to write, not build a platform, so don't freak out if you're not yet ready to begin the social media crawl.

Nathan Bransford asks a question that's got my curiosity going: Are interactive books like color TV? In twenty years, will non-interactive books be like black and white television?

Buddy Media puts out a cheat sheet for good tweeting, as in when and how your tweets will get the most engagement. Link to the GalleyCat summary since the Buddy Media link requires downloading to see the cheat sheet.

What major industry news have you encountered in the past couple of weeks?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Wednesday Writing Prompt: You wake up here, what next?

It's the beginning of summer (in the Northern hemisphere, anyway). You've been plodding along through work, school, or life in general, and the thought crosses your mind that you might be getting stuck in a rut.

One night, peering out the window, you notice a lighting storm in the distance. It seems to be headed your way, so you unplug your computer and then go to bed as usual. Strange dreams plague you, mostly nonsense, and you're pretty sure at one point you remember something about a giant robot.

Morning comes, and sleep hangs tightly onto your eyelids. You lay in your soft bed, wondering why it seems so much brighter than usual in your room, and why you're still so tired. For that matter, what's wrong with the bed? It's all... sandy...

You open your eyes, and see this:

What happened, and what's going to happen next?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Creating a fantasy language: Lesson 3

Part 3: Making it more complex.
(Creating a fantasy language: (Lesson 1, Rationale, Lesson 2, Lesson 3, Lesson 4Choosing wordsCreating an Alphabet)

In part one of writing a fantasy language, you made root words and began to make vocabulary. In part two, you created the basic sentence structure. The next logical step is to get more complex: begin making more complicated sentences by adding more of what you already have.

Now that you’re getting more than a few words, you’ll want to start reading your sentences aloud (or whispering them to yourself at your desk, whichever). Not only will this help avoid writing things that can’t be spoken, it will also start hinting to you where you need punctuation.

Start with a review, something that you can already do:

You put a ball down on the floor.
ut (you) (male)
Cortan (ball)
nansan (to put down)
ne (a)
ke (the)
bason (floor)
tep (on)
You on the floor put down a ball.
ut tep ke Bason nansanla ne Cortan.

Remember, our basic sentence structure is
(Who) (where) (what happens) (what)
Or, more grammatically: (subject)(preposition)(verb)(object)

This leads to a question, what if it’s the subject to which the preposition applies? For example, let’s say we’re talking about a person on a chair.

at (he)

New rule: when the preposition applies to the subject, each word in the prepositional phrase gains a prefix of the same gender as the subject (in this case, a- for male).

He, on the chair, puts a ball down.
He (the one on the chair) puts down a ball.
at atep ake aWitkin nansanda ne Cortan.

Okay: PROBLEM. I just tried to read that aloud. (Go on, try it.) See what I mean? It’s hard to say. People try to avoid speech patterns that are difficult to say.

So let’s alter this rule.

Revised rule: When the preposition applies to the subject, the preposition and the object of the preposition gain a prefix of the same gender as the subject.

He (the one on the chair) puts down a ball.
at atep ke aWitkin nansanda ne Cortan.

Now read that aloud. For me, this was much easier – and only a one-letter change!

Now let’s see how this combines with a preposition that applies to the object as well.

it (she)
(who)(where who is)(where object goes)(what happens)(to what)
(subject)(subject’s prepositional phrase)(object’s prepositional phrase)(verb)(object)

She on the chair puts a ball down on the floor.
She on the chair on the floor puts down a ball.
it itep ke iWitkin tep ke Bason nansanda ne Cortan.

Now read it aloud.

I don’t know about you, but I had to pause for breath between the prepositional phrases. That’s usually a sign that a comma will be used. Let’s add some punctuation to that:

New rule: put a comma after prepositional phrases applying to the subject.

She on the chair, on the floor puts down a ball.
it itep ke iWitkin, tep ke Bason nansanda ne Cortan.

Now for a little practice:

She on the floor drops a ball on a table.
Cortan (ball)
san (to drop)
ne (a)
ke (the)
bason (floor)
tep (on)
it (she)
Witkin (table)
She on the floor, on a chair drops a ball.
it itep ke iBason, tep ne Witkin sani ne Cortan.

You (the guy under the chair) drop the table to the floor.
You under the chair drop the table to the floor.
ut (you)
uz (under)
ne (a)
ke (the)
Witkin (chair)
tep (on)
Hoskon (table)
Bason (floor)
ti (to)
You under the chair, on the floor drop the table.
ut a’uz ke aWitkin, ti ke Bason sanla Hoskon.

What new rules did you create for your language? Or try writing a sentence using these rules, and share your results in the comments!

Vocabulary so far:
san: to drop nansan: to put down nansanko: to lie down ko: self koma: self-aware
uzko: to be sick kopalli: to self-reprimand palli: to reprimand uz: under syl: to cast magic
sylpana: the magic source pana: lake ako: I (male) iko: I (female) utu: you (object)
ata: him iti: her oto: it (obj) at: he it: she
ut: you ot: it (subject) der: to cause ne: the kes: one
des: two tres: three fes: four res: five ses: six
pes: seven les: eight nes: nine doc: ten cortan: ball
hoskon: table elti: into el: in fodratan: anger fodrishin: hostility
fodrish: hostile del: to create witkin: chair bason: floor borr: to roll
dupon: bowl tep: on laksh: to give Merin: flower Stiton: hair

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Word Box: Randomness vs. Chaos for writers

As defined by the Free Online Dictionary:

1. Having no specific pattern, purpose, or objective2. Mathematics & Statistics Of or relating to a type of circumstance or event that is described by a probability distribution.3. Of or relating to an event in which all outcomes are equally likely, as in the testing of a blood sample for the presence of a substance.
1. A condition or place of great disorder or confusion.2. A disorderly mass; a jumble.3. The disordered state of unformed matter and infinite space supposed in some cosmogonic views to have existed before the ordered universe.4. Mathematics A dynamical system that has a sensitive dependence on its initial conditions.

Today, I'm looking at randomness vs. chaos in the scientific and mathematical sense. Is there a difference between something being chaotic, and something being random? Yes.

Randomness, as summarized in the mathematical lingo, is closest to definition #2 above. It has to deal with the probability distribution*. The point is that truly random things are out of our hands; systems including randomness cannot be predicted because they cannot be controlled.

*To get an idea of what probability distribution is, it's the odds of something happening. Your chances of rolling any given number are theoretically 1 out of 6 on a 6-sided die. However, rolling two dice means you can roll any number 2-12. It's more likely that you'll roll a seven than a twelve because there are more ways to roll a 7 (5+2, 4+3, 1+6) than ways to roll a 12 (6+6). So if you roll one die, your probability distribution says that every possible outcome has an equal chance of occurring (i.e., you're equally likely to roll any number 1-6); if you roll two dice, you're more likely to roll certain numbers than others, according to your probability distribution.

Chaos, on the other hand, is all about not having randomness. The idea is that every teeny-tiny differences in beginning circumstances make huge differences later on, and that the equation is affected by many, many things. It's considered unpredictable because the equation is so complicated that people cannot hope to measure everything that goes into it.

Weather is considered to be chaotic. There are so many variables that it's impossible to predict exactly what will happen. Yet this doesn't change the fact that weather follows patterns and is certainly affected by circumstances.

It's not random (you know in August at the equator you won't have snow), but the difference between a hurricane hitting the coast or missing it may be something tiny (like the heat rising off a concrete parking lot making an updraft that slightly shifts the course of a breeze that warms a current of air that rises up and leaves room for colder air below it...). Systems including chaos cannot be predicted because they are too complicated to measure every bit that goes into them.

What does this mean as writers, in terms of which to use? 

It means that random should be used when nothing influences how something turns out. Obviously what you put in will determine what comes out (you won't roll a 14 on a 6-sided die), but which of the possible outcomes occurs is not definitively controlled. Examples of random things: rolling a die, drawing names from a hat, winning the lottery, possibly meeting a soul mate (depending on world), which genes you'll get from each parent

It means that chaotic should be used when the results are too complex to be predicted. Examples of chaotic events: horse racing, weather systems, the results of a medicine on a new patient, the effects of a childhood trauma on an adult

Taking into account standard usage, you can get away with using random in most scenarios. It's almost impossible to create a truly random system (I could make arguments about rolling dice being chaotic, and I'm sure someone is already debating the randomness of genetics), but as far as most people are concerned, "close enough" means "I can't predict how this will turn out, so it counts."

However, if you're dealing with a mathematical or scientific issue, your character is more likely to use chaotic if they're a scientist. They probably won't notice (or won't mention) if someone else uses random instead, unless it's a particularly clear-cut case and they're feeling picky.

What does this mean as writers, in terms of plot?

Personally, I want major points of randomness to be foreshadowed beforehand, so they don't seem to be coming out of left field. Minor points can make good plot twists, or be part of the world - but beware of misusing them. "And then she rolled a 7 and won the hero's freedom" will probably leave the reader feeling cheated.

Chaotic elements are when things escalate out of a character's control. Now those are fun. Even better if the character sees it getting out of hand and tries to do something to stop it. Then it becomes a chase of trying to change the outcome by adding in favorable variables to the problem, and those don't always turn out as they should.

I recommend using random elements only to create problems, and never to solve them. As I heard Cherry Adair once put it, your reader will never believe it if random chance helps your character, but will always believe it if chance makes things harder.

Do you have any random elements in your stories? If so, what are they? If not, is there anything that appears random, but isn't?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Wednesday Writing Prompt

Need a little something to spark your creativity? Get the muse going with random dialogue that lets your imagination run wild.

This week's challenge:
Use this dialogue to write a story in less than 150 words (including these, meaning you get 125 to play with):

"You're late."
"Sorry, sir. My time machine broke down halfway back from next week, and I had to walk the rest of the way home."

Post your stories in the comments below, or throw them into your works in progress if they fit!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Creating a fantasy language: basic sentences

Lesson 2
With a little vocabulary under your belt, it’s time to begin constructing grammar. Start simple: How to construct a basic sentence.

(Creating a fantasy language: (Lesson 1, Rationale, Lesson 2, Lesson 3Lesson 4Choosing wordsCreating an Alphabet)

Chances are, as you created vocabulary, you created patterns in your words. For me, most nouns end with –an, -in, or –on. Adjectives had no endings, and verbs in infinitive form had no endings because they took endings when conjugated.

Let’s start with verbs.

Your first rule is to decide how to conjugate your verbs. When I was learning German, we looked at 6 present-tense ways to conjugate a verb:

to walk:
I walk
you walk
he/she/it walks
they walk
you all walk
(formal) you walk

In this language, I’ve decided gender is important. So I’m going to be more specific:

san (to drop):
I male: sana
I female: sani
you m: sanla
you f: sanli
he: sanda
she: sandi
it: sando
they: sandia
you all: sanlia
you formal: sanla si/sanli si

Now let’s make a sentence. I want to say, “I drop a ball.” The speaker is feminine.
Relevant vocabulary:
iko (I, female)
san (to drop)
a (ne)
cortan (ball)
My sentence is:
iko sani ne Cortan.

Note that I’m not capitalizing the sentence at this point. If you plan on using capital letters (say, capitalizing all direct objects and objects of prepositions), then that is a grammar rule to begin working on here. Therefore, I am not capitalizing the beginning of my sentence to avoid confusion.

Let’s try another sentence.
She makes him angry.
Or, literally, “she causes anger in him.”
it (she)
der (to cause)
ata (him)
el (in)
fodratan (anger)
it el Ata deri Fodratan.
she in him causes anger.

Because I once decided that prepositions go before the verb in complex verbs, I’m following that up by placing the prepositional phrase before the verb in the sentence. This means the adjective gets pushed back to the end of the sentence.
This basic structure can become a rule:
(Who) (where) (what happens) (what)

He falls into a lake.
at (he)
sanko (to fall)
elti (into)
pana (lake)
ne (a)
at elti ne Pana sankoa.
he into a lake falls

You all lie down under a table.
utia (you all)
nansanko (lie down)
uz (under)
ne (a)
hoskon (table)
utia uz ne Hoskon nansankolia.
y’all under a table lie down

What's the basic sentence structure of your language? What rules (or patterns if they're not strict) do you have so far?

Vocabulary so far:
san: to drop nansan: to put down nansanko: to lie down ko: self koma: self-aware
uzko: to be sick kopalli: to self-reprimand palli: to reprimand uz: under syl: to cast magic
sylpana: the magic source pana: lake ako: I (male) iko: I (female) utu: you (object)
ata: him iti: her oto: it (obj) at: he it: she
ut: you ot: it (subject) der: to cause ne: the kes: one
des: two tres: three fes: four res: five ses: six
pes: seven les: eight nes: nine doc: ten cortan: ball
hoskon: table elti: into el: in fodratan: anger fodrishin: hostility
fodrish: hostile del: to create

Friday, June 15, 2012

Publishing Industry News

What's been going on in the publishing industry over the past two weeks? Quick links and summaries for your perusal:

Industry News

Barnes & Noble urges the DOJ to reject the settlements of 3 big publishers over the price-fixing lawsuit, saying that the settlements are not in the public's best interest and that there is no factual basis that the settlements will actually address the issues raised by the lawsuit.

E-book retailer Kobo reveals plans for a self-publishing platform. Author royalties will be up to 70% and authors can set the prices as they please, including giving books away for free.

Hachette Group is beginning a new line for commercial fiction called Redhook.

For Cloud, iPad, and Android, Kindle now supports childrens' books, graphic novels, and comics.

In the Authors Guild vs Google lawsuit over the book-scanning project, Google asks for an extension to file its motion for summary judgement. Also, French publishers drop their lawsuit, working out a settlement with Google to allow out-of-print books by French authors to be scanned.

Publishing companies (including Amazon) will soon be able to have their URLs end in .book.

Think Amazon's the only company dealing with book scammers? Not so. Barnes & Noble's PubIt! bans Nora A. Roberts, a scammer trying to cash in on the famous Nora Roberts.

Want to weigh in on the DOJ's lawsuit against major publishers? Deadline for public commentary is June 25, so get your letters written before then. (Where to send your letter)

Industry Blogs

QueryTracker's Publishing Pulse for 5/8.

Nathan Bransford posts The Last Few Weeks in Books.

Agent Natalie Lakosil suggests that writers do not requery a revised manuscript to the same agent unless the agent originally asked for a revise and resubmit, or the story has been basically completely rewritten. Requerying the same agent with a different manuscript is a good idea, though.

Jami Gold posts her ultimate guide to pitch writing.

The Zola Social Reader is an app that brings the people back into bookselling, allowing critics and friends to make their choices known instead of relying solely on algorithms for book recommendations. Notes can be shared, and you'll be able to write in the margins and highlight and share that, too. The beta version has just been released; the official is expected no sooner than July.

Rachelle Gardner reflects on what's changed in the past 4 years. She also talks about using the setting as a character in your book - the correct setting can enhance your characters' moods, display their faults, challenge them, or show what they want to be. And she advices us on using emotion in our publishing careers. The key to getting someone to buy your book is to connect them emotionally; if an agent turns you down, it may because they're having a bad day themselves, so don't let it get you down; if you want your readers to remember your book - they'll always remember how you made them feel, even if they forget the plot.

Janet Reid gives us an example what should be in a personalized PR announcement. Let's say you just got published and want to let your friends know. If you want to come across as not spam, you need to: personalize (yes, that's include each name and write to each person, and talk about why they'd like it and mention something specific to them that wouldn't apply to each generic person), include full information (title, word count/page count, price, publisher, genre), and a full URL (including introducing the URL with "Here's my book" or some such).

Over at GalleyCat, advice on how to market to the YA audience. Keep up the social media, go on blog tours, go to independent bookstores and invite readers, get people talking about you.

Here's an excellent inspirational post from Danyelle Leafty to keep us going, via Winston Churchill's advice.

If you're writing children's books and plan to write for e-readers, be careful about including too many apps, as they may be distracting and reduce a child's ability to retain information from the story.

That's all I've found on my news round-up.What other major publishing news have you encountered over the past two weeks?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Feasting on a budget: Summer Salad and Pork Chops

I have to say, this is the perfect time of year for eating in season, because all the best fruits and vegetables are ripe for the plucking (and shredding and sauteeing and souping and...)

We hit the farmer's market for our weekly feast, and came out with a salad that surprised us on how delicious it was. Throw in some BOGO pork chops and we come away with a meal that was cheap, healthy, and delicious.

Shopping list (from the farmer's market unless otherwise noted):
siberian kale* ($2.50)
2 fresh large tomatoes ($2.50)
blackberries & raspberries ($7 total for a pint of each)
basil ($2 for a bunch)
pickled cucumbers ($1.50-homemade pickles courtesy of one of the group)
onion ($1)
1 loaf fresh bread ($4)
BOGO pork chops, 2 lbs (estimated $7.50 from Harris Teeter)
cheap white wine ($4 from Harris Teeter)
Total: $32 for 3 people (could feed 4; we had to wait a good hour after salad before we could eat the pork!)

"Pantry" ingredients (stuff in the pantry):
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
cracked black pepper
sea salt


Toss blackberries and raspberries into a big bowl. Rinse and eat.

Summer Salad:
Rinse everything before preparing. Remove stems from kale and chop or rip the leaves into a large bowl. Roughly chop the basil and add to salad. Chop tomatoes into chunks and add to bowl. Chop about 1/4 onion and add to salad. Toss in pickled cucumbers (Note from pickler: pickling juice can be kept for reuse.) Add cracked black pepper, a little sea salt, and balsamic vinegar and olive oil; serve with fresh bread. Bread can then be dipped in "dressing" for extra flavor.

Pork chops with gravy:
Heat pan to medium-high. Add about a tablespoon of olive oil. When pan is hot, salt pork chops and place in pan salt-down. Cook for 3-5 minutes. Salt other side and flip. When edges begin to come up off bottom of pan (about another 3-5 minutes; minimum safety temp 140F), take them out, place on plate, and cover with tin foil to keep warm. Pour about 1 1/2 cups white wine into pan to deglaze. Scrape sides to make sure all the tasty goodness is soaking in, chop remaining onion and add, and reduce. When liquid has reduced by at least half, add a couple pats of butter, mix, and pour over pork chops as gravy.

*There is some debate as to whether the siberian kale was actually kale or if I accidentally picked up collard greens instead. I maintain that it was siberian kale (it's not as curly as the kind we usually see in our market). Use whichever more appeals to you.

I'll admit being the one to suggest using the kale for a salad (I may have munched the leaves on the way home from the market and declared them delicious, been called odd, and then forced the others to try a bite, thus winning my case), but everyone else agreed that they made a truly terrific - and rather unique - base to the salad, combining extremely well with the basil that acted as our second type of greens. The cucumbers could also be added raw and would be delicious that way, too.

What interesting salads have you had? If you try this recipe, what do you think? 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Old Movies and modern science fiction

Watching old movies again? Do you like to go back and laugh at the science of old science fiction films?

Whether you're watching James Bond getting the radiation washed off him with brooms, or Captain Kirk chatting up a lady with 80s-style hair, the films only get better with time. But what can we learn about our own writing from dated movies?

Some things stand the test of time. Others (yes, even science) do not. What we know as a society changes more quickly than new books can be written. So, while getting the science correct is important, it's even more important to focus on getting the universals right.

We don't watch the classics for their science (except to laugh at it, but that doesn't really count, now does it?) We watch because we can connect with the characters, because we get swept away in the story. The true science of science fiction is how to make your reader fall in love with your characters.

Let's admit, sometimes it's better to just not explain the numbers. You can ask Hollywood for an example: If going into detail on how the phasers work slows the story down, just skip it. You can always add it to fan materials later. Besides, by the time there are real phasers (set to stun, please!), your phaser-science is likely to have been debunked.

Yes, there are times when the "how" becomes necessary. Don't skimp when it's needed. But like description of any kind, too much in the wrong place can grind a story to halt. So before saying your manuscript is polished, do a quick read-through. Is there any place where your characters are getting bogged down with the hows? If so, ask yourself if how something functions is essential to the storyline. Sometimes it may be. But if it's not, it's time to trim the section and slip it into the "cut scenes - bonus material for dedicated fans" box.

Focus on the plot, the characters, and the character interactions instead - that's a science that will never become outdated.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Adding Depth to Characters

It happens: you're a pantser, and you're writing, and suddenly you realize that you have a secondary character who is much more important than you'd originally expected. You know, that guy in the office who is really the story's first werezombie, only you never noticed it when you started writing. Now, halfway through the book, he's taking a central role in freeing the werezombies from the tyrannical rule of the evil voodoo mistress before she uses them to conquer the world.

Now you need to go back to the character's initial introduction, back when you thought he was just a guy at the office, and add depth. He's got a grand total of three appearances before your protagonist gets rescued by the werezombie freedom movement halfway through the book:

I walked past my coworker on the way to my desk. If he hadn't been there, I'd have thought the place deserted....
My coworker was filling his mug in the break room when I went in. Same guy as this morning. Funnily enough, also the only other person I'd seen all day...
I dropped a stack of files off on my coworker's desk and headed off to lunch, idly wondering if anyone else besides the two of us was going to show up today....

I don't recommend sticking in a 6-paragraph "Story of his life and how he came to be a zombie."

Seeding in references that there may be more information later can do the same job as elaborating early, and drive reader curiosity. Giving the character action scenes and adding a  little pointed description lets the reader know the character will be important, even if he or she receives only brief scenes to begin with. There may or may not be a need to add any more scenes, but packing subtle information into the character's existing scenes should be sufficient in most cases.

Let's go with this character introduction:

I walked past my coworker on the way to my desk. If he hadn't been there, I'd have thought the place deserted.

Plain, simple. But suddenly, you want to draw attention to him. Let's try giving him a name and an identifying habit.

I passed my coworker Charlie on the way to my desk, returning his usual wave of greeting. If he'd been missing, I would have known the place was truly deserted.

Immediate additions: name, habit, implied habit. He always waves hello, and he's probably almost always at his desk by the term missing. He has a name (I usually consider it good advice not to clutter the story with too many named side characters), so he's got to be worth noting. Some people might add a description here, but I'd save it for his second scene. Another way to add interest to a character is to have them do something:

My coworker was filling his mug in the break room when I went in. Same guy as this morning. Funnily enough, also the only other person I'd seen all day.

Let's give the guy a real action, and put a little description and that name in scene two:

Charlie was filling his mug in the break room when I went in. He looked up long enough to spare me a grin of his too-white teeth, and the distraction was enough to let splash coffee onto his crisp white shirt. Dark hair swung over his eyes as he glared in irritation at the dark spot.
     "Tough luck," I sympathized, taking his place at the coffee spigot. "Not really noticeable, though."
      A casual shrug and one last wave, and he was gone, and
I was alone in the break room.
      Funnily enough, he was the only person I'd seen all day.

Now the focus is on Charlie in this scene, as opposed to the fact that he's the only other person around. We have curiosity: He's clearly a character, he doesn't seem to speak, and he isn't missing when everyone else is.

Okay, now let's develop Charlie. What does our character know about him?

I dropped a stack of files off on my coworker's desk and headed off to lunch, idly wondering if anyone else besides the two of us was going to show up today.

We can add hints of his "life":

    I dropped a stack of files into the empty inbox on Charlie's desk, struck once again by the lack of personality. Not a photo, not a framed picture, no sports regalia - just a lunar calendar tacked on the wall and the half-dead peace lily the secretary had given him last year on the day the corporate calendar claimed was his birthday. One of these days he would stick around long enough for me to drag him to lunch, and I'd pry a little life out of him.
    But not today, apparently. I grabbed my bag and went to lunch, idly wondering if anyone besides the two of us was going to show up.

Now we know that Charlie apparently has no life outside work. The empty inbox reinforces the lack of other people and also implies that he's a diligent worker. Maybe there's something important to this lunar calendar (probably, since we mentioned it), but he is completely missing family and personality. He has a birthday according to the corporate calendar, which the narrator doubts enough to note, and has kept a plant more or less alive for most of a year. And he always leaves before lunch. Foreshadowing!

Now when he rescues the protagonist, her first words to him won't be:

"Charlie?" It was my coworker, that one guy who had been at work yesterday morning. I almost didn't recognize him past the half-decayed eyeballs, but it was definitely him.

Instead, it'll be:

"Charlie?" It was him - although I almost didn't recognize him past the half-decayed eyeballs. But there was the coffee stain on his shirt, and he lifted a hand to me in his trademark wave.

Subtle changes, but they make a big difference.

What characters took you by surprise by becoming more important than they were originally planned to be? How did you add depth to them in their introductions?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Best license plate ever

Best license plate ever:

Thank goodness my carpool partner was driving - this was a picture I couldn't miss!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Why write a fantasy language?

(Creating a fantasy language: (Lesson 1, Rationale, Lesson 2Lesson 3Lesson 4Choosing wordsCreating an Alphabet)

A few weeks back, I did a post on how to begin writing a fantasy language. I'll post lesson #2 eventually. But first, why fantasy languages matter:

You might never include the language in your book. Your characters might never speak it; you might never mention it; your "dictionary" might languish on a shelf in the back of your old bedroom three apartments ago, forgotten.

But words matter. They change how we think. If you have a world different from this one, fundamentally different, your characters will commonly use words that are uncommon in basic English. And you, as an author, will be able to determine some of their values by how you prioritize creating these words, and the grammar that goes with them.

Let's take a look at the vocabulary for magic: Are there different types of magic? Is it classified? Is it separated by gender?

Let's make the word syl: to cast (magic). In this world, all magic comes from the same source, the sylpana. (pana=lake). There is only one type of magic, so everyone who uses it, can do the same things with it.

A woman casting magic might say: iko syli. (I cast.)

A man casting magic might say: ako syli. (I cast.)

What did we just establish? That men and women do not hold the same place in this society, or historically did not hold equivalent roles when the language was first being constructed (I is a fundamental concept!). They differentiate their genders, meaning that "male self" is different from "female self."

This may or may not mean that they were unequal, or that there was oppression at any point. They may have been a tribal society that differentiated the tasks of men and women, but gave equal leadership and value to both genders.

But your characters, male and female, are aware of their role in society as male and female. There will be gender expectations and differentiation, or there will memories of such differentiation. Your protagonist's mother is a smith. She may refer to this ("What do you think this is, the 1100s? I can open a smithy if I want to!") She would therefore be going against a minor social norm - meaning she was a strong influence on your character, and would have been a strong character of her own right, even if she doesn't play a big role in the story.

What's another thing we just learned? Men and women conjugate the verb to cast the same. That means that there is no gender differentiation between verbs (or at least between magic-related verbs). This could mean that historically, both men and women have been mages, and performed the same tasks as mages without gender-specific tasks. Mages never dealt with gender bias.

Maybe, in this world, 1000 years ago there was a strict gender-separation of most tasks. In fairly recent history, an equality movement has eliminated many of the barriers.

Why this matter?

You will have had to create a backstory for not just your characters, but their very world. This will give you a deeper understanding of who they are, and how they react to the environment around them. It may also give rise culture-specific terms, to the sort of insults that are used, and to the kinds of people they will encounter along the way.

Writing prompt of the day: You are writing a female mage in the world we've just described. Tell me one way this background affects her characterization, her story, her actions, or one of her scenes.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Industry News

What's been happening in publishing for the past two weeks? News and industry blogs to catch up on what happened over Memorial Day weekend (and the weekdays before and after!)


Penguin challenges the DOJ's claim that they conspired with four other major publishers and Apple to set prices, pointing out flaws in the DOJ's arguments and the weakness of evidence against them. Macmillan and Apple also intend to go to fight the lawsuit in court.

In the Google BookScanning case, authors have been granted class certification. This allows them to sue Google as a group as opposed to individually. The Authors Guild has been officially granted status as an associational plaintiff, and the case could officially go to trial as soon as September [theoretically].

Amazon sent out a reminder this week to remind authors that Amazon does not allow content freely available on the web to be sold through them, unless the seller holds the actual copyright. (I would say this is probably a response to spam books, or "books" constructed through free content and then resold for a profit, that have arisen on Amazon's self-publishing sites, and that Amazon is continuously working to remove.)
E-book distributor OverDrive will be releasing a browser-based, no-download platform that will allow readers to read their ebooks on regular browsers. This will be accessible through e-ink readers, smartphones, tablets, and other platforms.

Publishers team up with Facebook to market books by providing book catalogues through Facebook, as well as allowing them to track Likes and other analytical information, and offering them tools for quick and easy advertising and app-building. The platform ( does not allow readers to purchase directly through FB, but does allow them to see what's available.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt files for bankruptcy.

Amazon and the IPG have come to terms, although the terms have not been released to the public. The IPG promises its clients that it will not collect any distribution fees on Kindle sales between June 1 and August 31 as recompense to lost sales due to the disagreement.

If you're using Amazon's CreateSpace and want a physical check for your royalty payment instead of direct deposit, you'll need to earn at least $100 (up from $28). Direct deposits are available for amounts of $10 or more.

Momentum, the Australian e-book only imprint, will be going DRM free by early August. Sister company Tor is also going DRM free this year.

Industry Blogs

QueryTracker's Publishing Pulse for 5/25 and 6/1.

On Writer Unboxed, Chuck Sambochino talks about figuring out which writers' conferences are right for you.

Rachelle Gardner goes over what goes into a publishing contract. Things such as advances (how much, when they're paid, if there's a bonus for hitting sales goals), licensing rights (who/what/how long/where), royalty rates, competition clauses, reversion of rights, free book copies, and cover design are all under the "frequently negotiated" list. On the other hand, policies on editing and revising, due dates, and provisions on remaindering are rarely changed.

She also talks about what the editing process looks like for authors with a publishing-house. You start with macro edits (big things!) and move down the line to small things. And she covers advances: how much, how often they're paid out, if they're negotiable (depends, usually split between 2-4 checks for one book, usually yes). Also, do agents accept self-published authors? It depends on why the author self-published. Agents don't want authors who went to self-publishing because they got tired and bitter of the process, but they'll look at authors who went there for business reasons.

QueryTracker talks about making the most of your writers' workshops. First of all, make sure the courses are specific to your needs and meet whatever goals you have at the particular time. Look into the instructor's credentials, and remember that cost does not always equate with quality. Also make sure you have or can make time for the course before taking it.

And think like an author, says QueryTracker's Danyelle Leafty. Write with intent, be proud of your work, be disciplined to continue writing even when it's hard, and be willing to learn and make mistakes.

Nathan Bransford reminds us that the dichotomy between self-publishing and traditional publishing isn't an "us-vs-them" situation: many authors do both.

Pixar's story artist Emma Coats shares her list of secrets to writing a great story.

What publishing news have you encountered in the past couple of weeks?