Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Does Your Fight Scene Pack a Punch?

By Marg McAlister

Long ago, movie directors mastered the technique of creating a convincing fight scene. Bodies crash to the floor.. chairs are upended... viewers are treated to closeups of terrified or furious faces... and the punches thrown are enough to make us wince and close our eyes. (No more of those prissy punches that fooled nobody in the early films - sneaky camera angles to hide the fact that the fist didn't really connect; loud thuds to suggest a knockout punch when anybody could see it wouldn't knock a gnat out of its flight path.)

Movie-goers are treated to multiple camera angles and sophisticated sound effects. We feel as though we're right in the middle of that fight.

Authors have it a lot harder. How can you throw the reader in the middle of the scene and feel every punch? How can you show the action without falling into the trap of sounding like a school kid enthusiastically detailing a fight, punch by punch; kick by kick?

There are just two things to keep in mind.

Remember you're a writer, not a choreographer.

Pack your fights with EMOTIONAL punch.

That's it. So simple - yet so effective.

What does a choreographer do? Plans a series of movements, step by step. He/she teaches the people performing the movements how to perform each one, and then how to put them together into a smooth routine.

Too many fight scenes in books look like a choreographer's notebook. You'll see something like this:

Briggs planted a right hook on Smith's chin. The other man reeled backwards, his arms windmilling. Briggs followed up his advantage, breathing hard. In quick succession he landed several more punches on Smith's body.

Smith fell to the ground and rolled away. "Bastard!" he grunted, and rolled again to avoid a well-aimed kick from Briggs. Cat-like, he leapt to his feet and circled Briggs, not taking his eyes off his nemesis.

"Come on!" Briggs taunted, darting in to land another punch then ducking back out of reach. "Is that the best you can do?" He feinted and laughed.

Infuriated, Smith attacked. Briggs danced back and around Smith, and in two deft moves had him on the ground, one arm up behind his back.

"Had enough?" he panted.

There are so many things wrong with the above scene it's hard to know where to start. In brief:
We have no idea who the viewpoint character is. We seem to be looking on from a distance. That means there is very little emotional involvement from the reader. To really involve your reader, do everything you can to make sure he or she 'becomes' the viewpoint character. If he gets hurt, so does the reader. If he loses... so does the reader.

The writer is "telling" rather than showing. A did this then B did that so A did this in response and B followed up with this... boring! (Can you see the choreographer at work?)

The writer uses the characters' names a lot: "Smith" and "Briggs". This tends to add distance too. The problem is that both characters are men, so constant use of "he", while not so distancing, can be confusing. It's easier to avoid these problems if you are deeply in the viewpoint of one of the characters.

The excerpt is filled with tired old expressions such as "in quick succession he landed two more punches"; "a well-aimed kick"; "cat-like, he leapt to his feet"; "in two deft moves". Expressions like this save the writer from doing much work - they roll off the tongue so easily because they've been around for so long.

How do you avoid these pitfalls and write a fight scene that works?

You forget (for the most part) the physical punches and add emotional punch. Get deep into the viewpoint of one of the characters - preferably the main character; the one the reader really identifies with. This way, readers look out through the eyes of that character. They desperately want him to win; they feel every punch. Therefore, there's a lot more emotional investment in the outcome of the fight.

Most writers seem to feel that fight scenes have to be filled with fast movement, grunts and moans and shouted epithets to telegraph the action. They feel that if you stop to tell the reader what's going on in the head of the main character, this slows things down too much.

That certainly can be the case... but in the hands of a skilled writer, tension actually builds when the action is slowed down. You need to remember that time-on-the-page is not the same as real time. Since you can't actually show the reader what is going on in real time as you can in a movie, you have to compensate by spending some time in the mind of the main character. Show us the character's thoughts. Show us the character's emotions. Help us to "feel" our way into the fight.

The easiest way to show how this works is to use an example from a published book. Here's a fight scene from ECHO BURNING by Lee Child (Bantam Press, 2001). The hero, Jack Reacher, tries to avoid the fight... and the tension builds beautifully until he is forced into a confrontation.

The guy was wearing a white tank-top shirt and he was eating chicken wings. The wings were greasy and the guy was a slob. He was dripping chicken fat off his chin and off his fingers onto his shirt. There was a dark teardrop shape right between his pecs. It was growing and spreading into an impressive stain. But the best bar-room etiquette doesn't let you linger on such a sight, and the guy caught Reacher staring.

"Who you looking at?" he said.

It was said low and aggressively, but Reacher ignored it.

"Who you looking at?" the guy said again.

Reacher's experience was, they say it once, maybe nothing's going to happen. But they say it twice, then trouble's on the way. Fundamental problem is, they take a lack of response as evidence that you're worried. That they're winning. But then, they won't let you answer, anyway.

"You looking at me?" the guy said.

"No," Reacher answered.

"Don't you be looking at me, boy," the guy said.

The way he said boy made Reacher think he was maybe a foreman in a lumber mill or a cotton operation. Whatever muscle work was done around Lubbock. Some kind of a traditional trade passed down through the generations. Certainly the word cop never came to his mind. But then he was relatively new to Texas.

"Don't you look at me," the guy said.

Reacher turned his head and looked at him. Not really to antagonize the guy. Just to size him up. Life is endlessly capable of surprises, so he knew one day he would come face to face with his physical equal. With somebody who might worry him. But he looked and saw this wasn't the day. So he just smiled and looked away again.

Then the guy jabbed him with his finger.

"I told you not to look at me," he said, and jabbed.

It was a meaty forefinger and it was covered in grease. It left a definite mark on Reacher's shirt.

"Don't do that," Reacher said.

The guy jabbed again.

"Or what?" he said. "You want to make something out of it?"

Reacher looked down. Now there were two marks. The buy jabbed again. Three jabs, three marks. Reacher clamped his teeth. What were three greasy marks on a shirt? He started a slow count to ten. Then the guy jabbed again, before he even reached eight.

"You deaf?" Reacher said. "I told you not to do that."

"You want to do something about it?"

"No," Reacher said. "I really don't. I just want you to stop doing it, is all."

The guy smiled. "Then you're a yellow-bellied piece of shit."

"Whatever," Reacher said. "Just keep your hands off me."

"Or what? What are you going to do?"

Reacher restarted his count. Eight, nine.

"You want to take this outside?" the guy asked.


"Touch me again and you'll find out," Reacher said. "I warned you four times."

The guy paused a second. Then, of course, he went for it again. Reacher caught the finger on the way in and snapped it at the first knuckle. Just folded it upward like he was turning a door handle. Then because he was irritated he leaned forward and headbutted the guy full in the face. It was a smooth move, well-delivered, but it was backed off to maybe half of what it might have been. No need to put the guy in a coma, over four grease marks on a shirt. He moved a pace to give the man room to fall, and backed into the woman on his right.

"Excuse me, ma'am," he said.

The woman nodded vaguely, disoriented by the noise, concentrating on her drink, unaware of what was happening. The big guy thumped silently on the floorboards and Reacher used the sole of his shoe to roll him half onto his front. Then he nudged him under the chin with his toe to pull his head back and straighten his airway. The recovery position, paramedics call it. Stops you choking while you're out.

Then he paid for his drinks and walked back to his motel...

Of course, this scene just shows a quietly escalating fight and it shows a hero who has the ability to take a fight to a quick conclusion. You're going to have to use a slightly different approach if you have several people involved and if you have a fast and furious fight with two more evenly matched aggressors. But the principle is the same.

Don't let the reader watch the fight from a distance. Get them into the skin of the main character, privy to his thoughts and his emotions. Let readers feel the impact of fists and feet; let them experience the adrenaline (or irritation, depending on the level of provocation). Then your fight scenes will pack the kind of punch you want.

(c) copyright Marg McAlister

Marg McAlister has published magazine articles, short stories, books for children, ezines, promotional material, sales letters and web content. She has written 5 distance education courses on writing, and her online help for writers is popular all over the world. Sign up for her regular writers' tipsheet at http://www.writing4success.com/

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/

Fictitious Force

Fictitious Force

A New Speculative Fiction Market

Monday, June 27, 2005

Buying the Cow, Though the Milk Is Free: Why Some Publishers Are Digitizing Themselves

June 24, 2005
By Anna Weinberg

On June 19, Cory Doctorow announced on his blog boingboing.net that his third novel, Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, had just been published by Tor Books. More interestingly, he also announced that the entire text of the book, like the text of his two previous novels, was available online under copyright terms that allow the “unlimited, noncommercial redistribution of the text.” While major publishing houses are digging in for a long fight with Google over making digital versions of books available online (in partial, “fair use” excerpts), Doctorow invites his readers to “send around, paste it into a chat, beam it to a friend's PDA, or print out a chapter to hand out in the university common room.” Further, through the terms of Doctorow’s Creative Commons license, people in developing nations are free to sell print versions of the book for their own profit—as long as they sell them only in developing nations.

Not that Doctorow is opposed to commercial success—he derides “fuzzy-headed ‘information-wants-to-be-free’ info-hippies” on his website craphound.com. In fact, he makes it very clear that he considers the release of the entire text of his books into the wilds of the Internet to be first and foremost a marketing tool. “From where I sit as a mid-list writer struggling to break in and break out, this has been a good thing for me,” he says. Doctorow’s first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, has been downloaded from his website half-a-million times. “If every one of those were a sale, this would be one of the bestselling sci-fi books of all time,” he says.

Read the rest of the article at the above link to The Book Standard, a site that is bookmark worthy.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

What is a Prologue


What is a prologue? When should you use one? Should you forget about a prologue and simply start at Chapter 1?

All too often we pick up a published book and read the prologue, then wonder why it was there at all. It doesn't seem to do anything that Chapter One couldn't have done - or that couldn't have been worked in during the story itself. Or the prologue is a scene taken directly from the book - a few paragraphs inserted only to make us keep reading. I feel cheated if I get to a point halfway through the book - or near the end - and find that the prologue is nothing more than a word-for-word excerpt from the book. (Seems like 'entrapment' or something!)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Shimmer Magazine - New Speculative Market

Shimmer Magazine is now accepting submissions for their October 2005 issue.

Shimmer is a new speculative fiction magazine, published quarterly. Each issue will contain new fiction from emerging and established writers - fantasy, science fiction, horror, magical realism, and stories that defy categorization.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

New model 'permits time travel'

For all you sci-fi writers (or readers), check out this intriguing article from the BBC about Time Travel. Please access at the above link. I've included the first paragraph below, a carrot dangled in front of your nose.

The concept of time-travel is laden with uncomfortable paradoxes
If you went back in time and met your teenage parents, you could not split them up and prevent your birth - even if you wanted to, a new quantum model has stated.

Monday, June 13, 2005

A New Romance


Published: June 12, 2005

"Troy let the towel on his waist drop. The morning light falling into the room put his abs and pecs and nipples into perfect relief. • Brad gasped, as if it was the first time he had seen what was hidden beneath. Troy was a magnificent specimen of manhood. At 33, three years older than Brad, he had the firm, hard stomach of a high-school athlete. His muscles were naturally lean and ropy; he was strong, but he had none of the false bulk of a steroid queen.'

This is a new release. To read more, click on the link to the New York Times website. The article is too long to post.

Friday, June 10, 2005

'A test of absolute faith'

'Writing a novel, I discovered then, in that initial fumbling stage, is a test of absolute faith and absolute endurance. It puts you in a position of vulnerability at the same time as handing you a wand. For me, it felt like wading out into the sea on a raft in the dark and staying there all night, drifting and surging, worrying a lot, until the morning comes up and you can see where you are. That's when the real work begins - the task of getting all that colour, all those images and meanings succinctly, with the right pitch.'

Diana Evans, on writing her first novel 26a, in the Observer

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Mining Your Novel for Gold

Mining Your Novel for Gold

Got an unsold novel languishing in a drawer? There's hope for it yet—here's how to pull short stories from those pages, which can get you published and ignite more interest in the novel itself.

by William Barton

It hurts to be told that no one wants your novel, whether it's your first or your fifth, whether you've been previously published or not. All those months, even years, of labor seem wasted. All those painfully chosen words now seem destined to reside forever in a forgotten desk drawer.

But it doesn't have to be that way. Part of establishing a writing career is learning to be patient, creative and, most of all, resilient. No one wants your novel? Then salvage its best parts and turn them into short stories. With your care and commitment, those stories will find a life of their own—and possibly keep your career afloat at the same time.

Ups and downs

I learned the hard way that publication isn't necessarily a magic bullet. My first two novels were published, but my third manuscript didn't sell, so I kept myself in the business by writing nonfiction books about computers. Still, I stuck with my fiction writing and eventually got back in the game, publishing three more novels and submitting a fourth to publishers. But while I was outlining my fifth novel, my agent called and broke the news: No one was interested in the fourth manuscript.

As I considered my next move, it occurred to me that I'd never written any short fiction. Short stories, it seemed, might provide me with a quicker route back into novel publishing than nonfiction books had. So I reworked the still-incomplete outline of my fifth novel, removing everything but the principal plot, and wound up with 28,000 words. I sold the resulting story, "Almost Forever," for serialization in a small-press magazine, Tomorrow Science Fiction.

On the strength of that sale, I was able to write and sell more short stories to higher-profile markets and eventually another book. That got me back on track again and, in time, I had six more novels in print. Then one day, my editor called. "Your sales are poor. We won't be buying any more books." It was time to start over.

From flotsam to fiction

I'd kept my newfound short-fiction career in operation while I wrote those six novels, but now I had 107,000 words about to go to waste. So when a local college literary magazine called, offering me $50 for a short story, I offered them a novel excerpt instead. They agreed to consider an 8,000-word submission. I selected what I knew was my novel's most dramatic chapter and cut 16,000 words. There were lavish sex scenes that would seem out of place in a literary magazine, foreshadowing of later events the readers would never see, back-references to earlier events—all of these got the ax. I hit the 8,000-word mark, and North Carolina Literary Review accepted my story.

I was inspecting the original manuscript for more encapsulated stories to sell when I remembered the condensation I'd done of "Almost Forever." But this novel, Moments of Inertia, was a first-person narrative. There were no subplots to remove, and everything took place in front of the viewpoint character. This time I'd identify the core of the story and work outward, finding material that couldn't be left out.

I went through the book and collected the dramatic peaks—the cores of each chapter, like the cliffhanger endings of old movie serials. I found myself with a short-ish story too fractured to make any sense. I combed the manuscript again, looking for scenes that related to those peaks, finding elements whose content was essential to understanding the whole. What I wound up with was a long, uneven novella, with a prosaic beginning that shifted to violent action somewhere in the middle. I kept working.

There's no law that says a story has to be told in any particular order, of course. So I cut the story in half, starting with one of the dramatic peaks I'd chosen for the excerpt, continuing forward to what had been the end of the book. Then I took the first half of the story and distributed its scenes between the others, placing each one after a later scene that referred to it. I wound up with a story that delivered reward after reward, keeping the reader going to the final climax. By the time I finished wielding the editorial blowtorch, I'd reduced my 107,000-word novel to a 12,500-word short story, which subsequently appeared in the April/May 2004 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction.

With 20,000 words sold, I went through my novel again, looking for anything else that could work as a stand-alone story. What I found were two chapters that, side by side, made up a harrowing tale with an ending of their own. I sold these 14,000 words, now called "Dark of the Sun," to Asimov's, as well. I also found a single, 1,000-word dramatic scene that told its own story. It was published as "On the Beach" in The Urban Hiker.

What happens to a novel once you've extracted short fiction from it? The stories you sold may attract enough attention to interest book publishers, and you may be able to sell the novel itself in its original form. Or you may be able to publish a book that's a collection of your short fiction, in which the stories from your novel appear.

And even if your novel gets published only as short stories, remember the most important thing: Readers saw your writing. You were paid for the work you did, and the exposure those stories earned may help sell the next novel you write. In the end, publication never hurts, no matter what form it takes. And there are stories in your unsold novel, just waiting to be found.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Exploding toilet leads to lawsuit

Associated Press in Morgantown
Saturday June 4, 2005
The Guardian

A man who says he was severely burned when a portable toilet exploded after he sat down and lit a cigarette is suing a general contractor and a coal company, accusing them of negligence.

John Jenkins, 53, and his wife, Ramona, 35, of Brave, Pennsylvania, are seeking $10m (£6m) in damages from Chisler Inc and Eastern Associated Coal.

The lawsuit claims Mr Jenkins's face, neck, arms, torso and legs were severely burned last July after the cigarette ignited methane gas leaking from a pipe underneath the toilet unit.

"When I struck the lighter, the whole thing just detonated - the whole top blew off," said Mr Jenkins, a methane power plant operator with North West Fuels Development. "I can't tell you if it blew me out the door or if I jumped out."

Eastern Associated owns the property where the explosion occurred.

Mr Jenkins alleges that heavy equipment from Chisler ran over the pipelines before the explosion, causing the methane gas leak.

I Do Not Have Time To Read This Crap

May, 2005

Fiction editors talk about unsolicited submissions
By  Anne Allen

Editors are too often cast as ogres, but the piles of crap they face is a real eye-opener.
On my British editor’s desk is a rubber stamp that prints, in red ink, the words “I do not have time to read this crap.” Its blood-coloured imprint adorns several submission letters that lie scattered around his office.

I feel sad for the rejected novelists, although of course their manuscripts were returned long ago with a polite rejection letter.

So I asked him, and some of our other editors — how does a fiction submission avoid the dreaded red stamp and get a sympathetic read?

Unfortunately, the sympathetic part seems fairly subjective — mostly based on personal tastes — but here are a few major mistakes that fiction editors at my publishing house, Shadowline, say will propel your novel directly into the “crap” file.

1) Death threats in your cover letter.

I’m not making this up. Editors get them more often than you imagine.

A query/cover letter is a business document — essentially a job application. It may accompany a one-page synopsis (the norm in the U.S. these days) or a full manuscript (still accepted here at Shadowline). But it is with that letter that your working relationship with your editor begins and, all too often, ends. Remember it should be short, professional and to the point. Say who you are, what you’ve written and why you’ve sent it to this particular publisher. Full stop.

My editor hopes to compile his collection of bad cover letters into a comedy script some day, so I mustn’t steal his thunder, but suffice it to say that threatening publishers with various forms of witchcraft and/or body mutilation if you are not immediately given a an advance the size of the company’s annual budget will probably not get your novel published.

Although you may achieve immortality in an upcoming sketch on Radio Four.

You also want to avoid personal insults, suicide threats and/or generally whining about your rotten life. It’s about your novel. Only about your novel.

2) Amateurish writing.

Don’t try to run before you can walk.

A person who’s just learned to lob a tennis ball over the net doesn’t expect to compete at Wimbledon, and someone who’s recently hammered her first nail doesn’t expect to be hired to build the next Trump Tower. But for some reason, may beginners believe their first attempt at a novel is going to make a major publisher’s spring list.

This doesn’t happen. Fiction writing is a discipline. And for an eternal lack of a better word, it is a craft. A profession. So take classes. Read how-to books. Join a critique group. Go to workshops and conferences. Chances are, you shouldn’t send out your first novel. Keep it in a drawer and write a couple more.

Some day you’ll thank me for telling you that. I personally learned this lesson the hard, and embarrassing, way.

3) Not reading contemporary fiction.

You can’t write what you don’t read. Don’t fake it. The editor can tell. Write what you read and read what you write.

You need to know who’s publishing books like the one you’ve written, and where to find them in a bookstore. Film and TV references give you away as a non-reader. If you’ve written a forensic science whodunit, compare your sleuth to Kay Scarpetta: don’t just pitch your work as CSI: Peoria.

Specific genres have specific rules. Learn them. The only kind of fiction that can break rules is literary fiction, but if you prefer to read Grisham, don’t attempt the magical realism of Garcia Marquez or the kaleidoscopic character studies of Michael Cunningham.

4) Bad grammar and haphazard spelling.

No editor is going to waste a minute of her overbooked time reading awhole novel written by somebody who can’t be bothered to use her computer’s spellcheck function. Or hasn’t found out where to put an apostrophe.

Get somebody to proofread for you. It’s hard to spot your own mistakes, because you know what you meant to say and your brain sometimes sees the correct version instead of what’s on the page.

And, the editors remind me, never rely on spellcheck alone, or yule seam a compete full.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Department Stores: A New Home for Indie Booksellers?

Department Stores: A New Home for Indie Booksellers?
May 31, 2005
By Rachel Deahl

A shopper walking through the main floor of Marshall Field’s flagship department store on Chicago’s State Street will pass a number of branded boutiques, ranging from high-end clothing shops, like BCBG and Max Azria, to one less-expected carve-out: Barbara’s Bookstore. While a decade or more ago, many department stores had in-house book departments, few, if any, indie booksellers—of which Barbara’s is one of the Chicago area’s most beloved—have ever taken up residence in one. But now, as the department store business attempts to reinvigorate itself, more branded storefronts are being invited into large retail centers. Should Barbara’s prove successful on State Street, indie bookshops may just show up all over, wedged between Crate & Barrel and The Gap.

Barbara’s owner, Don Barliant, explains that, at his operation, which opened in Marshall Field’s in 2003, the chain takes the bulk of the profits. Customers actually pay the department store for every purchase, with a percentage of each sale going to Barbara’s, which provides the staff and stocks the store. (Barbara’s staffers, after being trained by Field’s, are added to the department store’s payroll and benefits plan.) Barliant says the arrangement is doubly advantageous: It helps build awareness of the Barbara’s brand and—despite the revenue-sharing agreement that favors Field’s—the number of dollar signs tends to be high. “If there’s a book at Marshall Field’s, we provide it,” Barliant explains. In addition to the strong sales coming from the high-traffic downtown location, Barliant now provides books for other departments in the company’s local and non-local locations. Thus, Barbara’s inventory can appear everywhere from a cookware display to a storefront window.

Barliant, who is currently in discussions with Marshall Field’s to open another location in the chain’s planned Minneapolis outpost, says his shop’s presence in Marshall Field’s ultimately does what all small booksellers need to do: Bring books to the places where the customers are. The key, Barliant says, is getting books to non-traditional locations.

The partnership is promising for Field’s as well, since department stores—suffering many of the same woes as bookstores—need to find unique ways to battle back into a marketplace dominated by mega-retailers like Target and K-Mart. The department store business has been stuck in “a no man’s land” for the past two decades, says Amanda Nicholson, director of the Retail Management & Consumer Studies Department at Boston College, losing business to discount retailers and specialty chains like Banana Republic and Ann Taylor. “On one end, you have the powerful discount chains which in the last 20 years have really taken a lot of the market share and then, at the other end, you have the specialty store chains like The Gap and Banana Republic,” she says. “People used to go to department stores to buy all their clothes, and that’s changed.”

In fact, Marshall Field’s has “added or invigorated” 500 new vendors and brands at its State Street store since 2003, says Jennifer McNamara, a Field’s spokesperson, with the goal of creating “an environment unlike anything in retail.” Marshall Field’s, says Bart Weitz, director of the Miller Center for Retailing at the University of Florida, “wants to have something that’s unique and different, so Barbara’s is ideal for that. People can go to a Borders anywhere.” And what’s happening at State Street likely points to imminent changes at the store’s 62 other locations throughout the Midwest, and, perhaps, at Macy’s Bloomingdale’s and other department store chains. “If the Barbara’s location is working for Marshall Field’s,” says Nicholson, “then another company will be looking for similar deals.”

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

CBS News | Dracula Novel Earns $2M Advance | June 1, 2005�17:00:12

Dracula Novel Earns $2M Advance
(Page 1 of 2)

ANN ARBOR, Mich., June 1, 2005

(AP) Elizabeth Kostova used some unconventional ingredients from her own life — a childhood spent listening to Dracula tales, a love of Balkan folk music and a passion for libraries — to produce a debut novel that earned her a breathtaking $2 million advance.

Despite its quirky origins, publisher Little, Brown and Co. is hoping "The Historian" will grab readers' imaginations in much the same way as Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code," another historical adventure-mystery that has sold more than 17 million copies around the world and been translated into 44 languages.
Interesting article about a writer's perserverance and willingness to undertake countless rewrites. Sound familiar?

Noteworthy point--this was the author's first novel.

Click on the link to access the article at cbsnews.com