Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, November 29 & 30, 2012

Today marks the end of this year’s NaNoWriMo. If you were NaNo-ing, I hope you made your target. Now the fun begins: editing that (bleep)y first draft. 😉 Maybe the posts below will help you do that and get the final result published.

CRAFT

When Jeanne Kisacky writes about deep and shallow plots, she isn’t necessarily referring to graves, although for someone writing a murder mystery, that certainly could apply. Instead, what she’s referring to in Building a Plot of Variable Depth on Writer Unboxed is how plot relates to pace and character. When the plot is shallow, the story’s pace is quick. When the plot is deep, that’s a time of exploring character and change. A well-written story moves back and forth between the two.

Two posts on characters to check out. How Do You Create Characters? on The Kill Zone asks TKZ readers for their techniques. Mine’s there and you can check out other writers’ as well. Jennifer R. Hubbard (@JenRHubbard) has a concise discussion of The supporting cast on her blog, writerjenn, with good examples of how writers have used them badly and well. Thanks to Nathan Bransford for pointing out this piece.

There are also two posts on tension/suspense. Ollin Morales’ (@OllinMorales) How to Create Suspense on Write to Done uses an example of a Hitchcock movie to make the point of telling the reader just enough—and no more—to keep them wondering what will happen next. Victoria Mixon’s (@VictoriaMixon) longer Making Tension Tense on Writer Unboxed says much the same thing, but with three examples.

BUSINESS

Victoria Strauss (@VictoriaStrauss) of Writer Beware joins the chorus of negative reviews today in Archway Publishing: Simon & Schuster Adds a Self-Publishing Division. In case you hadn’t heard, Archway is S&S’s link to Author Solutions, Inc. (ASI), which I mentioned last time. Unlike Dean Wesley Smith’s previous post on the topic, however, Strauss goes into much more detail on why sensible writers should stay far far away from anything having to do with ASI. Read and heed.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s latest Business Rusch (@kriswrites; again, as always, very long) column, Getting Rid of the Middle Man, is really about Kickstarter, one of the “crowdsourcing” web sites (along with FaithFunder and IndieGoGo), writers and others can use to fund projects. Unfortunately, getting to the real meat of the piece—what to do and not do in order to have a reasonable chance at getting your Kickstarter project funded—requires skipping screen after screen of other material. If you’re thinking of using Kickstarter or one of the others, the piece is probably worth a look, but plan on hitting the Page Down key several times before you get to the good stuff.

Joel Friedlander (@jfbookman) introduces something I think is very cool: A New (Free) Way to Sell Books from Your Sidebar. Agent Claire Ryan (@rayntweets) has created a WordPress plugin called Buy This Book (available through the WordPress Plugin Directory) that lets blog visitors to click on an image of the book’s cover and get a slide-out menu of links to websites where the book can be purchased. While the plugin is available only for blogs/web sites using WordPress.org software, Ryan also provides the HTML code that can be copied into a WordPress.com blog and modified as necessary—plus the instructions on how to install it properly as a widget.

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Gabriela Pereira’s (@DIYMFA) Write It! Wednesday piece, Your Writing Superheroes talks about hers, which may or may not be interesting. But one of her four stood out to me: the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. (a.k.a 826NYC). These folks are part of an organization called 826 National, a nonprofit that supports eight writing and tutoring centers around the country for kids 6-18—in New York, DC, Ann Arbor, Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, and San Francisco. (Darn shame it’s just eight.) Anyway, if you live in one of these cities, have a thing for kids and writing, and want to do some volunteer work, you might want to check them out.

JUST FOR FUN

Did you know that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s epigraph to The Great Gatsby is a fake—that he quoted a character from one of his previous books? Check out Robert Bruce’s (@robertbruce76) latest 101 Books post, The “High Bouncing Lover”?

And one more thing, from Dan Blank’s (@DanBlank) e-newsletter today. You may have seen images like the ones in this video by @kottke as chalk drawings on city streets… but you probably haven’t seen anything quite like them, either. What’s the relation to writing? They’re both illusions: some are optical, some are mental. Enjoy.

Come across something great? Don’t delay: share it in the Comments below!

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, September 11 and 12, 2012

I have to start today’s post with an announcement: Great Stuff and Critique Technique will be going on a short hiatus. Later in the week I’m off for a non-writing conference and expect not to have the time it takes to put together these posts. I expect to return to the blogosphere and your computer screens no later than Monday, September 24th.

OK, with that out of the way, we can get to the reason you and I are here. The one piece on craft today is from Kim Weiland (@KMWeiland): Is the Cliffhanger Ending Overrated? Kim’s answer, as you might expect is, “it depends.” At the ends of scenes and chapters, cliffhanger endings can serve their purpose of launching the reader onward–so long as they’re not overused. At the end of a book that’s part of a series, however, there are other, better ways–Kim names four: strong plots, concepts, characters, and themes–to entice the reader to go buy, or be willing to wait for the next book.

In that transition zone between craft and business, we find P. J. Parrish’s (actually writing sisters Kristy Montee and Kelly Nichols) Kill Zone post, I get knocked down but I get up again. Much like the lives our characters lead, the writer’s life often seems to be a series of setbacks and failures with only the occasional success. Parrish offers three strategies for coping with the frustrations of the business: find support, focus in not out, and have faith. Easier said than done, maybe, but who ever said this business was easy?

Fully into the business world, now, there’s:

  • Angela Ackerman (@AngelaAckerman) writing on The Bookshelf Muse about Building Suspense [by] Meeting Readers In The Middle. Suspense works best–for that matter, so does any story–when the reader is engaged and emotionally involved. You knew that already, of course, but Ackerman offers techniques for HOW to do it.
  • Over on Jane Friedman’s (@JaneFriedman) blog, Shirley Showalter (@shirleyhs) wonders Why Is There a Surge in Memoir? Is It a Good Thing? While I’m not only NOT a memoirist and have no interest in becoming one, fully a quarter of the Cochise Writers Group are, so I have an interest in the topic. Showalter suggests that memoirs have experienced a boom that may have already peaked, yet interest in them persists, perhaps because readers have a desire for–a “hunger” for, she calls it–a slice of reality, not the pseudo-reality of cheap-to-produce TV shows, and memoirs feed that need.
  • Joel Friedlander (@JFBookman) lets us in on The Biggest Secret of Book Marketing Success on The Book Designer. Two secrets, actually, one not-so-dirty-little or secret but one authors either don’t know or don’t want to hear–“No one knows in advance which books will sell and which won’t sell”–and the other, which comes in three parts: “write the best book you can and get an editor to make it better; make sure the book speaks to the audience you wrote it for, and let readers judge whether you’ve hit your target; and get your book in front of enough people who don’t know you to get the ball rolling.” If you need to hire a book publicist to help you do that, hire one. If not, be ready to do the work yourself.

We’ll close with two funny pieces.

  • The first, via Michael Swanwick’s Flogging Babel blog, is a promotional video clip for a documentary on science fiction writer Harlan Ellison. I first encountered Ellison in person waaaay back in the ’70s when I was in college. The years have not mellowed him. For comparison, Ellison was Joe Konrath before Konrath was Konrath–but with a sense of humor. That said, as Swanwick warns about The Writer Must Always Get Paid, “His opinion on this matter is intemperate, angry, obscene — and absolutely correct.” And, IMHO, LMAO funny.
  • And finally, Robert Bruce (@robertbruce76) introduces us to comedian Dan Wilbur’s Better Book Titles web site via a 101 Books post of the same name. What Wilbur does is retitle books with something that more accurately reflects their contents. No work is out of bounds. Shakespeare’s As You Like It becomes Crossdressing Helps Everyone Find Love. Ouch. But to tell the truth, cross-dressing was an element in many, if not all of Shakespeare’s comedies. (Robert’s right that the web site is a bit awkward to navigate: the retitled works are down the home page on the right, and you have to click on one to see all of them and their original titles.) There aren’t a lot of retitled works on the site now; let’s hope there will be more.

OK, that’s it for now. “See” you again in ten days or so.

 

Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, July 4, 2012

Today is July 4th in America. Well, it’s July 4th everywhere that uses the western calendar, so that’s nothing unusual. But July 4th in America is our Independence Day, the day we celebrate our decision to break away from the British Empire and strike out on our own. Just as we writers wish to do–quit the tyranny of our day jobs and strive, unfettered, for a great ideal.

America’s founding fathers framed their decision to declare independence on some tremendously high ideals: the “inalienable rights” of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They codified these ideals in the Constitution, then went even further with the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution–the Bill of Rights–including the First Amendment, which guarantees we writers the ability to write whatever we want without fear of persecution or prosecution by the government, with certain very limited exceptions since defined by the Supreme Court.

With high ideals come high risks, though, and a very high risk, indeed a near certainty, of failure to achieve those ideals.

And we have certainly failed, something our critics, internal and external, never fail to point out. Pointing out others’ failures is hardly a difficult thing to do or a high standard to meet. President Theodore Roosevelt said, “It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better.” So true.

We fiction writers understand something about failure that those critics of America do not: that failure is necessary on the way to success. Look at what we do.

  • We make our characters try and fail, try again and fail again, and again, and again, until they succeed in the end. Or not.
  • We, ourselves, try and fail, try again and fail again, and again, and again, as we work to improve our skills at our craft and seek markets for our work. Eventually we succeed to some degree. Or not.

“To some degree”: that’s an important phrase. America’s critics take an all-or-nothing approach. If America hasn’t totally succeeded at reaching her ideals, they consider her a total failure. Any intermediate progress she, and we Americans generally, might have made toward those ideals is useless and irrelevant because the ideals weren’t achieved.

What rubbish.

If progress along the path toward greater achievement has no value, why begin the journey in the first place? Why even try?

We know why.  We know that the journey’s important, as well as the destination. We know that success comes from trying and failing. And trying again and, as Samuel Beckett advised, failing better. Making progress. Moving forward, one halting step at a time. Even taking steps backward at times. Perhaps taking steps backward is necessary in order to have room to make a running start at the next attempt.

That’s America’s greatest secret strength–that we keep trying. Our goals and ideals are lofty, maybe unreachable in the end. But we continue to seek, in Thomas Jefferson’s words, that “more perfect union,” all the while knowing that perfection is beyond human reach. It’s a shame America’s critics don’t seem to understand that fact, or won’t accept it, or won’t do their part of the work to help the nation get closer to her ideals.

If you live in America, I hope you’ll take the day to celebrate not only the nation’s ideals but also the progress we’ve made toward them, even while being fully aware of how much farther we have to go. No matter where you live, as a writer, take this day to celebrate your own ideals and goals and your progress toward them, no matter how much farther you, too, have to go.

Happy Independence Day!

“We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog…”

Three items for you today.

  • The first comes from Donald Maass (@DonMaass). It’s the fourth in his series on Writer Unboxed called The Good Seed, in which he discusses story beginnings. This time he writes about the “inciting incident” and how to make it so powerful that not only does the character to whom it happens have to act on it, but the reader has to keep reading because they has no idea how they would react if it happened to them.
  • And finally, Sharon A. Lavy (@sharonalavy) asks, Will Reading Fiction Turn Men Into Sissies? Her answer, in case you’re wondering (spoiler alert!), is “No, it’ll actually make them better men.” I’d like to think she’s right but I admit to being amused by her piece’s motherly “Do this, it’s good for you” tone. Thanks, Ma. 😉

So what’s great in your world today?