Story engineering.

I figured it would be fun to include more entries on the process of my writing and research, rather than just the sparse announcements that mark the completion of a piece. So buckle up, and prepare to enter the exciting and fun-filled world of Mike’s Fiction Adventure (trademark pending).

I spend ALOT of time reading – about writing.  Most of the material that I immerse myself in are blogs by various authors, some traditionally published and some self-published. A quick digression here. For those that are unaware, allow me to fill you in on the differences between traditional publishing and self-publishing, even though they are probably obvious simply by the interpretation of the words themselves.

Traditional publishing is the process by which an author lands on the bookshelf at Barnes and Noble (or others). It requires that one’s work be purchased (or “picked up,” to use industry slang) by a publishing house, big or small. The larger guys are harder to crack into, obviously. Most authors who seek the traditional publishing route often look for a literary agent first. This is a person who also has to see value in you and/or your book before they take you on as a client. Any legitimate agent worth their keep is very selective on who they work with and what authors they want to represent. If you are a first-timer, like myself, this typically requires one to endure months or even years of submissions, unbearably waiting for responses that do not come quick, and lots of self-loathing. If you’re lucky enough to land a decent agent, their job is to “pitch” your book to the publishing houses and hope that they can get it sold and get you both paid. This – is very difficult to achieve.

Enter self-publishing [*insert heavenly choir interlude*]. The internet has revolutionized, among many other things, the publishing industry. Any Joe Schmo that decides to write a book, can have that book up on Amazon as an e-book in literary minutes, with no upfront cost to the author. Similarly, one can use a print-on-demand (POD) service that will make your book available in print via Amazon or other online retailers, again, at no upfront cost. If your work is any good, with an eye-catching book cover, you could actually sell a few copies. If you’re really good, you can sell more than a few. If you’re REALLY good, and you know how to market yourself and your book using the wondrous world wide web, you can actually make a decent income.

That was supposed to be a quick digression – I get carried away sometimes.

With that said, the bulk of my reading (on writing) is on blogs from very successful self-published authors. Most recently, I’ve spent a lot of time pouring through the blogs of Hugh Howey (hughhowey.com) and Joanna Penn (thecreativepenn.com). Hugh Howey is – to put it lightly – my hero in the world of self-pub. Not only is he a marvelous author, but he is one of the most successful self-pub authors of all time. I won’t beleaguer you with the infinite list of his accomplishments. Just go look him up if you’re interested. Quick fun fact: Hugh is the cousin of my coworkers wife Dana, and lived in Boone for many years, until he got rich and decided to spend his life sailing around the world on his catamaran. Small world, huh.

The other major piece to my research has been a How-To book that I picked up, after being highly recommended by Hugh and many others. It’s called Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks, and is all about mastering what Brooks calls “The Six Core Competencies of Successful Writing.” The title alone was enough to sell me. It’s got Engineering in the title, I’m an engineer. Sold.

This book, while I’m only a few chapters in, is getting me super pumped about improving my craft. It’s the perfect book for the methodical mind like me. It breaks the key elements of fiction writing down into a very clear cut and easy to follow formula that can be applied to any idea and any length of fiction, from a novel all the way down to a short story. For a person like me, this is the jackpot. It’s like a paint-by-numbers for writing fiction. God, I loved those as a kid.

Before I get too winded here, I’ll wrap it up.

A quick update: My last post indicated that I wanted to start focusing more on short fiction and build my way up to something novel-length. Using that mindset, I’ve managed to bloom an idea for what I think will be a very interesting short story. My goal here is to use the principles that I’m learning from Howey, Penn, Brooks and others and craft an awesome short story using the new approach and see how that goes.

Thanks for reading.

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