Indy e-Con: The Value of Beta Readers

This article is part of a really cool Indy e-Confrence going on right now, based from Kendra E. Ardnek’s blog. You can click the picture below to check it out. 🙂

the value of beta readers

The Value of Beta Readers

There is no one secret to producing a good book. Hard work, patience, more hard work, dogged determination, and did I mention hard work? Yet it is so worth it. And, the more I write, the more I value one particular asset every writer should have.

Beta readers!

Beta readers are wonderful. Sometimes they are friends. Sometimes they are other writers. Sometimes they are people you’ve never met before but who have signed up to help you. Whatever the case, they provide an excellent new look at your own work, commenting on points you’ve missed because of your closeness to your story. If there are problems you are trying to ignore, they will be quick to point those out too. Grammar, plot, characters, awkward wording… everyone is different, and each beta reader tends to focus on different aspects of your story and will find different things. Together, they help smooth and polish your story to a great degree.

I first started writing, I didn’t even know of the term ‘beta reader’. I had help, but to me, they were friends who were helping with my story as I helped with theirs. Together we improved each other’s work. While I still beta read for friends, and they for me, I now reach out to other readers and get as much aid and new eyes on my story as I can. Without beta readers to provide feedback, I would be lost.

A writer can find beta readers in a number of ways.

The first place to look is among friends. You may have some friends (or fans) who enjoy your work and who are willing to correct your book for the mere chance of reading it. There are other friends who may be writers, and you can arrange a swap of manuscripts, each correcting the other’s work. And you can simply ask. If you are in a writing group, tell people what you are looking for and have them contact you if they are interested in helping. Create a form people can fill out (Google Forms is great for this) and post it on your blog and Facebook with a blurb about your book. You might be surprised at the number of people who want to read your novel.

There isn’t a set number of beta readers one ought to have: anywhere from five to twenty, as a general range. If you can’t interest anyone, there are writers who hire themselves out as beta readers, as well as professional beta readers you can hire on places like Fiverr. But generally, it’s not hard to find a handful of readers among your circle of friends and acquaintances.

Once you get your beta readers, you must loosen your grip about your manuscript and let people actually read it. Depending on the length, you may send the whole story at once, or in pieces. I prefer sending a novel in parts both because I can correct it easier in smaller chunks, and because it forces the reader to correct a section before finding out what happens next in the story.

At this point, I’ll create an Excel sheet, or a chart of some kind, with the names of all the beta readers, their emails, when I sent them a particular part, when I got it back, and when I corrected that part myself. It helps keep everything in one place, especially when you have a large number of beta readers.

Now remember, unless you are hiring these beta readers, they have a life of their own. I have had numbers of stories beta read and there are two main things I account for when beta readers sign up to help me.

Firstly, I consider how long it would take to beta read a story, then add a few weeks. Then I expect some beta readers to be late. Because life happens. Some readers might whip through your story and have it back in a week. Others might take two or three months. If you do need your novel back in a particular timeframe, encourage everyone to send what they’ve corrected to you by that date, even if they aren’t finished.

Secondly, there will normally be a small percentage of beta readers who end up not getting back to you. This is nothing against beta readers because I understand that things get busy. Just expect it. If everyone sends you your manuscript by the deadline you set, that is great. If not, it’s nothing to worry about. It happens.

Eventually, you start receiving feedback. I like to correct my novel as I get comments back. The cool thing about beta reading is that everyone picks out different things. Five beta readers can go over the same page and pick out different spelling, grammar, or plot mistakes. Together, they are a powerful force.

And there is something you might start to notice. Beta readers can disagree among themselves (unintentionally, of course, since they don’t know what the others have said). Some love a particular part. Others think it could be changed. Some love a theme. Others don’t quite get it.

It is important to approach beta reader feedback correctly. Remember, one book isn’t for everyone. There will always be some people who don’t quite care for a style or idea. There is nothing wrong with this. Take each beta reader’s comment into careful consideration, but they are not Gospel truth. You can keep the thoughts, or decide they aren’t right for the book, or pick and choose what you like. Now, if everyone is agreeing that something is a problem, then it likely needs some help, but otherwise use what comments you can and don’t feel bad if you don’t agree with all of them.

Finally, and this goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, treat your beta readers with respect. They deserve it. They have gone over your story, helping you improve it, just for the sake of reading it themselves. Make sure to thank them and maybe even mention them in your acknowledgements.

If you haven’t had beta readers before, don’t hesitate to find some. Once your novel is finished, but before you plunge into detailed polishing, send your book to beta readers for feedback. You won’t regret it.

Self-publishing: Five Time-Saving Tools

A writer’s life is filled with so much more than the mere creating of stories. There is editing and proofreading. Marketing and newsletters. Blogging and graphics. We can take any help offered, and here are five free tools which have helped me save time and work the best I can.

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Grammarly

When you create an account in Grammarly, you can type directly into a document on the site, or you can paste into a document. Grammarly also offers some cool apps which will check your grammar and spelling as you type up emails or on social media sites.

Grammarly is split between a free version and a premium version. The free version catches critical mistakes, while you have to pay to see advanced mistakes. But it is still handy to find obvious grammar or spelling mistakes, even if it occasionally marks something as wrong that you decide to leave unchanged for various reasons.

MailChimp

Building an email list is essential for any author. MailChimp offers a free mail service for up to 2000 email addresses. You’re able to create signup forms, popup boxes, welcome emails, and various other cool stuff. You can create and save templates and track opens and clicks through Mailchimp analytics.

Hootsuite

If you are on social media at all, this is a great time saver. You’re allowed to add up to three different social media sites in the free version. Hootsuite allows you to schedule posts, either for each site individually, or for several sites at once.

Plus, Hootsuite has a cool dashboard where you can look all the information on a particular site, with columns for your posts, your feed, your messages, your scheduled posts, etc.

Canva

At some point, you’re probably going to make some graphics for a book launch, a sale, or your blog. Canva is a great free tool for this. With numbers of free templates (as well as others you can pay for) you get a head start on creating classing Pinterest photos or sleek Instagram posts. One of the best parts is that these templates are created for the optimal size of a post for that particular social media site, increasing the effectiveness of the graphic.

Pixabay

You’re going to need photos for the graphic you create, and Pixabay offers a great collection of royalty free photos. Though downloadable for free, there is the option to donate a few dollars if you wish to, but it’s not required. They have a wide variety of photos, especially when it comes to nature pictures.

These are the five tools or sites I use the most as I write and market. What about you? Do you have any favorite tools?

Christian Convictions: Assassination in Writing

Assassination in Writing

Death comes in many forms when one is writing a book. Weather, sickness, battle, or personal revenge. In many books, warfare of some kind or another progresses through the story. As writers, sometimes we need to decipher what is acceptable for our characters to do; or at least what they can do in good conscious (Of course, this doesn’t mean they always will behave right, because having a character fail morally and then having to face the results of his failings is a great story-line.)

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Now I am not a pacifist by any stretch of the imagination. The Bible says do not kill, but it does allow for war. Killing in battle or self-defense is acceptable; murder is not. Pacifism, when one should fight, if one should fight…it’s quite a large topic that I might address sometime else if people show interest. Right now I’m focusing on a narrower topic. Given that fighting and killing is a part of general warfare, how should a Christian (and, by extension your characters) deal with assassination?

In battle, men line up in shield walls, shoot from defended trenches, or swoop above the enemy in planes. The enemy knows they are there…sometimes. There are also ambushes, surprise attacks, night attacks, and dawn attacks were damage is done and then the attackers fade into the night. A killed guard. Sniper shots inside enemy encampment. It is all part of warfare and part of the danger of being in the army.

Assassination moves a little closer to home. This is no random shot fired or a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is purposeful. Watching a target, waiting for him, looking through a scope at a real person instead of a nameless soldier. It is pulling the trigger, throwing a knife, or striking up close from an ambushment with a dagger.

So, is assassination in wartime an acceptable course of action?

The answer, I believe, is yes. With some restrictions.

Now don’t get me wrong, just because killing is a part of war doesn’t mean it is desirable. It will be a necessary part of surviving, but war doesn’t mean all rules go and one can kill or assassinate anyone on the opposite side.

I do not believe, even in war, that killing or assassinating the defenseless and civilians is ever right. When it comes to an armed enemy, however, it is another matter. Soldiers die on the field, from sickness, and in surprise attacks or in ambushes. Generals, officers, and leaders may, for practical reasons, stay away from the main conflict, but they are still actively engaged in warfare. As a soldier, they are fighting with the knowledge that they could die. And if it is not possible to kill a target from the battlefield, then I see no problem with a secret attack which gets the job done.

It may not seem the most honorable course of action, but since when is killing honorable? What must be done, must be done. In a pitched battle, in an ambush, or in a surgical strike behind the lines, if a leader of an army needs to be taken out, then there is no moral problem for your characters accomplishing the task.

And an item of note here – this does not mean your characters are ‘playing God’ and deciding who lives and who dies. A soldier in another book, when confronted with the question about how he could kill, especially when he knew those dying probably weren’t Christians, put it very well. I don’t remember the exact quote but it was to the tenor of ‘God is in control, and if He wants someone to be saved, then He will save that person regardless of what I do. But as a soldier for my country, I will do my duty to the best of my ability…even if that means killing’.

When it comes to writing, I do not have a moral problem with a character planning an assassination on the leader or general of an opposing side. Now, just because it might not be a matter of conscience, it does not mean it won’t affect and haunt your character in personal and emotional ways…which is, of course, what you want for them. Your characters shouldn’t plan an assassination for no reason, but if there is a reason then have no hesitation throwing the turmoil and contention of planning and performing (either in success or failure) at them and seeing what happens.

Note: I do not claim to know everything about the various topics I’ll be discussing in these Christian Conviction articles. What I write is what I believe after reading the Bible and holding conversations with friends and parents, but that does not mean I’m not interested in Bible evidence for another point of view. If the topics interest you, I encourage you to study them on your own as well. Friendly discussion in the comments is encouraged if you have points you’d like to bring up, but this is not the place for a full-scale debate. : )

New Fantasy Times: Mentors for Hire

Mentors for Hire

Mentorship used to be relegated to those who had nowhere else to go. The former experts who outlived their glory. Older men, frequenting alehouses to pick fights or brooding in the dark corners of their bare cottages until some stripling, in desperate need of training, brightened their life and pulled them out of apathy. Perhaps the reason most retiring soldiers avoided mentorship was the high mortality rate once the apprentice learned almost everything they needed to know. But for you experts out there in need of a job, I have good news. Mentorship is now becoming respectable again. Its ranks have opened for many kinds of trainers and you are more likely to survive nowadays than you ever would have in the past.

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There is really only one requirement for mentorship…a thorough knowledge of the topic to be studied. I’ve seen younger men teaching professional soldiers how to shoot bows. I’ve seen girls train retired rangers in the art of writing. I’ve seen old women teaching boys camouflage, stealth, and mending, while mere children give pointers on tracking, weather, or living on the street. Princes teach peasants and farmer’s wives train kings.

Of course, those who are older do tend to know topics better, but this isn’t always the case. A twenty-year-old who’s been practicing survival to keep alive for half his life will have more expertise than a ranger who knows the facts but has only been on the field for a few years. And really, a thorough knowledge isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. No one knows everything, and as long as a mentor can admit that, learning from his apprentice even as he teaches him all he knows, things will be fine. Probably. Frankly, some of the most flourishing mentorships I’ve known is when both parties play the part of both mentor and apprentice in different topics.

Another point of note is that an apprentice can have more than one mentor, while a mentor might have several apprentices. This doesn’t happen all the time, of course, but such interweaving does tend to make the best use of resources.

As for the mentors themselves, rest assured you won’t turn gloomy and grim if you take the job. That’s not to say some frustration and pain won’t be involved. Unless you have an ideal apprentice, it won’t be easy…but there’s nothing to say you can’t face it with your own spirit and character. Jokes, pranks, teasing, reading while your apprentice practices their postures, surprises, dryness…each mentor has their own way of teaching and their own way of keeping up spirits, which is a vital task no matter your temperament.

Of course, while your apprentice will likely pick up on some of your quirks, they will be much quicker on picking up on your flaws. A sharp tongue. Brooding silence. A perchance for too much food or comfort… they will see it all. And they will use it as an excuse for their own behavior. So beware. If you think you’re not flaws, then take an apprentice and you’ll recognize your mistake very quickly.

And I think…oh yes, there is that final important matter of terminating the mentorship without dying. It’s quite easy, really. Leave before your apprentice faces whatever challenge he’s been trying to overcome. Let him fight his own battles and don’t throw yourself in front of a spear or sword or arrow, no matter how emotionally attached you’ve become during mentorship.

What? You don’t like the idea of abandonment or ditching self-sacrifice? I should have known better…though I might point out that some mentors teach solely for money and have no problems leaving him be. Moving on, there are alternatives to death and dishonor.

For one, you (probably) have a life too. Send your apprentice off to finish a task on his or her own while you turn to more personal matters. Sometimes life gives you a way out by throwing circumstances at you which force your apprentice to operate alone. Maybe you are wounded, are captured, are out spying, or are dealing with some other life and death matter of your own. Maybe you have another apprentice you are teaching, or a mentor of your own to save. Or maybe you just happen to be relaxing in some secluded valley during a peaceful lull, and can’t be reached in time for the main fight.

Perhaps you even stand by your apprentice’s side during the whole fight but be warned, there will come a time that he will need to rise up on his own. You may be there to see him do it, or you may have to leave if he is too dependent on you. But, mentally, each apprentice will need to come into his own and claim the prize you’ve been teaching him to acquire.

And really, besides the late nights, hard work, meager payment (like glory…which one can’t eat), emotional trauma, danger, and some likelihood of death (I said death was lessening, not that it was gone), there is no duty so rewarding as a mentorship. Assuming your apprentice doesn’t turn against you in the end, but that is a topic for another day. For now, if you have knowledge and love to teach, then at least consider the mentorship path. You won’t regret it.

Hopefully.

 

Have any questions, legends, or trending cliches you’d like Kirin Quillblade (or Elena) to address? Please comment below; he promises to at least read what you have to say between his realm leaper’s missions, even if he holds the rights to choose what to write about and what to ignore.

 

Join the Legend Seekers for monthly stories about the realm leapers and fantasy time-travelers, Kirin and Elena. Click here to sign up

Social Media: What Does an Author Really Need?

What social media sites should an author have?

There are so many social media sites, but does an author really need to be on all of them? Is one or more of them indispensable to the serious author or do they just clutter and waste time? And the answer is… *draws deep breath* everyone has different views. What a surprise.

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From what I’ve seen, focused work on most platforms can bring in revenue if you know what you’re doing. At least there are courses on how to grow and make money on Twitter, or using Pinterest, or with Facebook ads, from people who have used these sites themselves. That being said, an author only has so much time, so you want to spend it on what works and not just throw out information and hope it draws some people in. This involves trial and error (or buying a course), analytics, figuring out where your target audience congregates…and is beyond the scope of this article today.

However, over time, I have developed opinions on what platforms an author should have and their uses. Everyone has their own favorite sites and keep in mind that some of this is personal opinion, but hopefully it will give you some place to start if you are trying to figure out where you should devote your online time.

Website or Blog

These two terms are often used interchangeably, and they might be mingled together in reality as well, but there is a subtle difference. A website has information about you, pages leading to your books, contact information, etc. A blog is where you can post articles, pictures, stories, and updates on your life.

Every author ought to have a website of some kind. This is your central hub, the place you can send everyone to find out more about you and your work. This is where people can sign up to your newsletter and follow your life. A blog of some kind, either linked or as part of the site, is also handy. You don’t have to post every week or even regularly, just so long as you have a place your fans can find out the latest information about you and your work.

There are many free sites for both websites and blogs. I’ve tried Weebly, Blogger, and WordPress. WordPress is by far my favorite site for blogging, while I use Weebly for my main website (though some authors, including me, use two different places and domain names for their website and blog, it’s quite easy to just have your blog be part of your website under one domain name.)

Facebook

Facebook is a great place to connect with other people. You can create an author page for people to follow you, and this is useful for small updates on your life and work, but the main use I’ve found using Facebook is the ability to connect with other writers and readers. There are writing groups. There are promotional events and Facebook parties. You can message other authors and follow them easier. Though not necessary, I do think Facebook is a useful tool for authors to have.

Instagram

Instagram is a social media site where one posts pictures. If you like taking pictures of your life, then it can be quite fun. You can connect with fans to some degree as well, though not as much as if you were on a site like Facebook. Depending on what type of blog you have, you can also link your Instagram account to the sidebar of your blog so the changing pictures will keep fresh information on your web page even when you are too busy to post to your blog yourself.

Twitter

Some people love Twitter. Some are hardly on there. I’m one of the latter because I simply don’t have the time it would take to keep up with a Twitter account, but if you have the time to check it often, it can be a good place to connect with readers. If you just want to post several times a day, you can use an app called Hootsuite. You can schedule posts to a number of social media sites with Hootsuite, including Twitter, allowing one to sit down for an hour and schedule daily tweets for a whole month. Then you can forget about it (and yet still have some semblance of a presence there), only checking it once or twice a day.

Pinterest

I do make Pinterest friendly pins of my blog posts and post them to drive traffic to my blog. But, besides that, the main reason I use Pinterest is to find pictures of my characters and create storyboards. Pinterest is a very cool tool for any author to use. You’re not going to connect directly to fans through there, but marketing is a possibility if you have learned how to use it (I haven’t though I’ve seen courses on using Pinterest to sell your product) and you should be able to drive traffic to your blog or newsletter as well.

Email List

This isn’t really a site, but it is the most important marketing platform. And this isn’t my opinion…this is what every expert I listen to says. If you want to be able to sell well, build an email list. I’ll probably have an article about how to create an email list and what one can use it for next month, but there are places like Mail Chimp that let you create quite a sizable list before you have to start paying for the service.

In the end, having a website or blog is essential to providing a foundation for yourself and your work. Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are most useful when it comes to one on one contacting of fans and other writers. Most authors tend to pick and spend most of their social media times one one of these sites. An email list is your largest marketing weapon, so spend the time needed to build it up. Pinterest is fun as well as useful, especially for those who write fiction.

What social media sites do you enjoy? Do you have any tips about marketing or connecting with readers on various sites? Is there a social media site which you love that I’ve missed? I’d love to hear your comments below.

Developing Your Characters: Part 2 – The Fear

As I mentioned last month, developing fictional characters can stray into great detail. Writing pages of likes, dislikes, hobbies, and backstory can be helpful, but it can also swamp you with information that doesn’t really have a place in the story, and still leaving you wondering about how to distinctly portray the character in question.

There are three main questions, powerful, yet short, which an author should answer for each of their characters. The first question is, what does your character want? What does he desire more than anything? What will he give anything for and what is he striving for? Coupled with this question (if the character is a major one) is what does he really need, and is it what he wants?

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Today, we’ll move to the second major question which can be asked of all characters:

What does your character fear?

Except in rare cases, your character is bound to fear something. If he doesn’t fear anything, then you can probably glean quite a bit of information about him by figuring out why they don’t fear anything. But generally your character will have some fears.

There are two type of fear. The first one is situational fear. As your character is hiding in a dark closet or running from wolves or in the middle of battle, his or her fear is natural. And, while some characters will be afraid to different degrees, in different situations, and of different things, if they aren’t afraid sometimes then they’re probably not human.

You can learn a lot from situational fear, but other kind of fear, the fears you want to find for this question, are the ‘great fears’ of a character’s life. Unlike ‘what does your character want’ the question about ‘what a character fears’ may have more than one answer and will likely have several layers of answers. A man may fear breaking under torture, but he fears for the safety of his family even more, while the topmost rung consists of his fear of failing his nation or his God.

Still, there will probably be one culminating fear, coupled with several others, which may or may not be related, but which also shape the character. These fears will tell you quite a bit about your character: what or who he cares for most and where his deepest loyalties lie. It also gives you another weapon to torment your poor character with, by making them choose between two fears or prodding them to see what will make them face their fear, if anything will force them to allow the fear to come to pass, or what they will give to keep a fear from coming true.

So, discover what your character wants, what he fears, and be on the watch next month for the last main question to ask of your characters.

MASTERSOFTHESOUND.COM

New Fantasy Times: Villainous Complaints

Villainous Complaints

Elena recently discovered fragments of a handbook compiled by a villain (who will go unnamed) who also deemed himself a writer. After one defeat, he spent the better part of the night ranting to himself about the perceptions of villains by the common public.

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There’s too many people claiming the title of villain now days. One has only to kidnap a princess or destroy a town and their names are suddenly spoken in hushed whispers. Ridiculous. There are some of us who actually had to WORK for our titles.

And the public perception of villains…I mean, I remember when the no one would dare speak the name of one who held their life in their hands. Now people laugh behind our backs and underestimate us in the most astounding ways. Do they honestly thing we got our positions with careless henchmen or soldiers who couldn’t shoot straight? HONESTLY, PEOPLE! Let’s think about this a moment here!

And besides that, why must our name be blackened and twisted into some cruel merciless form? What do they think a villain is? Someone who slaughters for fun?

Actually, that’s a good question…who a villain is, not the slaughtering for fun part. Slaughtering, by the way, is not to be recommended unless in the most dire cases. Nine times out of ten it only succeeds in raising up a rebellion among people who would have been grudgingly content to live under higher taxes and stricter laws as long as they themselves were left in peace. Plus, it gives us a bad name; as if we don’t have enough of that going around as it is. But I digress

A villain can be one of two things. The common definition nowadays is that he is a ‘cruelly malicious person who is involved in or devoted to wickedness or crime’. Basically, he’s a scoundrel or, as we call them, lower-class villains. But sometimes they are just the major evil agency opposing the hero, some character or another everyone always seems to like. Don’t ask me why. These ‘heroes’ tend to be beaten, captured, and have everything they love torn from them and still everyone wishes they were them.

But back to the ‘evil agency’ or, as I like to call it, the higher class of the villain guild. I’m not exactly opposed to the definition, but can we please bend that term ‘evil’ slightly to mean something more than gloomy towers, black clothes (where has the fashion sense gone now days?), and a love of death, gold, and pain?

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up…the main points anyhow.

For starters, we villains can be in almost any position. Of course, we normally prefer a powerful place in society…say a king or a general. But sometimes we’re spies. Or tavern keepers. Or teachers. Or housemaids.

For one just starting a career, a lesser position might be a good place to start since you’ll be under less scrutiny. Of course, even as something like a blacksmith or actor, it’s taken for granted you’ve a powerful following of people who you can raise up at a moment’s notice to accomplish whatever schemes you intend to…well, accomplish. Otherwise, don’t you dare take the title of villain because the guild is growing aggravated at incompetents claiming to be villains. We in the process of hiring assassins to deal with the matter.

On the other end of the scale are the dark lords. SOOOO annoying. They might not do much, but their presentation is enough to make the bravest cower. Of course, presentation is half of what being a villain is about, but still they needn’t flaunt themselves over the rest of us.

Oh, and family relations have nothing to do with a person’s success, though it may place some people in a better position to exercise authority than others. But a nephew is about as likely to try to kill and take the throne from an uncle, as an uncle is from a nephew. Flaming terrors, but what is it with the poor uncles now days? Almost everyone becomes an uncle eventually, provided he has siblings. And what about the Aunts? They can be just as deadly, sometimes even more so.

Back to our grievances.

Like people thinking we’re some sort of monsters. All right, I admit, there are some who do enjoy causing pain or death. But most of us just have something we want. There may be a particular small group we hate and will inflict pain on if we can, but for the most parts life is just life. We may even show a touch of mercy here or there to keep the subjects in line. Ruling by fear is all very well, and we rarely rule by love. Too much work, the love part. But we can be nice if we wish. And besides, when those who fear us are also treated decently well, then tend to let us do as we please.

And honestly, there are far more entertaining things than stuck away inside some dank torture chamber.

Dancing, for instance. Music. Feasts. Hunting. Counting over treasure (for those with dragon blood in their veins, as well as a few mathematically minded souls. Most of us just like to spend it.) Hunting. Swimming. Climbing. Hiking. Racing. Chess. Writing. Reading. The list could go on and on. Basically, we can be very sophisticated if we please. And there are many of us who do please.

And on the subject of likes, can I just touch on clothes? Put quite simply, we’re as varied as any other guild. Some like black. Some like scarlet. Some stay in fashion. Some start fashions at the point of a sword. And some of us don’t care how we look as long as we’ve several weapons nearby. But everyone looks good in black; hero, villain, or idiot. It doesn’t have the same flair it used to. And we don’t all use such dark colors.

And…oh yes. Minions. If anyone knows where to get simple, mindless, happy minions, please tell me. Because I’ve yet to find them. One either has slaves, or they pay others for labor.

Also, just because we tend to control many people by fear of one kind or another, doesn’t mean we don’t have friends who help us simply because they like us. We, or at least I, can be very charming if I please. We don’t give power to anyone unless there’s a reason. And that reason is normally because we like the person. A friend. A brother. A son. Of course, if they betray us they’ll die. But isn’t that how life goes with heroes too, and no one complains about them.

We true villains didn’t get where we are by making mistakes, and we are careful our subordinates are smart as well. They support us, we reward them. Everyone is happy. Also, they know their success is bound up in ours. And we rarely kill someone for failing. That’s a disastrous waste of talent and those who do kill subordinates who fail tend to be villains of the lower quality.

Oh, and the skills. We’re the same as any other person. What did you expect? Of course, many of us can fight well or are at least skilled at tactics, but that’s to be expected. But we have interests and skills like any other; reading, music, debate, riding, sports. Even cooking and gardening.

Our security, on the other hand, tends to be top of the scale. Your hero can’t run across twenty paces of open garden while being shot at. Either he sneaks in, or he’ll die, because we only hire the best. Actually, cut out the sneaking in too. Even that would be very difficult. And when we capture the hero *insert mocking tone* we DO NOT tell him all our plans, or stand around taunting him and giving him time to escape. The villains who do this are, in reality, double agents or are so insecure they need to see the hero’s fear to ensure they have succeeded. A ridiculous mindset when they already have prove their power by capturing him or her in the first place.

But really, in many of our tastes, we’re like any other person. We’re not monsters, at least not normally. As for our choice of career, there’s many reasons. Sometimes it’s revenge. Other times its love of family or nation. Sometimes we want power or riches. Sometimes a villain really is a bit insane mentally (they also tend to be great masterminds. Why do the ones who don’t enjoy what they get always succeed?) But in the end, it’s because we want something, either physical or ideological, and so we set our mind to get it. And we do get it, no matter the price.

Also…presentation. Anyone can kill or lie to take what they please. The real villains do it with such class that their foes feel honored to be defeated by them. (Yes, I know they’d deny it, but they do).

Disclaimer: The views held in this report is in no way supported by either myself or by Kirin or Elena. It is the copy of a diary rant only, to give you a quick glimpse into the mind of a villain. Please do not put this advice to play in your own life.

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Developing Your Characters: Part 1 – The Want

Developing fictional characters can stray into great detail, from what a character likes to eat, to his favorite color, to ‘does he snore’? I’ve filled out pages of questions about various characters, so much so that I forget almost everything I’ve written, then don’t bother to look back, and write the character as he or she first comes to mind. A problem, I know. I’m working on it.

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But there are three main questions, powerful, yet short, which an author should answer for each of his or her characters. In fact, character development might not need to go much further for some secondary characters. Meanwhile, with main characters, keeping these questions in mind while writing will be a great help in giving them their own voices. And the first question and answer is…

*rolling drumbeat*

What does your character want?

Not the little things, like food and shelter. There’s always going to be some things a character needs and others he wants. But what does he really, really, really want? What is always in the back of his mind? What would he give almost everything to gain? Honor? Love? Gold? Salvation? He may not realize his desires narrow down to a single phrase but, once we the authors know what this desire is, we can use it to inspire him, torment him (we’re awful, I know) or change him.

As an extra note for major characters, is what the character wants what he needs? What they want may drive the story to the end where they get it. Or what they want may be wrong or not as important as they once thought and, by the end, they will give up what they want more than anything else for something else they’ve realized is more important.

Or what they want might change.

The character’s desires will drive what he says, does, and how he views the circumstances going on around him.

Keep an eye out next month, for the second of the major question which should be answered for every character, large and small.

MASTERSOFTHESOUND.COM

Longbows – Part 2

Read Part 1 here

Longbows, and bows in general when used in battle, were not just a weapon shot from safe heights or long distances. As one of the most expensive artillery weapons, bows and archers played a large role in the outcome of battles.

An archer was more vulnerable than many foot soldiers. Due to the motions and work connected with drawing back a bow, archers had to wear non-restrictive clothing…meaning not much armor. But, as it was also necessary for archers to be affiliated to various groups, they did quite often wear certain colors. The commonest form of archer’s clothing was the courtepy; a short coat or tunic, or perhaps a hooded cloak of sorts which extended just below the shoulders. They also, at times wore stout padded coats, with a mail collar and plate leg-harnesses along with a simple helmet of iron or boiled leather.

While it was possible for a longbow to be shot from the back of a horse, the level of skill required took years to attain. For the most parts, the bowmen who rode horses used them only as a means of quick transportation.

When it battle, bowmen standing on their own without defenses were very vulnerable to any sort of charge by the enemy. Archers needed to be posted in prepared, defended positions. Or, at other times, they were shielded by men at arms or were interspersed among the foot soldiers.

In pitched battle, long range flights of arrows were likely to be carefully controlled due to the cost of arrows, with the majority of arrows shot at ranges of 50 yards and closing. Though cool in the movies, it’s highly unlikely there were numbers of arcing volleys toward the enemy lines with all archers shooting in unison.

The advantage of ground, especially high ground, played a great part in how well a force of archers could operate. And, as the battle lines clashed, the archer’s job wasn’t over. As the enemy troops closed in on their defenses or army, archers – who were sometimes interspersed with the men-at-arms – shot though the confusion at enemy targets only five or ten yards away.

But not all fighting was done on the battle field. Bows were used in siege warfare too. Incendiary arrows could set fire to buildings inside city or castle, while regular showers of arrows could put everyone inside in danger, not the less because soldiers inside the walls might fail to wear armor due to their perceived security. Archers could also keep the walls clear as their own men tried to mount with ladders, but such work required a keen eye and skilled shooting to hit friends.

Longbows part 2

The besieged could also use bows against those mounting their walls through various means including arrow-loops in the walls. Shots from within the wall required the archer to place himself in a vulnerable position in relation to the vertical slits (sometime with horizontal openings crossing them), but those shooting from below also had to advance to try to hit the openings. Due to potential structural weaknesses, an arrow loop was buttressed with splayed sides ranging from six to ten feet deep, forcing archers inside to shoot a considerable distance from the actual opening. But, though harder, the further back an archer on the inside shot, the wider angle of shot he could achieve.

Bows lasted the longest in naval warfare, being used into the mid and even late 1500s. From an effort to catch the enemy ship on fire, to hanging in the rigging and shooting down on the enemy deck – or shooting from the deck to topple enemy snipers, bowmen were quicker and more accurate than early guns.

Though expensive, archers were also deadly and well worth their cost in battle. Due to the many combinations and elements of war, it’s difficult to put an exact scale of importance to a longbow in battle. As but one piece in the larger realm of war, archery was neither for the weak nor the cowards. With less armor than most soldiers, but still near if not among the front lines, archers had to be able to draw their bows back again and again and again. But in both large and small scale fighting, they often helped to set the stage and were instrumental, if not crucial, to the final outcome.

(Most information from The Longbow by Mike Loades)

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Guest Post – Part 1 – Time to Write

Hey guys, I’ve written a guest post for the first time! So, today, you can go to R. M. Donaldson’s blog and read the post I wrote about finding Time to Write. And keep your eye out for this Wednesday, where I’ll be posting a guest post from Donaldson about recuve bows verses long bows.

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