World-Building & Social Networks with Randy Ingermanson

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Good Morning Writers,

Good Morning Writers! ~ 6June16 ~ How to Create A Character

How is your writing going? Are you still struggling with Christmas or Hanukkah obligations or are you relaxed enough to get back into your writing?

My writing life has to change and I am not sure I am up for it. It has occurred to me that blogging has stopped me from finishing several of my writing projects (a love story, a fantasy story and a sci-fi story) which actually are for my blog.

So I have used the holidays and the new year coming for overhauling my writing routine. Well, there is not much of a routine as I work flexible shifts but I am determined to develop one somehow.

Yes, I know some say that a routine is pretty much deadly for creativity while others say it is entirely necessary for creativity. I have come to the conclusion that both is true. Looks like I need a combination of both and I am working on it.

Blogging is easy. You can just get your words out and mostly you get instant gratification and feedback. Writing a novel or short story is harder work and lonely work and I try to get that shift from blogging to actually do some proper writing since some years.

One thing I feel I am not good at yet for my sci-fi and fantasy novel is world-building so Randy Ingermanson’s article about it came just in time.

I want to share it with you and hope it can give you some new ideas too:

This article is reprinted by permission of the author.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 15,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

Craft: World-Building and Social Networks

There are three categories of fiction where world-building is very important:

  • Science fiction
  • Fantasy
  • Historical fiction

I haven’t written much on world-building, for one simple reason.

Most categories of fiction don’t require elaborate world-building. I like to write about things that apply to most novelists. So I’ve avoided writing about the topic, even though world-building has been a big part of my own writing life.

I’ve been thinking about world-building lately, and one aspect of it in particular: social networks.

We’ve all become intensely aware of social networks in the last few years because of social media. If you’ve been on Facebook long, you’ll notice that they’re pretty good at guessing who you might want to friend. They do that by looking at who are friends of your existing friends, and they apply a branch of math called network theory.

Network theory has developed massively in the last twenty years, thanks to the growth of the internet, which makes it possible to study in real-time the growth and structure of various real-world networks. Network theory is now widely used in biology and chemistry and physics and political science and economics and computer science and neuroscience and materials science … and, and, and. The list is long.

Social Networks in a Story World

The core idea I’ll talk about today is the importance of social networks in creating a large story world. Mathematicians recently mapped out the social network in Game of Thrones, trying to identify the main character of the series by using various ideas from network theory. You can see the large graph they created on this page.

Most novels don’t have anywhere near the complexity of this social network. But historical novelists routinely deal with social networks that are much larger. I’ve written three novels so far in my City of God series, set in first-century Jerusalem shortly before the Jewish Revolt. I’ll continue to write more books in that series, but I’m also working on a series set in Judea and Galilee a few decades earlier. Social networks have played a key role in working out the history of both series.

I started researching my novels back in the early 1980s, and I quickly felt overwhelmed by the enormous number of people we know about from the various historical sources—Josephus, the New Testament, the Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius, the Mishnah, the Talmud, various apocryphal and pseudepigraphical writings, numerous other minor sources, and the archaeological record.

To help me keep track of everyone, I began mapping out the social network of first-century Judea. I started by making lists of the numerous social groups. I found three main groups of aristocrats, two main groups of priests, and three main religious sects within Judaism. These groups had subgroups. I learned that there were five kinds of zealots. There were two main schools of thought among the Pharisees, and each played a critical role in first-century history. There were four families of chief priests who dominated Jerusalem for decades, and one of the four families bullied the other three.

For each of these groups and subgroups, I made a list of every character I could find, along with key information about each—when he lived, where he lived, important things he did or was alleged to have done. In a patriarchal society, most of these were men, but I dug up information on as many women as I could find. Historical information is often fragmentary, but it was not uncommon for a single character to be named in multiple sources, which gave me a more 3-D picture. (You can often learn as much from someone’s enemies as you can from their friends.)

My lists grew to include 151 historical persons, and could easily have been two or three times as large, but I left out many minor characters and most characters born in the first century BC or outside of Judea and Galilee.

Benefits of Building a Social Network

This was a lot of work, but two main benefits emerged:

  1. By combining information about each character from all the available historical sources, I built up a broad picture of who these people were and what they were trying to do. There were often disagreements between sources, but there was plenty of agreement, and any conflicting data gave me room to get creative.
  2. By clumping together similar characters into the social groups they belonged to, I was able to guess at who knew who. Even if no source ever said explicitly that Mr. A and Mr. B knew each other, I could infer that they did if they lived in the same place at the same time and knew the same people. Because (as Facebook knows), a friend of your friend is likely to be either a friend or an acquaintance or at least somebody you’ve heard of.

Can you guess who was the most connected person in this story world, according to the sources?

No, it wasn’t Jesus of Nazareth. It wasn’t Julius Caesar. It wasn’t the historian Josephus. All of these were very influential. They all had many connections. But they weren’t the most connected person in the sources.

The most connected person in the sources was King Herod the Great. Herod was an immensely energetic man, a powerful soldier, a visionary architect and builder, a shrewd politician, and a paranoid family man. He married ten women and sired a number of sons eager to inherit his throne. He executed his favorite wife and three of his sons out of misplaced fears of their disloyalty. Herod was close friends with Marc Antony and Cleopatra and later switched his loyalty to their enemy Caesar Augustus. (When he did, he encouraged Augustus to ignore whose friend he had been and to instead consider what an excellent friend he had been. Herod was nothing if not an opportunist.)

Herod and his sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons were close friends of the emperors of Rome for more than a century. One of his grandsons, Agrippa, brokered the deal to crown Claudius as emperor after the assassination of Caligula. Several of Herod’s descendants are mentioned in the New Testament, and his great-grandson, Agrippa Junior, was a close friend of the historian Josephus. His great-granddaughter Berenike was a mistress to the emperor Titus, who was eleven years younger than her. She must have been amazing. Titus almost married Berenike, which means that a 51-year-old hot Jewish grandmother very nearly became empress of Rome. There’s a story there, no?

When writing my novels, whenever I’ve needed a new character to play some role in the story, the first thing I’ve done was to flip through my list of actual historical characters. More often than not, I’ve found a real person with a real name and a real history that I could pull into my story. Then I could skim through all the known facts about that person to suggest ways to connect that same character at other points in the story.

Homework

Historical novelists are notorious for doing way too much research and building far too intricate story worlds. Being a historical novelist is a disease, and there isn’t any cure.

Most novelists don’t need to map out their social networks in so much detail. Even so, it can make sense to ask a few questions about the social networks in your story world:

  1. What are the main groups in your story world? (These might be religious, political, professional, or some other sort of group. Each one might have subgroups.)
  2. What are the conflicts between the various groups and how did these arise?
  3. Which characters belong to each group and subgroup?
  4. What are the conflicts and rivalries between characters within each group?
  5. What are the conflicts between characters belonging to different groups?

Start a file to keep track of your growing social network. Work on it until you get tired of it. Come back to it when you need it. See what happens.

Good Morning Writers ~ Tracking Your Time by Randy Ingermanson

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91802-good2bmorning2bwriters2521How is your writing going? Do you take a break every now and then or are you a ferocious writer? I need breaks when I blog or write. Regularly. But not necessarily in a given time schedule. When I feel I get tired and can’t concentrate anymore I have a break, have a cup of tea or do some gardening or housework. That grounds you terribly well and you can sort your thoughts and idea.

However, if you are asked to do a project or want to publish your writing you need to know how much time you need for it. Randy Ingermanson gives you some ideas:

This article is reprinted by permission of the author.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 15,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

Imagine that your agent calls you out of the blue one day. An editor needs a book written to fill a slot in her publishing schedule. The first draft needs to be done in five months and revisions within the following three. The editor called your agent and asked if he had any clients who could meet the need. Your agent suggested you, and the editor would love to work with you if you’re willing to take the project on short notice.

Now the ball is in your court. Are you interested? Do you have the skills to write the book? Most importantly, do you have the time? The editor has made it clear that the deadline has no slack. Either you can meet the deadline or you can’t. Your agent needs to give the editor an answer tomorrow. What do you say?

You might imagine this never happens.

It happens all the time, somewhere in the publishing world. It happens once in a while to just about every professional author.

And professional authors know how to answer the question intelligently.

Really, there are only two possible answers:

1) “Yes, I have the time. The project will take me 80 hours to write and 50 to polish, and I have that much time in my schedule on a five-month deadline. Then revisions will take another 75 hours, and I have that in my schedule over the following three months.”

2) “No, I don’t have the time. The project will take me 80 hours to write and 50 to polish, and I don’t have that much time in my schedule on a five-month deadline. Not even close. Sorry, I can’t take this project, but thanks for thinking of me. Period.”

Either of these answers is acceptable to the editor. What’s not acceptable is door number 3:

3) “I don’t know, probably. I’m busy right now, but it sounds like a great project, so I’ll just make the time. I don’t know where I’ll find it, but I will.”

Why is that not acceptable? Because it’s nothing but smoke. Editors get smoke all the time from amateur authors. Amateur authors who miss deadlines are the reason that slots open up in publishing schedules, forcing editors to scramble. An editor expects better from a professional.

The reason professional authors can answer this question is because they track their time.

Maybe they use a spreadsheet.

Maybe they use some sort of time-tracking software.

Whatever. A professional author can look at her records and figure out how many hours she needs to produce a piece of work, based on past experience. She can look at her calendar and figure out how many hours she has available over the next several months. She can do the subtraction and come up with an answer—a yes or a no. She can do it quickly, without guessing.

And of course, she might still be wrong. She could break her leg next month and wind up short on hours. If that happens, every editor will understand. What an editor won’t “understand” is that an author said yes on an impossible project without having a clue that she couldn’t meet the deadline.

Some professional authors are fast and some are slow. That’s fine.

Some professional authors have a lot of time for writing and some have a little. That’s fine.

But every professional author knows if she is fast or slow, and she knows how much time she has for writing. Not knowing is not fine. Blowing smoke to get a contract is not fine.

Homework

  1. How much time did you spend writing last month?
  2. How much time did you spend writing so far this year?
  3. Are those numbers about what you had planned? (Say within 20%.)
  4. How many hours did it take you to write your last project?

If you can’t answer the above questions accurately within five minutes, then you need to start tracking your time. There are any number of tools you can use to do that.

If you Google the phrase “time tracking software,” you’ll find enough options to keep you up late into the night comparing all your choices. Because every author has different needs, there is no way for me to make a recommendation that would be meaningful to you, but the tool I use comes up on the first page of the Google search results.

Good Morning Writers ~ What's Social Media For by Randy Ingermanson

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91802-good2bmorning2bwriters2521Good morning writers, bloggers and poets. How is your writing, blogging, versing going? Do you feel stressed because the holidays are coming up and all that present buying and baking is on the map and you hardly find any time for writing or is it going to plan?

I have become a lot more relaxed lately with my blogging. First of all, I have blog posts scheduled for nearly 4 weeks in advance so even if I can’t write anything there will be something be posted. However, no matter what I need to advertise for my posts to attract more readers.

Interestingly, Randy Ingermanson wrote about Marketing for writers and what social  media has to do with it in his November Newsletter.

(This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
 
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 15,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.)

Marketing: What’s Social Media Good For?

Social media is widely alleged to be a powerful marketing tool for novelists.

Is it true? How would you know? What would that mean?

Let’s take these questions in reverse order.

Marketing is about selling your book. If social media is a powerful marketing tool, then using social media in the right way would get you lots of sales.

You know your marketing is working when you can trace the connection between your marketing and your sales numbers.

If there is no connection, then your marketing doesn’t work. If there is a connection, it does. Simple as that.

Whenever I put things this way, I quickly hear from people claiming that the world doesn’t work that way, because you can’t trace the connections between marketing and sales, because things are complicated, because … um, because.

My response to that has always been that if you can’t trace the connection between your marketing and your sales, then either you’re doing something wrong or there is no connection between your marketing and your sales. Which sounds like I’m raining on the parade, but I don’t think it’s raining on the parade to point out that there isn’t any parade.

A Case Study in Marketing Effectiveness

It’s useful to look at a case study done a few years ago by Darren Rowse at ProBlogger.com. Darren is one of the best bloggers in the world and he had a new product to launch. He used several different marketing tools and used standard tracking methods to trace that pesky connection between his marketing and his sales. You can read his article here.

Darren found that 3% of his sales came from all his combined social media efforts on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google Plus. That is not a typo. 3%. Three percent. You may be thinking, “What??? Only 3 percent?” The answer is, “Yes, 3 measly percent.”

Another 3% came from Darren’s affiliates—people who actively promoted his products in exchange for a percentage of sales.

Another 7% of his sales came from Darren’s blog posts. 7% is shockingly low, considering that Darren is one of the most famous and successful bloggers in the world.

So where did the other 87% of Darren’s sales come from? The answer is simple: E-mail. Darren made the overwhelming majority of his money from the e-mails he sent out, even though e-mail was just a small part of his marketing efforts.

In Darren’s blog post where he reported these results, he faced up to the obvious question: If social media doesn’t generate sales, then what’s it good for?

You can read his article to see what Darren thinks on the matter. I have an opinion which I’ll give you a bit further down in this article.

But first a little marketing theory so we have the vocabulary we need.

Basic Marketing Theory

Any working marketing strategy needs to achieve three things. If you do all three of these things well, you succeed. If you fail on any one of these three things, you fail. Here are the three phases of marketing:

  1. Attract
  2. Engage
  3. Convert

“Attract” means that you find a way to make people learn that you exist. There are 7 billion people on the planet. Most of them never heard of you and never will.

“Engage” means that you provide enough information to one of the people you attracted so that they know you’re a person worth listening to.

“Convert” means that you motivate somebody you have attracted and engaged to finally pull out their credit card and buy your stuff.

You can’t convert people you haven’t engaged.

You can’t engage people you haven’t attracted.

Attraction, engagement, and conversion can happen very quickly. It’s very possible to take somebody who never heard of you through all three of these phases in 15 minutes, as long as you do them in the right order and do them well.

What Social Media is For

Now let’s look at what Darren measured in his experiment. Darren was exclusively measuring conversion. He e-mailed, blogged, tweeted, Face-booked, and more—all in an attempt to get people to pull out their credit cards and buy his product. E-mail worked best for conversion, by a huge margin.

If you look at Darren’s explanation of what he thinks social media is for, it all comes down to attracting and engaging. Darren is a smart guy. I think he’s right.

So if you’re going to use social media, then focus your efforts on those two things.

Attract people to your web site, where they can sign up for your e-mail list.

Engage them so they know you’re a person worth listening to.

That’s what social media is for.

And by the way, you can measure attraction. You can measure engagement. You can measure conversion.

The important thing to keep in mind is that these three things don’t ADD.

They multiply, because they happen in sequence:

Marketing Success = Attraction x Engagement x Conversion.

If any of these is zero, then your marketing amounts to zero.

If all of them are maxed out, then your marketing efforts are maxed out.

Homework

  1. What’s your marketing strategy? What do you do to attract? What do you do to engage? What do you do to convert?
  2. How are you measuring your attraction? How are you measuring your engagement? How are you measuring conversion?
  3. Which of these phases is maxed out and which isn’t?

Good Morning Writers: Eat, move, sleep….. and write I suspect

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October 2016

How is your writing going? Are immersed in it and forget about the needs of your body and mind or are you conscientious one taking care of both? A few years ago Randy Ingermanson wrote a great article about it and I share it with you again:

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November 2013

I have taken this entry from Randy Ingermanson’s November 2013 newsletter:

This article is reprinted by permission of the author. Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 6,700 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

“Organization: Eat Move Sleep”

If you’re human, then you aren’t just a mind. You have a body that houses your mind. Your mind works better when you take care of the body containing it. Your writing will be better if you take care of your body.

I recently read the best-selling book, EAT MOVE SLEEP, by Tom Rath. When he was 16, Tom learned that he had a tumor in his left eye. The tumor got bigger and eventually took the vision in that eye.

That was bad, but the worse news was that Tom has a rare genetic disorder that keeps his body from suppressing tumors. Which means he’s fighting an uphill battle to stay healthy.

That has forced Tom to learn as much as possible about his health.
What he’s learned is that small choices matter. Lots of small choices. None of them seem to be a big deal. But they add up to a big deal. EAT MOVE SLEEP summarizes what he’s learned.

I’m a bit hesitant to review this book, because opinions on diet, fitness, and health vary wildly. What one person “knows” to be absolute truth, somebody else “knows” is absolute balderdash.

So let’s be clear here that in this article, I’m just summarizing what Tom says in his book. He’s done a bunch of research. He’s tried to put it all in simple terms. Some parts of his book are bound to be wrong. I expect that most of what he says is close to the truth.

The basic idea of the book is that if you want to be healthier, you can help yourself massively by eating right. By sleeping right. And by moving more—not just more exercise, but more ordinary physical activity.

It’s a short book, made up of many snippets that you can read quickly. There are thirty chapters, each with three things you can do to live your life better. To feel better. To be more productive. To enjoy life more.

If you read one chapter every day and make just a few changes each day, in a month, those can add up to a massive improvement in your life.

Here are a few of the snippets you’ll find in EAT MOVE SLEEP.

Sitting Is Lethal

A recent study showed that every hour of TV you watch reduces your life expectancy as much as smoking two cigarettes—22 minutes.

It’s not the TV that’s deadly, though. It’s the fact that almost everybody watches TVwhile sitting down. Inactivity kills you.

If you’re going to watch TV, do it while standing or exercising.I spend a lot of time in front of a computer and I had heard about the hazards of sitting awhile back, long before I got Tom’s book. A few months ago, I got an attachment to let me easily switch my desk to a standing desk.

So now I split my time at the desk between sitting and standing. I’m standing right now as I write this. When I’m sitting, I set a timer to remind me to get up and do a little exercise every half hour.

Tom recommends that for every twenty minutes of sitting, you get up and move around for two minutes. This helps keep your blood sugar at reasonable levels.

Coffee is Good for You

When I was a kid, I was taught that coffee is bad for you. Very bad. Horrible. All that caffeine, you know. So I’ve never drunk coffee in my life.

But Tom says that coffee isn’t bad for you—as long as it’s just plain coffee. Black coffee is a net gain for your health. What’s bad for you is the sugar and cream that most people add to make it drinkable.

So go ahead and drink coffee. But drink it black.

The same goes for tea. Drink it straight, without the sugar.

I haven’t started drinking coffee yet. But I might.

Not All Calories Are Created Equal

I’m not somebody who worries about calories, thanks to some lucky genes that keep me ridiculously slim. But I’ve always assumed that in the grand accounting scheme for weight gain or loss, calories were the final word.

But Tom says that this is wrong.

A calorie of refined carbs will fatten you up more than a calorie of protein or a calorie of vegetables or a calorie of nuts.

Refined carbs—bread, chips, rice, crackers, pasta—will spike your blood sugar and then get quickly converted into body fat. Refined carbs are cheap, convenient, and tasty. But they’ll put weight on you.

Fruits, nuts, vegetables, and protein are better for you if you’re playing the weight-loss game.

For various reasons, I don’t eat much of the worst kinds of refined carbs. But I do eat quite a lot of carbs, and apparently more than is good for me. So I’m taking steps to reduce them.

My working assumption is that readers of my e-zine are intelligent and can make their own decisions on health, diet, and fitness. It’s not my job to tell anyone how to live their life.

My job is to share information on how to be a better writer. Writing is a sedentary job, and that’s a hazard for all of us. I hear all the time from writer friends having physical problems because of their writing. So this is important stuff.

Some of you are already extremely well-informed on all this, and you don’t need Tom’s book to tell you what you already know.

But others of you may be looking for a source of information that gets to the point, keeps things simple, and makes recommendations you can understand. For you, EAT MOVE SLEEP might be just the ticket.

You can learn more about EAT MOVE SLEEP on the Amazon page.

Or you can check the Barnes & Noble page.

May you live a long, healthy, and productive life. And write lots of great fiction for the rest of us to enjoy.”

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