Happy Monday, everyone. Today is Labor Day in the U.S., a day on which governments (generally–police, fire, and the military excepted) stop laboring in honor of labor unions who represent a smaller percentage of the total workforce than they have in decades, while many businesses stay open. Hey, no one said this had to be logical!
The last couple of posts have been real downers, I know, what with some of the scandalous and/or sleazy news that’s been out there lately. Fortunately, the weekend has provided a respite and we can get back to articles on craft, on the good sides of the business, and even have a little fun.
As usual, we’ll start with the pieces on craft, and start those with a couple on character.
Kim Weiland’s (@KMWeiland) 17th entry in her WORDplay blog’s Most Common Mistakes series asks, Do Your Characters Lack Purpose? This can be a real problem. Purposeless characters, like purposeless people, wander aimlessly through the story–a story most readers won’t finish because it’s, well, aimless. Characters need goals, Kim writes, and she’s right. Goals are similar to wants and needs, but perhaps a bit more tangible. And if a character has a goal, then the reader has something that will maintain their interest as they watch the character struggle to achieve it (more on this a little later).
Not all characters, of course, are nice people, and some of those not-nice people can be story protagonists–the antiheroes. Dr. Antonio del Drago’s (@mythicscribes) The Antihero–Writing a Dark Character that Readers will Love deals with how to develop that complex character whose take on the moral dilemmas he or she faces is different from that of “ordinary” people, while being fully understandable.
Another Writer Unboxed entry is Jael McHenry’s (@jaelmchenry) last post in her Flip the Script series. Appropriately, at the end of the series, she advises us to End Anywhere. OK, that sounds too easy, and in fact Jael provides suggestions on to write a satisfying–or at least appropriate–ending without falling into any of these traps: “happily ever after,” the too-twisty twist, or tying up absolutely every single loose end that was ever spun in the story. Of course, a story can end happily, it can finish with a surprise, and it can tie up the loose ends. It just doesn’t have to.
Stefani Nellen is a German native who lives in the Netherlands and writes in English (it’s a long story). Her Glimmer Train article (via Jane Friedman’s blog) Things to Do in German When You’re Bored might at first not seem to have anything to do with writing, but it does. You see, she tried translating some of her work originally written in English into German, and discovered in the process that doing so, and trying to make the result something that sounded right and natural in that language, forced her to stop doing some of the tricks she’d been using to try to impress other writers and readers and get to the core of the story. If you speak another language well enough, this might be an interesting exercise. (And am I the only one to notice the irony of an article like this appearing in a literary magazine like Glimmer Train?)
Harvey Stanbrough’s piece On Setting Priorities serves as our transition from craft to business posts, since doing so is ultimately one of those things we all have to do in order to get anything done. Despite all of the other demands on his time, Harvey’s #1 priority is his writing. What each of us places as #1 tells us how much our writing really matters to us.
Clare Langley-Hawthorne puts what I hope will be a period on the discussion on buying positive on-line book reviews in her Kill Zone piece Another Bell Tolling? Reviews in the Age of Amazon. Clare’s provocative question is this: do on-line reviews even matter? Has, in other words, this whole kerfuffle about phony reviews been much ado about nothing much? While in some respects, I think the answer is clearly no–there’s a major issue of integrity here–but at the same time, if potential readers are not making their purchasing decisions based on those reviews, why have them at all? Food for thought.
Joel Friedlander (@JFBookman) reprises a 2010 article from The Book Designer explaining the Top 10 Worst Self-Publishing Mistakes. Some of these are real doozies, like being proud of a “deal” that gives the author ten (ten!) “free” copies of their book for a $6,000 cost to publish. All ten represent the kind of ignorance and naivete that can get newbie writers into real trouble.
OK, let’s close with a little bit of fun: Debbie Ohi’s (@inkyelbows) Writer Prep comic on Writer Unboxed. This one’s especially for all of you who write flash fiction.
Quite a variety today in these top-five posts. Let’s jump right in.
Robert Bruce (@robertbruce76) reprises something he posted earlier this year on 101 Books: John Steinbeck On Writing, the master’s 6 tips on the craft. Steinbeck is yet another writer who counsels reading one’s dialog out loud. As I wrote in my comment to Robert’s piece, the advice applies to narrative, non-fiction, and poetry, too.
Next up is Michael Swanwick’s advice to Kill Your Darlings. By itself, the title is hardly new. What Swanwick does is different, however. He starts by critiquing the opening paragraph of “The Fish” by Isak Dinesen, then critiques his own critique! His points in the meta-critique are (1) critiquers are often critiquing for their own benefit, to keep reminding themselves of what they need to do to write well, and (2) those critiques may not be valuable to other writers, especially new ones. Or they might be. Interesting piece.
Clare Langely-Hawthorne connects the Olympics and Writing–Learning from Failure on The Kill Zone. While critiquing the Australian press’ focus on their athlete’s “failures,” such as placing second in an event, she notes that that focus on winning isn’t unique to them (since when is being second best in the entire world a bad thing?) but also that that degree of success, indeed any degree of success, is built on the “failures” of the past.
Rachelle Gardner (@Rachelle Gardner) uses an interview with Cheryl Strayed (@CherylStrayed) to discuss when someone should write their memoir. Strayed’s answer to why it took her so long to get to the point where she could write Wild, her story about her 1,100 mile solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, had two parts. She needed the time to (1) learn her craft and (2) gain sufficient perspective on what she’d learned from that hike. Gardner emphasizes the importance of both of those points.
Finally, Bruce Holland Rogers guest posts on Jane Friedman’s (@JaneFriedman) blog about Selling Flash Fiction Via E-Mail–Successfully. This is doubly interesting. First, it’s a sales model I hadn’t seen before: readers pay $10 a year to subscribe to his web site (shortshortshort.com) and in exchange get 36 flash fiction stories a year from him. Second, editors DO NOT consider this work to have been “published,” so he can–and has–collect, publish, and sell the work again later. There’s even more to this concept. If you write flash fiction, this might be something to explore.
First entry: Harvey Stanbrough’s (@hstanbrough) Definitions, in which he provides his own tongue-in-cheek definitions of various terms, a la Ambrose Bierce (author of The Devil’s Dictionary) and Johnny Hart (original creator of the comic strip B.C.). If you find any of Harvey’s definitions not to your liking, I’ll refer you, as I’m sure he would, to this one: “opinion, n. Offered as it is from a single, biased point of view and a single set of experiences, a meaningless group of words, except to the speaker.” Which, of course, is also self-referential. 😉
But wait, you say, weren’t there second entries in these categories? Why, yes there is. One that fits both:
Kim Weiland’s (@KMWeiland) Why Do Bad Books Get Published? on WORDplay, in which she opines that the definition of great, or at least, successfulfiction is (a) in the eye of the beholder and (b) a judgment made differently by ordinary readers than by writers. And I’d add, (c) differently again by writers of different kinds of works, particularly “literary” versus “genre,” which of course is a distinction without a difference since “literary” fiction is a kind (genre) of fiction.
Which leads us, finally, to your very own chance to create your very own great, or good, or in any case your very own flash fiction as part of Writer Unboxed’s 7 Sizzling Sunday’s of Summer Flash Fiction CONTEST, which starts today. But you’d better hurry: the 72-hour clock for getting that first 250 word super-short story submitted is already ticking. Each week’s top 3 submissions will move on to the finals, from which the top-top 3 stories will be selected and be awarded prizes. But the reward is in the doing, isn’t it? Sure it is.