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1. Storytelling: One Surprising Approach to Plotting


Find Darcy Pattison Books in the iBook Store


Plotting is probably the hardest thing I do. I can explain to you 29 different plot templates. And I often write about plotting a novel. Theory, I know. And I know that I can plot a story pretty well. It’s just HARD.

The problem is that there are a series of inter-connected scenes which build to a climax. The structure of events, though, needs to progress from an introduction of a character goal, dramatizing problems and obstacles to getting that goal, and then, finally some resolution, either a happy or sad ending.

OK. I can slot events into a novel structure from a structural viewpoint. For example, at the mid-point of a story, the hero’s journey, the Snowflake method and other plot paradigms might ask you to provide a bleak moment for the main character. There should be a mini-death: the death of hope–the character will never reach your goal; the death of a feeling of safety, and so on.

Knowing that is easy. The exact type of mini-death that is best for the current WIP, and figuring out how to dramatize that event (Show, Don’t Tell), is hard.

Storytellers Statue on Buena Vista Street in Disney California Adventure Park. One of the most amazing American storytellers that ever lived.

Storytellers Statue on Buena Vista Street in Disney California Adventure Park. One of the most amazing American storytellers that ever lived.

We are in the Business of Storytelling

What’s my answer to this straight-laced method of working? Storytelling.
Several articles recently reminded me that I am not just a writer, but a writer of stories. I am getting way to hung up on the theory and I am forgetting that i can just tell the story and have fun with it. Sure–I know that certain plot elements will make the story stronger, but those things are killing my joy in writing. So, I started telling my story.

Once upon a time, there were two water worlds. One world—Rison by name—was dying, the result of misguided scientists trying to act as God and control the natural forces of the planet. The inhabitants knew their time was limited and sought a refuge, a new home. The other water world—called Earth—caught the Risonian’s attention because the inhabitants only lived on land. Surely, they could share their water, the only place the creatures from the dying world would ask for.
Ah, but therein lies the problem. Sharing.

How do creatures put aside their own fears and self-interest and share? And, how can creatures do so willingly? When would the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term problems.

This could cause a war: if you don’t give us room on your planet, maybe we’ll just take over your planet.

The voice isn’t right. There’s not an opening scene. But right now, none of that matters because I don’t know the story. The first draft is to tell you the story; every draft after that is the question of how to craft the story in the most dramatic and compelling way for your readers. Right now, I’m just trying to tell a story. Crafting that into a novel will come later. Come. Listen to my story. . .

A side note: Did you know that if you have an iPhone, you can ask Siri to tell you a bedtime story. She’s told me so many bedtime stories, that she refuses to do it again–unless I beg.

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2. Should You Write Fast or Slow? Here’s the Right Answer – And Instintively You Know This is Right


Find Darcy Pattison Books in the iBook Store


As a hybrid author, I have one foot each in two very different worlds. I am traditionally published and as an author/publisher, I release my own books.

The worlds operate at tangents to each other and one point of contention is this question: how long does it take you to write a novel? Independent author Dean Wesley Smith has recently finished a year of blogging about his daily output, which includes emails, blog posts, novels and short stories. For example in June, Smith wrote 52,800 words of fiction, 14,700 nonfiction, 14,000 for blog posts, and 827 emails of about 22,900 words, for a grand total of 105,200 words.

However, traditionally published authors often agonize over a novel for two or three years. Or more.

Let’s just ask the question straight out? Which method of writing produces great novels? Both.

And don’t let anyone convince you otherwise! Not editors and not indies.

Then why is there such a wide range of discussion on the merits of the two viewpoints on the speed of writing?

Fast or Slow? From the Business POV

From a Traditional-POV, publishers generate over 50% of their income on their backlist, books that continue to sell 1000 copies a year and do so year-after-year. Yes, they need to add new books each year, but because their income isn’t starting at zero, they can be very selective in adding new books. Another strength of traditional publishers is that they have multiple sources of new stories each year, i.e. multiple authors. In fact, they will seldom put all their eggs in one basket, especially not yours. If you write quickly, a publisher will only take ONE of your mss in any given year, at least until you build a stellar reputation.

Writing the Aliens, Inc series was fast! Each book took a month to write and after comments, a week to revise. By contrast, a middle grade novel might take me a year to write.

Writing the Aliens, Inc series was fast! Each book took a month to write and after comments, a week to revise. By contrast, a middle grade novel might take me a year to write.

By contrast, from a Business-POV, indie author/publishers need to write quickly. They need to quickly build a backlist that generates an ongoing income. One-book-wonders, or authors who only write one book every five years, would be foolish to go indie. Let’s say you need $1000 income from your books each month. If you only have one book out that one book MUST generate $1000 month-after-month. If, however, you have ten books out, each book must AVERAGE only $100 in sales, month-after-month. In any given month, Book 3 might sell zero and Book 9 might sell $1000. The key is that the books must AVERAGE only $100. If Book 5 contributes only $50, but does it consistently, month-after-month, that’s a valuable book for you. For a traditional publisher, though, that’s not enough income generated and they would put it out of print. (And some publishers are more wont to cut the lower producing books than others.)

Traditional publishers source stories from multiple sources, spreading the risk among many authors. Indie author/publishers have only one source of stories, and they must maximize their output.

Fast or Slow? From the Creative POV

As my grandchildren are learning to walk and run, it's tempting to compare the age at which they take that first step. NOT FAIR! Each child--like each novel you write--develops at its own pace. Comparison does nothing but add unnecessary anxiety.

As my grandchildren are learning to walk and run, it’s tempting to compare the age at which they take that first step. NOT FAIR! Each child–like each novel you write–develops at its own pace. Comparison does nothing but add unnecessary anxiety.

Thus, you’ll hear editors saying, “Take your time. Get it right.”

Of course, editors advise writers to slow down. They can’t handle ten books from you in one year. If you write ten in a year, you’ll likely need 5-10 publishers (if you can find them), at least until you build that reputation for blockbuster sales.

Is there value in slowing down? Yes and no. Yes, it’s good to take the time to write well. Speed CAN lead to sloppiness, but it doesn’t necessarily. On the other hand, if your normal writing speed is fast, and you manage to turn out good stories, then slowing down feels like being hobbled. For some, it’s boring to write slow and only work on one project at a time.

The Indie world emphasizes the need for speed. Dean Wesley Smith once asked a group of writers how many words they write in an hour. I shrugged. I could easily write a 1000-words in an hour. Then he suggested that I should be writing 8000 words/day, which would be 192,000 words or about 4 middle-grade novels (or two full-length adult novels) per month.

Wait. Does that math work? Yes.
But it’s also not that easy. When I know what I want to write—such as this blog post—I can easily turn out 1000 words per hour. But writing a novel is a different task. I like the analogy of a spider spinning a web. From her gut, she must create the raw materials of spider web silk, and then like an architect, she lays in the foundations of her web, hanging for her life from that slender silk while she does so. Once the foundation threads are laid, she spins more silk—from her very gut—and weaves a circular web on that foundation. She then lies in wait for a victim to arrive.

Novelists spin characters and conflicts from their very guts and soul. We lay in the foundation of a novel’s plot, and then spin a story around that foundation. Finally, we lay in wait for a reader to be captured by the story.

Once I get a foundation laid, I can spin out that 1000 words per hour. It’s that first part, creating the story’s silk from my very soul, that is hard. As the creator of the Novel Revision Retreat, I also understand the imperative of revising multiple times to get a story right. I teach and practice that a first draft tells you what the story is; the following drafts are for finding a way to tell the story in the most dramatic way possible to hold readers’ attention.

My feet are firmly in both worlds. I need to produce works so I can build my indie backlist and thus up my income levels. However, I also understand that my process is slower than I’d like.

I am working on various ways to boosting productivity, such as learning Scrivener. But in the end, I’m left somewhere in the middle, and I don’t think it’s a matter of straddling the fence.

Honor Your Own Process

Instead, I think I am honoring my own process. For blog posts and picture books, I can and do write fast. But for novels, the thinking process is much slower than my ability to type. MUCH slower. It might take me six to twelve months to do this next novel. I refuse to be intimidated by the Indie crowd into going faster. Likewise, one of the appeals of being a hybrid or indie author is that no one can force me to slow down. I don’t have to wait a year for an editor to get back to me with revision notes. I don’t have to wait for an editor who promises a contract for fourteen months, and then rejects the novel, sending me into a new round of hopeful submissions.

Slow writing doesn’t equal good.
Slow writing doesn’t equal bad.
Fast writing doesn’t equal good.
Fast writing doesn’t equal bad.

Instead, I will write at the pace each piece of work demands and allows.

Working with Deadlines

There will always be the Tyranny of the Urgent. This week I’ll be going to North Andover, MA to teach a Novel Revision Retreat and that means I must have the teaching materials done by Wednesday. That’s my writing focus this week.

Fortunately, other deadlines loom in the future and those deadlines will demand that other projects consume my attention. For traditional publishers, the deadlines are few and far between. For indie publishing, I need to have books come out about six months before publication so they can be sent for review. Can I delay a book a month? Easily. But I try to set a publication date and stick with that. It’s a business thing.

Some argue that if you can write quickly under a deadline, then you could do it anytime. Not for me. Because a deadline FOCUSES my writing and writing time in a way nothing else can do.

In other words, external deadlines also affect my output. I still honor what a piece of writing demands, but at the back of my mind, I know what that demand is. And when I add that to the deadlines, I can instinctively allow more or less time before a deadline for that piece.

Do You Work Fast or Slow?

Good. Write at the pace that works for you for any particular project.
Learn from productivity tips and use whatever software is most productive for you. Don’t be intimidated by editors who demand slow work, or contemporaries who rave about the benefits of writing fast. In the midst of the swirl of opinions, write. Your way. Your stories. As David Bayles and Ted Orland say in Art and Fear, “Your job is to learn to work on your work.” I’ll add: And do it at your own pace.

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3. 1.6 Millions Reasons Why Your Books Should Be in the iBook Store


Are online reviews important? YES!

"I had no idea how important online reviews are, or I would have done it months ago." Hugh Howey (author of WOOL series) fan

Have your books been updated and made for sale as ebooks? Are you on the Kindle store, the Nook store, or the Kobo store? Great.
But if you’re not on the iBook store, you’re missing sales. Here’s why.

In a recent 2014 survey by Education Market Research, they surveyed schools about what tablets they currently own. Apple’s iPad overwhelmingly wins the tablet wars with 79.7% of the market. Distant competitors include Microsoft Surface at 10.2% and Samsung Galaxy Note at 6.2%. Wow! iPads rule! In schools, at least, Kindles only have 1% of the market.

Further, respondents said there are 2.3 million tablets in U.S. schools. That means about 1.6 million iPads are floating around the school buildings. That’s a huge market that you can’t afford to ignore! Especially when the respondents were asked about future purchases. Again, iPad tops the market share with 65.7% planning to buy iPads.

See my books on the iBook store!
To see if your ebooks are on the iBookstore, use the iTunes Link Maker tool. Search for your name under the books category. In the comments below, report what you find!

Darcy Pattison's books on the iBookStore

Darcy Pattison’s books on the iBookStore

Other eBook Options

Just because a school owns a dozen iPads, though, it doesn’t mean the school library will order from the iBookstore. Schools buying patterns are way more complicated because of factors such funding sources, issues related to inventory and checking out books, etc. In a September, 2013 article for Digital Shift, “SLJ’s School Ebook Market Directory,” Matt Enis and Sarah Bayliss run down 22 options that school have for purchasing ebooks for their libraries. Many options are simply a publishing company offering their backlist. Other options include ebooks from multiple publishers. The King among these options is Follett eBooks:

“Sixty-seven percent of PreS–12 schools using ebooks purchase from Follett, according to a recent Library Journal survey. Special features from Follett include note-taking capabilities in all titles and highlighting options in most, along with a tool allowing teachers and students to write and share notes. Additional Follett tools aim to support close reading and Common Core State Standards goals and offer scaffolding structures for struggling readers. Printing, copying and pasting, and text-to-speech features depend on publishers’ DRM specifications.”

One of the main reasons schools go to these ebook distributors is their desire to be “device independent” or “device agnostic.” They understand the limitations of being tied to a certain ebook reader. When a company provides “device independent” books, it usually means the ebooks are browser dependent. Any device which has a browser–such as Kindle Fire or iPads–can read that type of ebook. The versatility and universality of the browser dependent ebooks makes them an attractive option for schools. They aren’t tied to costly upgrades of tablets that tend to break. Instead, ebooks are read on whatever device is working.

Are your books available on these services? You’ll have to look up each one. Follett’s titles can be checked in their titlewave.com website, which is only available to customers. That means you’ll have to find a friendly children’s librarian to look it up for you. Yes, all my books are available on Follett’s ebook platform!

Finally, some publishers are making their eBooks available for purchase on their own websites. My indie books are available in epub or Kindle formats at MimsHouse.com. If you own the ebook rights to your books, you can sell them from your own website, too.

Book Reviews: A Difficult Ask

Of course, this means more work for authors as they work to get the oh-so-necessary-reviews. Already, we ask friends and family to review our books on Amazon/Kindle and maybe on GoodReads. KoboBooks used to pick up reviews from GoodReads, but since it’s been bought by Amazon, that’s not smart business; now, Kobo asks its customers to review on its site. And now, you should really ask for reviews on the iBookstore. Is it too much to expect from a friend?

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4. 4 Types of Villain – The Last One is Truly Scary Because He’s So Good


COMING: March, 2015


Guest post by K.M. Weiland

Ooh, bad guys. Where would our stories be without their spine-tingling, indignation-rousing, hatred-flaring charm? It’s a legit question. Because, without antagonists to get in our heroes’ way and cause conflict, we quite literally have no story.

So write yourself a warty-nosed, slimy-handed dude with a creepy laugh. No problemo, right? Bad guys aren’t nearly as complicated as good guys. Or are they? I would argue they’re more complicated, if only because they’re harder for most of us to understand (or maybe just admit we understand).

The best villains in literature are those who are just as dimensional and unexpected as your protagonists. They’re not simple black-and-white caricatures trying to lure puppies to the dark side by promising cookies. They’re real people. They might be our neighbors. Gasp! They might even be us!

V8374c_JaneEyre.inddThat raises some interesting possibilities, doesn’t it? It also helps us realize that villains can come in many different shapes and sizes. While studying Charlotte Brontë’s rightful classic Jane Eyre (which I analyze in-depth in my book Jane Eyre: The Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic), I identified four major types of villain.

The Evil Villain: Mr. Brocklehurst

When we think of villains, this is the type we think of most often. He’s just nasty. He’s cruel, hypocritical, self-serving—and readers just want to punch him in the face. He may take the form of a mafia don, a dictator, a serial killer, or even something as comparatively “harmless” as an overbearing father.

In Jane Eyre, the evil villain manifests deliciously in the tyrannical Mr. Brocklehurst, the head of the horrible boarding school where Jane’s aunt disposes of her. Brocklehurst isn’t evil because he’s out killing, raping, or stealing. He’s evil because of his complete lack of compassion and his sadistic pleasure in his own power. When a young Jane dares to stand up to him, he subjects her to cruel punishment and lies about her to the rest of the school.

Even worse, he pretends he’s a pious benefactor. He has no idea he’s a cruel bum. He believes he and his school are saving these poor girls! Always remember that even the most evil villains will rarely recognize their own villainy. As far as they’re concerned, they’re the heroes of their own stories. Lucky for us, their hypocrisy only ups the ante and makes them more despicable.

The Insane Villain: Bertha Mason

Sometimes villains aren’t so much deliberately bad as psycho bad. They’re out of their heads, for whatever reason, and they may not even realize how horrifically their actions affect others. Psychos are always popular in horror stories for the simple fact that their near inhuman behavior makes them seem unstoppable. If they can’t understand the difference between right and wrong, what chance will your hero have of convincing them of the error of their ways—before it’s too late?

Perhaps the most notable antagonist in Jane Eyre is the one readers don’t even see for most of the book. She’s on stage for only a few scenes and mentioned outright in only a few others. But her presence powers the entire plot. [SPOILER] I am, of course, talking about Bertha, the mad wife of Jane’s employer and would-be husband Edward Rochester, whom he secretly keeps locked in the attic. [/SPOILER] The whole story might not even have happened had Bertha not been bonkers.

The insane villain is a force of nature. Although there will always be motivations for their behavior (even if they’re only chemical), they are people who aren’t behaving badly for sensible reasons. They can’t be rationalized with, and they won’t be moved by empathy for others. Their sheer otherness, coupled with their immovability, makes them one of the most fearsome and powerful types of villain.

The Envious Villain: Blanche Ingram

The envious villain is your garden-variety bad guy (or girl). These folks are a dime a dozen because their motivations and desires are ones almost all of us experience from time to time. Their envy, ego, and personal insecurity drives them to treat others badly for no other reason than spite (whether it’s petty or desperate).

Halfway through her story, Jane Eyre faces a formidable rival for Mr. Rochester’s love—the beautiful Blanche Ingram. Blanche is everything Jane isn’t (she’s the popular girl to Jane’s lunch-table outcast): gorgeous, rich, accomplished, and socially acceptable. On the surface, Blanche has no reason to fear or envy our plain-Jane protagonist. And yet, right from the start, she senses Jane as a threat to her marriage plans, and it immediately shows in her snide, condescending, and sometimes downright cruel behavior.

Envious villains are often those who, like Blanche, seem to have it all. But their glamour disguises deep personal insecurities. No one is ever a jerk for no reason. There’s always something (whether it’s a spoiled childhood or low self-esteem) that drives these most human of all villains. But don’t underestimate the power of their antagonism. Their envy can cause them to commit all sorts of crimes—everything from rudeness to murder.

The Ethical Villain: St. John Rivers

This is my personal favorite villain type—because he’s so darn scary. The ethical villain, like the envious villain, is less noticeable in his antagonism than are evil and insane baddies. This guy isn’t even a bad guy at all. He’s a very good guy. But he’s taken his goodness to the extreme. He’s on a crusade to save the rest of the world—either including or in spite of the protagonist—and heaven help anyone who gets in his way. He’s convinced the means absolutely justify his holy end.

Jane’s cousin St. John Rivers is a marvelous character. He is a man who is determined to live righteously and make his life count for some deeper purpose. He surrenders his own love for the village belle in order to go to India as a missionary. Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? And yet, his cold-hearted devotion to what he views as his duty, and his determination to make Jane adhere to those views, presents her with her single fiercest and most dangerous antagonist. St. John would never dream of harming Jane or committing a crime, but his fanaticism for his cause very nearly destroys her life.

The ethical villain is ethical. He conforms to most, if not all, of society’s moral norms. But somewhere along the line, those ethics fail to match up with the protagonist’s. That exact point is where he becomes an obstacle (and therefore an antagonist) to the hero. But he also offers us one of our richest opportunities for exploring moral gray areas and deep thematic questions. As such, he is arguably the most valuable villain type in your author’s toolbox.

The possibilities for antagonists are every bit as rich as they are for protagonists. Stop and take a second look at your story’s villain. Does he fit into one of the four categories we’ve discussed here? How can you take full advantage of that category’s opportunities for creating a compelling opponent? Or would your story benefit if you used a different kind of villain? Or maybe more than one kind side by side? The choices are endless!



K.M. Weiland

K.M. Weiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

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5. Tea Party or Fist Fights? Why Action Scenes are Hard to Write!


COMING: March, 2015


ActionViolenceIn my current WIP, I want to up the action and make this a physically exciting story. So, I bought a great ebook, Action! Writing Better Action Using Cinematic Techniques by Ian Thomas Healy. It’s great, as I said, and breaks down the actions into easy components that can be easily mastered. Even for me, it’s easy.

Healy says that great action scenes put characters into motion and the “effective description of that motion is what makes the difference. . .
I get that part. But here’s what stumps me: “At its most basic level, an action scene is an expression of plot or character development through violence.”

Violence. As in people hitting each other, shooting at each other, killing each other. Yep. That kind of physical violence.

It’s been a long, long time since I was in a knock-down drag-out fight. That was with my younger brother when I was about 15, and we were fighting about whether the overhead light was on or off while we watched TV. I never had the chance to play football, which is a pure Show-Don’t-Tell version of testosterone. When my daughters played soccer, I cringed when they played tea party on the field: Oh, you have the ball? Well, take your turn and when you are finished, I’ll take my turn. Teaching aggression (much less violence) to young ladies is hard.

Our society trains women to avoid violence. We teach our daughters aggression now on a soccer field, but step off the field and it’s tea party time again. Women writers are at a disadvantage in writing action scenes.

Because Healy says that a great action scene needs violence.
Heck, I can’t even work up a good case of Road Rage.

Motivation. The hardest thing for me is to motivate the characters. I can block out the action and get the characters fighting. I’ve seen enough action movies to be able to do it. (Go watch The Transformers latest movie if you want non-stop violence. Wow. It must take up 75% of that movie.)

But WHY are these characters resorting to violence? (See, even our language makes it hard to use violence: “resort” implies that violence is a last option and the choice to use it is not easy.) Why would the characters use fists, swords, guns or other weapons against someone else? Healy helps with blocking out the sequences of actions and building them into longer sequences. But he says little about the character motivations.

In one sense, this is an escalating of tensions. Almost any motivation would work: revenge, for example, could easily escalate into violence. Two rivals for a fortune in gold could escalate an argument into violence and death. For violence to take place, there’s a line that needs to be crossed. Polite society demands that people restrain themselves, and that self-control must break for your characters, shoving them into a no-holds-barred action. Violence. It’s an escalation and it’s a letting go of social restraints. It’s a willingness to take action and a determination to get something done—no matter what.

Sounds like a good way to increase the tension and stakes in a story. Yes, often action stories are physical stories, without much in the way of characterization. You’ve heard it said that you either write an action story or you write a character story. A cross-pollination though, could create an intriguing mix. This time, I’m shooting for a story with better balance between action and character.

Cinematic. In some ways, this mix will be more cinematic. The sights and sounds of the action are crucial to the success of the scene. And yes, as I am writing, I am trying to visualize the actions in my head; I’m trying to see it as if it is on the big screen. Healy’s title is right on, violence—action scenes—are cinematic.

Thanks to Healy’s advice, I am making lists of what he calls “stunts,” or isolated pieces of actions, that will build into “engagements,” or movement across a setting, which will ultimately build toward some climactic “resolution.” I am taking baby steps in building a chapter with interesting action, um, violence.

Look out. I’m strapping on my boxing gloves, er, getting ready to type the next chapter of this new action-adventure story.

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6. Writers Write: Banish Discouragement


COMING: March, 2015


Today, I am discouraged.

My trusty friend, ART AND FEAR, says this:

“. . .artmaking can be a rather lonely, thankless affair. Virtually all artists spend some of their time (and some artists spend virtually all of their time) producing work that no one else much cares about. . . The sobering truth is that the disinterest of others hardly ever reflects a gulf in vision. In fact there’s generally no good reason why others should care about most of any one artist’s work.”

Yes. that’s how I feel today, that no one is much interested in any of my work.
Ho, hum.
So, what?

Fortunately, ART AND FEAR goes on:

“The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars.”

On those discouraging days, these are words to cling to!

ARTWORKSoars

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7. Thanks, Optimus Prime: What the Transformers Can Teach Us About Plot


The ALIENS have landed!

"amusing. . .engaging, accessible," says Publisher's Weekly


I am writing a science-fiction trilogy and I’d like it to have general appeal to kids and teens. So, recently, I went to see the new Transformers 4: Age of Extinction to see what I could learn. Here’s one of the official movie trailers.


If you can’t see this video, click here.

Transformer’s Major Plot Points

SPOILER ALERT: I analyze the plot of this movie, so if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want to know what happens, stop reading!

Who? Yeager family POV
When? Five years after Chicago was destroyed in the Transformer battles.

  1. Inciting incident: Inventor-wannabe Cade Yeager and his friend, Lucas, buy a junk truck that turns out to be Optimus Prime.
    Cade’s promise to his long-lost wife: I will make sure our daughter graduates from high school; graduation is only a week away, so it seems like a slam-dunk. (The rules have changed: we are all targets now.)
  2. Plot Point 1: The evil guys—the Cemetary Wind macho dudes—come to collect Optimus Prime (to take advantage of the rare metal that transformers are made of) and threaten Yeager’s daughter, Tessa—the Yeagers all escape with the help of Tessa’s boyfriend, Shane (though Lucas is sacrificed to show the evil that chases them).
  3. First half of Act 2: Rescue Transformer named Brains from the KSI and the new warrior Transformer, Galvatron is activated to chase them.
  4. Midpoint: Galvatron and Optimus Prime battle. When Optimus Prime is captured, Tessa is also caught and winds up trapped in the alien spaceship owned by Lockdown, an alien bounty hunter. Yeager and Shane must rescue Tessa.
  5. Second half of Act 2: Optimus Prime and Tessa are rescued by Autobots, Yeager and Shane. Alien bounty hunter, Lockdown launches into deep space believing he has Optimus Prime on board.
  6. Plot Point 2: Optimus Prime reveals that Galvatron is really a re-birth of the evil Megatron, who will try to activate the Seed to destroy Earth. They must stop him. The bounty hunter transformer, Lockdown, (To Optimus Prime: You think you were born? You were built and they want you back.) gives KSI a “seed,” which they think will help them make more of the prized metal, but will really destroy Earth.
  7. Act 3. Optimus Prime releases the Dinobots (T-Rex Transformer robots) and attacks Galvatron and win (though Hong Kong, this time, is destroyed). Lockdown returns to claim Optimus Prime.
  8. Climax: Cade, Tessa and Shane take risks to help Optimus (thus proving the story’s theme, that humans can rise to the occasion), who is hurt, but ultimately defeats Lockdown.
  9. Promise kept: Tessa has lived to attend her high school graduation, and has a new-found respect for her Dad’s tinkering ways.

  • Theme: Optimus Prime: How many more of my kind must be sacrificed for humans.
    Yeager: It’s not who we are, but who we can be.
  • There are several main subplots and you could analyze the story from one of the other ones. Here, I’ve concentrated on Cade/Tessa as the main plot. If you want to argue that this is Optimus Prime’s story, I could go for that; however, I think readers/movie fans are more likely to identify with the human characters.

    In any case, my point is to learn something.

    Action/Adventure or a Quieter Story

    Looking at this plot analysis, I realize immediately that I’m not putting enough at stake early enough in the story. My Plot Point I involves the character making a decision. It’s not an action scene where the antagonists arrive to threaten a girl and to recapture a rogue transformer.

    Of course–different stories have different needs. I describe quiet stories as having a pastel palette and there is indeed a place for stories like this. Transformer’s palette, however, is bold.

    My question to answer: What sort of physical action/adventure palette do I want? Is my story a quiet story, or does it fall farther along the spectrum toward an action/adventure story?

    Optimus-Prime-Transformers-

    Glue for Act 2

    The dreaded sagging middle is always a problem for me. In Transformers, the whole of Act 2 is about Rescue: rescue Brains from the KSI; rescue Optimus Prime and Tessa from Lockdown’s space ship. Notice that the Midpoint twists the story in a tangent direction when Tessa is captured and taken to the alien space ship. Of course, we are worried about Optimus Prime! But he’s a strong and able transformer who is likely to fight his way free at some point. Tessa, however, is a high school senior and it’s not fair that she is caught up in this conflict. It’s a nice way to keep the action going, to up the stakes and to play on the audience’s emotions.

    My Act 2 hangs together well, and has a nice Midpoint twist. The same question lingers, though. Do I need/want more action/adventure?

    The Last Lap: Pumping up Act 3

    We transition into Act 3 with a revelation in Plot Point 3 that Galvatron = Megatron. With such an evil abroad, no one can relax. They MUST take the battle to him. And what a battle! Aliens v. aliens. Over Hong Kong! Dinobots, or a great combination of t-Rex with transformers! What’s not to like? We get lots of exclamation points!!!!

    This is indeed a movie built on action sequences and it’s almost non-stop in Act 3.
    No, I don’t want my story to be THAT action/adventure oriented. I’ll back off the Transformer’s palette a couple steps.

    However, there are a couple nice moments. In the Hero’s Journey, there is often a death scene, followed by a resurrection scene. It’s the death of the hopes of the protagonist, and a renewal of the hope. Optimus Prime is impaled and we think he is dying. One of the story’s themes is that humans have potential. It’s crucial here that Cade, Tessa and Shane work as a team to help Optimus: they remove the “spear,” and help him to defeat the evil Lockdown.

    My Act 3 has action, a chase, and some nice possibilities for physical action. As I write it, I must remember to include scenes that highlight the theme in an organic way. If I can find a reasonable Death/Resurrection moment, so much the better.

    Thanks for the help, Optimus Prime

    Studying popular movies like this can be one way to reevaluate your plot. I’m still early in the plotting process, so this is a perfect time to do this. It doesn’t solve my problems: but it forces me to ask the right questions. And at this stage, that’s what I need: questions that force me to think deeper about my story, the characters, and the plot.

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    8. What Went Wrong? Story Conflict and How to Make it Stronger


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    In your story or novel, something must go wrong.

    Without conflict, there is no story. As you develop a plot, it’s helpful to think about what is the worst thing that could happen and then figure out if you can make that even worse?

    The absolute worst thing–the thing your character fears most of all–MUST happen in the climax of the story. That’s good plotting and storytelling. Building up to that point, you should have a series of conflicts that deepen, that reach out into every aspect of your character’s life, that affects friends, family, or even the survival of the planet or the human species. The series should have a logical progression from bad to worse to worst.

    Up the stakes. On way to escalate the conflict is to up the stakes by answering the “So-What?” question. This bad thing is going to happen. So what? Who cares? Who will it affect? How badly will it affect them? When the answer is that the worst thing will affect the most people, you have the stakes well in hand.

    Up the emotions. However, even for stories with the fate of the world in the balance are boring if the reader doesn’t care. This means you must provide a wide range of emotions for your characters from the most ardent love to the deepest sorrow. How can I make my character laugh? What would wrench his/her heart? What is the deepest emotion possible in your story? Create that emotional impact. Then take it one level deeper.

    Sacrifice. Characters who stupidly volunteer for kitchen duty aren’t sympathetic; they are stupid. However, a reluctant hero who only volunteers to save a loved one–that creates empathy. In HUNGER GAMES, Katniss volunteers to join the Hunger Games so that her younger sister won’t have to. This willingness to sacrifice herself for a loved one elevates here–and the ensuing conflict to new heights.

    Jeopardy. When a character is in jeopardy–danger is looming and drawing nearer by the second–readers are on the edge of their seats. Violence, just for the sake of violence, does little to create the emotions needed. Instead, a character must be in danger and must stay in danger for a long time. When I first watched the movie, ALIEN, my stomach hurt because I was so scared. That’s jeopardy. The aliens were coming–and the movie drew out that suspense and jeopardy forever!

    This marine is in jeopardy!

    This marine is in jeopardy!



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    9. How to Write a Book Series: 3 Crucial Decisions


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    To write a series of books, my biggest tip is to plan ahead. You may get by with writing one book on the fly—plenty of people do that. But for a series to hang together, to have cohesion and coherence, planning is essential. Here are three decisions you should make early in the planning process.

    Decision #1: What type of series will you write?

    Strategies for a series vary widely. For THE HUNGER GAMES, the story is really one large story broken down into several books. Or, to say it another way, there is a narrative arc that spans the whole series. Yes, each book has a narrative arc and ends on a satisfying note; however, we read the next book because we want to know what happens in the overall series arc. Jim Butcher’s ALERA CODEX is another series with an overall series arc; it was fun to hang out in this world for a long time.

    On the other hand, series such as Agatha Christie mysteries (in fact, many mystery series fall into this category) are stand-alone books. What continues from one book to the next is the characters, the setting and milieu, and the general voice and tone of the stories. Once a reader gets to know a character, s/he wants to spend more time with that character. These readers just want to hang out with a friend, your character. A sub-category is the series of standalone books that adds a final chapter to set up the next book in the series and leaves you with a cliff-hanger.

    I distinctly remember when I first read Edgar Rice Burrough’s John Carter series about Mars. Each story is a standalone novel, but he hooked me hard. I started reading at noon on a Saturday and found myself hotfooting it to the bookstore at 4:30 pm because they closed at 5 pm and I had to have the second book to read immediately.

    Rarer is the series that crosses genres. This type series begins with one genre, but moves into other genres as the lives of the characters progress. For example, a romance might continue with a mystery for the second book. And the third might move into a supernatural genre. These are rarer because one reason a reader sticks with a series is that they know what they are getting. It will be this type of a story, told in this sort of way and will involve these characters.

    On the other hand, some series unabashedly cross genres but they do it for every book. Rick Riordian’s Percy Jackson series is a combination of mythology and action/thriller with a dose of mystery.

    Notice that this decision centers on the plot of the stories in the series. Will you plot each separately, or will there be an overall plot?

    Decision #2: Characters

    Besides plot, you should make decisions about characters, and as with plot, you have choices. One choice is an ensemble cast that will carry over from book to book. Here, you have Percy Jackson, his friends and his family as constants. Each book introduces new characters, of course, but there is a core that stays the same.

    Another option is to have just one character remain the same. Agatha Christie had Hercule Poirot traveling around and the only constant was the gumshoe and his skills.

    Whether you choose one character or an ensemble, you can add or subtract as you go along. But the characters must be integral to the story’s plot.

    In developing series characters, think about cohesion and coherence.

    Cohesion: Elements of the story stick together, giving cohesion. For example, if one alien in the family can use telekinesis (moving objects with your mind), then that possibility should exist for all members of the family. Of course, some might not have the power, or it may develop slowly for a child, but the possibility should exist.

    Coherence: Elements of a story are consistent from book to book. If Kell’s eyes are silvery in book one, they are silvery in books two, three and four.

    Decision #3: How long do you want the series to continue?

    Many easy readers series go on forever. Think of THE BERENSTAIN BEARS, who continue their adventures and lives throughout multiple volumes. For this type series, the story possibilities are endless. Or think of a TV series, where the situation set up is rich with possibilities. I Love Lucy ran for years and years on the premise of a slightly crazy wife of a musician.

    On the other hand, some series have a finite life span. For stories with a narrative arc that spans a series, the life span is built into the plot. However even for these, there can be spin-offs into related series. Think of Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and Heroes of Olympia series. The A to Z Mysteries by Ron Roy and John Gurney had a built-in limit of 26 books.

    The Buddy Files Series, Book 1, by Dori Hillestad Butler

    The Buddy Files Series, Book 1, by Dori Hillestad Butler

    Sometimes, the length of a series depends on the publisher and the early success of the series titles. When Dori Hillestad Butler’s first book in The Buddy Files series, THE CASE OF THE LOST BOY, won the 2011 Edgar Award for the best juvenile mystery of the year, the publisher contracted for more.

    For Sara Pennypacker, author of the CLEMENTINE series of short chapter books, the answer of series length depended on something else. In a presentation about writing, she said that she had to ask herself what she wanted to say to third graders. She came up with eight things. Pennypacker focused on the themes of each book (friendship, telling the truth, etc) and found that eight was the natural stopping place for her. Of course, she reserves the right to many more, if other themes present themselves. But she deliberately stepped away from doing a Christmas book, a Halloween book, a 4th of July book, a fall book, a back-to-school book and so on and so forth.

    9781629440217-Perfect-PB-CS.inddMy books, THE ALIENS, INC. SERIES, just released in August, 2014, is about an alien family that is shipwrecked on Earth and must figure out how to make a living. It’s been interesting developing these stories and thinking about these three issues.

    They accidentally fall into party planning and each book features a different type of party or event put on by Aliens, Inc, the family’s company. KELL, THE ALIEN, the lead-off story, is about a birthday party and of course, it is an alien party. Can the aliens pull off an alien party? The second is about a Friends of Police parade, entitled, KELL AND THE HORSE APPLE PARADE. Book 3, KELL AND THE GIANTS, explored the world of tall and how to keep a giant secret.

    Can you tell just from the description some of the decisions I made? There isn’t an overall series arc. Rather, the characters, setting and milieu are set up and there could be endless stories in the series. However, like Butler’s dog mystery series, I am starting with four books and their success will determine future titles. There is a main character who is surrounded by friends and family and, of course, a villainess. These characters weave through the stories and provide cohesion and coherence.

    Plan ahead and your series will be stronger. For those who accidentally fall into a series, it will be harder to sustain coherence. You may realize in book three that it sure would be nice if your character had to wear glasses. Yes, you can add it—but you run the danger of it being obviously done for the story itself. So, in my series, early readers have questioned things like the art teacher who is from Australia.

    They ask, “Does it matter that she is from Australia?”

    “Not yet,” I answer. I just know that I have seeded these early manuscripts with possibilities. If the series goes to books 5-8, I will have hooks to draw upon. So, while I haven’t plotted those books, I have still allowed room for them.

    Resource: Writing the Fiction Series: The Complete Guide for Novels and Novellas by Karen S. Wiesner (Writer’s Digest Books)

    Want to write a series? What is your favorite series and how will your stories compare?

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    10. Take a Creative Risk – You Might Surprise Yourself


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    I’ve been writing for years. (Let’s not discuss how many exactly!) It’s easy to fall into habits and to think about stories in certain ways. The best creative people, though, insist that they are constantly learning and to do that, they try something different. They take risks.

    Let me suggest some risks you might want to take:

    Take a creative risk today! Try a new format, genre, audience, or marketing strategy.

    Take a creative risk today! Try a new format, genre, audience, or marketing strategy.


    Try a different genre. If you’ve only written nonfiction, try a novel. Love writing picturebooks? Try a webpost. Good writing is good writing is good writing. But platforms DO make a difference in length, diction (your choice of vocabulary to include/exclude), voice and more. Why not try writing a sonnet?

    Try for a different audience. Stretch your genre tastes and try a different one. Write a romance for YAs. Or a mystery for first graders. Are all of your protagonists female? Then try writing from a male’s POV and try to capture a male audience.

    Try a different process or word processing program. I took a class on Scrivener this spring and am continuing to explore what this amazing program can and can’t do. I’m also learning Dragon Dictate to lessen the ergonomic strain on my hands. I know that these programs have potential to change not just my writing process, but also the output. I’m just not sure HOW they will affect it. It’s a risk.

    Market to different places. While we often separate the writing from the marketing–especially when we think about the creative process–I think you can still take creative risks with marketing. For example, identify a market FIRST, and write specifically for that market. In this case, you are letting the market sculpt your creative output. If you write a short story for Highlights Magazine for Kids, it’s got to be 600 words or less. If you write an op-ed piece for the Huffington Post, everything is different in your creative output. If you decide to self-publish, you may find yourself suddenly taking the question of commercial viability much more seriously.

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    11. Word Crimes by Weird Al Yankovic


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    Have seen this video about grammar by Weird Al Yankovic? It’s a hoot!
    It was posted on July 15, 2014, and it already has almost 10,000,000 views.

    If you can’t see this video, click here.

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    12. Off-Stage Scenes Rarely Work – Unless You Are Scarlett


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    "amusing. . .engaging, accessible," says Publisher's Weekly


    Here’s a common problem that I see in first drafts: the main action has happened off-stage.

    Think about Scarlett O’Hara and the other southern women sitting at home waiting; in an attempt to avenge his wife, Frank and the Ku Klux Klan raid the shanty town whereupon Frank is shot dead. But the raid takes place off-stage.

    NOOffStageScenes

    Or, think about times when a weaker character stays home, while the adventurous character is off doing something. Sports stories are hard when the POV character is watching the on-field action.

    This can be a real trap for children’s novels if an older sibling or parent is doing something fun/exciting/scary/etc off stage.

    Another challenging situation is when a bully is planning something and the POV victim is just trying to avoid that.

    Or, maybe you’ve planned a great scene, and the main character is present, but you don’t write that scene. Instead, what you write is something like this: “The next morning, Elise lay in bed and went over the previous night in her head.”

    No. That doesn’t work!

    Does this always need to be changed? No. But it’s a major problem and challenge as you revise. Here are some tips.

    Recognize the problem. As you write the first draft and revise it, you should be evaluating the scenes. Ask: Who hurts the most in this scene. It should almost always be the main character. If it’s someone else, why isn’t THAT character the hero/ine of the story?

    Put the POV Character in the action. When you find a scene where the main action is off-stage, look for ways to rethink the plot and scenes and put the main character in the thick of the action. It’s why Captain Kirk leaves the Enterprise and goes down to the planet over and over and over. Really? No Captain would be allowed to jeopardize his life that much and give over the control of the ship to a junior officer. It’s unrealistic–but great storytelling.

    Make the story about how the off-stage action affects the POV character. In Gone with the Wind, Frank and the other men go off to avenge Scarlett’s honor, but the POV stays firmly with Scarlett. It’s about her growing realization of what the men have gone off to do, the opinion of the other women, and eventually the women’s reactions when the men come back. This is a risky way to write a scene, because the real stuff happens off stage; but it can work if you keep the focus right.

    Write the scene. If your character is just thinking about what happened last night, it’s a simple fix. Write the @#$@#$@# scene! Sometime this happens when the author is afraid of the emotions in a powerful scene; the author avoids writing that scene and tries to jump forward in time. It never works. You must write the scene that you fear. you must write the exciting scene because your reader demands it; that is the exact reason why they come to your story. Don’t cheat them out of the emotionally experience.

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    13. Getting Your Novel Unstuck


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    "amusing. . .engaging, accessible," says Publisher's Weekly


    So, I’m writing along on my novel and realize that I don’t quite know what happens next. I’m STUCK!

    What next?

    Work on a different section. Often, I look around the story and find something else to work on. Maybe, I can move forward a couple planned chapter and work on developing details of the setting. Perhaps, one character’s backstory is think and needs work. While the brain is busy with a side issue, your sub-conscience has time to reflect on the real problem.

    In other words, I am still working on the story, but I’m avoiding the problem section for a while, giving my sub-conscience time to work on the problem. Or, maybe I’ll just come back when I’m fresher and can tackle the problem.
    Stuck Novel?

    Take a walk. A break is often a good strategy. Doing something active helps the mind take a break.

    Tackle it straight on. When I am ready to tackle it straight on, lists usually help. My favorite is to create a sensory details list.

    My goals are dual: avoid a full-blown writer’s block and make progress of some kind. I work on alternate tasks that need attention–and give the stuck area room to breathe. And almost always, I come back with solutions or at least ready to work on the problem.

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    14. 39 Villain Motivations


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    I’m working on motivating my villain and have found 39 possible motivations. I’m sure there are more, but these should jump start your imagination. They are presented here with a statement from the villain’s point of view.
    villainMotivations

    1. Romance: I want to marry the princess.
    2. Revenge – ruin a hero: I want to ruin the King.
    3. To distinguish oneself: I want the princess to respect me.
    4. To fit in/gain acceptance: I want to attend the princess’ coronation and eat at her table.
    5. Justice: The king killed my mother, so the king must die.
    6. Greed – get rich: I want to steal everything from the King’s treasury.
    7. Fear: I am afraid that our lands will be stripped bare by this evil king.
    8. Desperation: If something doesn’t change in the next week, I will be executed.
    9. Social cohesion: Us zombies need to stick together.
    10. Desire to better oneself: I was born a peasant, but I will die a king.
    11. Power to achieve a goal: I must be king, so I can change the laws about owning property.
    12. Escape destiny: At birth, a prophet said I would kill the king; however, I am stealing enough money to escape to another country and avoid that destiny.
    13. Achieve destiny: At birth, a prophet said I would kill the king; and that’s my plan.
    14. Persecution: Growing up in a wheelchair has been hell.
    15. Rivalry: Prince John wants to marry the Princess, but she’s mine.
    16. Discovery: I will find out the king’s darkest secret and use it against him.
    17. Ambition: I want. . . everything!
    18. Survival (deliverance): In the midst of this civil war, I will survive.
    19. Self-sacrifice: Someone must stop this evil king and I’ve decided to step up and do it.
    20. Love: The princess has stolen my heart; so, I’ll steal her.
    21. Hate: The princess is an evil woman; when she becomes my wife, I’ll make her suffer.
    22. Conspiracy: I’ve gathered twelve good men to help me overthrow this king.
    23. Honor: Men from my city never back down, even if it costs me everything.
    24. Dishonor: Men from my city are idiots; I’ll never do things the “right” way.
    25. Unnatural affection: I want to marry the princess and take the queen as a lover.
    26. Catastrophe: A volcano is going to erupt and when it does, I’ll plunder the city.
    27. Grief and loss: When my mother died, I lost all interest in doing good.
    28. Rebellion: I’m the leader of the guerrilla forces.
    29. Betrayal: I was engaged to the princess, and then she married Prince John.
    30. Spread hate and fear: I love hate. Hate, hate, hate.
    31. Corrupt everyone: Come join me as I rob the king.
    32. Control the kids: If those kids make noise one more time at midnight, I’ll get ‘em.
    33. Leave me in peace: I never wanted to leave my home town, but since you’ve made me, I’ll show you what’s what.
    34. Recover what is lost: The king took my mother’s locket as tribute, and if it’s the last thing I ever do, I’ll get it back.
    35. Save humanity: To save humanity, I’ll have to kill the whole army.
    36. serve a master (ex. The Fuhrer): I’ll follow King George anywhere, even if it means killing King Phillip.
    37. Destroy: Ha! Ha! Ha! I love to burn down houses.
    38. Rule part of the world: I want to be King of the Mermaids.
    39. Rule all of the world: I will rule the Earth.

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    15. Synopsis: A Google Example


    Let's Meet! Here's where I'll be speaking this fall in AR.

    • Arkansas Reading Association Leadership Institute, July 26, Little Rock
    • Arkansas Association of School Librarians Conference, July 28-29, Little Rock
    • Interview on ArkansasAuthors.com on August 4-6
    • Fayetteville Literary Festival, October 4, Fayetteville, AR
    • Arkansas Library Association Conference, October 5-6, Hot Springs, AR
    • Arkansas Reading Association Conference, November 20-21, Little Rock, AR
    Invite Darcy Pattison to speak at your event.

    A couple years ago, Google produced a promotional video, Parisian Love, which advertised its search capabilities in a very simple way. There are merely twelve phrases entered into a Google Search box. And yet–it tells a story and tugs at the heart strings. It evokes emotion. How good is this copy? The video has received over 7 million views!

    The sound here is minimal, but effective. But it’s really the words that shine.

    When I think about blurbs for books, this stands as a stellar example of what you can do with very tight text. If you could craft your synopsis–or blurb, flap copy, elevator pitch, tweet, or whatever promotional copy you’re working on–to get this strong an emotional tug, you’ll have a winner.

    Here’s the Copy

    Parisian Love

    Study abroad Paris France
    Cafes near the louve
    Translate tu es tres mignon (You’re very cute)
    Impress a French girl
    Chocolate shops paris france
    What are truffles
    Who is truffaut
    Long distance relationship advice
    Jobs in paris
    AA120
    Churches in Paris
    How to assemble a crib
    Search on.

    Watch the Video


    If you can’t see this video, click here.

    Try writing up some promotional copy for your story in just twelve phrases.
    Does it evoke emotion?
    Does it show a narrative arc?
    Can you use this to craft a better marketing message?

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    16. The Power of BECAUSE: How I Created a Dastardly Villain


    A quest for a new home--
    An immigrant's story

    "Watership Down" with armadillos

    READ A SAMPLE CHAPTER!

    I am hard at work on an outline/synopsis sort of thingy for a new trilogy. I wish I could say it’s a true outline or synopsis, but I’m not an outliner. However, I’m not a panster either, to just start writing and write by the seat of my pants. I am a plan-ster, a person who halfway plans and then writes a while, and then plans again from the new and improved position halfway through the story.

    While I’m outlining (term used loosely, as just explained), I am finding places where I am stuck. What happens next?

    One word is changing things: Because.

    My character argues with another BECAUSE. . .

    By forcing myself to answer the BECAUSE question, I wind up going deeper into backstory, motivations and emotional depth. Why are they doing such and so? BECAUSE. . .

    Backstory. Some of the because has to do with inventing backstory. This week, I found a villain that way. I knew Character V was acting up, but when I added the BECAUSE and started delving into V’s psychology and backstory, suddenly V took on a new–and much more interesting–role in the story. He became the antagonist, which I knew I needed, but I had been avoiding the work needed to figure it out. So, the BECAUSE work became a shortcut to finding out about a villain.

    Motivations. For all the characters, the BECAUSE work meant I had to delve into the reasons for actions, the motivations. This deepened the story in important ways, even at this outline level. Partly, I am trying to find connections among characters and how they approach life at interesting tangents. As I worked on the BECAUSE answers, I made sure the answers weren’t clones, but held the possibility of interesting clashes.

    Emotional Depth. This is saying the same thing as motivations in a different way, but it’s an important variation. Emotion is hard for me to pull into a story and planning for it up front is essential–or else my stories will be flat and revisions will be deadly. One question that helps here is, “Who hurts the most? X hurts the most BECAUSE. . .”

    Fiction is about emotional conflict and how that conflict is resolved (or not). Generally, the person who hurts the most should be the main character. It’s not unusual to have to change the MC to a different character as you uncover and create the characters’ inner lives.

    I am still stumbling around inside the ideas for this story. But one word is lighting a path toward actually writing a first draft: BECAUSE.


    BECAUSE

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    17. NOVEL REVISION CHARTS: 2 Tools for Smart Re-Thinking of Your Story


    A quest for a new home--
    An immigrant's story

    "Watership Down" with armadillos

    READ A SAMPLE CHAPTER!

    An aid to smart revising based on Darcy Pattison’s techniques

    Guest Post by
    Claudia Finseth

    I recently took Darcy’s Whole Novel Workshop and read her book, Novel Metamorphosis: Uncommon Ways to Revise. Between the two, there was a great deal of valuable new information to process. I’m very visual, so one way I worked through and organized the information was by creating charts. To what are mostly Darcy’s ideas, I added a few of my own, and some I’ve learned in other workshops. Darcy has asked me to share these charts here on her blog.

    The first chart is The Novel Revision Chart. As Darcy teaches, there are many types of revision to consider once we have a draft of a novel.

    Finseth's Novel Revision Chart

    This Novel Revision Chart show the different types of revisions and helps you prioritize the revision tasks. CLICK TO VIEW FULL SIZE.




    Darcy’s workshops are based on critique groups. Participants work in groups of four, reading and commenting on each other’s manuscripts and. Taking the three critiques of my novel, I made a list of all the types of revision my group suggested for my novel: not letting the tension flag, pulling all my theme threads all the way through the novel, keeping my character age-appropriate, etc.


    Attend a Novel Revision Retreat

    The Darcy Pattison Novel Revision Retreat will come to the Boston area in August, 2014. There are a limited number of spaces still available. See Anne Broyles site for details. Also available is a Build Your Website session and a Picture Book Workshop. Hurry! Spaces limited! And time is short!


    Then, I identified where these types of revision landed on the Novel Revision Chart. If they landed somewhere on the Incremental Revision line, I figured I could work with what I had already written. The three types of revision mentioned in the previous paragraph all land there. If, however, the needed revisions landed on the Quantum Leap Revision line, then I figured maybe I should scrap this chapter or that and write it again from scratch. Or write the whole novel again in a new draft. Or take the novel apart and reorganize it in some major way. For instance, my second novel is probably really three novels. (Sigh.) But better I realize that now than waste time trying to fix it the way it is.

    The point is, this chart can help writers identify how major or minor the next revision needs to be, as well as what kind of revision needs to be focused on next. It can save us spinning our wheels on the wrong kind of revision. How many times have we worked on verbs or sensory detail when what we needed was to introduce another character or change the beginning? Trust me: been there, done that, and it’s very annoying to realize I should have been working on a totally different kind of revision. The chart can make us smarter revisers.

    The Line Edit Revision part of the chart is a reminder that the final revisions you do, once the novel is firmly shaped and sparkling with life, and just before submission, need to be these five types of micro-edits. Therefore, it is at the bottom of the chart.

    Checklist for Revising Scenes.

    But before we do any line editing, there’s the second chart to look at, A Checklist for Each Scene. As the first chart is a way of evaluating the revision needed overall, this second chart is for scene by scene revisions. As Darcy explains in Novel Metamorphosis: Uncommon Ways to Revise, each scene is a kind of whole of its own. Taking one scene at a time, a writer can use this chart in conjunction with Darcy’s book to make sure each scene includes all the elements required to create a tight, compelling scene that propels the reader into the next one.

    Finseth Scene Checklist

    After the major revisions and before the minor Line Edit revisions, you should do a scene check. CLICK TO SEE FULL SIZE.



    I have these charts before me as I work. They are quick reminders of each step needed to flesh out and deepen a scene and ultimately write a novel that editors will want to publish because they are so rich and satisfying a read. I’ll make checks on the charts as I go, when I think I’ve accomplished each type of revision. And when I’m “done” I’ll put a big exclamation mark in sharpie marker, or a smiley face, or perhaps I’ll save them for the next novel.


    Claudia FinsethClaudia Finseth is a writer and author living in Tacoma, Washington. She is published in non- fiction adult, poetry and short children’s stories in Cricket Magazine. Her goal now is to become an adept at the novel form. “Novels are hard!” she says. Her website is claudia.finseth.ca.

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    18. Do You Fear Starting a New Novel?


    "Watership Down with Armadillos"

    An immigrant's story!

    READ A SAMPLE CHAPTER!

    Today, I stare failure in the face.
    Today, I am scared.
    Today, I see possibilities as the possibility of failing.

    In other words, I have finished all my self-imposed deadlines on other projects and cleared my plate of other tasks, so that I can start a new novel. And it terrifies me.

    It’s an ambitious project, something I expect to turn into a trilogy. I have such hopes for this project: hopes that it will reach new readers; hopes that it will be fun to write and promote; hopes that it will be (I’m afraid to even say it!) a breakout novel for me.

    And I am scared.

    I’ve done my homework. Volcanoes feature large in this story, so last month while I was in the Pacific Northwest, I visited Mt. St. Helens.

    Darcy Pattison at Mt. St. Helens

    I recently visited Mt. St. Helens for research on the background for a new novel.



    I’ve written samples for this story from different points of view, and even sold a short story based on the back story.

    And yet–I am scared to sit down and start this. Yes, I’ve written the book on starting a novel and I’m still scared to start again. As ART AND FEAR puts it, I am scared that my fate is in my own hands–and that my hands are weak.

    I SHOULD see the great possibilities of success.
    I SHOULD approach this with excitement.
    I SHOULD be so ramped up by now that the words would flow, as if bestowed from above, with angelic music swelling and…

    No. Writing is work. It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done or ever hope to do. But it’s also the most exciting, most fun, and most rewarding work I will ever do.

    So, at 8:30 this morning, I’ll turn on my Freedom app, giving myself three hours of uninterrupted time. I will make a start. A messy start. But a start. And that will be enough for today. Just make a start, that’s my goal for today.

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    19. Thank You, AuthorCentral


    " Saucy is a real character dealing with real stuff—hard stuff that doesn’t have easy answers, not in real life and not in fairy tales, either. This is a really compelling and ultimately hopeful story. Highly recommended." – Debby Dahl Edwardson, National Book Award finalist and author of My Name is Not Easy Read a sample chapter.

    One of the online tools I use weekly is AuthorCentral.com, which is an Amazon site with a backend for authors. It gives authors access to the listings about your book, statistics about sales, reviews of all your books on a single page and access to Amazon for correcting mistakes.

    Typical page from AuthorCentral. I've just "claimed" my Aliens, Inc. Series which will be out in August, 2014.

    Typical page from AuthorCentral. I’ve just “claimed” by Aliens, Inc. Series which will be out in August, 2014.

    Book Listings. When you log onto AuthorCentral, the first thing to do is claim your books. Click on the Books tab at the top, and then ADD BOOKS. Once the process is completed, you’ll have access to the book listing, book details and book extras. These shouldn’t be changed willy-nilly, as your publisher has likely spent time in honing the description. But you do have access to change anything that is wrong, to add good news about awards and such, and to tweak as needed. Indeed, there is a space for “FROM THE AUTHOR” which gives you the perfect place to add information. The Book Extras are primarily intended for Shelfari, which isn’t one of the most popular sites; often, I don’t bother to do anything here. But it’s available if you like.

    Profile. The profile tab offers simple access to your Amazon Author page, something you want to update a couple times a year, or as new information is available. Included are you bio, bibliography, photos, videos, blog feeds and the ability to list events.

    Sales Info. This includes sales data over time and by geographic region, as reported by BookScan. That is important: this only includes sales data from BOOKSCAN. Still, this is important and helpful. Say you visited California and wanted to know the effect of that visit on sales. You could check the sales data the next week. The information is also broken down book by book.

    Author Rank. Just like Amazon gives your books a sales rank, it also gives YOU a sales rank. For a certain time period, how did your sales stack up against other authors in your category? I tend to ignore this one.

    Customer Reviews. On the other hand, I check my customer reviews about once a week. It’s convenient to have all reviews from all your books in one central location. Otherwise, I’d have to visit each book listing on Amazon to see new reviews. It’s a bit slow (24-48 hours) pulling in a review. When a friend emails to say s/he has posted a review, I can check the book page and see it immediately; however, it doesn’t show up on AuthorCentral for a day or two.

    Overall, these tools allow writers to keep a pulse on their book sales. It’s been a valuable addition to my set of online marketing and promotional tools. Thanks, AuthorCentral.

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    20. Rhyming Dictionaries


    " Saucy is a real character dealing with real stuff—hard stuff that doesn’t have easy answers, not in real life and not in fairy tales, either. This is a really compelling and ultimately hopeful story. Highly recommended." – Debby Dahl Edwardson, National Book Award finalist and author of My Name is Not Easy Read a sample chapter.

    Yesterday, I was working on a picture book with rhyme in it. Now, I have two great rhyming dictionaries that I use. Yes, two. Because they are organized differently and provide slightly different answers. In addition, I use Rhymer.com, because again, it’s organized slightly different and has slightly different answers.

    But my dictionaries are old and literally falling apart.
    I need suggestions and recommendations. I am thinking that I want an ebook version so I can use the search function; that means it will need to be a recent publication date.

    What rhyming dictionary would you recommend and why?

    Did you know that there’s a Hip Hop Rhyming Dictionary? Crazy!
    And lots for song writers.

    Suggestions?
    rhyme

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    21. 5 Interesting Podcasts: Kidlit, Social Media & Self-Publishing


    " Saucy is a real character dealing with real stuff—hard stuff that doesn’t have easy answers, not in real life and not in fairy tales, either. This is a really compelling and ultimately hopeful story. Highly recommended." – Debby Dahl Edwardson, National Book Award finalist and author of My Name is Not Easy Read a sample chapter.

    With limited time to keep up on the business of writing and publishing, I have found myself turning to podcasts. A podcast is like a radio program, but you can play it on demand. To listen, I have the Pocket Casts Lite app on my iPhone; the free version allows me to set up five podcasts to follow. I listen while I’m at the gym or taking a walk using ear buds; I have a wireless bluetooth earbud setup, so I don’t have to worry about cords. Or, I plug into the auxiliary input on my car radio/cd system to listen. At home, I have a portable bluetooth speaker that sounds great. Of course, you’ll need to find a set of apps for your particular system. If you already have something set up to listen to music on your smart phone, just use that same thing for listening to podcasts.

    Using Pocket Casts Lite, I can log onto the iTunes store and search podcasts to find something I want to listen to. My friend who write history nonfiction, tends to listen to history podcasts for tidbits that might spark an idea. No, really, she just listens to them for pleasure! If it sparks something, great. Almost any topic that interests you, there’s a podcast. Here, I’ll mention five podcasts that I’ve been listening to lately.

    If you’re interested in just hearing authors talk about their books–and not the publishing side of it all–then you can look at podcast lists here or here, here or here.

    Children’s Literature.

    1. Katie Davis’s Brain Burps is the longest running podcast about children’s books. Each week, she interviews someone about their work and publishing experience, provides a book review and gives tips. Find her on iTunes.
    2. Cheryl Fusco Johnson takes a slightly different approach to podcasts by using a local access radio station, KRUU in Fairfield, Iowa for her show, The Studio. For her show, you must download files and put them on your smartphone like you would a music file. Her interviews are with a wide-ranging set of authors–always interesting.
    3. Book Marketing.

    4. One of my favorite podcast is Social Media Marketing with Michael Stelzner, which isn’t necessarily about book marketing, but about using social media in general. It comes from the folks at SocialMediaExaminer.com and some of their strategies are stellar tools for your book marketing. Look for it on iTunes.
    5. Podcast


      Self-Publishing

    6. There are strong podcasts for self-publishers, including Joanna Penn’s Creative Penn Podcast. She’s got a long record of interviewing the most successful self-publishers and being on the cutting edge of new developments.
    7. But my favorite right now is Simon Whistler’s Rocking Self Publishing Podcast. Yes, I was just interviewed on this podcast, but I have been listening to it for the last few months because of Simon’s great British accent. He’s got one of the best radio voices around right now. Simon’s interest in self-publishing is–of course–doing narration of audio books. But ont he podcast, eh talks to a wide range of authors about their publishing experiences.

    What apps do you use to listen to podcasts? What is your favorite podcast?

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    22. Book Reviews on Your Author Website: A Surprisingly Simple Widget


    " Saucy is a real character dealing with real stuff—hard stuff that doesn’t have easy answers, not in real life and not in fairy tales, either. This is a really compelling and ultimately hopeful story. Highly recommended." – Debby Dahl Edwardson, National Book Award finalist and author of My Name is Not Easy Read a sample chapter.


    Why do most online sites include reviews of products? It’s called social proof. If someone else likes a product, you’re more likely to be interested. For clothing, I like to see if the sizing is correct, or if I should buy up or down a size. For household appliances, I read to find out what washing machines are noisy or how they hold up to heavy loads. Book reviews act in the same way. Add a couple reviews to your book and sales climb. How much? That’s the million dollar question! We don’t know exactly how the two correlate, but we know that they do.

    Adding reviews of your book to your website is simple. Earlier, I did a series on setting up your author website which covered the basics of setting up your site. This is an extra, but potentially important extra.

    Goodreads Widget

    Configure the GoodReads Review widget as you like, the copy/paste the code into your site. Click to see this full size.

    Configure the GoodReads Review widget as you like, the copy/paste the code into your site.


    Goodreads makes it simple to add a Review Widget to your site. Here’s how.

    • Log into your Goodreads author account.
    • From the Home Page, right sidebar, click on Visit Your Author Dashboard.
    • Make sure your account is updated and you have claimed all your books. If this is your first time to set up an Author Dashboard, be sure to read the Author Tutorial linked in the sidebar.
    • Click on Author Widgets in the sidebar.
    • Scroll down to the Reviews Widget and click on Configure & Add Widget.
    • Use the ISBN number to find the right review and configure as you want.
    • Copy the code provided and drop into your website where you wish.

    When you paste code into a WordPress site, make sure you have selected a TEXT editing area, not the VISUAL editing. Note: For the code to work in WordPress, you must paste it into a TEXT editing area, not a VISUAL editing area. You’ll find this tab at the top right of the editing area.


    Example of GoodReads Widget in Action

    Saucy and Bubba. A Contemporary Hansel and Gretel Story.

    Saucy and Bubba. A Contemporary Hansel and Gretel Story.


    • Below is what the GoodReads Review Widget looks like for my novel, Saucy and Bubba.
    • Or, see how it is used in a separate tab on the Mims House eBookstore for Wisdom, the Midway Albatross.

    Kobo Reviews

    On a related development, Kobo eBooks (Here’s a post I did about Kobo and why you should pay attention to it.) has recently announced that they will no longer use GoodReads reviews on their site. This makes sense because Amazon bought out GoodReads a couple years ago. Using reviews from a competitor is bad business. Instead, Kobo will be developing its own set of reviews on its site. For a short time, authors can take control of that and ask fans to add reviews on Kobo. So, here’s my request. If you have read and enjoyed one of my books, I’d appreciate a review on Kobo. If you just rate the books (give it some stars!) that helps, too.

    To ask for reviews on your own Kobo books, just change the name at the end of the URL, using a plus sign between first/last names. You’ll see which of your books are offered on Kobo.

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    23. Good-bye Confusing Subplot, Hello Book Contract


    " Saucy is a real character dealing with real stuff—hard stuff that doesn’t have easy answers, not in real life and not in fairy tales, either. This is a really compelling and ultimately hopeful story. Highly recommended." – Debby Dahl Edwardson, National Book Award finalist and author of My Name is Not Easy Read a sample chapter.

    Guest post by Margo Dill

    It’s something we’ve heard if we belong to a critique group or have beta readers. “I really like your story, but. . .”

    Fill in the blank with suggested plot changes, readers’ confusion, flat characters, boring beginnings—you name it—I’ve heard it, and you probably have, too. So, when a member of the Lit Ladies, my critique group, said, “I really like your book, but you need to take out this entire subplot in the beginning of Caught Between Two Curses,” I will admit I had a panic attack. Not a full-blown one, but a small one with a sleepless night. But here’s the thing—she was right.

    1655060_10202352586313888_1471055173_oIn the beginning of my latest young adult novel, I had my 17-year-old character, Julie, appear on a talk show in Chicago, IL, called The Mona Show. In this version (and not the published one!), Julie survived a car crash as a toddler, and her parents did not. She becomes known in Chicago as the miracle toddler, and The Mona Show decides to do an update episode, asking teenage Julie to reappear. While on the show, Julie discovers that her grandmother really is alive and living in Chicago, even though her aunt had led her to believe that she had either died or moved to Romania.

    So, when all my critique group members thought it was a good idea to get rid of Mona, I wondered how I would ever introduce the accident that killed Julie’s parents, the relationship between Julie and her aunt, and her estranged and eccentric grandmother. Plus, The Mona Show was in the beginning and end of the book. After no sleep, tears, sweat, and some wine, I revised.

    I cut and chopped. I brainstormed. I made a list of what I thought The Mona Show did for the book, and then created other ways to introduce either that character trait or the plot point. I rewrote and read out loud. During all of this, a little voice in the back of my head started yelling, “The Lit Ladies were right! You don’t need The Mona Show.”

    And once Mona was gone, I pitched it to Robin Tidwell of Rocking Horse Publishing at the Missouri Writers’ Guild conference in 2013. She gave me a contract. Now it’s a book, and I know it’s better thanks to critique and revision.

    I’ll admit one tiny thing to anyone reading this pity-party-with-a-happy-ending story, I always had dreams that Oprah herself would let me come backstage and research what it was really like to be on a talk show in Chicago. But then Oprah stopped doing her show, so what was the point of keeping The Mona Show in my book anyway? Some dreams die, along with characters, plots, and scenes. Luckily, this death made my book better.


    meMargo Dill is the author of Caught Between Two Curses, a young adult novel where one of the curses is The Curse of the Billy Goat on the Chicago Cubs. To buy a copy, visit her blog, where you can watch a book trailer and click to buy the book at any major online retailer.

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    24. Major v. Minor Revisions: The Surprising Relationship between Draft #1 and Draft #2


    "Watership Down with Armadillos"

    This could be the surprise book of the year!

    READ A SAMPLE CHAPTER!

    When you revise, do you do minor surgery or major surgery on your novel? Most of us revise multiple times, but some revisions are bigger than others. I believe in making incremental changes, that is, getting it mostly right and then doing a series of tweaks. The change isn’t huge, but the results are important. It’s a striving for perfection! Most of us can’t write a perfect novel the first time round. Instead, you go back and fix, tweak, play with and otherwise revise, till it satisfies that inner critic and is sent off into the world.

    Google Glass is not an incremental change from previous ways of consuming digital information. It's a quantum leap ahead of other ideas.

    Google Glass is not an incremental change from previous ways of consuming digital information. It’s a quantum leap ahead of other ideas.



    But sometimes, incremental changes aren’t enough. In a fascinating report, Jon Gertner wrote an article, “Inside Google X,” Fast Company magazine, May, 2014. In order for a project to be accepted by Google X labs, it must pass three criteria:

    1. It must address a problem that affects millions or billions.
    2. It must be a radical solution with a science fiction component.
    3. It must tap technologies obtainable today.

    They want the scope of the problem solved to be huge. But notice that beyond that, they aren’t asking for a technological break-through; in fact, if a product NEEDS a technological break-through, they will shelf it until the technology is available. They aren’t doing research and development for technology, but for the application of technology. Google X labs is asking for an idea breakthrough, a breakthrough in the way they think about a problem.

    The biggest projects coming out of Google X (so far!) are driverless cars, Google glass, high altitude wi-fi balloons, and glucose-monitoring contact lenses.

    Sometimes, writing fiction also needs a breakthrough in thinking: I call these revision Quantum Leap Revisions. This type revision shakes the very structure of your story and asks you to rethink anything and everything about your story except the “Heart of Your Story,” or that thing that made you write the story in the first place.

    Just as Google X Labs operates with existing (or obtainable) technology, Quantum Leap revisions relies on your current knowledge and understanding of the craft of writing. We’re not asking you to be a better writer; rather, we’re asking that you think harder about the story and how you’ll tell that story.

    You may cut characters, add characters, change the ending, replot with drastically different themes, delete half the book, expand the book to double its current size, and so on. The point is that this isn’t an incremental change–a tweak. It goes back to the basics, rethinks the whole story and builds it from the foundation up. You gut the building. You bull-doze everything but the foundation.

    Will you re-envision your novel? See it in fresh, new ways?

    Will you re-envision your novel? See it in fresh, new ways?

    Types of Incremental Revisions

    When you editing for grammar, spelling and punctuation, it’s an incremental change. Fleshing out a story can often be incremental as you add details here or there to make the story more specific in hopes that it comes alive in the reader’s mind. Minor deletions, addition, moving around of scenes/chapters can be incremental.

    Types of Quantum Leap Revisions

    Here are examples of potentially huge re-envisioning of your story.

    • Change POV
    • Add characters
    • Combine characters
    • Delete characters
    • Delete chapters/scenes
    • Expand chapters/scenes
    • Replot with major changes
    • Use a different voice
    • Switch genres
    • Switch age level of your audience

    Draft #2: Focus Shifts from Novelist to Reader

    When should you do an incremental change and when should you do a Quantum Leap revision?
    The function of the first draft is to find your story.
    The function of every other draft is to find the most dramatic way to tell that story.
    This change in the focus of your story–from you to the reader–means that draft #2 is probably the best time for a Quantum Leap revision. You may need several such huge revisions before you find the right way to tell your story. Once you figure out how to grab the reader and keep them reading, you can switch to incremental changes and keep at it till the story is polished.

    Do you do a Quantum Leap revision for every story? Or do you mostly do incremental changes?

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    25. eBook, pBook and aBook: Time for New Terminology?


    "Watership Down with Armadillos"

    An immigrant's story!

    READ A SAMPLE CHAPTER!

    eBooks2

    Author Jerry Weinberg recently posted this on a listserv and gave permission for folks to use it. He asks a provocative question about how we refer to books.

    A pet peeve of mine:
    Because books (usually) made of paper have been around for hundreds of years, they have captured the name “book” as their exclusive property.

    Because electronic books have been around for about one generation, they have a different designation, “e-books,” which makes them sound like they’re not real “books.”

    I’ve started distinguishing between the two types by calling the old type “p-books.” P could stand for paper, or print, or perishable, or whatever you choose.

    The e in e-books could stand for electronic, easy-to-use, enduring, elastic (for their ability to change dynamically), or whatever you choose.

    Both p-books and e-books are equally “books,” not “real books” and some “johnny-come-lately pretend books.”

    And who knows, maybe there will be other types of book – x-books, for any number of x’s. (like a-books for books delivered in audio format)

    I’m encouraging my friends and colleagues to use this nomenclature, rather than “e-books” and “dead-tree-books” or some other clumsy attempts to bring e-books to the same stature as p-books.

    From now on, I’m using the term “book” to refer only to the contents, not the form. If I’m talking about a paper book only, I’m using p-book.

    If you’d like, feel free to join the campaign. Thanks for listening.
    Jerry

    Please leave a comment–do you think pBook is a good term for print/paper books? Does aBook for for audio books?

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