Archive for February 2012

Jack Sparrow They Ain’t   2 comments

A rather hot topic that finds its way into writer’s forums from time to time is also a touchy one. The topic is plagiarism. Of all the acts of theft and piracy on the internet, this one stands out as the one that elicits the deepest emotions. Small wonder there, when you consider the act can be seen as nothing short of emotional rape, and here’s why.

To give him credit, that loveable character from the Disney movies, Captain Jack Sparrow, has a sense of honor. True, it’s a bit bent, but it is there. Plagiarists have no such compunctions. While Jack Sparrow may seemingly betray a friend, he always makes up for it in the end. Plagiarists offer nothing short of a backhanded apology, more often than not a lie, when they get caught. And, you can bet they never offer to make things right. Their only concern is to make as much as they can from another’s hard work and toil. The only thing they really feel sorry for is getting caught.

Given how easy the digital revolution has made it for plagiarists, it is becoming a far more common occurrence than it was before. True, you can steal a movie, or a CD and sell illegal copies on the web, but only writers are subject to having the work put in someone else’s name. Could you imagine the flak if someone put Star Wars on the web under a name other than George Lucas?

Let’s look at some of the things a writer goes through for our non-writing friends who may read this, and maybe they can see why an author would consider plagiarism right up there with rape.

A serious writer starts with an idea. Usually it is something he hopes has not occurred to someone else, and if it is he/she can do a different take on the subject. (If you think a fresh idea is easy, you obviously haven’t tried to come up with a new handle on Yahoo, or Gmail in the past twenty years.) Once that is set, we need a plot. We have to come up with ways to keep a reader interested in what comes next. Is it exciting enough? Are we giving out the right clues? Will anyone, other than our mothers, give a shit? Then we need interesting characters to bring that plot to life. Ever watch a boring movie with horrible actors? The problem is a thousand times worse in print. Then we have to come up with a satisfying, and hopefully moving/surprising, end to the tale. Think writing that high school essay was a pain in the ass, try making it 50,000 to 100,000 words long sometime.

After spending hundreds of hours working all of that out, hundreds more actually typing it. Then go back and re-work parts that just flat out suck. Worry some more about whether or not the dialog feels real enough, and what harebrained mistakes you’ve missed. Beg for a few beta readers to point out your harebrained mistakes so you can spend a few hundred hours trying to make them work, or replace them all together. Lose untold hours of sleep trying to figure out how to get out of the hole you so cleverly wrote your hero into. (Starting to get the picture, yet? And I haven’t even touched grammar, spelling, syntax,or pacing.)

Then, after all those hours of blood and sweat to turn out a story you hope people will like, along comes the plagiarist who does nothing more than copy a year, or more, of your life into a word processor; hits find and replace; changes the title, and puts it out as theirs. A grand total of an hour, if that. Just to make a buck off your work without having to do any of it themselves.

Lowest of the low doesn’t begin to describe this sorry excuse for a human being. I’ve far more respect for the anyone-can write-a-book crowd filling up Amazon than I do for a plagiarist.

The main problem, I hate to say it, is actually the sites that give the plagiarist a place to put his stolen booty up for sale. Without a format to sell on these low lifes are about as effective as a super soaker against a forest fire. And, no, I don’t believe the, “We can’t check every book to see if its been stolen,” excuse. How hard is it to check your own data base? My gods, I can do it in a few hours with Copyscape, and Google. And I’m on dial-up! So that excuse doesn’t fly any better than a lead balloon.

As usual it is up to us writers to do something about this problem, and as long as we allow the sellers to hide behind that excuse, it will continue. They don’t really care, because they get their cut regardless. The only way this will change in anyway for the better is if we do something about it. Trust me, forgive and forget is the same thing the school bully counts on. As long as you let him, he is going to take your lunch money.

As Jack Sparrow would say,”Savey?”

I put quite a few links in this article, they’re the darker blue text, and none of them are BS advertising sites. Spend the thirty some odd dollars to copyright your work properly: and check out the links. Then be prepared to do something about it if it happens to you. If not, well, that’s your business. But, why complain if you allow the bully to bloody your nose?

Later, Gang.

Advertisements

Breaking New Ground   4 comments

It should come as no surprise that mega-author J.K. Rowling is taking her literary talents into a new direction. Particularly since it has been the buzz of the internet after she made the announcement just a couple of days ago. What is interesting is Ms. Rowling’s statement that the success of the Harry Potter series has given her the freedom to move into other areas of story telling, aka; writing an “adult” novel.

Now, as far as I knew, one of the appeals of Harry Potter happened to be that nearly as many adults read the books as children did. Probably just as many, if you could get the adults who read it in the broom closet to come out and say so. The reason for this cross-age phenomenon is pretty easy to see. Ms. Rowling is a very gifted storyteller, and writer. She knows how to put a story together and make it work, regardless of the age group it is target towards.

But, I digress. Her statement about literary freedom is what intrigued me the most. It implies that Ms. Rowling was feeling somewhat trapped, and a bit stereotyped by the genre which made her a household name. She isn’t the first author to feel this way, or to be saddled with typecasting. It has happened to numerous famous authors, and the only recourse in the past was to write under a pen name. Think Steven King and Richard Bachman. Isn’t it amazing that the Bachman books started climbing in sales once it was revealed that poor Richard was none other than Steve King?

Let’s face it, most of us are in this business with the desire to make a living doing something we love. Those of us still struggling for a bit of recognition know writing a story is anything but a “get-rich-quick” prospect. It’s hard work, both mentally and physically. (If you don’t believe that last part, you try sitting in the same position for hours on end, day after day, and tell me how your back feels in a month.) But, the prospect of paying our bills, feeding out families, and loving the job we earned to do it with keeps us going.

Most of us are also guilty of pigeonholing authors who have “made it” into neat little genres. We think of Isaac Asimov as a science fiction writer, we think of Steven King as a horror writer, (even after he has proven us wrong with such great stories as The Green Mile, and The Body/Stand By Me), we think of Louis L’Amour as a western writer. It seems to be a natural instinct of human kind to stick everyone, and everything, into little boxes and try to keep them there. A habit that has ruined more than one career in the entertainment world, although the symptom is more prevalent in Hollywood and television.

Fortunately, this is a habit that is beginning to show its age, and is slowly being out modded. Good actors are no longer being typecast as the persona that made them famous, and it appears that good authors are breaking out of their “molds’ as well. That is encouraging for those of us who haven’t broken into the business yet. While I adore Speculative Fiction, and can’t see writing anything else in the future, I would hate to think that I could end up chained to the title of fantasy author, and incapable of writing a good science fiction, or horror story.

Heck, I love Wild Berry Skittles, too, but I’m also certain that a diet of nothing else would soon have me despising them.

Old habits are hard to lay in their graves, and I’m fairly certain that it will be a long time before the art of typecasting will be ready for its own funeral. The symptoms of its, hopefully, terminal disease are beginning to show, and when it finally does expire I’ll be one of the first to lay flowers on the mound and bid it adieu.

Until then, our best wishes for Ms. Rowling, and our thanks for pounding another nail into typecasting’s coffin.

Later, Gang.

Who’s Telling This Story, Anyway?   2 comments

Point of View, (POV). Now here is a subject that can drive a new author as crazy as I am. Just who is telling your story? An omnipotent god, a mere mortal, the main character? does it matter? In a nut shell, yes it does, but perhaps not the way you think.

Each of the most common points of view a writer can use to tell their story has strengths, and weaknesses. Some will fit a story better than another, and some authors are better at using a particular POV. I hope, if you are serious about your work, that you try to become proficient at them all. You never know when simply changing the POV in a story will make all the difference between a weak tale, and an eye-popping epic.

For the moment let’s look at some of the strengths and shortcomings of some of the most common POVs.

First Person:

This is the most natural way to tell a story. It was the one Neolithic Man used to tell the rest of the tribe about the hunt, the one your parents used to teach you about the mistakes they made, and the first one you were taught in school. (Remember all those “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” essays?)

It is also the one most despised by literary Puritans. It is an easy POV to write in, and anything easy can’t be good. Right? Good thing Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Allen Poe, Mary Shelly, Mark Twain, and a slew of other iconic writers chose to ignore them. Other wise we wouldn’t have Treasure Island, The Telltale Heart, Huck Finn, or Frankenstein. At the very lest none of those classics would have the same flavor, or impact they enjoy.

The major drawback to First Person is its constraint. If a major turning point in the plot happens to occur when the narrator is absent, then it has to be relayed to the reader second hand. It took Stevenson three whole chapters to handle this in Treasure Island. It also leaves the story open to bogging down in too much tell, not enough show. Also if a secondary character has thoughts or feelings that the reader needs to know, the narrator must become psychic, or another story device has to be introduced to let him know about it.

Third Person Subjective:

This is the workhorse of fiction. It is the most used, and invites us to ride along with the protagonist while denying the reader the intimacy of the personal pronoun. Unless he/she happens to use “I” in the dialog, that is.
Without knowing anything about the main character, the reader forms an opinion based on the method the author uses to introduce him/her. It also allows the author to comment from outside of the character’s immediate experiences.

With it, the writer can mention how good, or bad a place/situation is without having to resort to mind reading. For example:

“Robert Dagget entered the lone tavern of Killpenny. It was a brawling kind of dive, with a reputation for a rowdy clientele.”

With that single sentence I’ve stepped outside the character, and let the reader know something First Person could not. Without the protagonist thinking to himself about a reputation he knew of before hand, he has no way to relay that information without self reflection. This isn’t a bad thing. A clever writer can come up with any myriad of ways to do the same thing in First Person. But it will totally change the feel of the work. For example:

“I entered the lone tavern of Killpenny. I’d heard it was a dive with a rowdy reputation where a brawl could break out at any moment.”

Either method works just fine for any number of reasons, but I’m sure you can feel the difference between the two methods of storytelling. The first feels like a epic adventure, the second like a Mickey Spillane detective story. I’d also say you have your personal choice as to which one works better. Truthfully, without more of the story to go on, it would be impossible to say which one would work better.

Multi-Person Perspective:

This is where the story is told by several characters, each with their own section. This is as close as modern writing comes to classic Omniscient. It is probably more familiar with our television/movie mentality because it gives the author the opportunity to switch both scene and character when one begins to grow boring, or you need to let the reader in on a secret the protagonist does not know about.

J.R.R. Tolkien made good use of this method in the Lord Of the Rings saga. Tired of watching Frodo struggle to get to Mount Doom? Switch to Arragon bringing the army of the dead under his control, or Gandalf instructing Pipin to lite the beacon tower.

The drawback here is usually related to too many scene changes. You can give the reader a literary crick in the neck faster than the audience at a Chinese ping-pong match. So you have to be extra careful with your transitions.

There are other POVs that authors use, but they are not used as often as these three. All that matters is which one can you tell your story best in. That makes all the difference in the world. You should at least have a go at them all, but use the ones that best fit your story, and you are the best at using.

Later, Gang.

It’s Not What You Write About   7 comments

I’m pretty sure most of us have heard that old saw, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” Well with that in mind, because it is true more often than not, let’s apply that to writing. It’s not what you write about, it’s how you write it.

Let’s face it. Ebook publishing, and POD publishing, has made it easy to get a story out there to the public. For serious writers who sweat and toil over their craft, trying to turn out the best product they can, this is damn good news. The downside, (There always seems to be a downside.), is that same ease has opened up a flood gate of pure garbage from the get-rich-quick writing-is-easy crowd. Anyone who thinks that has never tried to seriously write a grocery list, much less a novel.

The result is; there are a lot of Tara Gilesbies putting out feature length versions of My Immortal, or pretty close to it, every day. If you don’t know what, or who, I’m referring to here count yourself lucky. If you happen to Google My Immortal or Tara, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

My good friend, and fellow writer, Darke Conteur, assures me that eventually these characters will fade from the scene. I hope she is right, but I don’t think she’s considered the fresh crop of Taras popping up daily. (BTW, Darke has two ebooks published, and I can 100% guarantee you that both are well worth reading. Darke is very serious about her craft and how well her stories come out. Darke writes some damn good Paranormal Fantasy and you can check her work out here at Smashwords.com. At $.99, and $1.99 neither novel will break the bank, and you’ll more than get your money’s worth.)

Our mission as serious writers/storytellers is to make certain we put out the best we can do. The truth is this has little to do with genre, or idea, but it has everything to do with how you tell your story.

To illustrate my point, what would you think if I told you I had an idea about a full length novel involving rabbits. I would even give them their own pseudo language, and there wouldn’t be a human being in the whole story. Sounds like a silly idea for a novel, or a children’s book doesn’t it? But that is exactly the idea Richard Adams had when he wrote the best selling classic, Watership Down. And it certainly isn’t a children’s book, it’s classified as a heroic fantasy.

Now, on it’s own, most agents, publishing houses, and editors would dissmiss such a concept for a novel out of hand. Naturally that didn’t happen, and the reason was because Mr. Adams knows how to write a story. It wasn’t what he wrote about that made Watership Down a international best seller for thirty years, it was how he wrote it. There in lies the rub.

All too many future authors spend too much time trying to pin down the next trend in writing, or follow the current trend all too closely. Instead they should be working on how to tell a good story. How to write fiction that sells.

True it is scarier to do so, your taking a risk. But, no more so than the risk we take by just being another faceless member of the follow-the-popular-trend crowd. Even then, if we work hard on how to tell a good story, it is possible to upset the current King/Queen of the hill, and take their spot for ourselves. Actually that last part is even harder than striking out on your own literary path. The odds of being dismissed as a “copycat writer” are better than the ones you’ll face in blazing your own trail.

So, how do you learn to write a novel that sells?

There are plenty of “how to” books out there that can tell you just that. All you have to do is be willing to listen, and apply what they have to teach. Writer’s Digest has a slew of them, and it’s worth the small expense to pick out one, or two, and learn the craft. Even the poorest of us can put a buck, or two aside a week. Maybe even hint at a birthday, or Christmas present. And there is always the library.

Either way, it’s a small investment that will pay you big dividends later on. It may also save you from becoming the Tara Gilesbie of the E-publishing world. Well maybe not that bad, but would you even want to be considered a close second in that contest? 😉

Later, Gang;
Pete

Digital Self-Publishing and DYI   Leave a comment

Keeping up with the changes to the world of writing over the past couple of decades or so, seems daunting enough. Between Print On Demand technologies, Epublishing, Kindle, Mobi, Barnes&Noble getting in on the ebook reader bandwagon, as well as the ever shrinking advances and support from the traditional publishing houses; it can feel more than a bit overwhelming for the aspiring author. Particularly if you happen to be completely new to the business.

To make matters worse, if you do decide to go the self-publishing route you will discover that everything is left in your hands. This means that you are responsible for Graphics, (your cover art); Typesetting, (the look of your book), Proofreading (finding all those niggeling little gaffs that people will point to and say, “What a dumbass.”); Editing, (I don’t really have to explain this one, do I?); Marketing, (Advertising, promoting, etc.); and Formatting, (making certain your ‘baby’ looks just as good in Kindle as it does in Mobi, etc.).

Unless you happen to have major bank to hire a pro to do these jobs for you, you are stuck with Do It Yourself, (DYI). The problem here is, not all of us are Graphic artists, Salesmen, or typesetters. (Plus one points if you know what kerning is. If you have to look it up, then you know what I’m rambling on about.)

Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a big bankroll to spend on any of these necessary endeavors. To be honest, with my medical bills I’m doing well to ensure we get to eat something besides soup beans once a month around the old homestead. That fact alone leaves me in pretty much the same situation as most of you out there.

And lets face it, most of us are not computer programmers. So formatting in different reader languages holds the same frustration as trying to write a gaming program in C++, Pascal, Cobal, and Assembly simultaneously. Which doesn’t take into consideration that most programs are notoriously stubborn about reading another programs files. In fact they’re downright prejudiced about it. One of the reasons that webpages view differently between browsers.

But, take heart. Although this all seems to be akin to climbing Mount Everest with nothing more than a bag of rosin and a pair of tennis shoes for equipment, there is much we can learn to make the task easier. We might not be able to do every one of those tasks that go into publishing a book, but what we can do will go a long way towards “rolling our own.”

For this round let’s focus on formatting. Since most of us are trying to make a living as writers, we need to build as large a readership as we possibly can within our chosen genres. This means that we can not rely on Amazon, or Smashwords to do the job for us. Well, we can with Smashwords, to an extent. But that seems akin to allowing someone else to breathe for us. It might work, but it probably won’t work as well as breathing for ourselves.

Unless you are proficient in HTML, XML, or Mobi, you’re going to have to find a way to accomplish this task for ourselves. As you probably guessed, this means a couple of programs to do the job for us, and a way to check our results.

First off you will need at least two separate ebook reading programs, one for Kindle and one for Mobi, (Barns& Noble use the Mobi format). The Kindle reader program is free for your PC, and can be found here from Amazon. Mobi format reader for PC can also be downloaded for free here. And if you want to make certain that you have as many possible versions to cover as many bases as you can, here is where you can find out about The Top 4 Free ePub Readers for PC.

Ok. Now that we have a way to actually see what our ebook will look like in pretty much all the top ebook readers, it’s time to get down to some serious DYI formatting.

The easiest way to get this part of the job done also involves two free programs. One is Sigil, a What You See Is What You Get, (WYSIWYG), ebook editor; the other is Calibre, an ebook manager capable of doing a pretty good job of changing an ebook’s format without messing up the book’s look… most of the time. To fix any problems you may have in this, and other areas of useing these two programs to format your own ebooks for self-publishing, here are some links to a few tutorials that can help you over those rough spots:

IT Connect/Creating ePUB Ebooks.

How To Easily Write and Publish Ebooks with Sigil.

Getting Started with Calibre.

Now, before you get to thinking this is easy, don’t. It is easier than learning HTML, or Mobi coding language, but your still going to have to do some serious work. The upside is, you will know for certain how your book is going to look to the reader. The more proficient you become in using these programs, the more professional your ebook will look.

Good luck, and I hope this makes it easier for you to get the results you want.

Ever;
Pete