Self-Taught Self-Publishing: Genesis and Recommended Reading

Genesis (or why I do what I do)

A few weeks back at Desert Nights, Rising Stars at ASU, the inevitable question that arose whenever I mentioned that I had taken the self-publishing/indie publishing route for my work was “How did you do it?” or “Where did you learn to do that?”

The answer is pretty simple: the Internet.

My road started comparatively late for a lot of people who have been doing this for a long time–I didn’t really start down the indie pub route until 2011, so by that time there was a wealth of resources for me to draw from.  Why is that?  Because there were a lot of blogs out there from some fairly big names (well, okay, I had heard of several of them, at least, but I’m a huge nerd) that were talking about it.

Back in early 2011, I was screwing my head back on straight after the long, arduous and abruptly truncated work of writing and defending my Master’s thesis (I suffered every graduate student’s nightmare–my advisor passed away in the middle of my project and then all of a sudden I realized I did not have very much time to finish under my new team–six weeks from very rough draft to finished 200-page historical study isn’t something I’d wish on anyone).  A friend from my fan fiction days asked me if I’d been following Michael Stackpole’s blog lately and I admitted that I hadn’t.

So in a lot of ways, it’s all Trevor’s fault that I’m doing this now.

At the time, in March 2011, Stackpole wrote the first of his “House Slaves” series on the changing publishing industry (he’d later catch some heat for this, but I still think that analogy is good and works pretty well if you read all of it in the context and spirit in which it was written).  My road began right there, as I started to realize how much I didn’t know about the publishing industry that I thought I had and how much the world was changing.

Now, a second thing happened in March of 2011–I got my first e-reader, so the whole ebook publishing world had suddenly become very, very interesting.  If you’re thinking about getting into the world of self/indie publishing and digital publishing and you’ve never played with an e-reader or e-reading software, I’d suggest very strongly that you at the very least borrow one from a friend or relative so you can play with it and learn how reading on one of these devices changes the reading experience (this is especially important later, when you get ready to format your work for publication–you have to beat least vaguely aware of how your text will behave on an e-reader or smartphone screen, since it’s not static as it would be on a sheet of paper).

For me, getting my first e-reader (which I still have, use, and love) and my sudden realization of how quickly the publishing world was changing was a double-whammy and heavily influenced my decision to investigate independent options.

The best advice before I get into the how instead of the why:

Self/Independent publishing is not for everyone.  Do your homework before you make your choices and make the choice that’s right for you.

End of disclaimer.  Here’s the first part of how I learned to do what I do now.

Recommended Reading

As I said above, the main place I learned how to independently publish my work was from the internet.  When people say that you can find pretty much anything you want to (or really, really don’t want to) on the internet, they’re not lying.  There are a ton of websites out there that talk about the publishing industry in general and indie publishing in specific.

You may notice that I’m using self and indie publishing pretty much interchangeably.  That’s because in some ways, to me, they are.  Some folks would disagree with this assessment, but that’s their opinion.  There are some people who define indie publishing as small-press publishing (rather than traditional “big” publishing with folks like Random House, Simon and Schuster, etc.), and that’s fine.  For my purposes, however, independent and self publishing are individually based or based in very, very small houses (talking only a few authors here–WMG Publishing is a good example of what I’d consider an “indie publishing” house).

In order to learn a lot of what I’ve learned, I did a lot of research and read  lot of blogs.  Below is a list of what I recommend anyone thinking about going the indie pub route should start reading and start reading fast.

In no particular order…

  • The Passive Voice – Passive Guy (a lawyer by training whose wife is the writer) blogs about publishing in all forms with a focus largely on the indie end of things and how publishing is changing and changing fast.
  • Kris Writes: Business Rusch and Freelancer’s Survival Guide – Two different sections of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog.  I have learned quite a bit from her guides.
  • Dean Wesley Smith: Think Like a Publisher and Killing the Sacred Cows of PublishingTwo different sections of Dean Wesley Smith’s blog.  I have learned quite a bit from his work in conjunction with his wife’s.
  • StormWolf.com (Michael Stackpole)’s essays on publishingThe link is to the category where he talks the most about publishing independently and the changes and challenges facing the publishing industry at large.
  • A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing – JA Konrath’s blog is not for everyone, but I’ve learned a ton just by reading this.
  • The Book DesignerThis blog will teach you a lot about the more technical and aesthetic ends of book design, both ebooks and print editions.
  • The Smashwords Blog and Smashwords Style Guide (ebook) – If you want to do anything on Smashwords, I would highly recommend reading the second because it will help you from the outset to make sure that you’ve got a neatly formatted ebook.  The blog often has information about ebook sales figures and trends.
  • Be the Monkey (ebook) – This ebook was written a while back as a series of blog posts by JA Konrath and Barry Eisler that they later published as an ebook.  It’s a must-read if you want to begin to understand the shift in publishing and why the ebook revolution is such a boon to new (and old!) writers.
  • Galley Cat – Pretty cool newsfeed on publishing.

I am sure that there are several others that I’m missing at this time, but these are the sites that I go back to time and again and the books that I go back to time and again while I continue to move forward with my writing career.

Next week, I’ll go into more depth on ebooks–why they’re important and where and how to publish them.

Doc’s Writercraft: What I know about writing webfiction

While attending the 2013 Desert Nights, Rising Stars writer’s conference at Arizona State the last weekend in February, I was shocked by how many questions I got asked about writing webfiction.  The inevitable question at any break point in the conference was “Are you published?” and when I said I was the self-published, indie-published type and listed what I was working on, people would get increasingly curious when I mentioned the serials I write.

This, of course, led to more questions.

At the end of the day, everything I have learned about both publishing in general and writing webfiction, I have learned by researching these particular topics on the internet.  There is a wealth of information available if you know where to look.  I didn’t know where to look when I started, but I knew how to start looking.

Introduction

I’ve written before about why webfiction was attractive to me (Doc’s Writercraft: Why Webfiction?), but I haven’t gone into much depth about what you need to write it.  By the time you’re done reading this post, hopefully you’ll have a rough idea of the following:

  1. Essential ingredients for good webfiction
  2. What skills and tools you need to write webfiction
  3. Additional resources to help you along the way

I will not be talking very much about monetization of webfiction because I really don’t have very good experience with it.  Other webfiction writers, such as MCA Hogarth, have had extremely good luck with it, however, and I would highly suggest checking out the links listed under the resources section to do more research on that particular subject.

Remember, webfiction is a challenging marathon.  You don’t have the luxury of going back and changing the rules in mid-stream like you would if you were drafting a novel.  Now, some webfiction writers use their serials to live-draft novels.  That’s fantastic and can be really, really fun.  Keep in mind, however, that in live-drafting your novel for an audience online, you’ll lose some of the flexibility you might otherwise enjoy in the plotting and writing of your first draft.

It is, however, a fantastic way to make sure you write consistently and stay on-schedule.

What you need to get started

The most important thing that you will need to write successful webfiction is a good story that you are interested in telling.  Webfiction is in part episodic by nature and ongoing.  You will be writing the same story over the course of an extended period of time.  You’ll need all the trappings of a good book and more.

What makes a good story?  For me, it’s the following (in order of importance for me as a reader and in part for me as a writer):

  • Good characters (characters I give a damn about and want to know more about)
  • Good pacing
  • Understandable/comprehensible/believable problems (and solutions)
  • Good setting

Why are good characters listed as the most important thing?  Readers are willing to forgive a multitude of sins in most forms of entertainment–books, webfiction, comic, television, films–but if you have crappy characters, most readers are not going to put up with it.  You write good characters in your webfiction and people will keep coming back just to find out what happens to them day after day and week after week.  A good cast gives  you a little bit of leeway when you otherwise wouldn’t have any, especially when it comes to the next item on the list, pacing.

Pacing is very important in webfiction.  Unlike in your standard novella or full-length novel, which has rising and falling moments of tension, webfiction has to keep a reader coming back day after day and week after week to see what the new “episode” holds.  This means that while you don’t always have to keep ratcheting up the tension, you will need to be careful to make sure that you don’t have very many long, expository stretches in the story where not much happens.  People will get bored and abandon you in this scenario.  They may wander back later, but you can’t bank on that.

This brings us to problems–these are the challenges that the characters face, the obstacles in their paths toward their ultimate goals.  Depending upon the type of story you’re writing, they may be fantastical, beyond the scope of normal life–and that’s fine.  But they must be comprehensible to your readers.  While the problems may be impossible in our world, the audience must understand and believe that yes, the characters are facing this problem and you, the writer, must keep your reader believing from the moment the characters realize they’ve got a problem to solve until the moment the characters solve it.  If you break your reader’s suspension of disbelief, you lose the reader.  For a writer of webfiction, this is especially important because the minute you lose that reader, they’re gone–probably never to return.  If you’re a webfiction author trying to parlay your webfiction into donations or as promotional material for your traditionally or self-published works, odds are that you’re not going to get anything out of that reader, monetary or otherwise, and if they bother to talk about your serial at all, it probably won’t be in a good way.

Last but not least, setting.  In a lot of ways, settings are almost like characters unto themselves, especially in science fiction, post apocalyptic, paranormal, and fantasy webfiction series.  These need to be as believable as both your characters and your problems and almost more importantly, your setting must be internally consistent.  What do I mean by this?  It means that your setting has to have rules, laws–just like Earth has gravity and this force of nature behaves in predictable ways, so too must your setting.  In a fantasy setting, for example, your magic should work in internally consistent ways.  If your wizard needs to be able to use his hands to cast a spell and his hands are bound, then the spell can’t be cast.  If your hungry vampire needs blood to fuel his powers and he’s running on empty, he’s just going to be like every other average Joe on the street until he gets a snack.  If you can only make a hyperspace jump at certain points in the system and your heroes are cut off from a jump point, they’ve got to find a way to get there before they can escape to hyperspace.  Consistency is key.  If you’re constantly breaking your own rules, then you’ll lose readers–unless you’ve got a damned good way to explain the rule-breaking that doesn’t break your story at the same time.

Skills and tools

So you’ve got a great idea, awesome characters, all kinds of neat problems, a fantastic setting, and you’re ready to start writing webfiction now, right?

Wrong.

There are a few more things you’ll need before you can get started.  In no particular order, here they are:

  • A website (or other platform)
  • A backlog to work from
  • A way to get the word out about what you’re doing
  • The ability to write consistently on demand (so you don’t miss an update)
  • A rough idea of how long each update should be
  • What you want your posting schedule to look like

Most webfiction writers blog their webfiction through platforms such as Livejournal, WordPress, Drupal, and BlogSpot.  I cannot think of any that I am aware of that do it through a static website.  Other webfiction writers use communities such as Figment and Wattpad.  I have tried both and have found it very difficult to build audiences there, but I’m sure a great many writers (especially those who have come from fan fiction backgrounds) have had success with them.  For my own webfiction, I use self-hosted WordPress installations because I find the back-end interface easy to use and the front-end easy to manipulate with downloadable and editable themes.  For those who aren’t as code-savvy, WordPress.com hosted blogs or BlogSpot blogs are a good choice.  Livejournal is a little less robust and fading from popularity, but it’s still a valid choice.  Drupal is a good choice for those who are very code-savvy who prefer something other than WordPress as their blogging platform of choice.

Backlogs for webfiction writers, especially when you’re initially starting out, are incredibly important.  You want to have a story started and to know at least initially where it’s going for a few chapters before you start posting anything.  This is a failsafe against writer’s block or getting busy.  Believe me, writing to a deadline every day of the week can get very difficult, very quickly, especially early on in a project.  In addition, by the time you have a few chapters under your belt, you typically have an idea of where the story is going (if it’s a viable story, in fact), who your characters are, and what your setting is like.  This guards against early failure and gives you a chance to concentrate early on in your webfiction career at building an initial following–and keeping the words flowing.

Your initial following, if you’re lucky, will eventually leverage itself into a wider audience later, especially if your story is consistently interesting and good.  But how do you get that initial audience?  Many writers will have different answers to that question, and quite a few will tell you to leverage your friends and family into your audience.  That’s fine, but I assume that you want to reach more than your cousin Jamie and your best friends Susie and Jack.  Social media, like Facebook and Twitter, can be helpful in building your audience as well, but only if you’re not obnoxious about it.  I don’t know about you, but the fastest way to get dropped off of my Twitter feed is to only hock something you’re trying to sell (or draw attention to, etc).  For me, the bigger step in developing my audience was twofold: I got my fiction listed on some of the larger webfiction databases (The Webfiction Guide, Muse Success, and Epiguide) and did some advertising on Project Wonderful.  These days, I don’t always run advertising campaigns through Project Wonderful, but when I do, I definitely notice a bump in my site traffic.  Not all of these hits will be readers to stay, but if I get one devoted reader out of every ten or twenty hits, I’ll count that as worth my investment.  For those of you who don’t have the cash to shell out, getting listed on the databases and being active in the communities there will go fairly far toward getting your work noticed if you practice proper internet/forum etiquette.

If you ever run through your backlog of work to post–and this eventually happens to everyone and usually at the worst possible time–you have to be prepared to produce a volume of words at a consistent level of quality in a very, very short amount of time.  In essence, you have to write to a deadline.  Why not just skip an update or three?  Because that will cost you readers and fast.  Any time you put your fiction on hiatus, planned or otherwise, you run the risk of someone walking away from your work and never finding it again.  After all the hard work you’ve done, this isn’t something you want, is it?  So you need to prepare yourself for the eventuality that you may be writing 500-2500 words a day to a deadline for your webfiction, depending on the average length of your posts.

The average length of your post should be generally consistent with some room for outliers.  Most webfiction writers tend to hit somewhere between 1000-1500 words per update, but some run shorter or longer depending on their posting schedule.  Senna Black, who writes The Frequent Traveller’s Guide to Jovan, posts weekly (or did until recently–she’s up to twice a week now most weeks) and her posts are typically longer than those in my Awakenings series, which posts three times a week.  You want to be internally consistent so your readers know about how much fiction they can expect a day or a week–and how much time it’ll typically take to read your updates on the days you post them.

You should also have a consistent schedule for posting so readers will know when to hit your site for an update.  Decide this from the outset and stick to it.  Keep in mind that it is very, very easy to increase the number of posts you write a week but more difficult to decrease it.  Start smaller and get bigger is a good rule of thumb.  I initially started Awakenings updating two times a week and later increased it to three.  Jim Zoetewey did something similar with Legion of Nothing (though he, if I recall correctly, is one of the few webfiction writers who has increased production and then successfully decreased the number of updates a week without a discernible drop in popularity or readership).  Other writers, like Senna Black, post one update a week (and with a recent upgrade to two in the last few months).  Some writers have had good experience offering faster updates if they reach a certain cash donation goal, but this works well when you’ve established a large audience that can support this kind of structure.  At the end of the day, the trick is to have a schedule–decide what it will be and then stick to it.

Resources

The best resources I’ve found for learning about writing webfiction are ones that I found just by Googling the terminology.  Here are the most useful sites I tripped over when I was doing my initial research into the world of webfiction.

Additional links:

That about sums it up for this round.  I welcome questions and will answer them to the best of my ability.  I hope that this helps anyone who’s thinking about diving into webfiction writing head-first (or even just dipping your toes into the pool).

 


 

Erin M. Klitzke writes the webfiction serials Awakenings and Legacies of the Lost Earth.  You can follow her on Twitter at @EMBKDoc and find her writing wherever ebooks are sold.

Writing Space

Everyone has a different process for writing, but at the end of the day, we all need a place to write.  I can’t tell you how many books on writing have told me that you should have a dedicated space to work–a spot that will put you undoubtedly in the mindset for writing from the moment you sit down to work.

Pardon my language, but it’s a load of bull.

Yeah, it’s wonderful to have a spot that you can retreat to when everything else in your life is going insane, but it’s not something that’s strictly necessary for the writing process.  I’m not even sure it’s something that would be helpful for most writers.  Most of us, however, don’t have the luxury of that kind of space.  Everything in our lives has to be multifunctional in today’s world–one trick wonders don’t cut it anymore.

Besides, in the days of laptops, netbooks, and tablet PCs, you can go and write anywhere.  The folks who follow me on Twitter know that Starbucks and Panera Bread are two of my favorite places to go work–in part because of the change in scenery and in part because I’m not at home.  Of course there’s the slight inconvinence of possibly not having all the notes or drafts you need at hand to work through particularly sticky spots, but for writing hard and writing fast, throwing caution to the wind, a public place with a caffinated beverage and an iPod stuffed full of tunes can’t be beat.  I wrote many an Awakenings update at Panera or at Starbucks.

Of course, I’ve written an equal amount at my kitchen table and at my desk at home.

Yes, I have a desk–a semi-dedicated workspace.  Of course, occasionally that desk serves as a catch-all when I come home from work, or as my craft table, or as a dozen other things.  Is it my workspace?  Of course it is.

It’s a wonderful desk, custom-built for me by my father, a cut-down version of a library table with shelves on either side and a drawer beneath.  When he was first getting ready to build it, he couldn’t imagine me needing a desk as large as what his original blueprints, the original plans called for.  In hindsight, I think we both realize that perhaps I could have used the extra tablespace–if only to catch more stacks of paper.

But it’s a wonderful, beautiful desk and I love it.

But I didn’t use it very much until January 2011, when I began the frentic tail end of my master’s program and had exactly six weeks to write, revise, and complete my Master’s thesis.

Since then, I’m constantly finding myself retreating to my desk on Saturday afternoons and weekday evenings–any time there is too much noise going on elsewhere in the house and I don’t feel like actually relocating.  The main attraction of havin the desk to work at is the fact that I can stick post-its on the wall in front of me, rifle through file folders of articles and old drafts or my back isses of Writer’s Digest, The Writer, and other writing mags, and get snuggled by my cat (the cat, however, can also be a disadvantage because she has an annoying habit of walking on my desk, especially when I’m trying to handwrite anything).

Everything I need is in one spot, except for maybe a microwave and a coffeemaker, but those are within easy reach just down a flight of stairs.  My desk, you see, is in my bedroom, sandwiched between the closet and the door.  Two beds, two dressers, my sister’s desk and some bookshelves sit behind me when I’m at my desk.  I’ve got additional file storage boxes tucked beneath the desk, along with binders.

But I don’t always work there.

Maybe I’m abnormal because I can write anywhere–or maybe I’ve just learned to do it out of necessity.  When you steal moments from everyday life to write, you learn to do it where you can.  Not everyone’s got the luxury of a dedicated space.

But sometimes, it’s nice to have one.

Hello, my name is Erin, and I write character-driven fiction.

Confession time: I write character-driven fiction.  The characters are my stars, not the plot, not a world, not a concept.  I’m interested in the stories these people I make up in my head have to tell me, and I bank on readers being as interested in them as I am.

Maybe it’s the longtime roleplayer in me that causes that.  I can’t be sure.

I think about these things from time to time, but it wasn’t until a recent review in the @SciYourFi blog that I realized how much I invest in characters over the plots driving them, over everything swirling around them.  The review was of my first full-length ebook, Epsilon: Broken Stars, and the major takeaways for me as a writer were to make sure that all of the little things that struck the reviewer as “odd” pay of in the second book (Redeemer, forthcoming, release date unknown but probably in the spring or summer) and that the reviewer got interested in the personal stories of the cast.  That’s fantastic, because I’ve been in love with their stories for a long time (well, Aaron/Wil and Caren’s, anyhow).

Side note: Of course the review also sent me scrambling to figure out some formatting errors, which I think I fixed but could certainly be wrong on that count.  A full page-through of the Smashwords version is on my to-do list (I have been avoiding it so the story could settle in my brain–so I could get really, really used to the idea of it being “finished”).

Chris George, as I recall, said something similar about Awakenings in his review of it at the Web Fiction Guide–the saga centers less around the end of the world and more about how the young men and women left behind handle that event.  I’m sure eventual reviews of The Last Colony will say the same thing: that the story centers on the people reacting to and causing events in their universe.

My name is Erin, and I write character-based fiction.  It’s what I do.  I’ve got a bunch of worlds, and these worlds are peopled with characters I love (or, in cases such as with Casey Flannery and D’Arcy Morgause, love to hate).


You can find Erin on GoodReads these days @ http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5211226.Erin_Klitzke And on Smashwords @ http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/EMBKlitzke

And Amazon @ http://www.amazon.com/author/erin-klitzke

She offers two free fiction serials @ http://www.embklitzke.com/e557 and http://awakenings.embklitzke.com.  Stop on by and check it out.

Doc’s Writercraft: Why webfiction?

Webfiction (noun): combination of “Fiction” and “web.”

Fiction (noun): (1) the class of literature comprising works of imaginative narration, esp. in prose form. (2) works of this class, as novels or short stories (ie, “detective fiction”)

Web (noun): synonymous with or referring to “Internet.”


Webfiction isn’t exactly a new phenomena, though it seems to be on the rise and on the wane all at once in this rapidly changing, tech-savvy writing world.  For some writers and readers alike, webfiction bears the same stigma as “fan fiction,” which is loosely defined as fiction set in worlds not of the writer’s creation.  Webfiction, however, is markedly different in that it is original fiction published first on the internet, often for free consumption.(1)  For some authors, it’s a method of alpha/beta testing their work before editing and releasing it in self-published formats.  For others, it is the end-all, be-all of their work, simply another medium they work in.

So why do it at all?

For me, it’s a way of getting my work out there and vetting it before a live audience.  A lot of people write in a vacuum and often their work never sees the light of day–it’s the same for many artists, some of whom turn to writing and drawing webcomics to force themselves to hone and share their craft with others.  For some writers of webfiction, the reason they turn to the internet as a medium for their work is twofold:

  1. To force themselves to write to a deadline every day (every week, every month, etc. depending upon update schedules).
  2. To expose their work to the world in the most easily accessible way.

A corollary to this last point deals with self-publishing.  Up until very recently, self-publishing books (prose, comic, or otherwise) was incredibly cost-prohibitive.  While the ebook revolution has caused a paradigm shift in the self-publishing universe(2), webfiction remains one medium that is entirely in the hands of an author.  Anyone can set up a blog through Blogger or WordPress and get to writing–and quickly.  That means your work is out there for anyone to find.(3)

The internet is an almost inherently social medium.  It is this social aspect of the web that is attractive to many authors of webfiction.  It enables writers to glean insights and get opinions from readers–on a work that’s still in progress.  Here’s an example from my own webfiction serial, Awakenings.

I had a reader make the following observations in a comment on Chapter 9, entry 7:

As for Thom’s broken ribs, they’re gonna take at least six weeks to heal. Don’t ask me how I know this, OK? Coughing is a challenge and despite the five plus years since I broke a couple of my ribs, I still wince at the memory of sneezing.  Agony hardly begins to describe it.

I’m a gun owner, BTW, and if you need any technical advice about pistols and/or rifles, feel free to email me. I’m also into flint- and caplock rifles, i.e., muzzleloaders, and making black powder and flintlock rifles are well within the means of someone with access to hand tools and abandoned train rails.

This was incredibly helpful advice (and I’m still indebted to the reader who shared it).  It’s this kind of thing that makes readers for webfiction invaluable, especially if you wouldn’t be able to get test readers for an independant project with that kind of knowledge (I know that odds are for me, I wouldn’t have been able to). Through tapping into the social aspect of the web, I got some really interesting information that will help me not only with Awakenings, but with other projects down the road.

Another useful aspect of putting work out on the internet–if you’re planning to either just leave it online or self-publish, that is–is that you’re able to have folks catch little tics in your work that you wouldn’t ordinary catch (Chris George, who writes the webfiction serial Shadow has been good about this for me).  Readers aren’t always shy.  They’ll tell you what they like, what they don’t like, and they’ll tell you all of this before it ends up in a book review.  In essence, it’s crowdsourcing part of your editorial process (in many cases, the developmental stage of your editing process, though occassionally it’ll be the proofreading segement, too).

Of course, there’s a caveat to all of this: if you’re planning on traditionally publishing your  work at some point, you should be leary of putting any piece you’re planning on shopping to agents or publishers on the web.  Heck, based on this post shared on The Passive Voice blog, you’ll need to be careful about putting anything out there.

So why write webfiction?  For me, it was about getting work out there, writing to a deadline, and getting some feedback on a piece that was in a very difficult to define genre.


You can find Erin on GoodReads these days @ http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5211226.Erin_Klitzke
And on Smashwords @ http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/EMBKlitzke

 


1. Some webfiction authors (such as MCA Hogarth) have experimented with paid models, but I don’t have data to show whether or not the model works well or not.
2. For more information on the self-pub revolution, see J.A. Konrath, Dean Wesley Smith, and Michael A. Stackpole, as well as the ebook Be The Monkey by Barry Eisler and J.A. Konrath.
3.  Of course, this assumes you know some basic SEO or aren’t afraid to market yourself a little bit.  I’ve had pretty good luck with advertising through Project Wonderful for Awakenings.

Doc’s Writercraft: Developing fictional characters through roleplay

Every author, from the rookie to the seasoned pro, has their own tried and true methods of creating believable (or not-so-believable) characters.  For me, developing characters has gone hand in hand with roleplaying.

I’ve been a gamerchick almost as long as I’ve been writing (I started out on AOL chats when I was twelve years old; moved to IRC in 1997 and picked up ISRP around the same time I started playing serious tabletop games in 2000), but it wasn’t until I was in my later college years that I began to notice the overlap between characters I created to play and characters I created to tell their stories in print.  Somewhere in the middle, it all began to merge.

A prime example of this is the pairing of Tim McConaway (created solely for an RPG–as a background character, no less) and Brigid O’Connell (originally part of a now-defunct set of stories).  I hit upon the idea to combine them almost by accident, since they each needed a longtime friend that wasn’t a romantic interest.  They further developed as characters during my time with ISRP and their through-line is an anchor for the UNSETIC Files.

Tim McConaway started out as a cardboard cut-out, an Air Force officer whose parents had been murdered and was raised (with his sister and best friend) by a pair of uncles in Chicago.  His sister, originally, was the focus of my roleplaying efforts, but I later became attracted to her quiet, intense, tragic brother, unlucky in life and in love.  So I started roleplaying him, and he became increasingly complex as a character.  He found his way into a set of afternoon scribbles about a year and a half ago, depicting his first “mission” for UNSETIC with a woman who would become his lifelong friend, Brigid O’Connell.

Brigid originally popped up–surprisingly enough–as a character that should have been in the Epsilon universe (the set of stories that would have been wrapped up into that universe, set in the mid-21st century, have since been scrapped).  She was a retired military officer (honorable discharge due to medical issues) who bought a bar in Virginia.  I began roleplaying her purely by accident–I needed a character without any connections for a very specific reason, one with a particular level of authority, and she fit the bill.

Of course, she got away from me and started changing and developing all on her own.

That’s the one thing that no one tells you about roleplaying: if you’re doing it well, with the right people, your characters become very, very real, very very quickly.  Things happen that you don’t expect, things that you never would have imagined.  I’ve found it to be sometimes incredibly helpful.

Have you ever thought about asking one of your test readers–if they’re so inclined–what they think a conversation with one of your characters would be like?  Have you ever tried talking out that conversation?  Try it!  Let them ask hard questions that you might not know the answer to.  It’ll help you figure out who some of these characters really are and you might even find that they surprise you.  Who knows?  You might end up coming up with whole new subplots.

If you’re really brave, you might even try them out somewhere in the ether or in a tabletop game.  Sometimes, the best characters are the ones that you don’t expect to become your favorites.

Tim and Brigid were like that for me.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

            “Do you ever wonder what it would’ve been like?”  Tim asked suddenly as the subway car clacked and swayed its way uptown, toward Central Park.

Brigid frowned, watching the tunnel lights flash by out the windows.  “What what would have been like?”

“If this never happened.  You and me, partners.  You ever wonder what life would’ve been like?”

Simpler.  Less exciting.  “What the hell kind of question is that?”

He shrugged.  “I don’t know,” he said, starting to get up as the train slowed, pulling into their station.  “I was just curious, I guess.”

“Be more curious about your Corps problem and less about what life would’ve been like in an alternate reality,” she said, heading for the doors as they slid open.  He was right behind.  “It’s probably a better use of what few brain cells you’ve got left.”

He grinned at her teasing as they fought their way through the sparse early morning crowds on the platform.  “Probably right about that.”

They were mounting the stairs up to street level when she said, “I’ve never wondered, Tim.  I can’t imagine life any other way.”

He smiled at her over his shoulder.  “Me neither, B.  Me neither.”

Excerpt copyright 2011 Erin M. Klitzke


You can find Erin on GoodReads these days @ http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5211226.Erin_Klitzke
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