One group is planning a plot ahead of time. They make a 2 page- (or a 10 page-) chapter summary, and once finished, they write a book according to that outline.
Many thriller and murder or mystery authors, write like that. You need to know who the killer is to properly set up your clues.
Another type is called discovery writer. Previously they have been called “pantsers” as in they write by the seat of their pants, without a guideline or a plot. The naming has changed but the main point stays in that these writers discover what the story is about while writing it.
Of course, it won’t surprise you that plotters don’t waste many words (paragraphs or chapters). They know from the start what is going to happen.
Discovery writers don’t.
They get surprised by plot twists the same way as their readers later on when they read it for the first time. But because of this, discovery writers blunder many chapters.
I am a discovery writer.
Why am I telling you this?
After finishing 90 000 words on my current work in progress, which accounts to about 450 pages, I read it through last weekend for the first time. And I realized that one third needs to be deleted.
I don’t need to point out how extremely painful this realisation was.
I was, in fact, panicking.
However, after having a few sleep-it-overs, I gathered my wits and wrote down the plot – discovery writers actually DO have a plot but for the most part it is subconscious – therefore figuring out which pieces are good, which I need to kick out and which pieces I still need to write.
Having it done on flash cards really helped me!
Someone smart once said that the problem is not if you fall.
The problem is if you don’t get up again.
But, with this kind of a story – and I actually quite like it, if I may humbly say so myself – needs to be finished 🙂
On a side note, during the autumn school break, my family and I went to visit our family in South Africa. It has been 10 years since the last time we were there and it was wonderful to see our family and the country again.
We also took time to visit Kruger national park and if you are interested in a short overview, check out the video here.
With 55000 words on my new book, I am about half way there. I don’t know what’s with historical books, they always seem to be so long. Didn’t quite plan it like this, but as I write, I realize there is still so much that needs to happen. And don’t worry: this will be all in one book. Even though it’s long, I won’t split it.
Btw DOE was meant to be a trilogy from the start, just as this one is envisioned as a single book.
As you know from my previous emails, the writing time at the moment is not only spent by typing words on my laptop but as lots of research too.
I know that the second part of the book needs to happen in a castle, and Switzerland has many of them, one of the most famous ones you might have seen is Chateau de Chillon, at the lake of Geneva. However, since I know the first part of the story will be happening in Rapperswil, also known as the City of Roses, Castle Chillon being 250 km away is too far for my protagonist to reach. Even on a horse.
Chateau de Chillon
So I went for a search to find another castle which is a bit closer, and found one that could fit: Castle Lenzburg, some 70 km away. I knew about this castle from many years before because the train I used to take from Zurich to Basel (which was my daily commute when I did my doctorate) passed just under the hill where the castle is situated. Seeing it from below it looked fabulous, but I never actually went in to check it out.
However, with this specific task in mind, I recently did a tour, with a special mention of the early 18th century, so I can fit it into my story.
For many centuries, the Lenzburg castle belonged to the Habsburg family but from the middle of 15 century (1444), Canton Bern took hold of the Castle and a large area around it which was from then on under the influence of a local bailiff. They would come from the aristocratic families of the city of Bern (which is a capital of today’s Switzerland) and they would govern the castle and the surrounding area for about 4 to 6 years, until they were replaced by a new bailiff.
Habsburg family, also known as the House of Habsburg, is one of the most prominent dynasties in Europe, which held the reign over the large part of Europe from 11st (1020) until 1918 when Charles I of Austria renounced his role in state affairs. One of the most famous individuals most people know about is Maria Theresa (1717-1780), who held the power over 40 years, and was “allowed” to be a ruler only because her father Charles VI made a decree that the daughters are allowed to take the throne (as opposed to being handed to a male heir of a brother or other cousins).
The other daughter you might know is Marie Antoinette, who married Luis XVI (when she was 14 btw), and who had an infamous ending in the French Revolution, taking the “punishment” of all the royalty before her.
But as I said, the Castle of Lenzburg is at the rule of Bern at the time the book takes place, and the Habsburg family owning only patches of land of Confederatia Helvetica (CH, today’s Switzerland). Still, they will appear somewhere at some point 😉
Castle Lenzburg turned out to be a gold mine for my story. It has several houses, which were not all built at once, but in 18 century all of them were already there, the last one just being assembled. It has the most fabulous knight house (Ritterhaus), the Clock house, the baroque Bern house, the bailiff house, with a stunning garden overlooking the city of Lenzburg, a large courtyard with a single tree that looks like a crooked hand reaching out of the ground (in winter!), and a dungeon with a two cells and variety of torture weapons.
All in all, this was exactly the castle I was looking for!
Castle Lenzburg courtyard
So the castle Lenzburg took the role for the second part of the book 🙂
Ten years ago I started my writing career (or vocation, to be more true to my mindset and way of thinking). The same amount of time – more or less if you ignore the Swift Escape excursion – it took to write the Descendants of Earth trilogy. I knew from the start that it would need three books, as the story couldn’t have been told in one.
Except that it could.
But this in turn would mean that I would be writing complete story behind the closed doors, for ten years, and then published it in one large book of some hypothetical 850 pages.
But I didn’t have patience for this.
As soon as my first book was out, I wanted to share it with the world.
I wanted to share it with you!
So this hypothetical “all in one” book, that should hypothetically have 850 pages, is not so hypothetical any longer.
I was planning to change the blurb for the “Swift Escape” for a while now. If you look at the genres where Amazon places it, it falls under tech thriller. This comes from the fact that people who picked up that book normally read this kind of genre. And also from the fact that it is a thriller dealing with a new biological weapon, and spy intrigue, and science mystery, and so on. However. One of the strongest sub-genre it actually should fall into is a romance. And yet, it doesn’t.
This presents an issue, and I’ll explain why:
A reader who loves thrillers will love the intrigue and mystery in “Swift Escape”, but they won’t like intimate romance moments at all (and I know this because of the reviews).
But a romance lover will love the romance bits a lot, but they won’t mind the thriller parts. Romance lovers can roll with thriller, crime, drama, paranormal (especially paranormal!) and history. As long as there is romance and HEA 😉
So basically I am in a wrong genre and that means people don’t see my book.
With the big bang of ChatGPT, I know many authors are re-writing their blurbs with the help of an AI, making it better, making it more salesy. And it makes sense more than one might think. You see, for some unexplainable reason, writers can write a novel of 200,000 words within a few months or years, but then struggle when they need to put down only 200 words for their blurbs. And most of them turn out not to be the best sales pitches either. (Writers are generally horrible sales people)
So, yes, getting help does make sense.
But here’s where I see a problem. Not only in getting AI help with blurbs but in writing books in general (go check the internet and you’ll see there are already many how-to YouTube videos where people explain how to write a book with the help of an AI). And if you check this podcast from TheCreativePenn, you will learn that Tim Boucher published 60 books in the matter of 5 months (https://lostbooks.ca ).
Let me repeat that because I could hardly believe it myself.
From November 2022 to March 2023, he published 60 books.
And then there is a long pause where I’m looking into the distance and I am pretty much stunned and I don’t know how to continue.
I decided some years back that I cannot compete with the “super-writers” who publish a-book-every-month. How do they manage to do that I have zero idea. But good on them.
I can’t .
I know now that I need time for a story to mature in my head first. And then there is lots and lots of research after that. Which needs lots and lots of time. So, yes, my books take minimum two years. Minimum.
But, with the dawn of the ChatGPT, the book-a-month goes out the window too. Now, it will be a-book-a-day. Or perhaps several of them.
Maybe not quite yet – as the AI writing still needs editing step – but soon. Because the AI is getting better by the second.
And now comes my question.
If we give the writing to the AI, what is left for us?
What is left for me?
If we give illustrations not to the artist on DeviantArt but to Midjourney – and let me tell you, the stuff that comes out is mind blowing – what is then left for creative humans to do? Because I always thought if humans can do something really well, creativity is it. A lot of manual and statistical work can and will be taken away. But art?
I will not be able to compete with an AI generated content. Not by a long shot. It will be generated too quickly. Who will wait 2 or 3 years to read my next book?
Now, does that mean I should stop writing?
This AI topic threw me in a deep well, made me question my decisions, my strategies, my books and my future in writing. It made me think a lot about creation and about already created content.
It made me think of art.
What is art?
Creating something out of nothing.
But does AI create something out nothing? No. Or certainly not yet. It uses all the creative work available on the internet and mixes it and jumbles it into a new content. Which of course begs the question of a copyright. If AI uses a photograph, or a painting, or a music composition, or a book, to twist it into something new, the copyright and ideally any kind of royalty payment should go respectively to the original creator.
But it doesn’t.
Hopefully that will be changed with time.
Also, there is a certain fear the unknown.
When radioactivity was first discovered, the people thought it was amazing. You can see your own skeleton, you can check how well a shoe fits your foot by looking at an Xray screen, you can even make jewellery out of a radioactive material. Until it was discovered that it wasn’t so amazing after all.
Technology ahead of ethics.
But then again, when computers just started being made, many people were afraid of it. They feared that it will take their jobs. And it did. But it created many more new ones.
So which of the two extremes is the AI?
Should we be afraid of it?
Or should we embrace it and ride the wave?
I think what terrifies me the most is the fact that all the software engineers who are involved into making AI curcuits say they don’t know what is happening inside. They don’t understand how it actually works. It just does. And that automatically means lack of control. And also lack of consequences.
If a human makes a crime, we place them in jail.
Bad behavior – bad consequence.
Other humans learn.
But what kind of “jail” consequence can we place on an AI when we don’t even know what it is afraid of, or what is it that it doesn’t want?
But I ran away from the conversational AI, our ChatGPT.
Let me get back to the point: the blurb of the “Swift Escape”.
I wanted to write the new blurb, make it more romance-y, make it clear that it is the romance readers who should be interested in this book rather than thriller lovers. And though I am certain I am not the best person to write this sales pitch – a professional copywriter or ChatGPT would do it much better (as I said, I’m a lousy sales person), I still want to do it myself.
Because I love creating, and I find the creative process rewarding.
And so I did it.
And to prove to you that I actually didn’t use ChatCPT, I made a screen video recording as I did it.
If you want to see it, check the link here. And – please don’t mind my grammar mistakes: I am not a native English speaker.
I would love to hear what do you think of ChatGPT and AI in general. Where do you think this will take us?
I was about to write about the new years resolutions (and I think I still will, some time later), but something got my attention just recently, so I thought to discuss that instead.
You might know that one of the classic rules in writing (including theather, TV shows and movies) is a „three act structure“.
Act One introduces the hero and their motivation. We (readers/viewers) get to know their everyday life. We learn who our hero is. Then an inciting incident needs to happen to move the protagonist out of their comfort zone. Frodo needs to leave the Shire so that the story can happen. If he stays in the Shire, there is no story. Or there is, but it is very short.
Act Two increases the stakes. The danger becomes a lot more frightening or an obstacle much bigger, in this phase. Neo learns from the Oracle that he is not The One and he is given a chance to save Morpheus, but needs to sacrifice himself.
Act Three is the final confrontation and resolution between the hero and the villain or the antagonist, and it ends in resolution, where the hero comes out victorious or in some other way changed. Luke destroys the Death Star despite all odds.
The three act structure was originally introduced by Aristotle Poetics in 330 BC and further strengthened by Syd Field in 1979 in his Foundations of Screenwriting. The three act structure remained a milestone for the last 2 millennia, with film producers being so rigid that they expect an inciting incident on a page 25 of a 100 page script, and if they don’t see it, the script goes straight into the bin.
But here is the fun fact. Aristotle didn’t make up the three act structure. He described it based on the plays he had witnessed during his life, realizing which plays were successful and which weren’t. Clearly the three act structure was – and still is – successful.
But think about it for a moment.
Aristotle was analyzing the plays and theatre pieces he witnessed and then described what he saw. That means that the three act structure existed before Aristotle described it and that play writers of the time were doing the three act structure spontaneously because they felt this was the best way to tell a good story.
Now, a lot of writers follow this structure because they read time and again in all sort of craft books that it works. Plot your three act structure and you’ll have a story. Don’t plot a structure, and you will fail. So many writers do plot their stories in three act structure with specific beats in each. We are taught to do so. And for many writers this is exactly the right thing to do.
But I encountered an issue with this process in the book I am currently writing: I discovered that it hinders me. I followed all the rules: I made the scenes, I made the beats, I got my three act structure. But every time I wanted to start writing the novel, I got stuck. The words didn’t flow. I wrote many thousands of words but it was such a struggle, I had to pull the letters out like taking out a bad tooth. It took ages and it simple didn’t sound good.
I have tried it three times. And each time, I got stuck. First I figured that the reason must have been that I needed more research (and partially it really was so). I can’t write about the 18 century if I don’t know enough about it. So I kept doing research. Lots of it! Then I gave it another try. And it failed again.
After the third try, I came to a conclusion that the book is not meant to be written. Or at least not yet. (This actually does happen quite often: famous writers like Neil Gaiman and Dan Brown had to leave their work for years before they could come back to it and finish it.) I thought maybe this is that type of a book.
But I decided to try one last time.
This time, however, I changed something.
And – to show respect where it’s due – I was inspired by a Becca Syme book Dear Writer, Are You Intuitive? She talks about a type of writing where a writer discovers the story, discovers its three act structure without specifically plotting it (but the three act structure still happens naturally! Remember, the ancient play writers did it spontaneously on their own before Aristotle came. It is possible.)
So that is what I did: I let my inspiration take the steering wheel. And guess what?
The words just poured out, from my Muse through my fingers onto the white page. No effort. No pressure. Just flow.
I am back on track, and that makes me immensely happy!
Sometimes – and this is not only with writing – we need to learn to trust our intuition. And more often than not, it will tell us the truth. What do you think about this? Do you ever trust your intuition? Did you reject it and afterwards realised you should have listened to it? Or did you listen, and it might have even saved your life (as in, don’t walk down that empty alley)?
I have 38072 words – which translates to 175 pages – done! 38000 words of research, that is 🙂
But with all the information I’ve gotten so far, it was enough to start writing. The research however is far from over. With every chapter I write (currently 77 pages) new questions come up. And I think the story – though made up – needs to be as close to reality of the 18th century as possible. You wouldn’t think it needs so much research, but the moment you ask yourself some simple questions, you realize it’s needed.
For example, what did people eat, what did they drink? Remember, most of the water, unless it was a mountain spring, was contaminated as there was no sewerage or water control.
How did they dress (women started wearing knickers, eg. underpans, only in the 19th century!! How, on the Moons of Senthia, did they handle a period, I still have no idea!) And then some larger questions, like the influence of the church on the population or changes in the philosophical views at the time. It all influences the story.
Dan Brown, when addressing the new writers, said “When your readers buy your book, they are not only paying for the words in the book”. Meaning, they are also paying for all the words you deleted, either because they have been edited out so that your story is distilled to enable your reader the best experience possible. But he also means the many words of your research, because although none of your readers will see those words, they will certainly feel if the author did the research or not.
And I completely believe him. Research is mandatory. Because you see, some time in the future, next year, or the year after that, this book will be finished. And in that moment, I will ask you to put away your life, your busy, interesting life where you are the protagonist and the main character in your story. And I will ask you to put aside this particular life for a few hours and give your full attention to my book. To my story.
And this is a lot to ask. Your attention, your time, is the greatest currency.
For me to be able to ask something like that of you, I need to do the best job possible, and the research is at the very basis of it, because you will not believe my characters, you will not live in my story, if it doesn’t ring true.
So, I’ll continue researching and writing, and to you I wish happy reading!
Well, this post was supposed to tell you that the third instalment of “The Vision” in an audio-book version is ready for you and you can listen to it on all audio platforms. However, I just found out that “The Vision” audiobook has by mistake two chapters from “The Senthien” instead of “The Vision”.
I am quite a big fan of Findaway, the company that produces and distributes the audiobooks for independent authors, but sometimes they can really mess things up. I am now in the process of clearing things up with them, but it will take a while until the updated (corrected) audiobook reaches the retailer shops.
In the meantime, to all of you, my lovely readers and listeners, who have already gotten “The Vision” audiobook and bought it before my shout-out: I sincerely apologise that you didn’t get the audiobook I produced for you. Below are the links to the correct chapters: Chapter 2 and Chapter 9. They are in fact quite important for the story and I wouldn’t want you to miss bits of the plot.
If you have any questions or comments, please drop me an email. I’d be happy to hear from you.
For some time, I have been thinking about something, so I’d like to touch on that topic today. Many authors stick to one universe, one world they build for their characters. And incidentally, they stick to their characters too. I never really understood that. I liked it – because I liked the characters – but I didn’t understand why. The books I have in my “pipeline” are all over the place: thrillers, history romance, science fiction, contemporary romance, mysteries, dramas. The characters are all over the place too. And this is because the stories just come and they don’t decide to sit in the same basket either. So how is it that for many other authors they do?
I will come back to this.
I am currently “setting up my new universe”. And when I say setting up, I am really just researching what had happened some 300 years earlier. Unlike the Uni world 5000 years in the future when I could simply imagine things, in my new story, this “universe” actually existed. I can’t simply make things up. I can (a little bit) walk out of the truth in order to propagate my plot – and I will – but I do need to stick to the major guidelines. I cannot swing it too far.
Another bit that I need to “set up” are my new characters. These are not Dora and J, or Jane and Sam. These are all new people. The people with histories, sorrows, triumphs, doubts, passions and needs. People with families and friends. People whose minds are closed or open, superstitious or scientific. People who are governed by things they were told by their parents when they were small. People who are changed by the things they lived through which shaped their character.
Real, living people you could almost recognize on the street – after reading the book – if you saw them. This is how true these people have to become.
People I. Don’t. Know.
Yet, at least.
So I think I understand now. Authors stick to the same universe – the same characters – because they know them so well. Old friends they don’t want to let go.
In one of the beautiful reviews of “The Vision” one reader wrote the following:
I know what they mean. I am not ready to let my DOE characters go either.
But, as you have heard me saying many times before, the stories I write just come. They don’t knock, they don’t wait for me to open the door either. They swing through and settle in the middle of my living room without me even inviting them.
So, I have to write these stories and I have to write these characters. Fighting it is futile.
But – I will always miss my time with Dora and J 🙂
I have finally seen the “Inside” by Bo Burnham. Like much of his previous work, this is superb in so many ways: hilariously funny, brilliantly ironic and heartbreakingly tragic, all in one. A must see! @Bo I hope its not the end! I hope we can still make it!
For the majority of authors, the money coming in is just a small, tiny, micro fraction of the expenses a writer needs.
The book editing, the cover illustration and design, paperback formatting and the necessary – and much needed – marketing all writers need to do in order to get any screen time on retailers and book shops (otherwise, though the book is officially there, it might as well be invisible!) make a large chunk of the expenses every writer needs to do.
So, you might be wondering, why do I and my fellow writers, write at all? Because let’s be brutally honest: For most authors, writing is a financial suicide. But here’s a little detail that most non-writers aren’t aware of, and that makes all the difference.