Monday, October 31, 2011

An Analogy: The Blair Witch Project

Back in 1999 the horror film The Blair Witch Project was released. Even though it was all shot with amateur video cameras, it had phenomenal success. One of the things that I remember reading at the time was that it was the death of the movie industry. Aspiring filmmakers could use amateur cameras to bring their movies to fruition and the internet to market their films. The film companies would be no more, fallen under the onslaught of aspiring filmmakers with cinematic vision but no connections or money.

It didn't happen. The big film production companies are still here and making movies. One look at some of the amateur videos on youtube and it is easy to understand why. It takes more than access to a cheap camera and the internet to make a good movie that people want to watch. It takes talent and skill and luck.

And so here we are with Kindle Direct Publishing. It's going to revolutionize the publishing industry. The publishing industry has been democratized. It's a death knell for the big six. They're going to die under the onslaught of those with artistic vision who have been denied publication by the gatekeepers...

It takes more to become a successful author than access to a computer and uploading your story to Kindle Direct. It takes talent and skill and luck.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lightening things up

Wow, I've been way too serious lately. It's time to lighten things up around here with Hilarious Muppet Bloopers. Especially watch to around the 2 minute mark. (Seriously, you'll be glad that you did.)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Mirror Thinking

I came across this concept, mirror thinking, while reading a thriller written by W.E.B. Griffin. Mirror thinking is when you think a person will react to a situation the same way that you would. And in the intelligence field it is a very dangerous way to think, because it does not take into consideration a wide range of differences in the way humans react to the same situation.

I find it a rather interesting concept. I have noticed it in my interactions with others; I just never had a name for the phenomena. I've noticed it primarily when I have someone squawking at me about something I supposedly did that leaves me wondering WTF they're talking about. Further reflection usually leads to the conclusion that it's either what they would do in that situation or they're imposing their experience onto my world. (A rather dangerous exercise as there are many days that I wonder what planet I come from. It doesn't seem to be Earth.)

This kind of thinking can give a writer trouble. If their characters respond the way they would respond in a given situation, then they're not going to end up with a rich diversity of characters in their stories. The characters will all be some version or aspect of the writer or the way the writer would like to be.

Something to think about.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Literary vs. Bestselling Fiction

One thing that I have noticed over these past few years is the snark coming from both sides of the literary (Bestsellers are hackneyed drivel that I can't bear to read) vs. bestseller (Literary fiction is suckitudunous fiction) divide. I will confess that I was in the literary fiction sucks camp for awhile, but after contemplation on the subject I've changed my stance. It's interesting because both sides are right and both sides are wrong.

Bestselling fiction tends to be short, sweet, and to the point. Literary fiction tends to let the story unfold with a bit more exposition and exploration of words and expressions. Bestselling fiction focuses more on what is said and literary fiction on how it is said. Where the reader's interest lays determines which kind they will prefer.

People read and think differently. Some people need more words in an explanation. Some people need fewer words in an explanation. Some people would prefer a picture to a verbal explanation. And because of that, they're preference in reading will lean more towards one than the other. Here are a couple of examples from my personal experience to illustrate this point.

Years ago I worked in a research lab. Among my other duties was data collection and analysis. I would take the data and draw these beautiful graphs for the research papers which my boss was writing. To me, it was obvious what the graphs meant. I had everything labeled. There were no ambiguities in the presentation. I would take them in and lay them on the edge of my boss's desk while she was working. I would not get to the door, before she was calling after me: "Diana, get back here and explain these to me." Needless to say she wasn't a "math" person. She wasn't stupid either as she went to an Ivy League Medical School.

More recently in a discussion with my brother, he interrupted me and went tearing off on a tangent. I stopped him with, "You know what I meant." He stopped, thought about it for a minute, then said, "No, I don't know what you meant." See, he needed more words in my explanation. I think one of the reasons we get frustrated with each other when having a conversation is because I think he's too long-winded and apparently, I don't explain things well enough for him. Even though it is my job as his sister to tell him when he says something stupid, he really isn't. He's actually quite brilliant when it comes to law and politics.

So three different people, three different ways of taking in information. Intelligence has nothing to do with it. It's personal preference and inclination.

I have come to the following conclusions:

If you want to write bestselling fiction, then get beta-readers and editors who prefer reading bestselling fiction. They're going to tell you where the story lags, where it's too fast, where they got lost, and all the other marks of bestselling fiction.

If you want to write literary fiction, then get beta-readers who prefer reading literary fiction. They'll tell you where the writing is "hackneyed", where there is a preponderance of purple prose, what needs more explanation, and all the other characteristics of literary fiction.

What brought this one was a post by K C Shaw linking to this blog post by Harry Connolly about the cancellation of his series Twenty Palaces. Specifically the section where he talks about the reviews he got from readers who bought his books. Based on those reviews, I would guess that there weren't many people who prefer reading bestsellers in the review and editing chain for his books. If there had been, then they would have caught those things and he could have edited the stories into a bestseller.

His blog post is heartbreaking to read, and I think it could have been prevented with editing and review from people who prefer reading bestsellers.

ETA: Many of the traditionally published fantasy novels tend to be more literary in style than bestselling. While technically they aren't literary novels, in style they fit more in the literary camp than the bestselling camp.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Steal This Idea

I got this great idea the other day, toyed with it a bit, realized that I don't want to do it, but it is still a great idea, so I'm sharing it with you. It's not a story idea, so feel free to steal it and make it your own.


A group of writers who want to self-publish their work form a cooperative to do all the other work that needs to be done to self-publish. So a few people edit the books, someone does the marketing for all the books, someone does all the bookcover designs, someone does all the proofreading, etc. Then a small percent comes out of every books sales and goes to the coop which is then divided equally amongst the members.

It's becoming easier and more acceptable to self-publish one's work. The drawback for the writer is the amount of time and money that must be spent in editing, marketing, cover design, etc. If you ask Amanda Hocking, she'll tell you that it is a lot of work. But if you got a group together and pooled your talents and resources, then it wouldn't be so much work.

If you think this is a great idea, then feel free to steal it and take it to your friends for discussions. And if you do form a co-op, let me know and I'll talk it up here or let you talk it up here in a guest post.

Monday, October 10, 2011

You've Come a Long Way, Baby

Back in the 1970's and 1980's Virginia Slims had an ad campaign pointing out how far woman had come in their fight for equal rights. This is an ad from 1980:

We've come even farther since then. Recently I've read a couple of books which were written in the 1970's; Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey and a couple of early books by Clive Cussler. I find it rather interesting to read them now as they do reflect the times we lived in back when they were written.

Take Dragonsong, the story is about Menolly, a musical genius, who wants to be harper, but is told by everyone that she can't. "Girls can't be harpers." "Don't get above yourself doing a man's work." "We're embarrassed and ashamed that we had to let a girl take over the teaching duties." And other absolute nonsense that only a troglodyte would believe. What makes this interesting to me is that at the time it was written, there were a lot of people who were like Menolly's parents. Who firmly believed that women were stupid and couldn't be doctors or lawyers or engineers. If you want to get a glimpse of what those days were like from a female's point of view, then this book shows it.

From the male point of view, we have Clive Cussler. Now I have to say that his Dirk Pitt character of recent vintage and his other male characters have seen the light and don't treat women like simpleton's. But in his earliest novels of Dirk Pitt, Dirk drinks like a fish, smokes like a chimney, and is such a male chauvinist pig that I want to reach into the book and slap some sense into him. In one scene, Dirk actually patted the Admiral's secretary on the butt and told her to be a good girl. Can you say sexual harassment lawsuit? ... But I wouldn't ask Clive Cussler to revise the story and make it more politically correct, because it shows the prevalent male attitude towards women at the point in time.

Back in January of this year, they released a cleaned up version of "The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain. They removed the "n-word" (<--- see we can't even say the word to talk about it. It's become so taboo.) At the time that this happened, there was some outrage and discussion but I didn't say anything.

But now having reread these other books, I think it is wrong to change a book just to make it more palatable to a politically correct audience. Because they show not tell the reader what it was like at the time the book was written. And that I think is valuable.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

This book, Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, has been out for ten years so you may have heard of it, even if you haven't read it. I highly recommend at least borrowing a copy from the library and reading it.

Maass is a literary agent. What he has done is analyze bestselling books, compare them to the rest, and come up with the differences between what makes a bestselling novel and not. His insights are especially useful if you have a completed novel that you're editing. In fact, many of the exercises in his book assume you have a completed manuscript. There's a workbook that you can also purchase if you decide to follow his advice.

The vast majority of my favorite authors are bestselling authors. When I read through Writing the Breakout Novel, I could pull examples from bestsellers that I had read and see the truth of what he discovered. If part of your goal is to write a bestseller, then I think this book would be valuable to you in your quest.

If after reading the book, you decide that it doesn't work for you or your story, that's okay. At least you're coming from a position of choice and not ignorance.

(I think I'm supposed to put a disclaimer here whenever I recommend a book or product. Any book that I recommend here was either personally purchased by me or borrowed from the library. I don't receive any renumeration from the authors.)

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Perfection Monster

I drew a picture of the Perfection Monster. I was going to post it here so you could print it out and throw things at it when it showed up at your door and start throwing monkey wrenches into your creative endeavors, but alas, the picture isn't perfect...

I'm sure you've met the Perfection Monster before. He comes and sits on your shoulder while you are writing or creating something and says helpful things like:
"That's stupid."
"You stink as a writer. Just give up now."
"That's not going to work."
hahahahahahahahahahaha ... "You can't be serious" *snort* *guffaw*
"Bleah, what a lame idea."

The Perfection Monster is a valuable friend to have during the editing phase of writing. But during the creative phase, I tell him to shut up and go sit in the corner until I have finished the first draft, otherwise I would never get it done.

Some one suggested that I should be nicer to him and tell him to go have a beer or two until I'm done. But mine is mean and contrary. He requires a strong, no nonsense attitude to keep him quiet.

The Perfection Monster: Can't create with him, can't edit without him.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Two Dogs Dining

The monkeys got things straightened out on youtube so I can now share this with you.

Two Dogs Dining

Is that cool or what? :)