Can’t see the story for the words – a warning against personal bias

What is the hardest part about writing a story? Character development? Creating a fictional scenario so real the reader can easily suspend disbelief? Writing a coherent story line?

I would say none of those.

The hardest part for an author, when it comes to writing a story, is getting past our own personal bias. Writing a story, be it a short story, novella, or a full blown novel, is an intensely personal experience. To create a story, the author has to live, at least during the time of writing, in that fake world. We have to see the characters as if they were our friends, acquaintances and enemies. We have to envision the world we create as if it is the world around us.

It is for that reason a bias comes into play.

For an author, the story we create, even those stories that are widely panned, is a living, breathing creation. It is part of who we are when we write it. We get anxious at parts, elated at scenarios, almost depressed at happenings; because of that, we tend to think the story we have created is amazing and wonderful and incredible.

Yes, some stories end abruptly. I have written tens of stories that never got past twenty pages. I couldn’t believe what I was writing with some. Others, I didn’t care about the characters; but for those stories that get into the hundreds of pages…Those stories take on a life of their own, and it’s a life I (and other authors who get to that point) want to believe is amazing and will find a treasured place in the hearts of those who read it.

Therefore, when it comes time to polishing and editing, just to the point it is good enough for a professional editor or agent to look at, we are fighting an uphill battle against a fearsome adversary. That adversary being: personal bias.

We read the book through. Then read it again. Then again. And again. Each time, trying to tell ourselves to be outside the box. Look at it from the perspective of a person who has never heard of any part of the story. To be frank and honest, it is damn near impossible.

It is the multiple readings that cement in our mind the story is wonderful, if only I could add just another scene here, tweak a scene there, it will be wonderful! Thus, we get to the point we can’t see the story for the words.

Talking from personal experience, I recently completed a story I thought was great. I didn’t think it was wonderful and that should have thrown a red flag, but it didn’t, because at over 400 pages I was too invested in the work. I read the book multiple times, each time telling myself another reason why I enjoyed the book.

“It’s fast paced.” “It’s easy to read.” “People don’t like complicated story lines.” “People want simple stories to follow.”

Multiple reasons I gave myself why the book is great, all because of the bias I had towards my work. As I look back on it, I realize I should have threw up my hands and relegated the story to the folder “Stories that will never see the light of day”. Hindsight is 20-20 right?

I actually gave the story to my agent. He couldn’t pinpoint the exact reason why the story didn’t work, it just didn’t. I got all uptight when he told me that. He must be wrong, I told myself, even though he has a penchant for picking stories that sell a lot of books. So I went on Goodreads ready to find some readers for the story and…I couldn’t think up a summary for the book. I have a detailed synopsis, but I couldn’t condense it down to a few paragraphs. I tried for a week, and couldn’t get more than one word written down. It was then I realized my personal bias prevented me from actually seeing what I wrote.

I learned a great lesson from this. If you are writing a story and have to tell yourself multiple reasons for why it is good enough to be published, it is not good enough to be published. A story you believe in, needs no reasons (excuses) for why it’s great. You just know it is.

I felt that way with ANDROID HUNTERS, and I still do. I can honestly say, I have never once told myself a reason for why ANDROID HUNTERS is a great story. I know it is. I know without a doubt it’s a wonderful story and the series is going to be phenomenal. I just know it. I don’t need to tell myself it is because of reasons x,y, and z. I love the universe I have created, the story I have written, and I find it is a joy to write.

So to all of those who are writing their first story. To all those who have written many and are writing a new one:

If you have to give yourself reasons why your work should be published, and find yourself concocting new reasons nearly every day…Well, I guess now is a good time to shelve that story and move onto something else, personal bias be damned.


ANDROID HUNTERS

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Author Feature: Chris Gotham

I met Christopher Gotham on Twitter. He was tweeting about writing so I took a chance and asked him about his story. What I’ve heard, I’m excited for. It’s always a great day when new space opera is released into the wilds.

Hi Christopher! So tell me, what inspired you to write your current book?

My inspiration came from a desire to create a story that I love, something that has everything I look for in science fiction: Relatable characters that aren’t ‘one man army’s’, an antagonist I can sympathize with, a good mix between action and story, and space battles!

The truth is that I started writing my book for myself, for my love of science fiction and space opera’s. Sometimes I look up at the starry sky at night and wonder what’s up there. I’m a dreamer.

That’s great! That’s actually one of the reasons I began writing as well. I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted to read, so I wrote the story I wanted. How about the first thing you ever wrote, what was that about?

I honestly don’t remember. I’ve been writing for so long that I’ve probably created upwards of fifty or more short stories, all of which I tossed after I finished writing them.

The first thing I actually kept after writing was a full-length novel, but I’d be too embarrassed to share it even if I could. It was very cliché and poorly written, given the fact that I wrote it when I was fifteen, it had the wonderful name of ‘Determination’. It’s both fortunate and unfortunate that I no longer have access to the written material, but it’s still in the back of my mind.

Yeah, my first attempt at a novel is something no one will ever see as well. What other writing have you done? Anything published yet?

As stated above, I’ve written a ton of short stories and am now working on my third full-length novel. Most of it will never see the light of day, but I have two series, and three standalone novels that will be released for all the world to enjoy! Of course, those are my initial plans, and more will follow.

As of now I am unpublished. For my Affinity series, I will begin looking for an agent soon. I have plans to release two of my standalone novels as e-books myself, and probably under a pen name. That may change as time goes on, however.

The more sci-fi books out there the better, in my opinion. Don’t forget to start marketing them now, so we can make sure to buy them on release day.

Do you have any hobbies or interests that you enjoy in your spare time?

I’m a gamer. I admit that it’s a weakness. I enjoy competitively playing Halo multiplayer on occasion. I also love the Total War series, a historical series of games.

I also read a lot, naturally. What kind of writer would I be if I didn’t read other people’s work?

Oh my Lord, I remember my Halo days. Not a chance I can log those hours now that I have a daughter.

Can you tell us a little of what you’re working on at the moment?

In the early mornings, I work on the rewrite of my novel, Affinity: New Eden Conflict, which I’m almost done with! Later in the evenings I work on writing the second novel in the Affinity series.

For the sake of keeping this reasonably short, I won’t be getting into describing the novel here. I can pitch it in 140 characters or less, thanks to twitters #pitchMAS event back in December, but it hardly does it justice.

I tried #pitchMAS a couple times. It’s great practice for that query letter, so you can more succinctly tell what your novel is about.

Do you have any favorite authors? If you do, what do you love about them?

I have quite a few favorite authors, but I’ll stick to two of them.

Eric Nylund. He’s written a lot of things but by far my favorite is The Fall of Reach. I really don’t want to go into details because it could spoil things for other people, but it’s an awesome book.

Tobias S. Buckell. Have you read Ragamuffin? If not, you’re missing out on a great space opera.

I’ve never heard of Ragamuffin, but I only have two books on my TBR at the moment. I think I can slip in a third.

What genres do you read most and what are you reading now?

I mostly read a ton of military sci-fi, or space opera, but I read a lot of other types of sci-fi too. I occasionally read fantasy as well. Least but certainly not last is history, the only non-fiction genre I have a real interest in. I’m a sucker for history.

I’m currently reading the first book of Android Hunters (yep, that’s a plug!), but I’m seriously enjoying it.

Very much appreciated. Thank you.

Do you happened to have any advice for other authors?

Don’t give up. Just keep writing and don’t let any doubt you may have stop you from writing. I know it can be tempting to step back, look at what you’ve written and think that it sucks. If you’re anything like most writers, you will go through that on occasion. Just stay focused and forge on.

Oh, and take legitimate criticism to heart and learn from it.

That is fantastic advice and advice I second.

How about sites or writing tools that you find useful. Any you wish to recommend?

Grammarly, Hemingway Editor, and a good thesaurus. I also enjoy /r/writing on Reddit.

Be sure to check out the Query Shark blog, it’ll show you how to write well thought out and gripping queries. Also, check out http://www.critiquecircle.com/ and http://www.scribophile.com/ for awesome people who will actually read your work and offer feedback.

Tell us about your blog. What will readers find there?

Right now, people won’t find much on my blog because I’ve restarted. Very soon however people can expect to find a lot of things relating to the universe I’m creating in the Affinity series. Character bio’s, descriptions of technology, ships, planets, species, etc. I’ll also occasionally post concept art!

Fantastic. I’m looking forward to the Affinity series.

What are the things in your life that you’re most grateful for?

The freedom to do what I want with my life. It’s simple and often taken for granted, but it’s ultimately the thing that I’m most grateful for.

How would you like to be remembered?

You know, this is a difficult question. I’d like to be remembered as a loving person by my family, a good friend by others and a considerate person to everyone else. As a writer, however, I’d like to be remembered for bringing an awesome series of novels to the world for as many people as possible to enjoy.

Choose a male and a female character from your book and tell us about them. Would you like to meet them? What would you tell them if you did?

Arterus isn’t very fond of humans and he has a great reason for that. I can’t go into too many details otherwise I would spoil bits of my first novel, but let’s just say that If I met him I’d probably be kicked out of an airlock or something else similarly bad. So no thanks on the meet and greet!

General Faye is a strong-willed veteran that is both greatly respected and deeply feared by her enemies. Having experience kicking pirates and slavers around the galaxy, she isn’t someone you’d want to mess with. I’m not a timid person, but I’m not sure if I’d want to meet her because she’d probably intimidate me.

Two odd-ball questions. 1. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. Where are you from?

 All over. My family never stayed in one place for long. I was born in Massachusetts and have lived in Maine, Tennessee, Nevada, Illinois, New York, and South Carolina where I’ve been for six years. I’m now in the process of moving to Kentucky.
Now the second. Which one do you prefer: Elephants or tigers?

Tigers. They’re beautiful, powerful, and intelligent. What’s not to like?

If you had to live over again what would you change in your life?

Not much to be honest. My mistakes and the hardships have made me who I am and brought me down the road I’m on, and I wouldn’t change that.

That’s a great answer and one I live my life by.

Where in the universe would you live if you could travel anywhere?

Now this is the hardest question yet… The short answer is I don’t know.

The longer answer is that are so many beautiful places in our galaxy that I wouldn’t even know where to begin. The universe? Just think of all the things that could exist in our own galaxy, The Milky Way, let alone in other galaxies.

Who is Christopher Gotham?

Chris Gotham author pictures

My name is Christopher Gotham and I am 22 years old.

I’ve been writing since I was a child and was always told that I would make a good author someday if I actually took the time and effort to become one. For years I took it as a joke and only wrote throw away stories for myself. Flash forward many years and I’m now writing my third novel, with a large series in the works!

I’ve always been fascinated with space, wondering what could be out there. My imagination and yearning curiosity of the stars are what led me into science fiction, and in particular, space opera’s. My aspirations are to share my stories with the world!

What is the Affinity series?

It’s late into the 22nd century and humanity stands on the precipice of war. Seen as aggressive colonist by aliens, humanity is suspect. Bordered by a hostile alien empire known as The Remnant, and a reserved but allied alien republic known as The Alliance, the United Earth Confederation finds itself in a precarious situation.

A conflict-ridden past with The Alliance slows the advance of progress, and in an attempt to solidify relations, the UEC proposes joint military exercises to The Alliance. Captain Drake, a soldier with psychic like abilities known as The Affinity, has earned the right to represent and lead humanities best candidates.

Interdicting an unexpected attack on the Alliance space station that was to host the exercises, Drake’s team set into motion events that lead to the hunting of rogue agents and traitors, galactic war, and the arrival of a powerful but forgotten threat that claims to have ancient ties to humanity.

Given command of the first ever multispecies military unit, Drake must shake off his haunting visions and guilt. Humanities forgotten past will begin to unravel as the foundation of galactic society crumbles, and Drake’s unit must stand firm as alliances and friendships reach a breaking point.

Connect with Christopher!

Twitter

forlorn_writer

Legos are amazing

How a story works

How a story works

Legos. Using Legos I figured out why people like some books and don’t like others (even if the quality of writing is the same), and why my agent fell in love with my first book; the reason I somehow stumbled across while writing that book.

Yesterday I was explaining to my daughter how a synopsis I wrote for my agent had been nagging me. It was missing something and it took me two days to figure it out.

“My synopsis is on rails”, I told her and then explained what “on rails” means (she’s 5) and what a good book should be like.

If you go from Point A to Point B it gets boring. But if along the way the protagonist…

Oh my God that’s crazy! Oh no! How will they ever get through it…Oh my that was unexpected, now hopefully they will get to the end resolution…Oh no! Not again! I didn’t see that coming. How?…Oh my, another thing unexpected. Hopefully she (or he) will make it just fine now. Poor them…Are you kidding me? This poor person. Nothing is going right for them…Ha! That is awesome…Now will they get to the end?…Whew! They got there.

I think a lot of authors get caught up on the “on rails” plot and simply do not recognize it. You write the outline too fast or you throw in a twist, but because you’re caught up in the “hero” coming out on top the twist is inconsequential and could be taken out of the book without effecting it. And then the book ends up with the hero getting punched twice but never getting a bloody lip and winning (those are analogies, I know not all books are about fist fights, etc).

Your hero should get their arm broken, then lose a finger, then stabbed in the eye with a long skewer, then lose a friend, then their foot chopped off, then their allies turn against them, their jaw broken, but finally winning out and learning a little bit about themselves along the way. (again an analogy for the conflict that needs to be present in a book, I know not all books will be so violent).

I don’t know why it took me so long to figure that out, but thank God for Legos and thank God infinitely more for a little girl who loves listening to her daddy talk.