Last night, my fiancee and I had the exciting experience of attending Lindsey Stirling’s Warmer in the Winter concert! This is the fourth Stirling concert I’ve been to, and as is always the case, I was not disappointed!
But why am I talking about concerts on a blog about writing? Because of Stirling’s history, where she was and how far she’s come, and how she’s gotten there.
Because there are days when I need a reminder…
I know I’ve talked about Lindsey Stirling before, in fact it was after the first concert I attended that I made the decision to self-publish. Not only does her music speak to me, but the story of her rise to stardom has inspired me.
And last night’s concert reminded me why. During one of the breaks between numbers, she spoke of how she gets to live her dream every day because of her fans, but before her rise, she would play anywhere and everywhere she could get a gig, even in school cafeterias. She did anything she could to get her voice, or rather her violin, heard.
She got her shot when she tried out on America’s Got Talent, but was shot down by the judges. I can imagine how she must have felt, being told she wasn’t good enough. And somehow that reminded me of Peter Dinklage’s speech that I wrote about several months ago, when he mentions how the world will keep telling you that you aren’t ready.
Now Lindsey is one of the most popular performers out there today, and her star shines brighter than ever.
How many times have people told me that I’ll never make it as a writer? That it’s impossible? That it’s a pipe dream? There are days when I find myself wondering if those people are right.
But there was something else Stirling spoke about that struck a chord in my heart and helped me regain my composure. It was when she spoke about her battle with depression, when she used to look in the mirror and wonder if she had anything worth contributing to the world.
Fast forward several years later, and the answer is yes, she did have something worthwhile to contribute.
These concerts, her story, they remind me that though I may run into roadblocks often, though I sometimes look in the mirror and wonder…I believe I do have something worthwhile to contribute.
And so I keep going. I keep writing. I keep publishing. I may never have a rapid rise to stardom, but I know that if I keep going, if I keep working hard at it, then no matter what happens, I’ll have left something behind that is worthwhile.
Plus, I’m reminded often that there are people who like my stories. I’ve sold hundreds of copies of the first Sword of Dragons novel through Kindle and print, and the Amazon reviews may not be numerous, but they are positive.
Not to mention the positive things people say to me when they meet me. Or when they send me emails. I recently received an email from a long-time reader of my fan fiction series, expressing his sadness that I’m shutting down my fan fiction website in the near future. He was emailing me back in the early 2000’s when STDragon was still live!
So I just need to remember all of those facts. Remember the fans, those who have read all of my work, who encourage me to write more, and just keep going. Someday, I’ll get to write full time, even if it isn’t until I retire from I.T. work. Until then, I’ll just keep going.
While the Sword of Dragons is not the first series I have ever written, it is by far the biggest, and I’m only a few books into it! And the further I go, the more I’m beginning to realize the daunting task ahead of me.
Whether or not anyone else has used it before, I call it the snowball effect. With each and every new story, there’s more material built up, and therefore more material I have to be intimately familiar with to ensure continuity. (Because I hate continuity errors…as much as I love Star Trek, it was pretty bad about that in later series.)
Now with three books (2 published, plus the Orc War Campaigns which is as big as a novel), working on book 3 has required me to go back often and reference notes, thoughts, and actual pages from previous stories to ensure I’m getting all of the characters, locations, and plots straight.
I’m beginning to understand why the creators of the Mass Effect series did not want to take the story beyond the 3rd game. For me it’s just one continual story I have to keep track. For Mass Effect, in each game, the player gets to make a multitude of decisions that affect not only the outcome of the current game, but the games to follow. Keeping track of and including all possibilities into each game must have been crazy difficult!! And as far as I could tell from playing the trilogy, they did a great job!
I’m curious to see what they do with the new game, Andromeda…how much of player decisions can show through into Andromeda? Or can players even load in their Mass Effect 3 play through to affect it? We’ll find out soon enough :)
Star Trek Dragon – My First Series
The first time I wrote a continual story was my fan fiction, Star Trek Dragon. Spread across 7 season, 66 episodes of which were a part of the main seasonal run, and 4 more that weren’t part of the episode numbering, it was a pretty big story. I never brought them all together to get a word count, but I can imagine it’s pretty massive.
There were many instances, especially in season’s 6 and 7, where I took things I had written in the earlier seasons and made them vital to where the story and characters went. It was fun!
Started while I was at the tail end of Jr. High and finished in College, it wasn’t the most popular fan fiction out there, but it was well received by those who did read it, and I did have a small fan following near the end.
The Sword of Dragons – So Much More Complicated
So knowing that I successfully wrote 7 seasons and only created a couple of plot holes and inconsistencies, why does The Sword of Dragons feel so much more difficult?
When thinking about this question this morning, the answer seemed rather obvious: in Star Trek Dragon, I had copious amounts of references to look back on, plus I knew the Star Trek universe better than any other. It was pre-established. And fans are really good at documenting what has happened in it.
With the Sword of Dragons, it’s an entirely made up Universe, one which I’ve built from the ground up and continue to build. There’s no fan wiki out there (if only I had the time to build one…) And unfortunately, I don’t have a team of editors helping me with continuity. It’s just little ‘ol me taking on an entire Universe…
I also wonder how much of the difficulty writing book 3 is stemming from my flare-up of ADHD, because it seems like it’s been harder than it should be. In any case, I’ll continue to work my hardest to keep it all straight, and will depend on my awesome beta readers (Nick, Natalie, you both rock!) to help keep me on the straight and narrow :)
Final Thought – The Star Wars EU
I was just about to finish this blog when I realized something: I think I understand now why Disney decided to split apart the Star Wars Expanded Universe and the Cinematic Universe. There are literally hundreds of Star Wars EU novels out there: keeping track of everything and getting the continuity right, all while trying to come up with an original story for the new movies, is beyond daunting…
As I’ve started to focus again on finishing Burning Skies and have set The Orc War Campaigns aside for the moment, it’s brought up the question that I’ve asked myself on more than one occasion: which do I prefer writing? Short stories or novels?
When I first started writing, I was all about novels. My dream was to write Star Trek novels, but when I discovered I had to be well-known to be asked to write Trek, I started focusing on my own stories. And I started the first novel of what was then called Star Dragon Legion.
I know I’ve mentioned it on my blog before, but that first novel was lost to a computer virus before I knew well enough to backup my files. Instead of starting the novel over, I decided I wanted to flesh out the characters more, and I knew I needed practice.
In 1999, my first series of short stories began, with the fan fiction Star Trek Dragon. Simultaneously, I began writing occasional short stories set in the Star Dragon Legion universe. The goal was to focus on improving my writing and getting near-immediate feedback on experiments in my writing style.
I know I’ve given this history before, so I won’t bore you all with a retelling ;) But I honestly don’t remember a whole lot about my experiences writing those first couple novels. And additional attempts at writing novels back then fell flat on their face. I hadn’t found a method that worked for me…yet.
Complexity and Expanse
With each passing season of Star Trek Dragon, I started to turn it more towards a serial story. I even began planning out each season in a method very similar to what I now do for planning out novels (click here to read more about that :) )
I found that I liked that format more, a long-arching story with multiple chapters, multiple story threads all converging into one at the end. Not to mention that, without even planning to, stories I wrote throughout the entire series all came together in the final season, and everything became connected.
And that’s just it, with novels I can spend more time on characters, flesh them out more, spend time expanding on the plot threads, and interweaving them all. A single novel can be much more complex than a single short story.
But then…in a way, isn’t a novel just a bunch of short stories interconnected? Chapters in a novel, episodes in a series of short stories…
So then the question remains, which do I prefer?
Going Back to Short Stories
As I’ve written The Orc War Campaigns, which has been my return to the short story realm, I find that I am on the fence about which I prefer. I didn’t spend nearly as much time developing TOWC as I do on novels, and that may be skewing my experience with it.
But at the same time, especially once I stopped including Cardin and the characters from the novels in it, I was able to really start fleshing out Amaya, Zerek, and Arkad more. And that has been fun. Imagine if I could spend time writing 20 or so episodes, we could really get to know the characters!
Release Schedule is the Killer
As a self-published author, in reality I only need to publish stories as often as I choose. I don’t have a publisher giving me deadlines. Never-the-less, I do have fans that want stories, and I do not want to disappoint them. Not to mention people will lose interest if I don’t publish stories regularly.
So even as an independently published author, I have deadlines. And writing The Orc War Campaigns has been fun, but the release schedule was exhausting.
And this is where I find I prefer writing novels. For the remainder of The Sword of Dragons, I’m essentially giving myself a one year release schedule – every year, I release a new novel. One year to focus on a single story. Granted a longer, more complex story, but that time spent on one story I think shines through.
(On that note, I do intend to put The Orc War Campaigns through the same rigorous post-writing process once all of the stories are written. The final product, to be published as an anthology, will probably be much more refined than the free, online versions :) )
So there you have it, my friends. I love writing, and reading, novels more than short stories. I enjoy both, but that is my preference. What about all of you? Which do you prefer? Why?
Lately folks have been asking me something: why dragons? Why The Sword of Dragons? Why Star Trek Dragon? Why do I love dragons so much and include them in most of my writings?
It’s difficult to trace back exactly where my fascination with them truly began – to me dragons are integral to fantasy, and I’ve loved fantasy all of my life. But what truly made me fall in love with them? One dragon, one movie, stands out above them all for me:
None other than Draco from Dragonheart :D
I was just a kid when I saw this movie, and I instantly fell in love with dragons. Mind you for me, this was the most unique take I had ever seen on dragons at the time. Before Dragonheart, I had only seen dragons as evil killing machines that hoarded gold and kidnapped princesses.
But Draco? He was good to the very core, wise, caring, and passionate. And my image of dragons changed forever. And yes, this meant I became almost obsessed with dragons for a long time….perhaps I still am, heheh.
If you were to come over to my apartment, you would see the usual: couch, TV, bookshelves filled with both novels and movies…and then you would also see dragons. Dragons everywhere. On the book shelves, in a display cabinet, paintings on the wall. Dragons are pretty much a part of my life.
And that is why I include dragons in most of my writings. Why my fan fiction was named Star Trek Dragon, featuring the USS Dragon, a large, graceful starship with an exemplary crew. Why my first attempt at a novel was called Star Dragon Legion, which evolved to Sword of the Dragon, eventually to become The Sword of Dragons.
It is also why Star Dragons are portrayed as the most powerful beings in the universe in The Sword of Dragons, pure of spirit and heart, the only species that comes close to a polarization between good and evil. In a universe where everything is grey, they are pure…as are their counterparts, the Dark Dragons.
Types of Dragons – Why European?
If you’ll bear with me, I’m going to step onto a soap box for a moment – dragons have four legs. Not two. They aren’t giant lizard-bats. While I usually won’t actually say something out loud, when I see creatures like the one featured in The Hobbit, or the ones in Skyrim, called dragons, it bugs me. Two legs and wings means wyvern, and four legs and wings means dragon.
The two legged variants always look and move with far less grace than their four-legged counterparts. They look clumsy. On the flip side, they generally stay low to the ground when walking, and this can look menacing, so I can see why it is a popular choice for ‘evil dragons.’
Having said that, I’ve also had long discussions with people about why I prefer European-styled over Asian. And the simple truth is aesthetics. Not that I don’t like Asian-style dragons, I have several statues of them, too :D Not to mention, there may or may not be an Asian-style ‘dragonkin’ species that’ll be introduced sometime in the Sword of Dragons series ;)
In this case, it really is a matter of personal preference, and I’m not entirely sure I can qualify the underlying reason. And it is also important to note that just as there is a very wide array of styles for European dragons, so too can it be said for Asian styles. There are styles of European dragons I like over others, and the same is true about Asian styles.
With all of that said, ultimately for me it comes down to one important factor: how much thought was put into creating the dragons? Are they portrayed as mindless killing machines, or as intelligent, complex life forms? If it is the former, I’m not a fan. If it is the latter, then you’re likely to hook me.
Which Are Your Favorites?
While Draco will forever remain in my heart as the best dragon out there, there have been a few others that I really enjoy too. Second only to Draco for me is Toothless :D I love that little guy, he has so much character and personality for a dragon without speech! Also, for all of the movie’s shortfalls, Saphira from the Eragon movie was such a gorgeous dragon, and Rachel Weisz was the perfect voice for her :D
I’m curious to know what everyone else thinks. What style of dragon do you prefer? Why? Who is your favorite dragon? I love hearing from you all, so please comment below! :)
I’ve been writing the 4th episode of The Orc War Campaigns and, as it reached 41 pages earlier this week, a question has arisen: when does it become too long to be considered a short story?
What is the definition of a short story? Being a nerd, I of course looked it up as soon as I thought of the question today. Which, by the way, is not to say I don’t have experience with short stories – at this point in my life, I’ve written well over 100 of them.
But based on the various definitions I’ve seen, including different dictionaries defining it slightly different, wikipedia, and countless other sources…there’s no one consensus. In fact if you google what the length of a short story is, you’ll find each source cites wildly different word counts.
“41 pages isn’t bad,” you might say. Well…I’m 41 pages in and haven’t even gotten close to what I originally planned as the final climactic event of the episode. I’d say there’s at least 20 more pages to go.
This is quite unexpected, to be honest. I ended up spending more time developing characters than expected, they have definitely taken on a life of their own. Or at least, Amaya and Zerek have. Arkad’s initial slow development is right on schedule with my original plan. For now…
No way I’m paring that down. If the format were a TV series, I’d likely be forced to. Same with if these were going into a magazine. But they aren’t. And while there can be value in a more concise story, the whole point of The Orc War Campaigns is to delve deeper into the details of the universe of The Sword of Dragons, and to focus more on these three new characters.
It isn’t the first time I’ve broken whatever the ‘short story’ convention might be. The final episode of Star Trek Dragon ended up being 83 pages in Microsoft Word, or 34,000 words. Episode 4 of The Orc War Campaigns currently sits at 13,000 words.
I am VERY excited with where the characters are taking me. Sometimes in unexpected directions, but always keeping it interesting. And this episode is going to end up being a big one, not just in length, but in the events and the characters :D
In about 24 hours, the movie millions have been waiting for, Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be released! In and of itself, the release of a new Star Wars in theaters is exhilarating, and given that it is the continuation of the story from the Original Trilogy, nerds everywhere (myself included) are ecstatic!
More so because George Lucas has no involvement in its creation! ….wait, that seriously excites everyone? The very man who invented Star Wars. Who created the characters that has inspired generations, and invented the concept of the Force.
But let’s face it, over the past 20 years, in the eyes of countless fans, Lucas has slowly dismantled Star Wars and turned it into something that old-school fans despise. I’m not one of them, mind you – I don’t love the prequels, but I don’t hate them either. And I actually like most (but not all) of the changes he made to the Special Editions of the Original Trilogy.
Never-the-less, the fire Lucas has received has been incredibly harsh, so much so that he has been quoted recently as avoiding the internet altogether in order to avoid reading the criticism against him.
Which brings me to the point of this article…
A New Era – Fans Taking It Personally
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article about how Star Trek and Star Wars seem to build upon each other’s successes. But they seem to be linked in another way as well – the fans react quite vehemently when something is entered into the fictional canon that they don’t like.
I still can recall discussions in fan forums back during the DS9 and especially during the Voyager and Enterprise era of Trek where fans were flat out blaming Brannon Braga for ‘destroying Trek and everything it stood for.’ They were taking it personally, and with each new series, the open hatred towards the producers grew worse.
The same thing has happened with Lucas…but it hasn’t stopped there. No, not by a long shot. In fact, if anything, this trend of being offended by aspects of their fandom that they don’t like has only grown worse.
Remember when Daniel Craig was announced as the new James Bond for Casino Royale? Fan and media reactions were both very harsh. Many people criticized him as being not handsome enough, not tall enough, and any number of other criticisms. In fact there’s still a website online, http://www.danielcraigisnotbond.com dedicated to making sure everyone knows that Craig is not a suitable Bond.
In reading up on this history recently, I learned that former Bond star, Roger Moore, had a few words to say about this. While I cannot seem to find that article again, and so cannot directly quote Moore, I recall that he was surprised by the negative reaction to Craig. He commented how 30 years ago, no one would have reacted to such a different direction for Bond, or any other franchise for that matter.
And then there’s Mass Effect 3. The ending of this phenomenal trilogy of video games, with such an incredibly in-depth story and amazing characters, was considered to be one of the greatest let downs in the history of video games.
In fact, it was so bad that a law suit was filed against EA via the FTC, claiming that EA was guilty of false advertising. Reactions were so bad that EA actually released a free DLC for Mass Effect 3 that revamped the ending, adding more choices, and created a somewhat better final experience for the game.
Does Fiction Belong to the Fans?
From the looks of things (and based on fan reactions to The Hobbit movie trilogy) this trend is only growing. So as a writer, this raises a very serious question: does fiction belong to the fans? At what point does our creative work no longer belong to us? Should I cater to the desires (or even demands) of fans for where I take my stories?
To my fellow writers out there, I’m willing to bet most of you are going to immediately say “No!!! Never change your artistic direction to sate fans! Nor should you do so for commercial reasons!” I’ve heard this stance over and over throughout my entire life, especially in college, the domain of “Literary” fiction.
But you know what? Fans matter. Here, let me repeat that.
This has been my stance from day one of this blog, and goes back much, much further than that. It has always been my greatest desire to connect to readers, to engage with them, to hear their thoughts and desires and opinions about my works.
Is this me selling out? I don’t think so. No matter what, my stories will always be the product of my creative vision. But I also have an active and adaptive imagination.
I’ve also put this into practice. My old fan fiction, Star Trek Dragon, is the perfect example. I had this amazing idea to do a crossover between Star Trek and Star Wars. The setting was perfect, because the USS Dragon was already lost in a galaxy ‘far, far away.’ And my idea was to make it a permanent crossover.
It was not well received. In fact, it is safe to say that the episode titles “A Long Time Ago” is the most disliked episode of STDragon. So at the end of Season 3, I dropped that crossover…mostly. And took STDragon in a very different direction from what I had originally planned.
And it turned out better. So much better.
This is not to say writers should cater to every whim of the fans. Do NOT try to please everyone, because that is impossible, and you’ll only drive yourself crazy. And do not abandon your original creative endeavor. The original story is still your creation.
All I am saying is don’t ignore them. And what ever you do, do not ever think of your readers as simple-minded, as stupid, or as crazy. The majority of readers are intelligent, sensitive individuals who enjoy quality entertainment (yes, I borrowed that quote from the 200th episode of Stargate SG-1.)
I’ve Digressed – Who Owns Fiction?
This is a question I asked my friend Wayne today. Who owns fiction? At what point does a fictional body become the domain of the public?
After discussing it with him and thinking further on it, I’ve come to the opinion that it is both, the moment it is released ‘into the wild.’ It is still the creator’s work, and they still will be the ones to guide it into the future. But it also belongs to the public. You’ve inspired them. You’ve engaged their imagination, made them think.
And do not underestimate the impact you’ve had on readers. If they react strongly to something you’ve written, it means you have succeeded in making them fall in love with your work. That’s something amazing, and not to be ignored.
Not to mention, collaboration between creators and fans can result in an amazing product. Look into Star Citizen for a perfect example :)
What do you all think? This is a pretty heavy and hot topic, and I have no doubt that opinions will vary widely on it. Please comment below!! (But please keep it civil!)
Over 20 years ago, I had a brilliant idea: why not write my own Star Trek story? I could start a new series, make millions, and live off of writing.
Okay, so I was in 5th grade and didn’t know any better. But I wrote a Star Trek story any way. All of my classmates became characters in it. I even turned one classmate I had just had a big argument with into the villain. Until she read it and pleaded with me to not make her evil. So in the end, she becomes good again :)
And that was the very first story I wrote. I loved it, I love writing it, I loved letting my classmates read it, and getting their feedback! I still have the hard-copy, too, and I turn red in embarrassment every time I read it, heheh.
What I didn’t know at the time was that I had just ventured into something that, if it wasn’t already known as such back then, would one day be known as fan fiction.
Dun dun duuunnnn! That evil thing known as fan fiction! What so many professional writers and publishers turn their noses at and detest.
…Except it isn’t evil. At least, I don’t believe it is.
Writing that first story, that first fan fic, sparked within me a passion that burns stronger than ever over 20 years later. It opened up a whole new world to me. And it wasn’t my last foray into it either.
I’ve hinted at my fan fiction before, but I’ve been hesitant to really go into details here, for fear of legal reprisal down the road, should I ever make it big. But in reality, fan fiction isn’t looked down upon like it used to be, and big name companies, including Paramount, aren’t as anti-fan fic as they used to be.
Furthermore, fan fiction has a huge benefit that I think a lot of people overlook. I’ll explain in a bit.
Star Trek Dragon – 7 years, 70 stories
In 1999, while looking around this really cool thing called the internet (on dial-up!) I found a website called Star Trek The Adventures of Argus. I was shocked: Star Trek stories I could read online? For free? What is this…??
That was the first time I read the words “Fan Fiction.” I learned that it was fans, normal every day people like you and I, writing stories not for money, but for pure love of Star Trek, or any other number of franchises! In some cases, such as Argus, people were putting in countless hours and incredible efforts to create these websites and write these stories.
This was how my own fan fiction series, Star Trek Dragon, was born. I wanted to make my own mark. I wanted to tell my own Trek story. I didn’t care that I could never, ever make a single dime from it.
However, there was more to it. By 1999, I knew more about how publishing worked, and how difficult it was for new writers to get into the industry. I also was very much aware that my own writing style was in dire need of polishing.
So STDragon became my test bed. It was where I could hone my skills, test out new ways of writing, and get feedback from readers. Readers who eventually became fans. Including fans who were never shy about telling me when something needed work, heheh.
For 7 years I wrote Star Trek Dragon, each ‘episode’ becoming longer, more detailed, and better written than the last. Each story building upon the previous, leading up to a finale that had my inbox overflowing with fan mail! …okay so that’s a bit of an exaggeration.
It had fulfilled it’s purpose. I finished Star Trek Dragon in 2006, and began writing what would eventually become the novel I am now preparing to publish, The Sword of Dragons. A novel that might never have been realized, or at least not be good enough to sell, had I not spent so much time and effort honing my skills.
Advice and Cautions
With all of that in mind, I now and forever will be a fan of fan fiction. It is an amazing tool, a great medium for content-hungry fans, and free advertisement for the franchises that spawned them.
So much so that I seriously hope someday people will write Fan Fictions about The Sword of Dragons or Chronicles of the Sentinels! I’ve even had the pleasure of already having fan fiction written about my stories: a follow-on series of Star Trek Dragon was started by an individual named Daniel Balding, called Star Trek Peacemaker!
However, there are some pitfalls to be cautious of. First and foremost, there are legal considerations. Intellectual Copyright permits the owners of intellectual property to control content of and relating to their series. That means if an author or company tells a fan-fic writer to stop publicly posting and distributing their fan fiction, they have that right, regardless of whether or not everyone agrees with it.
On the plus side, writing and publicly posting fan fiction can be a real boon for aspiring writers! And I’m not just talking about the practice we get out of it. Whether you’ve realized it or not, you’re developing readership! You’re creating a name for yourself.
I hadn’t even thought of it that way until I talked to a guy today named Wayne, who runs a podcast on the website VtW Productions. He’s a pretty cool nerd, and he and I talked for a good long while about all of this today. He helped me realize that there’s no need to hold back, and to tell the world about my fan fiction :)
So no matter what you might hear, if you’re a fan fiction writer, or you want to become one, don’t be shy. It isn’t the evil taboo that some of the big names have claimed it to be. Yes, there are fan fics that are all about fulfilling someone’s…desires. But that is only a small percentage of fan fiction. There are a ton of quality fan fictions out there!
Remember that, and if you decide to write one, make it one that’s really worth reading. After all, this is your work, and that means it’s a representation of you :)
Thanks for reading!
Trials and triumphs of writing, finding an agent, and publication.