Monday, November 7, 2011
To learn how a skilled author puts together a novel, don’t just read a novel once -- go deeper. Sure, read the STORY the first time, but then read the novel again for a deeper understanding of the author’s technique. For example, in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, most people get the main theme of prejudice against the accused black man, Tom Robinson. They might even see a parallel of Scout, Jem and Dill’s prejudice against the mysterious recluse Boo (Arthur) Radley. On a second read, look closer. Notice how virtually every scene has something to do with one type of person having something against another type of person – examples of intolerance, injustice, or misunderstanding. The whites look down on other whites that are not from their county, or if they accept welfare, if their history is not up to snuff, or if they were on the wrong side in the Civil War. Scout’s teacher doesn’t understand the plight of the poor white families, and when her teacher talks about the horror of the Jews in Nazi Germany, we find out that she has her own prejudice against blacks. Townsfolk are prejudiced of the mixed race family, and their children. The white women’s missionary guild looks down on the poor backward people of Africa, and they also look down on other white women who don’t conform to their statndards. Even some of the black people are against allowing the white children in their church. It seems like everyone has some prejudice. And yet, Atticus, Calpurnia, and a few others stand out as trying to accept people for who they are. In all of it, Scout is trying to find her way in life – to grow up, but not to grow up with all of the flaws she sees in the people around her. Her character arc takes her on a journey where she will grow up with a view of people that allows her to “walk around in their skins” – that is, to understand the issues different people have in their own quest for happiness and meaning in life. The book doesn’t imply that there are no evil people. The message is not that everyone and anyone can do as they please. It is that we should not be too quick to judge others simply because they are different. (Obviously there is a lot more to the book than I’ve mentioned here – I’m only pointing out the well-conceived characterization in the story.) Thus, as you read To Kill a Mockingbird the second (or third) time – peer deeper and deeper into the author’s mind to grasp what she must have gone through in her many drafts of the book to create the well thought out characters and situations that make up the story. Do this same exercise with any other successful book that you love – read it for pleasure. Read it second time to dissect it and discover why and how the story was constructed. This can be a powerful tool for any author – to learn the tools, techniques, and story construction elements used by master novelists.
For information on my latest story please go to www.alanelliott.com/takeover. This short story, Takeover: A Writer’s Nightmare, is a romp through the messed-up brain of a creative writer that takes you on a bumpy joy ride with a twisted ending.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
It was bound to happen. I’ve dipped my little toe into the big ocean of eBooks. After I attended a talk by writers Jan Peck and David Davis (who have stuck all four of their feet into the eWaters) I decided to give it a try. Here's what’s happened so far.
First, the bottom line. What better eStory to start out with than a tip-of-the-hat to all creative writers. The short story is called Takeover: A Writer’s Nightmare. It is my offering to all writers who spend time in the ether of creativity struggling to create exciting characters that come alive for a story that starts out quick, builds interest and tension, moves toward a climax, and ends with a satisfying conclusion.
After looking a several options, I settled on using Smashwords to put my eBook into shape and get it out to as many eReaders as possible. The site http://www.smashwords.com/ has a number of helpful guides to walk you along the eBook path. Here are my experiences.
It’s a little tough to get your manuscript formatted correctly so that it can be converted to eBook format. This is because of all the gunk that Microsoft Word puts into the background of each document. Basically, you have to get rid of all of the Word formatting to make the thing work. I made a valient effort to remove all of the offensive formatting, but I gave up. Instead, I used the “nuclear option” which means copying the entire document to a plain text editor (such as notepad) to remove all formatting – then copying it back into Word, and putting in only the recommended indents and centering. (You can also hire something to do the formatting task.)
For Smashwords, once you get the document cleaned up, you submit it and they put it through their handy-dandy meat grinder that spits out the story in Kindle and other eReader formats. It's then sent to the formatting police who check to see if it passes the grade. If it's okay, it is accepted and “published.” But wait, there’s more. Once it is "published", Smashwords submits it to various sellers such as Amazon, which may take several weeks. All in all, plan for it to take a month before you can look it up on Amazon. So much for instant gratification.
There are other details that I’ve left out, such as getting an ISBN number for your book and creating a cover, but that’s covered in the Smashwords guides.
Now the plot turns to the subject of ePromotion. (Don’t you love all of the eWords?) Of course this isn’t a new thing. For every book I’ve written, I’ve had to beat the bushes to get it noticed (and bought). Please consider that this blog has now shaken your bush in the hopes that you will click here, and spend less than a buck to be entertained and amused -- maybe even inspired. A brief description…
Takeover: A Writer’s Nightmare by A.C. Elliott -- Is she insane, or trapped in her own story? Darla is thrown into a writer's nightmare where she struggles to keep characters from taking over her story. In a quirky romp through an action-packed adventure with a surprise at every turn of the page, Darla finds herself up against the pen of an unseen literary adversary in a battle to the finish -- and only one writer can win. It's creative writing gone berserk. Click for more information.
Friday, October 7, 2011
Yesterday, a girl about 2 years old sitting next to me at a Mexican restaurant dipped a chip into the hot sauce and took a bite. Her eyes lit up like large olives, she raised her hands above her head, and froze; taking the experience in. We couldn’t tell if she was about to scream, or take another bite. She took another bite. It reminded me of an incident I’d seen years ago when a similar young kid took a bite out of a dill pickle. You could swear that tears were about to burst from her eyes. When the look of pain left her face, she took another bite.
That’s an outline for successful writing. Commercial, saleable writing MUST pop, zing, sting, irritate, excite, provoke, and otherwise make us happy, sad, mad or glad. God even agrees. He’s quoted as saying he’d wish we were either hot or cold in our belief – those that are lukewarm get spewed out of His mouth. Yikes. We don’t want that kind of writing.
Sol Saks wasn’t God (otherwise he wouldn’t be dead, bless his soul) but I was reading something by him the other day where he said you can’t go too far in making comedy zany. It has to be over the top to be effective. I’ll add to that. To catch the attention of readers today, you have to push the limits in one way or the other – either your writing has to flow better than a poem by Robert Frost, your plot design has to rival the eye-catching architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, the rhythm of your phraseology has to engage the soul like a Beatle’s song, your scenes have to challenge the mind’s eye like a Picasso painting, or your story has to frighten the reader with the tension of an Alfred Hitchcock movie scene.
Face it, there are new hundreds of thousands of books, stories, ebooks, and the like available to the public today. What catches the reader’s imagination? What makes them cringe, laugh, or pucker at what they read – then go back for more? That’s what we as writer have to strive to achieve. Set yourself free. Go over the top. Let the creative juices flow.
Please see my latest ebook, Takeover: A Writer's Nightmare
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Please see my latest ebook, Takeover: A Writer's Nightmare