writing

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?

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

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.

Empire of Chains is officially released!

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Today marks the release of Empire of Chains. This is a day I’ve been looking forward to, and dreading, for a long time. This book has been with me in many forms since I was 15 years old (I’m now 27, for the record). When I first wrote this book (and series), it was not very good, and that’s a nice way of putting it.

But in the 12 years since, I have grown as a writer. I’ve written other stories, but this one has always held a special place in my heart. A lot of the initial setting details and the main characters have remained mostly the same, but pretty much everything else in the series is much different from what I originally wrote.

And much better, I should add.

Originally, I wrote a cliche-riddled story about heroes going on a quest to defeat a dark lord. Since then, that story has evolved. There’s still a quest, but it’s not as much of a focus. There’s still a dark lord figure, but he’s not really a dark lord. In fact, from his perspective, he’s a hero. He does terrible things, but they’re all in the name of creating a better future.

You’re probably wondering why you should read this. First and foremost, it’s classic fantasy updated for modern audiences. As a reader, I enjoy the feel of series like The Wheel of Time and authors like Brandon Sanderson. Sanderson, especially, takes a lot of the common fantasy tropes and puts his own spin on them. That’s what I like to do in my books as well. I want to write the kind of stories that made me fall in love with fantasy in the first place, but I also want to make them feel new and fresh. I like stories with a lot of action and magic, and with characters who I can root for. If you’re looking for Grimdark, I’m probably not the author for you. I do include some dark elements in my work, and there is a fair amount of death in my stories, but I’d say I write more PG-13 fantasy.

There’s some mild language, fade-to-black sex scenes, and a fair amount of violence. But I think anyone from about age 12 and up can read my books (possibly even younger depending on the maturity and reading level of the child in question).

This is deliberate on my part because I also write young adult and middle grade fantasy. I don’t currently have any in the works, but I do love writing for those age groups, and I wouldn’t want my younger readers to read my other books and find they’re not appropriate for their age group.

In this regard, I’d say my target audience is a lot like Brandon Sanderson’s in terms of age and interests. I’m not claiming to be Brandon Sanderson. Id love to be held in the same regard someday, but right now, I’m just another self-published writer trying to find his way in a crowded field.

I hope you’ll take the chance on my series, and if you enjoy it, please do leave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Also tell your friends and family. Word of mouth is the self-published author’s best friend, whether that’s telling someone in person or leaving reviews online.

Sunweaver Book 3 is finished.

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I have now completed the first draft of my entire Sunweaver series. That’s on top of having my entire World in Chains series written. That means that my readers can expect both series over the course of the next year, once I edit and get cover art.

I had an 8,000 word sprint today to finish Sunlord, the third book in the trilogy. It had one of my favorite action sequences yet to conclude the book, and the book is pretty action-packed throughout. I’m excited to get to work on editing it, though that will likely wait awhile because I still have to edit the last three books of World in Chains.

I will probably take a short break from writing. I usually do that after finishing a book to give me just a little time for the creative juices to recharge. I’m not sure which project will be the next one. I may do a few trial runs with my various ideas and see which one grabs me the most.

The God War is one of my series, and I have written the first draft of the first book. I’m anticipating it being three books long, just like Sunweaver, so that may be where I go next. But I also have another series I’ve started that I’m really excited about. It’s so tough to make these decisions sometimes.

An Update: Sunweaver Book 3, World in Chains edits, and some random thoughts on writing huge epics.

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I’m 71,000 words into the final book of my Sunweaver trilogy. Things are really shaping up nicely as I approach the end. I expect the book to be somewhere between 100,000 words and 110,000 words, making it roughly the same length as the first two in the series.

I’m also busy editing Book 2 of World in Chains. I hope I can get that one in good enough shape to have it out toward the end of the summer or in the early fall. I’ve written the entire series, which is what I plan to do for all my series at the moment.

I may come to a point where I have a series that’s too long for that method to work. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I have Wheel of Time style epics swimming around. I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to writing them, and when I do, they might be shorter series to begin with. I don’t get quite as epic in my word count as some epic fantasy authors. The longest of any of my books is the first draft of World in Chains book 4, which stands at about 170,000 words. That’s nothing compared to one of Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive books.

Within the next week, I should begin the cover art process for Empire of Chains. Hopefully that all goes smoothly, and I have the cover ready by the end of the month. In the meantime, I will likely run through the book a couple more times to check for any typos that have eluded me this long.

Why I stopped outlining.

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In the plotter vs. “pantser” (one who writes by the seat of their pants) debate, I used to be firmly on the plotter side. I’m generally a structured person, or at least more structured than a lot of creative types. I’m an Electrical Engineering student in addition to being a writer, so I use a lot of my left brain.

Because of that, I always thought I should outline my books. At times, this has worked for me, but I’ve discovered more and more that I get my best ideas as I’m in the flow of the story. Outlining is an entirely different process. I don’t quite feel the story the same way, and my ideas are less inventive.

This becomes especially clear when I write series. The farther I get into writing a series, the more likely I am to deviate from my original outline. I got to the point where I was doing this so much that I decided I should just throw out the outline altogether.

However, that might be too extreme of a response. I don’t quite make up everything as I go. I form a mental outline. I know where I want to get, but if I discover something more interesting along the way, I’m perfectly happy to alter my mental plans.

This can lead to some inconsistencies between books, and that’s part of the reason I’ve decided that I will generally write an entire series before publishing any of it. That way, if I introduce something important in book 3 or 4, I can go back and throw in some hints toward it in book 1. A lot of planners are able to do this kind of thing because they outline the entire series in advance. I’ve tried, and it simply doesn’t work like that for me.

When I was considering trade publishing, I always had issues with throwing away the outline because trade publishing tends to work differently. You rarely write the entire series before publishing any of it. I know Michael J. Sullivan (author of the very good Riyria Revelations, Riyria Chronicles, and Legends of the First Empire series) does this. But he did start out self-publishing.

Now that I’ve decided to go with self-publishing, I can write my series however I want, and writing them this way helps me to give you a plot with a lot more interesting twists and turns.

That’s not to say I throw away the outline completely. I’ve been known to outline a few chapters ahead of where I am. That can help me write more quickly during my writing sessions because I’m not figuring out what’s going to happen next. More often, my mental outline is good enough to carry me through, and I’m able to figure out the details as I write.

The key thing as a writer is finding a process that works for you. This process works for me right now. In the future, I may decide to go back to outlining. I don’t think you should ever get stuck thinking there’s only one way to write that works for you. Writing is a continual process of experimentation, and every story is going to have different needs.