Posts Tagged WANA International

Something Wicked This Way Comes & Why Writers Could Be in Great Danger

Image courtesy of Raymond Brown via Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of Raymond Brown via Flickr Creative Commons

Today, we are going to take a bit of a sideline from our acrostic. Over the holiday weekend, I was resting up from a nasty bout of bronchitis and puttering around Facebook. I’ve been long frustrated with this new culture of “Everyone’s a Winner.” Back in 2005, my young nephew was in soccer. I recall being horrified that everyone received a trophy.

What was the point for working harder? What gain did it give my nephew that I ran extra drills with him after school and off the practice field? He “won” the same trophy as the kid who showed for one game out of the season.

Trying is all that matters.

Deep.

Deep. Never mind the TYPO. The person “tried.”

We see all over the news where schools are attempting to cancel Honors events because those kids who didn’t achieve honors “will be sad” because they are “left out.” We can’t honor the kids who traded video games or time with friends for extra work, far more difficult work.

We can’t reward those who sacrificed because those who didn’t might have their delicate sensitivities permanently bruised. We’re seeing flyers being sent home to parents that Field Day isn’t about winning, athleticism or competition and promising that “the urge to win will be kept to a minimum.”

In a world that lives and dies by competition, how is this healthy?

I can appreciate the desire to protect and shelter our young. I’m a mother. But life will not hand out trophies because of attendance. And this is all I’m going to say about that nonsense because it’s just the tip of the spear.

Sunday, I ran across something that chilled my blood. As writers we should be frightened of this new trend.

The Culture of “Special”

Yes, every person is a special unique snowflake. I wholeheartedly believe this. Every one of us is gifted with talents, drives, memories, passions that are uniquely ours. There will never be another YOU or another ME. WANA is dedicated to cultivating those gifts.

But, lately, this social disease of “Everyone is a Winner” has made me want to scream. Yes, everyone is given a set of gifts, but rewards are given based upon action. What do we DO with those gifts?

Showing up is the basest of requirements.

What I’m about to say might be unpopular, but I’m a writer not an Ad Man. Leave the propaganda to the bureaucrats and sheltered academics. Writers have always changed the world. Why? They were fearless enough to point out the unpopular. To shine a light on an ugly reality and maybe even extend some logic of how a social cancer might spread if left unchecked.

Something Wicked This Way Comes

There is a terrifying movement popping up in our universities. In my opinion, it’s the “shot across the bow,” the seed of the Thought Police.

If PC wasn’t bad enough, the new political flavor of “Everyone is so special they should never feel any discomfort” is Empathetic Correctness. According to a recent post in The Atlantic, Karen Swallow Prior explains:

While political correctness seeks to cultivate sensitivity outwardly on behalf of those historically marginalized and oppressed groups, empathetic correctness focuses inwardly toward the protection of individual sensitivities. Now, instead of challenging the status quo by demanding texts that question the comfort of the Western canon, students are demanding the status quo by refusing to read texts that challenge their own personal comfort.

I didn’t believe this when I read it and dug deeper and yes, this IS happening. Some of our most prestigious universities are calling for literature to be marked with “Trigger Warnings” to point out any areas a student might feel uncomfortable or traumatized.

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In a New York Times article, Warning: The Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm, Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf and other literary staples are in the EC crosshairs. Issues like slavery, oppression, misogyny could be “traumatizing.” Such literature might make students and young minds “feel bad” and thus students should have the option of reading something less distressing.

*head desk*

I know The Diary of Anne Frank, Elie Wiesel’s NightThe Scarlet LetterThe Red Badge of Courage, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, Brave New World, Mrs. Dalloway, The Hours, and even The Hunger Games changed me. These works disturbed me, made me weep, and most of them made me more than a little angry.

But isn’t that the point?

My fiction isn’t about rainbows and unicorns and the world holding hands. I don’t write My Little Pony. I strive to write about regular (often innocent) people thrust into the bowels of darkness who through sheer force of their humanity confront evil, grow into heroes and WIN.

I even write works that challenge what we believe about our world or ourselves. What are we capable of under the right circumstances? My short story Dandelion is raw, viscous and utterly heartbreaking.

It was meant to be.

The High Cost of “Higher” Education

Higher education is supposed to expose students to other people with differing beliefs, ideas, and opinions…and live to tell the tale. Perhaps they might even learn to think critically instead of parroting. Heck, maybe they’ll even realize they’re really blessed and that there are plenty of people on the planet who’d gladly trade places and not B%*$# that the wi-fi is slow.

That is a mark of becoming an ADULT.

When I attended TCU, one of my closest friends was a refugee from Uganda who fled to the US for asylum after her father (a teacher) was brutally executed during a regime change. My other best friend’s family lived in a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, Syria (where I went to briefly live after college).

My university exposed me to the brutality of the “real world” and made me angry enough to want to change it. So this white girl with blonde hair and a big mouth hopped a plane to the Middle East instead of Cabo San Lucas the day after graduation.

I traded a tan on a beach for a hijab. I wanted to understand even when it scared me half to death. I wanted to see if someone like me might make even a little bit of difference. To at least try.

Maybe we are offended or traumatized, but maybe we should be. Perhaps that’s what is going so wrong.

And to add an increasing burden to teachers, exactly how are they suppose to thread the needle between PC and EC?

As Chester E. Finn, Jr. points out in a recent post in Politico Magazine:

Does the history professor refrain from mentioning that Hitler killed homosexuals as well as Jews? Does the English teacher shun James Baldwin and George Eliot because one was gay and the other was a woman using a man’s name? Avoid Toni Morrison because one of her books includes a rape scene? Not teach astronomy because just two of the 23 best-known constellations are recognizably female?

Writer Beware

I suspect why this is so disturbing to me is right now there is pushback. But what about in ten years or twenty?

Orwell predicted a world where thoughts would be controlled, and we laughed. Should we be laughing now? Alduous Huxley predicted we’d eventually live in a world driven by the Orgie Porgie Feelies of the Centrifugal Bumblepuppy. Pillars of truth would be buried under mountains of meaningless. All that would matter is “feeling good” even if there was no depth or substance. The human spark would snuff out since we only find our greatness in the crucible.

I’m not laughing.

And I suppose why I bring this up is what is the long-tail of this thinking? Years ago, I blogged about the dangers of Amazon and their strong-arm tactics. It was a level post praising Amazon but also cautioning what could happen if we failed to appreciate their past business behavior (and more than a few people called me a nut). Yet, lately it seems so many people are surprised that BUY Buttons can disappear. And this is Amazon’s business and not really my point.

My point is this: In a virtual world, books are “allowed” to exist.

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Let’s take Amazon out of this and let’s speculate that another business comes along and uses Amazon’s business model and improves upon it. Fluffy Fairy Dreams takes over and does it better…and embraces EC.

What “warning labels” would be on your books or mine? With enough political pressure, could our writing disappear? If universities press down this path of making everyone happy and comfortable, will there be generations who no longer remember works like Huckleberry Finn or The Merchant of Venice? Or find them so “distasteful” the BUY buttons vanish?

We no longer need to burn books when we can just “delete” them. 

I know today’s post is disturbing. It was meant to be. Maybe it should have come with a warning label ;) . Yet, the duty of bloggers (who are a form of journalist) and writers is to start the conversation. This Brave New World scares me. Yes, The Digital Age of Publishing is wonderful. Works nearly driven to extinction by the print paradigm are springing back to life. Writers can reach new audiences and emerging markets abound.

But we must remain vigilant. Who would have thought in 1980 we’d take pictures with our phone? What was laughable then is now commonplace. If we scoff at the idea that books can vanish…?

What are your thoughts? By the way, I never mind anyone disagreeing with me so long as the disagreement is respectful. Maybe I do need a tin foil hat. I’ll own that. But, maybe I don’t.

What warning labels would be attached to your writing? Did you find healing from past trauma through literature? Maybe realizing you weren’t alone? Are you writing on a delicate subject hoping to encourage a dialogue, understanding or catharsis? What do you think about this trend of being “empathetically correct”?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

If you need help building a brand, social media platform, please check out my latest best-selling book, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.

 

 

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261 Comments

Two Dialogue Death Sentences & How to Get a Stay-of-Execution

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Peter Dutton

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Peter Dutton

Kristen here, and we’ll continue our acrostic for VICTORY next post. I’m interrupting for a Writer Public Service Announcement. Great dialogue is paramount. Readers can overlook a lot of things if we have fabulous dialogue.

Dialogue can make or break a book. We can have the most brilliant story ever imagined in human history, but if the dialogue is weird, stilted, or redundant, that’s a good place for a bookmark.

As an editor, I can attest that this is one of the BIGGEST problem areas for the new writer. Dialogue can often sound stiff, like two kids playing with Barbies or fighting with action figures. Or, characters can become “talking heads” who all sound the same.

Great dialogue should give us a peek into the psyche of the character. We know we’ve done it properly when readers really don’t need tags (though use them where appropriate anyway for safe measure). When we nail dialogue, our characters can become so rich and vibrant the reader knows who’s speaking simply by the way they speak, what they say or even don’t say.

A fantastic example of this is J.E. Fishman’s latest book, “A Danger to Himself and Others.” Fishman did an astonishing job of characterization through superb dialogue. When I read this book, I always knew who was talking. This helped create characters so real and a world so rich, it drew me in and didn’t let go.

***I believe the Kindle version is free right now, so I recommend this book for a study in this area.

So, today to give you guys some quick tips on FAB dialogue, I have our WANA International instructor, Marcy Kennedy to guide you.

Take it away, Marcy!

****

In my years as a freelance editor, I’ve worked with clients all the way along the writing path—from newbies who are just starting their first book to seasoned veterans with multiple books on the market. I can now guess with a high level of accuracy where a writer is along the path based on the types of dialogue mistakes they’re making.

Newer writers tend to use creative dialogue tags or allow their characters to speak for paragraphs (or pages!) at a time without interruption. I once edited a novel where a character spoke for 63 pages solid. No joke.

But new level, new writing devil.

As writers gain experience in the craft and stop making the newbie mistakes, they run into a new dilemma. They’re told their writing still isn’t ready.

And one of these dialogue death sentences is probably playing a role in killing their chances at publication success.

Image vis Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Yuya Sekiguchi.

Image vis Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Yuya Sekiguchi.

 

Death Sentence #1 – Redundant Dialogue

Redundancy happens when we repeat something in our dialogue that we’ve already written in either narrative or action.

He shook his head. “No.”

Unless our character needs to add extra emphasis to their denial, the action or the dialogue alone is usually enough.

Let’s look at a sneakier example of redundancy.

Rob glanced at the clock on the wall. Three at last. Time for him to go. He popped his head into Joan’s office. “It’s three. I’m heading out. Want me to lock up?”

The redundancy here isn’t as exact as in the previous example, but it still makes for boring, flabby writing. We could tighten it to read…

Rob glanced at the clock on the wall. Three at last. He popped his head into Joan’s office. “I’m heading out. Want me to lock up?”

Redundancy can also happen big-picture. If, for example, we’re going to have a character cracking a safe, we don’t need to have them explain the whole process to another character before it happens. That makes it boring for the reader to then have to sit through the description of our character actually cracking the safe (even if something goes wrong).

We shouldn’t bore our readers to death by redundant dialogue.

 

Death Sentence #2 – Orphaned Dialogue

Any time we confuse the reader, it’s a bad thing because we destroy their immersion in the story. If we confuse them enough times, our book goes in the donate pile or gets deleted from their e-reader and they move on to someone else.

When it comes to writing dialogue, one of the most common crimes is to leave our dialogue orphaned, with no one to claim it.

This abandonment comes in two types.

(A)  Dialogue where we’re not sure who’s speaking.

I suspect this usually happens because, as writers, we know exactly who’s speaking. We forget the reader can read only our words, not our minds.

If we have more than three lines of unattributed dialogue in a row (dialogue without a tag like said or an action beat), we can risk the reader losing track of who’s speaking.

If we have a scene with multiple speakers, we need to be certain it’s clear who each line of dialogue belongs to. An unattributed line of dialogue could belong to anyone present.

But the sneakiest of all is when we write about two characters in the same paragraph and then tack on a line of dialogue at the end.

Ellen waved her arm above her head, and Frank sprinted towards her. “I’ve missed you.”

Who said “I’ve missed you”? It could be Frank or it could be Ellen, and the reader has no way to tell which one it really is.

(B)  Dialogue where we don’t find out until then end who’s speaking…and we probably guessed wrong about the speaker’s identity.

AVOID dialogue like this…

“We have come to witness our finest warriors compete. Scythia offers their best to us, so we offer them no less,” the queen said.

By the time the reader reaches the tag at the end, they’ll have consciously or subconsciously made an assumption about who’s speaking. If they guessed wrong, it throws them off balance.

When we have long passages of dialogue, it’s usually best to either begin with a beat, so readers know who’s talking before they start, or to place a beat or tag at the first natural pause.

“We have come to witness our finest warriors compete,” the queen said. “Scythia offers their best to us, so we offer them no less.”

Don’t leave dialogue abandoned on the side of the road. It’s just cruel.

 

Need More Help With Dialogue?

Check out my book How to Write Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide. In it you’ll learn how to format your dialogue, how to add variety to your dialogue so it’s not always “on the nose,” when you should use dialogue and when you shouldn’t, how to convey information through dialogue without falling prey to As-You-Know-Bob Syndrome, how to write dialogue unique to each of your characters, how to add tension to your dialogue, whether it’s ever okay to start a chapter with dialogue, ways to handle contractions (or the lack thereof) in science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction, and much more!

If you prefer live teaching, I’m running a webinar called Say What? Techniques for Making Your Dialogue Shine this Saturday, May 17th.

This 1.5 hour live webinar will…

* cover the seven most common mistakes when it comes to dialogue and how to fix them,
* explain how to ensure your dialogue makes your story stronger,
* show you how to create dialogue unique to your characters, and
* answer some of the most frustrating questions about dialogue such as how to handle dialect, should we use contractions in historical novels, science fiction, and fantasy, and is it okay to begin a book with dialogue.

As a bonus, all registrants receive an ebook copy of my book How to Write Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide.

The webinar will be recorded and made available to registrants, so even if you can’t make it at the scheduled time, you can sign up and listen later at your convenience.

Click here to sign up for Say What? Techniques for Making Your Dialogue Shine.

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What Makes a Media Release Effective

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mark Roy.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mark Roy.

My goal for the past several years has been to guide authors in The Digital Age and teach how to create a strong author brand capable of driving book sales. Social media is important, but we all know it’s also cluttered with competition because there are few if any gatekeepers.

There are no threshold guardians approving who can and cannot have a Facebook page or even a blog. Granted, a social media platform is powerful, but a key component is time. On-line platforms rarely yield instant results and time is what will eventually give us advantage.

Traditional media outlets are a different story. Many people still watch the news, read the paper, listen to radio and pick up magazines. These forms of media are a highly valuable asset to any platform because the audience knows that not just anybody can gain access. Results can come faster and be far more wide-spread. Yet, how do we get our foot in the door?

W.A.N.A. International is committed to helping writers in every aspect of their careers and we hire those who are proven experts in their fields. Today, W.A.N.A. International Instructor Lisa Hall-Wilson is here to offer a few tips on how to earn media attention for you or your book.

Take it away, Lisa!

***

What makes a media release effective? It gets you the attention you’re looking for. A great media release puts cheeks in the seats, gets coverage, gets the interview. It’s that simple.

I’ve been a professional freelance writer for almost five years. In that time, I’ve worked from some stellar and deplorable media releases. I’ve written media releases picked up by local print and radio media, and large national and daily media. A certain aspect of getting your story picked up is simple timing – what else is going on?

But there are ways to tip the scales in your favor! In my class on Thursday I’ll be giving the inside scoop on how to write an effective media release (including a proven template) but here are 3 quick tips to get you started!

What’s The Story?

When planning your media release, remember editors and radio hosts want to report on the news. Show me the money, baby! Give them something they can report on. They want news. Your feel good, I’m-so-proud-of-myself media release is not going to get you the desired attention. What about your book, your upcoming appearance, is news worthy? Why should that editor’s readers care?

Be honest with yourself!

The Greatest Story Ever Told Is Released <- not news

Local Author Releases Debut Novel <- this is news on a slow day

Local Author Wins National Writing Prize <- this is news on most days

Think Like A Journalist

Reporters, editors, and radio hosts are busy people who work in a fast-paced world. If your media release doesn’t clearly answer the who, what, when, where, why of the story in less than a page you’re probably out of luck unless you’re a big name.

Ask yourself this question: If I had to write an article promoting this event, what would I need to know to write the story?

The Power of Free

Many many times, I’ve had editors simply run my media release. They might shorten it, add a photo, rearrange a couple paragraphs – but they run it verbatim. Do I get credit? No. Do I care? No. These editors have space to fill. They’re looking for well-written clean copy their readers are interested in. You fill those needs, offer that content for FREE and your chances of being picked up increase exponentially.

How To Write An Effective Media Release – Thursday April 10th – 7PM NY Time

Whether you’re looking to expand the services you offer as a freelance writer, or you’re looking to get the attention of an editor, journalist, radio host, or book blogger about your book release, writing effective media releases is essential. Learn what gets a journalist’s or editor’s attention, what information to include, who to send it to, how to format your media release, and how to tip the scales in your favor to get the coverage you’re looking for.

And do it all the WANA way!

This class is recorded for later listening pleasure. Attendees will also receive a proven media release template.

Lisa Hall-Wilson

Lisa Hall-Wilson

 Lisa Hall-Wilson is an award-winning freelance journalist with over 100 published articles, is a syndicated columnist, author and blogger. She’s worked from stellar and deplorable media releases, and knows what a reporter is looking for. She’s had media releases picked up by local and national print and radio media, and written media releases, media kits, and provided publicity support to dozens of local and national events for small businesses and non-profits such as World Vision Canada.

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Author Branding—Harnessing the Power of Digital Age Storms

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Ahhh, the new buzz word, BRAND. What exactly is an author brand? Great question. Branding has gone through a major transition over the past decade. The globe is more interconnected than ever in human history and this trend is increasing exponentially. We’ve seen the fall of major gatekeepers and a complete shift in consumer buying patterns, making discoverability a nightmare in The Digital Age.

Proper branding is one of THE most critical elements of author success. Brands that are outdated, boring, rigid, abandoned, fractured, negative or nonexistent are not only unhelpful, but they can spell disaster to our career and eating earning potential as artists. An author brand has to fit in the new paradigm. If we live in a world that’s changing hourly, our brands have to be able to bend and move and shift with changes.

Being a total history nerd, this makes me think of that definitive battle between the Spanish and the English when King Phillip II made an unsuccessful attempt to invade Elizbethan England. At the time, there were major tactical and technological shifts regarding the way that battles at sea were conducted.

The Spanish Armada was the shining example of traditional sea warfare—towering ships that were more like floating fortresses. The galleons rode high out of the water, making them slow, not very maneuverable and difficult to sail.

On the other hand, the English captains (in particular Francis Drake and John Hawkins) relied on a new form of “race ship”. “Lower in the water, with a long prow and much reduced fore and after castles, these sleek ships carried more sophisticated forms of rigging, enabling them to sail closer to the wind, making them faster and more maneuverable than the Spanish ships.” ~BritishBattles.Com

Long story short, the English ships could take advantage of the elements (high winds, rough seas) and were far more maneuverable. The Spanish fleet was too bulky, and, when battered by North Sea storms? Very expensive gold-plated splinters. Spain lost almost their entire fleet and this defeat of the Spanish Armada marked the rise of the English Empire.

Why do I give this story? Other than it is COOL?

Brands in The Digital Age are encountering the same tactical and technological changes. We are no longer part of the rigid, massive, virtually immobile TV-Industrial complex. We need to be innovative, creative and build a brand that can harness change instead of being splintered by change. Algorithms shift constantly. Social platforms come and go and change tactics. Trends shift. Tastes shift. We need to be able to use these changes to power momentum.

As you know, tonight is the beginning of WANACon (details below) but we always launch with PajamaCon, which is FREE. We are going to hang out in jammies, have fun and I am going to talk about what it means to create an author brand.

• What is an author brand?

• How has branding changed in The Digital Age?

• Outdated and ineffective branding approaches.

• How much time should we invest in branding?

• What are ways to keep a brand flexible?

• Practical ways to grow our author brand.

WANA is all about helping authors, so PajamaCon is our gift to you. I’ve done all the dumb stuff so you don’t have to. There are ways to brand that will make you cry and end up curled in the fetal position with a bottle of tequila. It’s much better to start building properly than to have to rip down to the foundation and start all over. Brands take time to build, so even if you’re just now working on that first book? BEGIN TODAY.

Yes, branding is critical, but a good book is as well. I can tell you as a long-time content editor that it can be VERY costly. This is why I have added in some killer prizes for attendees.

You, me, your book, bandages and suture-kits. Either I can help you fix a book that’s not working or plot one with you that WILL. So if your book is on life-support, DOA or you’re lost and can’t find your original idea? I can help. If your brand/blog makes you want to hurl yourself into a leaf-chipper (been there), here’s your chance to get one-on-one time with moi for some help.

CONTEST DETAILS

So, WANACon is here. PajamaCon is a gift  (CLICK HERE FOR INFO) and gives you a chance to make sure your computer is set up properly if you choose to join us for the conference. If not? Still a fun time and a chance to learn. SIGN UP for WANACon HERE. Also, AGENT PITCHES are available. You can SIGN UP HERE.

Since my goal is to see you guys succeed, I am offering three BIG prizes for WANACon Attendees. Grand Prize is The Book/Brand Combo. I will personally consult to either assist in plotting a new book or fixing one that doesn’t work. I will also consult you personally on your brand and give you a plan for SEO, content, everything. Book Prize is I work with you to plot or fix a book. Branding Prize is I personally consult you on your brand, teach you about SEO and lay out a plan.

EVERYONE who attends WANACon automatically gets ten entries. Encourage a friend to sign up and you earn 25 additional entries and the friend who signs up gets 15. Just make sure to tell us who referred you. WANA is committed to helping you realize your dream.

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The Best Horror Writers You’ve Probably Never Read (But Should): Part Two

As writers around the world scream a collective, "NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!"

As writers around the world scream a collective, “NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!”

Kidding aside, it might seem strange that I have our WANA International Instructor, Kevin Lucia here talking about the horror genre. Yet, sometimes it’s good to get out of the comfort zone and cross-pollinate our creativity. I can tell writers who do too much reading in the same genre. What can really add that certain je ne sais quoi is when an author adds in elements from unexpected areas.

This is what makes the writing unique. Writing is similar to music, and the legends we remember in music are transcendent simply because they possess a gift of surprising listeners. They might add elements of opera to heavy metal or jazz to rap. This is where tropes can transform into something magical. Writers can do the same.

Kevin’s here to offer some suggestions to help diversify your creative palette.

Take it away, Kevin!

****

Some horror writers, for whatever reason, never end up writing nearly as much as others. And this is unfortunate. They never quite earn the popularity they deserve simply because they don’t churn out one cookie-cutter, mediocre story after another. Maybe it’s because of their sense of craftsmanship; because they consider(ed) themselves artists, because they want(ed) to live and breathe their own work, rather than spewing it out like a vending machine. Maybe they left us too early or, like Harper Lee, felt they’d said all they’d needed to say.

In my reading through different anthologies and collections, I’ve been amazed at how many of these writers I’ve encountered who only ever wrote a handful of stories. And because of this, sadly, they got pushed aside by legions of “pop” writers who latched onto the current craze, rode the wave, and then got overrun by the next legion of “pop” writers. Here’s a handful of horror writers I wish had written more, or I wish WOULD write more.

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In thirty years, Alan Peter Ryan wrote forty short stories, three novels and one novella. And I wish he’d written more. A stylist who knew how to use place better than anyone, his novels Cast A Cold Eye, his novella Amazonas and his novelette collection The Back of Beyond are among the finest things I’d ever read. He wrote with a literary sensibility, and also had two reoccurring characters – cowboys in weird westerns the likes of which Larry McMurty or Louis L’Amour might’ve written – that I enjoyed, and wanted to see more of. Unfortunately, just as he was returning from a fourteen year hiatus from horror fiction, Mr. Ryan passed away due to pancreatic cancer. His other novels: The Kill and Dead White, and his collection, The Bones Wizard.

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T. E. D. Klein wrote only one novel: The Ceremonies. Literary, finely crafted, built on tension and dread and atmosphere, about old myths and religions, it stands as one of the best things I’ve ever read. And that’s it. Only one novel, and no more appear to be coming any time soon. His short fiction is also astounding…and he only wrote fifteen of those, collected in Dark Gods and Reassuring Tales. He also served as the editor of The Twilight Zone Magazine, which became known during its four year run as one of the premier horror/dark fantasy magazines on the market.

Thomas Tessier is another fine author who hasn’t been nearly as prolific as some – only ten novels from 1978 – 2007 – but the results stand above the rest. Phantom is one of the best coming-of-age novels I’ve ever read, and Fog Heart is deeply emotional, moving, disturbing, and finely written. Two collections of his short fiction exist, Ghost Music and Other Tales, and Remorseless: Tales of Cruelty.

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A contemporary author who hasn’t written nearly as much as I’d like him to is Robert Dunbar. The Pines and The Shore are wonderfully lush, vivid, poetic novels offering intriguing spins on The Jersey Devil myths. They’re also about hurting people trying to find their way in the world without hurting those they love most. His collection Martyrs & Monsters offered wonderful genre/literary blends, and his small press Uninvited Books has committed itself to publishing literate, well-written dark fiction.

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Another writer, Robert Ford (and no, not the crack-smoking mayor of Toronto), also hasn’t written enough, of which we all dutifully remind him often, and kindly (sorta). Bob writes immensely enjoyable, entertaining horror…but his sense of style and craft is finely tuned, raising his work above the rest. Samson and Denial is a wonderful mix of crime noir and horror and I bought his short story “Georgie” for Shroud Magazine’s Halloween Issue because – as a father myself – it tore my guts out, in all the best ways. I haven’t yet read his zombie novel The Compound, but I know this: it will be about far more than zombies, simply because it was written by Robert Ford.

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Tomorrow, I’ll look at some authors whose writing simply can’t be contained by the term “horror,” or whose work sprawls outside all the lines.

Horror Author Kevin Lucia

Horror Author Kevin Lucia

Kevin Lucia has worked as an Editor for Shroud Magazine and a Submissions Reader for Cemetery Dance Magazine, and is now an Associate Fiction Editor for The Horror ChannelHis podcast “Horror 101” is featured monthly on Tales to Terrify and his short fiction has appeared in several venues. He’s currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English at Seton Catholic Central High School and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles and his first short story collection, Things Slip Through is NOW AVAILABLE from Crystal Lake Publishing.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of December, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less). Comments for guests get extra POINTS!

Also, due to an EPIC ice storm, my Big Boss Troublemaker class has been moved to TONIGHT. No antagonist? NO STORY. There is no novel I can’t help you fix, so SIGN UP here. There is no need to spend years editing and revising. An hour with me? ALL fixed.

I hope you will check out my newest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World on Amazon or even Barnes and Noble.

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The Best Horror Writers You’ve Probably Never Read (But Should)…

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Okay, MERRY CHRISTMAS! Yeah, a series on horror? Well, if you spent five minutes with some of MY family members, a chainsaw might sound like a great idea. Truth be told, horror is one of my FAVORITE sub-genres and our WANA International Instructor Kevin Lucia? He’s an AMAZING teacher. Also, horror is one of those genres that goes for the guts (no pun intended). It truly probes the human condition, and whether or not we are fans, we can learn A LOT from what horror authors do best.

All great stories probe what we FEAR. This is the essence of good storytelling. Whether it is the fear of not finding love or losing love or not achieving a goal? FEAR is the heart of conflict. No conflict? No story. This is why I’ve recruited one of the best authors I know to talk about a genre that many might not believe is salient….yet it is a masterful lesson how to make ALL fiction fabulous.

Take it away, Kevin!

****

I’ve learned much about the craft since I made my first foray into horror fiction seven years ago, but the most important lesson I learned in two parts. The first came during an evening spent with genre luminaries Tom Monteleone, F. Paul Wilson and Stuart David Schiff.

You can get the full story here, but in brief: I spent the evening hanging with these giants as they regaled each other with tales of their experiences. One of the biggest takeaways was this humbling realization: I knew very little of the genre’s history.

The second installment of this lesson came the following fall during Brian Keene’s keynote address at AnthoCon: ROOTS, in which he detailed the different “waves” that made up the horror genre’s history. I was once again humbled to realize that my reading diet was quite shallow. I’d read almost every Stephen King and Dean Koontz novel, a few Peter Straub novels…

And that was it.

I quickly realized I wasn’t drawing upon a rich, developed palette to write my fiction. And while I’d read mostly novels and very few short stories, there I was, trying to “make my bones” writing short stories. This dissonance led me to radically alter my reading diet, committing myself to exploring the horror genre.

And in this blog series, I’d like to share those writers with you. In each installment I’ll present the giants of the genre and also some newcomers that maybe aren’t landing splashy big deals because they don’t write about zombies or vampires or sparkling vampire zombies, but write horror fiction that actually means something. Also, one good thing about the “greats” is that their work has either been re-released as eBooks, or used copies can be found cheap (almost criminally so) on Amazon.

But keep in mind: this list is hardly exhaustive. These are just the folks I’ve read myself.

Quiet Horror: The following three writers helped create a subgenre of horror called quiet horror. These tales boast rich, taut atmospheres; finely crafted prose and stories that comment deeply on the human experience. They didn’t rely on shock value. If you’re looking for something very far away from slasher films, this is it.

Charles Grant is probably considered the father of “quiet horror,” the epitome of everything the subgenre aspired to. He built tension better than anyone I’ve ever read and his prose flows gently, softly, quietly. His greatest achievement may be the creation of Oxrun Station, a fictional, haunted town in Connecticut with a loosely-connected continuity. He was also one of the finest editors in the business, his SHADOWS anthologies setting the standard for many years.  His backlist.

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Ramsey Campbell is called “Britain’s greatest living horror writer” by the Oxford English Dictionary. He also excels in quiet, tense horror that relies on emotion and psychological fears rather than shock and gore. He’s also adept at creating slippery, surreal narratives that leave his characters – and us – questioning what we call reality. Quite simply, Ramsey is one of the best in the business. His backlist and current list.

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T. M. Wright has been called a “one-man definition of quiet horror” by Ramsey Campbell himself. He’s a modern master of “the ghost story” and for me, he completely changed the way I thought about ghosts.  Like the previous two, his prose is rich, finely crafted, and he relies on stories of substance rather than superficial genre motifs.  His backlist.

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New Voice You Should Read:

Norman Prentiss is the first name that comes to mind when I think of a contemporary writer of “quiet horror.” His novella Invisible Fences is one of the finest things I’ve ever read, and he’s re-invented Charles Grant’s Oxrun Station-mythos in the exploits of the sinister (maybe?) Dr. Sibley, a college English professor you don’t want to cross. Keep an eye on Norman; he’s going places. Current publications.

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So what are your thoughts? I am not a fan of slasher movies but I LOVE a great scary story. I love anything that makes me look more deeply at myself (um, I, Robot?).

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of December, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less). Comments for guests get extra POINTS!

Also, due to an EPIC ice storm, my Big Boss Troublemaker class has been moved to TUESDAY. No antagonist? NO STORY. There is no novel I can’t help you fix, so SIGN UP here. There is no need to spend years editing and revising. An hour with me? ALL fixed.

I hope you will check out my newest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World onAmazon or even Barnes and Noble.

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57 Comments

The Duality of Character Traits–Why We Need the Good, the Bad and Even the Ugly

Oh, Scarlett

Oh, Scarlett

I’ve read thousands of works, and one quick way to have a “paper doll” is for a character to be all good or all evil. When we begin writing, it’s easy to fall into this trap. Our heroes or heroines are versions of ourselves (minus any imperfections, of course). Our bad guys are every ex or person in high school who picked on us. They are evil personified. But then we soon realize?

Our characters are deep as a puddle, making them dull as dirt.

If we look to some of the most fascinating characters in history, books, and movies, we see a cast that includes Riddick (Chronicles of Riddick), Gordon Gekko (Wall Street), Wyatt Earp (history and the movie Tombstone), Tom Sawyer (literature), Annie Wilkes (Misery), Hannibal of Carthage, Hannibal the Cannibal (Silence of the Lambs), Batman, Iron Man, Poison Ivy, Detective Jane Rizzoli and Dr. Maura Isles (from Tess Gerritson’s series of novels and also television), Lestat (Interview with a Vampire), Molly Brown (from history and the movie The Unsinkable Molly Brown)….

and yes, then there is Scarlett…

Today to talk to you about how to create multi-dimensional characters that resonate with readers is WANA International Instructor, Becca Puglisi…

Take it away, Becca!

I was watching Gone with the Wind the other night—because, you know, it was on TV and I had four hours to kill. As a teen, this was the first “grown-up” book I read, and ever since, I’ve had a serious girl-crush on Scarlett O’Hara. Which makes no sense, considering what a horrible person she is. I mean, she spends most of the story scheming to steal her only friend’s husband. When that doesn’t pan out, she marries her sister’s fiancé to get his money.

She’s spoiled, materialistic, manipulative, and utterly self-involved. And yet, I love her as a character. If she wasn’t widely admired, I’d think there was something seriously wrong with me. But even after all these years, she continues to connect with people. Why is this?

Because the Scarletts of the world get THINGS DONE....

Because the Scarletts of the world get THINGS DONE….

For me, part of the reason lies in the duality of her flaws. As a spoiled brat, she embraces boldness to get what she wants. To pursue materialism, she needs to be resourceful. Cleverness goes hand-in-hand with her manipulative nature, and to obtain her selfish goals, she must be persistent.

Scarlett’s flaws aren’t one-dimensional. They have many facets—both positive and negative. This is how real people are. Our flaws, while limiting us and hurting our relationships, have beneficial features, too. Likewise, our positive attributes have associated negative elements.

I’ve come to understand that while most traits fit neatly into either the flaw or positive attribute category, many of them contain both good and bad sides. I recognize this in the traits that define me and the qualities I see in others.

The same should be true of our characters.

Utilizing both sides of a given trait will add realism to a character’s personality and increase your chances of him connecting with readers. Here are a few tips on how to tap into both sides of your character’s traits in the writing process:

Identify Your Character’s DEFINING Traits

This should go without saying, but it’s vital to understand your character’s biggest flaws and attributes. Make a list of which traits he embodies. Then, narrow it down to one primary flaw and one primary attribute. This will keep things clear for you, which will then ensure clarity for the reader.

For help figuring out which traits make sense for your character based on his history, you might find this Reverse Backstory Tool useful.

Explore Defining Traits from EVERY Angle

Once you’ve identified a primary flaw and attribute, brainstorm the behaviors and attitudes—positive and negative—that might manifest in a person who exhibits those traits. For example, if your character is controlling, his list might look something like this:

• micromanages others
• exhibits a lack of trust
• pulls people away from loved ones to increase his control
• manipulates others
• is good at reading people
• is passionate
• shows incredible persistence

Show BOTH Sides

Your list should contain some positive and negative elements for each trait. Utilize the good and the bad to give your character depth. Perhaps his knack for reading people can benefit him in other ways, such as making him a successful cop or judge.

Maybe his passionate nature drives him to give of his time or money to a neighborhood charity. Show both sides of your character’s nature, and you’ll create a hero or villain that smacks of authenticity.

Building realistic characters is a crucial part of writing a successful story. Know your character’s defining traits and tap into the good and the bad that comes with them, and you’ll be on your way to creating multi-dimensional characters that will resonate with readers.

***

Thanks, Becca! Who are some of your favorite characters in history, books or even movies? Why? Were they flawed? How? How did that flaw just make you adore them even more?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of December, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Comments for guests get DOUBLE POINTS.

Also, check out our upcoming WANA International classes HERE and our specials HERE.

BIO:

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Becca Puglisi is the co-creator of The Bookshelf Muse, an award winning online resource for writers. She has also authored a number of nonfiction resource books for writers, including The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Emotion; The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Attributes; and The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws. A member of SCBWI, she leads workshops at regional conferences, teaches webinars through WANA International, and can be found online at her Writers Helping Writers website.

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Rejection, Reinvention & Do-Overs—What YOU Need to Know About E-Books

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Waaayyyy back in the Dark Ages of Publishing, I queried many, many…*sigh* many agents, only to be rejected. Then, I pitched a social media book for writers…and they laughed in my face. Social media is a fad. Authors only need a good book. Yup. Well, these are the same folks who are now requiring an author to have a strong social media platform and most won’t so much as look at a book if they can’t google an author’s name and have it show up (and show something vibrant and interesting).

Had it not been for the indie/e-book revolution, my first #1 best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media, and my second #1 best-selling book Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer, and now my new best-selling book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World would never have existed (let alone dominated the top three slots in multiple categories).

Thank you WANA and INDIE PUBLISHERS! *shout-out to Bob Mayer, Jen Talty & Cool Gus Publishing who took a chance on my first two books*

Aside from me (being a niche author), there were many traditionally authors who had extensive backlists (full of mega-successful books) who would have never made another dime off that work (and a lot are now making six and seven figures). There were also many authors who’d been rejected for years, who finally forged their own paths using e-books. Look up Romance Author Theresa Ragan. Theresa sold SO many books, that when NY came calling? She turned them down.

I wonder if she sent them a rejection letter with “does not fit my needs”? Hmmm, perhaps I should ask next time I see her :D.

There are also authors like John Locke who used e-book success to garner sweet publishing deals. Why am I mentioning this stuff? Because no matter what kind of author we are—traditional, indie, self-published? E-books are important. 

Yes, even if we traditionally publish. Right now NY can produce a book (maybe two) in a year. That’s a lifetime in the Digital World. What better way to keep fans excited than by publishing backstory, short stories, deleted scenes, stories involving supporting characters? This helps keep readers passionate so when your book is on the shelves? They are SO THERE.

Today, to talk about e-books and her own experience is Award-Winning Author (of TWENTY-SIX books) Amy Shojai…who happens to be a WANA International Instructor because I only want the best for you guys.

Take it away, Amy!

***

A few years ago, I had a high-profile agent, a spokesperson gig with a major pet products company, and a dozen award winning pet books published by “Noo Yawk” publishers. Oh, I worked my furry tail off for years to get there, but thought I’d finally arrived.

Before y’all decide to use my face on your personal dart board, you should know this: publishing went KER-FLOOEY!

I ended up back at square one. My agent couldn’t get a bite on any of my proposals. The spokesperson gig cancelled. My books got remaindered instead of renewed. All those backlist books, my retirement income (sob!), instead became dust bunny habitat under the bed.

Betcha you heard the booming echo of head-banging frustration where you lived. And you know what? “Noo Yawk” didn’t care. Tried a new agent and that didn’t work either. So I quit writing. I even took a real job . . .for about six months until I realized it doesn’t matter that “Noo Yawk” doesn’t care.

It only matters that I CARE.

Nobody cares more about YOU and your goals than YOU. So ya gotta be nice to you, treat you like royalty, and find ways to say “yes I can” instead of wallowing in “why I can’t.”

WHO ARE YOU, ANYWAY?

I am a writer. It’s not what I do, it’s who I am. But the “old Amy” no longer worked in the new world. Without an agent, I had nobody telling me “don’t bother, it won’t sell.” Without an editorial deadline, I had time to revise and update the latest, greatest information. And without that high-profile on-the-road gig, I could experiment with projects without concern it might hiss-off a sponsor.

So I reinvented myself first by kindle-izing my backlist books. That led to partnering with Jen Talty and Bob Mayer’s COOL GUS Publishing, creating my BLING, BITCHES & BLOOD blog (thank you Kristen!), voicing my own audio books, writing original titles and most recently a critically acclaimed dog-viewpoint THRILLERS WITH BITE series.

All because publishing went KER-FLOOEY. That’s a techie term. You have my permission to use it (I’m a writer, so I can make schtuff up).

BEYOND NaNoWriMo: KNOW YOUR OPTIONS

So, what does this have to do with you? Today there are fewer eyebrows raised toward hybrid/indie/self-pub authors than when I jumped off the digital cliff. The flood gates have opened.

Did you complete NaNoWriMo? Are you lined up at the starting gate, ready to pull the trigger on a spanking-new baby book?

Whether you plan to DIY Ebook, hire POD done, or choose a la carte services for cover design, publishing and more, LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES. Discover the options and make educated choices.

Because do-overs sucketh big time. This is why I am offering my:

EBOOK FOR WRITERS WEBINAR Dec. 7, 2-3:30 NY Time

Next Saturday, December 7, 2013, join my EBOOKS FOR WRITERS Webinar from 2-3:30 NY time for all the must-know options for publishing in today’s digital age. It’s only $40 (but you’ll get $10 off with the code GO INDIE). Register here.

No hotel, no travel, no makeup required! I love Webinars because I can wear jammies and have your cat or dog on my lap. The recording makes it possible to revisit the session later—especially helpful for those with a time conflict who live in, say, Australia. Or the wilds of Manhattan. And, if you aren’t yet ready to pull the trigger on your book, the session helps you figure out next steps when you ARE ready.

(Hint: Might be a cool early holiday gift for a writer in your life.)

The live Power Point presentation includes lots of SQUEEE! cute animal picture illustrations, answers your questions and gives you a life-preserver to keep you afloat as you dive off the self-publishing cliff. You will learn:
• Pros & Cons of Ebook Publishing compared to “Traditional”
• Options Available from DIY platforms to for-hire services
• Kinds of costs involved
• What you can (and should) do yourself
• What you should hire professionals to do
• Resources for helpful self-publishing software, editorial assistance and cover design help
• Practical step-by-step how-to “Kindle-ize” your manuscript
• Formatting tips for illustrations, covers, sidebars and table of contents
• Promotional must-knows including DO’s and DON’TS!
• Includes valuable links to further information, available as a down-load/handout.

I got to reinvent myself with help of others like Kristen Lamb who mentored me into creating a kick-ass BLING, BITCHES & BLOOD BLOG, so turn-about is fair play. Besides, it’s just the right thing to do. That’s one reason I jumped at the chance to guest here at Kristen’s amazing blog site. Good karma gets returned so find ways to pay-it-forward, let others know about the seminar (and discount code GO INDIE). You can thank me later ;).

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What Makes You So Special? The Magic to Selling Books

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anurag Agnihotri

Original Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anurag Agnihotri

I’ve worked both sides of the business fence—the creative and the corporate (and continue to do so). The strange things is that all industries are facing the same challenges as our world gets smaller, more integrated, and increasingly populated with competition. All types of businesses, whether we are selling tacos, signs, t-shirts, cardboard, technology or books must answer the same questions or face extinction:

Why YOU?

Why not someone else?

What do you offer ME?

What makes you so special?

WHO ARE YOU and why do I (the consumer) care?

A Lesson from SEARS

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Keith Nerdin...

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Keith Nerdin…

For generations, Sears was a corporate juggernaut. Sears promised quality products at an affordable price. Then, Kmart came on the scene. So, Sears decided to get a bit fancier and more like a higher end department stores like Macy’s in reaction to increasing competition.

Yet, herein grew the confusion. Those who viewed Sears as a place for discount goods simply shopped at Kmart. Those who viewed Sears as a department store just went to Macy’s.

Sears had inadvertently muddled it’s brand. The company lacked focus, and, without focus, they lost domination over their market and have yet to reclaim it.

Why?

They couldn’t answer the above questions.

Why Sears and NOT Kmart or Macy’s? What did Sears offer the others didn’t? Why their products/stores? What makes me (the consumer) care?

There are only three core successful strategies whenever selling books (or even tacos or video games for that matter). Yes, THREE. Hey, I dig simple. Though, I will offer a caveat: There is overlap between corporate business and publishing (writing/selling books), but they’re hardly the same creatures. Yet, the smart writer understands that making a living doing what we love involves good business sense. Why not harness the great ideas both worlds can share?

Cost/Quality

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike V...

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike V…

Okay, some of you might think I am cheating a bit here and putting two in the same category. Yet, I will say that there are many successful authors (indie and self-published) who aren’t writing The Great American Novel, but they turn out a lot of books people enjoy reading. Brain candy.

Sometimes people just want a burger, and they consume Big Macs with a lot more regularity than foie gras. These (burger) authors will never win a Pulitzer, but they frequently do very well because they tell good stories and a lot of them. Thusoffering e-books for $1.99 or $2.99 or $3.99 (for the trilogy) is a sound business strategy. Because when one has fifteen, twenty or more titles to sell (I.e. John Locke)? Those numbers add up exponentially.

If we spend more time on quality, then cost is less of a factor (though don’t get crazy). No one would respect a fine-dining establishment run from a food coach selling escargot for .99 in a paper boat. In fact, we might call the Health Department O_o.

Truth is, quality can command a higher price (because it takes longer to produce) .

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Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Herbie’s Vintage 72

My book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is the culmination of two years and over 20,000 pages of reading/research (some of it highly tedious). There’s a ton of information about neuroscience, marketing, advertising, the history of communication and how technology’s very literally changed the structure of the human brain (why ads have lost so much power). I teach how to form a viable, sustainable brand that connects to readers, and the book also include a simple step-by-step plan for branding and blogging that has proven to work time and time again and has helped sell (now) millions of books.

And I’m funny :D.

This is why I won’t be selling this book for $1.99 (aside from, perhaps, a short promotion for the e-book). Why? No one would respect the information I offer.

That and I read Gutenberg Galaxy Brilliant man but…. O_o.

Differentiation

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Image via Demotivationals.

Product (books) can contribute to this factor, but differentiation is why I’ve been pushing for writers to have a meaningful and effective social media platform for YEARS. In a world deluged in books? Why you? Why me, for that matter? Social media helps us stand out in a sea of choices. We (readers) gravitate to who/what we know and like.

Brick-and mortar businesses have the benefit of a storefront and location. Maybe Joe’s isn’t the best place for a burger, but it’s next to my work and cheap and I can eat in the 30 minutes I’m allotted for lunch. 

But even with the most premium real estate, if a business can’t differentiate and offer quality at a good price, it can still tank.

When I was in NYC in 2012, there was a juice bar across from the Hyatt. PREMIUM real estate, but they didn’t open until after 9:00 a.m. and closed at 4:00 p.m. They had the best (and likely most expensive) location, but they offered nothing different or special that would make regular commuters streaming the streets to and from work deviate from Starbucks. They were missing the people most likely to buy their product—those going to work and home from work.

Not surprisingly, they were out of business when I returned in 2013. Yes, I was bummed.

They had a great product, but, like Sears, they failed to answer the critical questions. WHY YOU? WHY are YOU so special? What do you offer that will make me deviate from a Kmart Jamba Juice?

As authors, we face the same problems. The modern consumer wants to know, Why should I READ instead of playing XBox or watching Duck Dynasty? Isn’t reading WORK? Why your book, when there are a quarter of a million others?

And there are a lot of writers out there paying for fancy marketing and ad campaigns thinking it’s the Golden Ticket. I’m certain that juice store thought the same when it rented premium space in Manhattan. But this is no longer enough. We have to be unique, special, offer value, connect to the consumer and be able to answer the critical questions…

WHY US? WHY OUR BOOKS?

Focus

Business used to be BIG. Big was BETTER. Big business, big papers, big publishing, but big is dead and the remaining few are barely able to sustain their bulk.

Small business makes up most of the commerce. The future is niche. Nintendo is a fabulous example. They didn’t try to take on XBox or PlayStation. They came out with the Wii. Nintendo spotted a huge audience being left out of the gaming experience—those who wanted to play and have fun, but weren’t hardcore gamers.

Unlike XBox, they didn’t seek to be an all-in-one technology device where one could play games on-line with ten buddies in five countries, watch YouTube, browse the web and check in on Facebook. Nintendo focused on simplicity, on the inexperienced gamer (who likely never would play First-Person-Shooter Games).

Grandma could bowl and Grandpa could swing a tennis racket. Toddlers could dance and Nana could dance with them. Whether bowling, wielding a virtual sword, or working out? Wii was SIMPLE….which meant Nintendo didn’t have to compete with the bigger gaming consoles. They could also beat the bigger boys on price and make a profit far sooner by filling an overlooked need with a far less expensive product.

Focus is one of my pet peeves about having multiple pen names, but that’s another blog :D. It’s also why we don’t need to be everywhere all the time on social media. It dilutes the power of focus.

For writers? Look around. Who is a forgotten or overlooked audience? Where can you find a niche audience just waiting for you to see them? To connect with them? I teach how to do this in my book, btw ;).

Beyond social media, what genre boundaries can you break as an artist? Sure, write urban fantasy, but there’s a ton of competition. Why not an urban fantasy with a thirty-something, forty-something or even Baby Boomer heroine? Hey, just because we get older doesn’t mean we’re dead and don’t want to believe we still got it :D.

FORTY's so bright, I gotta wear shaaaaadddes..... Yes, I am forty.

FORTY’s so bright, I gotta wear shaaaaadddes….. Yes, I am forty.

Trust me when I say I am not interested in a book with a twenty-something protagonist. I want older women to ROCK, and maybe writers can help our society stop looking at getting older like it’s a disease.

For the love of CHOCOLATE, they’re smile lines not psoriasis! What’s with all the CREAMS? I am NOT contagious and you will ALL be here eventually, so why can’t “being older” be HOT?

What are your thoughts? As readers, do you get tired of the same tropes? What is a favorite book or movie and what made it special? Why was it different than all the other choices? Why did it stand out? Do you struggle with focus? Shouldn’t being older be hot? It was for Sean Connery, why not us gals? Oh, and big thighs. Stop stuffing us in Spanx and just let a gal with a booty and curves/cushion be HOT…ok, that just went a weird direction *hangs head*

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of December, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

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106 Comments

Do You Have “As You Know, Bob…” Syndrome?–How Writers Can Butcher Dialogue & How to Fix It

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kevin Krejci...

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kevin Krejci…

Writing a stand-out novel involves a lot of individual pieces working together in perfect concert. If there’s no solid plot? Readers get confused, lost or bored. If the plot is great, but the characters are all one-dimensional paper dolls? No one cares. If we butcher grammar, spelling and formatting? It’s a formula for dismal sales or even a long line of one-star reviews from ticked off readers.

Hey, the world may think writing fiction is easy, but we all know differently ;).

One of the best ways to move plot forward with increasing momentum and to create living, breathing characters is by harnessing the power of dialogue. As an editor for twelve years, I can tell you dialogue is one of the single largest components of writing great fiction, and it’s the part that’s most often butchered. The story can be great, the setting, the prose?

….and then comes this clunky dialogue with characters talking in ways only seen on bad soap operas or movies highlighted/slayed by Rotten Tomatoes. I call it Soap Opera Dialogue or Days of Our Lives Dialogue. Why? Because soap operas never end….EVER. The dialogue is written in a way that a viewer can miss the past seven months of the show and still catch up, so there is a lot of coaching in the dialogue.

Good novels aren’t soap operas. Novels actually END.

This type of dialogue can also be called, As You, Know, Bob…Dialogue, which is what we’re going to address. And just so you know, Stephano was NOT killed by the ice cream truck. It was a ruse to fake his own death, and he’s actually partnered with Victor to embezzle funds from the charity, but you won’t find that out for another three years….

Here today to talk about how to write superlative dialogue is one of our outstanding WANA International Instructors, Marcy Kennedy. This gal knows her stuff, but if you want some reassurance, I strongly recommend checking out legendary screenwriter David Mamet’s Letter to the Writers of The Unit. (Caution: Strong Language. But, in fairness, writers who are paid to write for a major television show should have known better, and they tanked a good show with bad writing and deserved the butt-chewing).

Take it away, Marcy!…

***

Dialogue is a great way to convey information, but only if you do it correctly.

In Revision & Self-Editing, James Scott Bell says the key to avoiding info dump dialogue is to remember that dialogue is always from one character to another. It can’t sound like you’re manipulating it (even though you are). It must always be what a character would naturally say.

Let me explain.

Dialogue written for the reader’s benefit feels unnatural because you have characters say things they wouldn’t normally say or say them in a way that they wouldn’t (often using much more detail than any of us include when we talk).

Dialogue written for the characters fits the context, and is always from one character to another rather than from one character to the reader. It takes more work to achieve, but the result will be worth the effort.

Dialogue that’s written “to the reader” is often called “As You Know, Bob…” dialogue.

As the name suggests, “As You Know, Bob…” Syndrome is when one character tells another character something they already know. It’s done purely for the reader’s benefit, and it’s unnatural.

TIP: A character won’t say something the character they’re talking to already knows.

Example: A husband won’t say to his wife, “When we bought this house two years ago, we emptied our savings for a down payment. We don’t have anything left.” The wife already knows when the house was purchased. She knows they emptied their savings. She also knows they haven’t been able to replace those savings yet.

Her husband has no reason to say any of that.

Info-dumps won’t always be this obvious, but if you could add “as you know” to the front of whatever’s being said? Time to re-write.

TIP: If it’s common knowledge, it won’t come up in conversation.

Example: Let’s say you have two sisters meeting to go out for lunch. One shows up at the other’s door.

Susie knocked on the kitchen door and waved to her sister who was mopping away in an apron she never seemed to take off. Her sister glanced up and waved then dropped her mop back in the bucket.

She ran a gloved hand through her messy hair that had fallen out of a ponytail and she let Susie inside. “Come on in. I’m just cleaning up the muddy paw prints left by our pit-bull, Jasper.”

Though the prose is good, it’s common knowledge among the characters that her sister owns a pit-bull named Jasper, which makes an otherwise good piece of writing suddenly clunky. Her sister wouldn’t feel the need to state the name of the dog. That’s soap opera writing.

Susie’s sister would be more likely to say…

“Come in for a sec. Just have to clean up the mud the stupid dog tracked in again.”

Even essential information needs to be given in a natural way. So if knowing that their dog is a pit-bull named Jasper is essential to the story, you could write…

“A flash of fur tore across the freshly washed floor and threw itself at Susie for a petting, and she shoved the dog down. ‘Off, Jasper.’ The muddy pooch dropped onto his back for a belly rub, pink floppy tongue lolling out of his mouth.

Ellen rubbed her tired eyes. ‘Sorry about that, Sis. Did he get you dirty?’”

Susie shook her head and rubbed Jasper’s belly with her foot. A little mud never hurt anyone. ‘Any more trouble with the anti-pit-bull crowd at the park? Rick said someone threatened to call the cops last week.’”

TIP: A character won’t say something that isn’t relevant to the conversation.

“A hundred years ago when the dam was constructed, this town was built on the dried out flood plain. If the dam breaks, it’ll wipe out the whole place.”

Did you catch the sneaky insertion of backstory in adding a hundred years ago? What regular person would actually say that? Who would care how long ago the dam was built when the real issue is whether or not the town is about to be destroyed?

Want to learn more about writing great dialogue?

On Saturday, December 7, I’ll be teaching a 90-minute webinar called Say What? Techniques for Making Your Dialogue Shine. I’ll cover the seven most common mistakes when it comes to dialogue and how to fix them, explain how to ensure your dialogue makes your story stronger, show you how to create dialogue unique to your characters, and answer some of the most frustrating questions about dialogue such as how to handle dialect, should we use contractions in historical novels, science fiction, and fantasy, and is it okay to begin a book with dialogue.

If you can’t make it at the time it’s scheduled but still want to attend, sign up anyway. The webinar will be recorded and sent to all registrants. Click here to register!

NOTE: WANA Mama (moi) has created a special page for classes and specials. Just click the new tab or go HERE.

All registrants also receive an ebook copy of the latest book in my Busy Writer’s Guides Series—How to Write Dialogue.

This class is being offered as part of a WANA 2Fer. Save $20 when you register for both my dialogue class and Lisa Hall-WIlson’s Internal Dialogue class. Register for the Two-Fer HERE.

Do you struggle with “As You Know, Bob…” Syndrome? Are there movies that have driven you nutso with this kind of dialogue?

About Marcy Kennedy:

Marcy Kennedy, WANA Instructor Extraordinaire

Marcy Kennedy, WANA Instructor Extraordinaire

Marcy is a suspense and speculative fiction writer who believes fantasy is more real than you think. Alongside her own writing, Marcy works as a freelance editor and teaches classes on craft and social media through WANA International. She’s also the author of the Busy Writer’s Guides series of books, including Strong Female Characters and How to Write Faster. You can find her blogging about writing and about the place where real life meets science fiction, fantasy, and myth on her web site.

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