C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

Write and publish with love and fury.

What authors should stick in their ears and eyes to succeed

The following is a list of resources for anyone interested in writing and publishing. I’m going to head off any rancour immediately and tell you this is neither meant to be a comprehensive list nor is it in any particular order. Okay? Okay. Read on.

1. Joe Konrath’s blog: Arguments are made. Elucidation ensues. Many writers have become author/publishers after reading Konrath’s blog.

2. Self-Publishing Podcast: The guys behind Write, Publish, Repeat often have great guests, but it’s co-host David Wright who is the soulless soul of the show. Always NSFW. New episodes every Thursday. Joanna Penn appears this coming Thursday. (i.e. week of Valentine’s Day, 2014.)

3. The Creative Penn (podcast): Joanna Penn talks to movers and thumpers in self-publishing. Expect a plethora of brilliant pieces on book marketing. Joanna is very innovative so you’ll no doubt discover resources here you didn’t know you needed. 

4. Dead Robots Society (podcast): They recently had a really good discussion of the business of writing and publishing. Each week when they talk about the word count they’ve achieved (or not) the listener gets the distinct impression these guys are in it for the long haul, head down and bulling their way through no matter what.

5. Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog on publishing is a must. She pulls the fire alarm on bad contracts and often pokes holes in the bad thinking going on in publishing big and small.

6. The Passive Voice: A must-read. Sign up for the Passive Guy’s daily picks of stories from around the web about the state of publishing. He’s even featured a couple of my posts from this blog and from ThisPlagueOfDays.com.

7. I Should Be Writing (podcast): Author Mur Lafferty monologues and answers questions from listeners. Honest and no-nonsense.

8. Terribleminds: Chuck Wendig is your fun uncle who swears a lot. He’s informative and just might get you writing if you’ve been coquettish about it thus far. Read his blog.

9. The Self-publishing Roundtable is fun and filled with facts and you can see it on video. It’s a panel with many guests so you get diversity in opinion and experience.

10. The Rocking Self-publishing Podcast: Simon Whistler interviews a new author every Thursday. For the depth of his research and his listening skills, he’s easily the best interviewer among all the podcasts on self-publishing. I’m not sucking up, but yes, I’m scheduled to be on the show in late spring or early summer to coincide with the release of This Plague of Days, Season 3.

11. Renee Pawlish is a bestselling novelist (and, ahem, a former guest on the Cool People Podcast) who does some serious reportage about indie publishing. Don’t miss her analysis of the utility of and pricing at Bookbub.

~ A new episode of the All That Chazz podcast is finally up! First I dealt with an energy vampire and then I had to balance the demands of managing two businesses. I talk about that, exhaustively, for the first 30 minutes or so. Were I you, I’d skip my talk therapy and listen to the reading from my crime novel, Higher Than Jesus. This chapter is Some Like It Hot. Or you could just go ahead and discover the joys of knowing my funny Cuban hit man by buying Bigger Than Jesus and Higher Than Jesus. Yeah. Please do.

 

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Pulp fiction doesn’t have to sound like pulp fiction

A friend of mine has a strict rule about writing: “Remove it from the manuscript if it sounds like writing.”

Writerly = Bad

Some sentences do call attention to themselves. It’s not supposed to be a good thing, but I don’t think it should be an unbending rule. To me, it’s a guideline reminding me that story always comes first (but we should enjoy ourselves along the way.) It’s up to the creator to make an informed choice about the narrative and the reader will decide if they groove on that choice.

In film, sometimes a director will take you out of the movie’s illusion by putting the camera somewhere unexpected, lingering, shaking or going for some special effect that reminds the observer, “Hey! You’re watching a movie!”

That can happen when you write something in such a way that it reminds the reader,

“Hey! You’re reading a book!”

Maybe the prose is beautiful, but some will accuse you of writing purple prose, being too precious or being maudlin. But many readers aren’t just readers. The best readers are also lovers of language. They want the reading experience to transcend mere delivery of information. When they read your writerly passage, it transports them.

I write a lot of action scenes, but I make sure to balance out the action with pauses so the reader can catch her breath before being thrown into the next chasm.

We’re pushed to begin in the middle of the action and make the pace fast. However, too many beats in too short a time sacrifices character development. Lose that, and we don’t care about the action scene.

Dare to go deeper so the bad guys don’t devolve into “Heavy #1” and “Heavy #2” come through the door with guns. You may or not remember details of the scene in Pulp Fiction where John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson take down the guys who stole from their boss. However, film buffs can recite the lines from the drive to the shoot out. Remember? “Royale with cheese.”

Take time to build tension. There are scenes (yes, even in novels about the zombie apocalypse) that pause to show how people and their relationships are changing. Sometimes the pause is a great chance to write something for comedic effect. If you can make them laugh on one page and cry on the next, they’ll love the story more.

We can use our words to communicate the power and depth of the ocean and of personalities. We can show happiness and tragedy in a few brush strokes or we can dare to go deeper sometimes, reaching for the uneasy metaphor. Readers appreciate a story that explores emotional range with developed characters they care about.

My friend, the hardliner, says, “Never sound writerly!”

“But dude!” I replied, “Sometimes it’s only the elegant turns of phrase readers remember. It’s the flourish that captures the detail that makes the scene memorable. Without a little reach in description, I feel like I may as well be tapping out the story on a telegraph.”

“You’re just writing a zombie novel,” he said. “That’s not what they’re expecting.”

“No book has to be just anything. Any writing can turn the dial up to eleven and sound epic with the right twist on the expected. We aren’t supposed to give them what they expect. That’s mundane.”

“Okay,” he said, “just don’t make it sound too writerly. You know what I mean.”

“I promise I’ll delete it if it’s too obscure or gets in the way of the story.”

Mostly, I keep my promises.

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Breaking Bad and making better storytelling choices

Season One has five episodes. Get each one for 99 cents or get all of Season One at a discount for $3.99.

When you’re in the trenches (and by that I mean when you’re at your keyboard) you must stay true to your vision. There are artistic choices to be made that will challenge some readers’ expectations. Choose more conflict and damn the torpedoes.

For instance, at the beginning of This Plague of Days, the protagonist’s sister, Anna Spencer, isn’t particularly likeable. She’s not over the top, but she is a hormonal teenager whose brother is on the autism spectrum. She calls him Ears because he has big ears. She loves her brother, but she can be mean. She’s jealous of the extra attention he gets because of his challenges. She treats him the same way many siblings treat each other in their formative years. If you’ve ever had a sister, or been one, you’ll recognize her turmoil as she matures. Now add the plague apocalypse (and later, scary, infected cannibals) and you’ve got tense family relationships facing a storm of trouble raining down evil doers and crazy cakes.

Readers who only read Episode One might not care for Anna much.

Impatient readers will never get to see how badass she gets. (I’m revising Season Two now and she’s nicer, but still working her way to badass.) If they quit reading at Episode One, they’ll never find out how circumstances and time transform her into an interesting, brave and responsible woman. Anna Spencer has an arc. All my characters have arcs and their own stories to tell. To have those stories, and the complexity I insist upon as a storyteller, the characters can’t begin as static, happy stereotypes.

This Plague of Days has nuance. Some characters you think are good now may surprise you with what they’re willing to do later. Characters you assume are bad may have altruistic motives that aren’t clear up front. Some writers say we shouldn’t even write “characters”. We should write people in all their complexity. The people you write about have to transform, and I don’t mean from likeable and nice to slightly more so.

Think how ineffective Breaking Bad would be if you didn’t watch Walter White’s transformation through the show’s seasons.

He starts off as a nebbish who reached for the brass ring and fell short. A cancer diagnosis turns him from an ordinary Chemistry teacher into a cold and calculating drug kingpin desperate for respect and safety. The cool thing about Breaking Bad is, today’s solution is always tomorrow’s problem. His character arc is entirely logical each step of the way. Throw in a fatal flaw and a few reversals and he ends up in an insane place that is believable over time. 

If Walter White had started out evil, you don’t get grim fun and complexity. You get another stupid, failed TV show (starring cast members who used to be on Baywatch) cancelled and forgotten after half a season.

Another example: Points of view must change.

In This Plague of Days, I made choices to introduce more family strain. This Plague of Days isn’t just about viruses, zombies, fires and firepower. It’s about people under pressure.

The mom is a Christian. The father is an atheist.

Faced with mortality, the mom becomes a Christian with doubts and the dad becomes an atheist with doubts. I believe in readers and I follow the story wherever it leads (i.e. toward more conflict.)

Issues of atheism versus faith are not presented all at once. This isn’t a college seminar. Near the beginning of Season One, the atheist has his say. That may repel some readers who won’t stick around for his confession, feelings of abandonment and transcendence. Too bad those same readers won’t hear the mom’s counterpoint, either. Impatient readers might seize on one aspect in the early going (for or against God, depending on when they stop reading.) I feel it’s an honest, necessary exploration woven into the fabric of a much larger story. (Not that it should matter, I’ve been a believer and an atheist but not at the same time.) I’m not pushing an agenda. I’m pushing for brain tickles. If you want to be pulled into warm marshmallow, read Chicken Soup for Something or Other. I write suspense. Not everything is for everybody.

Readers will draw their own conclusions about religion (or ignore that small aspect of the story completely.) Zombies turn some people to God. For others, zombies turns them away from faith. Put a wife and husband at the edge of the end of the world and I guarantee religion’s going to come up. It’s not my job to make up anyone’s mind. It’s my job to tickle brains and make the debate honest and interesting while the struggle for survival gets harder. Context is everything.

Don’t pander. Follow the Art and the Conflict

People will draw conclusions about you from what you write. Don’t be afraid of that or your story will suffer. You’re a writer, so we already know you’re brave and have an unreasonably high estimation and expectation of the human race. Live up to that commitment with every chapter.

Respecting the reader doesn’t mean that you try to make them like everything they read. However, most readers stay longer with stories that challenge them, make them think and make them laugh. Don’t let it come out as an info dump or a teaching moment. Let it come out naturally. Don’t make your story a seminar on your beliefs. Do let characters have strong, conflicting points of view. Have a spine, but don’t force conclusions. Let the reader do that work for themselves. Always leave room for doubt.

For the Readers

I guarantee, when you read This Plague of Days, you’ll read things you’ve never read before. You’ll learn things you probably didn’t know. (I did!) And you don’t have to agree to anything. It’s a book. It’s not a threat to the tenets of your existence.  

A fun book is a ride at the carnival, an exorcism of fears, a voyeuristic pleasure, an extended brain tickle and a happy distraction, first class on the Crazy Train. All aboard to the end of the line.

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#NaNoWriMo: The key tip to write a much better book

When we plunge into writing a book, there’s lots of enthusiasm on the front end of the challenge. But how will we fill all those pages, especially in that saggy middle where we really don’t know exactly what’s going to happen? How will we give our story verisimilitude? How will we make readers care about our characters and give the book depth? Where will all the conflict come from? How will we sustain our enthusiasm all the way to the end of NaNoWriMo?

There is a solution that many writers shy away from to their detriment. They want their protagonists to be likeable so they make them Christlike figures. This saps a lot of juice from your book. Here’s why you must make your characters more flawed:

1. With flawed characters, there’s much more to write about. A former writer on Seinfeld said recently that stories that focussed on Jerry were always the hardest to write because he had the fewest flaws. George and Kramer and Elaine had plenty of neuroses and quirks, so that allowed the writers plenty of material with which to play. Give your detective an obsession or a hobby that doesn’t help him. Nero Wolfe had the orchids upstairs. Monk has OCD. Everybody has a blind spot or maybe even a fatal flaw that your plot can turn on.

2. Flawed characters have an interesting past that has a bearing on the present and future. My hit man in Bigger Than Jesus and Higher Then Jesus was abducted and abused as a child. Those scars interfere with his love life now. He wears very expensive suits and can’t stand to have sex without his clothes on because he has emotional scars. He also doesn’t want a lover to see the physical scars across his chest. His psychological quirks go deep, dealing with PTSD, addiction and his relationships with women. He falls in love too quickly always searching for a woman he can idolize and worship. Or is he really looking for mom?One of my favorite chapters in Higher Than Jesus is the one in which my hit man goes to group therapy (and fails miserably at it.)

You don’t want to stop your narrative cold with flashbacks too often, but if you can weave those flashbacks into the story well — and if those flashbacks are compelling enough — you’ve got a tool to give your readers a much richer story.

3. Flawed characters create tension. Your plot should spring from character. For instance, Jesus Diaz is prideful. If there’s a problem, he feels he has to handle it. Other circumstances conspire to make him feel he can’t simply call the police to handle his issues, but his resolve is key to that plot point. Higher Than Jesus would be at least a third shorter if Jesus solved problems the same way normal people solve problems.

4. Flawed characters have more conflict with their world. Jesus has a hard time relating to anyone else as a “boss”, for instance. He’s not a guy who is meant for the 9 – 5 world, especially with his limited skill sets in finding people, his inability to work in law enforcement because of his shady history and the creative uses he finds for super glue. Tension and heat increase from friction so be mean to your protagonist and make at least some of his problems his own damn fault.

Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire both have bonus offers of free ebooks. Buy two books and you get four!

5. Readers relate to flawed characters. A novice writer asked me to read a chapter from her paranormal romance. The hero was very heroic — blandly so — and had an impossibly heroic name. The heroine was everything you’d expect from a heroine and more. They’d never done anything wrong and never would. They were always right, always predictable and always relatively safe because they were amazingly capable. Meanwhile, most readers think they should get to the gym today and most of us won’t make it. When you write your hero as if he’s Superman, he’s boring and you have a book the length of a comic book with just as much believability. Go Batman. In the ’60s comics, he was written as The World’s Greatest Detective, kind of Sherlock Holmes in a cowl with a cool car. The character’s real surge came when writer Frank Miller tuned into the underlying subtext of Batman’s vibe: He’s a billionaire with Daddy issues who trains himself to become a psychotic badass vigilante who won’t kill, but he’s no boy scout, either. That’s much more interesting than relentless virtue.

My hit man is obsessed with movies (just like me). Movies are our society’s touchstone, so Jesus has seen the same movies you’ve seen and sees the world through that Hollywood prism. He not only wants the Happily Ever After ending; he thinks he deserves it. Through movies, I make readers share a common interest and knowledge base with a hit man.

Consider Elmore Leonard’s characters: They’re often a bunch of criminals doing crazy things you’d never do, but some of their traits remind you of your crazy, racist Uncle Larry or that nutty girl you shared a room with in second semester before she dropped out to go to Art School. Flawed characters are people we know and believe because we’re surrounded by people who are flawed.

Resist the urge to make your characters better than human. In fact, we’ll like and believe them more if they aren’t perfect.

For more tips, inspiration and motivation for National Novel Writing Month, check out Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire, on sale now.

~ Robert Chazz Chute is the author of Crack the Indie Author Code, Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire, Self-help for Stoners, The Dangerous Kind & Other Stories, Bigger Than Jesus, Higher Than Jesus and Sex, Death & Mind Control (for fun and profit).

BONUS:

A fresh podcast is up at AllThatChazz.com which explains how you can get free ebooks. 

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Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

For my author site and the Chazz network, click the blood spatter below.

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