I wanted to make sure I thanked you all for the Kickstarter's success yesterday, because today I'm announcing a project that will dwarf the Kickstarter in scope and ambition.
I was sitting around chatting with twelve other indie fantasy authors, which is something we often do, and we were discussing Avengers: Endgame and how irritated we were that it is so often considered "the most ambitious crossover event in history."
We decided to prove Marvel wrong by creating Jäger(master), a book with so many authors that it HAS to be good. The thirteen of us wrote it in the same way that we speak in real life: alternating with each other one word at a time.
I had the honor of writing every first word myself, whereupon Dakota Krout took over with every second word, followed by Davis Ashura, then Phil Tucker, John Bierce, Sarah Lin, Luke Chmilenko, Michael Chatfield, Andrew Rowe, Nobody103, Shirtaloon, Evan Winter, and every thirteenth word by Bryce O'Connor.
See, if you enjoyed a book by one author, a book by thirteen authors trading off words has to be thirteen times better. The math checks out.
Here are the details for our hive-mind's newest masterpiece:
Bud Wiser was long known as the greatest warrior of the grand realm of Hi-Nak’en. He was a man of measure, of clout and power, whose skill with a blade was never matched.
That all changed in death.
Sacrificing himself to save a small child from being trampled by a team of draft horses, Bud finds himself in the presence of a god. Unfortunately for him, this particular deity is obviously overworked and underpaid, because they hardly let him get a word out before tiredly assuring him his next life will be one of “plenty and leisure” as a “reward” for his bravery and fighting spirit on Hi-Na’ken. The next thing Bud knows, he’s waking up from a night of drunken revelry, finding himself the sole proprietor of a bustling tavern whose patrons are clamoring for food and drink. Worse, almost immediately Bud makes a terrible realization:
In this strange new world, the laws of magic dictate that the only objects one can touch and wield are those relevant to the “Job” the gods assign them at birth.
And what’s Bud’s new Job? What is the role assigned by the heavens to the former champion of world order?
… “Tavern Owner”.
ON SALE NOW!
In a lot of ways, today's not really a great day for me to blog. For one thing, I'm definitely blogging tomorrow. We all know that.
For another thing, I'm very tired. The last couple of weeks have been exhausting for a lot of reasons. I got a bad cold or flu or something (not COVID, fortunately), and at the same time I fractured my foot again (maybe a curse, unfortunately), all while the Kickstarter was happening and I was trying to write.
I'll tell you right now, I didn't get much writing done.
As you've probably heard, our Kickstarter for the special editions of the first three books of Cradle was a resounding success, earning seventy-six times what we asked for. That's a lot.
So before tomorrow's post, I just wanted to say thank you again!
Honestly, the coolest part of this whole process has been seeing how much people love the books and how supportive you guys are.
I never expected anybody other than me to care about my stories, so seeing you all so invested in Cradle injects human emotion right into my shriveled heart.
Now I really hope you like the next book.
Bottom Line: our Kickstarter got started early! It was supposed to go up tomorrow, but I guess it went live about fifteen minutes ago.
And somehow it's already funded. We didn't even know it was up. You guys are insane.
I intended to make a blog post today about the Kickstarter going up tomorrow, but surprise! It's available now!
So anyway, for those of you who are (understandably) out of the loop, we're Kickstarting special editions of the first three Cradle books!
As you may know, our current paperback editions are print-on-demand, which is almost impossible to get stocked in bookstores. We wanted to fund a print run to potentially get into bookstores, and while we're at it, we can print special editions for the fans!
There are three hard copies available through the Kickstarter: a paperback (similar to what you may already have purchased), a hardcover, and a faux-leather special edition. Any book received as a Kickstarter reward will be signed by me, and will also contain a tiny fragment of my soul.
These books will also come with bloopers! The current version doesn't have bloopers, as I didn't start doing those until Ghostwater. I'm taking this Kickstarter as an opportunity to write bloopers for the first three books!
Which is great, since as I've recently established, I spent 82% of my time on bloopers.
We also have available as add-ons: Unsouled badges, limited to two thousand total, and my love. Which is unlimited.
If you're looking to check it out, do so here!
...and while you're on Kickstarter, if you're looking for another awesome project, take a look at the Mother of Learning Kickstarter! Today's the last day to back, and MoL is an incredible web serial that more than deserves its reputation as one of the pillars of progression fantasy.
You know, just in case you've accidentally stolen a bunch of money from the mob and need to burn it on a bunch of Kickstarters quick before they catch you.
If you have any further questions, I'll be responding to these comments as often as I can! And, as usual, I'm available on Facebook and Reddit.
What an interesting start.
Terraria and Progression Fantasy
Okay, I know this isn't about the new Cradle book, but I'm still forbidden by international treaty to talk about anything I'm working on. Therefore, I'll talk about something else I love: Terraria.
For those of you who don't know, Terraria is a game that's often called 2D Minecraft. Then fans of the game go "It's nothing like Minecraft!" and a pointless Internet debate continues.
The fact is, the basics of Terraria are very similar to survival Minecraft. You're in a world made up of blocks (they're just squares now instead of cubes) and you can dig them up and place them again to build stuff. At night, zombies come out.
The difference is in the objective of the game. You progress in Minecraft by setting your own objectives: I want to build a fortress in the shape of my own face, so I need bricks to build it. To find bricks I need clay, to find clay I need to explore, to explore I need a boat, to get a boat I need to chop down wood, and while I'm chopping down wood I might as well kill some monsters, and before long I'm fighting a dragon in another dimension wondering what happened to that fortress I intended to build.
In Terraria, the focus is far more on combat progression, which is why I thought I'd mention it. You're looking for materials to craft the next set of gear and fight the next boss, which gets you more gear to fight the next boss.
A lot of games work that way, but Terraria in particular appeals to the same side of me that loves progression fantasy. I feel like I'm motivated to get to the next tier of content, not just to watch a number get higher, but because I genuinely want what's waiting for me up there.
Sometimes that's an experience that I want, like a fun boss fight. I want to fight the Eye of Cthulhu or a mechanized flying skull, so first I want to earn the gear that gives me a chance to win.
Sometimes it's an ability. If I unlock a certain chest, I get a gun that fires homing piranhas. That's a real gun in the game. I want to fire homing piranhas, so I'm motivated to unlock the chest that gets me that gun.
It's all motivated by what I want to do.
I think of Cradle in a similar way.
The way I want you to feel, when you're reading, is that you have something to look forward to. You want to see Lindon doing something, there's a cool fight or a character moment you want, and we're making forward momentum toward those goals.
When I'm reading a series, I want fun things to look forward to, and I want to always feel like I'm making progress in that direction. Therefore, that's how I (tried to) design Cradle's magic system: there's always a new level with new abilities that change how the characters interact with the world.
And then at the end, they unlock a laser machine gun.
P.S. I've made a lot of progress recently, I promise. It's just the kind that I have to keep secret or be imprisoned by a secret government agency.
Characterization and Personality
For the last few months, I've been helping a friend of mine work on his first novel, and recently we had a long talk about characterization. Specifically, how do you give your protagonist* a strong personality?
I have been sending him my rambling thoughts, and now that the Blog Post Time is nigh, I will share my random musings with you as well.
"Characterization" is how the author shows you who a character is. When Tyrion Lannister talks his way out of a scenario instead of fighting, or when Samwise Gamgee wades into a river rather than let Frodo go off alone, that shows you what kind of person they are.
And "personality" is their personality. I feel like you probably get that one.
The problem you might run into, when you're writing your first novel, is that you don't know your characters very well. Who are they? What would they do in a given scenario? How do you express that in a clear way to the reader?
In order to have strong characterization in your writing, there needs to be a strong character for you to characterize. The character needs to have a unique personality, and it needs to be clear in your head so that you can make it clear in your reader's head.
A lot of times, especially with their protagonist, the writer will end up giving characters a sort of "default personality," meaning the character acts and reacts exactly the way you would expect a normal person to act.
What is their response to a cave full of wolves? Fear.
What is their response to an attractive person hitting on them? Flustered.
What is their response to a spider infestation? Fire.
This makes the character blander than a bread sandwich. When they don't have a strong personality, they're not memorable or interesting. And when the main character of your novel isn't memorable or interesting, you're in trouble.
>How do you fix it?
You give them a strong personality.
Depends on the story you're writing. There are two pieces to this, A and B.
A.) You need the protagonist to be the kind of person who is going to be strongly motivated to pursue whatever goal your story requires. Basically, the hero has to want to be there, doing whatever they're doing.
A cowboy movie following a sheriff should have the kind of person who would choose to be sheriff. Now, that can be a lot of different characters--maybe he hates being the sheriff and wants to give it up, but he can't because he feels responsible for the townsfolk.
Which brings us to...
B.) The protagonist needs to be capable of having a "character arc," meaning they need to be capable of changing as a person over the events of the story.
So this hypothetical reluctant sheriff has the great potential for a character arc, because he could start by planning to leave, and then over the course of the story learn how important the people of this town are to him. At the end, he chooses to stay and keep being sheriff.
>That's cool and all, but that isn't a lot of personality.
No, it isn't. I'm sorry, there's more to go.
A fully fleshed-out person is more interesting than that, so we need some more personality traits. How do we determine those?
There are two broad categories of personality traits as well, so let's divide them into C and D.
C.) What the character has been through.
The things that have happened to the character, their experiences and profession and training, all contribute to their personality.
A warrior-king of a fallen kingdom who has lived his life in exile should probably have a very different personality to a scholar-sorceress who is lost wandering the multiverse.
I don't know why those were the first two examples that popped into my head, but they sound cool, don't they?
D.) How the character was born.
Even among two people with the same experiences, there will be differences. One world-hopping sorceress might be trying to keep her chin up and help as many people as she can, while another might be brooding and cynical, seeing death and destruction anew in every world she visits.
What traits are natural to your character? Who would they be, even if they lost their memory?
>How do you show their personality?
There are a lot of tricks to that--if you're struggling with this, you're struggling with "characterization," and there are a lot of better writers than I who have given answers.
However, I can give you a couple of tips.
First, and most importantly, personality should be clear.
A lot of people, including writers, confuse "lack of clarity" with "subtlety and complexity." They think they're being subtle, but they're actually just being unclear.
I'll go back to Tyrion Lannister. That's a complex character with a lot of subtlety and nuance, but his personality is also EXTREMELY clear. He's very distinct from any other character in those books, and you know when he does something in character versus something out of character.
Your reader should always know what is in character for your protagonist, and when they do something out of character, the reader should notice.
Second, personality should be strong.
Not that everyone in your work should be a dominant alpha werewolf, but that every character should be very much who they are. Your characters should fight and talk and check the mail in-character.
Let's imagine a character shopping in a grocery store that gets robbed while they're inside. How would Hermione Granger handle that? How about Danny Ocean, from Ocean's 11? How would Wonder Woman handle it differently from Batman?
If you know the characters, you can figure out that scenario, because those are strong characters with clear personalities.
>Yeah, but you didn't answer my question. Seriously, how do you show personality?
A lot of it is having a clear personality in the first place, but some other tips are giving them vivid actions or props that tie into their unique traits and attributes.
Imagine, if you will, you're rolling a D&D character who is an Elven Fighter.
This race/class combination suggests a few things. One, as an elf, they've probably lived hundreds of years already. Two, as a fighter, they're trained with weapons.
So you give them some habits, items, or common behaviors associated with both of those.
[They love beautiful weapons and can't help but stop and admire them, even in the middle of combat. (Elf = love of craftsmanship and beauty, Fighter = weapons.)]
[Each of their weapons has a long and storied history, and among humans would be kept in a museum, but they see these things as normal. Their belt-knife is a jeweled dagger once used to assassinate a human king. They use it to slice bacon.]
[They're very particular about the etiquette of battle, which can even lead to them introducing themselves to enemies and waiting for a polite response. Rudeness is punished with ruthless efficiency, as they have desecrated the honor of battle.]
See? The character's coming along already, and nary a mention of eye color.
After that, though, you also want to give them 1-3 traits that have nothing to do with being an elf or being a fighter, but still connect to their core personality.
[Maybe this person has a scar across their eye that people assume they got in battle, but they were actually scratched by a cat as a child, and are now afraid of cats. They don't tell anyone this story, because they are afraid others will think less of them, which suggests their reputation as a warrior is very important to them.]
Each of these things changes how the character acts, makes them distinct even from other, similar characters, makes them memorable, and makes them easier to write in a strong, consistent way.
And then there's the FINAL QUESTION, the one you should be asking yourself at every stage of this process and the entire writing process, but which I left till last to emphasize its importance.
This is the question that should guide your every decision. Ready? Here it is:
"What would your reader enjoy the most?"
If you're writing a novel to entertain your reader, you should make your decisions based on what your readers would find entertaining.
"Hm. How do I decide between making my character cheerless and bitter versus making them upbeat and naive?"
The time has come for the FINAL QUESTION. Which of those do you think is more entertaining to read?
A lot of times, just asking that question will solve your problem on its own.
*protagonist = Main Character
Lindon Van Helsing
Right before 2021 ends, I'm going to try to earn the title of "Most Random Blog Post." Anyway, last night I had a dream that Lindon hunted down and killed a bunch of vampires.
That's what this blog post is going to be. Me recounting that dream in detail. Merry Christmas.
I almost never have Cradle dreams, in spite of what you may expect. When I'm deep enough in Cradle that it consumes my every thought, it's usually because I'm writing, and when I'm writing I have no energy left to dream.
Writing devours dreams. Send help.
But apparently this time I hit that sweet spot of "immersed in Cradle but not a soulless husk," so I had a very vivid and surprisingly well-structured dream starring Lindon, with a cameo appearance by Yerin.
It starts with Lindon walking up to a big Victorian mansion that is for some reason in a normal suburb, like a massive haunted house planted next to a regular real-world one-story house.
He is in another world and completely aware of this. He's there on a mission. I don't know if that mission was to hunt vampires or not, but that's definitely what he ends up doing, because he blasts in the door and incinerates a bunch of low-ranking vampires.
I'm then watching Lindon tear his way through higher-ranking vampires. Each of them wake up, because it's daytime and they were asleep in their coffins, and talks about the new powers they have and how much stronger they are than the last batch, and Lindon effortlessly annihilates them and keeps marching deeper into this huge, sprawling, maze-like mansion.
As he proceeds, the vampires start activating magic to seal off his abilities. I'm not kidding, this whole vampire ranking thing and them coming up with magic ways to deal with Lindon were actually parts of the dream.
The most significant one is that they have this anti-fire enchantment that prevents anyone from using fire magic inside the mansion, thus sealing off Blackflame, which they think will make him powerless. Only to have him switch cores and continue with pure madra techniques.
They seal that off, only to find out that he's also stronger than them, and is getting stronger by feeding on them as he continues.
By the end of the dream, he's facing down this elder vampire, who claims to be a world-ending threat and this apocalyptically powerful being, and Lindon has been stripped of basically all his techniques, but he's still strong enough to go toe-to-toe in a superpowered brawl.
And, even though this isn't very Lindon-like, he's having fun. He's enjoying finding someone in this universe who can, even under these incredibly restricted conditions, kinda-sorta match him.
So Lindon finally wins, the elder vampire lays there dying, and then Yerin blows the entire upper half of the house apart looking for Lindon.
She's shocked and hurt that he would take these guys on without her, because they use blood aura and thus she would have annihilated them instantly.
Dross comes out to explain that was the point, that it would have been too easy had they gone together, and then the dream POV switches to the dying elder vampire who senses the power of these other-world invaders and dies in despair, having realized only at the moment of his death that he was never as powerful as he imagined.
...real dream, no joke.
I also find it pretty hilarious that I didn't dream that *I* was Lindon. For most of it, I was just watching him fight up the vampire ladder from the outside. The only other point-of-view I took besides "person watching" was the evil elder vampire.
So anyway, that was my subtle way of letting you guys know about our upcoming licensing deal to make Blade IV: From the Grave to the Cradle.
TV's Pretty Great Right Now
I've started writing again, but there's not much to talk about yet, so let's talk about what I'm doing on my free time.
Why is there so much TV coming out right now?
We just finished Arcane, we've got the Witcher coming up, I've really been enjoying Hawkeye, obviously I marathoned all of JoJo Part 6 instantly, and the new season of Sunny is starting.
A lot of people ask me how I feel about Wheel of Time, which makes sense, since WoT is probably my favorite fantasy series. My honest answer: it's fine.
I'm not over the moon about it like I was for Arcane, but I expected to hate it. I don't hate it. I think it's pretty good. Though I did just finish watching the fifth episode of WoT, which was definitely the weakest of the season so far, but Brandon Sanderson says Episode 6 is his favorite.
My hope is strong!
It's hard enough to keep up with everything coming out nowadays, but what's your favorite thing airing now? What have you been watching? Did I miss anything? Should I have talked more about JoJo?
Yes, I should have? You want me to monologue for hours about JoJo? Well, if you insist.
Writing: Planning Plot Points
One of the common questions I've gotten over the last eight and a half years has been, "Will, you craven cretin, how far in advance do you plan major plot points?"
I had this exchange again on Reddit recently, and as I responded, I realized it would make a good blog post. Did I know about Dross and Ghostwater before I wrote Unsouled? Do I know how the series ends?
This is going to be spoiler-free for Reaper, though it will contain plot spoilers for some of the previous books. If you haven't read through Wintersteel, probably steer clear.
Please help me in this and keep Reaper spoilers out of the comments as much as you can. Some people don't read their books in seconds by placing their hands on the cover, like I do.
SPOILERS FOR BOOKS 1-8
Isaac_Xander, on Reddit, asked me: "How much of the major plot points (Orthos, the Jai Long fight, Undersage/Overherald, Dross, etc.) were planned from Unsouled or Soulsmith? Do you ever 'write on the fly' about major plot points?"
My direct answer was: "Honestly, yes and no. 'Yes' in the sense that yes, I absolutely make this stuff up on the fly all the time, but 'no' in that it's often not the plot points you might think."
Then I went into detail, and I will go into greater detail here. I'm mostly focusing on the introduction of major characters, but I'll get into other things too.
Eithan - As I mentioned on stream recently, I had developed Eithan's character before even Lindon's. He was a fun mentor character that I really wanted to write, and had developed for another series, but thought he was a great fit for Cradle. One of my regrets in Unsouled was that we couldn't meet Eithan yet.
Orthos - I knew from Unsouled that I wanted Lindon to develop black dragon powers and have a corresponding animal companion, but I decided to make Orthos a turtle and gave him his powers while planning Blackflame.
Mercy - I always intended there to be a female companion named Mercy, and it was a quick decision to make her cheery and upbeat to contrast with the usually dour Lindon and Yerin. I took the opportunity to tie her into the Akura family, whom I developed while working on Blackflame, so that I could show them off.
Hunger arm - Pretty early on, I knew I wanted to give Lindon the ability to absorb the power of others. Had a lot of plot reasons for that, but the main reason was that it was cool. The tie-in to the Dreadgods was, of course, a natural fit.
I originally wanted Lindon to lose one arm and one eye, to play up the "duality" theme of his character design and reflect the two cores, but the nature of how he lost his arm and his Goldsign being eye-color-changing made me reconsider the eye thing.
Dross - From before starting Unsouled, I knew I wanted to do a pocket world arc. It became an underwater-themed pocket dimension simply because I love the underwater aesthetic.
I knew I wanted whatever the "prize" of the facility was to be relevant to Lindon if he ascended, and I knew I eventually wanted Lindon to develop his own Presence, but it was a friend of mine who suggested those two things should be one and the same. That was when I was working on Ghostwater.
Prior to that, I knew I wanted all those things, but I hadn't combined them.
Undersage / Overherald - This is another one of those points where I knew I wanted certain things, but I found the opportunity to combine them.
Lindon's connection to the Void Icon was something I had set up from the very beginning...sort of. I laid the groundwork one step at a time, knowing that I wanted Lindon's powers to be thematically linked at the end, and I even knew the "void / emptiness" theme. That part, I'd been setting up for a long time.
But I didn't figure out how to tie all that together in a neat little bow until working on Wintersteel. I also knew that at the end of the tournament I wanted both Lindon and Yerin to reach unique advancement stages, though it wasn't until I was designing the UKT that I had a flickering lightbulb over my head and realize we should be preparing Yerin for the power-up Lindon's going to get and vice-versa.
That swip-swap thing (that's a technical literary term, take notes) was a last-minute stroke of inspiration. I usually don't trust sudden inspiration, but this one brought cookies, so I let it inside.
Ozriel - Of course I've known Ozriel's location from the beginning of Unsouled. There was no other way to write the story.
If I didn't know who he was, I wouldn't have put Suriel on a series-long journey to find him, I would have pulled an Elder Empire and had the entire premise of the series be "The most powerful guy in all existence is dead, so now what do we do?"
End of the Series - Naturally, I knew from the beginning that everything was leading up to a rap battle between Lindon and the Mad King. These hot bars have burned inside me for years, and I can't wait to let them out.
Summary - Reading it all laid out like this, I think it comes down to this: I often know vaguely what I want to do, in general terms, but how I do it is usually up to my last-minute imagination and fickle whims.
Usually. Some scenes are burned into my mind years in advance.
P.S. Remember to keep Reaper spoilers out of the comments as much as possible, thanks! I wouldn't want to have to send my flock of loyal ravens after you. They can find you anywhere, and they hunger for toenails.
Reaper spoiler stream!
Tomorrow (Tuesday, November 9) at 7 PM Florida Time, I'll be on my Twitch answering chat questions about Reaper. Feel free to join if you've finished the book.
Let me be clear: this is a SPOILER STREAM and I'll be answering questions about SPOILERS. Don't log on and listen if you haven't finished the book!
I wanted to do this last week, but I felt like it was only fair to give you a week to actually read the book.
I mostly just plan on chatting, and any question that requires me to look things up will probably result in me either A.) dodging the question or B.) lying, but if you'd like to ask me questions about Reaper, join in tomorrow!
Let me remind you one more time that it will be full of spoilers.
The Reaper is here
I probably should have blogged about this two days ago, but I was busy checking Amazon rankings and high-fiving.
Once again, we reached #1 in the entire Kindle Store. You'd think that would get old, now that we've gotten there for three titles in a row, but it really doesn't. Still awesome.
Even if we couldn't beat Dune in audio...that's okay, Dune. You can have your win. For now.
In case you missed it, Reaper is available now in all formats! And the fan response has been...overwhelming.
I was worried about this book. Those of you who have read it understand why, I'm sure. But so many fans have read it and enjoyed it at this point that it makes me feel like an idiot for worrying.
Thanks for reading, all of you! Thanks for sticking with me for so long! And for those of you who haven't read it yet, or haven't finished, I hope you enjoy the story!
Please try to keep the comments as spoiler-free as possible, for the sake of those among us who like to savor their meals. I'd like to do a spoileriffic discussion with everybody soon, once a reasonable amount of time has passed. Maybe a stream?
Of the Cradle series
Want to get short stories and book releases before anyone else? Sign up below!
Hey, what about those short stories you claim to have already written?
Apparently they're kept here!