Posting a Story on Wattpad

I am beginning a new blog series discussing my experience on Wattpad. If any of you are using the social writing and reading site, I would love to dialogue about it.

If you are new to Wattpad, it is a website where thousands upon thousands of writers post stories or novels, typically serially, for free for readers around the world to read. The majority of readers are teens and young adults, largely female, and the content includes high-quality novels that have gone on to be published as well as many lower quality fan fiction stories, etc. The most popular genres are fantasy, science fiction, romance, and fan fiction, though there are markets for most genres.

I approached the site warily at first, throwing up a few sample chapters of an old story about a year ago, to gauge reader reactions, with no fanfare. Meanwhile, other complete stories were garnering millions of reads.

The more I read up on the site, the more I realized I was approaching the site wrong. It is a social network focused on writing and reading. Some writers find great success, and go on to commercial or self publication with much success.

My experience with other writing sites hasn’t been the best. I’ve found most of the time they are designed for other writers, who are reading your work hoping for you to give them feedback. This can be helpful for critique. But if you are a YA writer like me, you wonder how real teens will like your story, versus writers trading critique-reads.

If building readership and engaging with real readers is what you want, then Wattpad may be the site for you.

As I worked on a new project, I decided to test the waters, and really give the site a go. I have begun posting chapters serially for my new fantasy THE SHADOW WATCH.

I am only a couple weeks in, and I have quickly found some amazing readers who have left lovely comments and cannot wait for the next chapter. Every day, that number increases. I have experienced nothing like it yet as an unpublished author. You get in-line feedback and reactions from real readers, reading your story because it sounded interesting to them.

Here are a few tips I’ve discovered so far, in order to stand out on the site and build readership:

  1. Your cover — you need to have a good, professional looking cover. There are so many stories with bad covers that you will immediately stand out.
  2. Follow readers in your genre — Wattpad lists users who have works written or lists of books they are reading. I follow readers who have followed other fantasy writers. Many of them have added my book to their lists and enjoyed it. I try not to follow writers unless I am reading their work and want their updates.
  3. Post polished work — Wattpad is not like other writer sites, where you post for critiques. You may get some, but readers are looking for professional-looking stories.
  4. Interact with your readers — Wattpad is a social network. Consider it more like Twitter. If someone takes the time to follow you or add your work to their lists, thank them. If they comment, write back.
  5. Give your readers a schedule — I post every Monday and Friday. Readers know as soon as they finish the latest chapter when they can read the next one. It also gives you a deadline and readers who will be letdown if you don’t meet it.
  6. Read the works of other writers — Check out what some of the most successful writers are doing on the site. How long are their chapters? Do they give readers a call to action? Do they dialogue with readers? You will learn what works, and you will also read some quality stories. Like I said, many top-rated stories find great success beyond Wattpad.

All right, that is all for now. I will be sharing more tips and sharing more experiences soon.

If you are on Wattpad, what have you found works for you? How do you use the site?

 

If you are interested in reading my fantasy, THE SHADOW WATCH, check it out here:

 

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Creating a Story with Inherent Conflict and Memorable Settings (Worldbuilding — Part 3)

In my last worldbuilding post, I used the example of a gallows in the town square, and talked about how pointed details can accomplish much more in establishing the setting of your story than pages of gratuitous details.

Not only does that gallows set a tone quickly, but it is a function in the story world itself that screams conflict. Too many stories ramble on, and we are not sure what the characters want, and the conflict is not all that clear or gripping. Your story world itself ought to be reeking with conflict.

This does not mean we all have to write dystopias with gallows in the town square. It doesn’t mean we use weather either: it was a dark and stormy night, etc. It could be any setting element.

Think the Fault in Our Stars. In the opening, we have a bunch of kids meeting for cancer-patient awareness. That is a situational setting that immediately gives us conflict. A girl meets a cute, charming boy at such a meeting, and we already know something bad will happen. Cancer means conflict.

It can be relational or familial. In Alice Hoffman’s novel The Story Sisters, we open with three sisters in Central Park, in conflict over what to do about a mistreated carriage-horse, to leave it in mistreatment or steal it in order to rescue it. Two of the sisters are divided, and one is caught in between her two elder sisters. The eldest and the youngest do steal the horse, ignoring the warnings of the middle sister. Everything goes wrong. The youngest breaks both her arms. And we have a setting of sisterly conflict that goes on and on throughout the story. If the setting had been their living room, it would have been a lot more trivial conflict. Fighting over what game to play.

This inherent conflict can be accomplished in so many ways. It can be a setting of two warring families like Romeo and Juliet. It can be a small mining town where the government is trying to shut things down to be more eco-friendly. Don’t settle, write conflict right into the setting.

Just think if J.K. Rowling hadn’t implemented the House system at Hogwarts, and Harry just had a rivalry with another rather mean-spirited student. Instead, Harry and Malfoy become part of an age-old rivalry between Gryffindor and Slytherin, and they have many official school activities that help fuel this rivalry: Quidditch and the House Cup. Conflict is written into the system of the school.

What sort of conflict is there built in to the setting of your novel? Not sure?

Start thinking about it.

Your setting is not just the place and time and situation where your story takes place. It can be an endless source of conflict.

Don’t be afraid to set scenes in more memorable settings either. Have a lot of scenes occurring in living rooms and kitchens? Take us somewhere more interesting, where things can happen, and maybe where there can be an emaciated carriage-horse to quarrel over, or even a war.

Have lovers who are going to have a fight on their date? Set it in a restaurant? Typical. Not very interesting. How about on a sailboat caught in a storm instead?

I am not saying you can’t have scenes in living rooms or restaurants. But don’t be afraid to let your creativity flow either. Interesting characters generally don’t sit around; they go places where action can take place, and where there will be conflict.

That’s the whole point, isn’t it? To shake up a character’s world with conflict and get them out of their comfort zone and into the world where there are stories waiting to happen.

Overthinking the Little Trouble Spots and Writer’s Block

I am a nerd, and I love world-building. I love coming up with all the little details and why the world is the way it is in my stories. But sometimes it can kill my writing.

inception_2I have been stuck on a scene in my latest WIP for a couple weeks now. The story is a sci-fi space adventure set 250 years in the future, and so there are a lot of details I have been considering as I am going along. I got to a point where I was trying to explain why something was a certain way, but I hadn’t figured it out yet. It didn’t fully make sense in the social structure I’d come up with so far.

I have run into trouble like this before, and I’ve found that getting stumped on world-building in the first draft is a little silly. On my own part. I am still figuring a lot of things out in this draft, like most first drafts I think.

I’ve decided to move forward and deal with those details later, once I’ve discovered more about the story and the novel-world through plot movement.

The thing is, we throw out a ton of stuff from the first draft anyway. Often the setting itself completely changes or evolves over time. Things tend to change significantly during subsequent drafts. Characters get dropped or combined, society gets made darker or less, or technology advances more, or a rural setting suddenly makes for sense than urban. Spend a lot of time aching over it, and it will probably get cut or changed.

Maybe not, you’re right.

writers-block-but-for-memes_o_1064153My point is: don’t waste your time and headaches on the first attack. You don’t need to get it all right and figured out just yet. Keep the plot moving (and the writing moving). The quicker you get the story down, the quicker you can figure out what needs dropped and what needs expanded.

Don’t be afraid to leave a plot hole there to deal with in the second draft, so you can just move forward.

I spent waaaay too much time editing and re-editing and pounding out details as I was writing my first novel. I changed nearly all of it in later drafts. Sure, the experience helped me figure out some things that stayed, but a lot of it was a waste of time. Or at least, poorly executed time. I don’t really think any writing time is a waste entirely.

But there is nothing wrong with learning to be more efficient, right?

Don’t sweat it too much the first go round. Just get that story on paper. A complete story will give you a lot better perspective for dealing with the trouble spots.

Happy writing!

Diversity and the White Writer (Intentionality, A Diverse Cast, and Writing What You Know)

I’ve been doing a fair amount of research on diversity for a large essay I am writing on Diversity in the Language Arts classroom. As I’ve been writing, I have been thinking a lot about how this relates to writing, my own fiction and the novels I read.

You don’t have to look too far or too deeply at literature to get a sense of the prevalence and, whether intentional or not, the preference for whiteness.

It is a problem, but I also don’t think it has originated lately as much from intent as it has from ignorance.

White Writing World

getty_eb_whiteAcademia (like much of the world) has been largely dominated by Europeans and European immigrants to the Americas for the past few centuries, and over those centuries the social structure was predominantly white above others in the dominating cultures of the Western world. What I mean by this is that it is not so surprising that the “classics” are essentially educated whites writing about white life. They were writing what they knew.

But, today, educated writers populate all races. And so things need to change, in the classroom and in the publishing spheres.

If you take a look at any bookshelf in any bookstore, you will continue to notice a dominance of white writing by white writers. We need more diverse writers, undoubtedly. And we need them to write great stories. I think especially in Kidlit.

I am talking about #WeNeedDiverseBooks.

White Writers Writing Diversity

We need more diverse writers. So if you are one, write more and more and get really good at it, and give the world some fantastic stories! Outside of encouraging people of color to write, I can’t add much more to the conversation in that arena.

If you are white like me, then what? How do you approach diversity tactfully?

The last thing we need is a bunch of white writers trying to write diversity because its in demand right now.  Maybe you are a white writer who is passionate about racial equality toward a specific minority… Whatever your reason for writing more diversity into your books, you must tread carefully and correctly…

Know What You Write!

If you are going to write a novel about an inner city African-American girl, and you are a Caucasian man from Montana, you had better do your research! You had better interview some African-American girls from the Bronx or Atlanta or wherever your novel takes place.

Otherwise your book will not ring true. You might get published, perhaps, since people are asking for diverse books. Who knows? Either way, though, it will be a crappy book.

And no one wants more crappy books out there. Let alone crappy books that deal with diversity.

I am that white guy from the American West, where we don’t often see a ton of diversity, sadly. I live in an energy boom town presently, and we have a little more diversity than is typical for the region, mostly Hispanic.

I’ve an idea for a “diverse” novel about a pair of Ugandan kids caught in the middle of LRA conflict. This is a topic which I am pretty passionate about. Human trafficking is awful and I think a story about kids caught in the middle of it could be very powerful. But I am not writing it right now. I don’t have the experience and haven’t talked to enough people for me to be able to write the story RIGHT. Regardless of the book, I really want to spend some time in Africa with displaced kids. But if I do end up writing that book, I want it to ring true. So for now, it is on the backburner.

b59297ddcd0415a252a398abe38c1ddfWhat made Kathryn Stockett’s The Help ring true, I think, stemmed from Stockett’s own experiences with racial issues in Jackson, Mississippi, not to mention her friendship with an African-American domestic worker.

If you don’t have much experience with racial tension and conflict, then maybe you aren’t the best person to write a racial issue novel centered around someone of a race you aren’t familiar enough with. I am just going to be honest.

HOWEVER, that does not excuse you from addressing the diversity issue.

A Diverse Cast

You do live in a world populated by diverse races and cultures. And so, the world of your novels ought to express that diversity as well in order to ring true.

But, being diverse in your writing does not mean making your presently-white protagonist Chinese or African-American just because… you know, diversity, and stuff…

Just as you had better not add a rape element to your novel just for tension’s sake (as rape is something which should alter your character’s entire world, and so the entire novel), you should not write race for diversity’s sake alone. Diversity is more than mentioning skin color, it changes how this character perceives the world. It changes their back story. This will vary depending on the novel and the character’s story.

When it comes to race, you have got to be more INTENTIONAL than that. We need more than diverse color in books. We need diverse culture represented.

Color Your World

rainbow-glasses1I think we tend to view things through our own racial “tinted glasses.” At least I know I do. Like I said, I am a white male from a predominantly white region. Until I am told otherwise, if I am honest, I do tend to read characters assuming they are white in novels. Not because I am racist. But because that is what I am most familiar with, I suppose. And also, probably because so many characters in novels, are in fact, white.

Reading is rather like jumping in another’s head, but we are tinged still by our own skewed perspectives.

I am working on a new middle grade sci-fi novel, and I realized early on that I was defaulting to white characters. I wasn’t even thinking about it consciously. My protagonist’s best friend, I initially viewed as blonde and white, essentially a softer-spoken Lyra Belacqua.

As I began the novel, I realized that, just as I tend to view characters as white initially in novels I read, I was doing the same in novels I write. I had to make a CONSCIOUS POINT to diversify and thereby expand and enrich the universe of the novel.

In the opening, a future Earth has frozen over, and life has been restricted to Terradomes. I hadn’t yet figured out where my novel was happening on Earth. But I knew I wanted some diversity, and I wanted it to enrich the world of the novel. Suddenly, I realized this best-friend character needed to be Hispanic. I didn’t know why, only that she should.

And then, with that idea in mind, I saw that it would make most sense for my Terradomes to be situated along the Equator, placing my protagonist and his best friend in South America, where people from both Americas all migrated as the world froze over.

By creating a diverse character, it also broadened my sense and scope of the universe I was creating.

Eventually, my protagonist is recruited for a space expedition in search of a portal to another universe, and suddenly these Equatorial Domes were giving me an opportunity to populate the ship with diversity too. People from several different domes around the world manning an exploratory ship.

Diversity isn’t the point of this sci-fi story, but it helped me expand the world in a really good and sensible way. Diversity is enriching, both in real life and fiction.

Let It Ring True

As you write diverse characters, let them enrich the worlds you are populating, let the story ring true.

If you are compelled to write a racial issue book or a novel set in another country from what you are familiar with, DO YOUR RESEARCH. If you are wanting to make a protagonist someone of color, make sure it is adding culture to the story as well, and not just a mention of skin color. Be INTENTIONAL as you approach diversity, be TRUE to the story.

Diversity in literature is important to the present and to the future.

Don’t color anything in your world lightly.

*I would love to hear your thoughts on this post, and your own thoughts on diversifying your novels*

*If you are interested in checking out the first chapter of my new sci-fi project Bode Marvellus, go here. I would love to hear what you think!*

Cheers!

S. Andrew

Keeping Things Plot Specific

Revision Reflections Part 2

 

In the early drafts of my novel, The Lingering Shadow, there were various elements to the story which I found very interesting, but as I was revising and redrafting, found that they slowed down my narrative significantly. Especially when I needed to trim things down. There is no better microscope for unneeded material than the need to trim down the manuscript.

Word count is a tricky thing. For established writers, I think, it is much less of a worry. Stephen King and J.K. can write for as long as they want, and sure they have editors, but they can pack a lot more into a story. For those of us still waiting to break out, word count is a constant worry. Our respective genres have expectations, and we, as newcomers, are a financial risk to publishers. My novel is YA sci-fi / fantasy. Most sources I’ve found give a general WC expectation of 80-100,000 words. Anything longer than that and agents and editors alike worry before they’ve read a word of the book. So, large as my plot is, I have striven to remain within that range. Here are some suggestions from my latest revision that have helped me keep things trimmed down.

Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing

There is a main plot line for your story. There will be smaller secondary plot lines for various characters, and you need these, because, even in first person, the story does not only belong to your Main Character. Everyone needs to be in the story for a reason, not a body count. Each character needs to WANT something, and being striving to obtain it, just as your MC is doing. Some writers keep things too simple, and everything pertains to the MC, and the secondary characters become nothing more than extra bodies in a scene. Don’t do that. However, if a character, plot line, or event is not driving the larger story forward, it can probably be cut.

For example, in my story, Taylor, my MC, originally begins the story with a boyfriend. Early on they break up, providing tension later on in the story, and between her and her good friend, Darien, who is secretly in love with her. I considered cutting the ex altogether, but found that I needed him for some tension at key points in the story, even though he doesn’t play much of a part in the larger story. But he was needed. However, I did NOT need the relationship shown in the story. I was able to cut scenes of his and Taylor’s relationship, and make him the ex from the start. Those scenes, I found, were not missed at all. I needed the ex in the story, but I didn’t need the relationship, just knowledge of it. This simplified the story and got it going much quicker, while maintaining needed tension.

Keep the STORY Moving

You need tension dripping from every page. Things can’t go your MC’s way. That’s boring. The WANTS of your characters need to clash, causing conflict. However, tension for tension’s sake is not good either. The best tension arises from those conflicting wants of your characters. Other tension drags down the story.

In early drafts, Taylor was a recovering alcoholic, who turned to drinking after her mother and sister died, and her family system fell apart. Taylor’s alcoholism was very interesting to me. I loved writing from that perspective and seeing Taylor deal with that throughout the story. However, I found that it really didn’t add anything at all to the larger story. It added some great tension early on, and then, when the bigger story comes to the forefront, it actually hindered it. I would still love to investigate the struggles of a teen alcoholic, but this wasn’t the story to do it in. I had too many other things going on that were more important. I could either keep it, and have be insignificant later, which would be a low blow to teens (or anyone) who struggles with alcohol abuse. Or I could cut it. Which I did.

This cleared up scenes and helped me keep the main story moving and at the forefront of my narrative.

Raise the Stakes

My novel is filled with several significant events that bring certain characters together and introduce the larger story (yep, I said it again). In an early draft, Taylor is attacked by a pair of drunks and a mysterious stranger named Rogue comes to her rescue. Originally, the drunks were merely a device for her and Rogue to meet. It was interesting enough, but it didn’t have anything to do with the larger story outside the meeting of two characters. But what if those drunks weren’t drunks at all, but actors, or better yet, since I’m writing about a race of humans with supernatural abilities, what if the actors were also shape shifters trying to draw out (spoiler) Taylor’s not-so-dead mother? Now that is a lot more interesting, and kept the main story at the forefront, and introduced the antagonists from the get-go, while also introducing Taylor and Rogue when Taylor is in danger, significant to their relationship and a mind connection they share, which is revealed later.

I’ll say it again, keep the larger story, the main plot, always in view. We need those secondary story lines and characters, we need that tension throughout, but it will always be more interesting if it also has to do with the real plot. This also keeps things trimmed down, and helps with that dreaded word count.

The Opening (novel revision reflections – part 1)

Writing the opening of a novel might well be the most daunting part of the entire beast. It is the part I have re-written more than any other as I have drafted my YA fantasy novel THE LINGERING SHADOW . It is the sample you send out to agents when you begin the even-more-daunting querying process. As I have combed through my manuscript these past few weeks, preparing for my first round of querying, I have learned many things I will share. The first is on the use of backstory in the opening of a novel. This is my humble opinion, so take it as you will.

The question is always how much backstory to include right away. We want readers to know something, and probably they need to as well. But too often the first chapter becomes this wandering, convoluted heap either of day to day events that give us a feel of the MC’s life before conflict strikes, or a barrage of info-dump in between bits of action. Neither are very helpful, nor likely very attention-grabbing for readers (or agents for that matter).

In my latest revision, my only goal was to trim down the manuscript of anything I could bear to let go of (there was a lot of it, and I was trying to write succinctly already in that draft). One area I found a lot of dross was my opening chapter, filled with little snippets of information about Taylor (my MC) and her life. Much of it was already pretty plot-specific, and important (her mother and sister were killed mysteriously in a city where crime was largely eradicated). But much of it could go, or be saved for later.

If you’re not sure, kill it.

There is no right answer, but I decided, if there was a part of me that questioned whether a paragraph was important enough to keep, I would kill it anyway, even if it was a paragraph of prose I was quite fond of. This worked. When re-reading the chapters after those cuts, I never missed the things I cut, even when I wasn’t positive about them initially. Trust your instincts when editing. Kill your darlings, too. Those elegant descriptions are probably beautiful, but they are probably over-written anyway. Save the long descriptions for something really important (not the soothing effect of a day-to-day shower… oops!).

Keep the action moving.

The opening is when you are grabbing your readers attention for the first time. If the info is not pertinent to the initial action, probably it can go, or be saved for later, when we are already invested. In Taylor’s case, when a pair of shape shifters come after her in my opening, readers didn’t need to know every detail of what happened to Taylor’s mother and sister months before, or the political and social structure of her world, and they definitely didn’t need to know about her everyday life. Just enough to know strange things were happening in Taylor’s world. Trust your readers to build with the key pieces of information you give them off the bat. Sometimes a flashback or significant chunk of backstory is needed for the story as a whole. Those can wait. Pull us in with tension first.

Start at the beginning.

Like I said, we don’t need those chapters of day-to-day life, introducing as many significant players as possible, or info-dump laying out the intricacies of the world, or the landscape, etc. If it’s needed, keep it brief. I cut whole chapters (and prologues) this way. Let the action later introduce us to the world and the people in it. Start your story where the action starts. Identify the inciting incident (the thing that happens to your MC that propels her into the action of the plot), make sure it happens in your first chapter. For Taylor this is when she meets a young man named Rogue, when the shape shifters come after her, and he rescues her. In my first draft this didn’t happen until chapter 5. Now it happens within 7 or 8 pages. You’ve got a lot of story, and not a lot of word count to spare. Save a few hundred, or a few thousand, words for later and start with the inciting incident.

 

Good luck with your own writing and editing!

Stephen Andrew

 

Read the opening to my novel (here), and let me know what you think.

Leave a comment about what you think makes a good opening.