The Noble Pen for April 24, 2014

Next Noble Pen Meeting

April 24th, 2014 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Former Noble Pen attendee Lynda Waddington is the newest member of the CR Gazette editorial staff.

Victories

Dylan’s latest book has doubled all previous sales of all his books.  He finished a 30k word commission.

Nick put out the railfan newsletter on schedule.  He also wrote a four-page train-spotting report.

Ciuin is doing non-school reading again.

Education

Writer’s Digest offers a free nine-page download on “Step-by-step guide to the Publishing Process” when you sign up for their email newsletter.  It covers a lot of how things work with a major publishing house.  Nathan Bransford offers his summary of the process.  Randy Ingermanson compares the process for different size publishers.  You might want to read some of the cautions on the Predators and Editors site.

Upcoming Schedule

Apr 24th
Ciuin
Janice
Barbara

May 1st
Nick
Tyree
Open slot

May 8th
Open slots

May 15th
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for April 17, 2014

Next Noble Pen Meeting

April 17th, 2014 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

Victories

Tyree went on a writing binge on multiple stories.  He was asked for a 2nd story for the anthology he recently submitted to.

Janice finished an important paper for school.

Ciuin starts working with an editor on Petty Theft on Monday.

Dylan did prep work on formatting of his books for electronic publication.

Education

Backstory can be problematic for authors.  The reader may need to know facts about the characters and situations but may get bored if you start with the story of their lives.  It is usually better to start where the significant conflict, action, and tension begin.  That leaves the problem of getting the backstory facts into the narrative, but interrupting the flow for pages of history is also a way to lose readers.

Karen Dionne discusses how she approaches backstory, trying to time it and achieve a balance between flow and needed information.  Eleanor Henderson thinks it is crucial to have sufficient backstory, but agrees that it is important to present it carefully.  CG Blake considers how much backstory is too much and gives an example of how a little dialog can do as much as paragraphs of backstory.

My backstory is so tedious. ~Ray LaMontagne

Look at Austen. In her novels, you get a dance, followed by an encounter, followed by a letter, then a period of solitude. No flashbacks and no backstory. Let’s have no more back story! ~Colm Toibin

Upcoming Schedule

Apr 17th
Ciuin
Janice
Nick

Apr 24th
Ciuin
Janice
Open slot

May 1st
Nick
Tyree
Open slot

May 8th
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for April 10, 2014

Next Noble Pen Meeting

April 10th, 2014 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Author Tracy Hickman recently gave a rather bleak view of the market for fantasy writers.

Victories

Janice did research and reading for the Chloe story.

Aime got a cat.  We’ll assume she is writing something about it.

Dylan now has more time for writing and life, as his work project just completed a major release.

Education

A long time ago we featured free on-line tools such as Pro Writing Aid, a proofreading tool.  It will identify over-used words, sentences of monotonously same length or excessive length, cliches, repeated phrases, alliteration, and other things you may want to consider changing.  It also highlights dialog tags so you can see at a glance what you used.  The free version will process 1000 words at a time.

It helped me a lot, but became tedious after I changed the major offenses.  My biggest complaint is that it reports too much.  I even tried a better writer’s material with the same result.  The highlighting of repeated common 2-word phrases, 2-word alliterations, etc. (like “to town” or “an apple”) results in clutter that hides the things I want to find and change.  The homonym finder is a nice idea but appears to have no context sensitivity so you see ALL of them.

The author of Writer’s Diet offers a free on-line tool for evaluating your writing, but not its content.  While not as extensive as Pro Writing Aid, another view is often useful.

There are also on-line forums where you can post work for critique by others, as well as discuss writing topics.  One is writingforums.org where you have to do some critiques during a waiting period before you can post yourself.  An issue might be someone considering such postings to be “publication,” so it is best to only post small samples.

Does anyone have comments on similar tools?

“It’s commonplace to nitpick on minor faults. But to actually improve on those minor faults – that’s just tedious.”  ~Benson Bruno

Upcoming Schedule

Apr 10th
Tyree
Cassie
Barbara

Apr 17th
Laura
Janice
Nick

Apr 24th
Open slots

May 1st
Nick
Open slots

May 8th
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for April 3, 2014

Next Noble Pen Meeting

April 3rd, 2014 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Some editors have selected what they think are the 10 best sentences in literature, and tell you why.

Victories

Tyree’s story for the Tauren anthology was accepted.

Barbara learned that a teacher is using her article on homonyms in class.

Rachel added to a collaborative piece.

Dylan got more fan mail, including art inspired by his writing.

Ciuin’s hectic life has finally allowed her to write again and she has several ideas.  She has received all the expected feedback on Petty Theft and is beginning to work on re-edits.

Education

The “fourth wall” is the imaginary wall at the front of a stage through which the audience views the action.  Breaking the fourth wall means that the author, narrator, or characters speak to the audience, rather than the characters speaking only to each other.  The same can be said of a film or book.

This can happen in several ways.  Most obviously, some older writing may say “Dear reader, you will find that …”, but a comment using “you” not directed to a character must also be taken as directed to the reader.

If a narrator or the characters realize that they have an audience, or are just characters and not real, or the characters talk with the narrator, they are breaking the fourth wall, and this is sometimes done for comedic effect.

Writers are generally advised to not break the fourth wall casually by addressing remarks to the reader.  It should be a deliberate stylistic choice, used only when needed for effect.  It tends to be more acceptable in first-person narratives than for third person, but can problematic there also.

It can be jarring as it tends to “pull the reader out” of the story.  It takes away from the realism they may feel for the world of the story in the same manner it would in a movie if the camera pulled back to show the crew working around the set.

Having hit a wall, the next logical step is not to bang our heads against it. ~Stephen Harper

Upcoming Schedule

Apr 3rd
Nick
Ciuin

Apr 10th
Tyree
Cassie
Barbara

Apr 17th
Laura
Janice
Open slot

Apr 24th
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for March 27, 2014

Next Noble Pen Meeting

March 27th, 2014 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Coe College will have a guest professor speaking about copyrights on Monday March 24.  The event is free and open to the public.  Although this lecture is tailored for a music class, writers might also learn something about copyright issues.

Victories

Dylan got multiple fan mails.  He received the final print of a book.  Sand and Ash has gone to an editor.

Education

Where do you write?  There is no agreement among authors on the best place.  Here’s another list of places to consider. It’s more about getting in the right frame of mind rather than the place, other than avoiding whatever is prone to distract you.  But sometimes the distractions can provide inspiration, too, if they suggest characters or ideas for your writing.

Do you take advantage of all the opportunities to write, or at least come up with ideas?  How about in the dentist’s waiting room? While your car is being serviced?  You can take your mind off your worries by dreaming up ideas for your book.  Maybe you should carry your note pad or tablet computer to record them.  Here are some tips for writers who have ideas after going to bed.

Write drunk; edit sober. ~Ernest Hemingway

Upcoming Schedule

Mar 27th
Janice
Tyree
Dylan

Apr 3rd
Nick
Open slots

Apr 10th
Tyree
Open slots

Apr 17th
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for March 20, 2014

Next Noble Pen Meeting

March 20th, 2014 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones is writing … get this … a children’s book.

Victories

Nick got his railfan newsletter out on time.

Dylan got another commission.  He started Sand III (Sand and Bone).

Tyree finished his story for the anthology.

Education

How long should a novel be?  There’s a tired maxim that says as long as it needs to be to tell the story.

But that’s not good enough, because a little-known author needs to fit the norms of the publishing industry.  Agents are looking for any excuse to reject submissions and thin their pile, so even a great novel could get rejected simply on length.  This is less of a problem for e-publishing than for print.

Chuck Sambuchino offers a detailed guide that says 80-100 k words for most novels and memoirs, with sci-fi running slightly longer.  Westerns and books for younger readers tend to be shorter.  Here’s another guide , and a third, that mostly agree, and define lengths for other formats.

What do you do if your story is well-told in a different length?  If you want to get it published, you probably first need to edit down a long story as tight as possible, or make sure a short one has adequately described things (without padding it).  If this doesn’t put you in the desired length range, you will have to modify the events of the story so that it is well-told in a different length.

The length of this document defends it well against the risk of its being read. ~Winston Churchill
You know that I write slowly. This is chiefly because I am never satisfied until I have said as much as possible in a few words, and writing briefly takes far more time than writing at length. ~Carl Friedrich Gauss
What orators lack in depth they make up for in length. ~Charles de Montesquieu

Humor (maybe)

A discussion at the last meeting reminded me of this attempt at humor from a newsletter of a couple years ago.  It is part of a longer exchange on a forum.

Some people do not favor commas because their ancestors learned to get along without them, after they found commas too difficult to transport over the mountains as they moved west.  They chose an extra barrel of flour over a supply of commas when they packed their wagons.   Even today, the cost of shipping a carton of commas restricts their use.

People may resort to modifying apostrophes, which seem to be in excess supply these days.  However when lowering the apostrophes it is easy to drop and bend them so that the best you can do is cut them down to salvage periods, which are only worth pennies on the dollar.  Few people use semicolons, so if you have an unneeded one you can cut it in two and have both a period and a comma for little effort.

Upcoming Schedule

Mar 20th
Nick
Dylan
Barbara

Mar 27th
Janice
Tyree
Dylan (?)

Apr 3rd
Open slots

Apr 10th
Tyree
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Mar 13, 2014

Next Noble Pen Meeting

March 13th, 2014 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

The spring (northern hemisphere) edition of Science Fiction News is available.

Victories

Tyree has done a lot of writing, including preparing a submission to an anthology.

Dylan finished the first draft of a short story for that same anthology.

These are both invited submissions.

Cassie planned and researched a short story.  Her recent publication has received good comments, including some that say it was the best story in the issue.

Education

Characters need both good characteristics and flaws to seem real. Perfect saints are boring and not believable.  A “tough” character has appeal because they are able to handle what comes at them, but as Angela Ackerman points out, don’t go too far in making them insensitive, cynical, or otherwise nasty.   Even the old “hard boiled” detective usually had a soft spot to make them more relatable.  In another article, she categorizes character flaws.

Syndney Katt offers advice on creating flawed heroes and villains with redeeming characteristics and Anne Tyler talks about writing strong yet flawed characters.

This thing about you that you think is your flaw – it’s the reason I’m falling in love with you. ~Colleen Hoover, Slammed

I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions. ~Augusten Burroughs

One difference between film noir and more straightforward crime pictures is that noir is more open to human flaws and likes to embed them in twisty plot lines. ~Roger Ebert

Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without. ~Confucius

You see someone on the street, and essentially what you notice about them is the flaw. ~Diane Arbus

Upcoming Schedule

Mar 13th
Dylan
Tyree
Cassie

Mar 20th
Nick
Dylan(?)
Open slot

Mar 27th
Janice
Open slots

Mar 34th
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for March 6, 2014

Next Noble Pen Meeting

March 6th, 2014 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Should a publisher require credibility from an author who claims to be revealing truth?  Simon and Schuster has given an author a book contract after he became well known for revealing tidbits of inside information from a brokerage he worked at.  The problem, critics say, is that he never worked there, and still has the book contract.

Victories

Dylan packaged a book and got it out, complete with a bar code.

Tyree started serious work on a pulp novella he was asked to do.

Cassie got contributor copies of the book she contributed to, so is now a published and paid author, who even was asked for autographs.

Education

Vampire lore (wikipedia) (another source) is not necessarily consistent.  Vampires or similar evil creatures have been feared in many cultures since long before Dracula and have accumulated a lot of folklore.  Archaeologists have found skeletons with stakes in them (another article), which some people interpret as early fear of vampires.  Recent authors and movies have modified and added to that lore.

In various cultures wood or metal stakes have been used to disable a vampire, and have been driven into the heart, the mouth, and other parts of the body.  Ash was preferred in Russia and Latvia.  Oak was more favored in eastern Europe.  Hawthorn was popular in Serbia and Slavic cultures.  In some traditions, the kind of wood was chosen because of mystical properties or the spirits that lived in that tree.  In others, the important thing was that wood had been alive and was now dead.  A practical reason for wood is that early cultures had few choices.

Usually, stakes did not kill a vampire; if the stake was removed a vampire could return.  The stake probably originated before coffins were common, as a method to pin the vampire to the ground so it would not return.   This is why in certain cultures, removing the head was the only sure way to kill a vampire.

Originally, vampires were not damaged by sunlight, although it might weaken them.  Total intolerance for the sun came later.  Some authors have vampires that can tolerate sunlight after they have grown powerful enough.

And if you search on line, you will find people advertising hand-made stakes for vampire hunters (another source).  Sort of a niche market, but they are made with more care than the ones at the local lumber yard.

Upcoming Schedule

Mar 6th
Nick
Tyree
Cassie

Mar 13th
Dylan
Open slots

Mar 20th
Open slots

Mar 27th
Janice
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Feb 27, 2014

Next Noble Pen Meeting

February 27th, 2014 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Successful novelist James Patterson is giving one million dollars to about a hundred independent bookstores, up to $15,000 apiece.  He thinks they are endangered and are important in making our literary culture available.  He also helps college students buy books at independent stores.

Victories

All our victorious battles were non-literary this week.

Education

Genre fiction books, according to Wikipedia, are plot-driven works written with the intent of fitting into a specific literary genre, in order to appeal to readers and fans already familiar with that genre.  A lot of books fall into a “standard” classification in genre fiction, such as Crime, Fantasy, Western, Romance, or Horror, etc., but not all do.  It is possible to have a mixed or cross-genre book such as a sci-fi thriller, historical drama, romantic mystery, or even science fiction western.

To sell a book that mixes genres, it needs to meet most of the expectations of both.  Michelle Richmond offers some advice on mixing genres.  Here’s another article on cross-genre books.

Upcoming Schedule

Feb 27th
Tyree
Cassie
Dylan (end of S&L)

Mar 6th
Nick
Tyree ?
Open slot

Mar 13th
Open slots

Mar 20th
Open slots

Mar 27th
Janice
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for February 20, 2014

Next Noble Pen Meeting

February 20th, 2014 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Barnes and Noble has reduced the staff at their Nook division, another bad sign in the prospects for that product.

Some publishers are putting out books in a series at a much faster rate to suit the “gotta have it now” world we live in.

Victories

Dylan got a good edit of Sand and Blood back from his paid editor after waiting too many months.

Bill wrote an 11 kword technical training guide.

Nick’s favorite railfan magazine published his letter to the editor.

Tyree found three haiku in his old files and submitted them to a magazine.

Education

Should your characters cuss? It depends on your target audience and your publisher.  Elizabeth Sims explains the correct terms for the various kinds of crude language.

You should be rather cautious about using it for the young adult market, despite the fact that you could probably hear all the terms you know and some you don’t in any junior high school.

Sims offers the advice that for some characters such language in moderation may be appropriate and useful to set them apart.  It should be realistic for the character and their *&@%$ environment, but probably not as extensive as real life.

A little goes a long way. Rosanne Parry offers advice on how to balance authenticity versus respect for the audience.  Another article talks about how reviewers lowered their ratings because of sparse profanity, but justifies it in some cases.

A Wikipedia article points out how science fiction has the opportunity to make up profanity in unknown languages, but some consider it preferable to use the real words or none.

If you would like more discussion, a search for    profanity in fiction    will get you 2.6 million more items to read.

Upcoming Schedule

Feb 20th
Barbara
Dylan (end of S&L)
Nick

Feb 27th
Tyree
Cassie
Open slot

Mar 6th
Janice
Nick
Open slot

Mar 13th
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill