Friday, October 28, 2011

Finding Humor in Writing

I'll be posting a new "All About The Memory Eater Anthology" page along with the details of where it can be purchased soon, but until then, I'm dedicating this lovely Friday (if frost and rain and gray are your thing) to a random assortment of writing-related humor.

Unrelated—there's a crying baby next to me.  What do I do?

Related—here's a funny picture my wife showed me the other day.  There's been this huge, ongoing debate about the Oxford comma—the comma used in a list of three or more right before and or or.  This pretty much sums it up:

I'm guilty of turning Hitler and Stalin into strippers, but isn't that a better alternate reality?  For more on the Oxford comma, see Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really DO Make a Difference!  This is a humorous, nonfiction book about the declining use of proper punctuation.

Let's jump into another funny book…

A group of science fiction and fantasy authors working under the pen name Travis Tea (say it out loud) intentionally produced a horribly written book called Atlanta Nights.  Why? you may ask.  Well in 2004, PublishAmerica stated,

"…science-fiction and fantasy writers have it easier. It's unfair, but such is life. As a rule of thumb, the quality bar for sci-fi and fantasy is a lot lower than for all other fiction. Therefore, beware of published authors who are self-crowned writing experts. When they tell you what to do and not to do in getting your book published, always first ask them what genre they write. If it's sci-fi or fantasy, run. They have no clue about what it is to write real-life stories, and how to find them a home."

PublishAmerica also claimed,

"Each day, an average 78 new authors who are looking to find a book publishing company ask us to publish their book. We review not only the quality but also the genre of their work.... Like all serious book publishing companies we have to be picky as we can only accept the works that meet our requirements in both areas."

To prove PublishAmerica was full of it, the SF&F members submitted Atlanta Nights for publication.  Not long after, they received an acceptance letter stating, "I am happy to inform you that PublishAmerica has decided to give 'Atlanta Nights' the chance it deserves."

From the Wikipedia page, here's a short list of obvious errors in the book:

The distinctive flaws of Atlanta Nights include nonidentical chapters written by two different authors from the same segment of outline (13 and 15), a missing chapter (21), two chapters that are word-for-word identical to each other (4 and 17), two different chapters with the same chapter number (12 and 12), and a chapter "written" by a computer program that generated random text based on patterns found in the previous chapters (34). Characters change gender and race; they die and reappear without explanation. Spelling and grammar are nonstandard and the formatting is inconsistent. The initials of characters who were named in the book spelled out the phrase "PublishAmerica is a vanity press."

If you'd like to read the book for free, which I highly recommend!, either visit Travis Tea's main site or go directly to the full PDF version of the manuscript.

And now we go from intentionally bad to just bad…

And here's a special message from Stewie:

Moving onto book reviews.  Most of the ones I've seen take themselves too seriously, so here's one called Black Metal Book Review that uses a different approach:

And here are some miscellaneous things:

You know how I always condemn clichés?  That's because it's really, really important to avoid them.  Want an easier way to do so?  Introducing Cliché Finder!  Check the site out here.  You can plug any word into their form, and their database of over 3,300 clichés will return any cliché phrases its used in.

Mixer Publishing is holding a Sex, Violence and Satire competition where the winner gets $1,000 along with their story published.  Enter here.

Defenestration is a legit literary magazine dedicated to humor.  They are open for submissions.

Here are some famous authors accompanied by comments pulled from the rejection letters their work received:

Dr. Seuss
"…too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling."

J. G. Ballard
"The author of this book is beyond psychiatric help."

H. G. Wells (War of the Worlds)
"An endless nightmare.  I do not believe it would 'take'.  I think the verdict would be 'Oh don't read that horrid book'."

Jacqueline Susann (Valley of the Dolls)
"...she is a painfully dull, inept, clumsy, undisciplined, rambling and thoroughly amateurish writer whose every sentence, paragraph and scene cries for the hand of a pro.  She wastes endless pages on utter trivia, writes wide-eyed romantic scenes...hauls out every terrible show biz cliché in all the books, lets every good scene fall apart in endless talk and allows her book to ramble aimlessly..."

Samuel Johnson
"Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good."

William Faulkner
"Good God, I can't publish this!"

Norman Mailer (The Deer Park)
"This will set publishing back 25 years."

Stephen King (Carrie)
"We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias.  They do not sell."

Joseph Heller (Catch 22)
"I haven’t really the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say…Apparently the author intends it to be funny–possibly even satire–but it is really not funny on any intellectual level…From your long publishing experience you will know that it is less disastrous to turn down a work of genius than to turn down talented mediocrities."

Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita)
"...overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian…the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy.  It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream…I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years."

Rudyard Kipling
"I’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language."

D. H. Lawrence (Lady Chatterley's Lover)
"For your own sake do not publish this book."

William Golding (Lord of the Flies)
"…and absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull."

The Diary of Anne Frank
"The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the 'curiosity' level."

Tony Hillerman
"Get rid of the Indian stuff."

And here's a bunch of self-explanatory pictures:

Have a wonderful weekend!

Monday, October 24, 2011

9 Tips to Ease Your Editing Pain

Most people cringe when it comes time to edit their work.  Since I'm close to completing the second round of edits on the 27 selected stories, I thought it would be helpful to share some tips I picked up along the road to Mordor (The Lord of the Rings reference)…I mean becoming published. 

Be Consistent
Sure, there are universal rules out there for grammar and sentence structure, but the rules are constantly being broken.  I’ve seen bestselling authors who don’t use quotation marks for dialogue.  Who purposely misspell words.  Who don’t capitalize proper nouns. 

Fact is, readers don’t care if you break the rules.  As long as you’re consistent, whatever you do will come across as intentional.  But if you leave off the quotations marks for only a few lines of dialogue, misspell only one word or capitalize half of your proper nouns, then your work comes across as an error-filled mess.

Read Your Work Aloud
The problem with reading work inside your head is that’s where you originally forged the idea.  You won’t catch certain errors unless you present them to yourself in a different light.  Like your voice.  Ears are especially good at catching awkward dialogue and problems with pacing.

First Things First
I know it’s tempting to dive right into editing a story, but if you don’t approach editing in steps, you’ll most likely double your tacks.  My process consists of three steps:

My first step is developmental editing.  This is where I focus mainly on shaping the plot, pacing issues, characterization and narrative structure.  These are like our vital organs—if we let them fail, our exterior appearance won’t matter much, now will it?

My second step is line editing.  This is the exterior—the makeup—the eye-candy.  With line editing, we’re trying to make the text readable, effective and interesting.  This includes grammar, punctuation and sentence structure.

To finish off my sundae of edits, I go through the story again but specifically look for consistency issues.  You see, if you focus on the biggest problem first and handle editing in steps, attention is dealt with in cascading fashion, and the little energy you have left is saved for the easiest tasks.

Simplify What You're Saying
Stories are exactly like directions—the reader has no idea what’s coming, so your words need to be exact and easy to follow.  That means it's time to put the thesaurus down and cut to the chase. 

I've seen it too many times before—authors trying to create mazes within their text.  As a reader, I didn’t sign up for a difficult Sudoku.  I’m here to be wowed.

To convey your point as smooth as Keith Stone, just say what you mean in the simplest way possible.  You have an unlimited amount of periods available at your disposal, so use them.  There’s no need to have sentences the size of paragraphs. 

Avoid decorating the story with unnecessary description.  Wild scenes, elaborate devices and absurd characters typically don’t drive the action forward.  And if you’re relying on these sorts of things, then your central story is lacking.  That or you don’t believe your plot is interesting enough to stand alone.

You should only be describing things that either set the tone or will have an actual impact on the plots/characters/settings.  For example, a recent story I read spent several paragraphs detailing the main character's profession.  The problem is, it didn't have any effect on the resolution.  Those paragraphs threw the entire story off for me, not because it was wasted space, but because every sentence in a story is a clue.  Readers are constantly anticipating this.  They're trying to put your clues together and figure out the resolution before it's revealed.  So in the example I provided, since the author took the time to detail the profession, I kept that clue open in my mind as I continued reading.  Not only did this detail leave me with a question at the end, but it also stole part of my attention from important parts of the story. 

As authors, we want to suck readers into the important details of our stories, not a laundry list of descriptions.  Give readers the need-to-knows of your story and let them fill in the rest.  Think of it as a doctor's visit—if the doctor says you have a life-threatening disease, do you really care about the shape, color or nickname of it?

I can't remember the last time I detailed one of my main characters.  But I do remember other people's, and not in a good way.  I have the mirror-description scene burned into my mind, and every time I come across a character with stunning, unique, dreamy, bright, blue eyes, it comes across like a Tara Reid movie to me.  Come on now—do you really want to be a Tara Reid movie?

Truth is, authors should be showing readers the story opposed to telling.  Say the MC huffs and puffs as he walks up a flight up stairs.  I’ll assume the MC is overweight or out-of-shape.

Avoid Clichés
Reading an action or description or saying a few times is fine, but seeing the same thing over and over again in story after story is like having to watch the same commercial during each break.  Like this commercial:

At first this commercial was cute, but then I started to see it several times every week.  Then several times a day.  Now I hate it.  It annoys me when I’m trying to enjoy a show.  The same thing applies to stories.  Go through and pluck these things out.  If you're creative enough to come up with a unique plot, don't drop the ball when it comes to little things like this which can easily make you look like an amateur.

Oh, and here’s another funny commercial:

Trust the Reader
There's a difference between giving the reader clues and trying to hammer home the point.  I've seen replica sentences used countless times in stories.  Once you decide to give away an important piece of information, trust that the reader will remember it for the remainder of the story.  There's no need to constantly repeat the same thing, especially since there's a point where it becomes distracting.  Plus stories should be multidimensional.  You want to distract your reader with the different layers of your story and then throw them a curve ball at the end which makes them remember the breadcrumb clues from earlier.

Be Hard on Yourself
Don't debate on whether a sentence of yours should stay or go because it's your favorite.  Ask yourself if it adds anything to the plots/characters/settings.  If it doesn't, well, get rid of it.  This isn't A&E's Hoarders.

Make Sure There's a Point to Your Story
At the end of a story, even if you're rewriting "Why'd the chicken cross the road?", make sure there's a reason to back up the action.  Readers always want to know why.  Why'd the MC kill his sister?  Why'd the aliens attack our world?  Why'd the hacker open up his own daycare?  Think of readers as homicide detectives on a case—they want answers even if they don’t understand them.  They want the point.  That's what separates stories from observations and opinions and descriptions.

Nothing is Untouchable
If something doesn't work, it doesn't work.  Duh, right?  What I'm saying is don't get married to anything in your story.  I've scrapped entire novels because they were either too complex or didn't come across as I intended. 

It helps when creating a character to basically say to him/her right off the bat, "If you don't get the job done, or if you're too one-dimensional, I'm putting you in the recycle bin."  Same thing applies to the rest of your story.  Hold plots/characters/settings accountable.  Make them pay if they don't pay off!

I know that I'm not always going to get it right.  I'll produce stories that don't go anywhere.  I'll dream up stale characters.  I'll rush to get done, and I'll rush to get started.  At the end of the day, no matter how good I think a work of mine is, I know anything written is subjective to change.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Back From the Hospital

Just wanted to post a quick update—Eli Thomas joined us at 12:06pm on Tuesday, October 4th.  He weighs 8 lbs. 1 oz. and is 21" long.  We're all feeling great, and my wife and I appreciate all of your support.

My son Ethan holding baby Eli.

I'll be diving back into the anthology within the next couple of days.  Until then, take care!

C. P.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Baby Countdown

Tomorrow (October 4th, 2011), if everything goes smoothly, my wife and I will welcome our second child into the worldJ

A picture of happiness.

This is probably obvious, but for the next two weeks, my replies to emails/tweets/posts will be lagging. 

Before I shift gears here, I just wanted to post a quick update on the progress of the anthology:

·         I’ve selected 26 stories. 

·         I’m awaiting one rewrite, so there will either be 26 or 27 stories in the final book. 

·         Out of the 26 selected stories totaling 75,000 words, I’ve edited 16 (or 42,000 words) so far.

·         Out of the 42,000 words I put through a first edit, I probably cut out about 2,000 to 3,000 words.

Now off I go on a quest to decide on a name!  My first pick was Slaughterthousands, as it’s a strong name and rolls right off the tongue, but apparently it’s a bit too much.  I’ll post an update whenever I can.  Until then, stay thirsty my friends!

C. P.