Tag Archives: ideas

How to write a good book – It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

As a writer I feel my wife, critique partners and beta stormreaders are the life’s blood for my manuscripts.  I’ve never been strong in spelling and grammar, so developing a passion for writing may have been a very cruel joke on me.  I rely heavily on them, more than one should, to catch my many typos, misplaced commas, tense switches, and many other issues that plague my writings.  In this manner I realize how lucky I am to have married a teacher who has a reading endorsement.  But as much as I lean on all of them to make sure my ideas are communicated properly within the guidelines of the English language, there is so much more that a writer needs to be aware of beside worrying about the difference between affect and effect, and the three different meanings of to, too, and two.

I recently decided to try out for another contest.  In it participants must supply their query letter as well as the first two-hundred fifty words.  This seems to be coming more common in writing contests – including the first two-hundred fifty words.

It comes out to about three quarters of a standard page in an 11 or 12 point standard font, double spaced.  When I decided to enter I knew I needed to revise it if I were to stand any chance.  Why?  Well, because within these two-hundred fifty words the writer needs to communicate several things to the reader.

As any writer knows, the first line of the story is also known as a ‘hook’.  The attention grabber that will make the reader want to continue.   It makes sense, you want to make sure the readers are interested right from the start, right?

The following words need to do much more.  They need to be interesting as well, of course.  And if you were to ask other people what the first page of a book should do you’ll get a list as long as the number of people asked.  It should set the scene, set the mood, demonstrate your writing style, create a visual of the main character, endear the character to the reader, establish the personality of the character, determine the motivation of the main character, and you get the idea.

None of the above is unreasonable.  It would make sense for the first few opening paragraphs to do any one.  In fact, you can do any number of those suggestions in that list.  You can set the mood, introduce the main character and demonstrate your style.  But many also warn that you should not have any exposition.  The action should start right out of the gate.  Make sure the reader knows they are in for a ride.

While this is great advice I can’t help but wonder if readers are really that demanding.  Would a reader really toss a book away if they didn’t find out the main character’s eye color within the first page?  Is it a deal-breaker if we don’t fall in love with the character in the first four paragraphs?  Is all hope lost for the book if we don’t know by the middle of the second page that the boss is filing for divorce and the administrative assistance has been harboring a crush for her?

Can’t setting the scene take a few pages?  Can’t showing a character living a fairly normal life before all Hell breaks loose be acceptable, even if the disaster doesn’t happen until the fourth chapter?

Some of the books I read years (decades) ago didn’t start off at warp speed (and I’ve read sci-fi, so it literally could have).  But I didn’t toss it in the garbage.  Have the attention spans of readers nowadays degrade so much that if everything is not available to them right at the start they lose interest?

Has the influence of living in an age of email, drone delivery, ATMs, and immediate gratification spoiled the readers and denied authors the chance to slowly building up tension, plot, and character creation?

In Moby Dick the whale doesn’t even show up until about a third of the way through the book.  Gone With The Wind starts off with an exposition about her Scarlett’s physical features and family lineage.  Many of the classics and famous stories of even the mid 1900’s would probably never find representation by a modern agent, let alone a publisher.  Not because the author was a bad wordsmith, but because they don’t cater to the interests of the modern agent or publisher.

As writers, if we want our stories to be read we must capture the reader’s attention before they lose interest, whether that’s in one sentence or a generous full chapter.  Perhaps such high expectations force current writers to dig deeper into themselves in an attempt to bring out the most in their writing.  Even if the level of expectation may be unreasonable, it still may impel our creativity to flourish.

This may truly be the best of time and the worst of times, an age of wisdom and foolishness…

Blurring Genres

I always enjoyed Fantasy, as I mentioned in previous entries.  I read to escape reality, and perhaps it seemed the best blurred linesway to do that was to engage in a genre that removed itself from reality the most.

Even in my other free time hobby, video games, I enjoy fantasy – The Witcher series, Elder Scrolls, vampire sagas.

For a time I was interested in The Sims when it first came out (like a decade ago), but when I realized the game dealt with the same crap I had to deal with in real life it lost a lot of interest for me.  Like literally, your character had to find time to crap – go to the bathroom, as well as eat, go to work, shower, talk…  I had enough difficulty finding time for me to do all those things for myself!  I really don’t want to take up precious free time to do it for a virtual me.

So Fantasy was my passion.  It made sense when I started writing that would be the genre I was drawn to.  So my first two manuscripts were clearly urban Fantasy.   My first was a vampire novel, which has yet to see the light of day (seriously – no pun was intended).  Being my first attempt at a novel I made so many mistakes it is in dire need of revamping…okay, I chose that word on purpose, sorry.

My second novel, Natural Enemies, I believe shown major growth (you can check it out yourself here).  But then I wrote my third novel and was half way through it when my CPs mentioned I was writing a paranormal romance not a fantasy.  My opinion about blurred genre lines are posted here.

Now I started another manuscript.  Maybe the fourth times a charm…right?  When I started writing it was to be a good ol’ fashion urban fantasy.  However, as I wrote, as my characters and plots tend to do, it morphed.  As it turns out, it isn’t fantasy, it’s not even magical realism, or any other sub-genre of fantasy.  I thought it would become action/adventure, but I’m not so sure anymore.  In truth, if someone was to put a gun to my head right now and demand a classification I would have to say – incomplete, simply because I wouldn’t be able to answer them, so I they would shoot me, and thus, I wouldn’t get to finish the story.

I know this will be an issue when I finish, unless it develops in some clear and defined way so I can properly query it under the right genre to the right agents and publishers.  But what if it doesn’t?

Many stories overlap multiple genres, and at times it seems almost like a crapshoot when classifying someone’s work.

Yes, classifications are useful and necessary.  Most people when looking for their next book will make a beeline to a certain genre.  I don’t know anyone who goes into a bookstore or library and would say to the staff member or librarian if asked what are they looking for would respond ‘Anything, as long as it has words’.  People have interests matching the classifications of the genres.  I never had an interest in reading Romance novels, and I know others have no interest in Fantasy.  It’s not that one is better than the other, they’re just different.

But some genres can overlap.  Speculative Fiction has many distinct categories, and Romance can contain plenty of action scenes.  Mysteries can have plenty of romance scenes.  How do we know how to properly define a book when the relationship between the two main characters is as important to the development of the story as discovering who the killer is?  Just because there’s magic in the world, does that trump the fact the story is about the coming of age of a young girl trying to find herself in that world?

It seems that writers today aren’t so concerned with making sure they stay ‘inside the lines’ for want of a better expression, when creating their stories.  But if the industry isn’t willing to entertain that sort of flexibility, what happens then?

Be sure to read my latest entry of my Paranormal novel: Daughter of Lilith on Wattpad!

Remake: Part ∞

cookiecutter

An idea! An idea! My kingdom for an original idea! I realize I’m getting older, and the more I live the more I will experience. However, I don’t think I’m so old that I already have to live my life in reruns, at least in relation to when I want to be watch a movie.

News recently came out that there will be a Highlander remake.   Really, Hollywood? So much for ‘there can be only one’. Have all the good plots and characters been used up and now you have to go through your archives and resurrect old ones?

I enjoy going to the movies. But it seems that everything is a remake or sequel. Total Recall, Carrie, Robocop, Gremlins, and rumor has it there will soon be a remake of Dirty Dancing, and even Porky’s. In fact, there are over fifty movie remakes in the works. Seriously?

How many times can Bruce Wayne develop his neurosis of bats? Did Two-Face end up like that when someone threw acid at him during a trial, or did it happen when he toppled a chair he was tied to in a warehouse doused in flammable liquid?

This is not to say no good has come from remakes. Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker certainly holds its own to Jack Nicholson’s interpretation, which was great. And the X-Men movies offer a great showcase for the latest CGI and visual effects. And we can’t deny each time there’s another remake or sequel released the public flocks to it, pouring money into Hollywood’s coffers, so why go out and find an original idea? If something works, don’t try to fix it, right? Just dress it up with different actors and more modern effects.

But while everyone has a favorite meal or dessert, if you had it every day you’d eventually get tired of it. Even a kid doesn’t want to eat PB & J every day of the year.   Now I do acknowledge there are original movies out there. I’m just basing this on what I see from billboards and commercials each day. Many of the plugs for the mainstream shows are remakes, adaptations, based on a book, or rehashing an already successful idea (aren’t we due for yet another zombie apocalypse movie about now?).

Maybe the Guf of original ideas is empty. Even as a writer when I start a new manuscript I can’t help thinking that what I’m writing has, in some form or another, been done already. My characters may be different, but the template is the same. Hero goes on an adventure and meets up with allies and goes out to save the day. That cookie cutter fits Star Wars, Indiana Jones, LoTR, every Marvel/DC Comics movie, Harry Potter, and countless others.

When you look closely, Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker and Bilbo Baggins have a lot they can compare over a drink at the Cantina. Their journey began with them leading very mundane (dare I say perfectly normal, thank you very much, lives). They spent their days in their hovel (in the cupboard under the stairs, in a sand cave on Tattooine, or in a hobbit-hole), until they come across an old man with a white mustache and beard (length may vary from simple goatee to something that would put ZZ Top and Duck Dynasty folks to shame). The old man sends our simple hero on a grand adventure. Each armed with a special weapon (wand/lightsaber/magical blade) they strike out to fight the forces of evil. Along the way they make allies and friends to aid in their cause that will eventually end with them standing alone in the face of danger. And let’s face it, people – who doesn’t see similarities between Dobby, Yoda, and Golem? Just saying.

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Individually, each of these is a creative, beautifully written, and unique story. Yet, the basic skeletal structure is the same. They are far from remakes of one another, but yet, it makes you wonder how original are original ideas nowadays? All three of these stories follow the Hero’s Journey monomyth outlined by Joseph Campbell’s as do many other stories and movies. It doesn’t mean they aren’t unique in their own right, but does it make them unique?

While there’s much to be said for coming up with a new and fresh idea, perhaps after a hundred plus years of movie making and thousands of years of storytelling, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.