I think we could talk forever on branding, but there are many other things to discuss. Here are my thoughts on what we talked about yesterday:
For branding Bonne: Bonne has her genre and target audience well defined. (Mythic fantasy for teen girls.) For her tagline, I would look for emotive words. Note that “Dancing” carries a lot more emotive punch than “Choreography.” I liked Christophe’s suggestion of “Dances with Words” but in view of Bonne’s genre (fantasy) I wonder if it might be better to use “Dances with Worlds”. Or maybe “Dancing on Another World.”
For branding Karla: As I said yesterday, “Biker chick lit” might work, but only if that’s what Karla really cares about. And as I suspected, it isn’t. Karla would rather write fictional biographies for young people. As she said, she’s still early in her writing career, and she doesn’t have to decide immediately. But it’s getting time to make a choice. Pick a genre you love and stick with it.
Tomorrow, we’ll switch gears and talk about craft again. I know I haven’t answered every question that was asked on branding. But we’ve covered the subject enough for now. This isn’t the “branding blog,” it’s the “Advanced Fiction Writing Blog.”
If any of you have any burning questions on craft, post them here in a comment. I already have one that was emailed to my privately, and I’ll be tackling that tomorrow. But I’d like to get a feel for what sort of issues you all struggle with.
Christophe Desmecht says
I have several questions actually!
1. I live in Belgium and I’ve looked very hard for writing conventions as close to me as possible. I’ve found a few, but they are all set almost at the other side of Europe. How important is visiting conventions to make it as a published author? I know making connections is important, but even if I go to conferences in Europe, will they help me get published in the US?
2. How important is it to have a tangible Bad Guy throughout your novel? I’m asking because I have 2 main story lines in mine and they run almost completely synchronous. One of them features my protagonist trying to get to his goal, the other features my antagonist secretively trying to frame him for several crimes. The two story are different, but they interweave constantly, until they merge around 4/5 of the book into a climax. I want to write my antagonist story line without giving away who he is, so I’m using what in my opinion are clever ways to tell this story line. But you don’t get to see the Bad Guy until the last part of the book.
3. POV: This is a big issue. I like telling my story from as few a POV’s as possible. However, if there’s a scene with a bad guy and a very minor character in it, which POV should I write in? I don’t want to put my readers into my antagonist’s head, or am I wrong in wanting this?
Christophe Desmecht says
Correction for question 3.
I meant to say: I like telling my story with as few POV switches as possible. (but I do use a specific POV all the time, staying clear of omniscient POV)
I would like to know what is the minimum and maximum word count for a chapter? Does this depend on the type and length of book?
Mary Hawkins says
I tried to send a comment/reply but have no idea what happened. Haven’t seen it come up. This Aussie has really been struggling with this branding issue
Sorry haven’t been able to join in more but have appreciated so much all the help, Randy!
I listened to the Mp3 of the seminar, Randy, and that was very helpful. I’ll read the notes when I get a chance.
It seems I really am the only Aussie here but we are all writers so that doesn’t matter.
Yes, I have a question.
What is the best way to do POV switches in omnipresent views? I usually use paragraph brakes, but I find that it disturbs the flow of the writing.
Also, how important is a clear setting? If the setting doesn’t play much part in my story, and I just write about a little town with extraordinary characters, will I confuse everyone?
Christophe Desmecht says
I read this in a few books on Writing and also heard it in one of Randy’s lectures:
– Avoid omniscient POV unless you’re going for literary novels: they are preachy and boring
– Pick 1 POV per scene (or is it chapter?) and stick to it for the rest of that scene. If you don’t do this you’ll only confuse your readers.
My personal opinion about setting: It is always important, even in small little towns. I read a book once (can’t remember which one off the top of my head) about a very small community in the suburbs of a major metropolis. While I was reading the book, I just couldn’t see that nearby metropolis, even though I’d read it was there. I couldn’t immediately figure out why I had this uneasy feeling of isolation, and it wasn’t until I’d finished the book that I figured it out. The city had been mentioned only once or twice, in the beginning of the book, and not a lot was said about it. It was written in the setting so poorly that I couldn’t “feel” the city being there (if you know what I mean).
I suppose the same goes for a little town. Unless you’re going for a totally isolated town that nobody ever visits, I’d say don’t worry about putting your town on the map. On the other hand, as soon as you start defining your little town as being special because it has extraordinary inhabitants, that kind of IS a setting of itself.
My suggestion: let your characters go about the town as they should, have some parts of it pop up in dialogue and you’ll get a setting whether you want it or not.
All this, of course, is in my humble opinion and my limited knowledge. So don’t take my word for it 🙂
I am struggling with chapter breaks. I have gone through my WIP several times and nearly every time changed the location of the chapter breaks – I’ve switched from breaking according to POV to breaking according to major scene breaks to dividing the chapters at the point of high tension – leaving the characters hanging at some climax. I’m lost.
Valerie Fentress says
I could use suggestions on overall timeline of any WIP. How do you express the passing of days or weeks, with out being droll in saying, ‘The next day’, or ‘Three weeks later’.
How do you stay consistant in your timeline, so that the reader doesn’t get confused?
Thanks for all the braning help, Randy. I know the questions could go on forever, and forgive me that I have one more. I write Historical/Contemperary Fiction. And from what I’ve read through this series, is that I have to pick one: Contemporary or Historical. Since the dividing line between the two is the year 1950, can you write about historical events from 1950 to present and still be considered historical or is it automatically branded as contemperary. Cause in truth, there are alot of ‘historical’ events that have happened since then. And my current WIP is set in historic events in the lines of contemperary fiction. But several other of my future WIP are defined as historicals.
Can you help me fix this time-space distortion? 🙂
Andra M. says
Whew! Am I glad we’re done with the branding. The smell of burnt hair and skin was making me sneeze.
My burning question is about research. I know research is important for making stories authentic and believeable, but how do you create a balance between fact-checking and creativity? Sometimes I feel so immobilized when I have the germ of a story but very little knowledge to go on. While I don’t believe there is only one right way to tackle research, I was wondering what works for everyone else. Usually I like to do some initial research just to give me a general picture, then start writing, then do more detailed research after I’ve begun the rough draft.
The story I’m interested in writing now, though, involves some sci-fi elements and I have never written sci-fi before, nor does science come very naturally to me. I like challenges, but if I have trouble figuring out how much to tip the waiter, can I really handle wormholes and parallel universes? A part of me says I should just start writing the story and worry about verifying details later, but another part of me says I should research first so I don’t take the story somewhere it can’t logically go. Randy has said to write the story that is screaming for you to write it, and I think this story is it for me right now, but at the same time I hesitate because I feel like it’s knocking on the wrong writer’s door. Would anyone like to share how they’ve overcome a lack of knowledge to write the story they really want to write?
Christophe Desmecht says
I can obviously only speak for myself, but I know for a fact that enough research can make a story much more enjoyable to read.
I know where you’re coming from, believe me. Sometimes it seems like I’ve been doing nothing but research, and I just itch to start writing.
However, I would advise against giving in to the temptation when you know you still have research left to do. It might turn out okay, but if you go back to research after writing a few chapters and find out something that breaks those chapters, you’ll kick yourself in the head over it.
Or not, but it’s a gamble, I’d say 🙂
Lois Hudson says
Randy, would you please define LITERARY fiction.
I have a hunch it’s been around a lot longer than some of the newer, more specific genres, but what are the distinguishing points.
What are some examples of current literary fiction?
Christophe suggests it’s preachy/boring, but I question that. And just the name sounds “elite” but that can’t be it.
I feel like it’s a dumb question, but I’ve never seen a definition.
Like Valerie, I have two WIPs set mid-century (1930s to 1960s) that don’t fit specific genres, and am wondering…
Thank you for your generous sharing of time.
Christophe Desmecht says
I didn’t mean literary fiction was boring. I was speaking of omniscient POV.
Recently a teacher said I have a “lovely ‘voice’ for chic lit!” (Ugh! Like, ya know, me? Totally random, man. :-)) My narrative “voice” is completely unconscious. Can it be changed? I want to write about heavy subjects such as truth, the meaning of life, the destiny of mankind. Will this “voice” be a liability, and if so how do I change it?
Lois Hudson says
Ooops. Sorry, Christophe. I get it. Yes, tiresome to get into everyone’s POV, and way too tricky to attempt.
No character can get into another’s mind, so why should the reader. Leave some mystery.
Randy will no doubt be able to shed more light on LITERARY Fiction, and in a more quirky yet practical way, but I thought in the meantime I’d share what James Scott Bell said in his book “Plot & Structure”, part of the dangerously teetering stack of craft books next to my head.
Bell says, “The difference between a lieteary and a commercial plot is a matter of feel and emphasis. A literary plot often is more leisurely in its pace. Literary fiction is usually more about the inner life of a character than it is about the fast-paced action. A Commercial plot, on the other hand, is mostly about action, things happening to the character from the outside.”
Bell also goes on to say that sometimes literary fiction is called “character driven”, and commercial fiction is “plot driven” =heavy on the action and light on character work. Character driven implies a slower story with less action and more interior work.
(‘Bell goes on to say…’ oOOo, don’t I sound like a reporter.)
That definition jumped off the book and stuck in my mental cache when I came across it. (I wish that would happen more often.)
I’m a deeply analytical nerd. Since I love to delve into what makes people tick and explore the diversity of people’s perspectives, I want to write deeply developed characters; in fact, they ARE the story, for me. This made me think that my work will (might-maybe-someday-here’s-hoping) fall closer to the “literary” end of the yardstick.
Doesn’t THAT sound grand. “I write LITERARY Fiction, dawling.”
Lois Hudson says
Camille, dawling, I knew we had a connection. I, too, have those dangerous stacks of books, so I could easily have missed an explanation of literary fiction. Yours, via James Scott Bell, is very good, sounds reasonable, and certainly fits my WIPs, all of which are definitely character driven.
Thanks for that. Keep it up.
My craft question is about sequels. I have completed my first novel, which feels very comfortable as a first of a series. I have begun working on the sequel, but I can’t keep the thought out of mind that if the first work is never published a follow-up will be doomed from the outset. The answer seems to be to make sure the sequel can stand alone. In that case, how much of the “back story” from book one needs to be included?
ML Eqatin says
Do the research. Research ten times as much as you are likely to use. Speak from deep knowledge, and you will have something to give others. Your potential reader base is comprised of people who know less than you do on the subjects dealt with in your book. How big do you want your reader base to be?
And even if you never finish that story, you will have a take-away that will make you a richer person. If you enjoy writing, research is definitely delayed gratification, but delaying gratification makes the prize sweeter.
Character driven is not necessarily the definition of literary fiction. Harry Potter is character driven. I heard this definition: “If the critic love it and it doesn’t sell, it’s literary ficiton. If it sells well but doesn’t fit on any other genre shelf, it’s literary fiction. If most of the population doesn’t understand half the words in it, it’s literary fiction.” Some current examples of literary fiction writers (by the posted definition, not necessarily mine) are ‘the Kite Runner’ by Khaled Hosseni; ‘the Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-time’ and ‘the Secret Life of Bees’ by Sue Monk Kid.
Hey, anybody see the article on the New York Library’s new machine? You ask for any book it has digitally stored and it prints you a copy and binds it neatly into a large-sized paperback.
Wonder when that will be in the local Barnes & Noble?
Oh Well, off the topic.
Enjoy the ride! -MLE
Pam Halter says
My question is about the “bad guy.” How do you keep from making the antagonist more interesting than the protagonist? I have to admit, I’m having a blast creating the antagonist in my fantasy WIP. The protagonist is interesting and I like her, but I’m having more fun with the “bad girl.”
Note: my crit group likes the protagonist, too, so it’s not that I’m not working on her. It’s just that the antagonist seems to be more interesting. Could that be because I know things about her that the characters in my story don’t??
Rachel Brown says
Woo hoo – questions! Where will I start?
While my main focus is novel length fiction, I dabble in short stories too – and I wondered if you recommend using the Snowflake and the scene/sequel and MRU ideas in short fiction.
One short story I tried with those methods turned out to be a favourite, but at 11,000 words it was very long for a “short” story. I’m thinking more about short stories of around 1000 words. Would you approach them the same way, or do you use a completely different “system” for short stories than that which you recommend for novels?
(Randy, I loved your short story about the boy in the space colony. I only read it the once, and even though the name escapes me now, it made a big impression on me. I’m now reading my second novel of yours – so shorts are obviously one way of hooking a reader.)
Karla Akins says
My work is almost always character driven. And I LOVE research. In fact, if I’m not careful, I get sidetracked in it. It’s my favorite part of writing!
My questions concern setting. I have several story ideas, but I haven’t nailed down a location for them to take place. If a story takes place in the mid to late 1800’s in the American West, do I have to use the names of actual places or can I fictionalize them as long as my descriptions fit the general area of the state my story is set in?
I suppose I could my own state, but some of my stories might be better set in another state. Is it possible to research an area enough to make the setting believable without ever having been there?
Lois Hudson says
Cathy, I create my own towns and settings, and give them fictional names. I even draw maps of the streets and landmarks and houses where my characters live. If a lot of the action takes place inside a home, I draw floor plans and “furnish” the rooms. I may never describe much of what I see, but because I can see it I think it comes across as realistic. And many are based on towns and houses I’ve known–just creatively re-mapped.
I was blessed to have lived in 10 towns in 3 states (and visited others) before I turned 20, so I do have a good visual scrapbook. I think you can research enough to get the flavor of a setting, but be careful not to over-describe, such as mentioning trees or flowers or landscapes that couldn’t grow in a certain place.
Debra, you’re not the only Aussie. I live in Darwin. Just not been able to get to the blogs lately I’ve been (blush, shock horror) writing!
How complete should a chapter be?
If I can I like to end of a cliff hanger that propels the reader into the next chapter. It happens to me sometimes when I’m reading, I think better put this down at the end of the chapter and three chapters later…. Is this good practice? Can it be overdone?
Cathy, I would say that you could add in names of places that existed in that time period, depending on state, to make it believable and have your fictional towns so many miles from the real towns, which is just bringing in the real names a few times. And I think researching the area would be good since the story isn’t set in an actual town/city and there’s no way you can visit what it was like back in the 1800’s. And since a good share of small towns back then didn’t survive to present time, it shouldn’t cause concern.