Showing posts with label demotivational. Show all posts
Showing posts with label demotivational. Show all posts

Plan a Novel 1: The Idea

Someone asked me to talk about how I plan a novel, and the current size of my readership makes one person a significant sample size. So he wins.

Before I go on, I'm required by law to say that everyone's process is different and valid (assuming it produces a novel -- my old process of "sit in front of the TV until I feel like writing 80,000 words" never really worked out for me). This is not how you must write a novel. It is only how I write a novel. Your mileage may vary.

Okay, so the first thing you need is an idea. I can't tell you where to get ideas, but you need a lot of them to write a whole novel. Not all ideas are created equal, but I think any idea can be made novel-sized with enough work.

I use sort of a loose version of the snowflake method. I start small and build up the idea piece by piece, adding characters, plot points, world-building, etc. One thing that's really important for me is writing down my initial idea somewhere, so when I'm stuck, or I feel like the story is dead-ending, I can remind myself what got me excited about the idea in the first place.

Before I put the effort into plotting an idea, I want to know it's strong enough. For that, I have a checklist based on Nathan Bransford's fantastic post on how to write a novel (you may have noticed my process is not at all original):
  • Premise: One sentence about the main character (MC) and the plot. These don't have to be good. One of mine was the very generic: "MC sets out to save his town and ends up saving the world."
  • Main Plot Arc: Specifically four key parts: (1) where the MC starts, (2) the inciting event, (3) what they have to do (the journey), and (4) where they end up (the ending).
  • Obstacles: Whatever stands in the MC's way.
  • MC: Who they are and what they want (<-- this is very important!).
  • Setting: Including three aspects (from Nathan's post): (1) some setting-level conflict and change underway, (2) personality (what makes the world unique), and (3) unfamiliarity (what makes the world strange).
  • Style and Voice: Honestly I never know what to write for this, but it was in Nathan's post so it's in my checklist. Style and voice are usually the last things I think about.
  • Climax: I don't always have one of these either, but it's not a bad thing to have before deciding to write something.
  • Themes: What bigger issues does this story deal with?
I think if you've got an idea of most or all of those points, you're well on your way to a strong story.

You're NOT trying to fill all the boxes. Last time, I had six ideas, so I made a whole freaking table to see where the gaps were. And there were a lot of gaps. I had no climaxes, a lot of missing journeys, and settings with no personality. One story had an MC but no world, and another a world with no MC (though that was one place my table worked out great: I combined the two ideas).

The table didn't tell me which idea was fully-formed. It helped me get a bird's-eye view to see how much work each one needed, and to get a feel for which one I was most excited about doing that work.

About marketability. The perceived marketability of a concept is something I considered (and even put in my table), because I think whatever I work on should ideally be something other people want to read. But I don't think you can choose what to write based on what you think will sell. For one thing, nobody knows what will hit it big.


For another, no matter how marketable an idea might be, it's not worth writing if you hate it. So marketability goes into my decision, but it doesn't make the decision.

Next week I'll talk about filling these gaps and turning an idea into the skeleton of a story. But tell me about your process. How do you decide whether an idea is novel-worthy or not?

Piracy and Other Things that are not Theft

One of the quickest ways to get a (media) pirate angry is to equate piracy with stealing. "Piracy is not theft!" they cry. Theft removes the original, thus making it so the true owner can no longer use it. But when you pirate something, you're only making a copy. The original is untouched.

Legally and semantically, they're right. Piracy is not theft. But there's a justification implied: that because the owner still has the original, the copier didn't do anything wrong.

We talked a lot in the comments yesterday about how the negative effects of piracy are not as bad as we think, but that doesn't necessarily make it right. For example, here's a list of other things that, like piracy, are also not theft:
  1. Hacking into someone's secured wireless network.
  2. Breaking into a government facility and copying down top secret information.
  3. Sneaking into a movie theater.
  4. Forging a plane ticket (unless the plane is full, of course, then you're stealing a seat).
  5. Plagiarism.
  6. Writing a program that steals rounded-off fractions of financial calculations (yes, like Office Space).
  7. Hacking into an Air Traffic Control computer and changing the schedules.
  8. Slander.
  9. Most acts of federal treason.
  10. Kicking someone in the nuts.
So, yes, I agree that piracy is not theft. But that doesn't justify it.

How to Make Deadlines

Most of the time, I don't make deadlines for myself. I'm lazy. Instead I just keep plugging along, figuring 50 words is better than zero. While that's true, it's stupid of me not to set goals. I work BETTER with them, even if it's just to squeeze out another couple sentences because I'm almost there.

Until recently, one of my rationalizations was that writing is subjective. How could I set a deadline for something creative and unpredictable? Turns out that's crap. Two of my previous jobs were both creative (game design) and unpredictable (computer programming), but if I didn't tell my bosses when I thought a task would be done, they'd be pissed.

And you know what? I did do it. I set deadlines for tasks that were impossible to measure, and most of the time I met them. Here are three tips that (hopefully) will help me do it again, without the bosses who taught me these things.

1) Take your initial estimate and double it. It's human nature to underestimate how long a task will take. Unless you have strong data backing you up (e.g. you have written your last three novels in under two months), doubling your estimate will take care of this bias and give you flexibility when the unexpected happens.

2) If a task will take longer than two weeks, break it up into smaller tasks. Two weeks is about as long as most people can accurately plan. When a deadline is farther away, the tendency to procrastinate increases. Breaking a huge task up into smaller ones will keep the necessary pressure on and make your estimates more accurate.

3) Pay attention to how often you beat (or miss) your deadlines. This is how you improve over time. If you usually miss your deadlines, loosen them up a bit. If you usually beat your deadlines by a lot, maybe you don't have to double your estimates anymore. The longer you practice this, the better your estimation skills will be.

Remember, the goal of deadlines is not to make you work faster. The goal is to accurately estimate how long a task will take and to help you work at a consistent pace.

Granted, for most of us (myself included), "a consistent pace" and "faster" are the same thing. When I don't make deadlines, I tend to go on a writing binge followed by weeks of self-justified laziness. There's nothing wrong with taking breaks, but they should be intentional, which mine weren't.

Do you keep deadlines? Got any tips to share for those of us who can't even make them, let alone keep them?

What's DRM Good For?

Wednesday's post garnered some very awesome comments, making good points for both sides: paper and e-books. A couple of them got me thinking about DRM, and what makes it bad or good. That's what we're talking about today.

First, a definition. DRM stands for Digital Rights Management. Once upon a time, media was produced as physical objects. You had to have a printing press or a recording studio or a pinball parts factory to copy your favorite book/song/game for your friends. Today, software, music, movies, games, and books exist as strings of 1's and 0's, on machines designed to copy those strings at ridiculous speeds, all connected to each other via networks that send 1's and 0's at the speed of light.

Point is, it's easy to copy stuff, and DRM is the software that makes it harder.

The best argument against DRM is that it can always be cracked. There is no such thing as the perfect security system, so why bother having that system at all? Especially when DRM hurts consumers more than the pirates.

The problem with that argument is that piracy is more about culture--about thought--than it is about the law or the means to enforce it. If digital media had nothing to protect it, it would be hard for even the most law-abiding citizen to justify not copying their library for a friend.

But the second half of the argument is spot on: DRM often makes things more inconvenient for the paying consumer than it does for the illegal pirate. So this is what I think good DRM should look like:

  1. When your stuff is lost (computer crashed, dropped the Kindle in the bathtub, someone stole your iPod, etc), you should be able to get it back without a hassle.
  2. You should be allowed to use your stuff on whatever device you prefer, even if it's not the same device as the company you bought the media from. So you should be able to read B&N e-books on a Kindle, or listen to iTunes music on that cheap MP3 player you bought years ago. If I paid for it, I don't want to lose money just because they pulled a Borders on me.
  3. You should be allowed to use your stuff on a reasonable number of devices. If you own a laptop, iPad, iPod, and desktop computer, you shouldn't have to remember which one is licensed to watch those episodes of House you bought.
  4. It should be easy to register/unregister devices so you can use your stuff wherever you happen to be. In other words, you shouldn't have to uninstall MS Word on your old computer before you can activate it on your new one.

    The underlying assumption here is that the people who paid for the digital media want to follow the rules. When a customer asks if he can download his music again, or explains that he deleted his old copy of MS Word before deactivating it, he's not trying to pull one over on the company. That'd be like the lamest way to pirate stuff ever!

    The real pirates already do everything I listed above, for the low price of hanging around seedy webpages and having to scan for viruses every other day. They're not going to e-mail tech support asking for someone else's legitimate library--they already have what they want from Pirate Bay.

    Can it be done? Many DRM schemes already do some or all of the things I've listed. Many don't. Those that don't are hurting paying customers and doing absolutely nothing to pirates (except maybe to convert a few more to piracy). I think we need DRM, but I don't think it has to be so draconic.

    What do you think? I'd love to hear your opinion in the comments.

    Demotivational Winners

    You guys are hilarious. The number one reason I wish I had more readers is so I could have more hilarity to enjoy and share with you guys. Maybe when I hit 200 followers or something we can do this again (even though followers aren't readers).

    Enough talk. To the posters!

    First, the honorable mentions. Most Likely to be Put Up in My Office goes to "Monday" by the recently wed L.T. Host, and Late But I Still Like You goes to "Courage" by K. Marie Criddle (who has her own contest going on, by the way). Click these entries to enlarge.

    The winners were chosen entirely based on how hard they made me laugh. Third Place goes to J.J. Debenedictis, who provides the best reason for exercise EVER.

    Second Place is Susan Quinn, who made excellent use of the ubiquitous internet cat images (not an easy task!).

    And First Place with both barrels is Emmet Blue. Both his posters made me laugh so hard they both win. What can I say? The man knows his judge.

    I'll contact the winners to figure out your prizes. Congratulations, and thank you everybody who played!

    Demotivational Contest!

    It's been a while since we've done a contest around here. So here's the deal: you make a demotivational poster, and my three favorites will each win a prize.

    (I can't take credit for this one. The internet is a treasure trove.)

    These are not in order. First Place will get to choose first. Second Place chooses second. Third Place gets what's left. (In the event that Third Place cannot use what's left, I'll figure something out. Don't worry, you'll still win something.)
    1. $4.00 credit towards eligible Amazon Video On Demand movie and TV purchases (US only).
    2. A sketch of anything you like (almost).
    3. A query critique from a one-time published writer (that's me).

    1. Make one or more demotivational posters. All you need is a picture, a title, a caption, and this website. Though feel free to get more creative than that, if that's your thing.
    2. Send them to me before Wednesday, Oct. 27, 5 PM Pacific. You can use any method available (e-mail, link in the comments, Twitter, Facebook, etc).
    3. Come back on Friday to see some of the best ones and to see if you won a prize.

    They're parodies of those inspirational posters you might see in the office -- the ones with an inspiring picture and a caption about perseverance, effort, or "customer care". My favorite demotivationals mimic inspiration with cynicism, like these on motivation, teamwork, and uniqueness.

    Or they might mock something, like this one on priorities or this awesome one on exercise. Or they can be just plain funny, covering topics such as pirates, ninjas, steampunk, or regrets.

    The $4.00 because I have the promotional code in my inbox from an Amazon purchase, but since I don't live in the US, I can't use it. The sketch because nothing gets me drawing like outside pressure. And the query critique because aspiring authors like that sort of thing, and I'm occasionally a nice guy.

    None. You don't have to follow the blog. You don't have to give me your e-mail. You don't have to promote the contest (though if you did, it would just make it more fun for everybody, and it would make me smile -- you want me to smile, don't you?).