KickStarter and Fiction: A review

https://www.kickstarter.com

For those like me who struggle to keep up with internet trends (darn young’uns with their innovations) Kickstarter is a nifty website/connecting tool that allows people to present creative projects publicly to look for financial backing in what I think of as in interesting blend of fundraising and seeking investors. Backers are typically promised some sort of pie, such as limited additions of the finished product, and the posters of course get said financial backing. I mostly heard about it initially through gaming, as a place where indie game makers could attempt to source more resource for game creation. It’s also been a place where well known artists in one field have been able to easily and virally source funding to branch into other areas, such as The Oatmeal creating Exploding Kittens and I believe (but too lazy to double check) Cards Against Humanity creating a real rather than ‘print your own game.’

I had a quick Google of problems around Kickstarter and Fraud, and while its hard to make a clear statistical statement, it appears the process is somewhat reputable which the website pulling genuine scams (if discovered) but equally with many projects being flops/failures or not quite living up to the hype being frequent but not perhaps overwhelming the website. In general it seems to actually be a good example of basic market principles working well, if people can’t present a legit and credible product they simply won’t get the funds.

Anywho, the reason I am blogging about this now it on the odd occasion I have heard tell of fiction authors pitching work on Kickstarter, effectively asking people to fund their work. I confess when I note these cases I had been dismissing them as unethical and somewhat douchey without really looking into the situation. I doubly confess that part of the reason for this judgement is that the typical fiction writer’s journey is a painful commitment to the art without promise of financial reimbursement and to use Kickstarter to effectively get paid to write (rather than paid for a good book) evoked resentment. There are many people looking for short-cuts and ways ahead and it was irksome to discover there might be one, but also I thought that the move took advantage of readers who might not have a good understanding of the publishing process (i.e. basically that traditional publishing helps separate an abstract tonne of complete crap from readable material) and that backing a unknown author to write a book might be a cool thing to do. Just to expand on the issue a little more, in traditional publishing you can use your credentials and proposed topic to successfully pitch a non-fiction idea to publishers, however this is not the same for fiction, publishers want finished products and no-one wants to pay someone in the hope of them producing a good piece of work.

Now being a well behaved, self-confessed analytic thinker I’ve actually put the effort in to investigate Kickstarter and what sort of fiction writing activities go on there to make a more informed judgment.

Right this minute there appear to be just under 500 publishing projects asking for money. I was pleased to note that the majority of them where mixed mediums or ‘project-worthy’ for want of a better word. What I mean is many of the projects included art and illustration – the reason I see this as a positive is its much easier to show people talent with a visual medium, or put simply I would rather back an obviously talented artist than a fiction author who may have managed to put together a decent blurb. In terms of projects there were several literary mag and anthology proposals which while still peddling fiction are at least asking for money to do something, rather than just expecting money to write.

Now onto the fiction, fiction. There were actually many fiction novels being presented as Kickstarter projects, but perusing a few did not grind my gears nearly as much as I expected. It was immediately obvious through disparities in achieved funds that kickstarter backers were not nearly as naive as I first (naively) thought. The efforts that writers had to put into to sell their work were not much different from the efforts of a query letter or advertising for self-publishing. While I can’t rule it out, my worries that the website was being used to essentially trick people into paying one to write, it seemed more of an alternative method of self-publishing that like anything did take genuine hard work. I did want to put more effort in and try to investigate whether there were many flops or failures but that information wasn’t immediately or easily available. Given that most people I have spoken to wished to use their Kickstarter project to also build readership it’s not going to do their name any favours if they don’t deliver or even impress.

So just for internet etiquette’s sake a Too Long; Didn’t Read summary

  • Some fiction writers are using Kickstarter to fund their work
  • I originally thought this was a cheap shot at getting paid to write rather than paid to produce a good book
  • On investigation is looks like for the most part backers are discerning individuals (after all why spend money on future rubbish when you can typically have it now?)
  • In conclusion it looks like a decent Kickstarter campaign and resolution might be as much work as say self-publishing and marketing and carries a pretty high risk to the authors name, so doesn’t seem so dodgy.

While I dream of the day someone generously pays me simply to write, I suspect Kickstarter will not be a project in my future. While traditional and self-publishing are agonizing prospects in many ways at least there are no deadlines if you aren’t getting paid. Novel writing is a long term project and there is just so much to botch up especially with physical self-publishing.

I’m hoping to track down a successful Kickstarter author and ask them a few questions so in the rare co-incidence one takes a look at this post – COMMENT or get in touch.

 

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How to Correctly Punctuate Dialogue for Novels

I challenge any aspiring writer not to learn anything from this post on dialogue…

Writers After Dark

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Writing dialogue is messy. Am I right?

It has so many rules, it makes me wish I’d gone with my original plan in life. I’d intended to become an all-in-one supermodel-psychologist/part-time medical researcher. What? I thought I wanted to save people, discover things, and change the world wearing a tiara and killer heels. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I just wanted to sit on my couch drinking coffee and writing all day while wearing no pants.

Plus, apparently my status as a supermodel got cut short (no pun intended) by my lack of height. And love of cake. Also, had I continued studying psychology, I’d have been forced to stop listening to the voices in my head . . . and that was SO not cool. The thing was . . . I didn’t know how to properly punctuate any of my internal…

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Horror Writing: The Limitation of Perceptions

Writers After Dark

Horror Writing

A few years ago I gave up on the idea of being a horror writer. Not, of course, the content or story themes but the limitations implied by the “horror writer” label. The problem with horror is the genre’s definition is too subjective and the expectations too expansive to satisfy. Consequently, a horror story will rarely please all types of horror fans.

Case in point, even the most hardcore horror fans debate the “King of Horror,” Stephen King’s position as a horror writer considering so many of his books might be better placed in the thriller category.

Equally problematic is the people who don’t read “that type of stuff” often have very different perceptions of “horror” from the writers who pen such stories.

The category “horror” limits readership because of its inherent connotations and genre fan’s diverse set of expectations.

A Problematic Definition

A quick review of the general definitions…

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Articles on Writing You Don’t Want to Miss (1)

Writers After Dark

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When you’re stuck with your writing, or just plain bored out of your skull, there’s nothing better than to pursue some motivation. Whether it’s via Netflix, reading, or researching all those cool “how tos” on writing, it all works to get your writerly blood pumping. So we thought we’d share a few of our most popular posts on writing, in hopes they help you through your tough times. Because why? Because we care, that’s why!

So in case you missed it . . . and because we really need one break per month from all the “posts writing” . . . and to use the time to write our books . . . and other stuff we haven’t thought of yet . . . here are some helpful articles on writing:

*Creative Pragmatism: How to Become a Productive Author
*Finding a Writing Routine that Works for You

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Letting Trends Set You

I love it – authors flock to Twitter. Authors: ‘now what?’
Advice givers: get viral and stuff

Trainee Writer

Okay, so it’s been a little while since I updated this little blog of mine with any kind of insightful hints and tips into the craft of writing and – as usual – it’s been birthed by my recurring and endless struggle with writer’s block.

So in today’s long awaited post, I’m going to be exploring some ways of finding inspiration through social media. Actually, I’m going to be doing it from a single source of social media (a social medium?) that we all know and love to hate: Twitter.

funny-twitter-facebook

Now, even though I haven’t blogged about this myself (because, as anyone who has read my blog *ever* will attest, I update about once every four years) a lot of the expert writing teachers are strongly recommending that all aspiring writers flock to Twitter. It’s supposed to teach us about engagement, character voices, brevity and all sorts of things that…

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A Theory on Literary vs Genre

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The merits of literary against genre novels is a common discussion among writers, genre writers tend to see ‘literary’ (as a category) a a snobbish, pretentious affair, and visa versa genre novels are touted as low-brow entertainment.

Readers of course scratch their head and say ‘we want to read good books’ which is a fine stance to take of course.

I am however always drawn to try and clarify murky distinctions and the exact differences between literary and genre fictions are not 100% clear. For sure there are many examples of books that firmly fit in either camp, Jack Reacher novels for example are not typically  considered literary and its rare for anything that wins the Booker prize to be considered genre (but not always). However when tries to pin down what exactly makes a book ‘literary’ and why genre fiction isn’t things get a little hazy.

For a long time I’ve subscribed to the view that that a work of fiction has a certain amount of literary quality, and that distinctions are less about categories are more perhaps about how much quality said book has. Literary (OK I am getting sick of that word now) qualities are usually thought to be:

  • Powerful characterization (including that character development is predominant over plotiness)
  • The work presents some insight or revelation about life, the world, or people
  • Emphasis on word quality and poetry of the prose
  • The work is timeless, not relying on faddishness or being too rooted within the entertainment trends of its time

Now I’m sure there’s more and even better developed points than that (let’s be honest I’m a genre fan through and through) but the point of my theory was that the real difference between the two categories was really one of degree rather than hard lines. For example I believe that certain genre works, Lord of the Rings for example, contain many literary qualities, such as strong characters, powerful messages and a sense of timelessness. However my theory still begged the question, why is genre fiction not usually considered literary?

My final point is a realization about literary writing, and that is an ability to nestle the mechanics of the story within some form of facade or none-obvious plot devices. By this I mean all the writing recipe stuff, like characters going from A to B, having fatal flaws, conflict, acts I, II and III are not revealed ostensibly to the reader they are portrayed through a layer of context that doesn’t necessarily reveal the base mechanism. I’m not sure that was particularly clear so let me explain the opposite:

While I find many of the themes in Lord of the Rings very deep and meaningful, the truth is they are essentially applied bluntly through the use of genre elements. The one ring corrupts its bearers, in the case of Gollum turning them into retched beings. Aragon needs to find his inner strength to lead a just cause, this is shown by him inspiring armies to victory, there is nobility in nature this is shown through the physical beauty/serenity of the elves. In short when good guys save the day/killer is caught/relationship saved this serves to deliver the messages and themes of the story. My point is in genre fiction while there can be a tonne of depth, layers and timeless messages the delivery rests on genre conventions and thusly the mechanics of the story are on display. This isn’t exactly a problem, but it contrasts with literary work which purposely avoids genre conventions, not because of its unreality (indeed many literary works use the supernatural or fantastical,) but as conventions.

Super-ironically I’m trying to come up with a good metaphor here, but failing to capture exactly what I mean.

Ok here goes.

Its a bit like watching sports versus something exciting happening in ‘real life’. Sports provide a lot of valid entertainment, but ultimately is based on known rules. The winning score with second to go, might be the most awesome thing in the world, but the framework is right there in front of you, winning is the goal, your favourite team the ones you want to do it their rival team the antagonists to this. You might learn lessons, see deeper themes and everything, but ultimately your life hasn’t been lived (just a caution I’m not saying sports are pointless but the sport itself is self-fulfilling. You want your team to win because the game has been setup to create that excitement, when good guys slay bad-guys we enjoy it but it was setup with that in mind.)  When you live your day to day life things are chaotic, random, the rules aren’t always obvious and most importantly the goals and antagonists enmeshed BUT we tend to place more value on our real lives (also note this is partly why fantasies whether sporting, video games or genre fiction are often more fun than real life).

My own lengthy waffling is starting to confuse me by now, the crux of what I’m saying is genre fiction is trying to write a cool sports match, literary writing is trying to present something more free and closer to the madness of real life.

I suspect this is why some make the mistake of thinking that literary fiction doesn’t contain plot or is about the mundanities of life. It’s not that literary authors have to be like magicians, deceiving their reader’s with slight of hand, but rather their goal is to make work more sublime than what genre offers. From this point of view perhaps literary (or at least GOOD literary) work deserves some snobbish elevation, as the seamless combination of good writing and its chassis is difficult.

Bear in mind when reading this that I LOVE genre fiction, this isn’t a love letter to literary work, but rather the ramblings of someone who likes to try and understand the hard to grasp.

What do you think is the difference between genre and literary fiction?

 

On First Drafts

 

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Now I’m not 100% this delightful quote is from Prachett, but its clever and sage so even if it isn’t it fits well (it is after all the post-truth era right right???)

What I like so much about it is how it captures many aspects of embarking on writing a story so well. I realize that there are probably as many creative methods out there as there are individual souls, but I suspect we mostly have a common process, in the sense that a story brews in our minds, and writing is our attempt to put words to that story.

This advice also gels well with Adam Sternbergh’s advice to write the novel you want to read not he one you want to write. You see typically when we first put pen to paper we’re high on our own imagination, and whatever your methods or opinion of your own work, its hard to detach from the feelings we get when we write. But therein lies the rub, how you feel writing, or rather telling yourself the story is likely to be far from the experience of a reader picking up your words and reading for themselves. Now I’m not saying your perfect baby of a novel is crap, I’m just saying that the goal of fiction is not to put words to our imaginations, but rather to present words that spark other’s imaginations.

I think for me this is the biggest lesson/insight I’ve gained through struggling to learn to do fiction better, and I’m not trying to toot my own horn here; what I’m saying is the realization that good writing is about its effect (and affect) on the reader, has helped me immensely in term of working out how to improve my work, especially in edits and rewrites once I’ve told myself the story. It also helps to get away from a piece of advice which I do think is brainy and smart to share, to worry less about whether your writing is good and concentrate on whether your writing imparts to the reader what you want it to. (I guess if you want the reader to think you’re a clever writer that undermines my advice, but it almost every arena trying to seem smart tends to backfire as people wonder why you’re trying so hard)

What are other writers/readers thoughts on first drafts? Are you fans of vomit drafting, or you like to plan carefully, or are you a rare specimen that can weave gold from nothing…

Warhammer 40k and thoughts on World-Building

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So I went full nerd the other day and watched around 3 hours of Warhammer 40k Lore:

part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KyPjE1Sn-Ts&t=7s

Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2F3y2bJzDJQ&t=4935s

Now just to justify such an action, the videos are largely auditory – so I could have these playing in the background whilst I cooked, cleaned, parented and so forth, and the narrator (Luetin?) has the most chilled British(?) accent its surprisingly easy listening. Also I really enjoyed Space Crusade as a child, which is a much pared back version of Warhammer and I figure I should finally make sense of the source material.

The lore is pretty detailed but by and large the history of the sci fi universe goes something like this:

  1. Humans reach a very high level of technological advancement, colonizing the galaxy and presenting a far superior force to other alien races – people live in a relative utopia heavily reliant on AI
  2. AI turns against us (surprise surprise) and through a massive war, no longer having AI to rely on, and the ‘warp’ (a method of faster than light travel) become unstable the human race becomes scattered and surviving planets going the Mad Max way
  3. A Super powerful (sort of like Professor X crossed with Highlander) Emperor figure appears on Earth, conquers the planet, invents the iconic space marines and proceeds to re-unite the human planets across the galaxy. Things get good again, although AI is no essentially a heretical taboo which somewhat halters progress
  4. Through a series of mistakes the Emperor fails to protect his space marines from CHAOS (the big bad that comes from the warp) and an even more massive war happens almost resulting in the death of the Emperor and destruction of mankind
  5. The Emperor is left mortally injured strapped to his throne, requiring the sacrifice of psychics (I’m sure it makes sense somehow) to keep him alive, and despite his attempt to create a rational secular society, becomes an object of worship, and mankind becomes a sort of tyrannical sect, with the Emperor as God, and Chaos as heretics. Most of the race is devoted to warfare, individual lives matter little and overall everything sucks quite a bit.

But I wasn’t really posting to try and summarize a lengthy lore, I confess I actually enjoyed the chronology, certainly far more than I expected, which gave me some insight into what seems to make good world building:

  1. There is a fair dose of hubris and error

Just like in more individual stories, we are most interested in people, and how their beliefs lead them through a narrative. While the temptation is to use fiction and world-building to embrace joyful fantasy, the fact is we are naturally drawn to controversy and flawed heroes. Indeed sometimes it feels that in real like will we get is hubris and error, ergo there is only so much make-believe we can tolerate. All-knowing All-compassionate, always right leaders and cultures in lore are boring and bizarrely unbelievable (as Luetin notes in his videos the 40K universe is completely over the top, yet its the personal flaws that make the lore compelling, i.e. we’re willing to tolerate armoured space marines with angel wings because the characters are flawed like human beings)

2. Not everything goes according to plan

Similar to above I think a key part of fictional lore is not simply having a series of historical bullet points about what humans (or whatever) did next, but a history of intentions versus real outcomes. Middle Earth is a good example of a fictional world that contains numerous examples of planned creation and how it went haywire.

3. Provides fertile soil for story telling

Really this is the ultimate goal of world building. It seems to be achieved by meeting the above points. The brilliance of the 40k universe is there is enough going on to create endless stories; recurring threats of AI and Chaos, attempting to recover lost technology from a brighter time, religious strife, alien warfare, dodgy history and so on and so forth. A creation myth like ‘There are good guys and bad guys and a nice continent they live on and fight over’ (Ok I don’t know any world building that is like that but often I see attempts which focus too much on details which don’t prompt stories)

4. Finally the lore is riddled with gaps, controversy and hearsay

That first this might seem like cheating – ‘oi you just want to leave the lore open so you can tweak as necessary’ but mostly fiction needs to be realized as just that fiction. The beauty of make believe is the ability to retell stories in different ways. The 40k Lore is considered very variable with various ‘accounts’ variations and some large gaps. What this does brilliantly is leave imaginations open. I think when most authors think about world building they see the likes of Rowling and Tolkien get complicated on their level of detail and think they have to completely flesh out every step of their creation. Personally I think the real skill is knowing when to miss a fact, or blur some information.

Thanks for reading – if you have any great examples of world building please comment, or if you have any criticism happy to discuss too!

 

 

 

 

Sherlock Se4 Ep3

SPOILER ALERT

So I’ve been pretty grizzly about the latest season of Sherlock, but the finale of season 4 did entertain much more the previous two episodes, and while I don’t feel it was quite good enough to redeem the season it was fun to watch so some credit is due.

What made the show a lot better is the writers managed to induce far more proper tension than the other episodes. The plot hinged around the idea that the Holmes had a sister, and she was under ‘Silence of the Lambs’ level lock-down due to her psychopathic tendencies. Said sister put Mycroft, Watson and Sherlock through ye’ old choice dilemmas forcing the trio to make various choices testing their emotions. A little contrived I guess, but appropriate effort was put into making the trials properly conflicted, for example making Sherlock ring poor Molly and torment her about her feelings for him, it was a truly heart-string pinging scene and one of my biggest criticisms of the episode is that as soon as the scene was over Molly was discarded and we didn’t see the fallout or Sherlock try to repair the damaging conversation (poor Molly)

There were still some glaring annoyances.

I tend to tolerate retcons pretty well (the practice of changing backstories in running series to add some drama or twists that didn’t exist before) but this episode kinda botched theirs. So anyone following the series will know that the big deal with season 4 was how on earth was Moriarty back? SPOILER WARNING AGAIN

So it was great to see the classic villain return by the directing or writing was in my opinion very naughty in manipulating our emotions. They show several shots of big M coming to the island location everyone is at, only revealing “5 years earlier” somewhat through the scene, leading to a disappointed sigh from this reviewer realizing that M was indeed dead and wasn’t going to do anything in the episode, really his presence was pointless except for undermining previous stories. It was essentially implied that sister Holmes pointed M towards Sherlock, but this wasn’t important really as Moriarty and sister’s motivations were not reliant on each other, and it brought into question Mycroft’s behaviour in season 2 around Moriarty.

I think the real problem with this season was the writers’ attempt to manipulate emotions. The basic deal of the season was to upset Watson, create a rift between the main characters, vaguely fix them up, then have Sherlock have to work to save Watson. I was reminded somewhat of Avengers 2 when I was frustrated at attempts to make Hawkeye sympathetic by revealed none other than two children and a pregnant wife. The reality is you can’t force an audience to care for someone, the best you can do is make characters seem authentic enough and hope that people do take a liking to them.

Initially I had felt frustrated about the series because I felt it hadn’t really addressed issues from the previous, in particular the fact that Sherlock had outright shot a villain in the head. Although in reflection I think the theme of this season was whether Sherlock was actually a ‘good’ guy or was he just like Moriarty and his crime solving antics were just a form of addiction, which actually works, but the problem is this seemed to play out alongside the storylines, not exist as a theme intertwined. For example Watson got mad at Sherlock (actually unfairly in my opinion) because Mary took a bullet for him, it would have made more sense in this had actually been within a story about whether or not Sherlock was a good guy, culminating in his manipulations hurting Mary, instead it was about Mary and her choices, which wasn’t the theme. Another missed opportunity was using sister Holmes being a murderer to illustrate the concern about Sherlock’s morality.

It was painful to see ‘Greg’ state that Sherlock was a “good man” simply because he remembered his name, while is was skilfully in the sense there had been an earlier scene where Sherlock didn’t, it wasn’t coupled with Lestrade having very much at all to do with that episode.

While its the height of arrogance to rewrite professionals work I would have loved to see a season that went more along the lines of:

  1. Sherlock is insta forgiven for his murder, which he appears to care little about but Watson and Lestrade are particularly disturbed and questioning whether Sherlock is a ‘good’ person. Sherlock dives into his addictive cases but takes on the whole Maggie Thatcher Bust thing – but rather than someone is hunting Mary, the case reveals even more diabolical stuff about Mary (rather than the finale being Mary taking a bullet, its about Sherlock refusing to let the case go and Mary decides to leave after its found she did something more terrible) THIS would make much more Watson vs Sherlock tension believable
  2. Mary still implores Sherlock to save Watson, but rather than be in complete control we see Sherlock complete struggle to reconnect with Watson highlighting again whether or not Sherlock is good or just addicted to solving crime. Watson returns to the relationship more to guide Sherlock to reduce the harm he does rather than healed emotions
  3. Episode is much the same except that Watson and Sherlock are still very raw (adding to choice tensions) the final competition is much the same except that Sherlock is put in the position of choosing Watson over figuring out his sisters complex riddle (and its revealed that sister reprogrammed Sherlock to kill his own best-friend as this fits with the theme of is Sherlock good) something something dramatic plot reveals Sherlock to ultimately be a good guy the horrible events of his past explaining much of his current behaviour and mending the rift between the two men

What are other people’s thoughts on the seasons – good, bad, great, terrible. Comment your thoughts…