On this blog every Tuesday and Friday I write about story techniques, structure, and/or publishing. Comments and questions are welcome. I also have a personal blog, Amy Deardon, on which I write about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy.

I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research.

My book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story, is now available in both hard-copy and e-book formats. I also coach would-be novelists and screenwriters to develop their story. YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Friday, October 28, 2011

NaNo is Coming

Here it is: the annual challenge from National Novel Writing Month (http://www.nanowrimo.org/) to write 50,000 words in a month.

Like running a marathon, for many years I looked at this goal with awe: sure, it might be possible, but was it likely? Not for me. Finally last year I decided to face my fear head on. I decided that writing 2000 words per day, six days per week, would do the trick. I'd have a few spare non-writing days for those impossible times when the world falls around your ears, and could keep going otherwise. 2000 words is a lot, but it's doable.

And so, I started out. I friended a few people and watched their word outputs: the NaNo site has a graph into which you input your word count every day. Some graphs looked like mine: slow and steady. Others were wild: flat, flat, and then an infusion of 8-10,000 words over the weekend. My brain would fry doing that.

At the end of the month, I found... I'D DONE IT! I had about 53,000 words. Most of it was drivel, mind you, but the only criterion was quantity, and I had that.

And now, it's that time again, starting on Tuesday November 1 through Wednesday November 30th. Things are tougher this year with kiddo stuff, but I'm going to try for it.

I learned while writing my first novel that SOTP (seat of the pants) is not the way to go. Heck, I developed and refined my algorithm (THE STORY TEMPLATE: CONQUER WRITER'S BLOCK USING THE UNIVERSAL STRUCTURE OF STORY) because I didn't want to waste time doing I knew not what. The Template book has more than 100 specific exercises that sequentially help the writer develop all elements of a story, and then combine them.

So for this next month, instead of venturing out on a new story SOTP, I am going to use my algorithm to develop the sequel of A LEVER LONG ENOUGH. Once this is finished, I would like to look for an agent, then find a new home for both of these books. And after that, I have a blockbuster idea for the prequel, entitled NEST AMONG THE STARS, describing a spectacular space station disaster.

If you will be joining me in NaNo, I'd love to be buddies! My handle is Amy_D.

Happy writing.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Lowering Amazon's List Price

Amazon discounts DTBs (dead tree books -- with a real cover and paper pages). However, it doesn't discount all of them.

When my book was released this summer my publisher offered a 50% discount -- this meant that when a store such as amazon bought the book to fulfill orders, they only had to pay the publisher half the retail price of the book. In the industry this is considered typical -- publishers almost always offer a substantial discount to sellers. Since the publisher also pays for printing the book, the net profit to the publisher can potentially be small.

Since the release, my book has been listed on amazon at its full retail price of 15.95, despite this 50% discount. This meant that even though my publisher only received 8.00 and paid much of that money for costs, Amazon took the entire rest of the 8.00 selling price. I wanted amazon to pass on that publisher discount to the buyer in the form of a reduced sale price, so spent over an hour talking with people in customer service who knew NOTHING! They didn't even know who set the prices, much less how I could ask for price changes to be considered.

My friend Grace, who is also a publisher, suggested that I sell the book at a lower price on my website. Amazon has a button on each book listing for which the person can alert amazon the book is selling cheaper -- and amazon who wants to be the lowest seller will bump the price down. Fabulous idea, but sadly for a number of reasons I wasn't able to implement this.

Another friend suggested that I offer the book on Smashwords for any price I want, and since Smashwords feeds into amazon they would also lower their price. This was another super idea except for two reasons: 1. Smashwords offers only e-books, not DTBs. 2. Smashwords holds onto the right to sell the book *forever* -- so any changes of rights, say a different publisher, wouldn't allow someone to remove the book from Smashwords.

I had practically resigned myself to having amazon make eight dollars off of each sale, but in desperation wrote to one other publisher friend and asked him if he knew anything. In the email I misspoke to say my publisher was considering "raising the discount." What I meant to say "lower the discount," from 50% to, say, 20%. The publisher would then keep 80% of the retail book price: 12.80 per book instead of 8.00. Even a 20% discount offered from the publisher will normally result in amazon just charging the retail price. (A lower discount will mean amazon will charge more than retail, since it also needs to make money). By saying the publisher would RAISE the discount I was saying that the publisher would take even less money per sale.

My friend jumped on that and said it was a good thought. He checked through his own catalog (he is a subsidy publisher, so the individuals each choose their own discount) and found that those giving a 55% discount received a discounted price on amazon, whereas anything lower did not get a lower price.


My publisher raised the discount to 55%, and a week later the list price for my book on amazon dropped to 12.44.

No one else, including the printer, publishers, or amazon people, could give me a straight answer, but here it is for anyone trying to figure this problem out: IF YOU WANT AMAZON TO DISCOUNT THE LIST PRICE OF YOUR DTB, HAVE YOUR PUBLISHER OFFER A DISCOUNT OF 55%.

I hope I've just saved you a lot of aggravation.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Protagonist's Core and the Author's Bargain

Protagonist's Core

The trick of the character arc is to strip away the protagonist’s identity so that he can become who he truly is: his core. His identity protects him from exposing this core. The protagonist doesn’t know what he needs to be complete.

You need to ask yourself while forming your story: what sort of life would best suit your protagonist? What choices would he need to make to get there from where he is starting? These are involved questions that take time to work through. Free-write your thoughts. Then, write down in a few words the essence or core of your character.

As a writer, you must be cruel to your protagonist. You are going to offer him the life of his dreams, but the catch is he must give up his identity in order to grab it. Think about the bargain you are going to strike with your protagonist. Give him everything he wants… but only if he gives up his old life. Summarize this bargain in a few words.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Your Protagonist is Afraid of Repeating Something

Your protagonist often has an unhealed source of continuing pain: a wound that occurred before the story began, or perhaps in the prologue. If present, this wound is undeserved. It can be from a single event or, more commonly, an extended situation, and it often occurs during childhood. Because of this wound, your protagonist has fought at great cost to overcome his circumstances from the wound, but he is afraid it may happen again. For example, a character growing up dirt-poor who has "made it" at Wall Street may be deathly afraid of losing his money.

Because of his fear, your protagonist has developed a protective identity that helps him to manage life. This identity is how your character sees himself, and he clings to it in order to define himself to others. Identity can be comprised of age, gender, belief system, job, family—whatever your character thinks is necessary to describe who he is.

A good way to specifically articulate the character’s identity is to explore what the character would not do, or the types of feelings he would not admit to, if it meant he’d have to give up his identity.

Take some time to explore who your protagonist thinks he is. What does he need to keep doing to advance his life in the way it is going? What sorts of thoughts or actions would he never do?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Who is Your Protagonist?

While you may have complex story ideas, it’s important to identify one, and only one, protagonist for your story. The technical definition of the protagonist is that he is the character who most emotionally changes in the story: he learns how to repair an emotional void or need in his life so that he can live more freely. This character change, or arc, describes a journey of fulfillment.

This protagonist will have an emotional HIDDEN NEED that needs to be fixed during the course of the story. This Hidden Need will be related in some way to the overall theme or moral that you want to use for your story. While your story might be about many of your characters, the protagonist will be the one whose story it is.

You need to decide whose story this will be. List all the characters you may want to include in your story, and describe your thoughts around them. How will each change, or will he change? Then look through your list to decide on which character you most want to focus. If there are two (or more) characters that make major changes, that’s okay, but one has to be dominant. Make a choice.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Hidden Need

Over the next few posts I'll go over the components of a character arc, but today want to focus on the skeleton of the character arc: the HIDDEN NEED.

The hidden need is an emotional lack or deep-seated problem that your character must fulfill during the course of your story in order to be fulfilled. For example, the character may suffer from a lack of courage, or an inability to be emotionally close to his girlfriend, or an overspending habit. The hidden need is linked to the moral or theme of your story -- in other words, this hidden need serves as a concrete demonstration of the larger, overall point that you're trying to make.

The hidden need is also considered a "subplot" of sorts in your story -- your hero is pursuing the story goal, but also must wrestle with this problem within the context of solving the big problem.

The hero usually isn't even aware of his problem/hidden need, although others around him are. Often there is a scene near the beginning where a character actually tells the hero he has a problem, which he dismisses.

The hidden need is usually solved in the third quarter of the story. The best stories solve the hidden need in a "triplet" of actions: the hidden need is clearly demonstrated, the hidden need is solved, and the hidden need is demonstrated to be solved in a small action. Often towards or at the climax, the solved hidden need is critical for the hero's triumph.

Stories without a hero's hidden need will fall flat, since the story will only be sustained by outer action. People desire to read stories for emotional fulfillment, and the hidden need is the mechanism to incorporate emotional involvement in your story.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Character Arc Part One

Writers use many techniques to develop a character, and you’ve probably heard of at least a few of these. For example, some writers spend hours working on character questionnaires describing physical characteristics, personality and mannerisms, personal and professional histories, and other information. Writers can develop interrelated character histories, family trees, and bombshell generational secrets. Others might keep a journal in the character’s voice, or conduct in-depth interviews by pretending the character is sitting across the table. Some use a Myers-Briggs or other type of personality analysis. These are all fine, and you should feel free to use any techniques that help you to envision your story people. However, in my opinion the character arc is what makes or breaks the character.

Over the next few entries I'll talk about how to develop this character arc. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Funny Edits

Funny Edits

Here are some fun headlines --


Man Kills Self Before Shooting Wife and Daughter


Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says


Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers


Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over


Miners Refuse to Work after Death


Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant


War Dims Hope for Peace


If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile


Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures


Enfield ( London) Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide


Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges


Man Struck By Lightning: Faces Battery Charge


New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group


Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft


Kids Make Nutritious Snacks


Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half


Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors


Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead