Writing a Novel Like a Movie

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When I wrote The Silent PartnerI wrote it with visual stimulations of storytelling that I hoped would resonate with readers. Sure, there had to be great mechanics, grammar, structure, character, story construction, and prose. But to make emotion resonate throughout the story visually, the reader had to see and feel the story unfold. 

I often get frustrated reading stories that have too much description (and adverbs) or not enough of it. (Straight dialogue does get right to it, doesn’t it? To me, this can be even more like a screenplay, but–personal taste–I desire to read stories that allow me to sink into the story.) 

Of course, I had no idea if I was going the right direction with The Silent Partner, but after winning two Eric Hoffer Awards, including 1st Place in Commercial Fiction, now I really hope I’m onto something. I’m not proclaiming this process is revolutionary. It’s simple: connect with readers swiftly and powerfully. I wrote the novel this way, and will do this with the next one as well.

Simple tactics I employed:

  • Details matter, but too many of them distract the reader and slow the narrative drive.
  • Use the details that mean something. Use symbolism when appropriate, and don’t use clichéd ones.
  • Stay away from adverbs whenever possible. It forces you to show the reader something a different way. Some readers think adverbs are lazy. I normally just don’t like the way they look on the page. (The occasional adverb is also more powerful then, too.)
  • I was willing to get rid of “well-written passages” that didn’t move the story along aforementioned: swiftly and powerfully.
  • I stayed away from melodrama but embraced drama. It connects.
  • Stories are made great by fascinating characters. I spent a lot of time on building and complicating them. And they change with well-thought-out reasons.
  • I allowed the story to have waves, or levels. Strong dialogue sections separate from action sequences. Exposition was simply written, and I worked hard to use the right language to get the ideas out quickly. With as few words possible. Then the story moved along more quickly, too.
  • Find ways to say things without dialogue.
  • Create scenes that have visually stunning–and relevant–actions. Then, they become memorable.
  • The audience is smarter than we sometimes give them credit for. Don’t forget this. We don’t always need to spell everything out. 

Here’s to more great storytelling.

Good luck.

Things to Ponder When Doing Your Book Acknowledgements

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The last thing you probably think you need to think about is how to thank the people who supported you through your enterprise of writing and publishing your book. Whatever the size of this magnificent stable of psuedo-fans–many of whom would also be in your cheering section should you, say, be on trial for murder–there will absolutely be important people you forget. Or people you should have forgotten. Friends may be slighted for reasons you cannot imagine, from their position in the supporter roster (“Did I make the first page?”) to their dissection of what names preceded theirs. (Clearly you, the writer, have a deficiency if that person supported you more than that one.)

Be aware of this possible disappointment, and don’t go off course because of it. Simply, it’s most important that you thank the people that must know that they contributed to your success. Be genuine. Then, no matter who grumbles, you know what you always knew: you thanked them for the right reasons.

Finding Your Voice as a Writer

Surprisingly, there’s not a lot of great material out there detailing how to find your writer’s voice. That distinguishable and authentic thing that makes your writing you. In cases of superb writing, a distinguishable voice can likely catapult or sink a writer. A material’s genre (especially in fiction), structure, quality, and appeal matter immensely, and some may even argue that these factors are more important than the “stamp” of a writer’s voice in finding writing success (which is defined differently by virtually all writers). Writing, though, is an art, not just a business of selling. The marketability of a piece of work is one thing; the uniqueness and individuality of that work is what helps it stand out among its peers. In many cases, a writer’s voice is what builds fans or followers.

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A. Alvarez’s book The Writer’s Voice has some great little gems in it, illustrating how voice can help writers–and authors–find and define their audience. He breaks out the difference between “voice” and “style,” helping the reader–and writer–understand the differences with clarity. I also stumbled upon a great blog by Cori Padgett, where she talks a little about the purpose of writing and pointing out the importance of utilizing your quirks as a writer.

Here are some simple things that worked for me while writing my first novel, The Silent Partner. I’m sure that I’ll continue to refine my voice through future work. If you have tactics that have worked for you, please share!

  • Write and therefore rewrite. Find out what works for you, in style and substance. Challenge yourself, but if you write often about something you love, you’ll develop a unique presence on the page.
  • Structure your story before you write it, so you can clear your head of concerns of structure as you plow forward. (There are many theories on story structure. In a previous blog, I spoke of my favorite, John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story.) In this way, your individuality can come through without any “rules” binding you down.
  • Be your interesting self. Write about what matters to you. If something pivotal is missing, it will come up with rewrites and editing. And editors! When you can dig into yourself and find those moments that mattered to you or someone else, and you can channel them into a character or story (the writer version of what actors do, I suppose), great moments can happen on the page. And those moments are all you. (Great time to cue The Greatest Love of All.)

If you’ve found other ways to enhance your writing voice, please let me know about them! And good luck, my friends.

Um . . . You’re the Crazy Ones

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God bless my friends and family who’ve said I should proud of the accomplishment of completing and publishing The Silent PartnerTragically, they have no idea what they’re talking about.

“You should reflect and be proud of yourself.” “It’s such an accomplishment, you should rest awhile.” “You should be so proud of that review!” “Bask in the glory and be proud.” Glory? . . . REST?? . . . Pride? . . . Are you friggin’ kidding me? I’m behind! I’ve got to promote the novel somehow while I conceive my next work! There are more rules to learn, more writers to meet, more stories to tell . . . all while the clock ticks and the publishing world continues to evolve into a new universe while the economy doesn’t get off its ass. It’s madness!

Of course, I’m surrounded by good intentions with spirits around me that are pragmatic, thoughtful, and grounded. In some cases, very loving. However I, like many artists, can be creative, emotionally charged, searching, and inspired. I try to manifest all the aforementioned characteristics, well, most of them . . . and while I don’t know how I’m always doing with this bombardment of conflicts, paradoxes, and mixed emotions, I know when I’m focused on something, it will happen.

I knew once I started the book, I’d finish it. I knew I’d publish it. No matter what. To me, this isn’t amazing at all. I said, “This is what I’m going to do,” and I did it.

You’re already working on your next book? What’s wrong with you?” Some people think that a writer who submerges his or herself into a writing project for YEARS has a serious problem with reality. I think skydiving or racing a car from zero to 60 in 5 seconds is crazy. Coming from a family with 4 siblings, having that many children is crazy.

I’m fortunate to have an amazing array of wonderful people in my life. They’re just the ones who’ve lost their minds. Clearly.

My First Book – What Was I Thinking???

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When I first had the gumption to write my first novel, I never thought there would be so much work in the process of getting it off the ground. First, my arrogance that I could write a book. At all. Carrying around a healthy dose of self-confidence (ask anyone) is one thing, but the magnitude of sheer belief I had in embarking on the project was, looking back, quite astounding. Who did I think I was? And incidentally, now, with a couple book signings on the docket, who the hell do I think I am?

Writing The Silent Partner and getting it ready for public consumption has been the hardest task of my life, sans trying to get a re-fi loan for my last house. Truly, getting my bachelor’s degree was a cinch by comparison to writing this book, and that’s not a dig on the Cal State University system. (BTW, a shout out to my old writing professor, Alexis Krasilovsky. I still remember how you wouldn’t take a draft of mine because I was late turning it in . . . and how you said I’d never qualify for an “A” because of it. Oh, the memories.)

The amount of preparation it took me to write this book compared to what I surmise other writers have done–and haven’t needed to do–humbles me. It also calls into question my genetic deficiencies, as this is the first place I look upon such a revelation.

Writing courses, several writers conferences, multiple editors, hundreds of drafts . . . (“Oh, God, if they still hate it after all of this work, I should reconsider the next book’s desire to exist.”) Sleepless nights, lonely nights, overused playlists, an ill-practiced habit of daily designer-coffee, and the prices that go along with it . . . all adds up. (“You mean in the last 5 years I could have gotten not one, but two master’s degrees?”) Well, that’s just GREAT. Seriously, what was I thinking?

That moment I got my first book in the mail from the publisher. That crack of opening the cover for the first time, the chemicals and the paper and the ink and the glue . . . that smell of newness that I whiffed like when I first opened my first Motley Crue cassette (that’s right) in 1983 . . . and the story and characters that I created and evolved and improved and reshaped and reinvented . . . all is there. Every page.

That’s why.

I know, I know. You can’t smell it on the Kindle.

How to Avoid a Self-Pub Nightmare

When you’re self-publishing, all typos, errors, ineffective use of color on your book cover, any mistakes of any kind . . . are YOUR FAULT. With fiction, there are more choppy waters to navigate through and avoid, like superfluous characters, one-dimensional storytelling, and undeveloped or forgotten story arcs, among other common hazards for new writers. (Though it’s probably more common than we’d like to discover these mishaps with celebrated authors, with novels coming from big publishing houses. Here is someone taking issue with the number of errors in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.) As any fiction writer knows, there are many more writing hazards. Self-published fiction hazards can be brutal. Here are some ways I’ve discovered to avoid them:

  1. Use one, maybe two, professional editors. Your first editor will discover errors you missed and problems you never thought of, and will help you with the fundamentals. The second editor can help you with nuances, because you’ve (hopefully) remedied the problems caught by the first editor. You may think your untrained but critical eye is good enough. It’s not. And once your work is out there, it’s open for critique. Employing a professional editor is like insurance, you just get the immediate results and answers, before mayhem strikes. (Actual mayhem, not the Mayhem guy in those Allstate commercials) Many self-publishing houses provide an editor (or editing team) to you during the self-publishing process. I’d recommend using a professional editor first. By the time you’re submitting your work for print, it should be polished, not go through the first round of professional editing.
  2. Friends and family are awesome. And friends who care enough to read your work and provide insight and help you in any way are priceless. But, read number 1 again.
  3. Book cover: Do something simple, and try to stand out. You can be poetic or ironic, but few will catch this or even care. Review other book covers and find something that suits your taste or your genre. You don’t have to duplicate, but be aware of what’s out there that others have determined to be marketable, and make it your own.
  4. Take the book cover text seriously, including and particularly the book summary on the back cover (or front book jacket for a hardcover). I had used a summary for literary agent submissions as a place to start, and still found improvements that “sell” the story better.
  5. When working with your self-publishing house, review your and their work carefully. No one will (or should) care more about your work than you, and once you sign off on your book going to print, it’s done. Blind faith can be unforgiving.

Of course, you can try to blame your publisher for your errors. Probably won’t work.

When Writing Must Go: Hello, World!

There’s no one right way to publish a book. Everyone I’ve talked to––including literary agents, editors, and writers––has shared different tactics for the aspiring writer seeking to get published. It can be tough for some writers to endure stories of great work being self-published into obscurity while mediocre work is often mass-published for the discriminating book shoppers at Walmarts and Targets. While the latter may incense book snobs and writers alike, the most important thing is that scribe talents get their work read, regardless of how it arrives into the world.

For The Silent Partner, I’ve chosen to self-publish review copies for bloggers and reviewers before I have formal representation or ever try to sell the book. After all, I didn’t start to write nor continue to for the money. This may be considered both honorable and ridiculous (or just naive) by some, but money was never the motivator. Additionally, the unpublished novel stands on its own free of the stressful shackles of commerce. (Who said there’s no silver lining without a book deal?) The next step is to allow the work leave its maker, so commerce has to come into play eventually. The final touches are currently being made to the interior and exterior of the book so the work is represented in its most polished state, in preparation for the somewhat-noble desire of sharing a story, followed by the optimistic, non-altruistic pursuit of capitalism.

The book must soon leave the isolated comfort of the laptop and fly into the world and be exposed to the world’s dangers of book reviewers and particular readers. It must leave the nest.