Author Archives: stevefey
A Cleverly Disguised Lesson
My normal movie review consists of one or two sentences. Something like “Good film.” Seriously, because I’ve never been a big fan of critics of books or film, thinking that they represent a sort of a “those who can’t do, criticize” situation. But this review is actually a cleverly disguised lesson in story and structure. It’s short, but not as short as my norm. For the record, my official review is, “If you liked the first two movies, you’ll like this one.” Now, on to the cleverly disguised lesson. Be warned, I’m going to completely spoil the ending.
The first part of the third part of the Hunger Games trilogy follows the book closely. That makes sense, since the original author also wrote the adaptation. If you’ve read the book, you know what happens, so I won’t go into that. It’s a well done movie, except for the ending. Right near the end of the film, the team from District 13 rescues the Victors from the capitol, including Peeta, the love of our protagonist’s life. For those who don’t know, Peeta and Katniss (the protagonist of the whole story) go way back, and of course they are in love. So it is a shock to Katniss when Peeta tries to choke her to death. The last moment of the scene where he does that has the head of security for District 13 knocking Peeta unconscious as Katniss pssses out, then it fades to black. Now that’s a great ending! What the Hell is going on here? Devoted viewers want to know! Unfortunately, this film actually shows the answer.
Ending the chapter there (and that’s what this film is, a chapter in a larger story) would have been a wonderful thing to do. People who had not read the books would be on tenterhooks for a year until part two came out. It would have been a great way to keep up interest in the story, and especially in the last segment of it. But, “hey, we’re filmmakers! We don’t need no steenkin’ story structure!” (I guess that’s what they thought.) The explanation is that Peeta was cruelly brainwashed. Katniss wakes up, and as President Coin gives a rousing speech, Katniss sneaks off to see Peeta through an observation window, strapped to a bed and writing in agony. Okay, still not a good thing, but, in terms of building suspense, a large let down! Now instead of “What the Hell is going on?” viewers are left with “Gee, hope Peeta’s going to be okay.” The ending could be worse, but consider that Peeta is not the protagonist! If he were killed the story would have continued. It’s nice that he’s alive, and it’s a bit of mystery as to how it will all come out, but really, this is Katniss’s story, so focusing on Peeta at the end is, pffffft!
Katniss is the protagonist, heroine if you prefer. She’s the one that we’ve been following all along, and she’s the one we worry about. Shortly before Peeta tries to kill her, President Coin tells her that she’s one of the people who somehow find the strength to carry on in spite of everything. So, Peeta’s death, while tragic, would not stop the story. Katniss’s death would. This isn’t a filmmaking storytelling error on the level of the Lord of the Rings fiasco, but it’s a bad mistake. You need to end a chapter on a note of rising tension and uncertainty for the main character, not a problem with a supporting actor. When you’re writing a chapter, keep in mind that the ending has to make the reader want to turn the page and start the next chapter RIGHT NOW! For a secondary character to heal or not, we can wait.
Rules to Sell Your Writing By
by Steve Fey
I’m not listing rules here. Sorry. But I am commenting on how hard it is to sell something you’ve written. How should you go about it? Get an agent? Skip the agent and query an editor? Skip them both and put it out in e-format and market the hell out of it? Well, sure. I’ve heard stories of each of those methods working really well. And the sale of a book, like the sale of anything else, depends upon some hard and fast rules. Unfortunately, those rules are not logical in the sense that you can parse them using a Ben Franklin Close (look that up if you want; it’s a real thing) or other hard, logical means. Like any sale, the rules of selling something you’ve written are perfectly logical, but they are emotionally logical. And the greatest story out there can be rejected a thousand times just because nobody reviewing it for possible publication felt like buying it at the time! That doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with it: there’s a famous story about somebody who changed the names in Casablanca and shopped it around Hollywood, where it was rejected by every single mover and shaker in that town! It’s even a true story, I’m pretty sure, and it illustrates my point very well.
Even if it isn’t a movie, there’s a lot of expense involved in publishing a book. You can check it out for yourself, if you want to. Just see how much a printer would charge you for five thousand copies of a three-hundred page book, library bound and with decent paper. But, e-publishing is different, you say. No books to print, or bind, or store or anything. Yep, that’s an advantage, and feel free to go ahead and publish your work. Like a speaker I heard recently pointed out, however, there are tens of millions of books on Amazon, but only those in the “top 200,000 in sales” actually are selling any. All those others? Well, as you might have been thinking, they didn’t cost much, did they? If you think about it, an e-book still needs layout, good cover art, and marketing. Lots and lots of marketing. You can opt to do that yourself, if you have any marketing talent. But it’s going to take more graphic talent than is evidenced by the average Garage Sale sign for your efforts to be successful. You’ll have to actually know how to do graphic design (or pay someone to do that for you.) You’ll have to know how to get people to want to read your book, even if it’s a great one. Ask your self what you think of television commercials (adverts if you’re a Brit.) Marketing people generally like them, so long as they’re well done. Thirty seconds of time in a second tier market will cost you thousands of dollars. Now how do you feel about them?
Selling comes down to appealing to potential buyers on an emotional level. Sad, but true. If you write fiction, then maybe you have a leg-up in sales, because presumably you can get inside your characters’ heads and figure out what they want. Maybe, if you can do that with real people, you have a chance at selling your own work. If you can’t do it with living beings, you can hire someone to do it for you. Which brings you smack dab back to needing a publisher. Aaaargh!
I think of my own moods. One day I may really like something, but the next day I think it’s really stupid. I’m not unusual in that. Maybe the second day I’m tired, or hungry, or I twisted my ankle in a pothole on my morning jog, or my kid got caught stealing from the candy store. Or any one of a million other variables that you, as the writer, can’t possibly anticipate or do anything about even if you could know about them. The only thing you can do, and this is the truth, is make your query absolutely irresistible. That way, even if the editor is having a terrible day, she may put it aside and read it later, when she knows she’ll feel more like doing so. An ordinary query, well, it’s just a part of a pile of work that’s interfering with thinking about being tired, or hungry, or, you know. And that’s a “maybe” only. Maybe she’ll just get frustrated and reject the whole pile just because it clears her schedule. Maybe. There’s no way to know, and no law says she ever has to tell you why she didn’t buy what you were selling.
Which brings up some more emotional rules. Such as “Don’t bug the agent/editor.” “Don’t be clever with them.” “Remember you will need to get rejected a lot before you actually sell anything.” It’s true. In sales there’s a rule that you make twenty contacts to get one prospect, and twenty prospects will yield you one sale. That’s 400 contacts to sell one item! Because, for some reason, the other 399 people just weren’t emotionally ready to buy what you were selling. In this case, they just didn’t feel like risking a lot of work on your book. It isn’t personal, it’s just the way it is.
So, I guess I do have a rule or two. Rule #1 is to be persistent. Keep learning, keep submitting, keep writing. You haven’t failed until you’ve quit. And rule #2 is be ready for tons of rejection, because that’s what you’re going to see. If Sony wouldn’t touch one of the greatest movies of all time, and Decca wouldn’t hire the Beatles (and they wouldn’t,) you must know that it isn’t personal, it’s just tough. When it feels really tough, just re-read rule #1, and keep on plugging.
COMEDY ISN’T PRETTY
Preliminary Explanation: This is the first article the author ever published on a blog, and it was before the word had been coined. It’s here as a lesson in writing humor, for inspiration, and because what the heck, we all need a break from serious study once in a while.
By Steve Fey
I went out this morning –
My Lexus was flat –
I been retainin’ water
And I’m feelin’ pretty fat!
Oh, Lord, I tell ya,
I don’t know what I’m gonna do:
I got the Suburban Cul-de-sac,
Big kitchen in the back blues!
I wrote this song about the world I’m living in. It’s a philosophical song. So, that makes this a column about music and philosophy. It’s a sad song, really. Most comedy is. You think Mark Twain wasn’t consumed by guilt over that cat and medicine incident? Yeah. That’s the was it is in the humor game. You feel pain. You ache. You belabor a point but it doesn’t help. It’s ugly. Comedy.
I went out last Wednesday –
Took a look at my lawn –
Crabgrass just took over:
All my bluegrass was gone!
All that poison fertilizer!
Who knew what it was gonna do?
I got those Suburban Cul-de-sac,
Badminton ‘round the back blues!
I feel guilty all the time. I’m guilty that I’m who I am. I confess. I’m me. I had an ancestor who landed in Virginia with Captain Smith. True story. And he was an idiot, looking for gold in a swamp. Think my ancestors ever supported the slave trade? Of course not. That’d make me feel guilty. Or maybe they were nasty to the natives? Never! Too much guilt. I can’t stand it. His name was Powell. Ever hear of an African American named Powell? Who got that name how? Life’s hard. Comedy is harder.
You think comedians have it easy? You think Chris Rock is kidding about growing up on the floor? Or Bill Cosby was kidding when he used to talk about his crazy father? No, they aren’t. If only you knew. Oh, we laugh and enjoy their pain because we don’t know. We don’t know. The blues may be the ultimate in comedic composition.
‘Bout a month ‘go last Tuesday –
I was feelin’ pretty good –
‘Til I saw who was movin’
Into my neighborhood!
They’re gonna lower
All the standardized scores down at my school!
I got those Suburban Cul-de-sac,
Covenants front and back blues!
But, it’s OK. I don’t need your sympathy, even if I am funny. Heck, funny people are tough! You try putting up with years of ridicule from schoolmates without laughing about it. Try being told by your teacher that you are “too much talk, not enough action.” See where that leaves you. Who’s talking now, fifth grade teacher George Kingsmore? Not you anymore, I’ll bet! So there! Life has its compensations. Scott Adams, who draws Dilbert, is nowhere near as rich as, say, Bill Gates. But he says what he means and wants to say, and he’s probably a lot richer than you or me. That’s compensation. That’s revenge. Yeah. We get what’s ours. Because it’s comedy. Because comedy is tough and dirty.
You may laugh at my story –
You may smile at my song –
But if you’re payin’ attention,
You won’t be smilin’ long!
There’s just no tellin’
Where this old world is goin’ to.
I got those Suburban Cul-de-sac,
Bad times are comin’ back blues!
The song quoted herein is Suburban Cul-de-Sac Blues, by Steve Fey, copyright 1998. Don’t even think of reprinting it without permission of the author! I’m a humor writer. I can be nasty. We all can be. See what I mean? I live in the suburbs. I’ve got a lawnmower, and I know how to use it. Life is tough. Guilt is everywhere. Comedy. It isn’t pretty.
Want more of Steve? You can check his blog at stevefey.com, or look for him on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
Guest Bloggers Wanted!!!
We know that you like to write, otherwise why are you reading this? Here’s a chance to add to your publications list and see your name up in lights (well, teensy LED monitor lights at least.) Your byline here! All we need are five hundred (500) words on a writing related topic. This is non-fiction, but it could be about poetry, or about novels, or about publishing, or getting an agent, or Amazon.com, or whatever you have to say that relates to writing. Personal experiences would be wonderful! Let the world know how you got that agent! Tell them about how you like to pitch. Heck, tell them how you pitched the next Huckleberry Finn, if that’s what you’ve done.
It’s easy, too! Just send your article, as an attachment or in the body of your email, to me, Steve Fey, at the address email@example.com. Be sure to put WSN Article in the subject line of your mailing or I might miss it, and that would be a shame. Right now we’re posting two a week, but it would be great to have more, so come one and join the fun. Submit to the WSN blog today!
“You must know the rules like a professional in order to break them like an artist.”
That quote is from Pablo Picasso. I figure that if he doesn’t know art, nobody knows art, so it is obvious from that sentence that the rules are important. But, what are those rules, exactly? And how do I go about breaking them?
Let’s start with what the rules are. I have a set I follow. I’ll bet you do too. Tell you what I’ll do. I’m about to list my rules, so I’ll list yours as well. There is a link at the bottom of this post. Click it to send me a copy of your rules. No joke here, I intend to post other people’s rules here as well, with whatever attribution you provide. That’s at the end. Right now, on to My Rules.
- Only write stuff that you want to read. This seems obvious, which is why it took me a lifetime to figure it out. Plenty of others have said the same thing, in so many or more words. Trust me, this truly is Rule #1. But it begs the question, why do you want to read something?”
- Know why you like a story. This is obvious even to me. Here’s what I think, generally, makes people like a story.
- Because it’s a good story
- The protagonist is likeable, a regular decent sort of person.
- The protagonist wants something, not something unreasonable in the grand scheme of things, just something, anything really.
- The protagonist goes after what he or she wants.
- The protagonist gets into unbelievable trouble trying to get it, almost killed, maybe.
- The protagonist almost goes under, but in the end he or she triumphs and there’s a happy ending.
- Just because you like that sort of story
- Show, don’t tell your story.
- Feelings, goals, motivations, conflicts, actions, history, well everything.
- If you don’t get that, read more. A lot more. And get a critique partner or three.
- The use of passive voice is to be avoided at all times.
- Superfluous modifiers are just really very bad.
- Everybody is an expert on comma use, so you don’t have to be.
- One, two, three, and four is how a proper Brit would write a list. That third comma is the famous “Oxford comma.”
- One, two, three and four is how Americans list. No Oxford comma.
- Every other rule about commas has advocates for and against its use. So, see above.
- Always observe proper grammar, spelling and syntax. Or perhaps I should write that it is perfectly to know proper grammar, spelling and syntax. The last sentence adheres exactly to conservative rules of English construction. It sucks, as you can see. So I break that rule virtually all the time and write line such as “the rule is to perfectly know . . .”. Because, of course you can split an infinitive! It consists of two words, you twit! But I know the rule about split infinitives, and how to avoid them, well, perfectly? Okay, as closely to perfect as my sloppy self can get.
- Use a critique group, beta readers, whomever you can to read your work before you publish. If you write romance, have people who like to read romance do the work. If you write mystery, get mystery fans to read it and critique it. If you write, well, you can probably see where this is going. A group of professional writers, which includes professional writers who have never been paid for writing yet, doesn’t have to consist of people who all write one genre, or even all who write fiction or non-fiction. It should, however, consist of people familiar with the rules.
Those are my rules. But there is one overriding rule that trumps every single one of them. It is:
Write a Good Story or Article and People Will Read It
If you’re a writer, you’re an artist. Like Pablo said, an artist breaks the rules. So, what rules do you break? That’s a little vague. What I mean to ask is, what are the rules of writing according to yourself? You can click right here to email me your set of rules. A Word format document would be excellent, or a plain text document, but I can work with a PDF or anything that my computer can display (highlight, copy, and paste, don’tchaknow? I truly will post your list of rules, so make them good. And entertaining, if possible, since I am of dubious maturity. If you’d rather leave them as a comment, please feel free to do that as well.
Want more of Steve? You can check his blog at stevefey.com, or look for him on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
SPEAKING OF SYNTAX
By Morgan St. James
The word “syntax” has several definitions relative to the English language and grammar, but the one that popped into my mind is from the Bing Online Dictionary.
Organization of words in sentences
The ordering of and relationship between the words and other structural elements in phrases and sentences. The syntax may be of a whole language, a single phrase or sentence, or of an individual speaker.
When things go wrong
I was listening to an audio book by one of my favorite authors—a New York Times bestselling author, no less. All of a sudden, there it was—the dreaded double-meaning syntax. The narrator said, “The two men sat down quickly in suits and ties.” Um, excuse me. Am I to picture these two fellows wandering through a men’s department in Nordstrom or Macys, then quickly plunk themselves down on a pair of chairs as they reached the Suits & Ties Department?
With apologies to an author whose following is huge, and an undoubtedly highly regarded editor, it seems it should have been something like “The two men dressed in suits and ties sat down quickly.”
The result of poor syntax or arrangement of the words in a particular sentence can definitely create confusion and in some cases are also quite funny.
Years ago, mixed up placement was something I was guilty of as an author. Then my sister Phyllice, trained as an editor, brought it to my attention when we began to write the Silver Sisters Mysteries. All of a sudden, misleading sentences jumped off the page and I found myself acutely aware of them in other author’s books as well.
Somewhere in the recesses of my memory, I recalled a song with the line “Throw mama from the train a kiss, a kiss.” The phrasing was such a good illustration of today’s topic that I looked it up on the internet. The song, actually called Mama From the Train (A Kiss, A Kiss) was recorded by songstress Patti Page in 1956 and reached #11 in Billboard’s Top 100. The songwriter, Irving Gordon, said the song was about memories of his deceased mother, whose Pennsylvania Dutch-influenced English lead to quaint phrasings. Playing on the misdirection, there was a movie with Danny DeVito called Throw Momma From the Train. However, DeVito’s character would really have liked to do what the title suggested and throw his shrew of a mother off a real train!
As I searched, I found some real gems.
- The dealer sold the Cadillac to the buyer with leather seats.
So was that buyer wearing leather pants or what?
- They saw a fence behind the house made of barbed wire.
Now that would have been a neat house for one of the three little pigs.
- The waiter served a dinner roll to the woman that was well buttered.
Except for the use of ‘that’ instead of ‘who’ maybe the woman had a unique way of wiggling into skin-tight jeans.
- Joan piled all of her clothes in the hamper that she had worn.
I wonder how much attention she attracted as she walked down the street.
Pennsylvania Dutch sentence structure also yields some winners. Here are two:
“Only people with cars that live in dorms should be allowed to park in those lots.”
“Where one parent would be quiet, polite and conservative the other parent would drive up in a black Trans Am full of arrogance and conceit.”
The point of all this
Make sure your sentences and phrases are ordered in a way that makes sense. You don’t want people secretly asking questions like the ones above.
Want More from Morgan? Check out her website here!