Sunday, August 28, 2016

Letting characters and situation run the show

I’ve recently been re-reading Stephen King’s On Writing, a book I’d easily recommend as my favorite on writing craft. So many books about writing tend to land somewhere in the dull realm of a how-to manual, or focus so much on mechanics and grammar that the life and creativity of writing–the art, as it were–is neglected. On Writing avoids these pitfalls, and the result is a page-turning exploration of writing as seen through the eyes of one writer.

[Disclaimer: While I recommend this particular book, I can’t get through most of Stephen King’s novels, but not for a lack of gripping writing. (It’s just that the content that often disturbs me.)]

One of the passages I read this morning was so good that I thought I’d share it here. I’m sure not all authors subscribe to this method, but I feel it’s got a lot of merit, and is worth the consideration of anyone attempting to tell a story:
“I want to put a group of characters (perhaps a pair; perhaps even just one) in some sort of predicament and then watch them try to work themselves free. My job isn’t to help them work their way free, or manipulate them to safety—those are jobs which require the noisy jackhammer of plot—but to watch what happens and then write it down.
The situation comes first. The characters—always flat and unfeatured, to begin with—come next. Once these things are fixed in my mind, I begin to narrate. I often have an idea of what the outcome may be, but I have never demanded of a set of characters that they do things my way. On the contrary, I want them to do things their way. In some instances, the outcome is what I visualized. In most, however, it’s something I “never expected.”
The reason, King believes, that this is a superior method of writing (as opposed to meticulously plotting everything out before putting pen to paper), is that the author ends up reading (and enjoying!) the story’s twists and turns along with his audience. And if the author is enjoying the process of recording the story, readers are sure to sense it, and want more.

This is more or less the way things happened with The Unrighteous. The novel itself sprung from a simple concept: What if, in the New World, some of the unrighteous believed, not that they were resurrected by Divine power, but wrapped up in some kind of conspiracy? From that came the characters: Jack, a hardened American soldier who’d suffered a grisly death on a battlefield in the Middle East. Harold, an arrogant British evolutionary biologist firmly opposed to the idea of God. Liping, a Chinese woman who’d been swindled, cheated, and lied to her whole (previous) life. A lot of the things they said and thought and objected to were based on actual conversations I’ve had with those in the military, evolutionists, atheists, and Chinese. At least in this way, the story had the ring of truth. Jack, Harold, and Liping were very real characters (at least in my mind). And they made my job–that of telling the story–a relatively easy task. All I had to do was supply the environment (a Welcome Center on a mountaintop run by perfect people) and let them interact.

Interestingly, almost everything that happened after the First Act of that book was unscripted. [Spoilers to follow, so skip to the next paragraph if you haven’t read it and want to be surprised…] I had no idea Jack and Harold would get into a fistfight, and was shocked when they decided to run off into the woods. I was as exasperated with their actions and attitudes as Charlie and his family, and many readers have been able to relate to their emotions as well. After all, who of us hasn’t had a particularly difficult Bible student (or child), who repeatedly disappointed us despite our best efforts at love and patience? The setting of The Unrighteous may be a distant future yet to unfold, but the emotions here resonate with us, today, as imperfect Witnesses doing our best with the tools we’ve been given.

This is another key to story-telling, and one I still struggle with (I am a very novice writer, after all): being honest. For the characters to behave believably, the writer must be honest. If a character’s actions and words don’t meld with the way the reader has been perceiving him or her, things will start to feel out of place. Like King says, this is the ‘jackhammer of plot’ at work. The author is forcing his will on the story, squeezing things into his mold, and making a distracting ruckus in the process.

In the end, I find it best to go with the flow, to let the characters run the show. After all, we've been given free will; we might as well extend it to the people on the page.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Paperbacks now on Amazon

Here are the links:

All Things New
The Unrighteous

You'll notice that these are linked to the Kindle downloads for the books, making it a convenient place to get both physical and digital copies. Another nice feature (and one of the reasons I decided to put my books on Amazon in the first place) is the reader reviews. So if you've read either of my books and would like to leave a comment and a rating, it would be much appreciated!

As I mentioned in the last post, the physical books are slightly more expensive than they previously were, when I sold them through my own store. The reason for this is that Amazon charges a hefty fee per book, plus other fees for printing services and so on. So unfortunately I can't sell them at the same prices as I have previously. However, an upside to selling on Amazon is that their shipping is much cheaper than what I was using before, and if you've got an Amazon Prime account, the shipping fee is waived entirely. Additionally, the shipping should be much faster than my previous shipping arrangement with the US Postal Service. In other words, in the end the price sort of evens itself out.

Finally, letting the good people of Amazon handle the printing and shipping of books means I no longer need to micro manage this, so I can focus on the more important things in life, and devote a bit more time to writing new stories.

As always, thanks in advance for your understanding and support!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Cover Design for "Critical Times" + Amazon release

It's been awhile since my last update! Been busy with things lately, like feeding the pioneers at a local PSS, helping organize our local regional convention, and trying to get the rest of my time in for the service year. The summer months bring increased activity to Jehovah's organization, and I'm sure I'm not the only one scrambling about in the August heat!

That said, I'm happy to share the following tidbits of news regarding my writing projects.

First and foremost, I'm excited to announce that both All Things New and The Unrighteous are now available on as digital downloads. This means that if you're like me and like to read on your Kindle, it's now easier than ever to download and read my books. If you use Android or Apple devices to read, you can also enjoy the books via the Kindle app. Please note, since these are part of the Amazon store, I couldn't make them available for free, but at just a little over $1 USD, I think you'll agree that the set price is pretty reasonable.

For those who've been asking about when paperbacks will be back in stock in the store, I'm also happy to announce that Amazon will soon be carrying paperback versions of both books. The cost per book will be slightly higher than my store (Amazon takes a large cut), but the reduced shipping costs worldwide should even things out quite a bit, especially for international buyers. I will have more news on this soon.

Finally, for those who've been waiting anxiously for the release of a downloadable Critical Times, thank you for your patience! My third novel has become a much more involved project than the last two, and it's significantly longer and more complex. Because of this, the editing process has been slow and painstaking, but it's almost there. I hope to have more on this soon, but until then, you can enjoy the cover artwork, which I finally finished designing this week. I think it captures the mood of the story well. Hope you all like it too. Have a great week, and see you soon!