Writing Tip: The Right Story is Worth the Struggle

Two things I can tell you about writing fiction:

  1. It’s hard work
  2. It only gets harder

When I say it’s hard work, I mean it takes far more than just jotting down what your imagination dictates. The greater part of writing is rewriting. There are stories that practically write themselves, and once you get to the end and read it again, the plot is pretty much good as is. But then there are stories you agonize over every step of the way. You rewrite them a million times and when you finally get to the end you realize you need to rewrite it a hundred times more. That’s just the nature of the beast.

The thing about it is you get pickier as you grow. Your first books flow smoothly because you have no expectation of yourself, other than to get the story on paper. But after several rounds of feedback on different stories, you start to see patterns. You see where your weaknesses lie, where you need to improve. You start to doubt yourself more and more, and consider every word more carefully before you commit it to the page. You become your own worst critic and, believe it or not, that right there is what ultimately makes you a better writer. Now you know what you want out of the story. You know what feeling you want to convey, and what message you want your readers to get. You develop strong likes and dislikes in your own writing, and the struggle becomes more intense.

A third thing I can tell you about writing: The struggle is worth it.

It’s worth it if you care about the end result. The stories that end up making you the proudest are the ones you never gave up on. They say to write from the heart. YES! Absolutely. Do that all day long. But writing from the heart isn’t a walk in the park. It literally takes your all. It means you don’t just throw your hands in the air and say, “Oh, well, I guess that’s good enough!” when the going gets tough. You buckle down and work that much harder to smooth out the rough spots, fix plot holes, give your characters depth and a purpose.

As a writer and a reader, it frustrates me when I can tell the author (myself included) takes the easy way out. The curse of being able to see behind the curtain is that now I am much more critical of what I read and write. And the pressure is even more intense when it’s an entire series on the line.

Any writer will tell you the beginnings are easy. You get a fresh new idea, your muse ramps up, and you just go-go-go until your fingers cramp and you fall asleep at your desk. Around the middle part, things get a little dicey. That’s when you need to have your characters well established, and your plot on its way to the main conflict. Once you get over that hurdle, the final one is the actual ending, and that can be the most difficult of all.

Expand that to a series, and your last book now carries the weight of all the previous ones on its back. It has to tie up every loose end and neatly wrap up the story while also standing on its own as a full story with a beginning, middle, and end. No pressure!!

3.3 POD PostcardAt this moment, I am in the process of writing the last part of the last book in my Dawn of Ragnarok series, and a picnic it is not. I’m now so emotionally invested in these characters that I want to do right by them in every regard. It’s a tricky book in so many different ways and every time I think one part is finished, I wake up in the middle of the night because I realize I’d created (or found) another issue that needs to be fixed. The next day, I open my file and go back yet again to find the problem area and fix it.

Like the title character himself, this story has layers upon layers and they keep shifting and changing with every iteration until the manuscript I have is not remotely what it was five iterations ago–and I don’t even have a complete first draft yet!

But the truth is, I would rather spend three years writing one book and make it the best it can possibly be than phone in three books in one year just to keep myself up in the New Releases on Amazon. But that’s me.

In the end, it comes down to what’s more important to you: Are you in it for the story, or the royalties? Are you writing to write, or to have written? Is this your passion, or your paycheck? None of these are mutually exclusive, by the way. But I still believe the old adage is true. You get out what you put in.

And this leads me to my official writing tip of the day:

You get back what you put in–so don’t ever give up. The struggle is worth it in the end. 🙂

Until next time!


The Dawn of Ragnarok series will be coming to a close soon. If you haven’t read it yet, catch up with The Royal Wizard and Dragonblood before Prince of Deceit comes out!

 

 

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The Question of Humanity

In light of the upcoming release of Helena, I thought I would dedicate a few posts on the story for those who aren’t familiar with it, and maybe include a few new tidbits for those who know the first book, Wolfen by heart. (By the way, you have no idea how amazing it feels to say with total sincerity and no exaggeration that there are actually people out there who have not only read this book, but re-read it multiple times!)

So here’s something you never knew: A couple of years ago, I had lunch with a fascinating man who worked in the film industry. He’d read samples of some of my books and we got to talking about Wolfen. He asked me something no one had ever asked before:


Did you ever intend for humanity to survive in the end?


My answer seemed to surprise and disappoint him. I don’t think he expected me to answer the way I did. At the time, I didn’t feel there was any other way to answer but, as I have revisited the question since then, my answer has stayed the same.

Before I tell you what it is, I want to say this book broke so many rules it’s ridiculous. That was kind of the point. I wanted to burn the rule book, let the story flow however it wanted, and whatever it turned out to be, that was what it would end up being. I gave myself no limits or guidelines, except one: be different. I didn’t want to retell the same stories that have already been told so many times, so right off the bat, I knew two things:

#1 My monsters would not be the result of a disease. That was too simple, too familiar, and too easy to fix. A disease is usually curable, or treatable. You can see a disease coming and take preventative measures. Moreover, disease outbreaks eventually burn out. They may claim a thousand victims, or a million but, historically, humanity as a species is resilient and bounces back, often with new immunities and vaccines to prevent another outbreak.

What makes my monsters so scary is that they are unstoppable. They don’t discriminate, they can’t be outrun or overpowered; very little can take them down and keep them down for long, and they multiply too quickly to be controlled in any way. Think of the destructive power of invasive species with no natural predators. Think of mice in Australia, for example. They can destroy an entire ecosystem at an incredible rate and are nearly impossible to eradicate. Now imagine if this invasive species preyed on the most readily available food source: humans.

#2 My monsters would not be inherently evil. We all know good is supposed to triumph over evil. Evil has a goal (whatever it may be) and everything it does is to bring it one step closer to that goal. If you know what the goal is, you can form strategies and battle plans to stop the spread of evil. Like a disease, evil is something that can be addressed and/or prevented.

My monsters have no evil master plan or ultimate end game. In fact, they aren’t even intelligent enough to know what those things are. They are pure instinct, and everything they do is merely the result of their nature. Not agents of evil, but agents of chaos. I always thought chaos was much more frightening than evil. Because, once it gets loose, there’s no stopping it.

Given these two parameters…


Did I ever intend for humanity to survive in the end?


No. Logically, there is no way they could have overcome the monsters they’d created. The threat was, by design, far better at survival than humans. In seeking to elevate their own species by forcing evolution, humans had not only created the means of their own destruction, but also crippled their only effective weapon against it.

By the way, in case you were worried, this isn’t a spoiler… it’s still only the prologue.

When I gave my lunch partner this answer, I could see he wasn’t happy with it. He told me most screenwriters would have at least provided a hope for survival. I already knew that. Which was why I’d made the decision to go a different way. Wolfen is not a story where humanity triumphs again–in fact, it’s not really about humanity at all, hence the title.

I think of the creation of converts (the monsters in question) as similar to the meteor strike that wiped out dinosaurs. They’re a giant reset button on the history of life on planet Earth. They wipe the slate clean, and clear the path for the emergence of a new dominant species–if it can survive. That’s the true question of survival in this book:


Once the dust has settled, which species will be left standing: Wolfen or converts?


Wolfen is available as an eBook and in print at your favorite online bookstore worldwide. Grab a copy before the release of Helena to get up to speed and avoid spoilers:

Smashwords | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple Books | Kobo | Scribd | Books-a-Million | Other

Helena will be available for sale as a print edition only at two book signings later this year:

Indy Author Event
September 14, 2019  12:15-5pm
Indianapolis Marriot East
Indianapolis, IN

Tickets*: $15 (General Admission) $25 (VIP Admission) Purchase here. Get $5 off your ticket price by using promo code ALIANNE 🙂 *Tickets must be purchased ahead of time via Eventbrite. Tickets will not be sold at the door.

Sweet as a Peach Author Event
October 5, 2019 1-5pm
Forsyth Conference Center
Cumming, GA

Tickets: $10 (General Admission) $25 (VIP Admission) Purchase here.


If you’re planning to attend one of these events,
USE THIS FORM to reserve your copy of the book.


2018: Year in Review

Back in the day, I used to write out “Year in Review” blog posts every New Year’s Eve to document everything I’d accomplished that year. It wasn’t to brag, but rather to show myself I hadn’t wasted a year’s worth of time. I stopped doing it a while back, because I started using book releases as benchmarks of accomplishment. A full novel publication a year (plus the occasional novella) was a good year.

Sadly, it turns out there is a massive flaw with the book release benchmark approach: it ends up devaluing literally everything else I do throughout the year that isn’t a book release.

This year was particularly tough for me, and unfortunately I didn’t even finish that full-length novel, much less publish it. I know I haven’t been twiddling my thumbs all year long, but I still feel like I haven’t accomplished anything, or at least not as much as I should have, and it’s a crappy feeling to have. So I think it’s time to revive my annual blog tradition to keep myself accountable and knock it off with this self-pity bullshit.

This is very much a personal post, and its only purpose is to close out 2018 on a good note, despite all its problems.

Continue reading “2018: Year in Review”

Over and Over Again

This story has been sitting in my drafts for far too long. With Halloween approaching, I thought it was time to get it finished already. And since I haven’t posted a Monster story in a while, it seemed as good an occasion as any. 🙂

Once again, the credit for this plot bunny goes to Kim Iverson for sharing a quote that made me want to destroy romance for all time: “Make her fall in love with you over and over again.” No idea who to attribute it to, but thank you kindly for inspiring this tale of horror.

Continue reading “Over and Over Again”

The Boundaries We (Don’t) Set

Do you know why I love books? For a few reading hours, they allow me to be brave through the psyche of another person and not care about consequences.

Books have taught me that I have a massive character flaw: I am a coward. In a million tiny ways, most of them insignificant and shrug-worthy to others, I am a coward. I don’t always say no when I should. Resulting from a desire to solve problems and be helpful, I do that first, and think about whether I should have done it later, after it’s come back to bite me on the ass. It’s partly my own nature, and partly the nature of my day job, which dictates, “You do what is asked, you do it with a smile. You go the extra mile, do more with less, lead by example, and smile.”

As I read that back to myself, all I can think  of is the creepy guy on the street corner, always saying, “Gimme a smile, baby.” It’s the same thing, really. Except the former pays you to do it and the latter calls you a bitch if you don’t.

What would you do if you had the freedom to do or say anything? Would you tell that coworker who called 5 minutes before end of day to request 2-hours’ worth of work to take it somewhere else? Would you wear that outfit people call “inappropriate” with pride? Would you go to that club or bar people whisper about, but never admit to visiting?

What would you do if you no longer cared about what people thought of you?

I think about this a lot–about the boundaries we set, or don’t set in different ways and situations. I think most of us have pretty solid boundaries when it comes to the big stuff, and we’re more than willing to enforce those boundaries by any means necessary. Some people draw the line at having sex on a first date–some people draw it at having sex, period. Some people won’t lend money (or books). Some people refuse to step foot on a suspension bridge. Maybe you don’t want to give up your child’s recital to help a neighbor move. Maybe you refuse to go to that crazy rave party your friends are pushing you to go to. Maybe you don’t want to emigrate to a foreign country and leave your entire life behind so your spouse can take that great job offer. We draw lines in the sand, and we refuse to let them be crossed.

But what about the million and one little things we have to do every day and not even notice? You ask that the toilet seat be put down, yet every time you go to the bathroom, it’s always up. You say you don’t want to watch that horror flick late at night but, “Come on, babe, it’s only an hour and a half. It’s no big deal.” You tell your weekly lunch crowd you don’t want a certain type of food, but, “Oh, come on, just try it! What’s wrong with you? You never want to try new things.”

I am at an age where every unpleasant choice comes down to one question: Is the outcome so important to me that I am willing to risk temporarily or permanently damaging my relationship with this person? Most of the time, the answer is no, so I go along the path of least resistance. I won’t stubbornly argue a point of view that won’t make a difference in the long run. I will give in and do that thing, or go to that place, and grin and bear it for a few hours.

The problem is, after a while, people start taking advantage of that, and I get resentful, and it’s as much my fault as it is theirs, because I don’t say anything to let them know this is not okay with me. Until the proverbial straw breaks the camel’s back and causes an epic meltdown.

A big (and controversial) part of The Beast Series is that very concept of freedom from consequence. What would you do if you didn’t have to care about what people thought of you? That kind of freedom comes from one of two places: money and privilege, or apathy and the recklessness of having nothing to lose. My (anti)hero, Prince Bastien, lives in the former. He is untouchable, and he knows it. He does the things he does because there is no one to make him stop. There is no one to tell him, “No, this is wrong.” He is surrounded by people whose purpose in life is to do his bidding, and friends who revel in the immunity he bestows upon them through association. He doesn’t care, so why should they?

Bastien is what happens to a person when they stop giving a shit–about anything or anyone. And his friends are what happens when people gravitate toward that kind of assholery because it excuses their own bad behavior. People don’t like “bad” people, I don’t think. What they like is being able to be a little bit bad themselves, because whatever they say or do, they can always console themselves by remembering they’re still not as bad as the other guy. It’s the allowance of freedom from conventional rules of etiquette we crave; the “permission” to be mean under the guise of standing up for ourselves; to indulge those aspects of ourselves polite society deems unacceptable. Or maybe just to forcefully rebuild the boundaries we have allowed others to breach far too many times.

Boundaries are a funny thing. The word itself feels so firm and absolute. “Pushing the boundaries” is a phrase always associated with something nearly impossible–great feats of effort to overcome that ethereal border between what is possible and what is not. In contrast, our personal boundaries are sometimes so flimsy they feel more like a wish. They move and evolve constantly over the span of a lifetime, or even the span of a day. What felt like such an important principle yesterday becomes irrelevant today. The things we could demand last week are no longer an option come Monday morning.

We ourselves treat boundaries as if they were suggestions. We sacrifice the integrity of our own for the sake of other people and undermine other people’s for the sake of ourselves. If we put our foot down, someone is always on hand to accuse us of being selfish, having an attitude, not being a team player. So we pick it back up again, and play along–and smile. And then we take back our due from someone else, do to them what’d been done to us because, damn it, we deserve recompense! And so it goes…

I started this post this morning with the intention of making a new resolution: to be braver, stand up for myself more often, and set proper boundaries. It’s been hours since then, and in the time between me setting aside an unfinished post and coming back to complete it, I actually got the opportunity to do all of that. And I’m happy to report that I did. Maybe not as forcefully as I would have liked, but I took a step. I made progress, and I didn’t let myself get stomped into the ground by a temperamental hothead in a bad mood.

Today, I feel brave(r).

Tomorrow is Friday, so I’ll just focus on the positives. LOL

Until next time!

The Beast Series is available at your favorite online store as an eBook and paperback:

Smashwords
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
iBooks
Kobo
Books-a-Million