Why You Should Post a Story on Wattpad

20814-1Okay, if you have been following my Wattpad experience at all, you know I am still new to the site, but I have been chronicling my experience for anyone out there who is on Wattpad or is considering using the site.

Last time, I talked about how to build a readership on Wattpad.

Now, I am going to talk about why Wattpad is worth your time as a writer, and how you can hopefully get the most out of it.

But first, an update on my personal progress.

I have been posting twice a week for about 4 months now, and the momentum continues to build. If you’re a person who cares about stats (and Wattpaders tend to watch their stats pretty religiously), here are mine: my fantasy novel, THE SHADOW WATCH, has reached 8.3K reads and 1030 votes. The first couple months brought me to about 2.5K reads, the next month saw that many in one month, and now I am averaging about 100 reads per day (all-time high was 250 about a week ago, which was fun). I am also typically ranked in the top 200 in Wattpad Fantasy (high of #88 a couple weeks ago)

A few factors that [may or may not] have helped along with a steady increase in dedicated readers:

  1. THE SHADOW WATCH got added to a list on Wattpad’s Fantasy profile, which has led to a lot of users adding my story to their reading lists. I didn’t request the add, but apparently some HQ person discovered it and liked it.
  2. TSW also did well in several contests (I would highly recommend submitting your story to some contests! It is a great way to meet other writers, and to make your story more visible to more people. And it’s just fun!)
  3. I also got had a couple interview questionnaire thingies posted in preparation for the 2016 Watty Awards, which I did have to submit.

Possible factors that [may or may not] have detracted from further progress:

  1. I’ve had a busy summer and, while I have found time to keep at my writing every day (nearly), I have not been as active on forums and interacting with other users, outside of readers and a few writers I’ve connected with. In other words, I am not very actively networking and building online relationships right now.
  2. I’ve also not been reading as much on Wattpad, for the same busyness reason. How much that has affected things, I don’t know, but Wattpad is a social network and the more interaction, the better, I think.

So I want to get better about both of those.

So there you go, you can now discredit me as an amateur and move on to another blog, if you wish. If not, then read on, my friend.

As you’ve gathered, I am not a Wattpad star. Just another writer figuring out what writing looks like in the digital age. I think Wattpad is a fantastic tool for writers in that age. And I will tell you why…

But first of all, you should know that Wattpad is not a likely track toward publication.

What I mean is that you have probably read about the stars, and you’re right, it could happen to you. Your story could garner millions of reads and lead to an instant publication contract. But it probably won’t. In fact, some of the best writing on the site will not go viral, simply because it is not OneDirection fan fiction.

Most of the writers I have met on Wattpad (some of them being the top fantasy writers on the site) are going through the normal channels: write a book, query it, (hopefully) land an agent, and then follow the traditional publication path. In other words, the agents aren’t calling them at 2am, begging to represent it because they saw it went hot on Wattpad.

But that shouldn’t discourage you. Because Wattpad has lots of things to offer writers:

  1. Building readership — agents and publishers are asking about this more and more these days. Can you market yourself? Can you build a readership? If you write a good book and post it on Wattpad wisely, you can have thousands of people who are following you and care about your stories. That’s thousands more than the person who wrote a book in the closet and hasn’t even let their mom read it.
  2. Testing Grounds for your Book — Some people will tell you that Wattpad is not the spot to find beta readers. I would say that’s not true, but that you have to pay attention to who you listen to. There are lots of book clubs on Wattpad where writers will essentially trade feedback. Some of them are high-profile writers and Wattpad Ambassadors. Probably better than most beta readers I will find in my small town, and I can know who they are. On most beta sites, it is all anonymous, but on Wattpad, you can know who they are and determine how credible they are by reading their stuff and seeing the quality of their own writing. Normal readers will often leave reaction and feedback as they read, which can also be very useful. You can see things readers like and dislike about the plot. Was something too far-fetched? Too predictable? Was a scene confusing? They will often tell you.
  3. In-Line Comments — You can get real-time feedback from real readers of your genre. My novel, THE SHADOW WATCH, is teen fantasy. I am able to interact with teen readers, see what they like, what they hope will happen next, etc. I often have readers shipping (a term I learned from readers, which means they hope they end up together, in case your out of touch like me) different characters. This doesn’t change the plot, but may remind me not to forget about my romantic subplots, because readers like a little romance in fantasy. I also have readers who catch typos. I proofread quite a bit, but I still am human, and I miss things. Pretty helpful to have hundreds of eyes on your work.
  4. Connecting with other Writers — Writing can be a lonely endeavor. But the community of writers on Wattpad is typically very kind and sincere. I had several major Wattpad fantasy writers who welcomed me gladly as a newb to the site. Writers often trade feedback and encourage each other regularly. It’s not a narcissistic site. Obviously, we all want to succeed, but on Wattpad, writers are rooting for one another. They also often shout-out other writer’s works to their followers. Pay it forward, folks! Writers are also keen to help each other out with plotting and ideas. When I wrote a large scale battle scene (my first attempt at it), I asked some writers in the forums for time period information, battle strategies, and weaponry, and received wonderful tips and information. That scene turned out infinitely better the first time around as a result. Writers are also supportive of endeavors beyond Wattpad, and are keen to share their experiences with agents, self-publishing, querying, etc. It is great to have a network of writers who are so helpful and supportive. Go be part of it 🙂

 

All right, I know that’s not exhaustive, but it is all for now.

Are you a Wattpader? What do you love about the site? Why do YOU think it is a useful site?

LET ME KNOW IN THE COMMENTS!

 

 

If you want to check out my story you can follow the image link below: 65367089-368-k310254

 

 

 

Getting Readers on Wattpad

20814-1

That’s why you’re thinking about posting your story on Wattpad, right? Everyone wants to have their story read. But how do you get people to read a new story on a site that has literally millions of stories?

There are stories on Wattpad with millions of views and thousands of votes, and it can be really disheartening when your story has only a few dozen reads and four votes.

I have been posting my fantasy THE SHADOW WATCH regularly on Wattpad for about 7 weeks now. I am at 2,300 reads and about 400 votes. In the scheme of things on Wattpad, that’s nothing spectacular. But it has been steadily building, and that is the biggest thing to remember. Hitting 1K reads was a sweet spot that seemed to boost daily readership. Your story begins looking like one worth checking out.

But how to get there?

The other day, I was reading Taran Matharu’s account of posting his story, Summoner: The Novice. He posted daily during NaNoWriMo and reached a million reads in about three months. Incredible! But that is not usually the case, at all, and I just started feeling a bit discouraged, really, because that would be so cool, but that is soo not what has been happening.

But, here’s a truth, even the most successful authors on Wattpad typically go through the slog of building readership over many months.

I currently average about 50-100 reads a day on my story, and anywhere from 5 to 30 votes, typically from around 10 unique readers, and I have spent the last month on the Fantasy Hot List, typically in the top 300 or 400.  Again, nothing crazy. But when I think back to being desperate for a single vote or read when I first started posting, it is actually not too bad.

I have about a dozen or so really dedicated readers, at the moment. Ones who read chapter updates right away and enthusiastically comment (a couple have been with me since the first postings, which is pretty cool) and chat about the story. But you will find these are few and far between. When you get them, treat them well. Thank them often. Dedicate chapter to them. Maybe follow them. 

The majority of Wattpad readers are “silent readers.” Meaning they don’t vote on every chapter (or not at all), nor do they comment, but every now and then one will thank me for posting the story, etc. A little frustrating when you want votes, but you will find that the people who care about votes and comments are typically writers, and the majority of your readers won’t say much, because they just want to read. But hey, someone is still taking the time to read your stuff, and that is awesome, so don’t knock on silent readers. If they interact at all, thank them for taking the time to read your stuff.

*An aside — Don’t be that person who sends messages to followers about how they wish people would vote and comment and quit being silent. No one likes that person.*

 

So how do you build readership, then?

 

Well, I am assuming your story is already top quality, with no grammar mistakes, complex characters, and wonderful tension! No? Then, edit and make sure it’s good before posting. Obviously, if you have major structural flaws, you will have trouble getting noticed (unless you are writing One Direction fan fiction, then it seems anything goes).

There is no exact formula to building readership on Wattpad, but I truly believe these things will help everyone. They have worked for me, and are what I see successful writers doing.

 

  1. COVER! COVER! COVER! —  Don’t throw a crappy cover up and wonder why no one is clicking on your story. Find someone who can make a decent one. Deviant Art is a good place to look, as well as the Design forums on Wattpad. There are people who will make you a cover in exchange for you dedicating a chapter to them, or reading and commenting on a couple chapters of their story. Pretty good deal! Get a decent cover before you post anything.
  2. BLURB! — Maybe I will write more about the blurb sometime, but for now, look up what you should include in the blurb, and check out the blurbs of popular stories on Wattpad. What makes them stand out? Be sure to highlight your Main Character and the main conflict quickly. Unless people click on your story, they will only see the first few lines, so make them juicy. Don’t give us paragraphs of worldbuilding or description. Give us tension and make us need to find out what will happen in the story.
  3. POST REGULARLY! — This is one of the biggest things you can do to help yourself build momentum early. I would recommend 2-3 updates a week as you start out. Every time you post, your readers receive push notifications on their phones and an email, that reminds them 2-3 times a week that your story is there and is updating. Also, the more they have to read, the more votes and comments you can get. Don’t post all at once! But steadily put it out there. If possible set a definite schedule. I post every Monday and Friday. My followers and readers know when the new chapters come out and can depend on it.
  4. INTERACT WITH THE READERS YOU HAVE! — I don’t care if you have one reader or a hundred or more. Respond to every comment. Thank people when they vote for your story. Even the top writers do this. Have someone who comments on your story a lot? Why not dedicate a chapter to them. It will make them feel more invested in the story.
  5. BE PATIENT! — It will probably not happen overnight. Just keep at it! While you’ve got time, read other people’s work. See what they do. Get involved on the forums. There are lots of great people there. There are forums for Undiscovered writers. Why not see if some of them want to trade feedback? You may find a new reader who will stick with you the whole way, and you may find out you need to fix some things in those opening chapters.

 

A Couple Freebies

These aren’t necessarily what everyone does, but I picked up some readers through them.

  1. ENTER A CONTEST — Got an awesome story? Why not enter a contest? There are many on Wattpad. For Fantasy and Sci-Fi writers, there is an awesome group called FANTASCI that holds awesome contests regularly and are hosted by top writers on the site in the genre. I connected with a couple top-notch writers through this, and also found some dedicated readers, based on a blurb and cover contest. It is a chance to stand out, because the contests are not based on current readership, just quality writing.
  2. FORUMS — I know I’ve said it before, but seriously, connect with other writers. The community is very supportive. Make friends. Are you undiscovered? Go to the forums, and connect with others? You a romance writer? Connect with other romance writers. Don’t promote yourself! Just chat and connect. Maybe check out some of their stories. But in the long run, this will serve you well.

 

Some Don’ts

55056267

  1. Don’t create fake accounts and get fake votes and comments on your story.
  2. Don’t mass follow people in hopes they’ll follow you back, and especially don’t mass follow writers, because it is annoying.
  3. Don’t troll around begging for reads. You just look desperate.

 

 

Okay, that is all for now. I am still new to the site. But I am pleased with my progress and am excited to see how the momentum continues to build.

 

You a Wattpadder? What works for you? What doesn’t? Was this helpful?

 

Let me know in the comments!

 

And hey, feel free to follow me on Wattpad: S.A. Klopfenstein

 

And if you care to check out my fantasy story, THE SHADOW WATCH, you can read it here: THE SHADOW WATCH

65367089-368-k310254

 

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:

 

Looking at Your Writing from a New Perspective (Breaking Writer’s Block)

It has been a while since I’ve written. For a number of reasons, but largely because I have been busy and I have been stuck.

I know, I know. The age-old excuses.

But they plague us all, don’t they?

I work full time and I am a full time graduate student. So time is tight. But everyone’s time is tight. As Stephen King advises, sometimes you just have to sit your @$$ in the chair and just do the work, but sometimes it is a whole lot easier to make yourself get in the chair, let alone accomplish anything in said chair. To be honest, I can usually make time for my writing when I am pumped about a project.

In comes excuse number two, being stuck. For the first time in months I am writing daily and loving it. I wrote a novel a while back and tried to publish it. I got some offers, but nothing I was crazy about. Considered self-publishing, and realized I wasn’t happy enough with the book to put it out there. (Funny how if you think about doing all that editing and marketing on your own, you realize the story might need work,)

So I’ve been in the quagmire of serious re-writing. But I kept getting bogged down with the old story, and as a result, I was never quite happy with any of the new stuff.

I played around with a couple other projects but was bored for the most part. Nothing was really taking off, and I couldn’t quite let go of the last novel.

Finally, I set my butt in the chair again and started brainstorming a totally new novel. It incorporated some ideas from my old novel and some of the ideas from the re-writes, but it was an entirely new story, a new world. I came at the writing from a truly new perspective.

And the story has taken off, I am excited to say. I am waking early to sit my butt in that chair and write. I am staying up late after the homework is done to write.

Sometimes you have to look at things from a new perspective. Try another genre or writing style or whatever it is.

Mix things up.

If what you are writing is not exciting you, perhaps there is a reason, and you’ve got to embrace that reason rather than try to hide from it. If you are having anxiety attacks over sitting your butt in the chair, maybe it’s time for a new project.

Now, everyday is not going to be fun, of course. But if your excitement and joy are gone for weeks or months, maybe it’s time to try something new and different.

This is true for writing, and maybe for life in general.

Sometimes we need a new perspective. Sometimes we need to try something a little different. It might just reignite our passion.

It did for me, anyway.

Finding a Writer’s Voice

My earliest memories of writing are from grade school, tracing the forms of letters on perforated outlines before graduating to attempt them freehand; then, on to short sentences — See Dick Run sorts of things. At the time, penmanship was still a virtue, and we students had uncomfortable little rubber insets on our pencils to produce better writing posture in our fingers. I don’t remember a particular emotion, positive or negative, toward writing in those formative years. It was a task, like most things school-related. Writing exercises were like memorizing sums in their mundane repetitiousness. But they were expected, so my feelings remained rather neutral on the matter.

Sentences grew into paragraphs. Eventually we had to start assembling the monstrous things on our own. Transcribing transformed into regurgitating information: the short answer response to a prompt, such as why such-and-such happened a certain way. It was based on what one remembered from the assigned text, and was required, so I regurgitated.

It was not until middle school, somewhere between diagramming subjects and predicates, identifying gerunds and –ly words, that I was assigned a creation all my own. This had no prompt, involved no recollection of information. It was pure and sweet inspiration: creative writing.

I was assigned a short story, five to ten pages, with the presumption that no one would come close to the end of that limit. I remember feeling a little daunted, but I had recently thought of an idea and decided to try it out. The story was about a sleepwalking serial killer. A calm, quiet citizen and a good father, he had no idea of his heinous capacities upon entering slumber. He was caught, of course, and put on trial, and there was a moral question of whether a man could be rightfully convicted for crimes originating in a dream world. In the end the man was put to death by lethal injection. To be honest, it was a terrible story. The elements of potential were there, but I had no capacity to accomplish what I wanted. Ten pages were nowhere near enough, and I hurried the ending to meet the requirements of the assignment. I finished feeling it was okay at best. But my mother, who also happened to be my teacher, upon reading it, compared it to a thriller she’d been reading. She said she could not put my story down.

I wrote little outside school essays after that. I don’t recall another creative fiction assignment. I got great grades on papers and assumed I was a decent writer, but it was just a credit to my ability to complete tasks. I had ideas for a couple stories, and once wrote an opening chapter, only to realize I was in over my head.

But my freshman year of college, things changed. My Composition professor was a creative writer, a master of essays as well as fiction. I wrote several narrative essays, about baseball, summers working on a ranch, a horse dying in my arms. And he loved them. He would read them to the class and note the power of my personal insights. I was simply making sense of my high school years and how they formed me, but my professor was subtly telling me I had something worth saying. I was not recalling another’s ideas; they were all my own, my thoughts, and they were valuable. They were worth jotting down.

I have been compelled to write ever since. I focused on writing and journalism as a result of that Composition course, and a year or so later, I dared to jump off the high dive, and tackle one of the many fictional stories running circles through my brain. I took creative writing classes to keep me at it. It took me several years to figure out how to finish the beast known as the novel, but I managed it. I write almost daily in some form or another, though never as much as I would like. Be it the narrative essay or fiction, for me there is something beautiful about taking an idea from my head and seeing it come alive on the page, to see sense made out of the recollection of an experience from childhood. I write now because I love it, because it helps me make sense of the world and of myself. And I write because I must.

It is likely, without the praise of key individuals I might not have grown to love writing. It might have remained a task, neither good nor bad, just expected. First I had to write something. Then, someone had to tell me I had something worth writing about. Then, I had to keep at it.

The voice burns from within first. But I think it is always fueled by the breath of others. But once a voice is unveiled, it is a power unlike any other.

Writing Entertainingly (Edgar Rice Burroughs on telling interesting stories)

Time for another writerly quote. I wrote a post recently on Literary fiction versus Pop Fiction, and the issue I have with “literary” folks who put down widely read works, so this quote struck home with some things I’ve been thinking about lately:

I have been successful probably because I have always realized that I knew nothing about writing and have merely tried to tell an interesting story entertainingly. – Edgar Rice Burroughs

Burroughs’s Tarzan and John Carter stories are still some of the most beloved stories ever written. And I love how he puts this. Not only does he admit he knew nothing (Yeah right, Edgar!), he attributes his success to accepting this fact and instead focusing on telling a good story.

Because that is the point, isn’t it? To tell a good story.

I am not saying it is not helpful to try to learn about writing and prose and using good grammar. But you can have profound knowledge about how language works, and you can even write gorgeous prose, but it still not be about anything at all.

You can write well, and still be a crappy storyteller.

Burroughs may not have been the most profound writer, but he could write a gosh-darn entertaining story!

The writing helps, but in my mind, the story is what matters. Learn what makes a really good story good. What makes it gripping or interesting? In other words, why should people care enough to read it?

Come up with something interesting. And write it entertainingly.

I can’t speak for everyone, and the reasons why they read books. But I read to be entertained, largely. I read to be wrapped up in a story, to feel like I am experiencing the story as the main characters, to be left wondering what will happen and how, to care so much about the characters that I must reach the end. That is entertainment, and it is the effect I would much rather master, over gushing prose. Maybe I’ll learn a little of that someday, but for now, I am going to work on becoming a better storyteller.

Beginning with the End of the Story in Mind

E. L. Doctorow compared writing to driving. You know where your destination is, but you can only see as far as your headlights. At first I thought this promoted flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writing. But I don’t really think it is. I think it is true we can’t always see how things are going to come together as we are writing, entirely. However, there should be (has to be) a destination. Perhaps, you will find a shortcut, or you will take the scenic route. Perhaps you will near the destination and realize that you ought to stop somewhere else.

But you’ve got to know where you are headed. Effective businesses have a mission statement, a primary goal. Effective people have goals for their lives. A good book has to have a goal too.

Knowing where you are headed is key before you set out to tackle anything you write. Perhaps you’ve got to write a little to figure it out, or do some writing exercises or brainstorming. Sometimes you’ve just got to sit back and think about it. In fact, I would argue that one of the most important parts of the writing process is simply thinking about the story, sorting things out in your head a bit before you set out on the journey.

You could just start writing, just like I could just start driving down the road and seeing where I end up. But most likely I would waste a lot of miles and gas. What a shame to write half a book and realize you’ve got to go back and totally re-start the story, because the direction has changed! Believe me, I have been there. It is tough to throw something out you’ve worked hard on. I could have saved hours upon hours if I had thought things through more before writing.

Don’t neglect the planning time. Spend some time with it, have fun with it, embrace it. Think about what your characters are like and what the story-world is like. Jot down a chapter if you need to. But figure out what the real story is, and figure out what the goal, the endpoint, of the story is. You will discover all kinds of things along the way, but if there is no destination, it will be wandering and rambling.

Begin with the end and then move forward. Every scene you write will be more effective the first time around, and you will assuredly reach the destination faster.

“Literary” versus Fiction that Sells

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: I hate it when “literary” folks bash popularized works of fiction and the writers of popular fiction.

What is popular fiction? I would call it fiction that sells. There are works that are deemed literary that might fall in to that category. Cormac McCarthy sells a lot of books, for instance. But mostly it is genre stuff: King and Crichton and Clancy novels, courtroom thrillers, books about boy wizards, books about psychotic married couples and so forth.

I read a post by James Scott Bell, the awesome writing coach, about this lingering snobbery toward popular writing by the literary snobs. The snobs hate how much we like King and Rowling and Koontz. They think its a sign that people are dumbing down the literary world and ruining the publishing industry. They think it is ruining the art and turning it into entrepreneurship.

But since when was writing not entrepreneurial? Writers have always had to promote themselves, whether to a publisher or a newspaper or an agent or whatever. What writer has ever not wanted readers or to be paid? The starving artist who just sits around and creates experimental work for himself is a rare thing — romanticized far more than it is realistic, or even all that artsy —  and making work for yourself doesn’t mean it is better than work created for other people.

For that matter, who says it can’t go both ways anyway? As if creating works people will like cannot also mean creating art for yourself?

When asked why he chose to write horror, Stephen King remarked, “Who said I had a choice?”

When I was studying writing and literature at college, I met a snob or two. In one critique group, while everyone else was writing essays exploring their mostly mundane personal lives, I was writing action scenes for stories about teens with supernatural powers. In a previous critique group, my stories were considered the best in the class, and suddenly students were talking my stuff down. Ultimately, it came down to the “literary” thing.

Now I still learned a lot from the class, but nevertheless, it rubbed me the wrong way then, and it still does.

I love the sort of stories I write. They are the sort of stories I love to read too. Sure, I read some literary stuff at times, but sci-fi and fantasy are what I love. And when people talk that sort of writing down, it rubs me the wrong way.

Just because something is popular does not decrease its merit. Just because a book isn’t a slow-paced character study does not mean it does not have something to say about humanity. Just because a story is entertaining does not mean it is no longer art.

In fact, I would prefer to find that place where the stories I love to write are also entertaining to an audience who loves to read them, and if I can not starve along the way, I tell you what, I am all for it.

George R.R. Martin on Outlining Before You Write (or Not)

It is Friday, and so it is time for a quote from a famous writer.

There are people on both sides of the outlining approach to writing. George R.R. Martin describes it this way:

I’ve always said there are – to oversimplify it – two kinds of writers. There are architects and gardeners. The architects do blueprints before they drive the first nail… the gardeners just dig a hole and plant the seed and see what comes up. I think all writers are partly architects and partly gardeners, but they tend to one side or another.

In another interview he clarifies which way he tends toward:

I hate outlines. I have a broad sense of where the story is going; I know the end, I know the end of the principal characters, and I know the major turning points and events from the books, the climaxes for each book, but I don’t necessarily know each twist and turn along the way. That’s something I discover in the course of writing and that’s what makes writing enjoyable. I think if I outlined comprehensively and stuck to the outline the actual writing would be boring.

Ultimately, there is no right way for this. Figure out what works for you. There are great and successful writers from both camps. However, I think Martin hits it on the head, that there is no one way without the other, but merely tendencies toward one or the other.

There are many who might think themselves purists, or fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants writers, or organic writers, or whatever. These writers tend to demonize outlining, and often planning, period. I used to side a lot more with that camp.

Writing this way is fun and exploratory, I suppose. It also churned out a really rambling and crappy first draft. I started developing more plot points that I was writing toward, because I realized things needed more focus, and the writing got better. Lately I have been studying plot and structure and the things that are known to be present in good fiction. The things that make good plot points, and ways to make my writing tighter.

I don’t know if I will ever be an all out outliner. I think I would tend to agree with Martin that to do this entirely would take the fun out of the writing. However, especially as a writer in progress, I think really thinking through and *gasp* planning out those plot points and major events, and maybe even some ways of getting there can be really beneficial. No matter what, you will probably discover many things, regardless of the plan. But good plots have structure.

Don’t just jump in and hope for the best, though. Most great works happen with a lot of planning, a lot of hard work, and, yes, discoveries along the way. But most likely you won’t have one without the other.

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.