The First Million Words

Evolution of a Cover – Home To Roost

Hello!

A couple of weeks back, James J. Cudney did a review of Cleaving Souls, my second novel. There were quite a few comments praising the cover art, which was lovely to see since I’d created the artwork myself.

A few weeks before that, my cover art for both Cleaving Souls and my debut novel, Home To Roost, won 1st place in a cover-art contest for their respective genres (thriller and horror).

Between those two things, I thought: Hey, maybe I should do a little post about cover art creation.

And so here it is.

Now, first thing’s first: If you are self publishing, the recommendation you will find 100% of the time is to NOT do your own cover art. I think that is good advice. Does that make me a hypocrite? Yes. Do I care? No.

I didn’t follow that advice for a number of reasons.

  1. I’m a control freak? Could be this.
  2. I genuinely like the idea of producing the artwork on my own.
  3. I know a little bit about how to do that, and am not afraid of messing up.
  4. I have the time to make it look decent.
  5. I don’t have money to spend on professional help at this juncture.

I used a program called “Inkscape.” It’s completely free, and is used for creating Vector Art images. You can get it here, if you want to try it out. Vector Art is a bit different from the stuff you might have worked with in Microsoft Paint. Pro Tip: Unless you are trying to be ironic, do not make any cover art in Microsoft Paint.

I took a design course in college. It was taught by a graduate student, who was fired three-quarters of the way into the semester. Never found out why, but it hasn’t made me feel incredibly confident in the things I learned there.

Regardless, I try and apply the simple principles I learned in that class, as well as things I’ve observed by looking at other book covers. I fiddled around in Inkscape until I’d learned the ropes–or at least some of them. There are plenty of semi-helpful tutorials that can guide you through the things you can’t figure out alone.

I started with a few sketches. Unfortunately, I couldn’t include those here, as they’ve disappeared. They were hideous anyways, and not incredibly interesting, so I think we’ll manage to get along without them.

Once I had some ideas, I got to work in Inkscape. Mind you that my ideas had to be tempered by my abilities. Therefore, a more simple design was essential.

For those who haven’t read Home To Roost, it’s based on a the true story of a chicken my family owned about a decade back. Yes, a whole novel based on a chicken. It’s rather serious, too. Deals with a number of different issues, and has an ending that’s darker than people often expect. Those were all things I wanted captured in the cover art.

Without much further adieu, below are the different drafts of the cover art for Home To Roost, with a bit of commentary in the captions. They are listed in order of their creation, so as to give you an idea of how it evolved.

Title 1: I was hoping to show some of the duality of the characters–ergo the black rooster and white hen, inverted against one another on a horizontal plane, with their silhouette’s in an oval that I hoped would be reminiscent of an egg. The egg is cracked, alluding to some of the drama that occurs in the story.
Cover 2: I decided to scrap the hen and put the rooster in an obvious egg. The crack was changed as well, with the hopes of making it look like both a crack and a lightning bolt, as there are several storm scenes within the book. Which, if you’ve never seen a Midwest lightning storm, they’re pretty amazing.
Cover 3: Versions 1 & 2 had a border which I decided to ditch here. Part of the reason for that was that Amazon Print-on-Demand services are not perfectly exact. A thin border could look bad if it isn’t exactly on–one side would be noticeably thinner. I’ve also set the egg/rooster upon a hill. There were a few other renditions of this same design, mostly just fiddling with the hill’s slope.
Cover 4: Placing the rooster/egg upon a hill made me consider the idea of a sunset. Initially, I wanted to maintain the cracked egg while adding in the setting-sun look. To do that, I darkened the “sky” in the picture more.
Cover 5: As you can see, I decided to ditch the egg, realizing that having a chicken is probably chickeny enough. I went further with the sunset idea, adding in a very big and very yellow sun. The yellowness was intentional: I was still holding onto the egg idea dearly, and the yellow sun was an allusion to an egg’s yolk. The sun is further important as the chickens in the story are actually sun worshippers–like Aztecs, but without the human sacrifice! You may also notice the quote at the top from a “Jane Doe.” I decided (after reading some different opinions) that the quote on the book cover is something many readers expect. I therefore adjusted the book cover to allow room for one.
Cover 6: I reined in the title on this version, because before it was much too close to the right edge of the cover. I also added in the taller grasses. The added grasses where a better reflection of the story, created a bit more complexity and depth on the cover, and made a nice cradle for the sun.
Cover 7: By Cover 6, I was quite pleased with the picture. It wasn’t quite there yet, but I could feel that it was close. For the next rendition, we dropped the idea of a quote on top, and instead just threw up some text to give people an idea that this really was a serious novel. (Also, I had no big name “Jane Doe” reviewer’s statement to use.) The other thing was adding the dipping red hue to the sun itself, turning it orange towards the bottom. The flat yellow, it was decided, looked too fake.
Cover 8 – Final Cover: And here’s the final cover. All we did was adjust the text at the top to give it a more balanced look. I was quite pleased with the final product.

So there you have it. The one part of this process I haven’t yet mentioned is my wife. I saved her for last, because she’s the most important. Not every idea she has is golden, just as not every idea I have is any good. But we can bounce ideas between us, shoot down one another’s bad ones, and let the best ones rise to the top.

What do you think? Anybody prefer one of the earlier cover images?

Stay great.

Bookstagramming, almost….

I’ve never posted anything to Instagram. I have an account, but haven’t touched it. Earlier this week I decided to change that, and tried my hand at Bookstagramming.

Probably, you already know what Bookstagramming is, but in case you don’t, it’s quite simple. It’s a celebration (via Instagram) of the visual beauty of books. People setup their favorite (or prettiest) books  in little poses alongside other stuff–sometimes other pretty things, or sometimes little things related to the plot or subject of the book. They take the picture, then post it online, and everyone oohs and aahs over the books.

It’s kind of weird, but humans are, as a rule, a rather strange species.

Since my phone’s camera is two steps away from garbage, I borrowed a much nicer camera for the pictures I took. Check ’em out!

I felt rather silly doing this, but sometimes it’s good for me to step out of my comfort zone. As you can see, it takes more than a good camera to make a good picture, but it certainly helps.

Did I end up posting these on Instagram? No, I did not.

Apparently you can only upload pictures to Instagram through the app. Since I have no Instagram presence, and since I don’t plan on having an Instagram presence anytime too soon (owing to my next-to-rubbish camera), I didn’t bother downloading the app. Besides, my phone has no space.

I’ll just share some of the photos with you. Perhaps someday I’ll invest time in Instagram, but not now.

Not Today

My last post was all about how I have this microphone, and that it sits on my desk as a constant reminder that I need to do an audiobook recording.

Well, today I tried. Again. And was rebuffed by the universe again.

I tried to convert a motor home into a recording studio. Anyone who knows a great deal about audio recording is probably laughing at me for even bothering–but then again, maybe a motor home is actually a great place to record, and I just have no idea what I’m doing.

It took a while, but eventually I could get a recording whose quality I felt good about. But see, this is how it always goes: I set things up, get a good audio sample, and then figure I’m ready to dive right in. Then afterwards, go back and realize that what I recorded does NOT sound like the audio sample I pulled immediately before recording. It’s a strange, inexplicable thing, but it’s what always happens.

So anyway, in I dove.

I recorded for several hours. It ended up only doing 25 pages of Cleaving Souls, because I had to contend with the freakishly loud traffic, my neighbor deciding it was a great time to putt-putt around on his tractor, and a splash of rain pelting the top of the motor home.

Then I listened to it, and it all sounded like rubbish anyways. I’ve come to this conclusion: not now. Not today, or anytime soon. As much as I would love to create an audiobook to share with people, I can’t. I lack the expertise, funds, and possibly talent. Someday, those might change, but not today.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow. Fortunately, I could choke it down with some comfort food–delicious potato wedges. I’m a simple man, with simple tastes.

I ate the wedges with a frown, but feel much better now.

If there is to be an audiobook anytime soon, it will be rife with background noises. Heck, I might even leave in the sounds of me sniffing and stumbling over words. It would be free, but I’m not quite sure I should bother bothering.

Judgmental Looks from R2-D2

There’s a microphone on my desk. It’s the illustrious Blue Yeti. Yesterday, my little boy pointed out that it looks like R2D2. He’s right. He’s also of an age where saying “R2D2” is still a bit of a stretch, so he just said “D2.” (C-3PO, by the way, he simply calls “threep”)

R2-D2, the most famous astromech droid. C-3P0 says he does “an excessive amount of thinking for a mechanic.”
My microphone. Hopefully you can see the resemblance.

I’ve felt like the microphone has been giving me judgmental looks for a while now. Why? Because I’m supposed to be using it to make an audio book of my first two novels, but I haven’t yet. Just like some people have a face made for radio, I’ve started to think I might have a voice made for print.

It probably isn’t true, but then again, it just might be.

At any rate, I’ve procrastinated doing the recording for a long time. When the microphone first arrived, I just assumed I couldn’t get it working right. Tons of hours trying to set it up perfectly went down the tube. Then I sent it in for repairs, assuming that the microphone was faulty. More time (and money in shipping) gone. It was sent back (none too promptly) with an assurance that the microphone was fine.

Okay, so the next hurdle was finding either a quiet place or time to record. With two little kids at home, quiet is an abstract idea, not something ever known. The solution is to record outside the home. But I live in the middle of beautiful, rural no-where-land, and don’t fancy losing an hour to travel time for something that likely wouldn’t end up being ideal anyways.

The solution is to record in a quiet place outside. Sounds like a stretch, but I’ve actually picked a great spot. Final problem is that, since I’ve procrastinated so long, it is now winter. If I go to record right now, the audience is likely to hear my teeth chattering throughout.

But I’ll need to do something. Either do the dang recording, or put R2-D2 back in his little box. Because having him just sitting there, staring at me…it’s kind of distracting.

Book Review – Watching Glass Shatter by James J. Cudney

Every family has problems. Every family has secrets. The Glass family, however, is exceptional. Beneath the facade of perfection lies a web of lies and false faces. When their patriarch dies and the facade breaks, a perfect storm of family drama threatens to swallow the Glass family whole. They might survive, but they’ll need more than honesty and a little courage to see it through the tempest: they’ll need each other.

I give Watching Glass Shatter a 4-star rating. While it may not be for every reader, there are many (and I do mean many) who will find this book to be a literary treasure.

Why This Book

I like finding quality book blogs to follow and contribute to. It was through the book-blogging community that I found the writings of James J. Cudney, in the form of his blog, “This Is My Truth Now.” I enjoyed his honest, open, and prolific writings on his blog, and was curious how his work would translate into novel form. When he asked for early readers for his debut novel, I answered the call. Since I’ve enjoyed his own book reviews so much, I’ve decided to mirror his style in my review of his own book.

My other reason for reading Watching Glass Shatter is that I am experimenting with new genres. This book is outside of my normal reading genres, and so it seemed like a good opportunity to try something new.

Plot, Characters & Setting

Benjamin Glass has been harboring a secret from his wife—a secret he’s kept close to his heart for a lifetime. One of their sons is not their own. The secret has eaten away at him for decades, but no matter how he’s tried, Ben simply cannot summon the courage to tell his wife the truth: that he switched their stillborn son out for another baby while she was unconscious.

But then Ben dies, and a letter he left behind discloses the truth to his wife, Olivia, leaving her with the burden of telling her unknowingly-adopted son the truth. But there’s a catch: Ben never said which son was switched out. While the trusted family attorney tries to seek out the woman whose baby Olivia has raised, Olivia is determined to spend time with her five sons, reconnect with each of them, and try to determine which one is not her own, before the attorney finds the missing woman and reveals the truth.

But the apple never falls far from the tree, and Olivia soon discovers that her husband wasn’t the only one keeping secrets: each of her sons have secrets of their own, secrets that are forcing the family apart. Secrets which, once revealed, may shatter the Glass family irrevocably.

Set with extravagant detail in the lavish homes, offices, and retreats of the wealthy, Watching Glass Shatter follows the six remaining members of the Glass family and their partners.

Approach & Style

Watching Glass Shatter is written with a third-person omniscient narrator. I read an advanced copy, and the narrator may have switched to be third-person limited between my draft and the final draft. Head-hopping was fairly limited in my copy, but did occur, and was distracting once or twice.

The story’s chapters were focused on specific characters, with each character getting a few dedicated chapters. The characters were introduced very quickly at the beginning, and all at once. This usually doesn’t work, and it didn’t come off super great here, either. However, it made perfect sense for it to happen that way in the story, and my early worries about not getting to know the characters well were soon washed away. Perhaps Cudney’s greatest strength in this book is creating a fairly sizable cast of well-managed, well-defined, recognizable, and consistent (but growing) characters. Not all of them were likeable, but they were unlikeable for the same reasons I don’t like some real people. Many of the characters were likeable, though, and all of them felt genuine and fleshed out.

The other thing that stood out to me was the depth of Cudney’s descriptions. A few times early on, it felt a bit heavy handed. This may have been addressed in the final copy. Either way, the issue largely disappeared after the first few chapters, at which point the descriptions were rich and often poignant.

Key Thoughts

This story had a number of different secrets waiting to be revealed; if one didn’t suit your fancy, another one might strike a chord with you.

I believe my own family heavily influenced my perception of this story. The main secret is that one of the boys was adopted (in a slightly clandestine manner, though not an immoral one). The mystery of which son it was had perhaps less appeal to me than other readers, but I attribute this mostly to my own experiences. I come from a large family (I’m talking more than 10 siblings, folks) and many of them, though not all, are adopted. Many of my cousins, too, are adopted. So, personally, the adopting issue wasn’t as interesting. But knowing the characters, I didn’t feel like their reactions to the issue were disingenuous. The other secrets—the ones the sons have—I personally found much more engaging. Perhaps that’s because many of them are in the same life-stage as I am. Who can say?

Another thought that I had for this is more a critique of the publisher than the author. The author knew his target readers, and knew them well. This book, I have little doubt, will please those readers. The cover art, however, seems evocative of something more sinister than the family drama (albeit an intense family drama) that this book is. I personally feel like the cover art is a bit misleading as to the nature of the novel, and may draw in some unintended readers, while perhaps alienating some of the target audience. But I’m no expert in such matters.

Author & Other Similar Books

James J. Cudney—Jay to many—is a prolific blogger and debut novelist. Watching Glass Shatter is his first book. He’s currently working on Father Figure, a new novel whose details and progress can be found on Jay’s blog, thisismytruthnow.com. He’s very reachable and approachable, and will quickly earn your respect—not only as a writer, but also (and more importantly) as a gentleman.

As for similar books, I’m largely at a loss. As I said before, this was me delving into a new genre. While I’m sure there are similar books, I’m also equally sure that this one is unique.

Summary

If you like family dramas, you will love Watching Glass Shatter. The plot is complex, personal, well crafted, and deeply moving. The characters are relatable, real, and down-to-earth. Cudney’s writing starts out strong, and then transitions into a natural storyteller’s flow.

If you’re curious about family drama’s, this book is a great one to experiment with—a solid, quality read.

Watching Glass Shatter is available for purchase on Amazon.com.

About Me

I’m Chauncey Rogers. I’m (supposedly) qualified to teach history, government, geography, psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Aside from my education degrees, I also studied linguistics and editing. My first novel, Home To Roost, was published in March 2017; and my second novel, Cleaving Souls, was published in October 2017. My third novel will (hopefully) be published in January 2018.

I believe in the power of storytelling and in the importance of quality writing—both in content and style. You can follow my adventures as an author at chaunceyrogers.com.

Today’s the day: Book Launch

Today is October 10th! That means that Cleaving Souls is officially released. Hooray!

I first started working on Cleaving Souls back in February of this year. Then, it was just a very, very rough idea. However, those basic elements stayed with the book. It took about forty-five days of concentrated writing to produce the first draft, and then it went through four additional rounds of draft revisions and edits.

I’m very pleased with the final product. I take pride in only publishing stories that are ready and worthy of publication. Making them that way is a long process, and depends on the help of many other people. Since there is no acknowledgements page for Cleaving Souls, I’d like to make some acknowledgements here, as well as talk about the process the manuscript goes through.

  • Becki – My little sister Becki is my first-reader and my “crap-filter.” She’s a bookworm with a good sense of when a story is entertaining and when one isn’t. If she says a story is no good, then that’s as far as it goes. It’s waaay too much power for her to have, but so far it’s worked out all right.
  • Becky – After I work with my sister’s notes, I hand the manuscript off to my wife. She’s got a sharp eye for typos and continuity errors, and once she’s read through a story, I can hand it off to others without worrying too much about readability.
  • Mom & Dad – My mom reads the story out-loud to my dad. Together, they give invaluable feedback on story and readability. You notice different things when a book is read aloud, so their contributions help a lot with keeping the prose smooth and natural.
  • Kevin, Laura, and Tammy – Any lingering typos or issues are hunted down by this final group of readers. Each of them caught a few small issues, and a few bigger ones as well. They also made excellent suggestions for things to add into the story, areas that needed to be clarified or explained, or parts which needed their pacing to be adjusted. They helped give Cleaving Souls its final polish and turn it into a great product.
  • Aside from being enlisted as editors, these people also offered invaluable encouragement. I’d also like to mention Stacey and Zoe, two people who I have never met, but who enjoyed Home To Roost and were ready to read and review advanced copies of Cleaving Souls. Their enthusiastic praise for Cleaving Souls made my week.

So there you have it: a little snippet of the editing process that Cleaving Souls underwent, and an idea of where the credit goes for this story. I may have written it, but without the help of these people, it probably wouldn’t have been much good. Thanks to their help, I’m very pleased and proud to present Cleaving Souls.

Some dangers you cannot outrun. Some nightmares do not end when you wake.
Something is watching Katherine Harris. She can feel it when she goes out. She can feel it inside her home. She feels it in her bed. Her husband, Alex, wants to blame her anxiety on her pregnancy, but he’s often away for work. He doesn’t know what it’s like to be stuck in a small town, to be trapped in a tiny house on a run-down street, to be alone. Kat does, and the feeling only grows worse.
Whatever is going on, Kat’s certain that it’s far more serious than pregnancy jitters. When Alex takes Kat on a second honeymoon to get her mind off things, it becomes far more dangerous as well.

A Nightmare & An Update

Dreams are strange things. I don’t worry too much over what they might mean, but I certainly enjoy talking about them.

The other night I had a dream. It turned into a nightmare, but from my experience that’s how all nightmare’s go. You never start out in a nightmare; rather, a dream becomes a nightmare. Sometimes it happens slowly, and sometimes the change feels instant. I guess it’s just a reflection of life in general. Fortunately, not all dreams become nightmare–another reflection of life.

In my dream, I was visiting a high school literature class to discuss my writing with them. The entire junior class was reading one of my books (though I honestly can’t recall if it was Home To Roost or Cleaving Souls).

At first, it was very exciting. But then the longer I talked with them, the more I realized that very few of them cared what I had to say. It dawned on me that my book had become another one of those much-loathed required readings, like A Separate Peace or The Scarlet Letter. And if that were the whole dream, it would have been strangely sad, but I wouldn’t have called it a nightmare.

The nightmare began when I noticed that even the teacher thought my story dull and drab. She said that the only reason that they were reading it at all was because someone in the school district was making them. When I asked more about it, the teacher said that someone (she never said who) had basically destroyed their family and their finances in support of my book, and bought copies for the entire district. It had wrecked that person’s personal life so badly, that Child Protective Services had to take their kids away, and now the school had to take care of the kids all the time.

So that was pretty awful.

But then the teacher released the class for the day, and took me to the room I would be staying in, courtesy of the school. Where was it? At the school. What was it? The school cafeteria.

The high school emptied and made that magical transformation from a lively school to a dusty mausoleum (and if you’ve never been in a school after everyone else has left, then trust me, that’s exactly what happens). Also, it was suddenly night time.

The school had provided me with a sleeping bag that smelled faintly of urine, and had me bed down atop one of the cafeteria tables. All the lights were off except one: the lights to the adjacent hallway, visible through a series of windows set in the far wall. The rustling of the sleeping bag and sound of my own breathing echoed in the cavernous room. Rather uncomfortable, but not necessarily scary.

But then I heard children crying. Not high-school age, but small children crying for their daddy. I realized that they must be the children of my patron, now wards of the school district.

“Your daddy isn’t here,” someone said, “but the man who made him go away is. Do you want to see him?” Somehow, I knew that he was referring to me, and I prayed that the children would say no.

They didn’t.

The lights were still off, except for the hall light. In the quiet, I could hear the fast drumming of little feet running, and a series of too-thin shadows scurried down the wall of the adjacent hallway, flashing from one window to the next as they ran towards the cafeteria’s doors. The kids weren’t crying anymore; they were coming for me.

I wanted to shout out that they couldn’t come in–that I didn’t want to see them at all–but I couldn’t speak.

The cafeteria doors banged open, but nobody stood in the doorway.

I heard little feet again, this time close by, moving slowly in the darkness. I could feel eyes on me as I lay atop the cafeteria table.

Then one of the kids whispered, “We want to touch him.”

I tried to scream, tried to yell for them to get back, but I couldn’t. All I could do was breath, and so I breathed as loud and as hard as I could, until I woke up panting.

Now, it may sound like a pretty stupid dream, but in that moment, it was terrifying. However, once the moment was over I was able to calm myself and go back to sleep. Sometimes silly things are very upsetting. Being silly doesn’t make them not upsetting, and being upsetting doesn’t make them not silly.

Makes me think of my three-year-old daughter. She gets upside-down about plenty of dumb things, but in the moment they’re very upsetting to her. I’ve found that it can be helpful to her if we show that we understand her feelings, and then try to put those feelings into perspective for her to see. She’s often able to recognize that whatever is upsetting her really isn’t a big deal and actually can be managed, and she calms down.

It seldom goes as smoothly if we skip the part about sympathizing.

So my thought for today is that we should try to understand and sympathize with people. Before we jump in and tell people what they should or shouldn’t do, or how they should solve their problems, we should first take a moment to try and understand what they’re feeling and thinking.


And now here’s my update:

Cleaving Souls is almost ready for launch! It’s going to be released on Tuesday, Oct. 10, in both ebook and paperback format. I’m pretty excited for that, especially since some great reviews have already rolled in! (And few things are sweeter than a positive, unsolicited review.)

The only thing left to do before the release is revamp the blurb. It’s not too bad now, and I might end up keeping it, but I’m still stewing over making it a bit longer and less generic. But I’m not sure. Blurbs are tricky for me, because I really don’t want to take away anything from the story–I’d rather my readers gets to discover everything for themselves.

For anyone else who’s excited enough to want to post about it, I’ve made some simple promotional material. Feel free to use any of it on whatever social media platforms you use.

In other news, I won a self-publishing book cover art contest (first and second place in the horror category, and first place in the thriller category). As you may or may not know, I go against all sound advice and make my own book covers. I think they turn out well, and I have a lot of fun doing it. Perhaps sometime I’ll have to make a book-cover-creation-process post, featuring different iterations of one of my covers.

That’s it for now. Happy readings!

Thoughts on Friendless Orphans as Heroes

I’ve been reading Ready Player One lately. In it, a friendless orphan boy named Wade Watts makes some friends and saves the day. (That’s my prediction, at least. I haven’t finished yet. No spoilers!)

I’ve also read the Harry Potter series, where a friendless orphan boy makes some friends and saves the day.

And then there’s the Percy Jackson series, where a friendless boy separated from his parents makes some friends and saves the day.

Or the Artemis Fowl series, where a friendless boy distant from his parents makes some friends and saves the day.

Okay. Enough. You get it.

The conclusion here is obvious: if you want to make friends/save the day/be a hero, you must…. Sever ties with your parents and friends (or have them killed).

But really, there are at least four practical story-telling reasons why our heroes often share these traits.

  1. It makes the hero sympathetic and excusable.
    You know what gets our sympathy? Pathetic things, like kids without support from friends and family. Having no friends or family is an easy way to create an underdog protagonist, and it also excuses them for being messed-up weirdos. And we want them to be a bit messed up or quirky. And if they make mistakes–which, hopefully, they do–then we can forgive them easily. After all, they’re losers/orphans! (Cue Aladdin: “I’d blame parents except he hasn’t got ’em!”)

  2. It gives them plenty of room for growth.
    With no friends or family, there’s usually lots of room for growth: personal, social, and financial. Saving the world often involves financial growth for the hero, but it’s the personal and social growth that we really love as readers. Both of those are brought about by the hero’s friends. These friends are often totally awesome people–characters we might like even more than the protagonist. Why? They accept our sympathetic protagonist in spite of his or her faults, and then help the protagonist become a better person. They’re exactly the kinds of people we would want to be friends with! Plus, they’ll usually save our protagonist’s life a few times, or solve important riddles, or other such things.

  3. It (sometimes) motivates our hero.
    This isn’t always the case. However, sometimes the villain just happened to have killed the hero’s family and friends (Harry Potter). Or, perhaps, you need to find your missing parents (Artemis Fowl). Or maybe, you’re just trying to connect with your dad (Percy Jackson). You could even be trying to prove something to your new friends (Wade Watts). At any rate, being a friendless orphan can often help give the hero some extra drive.

  4. It simplifies the story.
    Yes, ’tis true. Reason number four is woefully practical, but incredibly important from a story-telling perspective. Indulge me as I elaborate.

You see, characters add complexity to a story. The more characters, the more relationships and subplots the writer, reader, and protagonist must juggle around. Here are some lovely illustrations to…illustrate…my point.

If you have your hero and one friend, there’s only one relationship to manage. Too easy, perhaps. You’re more likely to see this kind of setup in a story that isn’t about relationships as much. Take high-octane action movies, for instance. They’re not as much about characters, be it their growth or relationships. They’re more about how many bullets and explosions a single character can survive. The hero will have one friend, usually for banter and eye candy.

Here’s one of the most common setups. Our hero has two buddies, making three relationships. It’s enough characters for them to play off each other a bit, or have a love triangle, or for one to die, or whatever. Plus, people just like the number three, and triangles make for good art.

Once you have four characters, it jumps to six relationships, and you start to see where some of the complication comes into play. See, each of the characters needs to have relationships with one another. Our hero knows and interacts with pink, brown, and green, but pink also interacts with brown and green, and so on along all the characters. Four is still manageable, but eventually things get out of hand.

Five characters, and you have ten relationships. You can see that the number of interconnecting relationships increases greatly from four to five.

At six characters, there are fifteen relationships, and it’s starting to become a mess. I won’t go on, but hopefully it’s clear that the number of characters increases the number of relationships greatly–even if you’re only adding one more character.

Of course, you can have minor characters that are tied to only one or perhaps two other characters, but you can’t maintain a great number of interconnected main characters. Making your hero a friendless orphan allows them to make new connections (which we as readers love to see) without things getting too entangled.

So, who cares?

Well, I do, as both a writer and a reader. If you’re a writer, you should care, too. If you’re a reader, you might find this interesting.

But as human beings, perhaps we should all be interested. Because the sad fact is, in the real world most orphaned and friendless people don’t become world-saving heroes. They struggle, and they often struggle more than the rest of us. The world-saving friendless-orphan stories we love are all works of fiction. The true stories of the orphaned and friendless are tragic and lonesome, more often than not.

But there’s something that we can do.

We can be those awesome sidekick and support characters–the ones that befriend, accept, and love the friendless orphan, help them solve their problems, and maybe even save their lives a few times.

So try and reach out to one of those friendless and family-support-lacking types. Try and be the awesome sidekick character for them. They might reject your kindness or mistreat you. Just try to remember that they are sympathetic characters in a sympathetic struggle with lots of room for growth.

And if you’re having a hard time, consider that you’re the sympathetic hero of your own story, with lots of room to grow. Then find your friends, and start growing.

 


Thanks for reading some of my thoughts today. In other news, I launched an ARC copy of Cleaving Souls on Smashwords today. You can pick it up for free right now from there. I also made the preorder page for it on Amazon, with the ebook and paperback launch date set for October 10. Anyone who reads and reviews it is officially awesome. Those who do that and buy a copy are awesome+!

And the other bit of my writing news is that I got another review for Home To Roost. My dad told a lady about it, and she bought a copy and read it on vacation. Liked it so much that it dominated the vacation conversations, apparently. Then she was talking to a complete stranger about it, and ended up giving the stranger her copy, she wanted her to read it so bad. Imagine that!

 

Moving Forward

Hello there!

Well, my last post was a rather sad one, about having to scrap 30,000 words worth of manuscript. Still kinda feel that one in my gut, to be honest, but I’m also happy to say that it was definitivamente the right thing to do. Also happy to say that I’m at 16,000 words for the newer manuscript, which hopefully is something like 1/5 of the way done.

This new pass at the novel is far more streamlined, has an adjusted point-of-view, new personalities on my protagonists, a lot of complication cleaned up, and a different age for the reader. A lot of changes, and all for the better.

In other news, Cleaving Souls is nearly ready for publication. I really probably only have an hour or so of editing left to do on it, then send it out to as many beta readers as I can get my hands on while I mull over the official blurb and back-cover material. Oh, also, I’ll need to typeset the print edition, and make sure the e-book is clean and shiny. But I did those things myself for Home To Roost, so they shouldn’t take too long. I haven’t heard any complaints from my readers regarding formatting for Home To Roost, and I’ll assume that means I did a good (enough) job. It looked legit to me, at least….

Tough Decisions

There’s a principle of economics called “Sunk Costs.” The way I understand it is this: even if you put a bunch of time into something, if the end product isn’t going to be worthwhile, then ditch it. This can be painful because of all the time you’ve already invested, which will now essentially go to waste.

Unfortunately, knowing about sunk costs and the math behind it doesn’t make it any less painful.

Earlier this year, I was working on a space opera. I had mixed feelings about it. Writing was going slow in places, but I persevered. I finished it, and then… chucked the whole thing. 120,000 words. But it wasn’t good enough, I won’t publish something that isn’t good enough.

The flaws were too deep for mere editing to get them out, but I plan on coming back and rewriting the story someday. Just not today.

Well, I’m having to scrap something else right now. I’m 30,000 words into a novel, and I realized that I’m telling it the wrong way. I need to change the point of view, get deep into one of my character’s heads, get rid of a bunch of the cast, and then change the tone of the story. Once again, too radical for edits to fix. Just start from the bottom.

It’s painful, but I believe it to be the right call. Time will tell.