Thursday, October 31, 2013
Being a writer is pretty brutal. Even the good reviews might contain comments that feel like arrows piercing your innards. That's why, as the author, you've got to be the toughest person in the room when it comes to your own story. Before you present it, you've got to cut it into usable slices your audience can digest. Just how adept are you at carving up your story?
I'm referring to editing techniques, of course, but I'm doing it in a colorful way (I hope). You have to be a real killer when it comes to your own story lines and plot. Too many sub-plots muck up a story, and over-long descriptions get skipped.
Length is a factor in each and every single book, and it's a problem that only goes one of two ways: the book is too short, or too long. Rarely is the length ever "just right," because if a story is really good then readers want more of it. But books can be too long as well. In fact, this is a very common characteristic among new authors who have written only one or just a few books.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Writers have to imagine entire worlds, people and situations inside their heads. Then they have to take those thoughts and put them on the page. It's a personal process, and because of that you have to know how to isolate yourself.
Can you write in a noisy room filled with people? I can...because I can isolate. Clearly it's not an ideal writing situation, but I'm guessing that you don't live in a large mansion with lots and lots of rooms. I'm guessing you live in a normal-sized home, and that other people are sometimes around you.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Halloween is coming, and all the spooky stuff is coming out. Want to write a scary book? Then you might just need to know how to create a monster. It's not so easy to do when all you've got is your words.
Some of the greatest monsters ever created come not from Hollywood, but from the page. When Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein and Bram Stoker penned Dracula, movies didn't exist. They had to use words to create terrifying creatures bent on destruction. And if they can create such iconic monsters so many centuries ago, you can definitely create a decently scary one right now. But even the best of writers use certain literary tricks to inspire fear.
Monday, October 28, 2013
What the real secret of being successful as an indie author? Sticking with it. The key ingredient to success at anything is perserverence. You have to learn how to stick with it...even when the entire universe is conspiring against you in every possible way.
Success and stubbornness go hand-in-hand. People who are successful heard the word "no" hundreds of times before getting the "yes" that mattered. If you want to make it as an indie author, you've got to stick with it. Cement yourself to a spot, hitch your wagon to a goal, and don't waver.
Saturday, October 26, 2013
I'm pleased to announce that I'm finally ready to reveal the cover for my new book, Hope's Rebellion!!!
Their friendship will test the fabric of tradition, duty and destiny...
There are only two seasons in Godenor: summer and winter. Weather brings the only surprises to a society where everything is planned, and everyone's status is determined at birth...by the color of their hair.
Rinna has the right hair, Drexi the wrong, and Prelly is almost too ordinary -- in every way but one. Small mistakes bring them together, creating ripples in a pond that knows nothing but serenity. If they reach their goals, they can't help but shatter the world they know.
Love of any kind, even the bond of friendship, isn't allowed in their world...but then, the heart can't always follow orders.
COMING IN NOVEMBER!!!
Thursday, October 24, 2013
There is something essential in writing that lots of indie authors simply don't have, and it forces them to take a huge leap of faith every time they put another book out there. Without a literary agent or a publishing house, indie authors lack the one thing they really and truly desire: validation. All writers are secretly afraid that they're no good. When you choose the path of going it alone, that fear walks with you.
Being brave is the ingredient that all indies have to have. I know, because I've been completely cowardly for many, many weeks now. And as my Amazon author page will prove, I haven't published anything all year long.
Did You Hear That?
I wrote, recently, about the way I've been obsessing over my latest book. I've had all sorts of reasons for not finishing it. First, I was moving. That's hectic, that's an adjustment, so I didn't really get any work done for months. Next, I was swamped with work. Somebody's got to pay for the new house, after all. Then there were some health problems, and stuff I needed to bake, and that movie I love came to Netflix...
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
If you're an indie author and you self-publish books all on your own and you're living in this economy, chances are good that you could do with a little extra money. And believe me, I'm not going to give it to you. But I can tell you where to get a few extra bucks. Only be warned: I do mean that literally.
Does a Little Go a Long Way?
Do you have some tidbit to share about crafting, gardening, fashion, some other area of your interest? Do you know recipe secrets, or all sorts of stuff about homebrewing? You can turn your skills into articles, and you can turn those into a little bit of extra cash.
If you're not an expert and you have no idea how to write an article (which isn't so different from writing a blog post, honestly), you can always share your creative writing. Short stories and poems may also net you a few bucks.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
As some of you know, I read a lot of author forums. Lately I'm seeing a topic that greatly disturbs me at the deepest levels. The debate between block paragraph versus indented paragraphs continues to be an issue among indies, and this is distressing. Because this isn't even an issue, or a debate. There's one way to format a book...my way.
Have you ever picked up a fiction novel and found block paragraphs waiting for you inside, with blank lines between each one? If the answer is yes, was this book self-published or otherwise released by an indie? Because this answer is yes as well, and I know it to be true.
Monday, October 21, 2013
Authors have to be a little bit viscous (or downright evil) in order to create exciting books. What would Harry Potter be without Voldemort, who senselessly kills? Where would we be without Dracula, an immortal murderer? Books often have villainous characters. But here's the secret that authors know: we're the real villains. You're the one who has to learn how to become evil. How else are you going to torture your characters?
I'll Give You Something to Cry About...
Look, bad things happen to everybody. Have you ever fallen off a bike? Broken a bone? Been involved in a car accident? ...Known someone who has died? Real life is filled with tragedies big and small, and that's why all the best books must have the same.
If you're writing properly, your characters should be going through a fair bit of hell before they reach their happy or tragic conclusions. Characters should not be perfect, and neither should their lives.
In other words, you have to become the villain. You have to be willing to put your characters through terrible situations, and you have to watch them suffer. Becoming evil is something that every author has to learn how to do. You can't write about a murderer without thinking about what it's like to be a murderer, right? So tap into your inner evilness. It's perfectly safe to do that...just as long as you keep your dark side confined to the page.
Saturday, October 19, 2013
You may notice some features missing on the blog this weekend while I work on a brand-new design. That's right: everything around here is changing. The blog is getting a makeover to help me celebrate the release of my newest book, Hope's Rebellion. Keep checking back to see the new design and the upcoming cover reveal!
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Digital books have sparked a self-publishing revolution that allows anyone to become an indie author, and this is what's so fantastic about it. But this is also what's bad about it, because there are a lot of indie books out there. No matter how hard you work on yours, it could easily get swamped in a bunch of books that didn't get the same time and attention. So when you write, when you publish, when you promote, you've got to ask yourself a question: what's different about your book?
The Cheese Stands Alone
Go look for a vampire novel on Amazon -- only wait until you read this blog post. You might be busy doing that for hours, because there are so many to choose from. And if you also write a vampire novel because you love vampires and you've been thinking about them since you were a kid, your book could easily get lost in the shuffle.
You might focus on the fact that it's a vampire novel, like Twilight and so many other popular novels. You might think this will help you gain readers. But the truth is, because of its popularity there are a ton of Twilight-like novels out there. It's not enough to mention a popular book and the genre you write in. It's not good enough for your book to be like another book -- because in many ways, your book is a lot like a lot of other books out there. That's the nature of the writing business.
So don't tell me how your book is similar to other books. Tell me how it's different. As an indie author, it's your job to make your books stand out. You've got to paint them fluorescent orange, add some new twist, and launch an insane marketing campaign that includes hatching live chickens.
Okay, so no you don't have to do exactly that, but I'm trying to make a point. You have to be unique. You have to stand out. So focus on what makes your book different from all those others, and build your marketing platform around that. You'll have a lot more success with this approach than with telling readers that your book is like someone else's. Give me a great reason to read your book, and that's the best marketing you can do.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
I've been posting Facebook updates about my newest book...for many, many months now. It's not quite 60 thousand words and it's consuming me. And the other day I finally figured out what's been taking me so long to just finish it already: I've been trying to make it perfect. But here's the truth about that: perfect isn't possible. And I don't mean that it's not possible for indie authors...it's possible for no author.
I have never read a perfect book. In every story there is a typo, punctuation out of place, mixed-up names. Some errors are even more grievous -- a ridiculous character, an unbelievable plot, a horrible cliche. Even the books that millions love have their flaws.
Read your books again and again, and you'll keep finding stuff to change. Scenes to shift. Sentences to shorten. Punctuation to perfect. Keep looking for errors, and you will find them. Because writing is never going to be perfect. It's the unique phrasing and punctuation that you bring to the table that helps to create your unique voice. And you can spend so much time editing that you completely lose your natural voice in the flow of things.
There's always something more to add, a character to flesh out, a scene to shorten or another twist to throw in. You can make yourself crazy with it without half-trying, because authors by nature are detail-oriented people. But when they say the devil is in the details, they were definitely talking about editing a book.
Get rid of the errors, but don't edit out all the flavor of the story. It's not possible to be perfect, and there's always something more to do. But once you feel that the story adequately stirs the emotions you had hoped to engage, and you're quite certain that the book is as 100 percent error-free as is it can be, cut yourself off. Don't keep tweaking pages and messing with what you've got. At some point, you have to stop and you have to call your project done.
The perfect book is the one that you feel good about. So feel good about your editing, but don't strive for ultimate perfection...because you won't get there. Authors tend to be picky people, too.
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
If you want to get more followers, you have to follow more people. It's one of the basic tenants of Twitter that everyone knows, but it still leaves so much to desire. Like, who the heck should you be following?
It's not as easy as you might think to find people who are into books on a site that's driven by misspelled words, random phrases, and very little punctuation. Go figure. But don't worry: I have the answer. Let me tell you who you should follow on Twitter, and you can put an end to your weird hashtag searches.
A Follow for a Follow
Following people on Twitter is only effective if you're following specific targets. Just start following anyone you can find, and your account will get flagged for spam -- and you won't gain that many more followers, to boot. You can follow random people if you like, but the whole point is that you want to sell books. So apply a bit more strategy, and you'll get a lot more results.
- Books. Twitter is chock-full of book lovers of all kinds. Search for book blogs, book bloggers, review blogs and book lovers. These phrases will yield a ton of positive results.
- Genre. Do you primarily write in a specific genre? Search for it. I follow all kinds of people with YA and mystery in their Twitter profiles.
- Age group. Do you write children's books? YA novels? Adult novels? Search by age group, not just by genre, to get more readers. For example, I search for stuff that teens are into (like One Direction). Adults are more likely to be interested in news and politics, while young kids are into certain TV shows (do they still have Sesame Street?). Use your knowledge of your target age group to search for music, TV shows, actors and books that you audience is likely interested in, and start searching.
- Followers. Don't limit yourself to keyword searches on Twitter. Seek out popular accounts that are likely to be followed by your audience. My books contain a lot of stuff about fashion for younger people, so I might follow people who follow Seventeen magazine. Look for popular accounts, look at their followers, and get to work.
Twitter helps you discover new accounts to follow, but you have to do some of the work on your own. Search for followers of popular accounts, use keywords and target your searches to the people who are most likely to read your book. Follow new people every single day to get more followers, and sell more books.
Monday, October 14, 2013
Everyone's got a story to tell, and I'm not just talking about the ones in your self-published books. As an indie author, you also have your own personal story of tragedy and triumph. If you use that to sell more books, are you marketing yourself...or exploiting yourself?
Walking the Line
The question is a hard one, and I know because I had to face it head-on. I was randomly following people back on Twitter one day when I caught one profile that stood out. It was an author (I get followed by a lot of authors) who mentioned, in the same sentence, a terrible personal tragedy and a book she wrote about it.
Now, all authors draw from personal experience. If you write a book about your own personal tragedy, you're within your rights to promote that book for what it is. But you have to be sensitive about the way you choose to promote. Because if you start out by hitting me in the face with your tragedy, it feels a little insincere. It reads a little like "My daughter was murdered -- buy my book!" and that's not the greatest marketing message you can put out there. Take a more sensitive approach. That's hard to do in a Twitter profile, I know...but there's no rule that you have to announce your tragedy in your Twitter profile. When you do, it does begin to feel a little exploitative.
Take a more subtle approach with your marketing...or at least with your tragedies. Sometimes, in-your-face isn't the most effective means of selling a book.
Sunday, October 13, 2013
Notice a change in the Goodreads forums lately? The moderation policy for the site has changed, and with it a lot of discussions. But how do these changes affect indie authors?
According to an announcement released by the site, the new changes will now prohibit discussion threads and "reviews that were created primarily to talk about author behavior."
Salon.com says it all stems from a conflict that arose last summer when indie author Lauren Pippa (Lauren Howard) challenged a Goodreads reviewer for a 2-star rating. She took her complaints to the Goodreads forums, sparking a heated debate that led several Goodreads members to flag Pippa's book with low ratings and "do not read" lists memberships.
She aired her grievances on Twitter, which just fueled the flames of the fire. Apparently she then took to her blog to say she was bullied into canceling the release of her book.She later reconsidered.
I advocate that all authors act with professionalism at all times, and I must gently remind all authors that everyone gets bad reviews. My favorite book, Gone With the Wind, unarguably a masterpiece and a classic, has lots of scathing 1-star reviews. It happens...but rarely do websites with 20 million members change their policies because of it.
The point of this particular bit of news? That yes, a lone indie author can make a big splash with a book...and I hope your experience is a more positive one.
Saturday, October 12, 2013
I've always found Planet of the Apes to be a rather frightening story. I don't want a forced lobotomy, after all, and I just can't live in a cage. I like to pace when I think, and that would be maddening. But I didn't know that one of my favorite classic sci-fi movies was actually based on a French book. Did you?
La Planète des Singes, or Monkey Planet, was released in France in 1963. Pierre Boulle, the author, was already familiar with writing for American audiences. His other best-known novel is Bridge on the River Kwai.
The story isn't about America, anyway, it's about the entire world. It opens with three astronauts who are visiting a planet near the star Betelgeuse. They discover that the atmosphere is somewhat Earth-like, so they name the planet Soror. The water is drinkable, the air is breathable and the vegetation is tasty. So everything looks pretty good...at first.
Then the astronauts go swimming and see a young woman. She kills their companion, a chimp named Hector. Things go downhill from there as far as the local population is concerned. The planet is populated by human-like creatures, but they are frighteningly primitive in nature. In fact, the astronauts are briefly captured.
That's when they see the other occupants of the planet, ape-like creatures who wear clothing and carry guns. Several of the human-like creatures are killed, including one of the astronauts, by an ape hunting party. Ulysse, the main character, is captured by the apes.
He's taken to a research facility in a large city. Tests are conducted, and one of the researchers (Zira) becomes interested in the new test subject. Things happen, and there are a few twists and turns toward the end. The book has been translated, so you don't need to be fluent in French to read it. But you can also watch the movie if you like...and it is thoroughly American.
The first (and greatest) film version of Planet of the Apes was released in 1968 and it stars Charleton Heston -- so really, it's just not going to get any better than that. The movie was a gigantic hit right away, spawning a franchise that's still quite alive and kicking. Watch it today and the film looks dated, but in 1968 the special effects and makeup tricks were absolutely dazzling.
The lead character's name is changed to Taylor (good call) but much of the story and characters from the original book are still intact on film. Plus, Charleton Heston runs around in a loincloth practically the entire time. The movie also completely invents my favorite moment of the film, which you've probably seen spoofed a hundred times, when Heston screams "take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape." The insult is regrettable, but the delivery of the line is masterful.
If you've never seen it, see it. The ending of Planet of the Apes is utterly mind-blowing. This movie has been done and re-done and done again in skit shows, cartoons and on film, but this is the definitive version.
However, a newer one was made in 2001. It's a "loose" remake that was directed by Tim Burton, so you can probably guess how closely this version of the story mirrors the original (or even reality). Mark Wahlberg stars in it, Burton's wife is on board as usual and everything is different. But the fact that a film got made at all is a credit to the entire cast and crew.
The remake was put into development in 1988, after all. It was scrapped just before pre-production. Had it not been, you might be reading about Return of the Apes starring Arnold Schwarzenegger instead. Alas, the scriptwriter got into a dispute with Fox and the project was forgotten for a long, long time.
Wahlberg plays Leo Davidson in this version and he's on a US space station. This time, he ends up in a space pod chasing a chimpanzee named Pericles. The story pretty much goes off on a dozen different tangents from there, and it's quite different from any other version.
What Got Adapted?
Planet of the Apes is one of those stories that everyone's sort of familiar with, but it all started with just one book. There have been numerous sequels, prequels, remakes and spoofs, but there is just one original story. The really big twist is the ending of the book -- which is different on film. You'll have to read it to see what I mean.
Dr. Zaius has a bigger role on film, but it's well worth it because he becomes more of a true villain as well. There's more to the story in the novel, and the theme of man vs. animal much more strongly pronounced. Read the book, watch the movie and see what you think of them both.
Thursday, October 10, 2013
You're a self-published author, so of course you're on Goodreads, and you've got a blog and you Tweet about your book all the time. So when I ask you if you're talking about your book, I'm not talking about all your online efforts. I'm talking about your daily interactions. Every single person you know, every store clerk and everyone you ride in an elevator with ought to know you're an author. Talking to someone face-to-face is the type of marketing that absolutely can't be overestimated in value.
Hello, My Name Is...
I'm bringing this up right now because the season for holiday parties is approaching. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year's -- you've got several chances to get invited to a get-together, a party or a soiree. I want you to spend some of the evening talking about your book. If you happen to have some business cards, bookmarks and signed promotional materials with you...well, that's just good luck.
Talking to people, looking them in the eye and telling them about your book is some of the best marketing you can ever hope to do. No one loves or understands that book better than you, so you're clearly an expert on the subject. This should make you feel confident when you're talking about it, because you can't possibly be incorrect. Tell them what you love about the book, why you think they'll love it, and make sure to say the title very articulately...more than once.
You don't have to be obnoxious about it, but you should try to bring up your book when you can and discuss it. Don't turn it into an all-night affair and talk about your book for hours, but mention it. Chances are, people will start asking you questions and naturally lead you through the conversation. Through the normal flow of talking, you'll drift into other subjects. But maybe later that night, some of those people you spoke with will download your book. Some of them might do it at the party (thank you, smart phones).
If all your friends and family don't know about your book by the end of the holiday season, you're clearly not talking enough. So if you aren't already gabbing, get started. You can never sell too many books.
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Indie authors have to promote as much as they write (maybe even more) in order to sell books. But if you restrict all your marketing to Twitter, you could drive yourself insane. Don't miss out on email marketing. For indies, it's an invaluable promotional tool. If you do it the right way, it's also a fun way to stay in touch with readers and other writers.
Everybody checks their email. I've actually had trouble managing my own email time in the past, because I can just get lost in my own inbox. So I happen to know that email promotions work -- I'm one of the people who clicks the links you send me.
And good news for you indie authors, I read books. So you'd better start using email marketing, and get more purchases from people like me. There's a simple way to do it: add a widget to your blog. Sites like this one (Blogger) and WordPress allow you to create a mailing list of your readers. Put all these people into a contact list in your email program, and send mail to them when you have a new book or a new promotion that you want to market.
If you're going to send out emails, make them worth reading. Check your mails for key components to make sure your message is being sent out successfully.
- Short and sweet. Brevity is incredibly important when you're marketing through email. If I've got 50 emails to look at, what are the chances I'm going to read every word of your crazy 3-page epic letter? Keep it short, and that will be really sweet.
- Funny. Make your email interesting by making it humorous. I'm much more likely to read a funny email than one written with plain, straightforward language. Be irreverent, be weird, make jokes, write puns. Be funny, and you'll get more clicks.
- Appeal. The world of the Internet is not black and white, so don't make your emails that way. Change the fonts, add colors, include images. Don't forget the links!
Keeping track of an email mailing list isn't so difficult, but it is one more thing to do. If you like, there is an easy way out. Amazon automatically generates emails for your books. If you want to keep your readers up-to-date with very little effort, just point them toward your Amazon page and tell them to sign up. This way, you don't have to write the emails. But use email marketing in some way, and sell more books any way you can.
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
I've found that Pinterest is a great way to distract myself from writing, but if you can manage to stay a little more professional than me it's also a great marketing tool. Pinterest and self-publishing were made for each other, in fact. It's a little site that became huge, and it's driven by ordinary people who are simply sharing what they like. If that doesn't have indie written all over it...what does?
Get on Board(s)
I belong to several boards about books and reading, and I created my own boards to show off book covers, book blogs I like, books I've reviewed and books I love. There are a ton of book-oriented boards you can get into on Pinterest, but you can also take it one step further...and I think you should.
Pinterest is great for sharing book covers, but please don't stop there. If you really want to promote your book, use the site to start building that world online. I've seen authors who create Pinterest boards for character weddings, for character closets (pictures of clothing and accessories and shoes), maybe even for the character itself (foods, hobbies, interests that represent that character). You can even build boards to represent the specific setting where your book takes place.
That's the great thing about Pinterest -- you can pin just about any photo, any time. Show me the car your character drives. Show me a girl or boy who looks like them. I want to see the house they live in, the hairstyles they use. Do they have a tattoo? A pet? A unique talent? Pin it to your book board! Take your readers deeper into your world, and take your promotions further.
Monday, October 7, 2013
Unless you've decided to model your books after Charles Dickens, there's a good chance that many of your characters don't come to your book fresh and new. Some characters have a past, previous events that have shaped them...events that may continue to influence them. When this past becomes relevant to the character's present or future, the reader may need to know more about the past. The easiest and best way to do it? Flashbacks. But if you use them, use them with care...because flashbacks get very annoying very quickly.
The Past...Within the Past
By and large, fictional tales are told in the past tense. Flashbacks are always events that have happened in the past. So when you start throwing flashbacks into books that are already relating a story that has already happened...well, it gets confusing. This is only one of the reasons why you have to use extreme care when you write flashacks into your tale.
The other reason? It gets old really, really quickly. If I'm moving through a story, I want to stay in the timeline with the character. I want to see what develops next, and most of the time I don't really care about all the stuff that has transpired before. If those past events were meant to be the story, wouldn't they be the story? Anything that disrupts the flow of the story you're telling can make readers put the book down, maybe for good. So if you're going to go back into the deep past, you better have a great reason for doing so.
Why Flash Back?
However, the flashback is an oft-used literary technique. It's absolutely the best way to present a piece of the story that happened long ago, and show how it remains relevant to the story that's occurring in the book now. It's much better to put the reader into that past moment, and show them those events, rather than to simply refer to those events (telling the reader about them instead).
But do it too much, and you're just telling the wrong story. Readers want to stay in the action and in the flow of the narrative, and that's where you've got to keep them. So use flashbacks to make very specific points and provide very important information, but that's it. They are not meant to be filler and they shouldn't be over-done, because at the end of the chapter the reader doesn't want to know the character's entire life history. They just want the story, so don't use too many elements that will interrupt it.
Sunday, October 6, 2013
What's the difference between an author and a book writer? One HuffPo blogger opines that if you're self-published, you certainly aren't the former. In a post titled "Are Self-published Authors Really Authors or Even Published?" he explores the relative merit of not the books themselves, but the scribblers who create them.
Dr. Jim Taylor (University of San Francisco adjunct faculty) says that self-publishing allows "anyone with a computer and a small amount of money to call themselves authors."
The sentiment isn't far from wrong, but Taylor is certainly wrong when he says "despite their warts" the publishing industry is "an initial arbiter of literary quality," and points to different quality standards in the traditional publishing industry, as compared to indies.
And I pretty much disagree. I've read atrocious books that were traditionally published, stuff that's riddled with grammatical and punctuation errors. In one book I still have, the characters call each other the wrong names for darn near three whole pages. It's outrageous. I've also come across my fair share of wholly predictable, badly-written and just plain unreadable books that were all published traditionally, and some by big names to boot. Taylor waxes poetic about the thoroughly-vetted nature of traditionally-published books, but I think many avid readers would also disagree with him on this point.
Publishers aren't the literary tastemakers of this world. Nor are the agents. And though she does have influence, neither is Oprah Winfrey. The readers are.
The great success of self-publishing is obvious: the world wouldn't know about people like Amanda Hocking and EL James otherwise. They've sold more books than many of those "real" authors who cram the virtual bookshelves and make it all the harder to find the really great reads.
If you publish on your blog, if you publish on KDP, if you publish through Simon and Schuster, you are an author. Don't let anyone tell you any different. Anyone who writes a book from beginning to end and then puts it out there for the world, in any sort of way whatsoever, is an author. And to hell with anyone who says they aren't.
Saturday, October 5, 2013
It's not your typical horror story, but Lord of the Flies scared the bejesus out of me when I read it. The story was even more horrifying as a movie. If you can't figure out what's scary about a group of young boys marooned together in a remote location, you've never had brothers...and you've also never read this book. It's time to familiarize yourself with this terrifying dystopian tale.
William Golding published Lord of the Flies in 1954. He was waaayyy ahead of the current dystopian trend. It was his first novel, it was adapted into a movie and it's still read in schools all over the world. It's so controversial, people are still fighting it's use as a teaching tool today.
To me, this book always meant one thing: get a group of guys together, and the wheels just fall off the cart. But actually, Lord has a lot of deep symbolism and important meaning (so they say).
Here's how it goes down: there's a nuclear war. Britain is being evacuated, but a plane carrying civilians crashes in the Pacific Ocean. As a result of this event, a group of school children have been marooned on a remote island. One group is a choir, and they have a leader with them, but most of them have never met each other before this. However, they are all pretty well-educated and they're all refined Brits (it's a British book, by the way).
Not for long. The story is about how the boys turn -- rather quickly, as it would happen -- into total barbarians. It gets nasty. In the beginning, two of the boys find a large conch (a type of shell). Blonde Ralph and overweight "Piggy" use the conch as a horn to signal others. In this fashion, Ralph becomes the official leader of the band of survivors. The boys' choir, led by redhead Jack Merridew, does not vote for him. The rules are simple. Ralph will work on a smoke signal for passing ships, and the conch will be used as a symbol. Whoever holds it may speak at formal meetings.
Jack turns the choir into a hunting group that will find food. Ralph is a clear leader for the "biguns" (the older boys) and though Piggy is his right-hand-man (so to speak), he is the outcast of the group. Simon is the third leader, in charge of constructing shelter and of herding the "littluns" (the younger boys).
The structure doesn't last worth a darn, and soon boys are being lazy and telling stories about a monster they believe lives on the island. Jack promises to kill the monster to gain esteem among the boys, because he wants to wrest control away from Ralph.
Soon enough, Jack has developed his own tribe at Castle Rock (a mountain of stone and a source of inspiration for Stephen King) and begins acting strangely. Simon ends up going a little crazy, and he discovers the Lord of the Flies -- a severed pig head.
Things get much, much worse from here. There is violence, there is bloodshed...there's a lot of completely primitive behavior, and this is why the book remains controversial. You'll have to read it to get all the gory details, and drop your jaw at the very surprising twist ending (it shocked the heck out of me, anyway).
Lord of the Flies had been majorly adapted to film only twice, the first time in 1963. Plotwise, the story is very faithful to the book. However, much of the movie was not even scripted. Most of the boys in the movie had not read the book and were not given much dialogue to memorize. Instead, the director explained each scene to the boys and then allowed them to act it out. Therefore, much of the speech is changed on film. But since the main plot points are depicted, this remains the best version of the story.
But if you're hankering for a newer one, the book was adapted again in 1990. This time around, a lot of the plot was changed. The boys are American and they attend a military school, already a huge change. Only one school is present on the island, but in the film there were two. Ralph isn't mean to Piggy in this version, and the phrases "biguns" and "littluns" are omitted entirely. The movie also has a lot more profanity, perhaps because that's more realistic when the characters are American. Some of the violence of the book is toned down. None of the boys look like they should. But much of the original ending remains intact, though the dialogue is changed.
What Got Adapted?
There are more minor differences from the book in both films, but you'll have to read the story to discover them. It's frightening, and that makes it a perfect October read.
Thursday, October 3, 2013
You can't fall into a Goodreads group without finding a thread that discusses books and their opening lines. The first line if the hook, and that's why so many people consider it to be so important. That first line is truly the most important of the book. So...do you know how to sharpen your hook?
Reeling Them In
I don't always read blurbs, and I'm not always interested in covers. When an author or an agent sends me a review request, I only really need one thing from them: the Amazon link. With this, I go straight to the book's sample...and I read the first line. If I don't like it, that's it.
This is how a lot of readers make their decision about books. That's unfortunate for authors, because books have tens of thousands of words in them...and most of the time, you're getting judged on the first 7 you write. This creates an enormous amount of pressure to start the book off really strong. You want to be funny, touching, compelling, exciting and titillating -- simultaneously, and without creating a run-on sentence that's hard to read. That's pretty darned hard to do if you've got 7 words to work with.
That's why you have to forget about doing all of that. Don't worry about being funny or thought-provoking or anything in particular. Worry about hooking the reader. Write anything that might make them want to keep reading. One word, a single phrase, even a foreign language may be enough of a hook, if it's compelling enough. If I open a book and I see the word Fire! I might keep on reading to see what's on fire. That is how a hook works.
And yes, it's perfectly okay to resort to any cheap trick you can think of in order to write a great hook. What else is a hook but a clever trick? Ever read the beginning of Gone With the Wind? Here's how it starts: "Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were." This is good stuff, people. Why's she so charming? How not beautiful is she? Who are these Tarleton twins? If the first line of your novel inspires questions, you're looking at a great hook. Curiosity is the strongest motivator, and it will keep your readers engaged in your story for as long as you can maintain it. The hook makes them curious, and that's it's magic.
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
I wrote a post about the importance of humor in books, making your audience laugh, but tears can be just as moving as amusement. In fact, the books that make us cry can be as powerful as the books that make us laugh. Do you know how to make your readers cry?
A Series of Unfortunate Events
Tragedy happens in life, and books that contain tragedy will feel authentic if it's written well. Tragic events are the best way to make your readers cry, but you have to walk a very fine line.
Death is a common tragic event in books, and it can inspire tears...but it can also fall flat. It's all about the character who dies. You have to be part writer and part scientist to create the perfect destined-to-die character.
First, don't make them too obviously good. I read a book, once, where I was absolutely certain the sister was going to die because she was being painted as some sort of perfect saint. Then she died, and I didn't care because I knew all along she wasn't going to live. Don't do this. All people have good and bad in them. You want to create a character that readers really like (the better to pull the tears from them), but it has to be a believable character. Give them flaws and allow them to make mistakes.
Second, give the reader enough time to know the character. Put the character in several pivotal scenes and allow them to play a key role before you brutally kill them in a cruel attempt to make people cry (it's okay, you sadist; everything is allowed in fiction).
Heartbreak is one of the most common tragedies in books as well, but this is even trickier to write than death. First, you must make the main character and the audience fall for the love interest. You must make everyone trust this character implicitly. An heroic act can be a big help. If the love interest saves the main character from something terrible, for example, this can create a sense of trust. Maybe the love interest confesses to something wrong they did, and makes amends for it. Perhaps they stop someone else from doing something wrong. There are lots of ways to do it, but make the reader trust first.
That will make the subsequent betrayal hurt that much worse. Make the betrayal truly awful and write a wallowing scene where the main character is deep in it, and that should pull some tears out of your audience.
Find your own way to bring tragedy into your books, and make 'em cry. People like a good cry, every now and then, and crying over fictional characters is perfectly harmless.
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Editing is an essential part of writing, and any author will tell you the same. But don't get bogged down in the details of grammar and punctuation and forget to look at the bigger picture. When you're editing, you always have to check for gaps in the story.
Plot Holes and Other Errors
You're the author, so you know how the story ends. You know who the characters are and what's going to happen. And when you're writing, it's common to be focused on getting to the end. It's only natural for gaps to appear in any first draft.
But you've got to fill in those gaps when you go back and do the editing. Remember that the reader doesn't understand the characters the way you do, and they don't know how the story is supposed to end. You have to fill in the blanks for them. If your heroine is supposed to be brave and confident, write a scene that shows her acting this way. If the reader is supposed to care about a friendship between two people, write a scene that illustrates their closeness.
When you're editing, always be looking for the gaps. There's a good way to find them: ask questions. As you're reading, pay attention to any questions that appear in your head (such as, why are the characters in the desert? or do I know this guy Chris who's talking right now?). If you have questions, the readers will definitely have questions. Ask yourself questions as you read along. Do you understand why the character is doing this? Do you know why the character said no to Tom and yes to Jimmy? Are the motives and explanations part of the story...or are they just in your mind?
Fill in all the gaps in the story to create a much smoother read. If you don't catch the gaps while you edit...when will you?