Tag Archives: tough decisions

The secret beauty of bad ideas

Writers never kill their darlings.

We just lock them away…in a dungeon…indefinitely…

Even when we expunge plots points from the pages, old drafts linger long after their expiration date, haunting hard drives and battered binders for years. The same goes for ideas that never even had a chance to thrive as well as stories that don’t survive a full draft.

I keep my little failures in a folder called “Ideas and false starts,” a literary gulag whose inmates date back to the turn of the century.

What makes an idea bad?

Bad is in the eye of the beholder. Most ideas start out as precious—too precious—so if the author passes harsh judgement on his/her own work, it’s probably really bad. Some common culprits are ideas that are too unrealistic, convoluted, or clichéd. If an idea doesn’t serve—or can’t support—the story, it has to go.

Then there are the ideas that might have made it to those two little words if only they had kept the author’s interest. Boredom aside, ideas also can lead writers down dead ends. Writer’s block has murdered many a storyline.

And here’s a tragedy: a perfectly adequate idea can perish before it reaches its full potential when a shiny new one shows up, usurping an author’s brainpower and priorities.

Can two wrongs make a write?

Abandoned ideas don’t really rest in peace. I, for one, occasionally visit their proverbial prison, poking and prodding to see if there’s any life left in them. Better to have many ideas waiting in the ward than too few to fill one’s time.

I admit very few people to this freak show. Family members, writers groups, beta readers—they alone get glimpses at the grotesqueries. However, after watching a certain movie and playing a somewhat related video game recently, I can’t help but wonder if there could be beauty in the bad.

The LEGO Batman Movie and LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 both feature D-list characters from comics past and present. If Condiment King and Chipmunk Hunk can star in successful stories, what about some of my own castoffs?

The Bad Idea Club

Supposing there’s validity to the theory that mixing up a bunch of bad ideas can result in something good, here are a few mostly forgotten characters of mine that could conceivably band together:

Digger (circa 1984)

Likely the first instance of my unfulfilled fiction, Digger’s Days would have recounted the adventures of Digger, a robot equipped with a drill and a number of other tools to do…stuff. I’m pretty sure this prototype didn’t make it past the drawing board, literally, since I was all of five years old when I sketched him. Still, what story couldn’t use a mechanical sidekick?

The Ultimate Crusaders (circa 1991–1993)

Drawing robots eventually led to illustrating massive battles. I flirted with the miserable (and trademark-infringing) G.I. Joe: The Next Generation before inventing cringe-worthy acronyms for my elite soldiers. Once my interest switched to comic books and their super-powered characters, I invented the Ultimate Crusaders. Many of these heroes and villains they thwarted were Marvel rip-offs (e.g. The Mutant Flame and Electra); others were just plain terrible (the Quarter Note and Herron, whose helmets were as groan-inducing as you might imagine). However, Mr. Mysterious did get reincarnated for a short story I wrote in college.

Yalte Dark Elf (fall 1994)

After months of building my own fantasy world, I decided to attempt a novel. While Altaerra would live on and eventually serve as the setting for The Renegade Chronicles, the original cast of “The Maltaken Experiment” did not. There was an elven bard, a gruff dwarf (of course), a warrior woman, a pixie, and a barbarian guy. Leading the pack, however, was dagger-flinging Yalte Dark Elf, whose only saving grace was that he wasn’t inspired by Forgotten Realm’s Drizzt Do’Urden (like most dark elves), but rather DragonLance’s Dalamar the Dark.

Tarreth (spring 2001)

An attempt at co-writing a fantasy series with a fellow college student quickly fizzled, but not before I wrote a scene introducing Tarreth, a half-immortal child adopted by a creepy old wizard. I think she was going to eventually destroy him and meet up with a delusional “Chosen One.” Alas, her quest was over before it began.

Benedict Strong (fall 2006)

When I stepped away from Altaerra to take a stab at a fantasy novel set in the real world, I conjured up Benedict Strong, who was one of only a handful of true wizards remaining on Earth. He learned from Merlin, I believe, and so did his rival/counterpart, Pandora, who used her arcane talents to perform true magic on stage—unbeknown to her Vegas audiences. Rasputin would have made a cameo. I know: hard to believe this one flopped.

Persephone (fall 2010)

Some ideas are enticing solely because they are something other than what you are currently working on. While up to my elbows in dream drifters, editing If Souls Can Sleep, I began mentally exploring a story where a teenage Wisconsinite named Persephone gets possessed by her unborn granddaughter, a time-traveler comprised of consciousness-preserving nanobots. Of all my bad ideas, Sunny’s story is most likely to orchestrate a jailbreak.

Ysa (spring 2013)

It turns out that writing a story about an alien anthropologist isn’t all that new. Ysa, a genderless extraterrestrial from a mostly lifeless universe, would have been one of three interplanetary delegates to travel to Earth, where the anthropologist would use his/her woefully incomplete knowledge of humankind to forge a lasting friendship between worlds. Naturally, Ysa would have discovered a conspiracy on one side or the other and then foiled it.

The Later Gator (fall 2013)

A few years ago, my wife and I penned a children’s chapter book. The Pajamazon Amazon vs The Goofers Twofers had a very limited run for complicated reasons, but the story foreshadowed a sequel in which the titular heroine would square off against an anthropomorphic alligator whose tide of chaos causes tardiness wherever he goes. The Later Gator still hasn’t shown up.

A song for the unsung heroes

My abysmal mashup may never come to be, and there’s an excellent chance not a single one of these characters will ever escape my digital dungeon. But even if bad ideas can’t be reformed, they serve an important purpose.

Bad ideas take the brunt of punishment from an author’s inner critic. For example, if Benedict Strong hadn’t been such a bore, I might never have given Vincent Cruz a chance, which means The Soul Sleep Cycle would never have happened.

Once a bad idea is banished, we turn with fresh eyes to a new idea, our sadism sated…for now…

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Writing

100 agonizing words

I recently spent five excruciating hours at my keyboard and have less than 100 words to show for it.

Granted, they are some of the most important words for my next novel—second only to the title, I’d argue—but the fact that so much time yielded so little leads to believe that blurbs are the blight of the publishing world.

OK, I may have griped about the challenges of various writing exercises over the years:

Today, however, I’m prepared to go on record as saying all else pales in comparison to penning the dreaded book blurb.

Not to be confused with a full-fledged synopsis (the bare-bones summery generally reserved for agent and publisher queries), a blurb is a relatively small chunk of text tasked with huge responsibility: selling the idea of the book to readers.

Blurbs are often found on the back cover as well as the product description page of an online retailer. Working in conjunction with an engaging cover art and a snappy title, the successful blurb hooks the shopper, converting a prospect into a customer.

Long blurbs run the risk of revealing too much. (Technically, revealing the protagonist, antagonist, and main problem should suffice.) Conversely, if the blurb is too concise or vague, an amazing plot could come off as uninspired.

It’s a balancing act even tightrope walkers fear.

Cropped out book blurb from the back cover of If Souls Can Sleep

Here’s the book blurb from If Souls Can Sleep.

 

For my last book, If Souls Can Sleep, I limited the blurb to five sentences: two for an enticing headline, one to tease the protagonist and plot, and two to introduce the world of dream drifters. Because that blurb received praise from reviewers, I took a similar approach to Book Two of The Soul Sleep Cycle.

Without further preamble, here is the still-in-progress blurb for If Sin Dwells Deep:

 

She swore to defend the dreamscape.
But who will save her from herself?

When her mentor goes missing, straight-laced Allison must rely on her alter-ego, the rebellious goddess Syn, to rescue him. Trusting anyone at Project Valhalla could cost her her life, but fighting alone might damn her very soul.

 


 

If Sin Dwells Deep — a parallel novel to If Souls Can Sleep — exposes the secret world of dream drifters and the classified government operation charged with protecting the collective unconscious from those who would use their abilities to corrupt life, death, and what lies beyond.

 

Given how important these 100 words are, I welcome/encourage/demand feedback. Would that blurb motivate you to flip open the cover or, better yet, add to cart? If not, why?

Thanks in advance for your comments!

8 Comments

Filed under Writing

Some bad news about my brand

What is the digital equivalent of schizophrenia?

Whatever it is, my website has it. More specifically, my brand suffers from it. That’s right, I have a brand. Every author does. Except I ended up with two brands because I bandied about the phrase “One Million Words” for years and then finally formed One Million Words LLC in 2016.

On paper it seems so easy: David Michael Williams is an author, and One Million Words is a publisher. But at this point, OMW publishes only the works of DMW, so the two identifiers are irrevocably interwoven.

Should one-million-words.com redirect to david-michael-williams.com or the other way around? One could argue they should be two separate websites, but it would be ridiculous to maintain two websites with near-identical content.

The professional marketer in me bemoans the fact that OMW has taken a backseat to DMW. After all, a legitimate company should have its own logo, website, LinkedIn profile, and so forth. But if I’m being honest, One Million Words LLC is nothing more than a string of words created expressly for the spine of my self-published novels.

Until the company produces works by other authors, it really doesn’t need to be more than that.

Don’t worry. Even if the One Million Words brand disappears someday, I’d never make my name into a logotype.

I have a bigger problem on my hands, however: David Michael Williams, as a brand, is broken.

Nota bene: Marketing is my day job. I’ve worked with countless companies and organizations on branding exercises, so I’m no stranger to concepts like positioning statements, brand platforms, target audiences, as well as the formal guidelines that govern all marketing communications. And while a solitary novelist differs from corporation in many key aspects, the same fundamentals apply to any entity that sells a product.

The root of my dilemma—my identity crisis, as it were—is that David Michael Williams, the human being, is inconsistent.

If I penned only sword-and-sorcery fantasy books, it’d be much easier to market myself, my novels, and my company. But I also write sci-fi and other subgenres of speculative fiction. You might be thinking, “No matter. Many authors publish fantasy and science fiction. They’re close cousins.”

OK, but I co-wrote a children’s chapter book too. There was also a certain stillborn pun-a-day calendar. And I can’t promise I won’t attempt an interactive storytelling experiment at some point in the future. (Anyone wanna play a grammar video game?)

Some may argue that an author should use a different pen name for each genre he tackles. There’s wisdom in that, but at the same time, I can’t get enthusiastic about juggling additional aliases. I’m one guy with a lot of different ideas who doesn’t want to limit his possibilities; is that a crime?

No, but it can be confusing to consumers, which negatively impact profits.

Or perhaps I’m oversimplifying things. There are plenty of professionals who straddle genres and/or media. Some of my favorites include Robert Kirkman of The Walking Dead fame (though I like Invincible much more and am excited about the recently announced movie); the Decemberists, whose talented fingers touch projects ranging from music and visual art to children’s novels and board games; and the insanely brilliant Neil Gaiman, whose entire career I’d love to clone.

Given those folks’ success, it would seem that a diversity of creativity can be something of a brand in itself. That does give me hope, though in the short term, it won’t make building a fan base any easier. Because as much as it would streamline things, I can’t focus on just one aspect of storytelling.

I won’t.

Which means regardless of whether my website banner says “David Michael Williams” or “One Million Words,” visitors are going to get a messy, mixed bag of imagination.

Related posts:

2 Comments

Filed under Writing

Reblog: Pantsers vs. Plotters

Once upon a time, the stories poured from my fingertips.

Back in the early days of my Quest for Publication, I was equipped with naught but a trusty Pilot pen, a five-subject Mead notebook, and a plethora of ideas. Eventually, I upgraded to a keyboard and computer.

After transcribing tome after tome of intertwining fantasy storylines from my neat (read: girly) handwriting to single-spaced Times New Roman, I typed up additional supplemental materials. I sketched out maps, chronicled centuries of history, invented religions, drafted character profiles, and crafted the very rules of the universe.

I was world building, damn it, and every fantasy author worth his sword needs to know his setting inside out.

I wrote this blog post for nyareads.com. Read the entire post here.

2 Comments

Filed under Writing

‘So…what’s your book about?’

Synopses are the bane of a writer’s existence.

Elevator pitch, logline, plot summary—whatever you call it, boiling down hundreds of pages to a handful of sentences is tantamount to torture for most novelists. In fact, the only thing more difficult is choosing a title for your book.

It’s not that we don’t know what our books are about. The agony arises from having to reduce countless characters, storylines, and themes into something incredibly streamlined and simplistic. Whittling all of that down slices apart the very soul of story.

And yet every serious writer will have to engage in this masochistic activity at some point, if only to attract prospective agents, publishers, and readers. In fact, I recently endured the excruciating exercise of writing synopses for three books while conjuring up the back-cover text for The Renegade Chronicles.

To make a long story short (pun intended), here’s what I came up with:

 

Vol. 1: Rebels and Fools

ANY PORT IN A STORM

The greatest peace treaty in Altaerran history is unraveling.

As civil war threatens the Continent United, two fallen Knights of Superius are forced to join the rebels they once condemned. Hounded by assassins and assailed by doubt, they flee to Capricon in search of answers—only to discover the island harbors dark secrets of its own.

Alongside a mostly reformed thief, a dethroned pirate king, a mysterious woman with a magical sword, and other would-be heroes, the fugitives encounter a sinister power that has taken root within the Alliance.

If the Renegades and Knighthood can’t rise above their bitter rivalry, both factions—and the realm itself—are doomed.

 

Vol. 2: Heroes and Liars

A TANGLED WEB

When civil war escalates into a full-scale invasion of Capricon, every citizen’s loyalty is tested.

Even as the Renegades and Knights at Fort Faith band together to oppose the foreign army, an unremarkable merchant from the capital gets caught up in a cryptic mission of great importance. Why his companions are so eager to reach a castle in the middle of nowhere is just one of many mysteries.

An old man with a twisted sense of honor, a strange girl with mismatched eyes, a highwayman who is less than he seems, and a Knight with incredible abilities—trusting the wrong person could be as fatal as a goblin’s spear.

But will the truth prove more dangerous than the deception?

 

Vol. 3: Martyrs and Monsters

A FATE WORSE THAN DEATH

The devastating conclusion of the war between Capricon’s defenders and the goblin invaders draws near.

Within besieged Fort Faith, the motley army of Knights, Renegades, and refugees prepare for the final battle and almost certain defeat. But even as the crusaders make peace with their gods, champions on both sides of the battlefield will decide whether victory is worth the steep price of damnation.

A ruthless general who craves revenge, a warrior cleric plagued by doubt, a shaman in search of an unholy relic, and former rebels fighting for redemption—no matter who triumphs, sacrifices must be made.

And whatever the outcome, the survivors—and the island itself—will never be the same.

Book covers of The Renegade Chronicles

The Renegade Chronicles will be available in paperback and digital editions on March 31, 2016.

5 Comments

Filed under Writing

Putting the pretty on it

There’s nothing too glamorous about text on a page.

The beauty of words is that they paint pictures in the mind, but when you consider the typically black-and-white composition of lines, dots, and curves on an otherwise blank backdrop, well, words themselves are nothing to write home about.

Having worked in marketing for the past nine years, I’ve discovered there are few things as exciting as unveiling the visuals for a project. Forget the spreadsheets and other planning documents, the copywriting, and the technological components that may follow; the day a client sees her new logo or his new homepage for the first time is by far the most impactful point in the project.

I’ve been known to use the phrase “putting the pretty on it” when describing the evolution from mere words to engaging imagery. The moment there is color and shape and form, that’s when a project starts to feel real.

I’m no exception to the phenomenon, which is why I was so eager earlier this week to meet with the artist working on the covers for The Renegade Chronicles—and to preview three possible concepts.

I am delighted to share the fruits of his labor with you not only because the cover concepts make this whole enterprise feel “more real” to me (and, hopefully, to my future readers as well), but also because very soon, I will have to tell him which concept to finalize for Rebels and Fools and adapt for Heroes and Liars and Martyrs and Monsters (the other two books in the series). I need to choose the winner, but before I do, I’d love to solicit your insights.

In other words, please judge my book by its (prospective) cover!

How can you help?

Take a look at the potential packages for my forthcoming fantasy novels and answer these questions in the comments section below:

  1. Which of the three concepts would most likely prompt you to purchase the book?
  1. What tweaks, if any, would you make to your favorite cover concept?
  1. For each of the three concepts, what type of story would you expect to find behind the cover?

As always, I appreciate any and all feedback immensely!

TRC-cover-concept-1

 

 

 

TRC-cover-concept-2

 

 

 

TRC-cover-concept-3

And the winner is…

23 Comments

Filed under Writing

Pondering my next writing project

My favorite questions tend to start with “what if.” Lately, however, this writer has been asking himself, “What now?”

intersection with many signs and directions

Source: Ernie & Katy Newton Lawley, http://www.flickr.com/photos/lawley/59402926/ via Wikimedia Commons

Ever since I started plotting out If Souls Can Sleep nearly nine years ago, I’ve had a clear path in front of me when it came to my fiction. The road wasn’t always a straight line by any stretch—for instance, my wife and I wrote a children’s book in between the first and second draft of If Sin Dwells Deep—but I always had more tasks than time to complete them.

Until last week.

With the first two installments of The Soul Sleep Cycle in my agent’s hands, I find myself at an unexpected crossroads, where past, present, and future compete for my attention. And for the life of me, I can’t decide which path is the most prudent.

Option 1: The Past

Once upon a time, I wrote a sword-and-sorcery fantasy series called The Renegade Chronicles. I couldn’t get agents or publishers interested. Rather than invest more time in fixing it, I decided to try something completely different. The result was If Souls Can Sleep.

For many years, I’ve had the notion to go back and self-publish the TRC. After all, just about every article I’ve ever read about becoming a profitable author espouses the virtues of having a large number of titles for sale. Some of those same sources heavily imply that quantity trumps quality…

Then again, just as many advice columns say that an author’s No. 1 marketing tool is a well-crafted manuscript—in other words, the best story you can write.

(And what to do when writing tips contradict?)

Last week, I reread the first third of Book 1 of the TRC to see just how much dust had collected over the past 14 years. While it wasn’t as cringe-inducing as a feared it would be, one thing was clear: that book, along with the other two, would need copious edits.

The best-case scenario would be a performing a series of substantive edits on all three books, cutting out superfluous text, fixing awkward words and phrases, and eradicating all types of typos. In addition to removing excess, I detected a dearth in setting and sensory details throughout. The prologue was rubbish, too.

Pros for revisiting the past

  • Repairing something that’s already written is bound to be easier than starting anew.
  • This is the fastest way for me to publish several books in one fell swoop—and, hopefully, start generating revenue.
  • I invested seven-plus years in TRC, so dedicating another six to twelve months seems like a small price to pay in order to potentially profit from all that work.
  • If TRC finds an audience, I have a slew of storylines saved up for that particular universe.

Cons for revisiting the past

  • After so much time away, I’m not particularly passionate about this project.
  • Even with substantive edits, the final product will not reflect my current skill level.
  • Therefore, it will take an awful lot of willpower to refrain from completely rewriting the series, which would be quite time consuming.
  • More editing? It’s been more than three years since I wrote a new book—or, more precisely, co-wrote The Pajamazon Amazon vs The Goofers Twofers—and I’m itching for the chance to jump back into the more creative aspects of creative writing.

Option 2: The Present

With at least one book left to write in The Soul Sleep Cycle (and hopefully a few more), I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t eager to wrap up the major story arc that I started back in 2006. However, I’m reluctant to invest the time in Book 3 before I see whether the first two garner any interest—and sales—either via traditional publishing or indie publishing.

To forge ahead or take a break from the series—that is the question.

Pros for living in the present

  • I already have a pretty good idea of what this book will be about and what needs to happen before the end.
  • Having just finished major edits to If Sin Dwells Deep and minor edits to If Souls Can Sleep, the complexities of the story are still fresh in my mind.
  • I’m still very excited about this series, and, honestly, I can’t imagine not writing this book at some point—if only for closure.
  • If traditional publishers don’t buy the trilogy, I’ll have three books ready to self-publish simultaneously. (Hey, it works for Netflix.)
  • I’m confident that the project would push me creatively and that I’d be proud of the final product.
  • While not as easy as editing TRC, writing Book 3 of The Soul Sleep Cycle would still be simpler than coming up with a completely new idea for a novel.

Cons for living in the present

  • If ISCS and ISDD don’t prove profitable—regardless of whether I or a traditional publisher sell them—then spending time writing the next book in the series would be rather pointless. (See also: The Renegade Chronicles.)
  • Even with my new writing schedule, it could take me a couple of years to plot out this story, write it, and then edit it.

Option 3: The Future

I don’t know about other writers, but I always have a slew of story ideas rattling around my gray matter. I jot down some of these story starters in a Word file. In most cases, a few paragraphs are enough to placate that which is threatening to distract me from my current project. Such was the case with a young adult time-traveling tale, a twist-filled take on a traditional fairy tale, and a book about zealots bent on triggering Armageddon.

But then there are stories that can’t be so easily exorcized. For more than a year, I’ve found my mind wandering to a new novel—or series—codenamed “Changelings.” Last week, I finally relented and wrote a few pages about a potential plot and the people to populate it.

Could this be my next novel?

Pros for embracing the future

  • Jumping into a brand-new book would be undeniably energizing, not to mention fun. (I haven’t written a first draft a story since “Ghost Mode” in 2013!)
  • I already have a viable avenue to explore: Changelings.

Cons for embracing the future

  • I have no idea whether any of my ideas, including Changelings, will bear fruit.
  • Even if I were to write a complete manuscript for Changelings, there’s no guarantee it would be publishable.
  • Planning aside, starting afresh will surely be the most time-consuming approach. If my goal is to publish something pronto, this option is out of the question.

Of course, there are other possibilities. I could focus on non-fiction, repurposing some of my old Generation Why? columns or mining this blog for writing-related topics in order to make my self-publishing debut. Or I could give into one of my friend’s urgings and try my hand at a biography of some fascinating historical figure.

But the fact is my passion for writing has always focused on fiction.

“What next?” has almost never been a problem for this writer. Perhaps I should spend a little time exploring past, present, and future—each in turn—and see which project captures my soul. Then again, I suspect I already know where my heart lies.

Perhaps that’s another advantage of “living the dream.”

6 Comments

Filed under Writing