Monday, November 23, 2020

Semicolons in Fiction

QUESTION: Someone told me I shouldn't use semicolons in my stories. Why?

First, a grammar reminder about semicolons (;). The three most common uses of a semicolon are


*Compound sentences when a conjunction (and, or, but) isn't used.


The wind blew through the trees; the chimes sang like angels.


*Compound sentences when a conjunctive adverb (however, therefore, nevertheless) is used.


The wind blew through the trees; however, the chimes remained silent.


*Sentences with long, joined clauses which may have commas.


The wind blew through the trees, I was told; but because the chimes had become tangled, their sounds did not echo through the forest.


As you can see from the examples, most semicolon sentence structures have a formal quality to them that is uncommon in fiction but is often found in nonfiction. In other words, it belongs in nonfiction, not fiction, particularly genre fiction with its more vernacular style.


Use the semicolon as rarely as you would an exclamation point in narrative, and only when nothing else will do for clarity.


If you find yourself using semicolons quite often, your narrative voice is probably too heavy or didactic for popular fiction.



IMPORTANT NOTES ON THE WRITING LIFE AND YOUR CAREER:  


SYFA has just put up a “legal kit” for wills and estate planning for writers.


http://file770.com/sfwa-releases-the-bud-webster-legacy-kit-to-aid-authors-in-protecting-their-literary-estates


And in other breaking news, many author organizations and writers are very unhappy with Amazon’s Audible who is screwing over authors.  (This is exactly why I tell authors not to trust Amazon.)


https://accrispin.blogspot.com/2020/11/audiblegate-how-audible-acx-returns.html


Monday, November 16, 2020

Ways to Find and Promote Free eBooks

 NOTE: This is an updated list from an earlier post. Feel free to pass it along to friends and family who are having trouble getting enough to read digitally right now.   


These days, with so many books available as ebooks, it’s hard to get your books to readers and hard for readers to find the kind of books they like to read.


One answer for both is services which offer free or cheap/on-sale ebooks via their site, newsletters, or emails.  These services give an author a chance to showcase a series or a group of similar novels by offering a book on sale or giving away the first book or a short story/novella in the series, and for readers to find series they like.    


I’ve compiled a list of these services as well as an article for authors on the subject.  The first link after each services is for readers, the second for authors who are interested in using these services.  



FOR AUTHORS—COMPARISON OF A NUMBER OF BOOK SERVICES:


http://selfpublishingadvice.org/ebook-discovery-book-promo-services-review/



THE BOOK SERVICES:


INSTAFREEBIE:


http://www.instafreebie.com/readers


http://www.instafreebie.com/authors



FREEBOOKSY:


https://www.freebooksy.com/


https://www.freebooksy.com/for-the-authors/



BARGAIN BOOKSY:


https://www.bargainbooksy.com


https://www.bargainbooksy.com/sell-more-books/



GENRECRAVE:


http://www.genrecrave.com


http://www.genrecrave.com/schedule-today/



THE FUSSY LIBRARIAN:


http://www.thefussylibrarian.com


http://www.thefussylibrarian.com/for-authors/



EARLY BIRD BOOKS:


http://www.earlybirdbooks.com



BOOKREVIEWBUZZ (SITE THAT OFFERS BOOKS FOR REVIEW):


http://bookreviewbuzz.com


http://bookreviewbuzz.com/for-reviewers-and-readers/



ROBIN READS:


http://robinreads.com


http://robinreads.com/author-signup/



BOOK SENDS:


http://booksends.com


http://booksends.com/advertise.php



BOOK BRAG


http://bookbrag.com


http://bookbrag.com/add-your-book/



BOOKBUB


https://www.bookbub.com


https://www.bookbub.com/partners



BOOK PEBBLE:


http://www.bookpebble.com


http://www.bookpebble.com/authors/requirements/



BOOKRAID:


https://bookraid.com


https://bookraid.com/requirements



LISTS BOOKS ON SALE, NO WAY TO ADD YOUR BOOK:


http://selfpublishingadvice.org/ebook-discovery-book-promo-services-review/


Monday, November 9, 2020

The Great Book Cull

 If you’re a writer, you are surrounded by books.  It’s part of what we do as readers and writers.  Then, one day, for some reason like moving to a smaller space or a change in circumstances, some or all of those books must go.  For me, it was discovering that I was allergic to old books and book dust, and most of those book had to go.  This is how I did it.  

I was an English major through three degrees so I had easily a hundred hard cover and trade paperback novels from that part of my life. If these books were in public domain or I didn't care for them emotionally in the first place, into the library book sale pile they went.  As a specialist in the 19th Century, I pretty well cleared out my hard cover and trade paperback shelves.  

The more current fiction that could be bought as ebooks if I ever wanted to see it again went into the library book sale piles.

All those nonfiction research books I collected for a book I would write eventually about the States during WWII, the novel in Victorian England, etc., etc.  I knew deep in my heart that eventually would never come so those were given to the nonfiction librarian to keep or give to the library sale.  The book on the tunnels underneath London was the hardest because TUNNELS UNDER LONDON!  WITH MAPS! All the first editions of North Carolina writers and books on NC suffered the same fate, but the North Carolina Room librarian got those.  

The paperbacks were both harder and easier.  They were also the most toxic to my nose so I had to be brutal.  The books that remained went into plastic, air-tight bins.  After a hurricane destroyed the library in one of the state’s coastal towns and my library asked for popular books to stock the shelves of a large mobile home, I sighed as I realized that all but a few of those books would make others far happier during miserable times than they made me in plastic bins.  Off they went. 

What remained.  A really good, huge dictionary suitable for research and flattening things, books I refer to often in my writing blog, a few research resources I still look at, books of extreme sentimential value like the novel dedicated to me and signed by the author who died several years later, and the cookbooks my mom and I used for many family meals.  The cookbooks are coming apart so I'm slowly making copies of the favorite recipes to share with the siblings and their kids.  

Now, I’m down to one small bookshelf in a room I never use, a plastic bin for the paperbacks, and another small shelf of cookbooks and other resources.  

So, moral of the story.  If I can do this, you can, too.  

Monday, November 2, 2020

Faraway Places

QUESTION: I want to set my novel in India, but I've never been there. My main character comes into India from America. Can I pull this off?


I'm a born and bred Southerner, and I can almost always tell when a non-Southerner is writing about the South. Words and expressions are used wrong, facts are wrong, the texture of the landscape and weather is wrong, etc., etc. That's one reason I rarely stray from the South as a location for my books since I'm probably as culturally clueless about other parts of the US as these people are about the South.  


I would be beyond clueless about another country, and I’d think long and hard about spending a whole novel there.  There's also the issue of not understanding certain cultural norms which can land me in a culturally insensitive pile of crap of my own making which would not just hurt the book but my reputation.  Considering all that, my answer would be nope, not a smart idea. 


If you choose to write that novel, you will have the advantage, though, of having a stranger come into India so some mistakes made in her viewpoint will be hers, not yours, in the reader's eyes.


The culture and landscape will be so vastly different that anyone from outside would be overwhelmed by its alien quality and miss much of the nuances. Essentially, that means that she will view India as an impressionistic painting, not as a photographic image, so that certain things will connect with her senses and others will be missed.


My major suggestions are to read recent travelogues about that area as well as watch TV show travelogues. It would not surprise me if YouTube isn’t full of American adventures in India.  Memoirs from Americans or Europeans living in India should also prove to be a valuable resource about the clash of cultures.


The Internet is a wondrous resource, and it's very easy to connect with people from all over the world. When you have your work in a readable form, try to find people who know that area to read those parts of the books. That should help, too. 

Monday, October 26, 2020

When a Simple Story Stops Being Simple

 A few times a year, I receive an email from someone who has read one or more of my writing articles.  This person is just getting started with her writing, and she suddenly realizes that writing that story isn’t quite as easy as she thought.


All those professional writers she loves have created stories that seem so simple on the surface but are not so simple when the new writer starts to see all the elements of craft involved and how each must do certain things perfectly so that the story can be told correctly.  


Writing dialogue, creating plot, constructing sentences and paragraphs that pull the reader in and doesn’t confuse him, breathing life into characters, and all the other elements of telling a good story become so overwhelming a task that the new writer panics and sends me a call for help asking how she can become a stronger writer.


Here’s what I always tell this person.



I can't wave the magic wand of a few words of advice over you and make you a stronger writer, but here are a few things I can suggest to help you begin to make yourself a stronger writer.  


Read what you want to write.  Study your favorite writers to see how they do what they do.


Find good writing teachers to help you with the basics of writing.  Read books on writing.  Find other writers and critique each other.


Sit down at the computer and write and write.  If you want to be a professional writer in a traditional market, be prepared to be sitting there for years before you can start selling your work.


And, most importantly, enjoy the writing.  If there is no joy in the journey, the destination isn't worth it.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Paragraph and Sentence Lengths

 QUESTION:  What is the correct length of a paragraph and a sentence when you are writing fiction?


There is no average length for paragraphs, but a really long paragraph is off-putting to the eye on paper and even more off-putting when you are scrolling on a small screen so shorter paragraphs have become the norm for current narrative.


When the average person looks at a page, they want to see some space, not a massive block of text.


The best way to do paragraphs, as a writer, is to vary the paragraph lengths on the page.


The same is true of sentence length.


Both sentence and paragraph length are also influenced by what is being written. A narrative description can have a longer length for both, but an action scene would have a shorter length for both.  


Some writing teachers suggest varying between long sentences and short sentences in the same paragraph.  


If you are unsure about how your sentences work with your content, read the sentences aloud.  Sentence problems usually show up while doing this.  


A good critique partner helps, too.  

Monday, October 12, 2020

Writing the Same When You Are Different

 QUESTION: Why don't authors keep writing the same kind of book? Some of my favorite romance authors have switched to different genres, and I HATE it.


There isn't a simple answer. Here are a few.


* Failing markets. The writer's genre starts losing readers so publishers want fewer books, and fewer books are sold. An example is historical romances.  Its established authors branched out into contemporaries, paranormals, and suspense novels to continue making a profit at their writing. 


* Respect. Romance authors, in particular, get no respect from their non-romance peers, and this gets really old. Non-romances also have more professional cache. 


* Authorial control. Romance editors exert more control over the final product than in any other genre so the final product is often more of a collaborative effort. At a certain point in a writer's career, this can get really old, particularly when some kid in their first editorial job decides she knows better than an established writer.


* Boredom. An author spends months writing a book that takes you an evening to read, and she then starts another book. If every book is exactly like the last as some readers want, this process can become boring. The creative juices dry up. If the author doesn't change gears, the readers will be the next to be bored.


* Innovations. Genre, as a whole, doesn't stay the same. Romances have changed dramatically over the last twenty years, and woe unto the writer who doesn't change with it. 


* Bandwagon Syndrome. Some authors see a trend become popular, and they absolutely must write to this trend. 


* Changes in an author's life. Writing is an emotional process, and sometimes, things happening in an author's life make them change the direction of their writing. I have had friends going through an ugly divorce who could no longer write about everlasting love when their true love proved to be a cruel, manipulative jerk. One writer lost her young son to a sudden illness. When she started writing again, she turned to novels that expressed her faith in God. 


As much as writers want to please their readers, sometimes, they simply must change direction with their writing. 


Monday, October 5, 2020

Real World Research

 I recently read a blog which discusses research in writing mysteries and doing real-life research in the field.  

https://killzoneblog.com/2020/08/take-a-long-view-on-research.html


Here’s my comment:

Research in a novel is an iceberg.  There's a lot more under the water than is showing.  Insert metaphor here about the book being the Titanic if that research is wrong.  

The more the research appears on the page in the form of your main character/s, the more you need personal experience.  You can fake a SCUBA scene with research but not an entire book if your character spends a decent chunk of the novel underwater.  If needs must, have an expert read your book.  

If your personal life experience doesn't remotely connect with police work, a police procedural probably isn't the best mystery subgenre to write.  An amazing variety of mystery types and main characters are out there, and your own life experience and interests can enrich your books.  Find a genre that fits.  Your own emotional references should be considered, as well.  You may very well regret spending months or years in the viewpoint headspace of someone who is your polar emotional opposite.   


WORST RESEARCH SOURCES:  TV shows and novels.  

A RESEARCH SOURCE I LIKE:  If you need to write horses, Judith Tarr's column at Tor.com.  Search the label with her name or "SFF Horses."  

THE MOST INTERESTING OVERHEARD RESEARCH: Many years ago, pre-9/11, Mom and I were at a hotel restaurant on the NC coast, and the room was full of high-ranking officers of all the military branches, and they were chatting away about military things that should not be said in public.  I wasn't stupid enough to ask them questions and would never use that info, but dang!  

THE BEST ANSWER I HAVE EVER RECEIVED ABOUT WRITING FIGHT SCENES FROM A FEMALE VIEWPOINT:

Years ago, I had a chat with a weapons and combat expert about fighting. (Science fiction and fantasy conventions are filled with military, police, and scientists who love to answer questions.)  I asked him who was the most dangerous opponent in a one-on-one physical fight.

His answer-- “In a bar fight most men will keep fighting until they go down. Later, they’ll get up, and we might have a beer together. A small man doesn’t do that.

“To him, it’s not a fight, it’s survival. He’s fighting to kill because he knows he might not survive otherwise. If he goes down, he doesn’t stay down. He comes right back up and keeps fighting until he takes you down.

“He’ll use any weapon he can find to kill you, too.

“Never pick a fight with a small man.”

Monday, September 28, 2020

Your Best and Worse Career Choices

 What are the best and worst choices you can make as you start your career?  Here are my suggestions for both.  


Best: Good writing teachers.  Many of them are found online.  A hands-on teacher can teach specific craft skills and can hone your craft far faster than plugging along by yourself.  If they were available back in ancient times before the Internet, I could have cut over 10 years from my writing journey.  


Second Best:  Learning about the business side of writing so you can move forward safely in this sea of piranhas.  I recommend Kristine Kathryn Rusch's "Business Musings."  

https://kriswrites.com/category/business-musings/   

I've not been a member for years, but RWA, SFWA, and MWA used to offer lots of great info on the business aspects of a career.  Ask around to see if they still do.   


Worst:  Self-publishing before your craft is competent.  If that first and second book are dreck, no one will buy the next book.  The rush of self-publishing also blinds some writers to the need to keep learning craft so they don't bother to keep learning and continue to publish dreck.  


Second Worst: Being so eager to publish that you hurt or end your career by picking the wrong agent or publisher, then signing a contract that will destroy your future.  Also, don’t throw all your creative eggs into one media aggregator like Amazon Kindle who can casually destroy your career with a software algorithm glitch. Business knowledge is power, folks.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Ing the Merciless

 QUESTION: Someone told me that "-ing" words are weak and should be avoided.  I've never heard of this rule. Is this common knowledge among writers? Have I missed something somewhere?


Pick up the average book on writing style or editing, and you'll see that "-ing" phrases have a bad reputation.


As part of an introductory phrase, it's overused and prone to misuse.


Misuse -- Picking up the gun, she walked across the room and shot him.


The introductory phrase happens at the same time as the verbs in the sentence so the sentence above is impossible.


Proper use -- Grasping his shoulder, he fell.


Too many introductory phrases used closely together also weaken the writing.  They slow the reader down so he’s mentally plodding through your prose.  


I'm prone to using them to avoid having too many sentences beginning with "he" or "she." That's where rewriting the rewriting comes in.


The other common overuse is attaching the "-ing" phrase to a dialogue tag. 


Overused— “I don't like it," she said, shaking her red correction pencil in my face.


Better use— “I don’t like it.”  She shook her red correction pencil in my face.  


Introductory phrases have their value if used properly and infrequently.  Just avoid the evil that is -ing. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

Pen Names

 One of the dreams most writers share is seeing a book with their name on the cover, but more and more writers are choosing a pseudonym (pen name).


Why?


Years ago, finding someone by just knowing their name would have required lots of effort or the use of a private detective.


These days, any search engine can give a person's address and even print out a map to their house in just a few minutes. We can find out if they are married, their kids' names, and about anything else we want to know.  


Years ago, authors didn't worry about the dangers involved with using their real name, but today, professional writers talk about stalker fans, scary letters from prison inmates, and identity theft they and their friends have experienced. 


I have never had any problems, but, if I had it to do over again, I wouldn't use my real name. 


Other reasons to use a pen name aren't so scary. 


If your books' sales stink, your traditional publisher or your agent may insist you change your name so that you have a clean slate with book distributors and bookstores who look at your last book's sales numbers before they buy or don't buy your book. 


If your next book has a different audience than usual, a new pen name will allow you to attract the right readers and not disappoint your regular readers. For example, if your books are sweet romances, and you decide to write erotica, you don't want to disappoint your fans or lose readers of erotica who think Jane Smith only writes romance with no blatant sex.


Some authors are so prolific that they write under two or more names because publishers don't want to publish more than X number of titles per author a year.


How can you keep your real name secret?


Just choosing a pen name isn't enough. Your real name will appear on the copyright information page.


To avoid this, you'll need to incorporate your pen name so that name will appear on the copyright notice instead of your real name. 


You also need to tell friends and colleagues that you wish to keep your real identity secret. More than one author has been "outed" by careless friends.


MORE INFO ON CHOOSING PEN NAMES AND THE LEGALITIES:


http://www.shesnovel.com/blog/pen-name

http://writetodone.com/use-a-pen-name/

https://www.janefriedman.com/choose-set-pen-name/


Monday, September 7, 2020

From Premise to Fully Plotted

I start out with a general premise or one image or scene as the embryo for my novels. 

For STAR-CROSSED, the premise came after I read a romance novel which used sexual slavery as sexy fun and titillation. Horrified by the book's treatment of women, I had the evil thought--what would happen if men were the sex slaves, not women? 

By switching the genders, I would be able to make my points about the inhumanity of such treatment and the corrosive results on a society as a whole. I would also have one heck of a romantic adventure setting on another planet. 

I then asked myself what kind of heroine and hero did I need to tell the story I wanted to tell. The heroine would have to be from this society but against the harem system. She would have to be brave and willing to sacrifice everything for what she believes in, have enormous kindness and sympathy, and be totally ignorant of men. Mara d'Jorel was born.

The hero couldn't be a member of this society because the men on Arden are trained from birth to be protected darlings who don't worry their pretty little heads about anything. Something about him, beyond his looks, would have to attract Mara so she would consider taking a sex slave against her moral beliefs. I made him a famous scientist in Mara's field. ("He's not a man, he's a scientist!") 

He would have to be worthy of her emotionally by having enormous love, kindness, and courage, but he would need some flaw which would drive them apart. The flaw would somehow reflect the premise of the story. 

I decided that he wants a woman to love him for himself, not for his fame, looks, and wealth, and no relationship is more shallow and less likely to go beyond looks than sexual slavery. He would have to be insecure and distrustful of any woman's attachment to him. Earthman Tristan Mallory was born.

To develop my novel beyond this point, I used Ben Bova's (THE CRAFT OF WRITING SCIENCE FICTION THAT SELLS) plot and character development tools. He believes that plot is a characterization device. You must examine your character and find his/her one glaring weakness and attack it through plot. 

The protagonist should have a complex set of emotional problems where two opposing feelings are struggling with each other. Emotion A vs. Emotion B. (guilt vs. duty, pride vs. obedience, fear vs. responsibility, etc.) He calls the conflict incompatible aims and desires. 

This conflict should exist on many levels beginning deep within the protagonist's psyche and should well up into the conflict between the protagonist and the other characters. Resolution of that conflict is the story. He calls it an interior struggle made exterior by focusing on an antagonist (not necessarily a human enemy) who attacks the protagonist's emotional problem. 

Using these ideas of Bova, I started jotting notes about the possible emotion conflicts within each major character and between the characters in STAR-CROSSED. Here are some of the things my notes suggested: 

Mara & Tristan in unfeasible power positions, a struggle to regain equality between them.

Villainess Cadaran as embodiment of the evil government and the evils of the harem. Tristan's best friend Kellen must become Cadaran's bed slave and face the true indignities of the harem which Mara spares Tristan from.

Kellen vs. Cadaran, Kellen's attempts at escape -- major subplot.

Another plot conflict/subplot: Tristan's female friend Dorian must discover that Tristan & Kellen aren't dead, and she figures out about the harem planet and must come to their rescue. 

Emotional conflict from this: Dorian believes herself in love with Tristan. Tristan uncertain of his feelings for her. Dorian's presence will tear apart the fragile bond between Tristan & Mara as his escape releases him from Mara's control. 

Tristan's emotional conflict-- anger at harem society with Mara as representative vs. love for Mara as individual. 

Theme: freedom through love, the importance of trust.

Kellen as foil to Tristan: 

Kellen's emotional conflict-- hatred of society and struggle to retain emotional dignity. 

his inner freedom vs. the hopelessness at being victim of an inescapable system. 

Possible small conflicts: 

Mara's housekeeper Novia acts as spy for Cadaran. 

Mara's intelligent alien pet Floppy hates Tristan. 

Mara becomes laughingstock when she takes a bed slave because her beloved dead mother was opposed to sexual slavery.


Well, you get the idea. At this point, I brought out some index/note cards.  On each card, I put down a major scene or turning point in the central plot of the novel. Each of these scenes gives several important pieces of information on plot or character as well as moving the novel forward by causing change. Some of these scenes are obvious. The meeting of the hero and heroine, for example. 

This card said: 

Mara tracks down Tristan at hospital. She is shocked at his injuries yet attracted by his unfamiliar maleness. The nurse tries to throw her out. Tristan drags himself out of his coma-like state and reacts to her.  Her kindness and her regard for this brilliant scientist as well as her attraction to him makes her decide that she will fight the government to keep him alive and out of the harem, whatever the cost.

After I finished the major scene and turning point cards, I was able to add cards of events that had to happen between these events. 

I also made note cards of the subplots. (Each subplot must reflect or influence the main plot, and must change the plot for better or worse.)

I laid out the cards for the main plot, then I tried to figure out where the subplots would fit in with it. Most were just decisions in plot and time logic. Some were decisions about pace and emotional impact. 

For example, just after the scene where Tristan & Mara finally admit their emotional attraction and hope for a true future between them, I put the scene where Dorian decides to rescue Tristan and declares her determination to marry him. This scene adds tension, not only because Tristan may be rescued from the evil harem (a good thing), but also because Dorian will destroy Mara's hopes for happiness (a bad thing). 

Normally, I write the first three chapters at this point. Here, I learn even more about my characters and plot, and I discover holes in my plot logic and have to change my note card order. After these chapters, I type out a plot summary from the compiled note cards. I find even more plot holes which I correct.

The most important thing to remember is that the note cards and plot summary aren't carved in stone. The book will change as you write it. You must decide if that change is viable to your overall concept of the book and its premise. 

Monday, August 31, 2020

Writing and Research

 I recently read a blog which discusses research in writing mysteries and doing real-life research in the field.  

https://killzoneblog.com/2020/08/take-a-long-view-on-research.html


Here’s my comment:

Research is an iceberg.  There's a lot more under the water than is showing.  Insert metaphor here about the book being the Titanic if that research is wrong.  

The more the research appears on the page in the form of your main character/s, the more you need personal experience.  You can fake a SCUBA scene with research but not an entire book if your character spends a decent chunk of the novel underwater.  If needs must, have an expert read your book.  

If your personal life experience doesn't remotely connect with police work, a police procedural probably isn't the best mystery subgenre to write.  An amazing variety of mystery types and main characters are out there, and your own life experience and interests can enrich your books.  Find a genre that fits.  Your own emotional references should be considered, as well.  You may very well regret spending months or years in the viewpoint headspace of someone who is your polar emotional opposite.   


WORST RESEARCH SOURCES:  TV shows and novels.  

A RESEARCH SOURCE I LIKE:  If you need to write horses, Judith Tarr's column at Tor.com.  Search the label with her name or "SFF Horses."  

THE MOST INTERESTING OVERHEARD RESEARCH: Many years ago, Mom and I were at a hotel restaurant on the NC coast, and the room was full of big guys in high-ranking officer uniforms of all the military branches, and they were chatting away about things that should not be said in public.  I wasn't stupid enough to ask them questions and would never use that info, but dang!  

THE BEST ANSWER I HAVE EVER RECEIVED ABOUT WRITING FIGHT SCENES FROM A FEMALE VIEWPOINT:

Years ago, I had a chat with a world-class weapons and combat expert about fighting. (Science fiction and fantasy conventions are filled with military, police, and scientists who love to answer questions.)  I asked him who was the most dangerous opponent in a fight.

His answer-- “In a bar fight most men will keep fighting until they go down. Later, they’ll get up, and we might have a beer together. A small man doesn’t do that.

“To him, it’s not a fight, it’s survival. He’s fighting to kill because he knows he might not survive otherwise. If he goes down, he doesn’t stay down. He comes right back up and keeps fighting until he takes you down.

“He’ll use any weapon he can find to kill you, too.

“Never pick a fight with a small man.”

Monday, August 24, 2020

The Power of the Archetype and Symbols

 In Jayne Anne Krentz's book DANGEROUS MEN AND ADVENTUROUS WOMEN: ROMANCE WRITERS ON THE APPEAL OF ROMANCE, she explores the archetypal myths or fairy tales behind the most successful romances. She believes that “Beauty and the Beast,” “Cinderella,” and “Snow White” are often the core plot and emotional energizers for romance novels.


But there's more to the archetype than just the fairy tale, and this extra element can vitalize a writer's work and give it greater depth.


The archetype is also a symbol or image which has 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 archetype image can help us push the reader's emotional buttons so we can make them feel what we want them to feel.


Horror writers already know the importance of the fear archetype, and they use it to great effect. Stephen King, for example, 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 be manipulated to 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.


A writer's subconscious is busy planting things the writer is blind to at the moment, and that's particularly true of archetypes.


When I rework a novel, I'll find lots of foreshadowing of events I didn't think I'd planned until the moment I wrote it, and I'll discover that certain types of metaphors or images have kept appearing that fit a theme or event I didn't know was coming.


Part of the trick in editing is going back over the work and building on the bread crumb hints left by the subconscious so the images create a resonance within the novel. 


The danger with archetypal images is their overuse. Horror and paranormal writing is awash with archetypal images that have become cliches-- the baying wolf, the bat, the open grave. You must discover new old images to bring freshness and creativity to your writing.


Go through dream dictionaries since dreams are filled with archetypal images. Study books like A DICTIONARY OF SYMBOLS by J. E. Cirlot. Read books on Jung's studies of the archetype and the unconscious to get a broad overview of the emotional significance of these images. Notice the images that good writers use to push your emotional buttons.


And, especially, consider your own dreams. For they are your most fertile creative garden. They are the true home of the archetype.