Knowing When to Quit, Part 2

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In my earlier post about how to avoid overworking your story I talked about redundancy. This time around I’ll discuss another way to overwork a story — and that is by creating over the top scenarios or plot lines, which don’t connect well with the earlier story. This can be especially problematic when you’re writing a series. There comes a point when your story, even if it’s a series, has to end. Otherwise it may become absurd or even bizarre.

I’ll give you a good example: Star Trek.

I grew up watching the original Star Trek. The characters, human and alien, were so believable, but by the third season the series just wasn’t that good, and the ridiculous story lines for some of the episodes hurt the integrity of the series as a whole. The network, NBC, then cancelled the show. It went into syndication where its following grew. The movies came along about ten years later. The original characters were back, but they were older and they’d changed over time, which kept them interesting. After that came Star Trek the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. This created a plethora of interesting new characters and a lot of potential for exciting new stories. Next came a series of movies with the Next Generation cast.

Sadly, it was all lost, at least for me, when they started making movies with younger versions of the original characters. Prequels can also be problematic, but when I saw the first prequel I was very disappointed. It took place in a “parallel universe,” so much of the back-story, established in the original series, was gone. It was too confusing, and it certainly wasn’t the Star Trek I’d known and loved for decades. Other Star Trek movies have since followed, again set in this, “past parallel universe,” but I’ve  decided to save my money and skip them. I won’t even bother watching them on Netflix.

This is what happens when you run out of ideas. You lose the integrity of your story, and you may even lose your following as well. As storytellers, the two hardest words for us to write are, “THE END,” but write them we must. Otherwise, in the words of my college painting professor, you’ll turn your work into mud.

GM

 

 

Watch Out for Exclamation Points!!!

Exclamation PointsFilmmakers have certain advantages over writers, particularly fiction writers. They get to use musical scores to help build the tension. We’ve seen it dozens of times. The unsuspecting protagonist goes into the seemingly deserted mansion, unaware that the villain is lurking inside, waiting to pounce. As the protagonist gets closer, the music builds to a crescendo. “Dum dum-ta-dum–BOOM.” The boom of course, being when the bad guy leaps out of nowhere, landing right in front of the protagonist, who now either has to fight or run for dear life.

We writers unfortunately don’t have the luxury of having background music, so we have to come up with alternative ways to build the tension, thus creating the temptation to use exclamation points. After all, the sentence, “he leaped out of the closet at Joe.” with just a plain old period at the end looks kind of boring on the printed page. Therefore, “he leaped out of the closet at Joe!!” would look a whole lot better. Right?

Well, not necessarily.

Using exclamation points in the narrative means you’re shouting at your readers, which they may find annoying. A better way to build the tension would be to use more effective verbs and modifiers. So, instead of saying, “He heard the footsteps and waited until the time was right. Then he leaped out of the closet at of Joe.” Try something like, “He heard Joe’s footsteps coming closer. He held his breath, not wanting to give himself away. The footsteps grew louder. He could make out the dark shadow of a human form as it entered the room. He stood by, unable to move. The footsteps thumped louder and louder as they came closer and closer. Beads of sweat popped out across his forehead. It was time. He leaped out of the closet at Joe.”

By using effective verbs and modifiers in your narrative to build the tension an exclamation point becomes unnecessary.

So what about dialog? People shout when they are excited, surprised, under stress, or angry. I will, on rare occasions, use an exclamation point in dialog, but if I do, it’s only when a character is having an “aha” moment. I think of exclamation points in dialog as hot chili peppers. A little bit goes a long, long way. Most of the time I use tags, such as, “It’s over here,” yelled Jody, or “Look out,” exclaimed Bob.

Good storytelling is all about conflict and drama. Just don’t shout at your readers!

GM

 

One of the Pitfalls of Social Media

Hands at KeyboardAs writers we’ve all been told that social media is an essential marketing tool, and it truly is. I’ve made fans and sold books on social media. It can also be a double-edged sword, so it must be treated with respect at all times. Let me give you an example.

Awhile back I was posting on a friend’s Facebook thread, and I started engaging with another of her friends on the same thread. As I recall, we were talking about jazz music, something we both enjoyed. During our online conversation she mentioned that she was an editor. I told her I was a book publisher and to please send me a friend request so I could include her on my referral list.

As it turned out, she posted frequently Facebook. Her content included extreme left wing political posts, along with rants about her hatred of children, her dislike of men, her belief that interpersonal relationships were a complete waste of time, her hatred of churches and of people of faith, and so forth. She also had no tolerance whatsoever for anyone with an opposing point of view, and she wasn’t beyond telling anyone to “go f— themselves,” for simply disagreeing with her.

After reading a just handful of her posts I realized there was no way I could EVER refer this woman to any of my authors, and I have since blocked her on Facebook. My issue wasn’t that I disagreed with her opinion. Let’s face it; the world would be a pretty boring place if we all thought alike. My issue was her open contempt and hatred of others. If she could tell people she disagreed with to go “f— themselves” on a public forum, I could only imagine how badly she would have treated one of my authors.

Be careful with what you post on social media. It really can come back and bite you.

GM

 

Is Entering Your Book in a Literary Competition a Good Idea?

5 Star Cover Billy FRONTFrom time to time my email box fills up with calls for entries for all kinds of book awards, and I’ll admit to having mixed feelings about entering them. So, here is my list of pros and cons regarding book competitions.

First, I’ll start with the pros. I’ve entered competitions in the past and I’ve won awards. And I’m not going to lie. There’s nothing quite like the euphoria you feel when your book has beat out dozens, if not hundreds, of competitors and has either won, or placed, in a competition. It’s also a great marketing tool, as there’s nothing quite like having that award sticker on your book cover. In fact, I’ve included one of mine, so you can see it. Not because I’m bragging, but because there is a downside to just about everything in life, and that includes winning a book award. If you look at the cover closely, you may be able to see what the “con” is.

I won the award in 2007. However, by 2010, it was starting to make my book look dated.

The other potential con is the expense of entering a competition. Back in the mid 2000s, when I entered Billy the Kid in that competition, the entry fees were reasonable. Ahh, those were the days…

Times have indeed changed, and, depending on the competition, even early-bird call to entry fees can be quite steep. Along with the entry fee, you may have to provide printed copies of your book, oftentimes more than one copy, which adds to the cost. For example, I once considered entering one of my Marina Martindale novels in a competition for book cover design. The entry fee was $90, and they wanted four printed copies of my book. By the time I added in the cost of the books, and the postage, it would have come to about $125, just to enter one title, in one category. After thinking over I decided not to enter as I honestly thought the $125 would be better spent on advertising my book.

So, is entering your book in a literary competition a good idea? That’s really up to you to decide. If your budget will allow it then by all means you should consider it. Your book might be a winner, and that award certainly won’t hurt. But if you choose not to enter then don’t worry about it. Experience has taught me that you’ll sell a lot more books by getting good reviews. As a book consumer, I pay a lot more attention to the book reviews than to whatever awards a book may have won.

My thought for the day.

GM

 

Knowing When to Quit, Part One

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Back in my college days, when I was majoring in art, one of my painting professors made a profound statement that I’ll always remember. He said, “Every painter needs to have someone standing behind him to shoot him when he’s done, otherwise he’ll overwork the painting and turn it into mud.”

It’s extremely difficult artists to look at their work objectively enough to know when it’s finished. And once we finally realize we’ve overworked something it may be too late to salvage it.

Fortunately, when it comes to writing, there are warning signs that we can look for. One of the biggest, and most obvious, would be redundancy. I’ll use my Marina Martindale novel, The Deception, to illustrate my point.

As I was nearing the end of the story I’d resolved the main conflict, but as I tied up the loose ends one of the antagonists threatened to go after my protagonist for a second time. This left me with two options. One was to write a sequel. Tempting thought, as I loved my cast of characters. Unfortunately, in this instance, the conflict would have been too similar to the conflict in the first book, which would have made the sequel redundant. All I could have done was rehash the same story. How boring. So, rather than waste my time, and my reader’s time, with a bad sequel, I decided to write a definitive ending and leave my novel as a stand alone book. I did it by killing off the antagonist and ending the feud once and for all.

Does your story feel like it’s getting stale? If so, then go back and look at your conflict. If it keeps repeating itself, or if the results of your character’s choices are always the same, it probably means your story has become too redundant.

GM