Writing tips from Ben Bova. Well worth a look.

Two of the more useful tips:

A fictional story consists of a character struggling to solve a problem. Nothing more. And nothing less.

In other words, you start out with a problem for the protagonist to solve. Do not solve that opening problem until you have created at least two more. Your story should be a chain of promises, a series of interlinked problems that the protagonist must solve.

I think my stories have often suffered from violating the second tip, where I haven’t given the characters enough problems and have solved them too soon, leaving them with twiddling their thumbs and drinking coffee for a while before the next problem arrives.

Also, the plan for the next week or so is to get Tartarus up for sale and finish the second draft of Horror Movie; I think it’s mostly there, but the ending still needs a rethink and there’s a lot of tidying to do before that.


One of Vonnegut’s rules of writing:

Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

And it’s true. You don’t understand characters by seeing what they do when the world is happy and fluffy all around them, you understand those characters by seeing what they do when brain-eating zombies are marching towards their grandmother; do they run away and live, or do they run to help and risk death? Or what do they do after watching those zombies eat their grandmother because they did nothing?

Of course there are limits; it takes the right kind of sadism to fit the story. If your characters are repeatedly being raped by monkeys then the readers may be spending more time trying to figure out quite how perverse the author’s mind is than concentrating on the characterisation.


Horror Movie is in the last stretch, with about 9,000 words written this weekend; it’s been a long slog but I sat down and reoutlined it and then started working on completing the end. It’s a long way from done, but the second draft should be finished this week and I can revise it after that. Not sure whether it will be ready by Halloween, but I’ll try.

Doing some final tidying on Tartarus, then I’m going to put it up this weekend or thereabouts unless I get any more reader feedback beforehand.

Next step is a tossup between finishing Hell Hounds, Year Zero and Highgate Horror. Or maybe all three.

Publishers swoop in

A number of people on blogs and web forums have posted a strange idea that in the future trade publishers are going to wait for new authors to prove themselves through self-publishing, and then swoop down offering big advances to scoop up all the popular authors.

I don’t get it.

Suppose I was selling 100,000 novels a year at $2.99 with 70% royalties; I’d be banking $200k a year and pretty damn happy with the way my life was going. So Big Publisher swoops in and says they want my next and future books.

‘OK, what’s the deal?’

‘We’ll give you 25% royalties on the 70% royalties that Amazon pay.’

‘Uh-huh. So I’m making 70% royalties now and I should sign up with you because you’re offering 17%?’

Kind of a killer argument, don’t you think?

If self-publishers are going to sign with trade publishers then those trade publishers must offer something that the self-publishers can’t do themselves. Today that’s obvious: self-publishers can’t get print books into many bookstores so releasing a book through a trade publisher could reach many more readers. Right now I’d be more than happy to take a million dollar advance and get my books into bookstores, though I can’t see any publisher turning up to offer that deal to me any time soon.

But with more and more book-stores going out of business, that’s not going to be a convincing argument for long. If e-books take over most of the book market, then a trade publisher has to convince me that they’re going to make more than four times as much money selling my e-books as I can.

The only ways I can see to do that are to increase the price, push the book with marketing, or a combination of the two. Now, I can increase the price of my books myself without paying someone 75% of the royalties to do so, hence the only real attraction I could see in a post-print world is marketing. Economies of scale might make that cheaper for a dedicated publisher than a self-publisher, and the self-publisher wouldn’t have to pay for the marketing up front.

But is that really enough justification to pay them three times as much as I make for actually writing the book in the first place, and do so forever even when it’s no longer the hot new book that everyone wants to read?

I still don’t get it.

Horror Movie

Horror Movie has been sitting around 50,000 word for a while as I revise the first two thirds; I’ve cut out a few thousand words and the rest has expanded to fill the gaps as I’ve added more foreshadowing and subplots. I think it’s an improvement.

I’m about half-way through those revisions and then the plan is to get the complete second draft finished by the end of the month so I can tidy up the plot and then do some cleanup before uploading it next month.

The Joy of SSDs

My new home server has an SSD as the boot disk, though that turned out a little disappointing as it gets from the BIOS to fully booted in about five seconds but takes more like fifteen to get through the BIOS boot sequence.

I bought an Intel 320 because I have two other systems with Intel SSDs and they were reasonably priced, decently fast and very reliable. Unfortunately it turns out that the 320 shipped with a firmware bug where it will randomly decide it’s only 8MB in size and requires a complete wipe to recover. Intel really let us down this time.

I just upgraded the firmware to a version which is supposed to fix that, though some people have reported still hitting the problem after upgrading. It turned out to be surprisingly painless and the server is back up and running so hopefully it’s going to continue doing so.

Almost there

Final version of Tartarus has gone out to readers, so once I got their responses back for any final tweaks it’ll be time to upload.

Now I need to get Horror Movie done; I have everything except the antagonists’ demise worked out — other than that it somehow involves a rusty Ford Capri — so I need to get writing.