Monday, May 25, 2020

Quoting a Book on your Blog

QUESTION:  I am interesting in posting a few paragraphs from a book I just read on my a synopsis of the book. I want to post about a paragraph from each chapter.  Is that legal? Of course, I would cite the book and author, etc. and make it clear that these are not my words, but the author's.

First, let me clearly state that I am not a lawyer of any sort so my advice won't protect your rear in a court of law.

Using quotes like you want to do is done all the time.  It’s considered fair use of copyrighted material.

Whether the publisher or author contact their lawyers depends on how easily p*ssed off the author and publisher are and how high profile you or the content/author are.  

In other words, if the NEW YORK TIMES quotes to summarize an important new book about a major political figure before or soon after the book is published so that the reader need not buy it, all legal hell will break lose.  

If you want to quote a few paragraphs in a book about writing that's been around a bit, I doubt anyone will call their lawyer although you may receive an email from the author requesting you remove the material.  As a courtesy, you should.

Methods of citation vary from the footnote style you learned in high school to the more casual method where the information about the book is included within the body of the work --

As John Exum Smith said in A BUNCH OF NONSENSE ABOUT WRITING, "Writers are the silliest creatures in the universe because they believe others will want to pay them for their imaginings."

If you are using the summary in a positive manner such as you are recommending the book, you are far less likely to run afoul of legal problems.  If you are pulling all the "meat" out of the book stew so others won't have to buy the book, you are much more likely to have a seriously angry author after your head.

All this advice really comes down to the Golden Rule.  If this were your book, would you want someone else to summarize it as you intend to?

For more information on fair use, I suggest this article:

Monday, May 18, 2020

The Moral Core of Genre

One of the primary hallmarks of genre fiction is its moral core. The characters and their choices may be morally gray rather than the white and black of good and evil, but the reader expects that good will eventually triumph. The good guys will gain some victory, and the darkness will be banished. 

If the author fails to deliver on this promise of light over darkness, she fails a fundamental promise to the reader.

In the same way, the major character or characters must have a moral core that helps them recognize the right choices and gives them the strength to follow through, whatever the cost, to reach that triumph over darkness. 

Happiness can never be gained without a struggle against the forces of darkness. The darkness may be a black-hearted villain, but its most important manifestation is within the main character who must fight her inner darkness with that moral core. 

Sometimes, if the main character is an antihero or shallow chick-lit heroine, the struggle will involve a great deal of protests, whining, and foot-dragging to reach that point, but that point is reached. 

Betsy, the Queen of the Vampires, in the MaryJanice Davidson series, is a perfect example of this kind of character. Shallow, shoe-absorbed, and selfish, she whines her way through each book, but her inner moral core always leads her to do the right thing in the end.

If Betsy never did the right thing, this series wouldn't have been the success it is because shallowness won't hold a reader's attention or their emotions for very long. 

Sometimes, in a series, a character will change from evil to good, or good to evil, but that change must be foreshadowed in earlier choices and decisions. Bart the Bad may be up to no good through the early novels, but the reader should see that he chooses not to ambush the hero because a child is nearby. This not only adds moral complexity to Bart, but also makes his move toward the light more believable. 

In the same way, a good guy's pragmatic or selfish choices will foreshadow the coming darkness.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Why Is It Always Snakes?

In the opening set piece of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, the hero, Indiana Jones, manages to make it through a complex maze of booby traps and escape the incredible giant rolling boulder. He even saves himself from a tribe of angry locals with little more than a smirk and a bit of sweat although he loses the golden idol to his rival.

Then he gets in the seaplane and freaks out when he finds a snake inside. Our cool and calm hero is afraid of snakes.

But what does he do? He controls himself enough to throw the snake out of the plane.

What does this tell us? Indie can get past his fears to do what needs to be done.

Is that the right message to send the audience?

I don't think so, particularly because, in the last part of the movie, he must make his way through a tomb filled with poisonous snakes to rescue his love interest from certain death. He must face his greatest fear to do so.

But he's already controlled his greatest fear in the first scene in the movie so we know he's capable of it so the tension is lessened.

In that first part of the movie, the snake should have been somewhere where it would have stopped Indie in his tracks, and his fear should have made him fail. If he'd failed then and at another time in the movie to enforce the knowledge that he's scared silly of snakes, his bravery in facing the snakes to rescue the girl would have been that much more heroic.

A hero isn't a hero if everything he does is easy or without challenge. The possibility of failure must be internal as well as external. If he's afraid of snakes, then those snakes must stop him until he's willing to face his fear and move beyond it. And he must face and defeat that fear at the end, not the beginning of the story.


Monday, May 4, 2020

The Subplot

The main plot of the novel drives the story forward through the whole work.  Most main plots are about the main character working to achieve his goal. 

Some novels have only one plot. A simple romance's plot is boy and girl meet, one or both screws it up because of some inner flaw or weakness, but they manage to change enough to create a happily ever after.

Other novels have a major story line and minor story lines. Most often, these books mix genres like romantic suspense, or they are more complex in both subject matter and word count.

A minor story line is called a subplot. The two major types of subplot are the parallel and the independent subplot.

The parallel subplot is a smaller element of the overall plot that intersects the major plot with both its major character or characters and the events. The main plot affects the subplot, and the subplot affects the main plot.

In AVATAR, Sully's romance with Neytiri is one of the parallel subplots in the main story of Sully's learning about the planet Pandora and his decision to save it from the other humans.

His relationship with Neytiri is his personal introduction to the planet, its people, and their ways, and his emotional/romantic relationship with her teaches him the value of its people as well as giving him the original impetus to reconsider his decision to spy on the scientists and betray the locals to the corporation and its mercenaries.

In my STAR-CROSSED, Kellen's struggle against sexual slavery, his owner Cadaran, and his search for his freedom parallels Tristan and Mara's sweet relationship and their own fight for Tristan's freedom against Cadaran as the representative of the corrupt government.

A complex novel may have numerous parallel subplots. Some may be almost as complex as the main plot, and others may be short and simple pieces of the puzzle that is the story.

A simple subplot in my STAR-CROSSED involves Tristan's relationship with Floppy, the intelligent alien kitty.

When Tristan lives in Mara's house, Floppy sees him as a rival for Mara's time and attention, and the housekeeper has told Floppy that Tristan with his sneaky male ways is a danger to Mara.

Floppy works to prevent a physical relationship between Mara and Tristan, and he's more than willing to kill Tristan to protect Mara.

Floppy and Tristan gradually learn to like each other when Tristan teaches Floppy to read.

After Tristan saves Mara's life at the risk to his own freedom, Floppy is totally won over to Tristan's side.

This subplot not only drives the main story forward by interfering with the romantic relationship of the hero and heroine, it also is comic or scary in contrast to the main story line's tone at that moment to add variety.

An independent subplot doesn't impact the main story. A common use of this kind of subplot is in a mystery where the main character has a home life subplot as well as trying to catch the killer in the main plot.

At its least, an independent subplot gives a fuller picture of the main character or a more complete view of the world he inhabits.

At its best, it reflects the main plot thematically or emotionally. For example, the hero must face the death of his father and their issues of abuse at the same time as he is chasing a serial killer who targets elderly men which may indicate he was abused by an older man when he was little.

The TV show, HOUSE, often used the independent subplot which involved the relationships of the hospital staff to reflect the main plot of discovering what is killing their patient.

In most episodes, House would gain a valuable clue to the illness through his interactions with another character during that subplot.

The strongest subplot, even those that aren't parallel, brings a thematic, characterization, and worldbuilding depth to the novel.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Should You Kill a Secondary Character

QUESTION: Should I kill an important good-guy secondary character? 

It depends on what genre you are writing.

In romance a writer shouldn't kill off a favorite secondary character unless it's absolutely necessary. Romance is essentially the fantasy of happily ever after, and the death of a beloved character jars the reader's expectations. 

If a nice character dies, it should be a noble death to save someone else's life, not a senseless death. The finest example of this is Sidney Carton in Dickens' TALE OF TWO CITIES who died so the love of his life and the love of her life could find happiness. 

Science fiction, fantasy, and mystery have a harder edge, and readers are more willing to accept a character's death. In fact, if no one dies, many sf and fantasy readers consider that a flaw in believability.

I must admit to an intense dislike of having the major character's longtime love interest in a series killed, not only because I become attached to the character, but also because this is often writer laziness at its worst. 

Usually, the love interest softens the major character, and the writer doesn't want any softness or mushy stuff. (Oh dear, someone might think I write those stupid romances so I'd better kill the love interest!) To bring the main character back to the way he or she was at the beginning of the series, the writer kills the love interest. 

Of course, the most suicidal thing a writer can do in any genre novel is kill a beloved fictional pet or child. That will definitely drive readers away in droves.

As a good rule of thumb, I always try to remember an unspoken law in romance writing— “Never waste a perfectly good hunk.”  In whatever genre you write, readers love sequels or new adventures with the secondary character as the hero.  

Monday, April 20, 2020

Making a Long Story Short

QUESTION: My novel is way too long. Someone suggested I cut four lines off every page instead of trying to cut whole chapters, etc.

Anyone who can do that needs to work on their writing skills because they are writing weak, bloated prose.

There are other ways to cut length.

From working with writers over the years, I'd say that the primary thing most writers need to cut is writer information. We sometimes do our thinking on the page before we write down what the reader needs to see, and we fail to cut that out.

Writers also tend toward too much introspection. If all a character is doing in a scene is thinking about other things, get rid of that scene and insert that information into dialogue.

The great Phyllis Whitney once said that the only reason a character should be folding laundry and thinking is so an ax murderer can sneak up on her, and the reader knows this through subtle clues.

There's also the rule of three. If a scene doesn't contain at least one or two plot points (information or events which move the plot forward), and one or two character points (important character information) so that you have at least three points total, then it should be tossed, and whatever points included in that scene should be added to another scene.

Another way to consider the value of a scene is to ask yourself if it moves the main character toward his plot or emotional goal.  If it doesn’t, that scene can be removed.  

For major cuts, you can also consolidate several secondary characters into one character, or a subplot can be simplified or removed if it doesn't influence the major plot or the influence can be moved to another subplot.

Happy cutting!

Monday, April 13, 2020

Creating Emotional Resonance

QUESTION: What is emotional resonance, and how do I create it in my story?

Emotional resonance in fiction is the emotion shared between the reader and the character or characters in the story.  At its best, the reader not only feels the character’s emotions, those emotions and goals matter to the reader, not just in the moment of the scene, but through the book and beyond.

To give a scene resonance, you must offer visual and emotional cues in the use of your words and images as well as the five senses of the viewpoint character.  Vivid sights, sounds, and other senses are described which put the reader firmly in the character’s head and world. 

You can also use archetypal images or metaphors which have a strong emotional resonance for humankind. The archetypal image can raise the hackles (absolute darkness), slow the heartbeat (a babbling brook), or turn the stomach (maggots on a rabbit's carcass). The archetypal image can help push the reader's emotional buttons so you can make them feel what you want them to feel. 

Horror writers, for example, use the fear archetype to great effect. Stephen King can go for the archetypal jugular vein with relentless certainty. It is his greatest strength as a writer. His layering of images provokes an emotional response greater than mere words.

The archetypal image can also express changing emotions. In an unpublished novel of mine, the hero and innocent heroine end up in bed. Afterwards, the hero sends her a dozen white roses, the symbol of pure love and innocence. 

As the days pass and the hero doesn't get back in touch, the heroine watches the roses fade as her hopes fade.  When she finally realizes that the roses that meant “forever” to her mean “thanks for the great sex and good-bye” to him, she smashes the vase. 

Her innocence and love have faded completely; her heart is as crushed as the roses on the floor.

To create emotional resonance through the book you must give the main character a worthy goal for the book.  If that goal is emotionally important to the character and the reader, emotional resonance will be achieved.

In other words, if the main character must save his daughter from a horrific fate, then the reader is invested emotionally.  If the main character is just doing his job and the results aren't important, no one will give an emotional damn.  

That goal must remain the focus through every scene, or the reader will lose that investment in the outcome.  The character must also actively work toward that goal, despite outside interference from the antagonist and interior emotional interference.  He must overcome his enemy and his own weaknesses.  

To create the strongest emotional resonance, the hero must also lose something of great value to win.