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I would love to write a book, but I do not that the patience or perseverance to accomplish this feat. How do you stick to it in writing? How do you keep your story from changing from what you want it to be into something you are not as excited about. Do you get bored with your characters?
Reblog from Jim Hines
2011 Writing Income
Quick Announcement: I came across the German cover art for Snow Queen’s Shadow yesterday. Click the thumbnail to check that out.
Quick Thanks: My Fantasy Poses post has now been viewed well over 100,000 times, which is awesome. But I’ve noticed that as this continues to spread, I’m seeing a larger number of comments that … well, let’s just say I sometimes take for granted the mostly thoughtful, respectful, and fun comments and discussions from people here on the blog. Glancing at these other sites has been a reminder to 1) STOP READING COMMENTS ON UNMODERATED SITES! and 2) thank everyone here for being generally excellent people.
It always feels weird to talk about money. Partly this is because we’re taught not to do so. It also feels uncomfortably like boasting. I know a lot of people are struggling right now, and the last thing I want to do is rub their noses in the fact that I had a good year.
At the same time, there are so many misconceptions about writers and how much they make… I continue to run into people who assume I’m rich because I’ve got some books out, people who expect me to live in a mansion with solid gold robokittens and nuclear powered toothbrushes and so on. And I think it’s important to bust some of the myths about writing and writers.
I’ll put this behind a cut tag. If you’re interested, then read on…
My income posts from previous years are here: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010.
From a financial perspective, 2011 was my second-best year as a writer. Thanks in no small part to the on-signing advance for Libriomancer and its as-yet-untitled sequel, my writing income was $42,772 before expenses and taxes. Here’s the long-term breakdown going back to 2002, because graphs are cool.
Keep in mind that I’ve been writing and submitting since 1995. The jump in 2006 coincides with the release of my first book from DAW. The 2008 spike comes from Germany’s love of goblins.
Two messages I take from this graph are:
It takes a long time to build a writing career.
Writing fiction is not a terribly stable source of income.
Last year’s numbers break down roughly like so:
Novels (U.S.) – $22,000
Novels (Foreign) – $18,000
Self-Published Titles – $1370
Short Fiction – $760
Speaking Fees – $625
The biggest change from 2010 has been a significant increase in my U. S. book advances and royalties. This is the first time since I started doing these posts that my U. S. book income exceeded the foreign sales and royalties. But those foreign sales are still a very significant part of the overall pie, and for that I’ve got to once again thank my agent Joshua Bilmes. Germany made up roughly half of the foreign income, with France taking second place.
My writing expenses came to around $2000, with conventions being the biggest cost. This is pretty much unchanged from last year.
Because this is much more than I made last year, I expect taxes to be rather painful. I paid estimated taxes in 2011, but that was based on the prior year’s income. I’ve been setting money aside, but I’m still not looking forward to writing those April 15 checks.
I’m at the point in my writing career where, based on the past four years, I’d give serious consideration to quitting the day job … if I had a reasonable source of health insurance for my family. Since I don’t, I’m still not in a position where I can write full time.
I don’t know that there’s such a thing as a “normal” writing career, and you definitely can’t and shouldn’t draw broad conclusions from one example. That said, this gives you one example of an author with seven books in print from a major publisher, along with foreign sales to five different countries, a handful of short stories, and a few speaking engagements.
Questions and comments are welcome, as always.
Nothing makes or breaks the pace of a story like tension. Tension and its brother conflict are essential to keep the reader engaged and hooked. It is what makes a reader not want to put the book down, what prevents them from becoming bored. Tension is the magnet that draws reader interest, the discomfort that demands our attention.
This is no secret, yet according to highly respected literary agent Donald Maass “without a doubt, the most common flaw I see in manuscripts…is the failure to invest every page of a novel with tension. Low tension equals low interest. High tension equals high interest.” So, how do we maintain tension throughout a manuscript?
What is tension?
When little is happening, why keep reading? Tension comes from conflicting emotions, opposing motives, friction. It comes from a give and take of the character’s most inner desires. Tension comes from inside. Even action itself is not sufficient. In action, tension comes from the conflict driving the action, not from the action itself. Conflicting emotions, motives and desires create tension; streaming bullets will not.
Tension can be many things. It can be as obvious as someone pointing a nerve disruptor at the protagonist or as subtle as reaching a deadend. It does not matter. The mere anticipation of conflict creates tension. Creating a desire, a need, and a strong motivation in your protagonist, while at the same time making sure the protagonist is unable to reach it – to the point of making it seem impossible for him to win – creates tension. If the stakes are then raised so the hero has lots to lose from not meeting the impossible goal we have created internal emotional conflict that will lead to heightened tension. On the other hand, if we consistently give the protagonist what they want we are shooting ourselves in the foot. You must choose. Either be tough on your protagonist and characters or you will end up being tough on your story.
One way to figure out if the level of tension in a story is right or not is by paying attention to the feelings evoked in a reader as the story unfolds (and your own feelings of discomfort as you write the scene). Without a sense of discomfort over what is happening to the protagonist, without disappointment, without a credible risk that the protagonist might fail (they may even reach their goal, yet lose), without high stakes, we have no reason to care how life will turn out for the hero. We have no reason to turn the page. Without the hook it is inevitable for the reader to put your story down.
An author must be willing to work at creating powerful motives and personal stakes in their characters. If Harry Potter did not confront Voldemort the world was not only doomed but Harry Potter would surely have died. This in itself is a powerful motive to confront Voldemort, but it was not enough. Harry Potter had also a second powerful and personal motive to kill Voldemort: revenge the death of his parents. He has powerful personal stakes to act and a lot to lose if he does not achieve his goal. I believe it is the combination of both that makes Harry Potter so attractive and captivating to the audience. The more stakes, the more work, but the more gripping the novel.
How do we heighten the stakes in our story? Of course there is no one answer to this question but here is one answer. Identify the protagonist’s largest problem or conflict. Then, find out what would make this problem matter more to the protagonist. What would give it more personal meaning and significance? What is it about the problem that makes it so meaningful?
■“I have to do this!” Why?
Identify what makes the conflict deeply personal? Why does the protagonist feel the need have to commit to fixing the problem?
■Is it a matter of faith? Principle? Morals? Deep conviction?
■Where does this come from? Childhood?
■Old traumatic event?
■How can this problem matter more than anything?
■How does this problem define them
■What connects the problem to the protagonist?
■Why does he/she care so deeply?
■How does it connect to their childhood?
■How does it connect to their life?
■What are the consequences if they do not fix the problem?
I want to Raise the Stakes: But how?
Now that we understand the motives and problem of the character in question (from the questions above) find ways this problem can matter more. Find more (not necessarily physical things) to take away from the hero. Come up with a long, personal list and figure out a way to weave each enhanced personal stake into the novel. Find new ways to make your protagonist miserable. Your readers will thank you.
“Drama is life with the dull parts left out.” – Alfred Hitchcock
Internal conflict Vs. Action
Internal conflict involves wanting two mutually exclusive things at once, expressed outwardly in actions and words. Internal conflict is what makes characters memorable and what makes people pay attention, what grabs the reader. To find good internal conflict, both the readers and author must feel discomfort while reading and writing. It must be dramatic and add to the story. It must be enacted in the story through actions and words and not remain as constant inner turmoil. It must be present throughout the novel and weaved into it several times.
Action in real life is very grabbing, but not in most books. Why? Because it is not the action that causes the tension; it is what is happening in the protagonist PoV (internal and external conflict) that grabs a reader. Most grabber openings do not grab us hard. The reason is because a reader does not get involved with the character right away. Most openings have action, which is good, yet it is not enough. The action must happen in a way a reader gets interested in the protagonist. People get excited over conflict, not action. Conflict has wonderful effects on the action and tension.
“Plot is characters under stress.” – Henry James, “The Art of Fiction”
Obscure motives move the tension from the back of the scene to the forefront by allowing the author to get deeper into his/her personal feeling. It pushes the author to explore and add extra layers to the scene, layers that might have been buried otherwise. It also foretells what is coming. Obscure motives can plant a seed and foreshadow. Planting seeds has a psychological impact to stories and challenges readers to want to keep reading. If the foreshadowing includes conflict, it can be provocative. It can also prepare a reader for future conflict, ramping tension, hooking the reader and preparing all the pieces that will come together for those future memorable scenes.
Reversing motives shakes up a scene. Most manuscripts proceed as expected. By using deeper motives we shake the scene. The unexpected can take place. It helps the author breaks the iron shackles of mundane choices. It violates the expectations of the reader and challenges the anticipated outcome of the novel. By changing motives/ reversing them in the middle and end, it makes the plot and story come alive. Donald Maass recommends reversing motives 6 times in a manuscript to stir up the plot.
Antagonists should NOT be all around evil and work their evil scheme because they like it and be worked into the book when the author needs a jolt of tension. Tension is at its best when the villain gets in the way, frighten us and poses an immediate threat to the protagonist.
Close your eyes and put yourself at a bookstore. How many times have you returned a novel to a shelf after just one page? I have heard over an over again from more experienced authors that one of the most consistent mistakes of new writers is to bog down their beginning with “setup” or backstory. Those first pages are difficult, perhaps because there is nothing keeping a reader hooked and because there is a reflexive instinct in us to want the reader to get to know our hero/character(s). However, not knowing a character will not make you put the book back on the shelf (the reader expects this) but the lack of tension. In today’s best-selling novels almost all start with tension and conflict right from the opening paragraph. This initial tension probably will not be the main conflict of the story but it does need to be meaningful and intriguing enough to draw the reader in long enough to get to the bigger problems the hero will face. Note, initially a reader does not need to know a character to keep reading; they only need tension to get hooked.
Sense of Urgency
Tension is at its best when the protagonist is pushed to his limits, when all goes wrong, and even what goes right leads to a dead-end. Tension comes with a sense of urgency, an uncomfortable feeling that if the protagonist does not act soon they are doomed. It is a feeling. An emotion. The reader can know the protagonist is doomed but that is not sufficient. The reader must feel an impending sense of failure/doom about to befall the character. There must be discomfort. Then, there is tension.
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