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Characters: sympathetic, interesting, or both?

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This post is partially inspired by John Gwynne’s epic fantasy series The Faithful and the Fallen. I’ve read three books of the series, and overall I have enjoyed them quite a bit. If I had to make comparisons for the series, I’d say it’s what you would get if you crossed the Belgariad with Game of Thrones. Somehow, that mix works. I recommend it for those of you who want to see a modern update on a more classic type of fantasy.

But there’s one aspect that trips me up a bit as I’m reading it. There is a significant amount of point-of-view time given to characters that quite simply are not sympathetic at all. Some of them are still interesting characters, but I don’t care what happens to them (other than perhaps rooting for them to die). This results in an uneven reading experience for me, and when I’m reading these chapters, I simply want to get back to the characters I like.

This brings me to a larger question. What are readers looking for? Would people rather read about sympathetic characters or unsympathetic characters who are still interesting? As a reader myself, I don’t mind occasional time spent in the head of an interesting but unsympathetic character. But then there are books that take this to an extreme. An example of this, for me, would be The Darkness that Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker. The characters are all complex and interesting people, but I couldn’t stand reading about them because I honestly wouldn’t have cared if they all died.

On the other hand, you can give me a flat character who’s sympathetic, and while I might not love the story I’m reading, I’ll still root for them. Maybe that makes me a heretic. After all, it seems these days that the trend is to write about antiheroes. For me, antiheroes are good as a spice. Maybe you have one or two point-of-view characters who fit that description. In Gwynne’s series, it still generally works because you don’t spend nearly as much time with the unsympathetic characters. A lot of that time is meant to reveal what the antagonists are up to, which can be difficult to establish when you’re using third-person-limited point of view.

This same issue has been my biggest struggle with some of the bigger fantasy series out there (A Song of Ice and Fire, Malazan, The First Law trilogy, The Broken Empire, etc.). I don’t hate the books by any means. I see what others like in them. But when I read them, I don’t enjoy them nearly as much as something by Brandon Sanderson or Jim Butcher, authors whose characters may not be as complex. But I like them.

In my own writing, I have to be careful to strike a balance between what I enjoy as a reader and writer and what other readers will enjoy. Most of the time, it isn’t too hard. I know my audience is more Brandon Sanderson readers than George RR Martin readers. My books have a fair amount of violence in them, but they wouldn’t be considered Grimdark by any stretch of the imagination.

Modern fantasy has influenced me in some ways, however. I will admit that I kill my fair share of characters (perhaps some GRRM influence there). But I still write in a world where there’s at least a fundamental theme of hope, where heroes screw up but still try to do the right thing. And, yes, I do sprinkle in a few antiheroes (and anti-villains–they’re so much fun to write).

So I’d say I strike a balance on this spectrum. I want my characters to be both interesting and sympathetic. Of the two, I’d say I lean more toward sympathetic, but I don’t want to write boring characters either. It can be a delicate balance, and to make my characters interesting, I make sure that they make mistakes. A perfect hero is a boring hero. Flaws are what make us (and characters) human. And yet I believe a hero can be flawed without being a terrible person.

Now I fear I’m rambling on. What are your thoughts on this question?

Handling Bad Reviews

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One of the scariest parts of being an author is the fact that people will be judging your work. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing. When those reviews are good, it gives you that warm and fuzzy feeling. Somebody enjoyed your story. That’s a great feeling.

But inevitably you’re going to run into those one-star or two-star reviews. Your first reaction is that feeling of being stabbed in the gut.

However you might feel, this is not the time or place to be defensive. The only way to engage with the reviewer is to thank them sincerely for their review. If you start attacking the reviewer, you are sure to undermine your credibility as an author. People are going to start viewing you as one of those authors who can’t take criticism.

The best thing to do is take it in stride. If reading the review bothers you too much at first, don’t read it. Wait until you’re in a place mentally that you can look at things with a more objective eye. Perhaps the reviewer has some good points you can use to improve your writing in the future. Perhaps they’re completely off base. Either way, there’s no point in arguing with them.

Updates: World in Chains Book 2, The God War trilogy, The Broken Sky.

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If you’ve visited my website recently, you’ve probably noticed that I put up a little widget on the side that shows my writing progress. I got the idea from Brandon Sanderson’s site. His looks a lot nicer than mine, but mine still gets out the information it needs.

I’m currently about a third of the way through the first draft of the second book in my God War trilogy. I’m expecting a March or April release for the first book in the trilogy. The other two should follow within the six months after that.

I’m also hard at work on revisions of The Shadowed Land, the sequel to Empire of Chains. I’m currently 37% of the the way through the manuscript on this current editing pass. I’m not sure how many there will be, but it’s looking better and better, and I’m excited to get it out there. I’m still on track for a September release.

Then, of course, there’s my Sunweaver trilogy. The first book is mostly edited, so it should be pretty easy to get that out there in either October or November, with the other two books following over a six-month period.

I’ve also been working a little bit on what may be my next series. The series and the first book are both titled The Broken Sky. It’s a fantasy series set in an empire of floating islands with a hint of steampunk and perhaps a little science fiction as well (which I often like to include in my fantasy novels to begin with). I’ll have more details on that one later. I wouldn’t expect the first book until this time next year at the earliest.

The last few days haven’t been the most productive for me. My laptop gave up the ghost after three and a half years of devoted service. I had to go out and buy a new one today. I wish I could say my writing career can pay for a new laptop, but I’m not at that point yet. Don’t get me wrong. I’m pleased with the results so far for Empire of Chains. But I still have a long way to go before I’m making more than trivial money.

For me, that’s something I obviously want, but I’m also happy to know that my story is out there and people are enjoying it.

Thanks for reading. I hope to get more regular about updating this blog.

And if you’ve enjoyed Empire of Chains, it really does help out if you take just a minute or two to post a review on Amazon and Goodreads. Even if you didn’t like it, it’s always helpful for me to know where I could improve.

 

Current results of $0.99 experiment.

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So far, I’d say dropping the price of Empire of Chains to $0.99 for the weekend has been a success. Am I getting tons of sales? No. But I have sold more books in the last four days than I have in any other four-day span. I’ve also been doing fairly well in Kindle Unlimited. So far KU has been much better for me and more consistent than actual sales.

I figure that’s to be expected when you’re just starting out. People are more likely to give your book a chance when it’s free or $0.99. I’m hoping that I can start getting more good reviews. As a reader, I often ignore books that don’t have many reviews, so I’m thrilled that at least a few people have tried out Empire of Chains despite its lack of reviews.

Before publishing, I never understood just how hard it is to get reviews. When I look at my KU pages read, it becomes clear that a decent number of people have read the book. Very few of them have left reviews, however. It’s a bit frustrating, but I understand that not all readers want to leave reviews.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the results so far for Empire of Chains. I’m also working hard on getting The Shadowed Land ready for publication. I’m currently on the third draft. I’m not sure how many drafts it will ultimately have, but I expect it to be ready by mid to late September. I have to fight the urge to be impatient with it. I know that authors often see a surge in purchases when additional books in a series come out.

As it is, I will have a pretty fast and demanding release schedule. I’m pretty sure I can hold to it because I’ve written all the books I plan to release over the next nine months. It’s a matter of revising those books and turning them into the best product possible.

Thankfully, I tend to enjoy editing. I gain a lot of pleasure from taking the potential of the first draft and turning it into a story readers will enjoy by the time I’m done. It can be difficult at times, but it’s worth it in the end.

If you haven’t checked out Empire of Chains yet, please do give it a chance. There are only a few days left of the $0.99 deal.¬†Empire of Chains

Tentative release schedule.

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With the release of Empire of Chains in the books now for two weeks, it’s time for me to address when I’m going to get more books out. I have drafted two entire series, so at this point, it’s a matter of beta reader feedback, editing, and cover art before I can release the rest of these books.

Ideally, I’d like to release one book every three months or so. At times, I may go faster or slower than that. It depends on a number of factors.

Tentative release dates:

WORLD IN CHAINS

Empire of Chains (Book 1): June 30th, 2017. You can get it here: Empire of Chains

The Shadowed Land (Book 2): September 2017

The Gilded Empire (Book 3): December 2017

The Winds of Time (Book 4): March 2018

SUNWEAVER

Sunweaver (Book 1): October 2017

Fireweaver (Book 2): January 2018

Sunlord (Book 3): April 2018

THE GOD WAR

Watersong (Book 1): Spring/Summer 2018

Godchild (Book 2): Summer/Fall 2018

Endlord (Book 3): Fall/Winter 2018

Please note that Godchild and Endlord have not yet been written. Release dates for The God War are all subject to change. Some of it depends on the editing and revision process. Some of it depends on the wait for cover art. I usually send out a request for cover art while I’m drafting the final book in a series.

I will also post a page on my website with release dates.

Early results for Empire of Chains.

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It’s been two weeks now since I’ve released Empire of Chains. Overall, I’m happy with the results. I haven’t been setting the world on fire with my sales, but I’ve made some sales. I’m having more success with Kindle Unlimited.

A lot of this is a learning process. I’m happy where I am, but I’d still like to improve things. Not sure how that will happen. A lot of it is trial and error. You can do all kinds of research on the self-publishing business, but once you publish your first book, it’s a different beast altogether.

I’m enjoying it, though. Since I’m not in dire financial need of income from self-publishing at the moment, I can work on it without obsessing too much.

That being said, I am obsessing quite a bit.

Getting back in the swing of things.

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The release of Empire of Chains was a very exciting day, but it also has hurt my writing productivity. I’m spending a lot of time on social media and a lot of time obsessing over my sales and pages read.

Today, though, I managed to do some writing again. It was just over 1000 words, but that’s a good start. I’m currently working on the second book in my God War series. At this point, it looks like it will probably be a trilogy.

I have been editing and outlining while I haven’t been writing, so these days haven’t been completely lost.

For anyone who’s looking for an action-packed modern take on the classic quest fantasy, I urge you to give Empire of Chains a chance. It’s only $2.99 to buy, and if you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read it for free.