Get Writing

Once again the cries of, “trick or treat,” have died down and the shelves of candy and costumes in the stores is being replaced by Christmas paper. That can only mean one thing. It’s National Novel Writing Month. Head over to Writers Write to download their handy calendar to keep track of your progress.

Myself, I am not participating as I have already started my latest novel and have three others working thier way through editing. I salute those who take up the challenge and admire those who complete it. Qa-plah’

This Post Goes Blue

Recently the wife and I sat down to check out the TV show American Horror Story. All I’m going to say is if that’s your idea of horror, you need to read more Lovecraft or Ramsey Campbell. That’s not what bugged me the most. What was with all the swearing?

In general, though they wouldn’t admit it, people have a far more colorful, (dirty), vocabulary than they realize. At the same time very few people like being constantly sworn at. This creates a conundrum for the writer. Pepper your dialog worth too many naughty words and it will come across as trying too hard to be “gritty” or “edgy.” Not enough, or worse, you throw down some, “gosh darns,” or, “what the hecks,” and people will wonder what kind of prude world they have slipped into.

I remember sitting down to watch NYPD  Blue and marveling at all the words that shouldn’t be on TV suddenly on TV. Then there was the South Park “shit” episode. All the same I’m not really a fan of being sworn at constantly. I’ve enjoyed my share of potty mouthed comics but even there the best of them knew how to use these words for maximum effect. That’s what it really comes down to. As writers words are our tools. We must reserve the right one for the situation. You wouldn’t use a sledgehammer to swat a fly, would you? Your words should be used the same way. Save the words that would make you mom blush or shove a bar of soap in your mouth for when you really need your characters to show some emotion. It’s a subtle difference but can make or break your writing.

It’s Getting Expensive To Be A Writer

broken piggy bank

One of my favorite magazines from my days as a young Heavy Metal fan was Circus Magazine. A series of articles I always looked forward to was by Twisted Sister guitarist Jay J. French that chronicled the trials and tribulations of taking a band from the garage to the arena. Thinking back on that helped me with this post.

So, you’ve finished writing your book and have joined an elite group of writers who can say they have written a book. Time to break out the checkbook. I cannot stress the importance of paying to have your work edited. You do not have to mortgage your home but be prepared to spend around 200 to 300 dollars depending on what you feel comfortable having done. A good cover is worth more than a hundred good reviews so you will want to hire a graphic artist to do your cover. 100 to 500 dollars will cover that and give you a cover to take to the bank. Once it is edited,  you will need to format your book for printing. This too, unless you are a word processing guru, would be better left to the professionals. Prices can vary and services can cover much. Don’t forget about the eBook version as well.

By this point you have a finished product. You also have a slightly or majorly smaller checkbook balance. Now comes the part where you have to try and recoup some and hopefully all of these expenses. It’s now time to put on your snappy suit and barker’s hat and sell your work. You are going to need business cards,  bookmarks and other materials. This is also time to stake out a place in cyberspace. That entails purchasing a domain and leasing space to host your site. Hiring someone to create your site used to be a luxury that has since come down to earth enough to make it an alternative if you are not technologically inclined. Of course if you are selling your books, the government is going to want their cut. Make sure to apply for a transaction privilege license, (sales tax), in your state,  county, and municipality. You will pay a fee to start and then a renewal on the anniversary date. Some states consolidate the license across all three so check first with your state’s department of revenue first.

Now that you have your book, your materials and are square with the government you need a place to sell your tomes. Of course your book is up on Amazon, or Barnes and Noble, or Lulu, or any other online marketplace. You may even be lucky to be in good with a local book seller and have a place on their shelves. Personal appearances have been the most lucrative for me, even outstripping my online sales. The hardest part, aside from scheduling, is the cost involved. Different events will charge different fees for a table. Generally, and predictably, the more attended the event the higher the cost for a table. An event like Comicon here in Phoenix can cost upwards of $500. Smaller events will be in the range of $100 to $200. To get a better sense of what these costs mean let’s look at the math. For Undead Heart, if I sell a copy at $10 I make $5.79 a book. In addition I have chosen not to  charge customers for the sales tax so that comes off my bottom line taking my $5.79 down to $5 a book. To even break even at an event where I’ve paid $100 for the space I’d have to sell 20 books. Most of these event last a day, so assuming a standard work day of 8 hours I would have to sell 2 1/2 books an hour. Doing that I still have not made anything for myself, and are still in the hole for the business cards and bookmarks. I essentially spent the day working for free. There is some value in these events, I get to sit at a table with my business cards and receive the ego stroking of seeing my name listed as author on the place card. to be fair these events serve a larger purpose, so they can be rewarding even if no sales are made. Your name is out there, your books are out there, plus you can network with other authors opening up other opportunities.

Can you ever make money doing this. Sure just be ready for a long haul. I don’t mean to discourage you, but at some point reality will come around and you need to look at what you’re doing as a business. You will only last so long reaching into your own pocket for these costs. I’m not hear to burst your bubble or rain on your parade, just think of this as that little dose of reality peeking around the corner as you reach for your dream.

Blog Re-Cast: Is Talent Overrated?

I will state this now, I am not a talented writer. I am a skilled one. My first few stories blew as many chucks as the next writer’s. I listened, studied and learned, and I still have more ways to go. For me, the first step in becoming a success at any endeavor is knowing and understanding what you don’t know. For more I suggest you read this great post from Anne R. Allen’s Blog – Is Talent Overrated? 8 Things That Are More Important Than Talent for Writing Success.

The Best Advice I Had Not Heard Yet

interesting artI sometimes surprise myself when I come across great advice from the most unlikely of sources. Case in point, while watching one of my favorite video game reviewers, Zero Punctuation,  I came across this little gem of writing advice.

“Is this the most interesting period of your character’s life and if not why aren’t you showing us that?”

Now let that sink in a little bit and if you have heard it before kudos for you. I had never heard it, but now that I have I feel silly that I hadn’t come upon it in my own way. I know as a writer I can get bogged down in trying to convey to my reader all the machinations that went on in my heard to get my characters to this point. This information can be useful, even necessary at some times but it should not come at the expense of keeping the readers’ interest meter in the red. The good news is as the writer if these periods aren’t the most interesting I can certainly make them that way. Details are not interesting. Characters and events are. A simple rule and a helpful one to keep on an index card by your computer monitor.

This also leads me to the use of prologues. A couple of my novels (currently shelved ones if that says anything) do make use of prologues, but I find myself drifting away from them. Think of it like this. How would you feel if your significant other came home from work one day and said? “I have the most interesting story about something that happened at work today, but before that, let me tell you how I got the job in the first place.” Kind of a buzz kill ain’t it. Before the comments section fills with angry protests on the right to prologue existence there are times when the prologue can be a very effective tool and fundamental part of the work, but it must be interesting. That is after all the message of that little gem of advice above.

Said is Dead, Or Is It?

While strolling across the blogosphere I came on Heather Squires’s website that had an interesting graphic. Said is dead. The graphic is a handy tool for alternatives to using , “said.” While I agree in principle that no reader wants to stare down a whole page of, “he said, she said, he said.” Equally taxing would be a page of, “he stated, she replied, he mumbled, she questioned.” There is no need to raid the thesaurus every time you want to write some dialog. Like anything else in life a little bit will do you.

The goal of writing good dialog is keeping the reader on track as to who is saying what. Throw in some thoughts and this can become quite a challenge for even the best writers. I find it most effective to blend in actions. To break up the dialog and cue the reader in to who is speaking without relying on a said or any other word. For example…

“Do you know where the scissors are,” Dad asked.
“No,” Kim replied.
“Of course. Nothing is ever where it’s supposed to be,” Dad mumbled angrily.

Let’s try that same exchange but with a little bit of action.

“Do you know where the scissors are,” Dad asked.
Kim looked up from her book, “No.” Then went right back to reading.
“Of course. Nothing is ever where it’s supposed to be.” Dad mumbled as he stormed out of the room.

Now this is just a simple example and in a longer bit of dialog the writer would mix up actions and expressions along with said, asked and so on. The goal is to keep the reader aware of who is speaking but at that same time giving them something interesting to read. So remember, “said,” may or may not be dead, but to keep your writing off of life support explore the alternatives and mix things up.

Is There an Echo In Here?

One thing I struggled with and that I see pop up in new, and not so new, authors’ works is repeating themselves. It almost reads as though the author second guesses what they wrote and wants to make sure the reader gets the intended idea. For example look at this passage.

Meatloaf again? Why did it have to be meatloaf? Of all the culinary catastrophes Dammon’s wife unleashed on his gastrointestinal tract her meatloaf had to be the worst. Damon really hated meatloaf.

We get the point this character really hates meatloaf in general and his wife’s meatloaf in particular. For the reader, at least me, it slows things down. I get the sense that I really would prefer the author just getting to the point.  Couldn’t one of those sentences conveyed that message?

Of all the culinary catastrophes Dammon’s wife unleashed on his gastrointestinal tract, her version of his most hated dish, meatloaf, had to be the worst.

One sentence, message complete, and the writing is much leaner. Granted I am just using this example to show off a worse case but many times our writing can use a good trimming and this kind of repetition is a perfect target. In most cases it is just a matter of good editing. One of the surest ways I have found to spot these things is to read my writing aloud. Good copy editing is also the surest way to catch all these as well. In the heat of writing we will often over write and it is far easier to take away than add. Just remember to watch out for sentences that repeat the same idea just in a different way. Your readers will thank you, and you may save a little on your page or word count.

Writing In the Age of Political Correctness

locked box imageFor better or worse we seem to be in an age where we are hypersensitive to language that is hurtful, derogatory or just outright mean. This all comes under the banner of political correctness and while rooted in a good idea can also be taken to such extremes that questions of censorship arise. While we have the right to free speech we do not have the right to freedom of speech.

Anyone who knows me, knows I can have a bit of a potty mouth. I curse a lot. However, I rarely swear in my writing. I find it difficult to provide enough context within a story to justify the use of foul language. Now I know in name of realism we have to use language that reflects our subjects. A gritty crime story will have more F-bombs than a cozy cottage romance novel. Still, I think care needs to be taken by the writer to temper the use for no other purpose than to avoid diluting power of the words when they are needed. When the moment in the story comes for the character to really show their anger or amazement at a situation your best tool would be colorful language. Unfortunately that tool becomes weaker the more you use so it. Don’t get in a spot where by the time you really need your character to blow his or her top and drop some F-bombs you’ll want them to have impact.

That brings me to the words that have become so stigmatized that even their utterance sends ripples across the internet. You know the ones I am talking about. Racial slurs and derogatory comments that are the bane of anyone with a public image. One slip of the tongue and anything short of a tearful apology sets their career back several years. I bet they miss the days of Sean Penn when you would just clock the person in the face. These words cannot be taken lightly, they are ugly and hateful, but should they never be uttered? Are we as writers to blame if one of our characters likes to use racial slurs? We know people like that exist. Are we doing good or ill by perpetuating that behavior in our works? Basically my question is how far do we take realism? Or do we just need to be smart and follow the adage, do no harm?

What Writers Do

The other day my mind was wondering and I started thinking on how I would answer the question, what does a writer do that allows him or her to create such interesting works. I had to think about this a bit. All people have imaginations. All people grew up playing with action figures or dolls, imagining what it is like to walk across the moon or the concert stage. Even as adults people imagine what it would be like to get a bonus at work or hit the power-ball. The guy in the club imagines what he would say to the attractive girl across the bar. The woman at the bar imagines what she would say to the handsome guy should he come over. All this imagining, all these creative lines of thought are not too dissimilar from what writers do.

That is not to make writing sound easy. It isn’t. A writer just invest time and energy exploring thier craft. What I mean by craft is the act of putting words to sentences, sentences to paragraphs and paragraphs to pages. The rules aren’t so much rights or wrongs but goods and betters. I don’t think there isn’t a writer alive who at one point wished it was as simple as right and wrong. What the writer must concern himself or herself with is the way one word flows to the next. It is more than just relaying the story to the reader. You have to get the story into the reader’s mind despite the words. Attention to the craft of writing is what makes this possible. A successful writer is so comfortable in thier craft the writing never gets in the way of the story. That is the goal and that is what writers do.