The Noble Pen for Apr 2, 2015

Next Noble Pen Meeting

April 2nd, 2015 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Be sure to come and hear our guest speaker this week.  We have no critiques, so use the usual reading time for writing.

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Cleanreader (home page) is a recent program for e-reader devices that censors the material at one of three chosen levels.  It substitutes “nicer” words for profane, scatological, anatomical, and sexual terms that some people may not want to see or want their children to see.   They quickly learned that they could not re-distribute modified books, but their app to modify the reader’s display is apparently legal.  Google shows thousands of hits for the reaction to the app.

Some authors are quite graphic about being upset that their books will not be read as they were written, calling it censorship and modification without consent.  Some disagree  about the messages being sent to readers by someone else’s opinion of what should be included.  It has its defenders, even among those who think it is a stupid idea.

A problem with the app is that substitution of general words for many terms creates confusion.   What happens if a character in an entirely “clean” book is named Dick, orders chicken breast or wiener schnitzel for lunch, is a dog breeder with a favorite bitch, prays to Jesus, happens to prick his finger on something sharp, and has to check M or F sex on an application?  This article lists some of the substitutions.

Even reading the Bible might be a little strange if you forget to turn off the app as the sinners get darned to heck or saved by Geez.  There are problems in a few cases with the replacement word itself being sensitive for some.

They missed a lot of words similar to the ones they chose to redact, but have a link for readers to suggest additions to their list.

One could wonder what will happen in the future when it becomes practical to not only replace individual words, but to automatically paraphrase sentences or intentionally substitute not just blurred terminology, but entirely different meanings into what people read.

Victories

Dylan released an update of Sand and Blood as he moved to a different distributor.

Cassie has bound prints of Dreams in Red for her beta readers, and drafted a query letter.

Ciuin is writing for City Revealed again, beginning with an article in the April issue.  She got another perfect score on a school paper.

Education

“Show, don’t Tell” is a commonly stated maxim.  Wikipedia has a short article on it.  It certainly is good advice for most beginning writers, who usually tell too much.  Usually if it is important it should be shown.  Chuck Palahniuk is rather extreme on this point and suggests that even “thought” and “remembered” are too much tell.

Others say you need some balance.  To maintain pacing it is often necessary to tell the reader some things that would take too long to show, or are so trivial they would seem overemphasized by showing.  This article discusses balance.

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. ~Anton Chekhov

Upcoming Schedule

Apr 2
Stacy Green, author talk
If extra time, educational exercise.

Apr 9
Laura
Ciuin
Eugenia

Apr 16
Open slots

Apr 23
Open slots

Apr 30
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Mar 26, 2015

Next Noble Pen Meeting

March 26th, 2015 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Some worried that Harper Lee was being manipulated, but a state agency says she was aware and approved of the publication of her tucked-away novel.

Victories

Dylan finished his Fictionary (see last week) and wrote backstory for every character in Sand and Blood.  He is moving S&B from Lulu to a new publisher which will improve his chances of getting into Barnes and Noble.

He also submitted it to Mark Lawrence, who has organized a group of reviewers to read self-published SFF books and select the best over the next few months.

We hear that Cassie is done editing Dreams in Red.

Education

Last week we saw opinions on how to create unique characters.  But after you get to know them, how do you describe your characters so that the reader can picture them?

Marg McAlister offers some hints on how to make the descriptions more effective.  Here are some sample descriptions from successful books.  Some descriptors are too general to be useful.

Les Edgerton says that you should give very minimal descriptions,  including any characteristics that are important to the story and perhaps some suggestive facts that give them individuality, but leaving out unnecessary detail.   Their actions can often better characterize them than pages of description.

For an author, the nice characters aren’t much fun. What you want are the screwed up characters. You know, the characters that are constantly wondering if what they are doing is the right thing, characters that are not only screwed up but are self-tapping screws. They’re doing it for themselves. ~Terry Pratchett

Upcoming Schedule

Mar 26
Laura
Dylan
Eugenia

Apr 2
Stacy Green, author talk
If extra time, educational exercise.

Apr 9
Laura
Open slots

Apr 16
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Mar 19, 2015

Next Noble Pen Meeting

March 19th, 2015 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Well-known author Terry Pratchett died recently after a decline over a few years with Alzheimer’s.

Victories

Dylan is working on a new file format to let him automate the creation of a dictionary for his books along the lines of thefictionary.net.

Nick submitted a piece for possible publication.

Education

The fiction writer needs to create characters that readers will understand and think of as real.  As we are sometimes reminded, stories are about people.  Readers don’t have to like the characters, who may not always be upstanding role models, but their motivations, feelings, and personalities need to come through.  This includes those in minor roles, too.

Here’s a brief list of things to ask about them.  You don’t want your character to be a cliche or stereotype, but it isn’t a bad practice to start with a stereotype and then develop and change them so they are more interesting.  There are countless web sites that offer character charts to help you invent the background and personality of the characters.  With combinations of these 447 traits, from able to zany, there is no excuse for having boring characters.

When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature. ~Hemingway

Upcoming Schedule

Mar 19
Dylan (double)
Aimee

Mar 26
Laura
Open slots

Apr 2
Stacy Green, author talk
If extra time, educational exercise.

Apr 9
Open slots

Apr 16
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Mar 12, 2015

Next Noble Pen Meeting

March 12th, 2015 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

We have scheduled a talk by a local author on April 2.  Be thinking of what questions you might want to ask about her publishing experience and recommendations for aspiring authors.

Victories

Dylan sold a book to a VIP in his company.

Ciuin got an A on a school paper.

Nick submitted a piece to a publisher.

Education

The advice is often given to “write what you know.”  That works sometimes.  But maybe you are like me, and nobody else is interested in what you know.  Can you write what you don’t know?  Use your imagination?

If it is vampires, SF, or Fantasy, do you have to follow the lead of everyone else, and use the old tropes, or can you enlarge the genre with fresh ideas?

Of course, if the story is set in a real place and/or if it involves real professions or activities that you don’t know, some parts will have to be carefully researched.   But using real places and activities is ok if you draw something bigger out of them.  Bret Anthony Johnston says that you SHOULD draw on your experiences and knowledge, but not be limited by them.  Fiction can be stronger than a true story and you shouldn’t bind yourself to real events.

Upcoming Schedule

Mar 12
Laura
Dylan (double)

Mar 19
Dylan
Aimee
Ciuin

Mar 26
Dylan ?
Open slots

Apr 2
Stacy Green, author talk
If extra time, educational exercise.

Apr 9
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for March 5, 2015

Next Noble Pen Meeting

March 5th, 2015 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

 

Science fiction fans are saddened to learn that Leonard Nimoy died on Feb 27th.  RIP Mr. Spock.

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Sometimes a first novel gets a publicity boost, in this case from Oprah. Cultivate your contacts.

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Marvel Comics is revamping their offerings, including more women superheros.  So far, I don’t think any of them are from Bombay.

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Sometimes movies get a little ridiculous. How many of you would write a “first edition of the Iliad” into a garage sale in your story? But a lot of viewers didn’t know any better and wanted to buy one.

Victories

Mark’s submission to a gaming group contest was selected in the top group, and he has a commission to write a gaming article.

Dylan cleaned up the remaining chapters of Sand and Bone.

Tyree finished the requested edits to Bombay Sapphire and sent it back in.

Laura got an A on her final class paper.

Education

Tension, uncertainty, or in its stronger form suspense, is what keeps readers turning pages.  Here are some situations that can be used to build tension.

The writer must balance between keeping the reader uncertain versus pulling unbelievable plot turns out of the hat.  If the main character is in a shoot-out, the reader needs to worry that he might get hurt or killed.  In a romance, the reader needs to wonder if the girl will end up with the prince, or at least how she could overcome obstacles to end up with the prince.  A murder mystery usually isn’t mysterious if we know who did it and how.

On the other hand, we shouldn’t use “deus ex machina”, pulling a miracle out of nowhere to save the protagonist.  You can’t make up an ending that has no roots in the earlier pages.  Important events should be foreshadowed.   The Ellery Queen mysteries had a rule that the reader should always think at the end that they should have figured out the mystery, because all the necessary clues were there.

It’s tempting to hide the relevant foreshadowing in extraneous detail.  But the concept of Chekhov’s gun says that if there is a gun on the mantelpiece in an early scene, it must be used later in the story.   The reader shouldn’t have to remember and sort through too much irrelevant detail.

So how do you balance foreshadowing, omitting irrelevant information, and keeping the reader uncertain?

Some writers advise a moderate amount of misdirection to keep the plot unpredictable (and here). Think like the stage magician, who keeps you focused on one had while the other does the tricky work.  Give the reader clearly vital information but distract them by immediately going into the battle, chase, or emotional confrontation.

Give the important event or fact an obvious, unimportant reason to be there.  Let the reader assume a lower relevance for events than they turn out to have.  Use details that just seem like scene-setting but turn out to be critical.  Or let something obviously important turn out to have a different meaning than assumed.  Don’t lie to the reader, or place too much emphasis on the red herring, or they will feel cheated.  Just lead them to lie to themselves.

Give your character decisions to make, especially if they are difficult choices between alternatives with uncertain outcomes.

Once you become predictable, no one’s interested anymore. ~Chet Atkins

Upcoming Schedule

Mar 5
Nick
Dylan
Tyree

Mar 12
Laura
Dylan
Open slot

Mar 19
Open slots

Mar 26
Open slots

Apr 2
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Feb 26, 2015

Next Noble Pen Meeting

February 26th, 2015 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Does Fiction Have the Power to Sway Politics?  A couple writers give their views.

Victories

Tyree got edits back on Bombay Sapphire, and likes the suggestions.

Dylan’s story is out in Trysts of Fate.

Nick’s article is out in Frostfire Worlds.

Ciuin got a B+ on a paper and is working for City Revealed again.

Cassie has edited fifteen (15) chapters of Dreams in Red.

Aimee got her computer back in time to make her submission.

Education

There is a lot of talk nowadays about the “writer’s platform.”  That means having some public exposure other than the book(s) you are trying to market.  The more followers you have and people who recognize your (pen) name, the more you will impress agents you query and the more people who will look you up on Amazon.

A web page, Facebook page, blog, etc. can help attract readers.  Notoriety in newspapers or TV would also contribute, but might also complicate your life.  If your writing touches on a current issue, get known among the people who follow that issue by participating in forums.  Get an interview onto YouTube. Here’s a long list of tips.

Among our group, we see the Alban Lake and Moonfire sites as web platforms they have frequently updated with posts about their writing.

How important is a writer’s platform?  That’s debated.  At the least, it can’t hurt, but probably needs to be a substantial and ongoing effort to be effective, and must interest readers.

This article talks about various things that an agent may evaluate when considering if you and your manuscript are publishable, and discusses how a platform affects that.

Upcoming Schedule

Feb 26
Tyree
Ciuin
Dylan

Mar 5
Nick
Dylan
Tyree (?)

Mar 12
Laura
Open slots

Mar 19
Open slots

Mar 26
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Feb 19, 2015

Next Noble Pen Meeting

February 19th, 2015 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

A lot of people seem to be having busy lives lately.  This means that anyone wanting a review slot can get right into the schedule.

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People are arguing over whether Harper Lee really intended to approve the publishing of her first novel, which has been tucked away for almost 60 years (see last week’s newsletter), and that she might be taken advantage of.

Your newsletter editor sees no problem.  Nobody is stealing anything from her.  If it isn’t acclaimed by the critics then you can just figure it was a first novel and so what, and shouldn’t affect her reputation.  If you disagree, let’s discuss it at the meeting.

Victories

Ciuin has mapped out all of Stories of Paris.  She got a perfect score on a school paper.

Tyree sent Dog at the Foot of the Bed to a publisher who is considering a re-issue.

Education

J. A. Konrath is a successful author who blogs frequently about the advantages of self-publishing and ebooks, and the situation in the traditional publishing industry.  His Dec 19 and Jan 13 posts are interesting reading.

His blogged advice on how to write and get publishing, up to 2010, is collected in a $3 Kindle book from Amazon.  Contact your newsletter editor if you’d like to see the 2008 version (pdf).

Natalie Whipple lists advantages and disadvantages in both publishing routes.  Her post is on Nathan Bransford’s web site.

The left-hand column of Branford’s site also lists a lot of advice on writing topics.

Upcoming Schedule

Feb 19
Aimee
Eugenia
Laura
Ciuin

Feb 26
Tyree
Open slots

Mar 5
Open slots

Mar 12
Open slots

Mar 19
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Feb 12, 2015

Next Noble Pen Meeting

February 12th, 2015 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

The literary world is excited to hear that Harper Lee’s first novel, Go Set a Watchman, which has been tucked away for almost 60 years, will be published for the first time.  It was written before To Kill a Mockingbird, but did not interest editors at the time.  It’s guaranteed to sell well, but will critics like it?

Victories

Ciuin wrote 25 pages on 15-page paper assignment and finished another paper.

Laura is writing a marketing plan for her business class.

Tyree says Jed’s Castalia is available for order and will be out in a couple weeks, with an impressive cover.

Education

Unlikable characters can be interesting.  They typically come with built-in conflicts, and conflict is the meat of storytelling.  Here is a discussion of some interesting but unlikable characters from published fiction.

However, you don’t dare have an important character who isn’t interesting.  There are a lot of ways to make an uninteresting, unlikable character.   Avoid those characteristics unless you can offset them with some interesting traits.

Upcoming Schedule

Feb 12
Ciuin
Tyree (double slot)

Feb 19
Eugenia
Laura
Open slot

Feb 26
Open slots

Mar 5
Open slots

Mar 12
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for February 5, 2015

Next Noble Pen Meeting

February 5th, 2015 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

A charity auction of 75 first edition books with the authors’  recent annotations brought over a million dollars, with prices up to $80,000.   See the list and sample annotations.  Some of the authors found it uncomfortable to review what they had written earlier in their careers.

Victories

Cassie heavily revised two more chapters.  She plans to go to a book festival in LA in April, and is planning a research trip in July to see the places in Chicago that she uses in her story.

Ciuin got a school paper back marked A+ and is 2/3 done with another long paper.

Education

A lot of good fiction has a dystopian setting, and maybe your story is in that category.  Wikipedia has an overview.  You need a sympathetic character to walk the reader through that world.  You want your readers to relate to that world, and you can do that by taking things that are problematic, annoying, or disturbing in the present world and extrapolating them.

Social commentary has often been made by exaggeration and extrapolation in dystopian fiction. The more you can make your world an extension of, or parallel to, the our present and history, the better the commentary.

Scared of ebola? Pandemic disease has been the basis for many dystopian views of the future.  What will the next pandemic be, and will our society disintegrate because of it?  How will your characters try to cope?

Don’t like red-light cameras?  They are a minor Big Brother element, consistent with the novel 1984.  What if cameras on every corner watched for all kinds of activity?  How would your characters behave?

Your cell phone shows where you are and is being used more and more to conduct business, and could become necessary rather than just convenient. What if your phone’s presence at a crime scene was enough to convict you, and stolen phones were being used by factions in a power struggle to eliminate their opposition?  How would your characters get involved?

Do try to make your story original and fully thought out.  In the recent wave of dystopian stories, too many are not.  As one comment on a forum put it, “not every dystopia requires the MC to lead a revolution against a totalitarian regime.”

This article, and this one give more tips.

Upcoming Schedule

Feb 5
Aimee
Eugenia
Tyree

Feb 12
Ciuin
Tyree
Open slot

Feb 19
Eugenia
Laura
Open slot

Feb 26
Open slots

Mar 5
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Jan 29, 2015

Next Noble Pen Meeting

January 29th, 2015 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Here’s a dismal view of the future of publishing.

Victories

Tyree submitted Wolf to a publisher.

Ciuin wrote another protest letter.

Cassie addressed tension issues in a chapter and ended up doubling its length.  She asked someone to be a beta reader, and they said they’d rather do copy edits for her.

Education

If you as a writer are taking your reader back to historical times, you don’t need a sci-fi machine, but you do need a heavy dose of research.

The first problem is making the earlier times seem right to readers who may not have a lot of detailed knowledge of it.  For them, you need references that they will recognize.  Mention of horseless carriages will take most people back to the early 20th century.  Fallout shelters may bring the 1950’s to mind to older people, but younger ones may not have heard of them. Black and white TV might work better for them.  Party lines (that’s several houses on the same wired phone line) may be a foreign concept to younger folks.   Listening to Elvis and Buddy Holly might work for more people.

The second problem is avoiding anachronisms.  The people who do know the historical period will burn your book (and your ratings) if you get things wrong.    How silly would it look to have a detective in 1982 Google an address on his smart phone?  We all know that not only didn’t he have a cell phone, he is unlikely to have a home computer, and there was no internet.  Did they use forks at dinner in 1200 AD?  Research it.   Could the fur trapper back from the wilds take a train?  Not at the height of the fur trade era.  Could the Civil War soldier zip his coat?  Not by decades.

Names should be chosen from those in use at the time.  A World War II widow named Brittney or Aimee just wouldn’t be believed, any more than a 2005 graduate named Agnes, Mabel,  Mildred, or Archibald.

And the characters’ language must avoid more recent jargon, slang, and common expressions.  As this article says, a reference to a person who did not fit into 1850 society would not be “What planet is he from?” A medieval peasant would not say an easy job was a piece of cake.

Characters’ attitudes and world view (there’s a modern term) may be even harder to deal with than their words, particularly when dealing with the interaction of different social classes.

Tessa Arlen has recommendations for getting the time right.  Kate Nagy has good comments about what might be overlooked and what won’t.

Upcoming Schedule

Jan 29
Tyree
Greg
Cassie

Feb 5
Aimee
Ciuin ?
Tyree ?

Feb 12
Open slots

Feb 19
Eugenia
Laura
Open slot

Feb 26
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill