Memoir Writing: Author Expectations

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If you are writing a memoir, you need to examine the presumptions you have of yourself and others.  You must ask and answer this question: why do you want to write a memoir? Continue reading

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Under the Influence: The Suggested Reading Page

Image by pippalou via morgueFile

When we read something it influences us. The degree of influence will depend on how susceptible (curious, open) we are to a particular viewpoint, mental image, or situation, and how well the piece is written.

Everyone has certain books, whether fiction or nonfiction, that have stayed in their mind. But memorable reads don’t just “stay in our mind.”  We incorporate the influence of what we’ve read into who we are and what we write.

In my upcoming guide for memoir writing there will be an Acknowledgements page in which I list articles and books I quote directly (and in some cases I’ll need to get permission first to do that quoting). But I am struck by the importance of the Suggested Reading page I’ll also include.

Rather than just throw together a list of publications that appear to relate to my topic, I’ll show the reader the influences on my philosophy and viewpoint. The reader will have the option, should they choose, to click a link and read material that expands on a specific assertion I’ve made.

The goal is to give the reader additional value, rather than slip in random information just to give my nonfiction book a more authoritative appearance.

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Getting the Most out of Writing Groups: The Cot

Has your book been workshopped? This is one of the first questions I ask a writer who is looking for an editor. It’s even a good question to ask of someone who just wants a critique.

“Workshopping” a piece of writing means submitting it to a group of writers and asking for feedback. It also means listening to the feedback and frequently involves rewriting your piece, if your group is on its toes and you are capable of accepting constructive criticism. Continue reading

Four Ways to Reveal Character: A Different Take

If you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it a million times: “The four ways to reveal character in fiction are action, speech, appearance, thought.” My observation of what creates a memorable character is slightly different. In my view, speech and appearance exhibit personality, but personality (persona) is only one aspect of a character. Also, appearance is often modified by behavior. Continue reading

To Epigraph or not to Epigraph

From a review by Mark Medley in the National Post:

“Call Me Ishmael” may be one of the most famous opening sentences in the history of literature, but it actually comes a dozen-odd pages into Moby-Dick. Herman Melville prefaces his novel with a staggering 80 epigraphs, with references to whales in the Bible (“Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah”), Shakespeare (“Very like a whale,” Polonius says to Hamlet) and Milton (“That sea beast/Leviathan, which God of all his works/Created hugest that swim the ocean stream”), among other sources.

Most writers limit themselves to one or two, and choosing which ones to use is a particular skill, argues Rosemary Ahern in her new book, The Art of the Epigraph: How Great Books Begin.

The book sounds wonderful. If you’re planning to self-publish your novel and plan to use an epigraph (but hopefully not eighty of them!), be sure to put the epigraph in the right place.

You want to make sure your epigraph is relevant to the novel’s themes, of course, and that relevance needs to be clear to the reader and not just an inside joke with yourself.

Also, think twice about beginning each chapter of your book with an epigraph. Again quoting the Ahern book referenced above:

Speaking as an editor, Ahern says epigraphs are usually left to the author’s discretion. “I really always felt that was the author’s privilege,” she says. On the other hand, “I think that when you start to have like five, six, seven epigraphs, they start to cancel each other out,” she says. “You can get a little epigraph-happy.”

As is the case with misplaced flashbacks, unrelated subplots, and unnecessary exposition, an epigraph at the start of every chapter makes your reader stop reading your story — and quite possibly put the book down altogether.

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Naming Your Book: Weird Can Work

How fun. Lulu has a Titlescorer feature on their website. Enter the name of your next book’s ingenious (so you think) would-be title and see how your bright idea stacks up. Of course, there is a caveat:

The Lulu Titlescorer is a useful tool, which, in Lulu’s 50-year study of some 700 novels, proved 40% better than random guess-work in guessing whether a particular title had produced a bestseller or not. “It guessed right in nearly 70% of cases,” says Dr Atai Winkler. “Given the nature of the data and the way tastes change, this is very good — better than we might have expected.”

Even so, this is not an exact science. Far from it. In fact, Dr. Winkler advises that the Lulu Titlescorer should, in practice, always be combined with use of your own low-tech judgement.

This is because, for all the work that went it, the Lulu Titlescorer is capable of giving high scores to titles that most of us would rate as weird, if not terrible. Meanwhile, of course, it also gives low scores to the titles of novels (e.g. The Da Vinci Code) which, in fact, topped the New York Times bestseller list for long periods.

So, as well as using the Titlescorer to test the merits of your own title, you can also play around with it to see what is the worst or downright weirdest title you can come up with that still earns a high score. Give it a whirl.

On the same page, they’ve also got a link to their Titlefight where you can pit two titles against one another.

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