Ten Imagination-Building Exercises

image

Think Differently: Ten Excercises For a Better Imagination

I don’t have much truck with writing exercises. I think your main writing exercise is, and should always be, writing something. Just ‘doing an exercise’ is essentially giving yourself homework, and it’s giving yourself homework with the automatic assumption that what you’re doing is just an exercise, so it doesn’t really count for shit in the first place.

Success will never be had, in these circumstances. Most of us have a limited amount of time to sit down and write anyway; using some of that time ‘just for exercises’ isn’t helping you. Your aim, every time you sit down to whatever it is you sit down to, should be to create something you can eventually publish.

This is not, I note, the same as saying you should never experiment. Want to try writing a story with no adverbs in it? Be my guest. Want to do one of those cheesy ‘your character writes a letter to X’ things? Letter onwards. But only do it if you have an idea. Only do it if it’s something that strikes a chord with you. No good story was ever begun with the phrase ‘I’m going to write something today that never uses the word ‘said”. It was begun with an idea: ‘hey, what if there was a monk who lost his rosary?’, and then, if you please, you can shout, whisper, murmur, and belt your way to the conclusion.

Had to get that off my chest. The reason being, of course, that I’m about to offer you some everyday writing exercises. Ain’t I a hypocrite?

Not really. Very few of these involve actually putting pen to paper. What I’m offering, instead, are more thought exercises–ways to expand your mind, man. Imagination is key in good writing, and I see few ‘writing exercises’ that flex those particular muscles.

Because, yeah, you need inspiration to write. If you try to just churn it out, what you’ll churn out will be page after page of drivel (if you haven’t been keeping up with my NaNo experiment, I proved this to myself last month).

Here’s the deal with inspiration, though. You can’t just sit there and wait for it to come to you. You have to set out manfully into the West and find your inspiration, and lasso your inspiration, and drag it back to the paddy and break it like the wild motherfucking thing it is. There are a lot of thoughts floating around in your cranium bubble, and recognizing a good one–catching it as it passes you by on its gossamer wings–is a lot harder than all our talk of muses and inspirational writ suggests.

To find your inspiration, you have to start thinking differently. We’re humans–we’re hardwired to focus on our own survival and happiness. And that’s not a bad thing, when you aren’t doing something creative: when you are, though, it’s time to expand your fucking mind. A good idea doesn’t capture some great universal truth, it captures the little daily truths, which, if arranged correctly, might echo something that resonates. It’s why we show, not tell. Which is more powerful: the phrase ‘everyone died but me’, or the lifeboat in the middle of the ocean with five life vests still in factory ties?

These exercises are intended to help you find life’s little truths, the details we miss when we start thinking about How The World Is Today. Imagination is limitless–which is awesome, yeah, but also kind of terrifying. Here’s me helping you use your imagination.

1) What coins do you have in your pocket? Look at them, examine them. Some are old and ugly, some are shiny and new. How many other people have touched these coins? What situations have they been in, to give them the scars they do (or don’t) have? Got an older coin that’s still in shiny shape in there? Why do you think it is that way?

2) Find one thing in the course of your day that doesn’t work. A cooler at the convenience store, an out of order vending machine, that sort of thing. Speculate on why. Speculate on how long it’s been that way.

3) Notice ten people of different ages and backgrounds. Now ask yourself: what kind of underwear are they wearing? If you feel like getting arrested today, go ask and see how close to right you were.

4) Read a book by an author from a different country. The less you know about that country, the better.

5) When you overhear two strangers arguing (and trust me, you will if you pay attention) pick an arguer to side with. Then, justify the point of view of the arguer you disagree with. (Handy dandy note: don’t do this out loud.)

6) When you’re watching TV: pick a scene. Imagine what went on when the camera wasn’t rolling.

7) Name three ways in which you have been lazy today, including why they are lazy. (I’ve already got one for you. I’m all rainsplattered and damp because, in the long run, it was easier to walk in the rain and get wet than it was to use my umbrella. Yes. I am that lazy.)

8) Take the first two words that come out of this random word generator. Now, write an eight hundred word flash piece using both of them. Don’t go over the word limit. (For extra credit, share your creations in the comment section.)

9) Take those same two words and write a second eight hundred word story. Don’t reuse anything–characters, setting, plot, theme–from the first one.

10) When you pass a building under construction, take a second. Imagine the amount of money that went into building it. Who’s putting up the cash? Why is it being built? Did anyone really not want that bulding to be there, and if so, who? Is this building some architecture student’s first job, or some world-weary master’s triumph?

How to Critique Correctly

image

How to Critique Correctly

At this point, as an indie writer, I’ve done some critique swaps and critique groups, and I’m going to be honest: nobody likes doing them. Constructive criticism is a necessary evil, and nobody likes receiving it or giving it. Doing it well takes time and effort, and you pretty much know you’re ruffling somebody’s feathers a little if you have a lot to say. And, of course, then there’s the end where YOUR feathers get ruffled: I feel like the emotions involved there pretty much need no introduction.

Here’s the thing, though: there are right ways and wrong ways to critique, and knowing how to do it right will serve you well. The members of your critique group are, after all, your allies–they’re not trying to hurt you, and you aren’t trying to hurt them. Handling your critiques carefully can save time AND animosity, and is a necessary skill in group editing situations.

1) The Compliment Sandwich

I learned this–and you’re going to laugh–at creative writing camp as a kid. Yes, they have creative writing camps. But, kid or not, it’s a very useful and painless strategy, and simple to employ:

Sandwich your criticism in between two breadslices of positive feedback, the first complimentary and the second constructive.

It’s that easy. For instance:

This was a great story, and I enjoyed your dialogue especially: it flows well, and you pass important information along with no stiffness or hesitation. However, you might want to back away from using so many emdashes: after a while, all the emdashes made it difficult to tell who was speaking. If you want characters to seem like they’re interrupting each other, emdashes are a good way of making it happen, but you might want to consider adding more speech tags to denote who’s who.

See how that worked?

You begin with an undisguised, unabashed compliment. Even if you’re NOT feeling it, do it. It’s just polite. You’d want others to do the same for you. (‘Why do I need to possibly lie to make some thin-skinned writer’s ego happy?’ some of you might ask. My answer: ‘is typing ‘that was a great story’ really so goddamned difficult? Are you betraying your core values that much? You don’t belong in a group critique.’)

Now, find a SPECIFIC thing you liked about this story. Compliment it honestly. Come on, there’s something.

After that, narrow down to your critique. ‘I really enjoyed your dialogue, BUT.’ Remember, as you critique, that you’re trying to be helpful here. State your problem specifically, and, if you can, offer a constructive solution. If you don’t have a solution for the problem, it’s best to mention it anyway: you can’t have all the answers, after all, but if you think it’s a problem then it probably is. (‘I don’t know how to tell you to fix this, but I really feel like Castor and Pollux sound out of character in the fifth chapter.’)

2) Consider the Writer.

An established writer, or, really, anyone who’s been doing this for a while, has a certain style. Consider, as you critique, whether or not your critique is style related. A writer who’s been writing short, terse sentences since 1978 probably isn’t going to expand into flowery page and a half long sentencegasms just because you advise it, and, furthermore, is probably going to get a little bit pissy over you suggesting they try.

Even if you think it’s an issue, basic style concerns aren’t going to change. Only comment on these if it directly affects the clarity or effectiveness of the story: for instance, if your page-and-a-half sentencer is writing a noir novel, it might be time to mention something.

3) Do YOU understand what’s going on?

Also: before you critique, please Jesus, make sure YOU understand what the author is saying. I’ve gotten a lot of critiques in my time from people who plainly only read the story once, and then not too carefully, and lemme tell you, I mostly just throw these out. The critique writer hasn’t made the effort to read my story, why should I read their critique?

A few years ago, someone criticized a story of mine pretty strongly because a girl was running, jumping, and climbing trees in a petticoated dress. This would have been absolutely fair criticism, if I hadn’t devoted the better part of a page to the girl changing her clothing early on in the story. Guess the critiquer just skipped around a little, eh?

A note: if you read the story carefully and still don’t get it, then yeah, the problem isn’t with you, and you need to mention it. You might not be the sort of person the story was written for, but, hell, any sort of person can read a story, and the author would probably like to know what makes sense to whom.

4) Watch your language.

Don’t curse at your writer friend, obviously. But, more specifically: choose the words in which you give your critique carefully. Avoid accusatory statements, such as ‘you didn’t —” or “you shouldn’t have —“. Actually, I’m tempted to tell you to avoid second person as a form of address altogether, except I don’t think that’s quite right, either: referring always to the writing and not to the writer can leave your critique sounding cold and impersonal, and besides, you know how it is. You insult a writer’s baby, you insult the writer anyway.

My final thought: try and employ second person more in the compliment parts of your critique than the negative parts. Just…try. It also helps to emply first person often: ‘I felt that —‘, ‘when reading the second chapter, I noticed–‘. I’m not sure why this is, maybe it just adds in a personal element, but it makes the medicine go down a little easier for me.

Long story short, avoid accusative statements, and loaded generalized words such as crazy, bad, mistake, stupid, lazy, etc. Comments that include these words aren’t constructive, and you can put in better feedback without using them. (For instance, instead of saying ‘first person was a poor choice for this story’, try saying ‘I think this character’s motives would be a lot clearer if the story was written in third person’. Not only is your point more concise and reasoned, but it comes across as a lot less negative).

5) Remember your goal.

Your goal in criticizing a story is NOT to tear someone down, or prove how great at giving advice you are, or just get through it so you can get your own critiques. Your goal is to HELP. It is to provide useful, directed advice that will, in your mind, make this story better. And, to that end, you want to be as clear as possible, without offending. After all, statements like ‘this story needs a lot of work’ don’t help anyone, do they? If it needs a lot of work, list the things that need to be done. As you’ve agreed to provide critique, this is quite literally your job.

Angry critiquers, who feel like this is ‘pussyfooting’, I would like you to note the things I have NOT asked you to do here:

1) Hide your opinion.
2) Lie, except in the most innocent general way.
3) Cover up your problems with the story (in fact, my method allows you to state them more completely).

The fact is, a proper critique should NEVER leave a writer with even an eighth inch of skin thinking their story is bad. (Yes, there are some super-sensitives out there. They don’t belong in group critiques, either).

How, you might ask, is this possible, if I have ten pages of negative critique to bestow?

My answer is, no critique should be downright negative. Constructive, yes. But not negative. It costs you very little to let the words ‘good story’ escape your lips, and it might make your ten pages of critique slide down a little easier. It might, even, be good for the story to compliment–a writer who doesn’t feel mortally offended is more likely to take your advice.

Next post, we’re going to do the version of this on accepting criticism with grace.

Yours,
E

Finishing NaNoWrimo: Last Thoughts

image

Finishing NaNoWriMo

So I just, less than an hour ago, finished NaNoWriMo.

I wrote 50,076 words, at final count. I had to fluff a little to get the last bit out and make it 50,000 words. With how I write, this’ll some day turn into a 100,000 word novel, so I’m not too upset about it.

But I feel a little funny.

Y’see, after all that effort–after all that work–I’m not sure it was worth it.

I know. Betraying the cause, etc.

But here’s the thing. I’m a professional. (If I keep chanting that to myself, it’ll one day feel like it’s true). I’ve written over 50K in less than a month before, and it wasn’t during NaNo. So the wordcount honestly doesn’t mean much to me. I already had proof of my own productivity, long before I did this.

The hard truth of it is, I don’t know if this is a story I would have finished, if not for NaNoWriMo. And I don’t mean that in an ‘I would’ve fucked off because I never finish anything ever’ way.

I mean it in a ‘this was not my best story idea’ way. In the last 25K, it lacked inspiration.

Editing can cure a lot, but I don’t know if it can EVER cure a lack of inspiration.

There’s a lot of talk on writing blogs about inspiration not being a real thing, but I think, deep down in our hearts, we all know that isn’t true. Inspiration is what happens when you write the good stuff, and yes, some of your stuff is better than other bits of your stuff.

You can still write without inspiration. I think I just proved that for about 25K words. The question becomes: should you? Really–should you?

I’ll be honest, I usually pick up the pen whenever I have that ‘a-ha!’ moment. Whenever I’m sitting around, thinking about that scene I left my characters in, and I suddenly know what should happen next. This isn’t to say I’m not a productive writer–I’m plenty productive. I know how to force the in-between moments when they need to be forced. In addition to my NaNo novel this month, I wrote two 6K stories, about 5K worth of blog posts, and, oh, we’ll say about 10K on a beloved side project. I can make the numbers add up no problem.

But, in the end, I don’t think NaNo quite leaves you enough time for those ‘a-ha!’ moments. And, while I think being able to force out 50K in a month is a good exercise, and might help folks who have trouble with it with productivity, I don’t know that it’s the right way to go about things for me.

Creative writing isn’t about cranking about copy. That’s an element of it, sure–but it’s an element in the same way composition or perspective are elements in the artistic process. Is it important to understand these things, and be able to use them? Yes. Undoubtedly. You wouldn’t get very far without them.

But a simple understanding of perspective does not a masterpiece make. Like good writing, good art is extremely subjective–and illusive. Long story short, if you don’t think you’re going to paint a masterpiece, don’t stretch the goddamn canvas in the first place.

Because, trust me. If you can’t fool yourself into thinking you’ve got a masterpiece in you, you sure as hell won’t fool anybody else.

With the last half of this one, I haven’t fooled myself, and that is NOT a good sign.

So we’ll take our sad little NaNo novel, and we’ll let it rest for a month. And then, when the holidays are over, we’ll see if we can edit it into the story it should have been. More likely than not, it’ll have to be rewritten: but there’s the germ of a good story in there, and Rome wasn’t built in a day, etc. etc., aphorism aphorism.

So I won NaNo, but I don’t FEEL like I won. And all the chirpy little automated NaNo messages in my inbox–‘OMG u finished! Wow! We’re so proud of you for some reason!’–wind up ringing false.

I’m hard on myself, a little. But what I’ve done WASN’T an incredible thing, and writing isn’t about wordcount.
And that’s just how it is.

See you on Friday, kids. Happy Thanksgiving to my American followers.

Fright Week Flash Fiction VII: The Alternative

image
Photo by joe burge at freeimages.com.

We’re ending Fright Week on a spooky yet blackly funny note–and we’re talking about the scariest thing in our modern world, student loan repayment. Ooo-wee-ooooo. Might not be the most startlingly original story in this collection, but it’s my favorite.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the week of spooky flash fiction. Have a happy Halloween.

The Alternative

“If your loan goes into default, your paycheck could be garnished up to fifteen percent,” the nice lady on the phone tells me, concern infused in every syllable. “If you get refund money at tax time, the government can take that, as well.”

I stare at the wall. I know I need to do something–something–but what can I do? I have rent and utilities to pay, just like everybody else. My parents won’t give me a cent. I’ve pissed off just about every friend I have.

I need to pay off my loan. I know I do. But I also need to eat.

“I just…I don’t have any money,” I mutter. This conversation is probably being recorded–don’t they record them? I want to scream, and curse, and throw things, but she’s a thousand miles away in some cubicle, and besides, she’s just doing her job. And it’s probably a shitty enough job already. I’m sure a lot of people do scream and curse.

“Times are pretty hard,” the lady says. God, that concern. Do they train them in the precise inflection necessary to make us scumbags feel like total wastes of breath? Do they play recordings of someone’s mother to them, educate them that way in disappointed sighs?

But what she says next catches my attention. It’s something no one has said before.

“Of course,” my loan lady says, “there’s the alternative.”

“What alternative? Bankruptcy?”

“We’re starting a program. It’s called A Pound of Flesh–you can look it up on our website, if you’re curious.”

“I’m curious.”

“Well, it’s one of our charity initiatives. If you’re lower income–if you make less than 15,000 dollars a year–you can donate a part of yourself for forbearance time. A piece of your liver earns you six months, an eye or a lung earns you a year. If you’re interested in loan forgiveness, you might want to look up our Kindly Kidneys initiative. The parts go to your local hospital, where they’re donated to a lucky person in need.”

I’m glad she can’t see me. I can feel my jaw hanging open. “You’re kidding me,” I say at last. “You people are accepting body parts in lieu of payment? Is that even legal?”

“We want to provide everyone the opportunity for good credit,” my loan lady says. Which isn’t exactly an answer.
I shake my head. I know she can’t hear me do it, but I imagine she’s had this conversation enough times to know it’s happening.

“Shit,” I say at last. I don’t care if they’re recording. They deserve to hear someone cuss over this–deserve to hear how ridiculous it is.

“I’ll email you one of our Pound of Flesh information packets,” my lady says, voice cheerful and carefully modulated. “It’s a good option, for someone young and healthy such as yourself. You won’t be disabled by the loss of one kidney, or one lung, or one eye. And the organs, I promise you, do go to a good cause.”

“Wait–how do you know I’m healthy?”

“Medical records.”

I don’t think my jaw can sag any closer to the floor without falling off. Hell, I kind of wish it would–then I could just give it to them and get some money back.

“I’m not interested,” I manage to say at last. “I’m–holy shit. I’m so not interested.”

And, for the first time, I hear a hint of personality in my loan lady’s voice. It’s sly, and amused, and I don’t like it one bit.

“That’s what they all say,” she tells me. “At first.”

“I’ll call you back once I’ve looked at all my options,” I tell her. I hang up.

For a while I just stand there, phone in hand, looking around my apartment. Dark, this late–I try to save money by only turning on one light at a time. Blank walls, unmade futon, empty mac n’ cheese boxes lined up like dead soldiers on the kitchen counter. The steady drip-drip-drip, from the bathroom, of a leak maintenance hasn’t been by to fix for two months. I hear money in that drip. With every liquid splatter against the sink, I hear a penny clinking, never to be seen or heard from again.

I sigh.

I open up my laptop.

*****

A few week later, I wake up in my own bathtub, surrounded by ice. Someone has placed a Sandy March Loan Company bathrobe on the toilet seat for me, next to a chocolate bar and a big glass of water. And, of course, a stack of papers. Seems like there’s always a stack of papers.

I can feel the stitches, like burrowing worms, in my abdomen. The ice has a pink tinge to it, a strange antiseptic smell–when I breathe the smell in I’m reminded of the medical personnel who filed in here a few hours ago, green scrubs bearing the Sandy March logo, full of smiles and good cheer and reassurances.

“You’re doing a great thing,” the doctor tells me. “Thanks to you, some kid’ll have kidney function for the first time in years. He’ll have a future away from hospitals, dialysis machines, doctors. He can go to college like a normal person. Now just sign here. And here. And here.”

Going to college, I want to tell him, is what got me into this mess. But I sign all the papers, I shake their hands.

What else can I do?

What other choice do I have?

“Enjoy your year of forbearance,” the doctor tells me, smiling. He slides the IV needle into my arm and there’s a little pinch, a few moments of waiting, and then–

–well. Then, I’m here. Strangely peaceful, lying in my tub of ice.

And the worst part about it is, the doctors were right. It doesn’t hurt so much, and I don’t feel any different.

And I’ve still got most of my liver, a lung, and a kidney to spare.

Writing: Women in Fantasy

image

Writing: Women in Fantasy (and Four Common Tropes I’m Bored With)

I know, I know. It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these ‘Things I’m So Damn Tired Of’ posts. And you guys have been so lonely without them. So very, very lonely.

Today’s liberal dose of hatred and despair is leveled at four fantasy heroine types who, especially in YA fiction, have become alarmingly prevalent. Now, mind you, there are good ways to do everything, and even these four maidens of mystery can be done well. But what I describe here is not the right way to do them. It’s the right way to make my fillings ache.

A brief note about ‘how to characterize women in fiction’, a subject I see touched on periodically, and grace with a brief chuckle every time I view it: you don’t have anything special to prove, when you write a woman. You don’t have to go out of your way to make her ‘badass’. Women, like men, have a remarkable range of personality traits, and a woman is no more likely to be weak or unlikeable because she’s a seamstress than a man is because he’s a tailor. A girl doesn’t have to be a tomboy or hold a sword to be awesome. A lady can, in fact, be ‘strong’ and ‘badass’ with four kids and a job as a laundress. It’s one of the weaknesses of the fantasy genre today, I think, that folk feel the need to shove a sword in someone’s hand and wrap her in chainmail to make her ‘strong’.

On the other hand, if your lady is a fighting lady–make sure she really is a fighting lady. Not everyone in a medievalesque fantasy universe runs around with a sword and fighting skillz–why did your fighting lady choose this path? What’s made her a soldier? And, for the record–it doesn’t always have to be revenge. I mean, think about it–you probably have a few friends who’ve served in the armed forces. Did they join the military for revenge?

Really?

…or did they do it because they wanted to serve their country? For the pay, maybe? Because they came from a military family? Because Dad said it was either that or go to college? Or maybe, maybe, just because they wanted to. Not everyone clutching a hauberk has to be doing it for some Great Noble Purpose.

Anyway. Without further ado:

1) Princess Hellion
She’s a princess. Which is great and all, except she totally would rather be out in the woods fighting and stuff. Except when she’s forced into fancy (usually elaborately described) gowns, has to use all those somehow-still-considered-useless Courtly Deportment lessons, and attends balls which, for reasons unknown to the plot, take up like a whole chapter. Where she meets Prince Charmingly Not Like All Those Other Men Who Expect Her to Wear A Dress All The Time. And engages in witty and pleasantly hostile repartee. Because she’s badass, which means she Says What She Means. And she’s also a princess, which means she expects to have her own way all the time, which is what princesses are like always, right?

The Breakdown: I’m so tired of the plucky princess trope. Princesses learn to behave, too–probably more seriously than the rest of us, since being shitty and offending the NExt Country ambassador can have serious consequences. If she’s really that much of a spoiled pill, guess what? People–probably the whole court–are going to despise her. No one likes a brat. Especially not as many people as like this particular type of character in fiction. Her father always adores her, Prince Charmingly Et Al. falls in love with her. Why?

How to Do It Right: Aerin, from Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword, is a little Mary Sueish, but she’s still one of the best heroines of this type. She’s a princess who likes to fight, sure, and she’s got a temper–but she’s also a genuniely likeable person, and she works hard for her dragon-slaying rights. She gets scarred, gets hurt, and makes sacrifices to save her country and earn the respect she deserves.

2) The Tortured Waif
It’s A Tragedy, Whatever Happened.

It’s a tragedy, because it left this young woman with total, like, scars. Not real scars, no. Those make people ugly. But emotional scars, totes. Usually, this is a princess or duchess or some other purebred lovely floaty ladything. Often, for reasons I can’t figure out, she’s associated with magic.

The Breakdown: Something happened, and now a whole major plotline just has to be devoted to this girl getting over it. Because there is nothing more fascinating than watching pretty people not-cry in public after weeping in private. (The villainess version of this, by the way, is even more common: the Lady Twisted With Revenge).
But she’s so strong, you know? So strong it takes her three hundred and fifty pages to ‘let go’, whatever that means.

How to Do It Right: Gonna be straight up honest, I can’t think of a single good example of this being done well right now. Usually, it’s employed more in soppy fantasy romances, anyway. My long term feelings are, if you need Great Trauma to prove how strong your character is, enough attention hasn’t been paid to characterization.

3) The Innocent Rogue
Her eyes twinkle, her fingers are nimble. She usually has freckles (and she is, entirely too often, an unknowing heiress to something or other, hidden away or abandoned at birth, etc.). She’s got a set of daggers on her, when she’s scaling buildings and scampering along roofs in the underbelly of the city. When she’s acting as the blind at a fancy ball (because there’s always a damn fancy ball in these stories) she’s charming and devastatingly beautiful and full of bon mots.
But, much though she loves a rogue’s life, she never really does anything nasty. Because thievery, as long as it’s happening in a fantasy world and not to you, is charming. Right? Right? It’s okay. She’ll save the world somehow in the end.

Breakdown: Why do people steal? Usually because they don’t have enough of stuff. This girl would either be a fairly unwilling thief, or have some nasty personality parts hidden deep, deep down. Either way, I don’t know that she’s the lady you really want as your queen later on, when she discovers her ‘heritage’ and suddenly goes legit. That whole ‘taxes’ thing is going to seem tempting.

Done Well: There were parts of this novel I disliked, but Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn deals with this character type well and believably. The main character’s brief life of crime happens first unwillingly, and then to a reasonable purpose. She’s also refreshingly clumsy at balls. Because, you know. She’s never been to one before.

4) The Woman Warrior
She’s mean with a sword. She’s struggled, sometimes quite a bit, to become The Woman Warrior (usually the only woman warrior in the story). She doesn’t have much truck with girly shit, like wearing dresses and balls and stuff (though she will, like fricking always, wind up at one eventually. Because even this attitudinal lady has to be seen in a dress. Because she’s a lady, and she has to have a softer prettier side for Love Interest to be Interested). Her movements are graceful, her sword is swift, her attitude is either repressed anger or more of those damned witty bon mots. She’s the fantasy world’s tomboy: and, like all tomboys, nobody would like her if she wasn’t still pretty. Right? Right?

Breakdown: A real soldier has spent some time being a soldier. If you’ve led a lot of campaigns, you’re probably sunburned, scarred, hoarse-voiced from shouting commands at all those assholes who don’t know as well as you do. Even if you’ve managed to escape all that, there are points when you’re on a battlefield killing people where you’re covered in blood and effluvia and your hair looks like shit. You’ve got some serious muscle, and, since you’re a warrior through and through, you don’t immediately lose your famed fighting abilities as soon as you gain a love interest.
Because no one really looks good in chainmail. No one.
I’m not saying a gal has to ugly up to do this, but come on. Soldiery is hard. Being in battle is hard. It doesn’t leave you with flawless moon-pale skin, and being around a ton of soldiers doesn’t leave you full of social graces.

Done Well: I’m going to be a self-promoting bitch and refer you to my own book here, of course. Because I do things well. I do.
The other thing that comes to mind, curiously enough, is from a YA series I loved as a kid: Tamora Pierce’s Alanna books. While Alanna gets irritatingly close to the word ‘plucky’ sometimes–and you guys can imagine how I feel about ‘plucky’–she fights hard and trains hard to become a knight, and her fiery personality comes across as a drawback as well as a bonus. And, though I think Pierce still pretties her up sometimes, she takes no shit. She’s also short, which I think is what endeared these books to me as a kid. Short people power.

Notice some trends here? These hated ladies are always pretty, always young, almost always white, usually noble, and there’s always a ballroom scene. (A ballroom scene, for those not operating at full capacity this morning, might not actually take place in a ballroom. It’s that reveal scene, where you see your ‘rugged’ heroine in a dress for the first time. You know the one. Oh, god, you do.)

There’s no proper way to portray a woman in a fantasy world. Laundresses, farmgirls, and servants are just as common–honestly, probably more common–than the nobility that makes up 90% of fantasy novels.

And another thing–women aren’t always young. Or single. Or childless. Or beautiful. ‘Strong women’ don’t always hate dresses and despise the court. I think it’s time we moved away from the pretty young tomboy and looked in on the other ninety percent of fantasy womanhood.

A badass is still a badass, even in pink–and I’m tired, so very tired, of that Disneyesque ‘ballroom scene’ where a tomboy has to dress up and let her hair down for some forsaken notion of ladyhood and ‘becoming beautiful’. When you do that one scene, you’re discrediting femininity terribly. You’re saying, essentially, that no one has noticed this woman is a woman until she puts on a dress. And, through elimination, you imply that there’s only one way to be a woman–and that way isn’t ‘strong’ or ‘badass’.

So, really. If you want to write a good fantasy female, take out the motherfucking ballroom scene. Tempting though it is, it’s cheap, and it doesn’t do anyone any favors. You can write a lady who is young, attractive, ‘plucky’, mysteriously parentless, and all those popular things. I’m not saying you can’t. But please, please, be realistic, and take a second before you do to consider the other ninety-eight percent of women out there, and whether or not you might have a stronger story with one of them.

Advice Column: Grammatical License in Writing

image

Hey there, guys. Looks like I’ve got some interest in this advice column thing! It’s fun, so we’re going to keep doing it.

As always, if you have a question about writing, self-publishing, or, well, whatever you feel like asking me, post an anonymous comment anywhere on The Blawg, or send me an email at efrussel@gmail.com. A note: I won’t moderate your comment as public where you post it, so if you’re worried about something connected to that, don’t be. The only place you’ll see it again will be in the post where I answer it.

This question comes from a reader who’s seen me around Goodreads:

Hey I saw on GoodReads that you’re doing an advice column. I’ve read your stuff and it seems descent so, I thought I’d ask your opinion.

I recently got involved in a group of authors that do review swaps (but carefully so Amazon won’t get all hot, and bothered). Anyway one of the other authors dinged me a star, on my review. She said I had too many copyedit errors. When I asked her to point out one or too, she sent back a reply listing five and said that was only for the first too pages of my novel! Many of her comments were around comma use (except for the ones about hyphens). I don’t agree with her entirely re. the use of commas, would think there is some licence here. After all what do readers know, about grammar? Tell me I’m right. I can’t wait to wave your column under her nose.

JC

Dear JC,

I hate to say it, but there might not be any column-waving this time. Readers frequently know just as much, if not more, about grammar as we do–especially readers who are also authors. 🙂

That being said, I don’t know your novel, I don’t know her, and I don’t know the errors, so for all I know, she’s wrong on all five counts.

But whether she is or isn’t–there actually ARE some hard and fast rules of comma usage, though you’d never know it to listen to a lot of grammatical conversations. You don’t just use a comma ‘whenever there’s a pause for a breath in the sentence’– one of those popular phrases that’s been getting under my skin for years. I mean, if you did that, a death scene would be nothing, but, commas. Ending in one long, neverending trail of commas.

So if you want to check up and see who has the upper hand gramatically, here’s a pretty good list of all those times you should use a comma (and some of the times you shouldn’t). I disagree with them on the subject of the Oxford comma–while it IS standard in Americanized English, this doesn’t mean it’s a hard and fast rule–but otherwise, the advice there is gold.

But here’s the thing. There are times when I’d say you have some license with grammar when writing a novel. But these are times when there’s a distinct purpose to using poor grammar–I always think of Kaye Gibbons’s Ellen Foster when I think about this, probably just because it’s the first book I ever read that did use grammar as a stylistic tool. Ellen Foster is the story of a child, told by that child, and expressed as a child with little education would express it. Therefore, Gibbons’s grammar isn’t always good.

So. A writer does have some grammatical license in a story–as long as that license is being used, knowingly, to fulfill a purpose. The sort of character who would say ‘ain’t’, in other words, should say ‘ain’t’, even though it isn’t technically correct. If a story is told first person by a nine year old girl, ‘whom’ probably isn’t going to appear very frequently in it, even when it should. So, if your story is of this sort–if your misplacement of commas (assuming it is misplacement in the first place) is done deliberately, for fairly obvious purposes of mood setting or character voice–then the point may well be yours.

Just for fun, here’s a list of some long-held grammatical rules that perhaps aren’t really hard and fast rules, and are now considered okay for a writer to break in fictional writing. The first thing she talks about is another answer to your comma question–though I actually disagree with her there (or think, at least, it’s a device that should be employed VERY carefully), it’s what you were looking for in print. Even if she uses that phrase I hate. Hope it helps!

Yours,
Emily

My New Blog Feature: Writerly Advice Column!

image
Photo by Klaus Post at freeimages.com, uglified by moi.

I received an anonymous comment a few post back, and dad GUM if it didn’t give me the best fricking idea EVER.

We’re going to do an advice column. Because…well, why the hell not? It’s super fun. My advice is occasionally good. And this tickled me to tears. So.

If you have any questions you’d like me to answer in a post, feel free to add an anonymous comment to any post, or send me an email at efrussel@gmail.com. I prefer writerly questions, but hell, I’ll take your day-to-day too. Do I have credentials? No. Aw, hell no. But I have opinions in spades.

Dear Emily,

A writer friend told me I could count on you for advice about a sticky writerly situation. I’m up a creek; I’m dancing in the frying pan contemplating the fire; I’m caught between the devil and the deep blue sea (not that I’m particularly religious). I’m… well… wordless!

When I named my lead, I gave him a common name anyone would recognize. But then I gave him a shortened nickname that he prefers to be called–and no one knows how to pronounce it! Not only do my beta readers get it wrong when they talk to me, someone posted a review on AMAZON with INCORRECT PHONETIC PRONUNCIATION!!! Now EVERYONE says it wrong! (Okay… at least the ten people who bought the book get it wrong.)

What should I do?? Slap my beta readers around? Send a pipe bomb to the reviewer? Add a pronunciation guide to the start of each book? (Ew, he’s the lead in a SERIES! On the other hand, now that Amazon pays for lends by the word…)

Could you please reply on your blog, maybe dedicate a column to the care and feeding of readers? (I wouldn’t want friends or family to see the mail in my account while they’re violating my privacy.)

Thanks,
Embarrassed in Edenton

Dear Embarrassed in Edenton, (Changed your location, in case of beloved close-to-home privacy violators. Hope that’s okay!)

There may be questions in life to which pipe bombs are not the answer. However–they’re questions I never want to ask.
Pipe bombs aside–after all, internet stalking an Amazon reviewer can get tricky and downright tiresome, once you’re over the initial gonna-get-you thrill–I’d say you have a few choices.

First off–if people you know are mispronouncing the name, kindly and politely correct them. They won’t mind–after all, how would they know? This way, you at least don’t have to hear it all the time. That’s probably the worst part of it–just hearing it. Trust me, I just wrote a story called The King’s Might, and the main character, Jalith–his name is pronounced Hay-LEETHE. Of course, no one other than me really knows that, so, you know. I walk around all day, EVERY day, with the heavy knowledge of that (doubtless global) mispronunciation, JAYlith, like the burden of Atlas on my shoulders.

But Jalith is how I see it.

So, Atlaslike, I wander the earth.

That’s the thing, though. After those inital few people you talk to have been slapped into sensibility, you have to decide: just how important is the correct pronunciation of this nickname to you?

Because, even if you put a giant bold note in the front of the book, people are still going to mispronounce it. It’s just one of the failures of written communication. I didn’t understand that the name Telemachus, the son of Odysseus in the Odyssey, wasn’t pronounced ‘telly-machus’ until I was about sixteen, and happened to hear the name pronounced for the first time in high school English. In SPITE of the fact that my copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology had a glossary (with phonetic pronunciations!) in the back. In SPITE of the fact (and this one is amazing, I know) that I took Greek. At least, I’m pretty sure I’d taken Greek by that point. But you get it, anyway.

If it bothers you deeply, check and see if there’s somewhere you could write in a scene in which the pronunciation of the character’s name matters. Maybe a barista calls his name to get a coffee and he has to correct her, someone makes up a rhyme about him, he’s picking up an order left under his name, something similar–I don’t know your story, so it’s hard to say exactly what this might be, but you get the idea. People are far more likely to notice something IN the actual story than a note or aside. People tend to skip those.

Of course, you should only do this if you can do it without forcing it too terribly. But if you can, it’s probably the best way.

If you can’t, and you want to at least stake a claim on the right pronunciation, a glossary or a forward note does sound like your only other option. Of course, it sounds like you’ve already published, so precisely how much work you’re willing to go through for this is up to you. It wouldn’t affect your novel negatively, I don’t think, so there’s no harm in adding it. After all, it didn’t ruin Tolkien.

My point is, though–in the long run, people will mispronounce. They’re just going to do it. And you’re right, probably more now that someone had laid the turds of mispronunciation all over your Amazon page (pipe bombs and a reply are both, sadly, not a recommended solution). But, if I were you, I wouldn’t let it keep me up too late at night–these folks still enjoyed your story. And, if they check out your blog or twitter or whatnot as well, you might have some side opportunities to school them on it as well.

Yours,
Emily

Writing: Your Antihero

image

Writing Yourself a Likeable Asshole: The Classic Anti-Hero

So me and the Definitely Not Dave were watching TV last night. Specifically, we were watching Nextflix. And guess which show they had every last episode of?

If you looked at the title, that’s probably all you need to guess what I’m talking about. They had House, people.

House was a great show, especially the first few seasons. The reason is simple: House had House, and you hadn’t gotten tired of him yet. And House is this era’s perfect example of the likeable asshole.

A lot of people struggle with this character type–often referring to him, somewhat gustily, as ‘the antihero’, which is one of those compound phrases (much like ‘reverse racism’) that doesn’t at all mean what it sounds like it should mean. (Doesn’t reverse racism sound like it should mean treating someone with a different skin color very, very nicely? Doesn’t it? Why the hell doesn’t it mean that? Anyway.)

It’s okay, boo boo. I’m here to help you. Because it’s one I’m pretty good at (see: every main character I’ve had ever).

A brief look at The (Anti)Hero’s Journey:

1) Character does Good Thing for Wrong Reasons.
2) As action rises, Character must struggle to come to terms with pain in past, and stop self-destructive actions. Character begins making progress towards redemption.
3) It’s too much: Character does something Really, Really Shitty.
4) Milksop ‘nice guy’ other characters stop supporting Central Character’s behavior.
5) Character does Good Thing for Right Reasons.
6) We All Skip Happily off into Sunset. Rainbows, Glitter, Other Bullshit Happens.

Five points, to help you on your journey:

1) Balance This Asshole.

Not on a high beam or a tightrope. This is very hard to do, especially with make-believe people.

Balance this person’s essential assholeness with a sweetheart or two by his side. House has his team, all of whom tolerate (sometimes barely) his bullshit, and are fairly nice people comparatively. He has the puppylike Wilson. These people are around House to provide contrast, true: they’re also there to show what should be done, by a normal non-assholeish person. You might think your audience knows this instinctively, and in a just universe you’re probably right. However, your audience also needs to know that you know this–that this person’s assholian qualities are a fictional tool, and not just, you know, what you think is par for the course.

Another important thing–these non-assholes, though they can be irritated by your asshole’s antics, needs to fundamentally like him. It gives your audience an excuse to. After all, if these nice people like this emotional cripple, there’s got to be a reason, right? Which leads into:

2) This Asshole Needs to do Good.

House does plenty of good. You know, saving people and stuff. The problem isn’t with what he does–it’s how, and why.

And this is the main paradox of the anti-hero. If this person doesn’t do good, he’s just an ass. If he doesn’t do it for the wrong reasons, he’s just a hero. Of course, since the anti-hero usually redeems himself by the end of the story, he has to be aware of the wrongness and come to terms with it. An example:

–Your hero takes two children of a banished royal line under his wing. He does it for the ransom money, but of course he knows if he turns them in they’ll probably be killed. In the end, he doesn’t turn them in.

Because his conscience gets the better of him, see? Though he might not say it–he might say the current ruling party isn’t offering him enough money, or he feels like it’ll just get him in more trouble when the current ruling party is itself deposed. But by that point, you know this asshole well enough to know it’s just bluster. He’s doing it because he doesn’t want to kill children. And in some way, by the end, he acknowledges this–more on that later.

3) Your Asshole Needs Some Damage.

Which, out of context, just sounds x-rated and weird. But here’s the thing–your asshole needs some kind of excuse to be an asshole. House has his leg, and the painkiller addiction (which we’ll talk about in Four).

But here’s the thing–that excuse isn’t enough, and it shouldn’t be.

House kind of likes the pain. He likes it because it gives him an excuse to be what he is. An asshole like House isn’t necessarily pandering for pity–House wouldn’t tell you his sobby-sob life story if you bought him a beer at a bar–but he expects it to mitigate his actions, to let him skate by without the trouble and toil of becoming a better person. He’s got a cane and a limp and part of the narrative reason he does is so people make instant judgement calls based on them. He’s disabled. You’re taught to make extra allowances for the disabled.

But how many?

So. What happened to your character? Did he lose his wife to the raiders, get cursed by an angry wizard? Was he always teased in school? Whatever it is, make sure the pain is real–but moderate. His wife died fifteen years ago. The angry wizard’s curse was permanent heartburn. Getting teased in school isn’t an excuse for fricking anything anyway. You get it.

4) Some of This Asshole’s Damage is Self-Inflicted.

You might hear something like this come out of the mouth of a supporting character, in the wife-killed-by-raiders thing:

‘Harry was a great guy until the raiders came and decapitated Rena. After that, he sort of went downhill. He did a lot of drinking, lost his house, lost the kids. Now he just sits in the bar, night after night.’

You feel bad for him. Yeah, someone decapitated his wife, and that’s tragic. But the drinking, like House’s painkillers, is on him. And so is all the shit that happened to him because of it. It’s an understandable vice–I mean, raiders decapitate your wife, you’re going to drink for a while–but he’s taken it too far and, at least in the beginning of the story, it doesn’t look like he’s willing to make it better himself.

So, items three and four are related. You need damage–but then you need self-inflicted damage. The anti-hero (asshero? Asshelo? Herass?) needs to carry on the pattern of destruction and damage on his own, without outside help. Because this bastard isn’t sympathetic.

5) Your Asshole Needs to Change.

In every antihero type story, the main focus is the redemption–change–of the main character. Hell, House got like fifty billion seasons out of this one idea alone (and, let’s be honest, by the end of that show we were all so fricking ready for it). But in the end, even House makes a change for the better.

And this is where the hero part comes in. By the end of the story, your main character has to’ve done at least one thing that is truly, incontrovertably, good. And, furthermore, the character has to know why he did this thing, and welcome it, and admit it.

Why? Because character development. Because, if you’ve built your tension right, the audience is yearning for your asshole-hero to acknowledge the good in himself, and you occasionally have to give your audience what they want, or they’ll stop being your audience. (A note here: part of the reason this storyline works so well in House is because the show is, ostensibly, about something else. You can’t write a whole novel based just one one person’s search for redemption. Gimme something else along with it: House finds nifty weird diseases. Maybe there’s a war in your novel, or a trek cross-country, or what have you. But in a character arc like this, just remember: there has to be a plotline, some other action, for your asshole character to happen to.)

There you go: classic anti-hero stuff, with the help of Gregory House. Now go off and diagnose some weird diseases, kids. Go. Have fun. Because you’re all doctors now.

Yeeeees. Sure y’are.

Writing: The King’s Might

Hay there, honey boo boos.

That’s right, I just collectively referred to you guys as that dumpling-shaped little blonde child on TLC. Now that I have television, I’m picking up pop culture references faster than a hoover picks up dirt on hardwood floors. We’re up to about 2013 in pop culture. Soon I’ll be able to make jokes about current things, like…like…

…well, we’re not there yet. But I have faith.

Anyway. I’m here to make exciting brand-new announcements!

My next novel, The King’s Might, is coming out in a week or so (7/21/15, but don’t quote me on that). It’s a story I’ve had kicking around in my head for ten years or so, and I’m sooper dooper excited to have it all finished up and committed to paper. I’m EVEN MORE EXCITED because…

…it’s gonna be free. Totally free.

I’ll warn you–the fancy paths you have to walk to make an Amazon novel permafree means it might take a while to appear as such on Amazon. But it’ll happen eventually, and it’ll be across the board. I know I’m putting it up on Smashwords and Kobo too, but there might be other places. Why the hell not, right?

Anyway, here’s the cover. Isn’t that an awesome cover? Isn’t that ice stuff cool and serious-looking? The skilled graphic designer behind it, whose identity will remain a mystery (if she doesn’t comment about it on here…HI MOM) has totally outdone herself. I love it.

If the cover doesn’t clue you in, The King’s Might is unrelated to Aurian and Jin…it’s epic fantasy still, don’t worry, but it’s a little more serious, a little more epic, a little more fairy tale and legend. It’s about the importance of knowing who you are, and accepting what you are regardless of how unpopular what you are might be–and, of course, it’s about magic and danger and war and friendship and all that fun slushy stuff. Oh, and putting someone’s eye out with a comb. It’s definitely about putting someone’s eye out with a comb, too.

God, I know how to make things sound good.

Anyay, blurb and cover, go buy it zomg. Wednesday’s post will be the first section, so get excited already.

image

In the deepest parts of the earth a magician sleeps, dreaming of a deadly white peace.

A young orphan, yellow-haired in a country of dark people, must take on the burden of Kingship, and accept his fate as an unwelcome heir to the Southern throne.

Journey with Jalith Silverhanded, First Prince in the Southern House of Heirs, as he travels the civilized South and the cold and mysterious north in search of his heritage, and a chance to end a war his country was unprepared for. As he travels deeper and deeper into the land of his birth, however, he must ask an important question–which land, North or South, does he belong to?

Before coming into his own Jalith must learn to accept himself for what he is, and discover the secret of The King’s Might.

Why I Won’t Buy Your Novel

image

Five Reasons I Won’t Buy Your Novel

I give you guys a lot of writing advice. It’s heartfelt. Some of it might even be good (hell if I know, right?).

But it occurred to me the other day, as I was out buying YET ANOTHER bookshelf, since my most recent one was slowly sagging under the weight of three different layers of trade paperbacks–it occurred to me that, you know, some of the best advice I can give you has very little to do with me putting my pen to paper.

It has a lot to do with the fact that I read. An assload. Possibly, if the academy will pardon my French, a metric fuckton. If my library were leatherbound and perched on mahogany shelves, Garden and Gun would do a four page spread on it and toss me a free whiskey decanter into the bargain. (As it is, it’s in a two bedroom apartment, piled ass-deep on the cheapest shelving units Target can mass-manufacture. Maybe if I tape a cutout of Hemingway to it and poop out a few Audubon prints…how about that, Garden and Gun? Eh? EH?)

At any rate, I think I know a lot about writing, but the messy fact of the matter is, I know even more about reading. Why would that interest you, you ask? Eh?

Well, let’s fill in the blank. Work with me here:

I am a writer, and I want people to ____ my book.
A) slather whipped cream on
B) read
C) ,in zero G, have a lot of difficulty closing
D) All of the above.

Much as I like to imagine you’re creative and the answer is D, it’s probably B, right?

Well. As a reader–who also knows a little bit about indie pub and What You’re Going Through–I am going to straight up no frills TELL you the reasons I don’t buy books. Because I can’t imagine I’m so different from the mainstream reader that most of these don’t apply across the board.

1) YOU PASTE IT 24/7 ACROSS MY TWITTER FEED.

You know what this behavior is? It’s motherfucking ANNOYING. It is SO, SO annoying. And if my feed is drowning in your book advertisements–if I can’t see one person’s two-part tweet because your fifteen mass-released twitbominations come between the two parts–I will go to desperate, unheard-of lengths to NOT purchase your product. I won’t mute you, because I want to REMEMBER YOUR NAME. I want to remember it so, when the book comes up in my list of Amazon recommendations, I’ll go ‘oh, that asshole’, and IGNORE IT. And I do buy books. Indie books. Just not yours.

A note–posting about it once or twice a day won’t bother me. After all, you wrote something and you’re proud of it. I’ve picked up a few books after seeing seemly and interesting tweets about them. The writer Twitter accounts I follow and remember aren’t spammy or even advertisey, but teach me a little bit about the writer in question or the craft. So please, for the love of JESUS, stop spamming up my goddamn feed with posts like this:

**FREE**TODAY**
#mustread#fantasy#romance#amazon#advertise#advertise#advertise
YOU’LL LOVE IT!!!!
REALLY!!!
**AMAZONBESTSELLEROMG**
(Include picture of unreadable book cover with half-naked girl on front, with or without vampire.)

If you must spam on Twitter–if you absolutely must–have the tact to pay someone else to do it for you. Go through one of the multi-tweet accounts that offer this service (and good luck with that, by the fucking way). Or join IAN, or use #iartg. Because if I follow you, in the naive idea that you sound like a real person and not a mindless spam-spewing automaton, and you spurt your advertisements all over my feed, I will personally become VERY unfond of you, and this lack of fondness will be expressed by not buying your product.

Got it? Good.

2) YOUR BLURB IS POORLY WRITTEN.

This, after tweetspam, is my number two turnoff. Seriously, you couldn’t get through two hundred words without slathering crap all over your own project? After this behavior, I have no hope whatsoever for the 90,000 or so words that make up your novel.

Please, when you hit that publish button, make sure your blurb is typo-free, the grammar is good, and you’ve considered your words carefully. I don’t know how important your first sentence is, but your blurb is literally the FIRST TASTE people get of your writing, with no commitment whatsoever already made, so make it count. Most of the books I buy, I buy because the blurb itself sounds like a cut above the rest.

3) PRICE.

I’m sorry, but this is just too true. If I’ve never heard of you and you’re charging $9.99 for an e-book, I better love that sample so much I name my firstborn after it.

People are less willing to pay ‘big’ money for something virtual, folks. After all, they get no physical object to look at, hang on to, pet covetously, etc. Much as I’d like to pretend I’m loaded, there are times I simply can’t afford to pay the five bucks you’re asking for. Or, more accurately–would rather use it for lunch one day. Does this make me a traitor to bookdom? Maybe. But unless you can sell me on it, convince me in a blurb, cover, and sample that I’m about to discover my new favorite book, I’m spending that fiver on a cheeseburger.

I think just about everyone’s heard this by now, but you should probably looking at $2.99 or under for pricing your self-pubbed novel. I stick with the $2.99, myself–anything less feels like giving my work away (which, I may add, I’m not too proud to do semi-frequently), and anything more is unlikely to find an impulse buyer.

And that’s another thing. Your $2.99 indie novel on Amazon? That’s someone’s impulse buy. No one’s plotting that purchase out, saving up the money for it. So keep that in mind as well, when pricing and advertising–what makes this book worth three bucks right the hell now?

4) NOT IN MY GENRE.

Admittedly, there’s not a lot a writer can do about this–but for the record, I’m a pretty dedicated genre reader, and someone working outside of F/SF or the occasional historical fiction is going to have trouble getting my attention.

So make it easy on your readers to classify you. If your book is fantasy, it should look like a fantasy novel. If it’s SF, it should look SF. If it has romance tinges, give me a girl in a corset or whatever sells romance novels. Same with your blurb.

A quick note about covers–contrary to popular wisdom, a bad cover won’t necessarily keep me from reading something–not like a bad blurb will. So, while I recommend a nice looking cover, as should be blatantly obvious to you anyway, I’d pay more attention to the fact that your cover needs to encapsulate what your book is about. Got it? Pretty half-naked people won’t necessarily sell your fantasy novel to someone not looking for a romance read, and the nicest castle at sunset in the world won’t sell it to someone who is.

5) TITLE.

I share a vital fact with you: there are times when I can tell, just from the title, whether or not I’m going to like something. Am I occasionally wrong? Sure. But by that point, the purchase has already been made or not made, and unless that book comes up in my aimless internet wanderings again, I’m unlikely to think twice about it.

The titles that grab my attention most, actually, are short and original, but still understandable– J. Zachary Pike’s Orconomics (which is an awesome book, by the way, and one you should read if you’re a fan of fantasy satire) got me on title alone. I mean, what a great title. It suggests the fantasy nature of the book, hints at humor, lets me know up front that this author can at least come up with some on point compound words.

A title should, in VERY few words, let me know what it is I’m going to read. Think about that, when naming your work–is the very TITLE of your book advertising to the people you want reading it?

So there you go. A brief look at what makes me buy things. Really, the long and short of this post is: is the small amount of explanation you’re allowed to do on your book’s Amazon page reaching out to the people you want to buy that book? Maybe that’s people like me–I hope it is, I need some new reads–and maybe it’s not. At any rate, market it to your intended audience. Don’t just blather it out into the ether.