From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:
When I was taking classes in the craft of fiction, everyone—from established professional writers to English professors—recommended that a writer never ever say that a character looked like a famous actor. No “he resembled a young Orson Welles” or “she dressed like Claudette Colbert.”
Not only was it lazy writing—the Gurus said—but, more importantly, there was no way for your reader to know exactly what you meant.
You see, kids, back in the days when you walked uphill both ways in the snow to get to your typewriter, when manuscripts were laced with white-out, and copies were made with carbon paper, old movies were hard to find.
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But the teachers all had a point. Not only did referencing old movies make it difficult for modern readers to “see” your characters, it also dated the work. Because so much of popular culture back then was available for such a short period of time, and then it was impossible to find without an archive nearby, a good old movie house (with a lot of money), or a lot of late-night television viewing. I often memorized TV Guide, and stayed up until the wee hours to see a censored version of a movie I’d only heard about.
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By the early 1990s, I realized I could compare my characters to movie stars, if I wanted to, and people would understand. It’s still lazy if that’s all I say—but if I’m in the point of view of say a major movie buff, it might be a great way to characterize my narrator. The option is open to me.
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But we haven’t given much thought to the world we’re moving into. The world that so many people who were born from about 1995 to now will inhabit.
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Brian Robbins, who runs Awesomeness TV, a provider of YouTube channels (and programming) and which attract (as far as I can tell) at least thirty-one million teens and tweens. About their attitude toward programming, he says,
The next generation, our audience and even younger, they don’t even know what live TV is. They live in an on-demand world.
An on-demand world.
Think about that for a moment. Those of us raised in that blink-and-you’ll-miss-it world had a sense of urgency about everything we loved. If we didn’t schedule ourselves around a TV show, we’d miss it. If we missed the opening weekend to a film, we might not see it. If we weren’t listening to the radio during a baseball game, we might never understand the nuances—we’d have to stick with the reported coverage the next day.
That’s changed. I don’t feel any urgency at all about finding what I love. I just deleted a show to make room on my DVR, secure in the knowledge that I can pick up that series on demand when I’m ready to.
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We writers take advantage of it when we write in series. Our readers want the next book the moment they finish the previous one. E-books allow the reader to get that book at 4 a.m. on a holiday weekend in a town where there won’t be an open bookstore for another 48 hours (and even then, it’s a crapshoot as to whether or not the bookstore has the title).
But on demand has its other side.
Personally, I love it, although it does make me pickier than I used to be. Faced with the choice of programming or reading material, I can judge what I watch by mood. I need something funny tonight, or maybe I’m in the mood for a detective show, but not urban fantasy with a detective (like Grimm). Back in the day, I had to watch whatever was available on Thursday on Thursday, mood be damned.
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I think the first metric is how many people want a book within a week of its release. That doesn’t make a book an instant bestseller. It simply shows us—the writer—how many fans we’ve managed to capture.
The next metric is how many copies of the book sell over time. That time should probably be measured in year-long increments. How many copies sell in the first year? How many in the second? How many in the fifth?
Because if the book’s sales increase per year, then something is happening for that book. That something is word of mouth.
We never had a way to measure word of mouth before, because books became unavailable within weeks of their release, and went out of print within months. Now, we can see the growth as more and more people tell their friends about a title.
. . . .
The publishing industry isn’t even talking about new metrics. That idea hasn’t occurred to traditional publishing, and indie (or self) published writers are constantly seeking validation from the old system—trying to figure out ways to game the bestseller lists or to get a fantastic review from somewhere that has old-world prestige.
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The traditional publishing industry is notorious for not studying anything. What works to promote a book? Who knows. Why should they study that?
But at some point, traditional publishers are going to have to develop new ways to figure out which products sell well and which ones don’t. All of their systems—from sales figures (which measure books shipped not books sold) to bestseller lists to critical acclaim—are based on the old models.
It might take another ten years or more before traditional publishing figures out how to measure success for its various titles. What happens in ten years or more? Members of the on-demand generation will start to step into positions of power at traditional publishing companies (and everywhere else). Those future adults will want metrics that mean something to them, not things that belong to a hot autumn night accompanied by the smell of burning leaves and ancient voices on the radio.
Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch
PG had a couple of thoughts while reading Kris’ latest business post.
First, he wonders if traditional publishing will stay around long enough to develop new ways to figure out which products to sell. There will probably be organizations named Penguin Random House, etc., but PG suspects that, like big record labels, they’ll be vastly shrunken and have less money to throw around than they do today. Certainly, they’ll have less influence over authors in general.
Second, he agrees with the suggestion not to say one of your characters looks like a famous actor.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t use a famous actor as a source of character description.
PG did some acting in college. He was competent, but that’s about it. He did, however, perform with very good actors, including some who went on to have successful professional careers in movies, TV and on stage.
One of the things the very good actors did was always look interesting. Little things were going on with their posture, their faces, their hands most of the time they were on stage. When you were in the audience, your eye was drawn to them even when they weren’t speaking. They weren’t doing big hammy things, just subtle little things that sometimes communicated with the audience on almost a subconscious level.
In movies, really good actors usually do the same kinds of things. (What they have to do on a stage that is 30 yards from some of the audience members is different than what they do when a camera is shooting a head-and-shoulders shot, but they’re still doing interesting things that you and I wouldn’t do if the camera was pointed at us.)
So, PG’s suggestion is to watch what an actor does when playing a character that is somewhat like a character in your book and take ideas for character descriptions from them. How do they move and what does that tell you about them? What are their mouths and eyes doing? Their hands? Perhaps it might work better with the sound off, but you might also want to analyze what’s going on with the voice as well.
Just a passing thought.