Tips for Writing Popular Fiction Part 1

Update: Click to read Part 2 or Part 3.

Tips for Writing Popular Fiction

The blog below will give you tips for writing popular fiction.  It is not meant to teach you to write the next great American novel.  Why not?  Read on…

There are a lot of truly great novels out there; books with deep meaning behind every carefully chosen word and a story that holds a special place in the heart of generations. Chances are, your book is not that book. That doesn’t mean that the talent needed to create such a work doesn’t exist in abundance, it means that today’s reader isn’t looking for the next great American novel. They are looking for an escape. Hear me out.

Many classic American novels deal very deeply with the human condition. The plot is secondary to the meaning the writer is trying to convey. There’s a lot of meaning behind Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, but most readers just read something they think is about drinking your way across western Europe and bull fighting. The problem for today’s reader often lies with the plot. The older the literature is, the less likely it is to capture the readers attention with vivid action sequences and the like. Why do today’s readers enjoy blistering pacing and Michael Bay-esque action sequences. I blame it on Hollywood blockbusters that change great books into mindless drivel.

Still, this puts us writers at a crossroads. Do we sell out and write solely for an audience that eschews content with literary merit (See: Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey, etc.)? Or, do we spend years completing our masterpiece, only to have the Big 5 publishers tell us it’s garbage and they want more vampires and zombies to sell books? I don’t think it has to be exclusively one or the other and I’ll tell you why.

It is possible to write the plot of a story so that it will entertain those who want to be entertained, and provoke thought in those looking for meaning behind your words. It’s a fine line, but it’s something I’ve been working on for some time. Here’s how I do it:

1. Write at an accessible level. Twilight was written at an eighth-grade level, but sprinkled throughout are what scholars call SAT words. It’s as though Meyer is trying to assure her more educated audience that she is, in fact, intelligent despite the content of her books. In my opinion, I would bring up the level to perhaps tenth grade and still use SAT words as long as it doesn’t distract the reader (for instance, using a complicated word in dialogue that the character should never have known, like using anthropomorphic instead of human-like). A certain amount of making your reader stumble is necessary if you want their vocabularies to grow, but make sure using those words fits within the story.

2. The Art of Subtlety. In my first two novels, subtle was not a word I was familiar with when it came to writing. My plot was very heavy-handed, shoving opinions down the throats of my characters so they would spew my righteous dogma. No more. After years of reflection and reading, I learned to put much more content between the lines. Not only should the reader assume certain things, the characters within your novel should jump to conclusions like any regular person would. Just because someone hasn’t directly said something or you didn’t describe something directly, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen within the contents of the story. For instance, in my latest novel Nightstalkers (out in March), misunderstandings are central to the plot. My main characters are at each other’s throats for much of the story, and for what? Not just to get my jollies, I assure you. If you read deep enough, there are plenty of cues in the first two thirds of the novel that foreshadow what’s going to happen, but they are carefully inserted in prose that is accessible to a major audience. If you don’t read deeply then close to the end of the book you’ll find out why anyway, and while the timing works, it would read differently on a second read-through. Subtlety.

Do you know who a master of subtlety is? J.K. Rowling. She put in countless clues in the first six books regarding the true allegiance of the character everyone loves to hate. If you read it from the beginning knowing what happens, there are countless references that could have tipped you off. Also, Horcruxes! Most of them we’d seen at some point or another, introduced well before we knew such a thing existed. Subtlety and foreshadowing are close cousins.

I have a lot more to talk about regarding tips for writing popular fiction that will have to wait until future posts. For instance, why should we write for the masses? What’s the best genre to reach the greatest number of people? How do I get people to read X? Stay tuned for more.

Do you have any Tips for Writing Popular Fiction? Post your comments below and you could be mentioned in my next blog on the subject!



Science Sunday: Private Companies Seek to Mine the Moon!

Can private companies mine the moon?

I came across this gem of a news article from Sen.com, in which the reporter outlines the aims of multiple private companies in the race to mine elements from the moon. Texas-Based Shackleton Energy Company (SEC) is one of the first to express this interest, and they are creating a plan to separate the ice from the poles of the moon in order to create a propellent for spacecraft. There are an estimated 1.6 Billion tons of Water Ice on the moon, and the Shackleton company will use a combination of human and robotic miners to secure the payload, after which they plan to sell off the propellent as an after-product in a Low-Earth Orbit gas station of sorts. For years, scientists have said that part of the problem with a Mars mission is the return trip. If our spacecraft can refuel after hitting Low-Earth Orbit, they would have plenty for the trip home.

Ideas like this one inspired the premise of my scifi series, The Corsair Uprising, in which an asteroid mining company gains control over the precious metal market and hits the highest valuation of any company in existence. In the story, Vesta Corporation has control over political offices and diplomats and they have their own mafia-style enforcers to do their bidding. In the short term, meaning the next 50 years, I think there are a lot of great benefits to mining the moon as well as asteroids and eventually Mars. However, in the long term, meaning 100+ years, I think there’s cause for concern. Let me explain why.

Here’s an infographic (not the best I acknowledge) but an effective enough representation of when we will run out of certain minerals and metals on the Earth. If these predictions are even semi-accurate, then we will need to find other places to find these minerals and metals or we’ll have to drastically change what and how we produce. It is this kind of situation that leads to desperate acts. In my series, Vesta Corporation was the only company with the technology to deliver these precious metals at first, and so they held a monopoly on the market. Eventually other companies would join in, but they were all, in actuality, arms of the same company. Undoubtedly we will need to search for new sources of metals and minerals someplace other than Earth in the next 100-200 years, and I think we should be hesitant when it comes to the companies involved.

Right now, the Sen.com article mentions a few private companies vying for the same goal of mining on the moon. But who owns the moon? I think we as a world need to come together at some sort of summit and discuss exactly how this is going to pan out. Is it going to be the Wild West where possession is everything? Will different space-faring countries stake claims? Can a company legally sell something that they have no right to have? Does the company own the land on the moon or the country they represent? My head is brimming with questions on the ethics of space travel and of ownership of extraterrestrial bodies of land. The American Flag sits atop the Moon. Does that make it ours? It’s a question for far brighter minds than mine. I wonder what Neil Degrasse Tyson would say?

The good news is, if you want to buy a plot of land on Mars, look no further. (Disclaimer: This is B.S. Do not waste your money on this).

What do you think of mining the moon’s Helium, Oxygen, and other materials? What do you think of claims of ownership by corporations on the Moon, Mars, or anywhere else?

To find my books regarding the subject of extraterrestrial mining, find me on Amazon.

Don’t Stop The Flow: 4 Tips For Writing The Guts Before The Skin

Don’t Stop the Flow

Don’t Stop Innovating.

I’m not one of those writers who agonizes over every detail as they go through a book, producing a book only every year or two at most. I’ve developed a system that works for me, and might be able to work for you, to get you through those sluggish times so you can actually produce a novel and do so within a time frame that works for you. Here’s 4 tips for writing the guts of a novel before you stretch the skin over the top.

1. Write Dialogue First. By this, I don’t mean writing just the dialogue, I mean writing just enough stage direction so when you go back through, the scene is still in your head. I might start a chapter with a few paragraphs of text and then jump into dialogue between two or more characters, which could go on for pages. Why? For me, it’s easier to see the scene if I have dialogue that flows. What I find happens when I struggle over the details in mid-thought-stream is the dialogue becomes choppy and unnatural. I want to write the conversation as though I’m hearing it in my head as it’s happening. Once that’s accomplished, it’s time to head to the second step.
2. What Are They Doing? When I go back through, usually the same day, I start describing the things the characters are doing while they are talking, or the intonation they use when they speak. I find it’s important to give the reader enough to go on that they could see the scene as though it were a movie. That said, I find myself leaving a lot of things up to the reader. The reason is because when someone reads a text that might be a little vague, their mind fills in the blanks. I do this because then each reader has their own vision of events in their head and it makes the story more personal for them. Some things are important to describe outright, like a character’s physical appearance or a pivotal scene. Physical appearance is also something I add during this stage.
3. The Five Senses. One of the later things I add is the five senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. These things bring the scene to life and make it easier for the reader to be transported to the world you’ve created. I add it later than the rest because I don’t want to continuously use one sense over and over and I find it easier to insert later rather than remember as I go through.
4. Nuance. There’s a fourth thing that a lot of writers seem to forget, and that’s nuance. This is where I put in character quirks, the things that make that character who they are. Maybe a character has a dark past and he’s constantly remembering the things he’s done. Maybe a character drinks or smokes too much or is concerned about their weight. Looking back on a story I find I have a better perspective into where these small mentions need to be inserted to have the best effect given what’s happening in the story. You don’t want these small quirks to become too common or it will annoy the reader. For instance, mentioning that a character is from a certain town fifteen times in a novel is probably too many, but one to three times might be reasonable. The key here is that if you look at your completed story as a whole, you can understand where these words and phrases need to go.
The overall writing process for me is more like a 3D printer than anything else. I continue to add layer after layer until adding more wouldn’t add to the story or plays out a story I want to address later (in the case of a series). Is this way right for everyone? Definitely not. I doubt it’s even right for a lot of people. It is, however, right for my brain, which craves closure. By finishing my rough draft of a novel rather quickly (in about a month to a month and a half), I can go back over each chapter, using the notes I made as I went along, and know that I’m on track. It feels infinitely better to me to know that I have a novel-length work completed and I’m only editing it rather than struggling to make it through to the end. Writing is a psychological activity. It doesn’t come easily to most people. Getting in the right frame of mind can mean the difference between publishing or shelving a work.
The bottom line: Don’t Stop The Flow. Don’t stop writing. Write every day, even if it’s only a page or a lonely paragraph. You’ll find there’s time to agonize over the details later.
How does my way of writing compare to your way? Sound off in the comments below, I’d love to hear about it. For making it this far, feel free to download one of my short stories, my gift to you.