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About Writing Right: The Blog

WHY NOVELS AND FILMS VARY

A guy named Mike with a really cool pair of shades asked on the Internet the other day why stories in magazines differ from the same stories when they're published in books. Since no one else seemed able to cover this one, I dove right in.

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Hey, Mike, I can answer this one for you. As a former book, magazine, and newspaper editor, I have the response down pat. Besides, it's my pleasure to help out anyone with such cool shades!

 

There are a couple of reasons magazine versions of a story differ from what may eventually appear in books. The first and most obvious reason is that different editors working for different publishers in different media exert their influences on the work in different ways. One editor might concentrate on focusing the story more sharply while the other might be more concerned with cleaning up grammar and sharpening the rhetoric. As for the author's input, unless he's a world-famous proven moneymaking scribe, his or her material is going to undergo editing. Period. That's a standard clause in every  magazine, newspaper, and book publisher's contract, even if it's only understood rather than written in stone.

 

That's one reason. The second reason stories may differ is for the sake of brevity. While books can publish stories that are tens of thousands of words long or more, magazines can't. To understand why, think of the magazine's goals in life: To increase readership; to make money, and to entertain the readers. Let's examine the three. Read More 

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IMPROVING "BAD" WRITING

I've written before about how to improve one's writing. I've written before, too, about how I hate to see totally unqualified advisers who are all too willing to offer their advice. Think about it. Everyone likes to help, and everyone likes to think he or she has the magic cure to all of mankind's dilemmas. Unfortunately, that's a recipe for a world filled with inadequate, incorrect, and outright potentially dangerous information.

 

That's what I ran into the other day when a fifteen-year-old writer admitted he thinks his writing is super boring, and he wanted to know how to improve it. Here's what I told him--along with the legion of ne'r-do-wellers who only helped lead him astray.

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Well, in many ways, I'm sorry to see you ask this question online because every answer you have received so far is absolutely wrong. Oh, I'm sure the respondents meant well with their limited and often irrelevant points-of-view. But they're still wrong. And by piping up to answer your question, they're running the risk of fueling your inadequacy as a writer.

 

Inadequacy? Is that what I said?

 

No, that's what you said with your phrases, "super boring" and "let down." And no one on earth is better suited to judge his own literary competency than the writer. I'd make one minor correction to your question, though. You don't "think" the way you write is super boring. You know the way you write is super boring. So, let's begin with that and ask ourselves why and how to improve it.

 

Practice, practice, practice? Is that the mantra people are giving you? Ignore it! If you don't know how to write, writing over and over again, utilizing the same skillset, will only reinforce your poor writing. You can't learn by practice alone. Read my lips, everyone. YOU CAN'T LEARN BY PRACTICE ALONE! Read More 

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IS THIS PUBLISHER A SCAM?

I came across an all-too-frequent question the other day from a novice writer who wanted to know if his publisher was scamming him by publishing his story in an anthology along with other writers in exchange for $500 each. He mentioned that the publisher's name will appear on the book's cover as the author. Here's what I advised.

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If you ask a question like this one, you already suspect the answer, and you're right. The publisher, if promoting itself as a publisher, is scamming you. It's not a legitimate, conventional publisher, as other respondents have pointed out. It's a company that preys upon the dreams, hopes, and aspirations of the uninformed. Since you can't land a contract with a legitimate publisher, you turn to anyone who seems genuinely interested in your work. In fact, your "publisher" is genuinely interested only in your money. And that's a scam. A legal scam ("Let the buyer beware") but a scam nonetheless.

 

My suggestion to you: If you want to see your name "in lights" (and you do) but you don't have the skills to make it as an author with a conventional publisher (and you don't), ask yourself if having a book with your name on the cover (oops, it sounds as if the publisher is taking claim as the author, so scratch that) is worth paying $500. If so, go for it. On the other hand, if you're being led to believe that getting your first piece "published" will make getting other work published easier or that it will make you any money in the end, forget about this "deal." Believe me, it's no bargain, so I suggest you hit the bricks running. A little sadder but a whole lot wiser. Read More 

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PLAGIARISM ... OR BUST?

I ran across someone who wanted to know if he'd be commiting plagiarism by copying and pasting someone else's work into an online paraphrasing tool. Now, whenever I come across forum questions about plagiarism, I'll bet the farm that some horrendous answers follow. This day was no exception. Here's how I replied.

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Wow! I can't remember when I've seen so many absolutely ridiculous—and thoroughly wrong—responses! Did you draft your question by the light of a full moon? If so, I think you'd better send out the hounds because the vampires are flooding the countryside!

 

Seriously, to all those geniuses who haven't yet learned how to read and assumed that you, the questioner, are talking about writing research or academic papers, you're acting out of ignorance and slothfulness. It's like assuming the questioner is using a Xerox machine to make paper copies of a work and gluing them to his computer screen with wallpaper paste. Is it possible? Sure. Is it a given? Of course not. Wake up, you other "respondents." School is out. You get no points just for showing up! Or for shooting from the lip! Read More 

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FINDING AGENT FOR OFFBEAT FANTASY

So, you've written a book that's a bit offbeat, let's say a fantasy based upon Celtic and Irish folklore. That means it just about but not quite fits into a specific genre, and now you wonder how to find an agent willing to 1.) read it, and 2.) represent it. Is that your problem, Bunky? If so, it's not necessarily as large a problem as you may think.

 

Okay, I assume you've researched literary agents and what they're looking for in submissions until your eyes turned to glass and fell out of your skull. Lo and behold, not one of them appears to be searching for your exact book. Well, that's actually the good news. Agents (and publishers, by the way) are always looking for good genre fiction that appeals to their existing readers or marketplace and yet that has an exciting new wrinkle to get them salivating. A detective book about the search for a serial killer is pretty generic (spelled "ho-hum"). A detective book about the search for a serial killer who just happens to be the detective, himself, is a stunner. See my point? Both are genre detective stories. Because one is more offbeat than the other isn't a bad thing; it's just the opposite.

 

So, how do you go about finding just the right agent? Here's how I suggest you proceed. Read More 

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CREATING SOUNDS WITH WORDS

Describing sounds in a book or short story is one of the more daunting challenges a writer can face. How do you describe a train whistle? I mean, come on: Whoo-whoo just won't cut the mustard. Similarly, the lilting call of a cardinal or a red-wing blackbird could be described as Tweet-tweet, but that's not going to win you many new readers—or retain the ones you already have.

 

The plain truth of the matter is that sounds can't be reduced effectively to the written word. So, how do you create them in your writing? Simple. You don't.

 

Instead, you write about them, using descriptive adjectives and, yes, adverbs when necessary to plant the audible image in the reader's mind. Remember that word, image. It's crucial to good, effective writing. The train whistle might then be summed up as "The shrillness of its call sliced through the thick night like a knife through a freshly baked loaf." The bird calls could be summed up as "The chattering melodies rang out like the bells of a distant church—up and down in tone, softer and louder, always comforting." Read More 

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FILMS FROM BOOKS

Someone asked the other day why it is that Hollywood only makes films based upon books. I can see where he might reach that conclusion. Still, it ain't necessarily so. here's what I told him.

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For starters, your assumption is wrong because your premise is incorrect. Hollywood doesn't necessarily want to make films based upon books. It wants ideas that are financially lucrative. Correction: It needs ideas that are financially lucrative. Creating a film today starts out in the lower millions of dollars and spirals upward from there; so, you can understand a producer's motivation. Whether or not the next brilliant idea comes from a book or an original screenplay (or even a magazine article, short story, or popular video game for that matter) is subjugated by potential sales.

 

With that said, many producers/directors understand that a well-selling book, particularly one by a big-name author (take your pick here), has already generated a lot of buzz in the story-loving world. Major publishers have invested big bucks to see that their star authors and their novels hit it big. And, every dollar Penguin invests in marketing and promoting a book is one dollar less than Pixar will have to spend on pitching the corresponding film. Read More 

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SWITCHING POVS

When a newbie writer asked online the other day about changing points of view from third person omniscient, he received several reasonably accurate responses and one horrendous resply from our good friend, Queenie. Knowing that even a notoriously incorrect responder such as she can due severe damage to a writer's development, I set about correcting the misinformation.

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Wow. I know the Queen of Wrong mucks up nearly everything to which she responds, but this one is a Lulu. Instead of buying into the fallacy that third person omniscient is like a camera viewing a scene objectively without any possibility of understanding what your characters are thinking, realize that just the opposite is true. In third person omniscient, the narrator has access to every piece of information in the book, including what's going on in all of his or her characters' minds. This is what sets third person POV apart from first and second or limited POV. Not only that, but also, if you like multiple choices when you visit your favorite ice-cream shop, you'll love third person POV because it comes in two flavors. Voila:

 

In third person omniscient POV, the narrator knows all the thoughts and feelings of every character—the exact opposite of what Queenie advised. Knowing the narrator (that is, you) can reveal everything about the story and the characters at any given time he (again, you) chooses gives the narrator unlimited power. How you use it is up to you. This is where the flexibility of an author writing in omniscient POV comes into play. How much will you reveal, and when? How much will you hold back, and why? Read More 

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UNATHORIZED FILM SEQUEL

I was trolling the Internet the other day when I came across a question from someone who wanted to know whether or not he could write a sequel to an existing film if he changed all the names and places used in the film. Interesting question. Here's my response:

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Could you? Sure. If you change the names and places and don't use any dialogue or other material from the film word-for-word, you're creating a new work of art. It may be derivative, but then again, all new creations are derivative of one thing or another. Remember the phrase, There's nothing new under the sun? It's a memorable euphemism because it's true. Story ideas can't be copyrighted; names can't be copyrighted; descriptions and settings can't be copyrighted; other elements within common usage can't be copyrighted, all for obvious reasons. Just because you pick up a story at a point in time where the film leaves off, you can't be found legally guilty of plagiarism or copying something (a story) that doesn't actually exist yet (the sequel you're writing). Remember: Stories can't be copyrighted. Plots can't be copyrighted. Only the word-for-word representations of them (the verbatim manner in which the writer chooses to express them) can be copyrighted.

 

Now, with that said, "could you" write a sequel novel to a film is a lot different from "should you" write a sequel novel to a film, if you know what I mean. As another respondent pointed out, film companies, particularly major ones, have deep pockets. They can enjoy increased profitability from the publicity of a copyright-infringement action against you, even if they fail to prevail in a court of law. In other words, even if they lose, they win. Read More 

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HOW LONG TO WAIT

Newbie writers often ask me how long it takes to hear back once a book editor requests a complete manuscript for review. Someone online asked that very question the other day, wondering what he could expect after sending his baby off to do battle. Here's how I replied.

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I can tell you from experience in dealing with hundreds and even thousands of publishers of books, magazines, and newspapers over the years that the Queen of Wrong has missed the boat again. Sure, you can expect to wait "as much as a year," but you'd be an idiot to do so when no conventional publisher takes that long to reply to a requested manuscript. None. Nada. If it did, it wouldn't be a conventional publisher for long.

 

Here's the reality. A book editor with a conventional, legitimate publisher takes a few weeks to a couple months to review a query. If he or she finds the query interesting, he may ask to see sample chapters. Once he receives them, he may need another two-to-four weeks to read them. If he likes what he sees, he'll request a "full read," or the complete manuscript. At that point in the editorial process, most responsible, professional editors will prioritize the manuscript. After all, he asked to see it! Read More 

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