The Writer's Mailbag: Installment Sixty-Four
Last Minute Farming Chores
We are experiencing the last nice weather of summer here in the northwest, so I’ve been busy taking care of the urban farm and making it ready for winter. That means less writing for the time being but no worries. Once the winter rains arrive I’ll have more than enough time to catch up on writing projects. It’s all about priorities, isn’t it?
One priority that will not be shelved for a later date is the Mailbag, so without further delay, here it is.
From Faith: “I've been thinking of something way out of my norm in writing, but just do not know how my followers will take to it or even if I could pull it off. However, it has been my experience that to stretch our writing to something out of our norm, is most exhilarating and satisfying, especially when well-received. However, if we never try, how will we ever know? Maybe that is what I have been missing and why I haven't published in a bit. A while back I participated in a challenge to write fiction but a bit on the dark side, and I was surprised how easily it flowed and how well-received it was by those who read. It still was uniquely my style though, which I think is key.
What I have in mind is quite ambitious, at least to me, in that it is something I have never attempted and may totally throw off my readers a bit or surprise them. Anyway, I love C. S. Lewis and his Screwtape Letters, which to me is brilliant. I am just really asking for your opinion as I am not sure how it would be a question for writers in general, but maybe it is. If I were to attempt to write something from the point of view of "Faith Reaper" but then add in the point of view of, let's say, an "anti-Faith Reaper" : ) ... or the darker side as some sort of devil's advocate type persona, do you think that is too ambitious of a project (not to copy Lewis)? I do understand it must be well done to be effective in what it is I am attempting to convey in the message. In the meantime, I will attempt to finish what I have written in my usual manner.”
Faith, did you just ask me if that’s too ambitious for a writer? LOL I don’t believe there are limitations on a writer. We are armed with our imaginations and a desire to spread our wings. How could there be a limitation?
As for your readers and followers, if they truly care about you growing as a writer, they will take this all very well and encourage you. I’ve written about the dark side many times and my followers hung in there while I stretched my artistic reach. They’ll do the same with you. Now you’ve piqued my curiosity. I can’t wait to see this new project of yours.
From Robert: “Hey, Bill, can you tell me how to make a book cover for an ebook?”
How’s that for brutal honesty?
I’m technologically stunted, my friend. My brain shuts down when faced with this stuff. For my first two novels I paid to have covers made. I simply couldn’t do it. I know there are many, many templates available online. I know you can make your own using Photo Shop. You can even make one using MS Word. Unfortunately, I can’t do it so I have no business trying to tell you how to do it. I have two ebooks ready to go and no covers for either of them, so they remain in my files awaiting covers.
I feel your pain.
I’m sure some of our readers will have valuable suggestions so let’s wait for them, okay?
Fear of Copyright Infringement
From Brenda: “I had a friend read the first three chapters of my new novel and she commented that it was very similar to a novel written by James Patterson, even though, I swear, I’ve never read James Patterson. Is this something to be concerned with? What if I wrote the entire book and then was sued for plagiarism?”
Brenda, don’t sweat it.
Listen, with all of the millions of books written and published, it is practically impossible to come up with a new idea or unique plot. The chances are far greater that just about any book written is “like” some other book written, and copyright infringement and plagiarism are very, very hard to prove. You would have to literally copy complete passages from another book for it to be proven. Ask anyone who is a fan of mysteries and they will tell you that most plots of most mysteries are similar to hundreds of others that have been written. That’s just the way it is. Keep writing your novel and don’t worry about it.
From Mandi: “I’ve read that we shouldn’t use clichés in dialogue, but I guess my question is why? We all use clichés in our everyday speech, so why shouldn’t our characters use them?”
Mandi, this is one of those rules that isn’t really a rule. It’s true that we all use clichés in our everyday language. Cliches are part of our language. It’s also true that we want our characters to sound as authentic as possible. Thus, logically, we should have our characters speak with clichés.
While using clichés occasionally in dialogue is acceptable, most writing instructors will tell you that using them too often is lazy writing. If you’re looking for logic there you won’t find it, but having said that I happen to agree with that school of thought. Creative writers should be creative, and the use of too many clichés is not creative at all. That’s the best explanation I can give you and I know it isn’t perfect.
From Rachael: “I have a tendency, from time to time, to sound too preachy in my novels. How do I avoid this? I don’t want to sound like I’m standing at a pulpit delivering a sermon.”
Rachael, welcome to my world. I fall into this same trap.
Preachiness (is that even a word?) happens usually when a writer feels strongly about a topic, like say abortion or gun control or whatever. If not careful the writer will begin expounding his/her views through the disguise of the characters. Too much of it and the novel bogs down and becomes about as exciting as a slug race.
Here’s the thing to remember, and it’s the thing every fiction writer should remember whenever they sit down to write….show, don’t tell. If you have a point you want to make then use the English language to paint a scene that gets your point across. Instead of saying you think abortion is evil, describe a fetus after termination. Now that would be a powerful message without ever mentioning the message.
Make sense? And no, I’m not making a statement one way or another about abortion. I just used that as an example, so calm down.
Great Questions Once Again
Well that’s not a shocker, is it? We always get great questions at the Mailbag. Thanks to all who asked questions this week and I’ll see you same time, same place next week. In the meantime, there is a storm bearing down on us, due Tuesday, so I’ve got some more work to do. Have a great week.
2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”