The Noble Pen for Mar 30, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

March 30th, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Mark Lawrence has updated the ratings count for his very interesting older look at sales versus ratings.  In summary, he says ratings matter, but runaway successes are off the charts.  Another analysis says the relationship isn’t clear-cut.

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Jim C. Hines (blog) has added to his series of posts on author income, and collected the series into one pdf file.

Victories

Riley’s short story was accepted for an anthology of Gates of Antares stories, and he was invited to write an entire book for the series.

Cassie got teasers to go on the cover of her next book and updated her author site.

Education

It’s time for an update of the dialog discussion.   Dialog makes up a large part of most fiction writing.  Jenna Kernan gives us eight reasons dialog is useful in a narrative.

Here are some excellent guidelines for choosing dialog tags and proper punctuation.

Writing effective dialog doesn’t always come naturally, in part because good dialog is not a transcript of a conversation.  Have you ever read a verbatim transcript?  It probably sounded very awkward.  Conversations usually ramble, are full of social niceties, have many sentence fragments, and uhh, you know, pause fillers.  We tend to forget most of that and only remember the important points.  Dialog should be condensed to make the points that advance the plot, and only sprinkled with enough conversational traits to read like we remember the conversation, but not sound like a transcript.

Maxwell Alexander Drake makes this and  other points about dialog. The tips before the exercises are good.  Another article illustrates the difference.  Chuck Wendig (caution: serious vulgarity) gives 25 tips on dialog. Here are some more tips.

Always get to the dialogue as soon as possible. I always feel the thing to go for is speed. Nothing puts the reader off more than a big slab of prose at the start.  ~P.G. Wodehouse

I do love to eavesdrop. It’s inspirational, not only for subject matter but for actual dialogue, the way people talk. ~Lynda Barry

I’ve found that good dialogue tells you not only what people are saying or how they’re communicating but it tells you a great deal – by dialect and tone, content and circumstance – about the quality of the character. ~E. O. Wilson

Upcoming Schedule

March 30
Randy
Cassie
Ian

Apr 6
Nick
Laura
Uriah

Apr 13
Open slots

Apr 20
Open slots

Apr 27
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Mar 23, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

March 23rd, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Cory Doctorow wants to launch a new model for ebook distribution. (longer article)  Some people are not excited about it.

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These writers think that man and machine will become more intertwined, with some aspects of what used to be science fiction becoming reality.  This author has a gloomy outlook on man’s future use of technology.

Victories

Bill worked on reorganizing his history paper.

Cassie solved plot issues, wrote 10 k words, and did a blurb for her latest book.

Dylan is in the last steps for publication of Sand and Bone with a target June 13 release date.

Education

Fiction gets sliced into narrow genre and subgenre compartments.  Is it science fiction or fantasy?  Is it Mystery or Thriller? [sarcasm]Believe it or not, the boundaries are subject to various interpretations [/sarcasm]. Wikipedia lists many genres, and the AgentQuery site describes several.

Here’s a good look at the Mystery/Suspense/Thriller categories, another, and the Wikipedia discussion of Crime fiction categories.

To oversimplify, a Mystery is expected to start with a crime and the story is the process of solution by a motivated investigator. There are several subgenres.

Crime is sometimes the overall category above Mystery, but may also describe a subcategory of Mystery where the story is usually not so mysterious, but is more about the struggle between the good guys and bad guys, and may ponder issues of morality. Noir is a subgenre of Crime that emphasizes the psychology of the characters.

A Thriller is about how the hero(es) deal with a terrible danger, and tries to drag the reader’s emotions into the struggle. There are subgenres, principally the Epic Catastrophe and its avoidance, Psychological/Suspense where focus is on how it affects the main character, and Supernatural.

It helps an author to market their story to know how it fits (or not) relative to the expectations most have for the genre. Perhaps you don’t want to be pigeonholed, but in a bind, you may need to pick the genre that best describes the story.

Upcoming Schedule

March 23
Dakota
Riley
Ian

March 30
Randy
Cassie
Open slot

Apr 6
Nick
Laura
Uriah

Apr 13
Open slots

Apr 20
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Mar 16, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

March 16th, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Writers need to understand psychology to effectively portray characters’ behavior. Malcolm Gladwell has an interesting take on choices and Dan Areily dscusses how we make decisions.

Victories

Dylan got a rejection from an anthology submission.

Dakota participated in a signing in Kansas City.  She sold some books and made contacts, but was disappointed in the planning and conduct of the organizers.

Education

Sentences, even when properly constructed, can become too long for easy reading.   Some call these “stringy” sentences, where many related (we hope) thoughts are strung together.  Often this involves multiple conjunctions, such as “and” or “but.”

For example, “Joe was driving across town and his car sputtered and stopped and he looked it over for problems but eventually discovered he was out of gas.”  This is grammatically correct (I hope) but poor writing.

It could be improved as “While driving across town, Joe heard his engine sputter to a stop.  He looked it all over for problems before discovering he was out of gas.  The re-write here avoids “and” by breaking it into two sentences, moving part of the thought into a leading clause, and using the  conjunction “before.”

Sometimes the “and” repetition can be eliminated by simply making a comma-separated list (with the Oxford serial comma, by my preference).  “She realized this was the night she had invited Jim for dinner so then she dropped her book and looked in the refrigerator and pulled out the thawed steak and turned on the stove and began cooking it.”  How about “When she realized this was the night she had invited Jim for dinner she dropped her book, looked in the refrigerator, pulled out the thawed steak, turned on the stove, and began cooking it.”  Still not great prose, but probably easier to read.

Often, a sentence can be shortened without losing any of the thought.  Phrases can be replaced with a better word or redundant words deleted.  “I was somewhat late this time due to the fact that my very rusty car that is unreliable had yet another mechanical breakdown again.”  We don’t learn much from “somewhat.”  Either skip it or tell how late.   “Due to the fact” can become “because.” “Very” is imprecise and adds little.  The rust did not cause this breakdown.   Aren’t all breakdowns mechanical?  This can be “Today I was an hour late because my decrepit car broke again,” and we have lost nothing important.

On the other hand, shortening sentences can be overdone, making a choppy read, except perhaps where fast-paced action is occurring.  “Pam decided to take a walk.  She put on her hiking shoes and jacket.  She left the apartment shortly after noon.  She spent a long time circling the pond in the park.”  These choppy sentences do not convey a relaxed feeling that a leisurely walk should evoke.  Maybe “Pam decided to take a walk.  Wearing her hiking shoes and a jacket she left the apartment shortly after noon and spent a long time circling the pond in the park.”  Using a longer but smooth sentence helps convey the proper feeling.

The goal is to use a variety of sentence constructions, that are easy to read, and are chosen to fit the pace of the story.

Upcoming Schedule

March 16
Uriah
Laura
Ian

March 23
Dakota
Riley
Open slot

March 30
Open slots

Apr 6
Nick
Open slots

Apr 13
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Mar 9, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

March 9th, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Mainstream publishers have always had control over a writer’s plot, editing, cover, etc. Now some of them are running manuscripts past “sensitivity” readers who specialize in making sure no group is inaccurately portrayed or offended by the writing.

Victories

Dylan wrote 10k words to meet a Patreon goal.

Randy researched book covers and looked at 3000 of them.  His sent his book for publication.

Education

Dylan introduced us to the concept of the Uncanny Valley.  This refers to a minimum in a graph of acceptability of a figure versus the degree it resembles a real live human.  You can have space aliens that are unlike humans (Star Wars bar scene) and people like them.  You can have real humans and people like them.  But if you have a bipedal figure that looks almost but not quite like an average human it spooks the viewer.  See some examples.   Remember this when creating your aliens, androids, or monsters.

Upcoming Schedule

March 9
Riley
Nick
Dylan

March 16
Uriah
Laura
Open slot

March 23
Open slots

March 30
Open slots

Apr 6
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Mar 2, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

March 2nd, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

It’s becoming almost too common to make news when someone discovers lost work by a famous author.  This time it’s Walt Whitman writing prose, not poetry.

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Requests for review slots are at an all-time low.  Polish up something and get your slot.  You can email me with your request or wait until the meeting.

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Here’s an interview with an author about what many recognize as a major problem for our democracy.  Too many people only hear one side of things so are not informed enough to recognize fake stories or to vote objectively, and social media contributes strongly to that trend.

Victories

Dakota will participate in a large book signing next week in Kansas City.  She released another book for publication and expects the cover art soon.

Uriah made a web site to be used for his book.

Stacie S. is finding time to write again during the baby’s naps.

Education

Run-on or comma spliced sentences are a common problem (another discussion).  Those are words that should be two independent sentences, but are spliced together with a comma or no punctuation at all.

For example, “We will miss your party we  are going to the concert.”  There are two complete sentences here that could stand alone, each with a subject and verb,  “We will miss your party.” and “We are going to the concert.”

Adding a comma between them does not make them legal.  A semicolon would work since they are closely related and the semicolon is a more powerful punctuation, but semicolons are generally discouraged in fiction.

The other way to join independent clauses is with a conjunction (and, but, because, after, etc.).  “We will miss your party because we going to the concert .”  This may be a smooth or clumsy method depending on the sentences.

Upcoming Schedule

March 2
Nick
Uriah
Dylan

March 9
Open slots

March 16
Open slots

March 23
Open slots

March 30
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Feb 23, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

February 23rd, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

If you didn’t get the events listed in last week’s news put on your calendar, go back and do that.

Victories

Randy got his book back from his editor.

Dylan drafted a chapter of a commissioned story.

Education

We’ve mentioned how some writers plan extensively and others write by the seat of their pants, although perhaps most are somewhere in between.  For those who want to improve their planning, this article on outlining may help.  Here is a page with downloadable links for several types of outlines as fillable PDF forms you can edit and print.  A seven-point story structure is a classic configuration that may help you shape the story.  Here’s  a collection of outlines used by successful authors.

But not everyone believes in detailed planning.

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Jim C. Hines blogs about author income, with some extensive statistics (part1)(part 2).  The good news is there is lots of money to be made, so the mean income is attractive.  The bad news is that relatively few people reach the higher levels of success, so the median is at poverty level and explains why most writers have day jobs.

Upcoming Schedule

February 23
Dakota
Megan
Stacie S.

March 2
Nick
Open slots

March 9
Open slots

March 16
Open slots

March 23
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Feb 16, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

February 16th, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Writers are invited to sign up to read their work (more info) in ten minute slots at the Palisades Cafe in Mount Vernon on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays each month.  Next is February 15th at 8 pm.

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Conveniently, the 2nd Wednesday of the month is the date for the Writers House meeting at the Cedar Rapids Public Library, 6 to 8 pm.

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Finally, you might want to attend a reading by three area authors at CSPS Hall on Tuesday, Feb 28 at 7 pm.

Victories

Randy has a good cover photo.

Dakota got back rights to a series that a publisher hadn’t acted on.

Education

For a mentally stable writer, it may be difficult to accurately portray an antagonist who has a warped mind (none of us are warped, of course).    Peter James offers advice on how to write those warped minds.  Some tips on insane characters.  And more advice on writing psycotic characters.

Insanity is relative. It depends on who has who locked in what cage.  ~ Ray Bradbury

I don’t suffer from insanity, I enjoy every minute of it! ~Edward Hastings Ford

Upcoming Schedule

February 16
Uriah
Stacy
Randy

February 23
Dakota
Megan
Open slot

March 2
Nick
Open slots

March 9
Open slots

March 16
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Feb 9, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

February 9th, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

Victories

Dylan got another subscriber on Patreon.  Broken Typewriter had enough sales he has to pay sales tax.

Cassie’s newsletter far outgrew the capability of the service she had been using and is now expanded on a new service.

Education

Once you have a draft of a story, you need to clean it up.  Here is a list of suggestions on how to  how to approach it.   Other aspects become the targets on later passes.  Then there is the larger view of the process going beyond the solo cleanups.

Upcoming Schedule

February 9
Uriah
Megan
Stacy

February 16
Open slots

February 23
Open slots

March 2
Open slots

March 9
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Feb 2, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

February 2nd, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Famous and prolific authors always seem to have more stories found posthumously.  Now a Mark Twain tale he told his daughter finds the light of day.

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I have no idea how good the Book Launch Blueprint is, but apparently you can download free it if you are willing to sign up on a marketing list .  Let us know if you try it. (Maybe use a throw-away email?)

Victories

Dylan finished his monthly serial installment.

Cassie learned the book she planned to release in April will be delayed waiting for a cover, so she is meeting daily progress goals on another story to take its place at an April book fair.   She also will participate in a book signing in June in Deadwood, SD.

Bill got mostly favorable reviews from two beta readers, and one gave detailed markups.

Education

Homophones (sound-alikes) that are heterographs (spelled differently) are a recurring problem for many writers.  That’s what we get for using a language that has borrowed from many others and adapts readily to new usages.  There are also homonyms, which are (according to some definitions) spelled and pronounced the same but have different meanings – a possible problem for a reader although the writer hasn’t made an error.

This article explains the difference between homophones, homonyms, and homographs. and this one gives another take on the vague definitions.

Homophone: peace treaty / piece of pie
their car / car over there / they’re arriving

Homonym:  swimming duck / duck under an obstacle

Homograph: blowing wind / wind the clock

Unfortunately, theiyr’re is no general rule to help.  You have to learn each and every set of homophones.  Here’s  a guide to some common ones and a longer list.

Upcoming Schedule

February 2
Laura
Cassie
Nick

February 9
Uriah
Megan
Stacy

February 16
Open slots

February 23
Open slots

March 2
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Jan 26, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

January 26th, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

The Science Fiction News has been updated for spring.

Victories

Randy has blurb for his book.

Stacy got a personalized rejection letter.

Dylan revised his last commission and improved his Author Intrusion program.

Cassie added 2,000 words to a novel and wrote almost that much on a new contemporary story.

Education

A story needs enough plot that the reader doesn’t have it all figured out right away. Here are some ideas about plot.  Chuck Wendig offers a lot more ways to plot (foul language warning).  Some people plan meticulously.  The snowflake method is one planning tool, where you make a very short summary, and revise on successive passes to add finer and finer detail like the branches on a snowflake.  Others recommend just letting the creativity flow and seeing where it ends up.

Scholars have analyzed plot in an abstract sense.  What I took away was that frequent alternations of positive and negative events and descriptions make for a page-turner.

Action and fight scenes are an important part of many stories.  But don’t mistake action for plot.   Perhaps plot may be defined as the events that happen to the characters, but a good plot needs more, with motivations, choices (and more on choices), failures, and change in the characters making important contributions to the story.  It is usually more interesting if the character’s goal is more than simply surviving to arrive somewhere.  The characters need to make and deal with consequences and sometimes failures.

Make the battle(s) important to the plot, with high stakes, and not just the script of a video game with one unrelated fight after another.   Can you make the hero’s fate in doubt or does the reader know he will emerge unscathed?

Robert Wood tells how he approaches action scenes.  Fonda Lee gives some good advice.  Linda Adams gives her take on it.

But all good things in moderation; this article says you could have too much plot.

Upcoming Schedule

Jan 26
Dakota
Aime W.
Stacy

February 2
Laura
Cassie
Nick

February 9
Uriah
Megan
Stacy

February 16
Open slots

February 23
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill