Archive | August, 2010

Get Your Free Demon Today

Tosca Lee, one of my writing buddies, recently resold her first two novels to a new publisher. They’re currently running a promotion on Tosca’s first novel, Demon. For a limited time, you can download a free e-book version of Demon.

Demon: A memoir

I met Tosca about three years ago at a writing conference. She was rooming with my freelance editor, Meredith Efken, and I got to know her a bit during the conference. At the end of the conference, while I was packing up my unsold books from the bookstore, Tosca gave me a copy of Demon.

Demon is about an editor who is accosted by a wannabe writer with a memoir that turns out to be his life story — as a demon. A real, human-tempting, lost-his-immortal-soul, straight-from-the-pits-of-hell demon. A minion of Satan. That kind of demon.

This is the kind of book that could be truly awful in the wrong hands. Or it could be fantastic in the right ones. So I read the first few pages on the plane with plenty of qualms. By the time the plane set down, the qualms had disappeared in a puff of sulfur and I was hooked.

Demon is one of those unforgettable, un-put-down-able books. I can’t guarantee you’ll love it. Different people like different kinds of books. All I can tell you is that I loved it. You can get a free copy right now, in either PDF format or ePub format.

PDF files are readable on any computer using Adobe’s free software. On a Mac, you can also read it using Preview, which is better than Adobe’s software.

ePub files are readable on most of the modern e-book readers EXCEPT the Kindle. (You can read a PDF file on your Kindle, so this isn’t that big of a problem.) Tosca emailed me about this promotion yesterday, so I grabbed both the PDF and the ePub version to see how they work.

They work just fine. To load an ePub file on an iPad, you open iTunes, click on the Books tab, and drag the ePub file into the container that holds your books. Then you plug in your iPad and the book transfers automatically. The book is a real pleasure to read on the iPad.

You might also enjoy Tosca’s second book, Havah, the story of the legendary mother of the human race. Right now, Tosca’s working on a novel titled Iscariot, and I’m pretty sure you can figure out what that’s about. You might think that Tosca is overly concerned with the Dark Side. I don’t agree, but if you don’t want to read about Evil and all that, then there are plenty of books about Amish people you can read. But I bet you’ll find plenty of that pesky Evil hiding under those bonnets.

As a footnote, I’ll add that Tosca is a two-time winner of the Mrs. Nebraska title and she was also first runner-up in the Mrs. United States contest. There are some people who think all beauty queens are brainless vaporware. My Loyal Blog Readers are far too intelligent to put people in a box like that. Tosca has a degree from Smith College and studied at Oxford and is smart enough to be one of my favorite Girl Geeks. So there.

Finding The Perfect Title For Your Novel

Diana posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:

How do you think of a good titles for your books?

Randy sez: You find good titles wherever you can get them. While driving. While taking a shower. While cleaning up the dog barf.

You really can’t force inspiration, so just relax and wait for it to strike. And if you have to spike Fido’s dog food with Instant Ralphie to speed up the process, then you are one sick writer, but go ahead and do it for the sake of your art.

Of course, thinking up a great title is no guarantee that it’ll get used. As we talked about not too long ago on this blog, a lot of publishers seem to believe that they have a perfect right to change your title. (Since they paid for the rights to publish the book, there’s a case to be made for this surly attitude. Since it’s your name on the cover, you have a right to object if they try to foist off a bozo title on you.)

I’d say to not worry too much about the title until you’ve finished the book. Start writing the novel. Keep an eye out for some word or phrase that keeps coming up over and over. Maybe it’s something one of the characters keeps saying. Maybe it’s part of the action. That word or phrase just might make a good title.

Or not. Like I said, you can’t force inspiration. Let’s be honest. A missing title is nothing to keep you up at night. If worst comes to worst, you can always try to sell it as “Untitled.” Editors might prefer that to something dreadful like, “Samantha Gets The Guy” or “Johnny Saves The World.”

Truth to tell, I’ve come across some incredibly bad titles when critiquing manuscripts at writing conferences. I’ve come across some incredibly good ones. I can’t remember any of them now. What I do remember are the manuscripts that were actually good. A number of those manuscripts have gone on to get published.

If a manuscript is good, any editor alive can come up with a passable title in ten minutes and most editors can even come up with a pretty good title in that length of time. (It takes a full committee — with Marketing, Sales, and Editorial all working really hard for hours — to come up with a total loser of a title.)

Trust me, your readers aren’t going to be running around telling their friends, “I just read the most incredible title!” Anyway, if that’s all they’ve got to say about your novel, then you should probably just slit that story’s throat right now and throw its ugly carcass out for the wolves to eat. No, you want your readers running around telling all their friends, “I just read the most incredible novel!”

Write an incredible novel. The title will pretty much take care of itself.

If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.

Blog of the Day: My friend Brandilyn Collins blogged today on “The Home Stretch in Writing” — namely, the last 30 days before the book is due. Since I have known writers who had not STARTED their book 30 days before it was due, this business of calling the last 30 days “the home stretch” seems a little bit of a stretch to me. In any event, you might find it interesting to see what a number of published authors have said about their experiences in that pesky home stretch.

Beating Writer’s Block

What do you do when that pesky well of inspiration runs dry? How do you deal with the dreaded writer’s block?

Saira posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:

I’m confused, I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember and it was always my way to ‘get away from reality.’ I mean, I could really get inside my characters minds and just enjoy telling their story but now I’ve hit a giant brick wall… no ideas flow and if I get one I don’t like it, or I can’t go off of it. I don’t know how to get over this brick wall of writer’s block, it’s almost as if I’ve lost all desire to write… but I LOVE writing and I don’t want to give it up… how can I get past the brick wall and start the work on my novel? How do I reignite inspiration?
SairaCee.BlogSpot.com

Randy sez: A lot depends on what’s causing your writer’s block, Saira. I can think of a couple of reasons you might be blocked:

  • You’ve written everything you had to say. When you run out, you run out. It’s that simple.
  • You’re trying to create and edit at the same time. This is like driving while pressing both the gas and the brakes all the way to the floor.

If you’ve run out of things to say, don’t panic. You’ll get your inspiration back, but you need to take a break and do something else for a while. Read some good books. Watch some movies. Teach a kid to read. Play chess with your cat. Fly a kite. I don’t recommend trying to find your inspiration in a bottle. Your brain is a fantastic machine. When it’s out of gas, fill the tank, don’t throw in sugar.

If you’re trying to edit yourself while writing your first draft, then stop. Right now. When you’re being creative, create, don’t edit. Give yourself permission to break every rule in the book on your first draft. As the saying goes, get it written, then get it right. The surest way to freeze you up is to insist that every word you type be perfect. If you need some outside motivation, visit Dr. Wicked’s “Write Or Die” page. (I confess I’ve never taken the Dr. Wicked challenge, but a bunch of my writer friends swear by this.)

Truth to tell, I’ve almost never had writer’s block. That’s probably because I usually start writing when there is just barely enough time to get the book done before my deadline. That’s a powerful motivator.

When you know that you have to write 3000 words every day to hit your deadline, and you have three hours to write per day, then there just isn’t time to have writer’s block. You write your thousand words per hour and that’s that. If you get behind, you wake up one morning in a cold sweat wondering how in the name of Gandalf you’re going to hit your deadline. Then you realize that your back hurts from all the writing you’ve been doing, so you call in sick and tell them you can’t work today because your back is killing you. Then you sit home in your underwear all day and write like a maniac and put eight thousand words in the bank.

As Mark Twain said, when you know you’re going to be executed tomorrow, it concentrates your mind wonderfully. Ditto with a deadline, which is probably why they call it that.

If you don’t have a dragon-breathed editor breathing fire down your neck, you can get the same effect by finding yourself an accountability partner. My buddy John Olson sets a weekly goal and tells his friend Pete. If John doesn’t hit his weekly goal, then Pete gets $100. This works awfully well, especially if you can’t afford the hundred bucks. You might be up late on Saturday and email in your quota at 11:59 PM, but you will hit your target. And if you miss your quota once and have to shell out the $100, you’ll never do it again.

What do my Loyal Blog Readers do when writer’s block strikes? Leave a comment and share your secrets for beating the dreaded disease!

If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.

Understanding Showing and Telling

Is it a rule that your fiction writing should always “show” and never “tell?” If so, then how do you get rid of the “telling” in favor of the “showing”? And if not, then how do you know when to use which?

Jay posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:

How would you define the difference between ‘showing’ and ‘telling’? I hear a lot from people talking about how you should never ‘tell’ the story, but always ‘show’ it, but I also see a lot of different definitions of those two terms. What are your thoughts?

Randy sez: Drat, Jay has asked a question that needs about 10000 words to fully answer it, and I’ve only got a few hundred here. Well, I’ll do what I can, but in the end, I’m going to have to refer you to my book, WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES, for a lot of the details. (Of course, there are other books that deal with this topic, but tragically, none of those other books were written by me.)

The big problem here is that editors will often tell you “Show, Don’t Tell,” but they just plain don’t have time to show you what they mean. I believe that “showing” can be broken down into five different techniques. If you master these five, then you know everything there is to know about “showing.” If you use any other techniques than these, then you are “telling”:

  • Action. Anything your characters do, shown in real-time. Example: Jake swung the bat into the kidnapper’s head.
  • Dialogue. Anything your characters say, shown in quote marks. Example: “Take that, you scurvy dog!” Jake shouted.
  • Interior Monologue. Anything your characters think, whether a verbatim record of the thought or a mere statement of it. Verbatim thoughts are often shown in italics, whereas indirect thoughts never are. Example: And if you ever touch my daughter again, you’re dead. What were these idiots thinking, to mess with the daughter of a Navy Seal?
  • Interior Emotion. Anything your characters feel. This is best done by showing direct physiological reactions which can be directly interpreted as emotions. Example: Another rush of adrenaline boiled up in Jake’s stomach.
  • Description. Anything your characters can see, hear, smell, taste, or touch. Example: Two gunshots rang in quick succession. The bare light bulb in the basement exploded in a burst of darkness. Cold air rushed over Jake like a river. He smelled gunpowder, so strong he could taste it. The small red dot of a laser aiming device raced across the floor toward his feet.

If you restrict yourself to using only the five tools above, then you are “showing.” If you don’t, then you’re “telling.” Let’s look at how to “tell” the above snippet of a scene:

Jake whacked the kidnapper with a baseball bat and yelled at him, angrily wondering what kind of idiot he was. Somebody shot out the lights and then took aim at Jake.

Please note how much more efficient “telling” is than “showing.” Please note how much more vivid “showing” is than “telling.”

Now here’s an important point: You want to “show” the interesting parts of your story and “tell” the uninteresting parts.

Once in a while, I come across a manuscript that spends all kinds of time telling the character’s backstory and setting up a scene. Sometimes the writer will show in loving detail every single boring thing the character does on the way to the conflict. Then the conflict of the scene rushes past in a paragraph or two and then the writer spends the rest of the time winding the scene down in narrative summary.

Don’t do that. Spend your words on the high-conflict parts of your scene, showing it moment by moment, leaving out nothing. Then zip through the boring parts of the scene by telling.

There is a whole lot more to say about showing and telling, but it really doesn’t make sense for me to type all those thousands of words in again, when I already typed them into my book once.

If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.