Thursday, 28 March 2013

Book Cover (Test Run) + How I Designed It

So, I think I've pretty much sorted a book cover now. I'm going to keep going with the story I'm writing now, because if I keep going the way I'm going, I'm never going to be happy with anything. So, I went out and designed a cover myself, the photo courtesy of Morgue File. I recommend them because a lot of images are free and as long you alter the image in some way, no attribution is necessary.

But first, a bit of background. I'm no art designer and have no art skills. So, this has been designed via Microsoft Publisher 2007 and Paint. It's probably the best I'm going to manage on my own, with the exception of changing words, background and image without spending money. Money, sadly, is hard come to by at the minute, but I'd love to be able to afford a cover artist if I could.

So, here's the cover, though please note the title isn't the proper one (rough draft is still being written and I haven't settled on a title yet). The rest however, like the image, background and text type I plan to use:

So, does it look fine? Feedback is welcome.

How did I design it? That's simple. I opened up Microsoft Publisher 2007. I looked at help there and then typed in 'background'. I was then shown some backgrounds I could download. I chose one. I added the background as an image and resized it so it covered the page. I then inserted the photo from Morgue File. Again, free to use without attribution necessary as long as you don't use the photo as it is. Then, I resized the photo. I then added the text via Word Art in Microsoft Publisher 2007 and I made sure the text had a black outline. That can be done by right clicking the text after it's been inserted. I then saved it as a JPEG.

I then opened the saved file in Paint. From there, I set the dimensions (using Amazon's recommended size) and I resized the image until there were no white edges shown. Or until they were barely visible.

What I did is very easy to do for practically anyone. The only trouble is finding a nice image that's free to use. But you can always try and go without said image. There's just the risk it won't look as good.

Now then, when the book cover is viewed on Amazon's publishing site (where you preview your book, set price etc.), the text doesn't look that nice. Just unclear really and it's only really my name. But when it's viewed via the Kindle program on my laptop, it looks fine. So, hopefully it'll look fine when people view it in the store.

Hope this helps others looking to design a cover without spending money (as long as you have Microsoft Office) and feedback is welcome, as I'd hate to use a cover for my first book that people don't find attractive. Any changes can easily be made.

Friday, 22 March 2013

My First Scribblings

Today, I was given a sheet of paper with a 'story' on it that I must have written about 15 - 20 years ago. I would have been 7 - 12 years old, I guess, if I'm right. (I hope I was closer to 7, as I think I successfully managed to write something without any structure. ;) )

I couldn't stop laughing at it, so I thought I'd share it on my blog. I've typed it up as it was, untouched, with errors not corrected. Don't ask me what I was thinking when I wrote this either. As I'm about to start a story from scratch again that I want to eventually publish, I was suddenly reminded that even my poorer efforts these days aren't that bad.

Hope you have a laugh at my younger self's expense anyway. :)

                                               The Return of the Ghost That Kills!
                                                             2. The Worm People

I was having a boxing match with the champion. I beat him in one round. Then the ground shook and people fell off the balcony. Then I found something like a switch. I put it on.

Then a voice said, "I'm back! Meet me at warehouse No 21".

I went there and a thing like a worm grabbed my leg. I shot it in the feelers and it went under the floor. It charged at me and missed me and crashed into the wall. I said "Bye-bye worm dude!".

Next I got aphone call which told me to go to the airport and catch flight number 21. I got the airplane and I saw a man with a bald head with lots of scars on his face.

I said "Freeze. Police!".

He ran away and got a parachute and jumped out of the airplane. The police captured him. He banged the guard's head against the wall and the keys fell out of the guard's pocket.

"We had him and you let him get away, you clutch!"

We examined the teeth marks made by a vampire. So that explained the murder in the woods with no bloodstains. This was exactly the same.

Then the ground shook again. I said "We're surrounded by worms! Get the police out here".

My friend Eric said "Look! They're turning into more worms".

Then the baddie said he would kill my partner. I shot at him just in time. Then the roof caved in and a brick hit Eric on the head. It killed him.

The baddie got on a boat. I got one as well. I jumped onto his boat. He punched me and we had a fight. Then I jumped off and the boat set on fire. He jumped on the back and pulled my hair and punched me in the neck and I elbowed him off the boat.

I went towards where he had landed and threw a bomb at the guards and a knight charged at me. I did a flying kick at him.

He said "Enter and die!"

I went in and he told me to pick up my sword. He caught me on the arm. I smashed a mirror and he said he was defeated.

I said "Don't you know good always wins?".

                                                                      THE END

 (I think I was thinking of Conan the Destroyer with the mirror bit.)

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Book Review: Velocity, By Dean Koontz

I thought I'd do a book review for Velocity, by Dean Koontz after finishing it the other day (in around three days).

I've had it for a while, but just hadn't picked it up till a few days ago. It's also the first book of his I read. I have The Taking and Midnight to read. Anyway, I decided to read it because I was having problems getting through Stephen King's Insomnia. 195 pages into that book, but it seems like it's started to get going now, finally.

Right, so Velocity?

I've no idea whether Dean Koontz uses the formula for the vast majority of his books, but I found that his chapters here were quite short (which was a good learning experience for me, considering my chapters are short). He tended to end them on a cliffhanger as well, which gave the book a real 'page-turner' feel. I wouldn't have finished it so quickly if it wasn't a page turner. It's a good book, but there are a few faults with it.

The premise is that there's a troubled man, called Billy Wiles, working at a local tavern and his fiancee is in a coma. He is very much a loner. One day, he leaves the tavern to find that someone has left a note on his car's windshield. The note says that if he goes to the police, an elderly woman will die. If he doesn't go to the police, a lovely blonde schoolteacher will be killed instead. This leaves Billy in a quandary, but he writes it off as it being a joke note. That is until someone turns up dead. After that, the whole book is essentially a game of cat and mouse with Billy trying to figure out who's killing people and having to make difficult choices. If you get really into the book, you should also be trying to decide along with Billy what you'd do in his position.

Now then, the book I enjoyed. But as I said, it's not without faults. Early on, I had an idea who was killing people. So, it was partly predictable, but to the book's credit, it did make me change my mind as I got towards the end, only to go 'I knew it'. Well, that's in relation to one part of the plot anyway. In addition, the ending was wrapped up quite quickly, but that is actually something I didn't have much of a problem with. In life or death situations, things are normally sorted out quickly anyway and I don't view the book's ending as mattering. What does matter is the journey and what a journey it was, with you wanting to find out how Billy will get out of his predicament.

Speaking of Billy, he was quite a strong character, I thought. Not as well developed as you'd find in a King book, because King dedicates a lot of pages to setting up characters and such. But still pretty well done as he undergoes quite a bit of growth and he is quite resourceful as a result of his past.

The book was intellectual as well, I thought, which I did really enjoy. Well, maybe not intellectual, but it did give insights into the human condition. I always try to dig into the human condition myself to try and make people feel with my writing.

So, in summary, as long as you don't mind some brutal aspects of the book, the creepiness and a rather disturbing serial killer, then it's well worth a read, but I wouldn't expect it to be hard to work out who's doing the killing, as long as you pay attention. I didn't find it that brutal, disturbing etc. either, but I just said it in case others are quite squeamish. But then again, I'm not easily disturbed.

Monday, 4 March 2013

On Opening Hooks & First Sentence Rules

There seems to be a 'rule' that you need to hook with the first words/sentence. As with all rules, it's advice. I'm here to disprove that it's a rule, as some books simply don't call for someone to end up dead or whatever in the first sentence. Some are slow builds and character driven.

It is, however, good advice. You do want to grab the reader's interest as quickly as possible or else there's no reason for them to read on, but you shouldn't feel you need to do it with the very first sentence by any means. Sadly though, I don't have a good estimate as to how long you normally have. First page/paragraph - the end of the first chapter? I'm just guessing here. (I'd quite heavily lean towards the first page/paragraph though, as it varies from reader to reader on how much time they'll give you.)

Really though, before I continue, what you need to ask yourself when writing something and wondering whether the hook needs to come in the first sentence, is 'if a reader cannot read beyond the first sentence, are they the audience I need to worry about with this particular book?'

With that out of the way, let me show some excerpts from published works (opening paragraphs) and people have to remember you also have the book blurb/description to fall back on as well:

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

'It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in posession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.'

Rebecca, by Daphne De Maurier (isn't there a 'rule' where you shouldn't start with a dream, by the way?)

'Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate. I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited.'

Pegasus, by Robin McKinley (despite the character having a pegasus, I'm not sure I'd treat that as starting with a bang by any means)

'Because she was a princess she had a pegasus.'

The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien (granted, you could say that it's interesting that someone's going to be celebrating their 111th birthday, but it's a fantasy story. Not that interesting. You could also say the 'part of special magnificence' is interesting, but really, is it very hook'ish?)

'When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.'

Wizard's First Rule, by Terry Goodkind (first published work and a bit of a dull opening if you ask me with it talking about vines)

'Dusky variegated leaves hunkered against a stem that wound in a stranglehold around the smooth trunk of a balsam fir. Sap drooled down the wounded bark, and dry limbs slumped, making it look as if the tree were trying to voice a moan into the cool, damp morning air. Pods stuck out from the vine here and there along its length, almost seeming to look warily about for witnesses.'

Watchers, by Dean Koontz

'On his thirty-sixth birthday, May 18, Travis Cornell rose at five o’clock in the morning. He dressed in sturdy hiking boots, jeans, and a long-sleeved, blue-plaid cotton shirt. He drove his pickup south from his home in Santa Barbara all the way to rural Santiago Canyon on the eastern edge of Orange County, south of Los Angeles. He took only a package of Oreo cookies, and a large canteen full of orange-flavored Kool-Aid, and a fully loaded Smith & Wesson .38 Chief’s Special.'

Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer (I know this example will be looked upon favorably, but it's valid)

'MY MOTHER DROVE ME TO THE AIRPORT WITH THE WINDOWS rolled down. It was seventy-five degrees in Phoenix, the sky a perfect, cloudless blue. I was wearing my favorite shirt— sleeveless, white eyelet lace; I was wearing it as a farewell gesture. My carry-on item was a parka.'

Fifty Shades of Grey, by E L James (again, another example that will be looked upon favorably.)

'I SCOWL WITH frustration at myself in the mirror. Damn my hair— it just won’t behave, and damn Katherine Kavanagh for being ill and subjecting me to this ordeal. I should be studying for my final exams, which are next week, yet here I am trying to brush my hair into submission. I must not sleep with it wet. I must not sleep with it wet. Reciting this mantra several times, I attempt, once more, to bring it under control with the brush. I roll my eyes in exasperation and gaze at the pale, brown-haired girl with blue eyes too big for her face staring back at me, and give up. My only option is to restrain my wayward hair in a ponytail and hope that I look semi-presentable.'

And just for kicks, while it's from Dean Koontz, do you know that 'rule' about not starting with the weather?

The Taking, by Dean Koontz

'A FEW MINUTES PAST ONE O’CLOCK IN THE morning, a hard rain fell without warning. No thunder preceded the deluge, no wind. The abruptness and the ferocity of the downpour had the urgent quality of a perilous storm in a dream.'

And have you heard that 'rule' about not starting with dialog? (I've got an opening I'm rather fond of myself that starts with dialog, but I'm nowhere near ready to write the story yet.)

The Vision, by Dean Koontz (admittedly, it's not something that would normally be said, but still)

'‘Gloves of blood.’'

Origin, by J. A. Konrath

'“Where is it?” Theodore Roosevelt asked John Stevens as the two men shook hands. Amador, Shonts, and the rest of the welcoming party had already been greeted and dismissed by the President, left to wonder what had become of Roosevelt’s trademark grandiosity.'

Blaggard's Moon, by George Bryan Polivka

'"On a post. In a pond."'

So, what all of this comes down to is it's best to not take anything you read online as rules. The best bet, when you're stuck, is to pick up a book off your bookshelf and read. That's not to say there's absolutely no value in what's said though. Like I said above, it's good advice about hooking from the first sentence, but it depends on what you're writing. Just grab the reader's interest as quickly as possible. Also, do your best to not let people influence your writing, by trying to 'coach' you or 'tell' you how things are done.

Ultimately, just pick the starting point that feels right 'to you'. Not to others.

And to end this, I'll leave you with a link to another blog post on someone else's blog that discusses opening lines. There's also this link.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

On Editing: Part 2

I wasn't happy with the previous post on editing. 1) It was long-winded. 2) It came to my attention that the example I'd used didn't make much sense, which is fine, considering it's still in the early writing stage. But still, it shows that writers are often too close to their own work and it annoyed me that I didn't catch it.

I hope to rectify both of the above issues with this post.

So, let's take a look at how we can edit the new opening paragraph (two now actually) so that it's tighter:

Self-loathing. Robert knew all about thatself-loathing.

He stood by his car, parked outside the village cafe (Quick Fix), and viewed his new home. A manor which loomed in the distance, a relic from last century, with its back againsto the sea. It had only just sunk inHe'd only just realised that he owned the entire Pendleton Estate. And the manor was just what he needed. He could hide there from civilisation without risk of being disturbed and write.

That is a few words tighter. It makes sense. It's not perfect, probably. For starters, while it's tighter, I'm not sure I want to take out the 'Self-loathing' sentence fragment. I probably will, but I'm not 100% sure yet.

Anyway, let's take an example from a polished work now, which are two sentences from To Take A Life, which'll be published in the short story compilation when it's done (though I'll be having it edited by someone else before it's published, so there might be differences in the final version):

And then you find yourself wonderingquestioning if God existedthere was a god. If He didexisted, why would He let her die?

There wasn't really anything wrong with the previous version before I edited it. However, I realised I could say the same thing with less words without losing my style. That is why I made the changes.

Style is important, by the way. Never cut so much that your style is lost. It's a balancing act between cutting and trying to decide what should be more wordy for style reasons. Like, you might just be a more wordy writer than me. Lord of the Rings probably wouldn't have achieved the acclaim it has done if Tolkien had been told to cut down on wordiness. His books aren't for me, but that doesn't make them bad or him a bad writer.

For instance, if I may quote a certain passage from Lord of the Rings, chosen at random:

'For some time he had sat silent beside Bilbo's empty chair, and ignored all remarks and questions.'

Now, if I were to rework it:

'For some time, he had sat silentbeside Bilbo's empty chair, and kept to himselfignored all remarks and questions.'


'For some time, he had sat silentbeside Bilbo's empty chair, and ignored everything and everyone.' (Bit more clunky actually, in my view, with the two ands, but it's tighter.)


'For some time, he had sat silent beside Bilbo's empty chair, and kept to himselfignored all remarks and questions.'

However, while those three passages are tighter after being changed to how I'd write them, would you agree that there's a distinct difference in style there? What makes Tolkien Tolkien is gone.

And some people love him because of his writing style. Some people love him because of his world, stories and characters.

If the writing was made as tight as possible, it wouldn't be the same book. And it'd be like it was written by a different writer.

Again, I will reiterate that it's very important to develop your own style (whether for individual works or your work as a whole) and to not feel like you need to conform and always keep everything as tight as possible. The beauty of writing is the vast anount of different writing styles, language use and stories out there. If we were to all conform and keep our writing as tight as possible, then we may as well all write the same way.

What matters is keeping things as tight as possible while 'working within the confines of your own style' so that your style/voice is maintained. And this, to me, alongside editing to make sure everything is clear and reads well, is the most important part of editing. You can over-edit and basically lose any semblance of the unique style you have.

(And this was still long-winded. I'm trying to get the hang of blog posting, but at least the examples made sense this time.)