The Writer's Mailbag: Installment Sixty-Two
Welcome Back, My Friends
Rain has returned to rain-starved Washington State and it is a welcomed visitor. The wildfires have been horrendous this year in the west. Here’s hoping Fall brings us all a little break from the drama.
But there’s no drama at the Mailbag; just good questions and hopefully good answers. Let’s get started with a question about HubPages.
From adevwriting: “Interesting to read! I have a question to you. Ever since the HubPages team has been introducing changes to the site, many hubbers feel like discontinuing writing on HubPages. What is your take on the issue? Would it be all right for new hubbers with potential for quality writing?”
My stance on HubPages hasn’t changed much over the years. I think it’s a great community and more-than-adequate platform for practicing your writing and fine-tuning your craft. If it’s money you are after there are better ways to spend your time. Standing on a street corner with a sign would be one. That’s the long and short of my answer.
One or Five, Which Is Better?
From Buildreps: “What do you think, Bill. Is it better to publish one book, of let's say 100,000 words, or 5 books of 20,000 words each? Both books concepts cover in general the same content, but the content can be cut into pieces easily. Thanks, and I wish you the best autumn of your life:)”
Buildreps, it’s an interesting question. The brave new world of ebooks allows writers to self-publish books of 20,000 words now, and evidently some people do quite well selling them for ninety-nine cents. There is much to be said for a series of related books, provided the first one is good enough to entice people to read the next four. I think that’s the key. Good writing fosters a loyal audience. Bad writing fosters a change in careers. J
Having said all that, I’m a traditionalist, and I would always lean towards the one book, 100,000 word route, but that’s just a personal preference and nothing more.
From Brian: “Bill, what are the essential elements of any story beyond a mere anecdote or incident? How about: When a new circumstance disrupts how the protagonist expects his situation to develop, the antagonist opposes the protagonist's response, which puts the outcome in question and reveals and further shapes the protagonist's character? Or?”
Brian has this nasty habit of making me think with his questions. It’s early Friday morning as I write this and I hope I’m up for the challenge he’s posed with his question.
What you are referring to in your question, Brian, is called a spark, an event that forces the protagonist to react. In most novels there is a spark every 20,000 words or so. The spark propels the story. Without it we have a very long-winded character study with no action.
I’m a huge believer in strong characterization. I believe strong characters are what make novels memorable, so for me, developing vibrant characters is essential for any good story.
Of course, then we probably should mention theme as a key element, and tone, and atmosphere, and….and….and…..
And my personal favorite of all the essentials of a story…..good writing!
Blood, Sweat and Tears
From Sally: “I am curious, does it ever feel to you that writing a book is a bit like giving birth?
It does seem to me that there is so much emotional energy put into writing a Book. Do you ever feel as if it will suck the life blood out of you?”
Sally, I think any person who has written a book feels that way. It does become an obsessive pursuit as you get deeper into the process. When I write a novel my characters come alive for me. I become totally invested in their welfare, so that can be very trying. Having said that, where I really felt that phenomenon was when I was writing social conscience articles….articles about sex trafficking or abuse. Those really drained me to the point where I had to stop writing them for fear of being permanently depressed.
Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings….
From Ann: “Here's a question for you; do we unconsciously show our own feelings and character when we write (fact or fiction)? I'm not talking about 'voice' because we can control that, I'm talking about something that comes through the writing whether we realize it or not. Hope you see what I'm getting at.”
I do see what you are getting at, Ann. There are so many types of writing and genres, so my answer will not be “one fits all.” I wrote a novel called “Resurrecting Tobias” and my feelings where right on the surface in that one. In my novel before that, “The 12/59 Shuttle,” I made the protagonist a self-centered butthead who shared few of my real feelings. While writing that novel I had to fight myself all the way to keep my true feelings about life from surfacing in the book.
When writing social commentary articles my feelings are always right there for everyone to see, but what about non-fiction like in news reporting? It seems to me the writer must keep all feelings at bay when writing a factual accounting of some event. That’s why I would never make a good news reporter. It would be almost impossible for me to state the facts without making an editorial comment. J
Intro or Preface?
From Faith: “Hey, exactly what’s the difference between an introduction, a foreword, a preface, and a prologue? Also, with each, is there any particular type of book one should use in lieu of the other? I know this one is elementary, but it can be confusing at times.”
Faith, it may be elementary, but I had to do some research to find the answers.
A foreword is a brief introduction about your book written by a 3rd party. It is basically a credible opinion about your book written, usually, by someone of some fame. You can see this in fiction and/or non-fiction.
A preface is written by the author and it is usually some interesting background information that leads into the book subject matter. If I wrote a book and I wanted to explain to my readers how the book idea was born, I could explain that in a preface.
An introduction is basically the same as a preface. It is written by the author. Some people will use introductions instead of prefaces because they realize the majority of readers don’t read the prefaces. Silly but true.
A prologue is usually a first chapter that leads into the main story. Clive Cussler is a master of prologues. He usually begins his novels with some historical event that happened hundreds of years before the time of the novel, but that event is directly related to the actual novel. One other point about a prologue is that if you use one you need to use an epilogue at the end of the novel. They are basically book ends in a literal and figurative sense.
From Eric: “Excuse me but I have a legitimate question. Maybe. You are actually quite organized. You get a lot done everyday. I want to be like Bill. But when I write stuff just comes and it does not come on my table of organization and productivity. Just when I get rockin and a rollin in thought and writing the danged second period bell goes off and I have to go do algebra instead of writing. Even if I set time aside to write, well it just does not work that way. Help!”
Eric, you always make me laugh. I hope you’re laughing when I give you the answer. I have no clue what to do with you. LOL For that matter, I have no idea what to do with my wife Bev. She’s the same way. I’ve tried to work with her but she’s like a butterfly on speed, flittering this way and that, allowing the wind to dictate her direction. She rarely finishes a project at first-sitting. I have learned to accept that’s just the way she is.
I’ve read a number of articles about this in an attempt to help her, but the suggestions make no sense to me. The best suggestion/tip I’ve seen is to bite off small, manageable tasks…nothing that requires a long time to complete…and build from there. In your case, maybe say that Monday you are going to write 100 words of an article. Tuesday you will write another 100 and so on until that article is completed.
Like I said, I don’t have a clue.
From Zulma: “Anyway...I finally put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and began work on my first novel. I spent on hour constructing the first page then walked away and did something else. I came back to it, read it as an outsider and found myself confused. I can't believe I fell into the trap of introducing too many characters in one go.
Do you have a method for introducing characters so your readers don't feel that they are being ganged up on?”
Zulma, I know exactly what you are talking about. There is a famous author who writes spy novels, and he has this nasty habit of introducing ten characters in the first chapter and they all have foreign-sounding names. I’m literally lost and confused after the first twenty pages. I quit reading him because of that.
I read somewhere that an author should introduce no more than three main characters in the first chapter and preferably two. The rest can be tossed in as the book continues, one here, two there, another one in Chapter Six, one more….well, you obviously understand my point. When in doubt, follow the K.I.S.S. method….Keep it Simple, Stupid. And no, I’m not calling you stupid. I was referring to me.
From Brad: “Finally, here is a question for you. What is the most marketable fiction story to write today? What is the genre, the subject, and the angle of writing about it?”
Brad, I took a guess at this and then I looked it up. My guess was romance with young adult coming in second. After some research I found out the most popular genre today is romance followed by, in order, mystery, inspirational, sci fi and horror.
In the Words of Porky Pig, That’s All, Folks!
This was a long installment. Lots of great questions and I thank all those who submitted questions this week. I’ll see all of you next week with another installment of the Mailbag. In the meantime, keep your wick dry and never spit into the wind. I learned that last tip the hard way.
2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”