Tag Archives: novellas

Thoughts on Writing – Character Motivation

Today I’m talking about  how a character’s backstory influences their actions.

In the first draft of Magic’s Stealing, I never really explained why the main character, Toranih, didn’t like magic. She simply didn’t. But stories generally read better if the author knows why a character behaves a certain way, even if they never explain this directly to the reader. So, in order to add credibility to Toranih’s character, I began to explore her motives.

From Dictionary.com (a really useful resource when double-checking that a word means what you think it means), motives are “something that causes a person to act in a certain way, do a certain thing, etc.”

To see why Toranih acts so paranoid/distrustful of magic, while being so interested in learning how to effectively wield a sword, let’s take a look at her world. Toranih is the youngest daughter of the Lord of the Armory, so she has plenty of access to swords and the people who can teach her. In regards to magic, the kingdom has a high number of ribbon mages, so magic is common. However, the ability to see magic is not. Neither Toranih, nor her older sister, Siklana, can see ribbon magic, though her best friend can.

In the original draft of Magic’s Stealing, Toranih did not like magic because she felt like it was all tricks and illusions. (A side note: the trouble with using the term ‘illusion’ with magic is that if you actually have magic doing something, the illusion of something happening is no longer an illusion. I’ve been slowly weeding this word from the story). So my first idea for why Toranih didn’t like magic was that maybe a bad event scared her in the past. She gets her first glimpse of magic at a parade when she was little, and it overwhelms her. Thus, she’s been wary ever since.

However, my husband pointed out that a parade with a lot of colorful, fluttering ribbons is likely to be awe-inspiring to a four-year-old, not terrifying. While I still feel that everyone has different reactions, so what some kids like, others are terrified of (for example… clowns), I started looking elsewhere for answers. Toranih doesn’t like magic, and to the extent that she is paranoid in earlier drafts, there seems like there might be a bit more to her paranoia. So I cut the bit about the parade (keeping the event, but not having it terrify her), and considered Toranih’s distrust of their mythology. There are already several references in the current draft which lends itself to this theory.

For example, after an event involving Toranih being magically called to do a task she wouldn’t otherwise do:

Old fables flitted to the edge of her mind, haunting melodies of immortals and creatures whose very power was that of magic’s lure, the power to call and demand, to whisper in a person’s ear and convince them, without fail, to do their bidding.

In something of a flashback, Toranih’s sister tells her about life and death magic:

Once, long ago, when Siklana showed Toranih how to use her crystal, she’d convinced a couple of the servants to come stand in front of them. One had magic, the other did not. And she’d pointed to the one with magic and all the ribbons, and explained what ribbon magic was and how it worked.

 

Then Siklana pointed to the other servant, and said that even though he wasn’t a mage, he still had magic. Everyone had magic, but it was difficult to see because it was closer related to string magic, but couldn’t Toranih see it? There were two thin strings running through his body, each entwined and almost impossible to spot.

 

Siklana had adjusted the crystal to make them more visible. “That’s the only string magic visible to a ribbon mages,” she’d said. “One strand is life, and the other is death. Everyone has them. If you don’t, then you’re dead. That’s how the gods made us,” Siklana had continued, much to Toranih’s dismay. “But only the really powerful gods can manipulate those strings, so there’s nothing to be scared of.”

 

That memory had stuck with Toranih ever since.

In a conversation with Aifa, the Matchmaker goddess:

Aifa rolled her eyes. “Such a harsh tongue, tut-tut. Dear, I’m the goddess of relationships, not all-powerful. But if you don’t mind your manners, you’ll find yourself mute.”

 

Toranih swallowed hard. She had heard tales of citizens who’d crossed the gods in older times. Citizens who found their love lives broken or their ability to communicate… impossible.

Toranih has plenty of reason to be uneasy about magic and the gods’ use of magic. However, we can take this a step further. We know that Toranih is very interested in swordsmanship, and wants to be a guardsman except that her father doesn’t think that position befits her station. This is especially problematic when her sister, Siklana, reveals intentions to marry into a different estate, thus leaving Toranih as the sole heir.

Her father handed one of the servants his empty plate and rested back in his chair. “Understanding self-defense is important, but you’re taking these studies a bit far. There are more important subjects for a young lady to—”

 

“Siklana is much more adept at those studies,” Toranih interrupted. Her scone crumbled and she swept the crumbs into a napkin before he could get onto her about that, too. “Let’s be honest. When inheritance time comes around, she’ll inherit the estate. She’ll master magic at the academy, and she’ll be the one to win the hearts of the city and lead them in her wise, older age.”

 

Siklana ducked her head behind her bangs. Her dark brown eyes shown through. She was smaller in stature than her younger sister, especially since she lacked the muscle that came from Toranih’s years of swordplay. “What if I marry into a different house?”

 

Toranih turned sharply. Her sister… marry? Of course she would, she had always been interested in the attention of suitors, but Toranih hadn’t thought she would try to climb the social ladder through marriage.

 

If she married into a higher class, she would leave behind the Covonilayno estate. “I’d be the heir,” Toranih whispered, stunned.

 

Her father nodded. “The rights would fall to you. As is custom.”

 

Toranih glared at her sister. “How long have you been planning this?”

 

“I’ve been thinking about it for a year,” she admitted coyly. “I’ve already passed the academy’s first year exams, and I’m well into my second year. Our inheritance is decent, but there are a few worthy suitors who could help me further my education once I finish in Cirena City. With a decent suitor’s allowance, I could travel to the Islands. I’ll make sure that’s part of the contract. I might even learn word magic.”

 

Toranih swallowed hard. While having at least some degree of ribbon magic was common, word magic was practiced by very few. Anyone could learn it, so long as they knew how to pronounce the spell.

 

But say just one syllable wrong, and any number of horrors awaited the practitioner. Setting ones’ self on fire, opening a portal in the middle of a crowded city and killing anyone in its path, trying to heal someone and killing them instead… and a particularly powerful spell could bind a target to do the mage’s will.

 

Toranih shivered. Unlike ribbon magic, word magic was invisible. No crystal could reveal words the way it could reveal ribbons.

My husband pointed out that maybe Toranih doesn’t like magic because, unlike her sister (and most every other mage in the kingdom), she never really became adept with magic.

As a young child, Toranih saw her sister and Daernan surpass her with flying colors while she struggled to control ribbons for even basic tasks. At the same time, young noblewomen were taught basic self-defense, which is where she excelled. She threw herself into the study of swords and knives, hoping to become a weapons master. In the meantime, she became more and more resentful of magic. She eventually understood the basics (which we see her using in Magic’s Stealing), but she never quite comes to terms with the fact that she’s been left behind by the mages.

The result?

She can’t easily control magic, so she doesn’t trust it, and (as the current blurb says) she would rather have a sword in her hand than use her powers to heal and throw fireballs.

And now we have the reason that Toranih doesn’t like magic. We can see why she might, at times, lash out or vehemently deny anything to do with being a mage.

But she lives in a world so saturated with magic that she can’t ignore it, and so she still uses the magical light crystal her sister gave her. She still changes into an owl when Daernan convinces her to go to the parade. She still tries to save people who are dying when their magic is stolen. But she has a flaw, and because of that flaw she doesn’t always use her powers when she should, and her unwillingness to try could cost her the people she loves.

Now I’ve just got to make sure that is apparent within the story, even if I never come outright and say this is why she acts the way she does.

I hope you enjoyed this post. 🙂

Have you found any books where character motivations were well-done, or where they were lacking?

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Writing

Thoughts on Publishing – Pricing the Novella

Today, let’s talk business: What are you willing to pay for a novella?

When I went to ConQuest, I knew full well that I planned to fork over twenty bucks for a hardback copy of a book that contained two of Brandon Sanderson’s novellas. Sure, they’re available for purchase in ebook format for considerably cheaper, but having the hardback is nice, and I’m a fan of his work. (A note here: I’m the kind of person who likes having a hard copy, be it paperback or hardback. I’ll happily read non-fiction pertaining to publishing on my Kindle, but I have a difficult time reading fiction.) Anyway, I got the book signed at the convention, and I’ve read one of the stories (Perfect State) thus far. Even though I haven’t read the second one yet, spending that twenty dollars was worth every penny.

But not everyone is going to feel that way, and not for every book.

From the business perspective, I’ve got to figure out what readers are willing to pay for each book. Do I want to come up with a single, standard price range, or price them individually, according to length, genre, and various other factors? I don’t have the advantage of hiring a super-awesome illustrator for the cover art, or a top-of-the-line editor to make sure there aren’t typos. Not to start with, anyway (though I’ll sure do my best to find as many typos and errors as I can before I hit ‘publish’). Can I  make sure that the stories are the best they can be? Can I make sure that they are worth a reader’s hard-earned money?

I’ve determined that The Wishing Blade will be a series of (probably three) novellas. I’ve got the first one written, and it’s going through the process of being beta-read. Now the question I’m pondering is this: What should I price this novella, once I’ve completed edits and created the cover art?

On one hand, it’s a novella, so it’s not as long as a novel. I’m not sure how much money readers will be willing to spend, especially for an unknown author. While I do have several free pieces of flash fiction available on Smashwords, the style of writing varies, so it is unclear how many readers who download the freebies will be interested in the paid stories. I can’t price the stories as high as someone who already has a fan base. On the other hand, I’m trying to start a business. Which means that I actually need to be making money. The joy of self-publishing is that I get to wear two hats. I’m the creator, the author, and I’m also the business woman. So… provided that the stories are of a decent quality: engaging, not many typos, decent formatting, and good cover art, what should a novella be priced at?

I’m mostly going to look at Kindle’s (non-Select) pricing strategy, but I intend to sell on Smashwords as well:

99 cents: Not necessarily a bad spot for a short story, and many authors offer their novels at 99 cents as a way to promote their other works. However, the 99 cent price range only offers 35% royalties (I think it’s closer to 50-60% royalties on Smashwords, given that my “Ashes” short story, priced 99 cents, earned 56 cents after a Smashwords 10 cent cut and 33 cents transaction fee). The downside of this range is that people may pick up a 99 cent book on a whim, then forget about it because of the “it’s only a dollar” mentality.

$1.99: Long considered “the dead zone” in ebook pricing. I read a Smashwords report showing a trend of $2.99 vastly outperforming $1.99, and 99 cents doing just a bit better than the $1.99 range. Also keep in mind that Kindle only offers 35% royalties here. Not a lot of incentive to try this range, though I’ve seen trade publishers discount higher priced books to $1.99 on Book Bub. However, without actually testing this price range, it’s hard to say how well it performs for a specific story.

$2.99: Seems a bit high for a novella, with so many novels selling for $2.99, but is it? (See below list of example novella prices). At 2.99, Kindle authors get 70% royalties.  That’s around $2.00, versus 70 cents from pricing at $1.99, or 35 cents from pricing at 99 cents. And technically, if you hope to sell your novel at $4.99 or $6.99, that’s not too bad.

Now, one catch here is that I’m currently looking at the US dollar pricing. I haven’t even started to look at the UK or other territories. I’ll have to decide whether to try the retailer’s automatic price comparisons, or take a look at what’s selling in those stores and price it directly. This could be a bit difficult, though, given that the Amazon sites for other territories doesn’t show much what price they’re selling at. (Feel free to chime in with your thoughts on pricing, regardless of what currency you buy books with).

Here’s a few examples of novella length ebook prices in USD, from both independent and trade published authors (Note: I haven’t read all of these, I just did some research):

  • Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson sells for $2.99. I think it classifies as a novella. “Mitosis,” a short story from his Reckoners series, sells for $1.99.
  • Fairest by Marissa Meyer sells for $9.99 (46,600 words per Renaissance Learning)
  • The Invasion (an Animorphs book) by K.A. Applegate  sells for $5.99  (33,000 words per Renaissance Learning). Novella length, though meant for a younger audience.
  • Out of the Storm by Jody Hedlung is offered for free on Amazon. (The description suggests this is an introduction to her Beacons of Hope series).
  • Icefall by David Wood sells for $2.99 (approximately 30,000 words per article about the novella, and per Smashwords).
  • Elixer by Jennifer L. Armentrout sells for 99 cents (part of The Covenant Series).
  • Peacemaker by Lindsay Buroker sells for $2.99 (40,000 words, per her blog post).
  • Better World by Autumn Kalquist sells for $2.99. (A prequel novella to a novel series).

By the way, Renaissance Learning is great for finding the word count of books, especially middle grade and young adult. http://www.arbookfind.com/default.aspx

One of the textbooks I was reading recently, which focused on small business management (never mind that it’s from the earlier 90s), talked about the perception of value when marketing a product. There were two factors considered: quality and price.

A note on the chart below: an unknown indie author does not mean low quality, simply untested. Unfortunately, many people still perceive self-published books to be of low quality, whether they are or not.

High quality and high price: Serves clientele with expensive tastes. (Think of a Big 5 publisher selling an ebook for 13.99 from a big-name author).

Low quality and high price: No one buys the product, because the perception of value around it is muddled. (Think of an unknown author selling their ebook at $13.99).

Low quality and low price: “Cheap.” Not highly valued, but considered a decent price. (Think of how 99 cent indie novels are often perceived).

High quality and low price: “A good deal.” (Think of a Big 5 publisher running a $1.99 ad in Book Bub for a regularly $9.99 ebook).

So, at this point, I’m thinking of making Magic’s Stealing available for $2.99. It’s currently sitting at 30,000 words.

I hope you enjoyed this post. 🙂 What are your thoughts and experiences in the matter?

If you’re interested in further reading on the subject, these are a few of the articles I read while doing my research:

Leave a comment

Filed under Business Ventures, Writing

Thoughts on Publishing – A Novel or Three Novellas?

In general, I write novels. Then I trim said novels because their early drafts are excessively long. However, I’ve recently become fascinated with the concept of serial novelization. You release the novel in several parts, with the idea that readers know they aren’t getting a complete work at one time and that the next installment will come in a timely manner. I toyed with the idea of doing this for my current manuscript, The Wishing Blade, with each installment between 10,000 to 15,000 words. But as I started the rewriting stage, I realized that each section didn’t feel complete. The sections left on a cliffhanger, and weren’t really satisfying.

The other serialized option I’d studied was to write a complete short story (or novella), and make sure it had a full beginning, middle, and end, even if it was part of a larger work. At the moment, I’m thinking that might actually work well for The Wishing Blade. Each installment would be around 30,000 words, maybe more, with an expected three installments. I could release the story sooner, while still producing a reasonable quality work. Each story would be complete in itself, so there would hopefully be fewer unhappy readers who aren’t satisfied with the ending. With each installment, the reader should feel the series has made progress. Think about the show Avatar: The Last Airbender. (I think Legend of Korra and Fullmetal Alchemist where this way in their first seasons, too, but it’s been long enough since I’ve watched them that I don’t remember). For the most part, each episode (or set of episodes) felt complete, even though there was a larger story arc in progress. Granted… I’m still in the second season of Avatar, so that might change.

 

So here’s how it would work.

1. I separate The Wishing Blade into three novellas. They’re tentatively called Magic’s Stealing, The Shadow War, and The Immortal Realm. (What do you think of the names? Good? Bad? Neutral?)

2. I then figure out the story arc for each individual novella. This is crucial, because while reading them in order would be preferable, I also want readers to be able to pick up book three, enjoy it, then go back to book one. I personally have a habit of grabbing whichever book interests me… even if it’s in the middle of the series.

So the novellas would look something like this:

  1. Magic’s Stealing: Focus on the loss of ribbon magic in Cirena. Main character who hates magic is suddenly one of the few who can still use magic, and she’s trying to figure out what happened to the magic and where she fits into the whole scheme.
  2. The Shadow War: Main characters get separated. One works from within the shadows to foil the trickster god’s plot to kill the gods and get magic for himself. The other seeks out glass-stone, a material which has been proven to kill shadows and not be susceptible to shadow magic, then seeks to protect and warn others in the mortal realm. (For those of you who read my post on creating fantasy languages, this is where word magic shows itself).
  3. The Immortal Realm: Character in shadow realm escapes into ‘immortal realm’ and seeks out artifact (from book one) which could wipe out shadows for good. Other character defends Cirena’s capitol city from the shadows’ massive onslaught. They’ll either succeed in their separate goals, which serves to aid the other, or they’ll fail and the shadows will take over the kingdom.

3. Edit book one and make shiny. Send to beta readers for feedback. Work on a different story in the meantime (either finish the rough draft for The Wishing Blade: The Shadow War, or work on long-overdue edits to book two in my husband’s and my Distant Horizon universe). Once beta readers return comments, I’ll review said comments, make edits as necessary, then set book one aside for a while. Work on The Shadow War in the meantime.

4. Polish book one. Do what editing I can, maybe get an additional beta reader to proofread for errors.

5. Begin publishing process. Upload to Kindle and Smashwords, and consider other markets (I’m currently considering Drive Thru Fiction and Draft2Digital, but I haven’t had experience with either). For now, The Wishing Blade will be in ebook format only. I hope that once I have all three books out, I’ll be able to earn enough from them to purchase a block of ISBNs. Then I’ll need to decide if I want to make a collected print edition with all three books, or make a separate edition for each story. (If you’re looking for a length comparison, I’ve been looking at the old Animorphs series. Wrong genre and age group, but the word count is about right.)

6. Continue process with book two. I’m hoping to release each book around two months apart, though I may change my mind on that once I get further into this process.

 

Granted, there’s a lot more going on in the background (my husband and I setting up a partnership to publish this, and we’re picking up the DBA, EIN, and trying to figure out tax forms, etc…) but this is what I’ve got going on in the front end. Hopefully you found this post to be interesting, and I’d love to hear what your thoughts are regarding this process. 🙂

6 Comments

Filed under Business Ventures, Personal Work, Writing