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Posts tagged ‘humor’

A Writer’s Letter to Santa

“Oh dear,” the elf on Christmas letter rotation sighed. “What this year?” Writers always wanted the impossible.

“Dear Santa,” the letter, written in tidy cursive on creamy 40 bond paper began. “I have been very good this year. I did not scream at my editor, nor have I said unkind things about other writers, unless they deserved it.”

The Elf adjusted his reading glasses and shook his head. “Not an auspicious start.”

“I only want four things this year,” the letter continued. “First, a new computer, one that will do what I want and not what I inadvertently tell it to do.”

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Trying too hard: How to lose the reader before she opens your book

I am not sure whether this is a rant about one of my personal bêtes noires or good advice about what not to put in a blurb. I guess that will depend on how many people share my jaundiced reactions to the examples.

The particular style of “trying too hard” I’m thinking of today is the supposedly humorous novel whose author beats you over the head with how funny! it all is before you even have a chance to open the book. I assume we’ve all encountered the sort of sad-sack fiction in which the author makes sure you know that a character’s dialogue is hysterically funny by having all the other characters fall over themselves laughing every time Mr. Funny says, “Good morning.” Excellent way to get a book walled before the end of the first chapter.

The recent discussion of Bob Honey reminded me of the many ways in which a writer can make sure I don’t open his book at all. And no, I’m not going to take examples from that book; it’s needlessly cruel, like nuking fish in a barrel. I trawled through Amazon’s blurbs and reviews for Fiction – Humor and found plenty of material.

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Nothing to See Here…

I’m sitting here racking my brain for something to write that will entertain and enlighten (what? Well, it might!) you all. So far I’m coming up empty. I thought about editing, but that’s been done a lot. I’d been asked by a friend how I would recommend starting in this Independent Author thing, and I sent her here. We’ve covered Cover Art, and marketing, and branding

Someone asked recently if buying books for research was tax deductible. As always, disclaimer: I am not an expert. However, the answer is yes, but check with your local rules and regs. And this is something you should be prepared for, folks, you are now a business, if you are independently publishing, and you need to be keeping records accordingly. No, I don’t want to hear “but my book isn’t selling…”because while it isn’t NOW, the next one might take off like a rocket. Get in the habits at the beginning.

Speaking of Rocket, I don’t think I mentioned how watching Guardians of the Galaxy gave me an epiphany? I’ll go back a little, and say that I rarely watch movies. I even more rarely watch them in the theatre. The last one before GoG was taking my kids to see The Avengers. However, my First Reader and I went to see this one on the big screen, because I wanted to. Who can resist a talking raccoon with a really big gun? The movie was frothy and predictable, and very fun. As we left the darkness and walked into the bright summer light, we were talking about it. I’d been working on the very beginning of a science fiction novel, and struggling with it. He’d told me that he didn’t like the main character (I don’t think he said, Die, die! about her), but it was clear I needed to find a way to make the story as I’d started it more appealing. Which is why GoG gave me an epiphany. I needed the leavening of humor in order to help the bleakness of the opening along. I’d done it with Pixie Noir, deliberately, and it worked well.

Here, I was writing a character hitting bottom, and she was coming across whiny, which is just a really bad idea. Readers don’t like whiny. You know that person in your life who complains all the time? The one you edge away from at parties, or dread when they come stand in your cubicle and talk to you? Yeah… by adding a bit of humor this character could avoid the fate of becoming that dreadful bore. I think I’ve written about adding humor before here, but like I said, I was stuck on what to write.

I’ve been busy enough with school I’m not doing the reading I usually do to keep up with industry news. And while I have no qualms about blogging about school on my personal blog, I don’t think giving you all my pull quotes and thoughts on Roach’s Four Models of the Criminal Process is really going to be all that interesting. Although this article might get a story idea started – it fits right in with the one I’m writing.

I’m reading David Pascoe’s Baptism by Fire, Cyn Bagley’s Norn’s Judgement, and T. Kingfisher’s Toad Words this week, if all goes to plan. Last week I read Kevin Anderson’s Death Warmed over and Lois McMaster Bujold’s Winterfair Gifts (yes, it did take me ten years to get around to it, and yes, I cried).

By the way, I finally broke the writing drought, and I’m going to be starting into the second chapter on the SF novel. I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep writing during school, but so far it’s working if I just do a little at a time when I can manage.

So… what questions, comments, or sheer hare-brained ideas have you all?

Scattered abroad, and dispersed among the people

I suppose I don’t really write books that are just one thing. Maybe this is my problem… well, besides being a silly monkey with a penchant for lost causes and taking on hell with a fire-bucket, and living so far beyond the black stump you have to crawl three more days after the last camel dies to get near to it. Society thinks it’s a good place for the likes of me, and for once I agree wholeheartedly with the dumb cow.

I don’t preach. Sermons masquerading as books pee me off and I’m damned if I’ll write one. Besides only the already converted faithful like them. A book MUST be a great story. I certainly don’t tell you what to think. BUT a great story can still have issues and conflicts that relate to other things outside and beyond just the book. One doesn’t always agree with these, but if it’s a good story, one puts up with them, maybe get interest by them, maybe disagree entirely. As a writer – a book like Rats Bats and Vats gave me a chance to explore a whole lot of ideas about military combat and the effect of equipment on the type of soldier required, about how language shapes what one CAN think of, as well as using a whole lot of different species to have a strong poke at Shavian Socialism (the Socio-politcial system of Harmony and Reason) about what our mores mean when through the eyes of a different species. About the complexity of being human. Lots of politics, philosophy, psychology. Turgid shit. Positively constipating to even think about…

-“the military SF plot is peppered with its share of Dirty Dozen-esque cliffhangers, the sharpest moments in this giddy entertainment are those where the rodents blithely skewer human mores (Publisher’s Weekly)

-“A brilliant action/adventure novel… This book is funny, funny, funny! If you appreciate the double entendre, Shakespearean backside humor, insane adventure or a touch of mystery/suspense, then you would be wise to pick this one up. (Brian Murphy, Scifi.com)

Not quite as turgid as all that. In fact it might like fig preserve have on your insides a most distressing effect. For me too it was a book in which I got to write about being a conscript in a war where I can’t say I supported the people who sent me there, or had a lot of sympathy with the people who were happy to kill us, and hey, anyone who gave them any trouble. I’m a thinking man, and it’s been in my mind a long time grinding around, and a lot of other ideas. And of course to get my own back on the Bronte sisters… But it could still be done in a story, a fast-moving funny one.

(yes the picture is a link. Yes, I wasn’t crazy about the title. Or the cover.)

Your own experience does of course come into any book – and so does relating to it (which is why I find a book by an urban cubicle IT nerd written for urban cubicle IT nerds as thrilling as watching a 5 day cricket test match in slo-mo. Yet they are loved.) But there is more to it – there is also the experience of your whole culture. And given the fact that I found myself in the same boat as tens of millions of American (and Australian, New Zealander, Canadian, Chilean, or Venezuelan for that matter emigrants (or descendents of) — Hell, go back far enough, all of us — has influenced the last few books heavily. I find myself one of those ‘scattered abroad, dispersed among the nations’ ex-South Africans. I suppose I will always be a product of the people and place and culture that gave me shape and form. I am (almost) an Australian now, and loyal to the country that gave me and my family hope, home and refuge.

It is going to be interesting to see how this resonates with readers.
And so tell me- what of the underlying matter in books – and what books – resonated with you?

Framing your characters

“It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”

“The frame is as important as the picture”

You’ve all heard things like this, but have you actually stopped to think about what they mean? Don’t worry if you haven’t: human nature keeps things like this comfortably in the background until you get smacked with them. If you haven’t been smacked, lucky you.

When we look at things – whatever those things might be – we’re not just neutral observers. We’re actively filtering through our frame of reference, which is usually the personal thumbnail of “stuff like this I’ve been through before”. Moving to another country, even one with a very similar culture, puts you in a situation where your frame of reference can lead you astray – or worse. Of course, as an author you can have a whole lot of fun moving your character into a place or situation where their frame isn’t going to help them. Dave’s Slow Train to Arcturus does this brilliantly.

Then there’s the flip side: how we as authors present things to our readers. The way we frame events in a book has an impact on the way the book is received. As an example, ConVent and ConSensual have some extremely gruesome murders which I deliberately play for laughs. Partly I do this because the books are mostly humorous, so a more horror-ish portrayal would be jarring and probably throw readers completely out of the story. Even a “flat” portrayal would likely be problematic.

Another example of this is a whole lot of Terry Pratchett’s writing. Under the humor there are a lot of themes explored, some of them chilling when you start to think about them a bit (the Cunning Man in I Shall Wear Midnight comes to mind). Without the humor people would probably reject large chunks of the books, and the Tiffany Aching books would likely not be classified as Young Adult. With it, the “medicine” goes down a whole lot more easily. Call it the spoonful of sugar.

In a different genre, the Overlord games do the same thing. Without the humor, those games would probably have been rated off the charts – you’re playing the evil character, slaughtering innocents (and sheepies), in Overlord there are bodies strewn around wherever you go, and your assistants are quite clearly demonic. Add humor, and it’s all good clean (if slightly perverse) fun. Well, not fun for the sheepies, but your minions love it.

This kind of framing is why you can give two authors the same outline and get two totally different stories. Each author will filter the outline through their experience, then they’ll frame it in a way that speaks to them.