I’ve seen some pretty messed up, lazy writing and people make all kinds of excuses for doing so.
“Oh, it’s all about the story.” Yeah, sure.
Nobody considers that the reader has to suffer through this crap.
Nobody considers that readers may not be as dumb as some writers think they are.
Self-publishing can be good or it can be extremely bad.
Don’t blame it all on self-publishing. There are some conventionally published books out there with very bad writing.
Unfortunately, bad writers always point to these bad examples. “See? So and so did it, had a huge best-seller and did just fine!”
I don’t buy that. Sorry.
ALL OVER THE PLACE
Mary went to the store, idly browsing the pasta aisle. I looked at the shelf and told myself I’m going to get some spaghetti this time and I don’t care if Don doesn’t like it. I set the box of noodles in my cart.
Joann approaches and gives Mary the up and down. I hate her. She’s such a slut.
Mary noticed a presence behind her but ignored it. She knew who was there and doesn’t want to address the ho-bag Joann. She looks at another box of pasta.
Where do I even begin with this crap? Head-hopping? Mixing tenses from past to present? Mixed third and first-person?
This is the kind of bad writing I see plenty of in drafts, before editing, let alone stuff that actually gets published. Try reading 100K words of this!
MORE AND MORE NO RULES
More and more people are pushing, suggesting, down right advocating not to follow rules of writing because “all that matters is the story.”
You really notice it when you try to slog through a badly written tome then get to one where the author follows the rules and you breeze right through it. There’s a noticeable difference!
A noticeable difference.
People, getting lazy isn’t doing anyone no favors.
I’m not advocating being completely rigid, but geez, let’s get real.
When we talk about breaking a rule, we’re talking a little slip here and there, not out and out ignoring all of them!
As an author, why should you be the one accused of being functionally illiterate?
Think about it.
I was recently on a thread in one of my Facebook groups and a participant asked if anyone else though their fantasy genre was oversaturated.
Whatever genre or non-genre you write, have you ever felt that way? When you delve into your interest, do you feel overwhelmed by the amount of material out there? Do you feel like your swimming upstream?
THINK ABOUT IT
Say you’re a romance writer. Your focus is (naturally) on romance, so you concentrate on romance groups, other romance writers and romance novels. Ah, duhh. What do you think you’re going to find? Of course, you’re going to see hundreds, maybe thousands of novels in your genre.
What if you’re a literary author. Your focus is literary fiction. Guess what you’re going to find. “Literally” thousands of examples of what you’re up against.
Of course your field of focus is crowded.
There’s no such thing.
Since everyone has a unique voice, I go back to the Agatha Christie thing I like to use. Murder. There are so many ways you can kill someone with a gun. There are so many ways you can kill someone with a knife…poison…garrotte…polonium…what have you. They’ve all been done before.
The princess has been rescued a million ways before.
The bad guys have been headed off at the pass.
Folks. Everything has been done before.
VOICE VOICE VOICE
Why do these same stories keep getting told over and over again? Why do these supposedly “oversaturated” genres and non-genres keep getting more books published?
A unique voice and an unique way of telling the same old thing with a unique blend to make it that author’s own take is what makes every one of these stories different. Each individual author puts their own personality and voice into the same old same old and makes it something fresh and different. They add twists and turns and make them fun.
This is where you, the author, come in.
FORGET OVERSATURATION – PAY IT NO MIND
If you’re writing for market trends, or what you think will be hot, find another passion!
You need to follow your muse, follow your passion!
Forget about what you think might be oversaturated. Write what you feel and put your voice into it. You are what makes the story unique.
I make no secret of the fact that I get inspiration from the oddest places. I also talk quite a bit about it. This will make the fourth installation of my series on inspiration. What brought this on? As circumstances colluded this time, it happened to be the happiest place on earth.
First off, I feel so fortunate to be close enough to visit a place I originally went to when I was four or five years old. I still remember sitting in a Toadmobile with my dad on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Every year we’ve been able, since moving to Las Vegas, I’ve snapped a photo out front of the ride with my grandson. We sit in the Toadmobile they have out front when you come out the exit door.
I remember when Nikita Khrushchev tried to visit the park back in the late 50’s, I think it was, but the state department refused him entry, citing “security concerns.” That was total bull. They just didn’t want the commie pinko faggot junkie doper to get any positive publicity out of the park.
We used to go there every year or two the entire time I grew up in Southern California. Those trips to the Wonderful World Of Color are still a strong memory for me. In many ways, they inspired me even way back when.
There was the Zorro costume I wore around the trailer park we lived in in Lompoc. My mom made it for me. On one trip to Disneyland, I copped a plastic epee and went around stabbing everyone in the ass with it. Maybe the reason I still have a moustache today is because of the fake one I used to have back then, care of Guy Williams, the actor who used to play Zorro.
Then there’s the Zorro album, or more correctly, The Songs Of Zorro And Others which had a lot of classic TV soundtracks from Disney TV shows, almost all of which I watched on the good old black and white TV. I still have that album!
The park is pure fantasy, from the Cinderella castle:
To the Matterhorn:
Since we go every year, why now? Why is this year any different? True, I’ve mentioned Disneyland in past installments of this series, but haven’t been able to act upon it. Well, I haven’t been writing anything new for quite some time. I’ve been editing stuff already written. That’s the biggie.
Though I’ve been writing these very weekly articles as well as my autobiographical articles for Let’s Talk Nevada, I haven’t worked on either my fantasy or adventure thrillers or even icky bug (as far as anything new) for a while because I already had stuff in the can, so to speak. While I like to catalog ideas in my head, I already had a bunch of stuff stored away in my mind for book three of Meleena’s Adventures. In fact, against my normal routine, I actually wrote a few key things down on a yellow sticky which is now hanging above my computer monitor!
Folks, that is almost unprecedented for me. However, given my new writing habits over the past six years, I’m forced to write at least a few things down since I can’t write several hours a day like I used to.
Now, since I just started book #3 of Meleena’s Adventures, having turned in book #2, Gods Of The Blue Mountains to the publisher last month after a very detailed self-edit, I can now concentrate on writing something new in fiction again (except maybe another one-off short story here and there). Since I’m in writing mode, I have the ability to pull things out of the air, even refer to the ideas I wrote down when the time comes.
INSPIRATION – WHAT DID I COME UP WITH?
Here’s where I have to be careful and not give away spoilers!
To start off, I got a huge slap in the face going through Pirates of the Caribbean not once, but three times. Yup, because we went on a slow day, we were literally able to walk right in after a five minute wait. So, we returned several times. We love that ride! Going through there, I came up with an idea. The second time, it became a little more solid. By the third time, I didn’t even need to write it down.
No, I’m not going to write a Pirates clone. It’s just the seed for something else.
The Haunted Mansion. Same thing. We went in and I got that tingly feeling, especially since the “doom buggy” kept stopping for one issue or the other. We went on it twice.
Now, the oddest inspiration came on the drive home.
On the northbound 57, the Orange Freeway, we got stuck behind a tanker truck with a bad decal job at 5 in the morning. I looked at those crappy decals with the incomplete letters and voila! I got the name for a character!
That one I did write down.
Folks, you never know where these things will come from.
Okay, this is directly inspired by a thread I saw on the Absolute Write Water Cooler forum the other day. I have several threads in there that I like to browse, besides the new stuff section (which includes everything), much of which I have no interest in. When something catches my eye, I might go to it and make a comment and never see it again, because I have no idea what thread it was in, even though the title of the forum it’s in is right there in the title of the thread along with the subject (hey, I don’t catch everything). I often never see any of the responses to mine because they get buried with other stuff by the time I visit the site again. Oh well…
Then again, there are my usual haunts which include Horror, Fantasy/Science Fiction and Thriller (whatever). I visit each pretty regular just to keep up with what’s going on in the genres for which I write. Anyone remember me talking about keeping up with your genres and doing your research?
Wayell…the thing is that I rarely read fantasy or science fiction because frankly, I don’t really like what’s out there. On the other hand, I love to read horror but rarely see it in the bookstore. Hence, I have to result to Absolute Write often to keep up on what’s going on in the genres. At least with horror (icky bug), I do get to read one on occasion. On the other hand, I have a plethora of fantasy and science fiction novels at my fingertips but my eyes glaze over when I’m in the bookstore. I often check the rather hefty section and look at all the titles. However, after checking the covers, book blurbs and leafing through the pages, I just don’t get that spark, that kick that compels me to try them out, at least I haven’t in a long time.
So, back to the gist of this conversation drawn from the ether. Tropes.
WHAT’S A TROPE?
A trope is a well-worn premise that’s often considered over-used in a story. For instance, a pauper that’s really a prince. You know, the old poor handsome (or beautiful), dirty street guy or gal that through trials and tribblations discovers he or she’s actually the prince or princess of the kingdom.
Elves, dwarves and orcs in fantasy. What makes these characters really tropes is when they all appear and act exactly stereotypical.
In romance, the “brother and sister” that are extremely attracted to each other, but know it can never be until they find out they’re not related.
In a murder mystery, the butler did it.
As Jimmy Durante probably never actually said, but gets credit for anyway, “I got a million of ‘em!”
WHY ARE TROPES BAD?
First off, tropes are bad because of the boredom factor. In this thirty-second attention span society (and I’m only generalizing here), people want something different.
Even if you run across someone who by a freak accident, has never read this particular trope before in literature, they’ve probably seen it on television or in the movies.
Like with anything, if done badly or just mediocre, it might as well not be done at all.
HOW CAN YOU MAKE TROPES GOOD?
It’s all in the telling or (gag) showing. It’s like every plot has been done a million times before. The difference is in the telling, in the voice, in the way you show it that makes it unique. When you put your own twists on it, you make it a unique story. This is when you take that well-worn trope and make it your own.
Okay, let’s take the pauper that’s really a prince trope in fantasy. Let’s say that in the end, though the character finds out the truth, they turn it down because they want to marry the peasant. They give it all away for love.
Hey, wait a moment. That’s been done like a thousand times as well!
How about this.
They give it all up for love, but by a twist, they don’t have to because the rules changed. They can be the prince or princess after all!
Hey…sorry been done as well!
How about this.
They give it all up because they don’t want the hassle, tell the lover to take a hike and go away with their good buddy to party away in the night!
The thing is, you can still use any of the above scenarios, the well-worn or the unique one. It’s all in the telling.
VOICE IS THE KEY
When you get down to it, since just about everything has been done at one time or the other, there’s very little ground that hasn’t been covered. Therefore, if you look at it that way, everything is a trope to someone. With that in mind, the key is your voice.
If all of this is overwhelming, it all boils down to following your muse.
Follow your muse and see what comes out in the wash. The key element is that when you’re writing, do not try to copy anyone else!
If you follow that simple rule, it’s almost a guarantee it’ll come out in your voice. If not, well, that’s where the editing and rewrites come into play. The thing is, if you’re a writer, you should know all about that by now…or you’ll learn it soon enough.
A trope is not necessarily a bad thing. Using one or many like everyone else can be. What you need to do is put your own voice, your own twist into them. Make them your own and you should be okay.
Prologues have come up time and time again in discussions, not only in my writer’s group, but in the various forums that I check out. Time to discuss it once again.
The big no-no for a long time at the writer’s conferences amongst agents and publishers were prologues. Some agents said absolutely not, while others kind of shrugged their heads and gave wishy-washy answers, leaving their take more ambivalent. Over the years, things have backed off a bit. While some agents, to this day, absolutely despise prologues, more and more are willing to consider them under certain circumstances.
THE FIRST PAGE READ
To understand why agents and publishers don’t like prologues, let’s take a look at the Las Vegas Writer’s Conference’s very popular special event, which we now have as a regular happening, the First Page Read.
This “contest” that isn’t really a contest is where for a $5 donation (that goes to the student sponsorship program), attendees can submit the first page of their novel, short story or whatever. They can submit as many first pages as they want for $5 apiece. The pages are randomly selected and read at lunch on Friday and at dinner time until time runs out, usually an hour. If you’re “lucky” enough to be selected, a panel of agents and/or publishers will listen while it’s read and shown on a large screen. They’ll raise their hand the moment they’d stop reading.
After either everyone raises their hand, or the narrator gets to the end of the page, whichever comes first, the panel each gets a chance to say why they did or didn’t raise their hand.
There can be many reasons why they raise their hand, but the biggest reason is the author starts with backstory and nothing happens on that first page.
I repeat: Backstory and nothing happens on the first page.
A BIG REASON WHY AGENTS AND PUBLISHERS HATE PROLOGUES
When these people sift through hundreds if not thousands of manuscripts and writing samples a month, they usually get the start of each story. Right?
When an author sends the prologue and the first few chapters, which is of course, the start of the book, what often happens with the prologue?
The prologue starts with backstory! Nothing happens! The prologue is a setup that doesn’t need to be there. There’s no action, nothing that can’t be told later by other characters.
Now, think back on the first page read. What do you think these agents and publishers do when they see Prologue plastered across the top of the page and then nothing happens?
Sure, it’s bad enough when it says Chapter 1, or just as bad, it just starts with no heading at all and nothing happens. However, they just as often see Prologue or did for a long time. It’s hard not to develop a bias.
PROLOGUES ARE NOT ALL BAD
As many of you know, I read mostly thrillers and icky bug. They very often have prologues. In my own writing, I use prologues in both my adventure/thrillers and icky bug but don’t in my fantasy. It just doesn’t feel right in fantasy to me. It’s a matter of personal taste.
The prologue needs to be relevant. It needs to be something that cannot take place within the story without throwing the timeline or rhythm of the story out. It also needs for something to happen. It should be an action scene that takes place sometime in the past that explains or sets up something taking place in the timeframe of the present story. Or, it can be something that takes place right as the story begins to set it up. Pro-logue, something that previously happened, versus epi-logue, something that happens afterward.
Back to what I just said, the prologue needs to be relevant and should only be there if it’s the easiest or best way to tell that part of the story. It’s a tool just like plot devices. It’s neither good nor bad, it’s all in the execution.
One more thing, the prologue should be short and to the point. A bad one, in which I won’t name the author, was seventy pages long. That’s a bit excessive! It’s like, come on! Is the story from the back cover ever going to take place or what?
Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t use a prologue. Just make sure you do it with a bang.