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Friday, June 29, 2012

What Do Readers Want?

If you've read my blog post on the "7 Common Pitfalls of Critiquers," you know one of them is when people assume they can speak for what readers want. You might hear a comment like, "If you don't fix that info dump on the first page, readers will never get to page two before closing the book and putting it back on the shelf." But such a comment is a ploy to add more authority to someone's opinion than telling the truth. Because the only thing a critiquer can really give you is what they would do, not what most readers are going to do, or even a minor subset of them.

No one can speak for the readers. If anyone knew what the readers would like, they'd be rich. Because they could start a publishing company and only pick bestselling books to publish. Doesn't happen. If editors at big publishing houses can't predict that, who do it for a living, no critiquer will be able to predict what a reader is going to like.

So am I saying there are no standards in writing? That anything goes? Yes and no. Mike Duran, a writer friend I respect a lot, has made the case that there should be standards of excellence in writing. And there is a certain level of professionalism and quality that is to be expected. While most people can handle a typo here or there, for instance, if a book is littered with them, it makes the story hard to read. There probably aren't going to be a lot of readers that do like that. If such a story succeeds, it will be in spite of the typos, not because of them, and if they are that prevalent, they do throw a hurdle to a writer succeeding.

There are writing skills that tend to work more often than not. Elements of writing that will hinder more than help. Yet, Mike has also backed off a hard line on that as well. Quality, while there is some "objective" standards, isn't a hard line in the sand either. Some will disagree on certain standards, and you'll find popular writers who have violated them and been successful anyway.

In the end, what is success? Getting published? Having an agent? A literary award? Acclaim by the literary community? Or readers buying, talking about, and loving your novel? Your answer to that will determine your standards. Because each of those groups wants and looks for different things. An agent wants to know what they can sell to an editor. An editor wants to know what they can sell to the readers. An award looks at the perfection of craft. The literary critic will look for the literary merit. But readers, what do they want? They simply want to be entertained.

Sure, some of the readers enjoy learning new things, seeing new perspectives, discovering new words, marveling at the lyrical quality of the prose, or any other number of items. But what it boils down to is they want to be entertained. "I don't care about plot, but love reading lyrical prose." Great, then that is what entertains you. "I enjoy witty dialog. As long as the plot is decent, I'm fine." There you go, such a book would entertain you. "I want action and adventure and suspense." So such a book would entertain you, where the previous two types would not. "If I see a plot hole, I can't suspend disbelief any longer and it ruins the story." Fine, that ruins the story for you. Why, because you can no longer be entertained when that happens.

Getting the idea here? Every reader has their definition of what is or isn't entertaining to them. And no one reader is the same. Success comes when you write something that a good number of people find entertaining. And no one formula, no "standard" is going to accomplish that. If you are one of those people for whom two or three typos in a novel ruin your enjoyment of it, all you can tell a writer is that it ruined it for you, but not the readers. If a plot hole messes with your enjoyment, you can only speak for yourself, not all the readers out there.

**SPOILER ALERT** Take, for example, the Star Trek prequel reboot movie that came out not long ago. That movie was littered with plot holes big enough to drive the Enterprise through. I mean, a ship that has to drop a drilling laser on a chain from orbit into into the atmosphere of Vulcan (which in itself would be a physical impossibility unless the ship could "orbit" at the same speed as the planet's rotation through some anti-gravity drive, which was never proposed), take the time to drill a hole to the core of the planet, and drop a substance that will destroy the planet—come on! How impractical is that? Meanwhile, the Vulcans, who were warping around the galaxy way before humans in Star Trek lore, run screaming and hiding as if they have no space ship or even atmospheric vehicle in which to put up a defense of their world. All they would have had to do is what Spock did toward the end. Fly a ship to that drill and shoot it off it's chain. Game over. The movie would have ended in thirty minutes.

And the idea of people "jumping" from an orbiting space ship and falling straight down into the atmosphere (without being fried by reentry) would never happen. You don't fall straight down, rather they would have orbited the planet themselves for several weeks before they lost enough orbiting speed to descend to the planet. They would have had to have had some kind of thrusters to halt their orbiting and fall straight down. And then they would have not been able to stay with the ship which would have continued to orbit the planet. What they showed on the screen was simply an impossible scenario, and the whole premise was one giant, huge, plot hole. ** SPOILER ALERT OVER **

But guess what? People loved it. They went to see it in droves. I loved it. It did well enough at the box office that they are making a new one, probably just as plot-hole laden as the first. Why? Because it was entertaining to most people. They loved the characters. That the story was full of plot holes didn't matter to them. It didn't cause them to not enjoy it. I'm sure some people may have even walked out of the theater in disgust upon seeing it. Those plot holes totally ruined it for them. Or they saw it as fluff, shallow, not worth the money. But they were in the minority, apparently.

Did that mean they were wrong? Should the writers of that movie have fixed the plot holes? They probably should have. If they had the time, maybe they would have. They had deadlines. A lot of the issues I pointed out could be fixed by adding some technology (force fields for reentry, thrusters to maintain fall direction and speed, etc.). But they did get what they had to get right. And that was telling an entertaining story. Apparently plot holes are not at the top of that list for most people. If they like the story and characters, they will ignore the other stuff.

Which goes to the issue of how we approach writing as entertainers of the word. Do we correct that info dump on page 2? Do we worry about that plot hole our critique partner discovered? Do we have standards? Or do we ignore that stuff and only focus on what we think will be entertaining?

How about both? The real issue is we sometimes want to tinker and tinker with a story. You never get it perfect. Every time I read through my story, I find new typos, issues I failed to see before that need fixing, word choices that could be better, confusing structures that need clarifying. I don't think I've ever had the experience of reading through a novel I'd written without finding something that needed fixing. And usually, when I read the published novel, I'll see new things that should have been caught and corrected. You never can get it perfect, and you'll spend years of your life on one story if you try. And in the end, you may have sacrificed entertainment value for perfection.

So I liked the way Kristine Kathryn Rusch put it in a recent blog post titled "Perfection." The question isn't whether I can meet a certain standard or perfection set by critics, an editor, or whoever, but:
A better question is, “How do I make the book the best it can be?” That you have to answer for yourself....Writers who are always improving, always learning, move forward. They are secure in the knowledge that the book they wrote ten years ago is the best book it could have been given their level of craft and their understanding of the art of writing at the time they finished the book. They’re better now, so they write new things, explore new pathways.

Check out her post (after you've finished here and left a comment, of course!) It is highly recommended reading.

So, what do readers want? To be entertained. And due to the varied taste and expectations out there, there is no one formula for achieving that. What entertains me may not be entertaining to a lot of other people. Likewise, what doesn't entertain me may be a hot seller if made available to the general public. What trips the story up where I can't enjoy it, most others couldn't give a rat's behind about. So don't let anyone tell you they know if you don't do X, Y, or Z, then readers will not buy your book. It only means that person wouldn't buy your book. Whether they represent a majority of readers is a totally different story. And one other hint, writers tend to get tripped up on craft issues when reading stories much more than most readers do.

What story have you been keeping in the drawer because you are afraid to send it out, warts and all?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Using Open Office and Calibre for Ebook Creation

In my book, How to Make an Ebook: Using Free Software, I detail a method for creating epub, mobi, and in the appendix, pdb ebooks. One of the ways to accomplish that was through using some Open Office Writer add-ons for the epub and pdb ebooks. You could also create those through using Calibre, but I found, at the time, that the conversion from Open Office's odt file to be a bit buggy when it came to graphics.

That has since improved, and I've also discovered some steps you can take to ensure a more accurate graphic representation. I will be updating the ebook in the near future. But wanted to get this modification out also on my blog for any that can use the information before I get the ebook updated. Here are the steps which are more simplified using this method, and avoids some of the bugs of the method in my book (like the epub add-on, you couldn't use apostrophes in the description field without the app crashing).

Monday, June 25, 2012

Interview with Gabrielle from Reality's Fire

Welcome to another edition of Author Interviews. Not interviews of authors, but an author interviewing their characters. Today, author R. L. Copple interviews his character, Gabrielle, who plays a starring role in the newly released novel, Reality's Fire from Splashdown Books.

RLC: Hello, readers. My name is Rick Lee Copple, thus the author by-line: R. L. Copple. I write fantasy and space opera stories. As stated in the opening, the third and final novel in "The Reality Chronicles" has just been released. One character that has appeared in all three novels, but hasn't played as large a role in the story until this book, is Gabrielle. Why don't you start by introducing yourself.

Gabi: Hi Rick. Funny talking to you. It's almost like talking to myself.

RLC: It does help an author to have split personalities. Maybe to start, tell us a bit about your family life.

Gabi: My parents lived on a mountain just outside Jerole, in the northwest edge of the Cluster Range. My mother died early in my life, leaving myself, my father, and older brother, Seth, to fend for ourselves. My dad did his best, but a wizard of sorts put a curse on him and my brother so that the littlest provocation sent them into an uncontrollable rage. I spent several years keeping them from killing one another. So while life started out pretty normal enough, it went from crazy to crazier after that.

RLC: But Sisko came along and saved them from that curse. Yes?

Gabi: Oh yes, he healed them from their hate, after almost killing us all. But if you think dealing with a miracle man is not crazy, not to mention his children, I have some lake-front property on Dark Lake to sell you.

RLC: You did have a significant part in the first novel, Reality's Dawn, even if it wasn't extensive.

Gabi: Yes, even though I was only in two of the stories, I did play a part in the last story that was key. If not for me, that would have been the end of the series right there. And what was my thanks? The next book, Reality's Ascent, you lock me up in a crystal prison for practically the whole book!

RLC: Yes, I did feel guilty about that. But look at it this way, the readers felt really sorry for you for the whole book too. And you had a couple of good scenes, opening and closing the book. But, that was part of the reason I wanted to give you a starring role in the final book of the trilogy.

Gabi: Indeed, it was quite the part. I had my own point of view for nearly half the book. And not only a big part, but I got to play a part of "eternal significance" to many people, as Father Jonah put it. And it was nice sharing the stage with my daughter, Kaylee. I think we made a good team.

RLC: Naturally, I would agree. But let's talk a bit about your co-star, Josh. Like you, this was his biggest role. He played a part in the first stories of Reality's Dawn as the fledgling wizard. But by the end the second book, we discover that he has become a very powerful wizard. What was it like sharing the limelight with him in Reality's Fire?

Gabi: Yes, he did become a very powerful wizard. He explains that in more detail in this book. However, that turns out not to be as big a help as you'd think in attempting to fulfill my task of finding Kaylee and Nathan, and change the course of events. Naturally, you'll have to read to discover if I succeeded despite that or not.

RLC: How did he make it harder, without giving away any surprises?

Gabi: Let's just say, he doesn't have full control of himself for most of the story. Making him on the unpredictable side. When you have the most powerful wizard in the world not able to control his power, we'll just say, setbacks happen.

RLC: What is your favorite part of the story for you?

Gabi: Despite the frustration of the moment, it was probably turning Josh into a dog.

RLC: We forgot to mention that you end up with a power yourself.

Gabi: Yeah, that steam house. You never know what it is going to do.

RLC: If you had to sum up what this story is about, how would you put it?

Gabi: There's lots of things I could say, but if I were to boil it down, I'd say that the fear of God will either redeem you or defeat you, depending on how you approach Him. Each character experiences that in one way or another.

RLC: I couldn't have said it better myself. Now, let's shift gears a little to some topics the books don't usually touch on. The world you are in, does it have a name?

Gabi: Huh, just the world.

RLC: It doesn't have a name?

Gabi: You call your planet, dirt. Earth.

RLC: Hum, you have a point. But here we have nations like the United States, England, Germany, Australia, and a lot more. Is there anything similar there and why not?

Gabi: Not being from your world, I couldn't say for sure. But our world has a series of city-states. Mostly they get along though there are fights from time to time. A small handful of cities might govern an area, but most have their own king, ruler, or whatever, and they trade and work with neighboring villages and towns in an organic way. So there's not a bigger political entity beyond that.

RLC: And therefore, no need to name a bigger area.

Gabi: There are forest, deserts, and mountain ranges that have names. Like the city I'm in when this book starts out, Reol, is in the Durge Forest.

RLC: So your lands have never experienced wars much?

Gabi: If you believe the myths, thousands of years ago there was a big war between humans and dragons. Some say our peaceful living is in part due to our bonding together back then to fight a common enemy. Most people believe they are scary stories told to frighten kids around camp fires and that dragons don't exist. I used to think as much too, but Sisko's encounter with an invisible dragon gave me pause to wonder about that.

RLC: Interesting. Thank you so much, Gabrielle, for being with us today. Any last words to leave with our readers?

Gabi: Sure. God's reality is the reality. Don't hide from it, embrace it.

RLC: Your on a roll today. Until next time, faithful readers. Be sure to read the series if you haven't and if possible, leave honest reviews on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and anywhere else you please. You can find the book list at my website along with the other books I've written. Thanks for reading.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Reality's Fire is Here!

The Reality Chronicles trilogy comes to a close with the advent of the final book, Reality's Fire.

As of today, the paperback has made its appearance on Amazon, though it is still in process as the cover image isn't up as of this writing. And there are no copies yet to sell, however, you can pre-order and Amazon will ship them when they come in. Additionally, there is the Kindle version for the ebook lovers. In the next few days, expect to see the book appear at B&N both paperback and for Nook, as well as it is currently available at Smashwords in formats that can be read by most any ereader out there.

For more information on the book, you can visit my page which gives you the book's blurb, a sample chapter, and links to where you can buy it.

I thought this would be a good time to give some behind the scenes look at this series. I've told some of this on other sites, in interviews, but I'll go a little deeper here.

The Reality Chronicles series isn't an allegory proper, but does have some allegorical elements to it. Unlike some stories, God is simply God, not some strange name in this alternate world. But certain things do represent other things in an allegorical manner. For instance, as I've written on this blog before, the steam house is an eight-sided building. For history buffs, this represents the baptismal font, which in the early church, was eight-sided representing the eighth day of creation brought on by Jesus Christ's death and resurrection.

And some might complain that Jesus is never mentioned in the books. And that would be true, and yet He is on nearly every page and story. He forms the backdrop for all that takes place, and is present in the climax of Reality's Fire. And that is the beauty of allegory. It not only indicates that something stands for something else (Jesus is the vine, we are the branches), but what the relationship between the two are based on the relationship of the known. (All branches are one in the vine, and so we are one in Christ.) So the allegorical elements in this story, some obvious, some not so obvious, show a relational revealing more than they show a ontological revealing.

But even every relationship in an allegory doesn't translate. Saying Jesus is the vine and we are the branches doesn't mean if the locus come along and eat at us, that Jesus is powerless to stop them, just as a vine would be powerless to stop an insect from eating at its leaves. But where it is an intended relationship, sometimes such things can make us see areas of our lives in relation to each other and God in a new light. Those without ears to hear, will just hear a good story. Which is fine too. Even those can show some good things to us.

So it is in that vein that I started out writing a little short story in the summer of 2006 which I called "Steamy Realities," and is the current first chapter in Reality's Dawn called, "Reality's Advent." In the critique group I was a part of, we did a group challenge, where all of us wrote a short story to submit to a magazine's contest that had the theme of "hot." Thus the idea for using a steam house. And my initial idea is it reflected a precursor to what God's presence would reveal in people on Judgement Day, where every man's work is revealed by fire. And that fire is God's presence itself, as Scripture states multiple times. Not fire as we know it, no doubt, but similar. Except those in Christ experience Him as light and love, while those who don't experience Him as the fires of Hell.

So you see that theme presented in multiple ways through these stories and is the "reality" that is being referenced: God's reality. And so these three books represent a miniature retelling of the Gospel narrative itself in concepts as we all go through it. Reality's Dawn, a person's birth and growth in Christ. Reality's Ascent, the continued growth and revealing that we fight not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, powers, and darkness. And Reality's Fire, the culmination of what Christ accomplished in His battle with Satan, and how He overcame Him.

That first short story was picked up by "The Sword Review" online magazine, which eventually merged with "Dragons, Knights, and Angels" magazine to form what is now "Mindflights." The same magazine decided to run a contest with the theme of "hope." And in deciding what to do for it, I decided to create a sequel short story, currently titled "Anger's Spell" in Reality's Dawn. I entered it into the contest. It didn't win, and they didn't want it for publication, but the owner of the magazine, Bill Snodgrass, took a liking to what I was doing and wanted to encourage me. So he went to the trouble to do a detailed critique of that story in the hopes I would rewrite it and give it another go.

I decided to do more than that. I not only rewrote that story, but I wrote two more stories so that I would have stories based on the themes of faith, hope, and love. The faith story is "Faith's Fire" and the love story is "Love's Sacrifice." With each story I created, the world grew. And when I submitted all of them to the magazine, they accepted the faith and love stories right away, but wanted a rewrite on the hope story. In going through that story, yet again, it dawned on me why it wasn't working. I had my protagonist too passive through the whole thing. Everything was happening to him, but he did little to make things happen. So, I rewrote that chapter to make Sisko do something to affect the outcome, and it was immediately accepted. They accepted those in January of 2007 to run all four stories as a series in the last months of 2007, right before it merged with "Dragons, Knights, and Angels" to become "Mindflights."

But that was not all. Bill Snodgrass liked the stories enough, he wanted to put them into a book to sell through his company. I wrote an additional story to add to it as a "bonus" story not shown online, called "Desire's Trap" in Reality's Dawn, as well as an article on why I write fiction as a Christian, and by November of 2007 he published my first book. The novella we titled Infinite Realities hit the virtual selves of Amazon and other online retail outlets.

As the novella was coming out that November, I did my second National Novel Writing Month, where people from all over the world get together and encourage each other to write a minimum of 50K words of a novel. I started doing that in 2006, and did them every year except for last year, 2011, I ended up doing something different after a week into it. But in 2007, I had outlined a novel I wanted to write in November, but Bill put a bug in my ear about doing a sequel to Infinite Realities instead. At first I didn't think I would do it, as I had what I wanted to do planned out. But then on the first day of November, I made a quick decision to write that sequel, and spent the first hours of the month doing a quick outline of main plot points for the novel, and then jumped in to write it. I spent all of 2008 editing that book, and it ended up getting published as Transforming Realities in March of 2009.

Well, I was on a roll, and so when November arrived in 2008, I wrote the third novel in the series, which after many edits and look overs by various people and going through several names, is now the story being published this month through Splashdown Books as Reality's Fire.

What happened to Bill? Well, by the time I got Transforming Realities published, and went through edits of the third novel in hopes it could come out in 2010, Bill's life took a different turn, and it ended up that his company shut down. So I ended up with a two-book series, and a third book without a publisher. As 2010 headed toward November, I thought I had a publisher, signed a contract, but he backed out at the last minute for personal reasons. So I was back to square one.

But one of the things I had decided to do in September of 2010, was to write more stories to fill in the holes in Infinite Realities. The only big criticism I got was the book was too short. Everyone wanted more. Bill had even prodded me to do that at one point. In September of 2010, I got the itch to do just that. I planned out how many more stories I would need to make a full novel, snagged me a critique partner with the time, and started working on writing those stories at the pace of one a week. I planned to expand the original five stories to a total of fifteen. I had already written one story as a Christmas story the previous Christmas, so I only needed nine more stories. I was in the writing groove, and cranked out one good story after another. I kept thinking at any point, I'll run out of ideas of what to do next that is decently original and interesting, and builds on the character and plot arcs I had in mind. But no sooner would I finish one story, and start thinking about what to do for the next one, than an idea would pop into my head and I'd be off writing the next one. I was even able to fill in some back story for characters and events that appeared in the second book, Transforming Realities, and the third book, which I'd already written at the time, but not yet published.

It was shortly after November's National Novel Writing Month of 2010 that I barely made it to 50K because I was already worn out doing the equivalent of a NaNo with the new stories for Infinite Realities during October, that Grace Bridges with Splashdown Books, after some discussion, agreed not only to take on publishing my third novel, but to republish my first two books, and the first with the added stories. She moved fast on the first two. She published the new and improved Infinite Realities as Reality's Dawn, and republished Transforming Realities as Reality's Ascent in March 2011 and May 2011 respectively. And now the third book is finally coming out in June of 2012: Reality's Fire. Now for the first time, readers who've enjoyed the first two books, can discover how the series ends.

Some interesting notes on this novel. It is unique in several ways. In most of my novels, my outlines are rough major plot point outlines. And what has happened in most of my novels, is by the time I get to the "end" I had planned, I've only written half a novel. For instance, in Reality's Ascent, my original outline had the wedding of Nathan to Crystal being the big block-buster ending. But by the time I reached that spot, not feeling I could extend it any longer without it looking like that's what I was doing, I had only written around 25K words. Far from a full novel. So I made plan B and winged it. And as it turns out, the actual ending I wrote was far better than what I had originally planned. Most of my novels have been like this. The outline gets greatly modified by the time I finish writing the book.

Reality's Fire went nearly exactly as planned. As a matter of fact, unlike my other books where I had a vague idea what the ending would be, and by the time I got there it looked nothing like it, my first realization of what this book would be was the ending. In a hotel room at FenCon in 2008, with Bill sleeping away, I saw in my mind the perfect ending to the series. It fit the theological and series arc, and was exactly what needed to happen. And better yet, few would see it coming, even though it would be logical once they saw what happened, with everything else that had happened to that point through the whole series, even beginning with that first short story I wrote in the summer of 2006. It was like this story simply could not end any other way.

As I wrote this book in November of 2008, it went exactly as planned. Didn't missed a beat, nothing unexpected. Well. Almost. There was one crazy wrench Gabrielle threw into the story. Without giving anything away, at one point, based on what she could do, and Josh's condition, as I was writing what I figured she'd naturally be thinking, it suddenly occurred to her she could do something unusual. And as a writer, I couldn't deny her doing that because it wouldn't be natural for her to do anything else but what she did. And boy did she make a major change to the story. I did not see that one coming. But I worked it into the story as best I could. Not perfect, but it did provide some good story moments, nonetheless. Both drama and humor. It will be obvious when you read it.

But all the while I was writing the story, my mind kept running over and over how the end would go. I was glad when I finally got to write it, because then I could get the visions out of my head and on paper, and they wouldn't keep me up at night. As a matter of fact, by the time I started writing the ending, I didn't have to think about how any of it would go, what they would say. I'd been over it so many times in my head, all I was really doing was writing it all down. I've never had a book go almost exactly as planned, and an ending happen just as I envisioned it before I'd decided anything else the book would be about.

Also, this book was a departure in other ways. On one hand, I'd addressed some issues that my YA audience not only face everyday, but often get swallowed up by in many cases. I felt they were important issues, and because of what needed to happen to get to the ending, a big sin needed to happen. So this story has ended up focusing on more mature material. I've kept it PG-13, but it does mean some of the younger readers that enjoyed my first two books, would probably not be allowed to read this one, at least until they'd grown up some. My only regret is that it will potentially exclude younger children from getting to read this anytime soon.

Readers will also notice more romance and character interaction and not as much "action" scenes. They do happen. There is sword fighting. But it isn't as intense as it was in Reality's Ascent, or even Reality's Dawn. But some really cool stuff happens, even if it isn't high action fighting.

And yes, Joel does make some appearances in this book. Not as many as I know his fans would like, but he plays his parts which are critical. As a matter of fact, Joel is the one character that has so far appeared in every book I've written in this world.

So, that's the story behind this book and the whole trilogy. It is something that started out as one short story, and grew from there into a full world. But the stories don't stop with this book. I'm writing a spin-off series in the same world, that not only expands that world, but reveals how it relates to our own world. This series builds upon the dragon in "Faith's Fire" in Reality's Dawn to reveal a whole dragon culture in that world. So much more to come. Stay tuned!