Writing Advice

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Name Writing Advice
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Date Aug. 1, 2017
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#1 Copy

Questioner

How do you actually make it to the end of a novel?

Will Wight

I ascend from Death to answer this one question, and this one alone, before returning to the grave.This is part of the process. I had many 20k stories before House of Blades, because that’s about the point where the inner critic kicks in and you realize what you’ve written isn’t as good as it was in your head. Now you’ve realized that the REALLY good story is a different idea entirely, or you’ve figured out that you can take the current story in a much better direction as long as you start over from the beginning.This feeling is not to be trusted. Those are lies whispered into your ears by Book Satan. If you switched ideas or started over, you would once again get about 20k in before facing the same situation.You cannot evaluate a story until it is finished. Give yourself permission to write a story that you feel is the worst thing ever. Finish it anyway. Push forward. This is where the hard work of writing comes in.Only when it’s finished can you actually start to judge whether it really is terrible or if it’s actually pretty good. You’re going to feel like it’s terrible throughout the whole middle of the process, and that’s natural. Just don’t let it stop you from putting words on paper.

#2 Copy

Will Wight

First of all, I suspect new writers don't need my ideas. You have to have SOME notion of what you think would be fun to write, otherwise you wouldn't want to write at all.In that case, I suggest you think long and hard about the elements you think sound fun to write. Make a list. There are no wrong answers here, just what sounds fun. Then pick one that resonates with you. What is it about that idea that sounds cool? What can you picture? What makes that idea attractive to you?

Let's say you wrote down "pirates" and you thought that sounded fun to write about (I picked pirates because it's one of the easiest ideas to latch onto, and also I wrote two books with that as the seed concept).Now, you ask yourself: what attracts you to this idea?

Write down all your initial impressions. Maybe you like the fast-paced swashbuckling swordsmanship from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, or you want battles on a spray-slick deck, or the vast silhouettes of sea monsters passing under your ship, or the mystery of a buried treasure on an uncharted island, or the adventure of sailing off into an infinite and mystical world.

Maybe it's the mundane, un-romantic side of pirates that interests you. The gritty details that make it seem real, tangible, possible. Pirates would stink like a week-dead dog, they would stab a man to death over a spilled drink or an angry word, they would have rotted and twisted teeth and they couldn't say two words without cursing.

Doesn't matter, but something in that broad idea should fire your imagination. When it does, that's the seed of your story.If nothing fires your imagination, then...what are you writing about? What passion is driving you to write? Why write at all? When the story isn't going the way you want, and you HAVE to get this scene does but it's flowing like a sack of gravel pulling uphill and all you want to do is burn everything you've ever written and start over, why keep going? What makes you WANT to do this?

I also don't think you're bad at coming up with ideas. I don't think anyone is, I just think it's a skill some people don't practice.You can literally take any noun and come up with a story idea. I used the random noun generator from <desiquintans.com> just now and came up with these:"Cake." A down-and-out cake shop owner turns to her skills as a retired jewel thief to compete with her new rival."Dressing." A man tries to cook Thanksgiving dinner for the first time, but finds that he has no idea what "dressing" is and only ten minutes before guests arrive. What will he cook?"Tutu." A police detective finds a break in a long-cold case of a missing ballerina when he finds her bloodstained tutu in the back of his own closet."Wish." ...too easy, pass.That's an example of the first story I thought of for each noun.

Now I apply what I already know about my tastes, and I go for a story I'd actually write:"Cake." A young baker's apprentice finds that she can bring her confections to life as a sweet-but-deadly golem army."Dressing." An architect finds that the ornamentation around an ancient castle's windows hides an eldritch secret."Tutu." A blessed tutu grants increased grace and agility to its wearer, so a young man uses it to fight crime."Wish." For real though, too easy.You can do this too. It's easier for some people than others, but anyone can do it. I believe in you.I think that's the most useful writing exercise you can practice at this point. Come up with ten story prompts that sound interesting to you.

You could just write one of the examples above, I wouldn't mind, but I think you should stretch yourself to come up with an idea based on your own vision. If you really are "bad at coming up with ideas," and I'm not convinced that you are, the way to get better is practice!

#3 Copy

Will Wight

I'm glad you enjoy them! They're fun for me too, they just take a long time due to sheer volume.

I find it easier to be imaginative within constraints. So when someone asks me "What's the Cradle equivalent of a piano?" I tell myself that I have to give them a satisfying answer. I can't just say "There is none," or "It's a piano," unless there's a story reason to do so. I have to actually invent a Cradle piano.

Which is fun. It makes me consider avenues of the worlds that I hadn't considered.As for your trying to be imaginative, it's not like my systems are the most original magic systems ever designed. I just give myself permission to have fun with it.

I start with what general kind of magic I want the people to use. For Traveler's Gate, I started with the idea of an extradimensional mansion where you went for martial training. I knew I wanted the House to exist, so then I built a world where extradimensional training grounds were commonplace.

For Elder Empire, I started by knowing that I wanted a world where significant objects held automatic power through their significance. Excalibur wielded by King Arthur would have automatic power BECAUSE it was Excalibur and BECAUSE it was King Arthur's sword. Then I worked out from there.You can do that too. And there's nothing wrong with using principles from known magic systems; madra is basically just elemental mana.

My main weakness is that I throw in everything but the kitchen sink. Every idea I can think of goes in. There are more Territories than necessary, for instance. Too many Guilds. Reading, Awakening, Soulbound, etc. are more complicated than they need to be, and could probably be separated into two systems. Vital aura is essentially elemental energy, but by trying to integrate it into the madra system I accidentally made it muddy and unclear.

No approach is perfect, but I like mine because it's fun. My magic systems might be too unintuitive or complicated, but they're colorful and fun. That's my priority over a logical, fully hammered-out, and ultimately simpler system.Of course, the Holy Grail is a simple, intuitive system that nonetheless fires your imagination and can be used to create as many fun and colorful situations as you want. And toward that distant goal, we all strive.

#4 Copy

Will Wight

Re: ghostwriting. I have no negative opinion of ghostwriters, if that helps anything. I have, in fact, a very positive opinion on ghostwriters, because they are professional writers who are extremely skilled and professional. I greatly admire people who can bring that level of professionalism to someone else's story.

For example, Brandon Sanderson isn't using a ghostwriter, he's just very prolific. I make jokes about him being a team of robots, but he just has a great system for producing books and works very hard. As for my opinion on assistants, I think it's necessary to have some help if you want to produce good books consistently. It's kind of funny, because although writing a novel is basically the most solitary thing you can do, no one produces a consistent, successful product alone.I have people I bounce ideas off of, people who beta read for me, people who help me manage my finances and my schedule, people who copy edit and content edit, and honestly because I write the books so quickly (and take them through so few drafts) I don't get enough help on each book. Assistants are necessary.

#5 Copy

dyring

Have at any time a followup book sold more then the first(total, I expect they sell more right away)? Aka, I assume noone would buy soulsmith without having read Unsouled, so there should be more sales of unsouled, but is that always true? Is there a falling stair of sails with Unsouled at the top?

Will Wight

There's always a falling stair of sales, so to speak. The first one always sells more total, but subsequent books always sell faster.
#6 Copy

Will Wight

I'm regularly tempted to go back and clean up old books, but that's not something I can make common practice. I could always go back and make an old book better. Always. There will never be a time where I couldn't improve one of my old works, because I'm always learning and growing.

So at a certain point, I have to let the stories go. I could work on each compilation and change them so that they flow better and work better as three-part stories, but where does that end? Do I change the individual books to match those changes? If not, then the people who buy the books individually and the people who buy the collections are getting different stories. If so, then I've told a story in three-book arcs rather than in one-book arcs, which is a very different approach to storytelling.

It just becomes complicated. And I think it has to be rare to go back and make significant rewrites to a story, because it's too easy to justify. I'd rather improve by writing new stories and getting better as a writer over time than by constantly fixing stories I've already written.

#7 Copy

Tievel1

Will, what would you change if you had to do Cradle over?

Will Wight

There's a lot (as with all the books I've ever written), but I can hit the highlights off the top of my head. I would keep the series only in Lindon's POV, perhaps in first-person, or maybe in third and then just do one POV from Lindon, one from the bad guy, and maybe a brief interlude from Suriel.

EDIT FOR CLARITY: This means no Yerin or Eithan chapters, for instance.(edited)I would change vital aura, maybe getting rid of it entirely, but at least defining it more clearly. Not because it doesn't work now, but for the sake of removing ambiguity and increasing clarity.Basically I would streamline the whole thing so it's more immediately clear.Also, I would give Lindon more of a personal connection to the world and everything he's doing.So lots of general changes. There are specific things I would tweak, but mostly in the service of this general style change so that everything feels more immediate. I feel like it would increase the impact of the stories.

I would change vital aura, maybe getting rid of it entirely, but at least defining it more clearly. Not because it doesn't work now, but for the sake of removing ambiguity and increasing clarity.

Basically I would streamline the whole thing so it's more immediately clear.

Also, I would give Lindon more of a personal connection to the world and everything he's doing.

So lot of general changes. There are specific things I would tweak, but mostly in the service of this general style change so that everything feels more immediate. I feel like it would increase the impact of the stories.

#8 Copy

Mestama

Will, what is your opinion on writing assistants?

Will Wight

I guess I should have addressed my above answer to you as well.

I might have misunderstood the question, but it sounds like you may have an idea of a "writing assistant" as something like a manga artist's team of assistants, where they help him draw side characters and backgrounds and stuff and the whole thing goes down under one name on the cover. That doesn't happen so much in writing. Usually you have ghostwriters or a group under a pseudonym (Animorphs was written by a team of ghostwriters under the same name so that they could produce a book every month), but that's pretty much always something you can find out with a little research.

Normally, the person who gives you a lot of suggestion and help on your writing is called your editor. I don't know if I've ever heard of someone who leaves writing certain scenes (or certain POVs or whatever) to assistants and then claims all the credit. Theoretically I'm sure someone must have done that somewhere, but I'm not aware of it as a common practice.(edited)If anything, writing as a team is harder than writing alone.

#9 Copy

Aru

Ooh, a questions for Will page. I'll ask a question. This is more relevant to writing than any of your books though: Where do you go to find good beta readers? I hate pushing qualifications and saying "You must be this good to read my writing!" , but I've learned you can't just take advice from anyone, otherwise your story will turn into something you didn't want it to be. Maybe it's my fault and I'm just not good enough at sorting the good advice from the bad, but if you've got a link to a magic El Dorado for people who can give good criticism, I'd appreciate it.

Will Wight

The best thing I got out of my Master's program was a lot of experience both giving and receiving feedback. I learned a lot about how to take feedback, which feedback to take, and how to sort through people's responses to the work.     The key to understanding people's feedback (in my experience) is that Neil Gaiman quote: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” In terms of picking beta readers, you want people who will tell you the truth about their experience as a reader. Then you can decide how to apply that to the book. If they're people who read and they'll share their experience with you honestly, it's good feedback.
#10 Copy

Aru

Alright thanks Will. I suppose it's time for me to try and get back in touch with some people I knew in the fantasy creative writing club back at University. I don't think I'm going to get a MFA though. I don't know about your experiences but back when I was in college people kinda looked down on SF & F relative to real literature, which turned me off on my schools whole creative writing program. I'm not sure if it was different for you at school but I realized SF & F just wasn't something they get to explore in that program. It's a shame but even though Fantasy has been growing by leaps and bounds there's still plenty of people in academia who can't conceive of it qualifying as literature.     Which is bogus in my mind. Since when were their rules on what's literature and what's not? I believe in his writing course Brandon Sanderson talked about how SF & F is the only genre that's unbounded and unrestricted in scope, which I wholeheartedly agree with.

Will Wight

Yes. Exactly the same. They're all about the literary fiction train, which is complete crap and I disagree with their fundamental philosophy on literature almost totally. My master's was good for honing my basic skills in an environment where they made me write a lot, critique other people's work, and evaluate critiques of my own work. Those are all vital skills. I also got a very good grasp on what my strengths and weaknesses are as a writer.     You can learn all those lessons for free. However, I wouldn't have. I wasn't disciplined enough for it. So the master's was worth it for me.  
#11 Copy

Mierin

the author kept trying to like pull game stats out of his ass like it was wow where you knew everything going into it instead of giving the reader a system to work with

Will Wight

Yeah, that's why I'm not a fan of LitRPG as a genre     I feel like I should be, and part of me wants to support the LitRPG community, but it's just not my cup of tea     I want it to be, though. It makes me want to write some LitRPG, to see if I could create a LitRPG I really liked

#12 Copy

Aru

They can exploit the gamer demographic, which is huge relative to the fantasy novel reader demographic, and they pad page count with long tables     Which boosts Kindle Unlimited money because of page turns.

Will Wight

I'm not a LitRPG fan or author, but this is a misapprehension that for some reason keeps spreading. Stat pages and tables almost never significantly increase page count or increase the amount of Kindle Unlimited revenue. The increase is laughably small. No one I've ever seen is including those stat pages to boost word count or page count, but everyone thinks they are. It baffles me. They're including those stat pages because it's expected in the genre and it makes the world feel more like a game. If there were a way to include a hyperlink so that you could check the character's stat page at any given point in the book and see his stats, that would become the norm. Unfortunately, including stat pages is just awkward in a written book, so they don't have great options.

#13 Copy

Polycore

And I feel like I agree with you Will, there shouldn't be too much emphasis on the levels, it's not the interesting part of the story, only some context and eventually motivation for the characters

Will Wight

I wholeheartedly agree, but evidently there are a lot of people out there who really do love the stats and the levels and the stat pages and all that stuff. It bores me, but it seems there are a lot of people out there who specifically like that stuff. Idk why.

For me, the interesting parts of having a world that worked like a game with stats and levels and everything would be how all that junk impacted the story

I mean, I want there to be fewer stats and shorter stat pages so that each of the stats and skills has more impact. When the MC has one level each in sewing, dodging, jumping, leaping, underwater basket-weaving, interpretive dance, hat-juggling, carrot-eating, and everything else they've ever done, I don't want to see that on their stat page.   That's a pretty cool element, I like that.   The pile-up of skills is what turned me off of Kumo desu ga, Nani ga?, which was once one of my favorites. But she got a point in a skill any time she did anything for the first time. Literally anything. It drove me crazy. She spins her web into a lasso? Bing, point in web manipulation and lasso-tying.   If there are too many, I can't keep track of them. And if they're not important enough to keep track of, don't include them in the first place. D&D is actually a great example, because frankly it would make a really good LitRPG. And now we have come full circle to the early days of fantasy novels.
#14 Copy

Akrasia

Will, how do you feel about all these litRPG questions despite you having stated that you don't write litrpg?  

Will Wight

I'm honestly a little confused by all the LitRPG questions, but I'm cool with answering anything. And I'm not against the concept of LitRPGs in general, I've just never read one that really grabbed me. Which makes me want to try and create one I do like.

#15 Copy

Anu

Will: Is there a limit to how bad a story you are willing to read? How low are you willing to go?     AKA, now long do I need to spend editing my story before you are willing to read it?

Will Wight

That is one of my favorite questions I've ever gotten. I laughed out loud.     I used to teach Intro to Creative Writing, so there is no rock bottom.     It's an endless freefall.
#17 Copy

Aru

Got 384 pages into it too before I ended up stopping. Part of that was because I improved so much while writing it that the beginning just felt like a hunk of junk. And also because my sense of pacing was waaay off.

Will Wight

Always true. Part of finishing a book is just getting to the end so you can go back and fix the beginning. You usually don't know what your story is about until you finish the first draft. Which is what makes writing serial stories one chapter at a time hard

Aru

Part of the reason I gave it up was because I realized that the first 70 thousand words should have been the first 10 thousand words.     I'm open to criticism though if you, Will, or anybody else wants to skim through a few chapters.

Will Wight

One of the most common problems new writers have is starting way too early. That happens all the time.

#18 Copy

Aru

You can tell that I wrote it because I also used the name "Aru" on that site. Gotta warn you though at this point I was still embracing the "Show, don't tell" to an extreme extent, so the first 50k words takes place over two-ish days.

Will Wight

That happens all the time. "Show, don't tell" has become one of my least-favorite pieces of advice; now my left eye twitches whenever I hear someone say it. First of all, most people don't understand it. What it should mean is "In a story, don't simply tell me something is true when you can show me that it is true." For instance, don't tell me a character is brilliant when you could instead show them doing something brilliant. You want to get the reader to think "Wow, this character is brilliant" without you having told them so. People generally use it to mean "Show us when something happens, don't tell us." This is dangerous because it's both good advice and bad advice. It's a double-edged sword. When something is important or integral to the story, you always want to show it happening in a scene, rather than telling us that it happened in narrative. "Lindon fought a dragon and won" isn't nearly as interesting as a fight scene between Lindon and a dragon. But there are always scenes that you should be telling instead of showing. "Winter passed without incident" is a much better way of summarizing a boring winter rather than ten pages of summarizing boring training and nothing happening, even though the first one is telling you that nothing happened and the second one is showing you that nothing happened. TL;DR - "Show, don't tell" is both so broadly applicable and so frequently misused that it's almost useless except in certain specific circumstances. So even though it's good advice, IMO it confuses new writers more than it teaches them.

#19 Copy

Your Benevolent Dictator

What is your favorite book you've written

Will Wight

Of Dawn and Darkness

Your Benevolent Dictator

Why?

Will Wight

Because I tried a lot of difficult things behind the scenes and they paid off. As opposed to something like Blackflame, which came together well, but was relatively easier so I'm less proud of it.

Lil' Blue

Ugh but Calder     tries to throttle him

Will Wight

Yeah, part of what I did in that series was give the MCs more obvious character flaws. To contrast them with Simon and Lindon, who are fairly straightforward people and more normal protagonists.   But as a result, one or the other usually makes people violently hate them.   I was aware of that risk.
#20 Copy

Questioner

Why aren't your books available for pre order?

Will Wight

With Kindle Direct Publishing, I could put the book up for pre-order anytime up to three days prior to the release date (which was yesterday). Had I done that, which all the publishers do, not only would you have been able to pre-order, but the book would come out at exactly midnight in every region that allows this system.

I don’t do it that way for two reasons. First, in the past, pre-orders have killed the Day 1 ratings spike I need to generate interest in the book. When I tried this before, I lost money by having pre-orders.

Now, Amazon may have changed how this works by now. They’re tweaking stuff all the time. But that’s why I only tried pre-orders once and haven’t since.

Second, I make changes to the book all the way up until the moment I release it. I rewrote a scene two hours ago and made some formatting changes just now. I’ll be tweaking that up until the release.

Instead of stopping that process two weeks ago and having the book uploaded, ready to release at exactly midnight on June 1st, I chose to keep working on it and upload it the night of May 31st.

Does that mean that the exact release time depends on how long Amazon takes to build a landing page for the book? Yes. But last time it took them about 45 minutes after upload for Amazon.com, so it’s not likely to be too bad.

The main “risk” here is in other domains, like Amazon.co.uk, where the landing page takes longer to create.

#21 Copy

SomeWhoCallMe... Tim

Will, do you write because you're good at it, you like it, or a mix of both? Like, is it a way for you to pay the bills, or did you dream of being a writer when you were a wee lad?

Will Wight

Will, do you write because you're good at it, you like it, or a mix of both? Like, is it a way for you to pay the bills, or did you dream of being a writer when you were a wee lad?

#22 Copy

SomeWhoCallMe... Tim

You do really well at writing the nuttier characters

Will Wight

I mentioned the other day that, in my D&D campaign, I chose to play a human fighter because it was the character I would normally choose last. This is why: I'm way better at playing nuttier characters, so I'm trying to stretch myself so that I can play the "normal" grounded characters more convincingly.

#23 Copy

Questioner

How does an author deal with the pressure to produce for an enthusiastic fanbase?

Will Wight

I do feel a lot of pressure, both to release regularly and to live up to expectations. I want readers to enjoy the books, and I want to feel proud of my work as well. And I know that people want the next book the day after the last one, because that’s what I always feel when I finish a book I enjoy.

When I go through a period of high stress, usually while I’m in the final stages of writing a book, I often go through some anxiety issues. Sometimes I don’t want to open my email, because I’m sure there will be bad news in there, I don’t want to leave my room because something will be going wrong outside, and I don’t want to respond to fans because I’m sure they’ll only be talking about how much they hate the books, etc. It’s a totally illogical feeling, but it’s one of the ways stress manifests itself in me.

Basically, my team helps me manage. Left to my own devices, I work in long periods of procrastination followed by a few weeks of high-stress panic, working 16 hours a day to meet a date that I suddenly felt I had to meet.

My team (and my family and friends) are helping me change my work habits to spread that out. Less procrastination, shorter murder-mode crunch time. We all know that if I keep writing books like THAT, I’ll burn myself out and won’t be happy while I’m doing it.

And that doesn’t have to mean a longer wait between books, either, because it involves cutting out the counterproductive time. Long-term, we expect it to lead to an increase in productivity.

TL;DR - I get through my weird personal issues with the help of other people.

...having said that, let me stress that this is just my own experience. I certainly can’t speak for anybody else (I don’t know if I’m even qualified to speak for myself). But that’s my two cents, for what it’s worth!

Will Wight

By the way, I felt terrible for Douglas Hulick when I first saw that tweet. Both because I empathized with him and because I wanted the next book, dangit. As a fellow writer, I felt great sympathy for him, and as a fan I was disappointed that we weren’t going to get to see the rest of a story I enjoyed.

Also, I very much admire how he handled himself. He blamed no one else, and took full responsibility while still communicating the great pressure he was under. Kudos to him. I hope to learn from that kind of mature response under scrutiny.

Event details
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Name Writing Advice
Date
Date Aug. 1, 2017
Entries
Entries 23
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