Note: This article is reprinted by permission of the author. Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 17,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com. (THE VISUALS I ADDED TO RANDY INGERMANSON’S ARTICLE FOR REPOSTING ON MY BLOG ARE FROM PIXABAY, a great resource for writers!)
Here’s why I’m reposting Randy Ingermanson’s newsletter for all my followers and for those who happen to drop by: I want my writing to be worth your time to read and my time spent creating it. I want to get my writing to more readers (thank you to any of you who help me do that) so I glean where I can and I have learned so much from Ingermanson’s E-zine. He’s the “Snowflake” guy when it comes to honing one’s writing techniques and skills.
I hope you will think you did as well. I suspect you’ll dash off to sign up for more of his great advice, and I think you should . . . but I also hope you’ll remember to come back here occasionally, too. Have a great day!
The Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine
“Fiction Writing = Organization + Craft + Marketing”
What’s in This Issue
2) Organization: Do Hard Things
3) Craft: How to Measure Motivation
5) Randy Recommends Vellum
7) Steal This E-zine!
1) Welcome to the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine!
Those of you who have joined in the past month (about 500 of you signed up since the last issue), welcome to my e-zine!
If you missed a back issue, remember that all previous issues are archived on my web site at: www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com/ezine/
The most recent issue of this e-zine went out in July. Just as I was preparing the August issue to go out, Hurricane Harvey hit the coast of Texas. I have many loyal readers in Texas and it just seemed a bad time to be sending out an e-zine. Then Irma hit Florida and Maria hit Puerto Rico. Life is not back to normal in any of these places, but I think it’s time to resume my normal schedule.
2) Organization: Do Hard Things
Everybody has projects in their life that they don’t want to tackle. Hard things.
Maybe there’s a part of your yard that’s overgrown with weeds, and it just gets worse and worse and worse every week.
Maybe your garage is overloaded with junk you don’t use, don’t want, and don’t even dare look at because it’s too depressing.
Maybe there’s a relationship in your life that’s gone south and it seems unfixable.
I call things like these “the swamp.” The swamp is any part of your life that you don’t dare touch because it just seems overwhelming. Because it’s too hard.
There are two ways to handle the swamp.
- You can ignore it forever.
- You can go through it to the other side.
Those are the only two ways I’ve ever found for dealing with the swamp. Ignoring the swamp is easy. Going through it is hard.
But doing hard things builds character. (It’s much easier to say this when you are not about to enter the swamp. But it’s also true, so it bears saying.)
Here are a few other things that are also true:
- The swamp doesn’t go away by itself.
- In fact, the longer you ignore the swamp, the worse it gets.
- The only way to go through the swamp is to go through the swamp. You can’t go around.
- The first time you go into the swamp is the scariest.
- The swamp is never quite as terrible as it seems.
- There is no feeling as wonderful as coming out on the other side of the swamp.
This is a short column because there’s really not much to say about the swamp. You can either hide from it or you can go through it to freedom. You get to choose.
Do hard things. The characters you write fiction about are in the business of doing hard things. The more hard things you do, the better you’ll be able to tell their story.
- What is the swamp in your life, right now?
- If you decided to go through the swamp, how long would it take?
- How would you feel when you came out the other side?
3) Craft: How to Measure Motivation
Practically everything in fiction eventually comes down to your characters’ motivations. The lead character in your story wants something, One Thing.
It’s tempting to say that the strength of your story is directly proportional to how much your lead character wants that One Thing.
But that’s false. It’s so far from being true, it’s not even wrong.
Let me explain how you measure motivation. I’ll do that by telling you a little story…
Back in August, most of America took a day off to watch the total eclipse of the sun. By good luck, the path of totality came very close to where I live. We were scheduled to see 99% coverage at my house. Which is not bad, but I wanted more.
On the day of the eclipse, my daughter and I got up early, packed our gear, and left the house at 4 AM to beat the traffic. We drove for a couple of hours until we reached a friend’s house in Salem, Oregon, dead center in the path of totality.
Then we waited for a few hours to watch the show.
When it was over, we waited several hours for the traffic to die down, then headed north. The freeway was slogging along at parking lot speeds. After an hour of that, we took an exit and zigzagged across the countryside on back roads, using our phones to navigate. It took us four hours to get home.
The trip burned an entire day, and it was quite an adventure, just to see two minutes of eclipse.
Why’d we do all that, when we could have watched the eclipse from our own back yard?
Because 99% isn’t 100%. It’s not even close. I watched the coverage go from 0% to 99% and it was qualitatively the same thing. Sure it was less and less sunlight, but sunlight is sunlight. Then I watched the last little bit of the sun wink out, and a hole appeared in the sky where before there had been blinding light. A hole is not sunlight.
The difference between 99% and 100% is huge. They are different kinds of things, not different amounts of the same thing. The reason is because 99% totality is 1% sunlight, whereas 100% totality is a hole in the sky—no light at all.
Something is qualitatively different from nothing.
When you have the chance to see a total eclipse of the sun, you should take it. The opportunity doesn’t come along very often.
But I’m not entirely sure what I’ll do when the next total eclipse comes along. I’ve seen one and it was pretty cool. But I’ve seen one and I don’t feel a strong need to see another. If it’s convenient next time, I’ll probably go watch. Otherwise, I might just give it a pass.
Now contrast my attitude with those people who get addicted to seeing total eclipses. They’ll spend thousands of dollars. They’ll take days to reach the zone of totality. They’ll camp out in insanely terrible places. They’ll charter boats or airplanes to get themselves to exactly the right spot at exactly the right time. They’ll risk the possibility of a rain-out or cloudy weather.
All for an experience that never lasts longer than seven minutes.
That is some serious motivation.
These eclipse addicts are all-in. Whereas I’m not all-in.
My level of motivation to see a second eclipse is 99%. Theirs is 100%.
Those are qualitatively different motivations. When you’re all-in, when you’re 100% motivated, you’ll do anything, no matter how crazy, to feed your need.
When you’re not all-in, when you’re only at 99% motivation, you’ll do whatever’s convenient.
Write stories about characters who are all-in on their story.
Characters like Luke Skywalker, who’ll do anything to defeat the Evil Empire.
Like Lizzie Bennet, who would never think of marrying a man unless she loved him 100%.
Like Katniss Everdeen, who’ll do whatever it takes to survive the Hunger Games.
If your lead character is all-in on your story, then your readers will be all-in too.
If your lead character isn’t all-in, then you won’t be either, and neither will your readers.
That’s how you measure motivation. All-in. Or not all-in. As Yoda once said, “Do, or do not. There is no try.”
- What is the One Thing your lead character wants?
- How bad does she want it? Does she want it 100%? Or only 99%?
- If she’s not all-in on that One Thing, then fix your story or kill it.
4) Marketing: Don’t Eat the Rat Poison
If you’ve got a book in print, should you read your reviews?
Yes, no, and maybe.
Yes, read your five-star reviews.
No, don’t read your one, two, and three-star reviews.
Maybe read your four-star reviews, if there’s a specific reason to.
Let’s talk about these cases in more detail.
Why Read Your Five-Star Reviews?
The reason to read your five-star reviews is because it puts you directly in the hearts and minds of your Target Audience.
Let’s review for a minute. Your Target Audience is the set of people you wrote your book for. They’re the ones you’re trying to delight. Your primary goal in writing your book was to delight your Target Audience.
If somebody wrote you a five-star review, it’s because your book delighted them. Odds are good that they’re in your Target Audience.
And you need to know what they’re thinking, for several reasons.
First, you want to know if you’re delighting them in the way you intended. Let’s say you thought you were writing heart-warming humorous romance novels. You read your reviews and they talk about how much your readers love the romance in your stories, and they talk about how heart-warming your novels are, but they don’t say anything about the humor. That’s a warning sign. Maybe your humor isn’t quite what you thought it was.
Second, you want to know if you’re delighting them in a way you never intended. Maybe you keep seeing the words “deep” and “thought-provoking” and “philosophical” in your reviews and you had no idea your books were deep or thought-provoking or philosophical. But then you go look at what you wrote, and by golly, it is. That suggests you have an unexpected talent. You might want to develop that a bit. Think how deep your novels could be if you tried. Think how that would delight your Target Audience even more.
Third, you want to look for any “big buts”. Say you repeatedly see your fans saying that they loved your book “but I didn’t like the ______”. Whatever’s in that blank is turning off some fans. Are you willing to keep doing that? If so, that’s your decision to make and your decision to own. Going forward, you will now be doing it consciously. That’s very different than doing it subconsciously.