Thursday, January 31, 2013
So, what's the connection with this article? Well, I'm looking at how easy it is for the unwary to create the objects of their own destruction and also how dangerous it is to run in a straight line; that's why I reckoned the petard was a good analogy.
Continuing the theme of explosives, once you step away from pure fiction with completely invented characters, you immediately start creating these devices. Unlike (non-recorded) speech, your written words are permanently recorded and there for everyone to read - forevermore. This means that, at any future time, someone can take you to task if they feel you've wronged them in any way.
Just to clarify from the outset - slander is oral and libel is in writing. Your book or books may be libelous (I hope not) but they will not be slanderous (not unless you read aloud an offending passage from them). Many people mix the two up, incorrectly thinking they're interchangeable although it is perfectly possible to be guilty of both. From a legal compensatory standpoint, libel is the big one and to be hauled up for it can land you in some serious trouble.
I actually got the inspiration for this particular article from the suggestions of a 'Writing Guru' whom I'm clearly not going to mention (for fear of falling foul of my own advice) who has been recommending scouring a certain film review site, taking the plot of a popular film, changing a few elements and then packaging it up as a new story. Anyone thinking that this is as simple as it sounds should consider what happened to Men At Work and their song 'Down Under' which, it was found, infringed the copyright of Kookaburra, a song released nearly 50 years earlier.
At one point they were being threatened with having to repay about half of their profits from the song made over the previous six years although a judge later reduced this to 5% but to be an ongoing obligation.
The main issue here (from a book's perspective) is that Men At Work was released 30 years before the court case. In other words, just because your book's been out for a year or more, does not mean that you're safe. While it's fair to say that (as per the court's ruling), a retrospective claim for damages made right back to its release date might well fail, a claim that goes back 5 to 10 years has a good chance of succeeding if you are found guilty.
That's a lot of royalties and money which you may well have spent or got tied up in something. In any case, it's not a position you want to be in.
Probably needless to say, I think that merely choosing a site like Rotten Tomatoes or IMDB and then 'ripping off' a story is not only bad form, it's also verging on the suicidal.
There are a limited number of storylines (Boy meets Girl, Crime and Punishment, Ripping Yarn etc) and you aren't going to come up with an original concept because it's all been covered. However, people buy books for the way in which the story's told, the craft of the author, their usage of language and images etc so nil desperandum. By all means use IMDB et al for ideas, for market research, and for direction but don't make the mistake of thinking that you won't incur the wrath of a team of hot-shot lawyers if you come up with stories such as 'Gone With The Breeze', 'Superduperman' or 'Pirates of the Mediterranean'.
But, and I'm talking about IMDB in particular now, not only are you picking a fight with a film company and an author, you're also risking the ire of Amazon who actually own IMDB. This puts you under fire from all directions and also leaves you nursing a ticking petard.
Now, I've got this great idea for a children's book about a Kookaburra sitting in a tree ....
Clive West is author of The Road and also Hobson's Choice. He's a strong advocate of originality and not becoming yet another sheep or any creature which can be lead by the nose.
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Payback is what makes a reader want to check out more of your writing, too!
A great example I saw of this that actually made me snicker and clap my hands at the same time was on a recent episode of American Horror Story.*** Small Spoiler Alert here for those who haven't caught up yet.*** One of the characters, Lana, had been wrongfully locked up in an insane asylum, but she managed to escape with the help of her shrink--who then turns out to be a serial killer, and there are so many close calls where you think she might get free. Eventually, she escapes back to the asylum, thinking she'll be safer there. No such luck. The shrink shows up and plays all sorts of mind games with her. At one point she manages to tape a confession from him without his knowing. But the best moment is when Lana, with the help of a nun, sneaks out of the asylum unbeknownst to her evil shrink. As he realizes she is gone, he sprints to the asylum doors to stop her, but he's too late. She's getting in a taxi and is safe.
But as the taxi begins to drive away, the two characters stare at each other. It's a tense moment. Will she back down? Is he going to rip open the door before the taxi can leave? Nope! Lana slowly raises her hand and flips him the bird. The look on her face says it all: Payback is coming now that I'm free and can expose you to the world.
And later that night (I won't tell you how) our heroine gets some awesome payback.
I love moments like that. We've been with a character through all their trials and tribulations. We know them, their hopes, dreams, and fears. As a reader, we desperately hope they get their revenge or find some way out of the situation.
Payback is a great writing tool. This is when you give that loyal fan everything (or almost everything) they've wanted. Believe me! The reader gets cranky when they don't get it.
Check out your own writing. Do you have a payback moment? Do you need it? Make sure the reader is going to be satisifed to some extent in the end or else you might not see them again.
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
This is the blurb that the publisher sent me:
THERE ONCE LIVED A GIRL... is made up of seventeen fables of marriage, courtship, sex, and love: the office one-night stand that creates a baby; the awkward tryst in a communal apartment; the responsible father chased away from his family by an insane and jealous wife; and the unremarkable and predictable souls who find they have drifted inevitably into union. Romance, violence, infidelity, tenderness—Petrushevskaya has compiled all of those great narrative traditions into an elegant and macabre collection of stories that show just why she is Russia’s preeminent contemporary fiction writer.
I was not familiar with Ms. Petrushevskaya prior to receiving this book, but reading her stories was like hanging out with a Russian Eudora Welty. She captured the gritty and dark quality of life in her country during a time filled with angst, worry, and poverty. Many of these stories are very humorous and easy to relate to, but there are other tales that are sad, heartbreaking, and poignant. Judging from the forward, it would appear that her own life was full of those things and that like so many of us, she writes about what she knows.
One of my favorite stories was called The Goddess Parker. The plot revolves around a male school teacher called A.A. He is looking for privacy but finds himself becoming friendly with an old woman named Alvetina. Through Alvetina, he meets the most important woman in his life and almost loses her. It is a simple story--one we've even heard before--but it's told in such a way that you can't help but want to read it just one more time.
Another story that stood out for me was The Fall. It's about a woman who is the bell of the ball and attracts men by just the way she tosses her hair. Through the use of her feminine wiles, we see her carry on a passionate love affair that both she and the reader know will end badly, but like a car wreck, you just can't seem to look away from it. It feels all too real.
Maybe that's the thing about Ms. Petrushevskaya's stories: they feel like people you know. Their highs, their lows--she does an excellent job of drawing the reader in to her world. That quality is what kept me reading each story.
By the way, these are short tales. I read the whole book in one sitting, but they are engaging enough to read in small spurts, too. The paperback goes on sale today at Amazon!
For a sneak peek at one of the stories in There Once Lived A Girl..., click here: A MURKY FATE I posted this excerpt last week at All Things Writing.
Here is that Amazon buy link , too! THERE ONCE LIVED A GIRL...
Monday, January 28, 2013
I tend to stay away from television. I've got probably, 300 channels. You probably to do. Or more. And let's face it, there's usually very little worth watching. The bandwidth is packed to the gills, but How It's Made is usually the best thing on. I watch some soccer on TV, but have no regular programs. And when I do, they've already been either cancelled or run their course and I buy the DVDs and watch them at my own pace. Firefly is a good example of that and proof that great writing doesn't have to be in a book. I didn't discover Firefly until five years after it had aired. Magnificent writing that my entire family enjoyed. Too bad there were only 14 episodes. It should have run for five years, like the show I discovered a few weeks ago. Of course, the final episode of that aired earlier this month so once again, I'll be buying the DVDs or watching on Apple TV.
The television show I'm talking about is Fringe that wrapped up it's five-year story arc two weeks ago. I had seen a part of the pilot at some point but wasn't in a situation where I could sit down and get sucked in. Maybe that was a mistake because they've been running them on the Science Channel in order. At any rate, I caught my first full episode about a month ago and was literally blown away by the writing. It was an episode from Season 2* that brilliantly used one of my favorite literary devices: having somebody make horrible decisions for all the right reasons and then having those decisions proceed to destroy everyone and everything around them. Except in this case, the entire universe is at stake. Other episodes I've seen since then have also been strong with well-developed characters, outstanding dialog, tight plots, and ample lines of tension running throughout.
I'm looking forward to seeing all 100 episodes in order, though it is going to take me a while. Even though I like the show, I'm still not a big TV watcher. And, of course, I have my own writing to do, books to read, and life's other activities. I looked over the list of episodes on Wikipedia and am encouraged. The number of viewers goes down steadily as the show progresses, starting at a high of over 13 million in 2008 and ending in January of 2013 with less than three-and-a-half million. This is good news for me because it means the writing either stays strong, or improves. So why do falling numbers mean better writing? I think Hitler said it best: "To reach the broadest masses you must tell people the crudest and most stupid things." Fringe is neither stupid, nor crude, and demands that you pay attention. Good writing is where you find it, and it is always a joy to discover. Now if we could just get Joss Whedon and the crew of Serenity back together for four more seasons...
*Season 2, Episode 16: Peter
Friday, January 25, 2013
I'm very fortunate. My full time job is that of a teacher--and not just any kind of teacher. I get to teach elementary Theatre Arts. It's a position that is full of fun, always gets the creativity flowing, and allows me to work with children. I'm blessed that I see all of the 700 students at my school in grades K-5, and that I have a chance to share with them a subject area that I really love.
It's also exhausting, full of behavior problems, and, in some circles, it is a job that goes largely unappreciated. Theatre is something you can't always hold in your hand and show to another person. It's not a worksheet or a test. It can be difficult to explain the purpose of everything you do while engaged in it. Unfortunately, that makes it seem less tangible to other teachers who believe if you can touch it and feel it, then it must be good. There is a certain view that what I do is unimportant and because I don't have to record grades or deal with tons of paperwork, my job has no real value.
It's a frustrating viewpoint, but after twelve years of hearing those snide remarks, I've learned to deal with it--for the most part. Mostly, when I hear those things, it makes me realize that the other person is really unhappy with what they are doing and think you should be unhappy, too. That's just sad.
But no matter how you view it, teaching Theatre is a full time job with its ups and downs like any other job. I'm often asked how I manage to work and crank out novels. Surely, I must be writing stories on my downtime in my classroom? How else could I possibly have the time to write?
Well, it's called time management.
If you are serious about writing or do any freelance work, then you already know where I'm going with this. In order to be a writer who can get things done and still balance a full time job and a family, you have to manage your time. You have to set a writing schedule that works for you, your family, allows you to get other things done, and also have some fun.
Then you have to stick to it.
It's taken me about six years to figure out how to make it work for me. There's been lots of trial and error along the way. At first, I would get up about four in the morning and spend two hours writing before getting my daughter up and heading to work. Then I would write in the evening for several hours, too.
That sucked. After a full day of kids--some with behavior issues--exhaustion would catch up to me and the writing would not be anywhere near quality. I also wasn't able to really spend time with my family in the evenings.
So I dropped the early morning thing and just worked evenings and some weekends. That was better, but I continued to run into the same problem of being too tired after a work day. At that point, I'd also started to make connections with freelance clients and was starting to get paid to write articles, blog pieces, short stories, etc.
Juggling all of that is a little tough when you're worn out.
As the freelance side of my life started taking off, I realized I needed to look at it as more of a business and set up some rules for myself. I decided to only work on writing Saturday-Tuesday. The other days were off days where my brain could recharge. I set aside specific hours on Saturday and Sunday where I could get the bulk of my work done and then used Monday and Tuesday as "tweaking" days.
That schedule has made a world of difference! I can enjoy my full time job as a teacher, spend time with my family, and still get the writing for pleasure and business done.
It does take discipline. Not to mention drive and determination. However, if you want something bad enough, you'll do what you have to in order to make it happen. It's a commitment and I try to stick to it no matter what. Sure, I have days where things don't get done, and I sometimes have to shift things around in order to meet my obligations.
I never write at work--not even in my off time. Yes, I do check email or my blog stats. What can I say? It's a weakness, I know. But no writing. Daytime work is about theatre and kids. Nighttime is for writing.
If you are struggling with balancing your day job with your writing world, start looking at ways to manage your time better. It might mean having to give up something or asking your spouse for help with the kids, but if writing is something you want to embrace, you can only do that by making time for it.
Thursday, January 24, 2013
Being in charge of recruitment and also being renowned for speaking plainly, I would summarily reject any teacher whose covering letter or CV (resume to US readers) contained spelling or grammar errors. From my perspective, these people would one day represent us and I felt duty-bound to screen out candidates who didn't meet suitable standards. I also saw nothing wrong with informing the individuals about why I wasn't prepared to consider their applications further.
The reply that I shall always remember was far from being the only one nor was it necessarily the worst - it's just that I feel it epitomises a certain attitude.
"I hadn't realized it mattered."
What an epitaph! A true message to be remembered by.
The point is that it's not an acknowledgement of the existence of errors made nor is it a recognition that the very making of any errors is unacceptable, it's a bald statement which says that the writer of the quote has no concept of standards.
Part of the problem with the likes of Amazon and the 'Gold Rush' that is self-publishing is that every man and his dog thinks that they can write. We all know that's not true, of course, but try telling that to the Hoi Polloi. Deep inside I believe that the would-be gurus are absolutely correct in their statement that the 'cream will rise' but that's cold comfort when you see books that you'd put your eyes out rather than read ranking above something which you know has quality and substance.
I think the real issue lies in how we've been brought up. Parents, for example, often fall into one of two categories - the "Oh, darling, that's wonderful. I'm so proud," (even when the child has only made an amateurish effort) and "You can do better than this!" (when the child has worked hard and struggled). Neither stance is helpful when you’ve become an adult. Public exams further reinforce the idea that there are grades of passing “You got a ‘B’ – that’s marvellous!”
As a writer, you are both employee and employer, student and examiner, leader and disciple. You must set your standards high and live up to them. If, in doing so, the standards become unattainable (for you), then either find hired help (editor, proof-reader, formatter etc) or question whether writing is your bag after all.
Publishing second or even third rate material is going to backfire on the guilty parties one day; that has to happen. Amazon is choked with books and, just like any shop, if it has stock which isn't selling or being returned on a regular basis, what do you think they’ll do about it? Floor space costs money and even virtual floor space isn't free.
Looking at it from my perspective as a publisher in terms of book submissions, I may not understand what you've been writing about nor be able to appreciate the particular genre in the same way as a devotee might, but I can spot spelling and grammar errors and that instantly undermines my faith in the author. I also find it vaguely insulting (just as I did with that job application) because it smacks of "It's good enough for you, mate". Well, it isn't!
Spelling and grammar mistakes are not 'understandable', a 'fact of life' or 'minor details', they say 'I hadn't realized it mattered' which, translated, means "I couldn't be bothered". Be bothered because it does matter!
Clive West (along with his writer wife, Damaris) runs publishing agency, Any Subject Books. He's also author of The Road and the top-selling Hobson's Choice anthology of short stories along with two works of non-fiction. New authors (provided they meet the standards of course!) are always welcome - go to their website or Facebook page for more information.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
In the meantime, the publisher has given me permission to share an excerpt from the book called A Murky Fate and I'm delighted to do so! Enjoy it and be sure to get your own copy of the full book next week!
From the publisher:
THERE ONCE LIVED A GIRL... is made up of seventeen fables of marriage, courtship, sex, and love: the office one-night stand that creates a baby; the awkward tryst in a communal apartment; the responsible father chased away from his family by an insane and jealous wife; and the unremarkable and predictable souls who find they have drifted inevitably into union. Romance, violence, infidelity, tenderness—Petrushevskaya has compiled all of those great narrative traditions into an elegant and macabre collection of stories that show just why she is Russia’s preeminent contemporary fiction writer
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Monday, January 21, 2013
Thursday, January 17, 2013
"Honey, I'm sorry about all those other women"
"You promise there won't be any more?"
"I swear it"
I can't believe my wife responding like that. I’m not entirely sure the exact words she’d use but I think they might be a little more, how can I put it, pointed. I’m not just getting at writers of the good old bodice-ripper romances, either. Action books frequently fail to come up to the mark, too.
"I know this sounds crazy but we've got to carry out this really dangerous mission if we're to save everyone"
"But we could all get killed in the process. Have you thought about that?"
"I know but we've no choice. I need your expertise if we’re to pull it off"
"I'm in then"
Would you risk life and limb so readily? If so, remind me not to ask you to pack my parachute should we ever go sky-diving together. I think I’d let you go first, if you don’t mind.
Every genre has its equivalent - I've just picked on two popular ones. The thing is that, in my experience as a publisher, many authors get so caught up in the plot that they forget about the dialogue's role in the story. It strikes me a large proportion of writers perceive the interchanges between characters as either a silly device for introducing new people "You've met my cousin Jim, haven't you?" or for far too conveniently 'discovering' the ‘deus ex machina’ solution to the climatic dilemma "Hey! I've just remembered I've got another ..." in the 'Here comes the cavalry!" style.
Dialogue should not be used in this way. It's there to make sense of situations, to give depth and color to your characters and to transform an extended essay into a work of literature. It's quite probably the hardest part of a book to write because of the perpetual battle between being too verbose and being too terse. Since dialogue is often highly challenging to get right, most authors will err on the terse side. As a result, the output frequently comes into my 'stilted, stunted or stupid' category.
It's actually quite easy to avoid and I'll show you how I do it.
When I write a story, my principal concern is getting the plot sorted out. I need to know that I can get from beginning to end without leaving holes or stretching probability to breaking point. Once I've done that, I then break the story down into a series of scenes - just like a film or play would have. In each scene, I consider a number of factors such as:
- Who's going to be present
- What the opening situation stands at (who knows what, what agenda each character has etc
- What I want to achieve (an action or exchange of information etc)
- The nature of the characters present
- The genre and tone of my book (how much humor I use, how menacing I want it to be etc)
- Whether the characters speak in a dialect or with a pronounced accent which I wish to replicate
To help you achieve the same goal, I’d like you to follow a small piece of advice. When you’re writing up the dialogue, instead of concentrating solely on the end goal and getting there as quickly as possible, imagine you’re standing in the shoes of each of your characters in turn. What's their take on this?
Bear in mind that real people (for the most part) don't:
- Stick to the point
- Treat conversations like business meetings
- Just accept whatever you tell them
- Tell you what they're thinking
- 'Um' and 'ah' a lot
- Crack jokes, relate anecdotes, 'behave unprofessionally'
- Possess a history
- Have their own agendas
Speech like "Flash! I love you, but we only have 14 hours to save the Earth" may have worked a dream in Flash Gordon (the line’s a true classic and deserves to be preserved for posterity) but, unless you're writing in that genre, it’s best avoided.
Clive West has written 4 books of his own and also runs a publishing company with his wife, a fellow author. He's an ardent believer in the combined power of plot and dialogue and you can find plenty of examples in his full-length novel, The Road. For more information about Clive, his books and his publishing business, visit his company's website or Facebook page.
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
The Giddings family - enjoying their rural idyll until events start to spiral out of their control turning paradise into hell.
Henry - trapped in a loveless marriage who sees a chance to climb on board the gravy train for a one-way ticket out of misery but doesn't want to know about the consequences of his actions.
Sandra - frustrated by a system where the rich get richer and the poor pay to get a ringside seat.
John - a shrewd developer who knows all the tricks and is the guy flicking the switch when the smelly stuff hits the fan.
The parasites and hangers on, too numerous to mention, who abuse their positions of trust to feather their own nests but who are outraged when those lower down the pecking order try to do the same.
Monday, January 14, 2013
Halfskin by Tony Bertauski is a story set in a near future. Most of the setting is familiar except nanotechnology, in the form of biomites, is being used to enhance, heal, and perfect the human body. However, harkening to the well known “grey goo scenario,” there are those who fear that these biomites will ultimately bring out the extinction of mankind. As a result, laws have been put in place to limit the percentage of biomites that make up a person. When your percentage gets too high your biomites are shut down, usually killing the host. This technology is handled quite well by the author, though at times he almost writes himself into a corner, creating a few scenes that feel stretched.
One of the characters has an unusually high percentage of biomites for their age due to a car wreck as a child. As a result, this character approaches the critical percentage much sooner than is typical, forcing the government into action. A sibling rushes to his rescue and they are off on a thrilling chase, staying one step ahead of the heartless federal agent pursuing them.
I enjoyed Halfskin and at no point did I find the reading unpleasant. Anyone who likes near future science fiction will probably enjoy this story. There were echoes of Michael Crichton’s Prey as well as a bit of Logan’s Run throughout; though at no point did the plot seem derivative. I was not always happy with the author’s description of the setting and it left me confused occasionally, and I did find a few of the thematic devices a tad cliché. On the other hand, the characters were well developed and created a strong emotional attachment. Readers who like nice pretty bows on their stories may find the ending a bit unsatisfying, but I’m not one of those and felt that it was handled well.
Overall, a well-told, compelling story that I would recommend to those interested in this kind of work, though there is not a lot of overlap with other genres. For additional information on my rating system, please visit my review page at johncbrewer.com .
Thursday, January 10, 2013
The majority of autobiographies that I’ve read and really enjoyed have to be the ones which have given me a frisson of surprise somewhere along the line. All of us believe our lives would make interesting reading. It’s the selective process which we apply that is going to make the difference between a book that we pick up and read to the end, and a book we abandon after the first half chapter because it is boring.
We all share a common start. We are born. For the most part, the very beginning is usually pretty dull but as one engages with the world, things start to happen.
If you are going to write about a slice of your life, however big or small the slice, it has to keep people wanting to turn the pages. Seek out the parts of your life that you feel would be of interest to others.
There is nothing exciting about catching the 7.45 to work every morning and catching the 5.45 to return home in the evening. It is the one day that the 7.45 is late and something unforeseen happens that the interest begins. So the ability to convey various pieces of information that have a twist, or a difference, seems to be the key factor.
Any way that you can introduce an element of humour will also help. The ability to send yourself up, and find as much comedy in the anecdotes as you can, tells the reader something about who you are and what your personal perception on life is, which could create an affinity between you and the reader.
A classic example is someone like Maureen Lipman, who is able to take the most mundane happenings and turn them into a series of hilarious stories.
Autobiographies, like fiction, must have a beginning, a middle and an end. If you are going to attempt your own autobiography, it makes most sense to try and choose the most diverse period of your life. This will provide variety and help to engage the reader.
As a final suggestion, it is best to read as many autobiographies as you can, to see how each author handles their childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, and how they convey their own emotional take on the world. Write truthfully and from the heart. If it hurts, don't be afraid to say it hurts; if you make a serious error of judgement, say so and learn from it. As Shakespeare once wrote: "To thine own self be true".
Jennie Phillips writes for Any Subject Books. After many years of associating with the famous entertainment world friends of her actor husband, Conrad, the pair buy a small farm in South West Scotland. Skeoch - Our New Life On A Scottish Hill Farm tells the story of their numerous trials and tribulations.
An actor and his wife are an unlikely pair to combat the rigours of farming in South West Scotland, but with very little relevant knowledge let alone experience, Conrad and Jennie buy Skeoch Farm and set about making it viable. They are visited by hardship and tragedy, but also by beauty and contentment. This is a lifestyle more to be admired than envied, perhaps, but we can certainly share in the roller-coaster existence which is so vividly described.