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>Child Characters in Adult Books

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(Thanks to Dave for an entertaining blog post — a round robin story about goblins and hooligan juice. We’ll have to see if we can put it up somewhere).

Thanks to John Singer Sargent for his painting of children.

Something that came up during the week’s blogging was the subject of children and how they are (or in some cases are not) portrayed in books for adults. Are the child characters treated realistically? What purpose do they serve in the narrative? etc.

I write for children as well as adults so I’m comfortable writing child characters but do adult readers want child characters in their books when there are holiday destinations that ban children? Fantasy books often have a young (15-17 year old) protagonist. I tried googling this topic and didn’t find much on it. (Perhaps it is just me!)

Here is a list of classic books with child characters. It raises some good points:

Read or reread a classic (or at least well-known) adult novel from among the titles listed. Think critically about the work from the singular point of view of how the nature of the child and the condition of childhood are represented via the child character or characters. Consider questions such as:

Is childhood characterized as a halcyonic or nightmarish period?

Are there striking or subtle autobiographical references to the author’s life?

Is the child exceptional, proto-heroic or more in the normal range?

Is the portrayal of the child character(s) predominantly external or internal?

Is the view of childhood represented by the novel appropriate to the date of composition and/or to the fictional time setting?

Does this work evoke comparison to or contrast with any children’s book(s) of the same time period in its perception of the child and of childhood?

Is the portrayal realistic for a child of the class, society, situation, and time?

Then I found a list of books for adults with child narrators like:

To Kill a Mockingbrid (Harper Lee)

The Tin Drum (Gunther Grass)

A Painted House (John Grisham)

A High Wind in Jamaica (Richard Hughes)

But why use a child narrator? What can you reveal (or hide) by using a child narrator? A child is essentially a ‘stranger in a strange land’ because they are constantly trying to make sense of the adult world.

And then Gary William Murning has a section on his site about writing child characters in adult books here.

He comes up with some good suggestions.

So how do I approach writing child characters for adult consumption? This is a difficult one to answer. My way of writing is fairly instinctual. I’ve been doing it so long that I no longer think about it (that’s a joke, incidentally… more or less.) Nonetheless, a few points occurred to me earlier today that I thought I’d share with you. Feel free to add your own.

  1. A child is as multi-faceted as any other character. The expression of these “facets” will differ in many cases to those of an adult, but they will nevertheless possess common roots in the reality we all share. Their interpretation of the world around them may at times be unique, but it’s the same world your adult characters inhabit.
  2. Writing completely from a child’s point of view can rob the work of necessary perspective. Try to allow for adult exposition etc. (for example, I tend to have my narrator looking back from a future place, slipping the odd insight in here and there — though there are other methods.)
  3. Don’t overplay the “childishness”. Be selective and remember that fiction is merely real-life with form and well-defined boundaries.
  4. Toys, favourite TV programmes, pop groups — all these can give a good sense of time, place and character. But don’t do it on every page! (See David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green if you want to read a great book on childhood that almost falls into the Space Invader Syndrome trap.)
  5. And finally… child characters are not adult characters, but they deserve to be treated/represented with the same degree of honesty. Childhood can be a terrifying, confusing place — even for a child with a stable background. Don’t fudge it. Be prepared to revisit those childhood nightmares and ask yourself, Did they ever really go away?

I like Murning’s point about honesty. In George RR Martin’s Fire and Ice series several of his main characters are children and Martin doesn’t treat these children any differently from the adults. Nasty things happen to them, their parents are killed and at the end of the last published book we still don’t know if they will survive. Like so many children in the real world, the fact that they are youngsters does not save them from life’s cruel realities.

Personally, I try to avoid exposition (Murning suggests using adult exposition to overcome the fact that children won’t understand everuything they see). I like to leave it up to the reader to make deductions about what the child sees and fill in the gaps. I think readers should be made to so some work.

What books can you think of that use child characters? How do they treat these characters? What purpose do they serve in the narrative?

>Dragon and hooligan juice.

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It’s Monday and I’m feeling a little ‘omgekrap’ (something that really should only happen to compost heaps.)

So I thought we’d do something different. Sentence or paragraph serial football…

I put up a paragraph. Next person (any of you) puts up a follow on – which must make some sense please. A sentence or a short paragraph – which I have to extend. Then the next. The one catch is if you’ve been a rotten bastij and painted me into a corner… I can challenge and the writer has to follow on with a logical extension. Let’s see if we can steer it to a short of 500-1500 words.

__________

So your mama taught you to say please and thank-you. Not wipe your nose on your sleeve and not to talk with your mouth full. All of life’s important little lessons. Mine should have added “and do not take up a challenge to feed hooligan juice to a Dragon.”

Next?

>Vampires and Werewolves and Ghosts, Oh My!

> Like many Americans over a certain age, my fascination with vampires and werewolves began with the Dan Curtis soap opera Dark Shadows. I’m talking the original series that ran every afternoon from 1966 – 1971. Looking back on it now, it probably set into motion my quest for good novels that place these mythical creatures in every day situations where their special abilities became both a boon and a bane.

And that brings me to the eternal question: What is the difference between Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance?

On the surface, the answer seems simple enough, especially with regard to paranormal romances. To fall into that category, your heroine falls into lust, and then love, with either a vampire, a shapeshifter of some sort, maybe even a ghost. There’s sex, romance, more sex. A book for women, in other words (don’t throw anything yet. I’m not through.) Urban fantasy, on the other hand, has a smart ass narrator who is usually involved in solving some sort of crime with a supernatural bent to it. He, or she, is either assisted by a supernatural creature or the bad guy is the evil vamp, shifter, etc.

Like I said, simple. Right?

Wrong, with a capital WRONG!

So, how do you know if you’re writing, or reading, a paranormal romance or an urban fantasy? Agent Nathan Bransford has written a blog post about genre distinctions. He recommends going to your local bookstore and checking out where books similar to what you are writing are shelved to help determine how to classify the book when marketing it. That is sound advice for most genres and even most sub-genres. But it doesn’t really work in the case of urban fantasy and paranormal romance.

Take Laurell K. Hamilton’s books for example. Her Anita Blake series is nominally Urban Fantasy. I say nominally because it started out firmly in the UF corner before Anita’s sex drive took center stage for a number of books. I’ve seen that series shelved in Horror as well as in SF/F. The latter makes sense, especially because UF is a sub-genre of SF/F. But horror? Then there’s the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris. I’ve seen them in SF/F and Mystery. See my dilemma?

Laura Miller has an excellent article about this at Salon.Com. One observation she makes in the article is one I’ve heard discussed, and have discussed myself, over and over again: that the fan reaction to the increase in Anita’s sexual escapades in direct correlation to the decrease in her kick ass, mystery solving activities “exemplifies a perennial argument in urban fantasy: the ratio of crime to sex, or more broadly, of mystery to relationships.”

So, where do we draw the line? Or do we draw the line?

Miller goes on to write that the best urban fantasies don’t “just set a detective story in an alternate world where vampires, werewolves, demons and fairies are real. Like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” it also uses the supernatural material to reimagine the challenges of young adulthood…Class as much as sex is an urban fantasy preoccupation…Where working-class characters in literary fiction are often depicted as tragic and helpless, the urban fantasy heroine gets to surprise everyone by using her talents to save the world….”

While this definition fits a number of books that are classified as UF, it also fits those classed as paranormal romance. And it causes confusion when a reader picks up a book termed UF, expecting these factors and finds something else.

For example, Nocturnal Origins, a book I shopped around as UF (and which I’m waiting to see if it is picked up by a certain editor), brought about a comment from one reader who wanted to know if my main character, a female cop who is, to her horror, a shapeshifter, liked guys. The reason for the question — there was no sex in the book. Sure, she enjoyed looking at a good looking guy here and there. But, because it is UF, this reader thought it had to have sex in it. Forget that it followed the kick ass, smart assed female lead. Forget the crime/mystery that had to be solved, all the while Mac was having to accept and adjust to the fact that she sometimes shifted into a jaguar.

Another example of how wide open the genre is, is Kate’s ConVent. It is filled with mystery, humor — lots of humor — and a cast of supernatural creatures ranging from angels to vampires to succubi to werewolves to demons. Oh, and let’s not forget the human fen. But no sex. At least none on-screen, so to speak. Oh yeah, one more little thing. Her narrator is male.

I think John Levitt said it best in a Genreville post last November:

…defining UF is an exercise in futility. Everyone has their own particular take. Mine is simple – it’s like the old quote about pornography from Justice Potter Stewart, where he admitted he’d be hard pressed to define pornography, but nonetheless, “I know it when I see it.” Jim Butcher is classic UF. Neal Gaiman, who also sets his fantasies in contemporary society, is not. Rob Thurman is. Sean Stewart is not.

Now there’s another line of UF that owes much to Romance. Rachel Caine, Charlaine Harris, and early Laurel Hamilton come out of that tradition – smart mouthed, kick ass heroines who owe a lot to Buffy, and are not to be trifled with. But the romance tradition is clear – no matter how complex the world building is, no matter how convoluted and surprising the plot, an essential element always remains about whether or not it’s a good idea to do the vampire, werewolf, or both.

So, is there a clear line demarking the difference between UF and PR? No. Just like Justice Potter Stewart and pornography, I’ll now it when I see it. The only thing is, what I see and what you see may be two very different things.

Now that I’ve thoroughly muddied the waters, what is your favorite UF novel? How about PR novel? Do you see any difference between urban fantasy and paranormal romance. Finally, and from a writer’s standpoint, WHERE SHOULD THEY BE SHELVED AT THE BOOKSTORE?

>Literary Review – Bad Sex Award

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Posted by John Lambshead

Erotic Review has been relaunched and the new owner, Kate Copstick, has started something of a controversy in a BBC Radio 4 Today programme with Kathy Lette. Kate is reluctant to put too many female authors in the Review because women write bad sex scenes because they “have an agenda, they complicate sex, they make layers, it’s conditional. And they lie as well.”

For years, the politically correct Guardian newspaper had a motoring correspondent who could not drive. So are sex scenes written by women concocted by people without a license?

Kathy Lette admits that most married women’s idea of an erotic fantasy is their husband picking up his underwear off the bedroom floor and that she always want to write ‘if possible not’ when filling those forms with a box marked ‘sex’ but is the comment fair?

The Literary Review prsents a bad sex award every year in London but the only person to win a Liftetime Achievement Award was John Updike last year. Admittedly, Rachael Johnston won the 2008 Award with Shire Hell but a quick look through previous winners suggests that the literary male is a far bigger offender. Working backwards: Norman Mailer (2207), Iain Hollingshead (2006), Giles Coren (2005), Tom Wolfe (2004), Aniruddha Bahal (2003)…. Indeed, Wendy Perriam is the only other female winner since the award started in 1993.

For my money, it is the layers of complexity and conditions that women attach to sex that make the whole thing interesting. Left to men, it is about as erotic as a game of bar billiards – all wam, bam, thank you mam.

I hate dumb metaphors in sex scenes, but I also hate mechanistic descriptions. I know, there is just no pleasing me.

Hollingshead deserved his award for this paragraph alone:

‘She’s wearing a short, floaty skirt that’s more suited to July than February. She leans forward to peck me on the cheek, which feels weird, as she’s never kissed me on the cheek before. We’d kissed properly the first time we met. And that was over three years ago.
But the peck on the cheek turns into a quick peck on the lips. She hugs me tight. I can feel her breasts against her chest. I cup my hands round her face and start to kiss her properly, She slides one of her slender legs in between mine. Oh Jack, she was moaning now, her curves pushed up against me, her crotch taut against my bulging trousers, her hands gripping fistfuls of my hair. She reaches for my belt. I groan too, in expectation. And then I’m inside her, and everything is pure white as we’re lost in a commotion of grunts and squeaks, flashing unconnected images and explosions of a million little particles.’

It starts OK with floaty skirts and slim legs but women who start moaning as soon as you touch them????? I must be doing something wrong. And as for ‘bulging trousers’ and ‘grunts and squeeks’……………………

OK, so, what would you nominate as the worst sex scene in a story ever – and why?

>Hack and Slash

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No, its not a post about heroic fantasy. I’m in the middle of doing a yet another edit on my Science Fantasy manuscript, Warriors of the Blessed Realms. As is typical for me, the thing had bloated up 10,000 words from the earlier edits — up to a shocking 160,000 words. That word total is like some sort of a magnet for me unfortunately.

So, my challenge has been to get this down to 120,000 words or less. Can I jump now?

I’ve managed to get the total down to 131,00o words so far, which seems to me something of a miracle. I have not been able to do this without removing a few incidental characters and some other scenes which I guess weren’t that important to the story. It still hurt losing them!

Having said that, it is surprising how much I managed to remove by just trimming and condensing the text – at least a good 10,000 words – which is sort of embarrassing. Do I really write that sloppily? I guess its part of the process. Maybe the writing gods have seen fit to increase my skills since I did the last draft.

The thing that concerns me now is how I have started to really get into this. Chop. Chop. Slash. Slash. Everything must go. In my mania (and I do tend to extremes) a little voice in the back of my head is asking ‘am I losing some essential essence from the story?’

What do people think? Can you chop too far? Make the story too spare? Too mechanical? Or is all-out war on the adjective and metaphor a Holy Cause? Clarity is King?

>Oh, baby give me that message!

>Sarah’s post yesterday got me thinking about messages in prose. Yes, I know this is a scary place for me to be going, because if anyone’s golden gun or glittery hooha starts sending messages you’ll all blame me.

That said… Probably the one truly outstanding feature of the human mind that no machine or computer has been able to match is our ability to find patterns in seemingly random information – and in real random data where no pattern exists. Elvis in a slice of unevenly cooked toast? Yep, that’s the human pattern matching at work.

Of course it overflows into our writing and our reading. The novel awaiting a publisher’s decision right now started life as a total romp with no message whatsoever. I can guarantee there will be people who find meaning in it – I found that meaning had crept in there without me being aware of it.

I should probably mention at this point that I write on autopilot. I put on the headphones, the right music (each book demands something different – although thankfully unlike some of my writing friends I haven’t been infested with a book insisting on ABBA), and relax. The subconscious does the work for me, and I read over the results the next day and agree with my friends that yes, I am a scary person. There are things buried down there that find their way into the most lighthearted piece of piss-taking and give it extra layers of chocolatey goodness… Um. Sorry. That was Tim-Tam envy.

In short, where conspiracy theorists see the hand of the hidden manipulator in everything, literature analysts (I’m sure there’s a reason that word starts with ‘anal’) see themes and messages in everything, regardless of whether the author put them there.

We’re all primed to see messages in stories, whether it’s that the prince on his white horse will find you and carry you off for a happily ever after hinted at only by the clouds of rosy pink – but only if you’re a good girl and never complain about anything – or that white people have oppressed and murdered their way through history, even in places where no-one has ever seen anyone with skin lighter than dark tan (yes, there are a few of them even now). Depending on our upbringing, we might be primed to see messages from the Devil in anything remotely unfamiliar, or possibly messages from any other supernatural being up to and including the Big Guy Himself (Yes, I do mean Elvis).

Where a lot of authors drop the ball (no, not the golden gun, and not that kind of ball either) is in thinking that their story is about whatever the message ends up being. That’s when they stop the action to beat their readers about the head with some great Message or other. This is a summary defenestration offense in my opinion. If that book can’t learn to fly between the window and the ground, too bad. And no, bouncing doesn’t count.

Some of the authors I read who have strong messages in their books and don’t preach are (of course) Pratchett (drat. Another goat. The landlord is going to be so pissed about the state of this carpet), our very own Dave Freer (don’t worry, Dave, I’m not sacrificing coconuts. Yet.) and another of our Mad Geniuses, Sarah Hoyt (And no, nor am I sacrificing Officers Hotstuff. Not unless the sacrifice involves their golden gun and a willing… ahem).

Who else do you like that doesn’t preach? Who do you like enough to put up with the preaching, and why?

>Doing The Stealth Chicken

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When Samuel Goldwyn was head of MGM studios, he’s supposed to have said “If you want to send a message, use western union.” But things changed rather a lot since his time, and it is almost obligatory to have a “message” to your books or movies these days or risk being considered lightweight or, who knows, perhaps worse, guilty of thought crimes or double-plus-ungood thinking.

So, having just read that, you’re thinking of the one house in the field which supposedly has a political bend. Don’t. All the houses in the field have a political bend, admitted or not. People of similar thought band together and reinforce each other. Complaining about it is about as much use as complaining that the sun rises in the east. Also the one house with a supposed political bend – perhaps to compensate for its reputation – tends to be a rather broader church than it’s painted.

But what I’m talking about here isn’t politics. Or any politics that anyone considers controversial. I learned how strange things had gotten when someone thought “the point” of my third book in the Shakespeare series Any Man So Daring was to strike a blow against racism.

Now I’m not saying I don’t approve of striking a blow against racism. Sure. Of course I do. ALMOST EVERYONE DOES. That’s rather the point. Writing an entire book with that message would be unforgivable because it would be boring, expected and safe.

Other messages I’ve heard myself and sometimes other writers being praised for delivering and “speaking truth to power” included: the equality of women – unless being published in Iran, yawn –; anti exploitation – to counter al those pro-exploitation clubs, one imagines–; anti child abuse – a difficult thing to do when the child-abusers run most newspapers and praise child abuse… oh, wait – ; anti organized religion – again, unless it’s in the middle east, yawn.

Of course there’s a reason for this. If you write something that goes against what most of the public knows as “true” unless it’s pushed to almost insanity, people will recoil from it. (Trust me, I have a novel about how world population is truly already falling and where it will lead. I won’t even write it. There’s no point. Even though I can back my opinions.)

So what happens if you want to “just” write a thumping good tale? Worse, what happens if you’re possessed of the type of personality that can’t see a freshly painted wall without making a scratch to see what’s underneath and therefore feels like putting forth unpopular theories to make people squirm? Not even YOUR ideas necessarily, but ideas you want to explore? You can’t go in through the front door at publisher or reader, so what do you do?

Well, chances are your thumping good tale will have a message or two in it, anyway. It is almost impossible to reach the level of maturity necessary to write a novel without having acquired a few opinions about how the world works. And chances are if you want to send a message and puncture the popular theories you’ll meet with rejection after rejection…

Unless you stealth it. How do you stealth it, you ask? Well, you make the message part of your world building or background; part of the assumptions built into the book. Chances are you will anyway. And chances are you’ll have a better chance of changing someone’s mind that way if you hide it.

Among the books that changed my view of the world forever if The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, and before you say “well, but… it has an explicit message.” Yes, sure it does. “Servitude is bad.” Exciting, uh? It’s all the little messages around it, that are exciting and it’s the story that kept me turning pages long enough for them to hit me. Ditto for Nightwatch by Terry Pratchett. Actually Terry Pratchett is a master at this hiding any opinions behind a heavy veil of story, which of course makes it easier to read.

Oh, and if you must have an explicit message, go ahead and pick a bland one, so the reviewers will be happy. Hide the exciting stuff behind it.

I’ve read and enjoyed any number of books despite the author’s politics or – often – grasp of history givin me heart burn. What’s wrong about explicit-message books is not that they’re (just) wrong from my pov, but that they’re boring. There’s for instance, this mystery series where every culprit is either an entrepeneur or wealthy. It goes on for upteen books and they’re all like that. So, I stopped reading once the pattern became obvious. There’s usually only one character like that. He’s the culprit. YAWN.

On the other hand sometimes people find “messages” in books and stories that puzzle me greatly. I’d love to come up with someone else’s, but I was up late feeding an orphan kitten (not your fault) and the only thing I can think of is my own short story After The Sabines, which I considered a “what if” started by the gender imbalance in China. A reviewer – in Portugal – saw it was the “ultimate put down of the cowboy” – okay then. Considering there isn’t a single cowboy in the story this rather surprised me, but if it makes them happy…

So, message. Do you need it in a book? And if so, do you prefer it to reinforce or challenge your beliefs? Do you think an explicit message is mandatory to make the book non-light-weight?

>Reverse Sexism

>My sons loved the Tank Girl movie and had no trouble identifying with a female protagonist.

On my ROR blog we’ve been talking about the whole gender thing, male authors writing female characters, female writers writing from a male Point of View (POV). Can men write convincing female protagonists? Is it reverse sexism to say they can’t? Can women write believable male protagonists? This raises some interesting questions. Does a mystery writer have to kill someone to write a great serial killer? The Unapologetically Female Blog quotes Karen Healey. She provides a list of things to watch out for when writing female characters, if you’re a male. I particularly liked this one. Is she the only girl in the group?

‘Is her position within an ensemble cast “the girl”? As in, you have “geeky guy”, “strong guy”, “goofy guy” and “the girl”?

Having only one female within a group of characters sends the message that male is the norm, and that female is something else.’

At the Lipstick Chronicles they’ve invited a guest blogger, a male by the name of Jason Starr, who’s written a female protagonist and apparently done it well. He says:

‘In THE FOLLOWER, I enjoyed getting into Katie’s head, exploring the mind set of a young woman in her early twenties who’s just moved to Manhattan. It was also fascinating for me to look at my male characters from the female point of view. The guys in the books have images of themselves thar are so wildly different from how Katie sees them, that this led to a lot of opportunity for humor and satire. And, I must admit, I enjoyed writing sex scenes from the female point of view. It was a blast putting myself in that position. Er, um, so to speak.’

The Modern Matriach quotes Heilbrum :

‘… suggests that female authors often use male narrators or incorporate a more masculine voice in an effort to avoid the stigma of writing “chic lit”. Some even attempt to conceal their gender using initials and anomalous pen names:’

And if you are really worried that your POV character may not read as if they are the gender you meant them to be try using the Gender Genie at the Book Blog. Just paste in some text from your manuscript and see what the result is.

Bad characterisation is going to throw your reader out of the story, whether the protagonist is male, female or an alien from Alpha Centauri. Readers of SF and F must be elastically minded to accept the concepts that are tropes of our genre. It shouldn’t worry them if the narrator is an AI without gender.

One of the things I find annoying about the English language is the lack of an intelligent non-gender specific pronoun. Everyone has to be either ‘she’ or ‘he’. ‘It’ lacks intelligences and makes it hard to empathise with the character. I have come across stories where the writer invented a non-gender specific pronoun, but this seemed mannered and tended to throw me out of the story. I once came across a story where the writer managed to give all the characters non-gender specific names and structured the sentences so that they avoided pronouns. This made for slightly clumsy writing. But it was interesting how the visual pictures of the characters changed as I read, depending on what they were doing and saying.

In the book I’m currently writing one of the characters is a gender-less creature that is a human gone wrong, a Twisted. In the chapter that are told from this character’s POV I use first person. In all the other chapters I use third person, he/she, depending on whether I have a male or female protagonist. The tricky part comes when the threads of the narrative join up and the Twisted meets the other two characters. Then I have to juggle the sentence structures so that I avoid using a pronoun for the Twisted character, while in the POV of the male or female protagonist. So you see writers of SF and Fantasy have a whole lot more to worry about than whether they can write a convincing male or female protagonist.

Which male writers create great female characters and conversely, which female authors write convincing male characters?

>Your place or mine?

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I have etchings. And the sound of a mountain stream out there in the moonlit darkness. Let me take you away…

Okay, still harping away on beginnings (because we all have to start somewhere… even with a cliche sometimes. I have a short that begins. ” She awoke with a terrible start. Rubbing her eyes and looking at him again, she had to admit maybe he wasn’t that terrible, just a bit homely, and not comfortably old, fat and rich. Not quite what she’d have chosen if she’d been sober the night before. A girl had to begin somewhere… “)

To get back to the point, an author has the difficult task of taking the reader away into the world they create. Sometimes the reader really wants to go. Will fall right in with a cheesy invitation to see etchings, especially if they’ve loved the author’s other books. However the suspension of disbelief, the entry into world we build for them, is usually much harder than that. The start, which will lead us away from the mundane (and safe) is a tricky thing. Yep mostly the reader wants to go… but not if you might be an axe murderer (or the wrong kind of book). I always put it this way: The first few pages of a book have severely overworked words, because they have do so much. They have to pick you up, carry you away to a different place, they have to make you care about the protagonist’s fate (want to see them come a cropper is fine too), they have reassure the reader that actually the charming invitation to come to their place is not so you can be dismembered and served with fava beans (which strikes me as odd. What are the bits going to do with those beans?) and also advance the plot.

In summary:

1)hook

2) setting

3) Show type of book (really, readers do not actually like surprises. They wanted an Aga-saga and you gave them horror with Aga-saga start, you’ll have to be brilliant to get them to forgive you. They wanted fantasy – and you gave them sf – better hope you had them adoring the book before they figured it out. Yes. I am guilty. I hope readers forgave me. I was young and mislead by an evil companion, me.)

4) Invest emotion in protagonist (love or hate, but care)

5)Move the plot forward.

If you’re a best-selling author that readers know will deliver you have some space to do these. If not… the sooner the better. We’ve talked about hook and somewhat about character.

Let’s talk about setting and type of book. Now because these beginning words are multipurpose and overworked (poor things) these too can be part of the hook, part of the magic, part of the character dispay that gets you to care.

“I am a watchdog. My name is Snuff. I live with my master Jack outside of London now. I like Soho very much at night with its smelly fogs and dark streets. It is silent then and we go for long walks. Jack is under a curse from long ago….”

If anyone has any doubts what kind of book this is or what sort of setting they’re being drawn into… I can recommend some pills 🙂

Or to do it even quicker – “Once the palace of a thousand chambers had overwhelmed Imoshen….”

or this

“The dragon flew above the rage of the elements. Above the tumultuous maelstrom of ocean swirling into the void. Above the sheet lightnings and vortexes of dark energies released as the tower fell, with the vast granite masonry shattering into swirling dust. A fierce delight filled his dragonish heart as he looked down on it.”

Ok – let’s see some starts that show setting and type. I’ll try and offer constructive criticism. And you can see if I get it right. (And sweetlings, the reader is always right. If i don’t get it, it’s back to the drawing board. Or rather, keyboard. This applies to me, Stephen King or Joe-the-newbie. The reader is write… uh right.)

And which three books did I quote?

>There’s a Storm Brewing

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I’m a geek. That’s one of the reasons why I was asked to join MGC. My morning routine — after that first cup of coffee — consists of checking email, saying a quick but heartfelt prayer to the gods of editors and agents that today will be the day of acceptance, and surfing writing-related blogs. These blogs are written by authors, agents, editors and — gasp — readers.

Over the few weeks, there’s been a great deal of discussion about the RWA and its views on e-publishing. Okay, discussion might be too mild a term because emotions are running high and, in my opinion, rightly so. So, a little background and some links.

Sign number one that RWA, like so many in the publishing industry, looks upon e-publishing like the bastard step-child is the fact that there are no panels on the topic at the upcoming national convention. One of RWA’s main goals is to educate its members and yet there is nothing on this rapidly expanding sector of publishing. As Kassia Krozer says in her May 29th post over at Romancing the Blog:

Where are the sessions on distribution, on royalties, on what digital publishing means? What are the differences between going digital only with a big house versus small? How do the deep discounts demanded by Amazon – especially in light of the fact that Kindle sales equal 35% of all sales for books available in both Kindle and print format – impact author compensation? What does the alphabet soup of formats mean to readers. DRM? Can it be less evil?

Then word came down that RWA had rejected a proposal from Angela James, Executive Editor for Samhain Publishing for just such a workshop. My understanding is that this workshop was turned down simply because it was proposed by Ms. James and Samhain. In the words of RWA president Diane Pershing:

Out of 400 workshop proposals this year, only two focused on digital publishing; one was deemed by the Workshop Committee to not be of the caliber needed, the other was by Deidre’s publisher, Samhain, which is not on the list of RWA Eligible Publishers (From RWA’s Policy and Procedure Manual, section 1.17. “Eligible Publisher” means a romance publisher that has verified to RWA in a form acceptable to RWA, that it: …..(3) provides advances of at least $1,000 for all books; and (4) pays all authors participating in an anthology an advance of at least $500). RWA policy prohibits a non-Eligible publisher from offering a workshop.

No discussion of whether or not the proposed workshop was “of the caliber needed”. In fact, the implication is that it met, and probably exceeded, that particular requirement. No, it all comes down to the amount of the advance. If a publisher doesn’t meet that magical number of $1,000 or more per author, they don’t qualify and, therefore, can’t present at RWA. Of course, RWA is more than happy for them to attend and give RWA their money. But, sorry Charlie, you can’t push your wares because you don’t treat everyone fairly.

This is where I put on my snarky hat, so bear with me. If your job is to protect your members and make sure they are all treated equally, then doesn’t that mean you should require dead tree publishers to quit paying out those huge advances to their best sellers? Wouldn’t it be more fair to take some of those five and six figure advances — and more — and give the new authors more advance money? Hey, you could even put some of it into promotion, right? And yes, I’m being snarky here but the point is made. Don’t say you are doing it to make sure all your members are being treated fairly because it doesn’t fly in the face of the industry today.

But this issue goes beyond letting Samhain present a panel on e-publishing. Somewhere (and I can’t find the site right now and will look for it) it was noted that of the books presented for first publication RITA awards this year, something like 70% of them did not qualify because they were either PODs or ebooks. That alone should warn RWA that there is something flawed about their current perception of the industry.

Now, to give Ms. Pershing her due, she does seem to believe she is protecting RWA members: All digital publishers are not created equal. As recently as 2007, one start-up digital publisher filed for bankruptcy after acquiring the works of an estimated 154 RWA members, and in 2006, two individuals completely unknown to RWA set up a table near registration and started pitching their publishing company to RWA conference attendees. However, this again smacks of a lack of vision. After all, how many dead tree presses have gone out of business in that same period of time? How many imprints have ceased production, stranding who knows how many authors? No, if you are going to apply this standard to one sector of the industry, it should be applied to all.

Maybe I’ve been spoiled by my exposure to Baen and its view on e-books. But I think this position taken by RWA hurts not only the organization and its members but readers as well. And not just readers of Romance. RWA is the most visible, possibly even the most influential, of writers associations out there. As long as it takes this stance, it will be just one more cog in the old publishing model that prevents the industry from moving forward.

I highly recommend everyone go read Deidre Knight’s post at ESPAN (Electronic and Small Press Authors’ Network) on the issue. She writes more eloquently and with much more knowledge on the issue than do I. Especially telling, to me, is this:

RWA’s current stance on e-books is that a publisher must offer at least a $1,000 advance in order to qualify for legitimacy. Never mind that many digital authors far exceed that amount in royalties, or sell more than 5,000 copies of print editions of their e-published titles. The problem with RWA’s simplistic criteria is that it ignores one crucial fact. Our industry is changing radically, with traditional publishers seeking innovative models for overhauling their distribution and content.

The industry is changing. Technology is changing. Cell phones, iPhones, e-book readers, netbooks and so many others offer other ways of reading a book besides picking up a dead tree copy. I’m not advocating allowing anyone with a scanner and computer to become a “publisher”. Nor am I knocking RWA for wanting to protect its members. What I am suggesting is that perhaps it is time to revisit the business model of publishing and adapt to the changing times.

What do you think?