Have you ever dreamed up a character that seemed flat on the page? What about an ensemble of talking heads that seemed to talk to no one and everyone without a purpose or identity? Have you ever built a villain that looked too much like a hero (and vice versa)? Then maybe it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
Welcome to The Writer’s Bookshelf. This week, we focus on Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s answer to the Hero’s Journey by focusing on the mythic characters that populate it. 45 Master Characters is your new go-to for plotting when you want your characters to tell the story rather than set the dressing. Or something like that.
If you ever wanted to ensure your characters are varied yet compatible, then this is the book to read. Find out why in this week’s video.
Episodic fiction is hot right now. With The Falcon and the Winter Soldier wrapping up its six-episode run, thus completing yet another story arc for our beloved Marvel superheroes, and The Karate Kid getting its fifth series installment in the form of three seasons of television and counting (in Cobra Kai), and Stranger Things stirring up all sorts of speculation about the future of Hawkins, Indiana, it’s easy to see that telling stories in bite-sized chunks over a span of weeks, months, or even years is a great way to keep the fans fulfilled but hungry.
But has it always been the entertainment equivalent to potato chips dipped in powdered donuts?
For me, my addiction to television began as a child, watching primetime episodes of Diff’rent Strokes, Family Ties, The A-Team, Perfect Strangers, and Night Court (and plenty others), and continued well into my teen years, where I had the pleasure of watching Seinfeld, The Simpsons, Seinfeld, Married with Children, and Seinfeld (and later, reruns of The Simpsons and Seinfeld). But then I got to college and whisked it all away.
Television stopped being fun to watch.
Sure, there were good shows on in the late 1990s, but most of them were on channels I couldn’t afford or pick up on my antenna. Everything else I loved watching had already wrapped. And with college becoming my focus, I didn’t really see much reason to give television my attention. Besides, the movies were much better. By that point, we’d gotten the summer of 1996 and the year to end all movie years, 1999 (look it up; it was a titanic year, even though Titanic was released a little more than a year earlier). What even was television by that point?
Okay, in fairness, ER was in its prime, and Alias was giving Jennifer Garner a named status. And shows like Friends and Frasier were going strong. But I wasn’t watching any of those. Each episode was just more of the same (and Alias was on the channel my antenna couldn’t pick up).
It wasn’t until 24 in late 2001 that something sparked my interest. But even then, I was busy with other matters. As much as I liked 24, I kept thinking I’d just catch it later (or on DVD, which ended up being the situation).
Then came March 2005 and the grand entrance of Steve Carell and The Office, and that was the end of my television fast. It just took two episodes to wrangle me back into a television habit that lasted for the next twelve years (and included weekly viewings of 24, beginning with the stellar Season 5, Parks and Recreation, and my new favorite, Community).
And though many of these shows maintained the old habit of introducing familiar characters to new situations without much memory of the previous episode, the seeds of serial fiction were embedded. The Office introduced “Jim and Pam” in a hopeless romantic subplot that spanned three seasons and didn’t truly reach its height until early Season 6. 24 boarded a rocket ship every season and rode it to the finale, keeping viewers invested in a single 24-part story arc, and residents of Los Angeles worried what was about to happen every time the clock hit 59 minutes on the hour (but only on bad days).
These shows each proved one thing: a good season of television is enough to keep viewers on the hook for another round, and to get a good season, television needs to come with great episodes. And unlike the chapters of a novel, these episodes can live independently of each other, but like a compelling novel, each episode must contain its own completed arc while serving the needs of the greater story.
It’s a puzzling juggling act. But it’s nevertheless important to keep the balls in the air. (Insert a Michael Scott catchphrase here.)
To get it right is a challenge and a reward.
And Amazon is rolling out a new service that gives authors an opportunity to get it right.
If you haven’t heard of Kindle Vella yet, well now you have. It’s Amazon’s entrance into the browser-based episodic fiction market (like Wattpad), using their massive platform to create an experience that combines Wattpad with Medium. Its goal is to entertain readers with the gift of storytelling, one episode at a time (with episodes ranging from 600-5,000 words each), but to do so behind a paywall so that authors can earn cash for their sweet and precious words.
Well, the requirements for entry are steep. In short, all stories posted to the platform must be original. That means never-before-published. And if there’s one thing Amazon is good at, it’s stalking the entire Internet and library database and your third grade teacher’s manila folder (that she left under the couch that one time she tried catching her cat on shots day) for your story. And THEY WILL FIND IT. So, keep it original.
They’re also available in the United States only, but that’s probably temporary.
For my part, I’ve started adapting my game Entrepreneur: The Beginning into an episodic novel, and will be posting new episodes every Friday, under the title The Hybrid City Entrepreneur. But because Vella won’t officially open to the public until sometime this summer, I’ve got time to frontload it with content. And that’s important because the first three episodes of every story will be free. It isn’t until Episode 4 of any story that readers will have to shell out their precious tokens (the currency of Vella) to unlock what’s next and find out what’s really eating Gilbert Grape.
Okay, yeah, I absolutely broke out the antiquated movie reference. And I don’t care. We’re not writing movies in Vella. We’re writing television, dangit! Well, except that we’re not even doing that. It’s the structure that counts here.
If you want to see how to get onto Vella, check out my video below. And if you want to find out more, I recommend Kindlepreneur’s and Reedsy’s articles on the topic.
If you decide to give it a try, make sure you let us know in the comments. (But don’t post samples. Again, Amazon is always watching. Always.)
Aw, you came back! Excellent. Welcome to The Writer’s Bookshelf. Again!
This week’s book takes us into the mind of an author who wants to tell us about the writing life like it is. This is the reality check for anyone who dreams of writing for a living. Is it glamorous? Maybe. Is it profitable? Maybe! Is it rewarding on any level, intellectual or otherwise? Pending. Is it for those who think they can cut it without learning a thing? There’s only one way to find out.
This book of essays addresses some of these topics (and many others) while helping the aspiring author decide whether writing is a business he or she should aspire to (and why). In the tradition of Stephen King’s On Writing and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Kerri Majors’s message to new writers in This Is Not a Writing Manual is simple: Learn what you’re getting yourself into before you jump in. Then jump in.
And why wait? Check it out now, if you’d like. Here’s the video that hypes it up! And here are the other vitals:
Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. It’s time for a new season of goodness with a new crop of even more written goodness. In this case, I’m referring to written goodness of the referential kind, and by referential goodness, I mean good things you can refer to if you want to improve your writing skills. And by improve your writing skills, what I really mean is…
Okay, after twenty episodes, you know how this works.
This season, we’ll be focusing primarily on the craft of writing. This means we’ll cover topics like characterization, settings, conflicts, and more.
But not today!
No, today’s book is basically a cult book for writers. It’s a book about productivity in a time when none of us wants to commit to our art. True, we all say that we want to create art (like writing novels, for example). And we might even believe it! But most of us say that as we slay a dragon on that videogame we’re playing or as we post yet another article on Facebook, trying to prove once and for all that we’re right about whatever it is we think we’re right about. Today’s book attempts to slay that dragon, the one called “resistance,” the thing that stops us from actually writing.
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield gets to the heart of our resistance against creating art (even when we say we’re artists!) and spurs us on to get back to work. It’s like a 12-step for writers in written form. Or maybe a cult. You decide.
For more information, check out this week’s latest video.
Hi, and welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. If you’ve been keeping up with this series for the last six months, then you’ll know that we’ve covered 20 books about improving your writing and storytelling game. But depending on your skill level and writing style, maybe the order was a bit lumpy for you.
If that’s the case, then here’s my recommended reading order for maximum educational experience, depending on your writing approach.
Please note that this list is based entirely on my Season One recommendations. Season Two, which begins April 16th, will present to you a new reading list with an even deeper dive into the craft of writing by focusing on the nuances of story development, beginning with mindset and continuing into character, conflict, and scene creation.
So, make sure you come back as we begin a new mega-multi-week journey into The Writer’s Bookshelf.
Don’t forget to like, subscribe, comment, and do all of the things that convince me you like this kind of information and want more like it. You can also check out the video edition of this recap below.