Breaking the writing rules

Happy Writer

 

How often do you read an article telling you how to write?

Quite often I guess. I know I do. I have even been guilty of writing some myself, all well intentioned of course.

Ninety nine, or ninety five per-cent of the time these rules should be followed. They should be adhered to as far as possible, because they are the benchmark from which all writing is judged.

However…I love that word! So I’ll say it again.

However, I am a strong believer that a writer should push their own boundaries from time to time. They should break out of the glass cage.

I often do so by playing about, experimenting. Call them ‘writing exercises’ if you will.

In the past I have written in a minimalistic fashion, told a story using underutilised and obscure words. In another I used metasyntactic terminology. My poetry often pushes whatever limits are generally imposed.

So it is I regular break writing conventions.

Doing this has helped me enormously with that wonderful black art of wordsmithing. Undertaking such exercises challenges ourselves and our, often self-imposed, perceived limits. Such tasks enable us to extend descriptive narrative, create depth of characters and make our stories flow.

While I would not recommend that anyone attempts to write an entire novel ‘outside the box of rules’, I do encourage each and every one to task themselves with such matters.

The following is one such exercise. It is a short story, a flash fiction if you wish, of almost six-hundred words.

The point of this particular task was to see if I could construct a story using a string of very short sentences, whilst including only the most minimal of descriptive words and then when only absolutely necessary.

The reason for that is, when a long string of short sentences are used it tends to become monotonous for the reader. Generally, sentences must vary in length to convey the ‘feel’ of each part of the narrative.

Nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs are of course basic stock of a writer’s armory. So removing these, as far as possible, presents another contest against one’s abilities.

I hope I have succeeded in my mission. You are more than welcome to comment on the story itself, or on my attainment or failure in this test.


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Hitchhiker

 

I am old school.

From a time when life seemed simpler, less hectic, less complicated.

It was not. It was just different.

Some will say that ‘way back when’ life was safer, people were happier, times were better.

They were not. Life was simply lived at a slower pace.

There was less fear. Less anxiety and more acquiescence.

I think life was more honest.

We were more honest.

With ourselves.

Life holds risks. You have to live with that.

Take your chances. Accept the possibilities.

Face the consequences.

That is how it goes.

We recognised that. Acknowledged that.

That is what made life simpler.

 

Like hitchhiking.

Like the figure I see ahead of me now. Checked shirt, blue jeans, backpack, thumb-out.

Quite rare nowadays, hitchhikers.

Too much fear. Mostly unwarranted.

Nurtured and spread by the media.

But who should hold that apprehension.

The driver?

I could drive on past. No one will make me stop.

Is the hiker a danger? A mass murderer?

A Rapist?

Is their thumb a lure for the unsuspecting?

Or

The Hiker?

Simply travelling home.

Should they get into the car?

Could I be a psychotic killer?

Could I be the Rapist?

Is my car a trap?

 

As I get closer I see the expectant look on the hiker’s face.

A bright smile.

Willing me to slow.

To stop.

I feel a compulsion.

An obligation to a fellow human.

I have been there myself. Thumb out. Waiting, hoping.

Praying for the next car to stop.

To give me a ride.

A ride to somewhere warm. Somewhere with hot coffee.

The hiker looks clean. Normal.

Conventional.

I slow. Maneuver towards the roadside.

Stop a few yards beyond.

Looking in my mirror.

Watching.

 

The hiker picks up a small rucksack.

Running towards me.

I lock the doors.

Clunk. Safe.

I can leave. Go.

Put my foot on the accelerator.

Speed away.

The hiker is close now.

My last chance.

Decision time.

A smiling face appears at the window.

I smile back.

Still time.

Go?

Stay?

 

I press a switch.

The window hums. Open.

Half open.

I hear my voice. “Heading North” it says.

“Me too” the hiker replies.

I nod.

The hiker smiles.

Expectancy.

I smile back.

Trepidation.

Time stands still.

Momentarily.

 

Click.

I unlock the doors.

My own thumb jerks, a backward motion.

“Put your back in the back” my voice speaks again.

Autonomously.

The bag lands on the rear seats.

Drive away, I think.

Take the bag.

Go. Now.

What is in the bag.

Some clothing.

An iPad.

Money.

Or the hiker’s life?

Their entire possessions.

A lifetime or memories.

Lost loves, lost mother.

A bag of dreams, hopes for the future?

Is that where they are heading now?

The future.

Thiers. Mine. Ours? Has this moment inexorably entwined our lives?

Left an indelible mark.

Or just a scratch. Unnoticeable, hidden. One that will fade, become rubbed out

As life progresses?

 

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The door opens.

Blue eyes, bright teeth, pale skin.

The hiker sits next to me.

“Thank you” she says.

“That’s okay” I reply.

I put the car in gear, heading North.

Our lives are meshed. At least for the next one hundred miles.

If she makes it that far.

If I make it that far.

Who knows?

Life holds risks. You have to live with that.

Take your chances. Accept the possibilities.

Face the consequences.

That is how it goes.

You see, I am old school.

I know what makes life simple.

 

© Paul White 2016

Feel free to visit my website, browse around, poke you nose into every corner. Make yourself at home!

http://paulznewpostbox.wix.com/paul-white

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A bit about…Designing your Books Cover.

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I shall try to stay away from as many technical words and as much jargon as I can.

Also, as designing a book cover can be an emotive subject, almost as much as writing the content. I shall say that the following are my personal observations and views, they are not a definitive or an absolute. I do not think any opinions regarding forms of art can be so.

Please feel free to comment, add your own insights and feedback regarding this subject.

So, where to start?

For this I shall take a tip from the famous philosopher Winnie the Pooh, who said, “The beginning is a very good place to start!”

Your manuscript is completed, edited, re-written, polished, edited, beta read, proofread, edited, formatted and is now ready to go to print.

You are ecstatic. This is your masterpiece.

Now all you have to do is get people to read it.

To do that you need to sell lots of copies. (Unless you simply want to give it away?)

To sell lots of copies you need to attract people to your book.

To do that you need your masterpiece to stand out from the crowd.

Standing out from the masses of other books means having a great cover.

NOT a good cover, a great one.

That’s it.

Simple…

NO?

You are right.

Creating a great cover is not as simple as it first seems. All those thoughts and ideas in your head need transforming into a visual and onto relatively small area AND you need the title, maybe a sub-title, a sub-heading, or a catch-phrase. Then there is your name, you want that on the cover too, don’t you? Oh, and the back-cover ‘blurb’ you need that…now what about some graphics, images on the rear cover too? Is there enough room for that and the bar code?

That’s a lot to consider.

Yet that is only the most basic ‘stuff’! Colour, Images, illustrations, copyright, text style, point size, trim, bleed…oh, you have not though this far ahead yet?

OK, let’s get basic.

Firstly, you have to get rid of any preconceptions you have. (Not easy).

It is almost impossible to detach yourself from your book, your story, ‘your baby’. But you must if you want a cover which will sell your book.

Nobody but you will ever see, or feel your story as you do. Each reader will have their own personal interpretation.

That is how reading works.

Don’t get caught in the trap of believing otherwise.

Creating a cover is like a black art. It is a totally different skill to writing. Please do not confuse the two.

A book cover’s paramount job is to communicate the book’s content and convey information concerning both what the book is about and what the book is like.

The front and back flaps have something to say and experienced readers may find clues in a summary statement or author’s note. But the text and graphics on the cover deliver the most immediate and indelible impression. A cover’s imagery can establish character, setting, and plot. A cover’s style can suggest tone, mood, and narrative quality. And extraordinary covers employ both elements in synergy.

 

Second step, be sure of your target audience. That is the people who read the same genre as your book. (Known as demographics in the trade!)

You need to ascertain what they look for in a cover, what it is that attracts them to pick up a book, to read the back jacket and ultimately buy.

Big publishing houses spend a fortune on researching this, millions of pounds a year. An amount I doubt you have to spare, even after scrabbling down the back of the sofa.

So use the big publishers as your research, this will only costs you time.

Check out other authors book covers in the same genre, particularly the mainstream published authors. Walk around the store, surf the net. See what the new trends are. Make notes, take photos, make a ‘like’ board.

This is a good starting point.

 

The next step is to decide what you want the cover to ‘say’. I am not talking about the use of words (yet); I am simply speaking of image perception.

Here are a two simple rules:

Don’t Show Too Much of Your Character

It may be tempting to show your book’s main character on the cover, but this usually is not a very good idea. Most readers prefer to use their imagination to depict the story and characters in their own head.

Be Simple, Strong and Symbolic

Refrain from depicting a specific scene on the cover of your book.

It is better to be more symbolic or iconic with your cover design. Try to come up with a simple eye-catching idea that anyone will understand upon first sight. Keep in mind that most people will see your book as a tiny picture on a bookstore website or out the corner of their eye in a bookstore. In either instance, a strong, simple, symbolic cover is much more likely to catch their attention than one that is complicated or cluttered.

 

 The next consideration is the text.

What typestyle (fonts) to use.

Do not use any of the following fonts (anywhere): Comic Sans or Papyrus. These fonts are only acceptable if you are writing a humor book, or intentionally attempting to create a design that publishing professionals will laugh at.

Please, no font explosions or special styling. Usually a cover should not contain more than 2 fonts. Avoid the temptation to put words in caps, italics caps, outlined caps, etc. Do not be tempted to “shape” the type either.

Where to put your Title and Authors name; Top, middle, bottom, vertical, horizontal?

The title should be big and easy to read.

This is more important than ever. (Many people will first encounter your cover on a screen, not on a shelf.)

Do not forget to review a thumbnail image of the cover.

Ask yourself this; Is the cover compelling at a small size? More people are buying books on a Kindle or mobile device, so you want the cover to read clearly no matter where it appears.

You should also anticipate what the cover looks like in grayscale.

 

Now, back to the artwork.

Rule no. 1, Do not use cheap clip art on your cover. I’m talking about the stuff that comes free with Microsoft Word or other cheap layout programs.

Rule no.2, Do not stick an image inside a box on the cover. This is known as the “T-shirt” design. It looks extremely amateurish.

Rule no.3, Avoid gradients. It’s especially game-over if you have a cover with a rainbow gradient.

Rule no.4, Avoid garish color combinations. Sometimes such covers are meant to catch people’s attention. Usually, it just makes your book look freakish!

After all this, if your head is not spinning from the do’s and do not’s I will be surprised. Let me make it simple with a great example of excellent covers.

The bestselling author, Sophie Kinsella’s novels have about everything that is right when considering a book cover.

These romantic comedy covers have not been created by accident. They are specifically designed and crafted via Penguin Random House.

Clearly the target audience is a, young, twenties something, fun, flirty, feminine female.

Best known for her ‘Shopaholic’ series, the main images on these covers are of highly stylized woman, with a clutch of designer carrier bags, against a background suggestive of location.

Here are three examples which follow all the rules (do’s & do not’s).

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These are my suggestions for a great book cover:

Keep it simple.

Avoid clutter.

Only hint at the content.

Go with the latest trends in your genre…OR…

Take a punt at something ‘outside the box’ (but tryto keep within these guidelines).

Below are some covers I love, even my own award winning designs…Oh, didn’t I mention I also design covers for Indie Authors…how remiss of me!

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If you would like to contact me about cover design, please feel free to email me at paulznewpostbox@gmail.com Please put ‘book cover enquiry’ into the subject bar.

Thank you, Paul.

 

My name is Claire Plaisted

Author Headshot

The warning bell rang out.  The villagers screamed in terror, mothers grabbing children, rushing into their homes, slamming doors, locking windows and hiding under tables, their bodies shaking in fright.  The men grabbed pitchforks and fighting sticks and marched to the edge of the village. Waiting silently their rage mounting in disbelief that the Indie’s would dare to intrude again.

“Bloody Indie Authors, which they’d go away and leave us be,” one man muttered.

“How they dare write their own stuff, in their own format and without permission of the big publishers is beyond me,” another murmured.

“Look there they are, all smiling and happy.  Get ready to attack, we can’t allow them entry to our minds,” shouted yet another man.

“Charge,” screamed a fourth man, “beat them back, keep our women and children safe, they mustn’t succeed.”

“Hey, hang on mate, who’s that over there, they look important.”

The men fell silent in disbelief as the woman stepped closer to the village, a stern look on her face.

“I don’t believe it,” said the village lord.  They’ve got a publisher.  An Indie Publisher at that!  We can’t stop them now, don’t you remember the law.  We have to listen to Publishers.”

“God help us all, we’re doomed.

They dropped their weapons, shoulders slumped, feet dragging, they returned to the village centre, tears pouring down their faces knowing they were beaten once and for all.

 

Hi.  My name is Claire Plaisted. 

I’m an Indie Publisher and proud to help Indie Authors get their wonderful books of all genres, be they novels, memoirs, family history books etc. online for avid readers to enjoy. 

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Plaisted Publishing House Ltd.  started as a professional formatting business to help all Indie Authors realise their dreams.  I’m an Indie Author as well, though helping others is my main business.

 

 

Why did I start this business?

It came about quite by accident.  I have always enjoyed formatting documents, be they newsletters, leaflets, family history or novels.  I like to see books set out to a high standard and, as my journey moved forward, I trained myself how to do this and share my experiences with others. I established my business in July 2014.  My experience stems from Family History Books and learning how to prepare a novel to send to agents and Publishing Houses. 

Traditional Publishing Houses! 

Out of the millions of fantastic writers only a few are accepted as worthy of being represented.  Only a few will become big names and manage to live off their skills due to this success.  Many of these authors write to a format the Publisher wants and if they dare step out of line – your contract could very well disappear – after all you’re not pulling your weight and doing as you’re told,so the public can read what they are told.

How did this Happen?

Now this, I struggle to understand and sadly there is no one alive today who can tell us.  History books may have been altered to fit what we’re told.  Who knows.

For at least eighteen centuries writers and authors were all Independent.  Yes, you heard me.  There were no Publishers to be seen, at least not as we know them today.

If you go back far enough we see many cultures start writing on walls, on animal skins, leather and later, paper.  They wrote with charcoal until such time as ink was invented.  Then along came the printing presses of history.  A writer would get a story printed on paper and it would be sold on the street corners for people to buy, or it was printed into leather bound books and sold to the wealthy.

I have no idea who picked up on the idea. However, suddenly publishing was born.  Publishing has been around for about one hundred and fifty years. (so much for it being Traditional!). They control what you read with their marketing hype, awarding said authors with honours and praise.  Many are brilliant, however what about those who have the same skills, the same brilliance, who don’t get the opportunity because the Publishing Houses deem them unfit to publish.

What does Un-fit to Publish Mean?

They don’t think they can make a profit out of your work, you don’t write the stories they want, nor do you write how they want, so they toss your brilliance to one side generally with a short letter or email

“Not suitable at this time.”  Whatever the hell that means.

Many readers and maybe some authors don’t realise they have read Independent work over the years.  This is because much has been re-published from the original prints.

Who are these authors?d4f39e4be1965d2032516bad71332757

The Bible – Over 2000 years old

Shakespeare

Mark Twain

Bronte Sisters

Edgar Allen Poe

Lewis Carrol

Beatrix Potter

Even John Grisham published on book independently.  The list goes on.

For the last ten years or so, Independent Authors have been fighting back to get their work published and in front of an audience who believes in them.  So called Traditional Publishing isn’t necessary.  History shows Authors once had full control of their work and now the time is here to take that control back.

At Plaisted Publishing House we format your books to a professional standard for a small cost.  Our professional standard – since Feb 2016 – has now passed the American Registered Copyright Approval (US Patent Office) – First time and with no changes.  The author owns full copyright at all times.

Costs to Authors

We charge $60.00 US for on-going consultation throughout for the work been done.  This includes emails, live chat and personal meetings where available.  We charge $4.00 US per thousand words with a 25% discount for a first time client.

This gives the Author full basic formatting, with two formatting edits to make sure it is what the client wants. The book is then formatted into either a PRINT or eBOOK. If both are required then an additional $20 US is required.  This deal also includes an interview and having their Bio and book cover on our business website.

Any extra work needed is $35 US an hour.

We also offer Indie Business links for Editors, Book Cover Artists, Beta Readers on our webesite etc.

You can find us at the below links

www.plaistedpublishinghouse.wordpress.com

plaistedpublishinghouse@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/Plaisted-Publishing-House-249186435274458/?ref=hl

https://www.pinterest.com/rotosis/

https://twitter.com/rotosis1

 

 

 

 

Don’t let the rain drown your novel

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Too many times do I read the same old, same old, scene.

It’s raining, grey clouds overhead. Drizzle, cold wind.

Why?

Because it is a funeral, or someone has discovered a friend’s death.

OR

There is a tempest, heavy rain, thunder, lightning. Gale force winds rattling the windows.

Why?

Because its eerie, a big house, a derelict building, a graveyard. Or the cars broken down on a country road.

OH, PLEASE. Come on. Enough is enough.

I know you want to set the scene, make the reader ‘feel and see what is in your mind. But not like this; not again.

Hollywood and television overworked this format years ago. Mary Shelly used it way back in 1817… (yes, I know Frankenstein’s Monster was not published until 1818. 11 March 1818 to be precise! but Mary completed her work in May 1817).

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After that, I can understand some writers utilising Mary’s techniques (which she stole anyway!); but that was almost two hundred years ago! Surely you can work your wordsmithing magic without falling back on this old literary cliché?

Let’s take a look at the graveside scene again. This time, dismiss the notion of grey skies and rain.

Try and build that ‘feeling’ you want, let’s say, for this exercise, sadness and sorrow. (Although in another version it could be joy and relief, dependent on your character’s viewpoint).

‘The solemn parade of black clad mourners slowly crunched their way over the gravel and melted into the dimness of the church, passing under the gothic arches of time worn stone’.

Here the tone is set using a few simple, but descriptive words, to create the mood. ‘Solemn, black, mourners, slowly, melted, dimness, gothic, time-worn’ All carefully selected words that imply the general emotion of the procession.

An alternative may be something along these lines.

‘James glanced at Mary, her eyes glistened as tears formed. Small dew-drops of sadness sparkling, reflecting in the sunlight. The scent of yew trees and grass added to James’s sense of numbness as he watched the coffin being lowered into the grave’.

IMG_4424Approaching the scene from an oblique angle often offers the author an opportunity to ‘drip-feed’ the reader, only giving them a small bite sized piece of the overall scene with each sentence. This allows for an element of surprise, or revelation.

Neither of the above paragraphs have fallen back to the old ‘grey sky and rain’ chestnut. Yet they convey the very essence of emotion which one wishes to communicate with the reader.


 

Onto the scary stuff!

The haunted house? The killer lurking in the dark woods, the stranded car on that country lane.

Hey, guess what?

You’re right, it’s NOT raining here either! No lightning, no storms and no doors banging in the wind.

So, how to get away from those ‘same old, movie style embedded notions’.

Well, let’s try. Let’s start with an approach to that (possibly) haunted house or old barn.

‘Two huge stone eagles balanced precariously on the dilapidated columns. The bindweed twisting about their talons as if securing them, denying them of flight. Framed between and beyond stood the old mansion house. The bright sunlight reflecting from the walls enhanced the blindness of long lost windows. Empty hollows, gaping holes beckoning us towards them’.

Locals say the owner of Ohio’s Milan Mansion was a practicing witch.

Note the ‘bright sunlight’. This time using the opposite, of what has become expected, to enhance the ‘darkness’, the brooding mood.

Not a raindrop in sight and the clock is not about to strike midnight!

As for breaking down on a country lane, perhaps having to abandon your vehicle to seek help…Let’s attempt to approach this in an unexpected style too.

‘He had been foolish for stopping; but nature would not wait and the hedgerow of holly offered the ideal shelter to hide behind while he answered her call. The car was going nowhere. The tyres just spun in the deep snow. With each attempt they sank lower until now; now the car was axel deep. He was stranded.

In the far distance the occasional puff of smoke drifted upwards into the crystal blue, cloudless sky. Turning his collar up, ramming his hands as far into his overcoat pockets as they would go, he started to plod through ankle deep snow towards the smoke. Gregory guessed it was from a cottage chimney. How wrong he was…’

Here I have constructed the paragraphs to portray a relatively normal situation, feeding the reader small tidbits about the weather, not only to ‘set the scene’, but as miss-direction, so that I can increase the effect of the final few words.

I beg you, if you are about to write, (or re-write), a section of your novel where you have been sucked in by the old ‘rain & storm’ caper, alter it. Dismiss the rain; freshen up your narration, pleasantly surprise your readers with something new and exciting.

Please do not let the rain make your book a wash-out.

Thanks for reading, Paul

Feel free to comment, leave feedback and ‘follow’ Ramblings from a Writers Mind.

Oh, don’t forget to read the new edition of CQ Magazine. It is jam packed full of great ‘stuff’!

https://issuu.com/ramblingawaymagzine/docs/cq4prt1_1_2016

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