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.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Maintaining Tone

QUESTION: I have very abbreviated writing time so I can only work in spurts so my mood comes into the text sometimes. How can I stop that? 

The trick to holding the tone of the scene is to remember that you are the viewpoint character. You are seeing what she sees and feeling what she feels. Writing character is like immersion or method acting where you become the character.

This takes a bit of practice, but after a bit, you can switch between characters and personalities with ease as you change POV for a scene, and you can also inhabit the other characters in the scene so they continue to act as you've conceived them, and their dialogue is in character.

You also have to remember that your character should be reacting to what is happening at that moment rather than constantly sliding into introspection about the rest of her life. If you and she remains in the moment of the scene, neither of you will lose the right voice or tone of the scene.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Suspension of Disbelief

Any form of fiction is an agreement between the writer and the reader. The writer says, “I will tell you a story, and you will believe it while you are reading it.”

The reader agrees that, as long as the story remains true to its own telling and is interesting, he will keep reading and believe what he is reading. This is often called suspension of disbelief.

The writer can create the most bizarre rules imaginable for the way his world works and have creatures that aren't possible in the real world, but there are two rules he can't break.

He must have his humans behave as humans do, and he must not break his own rules. To do either ruins the story and destroys that suspension of disbelief.

Monday, March 23, 2020

The Story Twist

The story twist is a turning point or new bit of information that changes the reader's perception of the story.

The twist can be at the end like in THE SIXTH SENSE where we realize that Bruce Willis' character is not only helping the little boy deal with his ability to see ghosts, Willis is a ghost himself, so we have to rethink the movie to see that this truth has been there the whole time, but we've not noticed it.

A twist can also be within the story. For example, the reader discovers half way through the novel that the hero's sidekick is really the bad guy, and everything the hero thinks he's learned or gained is now suspect.

One Agatha Christie novel has the killer as the viewpoint character and the narrator Watson to her sleuth, Poirot.  Yet it isn’t until the solution to the crime by Poirot that the reader knows.  This story narrative is brilliantly written but bitterly discussed when readers talk about a writer being fair.  If you’d like to know the name of the novel, leave a comment or email me, and I’ll tell you. Otherwise, spoilers.  

One of my favorite types of twist is the expectation reversal. Sometimes, this involves the writer using a popular story trope like the marriage of convenience.

When the reader realizes this trope is being used, she will expect it to follow the standard pattern of the pretend marriage-- the characters will avoid sexual and emotional entanglement, they will gradually become emotionally and sexually closer, then their sham marriage will become a real marriage.

With the expectation reversal, the trope is set up, but the characters will do the exact opposite of what is expected. For example, the sexual relationship they've agreed not to have may happen almost immediately when they get drunk on their wedding night.

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK has another excellent example. Indiana Jones is chasing after the men who have kidnapped his girl, and a huge bad guy with an enormous sword steps in front of him. The expectation is that Indie will pull out his sword, and they will fight.

Instead, pragmatic Indie pulls out his gun and shoots the man so he can continue after the girl. The big fight trope is not only skewered, but also the viewer realizes that Indie doesn't buy into the heroic yet stupid belief that a fight must be between equals with equal weapons no matter what the cost. For Indie, the girl's life is more important than the heroic ideal of an equal fight.

One of the most important things to remember about using a story twist is that the story itself must hold together and have depth of character and plot without the plot twist. The twist is the cherry on top of the sundae, not the sundae itself.

The other thing to remember is that you have to play fair with the reader and give them bits of information that will give them little clues to the big twist. It shouldn't appear arbitrary or come from thin air.

If Bruce Willis' ghost character interacted with live people as well as with the little boy, the viewer would have felt cheated. Instead, they think back to him talking to a wife who is ignoring him, not because their marriage is in trouble, but because he is dead, and she can't see him, and the viewer will gasp with surprise and wince at missing all those clues to what was really happening.

If you can make the reader gasp with surprise and rethink what she's read, your twist has worked.

Monday, March 16, 2020

How to Show Rather Than Tell

QUESTION: Is there one hard and fast way to always show instead of tell?  

If you stay firmly in the viewpoint character's head and feel and see what she/he feels and sees, you will never tell rather than show.

Take the example of fear.  If you are afraid, you don't just think to yourself, I am afraid. If you think that, you really aren’t that afraid.

Instead, you may feel a shiver run down the spine, your heart will pick up speed, your body could tremble, etc., etc. 

If you write about what the fear feels like, that's showing.  If you just say that the character is afraid, that's telling.

How do you get so firmly in a character's head?  

Part of it is practice. Part of it is acting.

One of the most popular methods of learning acting these days is called The Method.  The actor is supposed to immerse herself into the character so that she isn’t acting, she’s actually the person.

One variation of The Method is called Being in the Moment.  I like that as a metaphor for what a writer does.

Put yourself in the moment of the scene.  

When you are ready to write a scene, close your eyes and imagine where your viewpoint character is.  What surrounds her?  Are any of the objects around her of importance?  How are they important?  What are the sounds?  The smells?  Who else is around her?  How does she feel about them?  How will she physically react to them?  

Now open your eyes and start typing.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Rewriting While Writing

QUESTION: How many times do you reread your book while writing it? I find I am constantly rereading my work over and over. I've probably reread it over a hundred times, I hope I'm on the right track.

Some writers don't reread what they've written until they finish. The advantage is they allow the story to remain organic and grow naturally.  The disadvantage is they can't correct elements of the story that no longer fit, and they may find it hard to delete those moments when they begin their first rewrites. (Sometimes, the longer a scene, etc., remains in the text, the harder it is to remove or change it.  Shrug. Human nature strikes again.) 

Some keep rereading and rewriting what they've written.  The advantage is very clean text and no loose ends.  The disadvantage is they can rewrite to the point that they’ve sucked all the life and style out of their story.  Plus, they are taking away valuable writing time to do this and may lose the desire to finish the story.  

I do a mixture of both.  I start my day's writing by rereading what I wrote the day before to get myself back into the groove of the story.  I only reread from the beginning if I've lost focus for the story.  The advantage is cleaner text, and I'm less likely to lose the main character's voice.  The disadvantage is some of my writing time is spent editing.

Every writer must choose what works best for herself.  

Monday, March 2, 2020

Dealing with the Cornavirus in Fact and Fiction

Here’s a blog on how to deal with the coronavirus in the real world and in your fiction world.

As a writing teacher, I've taught world-building for fantasy and science fiction so real world events always make me think of what those events tell us about building a fantasy world.  The coronavirus crisis shows how inaccurate the instant zombie apocalypse and other instant diseases are.  I don't think we are doomed in any of those cases.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Yet More on Author Wills and Estates

Since there’s no such thing as too much information on the business side of publishing, here are more links on author wills and estates. 






Monday, February 17, 2020

Author Wills

When my mom died, one of her final caring gifts to the family was a huge folder filled with absolutely everything we would need to go forward with her cremation, memorial service, and the probating and closing of her estate.  

She had even written a rough draft of her obituary and the hymns and Bible verses she wanted at her service so we knew we were giving her the send off she wanted.  

Most of us with families already have our wills in order, but, as a writer, do you have a plan for your books after you die? 

Have you included instructions about your writing in your will? Or have you filled out an addenda to your will containing details about your writing? 

Some things you may want to consider are 

What do you want to happen to your books and "name" after you die. 

Do you want others to write books using your name? 

Do you want someone to finish whatever books you didn't finish? 

Do you want books you wrote years ago to be pulled out and sold? 

Do you want your notes and drafts sold or given to a university or a collector? 

Do you want someone to maintain your promotions (website, etc.) while your books are in print?

Do you want a special executor just for your writing? Most established authors name their literary agent or literary lawyer as special executor to their writing estate because writing is so specialized that people not in the business haven't a clue. 

Here's a really excellent blog on the subject by Neil Gaiman which includes a PDF form that writers can use to explain their wishes on their works.

If you already have a will, I’d use this form as an addenda to your will since it revokes previous wills.  As Gaiman said, talk to your lawyer.

And while you are doing all this, remember what my mom did for us and build a large folder that includes copies of all your publishing contracts, website contracts, passwords, and all the other things you need to manage your professional career.  And keep your files in order, too, to save your family from having to sort through the useless junk to find the important things. 

Monday, February 10, 2020

How to Create Your Own Audiobook

Audio books are rising rapidly in popularity, and self-published authors and those who have kept their audio rights with publishers are now entering the field with their own audiobooks.  
If you are interested in this market, I suggest this excellent article by Jordan Dane to get you started.

Monday, February 3, 2020

The Yen and Yang of Worldbuilding

One of the fun things about worldbuilding for a fantasy or paranormal novel is that you can take bits and pieces of religions and mythologies to build your own world.  Popular writers like Kevin Hearne have had confrontations between their main character and the gods of Greece, the Norse, and the Celts as well as demons, angels, werewolves, and vampires.  

This mix and match can be as much fun as an a la carte desert tray.  

However, and this is a big one, you must include the light/good and the dark/evil elements of these choices so that the playing field isn’t ridiculously one-sided.

One of the most common mistakes I see is the use of only the dark/evil part of a pantheon or religion.

A recent young adult novel I read had Judeo-Christian demons invading this world with only a small number of magical humans to fight them.  The two most powerful humans were a couple of ten-year-old boys.  

I kept expecting some force from the light to make its appearance to help give these kids and the human race a chance, but none appeared.   Any major victory without help is ridiculous and unbelievable.

Consider the show SUPERNATURAL.  The universe in this series has both angels and demons in play.  The angels, for the most part, are “big dicks,” but a few offer some assistance in the constant struggle against demons and other monsters.  Sam and Dean, even though ridiculously skilled, have more than themselves in this struggle.  They are also adept at creating alliances with the dark side like the King of Hell when they face something that threatens both good and evil

As writers we must stack the odds against our heroes so that their victories are sweet and hard fought, but we can’t make the mistake of making that victory ridiculous by offering no help from the the light side.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Taxes and Writers

For American Writers Only

Did you know that you don't have to make a profit to write off your writing expenses?  You don't even have to be published or contracted to publish.  

All you have to do is prove that you are a working writer.  This can be as simple as having copies of your rejection letters.  

I'm not an accountant or tax attorney so here are some experts to give you even more information on writers and taxes.

Writers and taxes, General Information: