Stories within a story

My second Story Cubes Challenge entry is done, pending Kyrie reviewing it. I have a sneaking suspicion she’s going to want me to tweak the ending — and I’m kind of hoping she’s got a suggestion, because all I can see is that it isn’t working as well as it could. If it didn’t have to be up by Saturday, I’d set it aside for a few days, but the structure of the challenge…

But I’m also curious to see her reaction — and yours, once I post it — because I switched approaches partway through the story. The POV character, Riordan, is the town storyteller, the one who knows all the tales from the old days. Every small town has at least one person like that — often more than one. In this case, he’s telling two linked stories, both of which he was involved in. The first is written as him telling the story present day. The second is written flashback style, so we see it unfolding as it happened in the past. In the first, you keep the interaction between him and his audience. But you lose the immediacy of the story. In the second, we’re watching it, and it’s more engaging for that reason. But we don’t get to see how his audience reacts to the events of the story until it ends. When I rework this section to fit into Book 1, both will probably end up being told the same way, but I haven’t decided which is more effective. I’ll be interested to see what you guys think.

What’s your latest storytelling challenge? It can be structure, pacing, POV… Anything that is making you puzzle over the best approach to telling your story.

E-books, indie publishing and the future

I’ve run across a whole string of articles about e-books and indie publishing in the past day or so, and it seems like publishing is seeing the same trend as journalism — digital is starting to supplant print, and people going it on their own are becoming a legitimate alternative to the big firms in the industry. With obviously, in both cases, an entire spectrum in between.

In journalism, it means some bloggers are becoming brands that attract enough readers that they become a go-to news source for people in a specific field. In publishing, so-called indie authors, who publish through e-books and POD, are making a better living than a lot of mid-list traditionally published authors. And both changes seem to mean shifts in how things work in the industry as a whole.

Other similarities: In both cases, there’s a lot of dreck out there. Badly written e-books and boring or banal blogs are everywhere. On a purely numbers standpoint, the bad far outweighs the good. On the flip side, in both cases there are people who have gone the independent route, done a great job and cracked into the traditional world of publishing in that medium. For blogging, one example is Ezra Klein, who started with his own blog, then blogged for a number of specialty publications, online and print, before landing a job at the Washington Post. He’s my age, and he’s now getting paid to do what he started out doing on his own time. And there are indie authors, such as Amanda Hocking, who have parleyed their success selling their e-books into traditional publishing deals.

What’s interesting is that I’m seeing more and more anecdotes of people who start out e-publishing, build a fan base, and then use success there to land the traditional deal. It used to be that self-publishing was the kiss of death for a book — no reputable publisher would touch it. Now the most recent issue of Poets & Writers has a feature on the agents for four breakout debut novels last year, and one of them is an agent for a book that had been self-published successfully, then re-released by a major publisher.

The key things seem to be:

  • It works if you write a series
  • It works if you write genre
  • It works if you write quickly
  • It works if you have a good editor (hat tip: Kyrie)
  • It works if you’re able to market online to build a following
  • And, of course, you have to write a good book or books

So having lived through the shifts in journalism as we adjust to this new world where anybody can publish via the web, there is a part of me that wonders if it makes sense to go that route, at least with the Exeter short-story collection I’ve been noodling around with as I plot out the book series. I had been thinking that I would try and get some of the short stories published in magazines as a way to build my fiction credentials, since everything I have now is nonfiction. But with everything I read about the industry, it’s starting to sound like self-publishing to e-book might be the new version of that path.

Thoughts from writers and others in the publishing industry?


Story Cubes – Week 2 update

When I first started this challenge, I figured I’d write between 500 and 1,000 words for each week. Well, Week 2 is at 2,000 words and counting. It’s been a fun story to tell in some ways, a chance to dig into a character who plays a key role in the series, yet one I hadn’t fully explored in my drafting to date. The challenge entry definitely will provide the basis for a chapter in Book 1, though the setup will need some changes.

It’s a look into some of the darkest elements in Exeter’s history, ones that I’ve known about for a while. Recent public events (*cough* Whitey *cough*), however, have gotten me thinking more about just how dark this past is, and how tales of the past can turn even the most gruesome reality into nothing more than an entertaining story when softened by time and space. Just think about how many fairy tales are, at the heart, pretty brutal sequences of events.

I’m hoping to finish the draft tonight, though I’ve thought of a structural change that will make it more compelling. Still debating if I’ll do that for the challenge entry, or save it for the novel version rewrite…

Story Cubes Challenge Week 1

I’m finally joining Mark’s Story Cubes Challenge. 🙂 If you missed the explanation, it’s a 54-week challenge to write a piece of short fiction each week, using prompts from rolling Rory’s Story Cubes. I’m using it as a chance to develop the characters for my Exeter series, and possibly writes some bits that will make it into one of the books. This one gave me a critical piece of backstory for one character, and helped me find the voice of another character. 🙂 Comments and concrit welcome!

Prompts: Abacus, parachutist, skyscraper, lightbulb, padlock, devil/ghost/halloween, question mark, eye, arrow

Enough Rope

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Story Cubes Challenge — explained

In May, I was out with friends in Frederick, Md., and saw Rory’s Story Cubes in a toy store. I’d heard about them from Catwalksalone a year or so ago, but this was the first time I’d seen them. So I picked them up and have them in my writing kit. Basically, the idea is that there are nine cubes, each with an image on each side. You roll and then use the images that turn up to tell a story. Lots of variation, lots of ways to play.

The folks behind the cubes are on Twitter and I started following them after they replied to my tweet about the cubes. They passed along a tweet from a writer, Mark Bruno, offering a 54-week Story Cubes Challenge. I chatted a bit with Mark, and I’m planning to take up his challenge once I get through my sister’s wedding. Only I’m doing a slight variation. Mark’s challenge involves nanofiction – 55 words. He’s being a bit flexible and doing between 55 and 100 words. You guys know me and super-short fiction — not generally my style. So I’m going longer — at least 500 words, but higher if the muse calls for it. I’m planning to do most of them in the Exeter world I’ve created for my novel, but I’m not ruling out the odd other piece if the cubes suggest that. Some pieces might make it into the novel, some might spark related short stories, serve as backstory or gives me ideas for future novels.