Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

    There’s no such thing as an original idea. If you’re beating yourself up because your idea isn’t original, you’ll never get there, so don’t try.

    So, what is that makes a story that’s been told once or a thousand times before interesting? Why pick up the next book or go see the next movie knowing you can probably map it out from beginning to end (especially if it’s a Marvel movie) by the trailer?

    I don’t plan on exploring every little detail, but I want to touch on a few that have made a lot of difference for me as a reader and as a writer. The first is stick to themes that are personal to you. Odds are, if it’s personal to you, it likely is to someone else. If you have passion, put it into your work-it shows.

    In The Last Archide, many of the events described are taken directly from real-world events or people. Some are from my own life, and some are taken from the lives of those who had a real impact on me. They are the ones that stuck out the most to me and I’m always happy to see how much they mean to others. If moments define you or another person, they will likely resonate with similar experiences in others.

    When I wrote the character of Roanoke for that series, I really wanted to capture a character void of fear, empathy, sympathy, caring, or compassion. I wanted him to as HG Wells said it, “…vast and cool and unsympathetic.” I wanted to show what real evil is-the complete absence of love. That’s a really tough mindset to be in as I’ve never had a desire to be that kind of person. How do I effectively write it? I picked up a book called Death Dealer which is a translation of the journal written by Rudolf Hoss, the commandant of Auschwitz while he was on trial at Nuremberg. Not only could I start to touch on that kind of evil, but some of the events in it were so shocking to me, they made their way into the book.

    The next is stick to the familiar-with a twist. I remember when Independence Day came out in theaters (yes, I know I’m dating myself). I don’t particularly care for the film these days, but I was blown away by it then. One of the big reasons was the scale. Everyone knew the concept of flying saucers-which is all the alien ships were-but the scale of them was a clever twist. Similarly, JK Rowling didn’t invent wizards, witches, wands, magic, flying brooms, or school. She put them together, you produced a potent blend of familiar material with a subtle perspective shift. If the shift is good enough, it makes someone believe they’re experiencing something original.

    Another component (and I believe this one may be the most important) is that a great story is only as good as the characters in it. My guess is we can all think of a book or movie we love but we make excuses for because the story is great, but the characters are…lacking.

    I love Orson Scott Card, but one of my beefs with him is that his characters don’t change much. This is likely due to his penchant for writing children who think/behave like adults, so when they do grow up, they’re the same as when they were kids.

    Ender’s Game is his most well-known and it falls into this trap. The story is amazing, but it begins with Ender in a fight in which he does what he has to in order to survive while feeling sympathy for his opponent. It ends with the exact same thing on a larger scale. So, the character didn’t change, just the scale of the enemy. It’s still a great book, but after I really wrapped my head around the concept, I haven’t read it again.

    By contrast, there’s the movie There Will Be Blood. Unlike Ender’s Game, the story isn’t all that great, it isn’t action-packed, and it’s certainly not original. However, Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano are some of the most captivating characters ever put on screen. Watching them both descend into madness in their own ways is captivating. Watching them each push the other closer to the edge is even more so. What would otherwise be a mediocre film at best becomes riveting because there are two characters that are beautifully written and executed even better.

    Every life in the world is driven by, well, life. What matters most to everyone is how their actions or the actions of others affects them. Characters in a book are no different. Give me a reason to love a character, then thrust them into something that makes them grow or change in some meaningful way-good or bad. Give me a small cast-three to six major characters max-and put them through the ringer. Doesn’t matter how far-fetched the setting is, let me care about them and live through their eyes and I’m in. Focus on the characters, not the scale, effects, magic, or science.

    Be personal and passionate, give me something familiar then add the unfamiliar, and give me characters to care about. That’s what a good story needs. The rest is window dressing.

    As the preacher said, “I could write shorter sermons, but once I get started, I’m too lazy to stop.”

     

     


     

    Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

    Unless you count the children’s dinosaur book that had an accompanying 45 record I could read along with back in the 80’s, I’d never listened to an audio book before I proofed my own. So, in 2010, when the first version of my book was published, print was the only medium I’d considered.

    Fast forward eight years and one nightmare publishing experience later, I began the process of self-publishing. Once they were in print and e-book, the number one question asked at signing events, on social media, etc. was, “When’s the audio book coming?” Like Neo and bullets, I dodged that question quite expertly for some time. I’d already moved on to my new series and I though my first, The Last Archide, was done. I didn’t want to revisit it.

    For any Indie author reading this, I don’t have to tell you the monumental effort that is publishing your own book. Between self-editing, peer-editing, professional-editing, money, cover design, formatting, money, price point, money, marketing, money (did I mention money?) your passion quickly becomes your nemesis. You learn quickly that, if you don’t really want this, you won’t finish. You also learn if you want it to be successful, you must be willing to pay to get it done right. In many ways, your audio book is similar.

    But, realizing I was missing out on a potential revenue stream that seemed to have a lot of popularity behind it, I felt it wise to at least dip my toe in the pond. No need to bore you with details here, but I discovered there were two ways to go about creating an audio book. One was to pay a narrator up front for their time (author gets 100% of the sales profit after) and the second was royalty share. I pay nothing up front, but I split the profits 50/50 with the narrator when it starts selling. Obviously, most narrators prefer the first.

    I’d already sunk a lot of money into the series and didn’t want to spend too much more except for marketing dollars. So, paying someone up front to narrate almost 1000 pages was a steep price tag. Then there’s the control aspect. After trusting a publisher that wasn’t trustworthy with my work, I was hesitant to relinquish control to anyone else. I thought about doing it on my own, but quickly realized that I had neither the knowledge, the passion, the time, or the resources to do this well. I learned a few publishing lessons by making costly mistakes, so if I was going to do this, I was going to do it right the first time. This was followed by a few months of internal debate resembling Muhammad Ali fighting Joe Frazier-long and painful.

    I was a proven author, but I’d been at it for less than a year. I knew the potential was there and I knew if a narrator was willing to take a chance, they’d make money. That meant I had to sell the merits of the product to strangers…almost like a business owner looking for investors. The first step, getting auditions from narrator was free, so why not give that a shot?

    If you’ve never done it before, you must provide a short excerpt from your book for potential narrators to read-about 3 pages worth, which winds up to being about 5 minutes of narration. They record themselves reading that excerpt and send it back to you. That’s their audition. 

    I thought I might get an audition or two in a week. I had to shut down the auditions after 48 hours because I had to sift through 30 narrators. Luckily, It was easier than I thought. Many of the potentials didn’t notice that I was looking for a royalty share and were quoting me their hourly rate, so I didn’t bother with those. Of the remaining narrators, some were eliminated quickly. Their voices just weren’t what I was looking for. Too high, too low, too nasally, too boring, and so on.

    It’s akin to online dating. I’ve seen your profile and heard a clip of you for five minutes. Now it’s time to have you screened by experts aka friends. I turned it over to the experts: my wife and two of my friends who are active audio book listeners. I chose my narrator and he and I presented ourselves on the battle field with armies at our back to discuss terms. Or, we discussed things over e-mail and worked out the. Either way, we made sure we were both on the same page.

    To clarify: there’s nothing that says. “you must use this narrator or else”, but you’ve come this far, and you want to stick with your decision. I was very fortunate in that my narrator, Scott, was open, honest, and motivated. 

    He was also willing to educate me on the finer details of what it takes to have a book professionally narrated. As part of the agreement, I get to give him a deadline on two things: completion of the first 15 minutes and completion of the entire project. He was kind enough to shepherd me though a few things, so I could make a realistic timetable. From him I learned that, like getting my book from a word document to a best seller on Amazon, there are steps to the process. 

    First, he reads the source material aka the book-which I provide at no cost. He asked for a pronunciation guide to the names I’d created for the people and places. He asked for clarification on details, even caught a few mistakes that my many rounds of editing had missed.

    Scott completed the first 15 minutes (a process I’ll go into more detail about below) and sent it to me for review and approval. I could, if I chose, make suggestions or corrections as needed.

    After all of that was done, he did the initial recording (if you want some appreciation for it, locate the word count of your book, then Google how long that many words takes to speak), then he edits his own recording which included things I’ve never considered like eliminating the sound of his breathing and swallowing, the length of pauses between sentences, letters or words that sound off, and many more. That process helped him identify any mistakes made so he could do what he called “pick-ups”. Scott would re-record a small portion, word or paragraph, and then insert it into the master file. 

    After he was done, he submitted it for my approval. I listen and proof, then approve or send it back for revisions. Even after that is done, Amazon has to listen to is and approve it (ensure that it is clear, that the narrator is true to the book, etc.) for distribution. From start to available for distribution was about 3 months.

    As the preacher said, “I’d write shorter sermons but once I get started I’m too lazy to stop.” So much of what we do as authors is about critical mass and adding an audience that was previously unavailable to me has been a boon to my cause. As an Indie author, I have to compete with large publishers who can afford to produce all 3 mediums up front, have more marketing dollars to spend, and so on. Feels like a sports team with a salary cap competing with one not having that restriction. 

    The audio book is another avenue to generate revenue and, if you can find a narrator who is willing to work with you on a royalty split, the cost up front is nothing. All of my ads and marketing now say, “Available in print, e-book and audio” which has increased sales on both sides of the aisle. To a potential reader/listener, having everything available makes your presence feel far more legitimate. I would caution to be patient with your narrator as it’s not as simple as recording your voice and hitting submit, but it’s worth the wait. 


     

    Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

    The Last Archide is a work of fiction. Science-fiction, as a matter of fact. Growing up as a kid, sci-fi was my favorite genre to watch on TV or in the theater. I spent hours building Legos with Star Trek, Star Wars, Space: Above and Beyond, The Fifth Element and many more in the background. The idea of what could be was always a fascination (to quote a certain Vulcan).

    Let’s face it: fantasy on TV and movies during the 80’s and 90’s was average at best. But, when it came to reading, I preferred fantasy. Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Shannara, Willow and so on. I loved to read about sword and shield, bow and arrow, dragons, and magic. The romanticism of what was captivated me, too.

    I’ve mentioned it before, but Last Archide began as a fantasy story. Mostly because that’s what I liked reading, so it made sense. I got a decent way into writing it before I changed my mind and switched to sci-fi. What caused me to make the switch is truly juvenile, so I won’t make more fun of myself than I need to.

    Science-fiction turned out to be the perfect medium for that story so, in hindsight, I made the right call. But, the desire to want to tell a fantasy story never left my mind. After Archide was over, I set my sights on doing just that.

    Now, I’m in what I believe will be the final Volume of Legends of Vandilor. Like Archide, it’s been a ride and it has come with its own set of challenges. I won’t get into all of them, but I wanted to discuss one specifically today and that’s science vs. magic. 

    In writing sci-fi, things have to be plausible. Not exact, but plausible. I’m not a physicist, nor a scientist of any kind, so my knowledge of how things work is pretty basic. But, I know enough to be dangerous. I included some theory and some technology that is based on my very limited knowledge of how more complex systems would work. I have no doubt that, if held to scrutiny, the science of The Last Archide would crumble pretty quickly, but that’s the beauty! I don’t have to know it all, I just have to build a world strong enough that you think, “is that possible?” 

    The creators of Star Trek: The Next Generation didn’t know tablets and iPads would be all the rage in 2020, but they made cool gadgets that looked futuristic. Smarter minds than me watched the program and though, “is that possible?” then went out and proved it was. Therein lies the burden of science fiction. It has to be probable, though not provable. When it stops becoming provable, it ceases to be science and becomes fantasy.

    Fantasy is a whole other animal to write. Why? Mostly because I need not explain why something happens. I don’t have to make you consider the plausibility of what the characters are doing. I can chalk it up to magic. That’s it. You don’t get a say because I said it’s magic and magic does what I want when I want to drive the story. It’s a wonderful thing!

    Tolkien illustrates this perhaps better than anyone I can think of. In his books, magic does whatever it needs to whenever he needs it to. He limits it as needed, enhances it as needed, and so on. This is not to say what he did was wrong, but if you really think it through, magic just comes and goes without a single explanation of how it works, why it works, or why some people can use it and not others. 

    Easy example: In The Silmarillion, Elrond’s father, Earendil defeats the great black dragon Ancalagon during the War of Wrath in a flying vessel. How did he get one of those? And, why are there no more? Magic worked there because he needed it to, then it never appears again. The same can be said of Galadriel’s defense of Lothlorien using her ring Nenya. The elves drive back an assault from Dol Guldur three times using that ring. How? Why? Why didn’t she do anything else with it?

    To emphasize: Tolkien was a genius. His work is the best there is.

    My challenge to myself is to marry magic with science. I’ve spent some time defining magic, what it can/can’t do and some other surprises along the way I hope you all enjoy as you read it, especially if you’re a fan of The Last Archide. I’ve done my best to define magic with science, even though the users of magic don’t understand the science. Hopefully, that comes across as you read it!

    Thanks again for everything you do, for reading my insanity including this blog!


     
    © 2022 Chad R. Odom. All Rights Reserved. Site designed by NDZiNE STUDiOS