Archive for the ‘Storytelling’ Category

Does Self-Promotion Feel Like a Losing Battle?

July 16, 2018

Along with a host of other local authors, I just finished participating in DetroitBookFest, at historic Eastern Market. The weather, although far too hot, was cooperative. It didn’t rain, I sold seven books and thought it was a good event.

I’ll also be in attendance, with other local authors, signing books near the library at Sterlingfest on July 28.

On August 7, 2018, I’m going to be reading from one of my books at Grey Wolfe Scriptorium in Clawson, Michigan, and my greatest fear is having to say, on August 8, that I read to an empty bookstore.

It happened to me once before, a few years ago. I won’t mention the bookstore (it’s now out of business), but not even my wife showed up for that one. In all fairness, it was a miserable, snowy day, and she had left on a plane bound for Florida to visit our grandkids.

The snowstorm got worse and I think it took me longer to drive to that local bookstore a few miles away than it did for her to go the 1200 miles to West Palm.

There were supposed to be two other authors with me but, in that near blizzard, only my intrepid sister-in-law, my son and the store owner showed up. Needless to say, we all left early.

It wasn’t exactly the highlight of my career.

Self-promotion in a Nutshell
Promotional events can be awful, even when they go well. Sometimes you don’t sell anything at all, in a packed house. Yet, as painful as it is to put yourself out like that with no tangible return, self-promotion is an essential part of building up your writing career.

I’ve been doing it long enough now to realize no single event, tweet or blog post will sell a significant number of books. It may not get you any attention at all. But, if you keep doing it, all those seemingly unhelpful things will … slowly but surely … build you a platform.

I already have thousands of followers to this blog, and to my Twitter posts. I’ve also had millions of visitors to my author’s web site, but I discovered a long time ago there is no one-to-one relationship between any of the numbers. I almost never see a measurable bump in sales from an individual self-promotion effort.

Let me say that again: no individual thing I’ve ever done has had a noticeable impact on sales. Not readings, signings, conference panels, interviews or blogs.

So Why Do Any of It?
You may not sell a lot of books as a direct result of a single promotion but, believe it or not, what you will accomplish is more important. You will build a brand and forge a relationship with potential readers.

What you’re trying to do with your self-promotion effort is define who you are for potential fans … and you do that by entertaining them. For free. Because that’s the deal.

Just because someone doesn’t buy a book at that moment, doesn’t mean a good experience with you won’t convince them to buy your book later.

People don’t mind if you let them know you have written a book and yes it’s for sale … but they don’t want to be hit over the head with it every five seconds. Be friendly, find out what what they like to read, and tell them about your books that come close. Let them know about you, and why you wrote something.

The heavier you lean on “buy my book” the less effective your promotion will be.

But, if you keep at it, you can build a community of fans who will turn out to be the best advertising you can ask for … earned media, or word-of-mouth … people who enjoyed the moment you spent talking to them and who will recommend your work.

Reach Out
I also always feel privileged to join other local area writers at events. For support, inspiration and evaluation, there’s nothing more valuable than finding a good writing group in your area.

A very successful one that I belong to is the local Freelance Marketplace Writers’ Group, hosted by Michael Dwyer, that meets every month at Barnes & Noble in Rochester Hills.

Also, submit your work often. Both for publication and for contest review. You may get a lot of rejections, but you might make some important connections. When you do get a work accepted or picked for an award, don’t be shy. Brag about it on social media!

A writers’ conference is another way to learn about the craft. It’s also a way to meet new writers at the same stage as you.

I attend the local Rochester Writer’s Conference at Oakland University (also coordinated by Michael Dwyer). I’ve never missed one of his fall conferences, and I plan on being there again this coming October. I always learn something.

If you’re in the area, come on out and try it. You may discover writing is not the solitary activity it sometimes feels like.

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Gentle Readers, my books have all garnered some terrific reviews. You can see all of them by using the Amazon link below. Check them out. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now;

**********

You’re invited to visit my author’s website, BROKEN GLASS to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” on The Authors Show. You can also like my Book of Face page, find me on Goodreads, or follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.

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On March 1, 2018, Rochester Media started publishing my articles about writing. The column will update about every three weeks. Take a look, leave a comment and let me know what you think.

On Tuesday, July 17, 2018 I will be attending the Freelance Marketplace Writers’ Group meeting at Barnes & Noble in Rochester Hills.

On Saturday, July 28, 2018, as I mentioned above, I plan to participate in a book-signing somewhere near the library during Sterlingfest, in Sterling Heights, Michigan.

On Tuesday, August 7, 2018 I will be reading an excerpt from my award-winning short-story collection “Zebulon” at the Grey Wolfe Scriptorium in Clawson, Michigan.

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Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.

How Well Do You Use Irony?

May 28, 2018

An Example of Verbal Irony Made Visual

Irony is a key element in literature and it can take many forms. Fiction thrives on it, and I use it often, including in this dialogue exchange in my novel “One Way Street”: (to set the scene … the characters are two Marines during the Vietnam War, sitting in a jungle bomb crater following a break in hostilities):

* * * * *

     Blake’s eyes looked up at the jungle without raising his head.
“Was that what you wanted to talk about?”

     I’d almost forgotten the question I’d asked him. “No, I was
just thinking about a guy I used to know,” I said, “a friend…but
you wouldn’t know him…so never mind.”

     “What was his name?” Blake turned to look at me. He had
blacked his face for camouflage and muddy streaks were caked
on top of it. He could have been a clown, if he smiled. Or the
devil himself, if he was angry.

     “Albert Parker,” I said, “He used to live right across the street
from me.”

     “Good guy?”
     I thought about it a moment. “Yeah,” I said, looking over at
Blake, “a really good guy.”

     “You said he used to live across the street. Did he move,
or something?”

     “No,” I said, “he died.”
     “Aw, that’s too bad, man,” Blake said. He adjusted his
bandolier and started to lean back against the mound of dirt
behind us. “What’d he die from?”

     “Coming over here.”

* * * * *

Dramatic Irony
Dramatic irony is a form of irony that is expressed through a work’s structure, and it relates to character. Mark Twain used it often. When we hear Pap in Huckleberry Finn proclaim he would have voted on election day “…if I warn’t too drunk to get there,” we know we’re in the presence of a deluded character.

We know it, but he doesn’t. Every word out of Pap’s mouth seems to condemn him, but he never realizes any of it.

The degree of your character’s delusion depends on the story, of course, but think of ignorance as a sliding scale. It also includes innuendo. “Go ahead. You always do” suggests more than it states.

When a reader’s awareness of the situation differs substantially from that of the characters, their words and actions take on different … frequently contradictory … meanings. It’s often like Blake in the story fragment above, who has no idea where his companion is going with his comments.

The greater the lack of self-knowledge, the greater the dramatic irony. However, if the dramatic irony is ratcheted up too far, you’ll have an unreliable narrator. This may work for humor and satire, but it’s not so good for rendering realistic fiction, which is why I made the reference above subtle … I wanted the dialogue to sound real.

Verbal Irony
In verbal irony, the gap is between what is stated in the dialogue and what is intended. Sometimes it works by overstatement; sometimes by understatement. In either case, the words we hear do not carry the intended image.

It is often close to sarcasm. When a character says “Keep that up, and you’ll win a prize,” he may simply mean “cut it out,” but there is often more of a sting to sarcastic implication.

Situational Irony
The third type of irony, situational, is certainly the most frequently used. You think things are going one way, but the story suddenly makes a 180-degree turn. Actions have an effect opposite from what was intended, so the outcome is contrary to what was expected.

It’s important to note that a sudden reversal isn’t ironic unless there is that gap between expectation and result.

Well-crafted ironic reversals make for realistic plot movement, and character arcs that mirror human existence.

Writers whose vision is extremely ironic we know better as satirists. Satire can be a powerful weapon against conventional views, political ideologies or philosophical views. Dr. Strangelove, a merciless attack on Cold War politics written by Stanley Kubrick and Terry Southern, is a classic example.

However unrealistic, the character of Major Kong, sitting astride a nuclear bomb and riding it to its target, thereby setting-off the story’s Doomsday Machine and assuring the demise of everyone, is an image most are not likely to forget.

Irony is something to be sensitive to in your fiction efforts. When it’s working, readers will surely pay attention.

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Remember Memorial Day. I’d like to remind my Gentle Readers that today is a special day, set aside to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. It’s not ironic at all to tell everyone you know who’s been in the military, “Thanks for your service.”

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Gentle Readers, my books have all garnered some terrific reviews. You can see all of them by using the Amazon link below. Check them out. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now;

**********

You’re invited to visit my author’s website, BROKEN GLASS to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” on The Authors Show. You can also like my Book of Face page, find me on Goodreads, or follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.

**********

On March 1, 2018, Rochester Media started publishing my articles about writing. The column will update twice a month. Come on over, take a look, leave a comment and let me know what you think.

On Tuesday, June 19, 2018 I will join other local area writers at the Freelance Marketplace Writers’ Group meeting at Barnes & Noble in Rochester Hills.

On Saturday, July 28, 2018 I plan to participate in a book-signing during Sterlingfest, in Sterling Heights, Michigan.

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Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.

Elements All Fiction Needs

May 10, 2018

Beginning writers often believe they need a clever plot, but Nobel Prize-winning author Isaac Bashevis Singer contends that a good writer is actually little more than a good storyteller.

Mark Twain, who considered himself a storyteller, went so far as to say, “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.”

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know I wholeheartedly agree (well, maybe not with the shot part).

Ray Bradbury, one of my all-time favorite authors, agrees, too. He once said, “Plot is nothing but footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to somewhere else …”

Need I say more?

So, What Makes a Good Story?
Writing fiction is a process that usually happens in a specific, often prescribed context. While it can feel like an isolated, individual act, it’s really a very social performance … a way in which we, as authors, respond to the audience around us.

And, like it or not, authors are always writing to an audience.

My wise old grandfather wasn’t an author, but he knew how to make even his simplest stories memorable. They were all full of his hard-earned wisdom, if one only bothered to listen. I still remember the day he told me a fisherman doesn’t save his bait until he sees a fish. He attracts them with it.

“He baits the hook before he drops a line in the water.”

The twinkle in his eye told me it was a comment about much more than fishing. That pearl of wisdom has stayed with me all my life.

Writing good fiction should be like that.

Why People Read
People read fiction for the experience. The details you put on each page are the spices that make your words palatable, but to be certain of capturing the reader’s attention you need to include something interesting, right at the start.

Re-read L. Frank Baum’s classic story, Wizard of Oz. You’ll quickly discover what I’m talking about. Dorothy’s house in Kansas is spinning aloft by page three. Likewise, in Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, the character Gregor Samsa wakens on page one to find he is a giant insect. Talk about loading your story in a catapult and hitting the launch button!

That, of course, is just the beginning.

Look again at the illustration at the start of this article. The young storyteller obviously has his audience’s attention, but he’s busy becoming the character he’s introduced by adding visual detail to keep them interested.

Try to remember that once a reader is interested, you need to embellish and develop the story. You do this by rich detail … detail that engages all the senses. A good story, while it helps illuminate each character, will also reveal something about basic human needs.

Another good way to develop rich details is to build a strong sense of place. As Stephen King said: “Belief and reader absorption come in the details: An overturned tricycle in the gutter of an abandoned neighborhood can stand for everything.”

Dialogue is also important to this sense of place … something I’ve alluded to often.

Consider this quotation from Elmore Leonard: “… if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.”

The Secret to a Great Story
So, the secret to a great story seems to be create complex characters, quickly develop interesting challenges for them, provide sensory details, and deliver a satisfying surprise at the end.

Although I missed the Rochester Writers’ Spring Conference, this was the theme of at least one of the presentations.

This isn’t to say you don’t need a functional plot. However, as C.S. Lewis said, “…the series of events we call the plot is only the net to catch the theme.”

In the end, your story should speak to something important to your characters and your readers … and to you.

Focus your writing on story, not on plot, and it will always be your strongest writing.

**********

Gentle Readers, my own books have garnered some terrific reviews. You can see all of them by using the Amazon link below. Check them out. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now;

**********

You’re invited to visit my author’s website, BROKEN GLASS to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” on The Authors Show. You can also like my Book of Face page, find me on Goodreads, or follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.

**********

On March 1, 2018, Rochester Media started publishing my articles about writing. The column will update twice a month. Come on over, take a look, leave a comment and let me know what you think.

**********

On Tuesday, May 15, 2018 I will join other local area writers at the Freelance Marketplace Writers’ Group meeting at Barnes & Noble in Rochester Hills.

**********

Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.


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