Great Stuff for Writers, March 19 & 20, 2013

Holy hotcakes, Batman! Check out the Great Stuff we’ve got today! The first three posts qualify as Extra-Great Stuff in my mind, and the others are none too shabby themselves. Check ‘em out.

CRAFT

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s excellent Your Story Opening: Shock vs. Seduction on Jane Friedman’s blog opens today’s Great Stuff, and what an opening it is. This excerpt from her book Fine-Tuning Fiction actually starts with a brief discussion of pace and who drives it—antagonist early, protagonist later—then gets into those two types of openings. The shock opening grabs the reader’s interest and attention right away. The seduction opening is harder to do, Yarbro says, because its promises are more subtle, easing the reader into the story, and thus has to draw the reader’s curiosity so strongly, especially in the sentences right after the first one, that he or she can’t help but keep reading (hence the “seduction” description).

One terrific craft piece deserves another, doesn’t it? Even better, we get to stay with openings. Ray Rhamey (@RayRhamey) “flogs” (critiques) the first page of a pro: The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown on Writer Unboxed. Brown’s writing—indeed his whole series—has been criticized, mostly by people who don’t like his genre (or, let’s be honest, his huge success, which many of them haven’t come close to sharing), but that hasn’t been the kind of evaluation that helps writers. Rhamey’s critique, on the other hand, examines details of Brown’s technique: where he info-dumped or left out important details, overwrote, or was flat inaccurate. This is an evaluation of fewer than two dozen lines, yet there’s a lot new writers (and not so new ones) can learn here. Great Stuff!

But wait! There’s more! Now we have PJ Parrish Killing Off Good Characters on The Kill Zone (that’s appropriate, isn’t it?). Parrish discusses not only why it’s sometimes necessary to kill off that good character, but why it needs to be done in a way that advances the story. She also addresses a couple of don’ts: to fix a weak plot or to give yourself an opportunity to preach. Readers hate it—hate it!—when we kill off a good character, especially an animal, and they’re not the least bit shy about letting us know about it, but when it’s necessary to move the story forward or force the protagonist to do something they don’t want to do, well, ya gotta do what ya gotta do. Just make sure there’s a payoff for the protagonist—and the reader—in the end.

My friend and editor Harvey Stanbrough (@h_stanbrough) is anything but shy about expressing his opinions. So there’ll be no question in your mind over what Why Present Tense Is Bad is about. Harvey’s basic points are these: past tense is the natural narrative voice, present tense distances the reader from the story, and it calls attention to the author and away from the story. Yup, no arguments there. And yet… (these are my thoughts, now) there may come the rare occasion when a story demands to be told in the present tense. Or so you think. So I think. I have a story nagging at me to be written that wants to be done in both present tense and first person. Yikes! Double yikes! Can I do it? More important, can I do it well? If this is going to work, it’s going to be damn hard to pull off, and I may ultimately decide it was a really dumb idea and shift back to third person past tense. But I’ll never know until I try.

Okay, so maybe Katie Weiland (@KMWeiland) doesn’t really tell you How To Figure Out the Worst Thing That Can Happen to Your Character in her video post, but she does explain why you should and why—surprise?—that can turn out to be the best thing after all.

BUSINESS

Rachelle Gardner (@RachelleGardner) starts a two-part series on Making a Living as a Writer. Today’s post looks at “volume”—the reality that most writers make their money by having lots of work for sale at any time. Each may sell only a few copies a month but together they add up to solid income. This collection of works making money over time is called “the long tail,” a term you may have heard. If you’ve been following Joe Konrath’s posts—a good example is his recent Exclusivity—you’ll see he’s making serious money on his long tail. It took him years to build that tail but all that work is paying off, big time.

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