Category Archives: Editing

Character Motivation: May it Burn with the Fury of a Thousand Suns

Today’s post is brought to you by motivation. Mine, to actually write the post, and that of the characters you put into your stories – be they short stories or long. Characters are the heart of your tales, they’re who the reader connects with, and they must be on point. Motivation is key to bringing that connectedness to the fore.

Characters are also essential to driving plot, and every character you put into your tales (yes, every) needs to have motive. There needs to be a reason your protagonist makes the decisions they do, there needs to be intent behind your antagonist’s choices. The reasons and intent don’t have to be honourable or dastardly (gods, I love that word), and they don’t have to sit in neat little boxes ‒ protagonist = good, antagonist = bad ‒ they just have to be real. Flaws and all.

I couldn’t tell you the amount of times I’ve put down a book because the characters were wandering aimlessly looking for a plot, or waiting for said plot to impact them. It doesn’t work that way.  The story cannot act independently of the characters. You don’t read a story solely for plot, you read it for those who live, who try to survive the world you’ve created. Don’t sell them short.

Ray-Bradbury 1

So what is motivation? Merriam-Webster defines it as: a motivating force, stimulus, or influence. Incentive. Drive.

That. Right there. ↑ Now ask yourself: what is the incentive, the influence that drives your character(s)? It’s that inner motivation, that sense of self that impacts the plot, the story. And will continue to do so. Every decision (good or bad) your characters make will influence the story – some of these decisions may essentially backfire, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Nothing should be easy.

Motivation doesn’t need to be complex, it can be simple but it needs to be that driving force. Yes, FORCE. Motivation can be: you killed my family, payback’s a bitch. Simple, yes? But the depth comes in the decisions and choices your character makes to achieve this end.

Let’s take a look at how this works. Your protagonist, now alone in the world, is driven almost blindly for retribution. Do you: a) have them stumble across a magical object that by chance provides them with the exact location of the antagonist and off they go? Or b) have them make a pact with a shifty character whose motivations, while at odds with their own, can get them closer to their target ‒ but in doing so compromises the protagonists morals?

You know which one I’m reading. Character motivation can (and should) cause all kinds of issues that influence plot/story. Characters are the driving force behind your storytelling, and what motivates them is what will connect to the reader. Give them lives and loves, sins and secrets, and have all of that be the heart of your story.

Motivation and conflict of that motivation is what can make a good story great. Don’t waste time on overly-detailed physical descriptions. Sure, physicality is important to a point – it’s nice to know what a character looks like, but is it essential to the story? Rarely. Ah, but give conflict to motivation and you really set the bar high.

So your antagonist has green eyes. Cool. Does she burn with the fury of a thousand suns because your protagonist was born into a family that subjugated hers? Your protagonist has hair the colour of silver? Nice. Does she practice her fighting skills to the point of exhaustion to not only kill the antagonist who wreaks havoc on the realm’s stability, but to take her place and destroy the father she hates?

You see where I’m going with this? By giving your characters motivation to achieve their ends, by adding conflict to that motivation, you make them real to your reader, you make them believable, and you create a story that has depth and layers and soul. It’s what brings readers back to your writing.

Motivation. It makes all the difference. Have it make the difference in your story.

It Takes A Village (To Raise A Book)

You there, about to load a first or second draft to a publishing platform. Yes, you. Don’t you hit that upload button. Back away from the keyboard nice and slow. That’s it, sit back, relax, we need to have a chat. Look, I know you’re excited about getting your baby out in the world, of having it read and getting those sales, but is it the best version of your baby? Or, are you sending it out half-formed and with shitty clothes? I said back away from the keyboard.

Okay, I understand that writing is mostly a solitary endeavour but the processes of getting your book out to readers is not. Doing that alone is a fool’s errand. I’ve listened (somewhat) patiently to authors telling me they don’t need beta readers or an editor or a cover artist or a cover designer or layout artist – they can do that all themselves and not have to worry about expenditure. Technically they’re right. With the advent of self-publishing and the associated platforms you most certainly can do this alone. The question is: should you? The answer is: no.

Expenditure is an issue, I get it, but if you don’t invest in your book, don’t expect readers to invest in it either. With the traditional route, your publisher will take care of this: the editing, the cover, the proofreading et al. (Note: with traditional publishing you shouldn’t pay for any of this – money flows to the author, not away – but that’s a subject for another post.) Author-publishers? Yeah, you need to pay for this yourself.

So let’s take a look at the processes you need to put out the best damn book you can. So you’ve finished the eleventy-first draft of your story and you’re pretty happy with where it is – characters are on point, plot is kicking-arse, sub-plots are woven nicely, narrative is killer. Time to get that baby out in the world! Yeah… no. What you have in your hands is a ‘rough draft’, the foundation upon which you will build. A strong foundation it may well be, but a foundation is what it is. Write, edit, redraft. Rinse and repeat.

You’ve spent a good lot of time and effort to get to this point, so you’re well past being able to see any issues with it. You don’t just hammer out a first draft and upload it. I suppose you can do that if you like (plenty of people have), but be prepared for any reviews to point out exactly where you went wrong. Plot holes? You got them. Spelling and grammar issues? Kill me now. Point-of-view hops? What’s happening! Layout all over the place? My eyes!

gouge eyes

It’s bad reviews for you. And bad reviews, especially when it comes to poor spelling and grammar, clichéd story, Mary-Sue/Marty-Stu characters will guarantee low-to-zero sales. Readers take note of bad reviews, especially those that cite all of the above. Remember, there’s that ‘look inside’ option, and you’ll lose that potential sale right there. Not only will you not get sales, readers tend to not give you a second chance. Why would they when there are plenty of other authors doing it the right way.

Because I love the point form, here’s a breakdown of who you need in your village (just step over the books strewn about the place):

  • Beta readers: the unsung heroes of the writing/publishing process. You’ll need at least two (but no more than five), and ones with differing skill sets ‒ someone who reads in your genre, and someone who doesn’t (librarian, book reviewer), someone who has an understanding of grammar and/or story mechanics. Not your nanna. She may be lovely, but… no.
  • Editor. And by editor I mean someone with qualifications (ask to see these), industry experience, and one who understands the genre in which you write. Beta readers are not editors. Editors know structure and syntax and speech, they know consistency, cohesion, and characterisation. They understand foreshadowing, and herrings, and Chekov’s rifle. They know subjects and predicates, showing versus telling, and they know dangling participles and why you shouldn’t have them. They know language, and they will tighten the crap out of your narrative.
  • Cover artist/cover designer. These can be two different people, so make sure you know what you’re getting. I won’t go into too much detail here as I’ve covered this in my previous post: Art of the Cover.
  • Layout artist. Yes, you need someone who understands desktop publishing and has the right tools for the job. No, you should not load a Microsoft Word document to a publishing platform ‒ the internals will be off-kilter, as will your kerning and typography. You don’t want bland and vanilla internals. With the right desktop publishing tools, your book becomes a reading experience. Layout is only noticeable when done poorly. And if someone tells you differently, run far and run fast.
  • Proofreader. This will be the final point at which you can catch any small issues eg. errant spaces, widows and orphans, correct page numbering etc. This is usually done with a PDF file called a galley proof. Best suggestion is to have someone other than your editor do the proof. New set of eyes means they’ll pick up any missed issues.

Now you’re probably bemoaning the processes and the associated costs, but if you want to put out professional product and be taken seriously then it needs to be done. Some editors will be happy to work with a  payment plan (and if asked will provide a sample edit), beta readers may ask for reciprocity, you can find reasonably-priced good cover artists and stock images, cover designers as well. These are processes you can’t skimp on if you want to do self-publishing right.

Check out Devin Madson’s episode on ‘Storywork’ about the 5 Steps to Professional Publishing. As a self-publisher, Devin has gone about this the right way. She gathered a village of beta readers, editor, cover artist, cover designer, layout artist around her and put out a book that rivals any published by the Big 5. Just take a look at one of the covers for her Vengeance Trilogy.

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This is author-publishing done right. Devin talks about your reputation as an author, and she’s not wrong. As I mentioned earlier, if you put out sub-par work don’t expect readers to return to your books, to buy them. Reputation can make or break you. Have it ‘make’ you.

Now before I let you return to your keyboard, think about all I’ve said, and think about the work you want the world to see. Professionally done books will bring readers back; the poorly done books will not. First impressions last.

It really does take a village to raise a book, a good book, a professional book… and when done right, you get a whole other village – readers, fans, those who will market upcoming releases for you, and who are willing to party with you for every book to come.

** Special shout-out to Adrian Collins of Grimdark Magazine for the suggestion for blog-post fodder — you rock, dude! Oh, and check out Grimdark Mag, they know their stuff!

So many words…

So April must have knifed the previous three months in the back and leapfrogged ahead. That’s the only explanation for me to be looking down the barrel of the first school holidays for this year. It’s been a busy three and a half months editing wise, and after being offered the role of lead editor for the SNAFU series, and editor for Cohesion Press’ upcoming releases, it’s been a whirlwind of amazing words crossing my screen.

What hasn’t been happening is reading for pleasure (although, conversely, the stuff I’m reading for Cohesion is brilliant indeed). But I’ve had the same novel sitting on bedside table, untouched, for going on three months. And it’s a novel I’m truly invested in – City of Wonders, the third in the Blasted Lands series by James A Moore. However, by the time I head to bed after a full day of editing, my eyes feel like someone’s rubbed them with sandpaper, and I know picking up the book will do not only me, but the story itself a disservice.

Last year I read a total of twenty-five books (novels, anthologies, collections and graphic novels), and that doesn’t seem a lot for the average avid reader, which I’d definitely class myself as. So why wasn’t I reading as much as I thought I should (or wanted)? I’ve often said I read a lot for my editing business, but had no real idea what ‘a lot’ was, so I decided to quantify ‘a lot’ and started keeping track of the word count of all I read for “work”. Yes, those are deliberate quotations – see previous paragraph about the brilliance of what I read.

SNAFU Future Warfare  Into-the-Mist-194x300  American Nocturne  Jade Gods

Now anyone who knows me, knows that not only do I totally suck at math, but math totally hates me back. It’s giving me the finger right now. But even I can’t deny the numbers, and believe me, I’ve tried. From ‘That can’t be right’, to ‘Stupid fat fingers must be hitting the wrong buttons’. But no. The numbers definitely add up. It’s a believability thing.

In January of this year, I read a total of 300,200 words; February was a doozy, reading 568,100 words, and March? 392,350. In the first three months of this year, I’ve read: 1,260,650 words. That’s right – one million, two hundred and sixty thousand, six hundred and fifty words.

If we break that down to novels – at a word-length of 90,000 – that’s …. (hang on, doing math, this may take a while)… okay, that’s 14 novels. Fourteen novels in three months. That’s more like it! That’s more me.

The beauty of reading for editing is that you sometimes get to read stories that you may not normally pick up at a bookstore or buy online. This year I’ve read horror, military horror, regency romance, crime, fantasy, YA, children’s books, non-fiction on refugees and Human Rights Law, eating disorders, and corporate planning. It’s a funny ol’ world.

City of Wonders

I used to feel guilty about not reading as much as I used to, but not anymore. Sure, my ‘to read’ mountain grows ever-higher. And yes, I’m still buying books to read – really, that wasn’t ever going to stop. But now I look at the novel sitting on my bedside table and think: Soon, my pretty, soon. And when we are once again reunited, it will be bliss.

All of the Yays!

Finalists for the Australian Shadows Awards for horror fiction were announced today, and I’m absolutely chuffed that the comic, The Road to Golgotha, has made the shortlist in the Comic/Graphic Novel category. Woo and hoo! Huzzah! Woot!

The Road to Golgotha

The brilliant thing about this nod is that as The Road to Golgotha is effectively two stories (His Own Personal Golgotha and The Road) within the one tome, I get to share this nomination with GN Braun, who was with me every step of the way as I strove to get the script just right. A huge shout-out has to go to our artist, Monty Borror, whose horrifically beautiful illustrations brought the comics to life.

road page 19 a    road page 28

 
The incarnation from published short story to comic, The Road was two years in the making, and this nod is the icing on a very cool cake that involved the launch at Melbourne ComicCon last year (you can read an awesome review of it here). As my first foray into comics, I can’t tell you how damn awesome the validation is – you always want your babies to do well. It kicks that writerimposteritis in the guts, too.

But it doesn’t stop there. On the editing side, Alan Baxter’s In Vaulted Halls Entombed, from SNAFU: Survival of the Fittest, is a finalist in the Paul Haines Award for Long Fiction category. From the moment I read this story, I loved it. So seeing it nominated as well, is a huge buzz.

There are so many amazing writers nominated this year, a lot of whom are close friends, so this has been an amazing day of congratulating peeps I couldn’t be happier for, and being super-chuffed to have the comic given the nod.

So, if you’re looking for some amazing Aussie writers to read, the finalists of the Australian Shadows Award is a great place to start.  Congratulations to all the finalists!

The Paul Haines Award for Long Fiction

In Vaulted Halls Entombed – Alan Baxter

The Haunting of Gillespie House – Darcy Coates

Night Shift – Dirk Flinthart

The Whimper – Robert Hood

Edited Works

Bloodlines – Amanda Pillar

Lighthouses – Cameron Trost

Midnight Echo 11 – Kaaron Warren

Blurring the Line – Marty Young

Collected Works

The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After – Shane Jiraiya Cummings

Peripheral Visions: The Collected Ghost Stories – Robert Hood

Cherry Crow Children – Deborah Kalin

Short Fiction

The Bone Maiden – Greg Chapman

Eight Seconds – Pandora Hope

El Caballo Muerte – Martin Livings

Perfect Little Stitches – Deborah Sheldon

Mine Intercom – Kaaron Warren

Comics/Graphic Novels

The Road to Golgotha – GN Braun and Amanda J Spedding

Troll – Michael Michalandos

The Monster – Ben Rosenthal

Undad – Shane W Smith

The Rocky Wood Award for Non-fiction and Criticism

Winner to be announced

Novels

The Catacombs – Jeremy Bates

The Haunting of Blackwood House – Darcy Coates

The Transgressions Cycle: The Mothers – Mike Jones

The Transgressions Cycle: The Reparation – Mike Jones

The Big Smoke – Jason Nahrung

Riley

Watch this space…

Here’s to Women

I’ve been noticeably absent from my blog – not through choice but rather time constraints – I thought it fitting to return to it today. Just past Women in Horror Month, and it being International Women’s Day, what better time?

I am a woman working in horror, I am a woman writing horror, I am a woman raising a young woman… I am woman.  There are some, though, who don’t approve of that fantastic mix of women and horror (I’m not linking to any of that shite), and refuse to read any horror stories penned by women.  Hell, there are those who won’t read anything written by a woman, and while this might surprise some, it doesn’t surprise me – not in this world we find ourselves in.

Elitism exists in the publishing world, and has long-since been an issue for women who love the horror genre – those who write, read, act, direct, edit, et al ­– have faced criticism, ridicule, anger, disdain for daring to venture into horror. We’ve been mocked, derided, ignored, threatened, doxed, we’ve been made to feel unwelcome, our passion for the genre belittled because we don’t swing that Y chromosome. Get out of our man-cave!

Fury Road

I’m here to tell you that Y chromosome means squat when it comes to writing horror; the X chromosome means squat, too. You see, writing horror isn’t about chromosomes, it isn’t about being a man or a woman or neither of the aforementioned. It’s about writing a good story, a great story. It’s about making good art.

Unfortunately, there are those who believe horror/dark fiction is the bastion of men, and that’s why Women in Horror Month was born; to break down those walls, those prejudices, the ignorance. Women can’t write horror because they don’t know it? We don’t understand fear? Terror? Subjugation? Do my ovaries automatically signal my inability to dissect, disembowel, decapitate, dismember a character? Can I not create a world only to destroy it with impunity? Look away, uterus, there’s gonna be blood…

I’m not the only one who sees the ridiculousness of this. I’m not the only one who sees the disparity of the perceived belief of a woman’s “place” within the horror genre; within any publishing medium. If you think women are fairly represented, then take a look at this video and tell me this is right.

There are women writing amazing horror, women are editing, acting in and directing kick-arse horror movies and programs. Don’t limit your reading and viewing; horror and dark fiction is the greatest genre you can indulge in – a wide variety of voices and styles only enriches us all. Find storytelling from women, people of colour, from diverse backgrounds, from those who identify as LGBTI, from those with disabilities, from all walks of life, culture, religion and the non-religious. Open your scope and take in the wonder of diversity.

So as I sit here writing and drinking coffee from my Wonder Woman mug, here’s a small list of women writers and editors you should be reading:

Lee Murray, Silvia Moreno-GarciaKaaron Warren, Rivqa RafaelChristine Morgan, Nalo HopkinsonKirsten Cross, Sophie Yorkston, Angela Slatter, Octavia E Butler, Joanne Anderton, Catriona Sparks,  Rose Blackthorn, Zena Shapter, Paula R Stiles, Maria Lewis.

The above list only scratches the surface of women writers making their mark, and I encourage you to source more – diversity of voice will open worlds that ignite your imagination and take you to places of wonder.

And really, we’re all welcome in this place of storytelling.

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Festivus Book Pimping – SNAFU series

For your military horror dining delight, I bring you a big, fat course of SNAFU for your Festivus feast. Sit down, strap on (easy) your kevlar, and lock’n’load – it’s about to get messy. SNAFU (Situation Normal All Fucked Up) is the series put out through Cohesion Press that covers different takes on the military horror theme.

I’ve been lucky enough to be involved from the start as one of the co-editors of the series (with Geoff Brown), and having the pleasure of working with some truly amazing storytellers, both established and up-and-coming, and from here and overseas.  But more than that is the calibre of stories on offer.

Cohesion has four SNAFU anthologies currently on the market – two print/ebook and two ebook-only offerings. All of the anthologies have brilliant Dean Samed cover art, with internal art supplied by the wonderfully-talented Monty Borror. This is seriously good monster art – you won’t want to miss it.

SNAFU 1

Let’s begin with the first in the series, the entre: SNAFU: An Anthology of Military Horror. War is hell, and this offering was Cohesion’s first foray into the military horror theme, and garnered a Bram Stoker Recommended Read and finalist for the Australian Shadows Award (edited publication), thanks to the talented writers.

Next up for tasting in the series is SNAFU: Heroes, which offers novellas and short stories from Jonathan Mayberry, James A Moore, Weston Ochse and Joseph Nassise. As the blurb says: ‘From demons to horrors from the deep, the battles keep on coming. Fight or die…’

SNAFU Heroes

SNAFU: Wolves at the Door, is the next to the table, where you will share your meal with… my, what big teeth you have! This ebook tells the tales of soldiers fighting against all manner of were-animals – wolves take precedence in this instalment, but the diversity is staggeringly good. Stories with bite! (How could I not say it?)

And check out the cover art…

SNAFU Wolves

But wait, there’s more! The next in the print series is SNAFU: Survival of the Fittest, which was released in August this year. This is survival horror where every bullet counts. Low on ammo, this is about soldiers trying to make it out alive against nightmares made real. And damn, if these authors don’t know how to wrangle some nasty enemies for their squads.

SNAFU Survival

There are two more in the series on the horizon; I’m currently working on SNAFU: Hunters (think Grimm, Van Helsing, ‘Supernatural’s’ Sam and Dean), which will be published early next year. This SNAFU is all about the hunt, the thrill of the chase, and the uncertainty of outcome. Then there’s SNAFU: Future Warfare – military horror with a sci-fi bent (yeah, you know you want that!), which is due around mid-year. So keep your eyes and ears open for these, kiddies… well not literally kids, ‘cause unless you’re willing to shell out cash for some serious therapy, these books aren’t for them.

The beauty of the SNAFU series is that stories cover the gamut of historical to modern warfare; from Viking raids, the World Wars, Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan… and all time periods and locales. And if you think you’ve read of every monster out there? Think again, my friend, oh yes, think again. There’s a diversity here that will keep you (or those you’ve gifted these treasures to) turning the pages.

Recommended for anyone who loves military stories, military horror, supernatural horror, straight messed-up horror… you get the picture. They’re brutal, they’re bloody, they’re awesome.

Festivus Book Pimping – Carole Nomarhas

It’s the 19th? Better get my Festivus Pimping moving along if I’m going to squeeze as many pimpalicious books in before I head away in three days (woo hoo! Three days!). Ahem. Sorry. As you were…

This time we’re back on home soil, with Australian author, Carole Nomarhas, and her wonderfully creepy short story collection, The Fading.  The stories in this collection run the gamut of horror, dips it toes into some fantasy, and gives you a little bit of urban as well – but the running theme through the diversity of stories is that not everything is as it seems. Like ever.

Now before I move on, a little background here. There are moments editors dream of – finding those stories (be they shorts, novellas or novels) where you know you’ve encountered a true storyteller. I’ve been lucky enough to have had a few instances of, what I like to call my ‘holy shit’ moments. And I got that with the first story of Nomarhas’ I read – Black Glass. That was when I knew this collection was going to be something special, and it was the first two lines of that story that dragged me in: The dead came back. All of them.

The Fading

In that moment, I knew I was working with something special. Each story built on the last; each one delivering their own sense of bleak storytelling that only reinforced my belief that Nomarhas is an author to watch.

Of course, I have my favourites, but the standard of this collection is so damn high, these were difficult picks indeed. Especially when you add in the almost poetic prose Nomarhas employs to visually transport you to her worlds: Moth-flutters of dark, tattered mist came to his call…

The Fading consists to eleven stories, each one a world, a horror unto itself, and each told with the same desire to take you places you will never forget, places that will haunt long after you’ve stopped reading. Nomarhas’ words tell you so: The wind sang thinly, ghost notes through hollow bones.

I can’t recommend this collection enough. Anyone who loves horror, dark fantasy, and the magic of words will love it.

Currently only available in ebook format, which makes it the perfect gift with just the click of a mouse.

Go. Now. Buy it.