General Writing

Are You an Open Book?

 

Well, as a writer, you should be an open book at least to some extent. People want to get a sense of what type of person you are, your background, where you live and more.

With my first book, Seasons of the Soul, which includes a spattering of personal accounts of my two different autistic sons, people would approach me at book signings and express empathy for my situation. Some would purchase the book for others or had handicapped children themselves. A number of individuals would say: “God gives special children to special people.” I would smile and thank them. It warmed my heart. There also were those who believed they could get my nonverbal autistic son to talk. I again would smile and say a thank you, even though I knew this was impossible.

The point is readers want to know you and form a bond with you. Why do you purchase books? I often buy books because I know the author and got to know that individual through friends, acquaintances or are members of one of my writing groups.

Bonding is important and you can establish this in many ways. I sell my books personally so I meet up with those who previously purchased my books and they often buy my new ones. But what do you do if you never or seldom do these kinds of events?

You establish relationships through forums and social media. I am not good at forums as Ruth Ann Nordin, but I do use social media. Of course, you have to in this era, however, you do need to get to know your followers as much as possible.

Patrons love meeting the authors they love, and we should return our love through special gifts for our loyal customers. I had someone I worked with years ago buy my latest books (Lockets and Lanterns, Bride by Arrangement and Courtships and Carriages). I mailed them to her and included a special token, a Seasons of the Soul journal. It was my last one, but I wanted to show her my appreciation. Doing this was more important than keeping this keepsake. In addition, I inserted a personal note. No matter what they say about the Internet there is nothing more valuable than a “handwritten note.”

Readers also like to know your background, such as where you live. Several years ago, I was selling my first book in a town about 50 minutes from where I live. One person saw me there and realized I lived in the same town where they used to live and bought my book. However, do not tell everything about yourself.

When I started out I gave out too much data about myself. Most people are wonderful, but some will take advantage of you, such as “potential” writers who seek your help. You can assist them in connecting with writing groups, etc. However, you cannot over extend yourself either.

Also, be careful in providing too much information on the Internet. This is touchy because you need to interact and get to know your followers. How I handle this is to post about what I am doing without revealing my family’s names. We need to be cautious rather than regret it later.

Make comments on other authors/readers’ blogs, Facebook pages, etc. In this way, you get to know them and they in turn learn about you. Of course, do not go overboard or you will never get your own work done.

So be an open book but remember you are out in the public and need to watch revealing everything about yourself. Well, I hope I left you with some useful information and as always I end with a God bless.

Categories: Book Promotion, General Writing | Tags: , , , , | 14 Comments

Resonance: Taking the Familiar and Building Upon It With Your Own Twist

In storytelling, the idea of resonance is a new one to me, but thanks to someone who left a comment on this blog, I found out about it and did some research.  Basically, it’s when a writer pulls out familiar elements from other books, movies, TV shows, plays, etc and incorporates the elements into their story.  But–and this is the key–the writer makes their own unique spin on it.  So these elements, while familiar, are not used to retell another story; they are used to tell a new one.

I’m betting we do this a lot more than we realize.  Things in our subconscious mind help to form our stories, and often we’re not aware of where we’re getting these ideas from.  I’m betting a lot of these ideas are pulled out of what we’ve read, seen, or heard in our day to day living.

The thing is, this is also at play with readers.  Ever hear a reader express disappointment because the book didn’t go in the direction they expected?  That’s probably because they read or saw something similar that ended differently, and they were hoping this book would do the same thing.  For example, usually in a disaster movie, we get a cataclysmic event that will destroy the entire earth unless someone comes in and saves the day.  (ex. Deep Impact, Armageddon)  For most of the movie, things look hopeless.  The human race, or most of it, is going to be wiped out.  But there’s a group of people who manage to save the day at the last minute.  This set up has also been the object of an alien invasion movie (ex. Independence Day, Signs, War of the Worlds)

So all of these movies resonate closely with each other in that there’s a very real threat to planet Earth, and people have to somehow figure out a way to overcome it or they’ll die.  That’s what resonance is.  But if you’ve seen these movies, you will know each one had its own unique spin that makes the story different.  However, notice all of them have a happy ending.  Earth is saved.  The human race will survive. If any of those movies had ended with humans all dying out, would the movies have done as well in the box office as they did?  I don’t think so.  People who have watched these movies are used to the last-minute “we’re saved!” ending.

Likewise, in books, if you’re giving the majority of readers something they aren’t expecting or hoping for, you will disappoint them.  For example, romance readers want a happy ending.  If you don’t give them a happy ending, you will upset a great majority of them.  Why?  Because romance readers are looking for that emotional resonance of love prevailing against all odds.  That is why knowing your audience and what your audience wants is so important when telling a story.

This resonance can easily cross over from TV shows/movies to books.  I haven’t read zombie books, but I have seen the movie World War Z and the TV shows The Walking Dead and Z Nation.  I imagine, though, if I picked up a book, I would see parallels between what I’ve seen on TV and what I’ll read in the books.  First, the earth has been devastated by something that is making people turn into zombies.  Second, there might be some survivors who might be struggling to find a cure.  Third, these survivors have to learn to live in a world pretty much void of the modern conveniences.  Four, these survivors are going to have to kill a lot of zombies if they don’t want to die.  Five, some of the characters we get to love will end up dying at some point.  Those are five elements I now expect whenever I see a zombie movie or show or read a book with this subject.

So to me, resonance is knowing what your readers expect and delivering it to them.  But you will deliver it in a way that is fresh and unique enough to be your own story.  You’re not telling the same story that has been done over and over.  What you’re doing is taking elements that are popular and using them to tell an original story.  You do this through the characters you choose, by modifying circumstances these characters are in, and things that happen along their journey.

In the genre you write, think of the elements that best resonant with your readers and think of how you can best use them in your story.

Categories: General Writing, storytelling | Tags: | 18 Comments

Short Stories That Are Too Short

Last semester I took part in a creative-writing class of about seventeen people, including our instructor. This class taught me many things about writing and gave me several new insights into my craft as well as many new tools to write more compelling and interesting stories. It also gave me a few ideas for articles, such as this one:

My classmates and I each had to turn in three short stories during the semester (two original short stories and one edited story). A few times people turned in stories that were really short and just had the barebones of a story. There were numerous reasons for why one or another student would turn in stories like that, with very little meat to it if any. Usually it was something along the lines of having their deadline sneak up on them and rushing to get something written and printed before class (I remember one girl was actually stapling the typo-plagued copies of her story together in the first few minutes of class before she turned it in. She later said that she’d rushed to get the story done, and had spent the first hour or so just wondering what the first few words should be. We all laughed at that, mostly because we’d all been there at one point or another).

However while other students were pressed for time, one or two said they were afraid that if they wrote anything longer it would be too long! When we heard this, we often told the student that their fear of making the story too long had actually made it far too short.

I’ve always defined a short story as between a thousand and ten-thousand words. This leaves a lot of room to work with, even for authors such as myself who are better suited to more expansive works like novels. Yet a lot of authors fear that getting close to twenty-five hundred words is going too far, getting too long, crossing into a territory reserved only for longer projects. Why?

I think it might have something to do with magazines and getting published in them. Many magazines, especially ones that pay, have a maximum word-limit, usually around five-thousand words or so. This creates pressure on the author who wants to be published. They want a wonderful and engaging story but at the same time they’re hampered by the feeling that they can’t go over a certain word limit or they won’t get published in this or that magazine. Even self-published authors aren’t immune to this: many indie authors write stories and send them out to magazines, often to get people to read their work, along with maybe a desire for income and maybe a small wish to show the critics of self-publishing that we can get published in the same magazines as traditional published authors and still have quality work.

The thing is, a story is going to be the length it needs to be. You can’t help it. Twice I’ve thought up and even written short stories that turned out that they needed to novels. And even when a short story manages to stay a short story, I find that a story that needs to expand to four or five thousand words or more is going to expand that length. As much as you try, you won’t get it down to twenty-five hundred without sacrificing quality. At least, not very easily.

I usually end up writing short stories between four and five thousand words. In fact, I try to make sure they stay that length. I’ve tried for shorter but that usually doesn’t happen, and longer stories do sometimes happen, though they often get shorter when I start to edit. The thing is, these stories are going to be as long as they need to be and sometimes you have to accept that. If you want to write a story that’s shorter than what you usually write, do it more as an exercise, as a way to get better at saying something in less words than normal. Don’t feel like you have to make a story shorter, but just try and see if you can. And if you can’t, don’t feel disappointed about it. Just meant that story wasn’t meant to be that short.

And if you’re worried about getting published, there are plenty of magazines, anthologies, contests, and podcasts that accept longer short stories and even short novelettes. Just do your research, you’ll find them. Or don’t go looking for them at all, but try and put together a collection of short stories. You have full creative control then and can make your stories whatever length you desire.

Or perhaps short stories aren’t your thing. They’re certainly not my area of expertise, though that hasn’t stopped me from trying. Either way, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Plenty of authors don’t do short stories and they’re excellent. Just stick to your area of strength and see what amazing stuff you can do there.

But if you do endeavor to create amazing short stories, just remember not to let the length of your story become an inhibition and a drag rather than a tool for successful writing. As I and my classmates have learned, length is important, but it’s by far not the most important thing to keep in mind. That would be the story itself.

 

On an unrelated note, thanks to Ruth Ann Nordin for the new background on this site. I was kind of attached to the old one, but I like what’s here now. It’s warm and welcoming, if you ask me.

Categories: General Writing, Psychology of Writing & Publishing, Short Stories, The Writer & Author | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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