Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Character Arc: Transformation

A deeper look at Katniss Everdeen’s arc in The Hunger Games
B. C. Marine, CAO Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Last week, we examined Han Solo’s growth arc. Now let’s compare Katniss Everdeen arc. Does she grow or transform?

The Expectation

Because there is the show-within-a-show (or more accurately, show-within-a-book) aspect, we get to see how the other characters in the book react to Katniss as a character and respond to her arc, even flat-out discussing it at times. (Thank you Veronica Roth. You made this article easy for me.)
What do all these other characters want to see? A transformation arc. They want to see Katniss become the Mockingjay, to become the heroic embodiment of their rebellion.
There is also a similar expectation with many readers. It’s a young adult (YA) series, and for most of the beginning, it appears to follow the classic hero’s journey: she’s forced to leave home with a mentor and embarks on a series of trials. Classic storytelling has primed audiences to expect such a story to feature a grand transformation where the protagonist becomes the chosen one or an epic hero.

The Outcome

Katniss certainly grows and changes. She better understands her world and her place in it. But does she become the epic hero?
No.
She resists it with every fiber of her being. She lacks the charisma and desire to lead. The spotlight brings out the worst in her lack of social skills. In the games themselves, her biggest tactic is to hide. It’s the ingenuity of those around her that saves everyone in the Quarter Quell, not her heroics. Even in the end, she follows Peeta’s dream to settle and start a family.
That transformation arc isn’t there. Despite all of her mentors and the resistance leaders demanding it, she refuses to become the Mockingjay.

Does It Work?

Just like the characters around Katniss, some readers become frustrated with her lack of transformation. The hero’s journey is centuries old and endlessly popular; audiences are deeply attached to it. Messing with that will always ruffle feathers.
Personally, I love it. I find Katniss far more interesting muddling through life as herself than the icon they wanted her to be.

Next Time


In two weeks, we’ll explore fall arcs, with a focus on Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair. But next week, we have an author interview about A Seer’s Daughter with...me!

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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Character Arc: Growth

An examination of Han Solo and his interrupted growth arc
B. C. Marine, CAO Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Since this article is about character arcs, which includes how characters end up, it will include spoilers for Star Wars Episodes IV-VII and Solo. To clarify my personal bias, I like Star Wars, including The Force Awakens, and Han Solo is a favorite. Though his arc is flawed, he’s still a fun character.
For an overview on arcs in general and their definitions, last week’s article covers the basics of growth, transformation, fall, and flat arcs.

Where It Went Right

In the first film (now called A New Hope), Han has a simple but effective growth arc. When he’s first introduced, he’s a roguish yet charming smuggler who only cares about himself and owns it. He’s cynical about everything: the rebellion, the Force, love. Money is all that matters to him. After his adventure with Luke, where he sees Ben Kenobi using Jedi powers and has a few sparks with Leia, he initially takes the money and runs. Although his turning point isn’t shown, there are moments in his interactions with his companions where his choices are called into question, so when he turns around and joins the final battle, it’s been earned, and shows his growth into a (slightly) less selfish person.
This arc carries into The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. He’s often tempted to return to his old selfish ways, but when his friends are in trouble, he proves himself willing to stick his neck on the line. He becomes more and more invested in the rebellion and falls in love with Leia. By the end of the original trilogy, although he’s still rough around the edges, he’s willing to put his friends and loved ones first and sticks around out of loyalty instead of promised riches.
It’s a classic and well-worn arc that many similar characters have followed. It’s satisfying to watch him become a better man over time.

Where It Went Wrong

In fairness, because Han had a neat arc in the original trilogy, the newer films had a difficult task in adding to what was essentially a complete story for him. Did they pull it off? Well…
Aborted Arc
In The Force Awakens, we find out that Han and Leia married and had a son. Yay! That fits the path he was set on. But then it’s revealed that Han left her to go on his own mission because he couldn’t handle what happened with their son. That’s an enormous step backward for him. He has to be forced back into play by the new characters. This actually regresses him further than where he was in A New Hope. That was two movies and a few decades back, and even then, he turned around on his own.
Okay, so we could say his arc has been turned into a fall arc. Given that it ends with his literal death and fall, that would sound plausible. However, he begins trying to make amends with his family before then, and his death is almost more of a sacrifice, which makes his actions more noble. Notice I say “almost.” He is not the one in control of what happens. The pivotal moment isn’t his choice. It’s Kylo Ren’s decision and the turning point for his arc.
To be clear, the plot choice makes sense. As the start of a new trilogy, the new characters are the focus, so their character arc take precedence. But looking at Han Solo on his own, his story gets unraveled, then cut off before it can be tied back together. When compared to his original arc, it’s clear why many audience members were disappointed beyond just seeing a beloved character die. They were seeing a beloved character unmade.
Reversed Arc
The newest movie, Solo, is the earliest in his timeline. On the surface, it seems to make sense. It’s the story about how he became the jaded smuggler at the start of A New Hope. So the focus is on his descent into that life. He starts off in the same place his characterization ends in The Return of the Jedi: he’s a rogue, but he doesn’t leave anyone behind and is fighting to get back to a woman he loves. After a series of betrayals, he ends up running off in search of riches and being the guy who shoots first.
On its own, it’s not a bad arc. It’s a fall, but that’s a valid type. What makes it a bit odd is how it ties in with the other four movies. The original trilogy makes it clear that his default is selfishness, and he’s growing to overcome it. Even the flawed arc in The Force Awakens hammered that home by having him retreat into it when everything goes wrong. By having him start heroic, Solo undermines the learning he goes through later to become less selfish because he didn’t actually have to learn to be heroic; it was already in him.
The Big Picture
All together, when you look at his arc over five films, he lacks a clear arc. He starts heroic, then falls into selfishness, then grows into heroics again, then is selfish, then sort of halfway makes amends before dying. It’s a bit exhausting! His original trilogy growth arc is easier to follow and decern the point of.

Next Time


Join us next week to look examine transformation arcs through Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Character Arcs

What are they? Why are they important?
B. C. Marine, CAO Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Oh, look. Another article about character arcs. They aren’t hard to find online, so why did I write one? Because they’re too important not to discuss! A character arc gone wrong can destroy an otherwise interesting story. So let’s do something a little different. For the next few weeks, we’re going to look at disappointing character arcs from famous movies and compare them to well-done examples.
If this sounds a little cruel, fear not. This won’t be character bashing time. All these characters are otherwise beloved or well-written. For one, the goal is to learn, not mock. And two, while it’s easy to pick apart a bad character, it won’t tell us much about their arc as a specific story component.
But for today, let’s define what a character arc is and what it does.

Defining the Journey (or Lack Thereof)

Most people are familiar with plot, the external journey and sequence of events that the characters go through. A character arc is like the internal version of a plot. It charts the emotion and personality of a character over the course of a story. There may be some twists and turns along the way, and the journey is different for every character, but when looking at the overall trend, there are four types of arcs. Each of these will be explored deeper over the next few weeks, but here are the basics:
Growth
This is the most common arc in most fiction. The character has glaring flaw at the start of the story, and by the end, they’ve overcome or softened that flaw. They’re a little less selfish or angry, or maybe they’re more optimistic. In children’s fiction, this will be pointed out as the obvious moral of the story, but complex narratives use this arc as well, usually for a more subtle shift.
While it’s seen everywhere, it’s almost a requirement for women’s fiction and romance, where the stories are character-driven and typically positive.
Transformation
Here, the character must fundamentally change to become someone else by the end. This is very similar to a growth arc, and some people might argue that they’re the same thing, however, there are two good reasons to separate them. First, a transformation arc is, by necessity, a massive change, while a growth arc can be slight. A person can grow without completely changing who they are. Second, a transformation isn’t always about a flaw. A character may be a perfectly lovely person at the start of a story but need to become someone else to fill their new role in life.
Transformation arcs are a staple of young adult (YA) fiction and “chosen one” stories. In YA, as the characters come of age and transition into adulthood, they obviously can no longer be who they were as children, a character who is “the chosen one” usually isn’t ready for the responsibility at the start and must transform into someone else to complete their goal.
Fall
This is the arc seen with villains or with the protagonist in tragic tales. It is the opposite of a growth arc. The character may start off not-so-bad or even good, but their fatal flaw, instead of being overcome, overcomes them. They may climb to lofty heights over the course of the story and can seem to prosper up until the end, but they will lose it all. It could be friends, family, money, or even their life, but something will be lost.
Horror and crime use fall arcs frequently. Gothic literature features them almost exclusively. A strong fall arc can demonstrate a moral even more effectively than a growth one.
Flat
Yes, it’s an oxymoron, but flat arcs have a purpose, and it’s not just a way of saying a character lacks an arc. A character without an arc is inconsistent, and where they end up has little or no relation to where they started. A character with a flat arc ends up where they started, and there are two ways this can happen.
The most common flat arcs are with static characters. A static character is steadfast in their personality. They are resistant to change. These are common in mystery or adventure because the plot is the most important thing, and a static character provides the constancy to let that shine.
There are also complex flat arcs with dynamic characters. A dynamic character is one who changes, and all the other arc require one by nature, but occasionally, a dynamic character can have a flat arc. They may step off the path at moments and seem to start one of the other three arcs, but they ultimately stay who they are. This can be positive or negative, depending on what is tempting them to change.

A Note on Spoilers

One thing to keep in mind with any character arc, but especially fall versus growth, is that where the character ends up is the key. A character may hit rock bottom, but if they learn and change their ways at the end, it’s a growth arc, no matter how far they initially fall. And the reverse is true: no matter how much a character attains, it’s a fall arc if they lose it at the end.
You cannot tell what an arc is until it’s finished. Because the end is so crucial to defining an arc, any character arc analysis will always have spoilers. So that nobody is caught unawares, I will post a list of discussed works at the start of each post for this series.

So What?

Why are arcs so important? As I said in the beginning, an arc can make or break a story. We rarely notice good arcs unless they’re heavy-handed, but a bad arc will leave readers and audiences dissatisfied, even if they can’t pinpoint why. As we look at what works and what doesn’t, the rest of this series will demonstrate that.

Next week, we’re going to start with growth arcs, analyzing Han Solo from the Star Wars franchise. Which movies did well with his arc, and which ones didn’t?

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Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Marketing: Short Stories and Novelettes

The when and why we accept Short Stories and Novelettes
Rebecca Mikkelson, CBD Authors 4 Authors Publishing
In case you haven’t noticed, lots of publishers don’t accept shorter novellas and novelettes, and won’t even consider publishing a short story unless it’s in an anthology with established authors. But we do—and there’s a very good reason for that. To help you understand the process behind why we accept some but not others, we wanted to give you some insight into our decision making.
Quick note: for clarification, we consider a short story to be a work that is 3,000–10,000 words, and a novelette is a work that is 10,000–30,000 words.

Cost

For the sake of this blog post, we’re going to throw out some hypothetical figures (with the exception of Amazon royalties that stay the same for everyone, because it’s Amazon). Please know that these can vary and are not absolute figures.
One of the biggest considerations we take when we’re choosing a book is the cost. Can we sell it? It’s a chance we’re taking with each contracted author. If we break down the cost for the book, we have to pay for the ISBN, the cover, and copyright. Depending on the quality of the cover and level of marketing we do for the books, this can cost anywhere between $90 to $120. If you add in advertisements, that number increases dramatically.

Earnings

For short stories and novelettes, we’ll only publish them in ebook format, which means we’ll only be charging $0.99–$1.99. At Authors 4 Authors Publishing, we offer some of the highest royalties you can get from a publisher. Let's say we’re starting at 10% for ebooks before the production cost is earned back, and going up to 15% after. The royalties are earned on the SLRP (Suggest List Retail Price) and not just on what we get paid from distributors like Amazon—which, in this case, would only be 35% royalties because of the list price.
Short Stories
So let’s break this down for short stories. For the sake of argument, we’ll put book production at the higher end of $120. Here’s what we’ll be earning from Amazon once the book is for sale: 0.99 x 0.35 = 0.3465, rounding up to $0.35 a copy.
Here’s what you’ll be earning from us: 0.99 x 0.10 = 0.099, rounding up to $0.10 a copy.  That means that $0.25 a copy will be going back toward book production costs.
Before we jump up to the 15% royalty rate, we have to earn back the book production cost. In order to make back our production costs, we’ll have to sell 480 copies of your short story. (120.00 ÷ 0.25 = 480) That is a lot of copies, and an average digital-only book only sells 250 copies in its lifetime. That’s a loss for everyone, which we don’t think is fair to the author or the publisher.
Novelettes
Novelettes aren’t going to be much different. We’d price it at $1.99, and we’ll say again that the cost of production is going be $120 again, this time netting us $0.70 per copy and $0.50 toward paying back production costs.
To earn back book production cost, it would have to sell 240 copies. Now, you might be thinking, “But you just said it’ll sell 250 copies in the last section! That’s only ten copies away, I can sell those easy.” Indeed, we did say that, but you have to remember that that’s the average, not the rule. It might sell more, it might sell less, but either way, it will take a long time to earn the cost back, and it’s still a big risk for us to take on, especially when fewer copies of a novel earn everyone more.
Don’t get us wrong, we want to make money, but our most important goal is to make sure our authors do well also.

Cross Promotion

When we do consider taking the risk for a short story or novelette, it’s because the author has another work to market alongside it. If the author has a novel of any kind, we can incentivize readers to buy the novel by getting a free short story with it. Or even, “If you liked this author, buy their short story!”
This technique has been used very successfully by multiple small presses and self-published authors. In a saturated market—which the book industry definitely is—we need to offer risk-free opportunities for readers to encounter our books. That means freebies. That means sales. And that’s why having companion pieces work: we take the hit on one piece in hopes that it generates the interest, and therefore sales, on the other.
This is a very viable and important technique and why serialized books tend to do better than stand-alone books. We need to make sure that we can sell as many copies as we can, which is why we aim to take on shorter works as companion pieces or additional works only.

So what does that mean for me?

Have a short story idea? Absolutely write it! Want a companion novelette or novella piece for your novel series? Yes, please!
However, communicate your works in progress when we request that full manuscript. Let us know “Here’s a short story I finished, and I’m working on edits for a novel as well.” We’ll take your short story submission much more seriously. Likewise, if you have a trilogy of novelettes, tell us. We can plan to release them individually, then combine them together as a “box set.”
And now for the hard news: if you don’t have those companion pieces ready, we may say “not yet” to your submission.
The good news: “Not yet” doesn’t mean never. We log every submission, and we’ll remember you if you resubmit. So get those longer pieces ready, so we can hit the ground running with marketing your wonderful writing!

Join us next week for the start of our series on Character Arcs!

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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

How To Edit

Manuscript Written…Now It’s Time to Edit!
Renee Frey, COO Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Last week, we went over the next steps needed to get your manuscript ready for publishing. Today, let’s look in-depth at editing your story.

Editing: No Right Way

Now for the ultimate secret to editing:
There isn’t one.
That’s right. There is no “right” way to edit. There is the right result, which is a cleaner, tighter, more polished manuscript. But the process varies from person to person.
Rather than go over all the possible options, I’d like to give an example of high-level ways to approach making edits.
Get Reviews
First things first, get another set of eyes on the manuscript.
We get it. That book is your baby. You love it—even the ugly bits. That’s great.
Someone else, an impartial (read—NOT family or significant others) reader can let you know where things work and where they don’t.
A word of caution: with the best intentions in the world, your critique readers may tell you HOW to fix the issue. Smile and thank them. Then take note that the issue exists, and decide how to fix it yourself. The only exception is with an experienced critique partner, and even then, their suggestion is just that—a suggestion.
Mark-up that baby with all the problem areas. Make comments to yourself, and compile it. You might use a spreadsheet; you might just make comments; you might type a list or an outline—however you want to do it.
Make a Plan
Once you have all those issues compiled, look at them.
Suggestion 1: Start with large, big picture fixes.
Start with larger issues because you may rewrite problem areas while fixing these—so it’s more time efficient to address these, and then go back and get the remaining small nitty-gritty areas. You may also need to highlight additional areas to change if these edits changed a detail, such as the date or time something happened or a character name.
Suggestion 2: Work End to End
Start at the beginning, and edit as you go through the document. You can then fix as you edit, and apply the edits down the line. You can also catch new issues that may arise from your editing as you go, and implement those fixes as well.
Suggestion 3: Work Small to Large
If you have a lot of edits listed, and want to feel accomplished or need a boost to jump start, you can go in and deal with the smaller line edits and work your way out. The result is a manuscript that is relatively clean and polished, where all that remains are addressing any plot holes or continuity errors.
Please note that there are multiple variations of these suggestions, and other options not listed here. In the end, so long as you address and fix the problems your critique reader found and fix any other issues you discover, you’ve edited your manuscript!

Editing: Take Two

Great! Good job with your first round of edits.
Yes, you heard that right: first round.
After applying your edits, repeat the process. Have the same or new critique readers review the manuscript. If you’ve done your job, while there may still be issues, there won’t be as many. The issues might change in scope (more line edits as opposed to more big picture character arc feedback, and vice versa), but there should be fewer of them.
You may also run into situations where one reader LOVES something and another one HATES it. In that case, flag it for review, and decide if it really is “right” or if it needs a little more tweaking.
Repeat the editing process until most of the feedback you receive is opinion-based:
“I wish she were blonde, not brunette.”
“I like the word ‘chose’ instead of ‘selected.’”
“You should spell Adam with two d’s instead of one.”
These responses indicate that the reader really didn’t have much of an issue with the mechanics of the story itself, and therefore, your editing is complete.
Sort of.

Proofreading

I know I already harped on this last week, but I will say it again:
PROOFREAD YOUR WORK.
Edits are all well and good, but proofreading is looking for specific grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors.
No, you cannot just use spell check or Grammarly. While sophisticated and improving all the time, these softwares don’t find everything.
Especially if you choose to self publish, take the time to proofread or hire a proofreader to find any errors. Your credibility goes down the toilet when your prose is riddled with errors and mistakes.
Take this blog post, for example. If I had errors all over, how much would you believe my advice about writing?
I recently rejected a work because the typographical errors made it impossible to read. I didn’t know what sentences and words were because the spelling was wrong, incorrect capitalization was used, or improper punctuation made it difficult to tell if someone was speaking or if it was narratorial voice.
Some suggestions include reading the work backward (it’s easier to find errors because you’re looking at each sentence individually), re-reading it yourself after a suitable length of time elapses, having a friend who is a grammar-nut proofread for you in exchange for cookies (the good chocolate chip ones, mind you, none of that oatmeal nonsense).
No matter how you accomplish it, proofread your work.

So About Those Critique Readers

Don’t have a readily available author group in your area? Join me next week when I interview Alex Cabal, owner and founder of Scribophile. Scribophile is the largest online critiquing community and a great place to find critique writers.

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