Canned Wisdom #8

Good morning, it’s Monday once more. Time for some questionable writing advice:

20180319_113829_0001.png
For last week’s Canned Wisdom, click here.

A story, or a book, is a promise. The book promises to tell an entertaining story, and the reader promises to stick with it until the end.

If the book breaks its promise, the reader is okay to do the same. If the book isn’t what it promised to be, why continue reading it – and why read anything else by the writer? Time is, by and far, the most valuable thing we have, so why give it to an inanimate object, like a book, that doesn’t keep its promises? (thanks for reading btw).

However, a book, in and of itself, can’t make any promises of its own.

2018-03-25 08.40.58
A mysterious morning fog. What promise does that make?

The promises are understood by the reader based on their impression of the book. The cover image, the title, the blurb on the back, and whatever they see inside when they open it up for a look. In other words, you as the writer are responsible for making the book give the right kind of promise.

Pick a cover image that gives the right impression. Write a blurb that’s relevant to the story.

Write a story that lives up to the expectations it creates.

The promises don’t stop outside the book, but keep being made within. Whatever happens throughout the story sets an expectation in the reader’s mind for something that will happen later. It’s a promise of what’s to come.

2018-03-25 08.21.52
The promise of a rising sun and a beautiful day to come. If it rains the morning breaks its promise.

Did I go on about this last week too?

Yes, I’m pretty sure I did, but I’m doing it again, because I think this is important. If you make someone a promise you have to keep it – even if it’s to a person you’ve never met and who only knows you from picking up your book.

So how do you know what kind of promise you make to the reader?

Simple answer: you don’t know.

You’ll just have to guess. You have to figure it out yourself based on the story you’re writing. With some parts of it it’s easy, and with other parts it’s not.  This is one of the reason it’s a good idea to ask someone else to test read your stories and give you feedback before you release them into the wild.

Since you already know what’s going to happen, it’ll be hard for you to expect anything else.

 

Advertisements
Canned Wisdom #8

Canned Wisdom #7

Monday again. Time for another little commentary on writing:

20180319_113918_0001.png
For last week’s Canned Wisdom, click here.

This is about expectations and about how they affect our impressions.

The picture above is of a cup of coffee. Except, it’s in a mug made of glass, and there’s a candle behind the mug, so the light plays around in the shapes in the bottom of the mug.

It’s a black coffee, because there’s no milk and no sugar in it. But it’s also not super strong, so the light from the candle comes through on the sides and tints the coffee red. It could also be the coffee isn’t actually black, but really a very dark red.

2018-03-18 17.53.41When you read the phrase a cup of black coffee, you probably won’t picture anything like what you see in the image above. Right? You already have an expectation of what a cup of black coffee looks like.

Black coffee comes in white porcelain cups, and it’s proper black – perhaps with a few bubbles from the pour on top. Put the term into a google image search. You know what you’ll see – or, well, you won’t be surprised at least.

What does this mean for us as writers?

I get two things.

The first is that readers already know what a lot of things look like, so there’s no need to describe them. It’s enough just to mention what they are.

Time for examples. Picture the following:

  • A woman hurrying to work on Monday morning with a cup of coffee in her hand.
  • A woman looking out her window on a Sunday morning with a cup of coffee in her hand.
2018-03-14 09.41.04
A rubbish bin with two umbrellas sticking out of it. That’s also a story.

The two sentences are quite similar, but they paint very different pictures. There’s no information at all about what the woman looks like, and nothing at all about her cup of coffee, or how she’s dressed, but still we get an image.

Sure, the image might be vague and indistinct, but there’s something there, and there’s a vibe to it too.

We all have expectations of what things look like, and if you play to that, you can use it to great effect in your writing.

The second thing I’m getting is that things aren’t always what they seem. We all know that coffee is black, and we all know that snow is white and the sky is blue and the good guys always win in the end – right?

Except maybe that’s not always how it is. Sometimes black coffee is red, and sometimes white snow is blue, and sometimes the sky is all kinds of weird colours when the sun is setting and the clouds are on fire.

As for the good guys, well, life’s tough sometimes.

Keep this in mind when you’re creating your stories. Your readers will have expectations, and you can choose to live up to them, or to try and circumvent them. Either is fine, just try and make sure to pay attention to what expectations you’re setting for your reader.

Canned Wisdom #7

New Releases – A Pleasant Surprise

TLDR: My book Emma’s Story is included in P.D. Workman’s list of new releases – here. Please check it out. :)


Up until about an hour ago I’d had a pretty bad day.

2018-03-16 08.22.51
The sky this morning was a lot nicer than most of the rest of the day would turn out to be – most…

I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather lately, and this morning was no different – gloomy and miserable. Not a good start, but I was well enough to work so off I went.

Then, once I got to the office, the left side of my neck and the shoulder began acting up – aching real bad, and stabbing pains as soon as I moved carelessly. I managed to get hold of my physiotherapist, and I got an appointment for  lunch. I would have made it back in time for work after, but I decided to take the rest of the day off to recover.

I got myself squeezed and pinched and needled, and I might have been hurting worse after the therapist was done with me. They’ve done good work in the past though, and I trust them. I’ll be fine.

2018-03-15 17.02.19
Sometimes, it’s a dull grey world out there.

Then, I opened my e-mail…That doesn’t mean I wasn’t grumpy and annoyed to having to go through the pain and not being able to write, or work, or anything really. I went home and watched a movie.

An acquaintance of mine, author P.D. Workman, had included my book Emma’s Story in her list of interesting new releases – here. I’d asked her about it months ago, before my book was even released, and in all the excitement of the release it had slipped my mind and I’d completely forgotten about it.

This was not a paid promotion. I’m on the list because I asked, and because P.D. was kind enough to include me. That kind of thing means a lot to me, so please do check her page out.

The mail, and my book’s appearance on the list, completely turned my miserable day around. Sure, my shoulder still aches, but I’m smiling as I’m typing this.

Front Cover - OnlineWhat’s more, I feel like my book is in good company. I went through the list, and I got the impression the majority of the books are pretty “serious” in nature – stories that deal with difficult questions about the hows and whys of life and of growing up.

I’m happy to be a part of it.

Emma’s Story may be fantasy with a bit of a fairy tale feel to it, but it’s also a story about expectations, trust, and the difficult decisions we all have to make now and then.

P.D.’s new release Two Teardrops is about a young woman dealing with some pretty serious issues in her life. I haven’t read it, but I’m inclined to give it a try. The book seems harder and darker than mine, but I get the feeling the themes run along similar lines. If you already read and enjoyed Emma’s Story, I have a hunch you may enjoy Two Teardrops too.

Well, start with the first part in the series: Tattooed Teardrops.

I added it to my reading list on Goodreads (here), and hopefully I’ll get to it before too long. I’ve got the feeling it might give me some good insights for my character Alene in the Lost Dogs series.

New Releases – A Pleasant Surprise

Canned Wisdom #6

Happy Monday everyone. It’s really Saturday on my planet, so it’s time to have a coffee and a snack and write about writing:

20180305_110336_0001.png
Last week’s Canned Wisdom here (painting by my father)

This ties back to the advice about how strong characters carry their own stories. You don’t have to be a hero to have an adventure or go on a big journey. Sure, big powerful heroes may go on longer, more dangerous, and more impressive journeys. They face greater challenges and higher stakes, but that’s not the point.

The point is to tell a good story, and the point is that stories are about characters.

It doesn’t matter if it’s about Frodo going to Mordor to destroy The One Ring, or if it’s about my three year old niece going on a train to visit grandma.

2018-03-08 17.37.58Okay, so it might actually matter a bit, and the stories will be very different. The example may be a bit of an exaggeration. What I’m trying to say is that an adventure doesn’t have to be epic in scope in order to make for an interesting story.

I write fantasy, and within the fantasy genre, it’s very common tell stories on a grandiose scale. The fate of the entire world hangs in the balance and it’s up to the one hero to save the day (and the night, and everything in between).

It doesn’t have to be like that. It’s kind of part of the expectations for the genre, but there’s plenty of room for stories about little people too. They too have things they care about, struggles to face, and challenges to overcome. The entire world may not be at stake, but their world might be – as they know it.

Now, back to my coffee, and to my own story that still needs a lot of attention.

Canned Wisdom #6

How I Published My Book

My latest article for Mythic Scribes is now live. It’s about what I did to launch and promote my book Emma’s Story, and you can read it here.

IMAG1396.jpgIt’s a fairly long piece that touches upon most of the various aspects of launching the book: selecting a date and setting up preorders, advertising and promotion, formatting for ebook and paperback. The article doesn’t go into great detail on any of it, but rather tries to give an overview of all the different things involved in self-publishing a book – and even then I had to leave some things out.

I’m always a little bit nervous when a new article is going to go live. There are expectations. Mythic Scribes isn’t some little personal blog for just me and my closest friends and family (hi mom). It’s a big site with an active community and tons of daily visitors. I don’t have any exact numbers to share, but the numbers are sky high compared to what I’m getting on this page. On a good day I get double-digit number visitors on this blog.

Front Cover - OnlineRegardless of the actual numbers, the point is that a lot of people will see my articles and read them. Hopefully they will find them useful, and usually I get good feedback, but I still worry. Mostly, my main concern is that I’ll get something significantly wrong, or that I’ll unknowingly express some really controversial viewpoint and cause an uproar.

So far that’s not happened, and it probably won’t. I’m a lot less nervous about it than I used to be, but that little nagging worry is still there. Ideally it won’t ever go away completely. If it does, it’ll mean I’ve lost the respect for what I’m doing, and then I shouldn’t be doing it anymore.

What I’m really going for here is that on Sundays when the articles go live I keep refreshing the site to see if it’s there yet or not. So too this time around, and when it finally happened I was met by a really nice and heartwarming surprise. Our site admin, BD, had found my Instagram account, dug out some of the pictures I’d taken of my book, and added them to the article.

Discovering this made me really happy. It’s that warm feeling of when someone goes that extra mile to do something nice for you even though they don’t have to and you don’t expect it. It’s amazing, and it was great way to start my weekend (I’m off Monday’s and Tuesdays).

Also, price hike

One comment I got on the article was that the price on the paperback version is too low. It’s cheap enough people might think there’s something wrong with the story. This obviously isn’t what I want, so I’ll be increasing the price to 6.99 in about a week.

How I Published My Book

Canned Wisdom #5

It’s Monday again, time for a little bit of writing advice:

20180227_140714_0001.png
Last week’s Canned Wisdom to be found here.

This ties back to the first post in this series (here), and it’s about how our minds and our imaginations are really quick about creating our own impressions – even if all we have is incomplete data.

When reading a story, did it ever happen to you that the text described something in a way that didn’t match the image in your head? That’s what this is about.

If I picture something in my mind based on something I’m reading I will fill in any significant blanks in the description myself. It’s difficult for me to imagine a person with long hair without also imagining that the hair has a colour. It’s much easier to just assume the hair is blonde, or black, or red, purple, ginger, whatever. You’ll have no idea what kind of colour I imagined the hair was.

Later on, the text reveals that the long flowing hair is not only brown, but also woven through with a garland of flowers.

That doesn’t match my impression at all. It contradicts my experience of the story, and I will have to either revise my internal image or ignore that part of the description. Both options are bad.

When writing, keep track of what information you have included in your description and what you’ve left out. Do not go back and fill in the missing details later as chances are you’ll contradict what your reader has imagined.

There are ways to get around this and to add more details later, but that’s a topic for another day.

20180227_141721_0001.png

Canned Wisdom #5

Snow in Ireland

It snows here, a lot.

It never snows in Ireland. Well, sometimes it snows, and now, but under normal conditions it does not snow in Ireland. I’ve lived here for over a decade. I’ve seen snow fall a few times, and I’ve seen it stay on the ground once.

2018-03-01 23.54.29

Sure, it probably snows more often in other parts of Ireland, further up north, or at higher altitudes, but it does not snow where I live, in Cork, on the south coast.

Except now.

It’s coming down in sheets and droves.

The schools are closed for the rest of the week. Shops are closed. Offices too – including mine. I lived in Sweden for nearly 30 years, and I never got sent home from work or school due to bad weather, but now it happened.

2018-02-28 08.48.20.jpg

Yesterday we had the lovely fluffy kind of snowfall. Big flakes that cam drifting down slowly, or danced around on the wind. Today, it’s a different kind of snowfall. Small flakes whipped around by the wind and getting in your eyes.

It’s not as pretty or as pleasant to be out in, but it’s still snowfall, and it’s still mesmerising to watch.

As a kid, I always used to go out and go for a walk the evening the first snow came. For some reason, the first snow always came in the evening. It probably didn’t, but it’s how I remember it, so let’s go with that. There’s something magical about millions of snowflakes the size of your thumb drifting down towards you from the darkness above.

2018-02-28 21.01.20I loved standing under a street light looking up. It was kind of the same last night when I walked around looking at it. Tonight it’s not the same.

What’s happening outside the window is lovely and beautiful, but it’s also wrong. It will probably cost a fortune in damages and delays and whatnot, and in a few days it will all be gone. It’s just a single freak storm.

The snow will melt, the river will flood (yes, there’s a flood warning too), and things will go back to what they were a week ago. It’s weird.

2018-02-28 21.39.09

 

Snow in Ireland