Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware continues to let us know when new scams proliferate—in this case, crooks pretending to be literary agents who just LOVE our books! I have actually talked to people who take such come-ons seriously.
Category Archives: Myths and Truths for writers
Hear, hear. One of the silliest rules people pass around. I particularly like the way Derek’s examples show how moving the adverb around changes meaning.
I’d add two points. One, “to boldly go” sounds so right because it’s iambic pentameter, one of the most natural rhythms for spoken English (Shakespeare’s meter).
Second, many “rules” like this evolved because 17th- and 18th-century pedants wanted to “improve” English by making it behave like Latin–ignoring the fact that English falls into an entirely different class of language than Latin. But hey, if Latin (one-word) infinitives can’t be split, we shouldn’t split English infinitives, either, even if they are two words.
Thanks to the Story Reading Ape for sharing this useful post!
on Just Publishing Advice:
Almost every style guide will tell you should avoid the split infinitive.
But is this generalised rule always valid?
We all know the famous Star Trek example of breaking the rule: to boldly go where no man has gone before.
It would sound awkward if I applied good English grammar. My grammar checker correction says it should read: to go where no man has gone before boldly.
Thanks to Chris the Story Reading Ape for making this visible! I’m of the “do what serves the story school,” and I hate hard-and-fast rules (“Agents hate prologues”). What about you? Weigh in!
Prologues can be a contentious issue. Everybody has a different opinion on them. I’ve known of readers who love them, agents who hate them, and everything in between! The last novel I wrote started with a prologue, even though as a reader I’m not a huge fan of them. Sometimes you just have to do what works for your novel. But for anyone who’s not sure, I’ve listed some of the pros and cons of prologues below.
You can hook the reader
Prologues tend to be short and sweet, and so it gives you the opportunity to really hook the reader with a gritty opening. You don’t need to introduce the characters involved in any depth, which gives you the chance to create a real air of mystery.
Chance to use a different POV
The prologue doesn’t have to follow the pattern of the rest of your story…
View original post 492 more words
Well, maybe that title is just click-bait. Hope it gets some clicks!
More accurately, my title should read, Why I’ve Quit Worrying about Book Pirates.
Here are a few links you can check out if you’ve heard horror stories (I sort of have some), and/or if you’re interested in this debate:
- Neil Gaiman making claims about why having his books pirated is the best thing since adaptive cruise control (love it in my new car).
- D. G. Kaye on why you SHOULD worry about book piracy, and what you can do about it.
- Robert Kroese at The Creative Penn basically saying there’s nothing you can do about book piracy, so stop wasting your time.
- And Katy Guest at The Guardian on the scope of the problem of book piracy and why you probably can’t do much to protect yourself (horror X5).
My quick take—and my reasons for copping out on the anti-book-piracy crusade: Like some of the responders on Kaye’s post, I tried the beta Blasty service. I found myself on sites where I didn’t have the technical knowledge to identify the site owners (Kaye offers some tools to help with this). No address to which to send my own DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown notice. Some offered their own DMCA form—but every one I completed returned an error notice.
And after I’d spent a whole morning uselessly following Blasty’s leads, I got yet another massive list of all the places where my books could be downloaded for free.
Blasty offered paid services that would send the notices for me. There are other such services; comments on the various articles I’ve linked to above provide some sources, if you want to pursue this route.
But if you read the Guest piece, you may, like me, come away with a sense of “what for?”
“The legal and tech aspects of book piracy prevention are complex and fast-evolving, but those in the know describe it very simply: it’s whack-a-mole. One of the most persistent ebook pirate sites has been taken down multiple times, only to pop back up again under a .com, a .net and a .org domain name. At least 120,000 take-down notices have been issued against it already, involving web crawlers, lawyers, its domain host and the Metropolitan police. But that website is back regardless, complete with some intimidating legal language of its own, addressed to anyone who plans to complain.”
I have read, in more than one place, that many of the “free” sites don’t even have copies of the books they’re selling; they just want people’s credit card info. A lot easier way of taking people’s money than actually scanning books and repackaging them, I suspect.
Who knows? If the big publishers are really losing a lot of money to piracy, maybe they will finally figure out a way to protect their property. And maybe some enterprising soul will pirate their methods and share them with us (in a user-friendly form). Maybe even Amazon will catch on and act. In the meantime, I have other wasteful uses of my time that are a lot more fun than hunting down all those links and filling out a new version of that form ten times a day.
I’m thinking, in fact, about making more of my work (I really do have WsIP!) available for free. The truism Kroese and others offer makes sense to me:
The biggest challenge facing a new author isn’t piracy; it’s obscurity.
So from one so-far obscure writer to others, I’ve quit worrying about people stealing my books. When you read one you like, just be sure to tell your friends.
No one knows better than I do the anguish of being an inveterate overwriter. Here are some of the ways my penchant manifests itself:
- Stacking up adjectives, sometimes without any particular point other than the love of words. One example at random from my Failed Novel: “By the time he pulled out once more onto 41, the Tamiami Trail, the sun had turned dusty red behind him, piecing out of the sky faint, ominously pendant, pink-tinted blooms of cloud.”
- Piling up metaphors and images until I end up with a bean soup of ingredients that don’t always play well together and end up siphoning reader attention away from characters and into the quagmire of the language itself. . . . Need I say more?
- Hunting obsessively in thesaurus.com for THE PERFECT WORD so as to avoid settling for what Mark Twain would have called “the lightning bug”—but ending up with a choice (often a verb) that is so far out there that writing groups suggest gently that I probably ought to settle for something a little less . . . well, I’m having to go to thesaurus.com to find THIS right word. “Arresting”? No, that’s not right. Disruptive? Intrusive, contentious, militant. . . . You get the point.
- Diving into long passages of introspection in which I explore the character’s relation to life, the universe, and everything from so many directions readers probably feel as if they’re inside a disco ball.
What a dangerous way to write! Here are some of the sad consequences of this indulgence:
- Too much verbiage, even the brilliant kind I am so clearly expert at, slows the story pace. Readers emerge from even a page or two exhausted, just wanting to move on—or quit.
- Too many details, descriptions, and distractions dilute important moments in a scene so that what should be on display gets lost in the window dressing. Scenes should have a structure that builds to the crucial turn, but overwriting drags out scenes so that every event, line of dialogue, metaphor, or action carries equal weight.
- The words themselves start demanding the focus that should go to the characters and their interactions.
- The backstory in introspection loses its force when not linked to the characters’ actual experiences in time. If we’re told in a long, over-filled expository paragraph on page 10, among seventy or so other details, that a character had a traumatic experience at age seven, by the time we see that trauma play out on page 100, we’ve forgotten its source. We don’t know about that trauma from being told it exists, but from seeing in the moment what it does.
I’ve seen writing group members defend some pretty egregious excess by insisting that what they’re writing is “literary,” a form in which the language itself becomes the focus rather than the “plot.” I guess there was a time when I retreated behind this rationale myself. But I’ve come to apply terms like “lazy” and “self-indulgent” to pile-it-up-on-the-page writing these days. I confess I’ve arrived at this judgment after seeing how some colleagues’ drafts exhaust me when they do all the things I tend to do.
So the moral here must be “Don’t Overwrite.” Followed by “10 Steps to Avoid Overwriting.” Right?
Umm, not quite.
Instead, I’m going to claim that, in its proper place, your tendency to do all the things I listed above (and more?) is a strength!
So: X Reasons to Love Your Curse.
Actually, there’s one real reason you should value your overwriting impulses: unlike your more verbally impoverished colleagues, you overwriters generate a lot of text! You never have to sit and try to “come up with” an image or a detail. You’ve already poured out a grand effusion of writerly stuff.
Experimentation! You know you’ll cut four-fifths of what you generate. So you can let the words wander. See where they lead. Mixed metaphor? No problem. It’ll get put to rights—or in its place—in the final cut.
Choice! Somewhere among all those words and sentences and images, there’s one that really produces that scintillating “this is it!” shiver. You just have to clear away the litter that keeps it from doing its job. And don’t throw out all the efforts that didn’t answer this particular need. They aren’t necessarily substandard or failed. They may work perfectly in the scene you’re writing next.
And although all that introspection may not work for your harried readers, it’s your way into your characters. You end up knowing them intimately, as you must if you and your readers are to willingly share their worlds for 99,000 words.
Same with world-building. Too many details? Even if you cut that street-by-street description, you still live in those alleyways and cul-de-sacs in your mind.
And who knows? Maybe you, more than your verbally limited colleagues, actually will one day produce a literary masterpiece. After all, it’s from the piling up of words, images, sentences, that the “voice” that commonly defines “literary” emerges.
The key, of course, is to actually do the CUTTING that converts your curse to a strength. I know how hard it is to hack out those lovely lines that flowed from that sacred font. I’ve found that I finally have to be told, indisputably, that X words have to go. Then it actually starts to become fun to watch how paragraphs firm up, cohere, how fast the lines race by and how hard they slice.
One painful but potentially useful exercise: take a particularly long, detail-and-event laden chapter, and vow to reduce it by one-half. Can’t do it? Try for one-third. Just to see what you get.
(Hmmm. Maybe I should do that with this post. . . . :D)
Do you have strategies that make your overwriting indulgences work for you?