Monthly Archives: May 2013

What is a Cover Reveal?

Red scarab
Cover reveals are an important part of marketing your forthcoming novel, short story collection, or non-fiction book, especially if you are an independent writer publishing on such sites as Amazon.com. Great covers spark interest in your work, and together with a release date (which may vary from days to a couple of weeks), help to create anticipation in your readership.

A well designed book cover seizes one’s immediate attention. At its very best, it captures, in an impactful and compelling way, the essence of your story, its central themes and elements, its chief conflict, and projects a defining emotion.

Opinions vary on specific styles, but obviously, genre and period have a lot to do with informing the look and feel of your cover. These considerations extend to the font used for the title and other text that appear on it.

My own preference is for simple bold images that rip through to the essence of the story. In my first novel, Scarab, a large red scarab, placed against a grey background to set it off, suggests the Egyptian link in the story, while the bright lights behind it variously suggest stars, or even, spacecraft lights, invoking the science fiction elements in the tale.

My follow-up novel, Scarab II: Reawakening, (which is being released on the 20th of June next month through Amazon), is based on roughly the same cast of characters as the first, and continues the established visual pattern, but introduces the images of a spherical object and a computer circuit board behind the now familiar red scarab, to highlight important elements in the tale.

The central thrust of Scarab II: Reawakening concerns a misinterpreted warning from an alien object found in the Drankensberg mountains of Natal, South Africa. A visual display from the orb seems to confirm the coming destruction of the earth by a super solar flare, as prophesised by various doomsday cults across the world, and the protagonist, Jack Wheeler’s, attempt to find and use the quantum computer, introduced in the first book of the series, to try and prevent it.

As illustrated above, a short summary of the story, and information about the author (if none is available elsewhere on the website), ought to accompany the cover reveal.

Once these elements are in place, you are ready to promote your cover reveal through as many mouthpieces as possible: certainly facebook, twitter, your website, fellow bloggers through announcements, author and character interviews, and blog-hops, and, last but not least, through the pre-sales option on sites such as amazon.com.

That done, sit back, have a cappuccino, or some Earl Grey tea, or something stronger if you must, cross your fingers, and wait for those first reviews and sales figures to come in.

And remember to breathe.

Summary

A cover reveal is an important part of your book’s marketing campaign. Use it judiciously, together with a release date, to help promote the launch of your book.

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Writing a Page-Turner

A boy reading a book

The Page-Turner:

It is every writer’s dream to write a novel or script that the reader simply can’t put down until the last page. But how do we go about achieving this admirable goal? Below are some suggestions.

Include hooks whenever possible: A hook is an action or event that draws us into the story in an compelling way. Use hooks to kick-off your story, as well as to bolster interest at the beginning or end of your scenes, that may otherwise be lagging.

Write with attitude: Use punchy, or concrete language, depending on the subject matter, that bristles with attitude. Middle-of-the road, or non-comital language is boring and trite. What is the writer’s point of view of the events being described? What are the characters’ attitude? Make sure attitudes are strongly revealed.

Write in a way that creates suspense: The famous film director, Alfred Hitchcock, was renowned for creating suspense in his movies. He said that surprise lasts for a few seconds, but suspense may carry the whole scene, or even the entire movie.

Create Anticipation: Anticipation causes us to want to know what the next action, event, or outcome of a situation is likely to be. It differs from suspense in that it does not necessarily involve a threat, or danger. Anticipation may be introduced in dialogue, through a character talking about a forthcoming event, in a conversation with another, or through a major story goal being set—such as the hero winning or failing to win the race at the end of the tale.

Create Uncertainty: Introduce uncertainty about the outcome of specific events, your Hero’s ability to achieve her goal, or the way the story will end. The reader will keep turning the pages in order to find out.

Write with emotion: Writing with emotion means that your characters makes us feel their joy, pain, and sensitivity as if they were our own. My mentor, the South African film director, Elmo De Witt used to say that a story without emotion is a story that doesn’t get read. He couldn’t have been more right. Inject emotion into your writing and watch those pages turn.

Although there are others, these six simple techniques, deftly handled, will help to turn your story into a page-turner that readers will find hard to put down.

Summary

Hooks, attitude, suspense, anticipation, uncertainty, and emotion are six ways to inject interest and fire into your stories. Use one or more of these techniques whenever possible.

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The Craft of Creative Writing

Pen and paper

Creative Writing:

Those who have taught, or lectured on creative writing, specifically the novel or short story, will remember being asked, at some time or another, that pertinent but most difficult of all questions: What constitutes good writing?

The question is pertinent, of course, because that’s what teachers of the craft purport to teach. It is difficult because people have been trying to provide a definitive answer to it since first picking up chisels and quills.

As this blog is primarily aimed at giving advice on how to get the structure of stories right, I thought I’d offer my five cents on the topic of good writing in order to avoid giving the impression that structure is all that’s important to the craft.

Level 1: Spirit, Heart, and Mind

In teaching the craft, I like to separate it into three areas. The first concerns learning about the spirit, heart, and mind of the times and our part in it. It concerns sharpening our powers of observation, being alert to contemporary ideas, ideals, and issues, bringing compassion to our social critiques, and learning to address old themes in new ways while acknowledging the value of the old in the new. These insights stem from our level of maturity and can not be hurried. They grow at their own pace, although they may be shepherded.

Level 2: Story Structure

The second area concerns the structure of the stories. Does your tale have a beginning, middle, and end? And if not, why not? Are the turning points, pinches, midpoint, climax, resolution, and so on, crafted in a way that encourages interest, suspense, and surprise? The trinity of spirit, heart, and mind without structure is like a ship without a rudder. The ship may be loaded with treasures, but it will eventually crash on the rocks and sink.

Level 3: Words and Sentences

The third area has to do with mastering the craft at the micro level. Are we using vocabulary and figures of speech appropriate to our subject? Are we invoking powerful textures, pictures and sounds with our words—using all five senses to do so? Words with an Anglo-Saxon origin, for example, are grittier and more tactile, depending on the context, than their Latin counterparts—so, ‘gut’ instead of ‘stomach’, and so on. Are we using short snappy sentences or long and mellifluous ones? It all depends on how we want to render our tale.

In my opinion, these three levels constitute the overall craft of writing. In different hands they give rise to the individual ‘voice’ of the author. Although most authors don’t ordinarily map out their novels in levels, this approach is, none the less, useful when it comes to studying the craft of creative writing.

Summary

Excellence in writing involves mastering three levels, the spirit, heart, and mind of the times and the self, the macro, and the micro level of the craft. Together they give rise to the ‘voice’ of the author—the mark of his or her individuality.

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More on Dialogue Subtext

Road sign

Subtext

For our purposes, subtext in dialogue, as we’ve learnt from previous posts, is the layer of meaning hiding beneath the obvious. Subtext is what makes dialogue rich through hint and innuendo and is an indispensable part of accomplished writing.

Although there are many techniques for generating subtext, in today’s post, I’d like to explore two important ways which may assist you in doing so.

The Lie

Often, a character talks about actions or occurrences as if they’ve actually occurred in the manner described, when he or she is, in fact, lying about them. There are several ways to do this. The wider sense of a lie in terms of subtext can be characterised by a sense of evasiveness, obscurity, deceitfulness, deviousness, denial, sneakiness, slyness, trickery, scheming, concealment, craftiness, denial, change of subject, and the like.

So, when one character asks of another: “Are you telling me the truth, yes, or no?” and the other character replies: “Have I ever lied to you before?” one has the sense that the answer is evasive because it fails directly to answer the question, parrying instead, with another question.

The overall context of the subtext in this example, is, therefore, The Lie, but is specifically modified by a sense of evasiveness, although any one of the other modifiers in our list could suffice, depending on the context.

Manipulation

Another useful category for subtext is that of manipulation. Here the character says one thing when her or his real purpose is surreptitiously to manipulate another character in order to achieve a certain secret objective. Specific instances that are associated with manipulation are: being corrupt, conniving, concealing, sowing suspicion, secretive, crafty, underhanded, shifty, shady, unethical, and the like.

Fred: “I thought you told me your wife was visiting her parents in New York for the week while you looked after the kids?”
Jack: “She is.”
Fred: “Strange. Must’ve been mistaken then.”
Jack: “What do you mean?”
Fred: “It’s nothing. Sorry I mentioned it.”
Jack: “Spit it out.”
Fred: “Well…It’s just that I thought I saw her getting into a limo on Sunset Boulevard early this morning as I was leaving a club. Clearly I need new glasses.”
Jack: “I thought you just got new glasses.”
Fred: “I did.”

In this example, Fred sows the seed of suspicion by suggesting Jack’s wife might be playing around without Jack’s knowledge. He offers a flimsy excuse for being wrong, then destroys the excuse by implying that there’s nothing wrong with his vision.

Summary

Lying and manipulating are two layers of subtext that enrich any piece of dialogue. Use these techniques, when appropriate, to imbue your dialogue with rich layers of meaning.

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If you enjoyed this post, or have a suggestion for a future one, kindly leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.