Monday, May 31, 2010

Can Writers Make a Living From Short Stories Alone?

Not too long ago, literally a matter of a year or two, the question would have been ludicrous. Can fiction writers make a living from short stories?

A half century or more ago, there were some authors who were fortunate enough to make a living from short stories. O. Henry comes to mind, even Robert E. Howard, and any number of genre writers from the 1920s through about the early 1950s. That was roughly the time period when lots and lots of readers turned to magazines and other printed periodicals for entertainment. Detective stories were popular, as were some fantasy and Westerns and romance writings.

Then, for the longest time, the short story seemed to dry up. Or at least any money to be made from short stories dried up. Fewer and fewer people seemed to read in general, and fiction reading trends tended towards longer forms, most commonly the novel. Fewer and fewer magazines were paying much for short stories, and a lot of magazines went out of business. For the most part, many short story writers were limited to smaller publications that did not pay much or did not pay at all.

That might have changed.

With increasing interests in electronic publishing, the short story writer once more possibly has found his or her chance to thrive.

Electronic books are growing in popularity, most notably by the ever-increasing sales of Amazon's Kindle e-reader and other such devices, like the Nook from Barnes & Noble.

More and more writers, professionals and beginners, are turning to publishing electronically, generally working directly through Amazon's Digital Text Platform or through such sites as Smashwords. Why would they do this? For lots of reasons. The writers don't have to deal with publishers, generally the pay cut is larger (at least in incremental percentages) and possibly most importantly, the writers have much more control over their product. The author gets to decide the cover art, the cover blurbs, how the ebook is edited, etc.

So with this growth in the electronic publishing industry, more and more short stories are beginning to show up, as well as novels, in the electronic form. Some writers are giving away their short stories for free as a promotion to hopefully draw readers to the writers' novels. Other writers are charging a dollar or less per short story. Yet other writers are bundling short stories together in groups, anywhere from a few stories to a couple of dozen, and selling those packages, sometimes for as little as 99 cents or less.

Does this mean short story writers are back on top? Not necessarily, but it does mean a short story writer is in a better position to be able to make a living only as a short story writer, probably in a better such position than nearly all short story writers in 50 years.

One can dream, can't one? And even if the dream can't become a reality, perhaps the challenge is enough in itself.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Should fiction writers have a blog?

I have known and know of some professional authors who never blog, yet they are doing quite fine with their writing career. On the other hand, I've known several authors who might not have been able to make a career out of writing without the help of their blog.

As example, science fiction author John Scalzi first published his novel Old Man's War online and that combined with his blog, Whatever, were huge boosts to his career. Thriller/horror author J.A. Konrath has also boosted his career quite a bit with the aid of his blog, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing.

Plenty of other novelists never blog. Ever.

So if you're a budding fiction writer, what should you do?

One argument against blogging is that it takes time away from a fiction writer, time that could be spent writing ... well, spent, writing fiction.

However, a blog can be a huge promotional tool for a writer. Remember, the actual writing itself is just the beginning of the work. Most writers have to spend plenty of time also doing promotions, making sure potential readers have heard of them. To that end, a blog makes perfect sense.

The key is not to spend so much time blogging that it takes away from actual writing time. A little self restraint might sometimes be in order, or perhaps a writer would even want to put himself or herself on a schedule; maybe they would only allow themselves to blog for an hour a day, or during a certain time of the day.

Of course some writers blog their fictional works. As a hobby, this is fine. Even as a self-publishing author, this fine. But if you are trying to sell your novel to a traditional print publisher, or even many ebook publishers, you need to think twice about putting your fiction out there for everyone to see for free; many publishers will not want to try to sell to readers material that is already available for free elsewhere than through the publisher.

Well, should a fiction writer have a blog? Considering the importance of self-promotions for writers nowadays, and considering the growing importance of electronic publishing, I lean heavily toward blogging. Even if a writer should land a book deal with a major publisher, that publisher is going to expect a certain level of self-promotions from the writer.

And what better, and easier, way to do a little promotions than to blog?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Novelist Cutting Ties with Traditional Book Publishers

Until a couple of years ago, I had been a newspaper journalist. Then in a matter of a year or two, I watched my career vanish before my eyes. The newspaper industry as a whole has been in decline for decades, but the ball has definitely been rolling downhill the last few years.

Now, over the last year or so, I’m hearing many of the same grumblings in the book publishing industry that I used to hear in the newspaper industry. No one is reading anymore. None of the publishers are making any money. Technology, mainly through the Internet and e-book readers, is destroying the publishing industry.

There’s probably some truth to all that, but I don’t think the major traditional book publishers are going to keel over and die anytime soon. Maybe in the next 20 years, but time will tell. Meanwhile, someone somewhere is making money from print books; there’s just too many book stores and online purchases to deny this. Still, books in electronic form have made and are continuing to make major headway into the publishing industry.

So much so that lately there’s another front in the conflict between traditional book publishing and electronic publishing. Some writers, even some known writers, are turning away from the traditional publishers and going it on their own.

The biggest brouhaha has been brought about by author J.A. Konrath, probably best known for his Jack Daniels police procedural series of novels and his horror fiction. Konrath has been in the public eye for at least a half dozen years now as an author, his first traditionally published novel having been Whiskey Sour in 2004.

Since then Konrath has gone on to have about a half dozen novels published in print. He has also become known for his blog about publishing, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, and the extremes he has gone to to promote his work, including mailing 7,000 letters to libraries and personally visiting more than 600 book stores in 28 states in one year.

Konrath has also become known for being outspoken of his opinions concerning the publishing industry. On his blog he has stated “I love print publishers. But the traditional publishing industry is flawed, and I don't see any signs it will be fixed anytime soon.”

Those flaws seem to have driven him away entirely from traditional book publishers. Konrath has announced, after years of working with traditional publishers, he will now go it alone without the industry. Barring a handful of books he is contractually obligated to provide publishers, his future in publishing is now turning toward Amazon’s Kindle. Konrath has announced his upcoming novels will be published electronically first on the Kindle and at Smashwords for other ebook readers, then will be made available in print through Amazon’s CreateSpace program.

Why would an author do this? The more important question might be, Why not? Konrath claims to have sold nearly 47,000 ebooks through Amazon over the last 13 months, the best-selling of the lot being his novel The List, which was never excepted for print publication by a traditional book publisher.

In other words, a professional author is making money without a print publisher. Will this lead to a trend of more authors dumping print publishers for electronic publication? It just might. If an author is able to bring in readers without taking a cut in potential earnings from publishers (and possibly even literary agents), it’s possible more authors will go this route.

Konrath’s outspokenness on his own publishing venture, and his recent announcement of dropping traditional print publishers, has drawn attention. An article recently in Publishers Weekly sought opinions from literary agents concerning Konrath's actions and words; some responses were negative while others not so much, but Konrath himself on his blog took exception to the article’s tone, calling it an “epic fail” and then going on to outline the article’s possible failings.

And readers and writers are paying attention. Hundreds have commented on Konrath’s blog, some urging on his success, some not.

On a related note, Garrison Keillor recently wrote an article for The Baltimore Sun titled “When everyone’s a writer, no one is.” The headline isn’t completely accurate to the article’s subject matter, but Keillor is not likely to blame as columnists don’t always have a say in the title to their articles. Keillor does go on about some of the positive aspects of self-publishing, but more than anything he laments the days when writers used a typewriter, mailed off their manuscripts and got paid for them. He calls it “the Old Era.”

For good or ill, it seems the Old Era has passed. Electronic publishing seems here to stay, and it’s changing the face of the publishing industry one book at a time.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Interview with Editor of Deadman's Tome Horror Magazine

Jesse Dedman wears a lot of hats. Not only is he the editor of Deadman’s Tome, an online horror fiction magazine, but he’s also the editor of Iron Bound, a new online fantasy fiction magazine, and he’s the author of The Bleeder Collection, an anthology of five inter-connected horror short stories.

Recently editor Jesse Dedman agreed to an e-mail interview, so I posed him several questions. Below are the questions and his answers.

How did you come up with the idea to start online fiction magazine Deadman's Tome? What prompted you to become a fiction editor?

Originally, I started off as a writer that possessed more ego than talent. The idea of getting published teased me, almost mockingly, after a series of rejections that I couldn’t agree more with, but more ambiguous and possibly paranoia induced factors began to populate. Equipped with a combination of the latest Writer’s Digest (2008 at the time) and a staggering collection of databases that contained various online publishers, I found that more and more magazines appeared to be closing their doors. Combine that with a sort of twisted and yet realistic mindset towards the business of the world -- the idea that in many cases it is the familiarity with someone and not the actual work that acts as the deciding factor -- and you get the seedling to what made Deadman’s Tome possible (Demonic Tome at the time). I created the magazine so that other writers would have another, welcoming avenue for their work. I actually never liked the idea of putting my own material on it, and I never thought of myself as an editor. But that all changed. A little secret exposed, when I started DT I knew rejections were going to happen, but being a scorned writer myself, I felt the need to create a buffer between me and the contributors. That buffer was Oliver Kingwood, such an awfully fictitious name, but it worked for the time being. Nowadays I proudly accept and reject submissions with a personal letter, no form bull. I want to deliver a little bit of myself in the responses I give.

You've got a new online fantasy magazine, Iron Bound. Can you tell me a little about it? Why did you decide to publish another magazine?

Oh yes, Iron Bound. I’ve wanted to tap into fantasy for a good while, possibly a year after Deadman’s Tome launch, and the only reason why it took so long was for some compulsive desire to have DT stand on its own financially before any other endeavors are attempted. But the main issue with DT’s financial status has no real bearing on something like Iron Bound, and lately my time has surged into a surplus so now is the best time to do it. I absolutely love fantasy, perhaps not as much as horror, but I love every bit of it from the true and classic Celtic folklore and myths to the revisits to an Arthurian world. Blood smeared swords, battered shields, and the unstoppable, potent desire to challenge any and all willing combatants even if it meant death, draws on me.

What do you read? What kind of fiction do you like, and what fiction has inspired you?

Ironically, I don’t really have the list you might expect. I publish works of horror, and yet I don’t have a long list or even a short list of horror writers I frequently read. However, I have a list of certain works that are generally regarded as literary milestones to some degree, works that everyone ought to treat themselves to. Voltaire’s Candide, H.P. Lovecraft (all of his stuff), Franz Kafka’s The Stoker and the Metamorphosis, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, Homer’s Odyssey, Iliad, and countless pages of Greek, Roman, and Celtic myths (I love that stuff). I could go on, but I’ll let it rest on that.

Out of that list, I would have to say that Voltaire’s outlook towards life inspired my later work, thus increasing my pull towards the bleak. Lovecraft inspired me to not be afraid of creating my own unique variations of current monsters, perhaps leave behind another set of mythos, whereas American Psycho was just a great read.

I’ve read some other authors that inspired me when I was little, but now stand as something I don’t want to do. Anne Rice, for example, appeared as a great model when younger, and nothing against her as she is a terrific writer, but I just hated her pages of descriptions. I remember in one book she spent like a paragraph describing one portion of Lestat’s coat. Not saying don’t do it for future contributors or anything, but it is something I just find tedious. Like in The Bleeder, for example, I described the Bleeder in snap shots knowing that I only needed to focus on his core attributes for anyone with a brainstem to get a mental image of him.

After reading The Bleeder Collection, your prose collection of five inter-connected horror tales, I noticed what seemed to be a strong graphic novel influence. Care to expound on that some? Where did you get the idea for The Bleeder character and his stories? Will The Bleeder return in future tales?

The Bleeder CollectionWhen I wrote The Bleeder, I tried as hard as I could to capture the images envisioned in my head, which appeared to me like that of a Frank Miller graphic novel. Thoughts of a horrific, unfathomable experiment on a willing or unwilling human specimen burned in my mind. Images of blood gushing in streams from grated fingertips wouldn’t leave me until I figured out a way to make it possible. The Bleeder, a terrible monster struggling with morality while protecting the only person he felt a connection with, was born. I initially created the first one with no intent on creating others, but after it became published in I began to question if I could expand on it. After all, the first one leaves you assuming that Abigail is watched by the Bleeder for the rest of their lives, and the simplicity of that left a bad taste in my mouth, so I extended it with four additional tales, which, by intent, left behind a lot of questions that need to be answered.

The only reason it ended the way it did was because I really liked the idea of the Bleeder returning to his “place of birth” to fight to his bitter end. Of course, he isn’t dead. In the rushed ending, I made it clear that another incident emerged later on, but how could that be?

What lies in the future for you as an editor? What hopes do you have for your magazines and your writing?

I would like to run an online magazine that actually brings in some money so that I could actually pay contributors. I tried that with DT, but that didn’t go too well, it was too soon, and besides the sponsors will improve with the magazine being free.

Iron Bound is the first of other online magazines I wish to run. The next one would be a bit more mainstream and could possibly act as the bread and butter of everything else. It would be an online magazine for everything fiction but without the extremes of DT and IB. Something that, in a central hub, would provide a taste of current and developing talents in everything poetry, short story, flash fiction, and in genres ranging from literary narrative to not so extreme fantasy and horror. The problem with this idea would be the blending boundaries between the three magazines.

I would like to see DT grow, and I mean really grow. I would love to see its name reach the four corners of the world, and live the moment to where I observe people at the gym reading it off their E-reader.

As far as my writing goes, I wish to expand and do more than just horror. I’m currently working on a book right now that isn’t in any real category, 7 attempts at 1 death. It’s about a pseudo-evangelist-motivational speaker who is constantly overwhelmed by depression to the point to where suicide feels like the only way out. As you could possibly assume, he tries seven times. I got that idea when listening to my mom rant and rave about Joel Osteen, and I couldn’t help but know with strong inclination that those types of people are no way spared by the very thing that makes us so human, the little indecisions, the little moments of doubt, and all that jazz. From that, I went on a leap and designed a character that is all of extremes and nothing in between. One moment inspiring those of weary hearts, and playing Russian roulette under the influences of Ayahuasca in the next.

Other than that, I really don’t like placing my own material in the magazine. I used to feel sort of sleazy doing it, I’m not sure why, but now I do it simply because there are pieces that I’ve slaved over trying to get just right.

As an editor, what kind of stories are you looking to publish? What should a writer be sending you if they hope to be published in one of your magazines?

I’m a sucker for stories set in a post-apocalyptic environments that aren’t afraid to plaster a dark gloomy coat over a solid, fear-induced plot. Stories of the working man, perhaps labeled as deranged by some, breaks from the fold of the shackles of society and aims to take what is rightfully his. Tales of other-world deities coming into our realm to wreck havoc upon humanity and, of course, extreme brutality exercised by insane serial killers.

I’m also open for new styles, attempts, and willing to test ideas that many publishers probably wouldn’t. “When the Bough Breaks,” for example, is in the May 2010 release of Deadman’s Tome and is a story written in second person. The idea of reading something that protrudes into your imagination by informing you of what you are doing, trying to place you into the actions of the character, meets resistance. As people we don’t want to be told what to feel, how to feel, and what to do, unless we are spending another dreaded day at the old grinding mill. However, despite that, I wanted to see how DT readers would regard it and it’s too early to say anymore on it at the moment.

Related links

10 Web Sites for Horror Writers

The Book Spot, a book review blog for writers and readers

What Fictional Character's Blog Would You Like to Read?

As a fiction author, I often enjoy mentally getting into the minds of my characters. I'm not talking strictly about writing, but also the brain work that goes into the planning stages of writing. Before I sit down to the keyboard, I usually spend a few hours or even days or weeks working out plots in my head and sometimes even characters' conversations. Sometimes I try to think like my characters and try to envision how they look at the world.

This not only can strengthen the actual writing, but it also allows me to work out how a given character will react to a particular situation.

And it can be a lot of fun.

To take that a little further, as a reader I often enjoy getting into the minds of the characters about whom I'm reading.

That too can be fun.

So if I enjoy working out the mental processes and thoughts of my characters, from both a writer and reader's perspective, it stands to reason others might like the same.

I also blog a lot. Every day, in fact. Besides my online writings, I've got several blogs.

Which could me thinking further. And once the wheels finally stopped spinning so much in my head, it occurred to me it would be interesting to see fictional characters blog.

It could be a great marketing tool for fiction authors. If you've got a new novel coming out in a few months, you could spend those months blogging as one of the characters in the novel. The characters could guest post on your own blog if you already have one, or you could create a brand new blog just for the characters.

This might be a little tricky, as you don't want to give away too much about your upcoming publication, but I think with some foresight this could work.

City of Rogues (Book I of The Kobalos Trilogy)For example, the print version of my fantasy novel City of Rogues is probably coming out sometime in the next year. I'm not sure exactly when yet because the publisher hasn't given me a printing schedule, but the ebook version of the novel is already available online. The main character of the novel is Kron Darkbow, a mysterious warrior who dresses all in black, carries a big sword and a bow on his back. He's kind of like Batman set in a fantasy world, though he doesn't wear a mask.

I think Kron would make a great blogger. His view of the world is quite dark, though not necessarily bleak. He's someone who wants to get things done, and who wants to make the world a better place though through his own brutal measures. He's no tyrant in the bigger scheme of things, though he has no problems with handing out punishment when and where he believes it is due.

Knowing my novel is coming out sometime, I could use Kron's blog as a promotional piece. Again, I wouldn't want to give too much away about the story of my novel, but I could still provide background material, maybe even stories about Kron's days before the time period of the novel.

Or I could let one of the other characters blog. Kron's nemesis, an underground crimelord known as Belgad the Liar, has a lot in common with Kron. Belgad could have an interesting blog.

Or I could bring out a minor character, the small-time hood called Stilp, who is really a coward at heart unless he's got a bunch of goons backing him up. Stilp could definitely spin some interesting tales about the city of Bond where he and Kron and others find themselves during my novel.

I think this idea has potential.

Will I do it? I don't know. I've got enough other projects already, fiction and nonfiction alike, but the idea keeps intriguing me.

Do you think it would be a good idea? I'd like to hear some thoughts.

Another interesting idea would be blogs about known literary characters who are now available in the public domain, characters from books written roughly a hundred years ago and further.

Think of the possibilities! Imagine if D'artagnon from The Three Musketeers had a blog? Or what about Elinor in Sense and Sensibility? Heck, Moby Dick reads almost like a blog written by Ishmael.

I see possibilities here. Let me know what you think.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Changes are afoot

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you likely notice the page looks much different than it has in the past. Well, I decided it was time to do a major update. The old Logical Misanthropy was getting a little stale.

Let me know what you think of the new look! I'm sure there will be minor tweakings (and maybe some not so minor) over the next few weeks.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Whining Does Nothing for a Fiction Writer

I hear them all the time.

"It's so hard to make it into a magazine."

"None of the publishers will look at my book."

"Agents take way too long to reply to submissions."

And a thousand other whiny complaints.

It's almost sickening.

Yes, it is tough breaking into the fiction writing market. Not everyone can get a book deal. Not everyone can land a story in their favorite magazine.

That's just too bad. Write better. Write more. Write. Write. Write.

Grousing about how tough it the fiction markets can be will not get your story published. It will not get your name on the front of a publication. It most definitely will not make you any money as a writer.

And it's also bad form. Editors, publishers, literary agents and other writers are out there on the Internet, too, and when they witness someone going on and on about how much the publishing industry sucks, they might just remember that person's name. Which is not a good thing, remembering that name in a negative light. If your manuscript lands on some editor's desk, an editor who saw you tearing into his magazine because they never published one of your stories, that editor isn't very likely to even read your story, let alone consider it for publication. "Not fair!" you might shout. "Tough luck," I say. Grow up and join the real world. If you go around offending others in the publishing business, the very business you're trying to break into, you're not going to get very far.

See, it's human nature to not want to do something for someone who has insulted you. It's also perfectly legal, some might even argue ethical. Whatever, it's reality.

Of course there are other options for writers nowadays. You could go the self-publishing route. For instance, you can publish your ebooks for the Kindle through the Amazon's Digital Text Platform. You could also publish your books through sites such as Lulu. You can even publish short stories through online publishing sites like Triond.

But what you won't get is readers, let alone any chances at making money. Don't believe me? Okay, go ahead and publish that story on Triond, or better yet, that novel on the Kindle. Now, once you've made a hundred bucks, come back here and post about it.

I'll see you in ten years.

Of course, there are success stories out there of authors who have self-published and who are doing quite well. But what those authors did was put in a lot of work, a lot of time and effort doing self promotions after they do all that work writing and editing their own material. So, it can be done. But one thing those writers didn't do was sit around and gripe about how unfair the writing industry is.

They did something about it. They wrote. They published. They cashed the checks. And they enjoyed interacting with their readers.

Which is something you'll never do if you spend more time complaining than writing and submitting or publishing.

There's Nothing Wrong With Writing For Money

Shakespeare did it. Poe did it. Twain loved doing it. Even Tolstoy did it, though he was an emotional wreck over it.

I'm talking about writing for money.

Whether fiction or non-fiction, in some writing circles there seems to be a stigma about writing for money. You're looked down upon if you write for money, if you even dare to ask for a mere pittance for something you've written. You receive scowls and frowns in person, and on the Internet you can receive diatribes that become personal and downright nasty.

All because you are writing for money or want to write for money.

Professional writers and those who want to be professional writers write for money. If you're not writing for money, you're a hobbyist.

Not that there's anything wrong with that either. Some people write only for themselves. Some people like to write free articles for their small town local newspaper. Other people like to write stories they read to their kids at bedtime. Some folks write a thousand-page novel just to see if than can do it, then hide the novel away in a closet. There are millions of reasons to write and not want to get paid for it.

But that doesn't mean you're better than me or any other writer who is writing for money.

If you want to talk ethics, how is it wrong to write for money? In what way?

Sure, there can be writers who take it too far, those who are constantly spamming forums about their writing. Those who can have another conversation with a human being only if it revolves around writing, specifically their writing. Those who post links and blogs and memos talking about their new book or short story or article.

But those are just annoying writers. And most all writers can be annoying at one time or another (probably like I'm doing right now).

Some of those who write for money do so because it gives them an ego boost. Others approach writing for money with a more capitalistic agenda, thinking the money they've earned from their writing is sort of like scoring points in a ballgame ... the more money you've got, the closer you are to winning (by the way, in case you wanted to know, the game's at a tie right now between J.K. Rowling and Stephen King).

Me? I've just got bills to pay. And writing is how I make my living.

It's not uncommon (though not extremely common) among smaller book presses and the smaller magazine and ezine publishers for there to be an attitude that beginning writers should just be happy they're getting published, even if they're not getting paid for it. To some extent that makes sense. Beginning writers are going through an apprenticeship of sorts.

But that doesn't mean they can expect to never get paid. If you've had three or four articles or stories published professionally, even if at smaller publications, it's probably time you started looking at the markets that pay, even if it's the markets that pay just a little. You can work your way up to the better-paying markets. If you're getting regularly published, you'll eventually start making some money.

Some folks use the word hack when referring to those who write for money. A writer writing for money is not a hack. A bad writer writing for money (after being fortunate enough to find someone to pay them) is a hack.

And yes, there is plenty of drivel out there. Some people frown upon thrillers. Some frown at horror novels. Myself, I don't care much for romance novels (and yes, I've given some a try, all in the name of gaining experience). But some folks like those genres. It's just that you don't. What constitutes bad writing is all subjective, and what constitutes a bad genre is subjective.

I'm not a great writer. I don't claim to be. I'm fair at this game. I get paid a little money for my work. Yes, I'd like to get paid more. When is enough money enough? I'll find out when I get there, with no expectations of becoming rich.

But I don't look down upon those who have higher goals than myself, or who just want to get paid to write. There's nothing wrong with that.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Making Villains Realistic Can Strengthen Your Fiction

Every reader of fiction has their favorite villains. For some it's a Sith Lord from the Star Warsnovels. Others remember with glee the devious ways of Cardinal Richelieu in The Three Musketeers. Still others are chomping at the bit to read more about Hannibal Lector, the cannibalistic serial killer with charm, in a series of novels by Thomas Harris.

Regardless of whom a particular villain might be, sometimes we love them. Sometimes we love to hate them. And yes, we have to admit, sometimes we even love it when they're being out-and-out bad. It's not that we don't want the hero to succeed, it's just that sometimes the villain is so awesome, so cool, that we want them to succeed, too.

But normally you can't have it both ways. In most instances, the villain will eventually be thwarted or defeated or outright destroyed altogether.

Though sometimes they come back.

That's why it's fiction. The writers can make anything happen they want to happen. Though they have to work within realistic parameters or else they risk losing their audience. Truth might be stranger than fiction, but readers need their fiction to sound like truth.

Sometimes villains are seemingly faceless. Not literally faceless. No, no. Zombies have faces, but you usually can't tell much of a difference from one to the other. Sure, physically they might look different on a movie screen or be described differently from one another in a novel, but they're still just zombies. Mobs of the shambling dead.

In fantasy fiction, faceless villains often come in the teeming hordes of bad-guy monsters that serve as some sort of army for an evil overlord. Orcs and goblins commonly are used in such a fashion.

But do we, as readers, care about such villains? Usually not. Taking the zombies as an example, in most stories featuring the walking dead, the focus tends to be on those trying to survive the walking dead. That's not too big a problem, though, because most zombie tales are, at their heart, about survival.

Using the orcs from fantasy as an example, we run into a bit more of a problem. Yes, they're monsters. But they're also sentient beings with brains and a level of intelligence. If one were to look at the world in black and white, good versus evil, then orcs usually are represented on the side of evil. So it's alright to slay swaths of them, right? Perhaps. It depends upon the story and how it is told.

But orcs and such featureless villains often deserve more, a better treatment by the author.


To make the story more believable. To draw the reader's interest more into the tale.

Sure, we all love rooting for the hero, but if you can also get us rooting for the bad guy, you're going to have pulled your readers in all that much stronger. Which could mean more story sales.

And that's never a bad thing for a fiction writer.

How does one go about making such monsters more realistic? You don't have to make them likable. Don't make that mistake. You can make them likable, but it's not necessary. After all, many of us want our villains to be villains.

As a writer, you have to ask yourself why is a certain villain a villain. Here you're getting into philosophical and psychological questions concerning evil. The best thing to keep in mind is that most evil people, real and fictitious, don't think of themselves as evil. They generally believe they are the hero of their own tale, that they are justified for one reason or another in doing all the awful things they do.

I'm not suggesting you have to bring up a villain's entire past, going all the way back to their diaper days. Bringing up all kinds of seemingly whiny reasons why a villain is evil becomes maudlin. It becomes boring. Which is death to a fiction writer.

I am, however, suggesting to flesh out your villains a little more than usual. No, you don't have to spend a thousand pages to give the background of every individual bad guy in an army of bad guys, but you should at least focus on at least one major villain, maybe even the main villain, and a handful of underlings. Why are they villains? Why are they evil? What do they hope to accomplish by their evil acts?

This stuff will bring your readers all that much closer to the fictional world you've carved out with your words. And readers like to feel closer to the fictional worlds they discover. It makes them feel part of something. It makes them enjoy the tale all that much more. And again, it'll keep them coming back to you as an author

Another thing to keep in mind is that being evil just to be evil is boring. And not very realistic. Even the most sadistic serial killers of all time had reasons for committing their atrocious acts. Maybe their reasonings don't make sense to the rest of us, but they had them.

Friday, May 07, 2010

No. 22 - House of Chains

Started: May 7
Finished: May 24

Notes: I couldn't help myself. I wanted to read the next book in the series. So I am.

Mini review: This books started off with some of my favorite writing in the whole series, mainly because the first 150 or so pages focus on my favorite character in this series, Karsa Orlong. However, from there the book wound down and was rather anti-climactic, thus making it my least favorite novel so far in the Malazan series. That being said, it was still a decent book and I know the rest of the series is truly awesome.