Three Mistakes In Tone

From Dave Farland:

One of the most common problems I see with new writers is a “mistake in tone.” You know what I mean if you’ve ever played in a band. A new kid comes in, you’re trying to play a song, and he blats out a sour note on a trumpet. The same thing happens in writing.

It usually happens because the writer wants so badly to impress the reader that he tries too hard, thus calling attention to himself and sounding a sour note.

Over-exaggeration

For example, the writer might want to put a character in gripping danger, so he might say, “The crocodile opened a mouth as wide as the Nile.”

Well, that’s exaggeration.

Usually the writer will continue exaggerating, telling us that the crocodile is a “perfect predator,” “honed by a three hundred million years of evolution,” “with bullet-proof armor” and so on. But really it’s just an oversized lizard.

The writer doesn’t understand that truth can be terrifying in fiction. If you give us the right details of sight, sound, smell and texture, creating the perfect descriptions, you can bring the crocodile to life and you don’t have to exaggerate. They’re scary enough.

 In fact, by over-exaggerating a description, the reader is silently thinking, “Yeah, right.” And because they know that you’re stretching the truth, instead of creating greater danger, you may be undercutting your work, actually reducing the sense of fear that you’re trying to engender.

Maudlin Prose

You can also ruin your tone when you’re trying to arouse strong sympathy for a character. Perhaps your heroine Penelope starts out in a story doing just fine, and then her boyfriend dumps her, her kitten dies, her evil stepmother tries to sell her as a whore, and she discovers that the pimple on her face is filled with flesh-eating bacteria.

Somehow it seems that when an author tries to overemphasize a character’s problems, they just start piling them up until they sound absurd.

Now, in real life, a person can indeed have problems stack up until they are overwhelming. I was just reading about albinos in Tanzania who are hunted and killed because the locals believe that they’re reincarnated ghosts. A young albino girl with skin cancer was attacked by her father and a bunch of machete-wielding men. It turns out that witchdoctors like to make potions out of the albinos’ body parts, which can sell for up to $75,000 on the black market. I can imagine that if I tried to write a story about that 14-year-old girl, it might sound maudlin even if I didn’t exaggerate her problems at all.

But that’s the point: sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. A true story written as fiction can feel contrived. Just because something happened in real life, doesn’t mean that it should happen in fiction.

Link to the rest at Dave Farland

Write What You Know—But Not Exactly

From veteran author and teacher, Dave Farland

Yesterday I got an email from a former writing student who had dazzled me a couple of years ago. He worked as a shepherd in New Zealand, and so had no ability to network with a local writing group, but his writing skills were superb. To me, it seemed he had the sophisticated sensibilities of a Hollywood pro.

Yesterday he mentioned that he had just self-published his first book a few weeks ago. Sales are exploding. He’s got nearly a thousand reviews on Amazon already, and they’re nearly all five stars. His book is doing so well that he has now gone to writing full time. 

like that. I’m excited that he’s making his dream come true. The title of his book is fun:  Oh Great! I was Reincarnated as a Farmer: A LitRPG Adventure : (Unorthodox Farming: Book 1) by Benjamin Kerei. That sounds like him. Benjamin packs a bit of humor in his tales, along with a lot of adventure and a truly wild imagination.

But when you hit your first jackpot as a writer, there are some dangers to avoid. I often tell writers in this position, “You need two income streams.” 

Why? Because writing income can sometimes get blocked.

Let me explain. If you’re publishing traditionally, your writing stream might get blocked by a publisher. An editor may decide that she doesn’t like your next book, or the publisher goes bust. I’ve even seen publishers dawdle on signing new contracts apparently in order to force a writer to take a bad contract. 

Of course, the same kinds of things happen even when you are self-publishing. I’ve seen authors have their books pulled off of Amazon precisely because the book is doing too well! It looks so suspicious that the book police pull the title until they can figure out how the author has gamed their system. In fact, I’ve had books pulled on a couple of occasions. And sometimes, with a writer as good as Benjamin Kerei, it really might look fishy.

So I recommend that the author have a second income stream. This might be outside money—a spouse who works, or an investment portfolio. But it could include a hefty savings account meant to get an author through hard times.

And there often come hard times. Authors can lose time due to medical issues—either his or her own, or a family member’s. I’ve seen authors stop writing for up to three years as they grieve the loss of a loved one. Sometimes a writer can get writer’s block due to stress, depression, anxiety, brain fog, or just because a new novel is harder to write because it breaks some molds.

So a writer needs multiple income streams.

There’s one piece of advice that we hear over and over as writers: “Don’t quit your day job!” 

But day jobs might not pay very much. 

So I often tell writers, if you really want to write full time, get a second stream. For example, dabble with a different genre, perhaps with a whole new identity! (Sometimes, a writers’ name can turn bad, as happened with two writers named Timothy McVeigh. One serial killer can put a stain on your entire literary persona.)

So as a hot new writer, you need to nurture a second income stream, either by making money outside the writing field, by amassing enough in savings so that you can support yourself for a couple of years, by writing under more than one name, or writing in two separate series at the same time. 

That way, if one career path becomes blocked, you can still support yourself and your family!

Link to the rest at David Farland’s Writing Tips

Using “He said.” in your dialogue?

From Dave Farland:

I don’t often give actual tips on how to compose stories. I tend to focus my lessons on storytelling to things that you can’t learn elsewhere.  Yet from time to time, it might be worthwhile to actually give a few technical tips. Today we will go over one on how to improve your dialogue. 

A few years ago, I listened to a bestselling writer give perhaps the worst advice on dialog tags that I’ve ever heard.  He told new writers, “Never use the word said.  It’s boring and repetitious.  Worst of all, it doesn’t really tell us much about the feeling behind what has been spoken.”

His advice was that you should “mix it up, and never repeat verbs that deal with speaking on the same page.  If you are forced to use the word said, he suggested that you add an adverb to it in order to define the quality of the words spoken.  

Given his advice, you might have a teen “mumble” one sentence:

“I don’t want to go to church,” she mumbled.

While the reply would use a different verb:

“Well you’re going to go, Missy,” Dad retorted.

The problem that arises is that we find ourselves using a lot of verbs that seem rather silly when put into a string of tags.  Thus, you might have people mumbling, shouting, profaning, teasing, snarling, squealing, averring, blaming, and so on in rapid succession.   

Do you see the problem?  When you handle dialog that way, you fall into a trap where your characters seem to be emotional butterflies, endlessly flitting from one powerful emotion to another.  Sometimes authors even fall into the trap of using unfortunate combinations:

“Why don’t you come over to my place?” she teased.

“Sure!” he ejaculated.

In reality, people don’t flit from one powerful emotion to another.  Each person that you meet has something of an emotional tone about them.  Some people are stern most of the time, while others might be thoughtful, pleasant, or excited.  So when you write about that person, you’ll most often be depicting that person with his or her natural tone. The link is to a lesson on common mistakes writers make in regards to tone. 

Many a literary writer would suggest that we use the words said or asked when we make our attributions.  Both of these words are neutral in tone.  This allows the writer to imply the tone through the content of the dialog.  If I write:

“Get your butt out of my chair,” he said. 

I don’t need to modify it with a verb like roared, shouted, fumed, and so on.  Nor do I really need to add an exclamation mark.  The tone of the speaker in this case is implied by the content of the sentence.

Another advantage of plain old said is that it’s invisible in your writing.  You can repeat the verb in every line of dialog in a short story, and no reader will ever complain.  (In the same way, character names don’t attract too much attention.  If you’re writing about the Wizard Wythian, you can repeat his name a dozen times on a page without the reader feeling that it is overused.)

But there are a couple of problems when using said.  Often a writer might modify the word for greater effect when a different verb would be more suitable.  For example, you might say “she said very softly,” when “she whispered” actually conveys the same information more concisely.

For this reason, many literary writers will tell you to “get rid of adverbs,” the words that end in –ly, and as a result they will search through a document during their editing process trying to get rid of as many –ly words as possible.

However, getting rid of all of your adverbs can lead to new problems.  If you’ve read a lot of authors from the past 70 years, you’ll find that their style is becoming increasingly homogeneous as they allow their writing to be informed by such strictures.  In short, too many a writer now writes in an abbreviated Hemingway-esque style that feels smooth and professional but which also sounds like the same voice as any of ten thousand other writers.  You can learn to write in that homogeneous tone by following a popular handbook, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.  For this reason, I’ve heard authors complain that Strunk and White have stolen the voices from an entire generation of America’s young writers.  We sound like clones.

Link to the rest at Dave Farland

PG notes in passing that, for him, using the term, “ejaculated,” in place of “said” has presented a mental speed-bump for some time. He has less of a problem if it is used in a period piece, but on occasions when female characters ejaculate, he finds the term to be a bit more off-putting.

But PG is ancient, quirky, opinionated and suffering from the severe effects of being socially isolated from many of his stabilizing and sanity-enhancing human resources other than Mrs. PG for an extended period of time, so his thoughts on this subject should likely be disregarded.

How Real Do You Want Your World to Be?

From Dave Farland:

When I approach creating a world for a story, I ask myself, “How real do I want this world to be?”

This might sound like a trite question, but it’s not. More than 400 years ago, William Shakespeare was born into a world where playwriting had become rigid and stagnant in its traditions. In his day, it was believed that a play should be set in the town where people lived. For example, if you lived in London, your plays should be set in London. Why? Because the local bumpkins wouldn’t be able to imagine anywhere else. And of course a story also needed to be set in the current day. Why? Because the hicks couldn’t imagine a story set ten years ago, or ten years in the future.

Shakespeare was a fantasist, of course, and a great one.

Of course Shakespeare couldn’t limit his stories that way.  He was all over the map, moving from Denmark to Italy to Rome on his locations, and even into fairytale settings.  And he set stories thousands of years in the past, hopping from one millennium to another. He couldn’t confine his work to the realistic tropes of his day.  He often wondered in print if he suffered from some sort of madness that forced him to write about such things, yet he also recognized that one man’s madness is another’s genius.

In the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare explored the role of fantasy in a story versus realism.  The play really has two storylines—one fantastical (about a man who is turned into an ass), and one that becomes hyper-realistic (about some gentlemen who hopes to win some money for writing a play).

What is interesting about the two plot lines is that the fantastic line ultimately fascinates the audience, but doesn’t really provide much in the way of emotional payoff.  It doesn’t jerk any tears.  Meanwhile, the realistic storyline actually becomes quite boring—but it does manage to evince powerful emotions. I believe that this is important.  The world that you create will function in much the same way.  The more fantastical it is, the more likely it will be to hold a reader’s interest. 

But for us to become emotionally invested in your world, you need to “bring it to life,” portray the world in a manner that convinces us that it is real.

In short, when you look at a world like Middle-earth, or the world of Avatar, our interest in the world is first piqued by its curious nature.  But our emotional investment in that place doesn’t occur until after the author brings it to life. The great world creators aren’t people who imagine strange places, they’re people who bring places to life by creating an illusion so substantial that the reader becomes engrossed.

I like to imagine that as I’m writing, there are little switches that I flip with each sentence.  The switches are like those old electrical switches that turn a charge on or off.  Your switch can move to on or off mode quickly.  The on mode might be considered “fantastical.”  The off mode might be called “realistic.”

As you’re writing, you might create the illusion of realism by embellishing fairly common details about your world. 

For example, you might have Frodo and his hobbits traveling through a marsh.  Anyone who has ever been stuck in a bog can relate to the problems the character will face—midges, mosquitoes, quick-mud, slogging through water up to your knees, feet sinking in the mire, the sweat on your face, leeches biting into your ankles, and so on.  Those are all realistic details.  We can relate as an audience.

But suddenly Tolkien would pull us out of the real world and tell us about ghostly faces peering up from the water, trying to suck Frodo down, down, and drown him.  That’s riveting stuff!  Right?  Tolkien flipped the switch from realism to fantasy, and grabbed our attention.

Link to the rest at Dave Farland

Rules for Your Writing Group

From David Farland:

I’ve belonged to several writing groups, and many of them were excellent, while a couple were actually dysfunctional. I’d like to suggest a few things that you can do to keep your writing group on track.

First, have a leader for your group—a president, and a sergeant-at-arms. The president’s job might be to lead discussions and to submit ideas for rule changes. The sergeant-at-arms is a person who talks quietly to someone who breaks the rules and let’s them know that the group has a problem. He or she may even need to evict others. Usually, both positions are voted upon.

Second, manage the size of your group. You don’t want to be overwhelmed by piles of manuscripts to critique each week, so don’t let the group get too big. I’ve seen writing groups with 150 people in them, and at that size, you can’t really have a meaningful critique of a novel. Even ten people is too large.

I’ve been in some groups where each writer was expected to submit, say, twelve pages a week. That worked very well. It meant that each writer progressed each week, but no writer came in with two hundred pages, week after week.

Generally speaking, by the time you’ve had eight people comment on a single manuscript, you’re probably critiqued it enough, so decide how big you want your group to be—three people, six? Once you hit your limit, close the group. In the same way, you don’t want the group to be too small. Search for members who compliment the group, people who have their own skillsets. Some authors, for example, might be full of passion and excitement. Another may have a vast understanding of a given genre. Those two writers are stronger together than they would be apart.

Meet together often. Most groups seem to work well when they meet weekly. If you try once a month, it can work, but groups that don’t meet together regularly will fizzle out.

Critiques should be written on the manuscript (either in pen or in a file) so that the author can compile the ideas when finished. Talking about the critique verbally, though, helps stimulate ideas in others and gets members of the group focused on a story, so you want to have both written and verbal comments. Always start a critique with something positive. Knowing what works is as important for a writer as knowing what to fix. More importantly, it helps authors remember to accentuate the positive, give praise when it might be needed the most. Give substantive criticism in oral critiques: talk about plot, characterization, scene building, pacing and other “big-ticket items.” Don’t waste a group’s time by talking about punctuation, spelling, dropped words or typos in an oral critique. Sure, you can fix commas in a written critique, but don’t belabor the point. 

Link to the rest at David Farland

Writing the “Big” Book

From Dave Farland:

When you look at novels carefully, you will notice that the bestselling books of all time are usually big “doorstoppers.” In each genre, we see this pattern.

When the novel Dune was published, it was rejected by every publisher in the business until a company that sold engine books illustrating engine parts (so that you could easily order parts for repairs) decided to publish the novel. It became the bestselling science fiction novel of all time.

A Tale of Two Cities was rejected by so many publishers, the author finally published it himself with the help of an investor—and it became the bestselling mainstream book in English for the next 150 years.

With Harry Potter, the twelve largest publishers in the world rejected it because it was “too big” for Middle Grade readers. It has since gone on to sell 500 million copies and become the bestselling Middle Grade novel of all time.

Yet as authors, we are told over and over again to write skinnier novels. My editor at Tor used to try to cut every novel down to under 130,000 words. I like to write them a bit closer to 200,000.

I’ve heard several reasons why we should write skinny novels. 

  1. Publishers complain that paper costs are usually steep enough so that if you have too many pages, it’s hard to get customers to pay the higher price required for a big book. I recall one publisher complaining of a bestselling novel by Robert Jordan—“We’re selling millions of them, but we are wondering if we’re losing money on every book we sell, with today’s paper prices being so high.”
  2. One editor pointed out that with fat books, there are only a couple of binderies in the US that can handle a book that holds over 400 pages, so they are tougher to make. Indeed, with mass-market paperbacks, we didn’t have glue that would bind 600-page books together until the mid-1980s.
  3. Booksellers like Barnes & Noble often complained to publishers that fat books were unprofitable because they took up so much space on the racks. In fact, the US’s largest bookseller warned publishers that they would refuse to take fat books if the publishers kept printing them.

Yet people keep reading fat books.

. . . .

When Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings, he intentionally wrote a “long book.” I believe that he understood the effect that he was trying to achieve. In the 1950s, he taught a class at Oxford where he discussed the importance of telling stories from multiple narrators so that an author could create a “dreamlike state” as quickly as possible.

So when he wrote LOTR, he imagined it as one huge novel. He typed it up and sent it to his publisher in an orange crate because, back then, orange crates were made of wood and were sturdy enough to hold his 2000-page manuscript.

The publisher looked at it and declared it an “act of genius,” but worried that they’d lose money on it.

So they broke it into three pieces and sold it as a “trilogy”. Suddenly, authors could write longer narratives so long as we kept them in a series.

Link to the rest at Dave Farland

Promises to Keep

From veteran author and writing coach, Dave Farland:

As a teen, I once read a fantasy novel that had a picture on the cover that showed a wizard fighting with some lizard men. I read the novel, and liked it pretty well, except for one thing: the mage on the cover was too old, and there weren’t any lizard men. I kept thinking, “It must come at the end!”

But the scene never did take place. At the time, I wasn’t familiar with the concept of stock art. I didn’t know that publishers sometimes bought high-quality artwork at a bargain rate to grace their covers, and then slapped the pictures on inferior books. So I learned to beware.

You see, every time a publisher did that, they engaged in false advertising. They promised their readers that a cool scene would appear, and it never did. I took it so far as to avoid reading any of the books offered under that imprint.

. . . .

As authors, we tend to make promises that are more subtle. I have seen stories come to me in in the Writers of the Future contest submissions, and on more than one occasion that author has promised, “This is the greatest story ever told.” I’ve even had authors send release forms, asking me to promise not to steal their ideas, etc. Most of us authors don’t take ourselves quite so seriously, but we do make promises. We just tend to be subtle about it.

Very often I’ll get a story in my manuscript pile that starts off being funny. It may be beautifully written. It might have an engaging conflict. But when I reach the end of the story, too often I will find that the humorous piece turned tragic.

The author promised me one thing on page one, but delivered its opposite at the end of the tale.

In fact, as a contest judge, I’m keenly interested in the promises that you make. If you tell me in line one that “Love is forbidden in hell, but Jonas Derringer had gone to hell precisely because he was a bad boy,” then you’re promising me a love story. If Jonas doesn’t fall in love by the end, I’ll reject your story.

Author’s make all sorts of promises. For example, if you start your story writing in a quirky English voice that promises me that you’ll take indecent liberties with the language, you’d better be consistent and end in the same voice. If on paragraph one you open with a gorgeous metaphor, one that shows creativity and a sensitivity to the language, then you had better be creative and sensitive all of the way through the tale.

Link to the rest at Dave Farland

Learning to Write vs Becoming a Writer

From Dave Farland:

I know a lot of people who know how to write well but who aren’t writers. For example, a few years ago I met a gentleman who had penned five novels. He’s been a huge mainstream success, hit high on the New York Times Bestseller List, and then gave it all up and went into advertising.

The same happens with people who don’t pursue their dreams. There are skillful authors who choose to wait tables in fancy restaurants, practice law or dentistry, and take any number of other occupations.

As a writing instructor, I find that most of the time when writers teach classes, we focus on teaching people how to write, not how to be a writer.

They’re distinct skill sets. You can know how to write a great chapter and never write one. I know authors who don’t know how to keep themselves motivated. Other authors can’t seem to avoid distraction. Others put things off.

Last year, I was considering this problem. I find that I know a lot of good writers who are “working on a novel” for entirely too long. Does it take a month to write a book, or six months, or six years?

There are a lot of things you need to do to become a writer. Most cases of writer’s block are caused by stupidity. The author sits down to write and doesn’t know what to do next. How do you handle this scene or that character?

The writer might be proficient at a different kind of story, but not know how to handle the one they’re working on. For example, the author might know how to pen a romance but be unsure how to write a mystery.

This problem might be easily fixed if the author read more widely and studied craft for the genre in question. It might be easily solved if the writer could discuss it with someone else with similar interests. Just brainstorming the coming scene with another writer is often the key.

Or what about accountability? Many people who want to write find themselves easily distracted. I’ve known professional writers whose careers were destroyed when they became addicted to videogames, or gardening, or writing to friends on social media.

. . . .

There are rare writers who are solitary creatures who manage to go into their attics and pump out manuscript after manuscript, but those are about as rare as unicorns.

Link to the rest at Dave Farland

Here’s a link to Dave Farland’s books. If you like the writing advice Dave provides, you might want to check out his writing.

Bad Practices, Good Practices, Best Practices

From David Farland, Story Doctor:

I was speaking with Forrest Wolverton about a writer we both knew who “couldn’t seem to write.” He’d written well before, but now just wasn’t getting the words on paper. He felt blocked. Forrest asked him to remember back to times when he had written easily three years earlier, and he described how he would sit down with a cup of coffee, open his word processor, and then begin to compose.
However, he’d changed his routine back then. He’d decided that he would check his email before writing. So before he began to write, he checked his email. Then he’d go on Facebook, since he often had messages there. Then he’d “play a videogame for a bit.”

Therein we found the problem. This string of behaviors that delayed his writing actually ended up sabotaging him.

He’s not alone. I know one New York Times bestseller who recently told me that he had gotten addicted to a videogame that cost him three years of his life. Another one spent eight hours a day on social media. A third drank beer after beer while waiting for inspiration.

It seems that all of us, from time to time, can fall into bad habits. Most people with bad habits don’t publish often. But just because you don’t have terrible habits, doesn’t mean you’ll do well. Some people who manage to write consistently at a high level still don’t have stellar careers.

. . . .

I ask our authors about their writing practices, how they publish, and what works for them. Sometimes it has surprised me to find one author’s indie tactics have worked at all. There are more ways to make a living in this business than I imagined. As I listen to their publishing methods, I’ve discovered that nearly all of them—and nearly all of us, I’m sure, fall short of our potential. Authors typically find a way to write and sell books, and then they settle in at that plateau.

I’ve sometimes suggested things the author could do to boost his or her sales, but many feel they are already working about as hard as they want to.

It raises a question: Are you satisfied with doing what works, or would you prefer to change a little and do what works best?

For example, instead of opening your email before you write, could you wait for three hours and do it on a break (setting a time limit to answer)? Instead of just putting your books up on Amazon and advertising to your mailing list, would you consider some targeted ads that might double your income?

Link to the rest at David Farland, Story Doctor

Let the Words Flow

From veteran author and story doctor, Dave Farland:

One of the most important skills that any writers learns is to simply sit down and write. For some
people, this is as easy as sitting in a chair and typing. For others who are burdened with stresses,
distractions, or indecision, writing can be more of a challenge.

Learning to write every day is a skill that one develops. Just as a monk can learn to meditate for
hours, reaching a state where he controls his heartbeat and respiration, writers learn by practice how
to reach a meditative “flow state,” where words come out effortlessly and quickly.

There are other names for the “flow state.” If you’re writing and you are in a light meditative state, it
is sometimes called the “Alpha” state, but as you write for a couple of hours and get into a much
deeper meditative trance, it’s called the “Theta” state. It’s when you’re in this flow state that your
images, word choice, and plotting goals all mesh together seamlessly so that you hit the “writer’s
zone.”

Here is how to do it:

1) Prepare to write. For me to write, I need to know what scene I’m going to work on. That
means I need to know who the protagonist is, where and when the setting is, who else is in
the scene, what the major conflict is, what conversations will occur, and what the mood and
purpose of the scene will be.

Will my protagonist dare try to kiss the boy she’s attracted to, or will my hero fall off a horse
and break her neck? Will my scene consist mainly of an argument that elicits some disturbing
revelations? I find it helpful to have this information sketched out the night before, but I’m
perfectly capable of imagining a scene and writing it well on a moment’s inspiration.

2) Find a time and place where you have no distractions.

About Time: Most people discover that going to work at the same time every day helps them
reach a flow state quickly. Many writers like to work late at night or early in the morning. I
also like to have decent blocks of time. Since it takes me a bit to get into a deep trance, I want
something close to two hours as a minimum.

About Place: Create your “Sacred Writing Space.” Your writing space may be a special chair
in an office where you like to write, or perhaps it is in a coffee shop. Some writers seek out a
secluded cabin in the woods or a beach. I find that for some weird reason, I write very well
and easily in airports. I find that I can’t write in chairs that hurt my back, or in a room where
the air isn’t fresh. Having gorgeous scenery can also be a distraction. This technique is used in a variety of fields; whether you are studying for a test or learning an instrument, your environment is a breeding ground for productivity.

. . . .

3) Begin building the flow. This means you start writing. For most people, when they are
starting cold on a project, they’ve already outlined the opening scene.

If you’re in the middle of a project, say a novel, sometimes it is helpful to back up and edit
your writing for the previous two days. You don’t want to start at the beginning necessarily,
but you might simply review your last two days so that you can recall where you are and what
you planned to do. This helps you get re-grounded in the story so that you can effortlessly
move forward.

Link to the rest at Dave Farland, Story Doctor

Touching Your Audience Deeply through Viewpoint

From Story Doctor Dave Farland:

Almost every time a book is made into film, you will hear the comment over and over, “The book was better.”

Some time ago I was talking to a friend of Christopher Paolini, whose novel Eragon was made into a movie, and some fans of the books were so disappointed in the film adaptation, that they actually sent death threats to the author. Sorry folks, but in this case, poor Christopher didn’t have any control in making the movie. Maybe there will be a better adaptation in a couple years.

There’s a huge reason why the book is better, or should always be better. The reason is that the book can transport you into the story better. But it only works if you do it right.

When you write a story, for each scene you need to choose your viewpoint character. Often this is the protagonist. Let’s call him Brad. As an author, you use your protagonist as something like a camera. You show the reader the world through Brad’s eyes, just as if he were a camera. You let us hear the world through Brad’s ears, just as if he were a camera.

But Brad is more than a camera. You show us through internal dialog what Brad is thinking. Now, a voiceover can do that on film, but the technique is not often used. You can also let us smell the world and feel the world—two things that cameras can’t do. You can let us know what Brad is feeling—something that the camera might reveal but only if the actor and the director are talented enough to catch it. You can report on Brad’s motions, give information on what it feels like to jump or run—things that cameras can’t do. You can report on variations in temperature or the texture of surfaces.

In fact, if you think about it, a novel allows you to transport Brad in several ways that a camera can’t, and that tends to make your book a better medium for storytelling than a film.

Here’s the thing. Readers subconsciously recognize the lack. Have you ever gone to the dentist and had your mouth numbed with Novocaine, then gone out to eat afterward? Even the best meal doesn’t satisfy your taste buds when they’re out of commission.

A film doesn’t normally convey the sense of smell, taste, touch, kinetic motion, or the character’s thoughts. Film can be poor at revealing a character’s interior emotions and intent. In other words, watching a film is like being anesthetized. The reader is cut off from so many senses, that really, it’s surprising that viewers get much from it at all.

But the thing that I want to point out is that the book as a medium for storytelling only works if you put it to use. For example, I’ve read a lot of stories where the writer won’t even commit to a viewpoint character. The writer won’t show us the character’s thoughts and feelings, their internal hopes and fears.

Link to the rest at Dave Farland

The Shiver Test

From David Farland, Story Doctor:

When you’re brainstorming a new story, how do you know that it will be good?

Recently a young writer presented me with an outline for a novel that was nicely formed, had an interesting protagonist, and appeared to be well designed. She said, “It’s almost all there, but I don’t quite feel that it’s bestseller material yet.”

She was right. It was excellent in several ways, but it felt as if it lacked something. I had to think a minute to decide what that “special something” was. I realized that the story didn’t pass the shiver test.

What’s the shiver test?

It’s a phrase that I came up with years ago. I remember sitting in on a meeting with some producers. I was working as a greenlighting analyst at the time, and we were looking at a script that was nicely written. One of the producers came up with a little plot twist and said, “What if we did this. . . .”

The lead producer in the group said, “Oooh, that gave me shivers!” And the others in the room said, “Yeah, that gave me shivers, too!” I knew immediately that we’d need to rewrite the climax of that film to incorporate the change.
At the time, I recalled hearing an agent and an editor talking about a novel, and both had mentioned that the very concept “gave me the chills.”

A great idea for a story will give you shivers. Your basic concept for a story, even a little short story, should generate the combined sense of wonder and excitement that causes your reader to get chills. In order to arouse that sense of wonder, the idea has to be fresh, perhaps even unique. You can’t arouse wonder with an idea we’ve all seen done before. And the idea has to be weighty enough so that it causes excitement, so that it gets each listener thinking about the possibilities.

Sometimes it’s not the story idea as a whole that gives us the chills, but a smaller component of the package.

For example I might get the chills when I hear a cool concept for a setting, or a stunning idea for a character, or an exciting idea for a conflict. Other times it might be an exhilarating plot twist, or a great way to raise the tension. A great metaphor can give me chills. So can a beautifully written hook or a lovely description.

Link to the rest at David Farland, Story Doctor

Here’s a link to David Farland’s Author Page on Amazon