Re: Ask the Editor

#81

NovelNinja Wrote:
meili Wrote: You didn't say anything about the title. Is it okay if I don't use a comma? It kinda looks ugly on the cover with a comma. No one has complained, so it should be fine?

I did, but it was an earlier post. You said you liked Villain Rescue Service. If you're keeping the original, then you don't need to add a comma if you don't want to.


Thank you!

My peers who have done Amazon publishing for the light novel/manga crowd have advised me to use my current title. If it doesn't work, I can always change the title since Amazon apparently allows that.  peoapproval From what I can tell, my title is able to attract clicks on RR which is all that really matters on this website. The same thing might work on Amazon and keeping the same title might also work well to funnel my current readers to Amazon.

But that was only on Amazon. Their number one advice was to not rely on Amazon and use Patreon instead. 

Re: Ask the Editor

#82

NovelNinja Wrote: Thank you. :) I've been considering reposting my social media posts as a narrative on Royal Road; I have amusing little script-format vignettes where our first son (under the name Munchkin) talks in full sentences about being a baby.

For example:

Munchkin: "Father, I am feeling philosophical."
Me: "Really? About what?"
Munchkin: "Everything."
Me: "That narrows it down."
Munchkin: "You see, everything is wrong with the world."
Me: "That is certainly philosophical."
Munchkin: "I'm quite upset about it."
Me: "I can tell."
Munchkin: "In fact, I think I would like to rant about it. For hours."
Me: "Would you like me to carry you while I walk in circles and sing 'Fields of Athenry' to you?"
Munchkin: "That will be temporarily acceptable."

Of course, part of the issue is that many of them come with images and video, and that's hard to put on here. :)


OHMAGAH! That is so cute. When my boy was feeling 'philosophical' as a munchkin, he got show tunes sung to him. Pennies from Heaven was a favorite. That was mainly because Mom likes Old Time movies, and musicals were big on AMC back then. 

When Little Sister was born, I got stuck with handling most of the late night baby discursives. That's cuz by that time, Mom got used to sleeping through such folderol, and since I never really sleep much anyway, Little Sister would dispense unto me her displeasantries against the world. 

So she got Alt-rock pop songs sung to her. The first and thus most often sung by me to her was Matchbox 20's Bright Lights because it was what was in my head when she decided the whole world ought to wake up one night and listen to her 'philosophize.' 

And now I know some day she is going to move out on her own, and maybe she'll get married, and we will have them play that song, and everyone will wonder why I'm bawling my dumb brains out. 

🎵🎶She got out of town 
🎶On a railway New York bound.
🎵🎶Took all except my name.
🎵Another alias on Broadway.🎶

...

I think maybe I'll just start praticing my bawling for her now. 😭

Re: Ask the Editor

#83
Go with the advice of those who know the market, Meili.

ArDeeBurger, I'm usually the one dealing ith infant philosophy. My wife had no real prior experience even changing diapers, while I have years of experience with other people's kids. I never thought it unusual until my editing mentor saw me change her then-youngest without being asked; she was busy, the baby needed changing, I knew where the supplies were, I was twiddling my thumbs -- why not? But she said she'd never seen a childless bachelor do something like that.

I've also had plenty of experience figuring out tricks. I've got a very deep voice, and kids find that comforting. I'm tall; kids find that amusing. I even know how to do basic infant massage. Most of the time, Munchkin is a wonderful little guy; he's 18 months old, but thinks it's his job to throw away his own diapers. He's high maintenance, but not a terror, and usually minds me when I tell him to do something.

We're hoping to switch up the working situation after we move, but we'll see. If I'm not around at the end of this month, that's what we're working on. 

Re: Ask the Editor

#84
Yeah. Me too, about the parenting. I do all the heavy lifting. I'm just better at it, is all. Plus I really like kids. Not so much in the 'Let's roll around and act silly' way, but more in the 'Here is something I know that you ought to know as well.' I at times find it amazing how little some people know, especially about how to do things. 

I also realize that -- just like everyone else -- kids like to have choices. I always give them choices, of what to do or eat or think. It really bonds them to you. It also helps them learn how their acts have consequences. 😲

Re: Ask the Editor

#85

NovelNinja Wrote:
Astra Wrote: Hello, can you check my story too?
I definitely need writing advice on my blurb... or maybe also the first chapter of my story?
Thanks in advance.

Your current blurb is:

What would you do if you suddenly got transported to another world? Become a legendary hero? Make a harem? Heck, even building an ever-lasting empire?

Anyone would have dreamed of going to another world, free from all the troubles that the real world presents. But who said the other world was any easier?

This was a story of a certain programmer student — Vincent — as he got transported to another world, filled with strange powers without even a single cheat, except some modern devices with him.


Your offered hooks are good, but yes, you do need a little help on presentation. You're doing a good job at giving the audience the idea that this is an isekai, but not an overpowered cultivation or litRPG. The problem here is that you aren't telling the audience anything more than a really lengthy elevator pitch. The entire blurb could be cut down to It's a high fantasy isekai where the main character doesn't get any mystical advantages. That's an excellent pitch, and you should use some sort of variant of that in your signature rather than your current blurb (just don't copy Tynian's pitch for Journey of a Scholar, which if I recall is The isekai where the hero gets no cheats).

I don't get much from your first chapter on how to tweak the blurb (and I'll get to my critique of said chapter in a moment), so here's my attempt based solely on what I have now. I can't write the best blurb for you without knowing more about your story and whether there's anything stronger to hook.

Vincent, a graduate student from Earth, has been transported to another world filled with strange powers and fantastic monsters. Ideally, this would be the start of his journey to become a legendary hero, build an everlasting empire, and gather a personal harem.

Unfortunately, Vincent is just a programming student with no mystical advantages, special abilities, or cheats. All he has is what's in his head and what he was carrying when he arrived.

No one said this new world would be easy . . .


The main issue with this version is that the last line makes it sound like he is going to become a legendary hero, forge and empire, and gather a harem. I don't know where the story is going, so if that isn't the case then you shouldn't use this blurb.

The advantages of the new version, though, and why I offer it as an example, is that you start with the character and the basic situation, and then you get the ironic reversal of the typical isekai tropes. Blurbs usually benefit from a subtle version of the old cliched sales pitch but wait, there's more! -- because a blurb is a sales pitch, and it's a cliche for a reason.

Now, as to your first chapter, the main issue it suffers from is, I assume, that you're not a native English speaker. I have some advice on that in another thread. Since both you and your character are programming students, I'll also add a reading suggestion of Wizard's Bane by Rick Cook. That book is probably the definitive "programmer defeats evil" isekai.

The next major issue is that I don't see a reason for the double flashback format with what I've read, and you don't want to throw off a reader with your first chapter. You start off with something completely inside the main character's head (meaning no context on his surroundings), then flash back to being on Earth without any real plot development, and then jump to the new world. That's when you should really start the story. If there's something that absolutely has to be explained by showing him on Earth, then it's not obvious in the current version.


Thank you for your advice, just a quick question:
Should I keep the first sentence? Or just start with yours?

What would you do if you suddenly got transported to another world? Become a legendary hero? Make a harem? Heck, even building an ever-lasting empire?
Vincent, a graduate student from Earth, has been transported to another world filled with strange powers and fantastic monsters. Ideally, this would be the start of his journey to achieve all of those.
Unfortunately, Vincent is just a programming student with no mystical advantages, special abilities, or cheats. All he has is what's in his head and what he was carrying when he arrived.
No one said this new world would be easy . . .
“Who needs a cheat?! As a modern man and a programmer, I’ll find a way.” What he was about to say, but endless trouble would force him into becoming a Dungeon Master of a certain new dungeon.
“Fuck it! I’ll conquer the world, uncover the secrets of this world, and ultimately find my way back home!”
“Yes, Master. Your will is our command. We will initiate the world domination phase.”
“W-Wait— I didn’t mean it literally!”
What brought him to this world? What secret does this world possess? Follow Vincent’s journey as he uncovers all these secrets! And… conquer the world, perhaps?


Vincent, a graduate student from Earth, has been transported to another world filled with strange powers and fantastic monsters. Ideally, this would be the start of his journey to become a legendary hero, build an everlasting empire, and gather a personal harem.
Unfortunately, Vincent is just a programming student with no mystical advantages, special abilities, or cheats. All he has is what's in his head and what he was carrying when he arrived.
No one said this new world would be easy . . .
“Who needs a cheat?! As a modern man and a programmer, I’ll find a way.” What he was about to say, but endless trouble would force him into becoming a Dungeon Master of a certain new dungeon.
“Fuck it! I’ll conquer the world, uncover the secrets of this world, and ultimately find my way back home!”
“Yes, Master. Your will is our command. We will initiate the world domination phase.”
“W-Wait— I didn’t mean it literally!”
What brought him to this world? What secret does this world possess? Follow Vincent’s journey as he uncovers all these secrets! And… conquer the world, perhaps?

And thank you for reviewing my first chapter. It's not so useful indeed, the flashback on the Earth, but it does give him a bit of background story and things to regret for, which he did. But it's true that it might be a bit lengthy... so any advice to trim it down?

Re: Ask the Editor

#86
I'm nearing the midway point of my story (120k words, yeezus) and I look over my writing and one area I know I lack as a writer is drawing emotional connections and descriptive connections between characters, events, and evening the setting to a degree. This sort of stems from a personal problem I have as a person (and some past trauma that shaped me this way) who just isn't good at emotions both IRL and in media.

I know this tends to fall more under subjective editing, but do you have any advice for someone who finds the emotional portions of their writing lacking? Or do you have any advice for someone looking for an editor who does more subjective editing?

I have this goal that I want to turn my story into an audiobook, and I've already started reaching out to people regarding other aspects of my writing and this is pretty much the next step so I can finish the last half of the story before I go try and find an editor for the entire manuscript when its finished so I can get it to "audiobook" quality.

Re: Ask the Editor

#87

Astra Wrote: Thank you for your advice, just a quick question:
Should I keep the first sentence? Or just start with yours?

The issue I have with the original is that you're switching perspective. It begins with second person and then switches to third. That can throw people off. The best way to include it is to have it be shorter, and obviously separated by some formatting element such as italics or a line. 

That said, if you're adding in the anime-style "preview" element, it might work. Sadly, I'm not much of an expert in anime-style, so I'm not sure what you'd need to do to fix that. You may get better results by going to the Assistance subforum and asking for more eyes on it, but you'll need to tell them what kind of theme and tone you're setting. 

The additional dialog does tell me more about what's supposed to happen to him, though, and I'm not sure your hook is going to be "no cheats." If this is effectively a dungeon core story, that's an inherent supernatural advantage. You'll want to keep that in mind when you're selling the topic to potential readers. 
B.A. Wrote: I'm nearing the midway point of my story (120k words, yeezus) and I look over my writing and one area I know I lack as a writer is drawing emotional connections and descriptive connections between characters, events, and evening the setting to a degree. This sort of stems from a personal problem I have as a person (and some past trauma that shaped me this way) who just isn't good at emotions both IRL and in media.

I know this tends to fall more under subjective editing, but do you have any advice for someone who finds the emotional portions of their writing lacking? Or do you have any advice for someone looking for an editor who does more subjective editing?

I have this goal that I want to turn my story into an audiobook, and I've already started reaching out to people regarding other aspects of my writing and this is pretty much the next step so I can finish the last half of the story before I go try and find an editor for the entire manuscript when its finished so I can get it to "audiobook" quality.

I have lots of advice. Some background first, though. 

I've got both an advantage and a handicap in this. As I've mentioned a few times, I'm a high-functioning autistic. Autism is primarily a processing disorder where you have trouble filtering out things that other people can ignore. For example, if you're in a crowded room and everyone's talking, you have to concentrate to pick out a particular voice. Autistics either have an unusually hard time doing that, or simply can't. High-functioning autistics, those who are sufficiently high-functioning to be out in noise like that in the first place, usually learn to read lips just as a coping mechanism. I had to do that just to socialize in a school cafeteria.

I learned to (mostly) relate to others through two means. One was studying stand-up comedy. Other than one time in college (at Freshman Haz-- I mean, Orientation Night), I have never actually done stand-up comedy; what I was looking for wasn't so much about telling jokes effectively but rather understanding what made people tick. Stand-up is, to put a sinister-sounding spin on it, is all about manipulation. You're trying to lead the audience to a conclusion without them realizing where you're going, so that when you spring the punchline on them it's all the funnier because it's unexpected. Sometimes you want to poke the bear a bit and make them a little angry so the humorous reversal is better (especially in political humor, where the humor plays on knee-jerk expectations). Other times you want them to feel sympathetic, because if they feel a connection to you then they'll laugh more easily. Understanding all these meant that I could apply them to normal conversation, so people who knew me after this self-directed study had normally no clue that there was anything atypical about me. 

The other means took a little longer to understand. Through a combination of factors I won't go into but partially includes my autism, I'm naturally very good at reading faces. If you've seen Lie to Me, then that's what I do. It's not magically accurate like in the show, but the average person's perception is no better than a coin flip; true experts are around 80% accurate or higher. The show is excellent for demonstrating how it works, but I have trouble watching it because the show tells me "pay attention to the expressions" and so I can't do my normal practice of trying to ignore my instincts; so I automatically try to read the actors' faces and get the wrong result, because they're acting. It's frustrating, so I have trouble with it. But I do like pulling up clips from the show for my students to talk about how people act out their emotions, and a couple of weeks ago I even had the time to go through a lengthy "try to tell me what this person is feeling" exercise using the show's title sequence. Again, it's not magic; and the closer my own emotions are tied to the subject, the less accurate I am. It does, however, give me a leg up in describing how people will act. 

So let's bring this back to your topic. Emotionally connecting to others isn't what you need so much as observing how they act in normal situations. So don't focus on your own issues. Just look at their behavior. Get a book on spotting lies or reading faces. Get a copy of The Emotion Thesaurus. Find someone who's good at theater acting (preferably a teacher) and ask them for advice on communicating body language; the reason why I specified theater is that in order to communicate to a live audience you have to make certain the people in the back understand what you're projecting as well as the people in the front can. Theater acting is exaggerated, so it makes for a good way to learn how a normal person would act more subtly. 

Above all, refrain from simply telling the audience that someone is irritated, happy, sad, afraid, disgusted, etc. You communicate it through body language, word choice, and timing. A few days ago, I wrote a quick off-the-cuff example of how to do pauses in a conversation for another thread; take a look at it, and see how none of the narration directly tells you what they're feeling. (The stand-in dialog does, but that's deliberate to show how the dialog doesn't matter for this example.) 

When doing that for yourself, The Emotion Thesaurus will be your best friend. Even with all my real-world skill, I will still refer to it a lot. It's probably my most-used single editing resource. It's definitely my wife's most-used writing resource; she wrote a sci-fi police procedural that would have been impossible without it, even with my help. Any book on spotting lies will help as well; I bought You Can Read Anyone precisely so I could have it on hand for clients and students, but just about any competent book on the subject will help because they go over the same stuff. If you want to get really into it, then you'll want Paul Ekman's stuff, as he's the one who invented the science that the show Lie to Me is based on. (Also a consultant on Inside Out, just incidentally.) 

Finally, while you didn't specifically ask for audiobook advice, I haven't found a better single source on the subject than this blog post. Writing is an art, not a science; and writing for audio is multilayered art. Everything I have ever advised people on for this topic is in that post, and a few other tips as well. 

Re: Ask the Editor

#89
Hey there! I started writing a year ago and just started a rewrite when I saw the Writathon coming up. 
I think my synopsis is ok, but I want to cut part of the first 3 chapters. 

They are used to introduce the characters and the first real action chapter is chap 4.

On one side, I accept that the first chapters should be thrilling.

On the other side, I had a lot of comments like "holy shit, I didn't anticipate that at all" after the 4th chapter.

From your experience, would it be better to cut everything that isn't absolutely necessary for the story or better to create a halfway calm atmosphere and slowly build up the tension before the climax to get the above reaction from the readers?

On one side it might cause readers to drop the book prematurely and on the other side the readers who get there will be pleasantly surprised or shocked (both being good for me).

Re: Ask the Editor

#90

NovelNinja Wrote: I have lots of advice.



Sorry for the late response, I just got off 4x12 hour days, it's hard to write thoughtful responses working that schedule.

Thank you for all the information :)

I'm not autistic myself, I just spent 2 years in a stressful work/personal environment that basically killed my ability to feel deeper emotions. It makes it hard to relate to how a character should feel in a given situation, and then express that emotion to the reader, when I literally cannot grasp the emotion myself. It's an area of my writing I've intentionally been neglecting and I want to start strengthening it.

I definitely appreciate the link to the emotional thesaurus, that's actually square on the head what I was looking for. I ended up picking up a few of the other books in the series :)

And thanks for the blog on writing for audio. There's definitely some stuff in there I hadn't considered.

I don't expect you to remember, but a while back I posted a thread asking for username suggestions for the project I'm working on. I used a few of your names and worked with your advice there. Thanks again for that, too :)

Re: Ask the Editor

#91
RanahAlmaze Wrote: "There are no good people in this world, only bad ones and those who are slightly better at hiding their evil side."

At nineteen, Aurora Everton is the youngest queen Chowana has ever known. It's not easy for her, with the sinister Wise Lady and the arrogant Elite who do everything they can to remove her from the throne. When accused of murdering her only ally, she is forced to ask for help from the last person she wanted to see.

At nineteen, Ruben Lanceton doesn't want anything to do with Chowana's royal family. Four years ago, he had to make a terrible choice for which he still pays the price. When asked to help an old acquaintance to finally buy his freedom, he is at the mercy of the last person he wanted to see.

Two enemies, broken in their own way. To save their future, they have to face the past they both so badly wanted to forget.

The first thing I noticed is your use of proper nouns. "Wise Lady" and "the Elite" feel very generic and almost middle grade in tone. (If you don't know, middle grade or MG is a story intended for pre-teens, and at a maturity level below that of young adult or YA.)

Second, your character introductions end almost identically: "the last person she/he wanted to see." That's repetitive. We repeat things a lot in spoken English, but even there it sounds stupid. Try not to do so in prose fiction, because we're less forgiving when it's written down and supposedly well-crafted. I always make a big deal about that in manuscripts, and the authors always figure out why it matters by halfway through the edit. Even if you're not writing for an audiobook, you should expect your book to be read out loud and craft it accordingly. Repetition should be reserved for deliberate use.

As for the story, you may want to narrow down what it's about. Is this political intrigue? A murder mystery?
D.C.Veiling Wrote: I think my synopsis is ok, but I want to cut part of the first 3 chapters. 

They are used to introduce the characters and the first real action chapter is chap 4.

On one side, I accept that the first chapters should be thrilling.

On the other side, I had a lot of comments like "holy shit, I didn't anticipate that at all" after the 4th chapter.

From your experience, would it be better to cut everything that isn't absolutely necessary for the story or better to create a halfway calm atmosphere and slowly build up the tension before the climax to get the above reaction from the readers?

On one side it might cause readers to drop the book prematurely and on the other side the readers who get there will be pleasantly surprised or shocked (both being good for me).

I remember looking at your story when I first arrived.

First chapters don't have to be thrilling; they need to be interesting. What draws your audience in needs to be as close to the beginning as possible.

Take The Hobbit. It starts with a scene of ordinary life, but then moves to the interesting very quickly. It can't start with something thrilling because that would skip over very necessary moments -- not mere introductions, though there's plenty of that, but rather essential character moments that set up the entire journey. Without the dinner party that takes up most of the first chapter, we wouldn't be able to appreciate how much Bilbo grows by the end.

If you have essential character moments, then keep the first chapters or trim them to emphasize those moments. If they aren't essential, then they'll weigh the story down.
B.A. Tucker Wrote: Sorry for the late response, I just got off 4x12 hour days, it's hard to write thoughtful responses working that schedule.

Thank you for all the information :)

I'm not autistic myself, I just spent 2 years in a stressful work/personal environment that basically killed my ability to feel deeper emotions. It makes it hard to relate to how a character should feel in a given situation, and then express that emotion to the reader, when I literally cannot grasp the emotion myself. It's an area of my writing I've intentionally been neglecting and I want to start strengthening it.

I definitely appreciate the link to the emotional thesaurus, that's actually square on the head what I was looking for. I ended up picking up a few of the other books in the series :)

And thanks for the blog on writing for audio. There's definitely some stuff in there I hadn't considered.

I don't expect you to remember, but a while back I posted a thread asking for username suggestions for the project I'm working on. I used a few of your names and worked with your advice there. Thanks again for that, too :)

I do remember that, and I believe your story is somewhere buried in my Read Later list. (Too bad I can't categorize the list.)

From your mention of "4x12 hour days," with your description of its effects, I can guess what your job is in a broad category. Don't worry about it. I have a much less stressful job and I still have trouble with thoughtful responses on a timely manner.

I'm glad the links helped. I keep meaning to write a guide to resources I recommend. Life is just busy right now, and deadlines are looming.

Re: Ask the Editor

#92
Reading through this has been really helpful ^.^ It’s so kind of you to offer your time and knowledge!

I have a question as well, in general and regarding my current story. I always think about who my narrator is and what they would notice or consider important enough to mention, because I dislike when information feels forced or unnatural. Usually I can plan for this to ensure that the necessary world-building is still present, but in my current story I changed the beginning and ending several times and shifted the perspective. As a result, I worried that readers have enough information at the beginning and I cheated by putting it in the blurb >.<

Help @[email protected]

Re: Ask the Editor

#93

Moonweave Wrote: Reading through this has been really helpful ^.^ It’s so kind of you to offer your time and knowledge!

I have a question as well, in general and regarding my current story. I always think about who my narrator is and what they would notice or consider important enough to mention, because I dislike when information feels forced or unnatural. Usually I can plan for this to ensure that the necessary world-building is still present, but in my current story I changed the beginning and ending several times and shifted the perspective. As a result, I worried that readers have enough information at the beginning and I cheated by putting it in the blurb >.<

Help @[email protected]

I see what you mean. Your blurb definitely dumps a lot of information. Where in that sequence does the story start?


If you're concerned about missing information, go through the story and make a list of everything that you feel might not be set up. Then make a list of the points where that information is essential to the audience's understanding. After that, make a list of which characters might cover that in their perspectives.

You've got the right idea, but your blurb (and first words) should be focused on selling your story. You do need to let the audience know what it's about, but give just enough to intrigue rather than weigh down. 

Re: Ask the Editor

#94
NovelNinja,

First of all, love, love, love the name. Awesome. Second, I'm really enjoying reading all your advice.

I'm looking for recommendations for resources.

1. You know those great moments in books where the author makes you laugh, cry, or get goose bumps? Have you read (and can recommend) any craft books or articles that really analyze how those are created or, at least, give tips? Do you have any tips?

2. When I wrote my first novel, I thought just making sure that the writing was clear and accessible and that there was lots of tension and that the plot made sense would make for a good book. I later came to understand that making the reader really feel a sense of ... satisfaction? not sure of the best word, but really digging the book instead of just reading it ... came more from the story structure. I had a lot better success at achieving what I wanted when I followed basic Heroes Journey or 3 Act Structure plot outlines. Any thoughts on a proper structure for progression based LitRPG? Or even better, any resources you know that really dig deep into why plot structure resonates with readers?

Thanks.

Brian

Re: Ask the Editor

#95

bwfoster78 Wrote: NovelNinja,

First of all, love, love, love the name. Awesome.

Thank you. It actually stems from my college days, when I insisted I wasn't a grammar Nazi, I was a grammar ninja. I've never been a stickler for the kind of grammar rules that dominate academia, because language simply doesn't work like that. Academic English is the way it is in large part because English is frankly terrible at specificity and philosophy, and therefore academia has particular rules to help offset those drawbacks. Putting prose fiction through the same tortured wringer as a peer-reviewed paper will result in the one possessing a similar lack of entertainment value as the other. I joked that I preferred "ninja" because Nazis are loud and obnoxious, while ninjas are silent and articulate.

Considering my pre-handicapped martial arts skills, climbing ability, and demonstrated aptitude for people not noticing a nearly two-meter towering figure standing immediately behind them, there are other reasons why "ninja" got applied as well. ;) Regardless of the real origin, it's been an associated real-world word for me for decades.

bwfoster78 Wrote: You know those great moments in books where the author makes you laugh, cry, or get goose bumps? Have you read (and can recommend) any craft books or articles that really analyze how those are created or, at least, give tips? Do you have any tips?

That's pretty tricky. No specific books or articles off the top of my head, at least for writing. However, the more you understand psychology, the more you'll figure out how to manipulate your audience. Good writing is always about manipulation; you want your audience to think the right thing at the right moment, conning them into looking over here at the flashy thing while you're sticking a twist up the other side of the page. So, when I say "psychology," I don't mean a Psychology 101 text book. I mean real world psychology, whether you're in sales, the arts, or community outreach. Know what makes people tick.

The best single source is just to study stand-up comedy. Pay attention to not just when people laugh, but why. Is it sudden? How did the comedian trick the audience into not seeing that punchline coming? If the comedian has to change tactics because of an interruption, how do they recover? How does the comedian create a bridge from one topic to the next to give the impression of one large and natural conversation with the audience?

When I lecture (and I'll probably open them up for Royal Road over Zoom or Skype or something eventually), I frequently use stand-up techniques. It's a way to command attention in the classroom and relax the students so they are more receptive to learning. Humorous moments in a novel have the same kind of point: you want the audience to empathize with both the characters and the author.

Beyond stand-up, though, any kind of performance engages in manipulating audience expectations; it's just a matter of knowing the rules. One example is puppetry and ventriloquism, where even though the audience is fully aware that the puppet is a lifeless doll they can still attribute a distinct personality and even skill to the puppet's character. A skilled puppeteer can use the movements of the puppet to draw an audience's attention to something in the room (such as suddenly turning and addressing an audience member or someone else on stage, causing eyes to follow where the puppet is “looking” just as if a human had turned his or her head). Another is stage acting, where an actor's speed and delivery might shift to fit the audience's mood, giving them more or less time to react to something based on what he or she hears from their reaction. Even a performance like ballet has a certain shift to it to manipulate the audience, even though it almost never breaks the fourth wall; if the audience knows the rules and conventions, then small tweaks to the choreography can have disproportionate effects.

This is why that old saw “know the rules before you break them” has so much truth to it. I prefer to phrase it as know the conventions because there are very few actual rules to writing, but the sentiment remains. If you understand why things are so commonly done one way, then you have a better understanding of when to use them or lose them for greatest effect. For instance, anyone with a swearing habit knows that the more you use vulgar language, the less impact it has; so as a writing tool to create a mood, it's highly advisable to use vulgar language sparingly, if at all, so that you don't have to reach for ever-greater uses of language to make the same kind of moment.

Above all, keep one thing in mind: applicability. Once you know how most of your audience might react, you can focus on how to make those moments applicable to that audience. I was looking at comments on a non-English music video the other night, and one focused on a single line from the song that the commenter called “cross-cultural poetry” because it was so widely applicable, even though the song was aimed at the band's own culture. Or, for a personal anecdote, Brandon Sanderson's Elantris is eminently applicable to anyone with chronic pain or who knows someone with chronic pain, which is a pretty sizable chunk of his normal audience; I'm not ashamed to say that, while reading that book in a wheelchair, I cried for the fact that something I experienced every day was so beautifully described. (And I still teared up just now, from merely remembering that moment.)

Bringing it back to stand-up comedy, applicability is what makes all the best comedians stand out. They look for what's most common in their audience. They don't go far afield to explain esoteric concepts, unless they can relate it to something normal in a funny way. Take Gabriel Iglasias' description of the commonalities between Mexicans and Indians. “Mexicans love tortillas; Indians love naan bread, which is a fluffier form of a tortilla. Most popular drink in Mexico? Fanta. Most popular drink in India? Fanta. Indians worship cows; Mexicans love barbecue!” Here he relates it to something familiar to his audience each time, but reverses the order on the punchline (equating a religious practice with food).

Similarly, the most memorable moments in SF&F are the ones most applicable to the audience. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy bantering on the bridge, because everyone likes having that kind of moment with their friends. The Avengers in the first movie assembling in a circle to face down the enemy when no one else can, because we all want to think we could do the same. The moment Frodo can't walk any farther and Sam carries him, because we've all wanted to be there for a friend in need. The confrontation with Greedo in the cantina, because (except for George Lucas) we all know that there are moments when the only way to deal with someone threatening you is to shut them down before it gets worse. These moments are familiar, because they're eminently human.

bwfoster78 Wrote: When I wrote my first novel, I thought just making sure that the writing was clear and accessible and that there was lots of tension and that the plot made sense would make for a good book. I later came to understand that making the reader really feel a sense of ... satisfaction? not sure of the best word, but really digging the book instead of just reading it ... came more from the story structure. I had a lot better success at achieving what I wanted when I followed basic Heroes Journey or 3 Act Structure plot outlines. Any thoughts on a proper structure for progression based LitRPG? Or even better, any resources you know that really dig deep into why plot structure resonates with readers?

Well, story structure works because of how our brains work. I've got a presentation on that, and summing up fifty minutes of convention panel time or two hours of classroom time (I can go into more detail with the students, even though it's the same PowerPoint) in a quick post is a bit tricky. Suffice to say that structure is not the source of the satisfaction or the entertainment, any more than a spoon is the source of your soup or a hammer the source of a nail. It's a delivery device, nothing more. If you don't use the delivery device skillfully, then it doesn't matter how good the real source is; you wind up with a mess. If you use it expertly, it can make a good source better.

Three act structure has been around since at least 2,500-ish years ago, and is found in every major culture and probably most of the smaller cultures around the world. The nuances change and shift a lot; modern Western three-act mostly got firmed up in the 20th century, though there were plenty of developments before that (such as live performances with ten-minute intermissions creating the modern concept of the midpoint). Japanese three-act (jo-ha-kyu) is based on a very different cultural rhythm but is built on that same fundamental human psychology.

The Hero's Journey isn't a plot structure, and fortunately many people have stopped treating it like it was; but when I started out, it was still a big “alternative to three-act!” scam. Part of that stems from the guy who codified the first version, Joseph Campbell. Campbell was one of those guys who claimed to be using science who should be an object lesson on how not to do science. Without going into huge detail, he set out to prove his conclusions, and so cherry-picked his evidence for the universal story and the universal human shared-conciousness. The fact that he wound up with something almost usable is more a tribute to fundamental human psychology than any proof that all stories were effectively the same story because we all dream the same dreams.

In another presentation I have, I go through how to use Hero's Journey as a character tool for heroic stories; it isn't good for all stories (go on, try to write a suburbia romance with Hero's Journey), and it can only work if the hero experiences growth toward a clearly moral end accepted by the intended audience. However, to make it work for fiction, you really have to either selectively edit Campbell or go through his stuff to figure out where his biases took him and work backward from there.

Now, as to the why of structure and its effect on the audience, that's a complicated topic and I'm not personally aware of any sources that delve into it. I'd love to sit down and write it someday, but someone's probably done it ten times over. My own knowledge of the subject is distilled from an enormous array of sources from Aristotle to Lajos Egri, as well as many years of personal experience. Best I can do is say to wait for me to prep a workshop for Royal Road denizens and you'll get some of it.

EDIT TO ADD: I forgot to address your specific question of structure for progression-based litRPGs. Now, I'm not terribly experienced with litRPGs or cultivation stories, so this is off-the-cuff guesswork here based on what I have read. 

A progression story seems to fit well in a somewhat episodic structure, where the three-act elements fit into larger wholes similar to how a good GM runs a game. When I GM, I structure the story based on episodes of 3-7 (usually 4-5) sessions each; 2-4 episodes form a chapter; and around 3 or so chapters the characters complete an arc. My longest campaign was 112 sessions, 23 chapters, and 6 arcs; and my wife and I would like to one day turn that into a (regular, non-litRPG, non-progression-based) fantasy story someday. Based on our outline, we estimate that it would take at least six books, possibly eight, with each of the original arcs forming one or two books. 

So, reverse-engineering that for a progression-based story, I'd say that if you had 2-4 2,000-word chapters form the equivalent of one of those sessions, it might work to help you pace the power-progression. Each group of chapters has a three-act structure to it, while each larger group also has more structural detail; that lets you have progressive adventures without it feeling like a linear slog. 

It's after 2 AM, so if that wasn't clear, just tell me and I'll clarify. 

Re: Ask the Editor

#96
NovelNinja,

Regarding the first request, I'm not sure I got any useful action items out of what you wrote. What I've done so far is to try to analyze the structure of scenes that really resonate with me, and try to replicate that. To a limited extent, that works, but I would love to know if someone, somewhere has dove into the process.

Regarding the second request, all I really know about the Heroes Journey is that it seems to work pretty well when used competently. I agree completely that that last part, "used competently," is very important. When it does work, though, it's pretty darn good.

My problem as a reader is that it's hard to find books that are satisfying, so when I do, I try to figure out why one book succeeded when others failed. I also try to understand how that effect can be replicated for my own work.

What I've found in progression based LitRPG is that amateur authors obviously not using any kind of 3 act structure have been able to produce works that I find satisfying. Just as the 3 act structure somehow works with my brain to produce satisfying results, so too does progression in and of itself work for me. For the 3 act structure, though, I can find 8 bazillion books and articles with details on how to make it work. There's practically nothing out there looking at how to make progression work. 

I think part of it is the very act of leveling is so fundamentally enticing. Even playing something as stupid as Pokemon Go with the kids, I admit that getting to the next level can be very motivating. There's just a thrill about it. Some progression based LitRPGs, especially those here on RR, are able to somewhat convey that thrill. Others, like the ones on Amazon that seem to be relying on defeat of the Big Bad, are just flat and unfulfilling for me.

I really wish that someone would lay the groundwork for how to structure progression to the best effect.

Anyway, thank you very much for your response.

Re: Ask the Editor

#97

NovelNinja Wrote:
Moonweave Wrote: Reading through this has been really helpful ^.^ It’s so kind of you to offer your time and knowledge!

I have a question as well, in general and regarding my current story. I always think about who my narrator is and what they would notice or consider important enough to mention, because I dislike when information feels forced or unnatural. Usually I can plan for this to ensure that the necessary world-building is still present, but in my current story I changed the beginning and ending several times and shifted the perspective. As a result, I worried that readers have enough information at the beginning and I cheated by putting it in the blurb >.<

Help @[email protected]

I see what you mean. Your blurb definitely dumps a lot of information. Where in that sequence does the story start?


If you're concerned about missing information, go through the story and make a list of everything that you feel might not be set up. Then make a list of the points where that information is essential to the audience's understanding. After that, make a list of which characters might cover that in their perspectives.

You've got the right idea, but your blurb (and first words) should be focused on selling your story. You do need to let the audience know what it's about, but give just enough to intrigue rather than weigh down.


I thought over it, made a few edits, and I think the information that needed to be added to the story itself is all there now. I might--I no doubt will--go over it a few more times and see if it can be improved, but for the moment it is better. Thank you for the organized instructions ^.^

But my other problem of having no idea how to write a blurb remains >.< Do you mind giving a similar list of what a blurb needs? I read so many before and I read several more in the last couple days. I ranting words about how much I have tried and failed could really use a new perspective.

I don't want someone to write it for me (yet) because I want to succeed at this! ( `・ω・ ´)  

Re: Ask the Editor

#98
bwfoster78 Wrote: Regarding the first request, I'm not sure I got any useful action items out of what you wrote. What I've done so far is to try to analyze the structure of scenes that really resonate with me, and try to replicate that. To a limited extent, that works, but I would love to know if someone, somewhere has dove into the process.


I'm sorry I wasn't able to help. It's butting up against the "art, not science" part of the process. A lot of it is just understanding your audience. There are a lot of books out there that analyze the structure of scenes, but the more someone says they have the right format the more certain I am that I can come up with counter-examples in minutes. The best ones are usually for script writing, but that's a very different beast than prose so you have to be cautious about using them unless and until you learn the nuances.[/quote]
bwfoster78 Wrote: My problem as a reader is that it's hard to find books that are satisfying, so when I do, I try to figure out why one book succeeded when others failed. I also try to understand how that effect can be replicated for my own work.

This is honestly the best way to go about it.
bwfoster78 Wrote: What I've found in progression based LitRPG is that amateur authors obviously not using any kind of 3 act structure have been able to produce works that I find satisfying. Just as the 3 act structure somehow works with my brain to produce satisfying results, so too does progression in and of itself work for me. For the 3 act structure, though, I can find 8 bazillion books and articles with details on how to make it work. There's practically nothing out there looking at how to make progression work.

I think part of it is the very act of leveling is so fundamentally enticing. Even playing something as stupid as Pokemon Go with the kids, I admit that getting to the next level can be very motivating. There's just a thrill about it. Some progression based LitRPGs, especially those here on RR, are able to somewhat convey that thrill. Others, like the ones on Amazon that seem to be relying on defeat of the Big Bad, are just flat and unfulfilling for me.

There's some truth to this, but it's not a structure per se. It's a factor called narrative drive. I know I was talking about it recently on Royal Road, but I don't see it on this page so I'll go through it.

Narrative drive, put simply, is a technique used to garner interest in the narrative by drawing the audience into that which comes next. A soap opera is a very good example of narrative drive. When I was helping out my sister-in-law after she'd had surgery shortly after giving birth, I was over at their apartment a lot during the day while she was watching soaps. I can't stand soaps, but I found myself getting sucked into the story regardless. This was twenty years ago (my niece is going to graduate soon, Heaven help us all), so long before I even thought about becoming an editor, but I had to puzzle it out. The key factor seemed to be that there was a constant anticipation of something that was almost happening, which the writers would dial up and down in order to get tension. It wasn't until I attended a writing workshop run by my mentor (and later client -- she said she knew all along that I'd be good at this) that I learned there was a term for it, and how it shows up in various forms.

This works for soaps because there are always at least two narratives going at the same time. As things happen in one narrative, the tension and anticipation get ramped up in the other narrative even as things slow to a crawl. Then, when the latter narrative starts having things happen, things slow down in the former. If one narrative ends, then it's replaced by a new narrative while the audience is still invested in the one that hasn't yet completed. This way there's a constant rush of wanting to know what happens next, even though things don't seem to happen very fast; and yet it's carefully managed so that you don't risk burn-out from too much anticipation. Another example is A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, where the narrative drive was something keeping interest in the story even though the story was dragging; there, it was through death, as each time someone died you would go "Wait, how do you recover from this?" (I only read the first three books and a bit of the fourth, and I only did that because so many friends were excited about it. I would have dropped it in the second book if it were just my own interest. I knew the tricks and there just wasn't a real story there that I could enjoy. Very little buildup, lots of shocker moments.)

RPGs do this through the anticipation of the next quest. That's why they can get so addictive; and especially in the beginning, when you have a lot of small quests, objectives, or activities to complete that both introduce you to the gameplay but also keep you hungry for just one more. The structure of the quests often follow act-based narratives, though timing can't be guaranteed just because they don't know how long it will take you to get through every single quest.

Successful litRPGs seem to do similar things, and when they break their pattern they often lose audience interest. Here, you have both the opportunity for the soap opera structure of two narratives (with the gaming progression being its own narrative) as well as the quest structure familiar from many RPGs. Even if the litRPG doesn't use System-generated quests, the narratives often act like they do.

So you can absolutely use three-act structure for litRPGs; just be aware that there are other things going on there to help draw in the audience.


Moonweave Wrote: But my other problem of having no idea how to write a blurb remains >.< Do you mind giving a similar list of what a blurb needs? I read so many before and I read several more in the last couple days. I ranting words about how much I have tried and failed could really use a new perspective.

Writing a guide for a blurb is difficult, because it's a sales pitch that depends on both knowing your product (not just the story, but the mood you want to inspire) and knowing your audience (how to get them to get interested and express that mood). I've tried many times, and it's never worked. Web fiction blurbs are also a little different from trad fiction, just because they lead into the first chapter more closely than a trad novel does, and the tags you can pick change how it might be viewed.

What you're looking for is something that gets attention. Look at the tags you selected for the story and determine what you want to focus on the most. Let's say you're writing a litRPG isekai in a fantasy world where the female protagonist has to solve a major murder mystery. The obvious genres are Fantasy and Mystery, and the additional tags of Female Lead, Portal Fantasy/Isekai, and High Fantasy are important as well. Other tags might show up, like Dungeon if that's a factor in the story. If it is, then the Action genre tag is also obvious. However, if the important part of the story is female character isekaied to fantasy litRPG solves murder mystery, then that's what your blurb should focus on. The rest of the tags are just to draw in outliers.

Once you've identified the major elements, look at how you might draw that in for the intended audience. How do you get the litRPG audience interested in the mystery? How do you get the mystery audience interested in the fantasy setting or the litRPG?

Well, you could do a standard "Character is stunned to wind up in a world with screens and stats" intro, but that feels generic. Instead, now that you've narrowed things down, how would you sum up the cool factor for the book? What do you want to use to draw people in? If it's the mystery, then you should start with that even if it's primarily a litRPG book. Don't bury the lede unless you've got something that can really draw them in to the last line of the blurb.

So for this hypothetical, you want to have a blurb that starts with something that signals "mystery genre." Then probably go with a confirmation that yes, it's a litRPG story in a high fantasy world. Then you want to make certain, if you haven't already, that there's a clear stake to the story (often personal to the character). Your last bit should be something that creates anticipation and preferably leads into the very start of your first chapter.

I haven't written a blurb for one of my planned web novels, so let's try that as an exercise. The worldbuilding started as a campaign setting I wrote for a friend going through a tough time. She liked zombie stories, but I didn't want to just do a zombie survival story so I made it a superhero story as well. The same thing that created people with superpowers eventually created a zombie outbreak. I've wanted to write something in that setting for a long time (not a rehash of the game, though some locations might be reused), so I thought it might make a good web novel.

Going through the tags, it's clearly Action, Adventure, Contemporary, and possibly Sci-Fi depending on how you stretch it. The subordinate tags that could fit are Dystopia, Genetically Engineered, Male Lead, Post Apocalyptic, Secret Identity, Strategy, and of course Super Heroes. The most important factors here are to show it's an Adventure story with a Male Lead who's a former Super Hero that has to use Strategy to survive the Post Apocalyptic setting.

So I'd probably have to start with the superhero factor, then immediately mention the apocalypse. I don't necessarily have to mention zombies, because the main draw for the story isn't the outbreak but rather its effects. I might be able to toss in the dystopias, pockets of survivors ruled by strongmen with or without powers. I should end it with some sort of reference to using smarts (the Strategy tag) to not only fight but to rebuild civilization. This would then (theoretically) lead into the first chapter, which starts on the day the outbreak collapsed all social order.

Making blurbs depends a lot on what the story is supposed to be in the first place, and who you're marketing it to. If you were in car sales or real estate, you have to shift your presentation not only based on the car or house but also on the people listening. The same is true of books, but with the handicap that you can't actually be there when the pitch is made to your audience.

Re: Ask the Editor

#100

AeroKaia Wrote: Hey NovelNinja, when you have time, can you give me your opinion on my books chapter one? (deleted my previous post as it was redundant.) And maybe the blurb if you have free time. Appreciate any and all feedback you're willing to give. 

Here's the link:
https://www.royalroad.com/fiction/42357/reapers-kiss

Much thanks, -Kaia

What was your previous post? Did I accidentally skip over a prior request?


I have a very hard time going over present tense fiction. It's nails on a chalkboard for me. The only author I've read that could make me like it was L. A. Meyer, and that was primarily because the book was written in Cockney.

Other than my personal issue, it does look well-written. I just can't tell you much because present tense reads "wrong" to me.