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Thursday, May 28, 2009

How come THEY got published??

Everybody(well, every writing body) goes through that moment:

You pick up a copy of the thing everyone is raving about. A few pages in, you want to hurl the book against the wall in sheer frustration - it's bad. REALLY bad. Head crushing, vomit inducing, mind numbingly BAD. Not long after that, you want to cry, because this thing got published. Then you go through the emotional steps...you get depressed, get mad, incredulous...finally accepting that bad books can, and do, get published.

Below are just my own thoughts - to my knowledge, no in depth study has ever been done about any of these.

There seem to be basically three things that will have a less than stellar book on the market.  

The first is a writer with a huge following, that's now pumping out books that aren't as great. It happens, but that first couple of manuscripts still had to be great.

The second, is that there's some aspect of the work that's so strong, it overshadows a lot of the problems. I'd put Dan Brown in this camp. Hated his sentence structure, oversimplifications, weak characterizations, and flagrant disregard for facts and history. But damn - I had to know what was going to happen next. That's what I'd call a weak writer and a great storyteller. And the simplicity of the prose helped keep the pace fast, though I still wish he'd thought a little more highly of his audience.  

The third, is filling an empty niche. I'd put twilight here. Every eight to ten years, there's a new, hot vampire hero for the latest group of teen girls to swoon over (am I the only one who noticed that?).

Maybe even less time.  

When I was a small bit, there was a tv show called Forever Knight. Horribly cheesy. Had the fan base from Beauty and the Beast (another tragic male lead). Though Lestat was around before then, he caught on big in the early 90's, replacing Mr. Knight. After Lestat, came Angel, and then Spike. 

Now those two are still running around, but the bloom is quite off the rose, particularly for girls who don't want to like what their older siblings did - and want something new. 

Charlaine Harris and Laurell K. Hamilton have been about for a while, but those (especially Hamilton) are not written for a teen audience - unlike Buffy, where teens were the primary target, or Knight, who had more of a Barnabas thing going on, and sex was implied rather than implicit. 

I noticed one other vamp series aimed at kids, but it glosses over the romance aspect.

So there's this fresh generation of newly hormonal tweens, starving for their slightly dangerous, oh so sexy, bad boy with a heart of gold. Enter the ultimate wish fulfillment character, with the ultimate self insert blank slate. Had another teeny bopper bloodsucking hunk hit paper first, that would have been the hot thing instead.

What does all this mean to you? Besides that some luck can be quantified when analyzed far enough, not much. Keep working to write the best book you can, because it's better to rely on strong writing than good timing.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Beatrix Potter? What are you smokin' - self publishing Myth #4

bOne of the things that drives me completely batty about these...

Have you noticed that most of these stories, even while untrue, are from OVER A HUNDRED years ago, when the publishing industry was very different?

There are a couple of reasons for this, not the least of which was the Victorian sensibility.  People were much more easily shocked and offended.  Take that into consideration, and it's not quite so hard to figure out why Delta of Venus had trouble finding a home.

Now, stop to consider what distribution channels must have been like.  There were very few (relatively) national presses, and most companies focused on a local market.  If a writer lived in your home town, it wouldn't be odd to see them hawking their own book.

Different times, different standards.

On to the creator of another beloved children's series:  Peter Rabbit.

Wanna know why publishers originally turned the series down?

Color pictures, particularly in children's books, were very popular at the time, and Peter Rabbit's drawings were in black and white.  Not the writing, not the stories themselves - a hot marketing feature was missing.  Potter re-created her drawings as color plates, produced 250 copies, and distributed those amongst her loved ones.

After seeing the new images, Frederick and Wayne Company signed the first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Mr. McGregor's Garden, in 1902.  By the end of the year, 28,000 copies were in print.  Not too shabby, eh?

Beatrix went on to become a full time writer and illustrator of children's books.

This tale is more telling in terms of 'give the publisher what they want' than any self pub stardom - notice there was no wide release until AFTER she signed.  And had the illustrations been in color in the first place...

Potter didn't become a household name by self publishing; she did it by both having the talent, and giving the publisher what they wanted in the first place.

Busted.

Mark Twain not so ahead, Self Publishing Myth #3

This has to be one of the stupider ones used for ‘proof’ – because Clemens lived in a time where it wasn’t all that odd for the writer to carry the expense, but he still almost went bankrupt.

 Samuel Clemens became a printer’s apprentice when he was 12, a year after his father died.  In 1851, he started doing typesetting and contributing articles and sketches to The Hannibal Journal, his brother’s newspaper.

 At 22, he returned to Mississippi, studying to become a riverboat captain, a position which he kept until 1861.

 Twain’s first notable work(so far-as new things come up from time to time), The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, was published in the New York Saturday Press.  Not long after, he was commissioned by the Sacramento Union to write letters about his travels.

There’s a lot more, as Twain was an extremely prolific writer, and I can’t get into all of it in the space of a blog, so we’ll move on to the first of his most well known works.

 The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was first published in England by Chatto and Windus, then picked up for US release by American Publishing Company in 1876.  (Innocents Abroad, a travelogue about the Holy Land, was already wildly popular – not only as periodical articles, but as a bound feature – Twain was already well established when he forayed into the land of full length fiction..) 

 

Hmmm. No self publishing here…

 

His very first book, The Gilded Age, was a collaboration between himself and Charles Dudley Warner.  Also printed by American Publishing Company in 1873, it met many lukewarm reviews, mostly due to the two halves of the book not meshing well.

 

No self publishing there, either.

 

Twain loved technology, and part of the goal for starting his own publishing company was to revolutionize the printing press. He started his own publishing company with his nephew. Called the Charles L. Webster Publishing Company, who’s first printed book was…

 A two volume set of memoirs by Robert E. Lee.

The Huckleberry Finn debate: did Twain’s own company publish the book, or not?  The story seems to go as such:  After a falling out with the American Publishing Company, Twain attempted to publish Huck Finn through his own company, where it (like most of the other works he published) was a whispering flop. 

Unlike most of the self publishing stories, Twain was trying to run his own publishing company, printing far more than his own work.  He nearly went bankrupt as a result, and the company failed completely in 1894.

 

The complete list of books published through this company can be found here:

 

http://www.twainquotes.com/websterco.html

 

It seems pretty clear that Twain’s goal was to become a publisher, not specifically to self publish.  Plus, he had literally hundreds of works under his belt before moving in this direction.  Not too many casual observers even know that he had his own company.

 

Myth Busted.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Crimes of exaggeration - Self Publishing Myth Debunked #2

Love him or not, chances are you've heard of John Grisham.

He was a criminal lawyer, who became inspired to write thrillers, often loosely based on the cases he worked.  Cool.

He's something of a legend in terms of success, selling his first novel from the trunk of his car, rocketing to Hollywood stardom, reserving spots on the bestseller list.

As usual, the best lies about self publishing have a kernel of truth: Grisham did sell a number of his own books from the trunk of his car - that bit is true.

What those 'self publishing success' lists fail to mention, is that the book wasn't self published.

Grisham's first novel, A Time to Kill, was published by Wynwood Press, a regional publisher, in 1988 - after shopping it around for a year.  The initial run was a relatively modest 5,000 copies. Like many books, the entire print run didn't sell.  But it was professionally edited, vetted, polished, and distributed.

Unlike most writers, Grisham could afford to buy the remaindered copies and sell them himself. Unlike clueless self and vanity publishers, he had a direct line to those people who would be interested in crime fiction - namely other lawyers, judges, law enforcement officials - y'know, the people he saw every day.

He also kept writing like mad.  His next novel, The Firm, was purchased by Bantam/Doubleday and went on to be a bestseller in 1991.  That's what got Hollywood's attention.

The first film made from his books was actually the unknown (at the time) A Time to Kill, and was produced in 1993.

No denying that it was a combination of luck and writing prowess that lifted him into household name territory - but self publishing had nothing at all to do with it.  Nothing.

Not so over the rainbow - Self Publishing Success Myth Busted #1

Ok, nothing seems to get to me lately quite like these self publishing success MYTHS. They get spread around like rotting fish jelly to mire the starry eyed, and stink just as badly.

They're bad for the expectations of new writers who jump into this route, mistakenly believing that fame and fortune is simply a matter of time.

These myths sport various ranges of misinformation, exaggeration, and just plain fabrication - and are spouted right and left by both clueless writers and scam publishers.

The first one I'm going to tackle is extremely short and sweet, and features one of my favorite childhood writers: L. Frank Baum.

Originally, he was a newspaper writer; going on to write Mother Goose in Prose, Father Goose: His Book, and my favorite as a small child - The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Baum's first book, Mother Goose, was published in 1897 by Way and Williams.

The Wizard of Oz and the subsequent 13 books in the Oz series were published by the George M. Hill Company of Chicago.

Now, the chorus of self publishing will caw and squeal about how Baum self published.  While technically true, none of the enchanting children's books that he is known and loved for were part of that project.

Nor were any of the numerous short stories, nor the writing he sold under a pen name.

L. Frank Baum did self publish - a pamphlet about chicken farming.

Not quite so exciting now, is it?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

factNOtum - do your $&%^$ research!

Face it - for every work of genius that gets looked over, there are five million that DESERVE the slush pile.

If I am not your friend, do not inundate my spaces with miserable 'poetry', 'rants', or any other scum deluging from your unpracticed fingers.

I am so sick of 'aspiring writers' who have not taken the time to study the craft.  That firmly believe every slimy bit of doggerel they put on paper is a work of misunderstood genius.

Yes I am published. No, I never had to pay for it. Yes I get paid for it.  

If something doesn't 'click' for me, is it crap? Not indescriminately.  But I've been getting so much that is total garbage to make my head spin.  If it's honest to goodness crap, I will say so(usually in a more pleasant manner). Do not write me back to say that I just don't understand because I've never been there.  It's your job to put me there. *pant pant* And you have no idea what my life has been like anyway.

Please spellcheck your stories.  I spellcheck blogs, you have no excuse. Learn some words. Read the damn dictionary if you must. Learn how to USE the words you know.  Please know the basics of the area you're writing about.  The empire state building is not in Albany.  Nor is the Egg in NYC.  These are major landmarks, and people DO care.  There is not much skiing going on in Virginia in June.

Do some research.  If the killer is using a tommy gun, it's very unlikely a silencer would be used, nor are the chances of being unnoticed very good. Same goes with a colt 45. Yes these are fun distinctive weapons. No, an assasin would not have them.  Nor would the average person be able to hide a claymore under his jacket. (Claymore is basically gaelic for 'big sword'.)  These things tend to be a minimum of five feet long.

It goes on.  A stiletto is a slim dagger with two or three edges traditionally thought of as personal protection or assasination.  It is not another word for switchblade.  One implies elegance that a street thug probably does not posess.

Upstate New York is neither the suburbs, nor Alaska.  Small towns CAN be intellectual.  Not all city people are vapid hustlers(there's a great contradiction right there).

I'm sure there will be more.


Agh, my eyes! How NOT to write a screenplay

I just got sent a short script that is a nightmare.  Sparing y'all the pain of slogging through this mess, here are a few tips.

WRITE IN THE PRESENT TENSE.  Whatever is going on, even in flashback, happens right in front of your audience.

If a character's 'eyes well with sympathy' chances are he's not going to throw the other guy to the ground yelling 'What the hell are you doing you basted!'.  And it's bastard. Unless you are covering the stewing character in his own juices to make a tasty roast.  Which could be interesting....

An upper crust exec would probably not wax poetic about how his lost love 'hypnotized him with obsession, created a love beyond ages'.  This is the over poetic hype of an angsty, psudo artsy college student.  If that's your guy, fine.  Otherwise, the leave the antequated prose to Yeats and Poe.  It lacks authenticity.

Vietnam vets will rarely just sit down and say that thier experiences were anything like yours.  Especially to a stranger.  If you are lucky to find one of these back porch story tellers, the level of detail in the storytelling will be amazing. not 'I lost a lot of people in 'nam, it get's easier'.  Sheesh.  If you have no idea what went on, or have never spoken to a veteran, don't put that there.  It makes you sound like an idiot.  And the vagueness of the statement in this script will merely confuse the viewer.

NARRATION.  There have been great films that use it.  Probably not yours. Especially when the narrator is talking about exactly what's happening in your frame. REDUNDANT. The whole medium is 'show'.  If your audience can't tell what's going on by the action, or the narration doesn't take us farther into the character's head, lose it.  Remember fight club? The narration brought us deeper into the character's mind, enhancing the relationship with the viewer.  It was not there to tell us 'so and so was on his way home from work when....' If you can't show that, you have no business directing.

I'm sure I will be subjected to many more miserable scripts before even the end of the year.  If anyone has a specific question, feel free to shoot.

’But my character is so COOL...’


...and your writing still sucks.

One of the things that I've started noticing in aspiring fantasy writers is that, rather than working on the craft of writing, they're convinced that if the idea is cool enough, the story will be cool.

Not so much.

Please, please, no more vampires, werewolves, vampire/werewolf/elf/ninja/pirates(yep, I actually saw one of those).  Tortured souls in the rain seems to be popular as well - except these 'dark silouhettes' always seem to be 'bourne upon the wind'  on high 'spires' while 'lurking in drenched pain heart-rivers'(if you can find a more obtuse and poorly worded way of saying 'standing outside like a dumbass on the highest point in a thunderstorm', let me know).

I have a thought for you: Stephen King.

While the most successful horror writer of our time has touched upon all sorts of otherworldly beasties, his main characters tend to be very everyday folks.

Yet somehow, these 12 year old kids, small town cops, struggling writers, etc, are some of the strongest characters in modern literature(yes, I consider King to be literature).

Because?

They're real.  They are fully formed, well rounded people, with strengths, weaknesses, fears, joys, histories, and above all: WRITTEN WELL.  Some of his bit players, I wouldn't be suprised to see pop up on a small town street to say 'Ayuh'.

If all it took were 'cool' characters, every piece of eye bleeding, giggle inducing, or just plain painful fanfiction based on a masterpiece would be on the bestseller list.  Yet every bit of it I've suffered through has been unreadable.

Because these people never bothered learning how to write - so the characters they love so much have been rendered flat and dull, lacking even the vibrancy of a child's crayon drawing.

Please, please, stop.  I beg you.  Stop slaughtering the characters you love, stop making a mockery of those supernatural creatures you adore so much. Unless its for spoof purposes.

I think I'm going to write about a vampire elf pirate ninja werewolf just for silliness factor.  Heh.

No more, I beg you - plots/characters done to death



About a week, and a few hundred screenplay reviews later, I have ever increasing respect for the work it takes to finish one, as well as my own writing skills. Then again, as a contest, I wasn't necessarily skimming through the cream of the writing world.

So this blog is about things that will have you tossed in a heartbeat(or have a reader who is paid to read and critique the whole script banging their head against a wall).

Watch out for genre. If you're a stellar, original writer, you'll be able to take any premise and turn it on it's ear. This is actually harder than it sounds. There were a couple of scripts that were written pretty well, but everything in them was such old hat, that it felt like I was reading a couple of other movies mashed together, down to 'this scene was from x, and that one was from y'.

And everyone's favorite plotlines:

1. The absolute most common one involved a writer with a problem, talking to a character in their mind or God. Whether this other character was a disembodied voice, object, therapist, whatever, this other character's sole purpose seemed to be either to taunt the protagonist with 'clever'(read, the writer found it clever, just like the other 6,000 writers) dime store existentialism, or to feed the protagonist lines in order for the main character to spout the same dogma.

If your character or your 'voice' really has something interesting or unique to say, it could work - don't bank on it. The one thing that each of these scripts had in common(the actual storylines varied greatly) was that it looked like a mental masturbation session. Each writer plodded through the tired themes and eye rolling 'revelations', wallowing in their own perceived cleverness until I wanted to bash my head through the monitor. I'm sure every one of them genuinely thought they had something fresh and innovative to say - at least 40% of the scripts I read featured the same themes, addressed in exactly the same narssisistic fashion.

Oh, and each of the writers(characters) in these screenplays were either struggling drunks, or wildly successful. Please, please, keep your personal fantasies or angst out of the characters, unless you're sure you really can hit new ground.


2. The Chosen One.

I'm not sure whether to blame Bruce Almighty or The Matrix for this. The reluctant hero is chosen by some higher force to either deliver a message or save the world. So what did the two movies mentioned above have in common? They took this storyline and presented it in a new and innovative way. That does not mean that you can rip from either of these and be new, now its been done before. So your small town hero/messenger/Messiah damn well better be different, or have something new to say. And please, please, let the 'evil' character be something exciting. After wading through all of these evil, hot women trying to seduce the protagonist, I was dying to see an old fashioned demon. Or something with horns. Which leads us to -

3. Demonic Temptation.

Old hat, but a sure one. Everyone loves that whole cosmic good vs. evil deal. There's nothing even wrong with your character wanting fame/fortune/sex - classic desires. But again, the presentation HAS to be fresh! What makes your protagonist different than the hundreds before, who have had the same desires, only to reach a point of enlightenment about 60 pages in, to realize they were better off before?


4. Da Mob

I like a good Mafia movie, I really do. What I don't want to see is, however well written, a rehash of every Scorsese movie ever made, to the point that I can pick out each scene, and the movie it came from. Accents are tricky to write well. If you don't have the chops for it, readin' sometin' dat look like dis or worse is tough to get through, stilts the script itself, and does nothing for the sense of character. Say the person has a Brooklyn or Bronx accent, then let it go.


5. 'Action' scripts with no action!

This is more of a writing thing than a story thing, but a heavy dialogue 'action' script where fight scenes equal 'they fight'??? C'mon, you weren't even trying with that one.




On to the writing/character things that drove me nuts:

1. Stupid characters.

I'm not talking about writing a character with Down's here, I'm talking about just plain stupid. Heads of state that don't know their pronouns. 'Brilliant' scientists that don't know the formal name for their own specialty. 'Genius' villains that are no smarter than the average teenager, with an attempt to make them look smarter by making every other character sound like a grade school dropout. 

This can be used as a technique for parody, such as in Idiocracy - where US culture looked down on being smart for so many generations, the brains were just bred out of people. Almost every character was a complete idiot, but for a reason. 

Otherwise, if you can't write 'smart' characters, don't. If you want a criminal mastermind, please don't make every other character stupid. Being average in a script full of idiots is like winning the grand prize at Poetry.com. It's just weak writing. Think of some great criminals - Hannibal Lecter, for instance. He didn't escape because the guards were stupid; he escaped because he was just that much smarter. Die Hard - how boring would that have been if the criminals had been dumb? It was gripping because John McClane was just a touch smarter, more resourceful, than the believable international criminals.

I cannot emphasize enough how dull, bland, flat out LAME it is to see a script with an incredibly simple 'puzzle' or 'twist' and have the characters puzzling over it, when the average eight year old would be yelling 'It's x dumbass!!'

Thrillers, action scripts, and horror movies seem to be most guilty of this.



2. The not so secret 'secret' symbol or clue

How hard is it to come up with an original or obscure symbol for the characters to puzzle over? Helpful hints: neither the Eye of Horus nor an Ankh is mysterious enough for a group of teens to be flummoxed by, let alone a group of scientists.
If you're not clear on the symbol, trust that a concept artist will be able to come up with something suitably cool.


3. Poorly explained away 'science'

Often, in something with sci - fi overtones, there will be a technology that does something impossible. A lot of the time, if that machine is not the central object in the story, the audience won't really care how it works, such as Eternal Sunshine or The Prestige. Those bits of tech were never really explained, but within each respective world, they were buyable, accepted, and the story went on. Give enough hints as to how your tech works to make it believable, and move on. Or don't address it at all. Please, don't mangle current scientific concepts, or have a character say something to the effect 'you wouldn't understand' when another character asks. Either one is obnoxious.

4. Opening with a dream, or worse - the whole thing was just a dream

The first is not always a deal breaker, the second, almost completely. I'm not sure what more to say about this. The reason being, that the viewer/reader becomes invested in the characters as they are presented, only to have to start over again after the dream 'ends'. How annoying is that?

The exception comes when that opening scene is over the top in some way, either visuals(shimmering landscapes, morphing cars) or premise(a song and dance number on the moon, a 12 year old leading a guerilla militia) that's no more than two pages long. Long enough to understand why this dream is happening, short enough that the viewer isn't annoyed about being drawn into a storyline, only to have to start over.

The whole thing was a dream just never works, here's why. The payoff will never be enough to have sat through over an hour of people, places, and events that didn't actually happen.

Proviso: if the events are occurring within the mind of the character, and there are allusions to that throughout the work, then the reveal can be satisfying - because there's a puzzle of sorts involved. See Identity, for example. No spoilers here, but this is an example of a movie that uses the dual reality to great advantage.


5. Characters doing something 'out of character' for no reason, and characters without flaws, or only flaws

These are vague enough to find your own example, but let's hit the second two for a moment.

Have you ever met anyone without flaws? Or someone who implies that they have none? How dull would that person be?

Likewise, a villain who's just evil. What motivates someone to do things just because it's wrong? How much more interesting a character who either has chosen greed over virtue, or one who, like Magneto, for example, genuinely believes that they are doing the right thing?

So, those are my top five peeves in the plot/character category. Feel free to add your own, or discuss any of them further.

The winners of ’script I never want to see again’


Beyond writing, formatting, whatever else, lies the Holy Grail of Gimme A Break:The movie that I've seen before. Many times before.Did you really think changing some character names and moving around a scene or two is viable in terms of creating a new script!????

I'm not talking about a familiar theme, or even a movie along the lines of something that's already out there. I'm talking, 'I've seen this EXACT movie'. Every scene, every character...it's deja vu all over my screen.

It's the difference between handing me a rip-off of The Matrix, and handing me the screenplay of The Matrix, with a few character names changed, and maybe a line of dialogue altered here or there.Strangely enough, rather than pulling from some obscure foreign film that may have died due to marketing weaknesses, these screenplays seem interested in stealing 'movie of the week' biopics from the 1980's. The story wasn't strong enough to translate to the big screen then; why do you think that has changed??? (Sorry for the multiple question marks - it seems more polite than shouting.)

I guess I can't knock someone for trying a theme that worked in the past (note: every screenplay follows a certain formula, it has to do with the filler whether the movie tastes like an eclair, pasty, or toilet.)But I cannot fathom why someone would take a mediocre script, with barely any conflict, a shadow of characterization, a lack of all things that make a movie great, and then try and submit THAT as their own work.Perhaps, because it might be less recognizable than a blockbuster? I dunno. It wasn't good then, and it ain't good now.


Please, write your own work. Whether it's good or rough, at least it will be your own. You own it, take pride in the fact that it's yours. The rest will come with time and practice. Only lazy bastards steal other people's work. Only slime claims it as their own.

Thoughts on ’Write what you know’


I haven't hit many of these 'how to' bits since summer, being swept up in this project, work stuff, and recent tragedies, so I think it's time.

This phrase is shot out at baby writers as often as 'show, don't tell'; and probably receives the same number of sage nods combined with vapid expressions.

What the hell does it mean?

It's one that baby writers like to argue about - how can you write about goblins and dragons and such, if you CAN'T know them - they're imaginary. 

It's about writing things that you've experienced and understand, certainly. By the time a person is 15, they understand longing, social gaffs, the pain of failure, etc. It would be a bit more difficult for someone of this age to write about the inner workings of a long term marriage from the inside, or convincingly represent an industrial engineer from a mathematical basis.

Writing isn't about facts, it's about personalities and emotions. As you grow older, you meet more personalities, and relationships become more complex.

The core of this theory is that a beginning writer will have greater difficulty writing something they are entirely unfamiliar with, both from a technical and emotional standpoint.

I've never been a police officer. Could I write one? Sure. I would need to do enough research to make it buyable, though. How long is training? (Depends upon what type of officer). How does the ranking work, what are the basic skills, social atmosphere, acceptable/typical behavior, etc. The character would know this stuff.

For someone just starting out, all that research might prove daunting, and hold up the progression of actual practice.

If someone has never been in love, experienced major losses, they are more of a challenge to evoke.

That's what it really means - taking small bites. Starting with the familiar territory as a jumping off point.

And it can be far more pleasurable for the writer to begin somewhere that is interesting to them. Love dragons and pixies? Then I bet you've read enough folklore to know the difference between a pixie and a skeltie. Love firearms? Then you've got a base for the difference between a Firestar and a musket - and enough knowledge to rough out what kind of character would use each, and how.

Or the world of competitive bodybuilding, gambling, art galleries...the list could go on forever!

As you gain experiences, your knowledge base and interests will broaden, and you'll be able to write more off-the-cuff on a variety of situations, objects, time periods, etc., and make it real.

What will always feel the most legitimate, are the things you know best. So write what you know.

And you know a lot.

Lovecraft as a Whitman’s Sampler copywriter

I just thought this was hilarious.


http://www.mcsweeneys.net/2008/8/15burns.html

Clickable link in the title.

Myrtle the Manuscript

A brilliant rundown of the life of a fictional manuscript, and life in the periodical office. A must read for aspiring writers.

As always, link on the title of this post.

Mary Sue me, I didn't like Twilight

Sue me, I didn't like Twilight. Apparently, this teen sensation of a novel has met with many mixed reviews, primarily of the love it/hate it category.

Were I a lonely 14 year old girl, I can see the allure. Since the main characters are quite one dimensional, it would be easy to insert oneself into the leading role as the object of many affections, and finally catching the cutest guy at school.

But I'm not. 

The first five or more chapters of this book are complete backstory, lists of facts about imaginary people that I was never compelled to care about.

Ella, the leading lady, was too annoying for words. She's completely boring and flat. We know her physical description, that she's just the smartest, prettiest, etc, that ever lived - and that's about it. Oh, and a play by play of every day, including her class schedule and what she eats. Without a clue as to her feelings, unless she flat out says 'I felt -'. It is mentioned ad nauseum that she's clumsy, but it feels like a last ditch attempt to insert a flaw, as this clumsiness never actually seems to manifest itself.

Then we have Edward. The angst ridden, perfect, 200 year old virgin, torn by his own nobility. Zzzzzzzzzz. Aside from tiresome 'he's so perfect' vomited all over the page, he has no personality. At all. His origins are mentioned, and I don't care.

The biggest issue for me, was that for over half the book (I checked while somewhere past the mid point) nothing happens. I don't care about any of the characters, situations, etc.

As much as I don't care for Dan Brown's childish prose, the man weaves a rollicking action - even as I yelled at each page: 'he's an assassin! I get it! Who doesn't know what a Moebius strip is, you pretentious wad!' I had to know what was going to happen next.

The reason I compare the two, is that I think they're both lousy writers who had rocketing success. But Brown can craft an adventure. While I didn't give a damn about his 'brilliant' scientists who were dumb as mud, I did want to see where they ended up, and the end of each chapter was a cliffhanger.

With Twilight, I finished it just because it was an easy read, and I was looking for the hook. Three hours later, I couldn't find it. At no point did I ever care what was going to happen next. And for most of the book, nothing happened.


Conclusion: If you can deal with an author talking to you like you have brains of cabbage, Brown is worth the ride - once. Twilight isn't worth bothering with, unless you happen to be a young teenage girl with a vampire fetish(don't they all)?

I did have an interesting conversation with two peers regarding the book.  One loves them. One hadn't read them all.

The reader had some VERY strange defensive arguments: 'Well, you can say Shakespeare is bad writing."

Ummm, no.  You can say that you don't care for the Bard, but it would be nigh impossible through any accepted writing standard to say that his work is bad.  That would be akin to claiming that Chaucer had no intention to write sexual exploits in The Canterbury Tales, and they just sort of turned out that way.

That was the strongest point she had - the others were less logical - and I finally realized she was personally offended by my distaste.

Reading trash doesn't mean you're stupid.  Enjoying bodice rippers doesn't make you a sex fiend.  Unless you're whispering sweet nothings to a copy of Mein Kampf, it doesn't matter to me.  Really.

And liking a book will never make the words inside good or bad.  That's what the writer does.

I can't cook

The problem with these recipe things, is that they're written for people who cook. Yeah, shocking. 

But what about the poor fool who ventures into that strange room with the food box and pointy things twice a year so as to participate in the holiday revelry?

I made three things. Go me. The problem was that I was under the misguided assumption that all recipes follow this set of rules:

1. gather ingredients.

2. measure ingredients.

3. dump all measured ingredients into a bowl.

4. take nearest implement and beat said items into a mushy submission.

5. Put mush into container.

6. Shove container into hot box for x period of time.

7. Remove tasty dessert.

BUT NOOOO. There are STEPS involved. Some of which should be considered fine print, as some of the ingredients listed are for a TOPPING, rather than the original item.

Why don't they say that at the top of the page? How difficult is it to make a separate header?

The SO worked in a resteraunt. He knows these things. Apparently, though, it is much more fun to watch me make a mess and then swear like a sailor.

The first was an oatmeal cookie event, which would have worked my way(eventually). I had dumped all things but the oats and raisins. When he saw me measuring oats - 'I don't think you want to do that yet.'

'But they go in.'

'After you mix the other stuff.'

'Why?'

'It's easier that way.'

Ok. That goes rather smoothly. The raw cookie measuring part is another issue altogether. I hate the feel of goo on my hands. But raw cookie likes spoons far more than it likes plopping nicely into little lumps on the sheet. By trying to avoid touching the nasty stuff, it ends up on my hands, on my shirt, pants, face, and in my hair(I still don't know how that happened). Also(according to SO) putting big lumps close together results in one big cookie.

At this point, one big cookie sounds fine. So he rescues the remaining dough and expertly spoons it in uniform piles on the tray. 

Show-off...


Then, we do a low sugar deal for my diabetic grandmother. I dump everything in, but end up with leftover cherry pie filling goo. (Which looks a whole lot like bloody eyeballs floating in ichor - but that's for another time).

Mr. Culinary re reads the recipe. Not only was the goo supposed to be on top of this thing, the pan needs to be greased. But it's a non stick pan. Doesn't matter, says I. This is not the case, either. So he dumps the batter back into the bowl, cleans the pan, and greases it. Saved again.

It turned out fine, just had more cherry than the original recipe. Nobody seemed to mind.


The last was purely dumb on my part. Chocolate cake. With lots of booze in it. There is no bad - unless you forget what you were doing before you answered the phone, and put double the butter in.

This makes crater like pools of lava hot butter that need to be drained out of said cake(twice).

I also added booze to MY taste, rather than that teetotaling recipe writer.

It tastes great, but don't leave it near a lit match.

Look up 'vanity' in the dictionary - please

Every day, either in a group or forum, there's some person who says 'buy my book', 'finally published', or somesuch.

I want to congratulate them, I really do. But every time I click a link, it's to a vanity press, most often, Publish America. The few who haven't gone the vanity route tend to have self published through Lulu.

I've nothing against self publishing, particularly. Heck, even vanity presses don't really bother me (PA is another story entirely).

But why lie to yourself and others? Paying to see your work in print makes you no more published than me writing these blogs counts as publication.

Does that mean these books aren't worth reading, or are doomed to failure? The easy answer is -

depends.

Depends upon the creator's definition of success, what they're writing, what they expect to get out of it.

If the entire goal is to have a bound copy of your work on your very own shelf - congratulations! It's a modest goal, but there's no reason not to be happy.

Perhaps you want a bound book of poetry to hawk after all those readings. Cool! Carpe Libre and go with your bad self. (Insert finger snapping here.)

Maybe you're an expert on something really, really weird or obscure, and want to reach others with the same interests - or you lecture on said topic, and want your own text to go with it. (How many books on the sexual habits of the Dodo birds could there actually be?)

The problem starts with all these announcements invariably being for works of fiction. On duotrope alone, there are over 2300 markets listed for fiction.

Chances are, if this thing is in any way worth reading, one of over two thousand publishers would have had an interest.

Yeah, yeah, the dreaded 'slushpile'. Have you ever actually read a slushpile? It's pretty scary. Besides not knowing how to craft a story, most of a slushpile hasn't been introduced to basic grammar or spellcheck.

As a beginning writer, this should actually make you happy. If you can write with basic grammar skills and know how to use spellcheck, you've already launched yourself into the top ten percent of submissions.

For real.


The flip side of this, is that it really has one skeptical of the writing 'genius' in these vanity books.

If anyone wants to send me one for review, I will. Be warned, it will be a completely honest, unbiased review. I am not going to assume your work is awful because it's self pubbed.

But I won't assume it's brilliant just because it's yours.

The Land of Dead Novels?



I got sick from holiday stuff (kids mutate common colds into nastiness that could fell an elephant), as apparently did my 'cool old house' connection, so one concept shall have to wait a little while. (Though the house is uber-cool, and I want to take advantage of it for the very brief time I have access - AAAAAAAAGGH!)

While on one of my virtual jaunts, I came across perhaps one of the odder literary ideas so far:

www.trunknovels.com


It's exactly what you think it is. People upload and display 'trunk novels' - those sorta mostly finished but for whatever reason no agent or publisher will touch it - stories that every writer has sitting either somewhere in the house or in a hard drive(in my case, a drive that died about eight computers and more than ten years ago).

What I dig about the site - the 'about us' page is refreshingly up front, basically 'don't go to us unless you've exhausted every other outlet', and 'all we do is host the work'. They charge nothing, and promise nothing.

Well, almost.

They do say 'hey, at least you'll be read'.

I tried, I really did. Started five or six of these books. Each one, I gave up .. the end of the first paragraph. I will not disclose what part of their library I tried to read.

There's a damn good reason that nobody wanted to pay for these. Across the board problem: lousy writing. Passive, mostly. Cliched, purple, and some turns of phrase that would have impressed even the immortal Travis Tea.

(If you don't know what I'm talking about, do google Atlanta Nights - it's worth it in so many ways!)

The problem is, these weren't writers trying to write badly to a particular end. Atlanta Nights is so purposely bad, that it becomes a really fun farce. Take out the fun, and all you have is a bad book.

A clinical discussion of fiction vs. non fiction writing.

A clinical discussion of fiction vs. non fiction writing.


You don’t have to forget everything you know - capital letters start a sentence. Periods end one.


It’s a matter of rethinking your presentation. Writing for fiction is different than writing for journalism, or business.


Here’s why.


For fact based writing, the primary goal is to effectively communicate information. The tools developed are to that end.


For fiction, it’s about communication of emotion. Different tool set.


Keep in mind what you’re trying to communicate to the reader, and it’ll be clearer.


For instance:


She felt sad.


While the sentence is about an emotion, it’s a presentation of a fact-communication of that information. It doesn’t invoke an empathy with the reader to share the emotion. And that’s what communicating an emotion is about - making the reader feel what you want them to feel, to embroil them in the story.



Think about WHY you read particular things. Newspapers are read for information(facts) about current events. Business writing is for information regarding something business related. Manuals are read to learn about something. The reason all of these are read is less than purely personal - most often, it’s because the reader needs the information within for some reason. I don’t know anyone who reads business documents for pleasure.



Reading for pleasure is different. Whether the readers tastes run toward SFF, romance, or literary, people read fiction because they WANT to, not because they have to. (Barring some literary bestseller that’s marketed as ’brilliant’, and some people read merely to be seen as highly literate.)


It’s the difference between watching a movie and watching an instructional video.


I’m sure this is all stuff that the back of your head knows, and the front hasn’t really thought about in clear terms yet.


So, back to that sad person.


How do we make the reader empathize with her? Saying ’she felt sad’ effectively communicates the fact of her state, but doesn’t really make the reader feel anything at all. This is where showing comes in. By showing the physical responses of the person, it connects the reader with those responses in themselves - triggering a mild to powerful memory of what it’s like to feel those responses, and bringing forth the emotional empathy.


(That’s a really clinical way of looking at it, but I’m trying for clarity here.)


So, what happens when you feel sad? Depending upon the depth of the sadness, and the surrounding emotions, the body does different things - but I’m sure you’ve experienced a wealth of emotions over the course of your life, and remember what they felt like. Some clinical detachment can be useful, too.


Ok, here we go.



Her stomach felt like it was sinking to her knees. Her face was hot, throat tight, and she felt the sharp, salty prick of tears at the corners of her eyes.



That’s not elegant writing, but an example. Using the physical feelings of ’sad’, we more effectively invoke the image of ’sadness’ to the reader. The elegance of a turn of phrase comes with time and practice of the technique.


I hope this makes the idea clearer, though.

I love bad t.v.


Strangely enough, I find that most of the programs I like have won awards - even if they've only lasted a season or so. 


That said, I LOVE bad t.v. and movies. Not the drawn out and dull - but the purposely, unapolagetically cheesy, with nods to genuinely bad movies and television.


Such as Garth Merenghi's Dark Place. This thing is awful, in all of the best possible ways. I refound the six episodes while doing research for a book featuring Shoggoths(among other weird things).


Garth himself is 'the best horror writer ever'. The creation of a British comedian, he is wonderfully awful all by himself. Egomaniacal, not so bright, and a physical toss between Ray Bradbury and Stephen King.


Each episode begins with Garth reading a fabulously painful excerpt from one of his own titles - each reading is a classic example of poor writing, worthy of inclusion in such greats as Atlanta Nights.


Following that, the opener is a clever trope of Ray Bradbury's Theater introduction, and a send up of General Hospital.


The production ran on BBC 4, had a very small budget, and took great advantage of it; gleefully using terrible camera angles, ridiculous special effects (my top at the moment being the 'Shoggoth' episode, where a woman gradually turns into broccoli), and some of the most horrid acting this side of a soap opera.


Lest you be concerned, its VERY obvious that the performances are intentionally robotic or over the top. Merenghi himself takes pauses that William Shatner would envy, alternating with over long, melodramatic poses and monologues written with such careful attention to terrible that they can't be seen as anything else but funny.


Merenghi and his producer interject 'interview' scenes in the middle of every program to discuss themselves, the cast as related to themselves, the writing as related to themselves...you get the idea.


The car needs it's own paragraph. The only vehicle ever to make an appearance in this series is an elderly golf cart, which is most often shot in a small, black curtained space. You can always see the curtain.


If you're a fan of meta humor, Bad Taste(the film, or the idea), and cheese, I would highly recommend trying to dig up this short series.

Bad writing from Weeping Cock

I admit it.  I wouldn't actually buy any of this stuff (Atlanta Nights being the obvious exception - intent rules) but I'm hooked on it.

It all started with The Eye of Argon.  Merely lousy writing turns me off; this was the first time I had encountered work so mind bendingly awful and nonsensical that it became funny.  Really, lough out loud funny.

Most of the writing that I read is beta for aspiring writers - and the 'bad' tends to be not understanding the fine points of fiction - well developed characters, the art of 'showing', passive sentences, that sort of thing.  Occasionally, there's an obtuse metaphor that's mildly amusing - but mostly there's only funny by way of intent.

Rarely is something posted on a pro message board that is so astoundingly terrible that there's nothing you can do but laugh.  Since that's my base, I thought it was rare.

HA.  Apparently there are thousands upon thousands of writers who care not a whit for the basics of grammar, spelling, story structure, or logic.  They aspire to heights of bad writing that the mere mortal can only dream about(after a night of cheap beer and bad fish).

Now, there are some places that make this an art form, such as the Bulwer - Lytton competitions.  There, like in the infamous Atlanta Nights, good writers use all of that skill and learning for evil, to create some of the worst opening lines and poetry ever.  I get a kick out of those for a different reason - you can see what rules they are flagrantly abusing, and to what end. Fun stuff.

What I'm talking about right now, is the unintentionally bad. Prose so poorly spelled, obtuse, or just plain illogical that it makes your brain twitch.  Echoes abound, eyes roll from people's heads, poses are anatomically impossible.

Trying to write erotica this way is even better.  In my opinion, writing erotica well is one of the more difficult things to do - how to make a sex scene 'hot', without being silly, or grotesque.

These examples fail on such an epic level, that many of them turn around and become involuntary comic masterpieces.  Others, are just head bangingly awful, with zero merit in any way, shape, or form.

Thank you, thank you, to whomever created this blog, for putting the best of the worst all in one place for crazy people like me who get a kick out of reading them.

http://community.livejournal.com/weepingcock

Where'd it go?

I had set up a template for a Wordpress blog to showcase my images, and now I can't seem to find it - plus it's told me that my email addresses don't exist.  Are these periodically deleted or something?  Bah.

So I did it all over again, boffo.

Due to their respective set ups, I think I may make this blog exclusively writing adventures, and the other one film/photo/screenplay fun.

There will be some crossover on the screenplay front.

Now that that's decided, look for writing articles to appear here soon.

Friday, May 8, 2009