Jennifer Crusie's Blog, page 10
September 27, 2014
September 20, 2014
September 13, 2014
September 10, 2014
I’ve been up to my ass in alligators so I’ve been going full speed ahead just to clear the swamp. Then at night, I sit down with crochet and watch stuff from my video library, just to get the vibrating down a notch. I’ve gone through my Marvel library, and I really have too much to do right now to watch an entire movie anyway, so I thought, “Pick an episode of something you know is wonderful.”
If you asked me to describe a great story, I’d say romance and humor first, but the episode I went to was Person of Interest‘s “The Devil’s Share,” a bleak, violent story of people trying to recover from the loss of someone essential to them. This is not my kind of story, but every time I watch it–and I’ve watched it a dozen times at least–it amazes me all over again in the way it shows the complexity of the characters (in part in flashbacks that are both chilling and wonderful) and the simplicity of the plot: Get the man who murdered the woman they all love. Some of them want to kill him and some of them want to send him to trial, and some of them aren’t sure until the last minute (Fusco’s monologue still makes me weep, even after all these viewings), but they all move inexorably toward a conclusion that I didn’t see coming and yet is still fitting. It’s a marvelous piece of storytelling, made better by really, really good actors.
Which led me to this question: If it isn’t our personal preferences in storytelling (romantic comedy for me) that makes us say, “This episode, this story, was so excellent I will watch it over and over,” what is it? Certainly for me, the emotional impact is strong: the Johnny Cash song that plays over the opening minutes of the episode is a real rip-your-heart-out montage. Definitely characters I care about in conflict with worthy antagonists. But there must be something more. “The Devil’s Share” is nothing I would choose on its description alone, and yet I love that story.
I’m still pondering my reasons, but I think I’m too close to this one, so I want to know, is there an episode of a TV series like that for you? Not the whole series, just one show where you watched and said, “This. This hour/half hour/whatever is storytelling perfection for me.” And then the key, why? What was it about that single story in the series that lifted it above good into great?
September 6, 2014
September 5, 2014
About a thousand years ago, I put up a poll on e-books. It’s there to your right. Then I forgot about it. I just looked at it again and it’s a flawed poll (I didn’t put all the pricing choices on there because . . . I forget why), plus given the span of time, people have probably changed their opinions, but what I’ve noticed is that the most popular choice for a fair price now–$2.99 to $3.99–has changed from the most popular choice previously: $6.99 to $7.99. That’s not good, said the published writer.
I’m wondering if that’s in part because of the Amazon/Hachette mess (don’t get me started) which may be lowering the perception of what an e-book is worth, or if it’s a result of the low-priced self-published books flooding the market (some of which are excellent, not judging here), or if it’s just a general tightening of pocketbooks. Whatever, it’s bad news for publishers because it’s going to make it more difficult to sell a book at a price where it turns a profit, and than in turn is bad for writers. I’ve talked before about how printing/digital costs don’t determine how much a book costs, but that doesn’t really matter when you’re trying to establish a good price point because perception is reality: if people believe something is too much to pay, it really is too much for them to pay.
I will admit to deciding not to buy an e-book because it was just too damn expensive, although I’d have made the same call if it had been a print book. On the other hand, I tend to buy every Terry Pratchett book when it comes out regardless of price, and I’d pay a lot to replace my Margery Allinghams and Michael Gilberts and Emma Lathens digitally. So “fair price” to me depends on what book I’m buying, and I’m sure that’s true of a lot of people, but if the majority of people who read this blog (people who are regular readers of fiction, I’m assuming) truly believe that paying more than $3.99 for an e-book is unfair, then that’s where they’ll decide to decline on most books. And if that’s true, things are looking grim for publishing. Fortunately for me, I’m great at ignoring polls (especially this flawed amateur one) and statistics and reality in general, and I think both print and digital publishing will adapt and come through this just fine. But still . . .
What’s your take on this? (That is, on e-book pricing and the future of publishing, not on my grasp of reality.)
August 30, 2014
Today is Toasted Marshmallow Day.
Because the end of the July is the perfect time to enjoy hot snacks. (Honestly, do people not think these things through?)
August 29, 2014
Susan B said:
Top ten helpful tips would be wonderful [for]
Things to look for during revision.
I don’t know if these are the top ten, but these are good ways to revise, in no particular order:
1. Read your first scene. Read your climax. Does your first scene set up your climax so that the reader has a sense of inevitability, that it was always going to end here? Are there elements repeated (theme, setting, dialogue, event, conflict, whatever)? Or are they completely unrelated? Rewrite the first scene to set up the echo.
2. Do a search for “ly” words, followed by searches for “just” and “very.” Delete 99% of them, making the verbs they modified stronger if necessary.
3. Print your story out. Find the ends of your turning point scenes and separate the ms into four piles (or however many acts you have). Treat each act as a story in and of itself. Does each act have its own structure, rising in tension to its climax/turning point, as if it were a novella on its own? Does the beginning of the next act start with the protagonist in a new place, revising plans as he or she realizes the stakes are a lot higher and it’s a whole new ballgame?
4. Still looking at the act stacks from your paper print-out, do the act sections get progressively smaller toward the end? If not, start cutting pages from the later acts so that they do.
5. Look at your protagonist in the first scene, the turning point scenes, and the climax. Is his or her arc clear at those five points? Does she change in important ways at each point? Is she a different person at the end of the story than she was at the beginning, to the extent that she wouldn’t have been able to handle the climax at the beginning in the way she handles it at the end?
6. If you have subplots told from the POV of a supporting character, go through and read only those scenes. Does the character arc? Do the subplot events arc? How does this subplot echo/mirrow/reverse the ideas of the main plot?
7. Track each main and supporting character through the story, reading only the scenes in which she or he is present. Are there scenes in which he or she isn’t doing anything when he or she would be saying or doing something given the situation? Fix that. Are there scenes in which he or she is not doing anything because there’s nothing for him or her to do? Cut the character from the scene. Look at where he or she is at the beginning and ending of the book. It’s all right if the character hasn’t arced, not all characters do, but the character should have been affected by the events of the book unless he or she is terminally clueless and have sailed through the events without noticing (some characters do).
8. Is there a word, event, object, phrase, etc. that repeats throughout? That’s a motif. Figure out why it keeps turning up and what it means, and then go through and sharpen and focus it so that it serves the story in subtext.
9. Read the book through from the beginning. Are there parts that you’re skimming? Cut them. (Really. If you’re skimming them, imagine what the reader’s doing.)
10. When the book’s the best you can make it, give it to beta readers and ask for their emotional response to the story: what parts they loved, what parts were slow, what threw them out of the story.
Then revise again.
August 26, 2014
Sharon S asked:
As a reader, I am always interested in finding out how and why authors choose the names of their characters. I’ve asked but never quite get an answer. I’m listening to Maybe This Time again. I’d forgotten Andy’s name is Andromeda. I’m guessing that is because of her strange mom? But what gives you your names? Please and Thank You.
Character names are really important, something I did not realize when I started writing. I picked names because I liked them, sort of like naming children. But on my third published book, I couldn’t get the heroine to work. No matter what I did, she was flat. So I sat and thought about her, about what she wanted, about who she was, and I realized she was a Lucy. I changed her name and there she was. I know it sounds dumb, but you ask any author and most of them will tell you that names are crucial for characterization.
Most of the time, my characters show up with their names. A few like Lucy have shown up with the wrong names, and Andie was one of those. I think I went through four different names before I hit on Andie, and then reverse engineered that to Andromeda because of her mother and because it would make North’s mother nuts (although she named her kids North and Sullivan, so she has no room to criticize).
My preference is for names that are different because they’re memorable. But different is not enough; that name also has to characterize because of stereotypes (Bertha is going to be large), associations (Alice connects to Alice in Wonderland, Tilda’s worldview was tilted), relationships (North’s character is diametrically opposed to Southie’s) and sound (Andie is a happy-go-lucky kind of name, Zelda is edgy, Agnes sounds like “anger” especially starting with that hard “Ag”). Other things I take into consideration: birthdate (different names are popular at different times), origins (tons of name lists on the internet, the last one I looked at was “Wolf Names”), what kind of people the character’s parents were (which explains how the name came to be and how they tried to shape the character as a child to fit that name), and how the name fits that character’s function in the text.
The McDaniel class does weekly chats, and last week I answered a question about names, using Bet Me as an example:
Min and Cal minimize risk and calculate the odds; they’re meant to be together. “Calvin” gives you an idea of how rigid Cal’s mother is, and Minerva gives you the set-up that Min’s mother was hoping for a goddess when her daughter was born.
Bonnie has a soft sound with that B at the beginning and the soft O that fits her softer nature. Liza has that razor sharp Z in the middle. I called the bridesmaids Wet and Worse because they weren’t on the page enough for the reader to recognize them by their real names; the nicknames also set up that Wet was the one who was always weeping for her lost boyfriend and that Worse was capable of much worse. Diana was another goddess name, plus there was the association with Princess Diana, the perfect daughter.
Cal, Roger, Tony, David. Cal’s the hero who calculates things. Roger is a dweebish name. Tony sounds like somebody who wears a baseball cap backward. And David is formal, business like.
One of the best ways I know to get a character firmly in mind before you write is to brainstorm his or her name. It’s like collage in that you’re working with associations: what does this name say to you about the character, how does it give clues to how he or she thinks, acts, talks, where he or she comes from, etc. A character named Poppy is different from a character named Rose; a character named Andromeda is different from a character named Diana; a character named Phineas is different from a character named Harry, and so on. Thinking about the name makes you think about the character in a different way.