Tag Archives: MyWANA

Small Acts of Kindness

Man giving man coinsOne of the most important things I learnt as a writer is that without knowing how to solicit emotion through my characters, I’d fail to draw readers into my stories and keep them there.

Emotion ties us to a story. It associates us with the characters who evoke it. It is the foundation upon which we build the whole cathedral, because if we don’t care about the characters, we won’t care about the story.

Emotion does not always have to be rendered on a large canvas. Sometimes a culmination of smaller brush-strokes is just as effective as a grand gesture, especially when applied unexpectedly.

In my most recent novel The Land Below, released on Amazon in February, a minor character, the bitter and unlikable Miss Baithwate prevents an old man from visiting a boy, his only friend in the world. She asks him to leave her hostel, accusing him of making the place look untidy.

But as she watches the old man limp away, she suddenly changes her mind and invites him in. She hides this random act of kindness under a gruff tone and a crusty demeanour, but the old man recognises the good in her, referring to her as his dear Miss Baithwate.

Not a major incident in the story, but one which adds to the reservoir of emotions.

I remember feeling a tinge of sympathy for the lonely spinster when I added this small twist — a tinge I would not have felt had she allowed the old man to leave without seeing the boy.

Miss Baithwate suddenly sprang to life on the page for me. She was richer, deeper, more likable after this act. And so was my story.

Summary

Small acts of kindness deepen character and enrich any story.

Image: Chris Yarzab
License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

Keep it Simple, Stupid!

Man scratching his head while reading a book

Keeping it simple:

We’ve all read books and articles in which ideas rendered by verbose, obscure language are tied up into long sentences and knotted paragraphs.

I know I have.

When I started reading for my Ph.D on narrative structures I needed aspirin to keep the headaches away. I even considered going on antidepressants. How could I ever contribute to the field when I could not even understand the gist of what I was reading?

I understood the words of course. My problem was not a limited vocabulary. My problem was making sense of the convoluted way experts expressed themselves.

Their approach was to pack as much complexity, eccentricity, and obscurity into a sentence as possible; balance as many relative clauses on the back of the main clause and add as many qualifiers and modifiers to it as they could.

Do it consistently and you’d be allowed to join that exclusive club from which the common person is barred by default: The specialists club.

It was hard going but I stuck to the task. I remember the day of my breakthrough. I was sitting on the Ipswich train from Brisbane. The ride home was a good half-hour and I often used the time to catch up on my reading. I was wading through postmodernism and had previously failed to make much headway.

Then it happened. A particularly obscure paragraph suddenly flicked into focus. I blinked and read it again.

Yes, it definitely made sense. So did the next paragraph. And the next. Before long, I found I understood the whole chapter.

I quietly congratulated myself. I was no longer masquerading as an academic. I was an academic. I could not only understand the speak, I would soon be able to emulate it.

It was not long before my writing and speech adopted the mannerisms of a specialist. I solicited nods and smiles from fellow academics and frowns and head-shakes from everyone else.

I had arrived.

It was only years later, after niggling doubts about the usefulness of obscure forms of expression were fanned by my experience in lecturing college students, that I began to investigate the alternatives.

I poured over every style manual I could get my hands on—from Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, to Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century.

I became convinced that language that explores difficult concepts and ideas need not in itself be difficult to understand. Clear and precise writing that illuminates rather than confounds, writing that is accessible to anyone with a mastery of English, is preferable even when discussing academic matters. This is not dumbing-down language. It is making it more democratic—surely the tacit goal of any discipline.

You may notice from this post that I have not quite managed to expel the very elements I criticise from my own writing. The road to brevity, clarity, and precision is strewn with detours, but I am trying to stay on it.

My students are always the first to tell me when I stray.

Summary

Aim for brevity, precision, and clarity in writing.

Invitation

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

Image: James Arboghast
License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

Is this your story?

Mother reading story to child

Your Story:

A student recently asked me whether there is a template for writing a story that adheres to the sort of structure that I, and others, teach in class.

I provided her with one type of example, while simultaneously emphasising that there are no real shortcuts to accomplished writing, only lampposts highlighting the journey ahead.

Here’s what I said:

“A likable Hero finds herself in a position of undeserved misfortune and decides, after initially refusing, to take action to redress the situation. But the harder she tries, the more embroiled she becomes in mounting stakes and deepening dilemmas, each, more dangerous and difficult than the last. This forces her to search deep within herself for a different solution. In doing so, she discovers, at the last minute, a liberating truth about herself which allows her to achieve her goal by tackling past misconceptions, moral flaws, and misguided plans.”

What I like about this description of a story is that it addresses both the outer and inner journeys through the character’s developmental arc. It reminds us that the inner journey steers the outer journey through the decisions our Hero makes at pivotal moments. It hints at a universal truth — that the only way our Hero can achieve the outer goal is by implementing the wisdom that comes from having faced near defeat.

Summary

Although story templates, are, by definition, reductive and constrictive, they do serve as starting points for the journey ahead.

Penned: Tell Your Story

PennedApp

Penned:

AN INDIE writer’s path to success is difficult one. The journey not only demands writing excellence, but marketing acumen as well. In this post I want to highlight a free and useful utility for indie writers working on iPhones and iPads that may make the marketing part of the journey a little easier. I have it on good authority the app is about to be released on android, too. Its name is Penned.

Penned allows you to create a profile and upload sample chapter(s) of your book in a genre of your choosing. I found the interface to be intuitive and easy to use, although it did crash a couple of times on my iPad.

The app allowed me to upload chapters from three of my novels: Scarab, Scarab II, and The Level for display. Like Wattpad, the programme links writers with readers and other writers, encouraging comments and debate on the work presented. Anyone liking what they read on Penned can go to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or wherever their work is sold, and buy a copy there. I’ve received several comments already, and have even seen a slight bump up in sales on my Amazon page, which, for an indie writer, is all to the good.

Of course, there are many other forums for this sort of discussion, exhibition, and discovery of work to occur, but what is especially cool for an indie writer about a relatively new app is the terrain has not yet become crowded. Needless to say the situation may change as the programme gains exposure and popularity.

Any effort to increase the number of places where indie writers can discover, exhibit, and discuss work has to get a thumbs-up, and Penned certainly gets mine.

Why don’t you give it a try? The space provided by this app may be just the place where you make your next big breakthrough!

Summary

Penned is a great free app for writers and readers that allows you to upload and share sample chapters of your work. It’s a great new way to discover new talent, as well as to introduce yourself to others.

How to Take the Yawn out of Literature

Baby yawning

The Big Yawn:

An irksome thought has been slouching around in my head for some time now. I haven’t written about it before, because, well, it can’t possibly be true, can it? And if it is, isn’t it more a reflection on me than the great novels and novelists it concerns?

You decide, remembering that the opinions expressed below, are, of course, entirely my own.

The irksome thought is this: Why do so many great novels, some from the pens of literary giants, bore the pants off me? Why, in some works of literature, does it take two hundred pages for the protagonist to discover her goal? Why has the mythic succumbed to the microscopic, and the grand to the mundane, under the guise of being the real treasure?

Yes, many modern, prize-winning stories are immaculately crafted around intricate themes, characters, and imagery. Yes, they examine the human condition. Yes, they peel away the layers of illusion that surrounds us and shed light on the little things that make life what it is. Yes, they are about real people facing real problems—the opposite to Hollywood’s over-the-top spectacles, unrealistic settings, and extra-terrestrial endeavours.

But, my gosh, why must they be so darned boring? (Alas, to me, anyway).

Why must the goal of the story be so buried beneath details of someone’s bowel movements, explored at the most crude and mundane scale, chocked with backstory and philosophy, that the outer journey seems obscured, or is, at least, trivialised?

What’s wrong with creating an exciting, visible outer journey that is driven by relentless pace, surprises, and colorful events? After all, one of the greatest storytellers of all time, Homer, swore by it it. The Iliad and the Odyssey are about Heroes undertaking grand and challenging tasks—stories about larger-than-life struggles. Little room for boredom here.

But times have changed, you say. We don’t believe in Heroes anymore. We don’t believe in monsters. Besides, you’re talking about the adventure/science fiction/fantasy genres, you say. Literature has to root itself in reality if it is to be taken seriously. It is the little things, the everyday events examined through the lens of genius that ought to comprise modern, prize-winning literature, you stress, with a wag of your finger.

Well, that’s because we probably disagree on the function of story. Stories that have me reaching for two aspirins after reading just don’t cut it with me, anymore. I do want to grow, to observe, to be educated, but I also want to be entertained.

Am I suggesting that ‘serious’ literary novelists dispense with their aching character studies, searing observations into the human psyche, or their insightful, if obscure, philosophical rumination? Not at all. But I am suggesting that they give their stories some pace, make them interesting and, God forbid, grant them exciting goals.

After all, if this was good enough for Homer, it ought to be good enough for us all!

End of rant.

Summary

There is no reason that literary stories can’t be driven by pace, a tangible goal, and exciting, adventurous characters who intrigue as much as they entertain.

Invitation

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

Image: Björn Rixman
License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

How to Survive Slow Book Sales

Snail

Slow Sales?

So, you’ve written your first indie masterpiece, which, no doubt, has solicited glowing tributes from friends and family. You’ve edited it, procured an arresting cover, and posted it up on Amazon, eagerly awaiting that first shower of appreciative reviews before sales start to pour in.

Early the next morning, you fire up your amazon kdp account, your eyes wide with expectation, and check your unit sales column.

Empty!

This can’t be. There must be some mistake. Perhaps America is off on holiday today. Wait. Don’t book sales take a while to show up? They’re probably bunching up at this very moment.

Anyway, best not think about it. Check again tomorrow.

The next day flips over like an egg on toast, sunny side down. It’s early morning. Really early. 2am to be precise. You need the bathroom and decide to check on sales again. You keep one eye shut.

The cold pang scuttles up from your solar plexus and settles on your chest. Still not a single sale to report! You’ll never get to sleep now. And you no longer feel like going to the bathroom.

You stumble to the kitchen to make yourself a cup of coffee, and, in a flood of self-doubt, you pour over your manuscript again, looking for mistakes.

You find two and quickly correct them. Damn! How did they manage to slip through? They could cost you your writing career! You should have hired a professional editor, after all. Too late now.

You upload the corrected manuscript.

Next day, having taken a mild off-the-shelf sedative to help you sleep, you manage to hold out till sunup before switching on your screen and checking on that sales column again.

Empty.

Well, that just about tears it! There can no longer be any doubt. You suck as a writer. People have exaggerated your abilities, probably because you seemed so darned determined to succeed.

That must be it. If you were really any good, this would not be happening. Talent, after all, is impervious to failure. Isn’t it?

Just as well you kept your day job. You’re never typing another word again. Ever!

Boo hoo.

—-

Ring a bell? It does for me. That is pretty much how I remember my early amazon experience with my first ever novel, Scarab. The book languished in obscurity for many days before sales began to appear. A trickle at first. Then a rivulet. And finally a torrent. But those first few days felt like an eternity.

With the sales, came the reviews. Most were very good. A couple were downright nasty. One of the reviewers suggested that my level of English languished below that of primary school. Ironically enough, whenever a nasty review came in, sales picked up dramatically, as if discerning readers were shouting it down with their credit cards.

Scarab went to number one in the bestseller lists in the scifi/hi-tech categories at amazon.com and amazon.co.uk and stayed in the top ten for many months. It was balm to my worst fears. The rest, as they say, is history.

So, what have I learnt from my experience, and from comments by fellow indie writers?

Simply this: if you have a modicum of talent and are willing to work hard, you will inevitably improve and eventually succeed.

But what do you focus on while sales remain tardy?

The answer is simple: Write that next book! And the next! And the next! John Locke believes that new writers shouldn’t publish before they have written several books. That way, when success comes for one, it will come for the others. He should know. He sold a million books.

We could too!

Summary

Write more books while waiting for sales of your current one to pick up; better still, write a whole bunch and release them simultaneously.

Invitation

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

Image by: fdecomite
License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

Marketing Your Work

Marketing chart

Marketing Your Project:

Indies, primarily independent authors, filmmakers, artists, and photographers, wear more than one hat. We create and market our work, too. This is hard work. The up side is that we get to keep the earnings we generate.

Becoming expert marketers is not a task creative people take to easily, especially in the constantly changing landscape of Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, StumbleUpon. The “shop fronts” are growing by the month.

Let’s face it, we’d rather be sipping cappuccinos or tea while typing out our 1000-2000 words for the day, than figuring out the best marketing angle for our new film or book. Unfortunately, we don’t have a choice. No marketing, no sales.

Imagine having sixty thousand followers, as some do. Tweeting about the release date of your new book or film has the potential of reaching a great many people. Factor in that your tweet may, in turn, be retweeted by some of your sixty thousand followers, and you can see how the word can spread.

Following people randomly, however, is time consuming. Only 10% to 20% of people you follow, follow you back. The trick is to follow a high volume of people daily until your number of followers grows to a respectable size.

In this article I want to highlight a method for acquiring Twitter followers more easily—through a site such as blastfollow: http://brianmcarey.com/blastfollow/. This is a free website that allows you to follow by hashtag. You type in a word relevant to your blog, book, or film, do an automatic search, then do an auto-follow. If you follow about 1000 people per day you’ll get at least 100-200 followers back. Maybe more.

Here’s the sort of hashtags I use to identify potential followers who can benefit from my blog on writing:

#AskAgent
#AskAuthor
#AskEditor
#BookMarket
#BookMarketing
#GetPublished
#IAN1 (Independent Author Network)
#IndiePub
#PromoTip
#Publishing
#SelfPublishing
#WriteTip
#WritingTip

I’ve acquired an extra 2000 followers in a few days so far, using this method.

You can too.

Summary

Acquiring a large twitter following is one way to spread the word about your work. Using a site such as blastfollow can help you achieve this.

Image: Kivi Leroux Miller
License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

How to Write your Pivotal Characters

Embroidery

Pivotal Character:

The respected teacher, Lagos Egri writes about the importance of the pivotal character in your story.

Although Egri may have seen this character apart from the protagonist or antagonist, I believe this type is one which encapsulates the traits described below.

This character may appear in one of several guises, and may appear as the antagonist, protagonist, love interest, sidekick, mentor, and so on. In determining who is to be the pivotal character in your story, decide who will force your characters into action.

The pivotal character forces the conflict from beginning to end. He is the motivating power, the cause of conflict in your story—the driving engine of all stories. He experiences no doubt within himself about his course of action and knows immediately what he wants. Othello’s Iago is such a character. His function is to force the conflict to the bitter end, never backing down. He is relentless because circumstances beyond his control force him to be so. If an honest man steals, it’s not for excitement or gain, but because his family is starving, or he needs money for an operation for his child.

Whatever the reason, it must be an overpowering one. If the pivotal character stops forcing the conflict, the story skids to a halt. The pivotal character usually seeks change because he’s dissatisfied. She aggressively and relentlessly tries either to change or to maintain her status quo. A well-crafted pivotal character holds nothing sacred and feels that nothing can prevent her from reaching her goal.

The pivotal character knows where he’s going, and tries to bend everyone to go his will. If the antagonist refuses to go along with him, therefore, it’s not because the pivotal character didn’t push him hard enough. The pivotal character is an obsessively focused individual who sees only his own goal. He is reactionary, militant and passionate. This applies to good men or women as well as it does to criminals.

Here are some characteristics that make for fine pivotal characters:

Someone who wants revenge on the man who ran away with his wife.

Someone who loves a woman madly but must make money first to marry her.

Someone who is willing to give his life for his country, which he loves more than anything.

Someone who is greedy. His greed sprang from poverty and he exploits others because he fears hunger.

Someone who will stop at nothing and will destroy others to achieve his goal.

Someone who desperately and obsessively wants to achieve success in a specific job or profession and will stop at nothing to achieve that goal.

Summary

The pivotal character in your story (who can be drawn from one of several types—protagonist, antagonist, love interest, mentor), is the character who forces others into action and drives the story forward.

Invitation

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.

Image: Hey Paul Studios
License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode