Episode 41 - Flock of Minions
This week we talk about authors behaving badly, how James Patterson became the Nickelback of publishing, take another look at ApolloPad, and how to build suspense for your readers.
Works in Progress
[00:00:42] Mike is working on his short stories for his weekly writing challenge. His writing challenge is to take a photo based on the Digital Photography School's weekly photo challenge. Mike takes that photo and also writes a short story.
Eric has been working on his 'Mech story called Free Fall and is about one-third of the way through it. He's doing voice-to-text to get his handwritten notes onto the computer. He finds the technology not quite ready for the real world at this point.
Eric has put down the money for a novel doctor to take a look at Prince of Pigeon Hill. In the next few few weeks he should get that feedback from her and can proceed accordingly.
John is stuck with the drone mob story, so he's been procrastinating by world-building a post-apocalyptic world for another story.
What's happening online
[00:05:10] UK Boy Quizzed Over Terrorist House Spelling Mistake A Muslim boy living in the United Kingdom found himself under police scrutiny over a spelling mistake in an English paper he turned in. Because teachers are required to report anything suspicious said by their students, the boy's misspelling ended up with police involvement.
His mistake? Saying he lived in a "terrorist house" when he meant a "terraced house".
Check you spelling people!
[00:06:08] The crazy Russians are at it again, this time burning books: Soros charity targeted in Russia book-burning. Colleges have burned 53 books linked to the Soros Foundation were burned after the government determined the Soros Foundation was a security threat to Russia because it was "forming a perverted perception of history and making ideological directives, alien to Russian ideology, popular."
Writer's Block; for science!
[00:06:25] The Shortest Scientific Paper Ever Published Had No Words. The topic of the paper is "writer's block", so it was left blank and the paper was accepted.
Seems a lot like Everything Men Know About Women by Dr. Alan Francis, which contains 128 blank pages.
From the "Authors Behaving Badly" department:
[00:07:05] Stephen Leather accused of cyberbullying by fellow thriller writers Steve Mosby and Jeremy Duns, both authors of thriller fiction, have accused fellow author Stephen Leather of cyberbulling them. Leather set up fake websites used to smear the authors and sock-puppet accounts on social media to help promote his hatred of these other authors.
It's a lot of effort to smear these other guys that could have been used to write his next novel.
The Nickelback of Modern Publishing
[00:08:18] The NY Times piece James Patterson Inc. discusses "The damage James Patterson Inc. has done to publishing".
Since 2006 one out of every 17 hardcover novels sold in the U.S. was a James Patterson title, and Patterson earned Hachette about $500 million over the last two years. Patterson puts out nine hardcovers a year, using co-authors for nearly all of his books to maintain the pace of production. While Patterson still writes longhand on a legal pad, he is now part executive producer, part head writer and sets out the vision for each book and series.
The problem with his knockout best-seller strategy is that it puts all publishers under pressure to generate the most income to compete. Therefore, publishers are less willing to try undiscovered talent and instead put all of their marketing dollars and resources into their blockbuster authors. The blockbusters become even bigger because they sell more copies, making it even more difficult for new authors.
[00:11:31] Eric finished The Winter King by Bernard Cromwell (Solid 3 stars).
He started Deep Work by Cal Newport.
Mike finished The Fifth Season by N.K. Jeminsin. He reports that it ended with a glossary.
Mike started The Oddfits by Tiffany Tsao. It was the Kindle First selection for January, but he couldn't get into the book, so he stopped reading it.
John started reading Polestar Omega (Deathlands) by James Axler but based on the typos and some stupid plot points, he stopped reading it.
Devil's Vortex (Deathlands) by James Axler is the last book in the series, this one penned by author Victor Milan. It's much better written than Polestar Omega.
Tech Focus - More Apollopad
[00:15:08] This week we wanted to talk more about Apollopad. In the previous episode we covered some of our initial thoughts about this writing tool. @dave_child, the creator of Apollopad, dropped a number of new features over the course of the week, and we had an opportunity to play with it a little more.
Eric used Apollopad all week, but since he's only been a single chapter editor. All these features that have been added Eric hasn't even looked for them because he's been so focused on just writing.
"I can go in and I'm not cluttered by everything else that's going on. I just have the words in front of me."
Timelines are one of the newest features Dave added. Mike worked on one of his short stories, so his timeline is a little limited, but it allowed him to create events and add the chapters corresponding to the event. He thinks it would be really good for a story like Zero Ward where the plot needs to fall within a broader historical context.
Assets and characters are helpful to flesh out Mike's story and the ability to add pictures of characters and items (like a sword) really made the story writing process better.
The dashboard is a newer feature as well. It has some wonderful statistics for keeping track of your writing.
In your story, the word count is displayed for each paragraph and a running total.
On the toolbar at the bottom, there's a lightbulb icon. When you click on it, a beautiful picture is displayed for inspiration.
Clicking on the mortarboard icon, statistics about your writing are displayed.
"He's doing a hero's work with it."
"It has a lot of little particles of delight; little things that make it fun to use."
Craft Talk - Suspense
[00:23:14] In this episode's craft talk, we discuss Suspense. Not the genre, but building suspense in your fiction - something that's required for all fiction. One of the easiest ways to create suspense is using the "ticking clock". With a ticking clock, things need to happen before time runs out and the protagonists lose.
But what are some other ways to create suspense?
Keep every promise you make
Every promise you make in your story needs to be resolved. These are clues that something is going to happen in your story, and you need to make sure there is a payoff.
Cut down the violence
The more violence there is, the less it will mean. Violence is not suspenseful, the threat of violence is suspenseful.
Create space between your character and their goal
Suspense is built when a character's goal seems very far away. John likened this to a riptide. As a swimmer caught in a riptide attempts to reach shore, they realize the shore is farther and farther away.
The audience must care about the stakes
Both the character and the dramatic question the character is trying to answer must be something the audience cares about. If not, there's no suspense.
Ratchet and release
The tension needs to be tightened, and then released to keep the reader from getting tired from the suspense.
When the reader knows something the character does not, it's called dramatic irony. In The Martian, the reader knows something in the manufacturing process is going to go bad, but Mark Watney does not until the habitat explodes.
As the reader cares about the character, the suspense is higher when they know something will potentially happen.
Character flaws build great tension
When the character's actions are based on their flaws, that creates tension. Knowing a drug user may fall off the wagon causing ruin in the process builds up the suspense.
Make sure you've eliminated everything not important to the story. Everything important needs to be part of the story, and placed there with care.
Serve suspense subtly
Again, in The Martian, Andy Weir doesn't directly describe NASA realizing astronaut Mark Watney is still alive. Instead, he subtly hints at it, allowing the suspense of the moment to sink in with the reader.
“There was a huge sandstorm. Why isn’t there sand all over them [solar panels]?”
"A good wind could have done it?” Venkat said, unsure.
“Did I mention I never found Watney’s body?” she said, sniffling.
Venkat’s eyes widened as he stared at the picture. “Oh…,” he said quietly. “Oh God…”
Mindy put her hands over her face and sobbed quietly.
Describe the climactic scene ahead of time
In Silence of the Lambs, by the time Clarice Starling arrives at Jame Gumb's house, the reader has already been introduced to the home through previous scenes. The descriptions can focus on the suspenseful action rather than describing the scene.
Isolate the protagonist
Again, in *Silence of the Lambs", Clarice is left on her own to investigate the house while the FBI is raiding a different house.
Slow down your typing to improve your writing.
[00:33:04] Eureka Alert has a posted an article on a study indicating that slowing down your typing improves your writing. In the study, those who typed with one hand wrote better than those typing with two hands.
Writing that Pays
[00:34:00] The Baby Corner
If you are interested in writing for the Baby Corner, there are two options. First, you can inquire about being added to our writers' pool. Should we accept your inquiry, we would then match your preferred writing topic with upcoming articles in that area. If we feel your interest, skills, and experience match what we are looking for, we will notify you of an assignment. Please see the topics we cover below.
The second option available to writers interested in working with Baby Corner, is that of submitting a query letter. Perhaps you have a unique idea for an article that wouldn't ordinarily be seen. If so, you may want to submit a query letter to us.