You’re a Writer – Not an Interior Decorator!

Show the reader everything tell them nothing

Writers Take Them There

Good writers don’t stop the story while describing. Snapchat is here to stay. Twitter, Facebook and What’sApp are immediate and quick. Carpe Diem Writer Dear. 

We want it all and we want it now. Immediate scenes take place before the eyes and are not recounted to a patient audience. We’re still polite, but . . . writers, please.

We reach for the camera on our phones whenever something is worthy of it, sometimes we video it, sometimes click static photos. But that is the test. If we can film it then, by definition, it is immediate.

Sol Stein said: ‘Narrative summary, if written well and briefly, can transport the reader from one immediate scene to another, though this isn’t always necessary. Fiction and reporting have now borrowed a film technique called “jump cutting”, moving from one scene into the next with no transition for time to pass or locales to change. If the scenes must be linked, brief narrative summary can do the linking. How brief?

          Martin double locked his door and went to work. In the office…

“went to work” is narrative summary.’ In short. Get rid, writer.

Editors reject books overladen with static description and narrative summary.

What does “action” mean? Hemingway said, ‘Never mistake motion for action.’

Spiked dialogue is action.

Just as we  don’t put our own thumbs in the photos, (gulp) so too do we need to keep our own voice out of the story. Either it is natural for our characters to say it and the information moves us forward or it is not needed. Do not interrupt the reader by reminding him or her that there is a writer behind the words. They are not reading because of you; they are reading because of the characters you created.

Writer: Cue Action

‘Thibaut Courtois is so tall, he stoops into the room as if expecting the beam to hit him.’

Nanci Kincaid in Crossing Blood  lets the reader experience Skippy’s bravery through action:

Skippy will pick up a snake as quick as he will a cat. He will let one crawl on his neck and down his arm, a black snake, until Roy and me go crazy watching him. More than once he let Roy and me hold one, which we did, but we had to practically quit breathing to do it.’

Add a DumPster FuLL of Stylish ExaGGeraTioN

Kincaid:

‘The worst thing about George, though, worse than his nasty mouth, full of missing and broken teeth, worse than his fleas and sore spots, was the fact that he was missing one eyeball. He had an empty hole in his head. You could poke your finger in there and he wouldn’t even twitch.’

Own Your Tools as a Writer – Five ways to Characterise

  1. Physical attributes
  2. Clothing or the manner of wearing clothing
  3. Psychological attributes and mannerisms
  4. Actions
  5. Dialogue

What makes a character extraordinary?

PERSONALITY! YAY.

Distinctive traits of an individual, made up, adhoc, of disposition, temperament, individuality and eccentricity.

Ooh. So True.

Tracy Thomson 

The Secret About Subtext – Creating Characters To Die For

Dick Tracy and Madonna

Dick Tracy and Madonna

Dr. Linda Seger, an internationally known script consultant, has written a book about subtext and how it strengthens and adds depth to your writing. She says, ‘Subtext is the true meaning simmering underneath the words and actions, . . .Subtext points to other meanings.’ I started to think about how the power lies, like an iceberg, below the surface and how an awareness of this can help us become better writers.

A Walking, Talking, Living Doll

We are familiar with different techniques to create real heart beats in our characters. These personality aids vary from the almost compulsive attention to detail e.g. how Sammy puts water on his toothbrush before adding toothpaste, to the unrounded characters required for cameo roles. Dr. Seger asks us in Chapter 2, to imagine that a character we create is applying for a job in our script. Not everything this person has done goes into the CV, but although some of the traits may stay unmentioned both on the CV and at the interview, in real life they will display themselves in all their resplendent glory and if the character has done their job well, they’ll be visible at work – after safely securing the position.

The Feared Info-Dump when we Get It All Wrong

When I’m creating a character and committing traits to paper I sometimes dump a whole lot of information in the early stages, right at the beginning of the story. I ignore the rule of Show don’t Tell. This helps me dredge my subconscious for who the character really is. This ‘character and plot plan’ works for me, I delete it all on my first edit and the reader never sees the backstory or dreaded info dump, but it steers me to where I need to be. What method do you use? Does it depend on the complexity of the character created? Certainly, there is value in asking and answering questions to create believable characters. After all, it is how we react to things that truly defines who we are.

Attitude Makes us Do What We Do, Say What we Say, Cry When we Cry

Job interviews and journalists interviewing famous people are some of the techniques we use in writing workshops and they help create a more rounded character complete with strengths, weaknesses and occasional full blown dysfunctionality. Another workshop technique is to create a stereo type of someone you kind of know, and then really get to know them by asking how they react in certain situations. This can be done with role plays of famous people and also with real individuals in your workshop once trust has established itself. We also use it with first person Point of View, when our character sees and responds to things in a way that befits his or her character. Woe betide you if having created a certain personality you then have that character do something the reader just cannot believe. Another person could have done it, but not Sammy.

When Subtext Becomes a Cardboard Cut-Out Once More

The power is much diluted when character traits become quick fixes to inject quirkiness and geekiness to suggest intelligence but social awkwardness. Have you noticed how Social Anxiety / Asperger’s Syndrome has become evident in many leading characters these days? It didn’t even start with Sheldon Cooper and the Big Bang. The eponymous Monk got there before him, as did Dr. Temperance Brennan of TV Series Bones and then there was Jerry Espenson of Boston Legal. And I haven’t even got to 2015 yet. Whatever the swamping order, there’s no denying its popularity.

Unique Selling Point  – Say No More

One of the many wonders that sets ‘Breaking Bad’ apart from so much derivative script writing is how a secondary character – the son, Flynn, has mild cerebral palsy and the character is acted by RJ Mitte who himself lives with mild cerebral palsy. Yes, ‘Breaking Bad’ is an education in so many ways. The third season of Orphan Black even pays homage to BB’s plot as if emulating its characters’ craziness were not enough. Sometimes it seems that you need a Unique Selling Point to get published, but thereafter you can emulate to your hearts content. It might pay the bills, but it doesn’t break records.

Adding Subtext to Age, True Desires, Wants and Goals

How do your characters feel about their age? That, according to Dr. Seger, is the key that opens the door for director, producer and actor to walk through and make the script their own. This is illustrated with the BBC’s version of Wallander starring Kenneth Branagh. Despite all that life has thrown at him, Wallander still feels, he is hanging by a thread, but continues to cling to humanity. It is this, in my opinion, which sets him apart from cynical, hard boiled cops nearing a retirement pension and time to kill in a world without hope, where dreams no longer surface. In one episode, Wallander’s daughter signs him up to a dating agency. His reaction shows us he really wants it, but he would never have admitted to it. He is ribbed for it in the office and ultimately supported and destroyed by his vision of the world. Nevertheless, his vulnerabilities and humanity surface and Wallander and the world survive to live another day.

Everything entwines and it is not the brash that reveals, but the subtleties of subtext that truly define who we are. Not as perceived by the outside world, but as felt 24/7 by us through our inner hopes, dreams and achievements. If we reveal these hidden depths in our characters and bring them kicking and screaming into the world of the written page, then our work is done.

Tracy Thomson

Icebergs in the sun's crepuscular rays

Get On Board the Self Publishing Train.

A station master stands, whistle in hand, ‘This train for e-books and print. Stopping at Amazon, Penguin Random House, Bowker and Ingram. Please check announcements for all other destinations as platforms may change from those advertised.’

First, it was a world where many books on a publishers back list fell out of print because too few could be sold to warrant a costly reprint. Mid-listers used to be carried by the 10% or so of Publishing House successes. Literary Agents almost never had conflicts of interest, because they never involved themselves in the actual publishing. Then things changed.

Lines were drawn in the sand. Short-Run Digital Printing, e‑books, dedicated readers and multi-tasking tablets on the one side. Offset, and later, Print on Demand (POD) on the other. That was back when e‑book sales were still an unknown quantity, when Mid-listers, their Agents and Publishers all remained loyal, when traditional and digital did not talk to each other.

It is no longer believed that the print and digital worlds run on different gauge railway tracks for printing, distribution and marketing and that ne’er the two shall meet. The market has evolved to a more mature one where it is possible to share, now that, best sellers apart, there is more predictability. So who do you opt for?

Certainly, some hybrids are on board the publishing train, they bring with them existing databases and/or distribution channels that seem to offer a better chance to Self-Published writers to grab market share.

Amazon, for one, has a comprehensive business strategy that must be acknowledged. It is the clear digital leader, 67% of e-book buyers go there first according to Book Industry Study Group, (BISG), and it uses its database of purchasers to great effect. Its knowledge is added to by BookScan sending its print data. This is, of course, a non-reciprocal arrangement, but something Amazon authors can access through Author Central. In addition, Amazon even reaches out to agents with its White Glove Program, (WGP). And, as we all know, the Self-Publishing market is definitely expanding – a 59% increase in US sales says Bowker. Newbies can employ Solutions Providers or go it alone as can Mid‑listers, if not lured by their agents to the WGP. More of this, later.

In the ISBN world, Bowker seems ahead of Nielsen in its dash for market share. It has its own self-publishing platform, incorporating, interalia, Vook to publish, an android app offering 50% royalties, and a widget with ‘look inside’ capabilities to rival Amazon.

Penguin Random House also has a self-publishing vehicle: BookCountry. The self-starter pack is free, except the author hands over 15% of online sales; the same percentage applies for $59, $159, and $249 packages, respectively. Interestingly, the service costing $399 does not claw back any percentage from online sales.

Lightning Source, POD, exploits the Ingram Distribution Channel with over 30,000 wholesalers, retailers and booksellers in over 100 countries. It also offers other distribution channels and, like competing platforms, provides clients with a comprehensive portfolio of booksellers.

But Amazon’s WGP seems the only one where authors must be agent assisted. As both co-founder of a writers’ club in Sotogrande and a new novelist looking for an agent, I wanted to know more about WGP. I spoke with Nathan Rosenbaum of WGP in Seattle, ‘This program was designed exclusively for agents… to streamline the publishing process as well as provide access to various merchandising opportunities for specific titles. It allows authors to leverage the rights they control, either on backlist titles where rights have reverted to the author or frontlist titles where rights have not transferred to publishers. The agent chooses the authors and titles to be included.’

Clever. Agents, stuck with dusty Manuscripts can negotiate their own royalties with their clients who are happy and get marketed. Amazon avoids the slush pile and gets guaranteed quality both in editing of form and substance. The WGP can be used for KDP – and/or their POD, CreateSpace.

Rosenbaum continued, ‘The promotions may include targeted e-mails, various campaigns (storefront, category and detail pages) and nomination for daily deals.’

These are shared with other promotions and when asked what the ratio was, Rosenbaum, slickly, replied, ‘I do not have those figures, but clients are typically satisfied.’

Rosenbaum explained that the extent of their marketing investment would be dependent on historical sales, suggesting unpublished authors would have less marketing, but agents could enrol them. Royalties were 35% or 70%, both with one year exclusivity, and for 70% the e‑book would be priced by Amazon for between $2.99 – $9.99 and 20% below print price. It also injects quality control. If you  are with an agent and have not yet had a Publisher take up your book, consider this option.

Not so long ago, Amazon, WH Smith, Barnes & Noble and Nook were red-faced over the sale of digital and print books that contravened their terms and conditions by glorifying rape and extreme violence. Apparently, they slipped through the post publication net. Digital printing allows instantaneous edits after the product is put on sale and after the on-line printers can be reasonably expected to police the quality and content. Another problem is vanity publishing sharks have reinvented themselves as Solutions Providers or POD Independents, making it hard to tell the goodies from the baddies. Readers and authors need protecting, but how?

Literary Agents and Publishing Houses could never provide editing services for Self-Publishers without seeming to promote the books, which is a shame as such edits would provide readers with the confidence to purchase. Readers are drawn to well edited, self-published books, but it takes time to find them. Typos, grammar mistakes and conflicting points of view sometimes make finishing a book impossible. If you Self-Publish, pay for a professional edit and tell your reader who edited it; force the paid editors to shoulder some of the responsibility.

Professional editing can make the difference in the Self‑Publishing world and once the sales show there is money to be made from what you have written, a well edited book can also attract a big Publishing House with deep pockets for marketing that could cover far more than a Self-Publishing/Indie Publishing blog page.

Copyright Tracy Thomson

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