A. L. Buehrer What I Write and Why

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

5 Elements of a Fandom-Enabled Story


We all want to be the author of a story that triggers the explosion of a new fandom. We want our readers to be as excited to read our story as we are to write it. We want to inspire fan-artists to bring our scenes to life in their art. We want to inspire fan-fiction writers to use our characters and settings to sharpen their own skills. There’s nothing quite like seeing a truly satisfied fan-base spring up around a great story.
But what makes that happen? Okay, I’m not going to pretend I understand the magic and mystery of fandoms. I have no idea why fangirls and fanboys do what they do-- OTP’s and headcanons and AU’s and all that—but when I look at the stories that spark these great fandoms, there are elements they all have.
I’ve isolated five for the sake of this post. I’m sure there are other things, but let’s look at these five for now:
1. Vivid Characters
Often really vivid. In fact, I would almost recommend pushing it a little. Lean into your characters’ unique qualities. If you find that magnifying your characters makes them feel flat or fake, deepen them rather than mellowing them out.
Your readers want characters that are so clear in their minds that they can survive outside the context of the book. This is the concept behind the alternative universe thing. If a character is self-contained enough, we can imagine what kind of a high-school student they would be. Think about your characters now. What would be constant if you changed up their situation. That’s what you need to emphasize to make them real. Put them in a completely different role. What doesn’t change? That’s who they actually are. Play it up.
2. Humor
I just wrote a whole post about how essential this is. The ability to amuse people with your writing is a super-power. Don’t overlook it. People remember the humorous parts of stories. They’re going to re-read the funny scenes in your book. Your characters’ quips and clever lines might even enter your readers’ repertoire of in-jokes.
Though fiction can accomplish a great deal more than simple entertainment, readers greatly appreciate being entertained. If a story makes me laugh, that’s a solid sign that the author is succeeding in entertaining me in the way many of us crave the most.
3. A “Wow” Element
I couldn’t think of anything more technical to call this. The “Wow” element is something that sparks a reader’s imagination. It can manifest itself in countless ways—a fascinating culture or event in historical fiction, an amazing species of dragon or a magical object in fantasy—a unique alien race or impressive use of technology in sci-fi. Readers want to be captivated by something interesting. I doubt that I’m the only one who is often attracted to stories initially by something about them that is simply cool.
4. Emotions
All of them. If there’s one thing that’s obvious about fandoms it’s that they want “all the feels.” But don’t get hung up on one emotion. Tragedy is great, we love sobbing. But nobody really wants to cry for the entire book—in fact, I doubt that it would be physically possible. We want to feel rage, jealousy, delight, terror, embarrassment, wonder, curiosity, satisfaction…on and on it goes. If we don’t get the whole ride, we feel kind of cheated.
I’m not that great with this one sometimes, I’ll admit. I get pretty caught up in the intricate workings of my plot and sometimes forget that, though a complex sound plot is a good thing, nothing can beat a story that makes you feel things. All these emotional ups and downs connect a reader with a character and make them care about what happens next.
5. Originality
Originality is so sought-after and so elusive. It’s hard to measure and define—and probably impossible to teach. I suppose there’s really nothing original under the sun, and yet everyone knows a rip-off when they see one. Some new authors obsess so much over originality that they paralyze themselves for fear of doing something that’s been done before. Still others seem to make no attempt and cut and paste nearly to the point of plagiarism.
I think the key to originality is a well-exercised imagination. Don’t be afraid to play with an idea in your head. Keep your possibilities open. Try putting that spin or this twist on what you’ve got. Mix, match and crossbreed those wild ideas in your head. After all, isn’t that the fun part?   

Thursday, August 31, 2017

5 Reasons Your Writing Needs Humor

As seriously as you might take your writing, you probably agree that good writing usually requires a splash of well-written humor. Whether it’s witty banter between characters, quirky relatable situations, or outrageous misadventures, we always crave a little laughter at some point in a novel—and even in shorter works.

But still, somehow, we can forget that from time to time when we caught up in the actual adventure of writing. It’s easy to get distracted by the profound impact of our themes or the dramatic arcs of character-change. I often lose sight of other goals when I’m engrossed in building up to what I hope to be a brilliant plot-twist.

Maybe there are great works of fiction and prose out there with no humor at all, but why deny yourself the obvious advantages it gives to your fiction?

·  It gets the reader’s guard down. You really want to do whatever you can to get your reader warmed up to you. Nothing breaks the ice like a good joke. I know from observing my own reactions as a reader that humor momentarily turns off that raging hyper-critical part of my mind that tries to distract me from enjoying fiction at all.


·  It’s a chance for characterization. Plus, it’s a surefire way to amp up a given character’s likability and humanity. Most people have some kind of a sense of humor way down inside. Think of the people you know. Try to pinpoint the different flavors of humor you have encountered. (And remember, it’s always okay to steal directly from real like.) Take humor as another chance to make a character unique.



·  It connects with the reader. A character can make me laugh with (or at) them before they can get any other emotional reaction from me. I might never care about their sad predicament if they’ve never made me laugh. Everyone wants to laugh. When a writer can deliver humor that I appreciate, that establishes instant trust. This writer cares enough about me to give me what I want as an audience.


·  It breaks up monotonous mood. Some books are sad, some are suspenseful, some are sweet, and some are scary. But if every paragraph has the same mood, at least for me, the overall impression in the end is that it was boring. Humor has a great way of breaking emotional tension and putting a surprise spin on situations. This can really liven up a story for me.



·  It improves the reader’s overall perception of the writing. If a book made me laugh—even just a couple of times—chances are, I’m not going to put it down, and I’m not going to tear it up in a review. I know humor isn’t easy, and if a writer goes out of their way to add some in, they’ve got promise as far as I’m concerned. 

If you’ve convinced yourself your message is just too important to joke about just remember that even Jesus used humor to get through. (Occasionally even sarcasm—just a little note for the sarcasm-hating crowd.) We’ve heard very serious pastors and Sunday-school teachers and Robert Powell repeat him so often in the most sanctimonious way possible that I don’t blame anybody for getting a little deaf to it. The point is if you have something important to say—something you want people to remember—make them laugh!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Seven things I learned from NaNoWriMo


This year was my first attempting National Novel Writing Month’s great 50k words in 30 days challenge. I’ve been hanging around on the sidelines wondering if I have what it takes for several years now, and abruptly—here in the middle of my senior year of college—I decided it was my time.

  And I did it. I actually surpassed 52k on November 30th, claiming my official win plus. My odds actually hadn’t been that great. If I was like a lot of participants, attempting their first novel, I doubt that I could have done it. But even if I hadn’t been able to pull it off, I think it would have been well worth the try, because doing something that extreme teaches you things.

  So, without further ado, here’s what I learned on the front lines of NaNoWriMo.

1.    I learned how to save images I edited in Photoshop so that the internet would acknowledge their existence. Big revelation. I figured out how to do this when saving my cover image for my NaNo novel. You “save for the web.” Never would have thought of that. Ha. I’m so techno-savvy.  But I’m glad I got this figured out, so now I can edit title images for this blog, and stick them on Pinterest and stuff. Better late than never.


2.    Better late than never. That’s something else I learned. I was 10k words behind up until Thanksgiving break. I kept seeing people on the forums freaking out over being 2k behind, or so. I gritted my teeth and caught up suddenly in the home stretch. It was totally possible!


3.    Along the same lines, I discovered the hidden true moral of “The Tortoise and the Hare.” We were supposed to win NaNo by way of the tortoise’s strategy. Just one foot in front of the other, 1,667 words a day. But if you look at my chart of daily word count throughout the month, you see that’s not what I did at all. There were about ten days where I hit and exceeded the target word-count. I worked in hare-like sprints. Guys, the only reason the hare lost the race was because he fell asleep. Therefore, the true moral of the story was: no sleeping.


4.    Stopwatches are better than timers. This is a crazy fact that I discovered, and it may quite possibly be only true for me. When I set a thirty-minute timer, I was lucky to get 500 words down in that time. I thought that was my limit. Then I set a stopwatch. When I hit 500 words, I stopped it--always between 15 and 12 minutes. Crazy.


5.    All dialogue should be argumentative underneath. This keeps it from getting boring and loosing connection with the plot. If there’s always some sort of conflict of interests underneath the conversation, it becomes a lot more logical, and easier to know what the character should say next. Even if the conflict is very small and petty, it’s going to help.


6.    Collapsing bridges and crashing helicopters are good things. I think this is self-explanatory. I mean, everybody knows this, right?


7.    And lastly, writing is not supposed to be as serious as we try to make it all the time. I wrote this novel to prove that to myself once and for all. We novelists spend so much time agonizing over unattainable perfection. I’m done trying to take myself so seriously. We have one of the most fun occupations in the world. It’s time to cut loose and enjoy it.



One more thing before I go. Here is the cover of my NaNo project. It’s never going to be published. I mean, it’s written from the perspective of my childhood imaginary enemy. I’m in it as a character and mentioned by name, and portrayed in a rather negative light, I must say. I needed to write a piece of literature with absolutely no pressure hanging over it, so that’s what I did.

  But now, back to reality. I’ve got to try to attain perfection with the draft of a dystopian novel I’ve got scheduled for release in February 2017.

  Serious business. 


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Introducing "The Art of Lightplay"

  I’ve finished the first draft of a new novel. This novel is a bit of a land-mark, being about thirty-thousand words longer than my previous record-holder, “End of the Saros.” I can’t remember when I started it—I don’t keep track of dates, but I know it didn’t actually feel like it took forever—which is probably a good sign.


  Here’s a quick run-down of the stats of “The Art of Lightplay” as of now.

  Length: 139,826 words

  Genre: Hard to say. Gothic/alternative reality/fantasy/sci-fi…?

  Audience: mostly Christian Young Adult

  Stage of production: first editing round

  Hopeful Release Time: September 2016


“The Art of Lightplay” Synopsis:

The only strange thing about Fiireah’s quiet island life seems to have finally settled in her past, until she goes to explore a deserted neighboring island and discovers that things are not always how they appear. There, three young recluses have set themselves apart from the world to devote their time to the study of a little-known ability on the razor-edge of science—the art of lightplay.

  As Fiireah joins them in their pursuit of lightplay’s use and meaning, she finds herself in the midst of a deeply personal controversy. When something terrible awakens from the past, sides must be taken—even with a dangerously incomplete understanding of what it all entails.


  I’ll be working on editing and polishing “Lightplay” extensively this month, before passing it to a few beta-readers for further input. It’s been a lot of fun, and I hope to produce something out-of-the-ordinary for you all sometime at the end of this summer. We’ll see how it goes.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Author Interveiw at However Improbable

  Hey, guess what? I got to do an interview on another writer’s blog. Many thanks to Jack at However Improbable for hosting me! Here’s the link. Check it out.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Interveiw With Valhalse Coharnah, antagonist of The Stardrift Trilogy

Sorry for the pause. That was for suspense, of course. Very calculated. Now, here's what you've been waiting for: an interview with the villain.


What is your goal as the ruler of Divizah?


My aspirations change with the wind. I’ve told some people I would resurrect theocracy—only partially in jest. I used to be such a romantic. I would do anything if I would be worshipped for it. But after a while I realized that gods are all too often manipulated by those who take a more underhanded approach. I don’t know what I want right now, besides possibly to shake off certain political shackles—alliances, that’s what they call them—that keep Divizah so pitifully domesticated.  


How do you see yourself?


I…I’m not sure. It depends very much on perspective. Much of what I’ve been through has stayed with me. I see myself through the eyes of those around me sometimes. I used to try to see that way more often, but I grew to hate it. I hate what other people see, but I could care less if they continue to see it. People’s opinions don’t matter at all.



What is your take on humanity in general?


Humanity is ultimately tragic. So many people die chasing after something unattainable, impermanent, or altogether imaginary. A waste of lives. A waste of passion. I’ve tried reasoning with them. They don’t listen. Masses only trust their emotions—particularly their fear.




What is your greatest fear?


Fear? What would I be afraid of? I couldn’t say I have any fears…it wouldn’t be good for public relations. Everything’s alright most of the time. I used to think more about…things when I was younger, when I had just taken my position as sovereign. I’ve been trying not to brood so much lately. There isn’t any sense in worrying about it anymore…but I didn’t use to wake up in the night, like I do now.


Have you ever done anything you were ashamed of?


Shame very often comes from acting without weighing the consequences. I struggle with an internal discord between very passionate emotions and a need for a very strong strategy. You have to be extremely cautious as a Divizin sovereign. You live a public life and are constrained to meet rigorous expectations. Tiny mistakes still pile up in time, though. I’m both ashamed of everything and of nothing I’ve ever done.


From what do you derive satisfaction?


Nothing! No, I guess there must be something…some small thing. I like it when I walk into a room and I can feel a surge of awe run through everyone there. I enjoy paralyzing someone who attempts to oppose me. I have it down to an art. All of my human interaction has become very nuanced and adapted to create the desired effect. A Divizin sovereign is no mere mortal and never truly satisfied until they cease to be treated as such. I also like breaking glass. It has a guaranteed shock effect every time.


Is the Universe chaos or a plotted design?


Oh, a beautiful design—plotted no doubt, for self-destruct from the beginning of time, but nonetheless beautiful. The streamlined perfection of the design has always intrigued and, in light of everything that’s happened, almost amused me somehow. I think I’m beginning to understand now. With all the stardust, and heroism, and DNA and tears, it was all meant as a joke, after all--a bitter, morbid joke for those of us who get it.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Interveiw with Dahskay Onlore, Main Character of The Stardrift Trilogy

Now things get fun. Today, I’m staging an interview with The Stardrift Trilogy’s main character, Dahskay Onlore. Dahskay Onlore is an apprenticed radio astronomer working as an intern at her father’s Observatory in the mountains on the planet of Finzar. In Earth-years, she would be about sixteen when the story starts.

What are your favorite and least favorite things about your job at the observatory?

For one thing, I love the setting. The Ematosk Mountains are beautiful, and the emotional climate at the observatory is so peaceful and contemplative most of the time. It’s kind of a vacation setting. Then there’s the whole astronomy aspect. I love our subject-matter. It’s all so huge and fantastical, and the fact that our sole purpose is to listen to what the heavenly bodies are saying…that’s cool. (Laughs.) If you can’t see how cool that is, I can’t help you.

  Things that aren’t as cool would be the boring technical things and the computer work. I don’t like technology very much. And then there’s the fact that you’re kind of isolated up there and stuck with the same bunch of people all the time. That sometimes gets old.


How do you choose who to hang out with?

Well, when you’re working, you don’t often get to choose, but during breaks and the off-time we get every four days, I prefer to be with my brothers. Otherwise there are several girls that live in my dorm who I like. I like good communicators, quiet people, people with interesting stories. Some of the other interns aren’t really going into astronomy, so there are some that I have to search around for common ground with. But for the most part, a lot of the people at the observatory share that interest. It’s nice to be with people who have a passion for what you love.


Do you find it easy to trust people, and get along?

Yeah, usually, I’d say I do. I like to see people in reference to their experiences and know them for who they are. A lot of people dismiss other people too easily as this or that, and walk away, or run away, accordingly. I try to be patient and learn about people, and try to assume the best of them. I found it really pays off.


Do you consider yourself a heroic person?

I don’t know…I guess it depends on how you define a hero. Standing up for what’s right under pressure and standing by the people you love are important, I guess. Those are things I try to do. I would be willing to do whatever I had to do to help people who needed me. Self-sacrifice and hope are probably the virtues that I would say define a hero. I want to be that strong, but I don’t know for sure if I am, right now.


Do you think individuals are important in the grand scheme of things?

Wow…big question. As an astronomer, you spend so much time in light of the giant realm we call the universe. Really, you would think that people and their individual struggles and achievements would shrink by comparison. Sometimes I wish they would. But yes, I think people are infinitely important--as important as the universe is huge. It’s a mistake to separate individuals from the grand design. Everyone’s an essential part of it.


Do you believe in a higher power?

Yes. I’ve always believed in God, but there’s something about astronomy, and space travel as well, that just keeps emphasizing it. You can’t feel alone out there. I don’t really like space travel, but, with all the comfort and familiarity stripped away, that’s when you really know that it isn’t just your personal culture, your hometown, your planet. You get out there tens of millions of miles from all that, and your head clears, and you know it’s not your imagination.


If you could send a message to everyone in the universe, what would you say?

I’d tell them to listen. Listening is so underrated. People don’t seem to have the curiosity or the imagination to search for what might be calling them. You never can know what your destiny is really meant to be. Mostly just because it’s so celestial, and so huge, you can’t take it in. But if you listen, you might get some hints of what’s coming for you. And it’s not something bound to your home planet. Your life was never meant to be that small.