Friday, 26 April 2013

What is Good Writing?

As I'm thinking about which project to work on next and begin to work on getting over the hump that is starting a new project, which I'll work through eventually, I thought I'd talk about what makes good writing in my view.

These days, the internet is full of people always ready to lend a 'helping' hand and 'guide' you with your writing. People also seem to think there's a magical formula that guarantees success. And said formula normally involves following generic 'rules' that someone, at one point or another, spouted. What is forgotten is that these rules are all advice and they are simply something that works for the author in question. There's nothing worse than a novice writer trying to pass all of the things such as 'show, don't tell' etc. off as rules either.

So, I'm here to tell you that there's no magic formula for success. And to tell you that when someone starts mentioning rules, you are to discard the notion that rules exist.

Actually, there is one rule that exists. What is it? Do your best to make sure the reader gets something from your book, even if they don't particularly enjoy the story.

That's the only rule there is that needs to be followed. Even grammatical rules can be bent. Grammar is just a tool for communicating and where one places a comma, as an example, will be subjective a lot of the time.

Right, so what makes good writing?

I believe it's one thing. The ability to make readers feel something other than 'this is shit'. Even if someone doesn't enjoy your story, I'd still consider it a job well done if the person felt something for the characters etc. or questioned things.

See, what people don't tell you when they're spouting all this stuff about rules is that you can follow every guideline out there and still end up with a polished piece of crap. For instance, I'm not sure this is a piece of advice that is passed around often at all, but have you heard that short stories are supposed to only have one point of view character? I've seen it mentioned once at the very least. Though I think the words used were mostly 'they generally have one point of view character only'.

Anyway, I don't subscribe to that notion. A short story is between 1,000 - 7,500 words and my short that was recently published is 3,597 words. In that story, I change point of view 'three' times. And there are six scene 'breaks' overall in the narrative.

Next, let me show you something of mine that breaks grammatical rules. Please note it is very rough, hasn't been edited really and will not be published. If it ever is, the story will be rewritten.

I walked out into the yard, area miserable an wet. Teens stood all around. With back against wall, I watched an it seemed like they'd not noticed me. Or that they'd grown bored of me. Found myself hoping. Would life be easier now?

I looked down. Been noticed. Had hoped too soon. Any moment now.

'Oi, fatty!' yelled mister popular.

Kept head down. But the yell came again. Closer. 'Talk to me when I speak to you, fatty.'


'No?' Heard him laugh. Shoved. Head banged against wall. I winced. Didn't fight back. Didn't look at him. 

Then leant forward, after being hit in stomach. Could hear laughing again. Then a teacher shouting. 'You're lucky, fatty.'

Found breathing hard, but was glad. He ran off an teacher helped me up. 

The above piece I wrote in an effort to accurately capture how someone who's slow or mentally ill might think. The punctuation marks on 'an' to show a letter was missing were left off intentionally as well. And the sentences are choppy to try and capture the character's thought processes. I think the words 'mister popular' took me the longest to write. I think I must have sat there for about twenty minutes, thinking about how the person would be referred to.

So, never ever be afraid to experiment with things, no matter what anyone says. Experimenting is how we improve as writers and you'll be stronger because of it. I don't believe following formulas is the way to become a strong writer, no matter what the writing gurus say.

Oh and while I've talked about opening hooks before, don't think you always need to start with a bang in the first 1 - 3 sentences or paragraph. I remember being treated as someone completely new to writing because I didn't do so once, even though if I'd finished the project, the beginning would have made perfect sense. In the first paragraph of that project, a character had moved to a new village and is shown staring at his new home in the distance before grabbing a coffee (the intrigue would have started as soon as he got inside the cafe, about three or four paragraphs in say, and may have started around the fifth sentence actually), thinking he's going to be able to keep to himself and hide from the rest of the world. At the end? He'd have been staring at that same house and reflect on how he never did achieve peace (most likely, the house would have been burnt down), after so much death had happened around him. 

The lecturing I'd received was 'what's interesting about the house?' 'If it's not interesting, you've chosen the wrong starting point.' 'Trying to rearrange words is no good, because you're trying to prevent the titanic from sinking. It's a boring opening no matter how you slice it'. (This from 3 sentences)

My reaction to that? I simply walked away. They can have their rules and short attention spans. You always have the story description to fall back on too, which people tend to forget. And well, I sincerely hope a lot of readers would give your story a while at least. So, good writing isn't always about catching the reader's attention in the very first sentence, either.

The above isn't to say getting an opening hook in straight away is bad though. But the thing is that some pieces simply don't call for it. It is important to try and catch a reader's interest as soon as possible though. (It's just that I don't believe it has to be done in the first sentence/paragraph)

Whenever I hear the hooking advice as well, I sincerely question how many great pieces of writing have been abandoned because the opening wasn't 'hook'ish' enough for people with the attention spans of a gnat. Or been passed up by editors for that reason. I'd ask how many of the great classics open with a bang as well. I think I showed the opening to a fair few classics in the post about opening hooks and I don't believe the opening hooks were that strong at all, if I remember correctly.

Incidentally, I am actually continuing to work on that project, but it's taken on a different form, with the basic idea remaining the same. It's just that some aspects weren't working. The beginning's changed as well, but not because of the feedback received. But I think the project is going to be a long one (as in lengthy, like novella - novel length) and, as such, I don't wish to discuss it in case I don't finish it.

I think that's about all I've got to say anyway. I've got about seven or eight projects I want to write and I need to figure out which I'm going to work on. I need to progress a fair bit, before I start feeling enthusiastic and the beginnings normally take me a while to get right. (I don't leave content editing till the end, you see, though I do sometimes remove/rewrite scenes in subsequent edits. I need it right, practically straight away.) Even short stories tend to take me a while to write as well, I'm afraid. I'm hoping I'll be able to get it to a point where I can get around several thousand words written in a day. Right now, it's more like several hundred.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Short Story, The Dead Should Stay Dead, Now Published & Sales Rank

Well, my short story, The Dead Should Stay Dead, has been live since Saturday. It can be found world wide on Amazon and I've got 3 four star reviews, plus one five star review. I also have three likes.

Here's the nicely designed cover that my good friend and editor put together for me:

I know it's different from the old cover I intended to use, but I had to scrap that story idea. And I've learnt not to talk about projects now until they're practically done, so no one ends up being disappointed if something doesn't get finished. It would be much easier if I planned and didn't have high standards, really.

Anyway, the story can be found on Amazon, world wide, with these being the UK and US links. Please see the story on the store for the story's description and word count.

Now then, I have a bit of a surprising story to tell and a caution for fellow writers publishing for the first time on Kindle. My initial debut rank was 64,000 and odd in the UK. That was with one sale. With another sale, it shot up to 24,000 and odd, plus it entered the top 100 in one of the categories. #39, I believe, for books > short stories > horror (so it was competing with paperbacks and not just kindle eBooks). The highest it reached with one extra sale, Bodicia's I believe and her blog can be found here (I really appreciate you buying a copy and I'm glad you enjoyed it if you read this), is #17. With it being in the top 100 for a category, you'd expect high sales right? (one sale in the US translated into a 146,000 sales rank or so, I think, highest being 116,000, but I think it was 146,000)

Don't. Because I'm now sure I've only had 3 sales, plus one in the US.

How does the Amazon sales rank work then? When you first publish a story, it will shoot up the ranks with one sale. The UK sale rank is especially susceptible to this, with the UK being a smaller country than the US and therefore not having as many sales in the store. Now, your story's recent sales are compared to those of others within the same category and, indeed, within the entire Kindle store to determine the rank. Updated every hour. But the sales rank for new books without more sales will drop more quickly than it will for older books. Why? Because older books are more established and the sale rank is partly based on historical sales too. Older books won't be as affected by more sales either, I believe, if they've had a lot in the past.

So, again, all of this is to say 'don't get excited' if your book shoots up the chart once it's newly published. I've learnt from the experience and I wanted to prevent others from getting all excited when it's likely you don't have many sales. Also, I think there's a delay with sales updating on your records, but I'm still sure my figures are right now. However, with all this said, I must admit there was some satisfaction in beating the sales rank for some of Stephen King's works, although it was only briefly. ;)

So, with four sales, where does it leave me? It leaves me in the same spot I was always in, especially as I never expected many sales nor did I expect a short story to sell well. I'm going to keep on writing, building a backlist, but as it seems there is no demand at the minute really, I don't have to feel pressured to keep publishing. It'll give me time to build up a backlist. That said, I still want to encourage people to take a chance on my short story, as long as you read the description and know how long the eBook is. And as long as you can stomach some gore or enjoy horror. I think I've done a good job on it, because -- believe me when I say I have high standards -- I wouldn't have published it if I thought otherwise.

In the afterword and about me, I've said that I'm not a genre writer, but you can probably expect the next few titles to reside within the horror genre. That is still true, but as I don't want to be pigeon-holed, it is possible the next story from me won't have any horror elements. Ideally, I want a backlist that offers something for every reader. I've got a list of projects I want to work on now and it depends on which I finish first. In addition, as I mentioned above, I'll be keeping quiet on what they're about and I won't be showing covers in case there's disappointment if I don't finish them.

Finally, I would want the next story I publish to be at least novelette length, which is 7,500 - 17,500 words. So, you'll get more bang for your money, though I'll charge slightly more (probably set a price point for each category: short story, novelette, novella and novel). However, every story from me will be the length it needs to be. I won't be artificially extending them to reach a word count. That's part of the beauty with eBooks and self-publishing really, you don't have to write to a specific word count to please publishers. And while the pricing is mentioned, the US version of The Dead Should Stay Dead should be $0.99. If it's more, I don't know why. It's a fault on Amazon's end and I might need to contact them. So, if it is showing as more than $0.99 for people actually in the US, then please let me know. I already view $0.99 as too much to ask for, for a short story. So, it is not my intent to rip you off. I wouldn't have included the extras either if I didn't want to try and give value for money.

And lastly, I want to thank the people who have bought my short story and for the support shown. It means a lot to me.

One last plug as well, with links to my story (and again, check the word count before purchasing, please):










Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Plot Teaser For Upcoming Ebook

I sent my short story to my editor earlier, so now the first stage of the waiting game begins. The second stage of the waiting game is when the story's submitted to Amazon.

So, with the story now done and there's no turning back, I now feel comfortable giving a brief plot teaser for the main story (a flash fiction piece is also included).

The Dead Should Stay Dead, which is a horror story:

Susan lives apart from her estranged husband, thanks to a car accident that killed their seven year old daughter and drove a wedge between them.

Susan is desperate to get her daughter back, her life not worth living without her. So, when a new shop opens in Alpine (a small, fictional town), she visits it in the hope that she may find something to bring her daughter back as the shop sells odd curiosity and magic items.

She does find something, but will it actually bring her daughter back to life?

I'll end the teaser there.

As for providing a teaser for To Take A Life, I'm afraid that's not possible due to the story's short length. If I said anything, I'd give the details away. But I do want to say it's not a horror story like The Dead Should Stay Dead and can be read by anyone. A major theme it deals with is the loss of a child like the main story (but grounded in the real world, unlike the main story).

Lastly, I'm going to need to redesign the cover sadly, I feel. The reason why should become apparent if you do read the ebook, as the cabin I had on the original one isn't really a big part of the story. So, hopefully I'll find another good cover. I really wish I wasn't such a chaotic writer.