Friday, October 25, 2013

Seeds 3, and some writing tips

The final book in the Seeds trilogy is now out, and I still feel all tingly and disbelieving about the fact that I've managed to get three books published! It's almost surreal.

Amazon (print and Kindle) Barnes and Noble (Nook)

So I thought I would take the time to share some writing tips, because unfortunately, through my voracious reading habits I have come across some terrible books along with good ones. Putting all the tips in one entry would be so long, so I've decided to just share what I feel are a couple of really important ones.

--- Research is key. This tip is absolutely non-negotiable if you want a quality book. If you're writing a book that requires a lot of technical information or background, such as a detective/police novel or a novel about a doctor and/or hospital, you absolutely need to research what procedures the characters in your book use. This includes bureaucracy, paperwork, standard operating procedures, and all that. Of course, each novel will vary in how much of these details are actually outlined within the book, this is up to the writer how technical they might want to be. This depends on the target audience, if you're writing a light romance novel where one of the characters is a doctor, this won't require as much technicality as say, a medical thriller, as the audiences for these genres do not often overlap. And of course, it's not just police and medical work that need research, each career field has its own rules and procedures, so even if you're writing a book about a model, research the modeling/fashion industry! Not only will your story be more well-defined, but you'll learn a few new things! Knowledge is power!

Even if you're writing in fantasy or science fiction, two genres which give the author much more leeway in what they can do in their worlds, some research is still necessary. Say you're writing a fantasy novel where one of your characters is a knight or paladin or some such. You want to research the types of armors and weapons and their strengths and weaknesses. For science fiction, depending on what your story is about, you want to do research in technology that we currently use, so you have a good background for whatever things you might invent for your science fiction world. And that leads into the second tip...

--- Avoid handwavium. (Wikipedia article) This can appear in any genre of work, but often appears in fantasy and science fiction, as well as post-apocalyptic or dystopian fiction. It can appear in various forms such as a deus ex machina, or a piece of magic or technology that can solve any problems presented in the story. While fantasy and science fiction gives the author a lot of creative power that can not be wielded in most other genres, it can also lead to sloppily-done conclusions or logical fallacies. Some authors might use handwavium without meaning to, so this is something that needs to be watched out for, because you want to be known for an intriguing story, not some lazy plot device.

---- World-building is not easy as it seems. Well, at least quality world-building is not as easy as it seems. If you're writing a novel set in a historical or current setting, refer to Tip 1, so the place you're writing about feels real to your readers and they can learn a thing or two about a place that already exists.

If you are making up a city or place that exists within our world, such as a small town in the South or a village in medieval times, again refer to Tip 1, and research what it is like near the area you're making up. Make sure the name of the place fits in, as well as the mores and rules of that place. What was appropriate at that time/place? Language, gender roles, laws, and so on and so forth. If someone from your fictitious place traveled to a nearby place that actually existed at that time, would he or she fit in? If your fictitious setting is different (such as it is controlled by a cult, for example) there are still things and historical accuracy to consider.

Fantasy and science fiction world-building can be easier, yet at the same time more difficult. You don't have to worry about the things I mentioned in the preceding chapter because you can make your own world from scratch. However, this in itself can be daunting because you do not have the framework of our world to start with. Of course, you can still use real-life for inspiration, especially if the book is set in the future/is post-apocalyptic/dystopian. But you still need to be consistent, so you want to imagine and make notes about your world before you start a novel. Points to consider are...
-Social strata. Some strata are determined by wealth, others by ability or birth, or education, or gender, and so on. Sometimes there can be multiple forms of strata in one society.
-Technology (or magic) level. Keep in mind that this can vary from one social strata to another.
-Value of various items, such as metals, stones, food, magic, technology, or dry goods. Even sex can be used as a form of bartering/trade.
-Gender roles
-Government structure
-Treatment of weaker members (children, disabled, elderly)
-How does this world-structure and technology or magic level affect the conflict in the plot (i.e. war, terrorism, famine, slavery, subjugation of one gender)
-There are many other things to consider such as the education system, fashion, food choices, and so on and so forth.

Depending on your story and what it is about, you can focus more on some things than others, and some things can even be barely mentioned or bypassed. Again, it depends on what kind of story it is, as each story requires a different combination of ingredients to be successful.

Another thing to consider when world-building is to avoid the info-dump. This is where the writer fills up pages with information about the world, without any interaction from the characters. The author may think that by explaining his or her world to the readers, they're making it more accessible to the reader. While understandable, a info-dump can scare off some readers and present too much information all at once.

The best way to present a world is through the interaction of the characters, and if explanations are needed, it is best to break them up into smaller parts that are more relevant to what the characters are doing at that time. This can be done via the character's thoughts and perceptions, or via other devices such as journal entries, news stories, or quotes from background or deceased characters, as is appropriate for the story. In this way, you can build the world through the book, which I find to be more successful than one big info-dump at the beginning.