Fellow Author Shoutout-Craig Martelle

Fellow Author Shoutout-Craig Martelle

Just chatted with my fellow author buddy Craig Martelle today. He started publishing books around the same time I did last year. We started chatting as fellow burgeoning authors and I could tell he was a pretty cool guy.

What I didn’t know, is that he was a writing machine.

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I published two books last year. Pretty good for my standards and writing speeds.

Craig published 20 since then. TWENTY!? I am in awe. Seriously, that is incredible. Want to make a name for yourself self publishing? This is how you do it kids. You write. and write. and write. and write. and write more.

I won’t lie. I’m jealous of that production! Congrats Craig that’s awesome. I’m my dreams I’m that prolific 😀

-Evan Pickering

 

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6 Things About Writing Dialogue You Need To Know

6 Things About Writing Dialogue You Need To Know

There is nothing, NOTHING more story-killing than bad dialogue.

Nothing.

It can be a book, a movie, a show, anything. Specifically here we’re talking about books or short stories. But the second someone says something completely contrived or unrealistic or just wildly out of character. . . you hear that sound? That’s the sound of the fictive dream being shattered.

Dialogue is so very important. It is a exceedingly tough line to walk to have your characters feel genuine, engaging, and true to themselves all while keeping the rhythm of the story. It only takes a little incongruency to make your readers go “Huh?”

Your characters have voices. They speak to each other, to the reader, to you. They hide things, they lie, they mask emotions, they show emotions, they speak their minds, they put themselves on the line. And ultimately, the dialogue is what makes your readers love your story. After all, it’s how your beloved characters interact and show themselves in the world you’ve created.

Every writer has a different relationship with dialogue. Some tend to love it, some tend to hate it. Sooner or later we all feel both ways. I tend to love it, but I also tend to rewrite the living hell out of it. Dialogue I thought was awesome one week I think needs serious change a week later.

So here are my tips on dialogue:

1. Focus on character realism without getting too hung up on it.

It is of critical importance that your characters stay true to themselves when they speak. But that doesn’t mean they always have to have the same opinion, feelings or actions. After all, people change their minds all the time. If your story is doing its job, your characters should be changing a lot through the conflict, so it’s natural that what they say will change. But make sure whatever is happening, whatever your characters are saying, that it’s true to their personality, that it makes sense to their internal beliefs.

2. Don’t get cute.

You know what I mean. Good dialogue should feel real. In real conversations, people change the subject, misunderstand each other, don’t respond, answer simply or talk nervously. Don’t write some binary rolling complex thought train all the time. Yes, dialogue should be action-reaction… but keep in mind that characters have motives, people want to steer conversations certain ways for different reasons. The trick is, simultaneously you have to keep the dialogue in a pace and form that drives the story. Don’t let your characters take over the narrative drive all the time.

3. Keep it simple. Shorter is often more powerful.

“I can’t have you second guessin’ yourself,” Bill said.
Owen worked his jaw, staring out the window as the rain collected and fell in wild paths down the glass.
“There’s no room for it. We won’t survive.”
“I heard you.” Owen turned, moving away from the conversation.

Okay, that’s just a random sample I made up. But you get the point. People often speak very simply, and from a writing/reading perspective, the more short and punchy something is, the harder it hits the reader. Granted, you want to vary sentence length and conversation based on the mood of the scene and of the characters. But the more you can trim the better. Just think of Pulp Fiction. One of the best and most memorable lines in that movie, a movie featuring plenty of outstanding dialogue is: “Zed’s dead baby.”

4. Get Some Distance.

Any writer worth his salt is going to spend a heck of a lot of time editing. As I’ve said in previous posts, editing is really the true bread and butter of writing. But when it comes to dialogue (and your story,) you’ll get so close to the words that you can become numb to them.

It’ll feel hard to tell whether you’re actually making positive revisions or just changes for the sake of changing. For that reason, It’s very very valuable to set your manuscript aside for awhile. Weeks, months, whatever it takes. Don’t look at it. Don’t even open it up. Read some other books you love, read some editing and writing nonfiction if you want. Come back to it once some distance has grown so you can be more objective and look at it with an honest lens. Otherwise, you’ll drive yourself crazy.

5. Use your voice.

When you re-read it, read the dialogue aloud to yourself. In character. It might feel weird, but do it. Try to act out each character as you speak their words. Hearing it all out loud does wonders for figuring out what makes sense and what doesn’t, what has normal speaking rhythm and what doesn’t. You want your words to read smoothly like spoken word.

6. Ultimately, put yourself / your stamp on your dialogue.

There’s all kinds of rules and guidelines out there for writing. Much like the ones I’ve put up above. But the bottom line is that millions and millions of stories have been written and told over and over. So at the end of the day, only one thing will seperate your story from anyone elses. Your voice. You as the writer, your feelings, your experiences, your own flavor to your dialogue. At the end of the day you’ll live or die by the unique elements of you as a writer that you bring to your story. So don’t steamroll what makes you you as a writer. Let it fly (within the context of your characters, ofc.)

Book Cover 11Here’s some shameless plugging for my novel above, hopefully it will be done by sometime next month! I promise I’ll let you all know when it goes live. Enjoy your writing and keep it rollin’, peeps.

-Evan Pickering

Book Cover Art: Don’t Get Too Excited Now

Book Cover Art: Don’t Get Too Excited Now

While I’ve been waiting for my editor to get back with my latest draft, I’ve been slaying myself over cover art.

Trying (unsuccessfully) to get an illustrator, looking for digital professionals, digging around any and all online resources on the matter. . .

It was driving me god damned crazy.

Some artist charge insane amounts for cover illustration. Other cover art deals want to hook you on marketing deals with the cover art. And all the while you just hope you can get a cover that really feels like it speaks to your story.

Not easy to do. Of all the things I went though, of all the research I did, this was the best advice I found.

I had found some art online I thought was perfect. Specifically, this:

6578632965eec6a4cfb9cf0a80dfc40cArtwork: Darek Zabrocki

But I couldn’t get in contact with the artist, and assuredly even if I did the price of cover illustration would probably be steep.

I couldn’t get anything similar that encapsulated my story more. . . Rough survival in the wooded countryside of post-apocalyptic eastern seaboard, USA. Emblemized by a Hooded man, rifle in hands, waiting to fire.

Really, this image is perfect for my story. But alas, there was little I could do. Trying to replicate something similar was not working.

I wanted to puke trying to get this done. Finally, in my frustration I just decided to jump on some free online cover editing software, namely Canva. After a few hours of tinkering around with photos, I started to realize I could really create a cover I could be proud of for my book. All on my own. I won’t bore you with the grind of trying to key in on toning and positioning, font type and coloration. But this is what I came up with. And considering I’ve never done this before, I’m pretty happy with it:

Hood Cover 7Ta-daa.

All things considered, I think it looks pretty dang good. What say you, unwashed masses and followers alike?

Really, tell me what you think. I’d love to hear it. After all, as of now this is going to be the face of my book when I publish it in about a month (god willing)

-Evan Pickering

The Single Most Important Thing For Publishing Your Own Book

The Single Most Important Thing For Publishing Your Own Book

We all know that a lot goes into writing your own book. For those who want and choose to do such a thing, it feels about as strenuous and painstaking as childbirth (oh god please don’t hit me ladies).

I say to anyone who I talk to about this, write a book you’ll love, and write it so you’ll love it even if no one else ever reads it. At the end of the day, that’s what will give you satisfaction. But reality is, we want people to read it. We don’t live in the world alone, and we want to share our creation with others.

So then, we want to undergo the journey of [self] publishing.

For any new author (and lets face it, even an established author) who wants to publish and have success doing it, you need one thing:

A GOOD PROFESSIONAL EDITOR.

There you have it, folks. Believe me, you have no idea what you’re doing wrong until you have someone help you. We all think we’re better writers than we actually are. We think (at first) people will love our stories as much as we do. Reality is, you have accept and learn from every single mistake and hiccup you make to become a better writer, and you have to hook, lure, entrap every reader with your words, your story, your characters (for fiction writers, anyway).

It is really, really, really hard to do all that on your own. If you can’t afford a professional editor, then at the very least, find a trusted person to honestly read and review your book to you who won’t pull any punches. But fair warning, they can never help you learn like a good professional editor can.

Trick is, finding a great professional editor. I was lucky enough to get one through my mother, who is a published author.

Thank god for her.

That is all,

Evan Pickering

That Was…Oh so Worth the Wait.

“I do not over-intellectualize the production process. I try to keep it simple: Tell the damned story.”
—Tom Clancy

You may (or may not) recall I wrote an article not long ago on letting the story come to you. As I said then, I have no editors or publishers breathing down my neck. I have the freedom of writing it at my own pace. That, in a strange way, is its own sort of valuable resource.

Well, here I am, glad to say the Chapter in question that befuddled me is complete. And in doing so, the novel I’ve worked on for nearly three years is too.

Somehow, I thought it’d be more of a relief, more exultant, this time around. It probably isn’t because I know the arduous editorial process that now proceeds me. But regardless, I am proud of one thing; I waited, I didn’t write a word for nearly two weeks rather than force it, and in time, the story I wanted popped into my head.

And that is what feels exultant. I didn’t force it, writing the chapter I had outlined, because it just didn’t feel like it did the character justice. I was willing to throw out the guidelines I had put in place for myself when I saw fit. That was worth the wait. Often fellow writers will tell you just to write no matter what; I think most of the time, that is the best option. But don’t be afraid to slow down. Don’t hate on yourself for not writing. Sometimes you have to let it come to you, the way only time can allow.

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
—George Orwell

So, the thinly veiled brag in all of this: I finished my book. It took nearly 3 years to write 253 pages. And it’s quite possible it’s total crap. Hopefully it’s great. If enough people read it you’re pretty likely to hear both sentiments from your readers. But regardless of what becomes of this novel, or your novel, take pride in doing it your way– I started the book august 23rd of 2011, and managed only about 83 pages a year, and I couldn’t care less. It’s done, the way I wanted it.

 

Okay, so…Why should I care about your characters?

Perhaps the largest pitfall for writing, for all writers, is the story in your own head. The great challenge that is translating your all encompassing world and its precious characters to the reader is often the simplest oversight.

In our own minds, we know why we love (or hate) our characters. We know the value of their story. It does not need critical acclaim. It’s precious to us in a way you can only hope someone else feels after reading.

Because of that fact, many novels fail to live up to their potential. We all are vulnerable to this. Let’s say you write a protagonist, a character that is more than just an idea to you. You build a huge, complex world, a winding story with intrigue and power… and no one cares.

Some may argue that not all stories need to be character driven. While maybe this is true, the best ones are– after all, we love stories not as some fictitious-historical account, but as a journey for an individual (or a group). 76481-004-0F2A901AHemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls is an entire story about blowing up a bridge. We aren’t captivated over hundreds of pages because we wonder if the bridge will blow up or not; we are captivated because Robert Jordan’s thoughts and desires and fears along the way grip is in an impossibly real way.

“You don’t really understand an antagonist until you understand why he’s a protagonist in his own version of the world.”
― John Rogers

This quote is a summation of how characters should be viewed. Every one of them are real, living characters in a world that isn’t real.  Don’t do them the disservice of holding them back from their true potential as people. Do you have moments when you truly sympathize with the anatagonist(s)? Do you have moments when you doubt the protagonist(s) intentions? Everyone thinks they’re changing the world when they write a novel; after all, it changes our own world with the labor of love it entails. But we must realize that you have to pull your readers in– and be honest with yourself, if you read the story as if it were someone else’s, would you actually give a damn about the characters?

The truth is, the thinnest, most barren stories can be carried like a baby on the backs of strong, loveable, characters (provided they have some sort of challenge to overcome). So don’t be oversensitive, throw away your heart, and re-read your story. Why should anyone give a damn about your characters? Is their struggle real, relatable? Can they have deep, complex emotions without being a sad sack or downright annoying? Throw curveballs, have the world change them.

In the perfect world, they’ll be that close friend that reader wishes he or she could help but is just out of reach.

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Writing Post Apocalyptic Fiction: The end seems like a good place to begin.

post-apoc

. . .Can anyone out there hear me?

No, that’s not some commentary on blogging along with the masses. It is, however, something a scared child might be pleading into his walkie-talkie as he walks alone through the desolate wreckage of Cincinnati.

Nice. Well, not nice. You know what I mean.

While I am well aware how poorly I would endure were there an actual apocalypse, it’s nonetheless entrancing to read (and write.) It demands an answer to how we would fare if thrown back in time into the proverbial jungle of pre-civilization. With, you know, the remnants of technology and whatnot.

Creativity in the Genre

Post apocalyptic fiction has incredible potential. I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface of what it can be, starting with where/when. There’s your classic contemporary end times, of which I am a fan. But let’s say civilization was destroyed with a meteoric fallout while your main character, say, a Cromwellian soldier, was on an English galleon in the Irish sea in 1621?

What if the bubonic plague mutated and forced all humanity into hiding, driving them to terror at the sight of other human contact? Argh, it was the rats the whole time! (Not a twist.)

Conflict and Change

Writing post apocalyptic fiction requires a deft touch. Overwhelm your reader with conflict and it will become exhausting to read. But the survivalist struggle is very core of writing the end of days.

The apocalypse affords so many layers of conflict. How quickly would your friendly neighbors become your enemies when food becomes scarce? Or in the broader sense, how much of who you are now is afforded to you by what you have? Your characters may have been someone completely different before the catastrophe. What have they become?

What Is It All For?

If you were thrown back into the food chain, scratching to survive, dealing with the untimely loss of loved ones, what kind of person would you be then?  Survival of the fittest is truly a human concept in that we have conceptualized it, but is it fit for humanity when civilization is gone?

Whether it be fighting for your life with a wastelander over a chunk of venison, or trying to outbid someone on a veggie juicer on Amazon, Our gain is almost always their loss. So what does that mean?