Friday, November 21, 2014

Skimming Stones (or The Art of Omission)

Photo by Killy Ridols, via Flickr
In the real world, we are all slaves to linear time. Waking or sleeping, whether we like it or not, we have to live through every minute of every day.

Only a relatively small proportion of what we experience on a daily basis is interesting enough to make it worth remembering. An autobiography detailing every moment of the writer’s life would make excruciatingly dull reading. If I were going to write my “life’s story”, I’d focus only on the high spots.

Much the same principle applies in fiction. Writing your first draft is a bit like “living” the plot a day at a time. But when it comes to Draft Two, what you leave out can be as significant as what you put in. Like a kid skimming stones across a pond, sometimes you want your story to leap from point to point.

The actor Robert Morley (1908-1992) used this “shortcut” technique to comic effect in his various memoires. In Around the World in 81 Years, he sums up his early career with droll brevity.
I spent a year at the Academy of Dramatic Art in Gower Street behind the British Museum. There was a final meeting with the principal

“Tell me, Morley,” he enquired, “do you have private means?”
These three short lines speak volumes.

This “skipping” technique is doubly effective in more substantial narrative contexts. One of the most masterful examples on record can be found in Wilkie Collins’ blockbuster epistolary novel, The Woman in White.1

Artist Walter Hartright comes to Limmeridge House to give drawing lessons to the beautiful Laura Fairlie. Inevitably, he falls in love with Laura, despite the fact that she is engaged to Sir Percival Glyde. Glyde is under the baneful influence of a criminal mastermind calling himself Count Fosco. Between them, Fosco and Glyde plan to defraud Laura of her inheritance.

Laura’s redoubtable half-sister, Marian Halcombe, harbors well-founded suspicions concerning Fosco and Glyde’s intentions. We follow her investigations via her personal diary. One night Marian crawls out onto the roof in a heavy rainstorm to evesdrop on the villains’ plans, and learns they mean to commit Laura to an insane asylum and replace her with a look-alike. Before she can act, however, she is stricken with fever. Her last journal entry records her lapsing into delerium:
Nine o’clock. Was it nine struck, or eight? Nine, surely? I am shivering again – shivering from head to foot, in the summer air….Oh, my God! am I going to be ill?

Ill, at such a time as this!

So cold, so cold – oh, that rain last night! – and the strokes of the clock, the strokes I can’t count, keep striking in my head –

At this point, the journal breaks off. The next voice we hear is a man’s:
The illness of our excellent Miss Halcombe has afforded me the opportunity of enjoying an unexpected intellectual pleasure.

I refer to the perusal (which I have just completed) of this interesting diary.
The signature attached to this entry is Count Fosco’s. When we realise he’s read everything we have, the effect is like touching a live electric fence.

These are just a few examples of the art of hitting the high spots, but the principle is one worth remembering.



1 First serialised between November, 1859 and August 1860 in All The Year Round.


Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

To Free or Not To Free

I recently attended the Novelists, Inc. (NINC) Conference in St. Petersburg, Florida. This conference is one of the few devoted totally to the business of publishing. Members are all authors who have published at least 2 books, and they're a savvy group. Industry professionals—editors, agents, lawyers, publishers, as well as representatives from the big e-tailers, aggregators, marketing experts, cover designers … well, it's a wealth of information sharing.

One topic that came up frequently was whether authors are "cheapening" the reader perception of what a book is worth by selling their wares for deeply discounted prices, or even—gasp!—giving them away. If you're an indie author, you have the right to set prices for your work that make sense for you. While traditionally published authors bemoan the $3.99 e-book, those indie authors are making more per sale than those with traditional, mass-market paperbacks. If you can attract readers to your series with discounted books, or free books, it might be worth a shot.

I've never been big on bouncing my prices around, but I had the opportunity to take part in a "First in Series Free" program at Kobo Books, and then another one at iBooks.Was I satisfied? Very much so. What I've learned:

First, not all channels permit indie authors to drop a price to free. To have a free book at B&N, you'd have to go through one of the aggregators, such as Smashwords, and since I prefer to hold control of my work, I don't use Smashwords to get to any of the major stores. I do use Draft2Digital to get my books to iBooks, because Apple has more hoops than I care to jump through. I also want my books everywhere they can be (something stressed as very important at NINC by everyone other than the Amazon reps), so I don't play the Amazon Select game. However, so far, Amazon has price-matched my free books, at least in the US and UK.

Free, or deeply discounted pricing--loss leaders--are marketing tools used across the board, not just for books. A lot of readers are willing to take a chance on a new author if they're not investing a lot of money. For the author, it's a discovery tool. For it to work, there are some caveats.

1. You have to have more than one book. Getting your first book published, then setting the price to free, might get you a blip in the rankings, but what happens when the readers finish the free book. Where do they go next? Not to another one of your books, because you don't have one.

2. Even better than several books: have a series. Offer the first one at a discount, or free, and if readers like it, they're going to want to continue reading that series because you've earned their trust. In fact, many best-selling indie or hybrid authors have their first books in their series perma-free.

3. Take advantage of sites that promote free books to get the word out beyond your own circles. BookBub is good, but it's a tough nut to crack. Others include eReader News Today, eBookSoda, The Fussy Librarian, and Bookli, and there are many, many more. There are blogs, Facebook pages, Genre-specific newsletters that exist to get the word out on free or discounted books.

What can you expect? In general, your sales spike at the beginning when your book is free. Sales will drop, but they'll level off at a higher rate than before the promotion. Only a teeny-tiny fraction of the people who grab your free book will even open it. But of the ones who do, and who finish reading it, about half will buy your next book. And that "halo effect" is what free can get you.

There's also the consideration of what your goals are. Boxed sets for 99 cents were/are popular, but the goal of the authors who participate is not to make money; it's to make a NYT or USA Today best-seller list so they can proclaim themselves best-selling authors. But that's a whole 'nother topic.


Deadly Secrets, A Maplton Mystery, by Terry Odell
For those of you who might be interested, Deadly Secrets, the first in my Mapleton Mystery series is currently free. You can find it at the iBooks store, Amazon, Kobo, and Smashwords. It's 99 cents at B&N.


What are your thoughts on free? On discounted books? Have you discovered authors and gone on to buy more of their books?


Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She's the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Elmore Leonard and the 10 Rules

I love Elmore Leonard’s books. I write characters who cross ethical lines, but no one has written more books with questionable characters than Mr. Leonard. In some, you can’t tell the good guys from the bad. Over twenty of his novels have been made into movies, and more people found his books through the TV show Justified. His 10 Rules of Writing is well known among writers. I decided to see how they applied to my own writing, remembering that since I’m self-published, I have no masters but my readers.

My rule is never to follow religiously anyone’s Never Rules. For that reason―and I say this fully aware that people will think I have a lot of nerve to question a master of crime fiction―I don’t agree with most of Mr. Leonard’s rules. Why? They don’t take into account the specifics of the story. Now I realize these are generalities, but Leonard writes them as if they’re the Ten Commandments. I’ll take them one by one.

1. Never open a book with weather.

Storms, hurricanes, blizzards, floods can be the antagonists in a story. They can set the conflict on the first page. Now, if a character wakes up―worse if he’s waking from a dream―and the rain is pouring down, we have a different situation.

2. Avoid prologues.

Most writers won’t use prologues because agents and editors have told them not to. Writers get around this by calling prologues Chapter One or heading them with a date. Time shifts are perfect reasons for prologues. If I need one, I wouldn’t hesitate to call it a prologue. Star writers use prologues all the time, but they have a different set of rules called ― No Rules.

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.

3 & 4 together: Said is a perfectly anonymous attribution, which is the point. BUT, though I hate said with an adverb, what’s wrong with someone whispering or muttering? Yelled? Whimpered? Interesting that Leonard’s example, “admonished gravely,” is one where the word gravely is superfluous. If he had used “he said,” it wouldn’t have the same impact as the words “he admonished.” So is he breaking his own rule?

5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

I rarely use exclamation points: them because they’re distracting, but 3 or 4 in a 100K book? Hmm, okay.

6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”

I agree with Suddenly. There are other ways to say the same thing, and “All hell broke loose” is an obvious cliché. So I agree there too.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

Setting the tone so that the reader hears the dialect, whether it’s written or not, is tricky. I’ve done it, but mostly I used grammar, if possible. I do have a stutterer in one book, and I did show the stutter in moderation. No one’s complained about it being a distraction. I also dropped the g in an ing ending for one character to …in’. The problem with this is once you do it, you’re required to do it throughout the book.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

I bet a lot of writers disagree with numbers 8 & 9. This is one place where the story dictates how much description we use. Many times, less is more. Other times, more is necessary. Readers want to “see” our characters, feel the setting. If either goes on too long, you’ve lost them. The trick again, moderation.
 
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

This one is my personal favorite. Applying it to numbers 8 & 9, you can see how a reader might skip pages of description. I’ve done it.

Leonard is all about dialogue, and in the hands of a good writer, dialogue is the key. Personally, I wish I knew which parts of my books readers skip — maybe a sex scene I feel is intrinsic to the story. One thing is sure: if I’m bored with a scene in my book, readers will be too. I might not want to acknowledge that boredom at first, but I’ll eventually go back and delete. Sometimes this falls under the “kill your darlings” column. You know, those passages you love but really need to go.

So, what do y’all think? (Notice my dialect.) How do you feel about rules when writing? Do you follow them or break them? Me? I think rules are meant to be broken, but since I’m self-published, with no masters but my readers, I can do what seems right to me.


Polly Iyer is the author of seven novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, and Backlash. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Style Maven Steps Out

Photo courtesy of freeimages.com
Greetings, duckies! It’s been an absolute rollercoaster around here these past few weeks. Various forms of drama, and none of it the fun kind that you can leave behind after two hours in a matinee.

Sigh.

I decided to treat myself to an outing, which turned into a (possibly) naughty bit of free advertising. Mind you, I only did it to give my favorite authors a boost; there was nothing at all self-promoting about it. Shall I tell? All right, then.

I found myself enjoying one of those rare but glorious days when there’s actually time and gas money for a trip to a brick-and-mortar bookstore. Might as well go out in the cold when you have a lovely new jacket, don’t you think? Rounding a corner of the mystery novel section, I spied a familiar name.

Gasp! One of our own from the Blood-Red Pencil!

Deciding that the volumes weren’t nearly visible enough, and since I had the department to myself, I set about twitching the books a bit closer to the front of the shelf. Much better. And lovely covers, I might add. Pleased with my work, I set out on a methodical search for anything by any author known to me personally. It wasn’t long before several seemingly unrelated tomes were, shall we say, subtly obvious to passers-by.

An extra step involved looking up more authors on those charming “help yourself” kiosks, leaving tabs open to display books that most assuredly should have been available. The final brooch on the blazer was to declaim, “Oh! You have this author’s book in stock! How divine; I adore their work.”

It was quite a giggle to see one or two interested souls venture closer to the book in question and actually pick it up. Perhaps I’ll make this a regular pastime; I do have a new pair of heels that need to be broken in. Hmm …

Well, dearies, that’s it for me. There’s a loaf of pumpkin-cranberry bread in the oven, and I need to finish setting in the sleeves of a new sweater. Leave a story about your own PR escapades, and remember: a well-turned phrase is always in style!

Photo courtesy of Darrick Bartholomew
Due to an abundance of coffee and cocoa drinking brought on by intolerably cold weather, The Style Maven is considering switching to an all-brown wardrobe to disguise jitter-induced splashes. Find her alter ego at The Procraftinator.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Who Knew? or Seven Things I Learned by Ghostwriting

One of the reasons I love my job as a ghostwriter is that I get to learn so many unexpected things. Although there are times I wish I hadn’t learned them, because some stories are painful. Yet those are the ones which make me feel grateful – and lucky. Other stories are hilarious and make me laugh out loud, and they too engender gratitude. All stories – yes all of them – will teach me something. Stories are like that.

Here are just seven of the many interesting tidbits I’ve learned from my clients. Since I only ghostwrite non-fiction, they must be true, right?  

1.  Did you know that it is important to teach your child to always close the lid before they flush the toilet, because billions of small water drops full of nasty bacteria are released into the air with each flush? These water drops are capable of aerolizing twenty feet from the center of the flush, if they are not stopped by the toilet lid. So close that lid. Or at least rinse your toothbrush in peroxide before you brush.  

2.  Did you know that if you catch a snake you can put him in your freezer and he will not die? Instead he goes into hibernation, and his venom loses its potency as well. In the summer you can take him out of the freezer and put him outside, and the heat will wake him up and you can watch him twitch into life.

3.  Did you know that it’s called “breaking luck” when a prostitute takes her first trick of the night? Or that when she is “turned out” this means she finally realizes that her pimp owns her and she is no longer free?  

4.  Did you know that fish eyeballs have a terrible smell, especially when fresh and raw? So when you bite into them don’t spit the juice out because it will make the people around you angry.

5. Did you know that until the 1920s adopted children were considered by U.S. law to be indentured servants of their adoptive parents? Adoptions had been granted by the courts by issuing orders of indenture.

6. Did you know that redheaded people comprise only two percent of the world’s population? Yet they are found all over the world, from Jamaica to Vietnam, Australia to Scotland. In many cultures redheads have been considered to be servants of the devil. Although both Mark Twain (a redhead himself) and Shakespeare wrote kindly of them.

7. Did you know that in ancient China they had a special suitcase called a pillow box? If you were going on a trip, you packed your special things, the things that meant the most to you, in a wooden box with a curve in it. The curve was where you laid your head when you slept.

Toilets, frozen snakes, prostitute lingo, fish eyeballs, outdated adoption laws, redheads, and ancient Chinese pillow boxes. Those are just a tiny smattering of the interesting things I’ve learned in my fifteen years of ghostwriting. With my job, I never know what I’m going to learn next. But I do know it will be interesting.

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 8 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 40 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit Primary-Sources.com.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Scary Night to New Beginning

by Earl53 in MorgueFile
When I was a child, each holiday occupied a place distinctly its own. Gorgeous autumn colors led up to rows of corn shocks in fields depleted by the harvest of luscious ears of the succulent grain, bright orange pumpkins dotted the brown earth, and root vegetables found their way into storage for winter’s hearty meals. On the heels of this seasonal change came Halloween with trick-or-treaters knocking on neighbors’ doors in hopes of finding candied apples and other sweets to add to their burgeoning goody bags.

After the treats were consumed and blustery November winds rearranged piles of dead leaves (hopefully into the neighbors’ yards), thoughts turned to Thanksgiving menus and plans for family gatherings. Black Friday didn’t exist, at least by its dark name, and Native Americans, Pilgrims, turkeys, and cornucopias graced school artwork and home decorations.

by Earl53 in MorgueFile
Following Thanksgiving, merchants and families eased into what is now referred to as the holiday season. Christmas trees, Santa Claus, snowmen, holly, mistletoe, and poinsettias set the tone for festivities, and the observations of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa shared the space for celebrants of those holidays.
by Earl53 in MorgueFile
Capping the celebrations, a lot of people then and now observe the New Year with a late night, a big party, and too much booze. The New Year, which should, according to some, equate to a new beginning, starts out with a hangover and a bad mood from too many excesses.

No more can any of these holidays claim exclusivity in any sense. Each one crashes headlong into the next until we have one long, expensive, almost irritating season that leaves a lot of folks weary, several pounds heavier, and deeper in debt. The distinction has disappeared.

What does all this have to do with writing? Nothing. And everything.

Many people celebrate one or more of these occasions, and a few observe none of them. In all cases, however, they make great grist for the writing mill. Readers relate to familiarities. Debbie Macomber, for example, has made good use of Christmas to create successful books for her numerous fans. Others have tapped into the sinister aspects of Halloween to create thrillers. Early Thanksgiving celebrations lend themselves to historical fiction pieces, while modern day get-togethers fit well into women’s fiction and family sagas. I am less familiar with Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, but both offer opportunities to learn about customs and practices of other peoples and cultures and to share that knowledge through story and characters. I always like my readers to take something new away from each novel, and I love to learn fascinating facts through research to give my stories interest and depth.

How do you use celebrations and holidays in your books? Do your characters observe practices that are not your own? It is said we should write what we know, but surely we can broaden our horizons by bringing elements into our stories from outside our own little worlds and our comfort zones. What do you think?

Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at DenverEditor.com.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Build Your Story

Recently I came across some old photos. I think photos can be helpful when you're trying to develop a character. You can also look at the picture and, in your mind, build a story around the people or scenery. I've recently been going through old family photos, deciding which to keep, which to throw away, which to make copies of and send to relatives.



I sent some to my nephews, including a picture of their mother, my next older sister, Cathy. It was her high school graduation picture and she was beautiful. I hung my copy up on our wall of family pictures. There are three other pictures I want to make copies of and send out. One is of my oldest sister, Gordonna, and the next sister, Cathy, and me. In one, we're all sitting on the grass. In the other, we're standing and Gordonna's holding me on her shoulder. I also have several pictures of Gordonna by herself. And then there's the youngest sister, Molly. I have pictures of her, too. I came across a picture of  Molly, Cathy and me together. OMG. Molly's hair was beautiful. She's always beautiful. Cathy and I … well, I’m not showing that picture. Where in the world did I get that hair? I know when I give Molly a copy of that picture, she's going to laugh. And laugh and laugh.

I have so many pictures that I've taken from the Grand Canyon to San Francisco to New York.


So what does this have to do with writing?

If you write characters or scenes that are true-to-life, they have to change over time. In one picture, I have a massive amount of hair, dark brown, all curly. It's now straight and blondish. I've changed. Your characters will change, too. Even ongoing characters may change from book to book. They can change hair color, or put on or take off weight. They might belong to one church, then start going to another. A character might be dating Jack, then they break up in the next book.


If it gets too complicated to keep track of who's who, what's what, names, etc., then create a "bible" for your book, especially if you're developing a series of books with the same protagonist. That way you can always refer to your "bible" when you're unsure about what happened in a past book or how a character has changed.


Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, and writing coach. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, Angel Sometimes, Dismembering the Past, and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe. Her next book, Deadpoint, is due out in Spring 2015.


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