Sunday, August 14, 2016

Your Story Deserves to be Boarded!

If you've ever read Shakespeare's Othello you probably know that the titular character kills his beloved Desdemona by smothering her with a pillow. She then laments with her final line, "Nobody; I myself. Farewell: Commend me to my kind lord: O, farewell!" when Emilia asks who killed her.

Now, if you're like me, you'd probably not be able to come back from the dead to eek out that final line if someone has just smothered you with a pillow; neither would you likely die after making this statement. Sure, some may say she got an aneurism, which is what really killed her after Othello's failed attempt; but those people are reaching.

The plot hole in Shakespeare's classic play is not unique to the bard. Many writers have left significant plot holes or errors in their works, either as a result of revision or editing, or simply a mistake in the writing. So how can you, as a writer, avoid writing about a character who has a cigarette in hand who walks into a warehouse, and somehow the gas leak in the warehouse is not ignited (because suddenly the cigarette has magically disappeared)?

Filmmakers utilize a tool that most writers do not use but should: storyboarding. If you are not familiar with what this is, I recommend doing a little research and implementing it in your own process. Storyboarding is essentially a graphic version of each scene, depicted on individual "boards" or panels. Filmmakers use them to arrange and rearrange scenes in a film for purposes of flow, consistency, and visual appeal. They help because most films are not made in a linear fashion, but rather shot as individual scenes and then "cut" into the final work. My own writing is done in this way: I write individual chapters or sometimes just scenes, and then cut it all together in the end before revision.

Storyboarding can help even if you write in a linear fashion. If you can see the "shot" as a drawing, it can help you better visualize the character's perspective; it can help you label different elements that you'd like to describe so you don't fail to tell the reader that the sky was dark or that the mountains in the horizon appeared to be collapsing because of the dust storm that was approaching; and it can help you notice that darn cigarette in Jose's hand just before he enters the warehouse. The picture can help remind you to write in that Jose flicked the cigarette away just before entering the gas-filled warehouse, thus helping him avoid a horrific death.


Saturday, June 4, 2016

Don't Be Easy

Killer on the Noose is on the Loose

This week I received two alerts from Google (if you don't know how to set this up, email me) to notify me that one of my books, Killer on the Noose, was available on two different websites for free. Well, one of these websites was from China (big surprise there) and the other was from somewhere in Africa. These sites required a membership to be established, along with a recurring membership fee every month that would allow the user to read and download as many books for free in PDF format as he or she wished.

This sounds great and all, but the only authorized websites to sell my books are Amazon.com (in various countries) and Barnes and Noble (BN.com). This meant that I was being ripped off. Of course, sending a lawyer after international criminals for stealing a modest amount from me would not make financial sense, so I composed a "cease and desist" email and sent it off to the webmaster of each of these sites. If they do not comply within reasonable time, I will file a complaint with the US Copyright office, and the full website may get removed from search results like this result on Google search:

In response to a complaint we received under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, we have removed 1 result(s) from this page. If you wish, you may read the DMCA complaint that caused the removal(s) at LumenDatabase.org.

The lessons here are, 1. monitor your stuff to avoid being ripped off, 2. create value in your product and work, or your brand, by not giving it away, EVER (with some minor exceptions, such as leader stories or teaser chapters - but NEVER a full work!) 3. learn the pitfalls of self-publishing and marketing so that you don't get ripped off.

This last one is very important, because if you go on Facebook and see one of the many groups with 200,000+ members each who are all authors giving away copies of their books, or you go on an author-saturated website like bookbub.com, Free-ebooks.net, Digitalbooktoday.com, and thousands of others, you'll notice that to stand out as an author, giving your work away for free in a careless manner is not the answer - because everyone else is doing it. And frankly, most readers don't care if your book is free if they have no idea who you are.

How do you give away a book for free the right way? Hold a contest, like those on Goodreads (which, by the way is not author-saturated, it's reader populated): https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway
Offer autographed hard copies of your book, etc. A hardcopy is a much better marketing tool than allowing yourself to be ripped off, because the reader now has something tangible, with a perceived value. It will also be passed around and may sit on a shelf on display. It's a conversation starter: "Hey! I won that book through a contest the author was holding on Goodreads or whatever... and she autographed it, too!" This person will never forget your name or your book.

However, if you offer  your book for free as an ebook on a website where 37.2 million other authors are doing the same, the reader WILL simply delete your book once they finish reading it and move on to the next one.

If you'd like more tips and advice on how to be a better writer or a more successful author, please email me at Joe_Crisan@yahoo.com, follow me on Facebook at Facebook.com/PhaseiiPublishing, +1 me on Google Plus, or follow me on Twitter @ChrisOhn.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Views on Interviews

As authors we often have to make appearances and do interviews to get the word out about our work.  For many of us, this is a very nerve-racking thought, because we are usually recluse and timid; but it doesn't have to be that way.

One of the best confidence builders is preparedness.  So, you should first ask if the interviewer provides the questions ahead of time so you can have answers prepared.  Many interviewers do this to avoid dead air (if radio or TV) and to make for a more engaging interview.

But if they do not offer such a gift, or if you're stopped by a fan and asked something you're unprepared to answer, you may end up making a comment you'll regret for the rest of your life and that can ruin your career (just ask Don Imus, George W. Bush, or Michael Richards).

Below are some common interview questions for writers and authors, and then some tips on how to prepare for an interview or appearance.


1. Talk to me about your legal troubles.
2. Where do you find your inspiration?
3. How much research did you do for this book (even for fiction)?
4. What do you say to the people who have been saying that this could have been written by a 5-year old or that you need to find another line of work?
5. Are you happy now?
6. If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?
7. Who are your rivals / whose work do you detest?
8. Tell me about your political views.
9. Do you feel there are two different (your name here)?
10. When are you completely satisfied with your work?
11. What things do you not like to do and why?
12. Best advice for other authors?
13. Any current love or heartbreak stories you'd like to share?
14. Your work is very similar to "XYZ". Did you "borrow" ideas from that or any other work?
15. What did you think about Jane Doe's "(enter name of work here)?
16. What was your biggest obstacle when writing this piece?
17.  (Recent Hollywood Disaster like Lindsey Lohan) says you'd be the one person she'd love to have drinks with.  What do you think about that?
18. Before this, have you had any other successes as a writer or author?


And here are some key points to remember for any appearance or interview:

1. Dress the part / be professional
2. Sit up straight
3. Look the interviewer in the eyes (for practice on keeping eye contact, go to a public place like a mall and just walk around.  Play a staring game with everyone you pass (but don't be creepy); this will build confidence more than you'd think!
4. Research the interviewer; read prior interviews they've done
5. Know what you want to talk about
6. Have at least 3 transitionary/segue statements ready to get back on topic after an unrelated question

Hope this helps!


-Giovanni

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Show AND Tell

When I was in school, and when I was a beginning writer, nobody ever hesitated to offer up the #1 advice for fiction writers: "Show, don't tell."


I recently heard a radio ad for a cruise line - and it's obvious that they took this advice to heart.  As a result, they created an entire advertising campaign that aims to transport the listener with their wordy descriptions, similes, and metaphors, with the sole purpose of selling more tickets for their trips.

But, while this may be sound advice for an amateur to help build good habits in writing, it is not always true in a professional setting.  The cruise line did not create an inspiring advertisement - they created an overwritten mess that makes the listener laugh, rather than feel like they should be on a trip.

A good writer knows how to engage his audience and then keep them wanting more - and if everything becomes a detailed, flowery description when the reader feels the story is becoming stagnant, then the author has failed to use prudence in his work, and audiences will react.  A balance between showing and telling is not an easy thing to teach, because it is like knowing the precise moment to take a swing at a baseball: it is something that comes naturally with experience.

However, it is not impossible to at least get a basic understanding of how this balance should look.

The main thing to keep in mind here is what your scene is about, and how you want the reader to react.  For example:

"She stepped outside in her sapphire-blue gown and gripped the handcrafted iron railing.  Her presence engulfed the belle epoch scenery, commanding all eyes to be on her.  She took a breath, and lingered another moment to ensure she wouldn't wake up mid-dream.  Then she started carefully down the stone steps, toward the man in the black tuxedo who was waiting to take her into forever."

versus

"She walked outside, looked at the crowd of guests, then continued down the stairs toward her future husband."


The first example is flowery as can be, but it works in this case because the scene calls for the reader to take a step back and take in the scenery and the action in slow-motion.  The second example, however, kind of leaves a bad taste in the reader's mouth, because it robs them of the romance of the whole scene.


Then there's this:

"Her fashion-forward style made her curves look like a painting from the Museum of Modern Art.  She ran just like the other Beverly Hills girls do: slow and careful, so as to not damage her Manolo Blahnick shoes - but she was running for her life.  There was a man oozing lust from his eyes about a mile away, galloping toward her like a race horse on a victory lap.  He wore black pants and a long-sleeved shirt, and his brown hair bounced with each step.  The knife in his hand glinted in the sun at intervals as he ran, and his breathing resounded through the walls of the alleyway.  She knew she was in danger."


versus


"She ran as quickly as she could, grasping for anything that she could use to defend herself.  Left, right - she had no idea where her legs were taking her, where her desperation had led her, but she knew she had to run.  Run, Lily, run, she thought.  Her attacker, although older than her, hammered on toward her and made it seem to Lilly he was more than human, determined to satisfy some ungodly hunger to ravage her."



The first one here sounds almost comical, because the author is taking the time to describe irrelevant things that slow the action and are irrelevant to the fact that this woman is being chased by a maniac who probably wants to kill her.  It is simply too wordy for the sake of being wordy - who cares what the two people are wearing?

The second version does a much better job of relaying the sense of urgency and the tension the protagonist is likely feeling because it uses rhythm, repetition, and brief descriptions of relevant things - the context of the scene is displayed in the text itself, rather than in the descriptions.



Showing, telling - it's all part of fiction, and both are tools in the overwhelmingly all-inclusive Writers' Arsenal.  And, as writers, we must be able to utilize all of these tools effectively to create not just good works, but great works, and eventually craft the Great American Novel.


Princess Article:

http://www.travelagentcentral.com/ocean-cruises/princess-cruises-launches-come-back-new-advertising-campaign-video-44275

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Before or After?

I recently applied for work as an editor at a company and they gave me a grammar test that I had to pass before I could get hired.  When I looked at the questions, though, I knew why they were in need of an editor.  This was the question (and the answer choices):


Should the punctuation go inside or outside the quotations?
a. Inside       b. Outside


Well, this is a hell of a loaded question.  After all, there is no simple rule for anything in English grammar.  When it comes to quotations and punctuation, the same concept applies.  The gist of the rules is that if the quotation is an actual quotation - as in, somebody said something and now you're repeating it - or if the statement within the quotations is an exclamation or question, then the punctuation would go on the inside.  Otherwise, it goes on the outside.  For example:

You call yourself a "martyr?"  would be incorrect, because this is not a quotation of someone asking, simply, "martyr?".

The correct way to annotate this is:

You call yourself a "martyr"?

Now, if the sentence read:

The king addressed his subject, and asked, "You call yourself a martyr?"

In this case, the quote is an actual question, so the question mark goes inside the quotes.  But, if it read like this:

Can you believe he told me, "And you call yourself a martyr"?

In this case, the question mark goes outside the quotation marks because the quote inside them is not a question, while the statement outside them is.


Ok, so what fun is English without an exception or two?  In this case I'll give you one:

Can you believe he asked me, "You call yourself a martyr"?

and

Can you believe he asked me, "You call yourself a martyr?"

in this case, both of these are correct, because both the quote and the statement are questions, and the writer can use his discretion on which to use.


The issue is different when it comes to dialog, however, and the punctuation should go inside the quotations, such as in the following examples:

"I know you," he said.

"I do not care!" I shouted.

"What ever do you mean?" he asked.


Hopefully this boils the issue down so that if you ever doubted which way was correct, or if you were ever faced with a grammar test when applying for work as an editor, you could impress everyone and land that job.

As always, happy writing!

-Giovanni

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Most Important Tool For Writers

There is one tool that writers must employ to be successful.  I am not going to waste any time embellishing this: the single most important tool for any writer is ORGANIZATION.  Whether you're writing a book, novel, story, poem, article, sending agent queries or creating a blog post, there is nothing more important than getting organized.  This doesn't just mean having a tidy desk; rather, it includes everything from timing, scheduling, planning, and outlining.


If you do an online search to find your favorite writer's process, you will most likely find that he or she sets a set amount of time daily, weekly, or monthly to writing.  This means that you will have no disruptions during this time.  For me, I lock myself into my office and my family knows not to disturb me during this time - this is work.  I also leave my cellphone outside of my office so that I will not be disturbed.  Trust me, this can be difficult at first, but it will pay off in the end.


But it is not enough to have time and space set aside; planning and outlining is also key.  Without a plan, if you do stream of consciousness-type writing and plan to publish whatever comes out on that page, you run the risk of creating inconsistencies in your work.  Of course, stream of consciousness writing has its place, but to me it is in the warm-up or practice stage of writing.  It's like what doodling is to an artist.  Sure, you may get some great ideas out of this, but they will be raw ideas that need refining.  An outline will help your writing flow better, and it will help prevent holes in your story, which is incredibly important.


Keeping careful records of each character in each story (use character sheets - I have some available that you can use if you email me), each setting, location, and a graphic timeline of events and parallel events in your story.  This is important even when writing nonfiction or memoir, because inconsistencies happen even in those mediums.  And if you're into writing poetry and you haven't realized the importance of planning and outlining yet, then you need to get on it asap.


Additionally, it is very important to keep careful records when querying agents.  Because each agent has his own taste in literature and each work is different, it is vital to keep a separate list of potential agents for each work.  Also, you must keep track of which agents you've queried and when, and based on the information on their website, when would be a good time to follow up on your query.  Keeping a database (I use an Excel spreadsheet that I can email to you if you contact me at MalaTobe@gmail.com) will prevent querying the same agent twice with the same work and from contacting a queried agent too soon.


Being organized will not only make you a better and more efficient writer, it will keep your writing tight.  The important thing to remember here is that, as the old adage goes, "if you fail to plan, you plan to fail."

Sunday, June 29, 2014

"Thats all, Folk's" - Possessives, Plurals, and Pronouns

Ah, the problem of possessives, plurals, and pronouns.  Many people, including teachers, writers, and marketing professionals, find the use of apostrophes with possessives, plurals, and pronouns to be very confusing.  So I'm going to outline it very simply for here.

Apostrophes

The first thing to keep in mind when trying to decide whether or not you will need an apostrophe ('), is that the apostrophe takes the place of another letter (such as with contractions), except when used to indicate possession of an object or idea.  So, for example:

"are not" becomes "aren't"
"It is" becomes "it's"

When creating a possessive, the apostrophe is used to indicate ownership:

"the cat's meow"
"the bee's knees"
"the rat's donkey"
"Einstein's theory"

Now, when using a pronoun, no apostrophe is needed, because the pronouns all have possessive versions:

"its paw"
"his leg"
"their house"


When it comes to plurals, many people become insecure about apostrophe usage.  To simplify this, consider the following words:

"Mrs. Jones"
"The Joneses"
"cats"
"bees"
"fathers"
"Agnes"
"happiness"

Not all of these are plural, but they all end in "s".  This is where the confusion lies.  The important thing to remember here is that to make these into possessives, singular words will take an ('s), while plural words only take (').

So, the list above would look like this:

"Mrs Jones's car"
"The Joneses' pool"
"cats' pajamas"
"bees' knees"
"fathers' day"
"Agnes's attitude"
"happiness's sake"

Keep in mind that singular words only take ('s), not ('), NO MATTER WHAT LETTER OR SYMBOL THEY END WITH.  Take these examples:

"Rktak's pillow"

"Ω's representation"

"Babalú's jokes"

's usage"

"My pass's lob"



Hopefully this helps to clarify things!

-Giovanni