The Journeyman Author

On writing for writers.

Monthly Archives: October 2011

Redefining “god” in writing terms.

No, I’m not here to start some kind of religious or ethical debate. Notice, I’m using the term “god” loosely. You can tell because I haven’t capitalized it. That’s a lesson I’ll discuss on a later blog on the importance of correct punctuation and capitalization. For now, though, I’ll go back to the main point of today: what the term “god” means in writing.

In one way, I suppose you could look at it like this: if you are a fiction writer, you are also a god (once again, note the lowercase “g.” This will be the last time I point this out–this has nothing to do with religion!). Now, I’m not referring to the plotline itself of your novel. I’m not even referring to what you’re writing about. What I am referring to is none other than your own mind.

Here’s the analogy. The idea of a god is of creation. Gods create. They create the world, they create people, they create ideas, they even create themselves (or maybe that’s just in Greek). My point is, gods are creators. To follow that train of thought, writers are also creators. Writers create their own worlds, characters, ideas, and, in many cases, their own science. When you write a book, you create your own world with your own rules.

But that’s still not what I mean to get at. There’s the most basic, most primitive form of a “writing god.” That is the level even the least talented writers can achieve. Sadly, it is not nearly as difficult to invent up your own world as we sometimes like to think it is. To be a great writer, you must be more.

What does that mean?

Let’s look back at the term “god” again. Other than simply being a creator, what is another common trait of most gods?

Omniscience.

To be a great writer, to be a great “writing god,” you must be omniscient.

From what I’ve seen, many writers seem to skip out on this part. Many writers settle for the simple version of “writing god.” They create their setting, their characters, and their plotline. They don’t do much more than that. They acquire nothing more than a working knowledge of the universe they are writing in. They know the basics, enough to get by, and, in many cases, enough to write a compelling story.

For me, and for many others, this isn’t enough.

Truly devout writers know there is so much more to their novels than the tiny space and time their story actually inhabits. Instead of being content to simply know what they need to know to fill up that space, they spend days, months, maybe years knowing absolutely everything there is to know about absolutely every detail of their book.

A phenomenal example of this kind of writer is J.R.R. Tolkien. Has anyone ever actually been able to make it through the Silmarillion? Consider that to Middle Earth as the Bible is to our universe. In fact, the Lord of the Rings Trilogy is only a small part of the epic tale of Middle Earth.

Anyway, here’s the gist of it. Being able to know your own world in even half of the detail Tolkien knew about his will help you exponentially in regard to your book. Here are a few of the benefits to uncovering as much of your world before you actually begin writing:

  • Your characters will be heavily more developed before you’ve even started.
  • You will have to do less development of separate settings throughout the novel because the world has already been set and established.
  • If something isn’t working and you need to edit, it will be easier when you already know everything there is to know about the world and you don’t need to reinvent something completely new.
  • You, as a writer, will understand your character’s motives better than you ever thought possible.
  • With a fully developed world and background, your characters will feel more real to you, and, ultimately, to your reader.
  • Outlining is easier because you have a visual, mental, or verbal map already written up of the world. All you need to do is connect the pieces.
  • It’s fun!

Now, there are things people misunderstand about this concept. Just because you’re the god of your story, and just because you’ve taken the time to develop understand all of these intricacies about your world and characters, does not mean you need to add every single detail into your book. In fact, you should never do that. You only have 100,000 words to work with. If you clutter your work with details that are absolutely irrelevant to your main story line, you are lessening the quality of your writing and simply relying on quantity of information. This, ultimately, will bore your reader to the point of putting your book down and never picking it up again.

What you need to remember is that it is your job, as your story’s god, to know all of this information. It is your reader’s job to enjoy the storyline in the very limited time and space being taken up by your novel. If you have a secret, underground society that has over eighty people working to keep the place up and running, it does not help your reader at all to know all eighty names. However, as a writer, knowing those names and people couldn’t hurt. All it does is add to your arsenal of tricks and twists you could throw at your reader, if the time is right.

Basically, the more information you have about the world you’ve created, the more realistic your novel will become. Instead of working within a short, confined space, you have a huge spectrum of possibilities to explore.

And, as writers, we love possibilities.

Cheers
–Mary

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The myth of the million-dollar book deal.

Let’s face it. As fiction writers, we absolutely love what we do. Every single word we pen to paper is worth millions more in our eyes than it could ever possibly be worth in the real world. We write to satisfy our creative needs, but deep down all we really want to do is share our stories with the world. It would also be fantastic if we could make a livable income off of the profits we make from selling our work. In fact, if we could all buy mansions, three cars, and a yacht, that would be splendid, too. At the very least, we want the fame and fortune associated with successful writers as nothing more than a benefit of all of our hard work. The true prize is seeing our book in print, but we wouldn’t say no to that kind of income, either.

Though I feel like most of us are rational enough to understand that very few writers will ever make the millions JK Rowling did (those millions, I should point out, came not only from book deals but movie rights), I believe there is a misconception floating about on what kind of living a published writer can actually hope to make. What kind of income could one expect? Surely the influx of money is a livable sum, right?

My advice to aspiring writers is this: in the even that a publisher agrees to take on your novel, absolutely do not, under any circumstances, quit your day job.

In my hometown, I had the pleasure of meeting an older gentleman who had, after sixty-five years or so, successfully signed a book deal with a small press and was in the middle of signing another one. He worked as a slot machine technician with my father, and had spent most of his life making a living through mechanical engineering. Of the three career choices, the mechanical engineering had undoubtedly been the most lucrative, and the writing the least.

He and I had a discussion about what most writers could expect to make on their novels. On average, most writers pull in three-thousand dollars per year for every book they have published. In other words, if you were to publish five books, you would be making below the annual income for someone working at a minimum wage of 8.25 an hour. That’s also assuming that none of your books were major successes or major flops.

Also remember that even big publishing houses only publish an average of three to five books per year. Once again, this statistic was quoted from my friend, so perhaps the numbers have changed, but I doubt it. Regardless, the number isn’t large. Printing books is expensive, not to mention somewhat risky, for publishers.

As it is, most writers who are able to make a livable income off of their novels have done one of two things: either they took the JK Rowling approach and simply have phenomenally written (or phenomenally marketed, if you want to take into consideration the atrocity that is Twilight) books that make it big quick, or they simply have devoted years and years of their lives to pumping out books and have twenty or so out on the market. The fact of the matter is, most writers will not write the next big hit, and most writers will not be able to publish the sheer volume of work it would take to make a livable income otherwise.

So, in other words, the idea of getting rich off your brilliant idea is a fantastic dream, and you shouldn’t give up on it. However, realize that the chances of you achieving fame and fortune are quite slim. That doesn’t mean, though, that you should stop writing. If you were only writing for the “money,” then you should never have started writing in the first place!

Cheers
–Mary

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