Title Trouble

This may not be a problem for those whose works are getting published by a regular publisher, but for those who are not, it may be the cause for some massive headaches: coming up with the perfect title. After all, titles are what draw in readers, together with the cover and the blurb – the latter is not going to be read, though, if the cover and title do not stimulate the reader’s imagination. Earlier, I talked about the importance of a fitting cover. Now it is time to talk about the importance of the right title. How do you come up of that?

The kind of story and it’s genre usually determine what style of title would be fitting. I am only a writer of children’s fiction, so that is what I’ll stick to – plus maybe some YA novels.

Firstly, are you writing a series? If so, what is that series really about? If it is about a character, implementing the character’s name could work. Examples of this are the Harry Potter and the Junie B Jones series. In the case of the former, all titles in the series start with “Harry Potter and the [fill in phrase]”. In the case of the latter, Junie B.’s name is usually used somewhere in the title, although those are not as formulaic. Using a character’s name in a title is a good way to let young readers know to what series a book belongs. However, this does not only work for series; character names in titles often bring the fictional world a little closer to the reader, even when they haven’t read the actual story yet. You could also use a place name instead of a character name; as long as it is important to the story, it can be used.

Secondly, you could use an actual sentence from the story as a title – or at least part of it. Is there any sentence in your work that really stands out? Does it capture the theme of your story? You could tweak it a little if it’s too long. An example of this is To Kill a Mockingbird, which has been derived from the quote: “Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” In other words, don’t kill innocent beings that are only around to sing. The title is not clear by itself, but it still captures the heart of the book in only a few words. Poetic sentences make for nice titles; so do witty ones.

Thirdly, and this is the case for many YA books nowadays, you could use only one word. This is probably the most difficult to do, but it could be really rewarding. Ally Condie’s Matched does this, for example, by using the one word that sums up the main dilemma of the story. Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight is another case of a one word title, and while I am not going to judge the story’s value, the series’ titles are great – they all refer to phases of the night and darkness, as befitted for vampires. This might work the same as an entire phrase or sentence, though; is there one word that really captures the essense of your story? Use it.

This may or may not have been useful, but it is something I personally struggle with. Coming up with the right title is important, yet it can also be a lot of fun. In the end, it is also important to enjoy the entire writing process.

Clothes Make The Man – Fictional Attire

Back in the time of Renaissance theatre, the clothes worn by a fictional character basically determined his (there were no actual women on stage, just men playing women) personality. Like in the real world, the outfit worn caused the audience to get a certain feeling about the character. For example, a madman would be dressed in rags and strange colours, whereas a king would always wear a mantle. In fact, an actual king without his royal attire would not be viewed as a true king. In plays, this was especially important, as the audience had to work with what they saw on stage. Interiority, the difference between the inside and the outside, was not used. After all, it just would be unclear… Until Shakespeare came along.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet probably was one of the first plays playing with the characters’ outfits, especially those of Prince Hamlet himself. At first, he wears an inky cloak resembling his grief, although he claims that it does not – in fact, nothing material can describe how grief-ridden he is about his father’s death. This is not the clearest example of interiority in the play, though. It becomes even more obvious when Hamlet decides to pretend to be a madman. In order to do so, he appears disheveled in front of his family and the audience, to make them believe he is going crazy. Whether he is actually crazy or not, which might be the play’s main theme, never becomes entirely clear.

What I am trying to say is that a character’s looks basically determine how the character is viewed by the audience, whether it is a play or a book. More often than not, the choice of clothing is a public display of a character’s personality – trying to hide that personality by wearing opposing clothes still counts for this. A writer needs to think of what his or her characters’ looks say about them. Even a short description can completely change the audience’s mental image. For example, a girl in a black leather jacket might come across as a biker at first glance, right up until the moment she puts a flower in her hair. Characters should be like real people; not black and white, not even shades of grey, but colourful.

Prose versus Poetry

I do not intend to start a war between poets and writers of fiction; instead, I would like to tell why I prefer writing fiction over writing poetry. Most of it has to do with my lacking emotional capacities – although that’s an exaggeration – and my refusal to use flowery language, excessive descriptions or actually touching material.

Personally, I am not really an emotional person. While poetry does not have to be emotional, most of its power comes from touching the hearts of its readers. Most of the fun, lighthearted poetry does not have that effect, although there is nothing wrong with that. I do not like writing either of them. I prefer my writing to be fun and adventurous, yet not to be devoid of meaning. Finding that balance is hard. To me, writing is supposed to carry some kind of meaning or message without being obviously blatant about it. Poetry is great for those who are not as blatant as I am. I would not be able to do it right. Either it would come out over the top emotional or completely inane. A great poet knows the difference, whereas I do not.

Also, writing fiction seems to come more naturally to me. There haven’t been many instances in my life where I tried to write poetry, whereas fiction has always been important to me, both in reading and writing. I wanted to tell fun stories that captured the readers’ attention. They had to be clear, to the point and interesting. Poetry can definitely be interesting, but it seldom is as much to the point as I’d like to write. Besides, I prefer longer texts, as slowly giving away pieces of information does not really work in a short text. Poetry is short, in general… And I have to admit, I often won’t read it if it looks too long, as I typically struggle to grasp the sentences. It might be because English is not my mother tongue, making long sentences even harder to understand. I’d like to think I am relatively proficient, but not enough to pull off some beautiful poetry.

All in all, both poetry and prose have their qualities, but I still prefer the bluntness of my children’s books… The reality is that it’s what I can do best, and while experimenting is fun, I’d rather stick to what I know. How sad, I know.

Children’s Books That Should Not Be Written

Children's Books That Should Not Be Written

Of course the list of children’s books’ titles I just posted is merely a joke of which I do not know the original source – it is all over the Internet, so it was impossible to trace back its origins. However, there still is a point to this list. Some children’s books should not be written; period. Although the limits may be vague, I believe standards should be set.

Firstly, no children’s book should actually encourage children to act inappropriately. By that, I mean acting in ways that is harmful or dangerous, either for the child themselves or for the others around them. This is not to say that nothing can happen. Children’s books should be filled with fun, adventure and danger – why would any child otherwise want to read them? Reading is about knowing about the unknown, which is why it is such a good passtime. Stealing candy from a candy factory is a great example of something that could definitely happen in children’s fiction. It is adventurous, but it is also dangerous and illegal. Does that mean that it should not happen at all? No, that is not what I am trying to say. Still, the characters should not just get away with their crime – which is what this is. Breaking in in factories is illegal. The main characters should be caught, one way or the other. They might be seen, or they might feel remorse. They should not run home laughing without trouble and then eat candy for the rest of the week without anyone ever finding out. The example may not be all that realistic, as there are not that much fun factories around, but the point still stands.

Secondly, children’s books should not be about actively making the reader feel bad about – about themselves or in general. “Your parents just don’t love you” may happen in the real world, and it sometimes does happen in books, but I am not sure if I agree with this. Should children really be reading those depressing close-to-home stories? While they might be comforting, they could also be a powerful trigger, whether the reader actually experienced this or not. Another example about making children feel bad is the title “The Monsters in your Closet are Real”. This is great for older children who don’t believe in monsters anymore – not for the little kids for whom this title seems to be intended, although it is just a joke.

Lastly, children’s books should not be age inappropriate, no matter how straight to the point this advice may seem. If it doesn’t come up in children’s minds yet, it probably isn’t a good idea to write a story about it. Chances are the readers won’t enjoy it or otherwise get ideas that may be harmful. Romance does not occur often in children’s fiction for the reason that most children do not care about it. They may have crushes on each other, but they do not go around groping each other – or at least, they should not be. Middle Grade fiction may include a kiss, but that’s it. The same goes for topics such as abuse. The level of it should be age appropriate. The higher the intended audience, the more severe it can be, but it still should not cross those lines.

Even jokes can hold an important message: some children’s books just should not be written.

What do you think of that?

The Necessity of the Internet

Now that I’m lacking an Internet connection for yet another day (I am writing this from another location), I finally realise how important it is to have access to the Internet when trying to write. I need it.

First of all, I like to use Google Docs in order to keep my documents safe. However, I found out that there is only one computer I like to write on. It is a mental thing; while I have access to my files at the moment, I cannot force myself to write, even though I probably should. There is nothing else to do at the moment. From that point of view, having no connection should be good. However, it is not. I will have to go back to my house at some point and write there. For that, I actually need a working connection. How else am I supposed do to my research?

In all honesty, there is not much research for me to do. Still, I like looking up names and myths from all over the world to give me some inspiration. The Internet is a blessing for the aspiring writer. It can provide us with everything we need to come up with that one spectacular idea. On the other hand, it also can be a massive curse, as it brings forth procrastination and distraction. At the moment, the pros outweigh the cons.

I am sorry for the rambling, but I have to use the connection I have at the moment to give this update on my life. Again, the Internet is a curse, as I could have used this time to write… And yet, I cannot do without it.

Society

I’ll be spreading my wings tomorrow. I’ll be flying out. In other words, I am going to move tomorrow, not only for the first time in my life but I’ll also be without my parents for the first time. I am not much of a poet; in fact, it felt wrong to write this passage as I generally do not enjoy how pretentious poetry can come across. The only time I allow myself to do so is when writing my character, the ten-year-old smartass who likes to impress people by coming up with synonyms.

Maybe there is not much of a point to this post, except for me rambling. What I really wanted to do was to share my favourite song, as for a change, poetry seems to describe what I am feeling right now: Eddie Vedder’s Society. I do not have much – not because I can’t, but because I do not need anything. There are not much things in my life I enjoy that much, and the ones I do enjoy, I already own. The only thing I want at the moment is a quiet space for me to write, where no one is going to disrupt me – although that never happens anyway. When I am writing, I feel safe. For those who hadn’t picked up on it by now, I am slightly depressed. At the moment, I just feel like running… and listening to some music.

The word “running” in the last sentence was actually a mistake, as I meant to say “writing”. However, I guess this describes what I’m really feeling. I’m trying to get away from society for a bit. I’m getting anxious. I’ve never done this before!

The more useful posts will be back in a week. There’s no Internet connection yet in my new home.

Writing for Children – The Fun of Grade Calculating Devices

The stories are write are meant for children of the ages between eight and ten years old. However, while I can say that they are meant for this group, this does not mean that they would be actually appropriate. Figuring out the right style has always been difficult for me. Back when I used to write for teenagers, my language always turned out to be too difficult and prententious. No kid would want to read it, I am sure of that. That is why I am not going to try that ever again. Still, now that I am writing for younger children, I keep running into the same problem. What style is age appropriate? Am I really just dumbing it down, which is the most horrible mistake to make, or am I so afraid of doing so that my texts are too boring or difficult for the average eight-year-old?

I know that there are a few tools out there that could be helpful in this case. I tried the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level technique, and according to that, my stories should be appropriate for children in the third grade. However, at the same time, either the Gunning-Fog Score or the Coleman-Liau Index (I cannot remember which) indicated that my writing would be more appropriate for sixth-grade readers. Apparently the words I use are too long of difficult. Now I am left wondering if I should take those out or try to ignore these scores. Do they really mean as much as they appear to? The problem is that I do not enjoy writing for older audiences. Even a story for actual sixth-graders demands more depth and more emotional problems… and while I love creating backstories, deep, emotional problems are not something I want to deal with. My stories should be short, fun and a little scary, in my eyes.

I’ve come to the conclusion that writing for children is hard; much harder, in fact, than writing for teenagers – but only when it comes down to style. I am not saying I am going to give up. That would be a shame. I am just going to keep writing, try to ignore the problem and finish my job. It will be hard, as I will be moving out in a couple of days, but the holidays are near and I will have a lot of spare time. I will also be joining Camp NaNo, so let the writing commence. I will not let those horrible grade calculators stop me!

Cover Drama

Covers are like a book’s trailer. Together with the back cover, they form the story’s trailer – that is, if there is no actual trailer available. Even if there is one, most, if not every, potential reader(s) will look at the layout of the printed book itself, as that is supposed to give away at least part of what is to be expected. A great cover gives away its genre and possibly part of its actual subject, created to fit the actual story inside.

However, not all covers fulfill their function. Sadly, my very first own cover was an example of this. If only I had known what it was going to turn out like, I would never have said “yes”. It all started when I decided to send my manuscript to a so-called publishing house, at the age of twelve or thirteen. I was incredibly proud of it – rightly, I’m guessing – and the publishing of my first book all went so fast. That was when I found out I hadn’t submitted it to an actual publishing house, though; it was merely printing-on-demand, and they demanded for me to send them a cover image. There was not much time left. My parents decided to go look for someone to do the job. They knew a lot of artists, mainly because we were not from a big town. Around here, everybody knew everybody. Soon enough, my parents found an artist willing to draw my cover for free. I was a kid without money. There was no way I could refuse that offer. My cover image was finished soon enough. The image itself was not bad… It clearly showed its genre, and the publishing company wrote the title on it in big, orange letters. It was beautiful… Except for what was actually depicted on the cover itself. There were characters on there, who were supposed to be my main characters – a man, a fourteen-year-old boy and a sandy coloured horse. On the cover, they had turned into a man with a young child and a black horse. It may not have been the worst thing in the history of publishing, but I was upset without doubt. It was as if my characters were gone, together with the story they belonged to. This image was going to be stuck to my own book for the upcoming five years. There was nothing I could do about it – the artist had volunteered to create this for me, so I couldn’t complain. I didn’t even know her! My manuscript was turned into a book, and yet, I never felt completely happy about it. Part of it may have had something to do with the story’s actual content, but that does not matter at this point.

All in all, I’ve definitely learned my lesson. Covers are important, both to the reader and probably also to the authors themselves. The images should depict the story in a fitting way – and in my case, I considered it a failure. That’s what you get when you try to get published in the printing-on-demand way. To be honest, I doubt I would ever pick one of those books from the shelves myself. I hate to admit it, but most of the time they just don’t seem right – or professionally made, for that matter.

The Tale of Coven’s End – A Short Explanation of my Series’ Story

This is not really a blog post in the sense of what I normally write. It is a short introduction to my series, complete with its own fairy tale.

I am always afraid to be regarded as already being published. Posting an excerpt of my first chapter seems a little dangerous to me, so I decided to write a short fairy tale about the origin of my series’ little village called Coven’s End. It probably won’t ever appear in the story, as the level is already too high for my audience. This is not how I normally write, in all honesty. Just to be clear, my series concerns a cursed village, where portals to other worlds keep popping up. The main characters have to deal with all of these strange occurrences, until they figure out what causes all of them.

“Once upon a time, wise men and women ruled over these lands. They knew about the power of nature and spirits. They used that knowledge to create a better world. However, their own people started mistrusting them. They did not understand the magic, so it frightened them. Eventually, they were so scared that they drove off the wise ones. Angered, the wise people decided to flee and come together where no one could find them, so that they could use their powers in secret. They called these groups ‘covens’. Still, no matter how hard they tried, they were found every time. They had no place to go. Their last gathering was here, in these woods, where they decided that the people of this country did not deserve them. After all, they were called ‘witches’ now. When their attackers approached them during their last ceremony, the witches cursed them, their families and this entire village. Right after, they disappeared. That was the end of the coven of Coven’s End – and the reason for every single bad thing happening in this village. The power of the witches is still all around us.”

Now, I have a question: is it really that dangerous to post a small excerpt from an actual chapter?

Writing Tips, Part V: Telling versus Showing

During my time here on WordPress (which is not that long), I’ve seen this question come by several times. I typically try to explain, but it is difficult to do so in only a few lines. I am talking about the ancient debate between showing (mimesis) and telling (diegesis). I am sorry for throwing those terms in there; for some reason I felt compelled to show the one thing I remember from my past literary theory classes. Anyway, that is not the point. The point to this blog post is that I am going to try and explain the difference between showing and telling, so that hopefully the “Show, don’t tell” rule will become clear.

Firstly, telling often refers to describing emotions and conversations in such a way that the reader will have to come up with his or her own interpretations. It is not that horrible; however, a story that is written in this mode will come across as dull and lifeless. For example, you could write:

“She looked happy and surprised. ‘Would you really do that for me?’”

That is not the most visually stimulating word choice, is it? Instead, you could also write:

“Her eyes glimmered in the moonlight and she smiled. ‘Would you really do that for me?’”

I know it is not the best example, but I hope you agree that the second instance is more interesting than the first. Another example, from a first-person point of view, is:

“I felt embarrased.”

Yes, the character feels embarrased, but there are ways to make it clearer. However, it is important to note that a character cannot see themselves. They cannot make observations involving their own bodies, unless it is what they exactly do or feel. They cannot see their cheeks getting red, but this would be fine:

“My cheeks started to glow and I looked down, trying to avoid her glare.”

I admit that this idea of showing is often overly dramatic and it may feel unnatural to some. However, from what I’ve gathered, these second instances are always preferred over their duller counterparts.

Secondly, do not give away information without any explanation to back it up. While you could say that a character is smart, it would be more interesting to have him work out a difficult mathematical problem or come up with a well thought-out plan. Do not say a character is brave if nothing in your story points in that direction – in that case, it would be completely unnecessary information. The most important part here is to let your readers draw their own conclusions about characters’ personalities. The same goes for descriptions of the environment; make your characters use the furniture, or, if you really have to, have them note one important detail. That is enough.

Thirdly, “showing” instead of “telling” is also about choosing the right words – the words that exactly fit the picture you are trying to paint in your readers’ minds. By choosing the right word, you won’t have to explain anything else. You won’t even have to use adverbs to clarify (and, as we all know, adverbs are our enemies). For example, there is the word “to walk”, which means “to move by using one’s feet”. It is one of the least descriptive verbs out there. Instead of “walking”, there are so many other words out there that could be used. “To stroll”, “to pace”, “to hurry”, “to scurry”, “to bolt”, “to dart”… None of these words describe plain walking. However, make sure not to overdo this. “To say” is generally just fine. While you could use other words to imply the way something is said, words like “to warn”, “to note” and “to comment” are not necessary. They are all literally about saying something, wrapped up in a fancy package.

All in all, “show, don’t tell” is all about bringing your story to life. Do not make random statement about characters and at the same time, stay clear from dull descriptions of situations. Show what you would see if you were actually present – unless you actually think in sentences such as “he was sad”, in which case you should not write down your natural observations.

What do you think? Is it indeed so important to “show” or is it fine to sometimes just “tell” something?