David Farland

To Win Big, You Have to Enter the Race

19 May 2015

From NYT bestselling author and former writing professor, Dave Farland:

Last week I got a note from a student who just had a novel accepted by a major publisher. He seemed a little surprised at how easily it had happened, as if he’d happened to enter a horserace and had just taken first place by accident.

But it’s no accident. I’ve heard a lot of writers talk about publishing and making money in this business as having an element of chance, as if writers who succeed are just lucky. I’ll grant you, it does seem to me that at times there is an element of chance.

For example, my friend Richard Paul Evans started out as a self-published author. He took his little book out to Book Expo America—a huge trade show—and tried to get a table so that he could display it. But the tables were sold out.

Yet as he was walking through the exhibition halls, he noticed that one table was open—the vendor that had reserved it was a no show—so he quietly set up a little display and talked to people about his book. No one was interested, it seemed, but he was invited to a small bookstore in the South to do a signing.

He went to the bookstore, and signed in the midst of a snowstorm. No one came. He realized that he had wasted his time and thousands of dollars in self-publishing, but then a woman walked in late, just before the store was about to close for the night.

She brushed the snow off of her coat and got to talking to him. She told him that she was a television producer for a morning news show—Good Morning America. Due to the snow, their guest the next morning wasn’t going to be able to make it. She asked if he would be willing to stand in for the missing guest.

. . . .

Was it luck? Coincidence? Perseverance?

I think it was a combination of factors. Richard Paul Evans perseveres. He’s also smart. But eventually, when he most needed publicity, he met someone who happened to need a guest speaker, and it changed his life.

Yet time and time again I meet young would-be writers who say, “You know, those authors who make it big? It’s all a matter of luck.” This becomes their excuse for doing nothing at all.

Link to the rest at David Farland

Here’s a link to Dave Farland’s books

When to Stop Polishing a Manuscript

10 February 2015

From author Dave Farland:

Many new writers don’t know when to stop polishing a manuscript and move on to the next. Part of the reason for that might have to do with Ernest Hemingway.

Many years ago, a writer asked Hemingway, “How many times should I rewrite a manuscript?” Now, Hemingway hated dumb questions, so he answered “Oh, at least 60.”

He loved doing that to writers. On one occasion, a writer asked him what kind of chair he preferred to sit in, as if perhaps the brand of furniture that an author had planted his butt on might somehow confer literary genius.

Hemingway answered, “I don’t sit when I write, I stand.” And a generation or writers began to write standing up. The problem with that is that you can go to any one of Hemingway’s old homes or offices, and see the chairs that he sat on.

On another occasion, a writer asked him how long she should wait between drafts when revising, so that she would be able to look at her story “cold.” He suggested that it should be two years.

Think about it. If Hemingway did sixty drafts of a novel and waited two years between each draft, he would have never finished a single book. Don’t listen to bad advice, even when it comes from a genius.

Back when I first began writing, I used an old typewriter. I didn’t like it. I had to really bang the keys hard, it was noisy, certain keys didn’t work well, and the type was uneven. Because of this, doing rewrites was difficult. I’d type out a draft, make extensive corrections on the page with a pencil, and then try to type out a perfectly clean copy.

Using that system, it would have been foolish to repeat the process sixty times. Because of this, in the 1920s and 30s, a professional writer would typically try to learn to write a finished copy in a single draft. It was simpler to write out a nice outline in longhand, and then thoughtfully type out one clean draft, than to retype a piece over and over.

. . . .

Of course with the development of computers, revising became quite easy. My first computer would allow me to put only 2 pages of text on a disk, but by the late 1980s I was able to get first a whole chapter, and then with the addition of a hard drive, an entire novel in a single file. It wasn’t until then that rewriting became so easy that it became problematic.

You see, as an editor I’m looking for stories that have some originality, that carry an author’s own voice, his odd quirks. But when a new writer begins showing a manuscript around to members of her workshop and polishing it further and further, eventually the author tends to lose her own distinct voice. The result is, that the story can become less interesting to me as an editor with every draft.

So the question is, how many revisions does a novel or short story really need?

. . . .

As I rewrite, I try to avoid changing both the voices of my characters and my own narrative voice. Rather than polishing away the differences between voices, I think it’s better to look for ways to heighten the unique characters in the tale.

In fact, on one of my last rewrites, I do what I call a “voice edit,” where I go through key characters person by person to make sure that their voices are consistent.

Link to the rest at David Farland and thanks to Cora for the tip.

Here’s a link to Dave Farland’s books.

Spectacular Settings

2 February 2015

From author Dave Farland:

When I’m looking at a story, one of the simple things I look at is setting. There are so many aspects to setting, so let’s just look at a few:

1) Is your milieu intriguing? Many authors will set a story in the most blasé of places. Often, the story is set “somewhere in the USA”. While for certain types of stories this may be completely appropriate, in most cases it’s not. It’s as if the writer has suffered brain death and couldn’t bother to come up with a real milieu. In most cases, it helps if you choose a particular place to set your story, and a particular date.

2) Is the world fully created? If you’re using a real-world setting, then “creating” that world is a matter of capturing it—learning its history, culture, and future. It’s not enough just to research a setting, you have to know it, get it into your bones. This usually means that you must travel to that setting and spend some time there. You can’t just blow through Amarillo, Texas and expect to really know the place.

In a science fiction tale, if you want to set your story on a planet, then creating a setting might require you to decide what kind of star system your planet is set in, along with the planet’s composition, rotation, axial tilt, number of moons, type of atmosphere, and so on. You may have to think about how to create alien life-forms, and develop their life-cycles, and perhaps create their histories, languages, and societies. Just getting those kinds of details takes some concentration.

If you’re creating a fantasy world, then you may have to look even further—into creating the flora and fauna of your world, along with cultures and subculture, the magic systems and economic systems, societies, languages, histories, religions, and so on.

So I look at how robust your setting is. I consider how fully developed it is. I ask myself, “Has this author put enough thought into the setting to create the illusion that this is a real place?”

Link to the rest at David Farland

Here’s a link to Dave Farland’s books

Cutting to the Heart of Your Story

27 October 2014

From Dave Farland:

Many times as an editor, I will look at a scene and ask myself: “Does this scene belong? Does it move the story along? Does it change the story in new and exciting ways?” Too often, the answer is, “No, it’s wasted text.”

I recently looked at a novel that had a fantastic opening. The problem was, that that great opening didn’t come until fifty pages into the book. Any editor would have rejected the manuscript long before that.

Every single page was well written. The characters were fleshed out, the character’s voices and dialog were convincing, the details of setting were great.

The problem was that those first fifty pages consisted of people talking, relating their backstories, and introducing themselves to the audience, and it just didn’t work.

. . . .

1) Do your characters do anything, or do they just think? Too often, I will see scenes where characters just sit and think about what has happened. “How did I get in this mess?” The chances are good that this kind of scene is garbage. You’re trying to lead up to the action when you do this. Instead, let characters think while they are in action.

. . . .

3) Two characters have a conversation—but nothing changes. Very often I see conversations that seem to be rather maid-and-butler, where one character says, “Gee, Bob, you know I think we have a major problem,” and the other says, “Yes, I agree.” That’s all a waste.

 

Link to the rest at David Farland

Here’s a link to Dave Farland’s books

Setting Your Own Standards of Excellence

7 September 2014

From NYT bestseller and former writing professor Dave Farland:

This past few weeks I’ve been looking at the business practices of many of our authors and felt pretty overwhelmed by just how nasty things have gotten. As a reader, I’ve always been careful about what I buy, but so many authors are misrepresenting their own works, that lately I’ve been considering whether I should stop reading or promoting indie works at all.

. . . .

But there are still some huge problems with the way that some authors are promoting themselves. The problem hit the spotlight with the nastiest case of plagiarism that I’ve ever seen. The author Rachel Ann Nunes, whom I’ve known for at least a dozen years, had her work plagiarized by an indie author who then proceeded to try to bully her and attack her reputation online, using fake identities to leave a string of negative reviews not only of Rachel’s work, but attacking her personally as someone who was “self-righteous,” saying that all of her books were trash.

. . . .

1) Thou shalt not plagiarize. It used to be that I would see a case of plagiarism every couple of years. Now it seems to be happening online every day. If we’re going to stem the tide, we need to hold plagiarists accountable. That means that when they put things for sale online, then try to slink away when caught, we need to uncover their identities and hit them with the full penalties of the law.

Don’t just report plagiarized works online—attack the thieves who are doing it.

The worst of the plagiarists are creating “Frankensteins,” books cobbled together from one chapter here, another chapter there, so that technically the author can’t be held accountable for breaking copyright laws. The reader doesn’t know that he has been swindled until he gets a few chapters into the book.

. . . .

5) Thou shalt not disparage the work of other writers for gain. A few years ago, we heard about a mainstream author who had gone online and attacked well over a hundred other writers, giving their novels lukewarm reviews, then telling the readers that the books were nowhere near as great as his own. I see this happening in reviews on Goodreads and Amazon.com. You don’t need to do it.
Now, if a book really is a piece of crap, you can be honest about it, just don’t sing your own praises at the same time.

Link to the rest at David Farland and thanks to Christine for the tip.

Keeping it Fresh

30 August 2014

From author Dave Farland:

When you’re writing a long novel, sometimes as a writer you feel that you are getting stuck in a rut, that your prose has become repetitious, so it is important to find little ways to vary your work.

Most often, writing teachers will suggest that authors write sentences or paragraphs (or even chapters) of varying lengths.

For example, Ernest Hemingway is often considered the “master of the short sentence,” but in every story that he writes, when he gets up to the place where a thematic climax comes in, he will suddenly write long sentences—as long as three or four hundred words even.

. . . .

Anyone who has ever suffered through bipolar disorder knows that even a single protagonist can suffer through violent mood swings that seem to have nothing to do with what life throws at them. Thus, a character may be on top of the world one day and suicidal the next. So the emotional tone in a novel can vary widely, too.

I’ve seen authors who struggle to put in characters who are wildly different, so that each person is highly individual, and that can be fun, since it pushes you to really delve deeply in order to create interesting characters. Thus, you can look at the works of Arthur Conan Doyle in Sherlock Holmes, and find many interesting characters with odd habits, unusual costumes, and so on.

Sometimes you can simply alter your style in small ways to good effect. In John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, the author will go for fifty pages of dialog where the beats—the character’s internal thoughts and the descriptions of the external settings and character actions—are all skillfully interwoven through the dialog.

Link to the rest at David Farland and thanks to Eric for the tip.

Here’s a link to David Farland’s books

When to Attack Another Writer

12 August 2014

From NYT bestseller and former writing professor Dave Farland:

I’ve been noticing a lot of bad behavior on the part of new writers—minor squabbles motivating petty deeds. So I’ve been thinking that perhaps I should write a little guide called “How to Play Nice with Your Fellow Authors.” In fact, I was going to write the article this morning, when I heard about perhaps the single most disgusting incident that I’ve seen in thirty years as a writer.

It happened last week to a longtime acquaintance of mine, Rachel Ann Nunes. Now, I have to admit here that I know Rachel. I’ve met her at conventions for years, and my daughter happens to be one of her fans. So I’ve probably known her for a good fifteen years, and I like her.

. . . .

Last week, Rachel discovered that another author had plagiarized her book. It was one that was published fifteen years ago as a clean romance. The other “author,” writing under the pseudonym Sam Taylor Mullins, made some revisions to the published text, adding some erotica, and tried to pass it off as her own. (I’m assuming that it’s a female author, although we don’t know at this point for sure, since she won’t reveal her true name, and her accounts keep changing)

While the plagiarized book hadn’t yet been published, copies of it were sent out to reviewers. When one reviewer recognized what was going on and notified Rachel, Rachel tried unsuccessfully to get a copy of the book to see for herself. She then sent emails to six reviewers. Four of them looked at Rachel’s book and said “Yes, you’ve been plagiarized,” and then declined to review the plagiarized novel.

. . . .

This is the kind of case where it is in the best interest of all writers to see this criminal—and her cohorts, brought to justice. So I’d like to do just that.

. . . .

But I’m hoping that some of you will recognize that what is good for one writer is normally good for all. It is in your enlightened self-interest to help Rachel in this case. This particular plagiarist exhibits many of the behaviors of a sociopath, and she will just as gladly steal from you and ruin your career as she will Rachel’s.

You can help by going to GoFundMe, donating to the cause, and sharing it with others. Even if you can only donate $5, if enough people do that, we can make a difference.

Link to the rest at David Farland

How Big is Your Pond?

14 July 2014

From NYT besteller and former writing professor Dave Farland:

Many new authors feel torn between two loves. They might ask, “Should I write science fiction, or should I focus more on young adult novels? Which way should I go?” There are three answers to this question.

You should be aware that this really is a big problem. I know many authors who start writing for small markets, only to realize that they can’t make a living in that market. For example, one author who pens religious fiction for a small church recently came to me for help, trying to figure out how to crack the national thriller market. He was one of the best-sellers in his pond, but it is a very small pond. So far, he is still struggling to make it big. Another who was writing little novels about kids on sports teams wanted to move into YA fantasy—and fortunately he was able to quickly transition into a much larger pond. He went from making perhaps $10,000 per novel to making, literally, millions.

. . . .

So, here is my advice.

1) Write what you love the most. When you love one particular genre more than another, you will usually invest yourself into it more fully, master it more quickly, and develop a name. It is possible to write a truly monumental novel in just about any genre. So if you’re 80% drawn to, say, science fiction and only 20% drawn to young adult, the choice should be easy, right?

But hold on just one moment!

Yesterday I read a piece of advice that said, “Write what you love.” The author pointed out that when George R. R. Martin wrote Game of Thrones, the fantasy genre was “mostly dead.” He stated that when Rowling wrote Harry Potter, she was writing the same Middle Grade story about a wizard school that had been written dozens of times before, and no one expected it to go big.

However, I have to say this. When Martin wrote Game of Thrones in 1996, fantasy was doing quite well. Robert Jordan, Terry Brooks, Terry Goodkind, Stephen Donaldson, and a host of others were all making a very good living in the field. That was just about the time that I jumped into it. So it wasn’t “mostly dead” at that time, it was the healthiest that it had ever been.

And with Rowling? She was writing Middle Grade, jumping into a pond that is quite large, where authors often do strike it rich. For example, when R.L. Stine wrote in the Goosebumps series in the mid-1990s, he captured 45% of all sales in his market for a time, making tens of millions. Now, it’s true that others had written novels about schools for wizards (heck, I began writing one when I was 17), but Rowling’s love for the idea really did shine through. Hers was by far the best.

So really loving a genre is important, but it helps immensely if that genre is already huge.

. . . .

So if you’re 50/50 on which field to write in, money might sway you. Just be aware that genres are always shifting in popularity. Editors right now are getting a little jaded about dystopian YA, and it might be more difficult to sell this year than it was three years ago. So try to stay educated on your markets.

Link to the rest at Dave Farland and thanks to Eric for the tip.

You and Editors

26 June 2014

From author David Farland:

I got an email the other day from an unhappy writer who said that editors aren’t really editors anymore. He said that they’re just “choosers,” picking stories that need the least amount of fixing. Nobody edits.

I certainly see his argument. There are some incompetent editors. For example, I recently got an email from an author whose novel was rejected by a young editor because it was written in third person. She said, “Young adult novels are written in first person, not third!” The same editor wrote another rejection letter to another author saying, “You have adverbs in your manuscript. I would never publish a book with adverbs in it.”

. . . .

Let’s face it: traditionally, say thirty years ago, many editors weren’t formally trained. They often rose up from the secretarial pools, where they worked as slush readers. They may have had no training at all as a creative writer, or editor.

What they did have going for them was “literary sensibilities.” In other words, when they saw a story that moved them and they knew that it would touch other people, they had the good sense to buy it. Their literary sensibilities might have been their best qualification. A good eye is a gift. It can’t be trained into a critic.

. . . .

[T]hough I have worked with dozens of editors over the years, I probably have had more training than any of them. Does that mean that they weren’t helpful?

Not at all! A good editor brings his or her literary sensibilities to the table, along with their experience, which may indeed by quite vast. My editor at Tor, for example, has more experience as a book editor than anyone else in his field.

. . . .

Sometimes I will get letters from people who desperately want me to write their stories for them, or to teach them everything that they need to know to become a writer. I will usually respond by saying, “I really can’t do that.” There are just too many people who want to become writers without doing the work. I’m not a ghost writer, and I don’t have the time to be anyone’s tutor.

Editors will often feel the same. It’s not their job to go in and “fix” every manuscript. Indeed, most manuscripts can’t be fixed. Too often the authors will tell stories that are stale, where the basic concepts to the story make it so that the tale isn’t worth telling.

Link to the rest at David Farland

Writing Dystopias

21 June 2014

From NYT bestselling author and former writing professor Dave Farland:

The best dystopian settings arouse realistic fears in the reader. In other words, the author studies the world as it is today, and very often will look at social conditions and consider, “If this goes on, how will the world change?”

So, for example, in a book like 1984 we’re shown a world where Big Brother is always watching you, where history is instantly revised in order to support current government policies, where big government uses deception and propaganda to control the masses. Does it sound familiar at all?

When Orwell published the novel in 1949, he had seen how Hitler’s “big lie” campaigns had worked in Germany, and how the Soviets and other countries were controlling news broadcasts around the world.

To a certain degree, people in every society are constantly struggling to unravel their leader’s lies, so this kind of dystopia resonated with its readership.

. . . .

In the same way, if you look at The Hunger Games, you can see some ugly aspects of American society playing out. Certainly, the Hunger Games themselves echo the popular reality television shows likeSurvivor, where attractive men and women compete for a grand prize in a primitive location. The show is all about lust, betrayal, starvation, and competition.

Certainly in Hunger Games you don’t have to look far to see the comparisons to 1984, where a Big Brother character constantly watches and manipulates the masses, always on the verge of sending in his troops.

In short, both books play upon reader’s fears by echoing current problems.

. . . .

Some concepts are merely absurd. For example, you could write a dystopia in which giant carrot people are growing humans in hydroponic gardens. It might work as a comedy.

A story can easily move from sounding prophetic to becoming barely plausible to sounding absolutely stupid. It’s a sliding scale.

Link to the rest at David Farland and thanks to Eric for the tip.

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