From D&D Campaign to Fantasy Novel – Part 1

I am certainly not the first person to attempt to convert a Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) campaign into a series of fantasy novels, and I probably won’t be the last. But I’ll wager that my campaign has been running longer than anyone else who has tried. It’s been running since the final core rulebook of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) was published over thirty-eight years ago. The official rules of D&D changed over the years, and we made changes of our own, but we remained true to the the original spirit of the game. It’s all about role-playing characters in a fantasy setting, but only in a semi-serious fashion, because it also has to be fun.

I have gotten in the habit of writing detailed summaries of the adventures that I have run as part of my campaign, but they’re not exactly publication-ready. Things need to be described in a more realistic manner. Even though it’s a fantasy setting with monsters and magic, characters have to be believable. They need to have backstories, aspirations, faults, quirks, etc. They need to seem real to the reader.

When I started working on the first book, I ran into a myriad of issues. Do I keep the traditional Tolkien-inspired trappings, such as dwarves and elves? What units of measurements are used? What type of currency is used, and how much do things cost? What do people eat? What do they do for fun? How do the government and economy work? Are there taxes, and if so, how are they levied? And those are only a few of the things I had to consider.

Another problem is that I hadn’t created everything from scratch. I took ideas and names from books, and from the real world. My campaign has the usual pantheon of deities, but I took the names from Hinduism, also integrating the idea of having three major deities. The names clearly had to change, because Hinduism is a current religion with many followers, and I didn’t want to offend them. Vishnu became Arwon, Lakshmi became Lasrina, Krishna became Kyran, and so on. In my books, the names are all different, but the deity’s associations remain basically the same. For example, Lasrina is associated with beauty and luck.

And now we come to what I really want to discuss: death. In D&D, if a character dies, they can be brought back to life using magic. (This is generally performed by a cleric—priest or priestess—but could also be done with some type of enchanted item.) Multiple lives are common today in computer games, but it was a novel concept in 1974. And it was clever. It meant that a player didn’t have to worry that the character they had spent months or even years developing might die and then have to be replaced by a new and far weaker one. Death was merely an inconvenience. Most fantasy novels have nothing like this, or if they do, it’s very limited. But it’s an integral part of D&D, so I decided to not only make use of it, but to embrace it.

What are the ramifications of death not necessarily being permanent? First, there have to be limits. I decided that a body reduced to ashes couldn’t be restored by any means, and that this was the usual method of disposing of bodies. (In D&D, dead bodies can be reanimated as undead—something that most people want to avoid.) I also decided that everyone had a limited number of lives that was unknowable, but was almost always at least two.

There were other decisions to make and questions to answer. What if part of the body is missing, or is in bad condition? Does it always work? What will the person brought back experience? Will they remember being in some kind of afterlife? How will having died affect them? How does knowing that death isn’t necessarily permanent affect society in general? Are people less careful?They would certainly be more comfortable knowing that they had more than one life.

I explored some of these issues in the first book, and more in the second. And it will continue to play a role as I write more books in my Andoran’s Realm series. I think this is one of things that makes my books stand out from many other fantasy novels.

In Part 2, I will discuss issues related to gender equality within my series.

The unintended consequences of chapter titles

I’ve mentioned this before, but my first novel, Audrey of Farmerton, ended up with chapter titles that were single words, such as “Impossible” or “Determination”. Those titles were originally for the sole purpose of helping me to navigate such a long book, but the beta readers liked them so much that I left them in. That had both positive and negative consequences, as I will now relate.

Coming up with a single word to describe a chapter turned out to be tricky. Sometimes a chapter is just a group of chronological scenes that don’t really relate to one another. In some cases, I ended up moving scenes to different chapters or modifying them to make everything fit. It became an annoyance, and some of the titles still seem somewhat contrived. Furthermore, I was handicapped by not being able to reuse a title, because that would be confusing to readers.

When I started to write the second book of my series, The Witch’s City, I realized that I had no choice but to continue with the single word titles. I also decided that I would not duplicate any of the titles used in the first book, further constraining myself. Fortunately, the English language has synonyms for just about everything, and a huge number of words.

I now think that my odd choice has actually helped me to improve as a writer. Chapters are supposed to be somewhat separate entities, to have a theme of some sort. Selecting a chapter title helps to drive my writing process, giving me ideas. And coming up with an appropriate title for a group of scenes is an interesting challenge. I’m now writing the third book of the series, and it follows the same pattern. It’s a bit darker; the first chapter is entitled “Death”.

How Not to Write a Book Description

Book descriptions are important, whether short ones in ad copy, or long ones on product pages. They need to hook the reader quickly, or they’ll just move on. Let’s start with a test. Which of the following is the best choice to start a book description?

  1. The new book from the Goldfish Today bestselling author of Koi Polloi.
  2. With nearly seventy-four 6-star reviews on GreatReads …
  3. “The best paranormal cooking book I’ve read this week.” — Ima Foodcritic
  4. Buy this book or I will slay you and all of your kin.

The first two come across as bragging. That will repulse some readers (including me). The third is citing a positive review of the book, but how does the reader know it’s legitimate? Or relevant? The fourth is a joke, but it probably would cause a reader to read more of the description. Here’s the bottom line: A book description should first and foremost describe the book. If it starts with anything else, then it is failing its purpose and probably hurting sales.

Am I an expert at writing book descriptions? No. I just rewrote the description of my first book and have no idea if it’s really an improvement.

Writing book descriptions is something that every writer struggles with and frets about. There are endless people offering advice or even offering to write them for you. And endless philosophies on how best to write them. There is no one right answer.

You didn’t ask, but here is my advice:

  • Describe what the book is about without spoiling the plot.
  • Keep it simple. No excessively-long sentences or obscure words.
  • Keep it friendly. Address the reader if that seems appropriate.
  • Use humor only if it’s appropriate.
  • Provide useful information, such as if the book is on Kindle Unlimited.
  • If you must brag or cite reviews, do it at the very end.

And there you have it. Now buy my books or I will slay you and all of your kin. 🙂

Is Traditional Publishing Dying?

Please excuse the clickbait title, but this is a serious issue. Entire industries have been created, transformed, or destroyed by changes in technology. Media companies in particular have been severely affected as physical forms of media give way to digital forms. Resistance to change is natural, but ultimately counter-productive. It is the companies that adapt and evolve that will continue to prosper.

“Traditional book publishers refuse to acknowledge that they no longer control what people read.”

This statement paraphrases one that I heard during an indie author podcast, and it rings true. We are no longer limited to books produced by traditional publishers. Or to what a bookstore or library decides is worth stocking. Bestseller lists have become all but meaningless. Most book shopping is now online, and digital books have become dominant.

In the past, self-publishing a book was both difficult and expensive. Few people attempted it, and most ended up with cartons full of unsold books. Now, self-publishing is both simple and inexpensive. It’s so easy that many people can do it with little or no outside assistance. These days, anyone can publish nearly anything. Indie authors now churn out huge numbers of new books each year—far more than are produced by traditional publishers.

I know what you’re thinking. Most of what indie authors produce is badly-written crap. I agree. But some of it is of excellent quality. Furthermore, traditionals aren’t immune to this problem. They continue to sign authors whose books go nowhere. Established authors often produce lousy books, especially if they are being pressured by their publisher to meet deadlines. As further evidence, consider that even today 70% of physical books end up being trashed—remaindered, in bookstore parlance. From what I can tell, publishers are no better at identifying talent today than they were in the past. The smart ones, in fact, now look for successful indie authors to sign.

The truth is that many of the services that publishers offer authors are now readily available for purchase. You can hire someone to proofread or to edit. You can find artists that specialize in book covers. You can find people to do marketing and promotion. It’s obviously not as good as getting an advance for writing a book and then having other people deal with all those things, but it’s also not exactly easy to find a publisher willing to sign you. Or who won’t abandon you if your first book bombs.

Another sign of impending doom are the insane ebook prices that many traditional publishers set. These prices are frequently higher than the paper version. It’s an attempt to prop up their dying print business, and a very foolish one. What they are actually doing is helping the indie authors. Someone upset with the ebook price of the latest Dan Brown thriller may simply start looking for authors who write similar books. And in all likelihood they will find at least one indie author whose books are sufficiently interesting, as well as being much less expensive.

As a final proof, I offer another statistic: Roughly 80% of the authors who have risen to prominence in the last five years have been indie authors. In other words, indie authors are taking over the market. Readers are finding far more indie works they like than traditionally-published ones.

A deal with a traditional publisher remains the ultimate goal for many authors, and there is nothing wrong with that. There will always be some traditional publishers, as well as other options such as crowd-funded publishing. And new forms will likely emerge. It’s a new publishing world now, and an exciting one.

The Witch’s City is now available!

My second novel, The Witch’s City, is now available on Amazon for purchase as a digital book or free if you have Kindle Unlimited. This is the sequel to Audrey of Farmerton. I am hoping to complete the third book in the Andoran’s Realm series (tentative title Zardis Thieves’ Guild) within six months.

Listening for Typos

For my final proofreading of The Witch’s City, I made use of my computer’s text-to-speech feature. I mentioned this technique in a tweet, but I thought that I would go into more detail about how to do it and why it works.

These days, virtually every computer, tablet, or smart phone, offers some type of text-to-speech capability. This is partly for convenience—such as having a text message read to you—but is also included to aid those with visual disabilities. As a result, the set-up for this feature is usually found under “Accessibility” or something similar. In this area, you should find options to select both the voice and the speaking rate. Apple devices come with only a small number of voices pre-installed, but many others are available for free using the “Customize” option of the voice menu. I downloaded every English language voice that sounded decent and then experimented.

As far as using this technique, I found that I could customize Scrivener’s toolbar to include a speech button. (It’s also possible to define a function key to invoke this using the speech set-up under Accessibility.) If I push this button, one of two things happens: The computer reads the highlighted text and then stops, or the computer starts reading from the text cursor location and continues until the button is pressed again or the end of the document is encountered.

For proofreading, I typically place the text cursor, invoke text-to-speech, and then read along while listening. This combination works quite well. For example, I had written “scrapping” when I actually meant “scraping”. Visually these two word look very similar, but listening I immediately heard the difference and was able to correct my mistake. Another example would be distinguishing between “though” and “through”.

There are some annoyances to using text-to-speech. Names, particularly unusual ones, may be pronounced wrong. Some voices tend to pause too long for some types of punctuation. Some voices don’t pause after paragraphs, especially if the next paragraph is dialog. But these are minor issues. The important thing is being able to hear the words as you read them.

In conclusion, I highly recommend that all writers who do their own proofreading at least give this technique a try. You will never get all the typos out, but every little bit helps.

The 2017 Tennessee Writing Workshop

I would like to share a few of my thoughts on the 2017 Tennessee Writing Workshop. It was held on July 22, 2017 in Franklin, TN (just south of Nashville). This was my first time attending something like this. The event featured a number of established authors sharing their wisdom. Also present were a number of publishing agents, eager to hear pitches from aspiring authors and give advice.

First, let me compliment the people who planned and ran the event. From what I could tell, everything went very smoothly. People were always on hand to answer questions or provide guidance. The only complaints I heard involved the scheduling. Some people found themselves with two simultaneous sessions that they really wanted to attend, but parallel sessions are the norm. There was also grumbling about having to skip out of sessions for pitches or critiques, but I’m not sure if there’s a way around that particular problem.

Being older and semi-retired, I was worried that the workshop might be filled with younger people that I didn’t fit in with. In fact, there were people ranging from teenage to older than myself. And age really didn’t matter. The important thing is that we were all writers seeking to improve our craft.

I did end up standing out to some extent because of my complete lack of interest in traditional publishing. Most people were there at least partly so that they could pitch their work to agents. I definitely admire and respect those seeking recognition by a publisher, but it’s just not for me. One of the sessions I attended included an excellent discussion of the pros and cons of traditional vs. self-publishing.

One thing that I was really looking forward to was a critique of my own work. C.J. Redwine, an established author of science fiction and fantasy, reviewed the first ten pages of my soon-to-be-published book, The Witch’s City. During our ten minute discussion, she was both complimentary and critical, just as I had hoped. The good news is that she very much liked my opening scene and writing style. I am already at work addressing the issues that she pointed out.

The sessions I attended were all interesting, and they have certainly given me a great deal to think about. I don’t necessarily agree with all of the advice that was given, but that’s fine. There is no one correct way to write as far as style.

Will I attend the 2018 version of this event? Almost certainly. But if the sessions are largely the same, I may simply participate as a volunteer. Either way I will be able to engage with other writers, and that is what counts.

The Countdown Begins

In just one month, The Witch’s City (Book Two of Andoran’s Realm) will be available on Amazon. You can either purchase the ebook or read it for free if you have Kindle Unlimited. Or you can not read it all, which is what most people will probably do.

I know what you’re thinking: Is it necessary to read Book One first? No, but I would recommend it. There are a lot of characters. Book Two does includes an index of most of them, but that’s really not the same as reading the first book of the series. After all, Andoran’s Realm is a character-driven fantasy series—a slice-of-life series, if you will. If you’re looking for battles between huge armies and world-shaking events, then it may not be for you. On the other hand, it does have a snarky princess, a misguided half-elf, an exiled witch, and a frustrated half-demon. What more could you want?

Disclaimer: Andoran’s Realm is not associated with the principality of Andorra or the board game “Magic Realm”.

To KU, or not to KU. That is the question.

“KU” is short for Kindle Unlimited. It is a monthly subscription service that Amazon offers for ebooks. For a flat fee, the subscriber has access to a huge number of Kindle ebooks in a variety of genres with no limits on how many can be read per month. But not all Kindle ebooks are included in KU, and there are strict requirements. KU has both advantages and disadvantages, particularly for indie authors like myself.

Requirements: To be available in KU, an ebook must be enrolled in KDP Select, which makes it exclusive to Amazon. It can’t be offered on another retailer site or even on the author’s own website. The enrollment period is 90 days and auto-renews by default. The book price must be in the range of $2.99 to $9.99 (U.S.).

Features: In addition to royalties from ebook sales, royalties are also paid to the author based on the number of pages read by KU subscribers. (From what I can tell, a “page” is about 200 words.) During each enrollment period, a book can be offered as a countdown deal or made free for up to five days.

My first book, Audrey of Farmerton, has been enrolled in KDP Select for nearly a year now, and the sequel, The Witch’s City, will be enrolled as well for at least the first 90 days. In my experience, countdown deals are utterly worthless. Making the book free, however, can be an effective way to get it into the hands of more potential readers, especially if you make an effort to advertise it. You won’t earn any royalties that way, but a successful free book promotion can result in increased sales and KU reads afterward. In fact, I’m seeing that right now from my last promotion.

Only recently have I realized that I make more money if someone reads my book through KU than if they purchase the ebook! The reason for this is that my book is an actual fantasy novel, not a novella or just a section of a longer work.

So how does one decide? As with many things, there is no one right answer. Some people claim that your book has to be widely available and that KU is unnecessary. But there are authors solely on Amazon who are making a nice living off of KU. My advice would be to experiment and see what works best for you. Happy writing.

The Witch’s City is now available for preorder! Woohoo!

Yes, that’s right. The Witch’s City, the second book of the non-best-selling, non-award-winning, fantasy series Andoran’s Realm, by the non-famous author M. Gregg Roe, is now available for preorder on Amazon in ebook form. It will be published to no real acclaim on August 12, 2017. I should add that the first book of the series, Audrey of Farmerton, has not been optioned by Netflix, HBO, a major film studio, or a television network, no matter what you may have heard.

But seriously, The Witch’s City continues the adventures of Audrey, Saxloc, and many others both in the Witch’s City and at other locations within Andoran’s Realm. Will Audrey and Saxloc ever resolve their romantic issues? Will Gabriel continue to flee at the mere mention of romance? Will Almera ever stop meddling in her son’s life? Why is Siljan such a lousy poet? The answers to some of these questions might be in the book. Or not. Oh, and I think there’s some stuff about witches too.

Be one of the select few to preorder this non-groundbreaking work! Hurry, before Amazon runs out of bits or something.