Promises to Keep

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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

6 thoughts on “Promises to Keep”

  1. I tell you in the 145 word prologue exactly what the story will be about and where it will end, and then I will spend three volumes showing you why it was inevitable.

    Most people either skip the prologue, can’t remember what they read, or never noticed that the first chapter has a date two years before the prologue, but that’s not really my fault, is it?

    I told them what I was going to tell them, I’m telling them, and at the end of Book #3 I will tell them what I told them.

    I’m sneaky, like most authors. I make it easy to ignore. After all, I want you to take the journey with me.

    • The blurb is a good place to let readers know the tone of the book. Likewise a good cover.
      At a minimum a *good* cover should reflect the genre and tone, especially with romcoms, cozies, and SF&F.

      • Genre is easier to ‘signal’ via the cover. In fact, those readers who prefer or read genre expect to know from the cover that they are getting the kind of story they want.

        I write mainstream, and it is ‘not’ genre, and the ‘not’ is much harder!

        I’ve never had a reader or reviewer say the cover misled them – I think I may have had one reviewer say something like, “That is not a Romance cover.” Which it isn’t, because it’s not a Romance. It is only a ‘romance’ in the old-fashioned sense which used to mean ‘a novel.’

        Before I market the second book in the trilogy, I will work on both descriptions; there’s always room for improvement in descriptions and advertising copy.

        What do you read, and how do you find books you want to try? From your comments in general I’d expect you to read at least some mainstream novels, if you read fiction.

        • What I read?
          Short answer: SF and other stuff.

          The other stuff?
          Well, I’ve read all the commercial genres to one extent or another. Most because the story intrigued me, but some with intent, to familiarize myself with the genre and its conventions. The latter is most true of romance and mystery.

          Technothrillers on occassion but not the “tough guy” action stories. I’ve seen nothing really there new since Alastair MacLean. (Other than John Ringo’s PALADIN OF SHADOWS, but those are outliers.)

          In non-fiction, History and archaeology, mythology, anthropology, and human zoology. And crossdisciplinary stuff like THE NAKED APE; SHIELD OF ACHILLES; GUNS, GERMS AND STEEL; THE LIFE AND DEATH OF DEMOCRACY. Most recently I’m making my way through THE WEIRDest PEOPLE IN THE WORLD.

          Basically I’ve been studying SF my whole life and read things that feed into it. The field simply encompasses pretty much everything that speaks to me, from the fun adventure side to the mind teasers and cautionary tales.

          Mainstream non-genre fiction slips in from time to time, mostly older stuff like MISTER ROBERTS or classics like TOM JONES and stuff from Kipling, Twain, Conan Doyle, Anthony Hope. Plays from Shakespeare, Shaw, Chekov, Alfonso Paso. Virtually nothing from the 20th. Too much navel gazing and self important ruminations.

          More recently I ran through Kay Bratts SCAVENGER’S DAUGHTERS but that was a few years back. Libbie Hawker. KKR. A few others that pop up ’round these parts.

          But for the most part my recent reads have been SF or really…odd…stuff. Or both.
          (I’m sure you’ve noticed that, right?)

          What I pickup depends on recommendations from friends (or books by them) mentions in the news, and new books by famikiar authors.

          And every once in a while a topic around here sends me off to Amazon or to reread an old one, of which I have a lot. And that’s without the closetful of TBRs waiting for me. Some. day.

          Given the times, it keeps me occupied and safe.

          • Thanks for the detailed answer – eclectic readers are my target audience.

            SF is a big favorite, but I prefer it to be well-written in addition to imaginative, and that’s a higher bar. If I need something, I often go back to Dune. Love Octavia Butler and Ursula LeGuin.

            Heinlein, though dated, is also a favorite.

            Conan Doyle, but I’m a purist – no ‘modernizations,’ please. Invent your own characters.

            Some things don’t age well for me. Alistair MacLean, for example – I can see the plot holes because I wouldn’t create them. Too bad, because I used to love him. Whereas the Travis McGee stories have weathered much better.

            I’m so focused on writing, I don’t have time that I’ll spend on ‘odd’ books; they require too much work right now. In a few years, maybe, when the trilogy is finished.

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