The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 168
The Leader of the Band
“An only child alone and wild, a cabinet maker's son
His hands were meant for different work
And his heart was known to none
He left his home and went his lone and solitary way
And he gave to me a gift I know I never can repay”
I’m going to borrow those lyrics from Dan Fogelberg’s classic tune, “Leader of the Band,” because it seems fitting as we begin another Mailbag for writers. Great description of writers, don’t you think, even though those lines were written about musicians?
We are a different breed, aren’t we? I’ve tried to explain this obsession for writing to other people and I can’t. I can’t even adequately explain it to my wife, and I certainly can’t explain how it all works, this creative process.
I’m just glad it does!
More on Contractions
From Michael: “Ah, CONTRACTIONS! using them actually one have to be born and raised in English speaking environment. Finally you gave me approval to feel “comfortable” using them as you’re doing, liberated from the solely “royal English’’.Thanks my friend. PS(what about this type of corresponding “ C u - or see you - I see you anyway)”
Michael my friend, what you are referring to is a form of shorthand. We see it quite often on social media. If one were writing a book, I don’t see this type of vernacular used unless a character was repeating something he had read verbatim, as in . . . “The note he left said ‘c u down the road. Will be waiting for u.’” Then I can see the purpose of using it. I certainly wouldn’t use it in a novel as dialogue . . . there would be no purpose for doing that, and it might end up confusing readers who don’t understand that particular shorthand . . . like me!
Great question, my friend!
The Publishing World
From Joy: “Any good suggestions for learning about steps to publishing a novel and also networking? My novel from last year's NANOWRIMO is languishing. I've done as much revision as I can without having someone who I think is objective read it. I finally have one person who is willing to take the time to do that. I feel like I should be ready to go with whatever the next steps are once I get her feedback. But I have no idea what's most important to start with. I've had several suggestions for online courses in publishing, which seems like a good idea, except they are usually expensive and most aren't upfront about what they are covering in these courses. It sure would save some time though, if there was a good one. Searching the internet seems like a bottomless pit. I want the nitty gritty practical stuff. Most of these writers' courses are all about overcoming writer's blog. I feel like they can leave that to me. I just need to find out how the publishing world works, so I can make an intelligent decision about what to tackle myself and what parts are better done by a professional. Your thoughts?”
Joy, I don’t think you are alone at all with this question. I’ve heard it from several other people over the years. No, I would not take an online course. I personally think that’s a waste of money, simply because you can learn everything you need to know on your own.
I’m assuming you are talking about self-publishing, so that’s how I’ll answer you.
I always refer to my “Publishing Bible,” namely the book “A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon” by Chris McMullen. I’ve found it to be detailed enough to cover everything I need to know, and yet simple enough for me to easily understand. It is a book that covers every nut and bolt you need to know about as you take that particular journey. It will walk you through all the steps, from formatting to the final publishing and everything in-between.
If you do not want to get that book from the library, and I can’t imagine you not wanting to do that, you can always skip the book and simply self-publish on a site like CreateSpace. The formatting is explained to you on that site…they take you through every single step of the publishing process…and you can sign up for professional help on that site if you choose to do that, although I would suggest saving your money and wading through it yourself. It really is an easy process.
Of course, there are other avenues to take, and perhaps one of our followers will suggest what they have tried. I’m simply telling you about the two things I use and have found helpful in the past.
Making Your Writing Visual
From Dee: “The fluff is what I am having to go back and insert into my writing. Thank you for the tip. Also, people today are so visual. How do you best put that into writing?”
Dee, I don’t think there is an easy answer to your question. Charles Dickens was so very good at this. One of my favorite writers for description is James Lee Burke. Here is an excerpt from his novel “Bitterroot:”
“”The wooded hills above the Blackfoot River where Doc had bought his home were still dark at 7 A.M., the moon like a sliver of crusted ice above a steep-sided rock canyon that rose to a plateau covered with ponderosa. The river seemed to glow with a black, metallic light, and steam boiled out of the falls in the channels and off the boulders that were exposed in the current.”
The key is in writing to the five senses. The writer must tell the reader what he sees, smells, hears, feels, and tastes. To what degree you do that depends on your style as a writer. Even the best at doing this do not do it the same as their peers, so develop your own style and never forget that your words are the window to the scene.
From Venkatachari M: “I am late here. But, the mailbag is as interesting as always and I could never afford to miss it. It gives me much to learn and much to enjoy also.
“Very nice answers to equally nice questions. I would like to ask a question about that image of social media tool above there. I find it in many of your posts and it fits well with all of your posts. But, whom do you highlight in that image? Is it that lady who is the icon for social media selling her products? I like the image very much. Thank you.”
Nothing mysterious about that lady in the image you refer to. She was a woman selling composting toilets at a street fair I attended. I found her smile captivating so I took a picture of her. I do that often. She just looked like a person I would love to know more about. Call it my writer’s inquisitive mind.
MORE ON SHORT STORY CHARACTERIZATIONS
From Zulma: “Thank's for the advice on characterization for short stories. So you're saying that the characters need to describe themselves to the readers as opposed to us doing it for them. I supposed dialogue and actions would do that, yes?”
Zulma, that is exactly what I’m saying.
Short stories are tough with regards to extensive characterization. The writer simply doesn’t have the time to do an adequate job of it directly, so he/she has to use the indirect route. The old saying “actions speak louder than words’ works for what you are talking about. We can learn a great deal about a character from his actions in a story. A character who runs into a burning house to save a small child has told me a great deal about himself; as the writer my work in characterization is pretty much done once my character crashes through that front door and the flames greet him.
The same can be accomplished using dialogue, but it’s a bit trickier in that case. The general rule concerning the use of dialogue is to make it necessary to the telling of the story. Random dialogue for the sake of dialogue is the mistake of many writer wannabes. J If you are going to reveal something in a short story about your character’s character using dialogue, you better be a damned good wordsmith. It’s not impossible to do but it is difficult.
Book Sales From Facebook
From Mary: “I see a lot of activity of sharing, retweeting but I don't see many people getting book sales because of their presence on Twitter. Do you see sales because of your presence on Facebook?”
Mary, the short answer is yes, I do see sales because of Facebook. That and my blog are my two main marketing sites, so my followers and loyal buyers do react when they see on Facebook that I have published a new book. I’ve even picked up new followers and buyers, people I did not know prior to Facebook, who have purchased my books.
AND HIS HEART WAS KNOWN TO NONE
That’s what this writing journey feels like to me, like no one except another writer (or musician or artist) can understand what it is like to be me. I see things others don’t. I feel things, hear things, taste things, all through the consciousness of a writer. My muse is always on my shoulder whispering to me. At times it’s like I’ve checked out from reality and entered an imaginary world of my own making.
We spend hours, days, weeks, months, and years practicing a craft with no promise of any reward. In fact, we are virtually guaranteed anonymity, and yet we continue.
God bless the artists/writers of the world!
We are writers! Hear us roar!
2017 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”