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Archive for February, 2013

Why not a “Top 10” list? I’m just that lazy… You get NINE!

In “Matt order” of importance (you might recognize some names):

1. Write with passion

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart. ~William Wordsworth

My task…is, by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel – it is, before all, to make you see. That – and no more – and it is everything. ~Joseph Conrad

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. ~George Moore

Reading and weeping opens the door to one’s heart, but writing and weeping opens the window to one’s soul. ~M. K. Simmons

Storytelling is a personal, emotional and spiritual affair. If it isn’t? Then you’re not a storyteller.

2. Do it for love… and DO IT!

Writing is its own reward. ~Henry Miller

Write without pay until somebody offers to pay. ~Mark Twain

Action is eloquence. ~William Shakespeare

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it; Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Don’t write to get paid. Write because you must or because you enjoy it. And – START WRITING!

3. Paint a picture

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. ~Anton Chekhov

Poetry creates myth, the prose writer draws its portrait. ~Jean-Paul Sartre

To know is nothing at all; to imagine is everything. ~Anatole France

Characterization is an accident that flows out of action and dialogue. ~Jack Woodford

Simply stating something is easy enough. Sometimes you want to capture the reader’s attention and heart, however. In those cases open your toolbox and make use of similes, metaphors, and vivid imagery.

4. Write (and revise) with every spare moment

Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed. ~Ray Bradbury

Half my life is an act of revision. ~John Irving

If you write one story, it may be bad; if you write a hundred, you have the odds in your favor. ~Edgar Rice Burroughs

And a word on revising until your tombstone epitaph reads “Never published anything”:

The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with. ~William Faulkner

Write, write, write! Revise, revise, revise! But at a certain point, push the baby bird from the nest.

5. Keep it simple

Vigorous writing is concise. ~William Strunk Jr.

Find out what your hero wants, then just follow him. ~Ray Bradbury

[Or HER, Mr. Bradbury]

Have something to say, and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret. ~Matthew Arnold

PLOT is a four-letter word in my house. ~Matthew C. Plourde

You know what’s not simple? A grandiose outline with a hundred different story arcs all asking for attention and conclusion. Fifty characters all with their own POV. Plotting has no place in Storytelling either – let it go.

Write simply and from the heart – I know of no better advice for an author.

6. Cut the boring parts

I try to leave out the parts that people skip. ~Elmore Leonard

Tediousness is the most fatal of all faults. ~Samuel Johnson

Don’t start at the beginning – how boring was your life of poop and formula/breasts (okay, the breasts may have been interesting) during the first year of your life? /thumbsdownfartnoise

I don’t want to read about the main character’s home, work life or how they got to where they are in the first few chapters/prologue. I want to start right in the middle of some crazy shit!

“But, Matt, I need the reader to understand-”

NO! STOP! The reader will understand through dialog and action as the story unfolds.

“But I want to show-”

NO! YOU’RE NOT LISTENING! As a reader, if I don’t immediately know a) who’s story this is, b) what’s at stake and sometimes c) why I should care — I STOP READING. I don’t give a tiny turd about why the High elves of ForestyPlaceWithFlowers are at war with the Humans of GeneroMedievalCity… Sprinkle that shit amongst the dialog and action. I want to know what’s going on, who it’s happening to and why I care. That’s it.

Same too goes for the middle. Don’t let it drag. Don’t show every little thing that happens or explain every little detail. Keep the narrative flowing like a majestic river.

/breathe /breathe

Yeah, I sometimes take this stuff seriously 🙂

7. Eliminate unnecessary words

Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very;” your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ~Mark Twain

The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do. ~Thomas Jefferson

The adjective is the enemy of the noun. ~Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire

Other offenders: “mostly”, “really”, “actually”, “extremely”. Take these words out back and do them like they did Old Yeller.

8. Learn to thrive on criticism (and some things to make you laugh)

You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance. ~Ray Bradbury

There is probably no hell for authors in the next world — they suffer so much from critics and publishers in this. ~C. N. Bovee

Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost how it feels about dogs. ~Christopher Hampton

Don’t be dismayed by the opinions of editors, or critics. They are only the traffic cops of the arts. ~Gene Fowler

Publishing your work puts it at the mercy of the unwashed masses – and they are massive… And unwashed. Safe with their shield of anonymity, hecklers & trolls will assault your castle walls. Ignore the bad, ignore the good, ignore it all. And remember this quote when pondering why someone tagged your book as garbage:

It is easy to be brave from a safe distance. ~Aesop

… The internet provides such a great, safe distance. /bowtoAesop

9. Be unique, extraordinary, unpredictable

I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite. ~G.K. Chesterton

Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative. ~Oscar Wilde

There are three rules for writing. Unfortunately, no one can agree what they are. ~Somerset Maugham

This one is marked as #9, but it’s not necessarily least on my list here. Instead, read the list, learn from writers who have come before you, hone your craft, be a sponge for writing advice… BUT ignore it all when the time is right. All these tips (from myself and others) paint a wide picture on how to tell a story. However, only YOU can tell YOUR story. Leverage what you need, use what you want and then add your personality into the mix to make it wholly yours.

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I get asked several similar questions from many of the authors I mentor and I see some similarities on the writing forums I frequent as well. I’m going to take some time today to discuss one such repeat patron: Point of View (POV, for short).

As you develop your story idea (notice I didn’t say “plot”), you may ask yourself – what POV should I use?

Wrong question.

Here is the only question that should be burning in your mind: Whose story is this?

If you write with outlines (I still disagree), this should be bolded and at the top of your sacrilegious outline: Whose story is this?

If you prefer notecards with characters/ideas on them (notice the absence of “plot devices”), this should be at the top of every notecard: Whose story is this?

If you only write with the barest of notes (most of them in your addled brain), this should be already answered: Whose story is this?

Notice a pattern to my advice here?

One of the most important tasks you need to accomplish before putting pen to paper/finger to keyboard is decide a) whose story this is and b) the driving force behind the narrative.

These 2 items will both solidify your focus (which will spill thru to the reader) and give the story all the fuel it needs.

If you meander from the start, with no care to narrative or a sense of who’s driving that narrative – the reader might just close the book and move on to something more engaging. I know I do.

So, what does all this have to do with point of view?

This should be obvious at this point, but I’ll go into some explanation here.

There are three main components to your narrative mode: view, voice & time. And I do think you should fix them in that order. Wikipedia has a great overview article on each concept and I’m not going to delve into detail on their attributes. Rather, I’m going to talk more about view and how to choose it.

View is the most critical (in my opinion), as the others will fall into place (usually) based upon your preferred writing style and given writing talents (some folk are just masters of the present tense, for example).  I’m going to narrow it down further and only speak to POV as it relates to character. Does the title of this blog post make sense now? 🙂

Who’s your POV character(s)?

Ahhh… Here we are, and only after ~400 words. I’m nothing if not meandering!

Once you decide “Whose story is this?”, the question of POV kinda answers itself.

Coming of age city teen? The city teen, of course.

Human falls in love with mysterious vampire? The human of course (to keep the tension & mystery going even after the reveal)

Hero’s journey? The hero, obviously.

Crime drama following both the crime and the police effort? Perhaps one POV character from each side.

Brilliant detective and his/her sidekick? Well, either. Maybe part of showing the brilliance is telling the story from the sidekick’s perspective (Elementary, Mr. Watson).

Notice anything similar amongst all my examples here?

You guessed it. Matt Tip #1: Limit your POV to as few characters as possibleand pick the right one(s)!

While jumping from mind to mind can be effective for your book, here are some examples of where it chops the narrative and hinders the story:

  • Going back in time (either to rehash the narrative from a different POV or to spend a few pages in a past event, for another character… ugh)
  • To Explain (why do some writers feel the need to explain every little thing? no, we don’t need to know why Nancy reacted the way she did – show it from Bob’s discovery or from dialogue later. don’t tell it from her POV because you feel the reader needs constant explanation.)
  • To world build (common in fantasy works, this traps the reader in endless exposition for the sole purpose of building the world. ugh.. it combines the top 2 bullets into a dark abyss of narrative suck.)
  • Wants. As a storyteller, you might want to add something (the villain’s POV, for example). When push comes to shove, you must clearly define your narrative wants and needs. Step back and objectively look at your story. You may want to show something from a different POV, but do you really need to? Can you still show what you want to show from your main POV and thus keep the narrative flowing? Usually, the answer is “yes.”, and you’ve solved that POV quandary.

The best way to avoid these narrative sinkholes? Strive to have as few POV characters as possible. I suggest ONE. Your story will dictate if you need another.

Matt Tip #2: If you must have multiple POV characters, don’t switch mid-paragraph

I’d go as far as to yell: don’t switch mid-chapter, but I’ve seen talented writers pull this off. So, I dunno… As a rule, perhaps you shouldn’t even try.

Matt Tip #3: Keep your Voice and Time consistent

This should be a no-brainer for any fiction writer, but I feel the need to re-emphasize:

  • Don’t change narrative timing.
  • Changing voice within a narrative is quite common & useful. Just don’t do it without a smooth/obvious transition.
  • Voice changes should be temporary, always snapping back to the “main” voice.

Closing Remarks

As with all my “advice”, I caution: your mileage may vary. You may not agree with all I have to say and that’s just fine. As much as fiction is subjective, so too is advice on writing fiction.

If you have more views on character points of view – feel free to post in the comments below. You can try to sway me from my belief in the almighty “one POV character”, but you will fail. Miserably. Embarrassingly. And Grammatically. 🙂

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Hrm.

“What’s a tag?” you ask? Well, you must not be a self-published author. This is a listing of TAGS for some random Amazon novel:

Amazon tags, now extinct?

Amazon tags, now extinct?

These tags assisted book visibility to potential readers. An amazon customer could, say, search across all books tagged as “apocalyptic fiction” and find just what they’re looking for – a “genre roadmap” if you will.

And now they’re gone. Maybe. Sorta. For some of us. Potentially.

When I queried Amazon they sent a muddled response hinting that tags could be “Restored” at some later point and they are “testing customer purchasing features”.

Whatever. I’m just here to relay the news in case you’ve been asleep the past 2 weeks. Several others have noticed the now invisible tags and have blogged on the topic as well.

My advice? Don’t load your book descriptions with your now invisible tags just yet. Let’s see what our Amazonian overlords decide to do and then act accordingly.

You wanted easy? Doing it ourselves is never that…

 

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