This week’s been like living through the 1980s all over again, except that this time around we don’t have Reagan/Thatcher/Gorbachev, or Lech Wałęsa, or CND, or LOAF (that’s Libraries Open And Free, all you young folk out there), or a sound-track by The Cure. This time around, it’s the Egyptians throwing off the yoke rather than the Poles and Eastern Europe waving goodbye to Communism; Barack Obama and the Brit Twinset wringing their hands and hoping for the best, rather than the Big Three of yore claiming victory and a splendid future for democracy. The leaders of the new rebellion are non-existent or invisible; the umbrella protest groups we all joined or marched with back in the day are long gone; and Lady Gaga sings the songs.
Charlie Stross is curiously optimistic over this week’s events in Egypt. I wish I could feel that way too.
We had a hurricane in 1987, much stronger and more damaging than the gales plaguing Britain this week. Not quite as strong and as damaging as Cyclone Yasi, though. Pity those who left the UK for Australia because of the weather; even Perth managed a bad week, with wildfires raging through her suburbs as Queensland and Victoria continued to submerge. The Americas suffered too, with a major snow dump that reached the parts other snow dumps cannot reach. Like, Northern Mexico.
Nathan Bransford brought more bad news from North America in his weekly publishing roundup. Borders is rumoured to be facing bankruptcy, and Canada’s biggest book distributor declared this week. Not the best time to be a Canadian writer, one way or another.
Still.. on with the remit.
It’s become increasingly clear that new authors these days must engage in promotional activities in order to sell their books. A change in the job description if ever I saw one (although Dickens and Shakespeare may not have agreed.) In a thoughtful post on Murderati, J T Ellison wondered whether modern social networking obligations might not get in the way of literary art, or indeed the act of writing itself.
Usefully, Janice Hardy has now reviewed the book sales figures and blog traffic levels she achieved during her blog tour last October, and wondered if it had been worth the effort. (Spoiler: in those terms, no it wasn’t.) However, when Elizabeth Spann Craig offered up her own thoughts on book promotion techniques on Mystery Writing Is Murder, she concluded that blog tours were both enjoyable and effective. Different things work for different authors, then, or so it would seem.
While we’re still on the theme of writer-as-social-animal, I should mention Natalie Whipple’s brainwave earlier in the week. She basically offered to host classified ads for critique partners on her blog. The idea proved more popular than Natalie had anticipated, and she has now closed her books–at least for the time being–since running such a service manually is likely to prove labour intensive. She has started looking into the possibility of creating a more permanent critique partner matching service, which sounds like a most excellent plan!
But enough of the social networking already. Let’s look at some of the writerly advice doing the rounds.
A number of bloggers focused on the smallest building blocks this week, starting with Gail Carson Levine’s post about finding the perfect vocabulary level for your reader base, Just Words. Janice Hardy similarly put the humble sentence under the microscope when she looked at the use of adjectives–harmless-looking syllables that can either wreck your prose or bring it to glowing life. The inimitable Juliette Wade wrote about the importance of the grammatical subject, and how getting it wrong can mess with the reader’s perception of a scene. Domey Malasarn of the Literary Lab explained how paying attention to small details slows the pace of a piece of writing, and Janice Hardy–who had an exceptionally busy week online–illustrated the need for variety in sentence structure in her post, Feel the Rhythm of the Words.
That’s the microcosm dealt with, then. How about the bigger picture?
I’ll start with Janice again. This time her post is about the inciting event; “the moment when things irrevocably change for the protagonist“; the event from which the story springs, leading inevitably to the core conflict. Janice is an exponent of the Three Act Structure, and it works well for her. Read and learn.
Anna Stanizewski wrote about the importance of layering conflict, which seems a fairly similar idea to me, but I could be missing something. Domey Malasarn came up with a nice post about consciousness and the recurring image; all I could think of, while I was reading his piece, was the haunting film of Daphne du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now.
Lynn Viehl posted an item about “multiversing” in which she looked at the idea of parallel universes from a number of perspectives, including the means by which two people can witness the same event in very different ways.
Michelle Brower of Dead Guy wrote about what not to write about, in a post rather wonderfully entitled Blood and guts and bludgeoning, oh my!
Kristen Lamb put on her book-doctor’s coat to demonstrate how a practised agent or editor can diagnose a problem novel just from reading the first few pages. An edifying insight if ever there was one. Back at the Literary Lab, however, Michelle Davidson Argyle reckoned we should all take the reams of writing advice out there with a very large pinch of salt indeed.
I’ll leave the final word to Natalie Whipple’s agent. “Write what you love,” she advised Natalie in a moment of crisis. “That’s your job.“
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