Saturday, August 27, 2011

Elevator Pitching - Useful Advice Links

Two weeks ago, I posted about researching all things elevator-pitch to get ready for the Frankfurt Bookfair. So far I've only managed to scrounge together and peruse some useful links - so much to be learned! This weekend I hope to go through them once more and compile the advice to something I'll apply to my pitch in October.

Posts on pitching by Rachelle Gardner.

Posts on pitching by Jessica Faust.

Posts on pitching by Scott Eagan.

Friday, August 19, 2011

More Thoughts On Conflict

Earlier this month I posted a list of possible conflicts, as assembled by Chuck Wendig. Now, Scott Eagan also has some advice on conflict, the - as he calls it - most frequently screwed up story element.

Apparently, what agents and editors see most to mess up the conflict, are three scenarios:

1) The conflict is too easy .
I've frequently started new projects, only to find out that there isn't much meat to the conflict. This isn't only boring for a reader, but also for me as the writer. Where no conflict, there no interest. I usually break these off pretty early on.

2) The conflict is impossible (works only for James Bond ;-D).
I've also managed to write myself into a corner and couldn't come up with a solution that wasn't deus-ex-machina type or needed some drastic actions from my characters that wouldn't have fit either them or the story. When that happens, I go back to the key point where the impossibility is introduced, and try to fix it there. Sometimes, a lot of revision is necessary. Some such projects I haven't finished because it'd be too much effort.

3) The conflict would never happen.

I don't think I've fallen victim to this scenario yet. But I definitely recognize the other two, and voilá - Revelation of the Day.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge - Dreamscape

Haley Whitehall has another flash fiction challenge up on her blog, the theme of which is dreams. This time I went quite a bit over the suggested 500 words. I'll tell you why at the end...

Thanks Haley, this was fun. Great theme!

by Pia Newman
(593 words) 

I am running, leaping, spinning through a dank and foggy forest. Snarls ride the air in front of me; my sole purpose is to reach them, eliminate them. They are chasing that which I must protect. I catch glimpses of four-legged shapes leaping through the forest. Their claws send up sparks in the soggy underbrush.
Hellhounds, a whisper of knowledge provides me with a label. I feel detached, confused. I have a purpose, but nothing else, nothing. Questions are raising their heads like a waking many-headed monster, the first of which is: What do I protect?
Me, the whisper says.
>Who are you?<
Isabelle. Please help me.
Because they want to eat me. You are the only one who can help me.
>Who am I?<
My protector.
>Yes, but who am I? What is my name? What is my history?<
Oh… I’m not sure yet.
>When will you know?<
When I see you. Hurry.  

Now I have a personal agenda behind my general purpose: Find Isabelle. Save her. Learn who I am.
I run faster, legs pumping. Dead branches slap my face and arms. I have no idea how I will fend off the hellhounds, but I know that I can.
>How do I know this?<
Because I know.
>How do you know?<
Because you are my protector.
The trees give way to a clearing, in the middle of which stands a large, craggy rock. Isabelle - I know it's her - stands on the rock in her night-gown, swinging a thick branch, beating off the hellhounds as they try to jump onto the rock with her. She sees me emerging from the trees, looks at me. She has the body of a young girl, but the face of a wise old lady.
Eden. You are Eden, she says without moving her lips.
Yes, of course. I am Eden. I'm an elf, of the Ash Tribe. Beautiful, independent and fierce, one of Pearson’s best growers and warriors. My favourite weapon is the shortsword.
I feel two of them crossing my back diagonally. I’m sure they weren’t there before but now I reach behind me and draw them. This is how I will fend off the hellhounds.
One of them suddenly sprouts wings and takes off. Isabelle watches it fly at her, the look on her face changing from panic to absolute horror.
This is a dream! The drugs aren’t helping. I'm dreaming!
The hellhounds become unfocused. They forget Isabelle and turn toward me. Their eyes burn red.
>How can you be dreaming when I am not?<
Because this is my dream and you are in it. I created you. And now I’m waking up.
Somehow, I know this is bad. 

>Will I cease to be?<
No. You will become reality.
>I prefer that idea to not existing.<
But you will be incomplete and they will hunt you. I’m sorry. The drugs were supposed to prevent this… Try to blend in. Trust no one if you want to survive.
Bright light blinks across the sky, like an eye opening to daylight.
I’m awake…
My body burns in the bright light. Sound roars in my ears, accompanied by my scream. Then focus returns to my senses. I’m still standing on the clearing, holding the shortswords, a sea of hellhounds before me, the large rock sprawling in the background. But the sky is blue, the rock is empty, and there are gigantic silver towers looming above the trees.
The dreamer has left her dreamscape, yet the dream manifests in her waking world.
I have become a dream that survives in reality…

Do you think I could have cut this down to 500 words? I didn't want to cut more or I felt like this would be purely confusing.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Post Nr. 100, Publishing News and Fun

Virtual bubbly all around! I just realized this is the 100th post on my blog since the first in September. Kinda cool. Time flies. So, apparently, do my fingers over the keyboard.

The New York Times published an article about a survey that shows publishing is changing though alive and well, contrary to current beliefs.
Very uplifting.

Also, here's a hilarious and to the point tid-bit of fun: Try Not to Sound Like a Writer, pilfered from Rachelle Gardner's blog.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Borders Tribute

Well, this about sums it up. My sentiments exactly... *sniff*

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Preparing For The Frankfurt Book Fair

The Frankfurt Book Fair in October is approaching, only a two hour drive away from where I live. You can so bet your ass I'm going.

I've never been to a book fair, not even the one in Stuttgart, where I live. It just never worked out. Plus, I never thought so many agents/agencies from English speaking countries would attend.

After going through the program of the Frankfurt Book Fair, I realized that this is actually a golden opportunity. I mean, when else will I get another chance to pitch my novel and communicate with American agents other than via the good old query?

Never, unless I win the lottery.

So now's the time to dive into the details of the "elevator pitch". That's the right term, I think. Many agents have already put in their two cents as to what a good elevator pitch is, and I did always skim over them, never assuming I might need these particular grains of wisdom in the near future.
Good think I realized this now, not two days before the fair. That might have ended in a mess. By 'that' I mean both my pitch and me by extension.

Therefore, my guess is that my next few posts will be elevator-pitch related. Maybe I'll even post what I come up with in the end here on the blog.


Either way, I'm looking forward to October. My first ever book fair. Squeeee!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Writing Interesting Baddies And Disagreeable Characters or Why I Have Backstories

How do you get your baddies not to be the cardboard super-villains who only want world-domination and our hero to suffer?

This is not the key question answered in Sympathy for the Devils: How to make Disagreeable Characters Agreeable by Brian Hodge, but I think the point he makes - "We can overlook, forgive, or even empathize with just about any character flaw, no matter how bad it is or how deep it runs, as long as it’s clear that the character is genuinely resolute about getting better" - is what it all comes down to in the end:

Is your character, even your baddie, redeemable?

In many stories, the villain isn't supposed to be likeable; it's supposed to be clear that this is the baddie, the antagonist who makes our hero's life hard and miserable.

Personally, I prefer stories - books as well as movies - in which the reader/watcher can almost sympathize with the baddie. Almost. It seems more real that way, at least to me - nobody is two dimensional, not even somebody who does really bad things. Some ambition or other usually drives a person to be 'bad', do bad things, and I think as a writer, you want to get to the bottom of what that is in your antagonist. 

My favorite example: Severus Snape is a constant pain in Harry's arse; I always felt while reading the books that there was a lot more to Snape and what he did, why he did, and in the end everything made so much sense - which made him a much more interesting character to me than Voldi. All he ever wanted was to be powerful enough to overcome his inferiority complexes, whereas Snape was a torn character, both in himself and for the reader, posing the constant question of is he or is he not a bad guy.
It makes everything much more interesting, IMO. The reader has to get the sense that there's 'more' behind this character than simply his ambition to rule the world - why does he want to rule the world so badly as to destroy it, f.e.?

This, as Brian Hodge put it, makes for interesting characters. It also poses the question of whether the baddie could change, if only he wanted to. If there's a way out for the baddie, it makes the possibilities so much more ambiguous and less predictable.

And therefore more enjoyable.

It's why I think it's good to have or create a backstory to every one of your characters, even if said stories never make it into your novel. It gives the characters more depth, and can help make even the baddie multi-faceted.

I create such backstories as I go along. I try not to outline too much right at the beginning, because it narrows down and eliminates many possibilities right from the start. But when I introduce a new character, I look at his motives, his reason for being in my story, and this person's backstory evolves from there, more or less automatically.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Causing Conflict In Your Story

Chuck Wendig's as always hilariuos post 25 Ways To Fuck With Your Character (or Building Conflict One Cruelty At A Time) puts into words the themes which every writer uses to cause conflict in their story, whether instinctively or by conscious design - and lets hope it's mostly instinct.

As Chuck so nicely puts it, 'story is born of conflict and conflict is born of characters in trouble'. So dump your characters right in said trouble - there are many fun, excellent, sadistic ways to do so.

Here's the gist of the list:

To torture your character into an intriguing situation, a writer may add the following ingredients:
1.  An antagonist who stands actively between the protagonist's deeds and desires.
2.  A 'Mightiest Burden', i.e. the stakes on the table.
3.  Impossible odds.
4.  Opposed choices.
5.  An untenable secret life, that, if discovered, will destroy/ruin what your character wants/loves most.
6.  A roadblock that denies your character the success of gaining what s/he wants.
7.  Things your character doesn't want - as opposed to knowing only what s/he does want.
8.  False victories. Chuck gave the perfect example: 'John McClane succeeds in calling the authorities and ultimately ends up causing a bigger shitstorm as a result'.
9.  Take away what your character(s) love(s).
10. A time limit, like in some video games - sends your adrenalin right through the roof, doesn't it?
11. Hurt your character. Again, John McClane style.
12. Betrayal by a loved one - far worse than hurting John McClane style.
13. Rob the character of his fundamental identifiers - make him/her question who s/he is anymore.
14. Shatter your character's preconceived notions.
15. The Love triangle. 'Nough said.
16. Force your character to lie, thereby putting him/her on treacherous ground.
17. Throw in a 'simple' misunderstanding, sitcom-style.
18. Opposed goals.
19. Let your character make mistakes, maybe even willingly and wantonly.
20. Put loved ones in danger.
21. 'Never say never' - identify a role your character never wants to fill, then drop him right in it.
22. Let your character's weaknesses complicate the story.
23. Environment as antagonist. Freezing ice storm. Scorching desert. Setting can bring misery.
24. Let your character's past catch up with him/her.
25. This point is more of a summary, really. In Chuck's words: ' (the writer) like the character, you want them to succeed, and that’s all well and good.... But you have to be willing to put the irons to their feet – a character’s success is only keenly felt and roundly celebrated when first he had to go through hell to get there'.

I have worked with ten of these 'trouble-devices', namely 1, 5, 6, 7, 9, 12, 14, 20, 21 and 24. This list has helped me realize that some of them repeat themselves in every single story I write, sometimes more than once. Not sure if that makes them predictable, exactly, but it certainly makes them similar. Hopefully, now that I've had my nose rubbed in it, I'll recognize when I go off on that same ol' same ol' path again and can spice things up with some other trouble to wallop my protagonist upside the head with.

Two of these points will be difficult for me to integrate, just because you have to plan them in advance and I'm more of a pantser than a plotter, therefore I don't know what will happen early on in the game. This makes points 8 and 10 more challenging for me than the others. Still, I've learned to never say never. :-)

Are there more such conflict-themes? Which have you used and which ones are difficult for you?