Thursday, February 9, 2017

Editor's Notes #27: Hooked On a Feeling

Writing fiction is all about plucking at people's emotional strings, whether you're aiming for tender feelings, indignation, laughter, fear, or any number of the bajillions of things that encompass the spectrum of emotions.

How do you get people to feel what you want them to feel? I've gotten steaming mad at a character's stupidity or self-centeredness. I've also laughed along with a protagonist who happens to be a serial killer. [Only semi-related side note: if you've never read anything by Tim Dorsey, you're missing out on an absolutely entertaining killer named Serge and his sidekick, Coleman, as they enjoy everything Florida has to offer. "Quirky" is not quite the word for it. I came across the "why dead people show up in later books" section of Dorsey's site, and couldn't believe how many more books he's released since I last picked one of his off the library shelves. And now, back to our regularly scheduled program . . .]

The classic "show, don't tell" is one way of getting those emotions across. Think about it: if you're telling someone about a traumatic event that happened to you, they're going to respond in a completely different way depending on whether you're listing "this happened, and then this happened," or whether you're trembling and fighting back tears as you struggle to choke out the words. Why would writing a scene be any different? Show how a character is physically dealing with things, and you're on your way.

With a sympathetic character, you can create a sort of bond between the character and the reader, so there's a bit of investment there. This can be brought about in a funny way, like how you just can't help but root for Tuck Watley (Tuck Watley: Freedom Fighter Fighter by Brandon Meyers and Bryan Pedas) because he's just so . . . well, he's indescribable, but trust me, you're rooting for him for the sheer entertainment value. Or you can root for the underdog who's been screwed over way too many times, because everyone's been treated or judged unfairly at least once in their life. Or maybe you can even root for Nick or Kevin from S.K. Anthony's series, The Luminaries, because they're incredibly sexy, yet intelligent good guys who are also some of the baddest guys around. Whatever tugs at you will pull you in if it's done well.

You could also create a character who is NOT sympathetic, and make the reader hate him. The emotion is still a strong one, and they'll not forget him easily. However, take care to not make him unlikable in every way—I edited a book once where a character was such an absolute jerk that I couldn't stand him . . . and he was supposed to be one of the protagonists. I ended up telling the author that I didn't even care what happened to him and would not want to keep reading if I had bought the book. Fun fact: turns out this particular author (who I knew was actually a skilled writer) had cowritten that particular book and was not happy with the other person's contributions (that awful character being one of them). All that was needed was a neutral voice (mine) to allow the author the necessary backup to break ties with the other writer and redo the book completely.

Letting your emotions into the writing can be an odd thing. If your character is insane, I'd imagine it's a tough call for exactly how crazy to write him. Will people think he's over-the-top freaky? Will they think you're like that in real life, and that's how you write crazy so well? Will they think you're wimpy if you're a guy who writes a really tender scene? Do writers even care if anyone thinks they're writing from experience? I need to know these things.

Have you ever written anything really strange and wondered what someone would think of YOU after reading it, even though it was fiction?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Can You See It?

When I read, one of the things I take for granted is that I can picture what's happening in the book as easily as if I were actually watching the action in front of me. Some writers make that experience richer than others, adding texture galore that rounds out the feel of things.

The ability to "see" what I'm reading is a perk for me, although it can backfire at times when a movie is made, and I'm irritated that something is "not how I pictured it at all." Of course, with books nearly always being better than their movies, I just tell myself I'm right and the movie director is horribly wrong.

A friend of mine who's an avid reader has always said, "I guess I must have no imagination, because I can never picture how anything is supposed to look when I read a book." When Fellowship of the Ring was made into a movie, I remember saying something about how so many scenes were even better than I'd pictured, and she stated that she loved seeing it because she hadn't been able to imagine any of it.

Turns out she's not lacking in imagination, or comprehension, or anything else. She simply suffers from a condition called aphantasia, the inability to conjure up visual imagery.

Doctors and scientists are only recently discovering how this works—or doesn't work—in the brain. Aphantasia may affect up to one in fifty people, so it's certainly more common than you'd think. Those who suffer from it are often unaware that most people can easily do what seems impossible for them.

As a reader, a person can compensate by focusing on the facts and descriptions of a character or a scene, even if that person can't conjure it up visually.

But what if you're an author? If your mind's eye is essentially blind, are you able to write scenes that will move your audience? Can you add the elements that stimulate all five senses in a way that's vivid enough?

Ever since I read about this a year or so ago, I've wondered if there are, indeed, authors who suffer from this, and if that's why some writers can take a scene over the top while others fall flat. Perhaps it's not immature writing or lack of skill, per se, but simply a lack of ability to see it as they write.

What do you think? When you write, do you picture the scene and write what you're seeing in your mind, or do you write the action and then go back and fill in the details? I'm curious.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Holiday Break in Progress

I'm finding it more and more difficult to keep up with even reading other people's blogs lately, much less getting together a post or two for my own, so I'm going to do myself a favor and declare a holiday break . . . mostly since I'm already taking one by default.

Hey, I may as well make it look like it was planned.

My job is crazier than crazy in November and December, and I must have been delusional to think I could maintain the blog through those months.

I aim to be back by mid-January, and if I can find a moment here or there to read your blogs, I will certainly comment to let you know I've visited.

Have a wonderful Christmas, Hanukkah, or winter solstice, if that's what you celebrate. And I'll see you for sure in a month or so! And in the meantime, please enjoy the handmade Christmas card I received last year from our very own Raymond Esposito. Still one of my all-time favorites: Santa and Baby Jesus fight the zombies. Warms my heart.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Better Late Than Never: It's a Book Review!

So hey, apparently I forgot that I was supposed to have a blog post ready for last Thursday. And didn't remember until tonight (a week later) and still didn't have something ready to go. Usually I'm a little more organized than this, but life has been happening a lot in my little world, and things have just dropped right out of my brain without telling me.

Since I had nothing but a couple drafts sketched out and nothing really ready to go, I thought perhaps I'd do something I rarely do here: a book review. Typically I'll promote some of the books I work on, and those are more hit-and-miss deals than anything, but I almost never review a book I've simply read for pleasure.

Today I break all the rules to bring you a brief review of Tuck Watley: Freedom Fighter Fighter, Book 1 of the Tuck Watley series by our very own A Beer for the Shower guys, Bryan Pedas and Brandon Meyers.

I should preface this by saying that I almost never get the time to read for the sake of reading. And reading is my default "what to do when there's down time" activity, so I don't waste time reading crappy stuff. Anymore, I don't bother continuing a book unless I'm completely captivated by the first chapter.

I should also say that being a book snob doesn't mean I only read classics. I'm a snob in the sense that I won't waste the effort on a poorly written novel, or one that's lacking in creativity. I'm definitely not a snob when it comes to genre. Humor in the style of Douglas Adams works as well for me as an epic from Tolkien, incredible science fiction, heart-stopping old-school Stephen King horror, or an autobiography.

But this . . . this book . . . I can't even adequately describe what I felt while reading it. First of all, you need to get it. I don't care who you are: if you like to laugh your butt off, get it. Read it. Butt = gone. Seriously. I have no butt anymore because I laughed it off.

Tuck Watley is, as best I can gather, an idiot. But no, he's a genius. Or lucky. Or I don't know what. Just when you think he can't be any more of an inept boob, he comes through with the solution to what's troubling America and solves a case in the most unlikely way.

Tuck works in government surveillance—protecting the American people from . . . themselves?—and the scenarios he encounters are both over-the-top ridiculous and incredibly believable, given the state of our country. His escapades remind me of Inspector Clouseau (Pink Panther), with every bit of clumsy success attached to them. He has a sidekick, DB, who is the muscle of the operation—and who would never, ever be mistaken for the brains.

I can't go into details without giving spoilers, but I have to say that this was a book I had a hard time reading without laughing out loud, or trying to read portions of it to whoever was sitting near me at the time. Brandon and Bryan are not only witty, but they manage to make even the most dorky, immature, bathroom humor hilarious to a full-grown adult, and it's all due to their skillful writing.

These guys are hilarious. I already knew that from their blog, A Beer for the Shower, but after reading Tuck Watley, I have even more respect for the fact that they know how to express themselves not only in a short web-comic a couple times a month, but for the long haul of a full-length novel. Anyone can have a funny one-liner, but what really impressed me was that I did not stop laughing from page one all the way through the end. Yes, some of the jokes were totally juvenile, but you know what? They were still stinkin' funny, and mostly because of how cleverly the writing was done. And I have to add, of course, that as an editor, I was overjoyed to read something that was edited well in addition to being written skillfully.

This is the first book I've read from Meyers and Pedas, but it certainly won't be the last.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

What Better Diversion Than a LEGO Project?

Today's post sneaked up on me. I even have a draft of what I'd planned to talk about, and apparently I never got back to it . . . and it didn't magically write itself.

So instead, I'm going to toss out something fun that has (almost) nothing to do with grammar rules and editing, but will provide endless hours of fun.

My good friend/sibling/partner in crime, Stephen Fender, is working on yet another new project, so of course, being the incredible backhaver that I am, I'm going to tell you all about it.

A departure from Stephen's Kestrel Saga space opera books, his Star Trek fan fiction projects, and his current stand-alone space sci-fi novel Master of the Void (a retelling of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to be released in spring of 2017), this project is geared toward kids and adults alike.

When Bricks Get Their Wings is the newest Kickstarter from this guy, and I'll just post the link here and let you check it out for yourself. It's part building brick project, part storybook and all enjoyment.

Unlike other franchises, the LEGO company seems to be amenable (and realistic) about their customers and fans in general. They have clear guidelines about what can and can't be done when creating things that involve their products, and are happy to allow others a little piece of the pie, so to speak.

Check it out and see if this sounds like something you'd like to support, or share it with someone who would enjoy it.

I'll see you all in a couple weeks!