Category Archives: genre

Items pertaining to different genres of writing and novels

Finding the Write Road

Musings by Heather Sylvawood

This morning started with a bit of a hiccup – I had a flat battery. The car I am currently driving doesn’t have mod-cons like warning beeps if you turn off the car while the lights are still on. It does, in fact, assume you will be vigilant and remember … duh!

batteryDEAD

Once the battery issue was solved by the nice young man from AA, I set off.

Now I don’t usually drive a manual. Anyone driving behind me could probably tell. I often manage to confuse the slot for third gear with the slot for fifth gear. Consequently I’m either over-revving or stuttering under the strain of a gear jump.

All of these faux pas instantly connect with the blood supply to my face.

Battering my self-confidence

Taking the back route (less chance of shaming myself in front of others), I rattled along, berating myself for every mistake and generally giving my self-confidence I right battering.

Then, in one of those break-through moments, I realised that this is what I do when I’m writing! I leap forward and write heaps, and then I re-read and start to doubt myself, comparing my first draft writing with the polished published writing of others. I compare my least polished with their pristine.

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Recently I have been reading a selection of writers – the series writer, romance writers, mystery writers, New Zealand writers, and Christian writers. I find myself picking up proofing errors (ahhh … the permanency of print against eBooks) and even clumsy language which their editors surely should have noticed. What’s been happening to me is I have been developing my critical eye. Only this time it isn’t for my own work but for that of others.

The Critical Eye is valuable

I am beginning to realise that my over-revving and stuttering gait probably mirrors that of other writers. They too must feel  lacking when comparing themselves to the honoured writers of our culture. That critical eye, however, is what keeps writers improving.

As well as noting the less-than-perfect, the joy of my research is that I am also identifying clever writing.

I recently read Tiger Lillie by Lisa Samson, a Christian writer living in Maryland, USA. I love her style. She manages to convey so much more in simple descriptions and with such humour, I want to come back for more. Take the following example:

“I’ve always loved evening. Even back then, as a chubby, bug-eyed little girl who also loved a good joke, that time of day sobered me and filled me with peace. I know now it’s due to the fact that the clock never stops ticking down and the time for making the day’s mistakes draws to a sweet close. Even the circumstances in which to make these blunders fly away, for in the twilight we simply sit and breathe quietly, cross our fingers and hope the phone won’t ring or the Jehovah’s Witnesses won’t come to the door.”

What craft! How much does she reveal about her character in a passage ostensibly about ‘evening’?

Research good writer and author examples

By reading the work of others I am observing the unusual word construction, the insightful capture of character, and the clever development of plot.

Research is important, be that by reading the work of others, or finding out what is capturing the readers of the day. Writing, however, is the key to becoming a writer. So it’s back to the computer for me.

Oh! Yes. I am writing. A blog!

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Gossip-end of the Grapevine

Heather Sylvawood, www.writegear.co

I have lived in small towns or villages in New Zealand for most of my life, and I have been amazed to find that I’m the last to hear the latest in gossip. At one time I commented to my partner: “We need to put up a sign – The End of the Grapevine.”

A grapevine is a wonderful illustration of how news travels in small communities. The tendrils snake into the smallest crevices and cling tight, and then the flowers that the tendrils support blossom and develop into fruit.

grapevineBlog

Looking for evidence

Like grapevines, gossip sneaks into minds and our minds look for evidence to validate what we’ve been told (true or false). We rarely look for evidence to refute the gossip, just to substantiate it.

When we’re intent on seeing what we’re looking for, more evidence that supports the gossip appears. At this stage our minds are headed in one direction: “the news is true”. When it’s based on a misinterpretation of something, these creeping Chinese whispers can cause irreparable harm.

A modern twist on gossip

We tend to think of gossip as titbits of news passed on from person to person as opposed to being broadcast through accepted media – television, newspapers, news websites etc.  Prior to the invention of printing presses by German Johannes Gutenberg around 1440, however, word-of-mouth or letters were the only way to disseminate information, person-to-person. Nowadays our gossip comes through more sophisticated sources, yet it’s really no more than an expanded version of person-to-person chat.

Our ability to observe and translate what we see, is the basis of all news. Reporters see violence and in a split second translate this, based on the evidence around them, into a report that purports to be the truth of the  matter. The next step in their process is to corroborate their observations before jumping into print or broadcast. Yet even these trained observers can sometimes get things wrong. 

But is gossip all bad?

Individuals are not held back by the constraint of hard evidence. They see something, translate it, and tell others. The ‘others’ add this information to knowledge they already have and hey presto the news flows. If something really is happening that needs to be in the public eye, gossip will do it. The fear of causing gossip is a natural constraint to keep most of us honest.

“Reputation systems promote cooperation and deter antisocial behavior in groups,” according to The Virtues of Gossip: Reputational Information Sharing as Prosocial Behavior by Matthew Feinberg, Robb Willer, Jennifer Stellar, and Dacher Keltner. 2012.

The researchers claim that when an individual observes or experiences antisocial behaviour, they are generally compelled to share it with other potentially vulnerable people. As the information spreads, the perpetrators of the antisocial behaviour are likely to be ostracized and brought into line with accepted community behaviours.

That works well unless the individual who first passes on the information is not telling the truth, or embroidering the information to enhance their own reputation.  But on the whole, gossip gives us new ideas, alerts us to wrong-doing, and makes us feel we’re a trusted member of the group. Not “at the end of the grapevine”.

Heather Sylvawood, www.writegear.co

The Illusions we live by

By Heather Sylvawood

Authors/writers deal in illusion. Readers accept that they are being drawn into the illusion and for a time enter the unreal world the author has created. Even non-fiction is an illusion because the writer offers the reader ONLY the filtered version of their observation.

So when this image (below) came through Facebook from UniverseLetters.com (artist is J R Slattum) I was jolted into a mind-blowing vision of illusions within illusions within illusions.

TheIllusionOfSelfControl

‘Your future self is watching you right now through your memories’

My translation of experience today becomes my memory, and influences how I look at things in the future – thereby, at the moment of the experience, I am shaped inevitably into my future-self.  (This is my filter – not necessarily yours. If you see it differently, whose illusion is the ‘truth’?)

As a writer,  I know also that my memories shape the characters I will write into my novels and short stories, and in the writing of them and their imaginary experiences they become another layer of memory. Then, in reading my stories, the reader (perhaps you) absorb the memory of my character and what happens to them, and your filtered memory shapes your future self, your beliefs and even your intentions.

Like a bolt from the blue

The thought made me realise that authors and writers have a huge advantage. We can influence future generations through memory and illusion.

My second thought was – ‘Duh! People have known this for centuries when relating the stories, propaganda, and the half-truths they have told.’

All religions have passed on and added to the stories that influence their believers. Even the ‘truth’ that has been written down is recalled through the reader’s filters. For instance, the stories in the Christian Bible from the apostles, while based on the same experiences as the others, will have been filtered by the previous experiences of the apostle who is relating  what happened.

Who is doing the telling matters

Think about the real-life dramas that are being played out in Court rooms throughout the World. Witness 1’s recall contradicts  Witness 2 and 3 and … We talk about reliable witness statements – but these come from the illusion that people who haven’t had a conviction, or attend church, or run community groups, or public figures, or are talented entertainers are somehow more reliable than the general hoi polloi. We can all point to examples where people in these groups are far from reliable.

The only way that these illusions are accepted as ‘truth’ is by having them committed to memory. And most of our memories are based on frequently repeated stories that become ‘beliefs’.

Writers capture readers by beliefs

A book or story that captures reader imagination must be based on some accepted belief or disbelief. So the writer or author needs to understand the common illusions accepted by most people in their culture.

If an author tried to base a story on the belief that the World is flat they would have an uphill battle convincing readers. The best they could hope is that the reader would keep on reading through sheer disbelief. Even fantasy novels are based on some commonly accepted beliefs, e.g. mountains are high and made of rock, or water runs downhill. (Think about it!)

The trick for writers is that they must pick the beliefs/illusions they tamper with. They have to decide how far the reader will go without putting their novel or short story down in disgust.  I also think they need to decide what they are putting into the memories of their readers – violence, cruelty, experience of death, love, kindness or courage.

Reality doesn’t exist unless you see it

If you consider that memory is based only on filtered illusions, news that Australian scientists have discovered that reality is an illusion comes as no surprise.

“According to a well-known theory in quantum physics, a particle’s behaviour changes depending on whether there is an observer or not. It basically suggests that reality is a kind of illusion and exists only when we are looking at it. Numerous quantum experiments were conducted in the past and showed that this indeed might be the case.

“Now, physicists at the Australian National University have found further evidence for the illusory nature of reality. They recreated the John Wheeler’s delayed-choice experiment and confirmed that reality doesn’t exist until it is measured, at least on the atomic scale.”

If you don’t believe me (and why would you?) take a look at this article on the Mind Unleashed website.

Accepted illusions of life

Many of the great novels of the last two centuries have been based on illusions

  • That good always triumphs over evil
  • That the underdog always succeeds by using tenacity
  • That the pursuit of money is a worthy goal
  • That the rich and powerful are involved in a conspiracy against world populations

Or are they illusions?

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

What does your fiction cover say?

There are so many considerations for Indie authors when they decide on their fiction book cover. There’s the picture design first:

1.  Should the image be a photograph or a graphic? Photographs always seem to me as if the author is writing about real serious people, whereas a graphic gives me a more frivolous impression.

BookCoverViolentSandswww_jeremyRobinsonOnline_com  BookCoverRoadtoSuccesswww_design21sdn_com

TheBeachHouseReview2 US-Elder-Care-Aging-book-cover-design1www_hiretheworld_com

Above: These books use a mixture of graphic and photo images to convey their message.  Note their use of text to attract attention. ‘The Beach House’, a print book, was the only one that used a written font – usually not a good idea for Indie publishers because it is so hard to read in a thumbnail image.

2.  Does the picture convey to the potential reader what the contents describe? Can a reader be misled about the genre?

Author and blogger Joanna Penn warns  that  “fiction titles need to:

  • Communicate a promise to the reader – which is further aligned to the cover images – which mesh perfectly with what the customer expects in the book. If there’s anything that jars the reader in any imperceptible way, they won’t buy.

Where to find a good (cheap) designer

Indie authors are recommended to find a good cover designer and Fiverr.com is one place where you can find a designer who produces graphics or book covers to suit the style of your book.

3.  But don’t be carried away by the designer’s cleverness in their past work; make sure it matches the concept you want to convey:

  • Moody or romantic
  • Humorous or witty
  • Matter-of-fact or practical
  • Crime or mystery

Here are a selection of covers offered by Fiverr designer. You can see that designers can be very flexible and if you give them a clear description of what you want

eBookCoversFiverr

Many Fiverr designers come from different cultures where earning a ‘fiver’ is big money. Be aware that they also need an understanding of the culture where your story takes place. Check out their work before committing yourself to a cover designer. Be prepared to use more than one designer until you find the cover that’s right for your book. That doesn’t mean not paying the original designer, even if you don’t use their design. You engaged them and they did the work.

Consider your font and font size on your eBook cover title

4.  Title size are really important for eBooks, especially. When eBook covers are reduced in size unless the title is in a large font it will be hard to read. Rule of thumb I’ve heard is that the title should take up one third of the depth of the cover.

Take a look at the covers shown below:

eBookCoversOmdiamond

They follow the title size rule quite closely.

According to Kate Harper in her book How to make an E-Book Cover – for Non-Designers’ :   “The main purpose of an online book cover is to encourage the customer to click on the title and read the book’s description, sample pages, index and table of contents. But if your cover doesn’t grab their attention from the beginning, they may just pass it by.”

Kate’s book takes you through the steps of making a quality eBook cover in both Microsoft Word and Adobe Photoshop. So if you really can’t afford to employ a designer (good designs cost more than $5 with Fiverr) and you have some copyright-free graphics you want to use, then this eBook would be great. It certainly gave me help in understanding the special needs of Indie publishing and e-Covers.

5.  Choose a font that is easy to read and fits the content of your story.

When you’re creating a cover the font you choose is vital. Just like the options I listed under Point 3, different fonts convey different levels of urgency, mystery or intrigue.

BookC1 BookC2 BookC4

BookC6 BookC7 BookC3

The images above were from an exercise I did to look at the types of fonts and what they conveyed. I am NOT writing a novel called Dead in the Water – so go ahead if you’re so inclined! A couple of them seemed too hard to read easily, and others did not convey the seriousness of death I thought such a title deserved. Of course, this is all subjective and the best you can do when choosing a font for your cover page is to show a few people and get some feedback.

Is your name more important that your eBook title?

Definitely not if you’re publishing your first few books. After you’ve become a ‘discovered’ writer then you can bring your name up into larger font size.  Here are some writers who totally ignore the rule:

   

Any guesses why?

Yes, once you have a following, your fans will read whatever you write because they know they’ll enjoy a good read. Unknown authors must let the Title and Cover of their book create a little anticipation and draw the reader into the book. Or at least to read the sample pages.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Does popular mean less ‘literary’?

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

I’ve just completed my first novel and I’m looking at publishing it on Amazon, however, I’m finding it difficult to find a category that fits its subject matter.  Here’s a brief synopsis:

“Laura Holland is coping (just) with her life bringing up two teenagers and her almost seven-year-old autistic daughter, Estella. Living on a small farm raising chooks and sheep, and the family’s vegetables, Laura’s role is definitely that of an isolated homemaker. Her husband Richard, however, is a busy principal whose involvement in the farm is spasmodic, at best. Then the Hollands meet the Langleys, a family with a very different way of coping with their disabled daughter. At first Laura and Anna find support and new possibilities in their growing friendship. But all is not well in the Langley household, and as Laura gets drawn in, further and further, the stage is set for a dramatic showdown.

Set in the early 1970s in Canterbury, New Zealand, the novel deals with how beliefs about caring for children with an intellectual disability can trap women in the caring role.”

So where does family drama fit?

It hasn’t any real mystery, no murders, little violence, no fantasy, only a little sex (but not the 50 Shades of Grey  type), it’s set about 40 years ago – but is hardly a ‘period drama’, and it doesn’t fall into the category of romance.

If I could find a category called Family Drama then that’s where it would fit. But the last time I looked on Amazon, there was no such category.

Popular novel themes

That dilemma started me thinking about popularity. Books, television, and lagging only a little behind – films, reflect what is a popular read (or genre in the world of novels). Take a look at what’s showing on the celluloid (oh, what an ancient word!) and you’ll gain a clear understanding of the genre(s) that sell most readily.

‘Write novels in popular genres’

Writers who want to make a life writing popular novels are advised to look at what sells.

On the face of it, the advice is sound. If I was to follow that advice I would write crimes novels with likeable detectives and a bit of romance; or vampire horror; or sci-fi with lots of killing at the hands of superior aliens until good old human cunning overcomes the long odds. And, of course, the other popular genre is the classic romance between heterosexual couples leading unreal,  usually privileged lives.

The genres are far removed from real lives of most people, I wondered why that appealed.

So why do people enjoy reading escapist novels?

I thought I would do a bit of research.

The first thing I realised is that ALL fiction is escapism. We look to read fiction that allows us to live (safely) some of the emotions that would otherwise be inappropriate for us to express. It is escapism for the reader, but it is also escapism for the writer.

Escapist novels have had a bad rap

As author Neil Gaiman says: “I hear the term (escapism) bandied about as if it’s a bad thing. As if ‘escapist’ fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or for children, is mimetic fiction, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds herself in.”

He goes on to say that escapist fiction “opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with” and that it  “…can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison.”

Popular fiction may be what the doctor ordered

Author Steven Handel, creator of the blog: The Emotion Machine, writes: “Instead of venting your negative emotions, sometimes it is better to just shift your awareness toward something completely different that makes you forget about your troubles.

“In many ways, this is the powerful role that entertainment plays in our lives. It is a way to escape from the stress, anxiety, and negativity of our everyday lives – and sometimes that is what we need to stay sane and healthy.”

New York Best Selling Author Elizabeth Lowell has this to say about the so-called divide between popular (escapist) writing and ‘literary’ writing:

“My life’s work has been popular fiction. Writing alone and with Evan, I have published more than sixty books. They range from general fiction to historical and contemporary romances, from science fiction to mystery, from nonfiction to highly fictional thrillers.

“Through the years, I’ve discovered that most publishers talk highly of literary fiction and make money on popular fiction; yet asking them to describe the difference between literary and popular fiction is like asking when white becomes gray becomes black.”

Isn’t WRITING a novel ‘escapism?

Wikipedia defines ‘Escapism’ as mental diversion by means of entertainment or recreation, as an “escape” from the perceived unpleasant or banal aspects of daily life.  If you use that definition, then I am using ‘escapism’ whenever I think about or start writing my novel. I am creating an unreal situation in a way that gives me pleasure. I might not be escaping from a banal life, but my escapism certainly enhances my life.

Goodreads includes The DaVinci Code, Bridget Jones Diaries, Harry Potter and Kate Hooper’s Redemption series in its list of Escapist Fiction. Put like that I’d be glad to be listed in the realms of ‘escapism’ and popular novels. Here I come!

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author