Monday, October 2, 2017

How Do You Choose a Book?


Much has been made about the importance of the very first sentence in a novel. Some experts grumble if you don’t have that gripping, magic first sentence, no one will want to bother reading your manuscript or book.

I don’t know if I have ever purchased a book, or chosen one at a library, based on the first sentence. An interesting review might catch my initial attention and send me on a search. The cover might lure me in but more often I pick up a book based on a favorite author, or a subject that interests me. Next, I look at the back cover to get an idea of the content. After that, maybe a peek at the inside flap of the front cover. That is about it for me.

I took a look at the first sentences I used is some of my published novels and novellas to see how they fared.

The Dark Lady: “They say she is the Devil’s spawn, born in a cloud of brimstone and sulphur on a night when the peaks echoed with thunder and the castle walls trembled.”
The Queen’s Pawn: “They are through the city gates!”
The Queen’s Game: “How can I ever trust you again?”
Knight’s Bridge: “I stare out through a crimson haze.”
Housetrap: “I don’t like Elves, never have.”
Dial M for Mudder: “I don’t like the dark October rains, never have, not since my Cousin Edward threw me in the mill pond out back of our old shed.”
House on Hollow Hill: “Bertha Wildwater has been frequently known to say, ‘If you don’t know where you are going, ask,’ and she often uses her authority to advise me where to go, asked for or not.”
Alex in Wanderland: “Alexis came through the door like an unguided missile at the end of its orbit.”
We're Not in Kansas: "Macy rose to her feet, leaned over, and poured the entire ruby contents of her wine glass neatly over the crotch of his light gray slacks."
Toltec Dawn: My liege, these sources are not guaranteed, but are drawn from the best information available at this time, including fleeing refugees and captured prisoners." 

Okay, so I admit that I sometimes like to throw a bit of drama into the opening. I’m just not certain it’s the only critical key to landing a purchase.

The other no-no some experts have been known to throw out is, “Never open with the weather!” Why not, if it is relevant? I probably would if I thought it was suitable, or just to be difficult. I notice that I did at least once above.

While I tend to think the world does not always turn on the opening sentence, the sooner you introduce the main characters, and the plot, the better. When I used to run the judging in an annual literary contest where they often had to read and rank around forty books in a very few months, I instructed them they only had to read the first three chapters. That was enough to indicate whether or not it was a possible winner. My personal opinion is that the reader should be grabbed and well on their way after the first chapter.


How do you choose a book? Where do you look to see if it is worth picking up?

R.J.Hore
www.facebook.com/RonaldJHore

The Dark Lady Trilogy (Volume 1,2,3)
The Queen’s Pawn (Volume 1,2,3)
The Housetrap Chronicles (Volumes 1 to 8)
Alex in Wanderland,
Knight’s Bridge
We’re Not in Kansas
Toltec Dawn Trilogy (Volume 1, 2, 3)

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Give Your Characters Room to Grow


Give your characters room to grow and you will bring them to life; don’t, and they might as well be made out of cardboard.

As a pantser, I don’t do a lot of in-depth outlining of my characters before I start. I prefer to discover what they are like as I write. I let them reveal themselves to me, although I frequently have to pause and discover the backstory that has caused them to behave or react the way that they do.

The story “The Queen’s Pawn” is a good example of this. When we first meet the queen, she comes across as a bit simple-minded. As the tale progresses, we find out who is really in charge. Her daughter is a loud-mouthed shrew. I had to discover why before I could finish the story. They both show sides not obvious when we first meet them. The harried hero of the tale, the young man, also undergoes personal changes over the course of the three volumes. (Admittedly, seemingly slowly at times.).

Even the villains have to have a reason for why they act the way they do. A good villain should believe that he or she is in the right. Very few memorable villains think they are simply evil. They may be seeking justice for a real or imaginary wrong. Remember, the ordinary folks outnumber the psychopaths. (I hope).

I often let the character’s motives become obvious slowly rather than dump them all on the reader in the first chapter. People can also change. Motives may not be obvious. That is part of the fun of writing. I want to get to know the characters better. They can even change the direction of a story once you get to know them better.

In working on a recent manuscript I had reason to pause and consider that some of my characters were too similar. Without using their names you couldn’t tell them apart. That gave me a reason to dig deeper and discover what those differences were. In the process, I learned more about them, and what made them tick.

Take a look at your characters. Are they well-rounded or flat? The best written have emotions the readers should be able to relate to. Do they have good reasons for what they do? You at least should know those motives even if you only hint at them in your novel. Give them room to breathe and they will come to life. That alone will make for a much better story.

R.J.Hore
www.facebook.com/RonaldJHore

The Dark Lady Trilogy (Volume 1,2,3)
The Queen’s Pawn (Volume 1,2,3)
The Housetrap Chronicles (Volumes 1 to 8)
Alex in Wanderland,
Knight’s Bridge
We’re Not in Kansas

Toltec Dawn Trilogy (Volume 1, 2, 3)

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Point of View and Painted Corners


Back in 2012 I wrote an essay on POV. I thought I’d revisit the topic and see if my thoughts on the topic have changed.

When sitting down to write your brilliant novel or novella, give some serious consideration to the point of view (POV) you are going to use. As writers we are familiar with the options such as the first person, where one character narrates the action, or the third person, where the author sits back and tells all from an omnipotent point of view. There are also more unusual styles such as in the form of letters, journals, or a diary. Each method has its pluses and minuses, especially as to how deep you wish to get inside the heads of your characters, or how wide-ranging you want to describe an event in the story, especially one where your protagonist may not always be in attendance.

You also want to remember that old chestnut, show, don’t tell. Does the format you’ve chosen best lend itself to that for your particular story?

Many books on writing will tell you to limit the number of character=s heads you get inside of to tell your story. More than one or two and you risk confusing both the reader and the writer. In one of my very earliest efforts I think got into the head of at least a dozen characters. I was told in no uncertain terms by my editor to cut that out and not to do it again.

The advantage the personal POV is being able to both look at what the characters say, and what they are thinking at the same time, and gives the author the ability to have some fun and create often unreliable characters, while warning the reader of that fact.

I have written a series of fantasy novellas, the Housetrap Chronicles. They are all narrated through the eyes and POV of the main protagonist, a private detective. For this type of tale, where the action swirls around the hero, we want the reader to come across the discoveries at the same time as he does. The format works well in this case.

When I found myself working on my first trilogy, the sequel(s) for The Dark Lady, my first published novel, I discovered the problem often found in using a single POV. The original book was written from the POV of the protagonist. I found ways to keep her the center of the action in the original novel. As I got further into turning out the sequels, I found I had distant events I wanted to drag the reader into, but couldn’t, because that would break the format I followed to that point. Certainly, there were ways around the dilemma, such as having written reports to read, or characters who come dashing in and spin the heroine a tale. But when using those writer=s tricks you must beware of the deadly information dump that can overwhelm the reader. I prefer to trickle out the information gradually over time, rather than flood the reader all at once.

In a trilogy, about the North Americans discovering Europe first, I decided I would tell this complicated tale through the eyes of three different characters. That way I could legitimately have three different points of view. To keep POVs simple for the reader, I decided to alternate the viewpoints in turn, dividing each chapter into three storylines. One benefit is that I could look at the same event through different eyes if two or more of my narrators were present. It also allowed me to expand the scope of what the characters could bring as personal experiences. You could use the same format and grant each of your characters a separate chapter.

Don=t paint yourself into a corner when you are laying down the outline of your next great novel. Give some thought as to what format would be best to tell this story, and if you are diving into POVs, decide who is the best character to tell it. I personally like digging around inside the heads of some of my characters. Too much excavating however, can delay getting on with the action, but then, so can too many mixed-up metaphors.

R.J.Hore
www.ronaldhore.com
www.facebook.com/RonaldJHore

The Dark Lady Trilogy (Volume 1,2,3)
The Queen’s Pawn (Volume 1,2,3)
The Housetrap Chronicles (Volumes 1 to 8)
Alex in Wanderland,
Knight’s Bridge
We’re Not in Kansas
Toltec Dawn Trilogy (Volume 1, 2, 3)

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Struggling With a Space Opera


I recently decided to try writing something new. I needed a change from dragons and distressed damsels, or sarcastic detectives facing thirsty vampires and wayward housewives. I’d written one near-future thriller and tossed off a What-If spec fiction; it was time to venture deep into outer space. Or maybe not.

As usual I started with a scrap of a plot and plunged right on ahead. In this case I knew what the opening chapter would look like, and the final dramatic scene. All I needed was the tender middle. I also knew there would be a brother and a sister in main roles. I assumed the lead player would be the brother; boy was I wrong!

His sister took over, and along with her three rowdy girlfriends, ran rampant through the plot.

Then my Beta reader charged in with her usual glee and scribbled comments all over the early pages. One remark that stood out was the fact that the four women were all alike. She couldn’t tell them apart.

Okay, so back to the beginning, how do you differentiate a gang of four? I tried differing fashion sense, favorite sayings or curses, hairstyles, even skin colors. I even gave them different tattoos, although these are not always noticeable.

The list of reader complaints was long; too long to mention here. Needless to say that although I have finished spinning the basic tale, I am now reworking the story to polish the obvious problems.

I usually write quickly. I’ll start the day by reading and editing what I wrote the day before, and then charge ahead full speed. In this argumentative manuscript, I keep going back, adding scenes, inserting comments, sprinkling in incidents. It doesn’t help that I’m developing a large argumentative cast with speaking parts.

And don’t get me started in the aliens! They have refused to co-operate and are acting very…alien.

This may take more time than I planned for me to sort out.

I’m beginning to suspect that I will be happy to feel a dragon’s breath on the back of my neck once more. And anyway, those damsels are usually more distressing than distressed.

R.J.Hore
www.ronaldhore.com
www.facebook.com/RonaldJHore

The Dark Lady Trilogy (Volume 1,2,3)
The Queen’s Pawn (Volume 1,2,3)
The Housetrap Chronicles (Volumes 1 to 8)
Alex in Wanderland,
Knight’s Bridge
We’re Not in Kansas
Toltec Dawn (Book 1, 2, of 3)

Friday, June 16, 2017

Review for Roy Huff



Book Review for: Think Smart Not Hard: 52 Key Principles to Success and Happiness by Roy Huff


Everyone should go out and buy this book. Right now. No procrastinating. No kidding. Here’s why. It will speak to you. Yes, you. It doesn’t matter how old or how young you are. You will absolutely be able to relate to it, and use its advice. If not, you’re not living on planet Earth. I am 52 years old, and I have experienced many of the ups in this book, as well as the downs, and yet, I learned new things just by thinking more deeply about the principles found in these pages. I have learned from my mistakes, just like the author, Roy Huff, has learned from his. You can, too. If you’re young, take this advice, and plow forward, and don’t fall prey to those who would steal your happiness in some way throughout your life. If you are older, take the advice, and run with it, and don’t look back. Either way, read the book, and be happy and successful. You deserve it."


rebeccadraco.com



Friday, June 2, 2017

Random Thoughts on the Direction of Our Industry


I was at a convention the last weekend and sat on a few of the discussion panels. The last one I was on was called “What’s New in SF/F.” It was the best attended panel I was on all weekend and we had a lively discussion centering on the direction of the industry and some of the problems facing authors.

First, here are some dull statistics comparing new USA books produced from the major and mid-range publishers comparing the years 2008 to 2016. These are adult and young adult numbers combined. In 2008 there were 249 SF novels published compared with 425 in 2016. In 2008 there were 429 Fantasy novels compared with 737 in 2016. In the Horror market, there were 175 novels published in 2008 and 171 in 2016. Paranormal Romance novels went from 328 in 2008 to 107 in 2016.

This tells me that the SF and Fantasy markets are still strong and Horror is fairly flat. Paranormal Romance is finally tapering off. British numbers are similar. What this doesn’t tell us is what is happening with the smaller book publishers.

Other trends: Print book sales have increased over the last three years. Have ebooks flattened? Most large publishers now have ebook divisons. What was interesting is our audience members complaining that the ebook prices from the majors are too close to the cost of their print books. Many buy ebooks based on convenience and not on cost.

On the SF side, space opera seems hot. It was interesting to note the effect of politics and TV shows on book sales. 1984 is back in print, Margaret Attwood’s “The Handmaiden’s Tale” is climbing the book charts again (new TV series), as is “The Expanse” series of six novels in part due to the popular TV series of the same name.

People will read something different if it is unique even if they normally avoid the genre field. If readers love your characters they will love your story.

Books are getting bigger. The next Stephen King has 720 pages. It used to be that SF books in general were shorter than Fantasy. Not sure if that is still the case. Is this length trend due to people getting used to watching longer TV series?

One thing that caused interest was author’s labor and remuneration. Our panel consisted of two authors plus an author who was also an editor. We pointed out the amount of time (years!) involved between the creative juices beginning to flow and the book finally making an appearance. We discussed the merits of giving away a free book. After explaining I received the same percentage of royalty on a $.99 book as I do on a $15.00 book I had an audience member who was a free ebook proponent stop by at my table after the session and buy a paper book.

It is interesting for authors to set aside their rough drafts and get out into the world and discuss reading and the industry with the people who buy our books. As a result of attending this convention I had an organizer of another program stop by and invite us to show up there. She thought our display was classy. I may have to check my inventory and pick up some more copies of my books.

Now back to writing and editing and other fun stuff.

R.J.Hore
www.ronaldhore.com
www.facebook.com/RonaldJHore

The Dark Lady Trilogy (Volume 1,2,3)
The Queen’s Pawn (Volume 1,2,3)
The Housetrap Chronicles (Volumes 1 to 8)
Alex in Wanderland,
Knight’s Bridge
We’re Not in Kansas
Toltec Dawn (Book 1, 2, of 3)

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A Fishy Tale

 
My good wife saw a pond on sale at Wal Mart and decided it would be just the thing for our back yard. She presented it to me for installation. I pointed out that a pond without fish would be a nursery for mosquitos. The pond was planted and Wal Mart goldfish added.
 
A son-in-law replaced a toilet in the house and left it lurking in the back yard. Not one given to wasting treasures I installed the toilet in a mound of earth beside the pond and painted it a concrete gray. Flowers took root in the tank and a fountain in the bowl wafted a stream of water down into the fish pond. A virtual miracle of design and technology!
 
Raccoons cleaned out the fish. I installed a predator net and new goldfish.
 
She who must be obeyed decided we should move to a larger house. It had a jungle garden overrun and abused and no fish pond. I went out, bought a new pond, a new predator net, and went to work. Soon a miniature cottage on top of a tiny hill spouted water into a stream running down into the fish pond. Everyone was relatively happy.
 
The problem with our climate is you cannot leave fish outside in a pond all year long. Sometime around the end of October they will form part of a large block of ice. So each year we’d remove the three fish, drain the pond, and bring them inside to a large tank some good friend decide we needed and he didn’t.
 
One fall I had the pond almost empty and was cleaning the pump when lo and behold, I discovered a small fish inside. When the Mrs. checked the two inches of muddy water remaining in the pond she discovered four more tiny fish. I remembered then I’d dumped most of the water out onto the front yard to soak the trees...two hours ago. I found another eight fish still flopping around in the grass and the dead leaves.
 
We now drain the pond through a strainer into a pail each fall. We have a tank downstairs with the seven largest fish and a tank upstairs with roughly fourteen (They won’t stay still to be counted) from that last two years’ broods. I have gifted a grandson with enough fish for two small tanks and my son-in-law has two large tanks in his living room. The fish store says they may take some and give me credit against future purchases.
 
I have studied fish medicine, water changing techniques, and how to peel frozen peas. I am running out of friends who desire a valuable goldfish. Fortunately the always-starving cat pays the fish no attention at all. Now I need lights for the upstairs tank because I’ve been advised the tank is too dark. Outside, the ice is now off the pond and the yard is a mess. It’s that time of year again.
 
Oh good grief. No wonder I have trouble finding time to write!
 
R.J.Hore
www.facebook.com/RonaldJHore
 
The Dark Lady Trilogy (Volume 1,2,3)
The Queen’s Pawn (Volume 1,2,3)
The Housetrap Chronicles (Volumes 1 to 8)
Alex in Wanderland,
Knight’s Bridge
We’re Not in Kansas
Toltec Dawn (Book 1, 2, of 3)