Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Book on Story Outlining for Authors Who Hate Outlining

Authors along one axis vary from those who outline their stories before they write them to "discovery" writers (also called "pantsers"), who find their story by writing it. My first novel, Fisher King: Percival's Descent, was mostly an act of discovery.

I wanted to up my storytelling game for the sequel, Fisher King: Dancing Lance, and I've found myself floundering trying to write the eighth chapter because I'm not sure where the story goes in the near term.

That's why I read Million Dollar Outlines by New York Times bestselling author David Farland. I'm going to make a counterintuitive claim: authors who hate outlining should read this book anyway. Why? The book is 95% about storytelling and only 5% about the process of outlining.

For example, Farland spends much of a chapter on exploring the question of "Why do people like to read stories (or in the cases of movies and TV, watch them).?" One common claim is that people read to relax, which is counterintuitive because good stories are emotionally stimulating. The relaxation, it turns out, comes after the climax, where the stimulation (again, in satisfying story) has peaked and fallen off.

I think a discovery writer can take the numerous elements of storytelling Farland discusses and simply add them to their collection of storytelling tools.

Whether you outline or not, I think reading this book will deepen and broaden your understanding of storytelling, so I recommend it as a good read.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Review: The Non-Designers Design Book

I do just about everything but the accounting here at Thursday Night Press, and that includes book cover design, web design and ad design. I thought I did an okay job at those things, but I knew I could do better. My work lacked a certain "professional" look I couldn't describe.

So I was curious when Amazon recommended to me The Non-Designer's Design Book, Fourth Edition by Robin Williams (ISBN 978-0-13-396615-2).

My opinion of the book is succinct: If you have to do graphic design, and are not professionally trained, buy this book and read it.

Williams opens the book by describing four main design principles:
  • contrast
  • repetition
  • alignment and
  • proximity
(Yes, they form a memorable acronym that Williams alludes to but never comes out and names. Neither will I.)

Well, I applied those principles to a web project I was working on—a Facebook catalog of TNP books—and the result was much better-looking than before, more interesting. And the most important thing was that I understood how and why the result was better.

Williams covers the four principles above, as well as color and typography. While she says she only barely touches on color theory and typography, I understand good color-scheme options better, and I can better pick typefaces that do and don't go together well. (I already knew all the typesetting rules she gave.)

This is not a thick book. And instead of lots of words, there are lots of pictures, so you can see what she means when she describes a concept and how to apply it. I understand she has another book out that goes deeper into typography; I intend to find it and read it, too.

I'll give this book 5 of 5 stars.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Arthurian Themes in the Distant Future

SR-72 closely resembles spaceplane Percival in the novel
When I first sat down to write Fisher King: Percival's Descent, I didn't intend for it to have Arthurian (as in King Arthur) themes.

My inspiration at the start was filker Leslie Fish's song "Ballad of Transport 57" (actually, I don't remember the number). This song is about a cargo ship in space attacked by pirates. The space navy chases away the pirates, but the transport has to limp to a starbase using its cargo--beer--as propellant.

I started Percival's Descent with a pirate attack underway. (I always find it easier to write openings by bombing into action underway.) In a nod to Leslie Fish, I decided to call the my cargo ship the Fisher King.

Immediately after picking the name, I knew I was onto something, because it made the name of the protagonist obvious to me: Percival, the fool and would-be knight of the Holy Grail legends. I decided to call him Percy, instead of Percival (although he prefers Perce), and have him, like both Percival and Perseus, raised by his mother in a community of women, away from the ways of men, until just before the age of eleven.

Also, the mythology made clear to me certain things that had to be true of the Fisher King. It is a wounded ship that has seen better days. It is also a barren ship, crewed entirely by men. The myths gave me the overall plot of the entire Fisher King series: Can Perce heal the Fisher King?

The Fisher King carries spaceplanes used to shuttle cargo between the freighter and planetary surfaces. By manufactured coincidence, one of these spaceplanes that figure prominently in the story is named Percival. That decision inspired the other part of the title: Percival's Descent.

From the time that Perce boards the Fisher King, he begins to have strange dreams that often involve a lance and a cup. That is, he begins to have a vision quest for The Grail.

I'm saving more mythology for the second novel, tentatively called Fisher King: Dancing Lance, where we will learn that Perce, again like both Percival and Perseus, is (figuratively) the son of a king.

You can read more about the book at