The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 148
It’s been a busy week for me. I picked up a new freelance customer, and it’s a big account with literally hundreds of articles to do, so this past week has been a mixed bag of blessings for me. No complaints at all, but it has me hustling big-time to get everything done.
But enough about me . . . we have some great questions so let’s get to them.
From Bill: “Bill, here's a question, maybe for the mailbag. I'm writing a story about a couple who suffers a terrible loss that strains their marriage to the breaking point. I feel it's necessary to show the relationship growing over the years into the "perfect" marriage before disaster hits. My question is how do I do this and still draw in the reader in without a bunch of boring background information? Hope that makes sense. Thanks.”
It’s really a great question, Bill. I’ve seen this done several ways, and in my novel “Resurrecting Tobias” I did it extensively. How I handled it was through the use of flashbacks. One word of caution using flashbacks: make sure you, in some way, make it obvious to the reader that they are going on another flashback. This can be done by simply changing the font on a flashback episode, or perhaps putting the year on the chapter title.
Dialogue in Final Form
From Brian: “When you are writing the first or an early draft of a novel or story, do you write the dialogue close to final form ["Do as I say and you won't get hurt!" "Unhand me, knave!"] or do you paraphrase [He threatens harm to keep her compliant. She protests.] or do you use your own pidgin English ["You no talk! You no move! I am a very mean robber, so please behave yourself!" "Let go me! I no like you grab me like dat!"] or other?”
No, Brian, the dialogue I do on the first draft is pretty much what it will be on the final draft. I might add some dialogue along the way, or change a word of two, but I always start out, in the first draft, with real dialogue. Honestly I don’t think I could do it the way you suggested in your second choice. That seems terribly awkward to me.
TOYING WITH THE READERS
From Eric: “In your fiction do you ever set out to hit hot buttons on purpose to irritate your readers in order to get them to stay tuned for revenge. Not big like child murder but sneaky like politics or religion?”
I love the way you said that, Eric…”on purpose to irritate your readers.” LOL Well, my intention is never to irritate, but I do admit to some deliberate smokescreens from time to time, or red herrings if you prefer.
Most of my books are mystery/thrillers, and I’m pretty sure all mystery writers hit hot buttons to keep their readers guessing and hungry for the next chapter. I’m just following a rich tradition. Yep, that’s what I’m going with, following a rich tradition. Sounds much better than irritating on purpose, doesn’t it?
Using Real People in Fiction
From Mel: “Is it acceptable to paint your characters from people you know in real life, and just do a little Picasso-esque distortion on them to protect their identities? Truman Capote did this in Breakfast at Tiffany's, and although he made a lot of his friends angry, he got away with it. Great mailbag.”
Interesting question, Mel, or maybe it’s an interesting way of wording it.
I don’t know many writers who don’t use real people in their novels, cleverly disguised by a different name. I’ve certainly done it in the past. Listen, fiction writers are the biggest copycats on the planet. We may not steal stories from other writers, but we do steal scenes and characters from our own lives.
So, is it acceptable? You’re damned right it’s acceptable.
On the flip side of that coin, be very careful if you decide to use real people from your life AND use their real names. You are tiptoeing on real thin ice in that case, and opening yourself up for possible slander charges, at worst, and extremely hurt feelings, at best.
TURNING DOWN WORK
From Manatita: “Great start! You wrote so well that it reminded me of you saying that you had turned someone down. Why did you do it? You can answer in your mailbag, if you like.”
It was actually a fairly new customer, Manatita, and he wanted to fly me to Dallas to interview him over several days, and then I would use the interviews to ghostwrite his next book about personal success. I had to tell him no thank you because my life is crazy right now, and I simply could not devote the right amount of time to his book. If I can’t give a project 100% of my attention and efforts I won’t do it.
So, although the money would have been very good, I’ve got farmers markets to attend to this summer, and I don’t have the time to jet off to Dallas. In other words, it’s all about priorities for me, my friend.
While we’re on this topic, a word about ghostwriting books: I don’t enjoy it. I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything here; this is simply my personal opinion. A book ghostwriter needs to have the patience of Job, and an extremely thick skin, and when he/she is all done writing that book, they must have the humility to let it go, knowing their name will never be on that book. It is not an easy gig, and in my opinion it often does not pay what it is worth.
So give that some thought before taking on a book ghostwriting gig.
Where Is Book Publishing Going?
From Mary: “Hi Bill, I've got a question for the mailbag. With the popularity of self-publishing, where do you see the book market going? Here are a few scenarios I see but I would love your take on it. I often wonder if it will implode with readers being offered so many free books in exchange for a review that readers won't want to pay. Or will people have to pay for server space if they wish to keep their book available for sale? At what point do you think wannabes will throw in the towel or do you think there is a continuous supply of up and coming wannabes? Or do you think that the book buying public, will get discouraged and return to books from known publishers because they feel they are more likely to be reading something of quality?”
Mary, I had my own opinion on this, but I did some research to confirm it. Here’s what I found out.
Publishers Weekly reports that indie authors now account for 31% of e-book sales on Amazon, and the Big Five of book publishers now only account for 16% of total e-book sales in the United States. Latest statistics seem to hint that the e-book revolution has leveled out, but leveled out or not, it is strong and continues to be strong. Indie authors are particularly strong in mysteries, sci-fi, and romance, and series do much better than stand-alone novels.
Giving books away for free seems to be a great marketing ploy if you have a series. Giving the first book in the series away for free leads to much better sales for the rest of the books in the series.
I would be a fool to argue with those statistics. Indie authors are here to stay, I believe, but I also believe only those indie authors who are good will see lasting success. You can put a dress on a pig, but it doesn’t take long for people to realize it is still a pig. I think the wannabe writers out there fall by the wayside once they realize there is no “get rich quick” answer to their problems, but serious writers will hang in there and continue writing.
Bottom line for my opinion: quality still matters!
WE’LL STOP HERE
Life is about to get crazy for me. As I mentioned above, starting next week we have farmers markets on Tuesday and Wednesday, each week until the end of September, and although I love working the markets, they do cut into my writing time in a big way . . . so I’m not upset at all that there are no more questions for this mailbag. I need to get busy on other projects.
Ta-Ta for now! Have a great week, and thanks to those who asked questions.
2017 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”