The Writer's Mailbag: Installment Seventy-One
Let the Games Begin
It’s a pleasure to welcome you all back to Installment Seventy-One of the Mailbag. After the deluge we had this past weekend I am quite happy to shoulder the bag and deliver the mail today. Anything to get me out of the house. The constant pitter-patter of raindrops was driving me bananas, and that’s not a pretty sight.
Let’s get started with a discussion about pen names.
Lessons I Have Learned as a Writer
“I'm not sure if there will be a mailbag his week or not. I certainly hope there is so don't feel you have to respond, but I do have a question about pen names. When I wrote my first fiction book, I considered using a pen name, but then I figured I spent all those hours, days, months, and yes, years to complete it. Why shouldn't I use my given name? The question is, is there a practical reason to use a pen name other than marketing purposes? Thanks.”
Bill, honestly, I can’t think of one. LOL I’ve wondered about this often…let me go do some research on this and I’ll be right back.
Okay, I’m back. As near as I can figure from what I’ve read, the three main reasons to use a pen name are 1) to protect your real identity, 2) to separate your books into different genres, and 3) because you simply don’t like your real name. I’m sure there are others but those keep coming up when I do research about it. I understand the first, I guess…and the second makes a certain amount of sense. For example, if you have made your bones writing mysteries and you suddenly have a hankering to write a romance novel, I can see where using a pen name might be a good idea. Third, if your real name is “Poophead” that might not be the name you want on your novels. J
Bottom line: there are a great many successful authors, past and present, who do this, so obviously it hasn’t hurt them
From Brad: “I have one for the mailbag.
How important do you think that subplots are to make a fiction story popular?
If we take out the subplots in most stories that use them, would the readers balk?
My wife who is the Reader, yes Captial R. loves them. And I the Non reader, Capital N think they are for most cases a waste of time. I would prefer to have a prologue, than a running inserted into the plot regression subplot.
So am I once again, the one percenter on this one? When do you think that the subplot became popular?
I have seen the subplot in various strengths on TV shows and movies, but I don't know how common it is in books.
The subplot that I am talking about is not the kind where the writer is telling one story, but the reader is supposed to know that the real story should be understood from it.
I never did well in school with those stories.”
Brad, it’s a very good question. I do see the value in using subplots, but only if the subplots help to strengthen the main plot. That should always be the purpose of a subplot, by the way. If a subplot is inserted into a story just for the hell of it then it’s a complete waste of time. I’ve seen many a writer insert a love affair into a mystery, and we have to follow along as the affair unfolds, but it really has nothing to do with the plot and in fact does not strengthen the plot. In other words, there was no practical reason for it other than to satisfy those who enjoy their gratuitous sex in written form.
I think you’ll find most writers agree with my answer. A good subplot is like a signpost leading you to the conclusion. It is not a detour but rather a guiding light….and I hope that makes sense. It’s true in good television series and good movies as well.
From Eric: “Life sure is good Bill. And your articles make it a good dose even better. Do I need to write in other genres to get better? Do ya think that maybe we have to be complete in our writing? And on a different slant to the same arena of thought, my stuff is brutally gut wrenching to write. I don't want to not write but legal briefs and sermons are hard on me, in a way. Can you suggest other writing that may just be fun, if you know what I mean. Am I whining?”
Last question first, Eric: no, you are not whining.
Do you need to write in different genres to improve? This is just my opinion, so take it with a grain of salt. I think writing in different genres does help us to improve our craft, just as any writing practice does, but I don’t see going overboard on it. I will occasionally try a different genre in my short stories and even articles simply because I’m trying to spread my wings and fly. I also do it because I think it helps to define my writing voice but then any writing will help me to do that. In other words, practice makes perfect.
I understand completely about certain topics being gut-wrenching. Try writing nonsense for a break. I did that with my first novel, “The 12/59 Shuttle from Yesterday to Today.” It was originally just a writing exercise and ended up being a novel.
Great questions, my friend.
I tried to keep street slang to a minimum in my latest novel
From Zulma: “Regarding Blond Logic's questions about made-up words, is it possible to use too much street slang in an effort to establish a time period? My son was recently playing a video game set in a Washington state university circa 2015. The characters used so much slang I wanted scream at the screen 'Yes, you're young, modern-day college students! I get it! Can we please move on with the story now.' I'm not sure if it was my inner critic or old age talking. I have no qualms with slang, but it rankles me when someone makes up a word and then tries to play it off as street talk when the real reason is they don't know the proper word to use. Any thoughts on the matter would most welcomed.”
Zulma, the answer is yes!
No, seriously, of course it is possible to use too much street slang. The thing about street slang, and the over-use of it, is that it is damaging in a number of ways. One, it pretty much limits your target audience. You can fool all of the people some of the time but…… . The other thing that comes to mind is that too much street slang hinders the story, and the story should always be the primary focus. Yes, it’s great to be authentic, but not at the expense of the flow of the story….the rhythm.
One of my favorite authors, James Lee Burke, sets many of his stories in New Iberia, Louisiana, and although he does sprinkle the occasional “Cajun” slang, it’s just enough to add local flavor to the novel without drowning it in tedious but authentic words.
Does that answer your question?
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I’m just filling in to reach 1,250 words, so bear with me. J Anything to make HP happy.
I read a fascinating book the other day about self-publishing called “Write, Publish, Repeat.” It was the most realistic appraisal of self-publishing I have read, written by a trio of writers who have seen it all in the ebook industry and lived to tell about it AND flourish. Pick it up at the library if you get the chance.
The main point they make, though, is that ebooks are really a numbers game. Very few authors make any real money with their first ebook. Oh sure, they will sell some to family and friends, but the sales well dries up pretty quickly after that. Same is true with their second and third books. Their answer to this dilemma is to keep writing and keep publishing. Think of it as building your writing platform one novel at a time, and each novel adds a bit to that platform and a bit to your residual income. Forget about dreams of a best-seller and concentrate on writing a number of so-so sellers…they all add up over time.
Just something to think about.
Have a great week and the Mailbag will return next week.
2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”