Well done Paul Thompson from Bookseeker Agency! From all of us here at P’kaboo And Friends.
Well done Paul Thompson from Bookseeker Agency! From all of us here at P’kaboo And Friends.
Thank you so much for this gorgeous review, Colleen!
I just came across this post again:
Back then I thought she had nailed it. I still think she does, as do some of the commentators. I agree with Roughseas that it’s more than just Voice; but I also agree with Virginia, there has to be Voice.
Ireland is amazing. (I knew it would be.)
Almost everyone I encounter here is a natural storyteller. So it’s hard to understand, if this comes so natural to people here, how others can struggle to write so it engages the reader.
You write a story the way you would tell it to a crowd of avid listeners.
Those passages that make you blush? Strike them from the manuscript! The parts where your audience starts yawning and looking around? You know you’ve lost them, you need to intensify the writing. Maybe lie lower on the description; lose a few distracting details; or use more magnificent words. Maybe it’s the rhythm? Iain used to talk about the “music” of the writing. He was quick to spot when something fell out of the rhythm. Tolkien’s “The Fellowship of the Ring” has this lilting storytelling rhythm, so musical at times his prose reads like poetry. That effect alone fascinated me through many of the passages in the book.
I could give you a quick check-list – a short list for a long learning curve. It is by no means meant as a course in writing (how presumptuous that would be), or (heaven forbid) submissions guidelines! But it will help you along the line, to make your book unputdownable.
Sorry: If your story has a boring plot, there is very little you can do about it.
I said, very little. Not, nothing. You could bring in a fascinating sub-plot (it will take over and become your main plot). Or you could change the plot, add something paranormal, something hilarious or something so irksome the reader can’t help getting annoyed too.
But honestly – if you don’t really have a plot, the best idea is to ditch the story, and start a different one. (You are allowed to bring the same characters on board if they’ve passed their “auditions” very well.)
I used to hate writing a synopsis. I’m still not sure I can do it for my own books – it is a service we authors should exchange amongst each other, in fairness, just like an author can’t write his own review. But a synopsis is the Number 1 tool to discover if a story actually has a plot.
IMO this is the single worst stumbling block. Your characters can’t be weak. Stay away from clichee. With “weak” I mean, formulaic, predictable, fits expectations. The gorgeous heroine, so strong, so infallible. Never sets a foot wrong. Never has a glitch. Never puts both feet in her mouth and has to apologize. Do we want her? NO!! Nobody can relate to her. But likewise, nobody can relate to the victim “anti-heroine” who chronically mopes around feeling sorry for herself. The answer to the paper doll style character is not, a whimpering negative character. We reserve those for the villain’s sidekick. (The Villain himself must be strong – just like the hero. Or super-vile. Or – teachable.) But the worst of characters is the one that has no discerning characteristics.
Realize that there is no such a thing as “average”. Every individual in this world has a personal story, of woe and of wow, moments of intense joy and ditto, pain. The person who has no emotions is in fact the freakiest of the lot: The psychopath. Learning to emulate emotions, first to blend in socially, and later to manipulate others, this psychiatric disorder actually has no own feelings. So we start feeling a bit freaked out when we are supposed to identify with a “flat” emotionless character.
Caveat: All characters are good – within limits – if it is revealed through the story that they do after all have human characteristics, need some help, need to learn humility maybe, or need to grow a self-image. So, your best character is one that grows.
So you have a great plot and good, strong characters (quirky individuals or admirable, real people), and now… nothing keeps happening. The characters chat, hang out, look at the landscape, wait for the curtain to go up so the show can start… how long will you keep the reader waiting?
Jump right in! Start the opening scene with a bungee-jump wedding. I mean, why not? Isn’t it ten times more exciting to watch people go “I do – eeeaaaaaaahhhhhh!!!” than watch them converse over cups of tea?
Once you’ve set the pace, I’d love to say, don’t slow down – but sooner or later there will have to be a moment of reconnaissance between the reader and the character. You’ll know where to put that in.
On a subtler level, just as you need to make your reader identify with your character by making the character real enough, you need to draw your reader into the world you are creating. You build it around the reader. One burnt coffee pot and half-scribbled note at a time. Fail to do this and you’ll get reader disconnect – this disoriented feeling of “where am I?” from your audience.
Hugely popular books when I was a child, were the wild-west (and wild East) stories of Karl May. He lived 1842 to 1912, and the first of his novels that you read was like a badge of courage. It proved you were a Reader. They were tomes: 600 pages of finest print (probably Point 9 Times New Roman), a lot of us needed glasses after finishing his nigh-endless series of books. I had a friend who could finish one of those books in 3 days. We were twelve.
Those books were amazing. The world-building: He could go on for 2 fine-print pages describing a scene in detail. But the action also never stopped. You were in that world, creeping up on the enemy on toes and fingertips to minimize tracks (boy those people could read tracks!), between their tents, to free some friends from the Torture Pole where they were going to be ritually sacrificed (or sometimes just tortured a little until the chieftain decided there was a reason to stop – sometimes it was just to test their courage). Wild stories! The crack of a twig or an enemy’s horse getting a whiff of you could end up with you being tied to said pole. (There’s something to be said for regular baths even in the Wild West.)
But authors who try to emulate that amount of world-building, very often fail to keep the reader’s attention. World-building needs to be subtle, interwoven with the story if possible. Picky readers (that’s many of us) will even put down famous bestsellers for such reasons. I couldn’t finish reading Stephen Donaldson (any of his books!) because he spun on too long about fairies dancing in the moonlight. Picturesque, sure: Give me a poignant image, one that lodges deep, and then keep the plot moving. Have I waffled on enough about world-building?
If you’re only putting in descriptions to fit some invisible script, some rules in your head, rather don’t. If you’re saying things like “it looked just like any ordinary house anywhere”, rather don’t say it. That description comes included for free in the word “house”. Anyway, could you describe what houses look like “anywhere”? Which anywhere had you in mind?
Today: Revisit and upgrade your manuscript. Your reader will thank you. And so will your bank account.
A great read by a dynamic author. Thank you, Col, for pulling off the South African end of this project!
Towards the end of last year I was involved in looking at the proofs of ‘Split Decision’ as I mentioned at the time. The water running under that bridge ran into a few obstructions, and it is only this week that the flow has been completely cleared.
Thus, South African readers now have the pleasure of knowing that prints in this country are live and running.
In the latest review (one by UK radio, TV and sports personality Jack Woodward) it says, ‘In fact, reading Split Decision is the best decision you can make.’ Just what I stated last year! So what are you waiting for?
In the interests of public health and safety, though, I am wondering whether to include a complimentary box of tranquilizers with each copy, bearing the instruction ‘TAKE TWO BEFORE OPENING COVER’. Nerves, heartbeat and fingernails all tend to take a hammering.
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Colleen, Fairy Whisperer, thank you so much for this wonderful review and all the fairies that came with it! ❤
Title: The Morrigan, Solar Wind 5 Amazon Author Page: Lyz Russo Publication Date: March 5, 2016 Formats: Paperback & Kindle Genres: Teen & Young Adult, Science Fiction, Pirates, Action & Adventure Goodreads IN THE AUTHOR’S WORDS: “Actually, interesting fact of bygone eras,” said Federi, “in the past, pirates chose their captains democratically.” Radomir Lascek is in trouble. Of […]
All this study into psychology, and reflection on our lives, had to be good for something. So today, things in the chemical kettle that’s my brain (bubble bubble and so on) combined to create a minor explosion.
I can’t wait until Friday before posting it.
(This vid is there to put you in the mood. Burgled from Youtube.)
First a bit of background.
Now, from what I’ve been gathering (collecting, as in), commonalities emerge between pop psychology, bio-psychology, and what is known today out of brain physiology. Same concepts, different words. Neurophysiology is actually confirming what people like Freud hypothesized.
There are various areas in our old thinker that have been identified to do specific things. Let’s start with the most primitive part. I call it the “croc brain”; a lovely online mentor calls it the “critter brain” and a psychologist I heard recently calls it the “old brain”. It would map very nicely, in Freudian psychology, onto his concept of the “Id”.
The point is, it is located at the back, near the brain stem which is responsible for functions like breathing, heartbeat etc; near the cerebellum (the motor brain). The “croc brain” is the oldest part of our brain (on an evolutionary scale) and it is responsible for our survival.
Next in line is our experience of ourselves, and our day to day thoughts and choices. While some of these generate in our pre-frontal cortex, most are really semi-automatic learnt actions and reactions. We usually live our life through the lens of this day-to-day brain – lots of sensory input and processing, lots of humdrum. Habits etc. Things we want. This part would coincide with Freud’s “Ego”. It is certainly conscious; it can gossip about people or do its homework (or day-job… or in fact any routine… even complex routines like higher math, if that is what you do every day…)
Then there is the pre-frontal cortex; the “thinking brain”, the “ideas place”, the adventurous monkey that tries out new stuff. The thing in us that gets bored. It is the youngest part of our brain and among species, humans have a pretty large and intricate one. (Horses have larger heads but most of that is sinus.)
Our creative brains would partially still tie in with Freud’s “Ego”, but where we start thinking of spiritual or creative things, it is closer to the “Superego”.
Now, contrary to what you may think, (potentially talking to my younger readers here), the “Superego” is not a super egotistical part of our psyche. It is a transcendent, spiritual part of us that thinks thoughts that are e.g. beneficial to all humankind. In spiritual systems, it sometimes is called the “Higher Self”. (That’s nicer than “superego”, don’t you think?)
In an ideal environment (we are kids on a playground), the creative brain gets up to something; gets a cute idea (“let’s climb up this tree!”), and immediately, without any stops or pauses, starts implementing it. The kid climbs up the tree; nothing happens; there’s a bit of excitement as the croc brain panics on the way down (the croc brain’s job is to panic), but the child makes it safely to the ground, and therefore the croc brain notes down: “All good, we survived this just fine, we can keep on doing this.”
In a less ideal environment, a child goes into the water (under supervision of the swimming teacher that ought to have been locked up), trying to learn to swim. And the teacher tries to cajole the child into putting its nose under water, and the child refuses, and the teacher pushes the child’s face into the water.
What happens? The croc brain panics. The child screams, inhales water; the teacher panics and lets go; the child scrambles out of the water and the croc brain vows never to set foot in a pool again! The croc brain registers: That way lies death. We don’t go there. It takes immense bravery for a child who has been damaged that way, to step out and learn to swim anyway.
And so we learn, all through childhood. Behaviours that had no bad results, or not significantly bad results (such as, not bothering with homework and then pulling in one’s head while the teacher shouts) are registered as repeatable because they are survivable. “Phew, that wasn’t so bad. We survived. Good. Let’s do it again.”
Another thing the croc brain is concerned with, is to ensure maximum comfort against minimum effort. (Was it “A Fistful of Dollars” where the spoiled rich young man waiting for his fortune comments to his father: “If work were so great, the rich would keep it to themselves”?)
It is this.
Your croc brain, your Id, will rate everything “survivable” that didn’t cut too close to the abyss. This includes having survived a parachute jump; or living through an armed robbery in which the criminals focused on the loot rather than on killing people. It also includes close shaves you have while cycling, or (hope this is not you) texting while driving.
And the forsaken, blasted Id will stick these experiences, alongside more everyday stuff like your job, into a catch-all folder known as your Comfort Zone. Under “not worth changing our routines over – tolerable unpleasantnesses”.
(Just to drive home this point, consider labour pain. And yet, humanity survives and multiplies!)
And they are doing it via Comfort Zone. Long-term, softly.
And worse: They are doing it under pretext of keeping you alive!!
Something that was potentially going to make a lot of money, or be a lot of fun.
And your comfort zone, along with a whole lot of nay-sayers in your circles who were also only listening to their own comfort zones and projecting them onto you, pulled you back from it.
“Wow – I should really invite all the neighbours to a street party and get to know everyone. Would be a lot of fun! But… no… * sigh *… that would entail buying meat for the grill, and going out to invite everyone, and getting everyone to bring their own beer or wine, and… oh, I think it would be awkward. Nobody can throw out money on a party. I certainly can’t. Forget it.”
“I should really invest in a bit of cryptocurrency and see how that goes. … but… no… probably too risky…” (and years later: “Damn, if I’d invested in Bitcoin I’d be rich now!”)
Or, more tragically: Having a bad habit (for instance, not eating healthily) over many years, but your Id and Ego will work together to keep you doing it, because you don’t feel bad right now, so… the effort of changing the habit is, in the calculations of Id, larger than the risk of keeping it the same. This is why new habits are so hard to learn, and old ones so hard to get rid of.
You get it now?
Your Id and your Ego are your enemies in this. Your Superego (your Higher Self) is your best friend and you shouldn’t listen to the others!
Is it your Higher Self trying to rescue you? Trying to break you out of your lethal comfort zone? Act on it! And if your Id panics and tries to persuade your Ego to stop you – go and read up on people who were successful doing what you are dreaming of doing.
Because, they survived! In fact they thrived. And, haha, with a JuJitsu trick, they turned the Id against itself and made the successful idea into a comfort habit!
So there, Id, take that!
Oops, nearly missed it:
One of the little life hacks I mentioned in the last Friday post (granted, 2 weeks back, mea maxima culpa, Om…) was frustration.
Frustration is a really neat life hack. Wish I had figured this out years back. Frustration is your sensor that tells you, “you’re rested, you’re energized, it’s time to get to work”. If one is always surfing close to burn-out, one doesn’t get to feel frustration, only exhaustion.
When one starts out, frustration either teaches one to quit or to try again. There are really only two types of person – the quitters and the rebooters. If you quit, that’s really bad because you’ll have allowed your detractors to win – the people who said “you can’t do that” from the start.
Let’s look at that more closely. I used to have as my Skype status, “The one who says something can’t be done, should never interrupt the one doing it.” You will get detractors for literally everything. And they come from where you expect it least. People who should be chomping at the bit with you in excitement about new ideas and projects. Except that they don’t, because maybe in their minds, life is a competition and if you win at something (anything), somehow that takes away from their own shine. Or maybe they are simply addicted to watching others fail at things and then crow, “I told you so”. The compulsive know-it-all.
But, you have only ultimately failed when you give up trying. So as you see, you can absolutely not afford to quit something you want to do. You can only quit things you yourself have outgrown or put behind you. For every idea you are trying out, there is someone out there who has already done it successfully. It helps to look how they did it; that increases your chances of success. I’m sure even Richard Branson had detractors.
What can one do about detractors? Only a single thing: Ignore them. Shoosh them. Unfollow their feed. Mute them on your Twitter. Protect yourself emotionally, because if you don’t, their criticism gets under your skin and starts eating you alive from the inside like maggots. And hollowed out, you won’t be much good.
Frustration comes in two shapes. Frustration with other people, and frustration with your life.
The first one is tricky. The best you can do is see it as a mirror, a reflection of what you want to eliminate from your life. Let’s say, you’re frustrated with the misbehaving motorists in the traffic at 5pm, battling your way home. What your frustration is really telling you is to make changes to your life so you can avoid the traffic. This could mean negotiating with your boss that you come in earlier and leave correspondingly earlier, or later, depending. Or, for instance, if a gossiping colleague frustrates you, you may decide to avoid her. (Or him. Men can gossip too.) The details of how you solve it, are not the point. The point is that you use the frustration as an indicator that something has to change.
Frustration with your life is easier to solve. It’s simply a call to action. Identify the one task that would make the biggest difference to your situation, then do that. You will be amazed how good you feel if you do this consistently every time you get frustrated.
And again, if something you’re doing is frustrating you because it is not giving results, it is time to change the course of action.
That’s all my knee-deep philosophizing you’ll get today. Really obvious stuff, actually. Just, quite helpful to remember, I found.
Of Mountains & Printing Presses
You see, the whole idea of “blocks” (“divs” in coder speak) is that they “degrade gracefully” in older or smaller browsers (such as, your mobile phone). Ingenious! Why didn’t I think of this?
Here I was, breaking my head over how to make P’kaboo, a neat website on a wide screen, nicer for mini screens such as mobiles. I’ve already made it “squishable” – so you see a teeensy weensy little drop-down menu if you (with pixie fingertips) click on the microscopic little button saying “Submit manuscript” (if you could find the button in the first place, and read it). But that was exactly the problem. I didn’t really want the words to shrink to point-size 0.1. I wanted them to stay legible and clickable (with a clumsy index finger on mobile phones, think Shrek), retain their functionality without the site losing its beauty. (It has been complimented on its beauty, quite a bit.)This sorts it! How amazingly convenient!
Haha – and the feature is still in beta. Found the glitch.
Once you press “publish”, the wordpress text paragraphs stick seamlessly onto each other. I had to go into the html and manually insert line breaks. Okay, peeps, it’s a really nice idea but not yet fully matured. I’m sure they’ll fix this little glitch the second they see the first beta-tests. (That’s us, trying out the new editor.)
Seen on a T-shirt:
I’ve come across an interesting piece of research recently, in my relentless hunt for FOCUS.
This research points out that we are hard-wired to be “distractible”. Our brain responds to outside information coming in, by forcibly overriding whatever we are doing, and paying instant attention to the new information.
On a Caveman-Brain level this makes a lot of sense: There’s no point in deeply focusing on crafting a bone flute if there’s a tiger creeping up on you.
My first violin teacher, during violin lessons when I was very young, taught me that focus is if the house can burn down around you and you don’t notice because you are practising. It was an extreme image, but it did burn home the message.
So we are hard-wired to be instantly distractible. Here’s the complication. If you have 1000 things to do and think of, how do you cope?
You wouldn’t think of frustration as a resource, would you? And yet it is. It is action energy looped in on itself, all strangled up and spinning inside you because it needs to be LET OUT! So the logical thing is to let it out! Do the actions that will bring you closer to your results, until the frustration is dissipated. Energy, according to popular physics, can never be lost, only transformed.
There’s one extra thing I do these days. I meditate. Even if it’s only for 3 minutes after waking up in the mornings; it makes a difference and sets the tone for the day.
So, hope these help! 🙂
… all your weaknesses turned out to be your best strengths?