The Final Contest: The Big Vote

Well, we are finally here. You have written, comments, and voted you way through twelve weeks of platform building themes designed to prompt you into establishing your authorial platform. Well done.

This week instead of writing an entry you will be picking a winner. Of course, I will be reading the last entries and picking winners. This last batch of winners will include three editor picks that did not win in their week but deserve a conceptual prize anyway.

chimpanzee_seated_at_typewriterThat (image to your right) is an artists impression of me trying to figure out which amazing post deserves to be a winner.

Before I get to giving you the details for the big vote, a few words about building on what you have created.

How to make the most of it

Over the last twelve weeks, you have written drawn an audience. Some blogs take months to get to that level of audience. Some of you seem to have a full year’s worth of audience building under your belt in just three months. That is very impressive and you should make the most of it.

For example, this blog took two months before anyone besides me even properly recognised its existence. We launched last year to no fan fair at all and came up the hard way. For those of you that took part in even some of the contest, you have a head start. A huge head start.

Make the most of it – keep writing posts. Build that platform and when your first book comes out enjoy being able to tell loyal readers all about it.

If you prefer to write to prompts we have two entire categories of prompts, which I try to put something out for each week.

  1. The Platform Builder Prompt
  2. The weekly story prompt

There might not be a winner announced each week for these but the prize was always the thing that you created not what I gave out.

You may also want to consider making a platform at Author Buzz UK. It is a website that I am helping to build (based on WordPress) specifically for authors to build a presence. It is based on a lot of the platform building theory that I have been talking about here. The forums will be a good place to chat with fellow writers once we start to pick up steam.

Whatever you do, keep writing. Make amazing art.

The big vote

The big vote has two parts to it.

  1. Sharing as many of your entries as you can
  2. Voting on the entries that have been shared

The big vote takes place at /r/ThanetWinners2017 and will run until at least one items gets a solid lead or we all get fed up with waiting. The deadline is, erm, sometime randomly decided after Monday the 5th of June so share soon, vote often and may the best post win.

Getting your fans to go vote for you is allowed. Anyone can vote for the grand winner. Anyone at all.

Also, any theme that you wrote for outside of the deadline time can be entered. So if you missed a week, you still get a chance to shine.

Best of luck to you all. You wonderful writers, you.

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I think I might be a god

You have reached a startling conclusion – maybe you are a god.

This week’s Fiction Friday prompt is what do you do if you think you are a god?

I think I might be a god

Each week I post a prompt I also try and post some of the obvious questions that the prompt raises. Here are the ones that this one raises for me.

  • When did you first suspect you were a god
  • What makes you think that you are a deity?
  • What sort of god or goddess are you?
  • Do you have god powers and if so what?
  • Are you a metaphorical god?

If you write to this prompt, please link back to this post so we can read your creation. I cannot wait to see what you come up with.

Week 11: Winners

Eleven down, one to go. The second to last batch of winners is about to be announced.

Quite indulgently we asked you to write about what you loved most about Thanet Creative Writers. If I am honest, the thought “how can I ask people to blog about us” was how I ended up with “wouldn’t it be cool if we had a 12-week writing competition”. And the rest, as they say, was history.

Honourable mentions

Before we carry on, I’d like to give an honourable mention to Author Buzz. While not part of the competition there is a good post on that site all about us at Thanet Creative Writers. I know because I wrote it. Now on to the important folks – you wonderful writers.

Likewise, I’d like to shout out to L. L. Winder. Who might like to add Wedding anniversaries to the list of things that stop her writing. Congratulations guys. I wish you many more years of happiness together.

Top Three Posts.

In no particular order of sexiness, here are the three front runners for this week. Of course, that could be because there only were three entries that I found but even so…

I hope each and every one of those posts finds their way to /r/ThanetWinners2017 for the big vote off at the end of next week. (Hint, go and post them there you amazing writers)

Talking about the big vote off, if you still want to write for a theme that has passed you have one last chance to win by entering it into the big vote off. Just saying…

Winner of the best post

Here we are once again. Three great posts and I have to pick just one. Honestly, this is so hard. This section of the post has been blank for an hour now.

In the end, I had to pick one and it was the one I realised that I had liked so much that I had left a comment saying how easy it was to read.

This week’s winner, by a nose, is: It’s in the small print by Jess Joy.

Winner of the best comment

For sheer novelty value, I am going to award Benj the best comment award.

On the Night of the Hats post, his comment was not only interesting but in verse. That’s gotta count for something, right. Anyway, I liked it and so I am awarding the prize to Benj.

Winner of the most votes

As this week, the Reddit vote was a dead heat between our best post winner (Jess) and Niel, I think it is fair to award the people’s choice award to Night of the Hats, Thanet Love.

Closing thoughts

This week coming up is the last of the 12 themes. I challenge you all to write your best ever entry. Consider the gauntlet thrown down.

Over to you…

Plotting or Pantsing: What is best for me?

And so we come to the last theme of our competition. One last hurrah and then the big vote off. Back when I was thinking up this idea I thought that ending on a reflection about if planning or discovery writing was best was a great idea for platform building. You guys have taken things in an interesting direction and I have no idea what you will do with this one.

Competition Theme

This is the theme for this week. Closing date to have posted it online is midnight on Monday the 29th.

Plotting or Pantsing:
What is best for me?

You can write anything you want that fits that theme. As little or as much as you feel you need to. If you are new to this and joining us late welcome, thank you for joining us, please see week one’s post and the FAQ if you need more information.

Pantsing, for those that don’t know, is where you make up the story as you go and “fly by the seat of your pants”. The opposite is plotting, where you plan the plot out in advance. I used to be a pantser but I am more of a plotter these days.

How to win

There will still be a “best post” and “best comment” but as you might have realised by now, we no longer have a “most comments”. Instead, there will be a “most votes on Reddit” section. This week, and going forward for the last few weeks, the Reddit section will be a special one created for the competition. This is also where the grand, overall, winner will be chosen by you.

Sometime after this post goes live I will be picking out winners. I hope you guys have written something great for me to read (I’ve seen some of them so I know that you have).

Favourite line that you cut from a story

Hands and paper

The editing process can be brutal. Often you have to cut something that you loved because it does not work with the rest of the story.

What is your favourite line that you cut from a story? Just as importantly, why would you write a blog post about it?

There is an oft-repeated proverb for writers:

In writing, you must kill your darlings

As to who really said it, I don’t know, but the truth is that sometimes the bit you love has to go. But just because it is gone from the story does not mean that it cannot make one last triumph in a deleted scenes section of the DVD of your novel.

Mixed metaphors aside, there is something wonderful about getting to see inside the editing process of a writer. Not only that but sometimes a scene which failed to advance the plot can give fans something really interesting to argue about.

Is that date between the protagonist and the secondary character part of the cannon, and if so, will it shape the next book in the series?

You never know what will hook a reader into buying a book but if you never share any secrets from the cutting room floor you can be certain those secrets gave you nothing at all.

While there is no way to know if a much loved but later cut moment will sell a single book there is very little chance that sharing a few choice moments will not at least titillate fans. There is an outside chance you will draw in a visitor who, having read the scene finally goes out and buys the book to read what happened to those characters.

There is little or no downside to sharing much loved but ultimately cut moments from a work but plenty of potential upsides. If only because it gives you something to write about on your blog while you edit.

This week’s prompt is to share something you cut but that you really loved.

Peace of writing

There have, over the past year or so, been some fairly negative moments in the Thanet literary scene. That’s sad, so let’s fix it.

Thanet Creative Writers can’t, as a single charity, solve every problem in Thanet but maybe we can set an example and take the first step.

Let me first address some of the petty rivalries that have been stoked up between our group and others. Writing has never been a competitive event. Sure, a good plot needs conflict but we writers ourselves do not.

If you are part of this rather silly conflict then you know who you are, and if you are not then you have not missed out. But each and every person who was caught up in all this, I am publicly inviting to become friends.

As of this moment, consider the past a closed box; the slate wiped clean. Let us work together and make the enjoyment of writing our only priority.

As for my part in all this silliness, I have no doubt that I have not been perfect. For whatever slights, real or imagined, that you feel that I personally had any part in, I ask for your pardon. I am not really sure what I, or the group I chair, stands accused of but I am willing to ask for forgiveness anyway. The reality is that whatever the facts are (and they might forever be hidden) if feelings have been hurt, I want to start the process of healing.

Let me personally extend an open invitation to all of you to come and go from our groups, events, and website as you see fit. You are as welcome as any other and I would be pleased to see you. No one (and I will make that my personal responsibility) will bring up the past. The past is over and no one can change that but we can choose how we move forward. I want us to move forward inclusively.

The local blogger who felt the need to unload on us publicly. You know who you are but let us put that behind us. Sure what you wrote hurt a lot of people, and maybe there may be some repercussions to unpack from that event. I doubt either of us covered ourselves in glory in the way we behaved and no one was ever helped by a war of words (which no one can win).

It is too easy to hate people when they have no face, so come and join with us, not to unpack the past but to start a fresh relationship. Come to one of our trustee meetings if you want, or one of our tea and chat events, or poetry events. Come and meet the people that enjoy our group. Let us be friends.

The local poet who spat out a massive wall of vitriolic text at me over private message, you too. You know who you are. I am going to choose to believe that you were just having a bad day and needed to vent. I am glad that I was able to be that vent for you. It is fine. I’m big enough to take it.

You, sir, are still welcome to come to our poetry events on the last Thursday of the month. Not just welcome but actively invited. Let us have a cuppa, share some rhymes, and put the past behind us.

Finally, the person or persons who feel the need to stir up hatred. All I can do is ask that you stop. Hate and conflict have no place outside of the plots we write. Let us keep conflict where it belongs – in fiction alone.

There is so much good that we can build together. Our future lies with each other. Let us start building it today.

My grandfather had over nine-hundred children

What would happen if you were related to almost everyone in your town? If your grandfather had over nine-hundred children that might be your reality.

My grandfather had over
nine-hundred children

Oh, the questions this raises.

  • Are they all his children or did he adopt?
  • Did he have many wives?
  • Is this tied to the person with the immortal daughter?
  • Did that many people come to see the man as “father”
  • Is this a cult, a hero, or something else?
  • What was it like having such a grandfather?
  • Is this the secret your wife had?
  • This could make dating a problem…

I cannot wait to see what you do with this prompt. This is not a competition theme although if the Blog Train author decides to treat it like one there could still be a “winner”.

How Author Buzz UK is helping writers

This post is all about a new project called Author Buzz UK it can be found at authorbuzz.co.uk and is designed to help writers, bookshops, authors, publishers, and agents connect with readers.

Author Buzz UK was designed to help authors create a solid platform without any more technical skill than is required to sign up for a free account. A fully customised Author Buzz account should definitely become part of your growing author platform.

All of this goodness is offered for free to anyone and all you need to get started is an easy to set up profile. Once you are set up with your profile you will have access to the following resources. If you have a wordpress.com account then you can log right in with that and start enjoying your profile right away.

Talking about running your own blogs, I already have a writer blog set up. The Matthew D. Brown (author) blog is where I post my stories as a serial. You should get over there and give them a read. If you subscribe to the blog you can get an update when I publish new story entries.

Later, as the admin team continue to expand the site’s capability, there will be even more great features open to you. These features are planned but are still being tested and improved.

  • Agents will be able to maintain a profile for their authors
  • Authors will be able to maintain a list of their books which readers can review and, quite importantly, purchase from major retailers.
  • Readers will be able to connect their account to GoodReads and show off the books they have read.
  • Read more about the vision for Author Buzz UK.

It has to be said that, as of writing this article, things are still being set up at Author Buzz. So there will be ongoing changes and improvements. Crucially, this is the stage of development where your input could radically alter the finished product. If your company or your needs as a writer are not being met anywhere else, then your input could help shape Author Buzz UK into exactly what you need.

I would highly recommend that anyone who writes, publishes, or promotes those that do, sign up for a free account and become a beta tester while your opinion has the power to shape the site.

The admin and development staff at Author Buzz are dedicated to the principles of transparency and open creativity. As such they have a dedicated development blog where they talk about both the success and failures that they encounter as they work towards bringing this dream to life. I know this because I am the lead developer in the team.

Thanet Creative Writers already have our own group on Author Buzz. Connect with us there if Facebook is not your thing.

Get on over to Author Buzz UK and create a free account.

Getting to grips with the Story Bootstrapping Problem

How do you establish characters while making them interesting and keep the audience along for the ride while you do that? It is time to get to grip with this problem.

As writers, we need to establish our characters, set them in a world. We need to outline the goal the characters are working towards while foreshadowing the obstacles between the character and their goal. We need the reader to care long enough to do all that and the reader will not care unless we do all that. This is the bootstrapping problem.

Every story ever written has to wrestle with the Story Bootstrapping Problem.

Thus anonymous reader asks

When your backstory is as important as your story how do you tell both without tacking on a bajillion word introduction?

As hard questions go… Oh, boy. Here we go.

The Story Bootstrapping Problem

I was hoping no one would ask this because this is exactly the topic that I have been struggling with myself.

Every story has a bootstrapping problem. Readers need us to get on with the story and be interesting which requires that we have character, place, and motive established but to do that we need to get on and be interesting.

Writers Stack Exchange has a question about “A long backstory right at the beginning” which at least addresses the Story Bootstrapping Problem. I read that question several times before I tried to answer but, ultimately, I needed to do a lot more reading.

In Fixing Chapter One Patricia C. Wrede tackles the Story Bootstrapping Problem. Incidentally, Patricia’s blog is a great example of an authorial platform, but I digress.

Chapter One and the Story Bootstrapping Problem

In a short story you have maybe a paragraph or two to get to grips with the Story Bootstrapping Problem but in a novel, this is the task of Chapter One. The Story Bootstrapping Problem is what chapter one is for. For this very reason, it is sometimes recommended that you write the first chapter last. It is good advice at least for some of us some of the time.

When it comes to how you start your story, writersdigest.com has some pointers on that, and guess what? You still have to start with Chapter One.

Patricia C. Wrede tells us:

It is the job of the first chapter to get your readers to care about the main character, or at the very least, to be interested enough in the character to keep reading.

Chapter One is the linchpin of the entire story. Chapter one supports everything else as a foundation. Chapter one is, by far, your hardest working chapter. It is no surprise that it is also the hardest work.

Look at all the things the first chapter must do:

  • Make a promise
  • Orient the reader
  • Establish character
  • Set up the plot
  • Show the world
  • Make us care
  • Keep us reading

Solving the Story Bootstrapping Problem with a promise

Chapter One needs to promise the reader that it is worth them continuing. The promise is the cheque that the first chapter writes and the rest of the novel has to cash.

A really good promise is whatever it takes to make the reader excited to keep reading. If you make your promise well, you don’t need to establish backstory, character, or pretty much anything else that does not fit in Chapter One.

Conceptually, the promise solution to the Story Bootstrapping Problem is similar to Linguistic Bootstrapping only on the scale of a single novel. You need to give the reader the tools to infer, deduce, or discover backstory right before they need it.

The promise might be a striking statement, an intriguing idea, a dastardly deed – almost anything can be your promise (depending on genre). How well the promise solution works is entirely down to your skill as a writer. Sorry, there are no easy answers here today.

Aristotle’s Poetics says that we need to stage our story from Pity to Fear and, finally, Catharsis. So we need to show a character unjustly suffer in some way. In otherwords, Aristotle suggess that we use Chapter one to make the reader pitty the main character.

Think how Harry Potter starts. Pitty the abandoned boy, we most certainly do.

Orient the reader and make them want to stay

I’ve never read any Steinbeck but I have it on good authority that his introductions were almost all description that went on for pages and pages. These descriptions were so good, so rich that, as the reader, you want to go and live there – right now.

If you can orient your readers to the point that they get lost in your world, then they will stay long enough for you to introduce them to characters and plot as you wish. This orientation might be harder than the pity route but should (at least in theory) work just as well.

Strong orientation is, potentially, a great solution to the Story Bootstrapping Problem. Again, this is down to your skill as a writer. That level of captivating detail is probably not something I could attempt right now.

Solve the Bootstrapping Problem by establishing character

Another route into the bootstrapping problem is to establish a strong sense of character. Someone that the reader feels deeply attached to. That is, I think, why sequels work so much better than episode one stories. If we have been following a series we already know the characters.

Aristotle’s suggestion could also be taken to mean that we should hook a reader (or listener, or playgoer) by opening a story with a reason to pity the character. By this, we could say that you must have a reason to feel empathy for the character’s plight.

To make this work, the reader needs to be able to think “that could be me”. Even if they do not consciously think it.

You might try to make your hero an everyman or put them in a common situation that goes uncommonly wrong.

It can help to show that your character is charismatic. Some might say that this was vital. This works in much the same way that we make friends. We meet someone and like them even before we know much about them. For our story, we need enough like to let the relationship between the reader and the character bloom. To do that the reader needs to care about the character early on.

Whatever else you do, you are almost certainly going to need to put your main character on the stage in Chapter One. It will help your story no end if the readers are interested in what happens to them.

Bootstrapping with a character readers care about gives you time to get the plot going. Of course, how well this works depends on you as a writer. There are no shortcuts here.

Bootstrapping vs Plot

In a plot-heavy story, sometimes you simply need to lay the bare facts before the reader.

The danger of going in plot-first is that if you do this wrong you may commit the crime of info dumping on your poor reader. No one wants that. Info-dumps are a storytelling fail.

Getting the facts in early can work well as part of the “start at the height of the action” framing device. Let your plot be like a locomotive charging along and taking the reader with it.

Remember though, framing devices are just devices and they will not hook your reader alone. Only your skill as a writer can do that.

How do you solve the Story Bootstrapping Problem

I am currently figuring out how to bring a lot of emotional baggage into a story from before the story started and have the reader care about it as much as the characters. I am not sure I have figured that out yet. If you have a good answer, pick up some easy reputation points on Writers’ Stack Exchange with your insights.

  • How do you solve the Story Bootstrapping Problem?
  • What approaches have you applied and how did you get on?
  • What makes your Chapter One really work?

Share your insights with us in the comments section below.

The thing I love most about Thanet Creative Writers

This is, if I am honest, the one I have been looking forward to the most. Finding out what about Thanet creative writers (the blog, the group, or the charity) that resonates best with you guys.

Competition Theme

This is the theme for this week. Closing date to have posted it online is midnight on Monday the 22nd.

The thing I love most about
Thanet Creative Writers

You can write anything you want that fits that theme. As little or as much as you feel you need to. If you are new to this and joining us late welcome, thank you for joining us, please see week one’s post and the FAQ if you need more information.

I am particularly interested to see if the fiction writers can turn this into a fiction prompt or if you will write a more tranditional blog post. This posts image was actully taken during a Tea and Chat meeting. You can use it for your post if you want.

How to win

There will still be a “best post” and “best comment” but as you might have realised by now, we no longer have a “most comments”. Instead, there will be a “most votes on Reddit” section. This week, and going forward for the last few weeks, the Reddit section will be a special one created for the competition. This is also where the grand, overall, winner will be chosen by you.