Category Archives: Red Pen of Doom

Give me something, something I can read

I’ve got a long road trip and 10 days of no exercise allowed after a spot of surgery (it’s not a tumor!).

So I need things to read. You know, book-like substances, printed bits of dead trees.

And I want a honking pile of them.

Therefore, good people, my plea is simple. Sock it to me:

  • Nominate a popular book that’s actually horrible and I’ll bleed red all over the first page
  • Tell me your Favorite Book of All Time so I have something delicious to chew for hours
  • Hit me up on Twitter, gmail or the comment sections if you want to collaborate on an insanely creative and secret project
  • Give me a movie or music video you want dissected and taken apart, to see how it works like magic or smashes into the hard, heartless rock named Fail
  • If you’re not a nancypants who’ll wind up in therapy, ship me the first page of your WIP and I may ink it up and whip it back, because EDITING IS CRAZY FUN

Also: You’re right, that headline riffs on a Don Henley song. Here it is, live.

The Red Pen of Doom’s Greatest Hits Collection: 10 Epic Posts

  1. Epic Black Car deserves good owner; are you worthy?
  2. The Mother of All Query Letters
  3. Why every man MUST read a romance – and every woman a thriller
  4. The Red Pen of Doom impales FIFTY SHADES OF GREY
  5. The Twitter, it is NOT for selling books
  6. A BOWL OF WARM MILK AND MURDER
  7. 30 achy breaky Twitter mistakeys
  8. Writing secret: Light as air, strong as whiskey, cheap as dirt
  9. The Red Pen of Doom murders THE FOUNTAINHEAD by Ayn Rand
  10. Quirks and legs matter more than talent and perfection

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Photo by Suhyoon Cho

 

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that won some award and is represented by Jill Marr of the Dijkstra Literary Agency.

24 Comments

Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Fiction, Red Pen of Doom, Romances; also, novels with Fabio covers, Thrillers and mysteries

The Red Pen of Doom harpoons MOBY DICK by Herman Melville

MOBY DICK by Herman Melville

Now, this classic book is so ingrained in our culture that movies can get all deep and interesting simply by alluding to a metaphor–which is like a simile, only different–that refers to this doorstop of a book.

Like this: “Maybe I’m Ahab and he’s my white whale” uttered by Bruce Willis in DIE HARD 17: THE HAIR DYES HARDEST could change that movie from just another 120-minute shootout in a nursing home into a penetrating examination of the purpose or life, or lack thereof.

Does that make editing the first page of this thing any harder?

Not really. Bring it, Melville.

MOBY DICK

by Herman Melville

Call me Ishmael. (People have been riffing off it for so many years that those three words are invincible. Can’t touch this.) Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. (This second line is also good. It makes the narrator a smidge unreliable, which is always interesting, and gives him a motive that everybody can relate to: being poor and wanting to see the world.) It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. (On your third swing of the bat, Herman the Meville, you whiff. Nobody cares about other peoples’ spleens and such. Kiss those words goodbye.) Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul;, whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. (Whenever I read a ginormous sentence with five zillion semi-colons and commas, I reach for the red pen and turn it into a nice, short sentence with one comma.) This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. (Another semi-colon, but this is the last one that gets to live.) There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs–commerce surrounds it with her surf. (Hate this sentence. It’s like our friend was talking to us about an interesting story, then started reciting beat poetry. Rewrite follows.) The city of Manhattoes is belted with docks and ships, like an Indian isle is encircled by coral reefs. Right and left, the streets take you waterward.

Verdict:

The fact this book is a classic doesn’t mean page one is perfect.

Herman the Melville is wordy on this page and he only gets wordier later on in this book, where he stops the action entirely to devote entire chapters to lectures about whale tails and such.

There’s a lot of fluff to kill, and I was pretty gentle with the word slaying. You could kill more.

Compared to most first pages, though, he does a good job of setting things up. Ishmael wants to see the world and that means sailing, because he’s not rich. So we’re in for an adventure.

How could we improve this? More foreshadowing. Maybe he mentions a friend who’s a sailor, the one who told him stories that got him interested in a life at sea, and this friend just served on a whaling ship that limped into port after getting attacked by a big whale. A ghostly white one. But his friend was drinking a lot of rum and tends to make up stories…

Got a suggestion for a Page 1 that deserves the red pen? Hit me in the comments, the Twitter or secret emails.

The Red Pen of Doom’s Greatest Hits Collection: 10 Epic Posts

  1. Epic Black Car deserves good owner; are you worthy?
  2. The Mother of All Query Letters
  3. Why every man MUST read a romance – and every woman a thriller
  4. The Red Pen of Doom impales FIFTY SHADES OF GREY
  5. The Twitter, it is NOT for selling books
  6. A BOWL OF WARM MILK AND MURDER
  7. 30 achy breaky Twitter mistakeys
  8. Writing secret: Light as air, strong as whiskey, cheap as dirt
  9. The Red Pen of Doom murders THE FOUNTAINHEAD by Ayn Rand
  10. Quirks and legs matter more than talent and perfection

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that won some award and is represented by Jill Marr of the Dijkstra Literary Agency.

8 Comments

Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Fiction, Red Pen of Doom

BREAKING BAD music video mashup is pure gold

It’s almost as if Weird Al wrote this song for BREAKING BAD.

The maker of this compilation deserves serious props for matching up the lyrics with the right scenes from the epic show. I tip my Heisenberg fedora to you, good sir.

Related posts: Music Video Monday’s Greatest Hits

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller (FREEDOM, ALASKA) that won some award. Represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2 Music Video Monday, Red Pen of Doom, The Glowing Tube

MISSING YOU by John Waite teaches us all about subtext

Here’s a classic song with a video that proves singers should sing, and actors should act.

What’s not to love here?

John Waite‘s hair is pure ’80s gold, with feathery blow-dry action in the front and a sneaky pseudo-mullet in the back. It’s a Don Johnson-punk mullet. Plus he rocks the standard One Dangly Earring look that every lead singer was required to have for about two years.

Adam Ant with the Mandatory One Dangly Earring

Adam Ant with the Mandatory One Dangly Earring

HOWEVER: What’s most interesting to me is how the lyrics clash with the video.

The lyrics avoid being “on the nose,” which is Hollywood screenwriter slang for people saying, or singing, exactly what they mean. Nobody in real life does that. It’s not realistic, not good for a story and not fun for the audience.

People avoid coming out and saying directly what they truly feel.

A hero doesn’t say, “Hey, I’m really scared, and I don’t want to die, so maybe you could drop that gun and let me handcuff you, seeing how I don’t want to get shot or get stuck with piles of paperwork if I shoot you first.” He says, “Do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do ya?”

A villain doesn’t say, “Being locked up in this dark basement next to low-level lunatics is beyond boring, and I would rather stick needles in my eye than communicate with these beasts, but pretty young FBI agents are something I never get to see, so I hope you stick around and talk to me for hours, Special Agent.” He says, “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”

So while the acting and the visuals in the video are completely on the nose, with zero ambiguity or subtlety, the lyrics are great and full of subtext.

John Waite misses his girlfriend / lover / wife, but he doesn’t say, “Hey baby, I miss you a lot, and I’m a wreck, and I wish you’d come back.”

He sings, “I ain’t missing you” and follows that up with “I ain’t missing you at all” and seven other variations of the same thing.

But we know he’s lying.

And that’s what makes this song a classic.

Related posts: Music Video Monday’s Greatest Hits

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller (FREEDOM, ALASKA) that won some award (PNWA 2013). Represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

5 Comments

Filed under 2 Music Video Monday, Red Pen of Doom, The Big Screen

I won some literary award, and it was awesomesauce

Every fiction writer should do three things:

1) Go to writing conferences – to learn all they can, make friends and put a serious dent in the hotel bar’s supply of Guinness (mission accomplished!)

2) Hire an editor before unleashing their 650-page epic fantasy novel about elves with lightsabers riding dragons

3) Enter what they write into literary contests

So I’ll talk about those things a little, but first: a little dance. Because I am not so jaded that winning some award makes me shrug, or throw it on the ground. No. I am a happy, happy camper.

The PNWA lit contest isn’t something run out of some dude’s garage. It’s a big shebang, and I’m happy to have been a finalist in 2011 and taken 2nd in 2013 in Best Mystery/Thriller for FREEDOM, ALASKA.

i request the highest of fives

Also, they write you a check, and checks are always good.

Why are literary awards different?

Here’s the deal: journalism awards and such are great, and yes, it was fun to win those as a reporter and editor.

HOWEVER: even if you win the Pulitzer Prize, which is like having the Gods of Journalism descend from heaven and place a solid gold crown upon your head, it doesn’t really change things that much. You don’t suddenly get showered with cushy jobs, minions and fill your swimming pool with Benjamins when you’re not on the lecture tour, giving speeches for money and wearing disguises to avoid all your journalism groupies, which don’t exist, but should.

Unless they moonlight as a TV pundit on the Sunday shows, even the best journalists don’t become (a) rich, (b) famous or (c) rich and famous. There are all kinds of world-class reporters and editors who work at the best newspapers and magazines in the world, and you wouldn’t recognize them if you ran them over with your car. Which is too bad. These folks are rock stars.

So: journalism awards look good on your resume.

Literary awards are different. They can truly change the arc of your writerly career.

Anyone who’s written a novel knows that literary agents and the publishing world in Manhattan swims in sea of slush — of pitches, queries and actual 400-page books, with 99 percent of it being unpublishable, but somebody’s got to search through all that stuff to discover the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King.

Mostly, though, they chew through the slush pile like it’s Snuffy the Seal.

So being able to say hey, this novel already got judged in a literary contest and was found very worthy — that’s a foot in the door. If you win and show up at the writing conference, agents may talk to you. That’s a good thing.

My sister got her start in Hollywood by winning the biggest screenplay competition, put on by those Oscar folks at the Academy, and that sucker comes with a $30,000 fellowship and a lot of prestige. Does it open doors? You bet.

Why go to writing conferences?

Fiction is tough. Writing a novel, to me, is the Mt. Everest of writing, the toughest thing we pen monkeys can tackle. Millions talk about it, and maybe even try, but few make it. And that’s fine. Nothing worth doing is easy.

If you’re going to do it, don’t use your own pet theories or simply read books about it. Get real advice and mentoring from people who’ve been up to the summit and back. Get some climbing partners. That’s why you go to writing conferences.

The great thing is writers like helping other writers. In some professions, there’s all kinds of rivalries and secrecy. Writers aren’t built that way. They’re happy to help fellow writers. You’ll see best-selling romance authors hanging out with newbie thriller authors. Nobody cares. There are no real cliques.

I’ve met all kinds of authors at writing conferences — folks like Chris Humphreys, Bob Dugoni, Barry Eisler, Lee Child and Joe Finder — and you learn a lot from listening to them speak, getting a book signed or talking to them in the hotel bar. There isn’t an author I’ve seen who didn’t take time, even if they were the keynote speaker and a bazillionaire bigshot, to talk with everybody.

Also, writing is a funny business. Some of my best writing buddies are romance novelists. That’s who I tend to work with when throwing ideas and drafts around. They rock: they’re organized, smart and know how to collaborate.

In fact, I’m gonna join the RWA and hit their ginormous conference next year to drain THAT hotel bar of its supply of Guinness.

Why enter contests?

First, because it makes you focus. There’s a real deadline, and people writing novels know how endless the slog can be. A contest kicks you in the behind and makes you start sending things out the door.

Second, because you need to test yourself, and push yourself, and get real feedback. Contests will do that. Even if you don’t place, or win, the judges will send you feedback. 

Third, because it can open doors. At some point, you’ll want to get the thing published. Being a finalist or contest winner can make you stand out a little, to show you’re more serious than the average bear, or at least more serious than these bears.

So: circle a lit contest deadline on your calendar, hit a writing conference and hire an editor. You’ll learn a lot, and thank me later. It’s a much better plan than banging on your keyboard, all by your lonesome, for the next two years.

Related posts:

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that won some award.

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Filed under 5 Random Thursday, Fiction, Housekeeping, Red Pen of Doom, Romances; also, novels with Fabio covers

I threw it on the ground — why people stop reading books

Like you, dear reader, I devour books. I eat them for breakfast, munch on them for lunch and blast through an endless buffet of books in bed, waiting for the Sandman — because books, they are THE BEST.

However: there are books, even famous best-sellers and literary masterpieces that eager graduate students dissect for their dissertations, that are simply unreadable. You start them, you want to be blown away by them and instead, you toss them through the air to test their aerodynamics.

Goodreads asked their peoples about books they started, and wanted to love, but simply couldn’t finish.

Some books at the top of their Couldn’t Finish List include:

  • FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, which is complete trash, and not in a good way. Here’s my take on the first page of that stinker: The Red Pen of Doom impales FIFTY SHADES OF GREY
  • THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, written by a fellow Swede, and I wanted to love this book, I really did, but couldn’t get past page 30-whatever. 
  • ATLAS SHRUGGED by Ayn Rand, who couldn’t write her way out of a wet paper bag if you handed her a sharpened pencil. I took a red pen to the first page of her most famous book here: The Red Pen of Doom murders THE FOUNTAINHEAD by Ayn Rand
  • CATCH-22, which I’ve read a zillion times and love. Maybe I’m crazy.
  • THE LORD OF THE RINGS, an immense and dense tome that I started to read and despite being (a) on a beach in Maui and (b) chock full of mai tai’s, I couldn’t (c) get past the 60-page introduction to the prologue or whatever because it was massive amounts of academic text lecturing me about the sociology of hobbits and elves, with no story whatsoever, and it put the B in Boring.

So I agree with Goodreads about throwing most of these books on the ground.

Below is the infographic, and here’s the story with all kinds of comments.

So tell me: which bestseller or famous piece of lit-rah-sure have YOU stopped reading and thrown on the ground?

why people drop books
Related posts:

The Red Pen of Doom whips SWITCH by Camryn Rhys

The Red Pen of Doom guts THE NOTEBOOK

The Red Pen of Doom destroys FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen

The evil secret to ALL WRITING – editing is everything

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award.

Google+

20 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Red Pen of Doom

The Red Pen of Doom impales FIFTY SHADES OF GREY

As is my custom, and habit, and my Bobby Brown prerogative, I’m going to go with the first page — as printed.

You know, printed with ink at these places we used to call “stores of books,” where you handed the nice folks who live there paper decorated with dead presidents and they let you walk out with ALL KINDS OF YUMMY WORDS.

So if you read the first page of this thing on a Kindle or iPad or Atari 2600, your page 1 will doubtless look different and such. Please give my regards to the Complaint Department.

After a line edit of Page 1, we’ll talk about our general literary impressions — about how metaphors are like similes, only different; about how my hatred of semi-colons runs deeper than my loathing of A-Rod; and how somebody wrote a mainstream and incredibly successful novel about sexy nonsense without putting any sort of sexy nonsense whatsoever on page 1.

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY

Does the title and cover matter? Nah. Only if you want to sell 40 bazillion books.

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY

I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror.  (This may be a world record. Bam, in the first sentence, she breaks a cardinal rule of fiction writing: don’t tell readers what the hero or heroine looks like by having them stare into a mirror, gaze upon their reflection in a pond or, I don’t know, whip out their driver’s license and say, “Huh, five-foot-ten, a hundred and twenty pounds, red hair, green eyes and a few freckles. Howbout that?” Ugh. This is not exactly “Call me Ishmael.”) Damn my hair – it just won’t behave, and damn Katherine Kavanagh for being ill and subjecting me to this ordeal. (Unless the heroine’s hair is crucial to the plot — unless she starts out with unruly hair in Act 1, switches to a bob in Act 2 and shows how much she’s grown and changed by rocking a purple Mohawk in Act 3, the hair, it is Boring, and a Distraction. Also, nobody refers to friends and such by their full name. If she’s your bestie, you say “Katherine.”) I should be studying for my final exams, which are next week, yet here I am trying to brush my hair into submission. I must not sleep with it wet. I must not sleep with it wet. (Enough already with the hair. Seriously. The only two words with any kind of real conflict and potential are “final exams,” and unless she flunks those, and therefore gets kicked out of university and has to live under a bridge in a cardboard box, it does not matter for the story.) Reciting this mantra several times, I attempt, once more, to bring it under control with the brush. (More about the hair? MORE? Not necessary, not interesting and not entertaining, unless her hair is secretly a sentient being, organizing a plot to take over the world, one follicle at a time. I’m guessing Bruce Willis, being immune from such attacks, will get recruited to foil this plot in DIE HARD 17: THE HAIR DYES HARDEST.) I roll my eyes in exasperation and gaze at the pale, brown-haired girl with blue eyes too big for her face staring back at me, and give up. (Back to the staring-at-the-mirror trick, which has to go. Find another way to describe the heroine and make the reader care about what the heroine looks like in the first place. I don’t know, a conflict, a situation, a hook.) My only option is to restrain my wayward hair in a ponytail and hope that I look semi-presentable. (Now we’re beating the Dead  Hair Horse on its way to the glue factory.)

Kate is my roommate, and she has chosen today of all days to succumb to the flu. Therefore, she cannot attend the interview she’d arranged to do, with some mega-industrialist tycoon I’ve never heard of, for the student newspaper. (Awkward. First reference is Katherine Kavanaugh and now she’s Kate — just call her Kate both times. Also, how many student newspapers score interviews with “mega-industrial tycoons” … who you’ve never heard of? If they’re really mega, then you have heard of them. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and so forth. If you haven’t heard of them, they aren’t mega at all. Edited text follows in red.) Kate is my roommate and she’s chosen today, of all days, to succumb to the flu. That means I’m stuck interviewing some industrial tycoon for the student newspaper. So I have been volunteered. (Redundant.) I have final exams to cram for, (already said that) one essay to finish, and I’m supposed to be working this afternoon, but no – today I have to drive a hundred and sixty-five miles to downtown Seattle in order to meet the enigmatic CEO of Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc. As an exceptional entrepreneur and major benefactor of our university, his time is extraordinarily precious – much more precious than mine – but he has granted Kate an interview. A real coup, she tells me.

Damn her extracurricular activities. (The last sentences were brought to you by the letter E: enigmatic, exceptional entrepreneur, extraordinarily, extracurricular. There are other modifiers that start with the letter E: extraneous, excruciating and ejector seat. I am looking for the handle, because it’s time to pull it.)

Kate is huddled on the couch in the living room.

“Ana, I’m sorry. It took me nine months to get this interview. It will take another six to reschedule, and we’ll both have graduated by then. As the editor, I can’t blow this off. Please,” Kate begs me in her rasping, sore-throat (compound modifier) voice. How does she do it? Even ill

(end of page 1)

Notes from the Red Pen of Doom

Are you kidding me? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

I thought THE FOUNTAINHEAD was a bad Page 1 (here’s my post about that debacle), but Ayn Rand is flipping Shakespeare compared to FIFTY SHADES OF AWFUL.

Page 1 of this turkey consumed barrels and barrels of red ink, even though all my red ink is digital and such. Had to change my way of editing to handle this thing, because usually, anything edited gets turned red, but if I did that to this first page, 90 percent of this thing would be red, and it would be all Confusing and such.

So this is a mess, and not a hot mess.

God bless anybody who sells a ton of books or movie tickets. I adore books and movies, and the more people read books, and see good movies, the better. HOWEVER: the first page of a book is a lot like the trailer for a movie. You start out with your best stuff, and it’s a rock-solid guarantee that the writing doesn’t get magically better ten pages or 100 pages later.

The first page, and the first chapter, get polished and polished until they are a shiny diamond made of words.

Maybe you could argue this book is the one exception to that rule.

From the reviews of this book, though, that’s not the case. Here’s a review of the novel in the London Review of Books.

So why did something like this sell like hotcakes?

I believe, deep in my soul, that packaging matters more than the product. Not because that’s how things should be. It’s just reality.

The title of a book — or a movie, or a TV show — can save your bacon or kill you dead.

What else can sell or sink you? Images. That’s why the cover of a book or punk rock album is so important. It’s why we remember the movie poster for JAWS. When we’re thinking about what to spend our monies on in Barnes and Noble, and  what to see on Friday night at those giant buildings where popcorn costs $9 a bucket, covers and posters and titles are where we start. Images are more visceral and powerful than words. I am not making that up. THERE IS SCIENCE AND SUCH.

Also, quality itself doesn’t sell. You need something else, a different hook. (Related posts: You can pitch ANYTHING except quality and Quirks and legs matter more than talent and perfection)

If you gave this a more typical title for the genre, and a more typical book cover, you’d probably end up with a title like A BUSINESS AFFAIR and some kind of Ryan Gosling clone wearing a suit on the cover with the heroine nearby, messing with her pony tail while she wears the highest of high heels and a business suit with a skirt that is just this side of immodest. Or the cover would feature a blindfold and a pair of handcuffs.

If you really want to go traditional, it’d be Fabio wearing a suit while he holds a blindfold and a pair of handcuffs.

(Related posts: Romance novelists are a secret, epic army of man boosters and Why every man should read a romance — and every woman a thriller and The best Fabio romance cover OF ALL TIME)

And if you put that different title and cover on this very same book, it wouldn’t sell 40 bazillion copies and get turned into a movie. It’d be just another book in a genre that isn’t exactly new and wanting for titles.

I bet you anything the unusual title and cover is why FIFTY SHADES OF GREY went viral and became a smashing success.

True story: guess what the author of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO wanted as a title for his novel? Go ahead. Guess.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

Originally, Stieg the Larsson wanted to title his novel MEN WHO HATE WOMEN. Think would sell more than five copies to his mom?

I am not making this up: Larsson wanted to go with MEN WHO HATE WOMEN.

Raise your hand if you think that title would have set the world on fire and led to hit movies starring James Bond.

The title and cover — the packaging — are 90 percent of the battle. The packaging matters more than the product.

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY is an interesting, literary title. The cover photo of a grey tie is also atypical of the genre and really stands out. The combined effect gives the book a literary veneer.

Some people might feel embarrassed getting on Flight 435 to Frankfurt and pulling out a paperback titled A BUSINESS AFFAIR with Fabio holding a blindfold and handcuffs on the cover. And you can bet the male audience for such books is hard to find with a microscope.

Give the same novel a different title and cover — and the gloss of lit-rah-sure — and that makes it OK for people to read what they might otherwise never get caught dead: romance and erotica.

This reminds me of the early Eric van Lustbader novels, like THE NINJA, which were hot sellers because they slipped in page after page of shockingly naughty scenes to readers — mostly men — who simply expected ninjas fighting with swords and such. It was like a James Bond movie where they didn’t fade out when 007 kissed the girl, but switched from a nice safe PG movie to something unsafe and dangerous and wild. I can tell you 14-year-old boys around the globe had their minds blown. You can print this kind of stuff without getting arrested? I can buy it at the store and they don’t ask for my driver’s license, because I don’t have one yet? NO WAY.

Verdict

Back to  FIFTY SHADES OF GREY and why the first page, aside from the awkward messiness of it all, is just not interesting. You could hire a team of authors to rewrite the same plot points and they would throw up their hands and say forget it, we can’t do magical things with wet unruly hair and cramming for finals week, because there’s nothing truly at stake here.

It is beyond boring to read about some college student kvetch about her hair and her schedule. Try having a job and a kid and a commute, then talk to me.

There’s no conflict, no reason to care about the heroine. Is she fighting for any cause greater than herself? Are there public stakes at all? No. Private stakes that we can divine? No. Maybe if her boyfriend just dumped her, hey, now we have somewhere to go. A catalyst, a hook. But we’ve got nothing to work with here.

The heroine seems shallow and self-centered. I have no feelings about her, Kate or this Mr. Grey, because there’s nothing on the page to make me care, and no foreshadowing that anything more exciting or interesting might happen on page 2, page 22 or page 222.

I don’t mind entertaining trash, no matter the genre. In fact, better that a book or movie embraces its entertaining trashiness than beats me on the head with the Cudgel of Prententious Nonsense, which is never any fun at all.

HOWEVER: Entertaining trash better be GOOD trash, and not forget the entertaining part. This page 1 is an epic fail on both counts.

Related:

The Red Pen of Doom whips SWITCH by Camryn Rhys

The Red Pen of Doom guts THE NOTEBOOK

The Red Pen of Doom destroys FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen

The evil secret to ALL WRITING – editing is everything

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award.

Google+

50 Comments

Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Fiction, Red Pen of Doom, Romances; also, novels with Fabio covers

Writing secret: all you need is CURIOSITY and SURPRISE

 

Whether you write novellas about fierce mermaids, magazine stories for Cosmo (insert your own joke here) or speeches about the Austrian school of economics for the IMF — whatever sort of writer you are, two things matter most.

Not correct grammar and spelling. Those things are assumed.

Not pretty paragraphs and sentences that sing. That’s word gravy, while we’re talking about the main course.

What matters most: making your readers curious, then surprising them.

The kitteh is surprised

Surprise Kitteh is surprised.

This is why the inverted pyramid is a terrible structure for any writer. (Click with your mousity mouse to read Why the Inverted Pyramid must DIE.)

The inverted pyramid grabs a heavy rock and smashes the skull of curiosity. Then it takes that same bloody rock and crushes all hope for any surprises.

How does it achieve this epic level of failure? By giving you the answers before you even know the questions. The payoffs have no setups.

Ways to make your audience curious

Create setups by raising interesting questions (a) about real people where there are (b) high public stakes or (c) high private stakes and (d) serious conflict.

WHAT happened? (mystery)

Debates about the past are about facts, and assigning blame.

  • Who really killed JFK?
  • Did aliens really land at Area 51?
  • What caused the Great Depression?

WHY did it happen? (whydunit)

This is often more interesting than the question of who did it.THE BUTLER ALWAYS DOES IT, so tell us why instead.

How do you CHOOSE between two goods or two evils?

Debates about the present are value choices.

Choosing between good and evil is simple and cartoonish. That’s why its for kids. Truly tough choices are between two good or two evils. Does believing in true justice mean setting a killer free? That sort of stuff. These things are deep. They’ll exercise your head.

What WILL happen? (thriller)

Evil cats are planning on taking over the world. Can they be stopped?

Evil cats are planning on taking over the world. Can they be stopped? Nah.

  • Can we stop these evil cats from taking over the earth BEFORE a giant comet destroys it?
  • What might happen if you brought dinosaurs back to life?
  • Will 5.93 gazillion pounds of TNT make a dead whale disappear from a beach — or will something else happen instead?

WHO will get together — or split up? (romance)

  • Will Matthew McConaughy get together with Kate Hudson already or do we have to suffer through all 120 minutes of this stinker?
  • Why is Tommy Lee Jones in some movie with Meryl Streep about lovey-dovey nonsense?
  • What specific drugs were involved when Hollywood executives decided that Sarah Jessica Parker was some kind of sex symbol? (I’m cheating here and inserting a mystery question about the past into a romance setup, and I should be punished by the Storytelling Gods but, to be completely honest, and to use more commas, which is usually against my religion, I JUST DON’T CARE)

What should you do about the FUTURE?

Debates about the future involve costs versus benefits.

  • As a promising high school athlete, should you let your studies suffer to chase the dream of playing in Major League Baseball, when there’s a greater chance of being hit by a logging truck than being drafted?
  • Should we try to go back to the gold standard, to make Ron Paul all happy as he shuffles off into retirement, or does destroying the global economy kinda put a damper on that whole idea?
  • Next year, should you sell all your possessions to build a zombie-proof bunker in Montana for a zombpocalypse that will never come but is fun to think about — or should you focus on that whole “driving to work and paying the bills” thing?

Ways to surprise your audience

It’s unfair to have things happen for no reason, like Anne Hathaway getting smooshed by a truck in ONE DAY.

Also cheating: letting people off the hook via deus ex machina, which is fancy Latin for “the sidekick shows up at the last minute to shoot the bad guy, right before the hero dies” (every action movie known to man) or “it was all a dream!” (an entire season of DALLAS) or “let’s bring in something we never told you about, then run away” (every sci-fi movie you’ve ever seen on cable).

Surprises shatter expectations and stereotypes. Did you expect the scientist handling the landing of Curiosity on Mars to be a young man rocking a mohawk? No. You expected a stereotypical nerdy McNerd, and bam, that little surprise turned Mohawk NASA man into a national phenom.

mohawk nasa scientist

Didn’t expect a NASA scientist to be cool enough to rock this mohawk, did you? SURPRISE.

A good surprise must reveal something:

  • a secret you hinted at before
  • how a person has changed after suffering and sacrificing
  • a subtle setup that they may have noticed, but will remember (PRESUMED INNOCENT does this better than Anything in the History of Stories)
  • how society has changed after suffering and sacrificing
  • a shocking decision (the hero gets what he wants but rejects it, an unhappy ending to a Hollywood movie OR a happy ending to a French existentialist movie, a romantic comedy that doesn’t feature an put-together and ambitious heroine with a loser man she fixes up)

Related posts:

Writers, we are doing it BACKWARDS

Evil storytelling tricks NO ONE SHOULD KNOW

Why critique groups MUST DIE

The secret truth about writing

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award.

Google+

12 Comments

Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Fiction, Red Pen of Doom, Thrillers and mysteries

Amateur editors and readers: an achy breaky bad mistakey

Because amateurs — even well-meaning ones, with college degrees in Comparative English Literature or whatever — often create conversations JUST LIKE THIS.

This is why for anything truly important, go with somebody who edits for monies, full time, in that specific field.

Related:

The evil secret to ALL WRITING – editing is everything

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award.

Google+

20 Comments

Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Fiction, Red Pen of Doom

Good things come in small, funny packages

Long is the enemy of all that is funny and good.

Writing long will suck the life out of your words and ideas. Embrace short and pithy. Hug the glory of writing short tightly to your bosum, even if you’re not sure where your bosum may be, or if the FCC will fine you for using that word on the Series of Tubes.

Take photo memes, which are really one-liners with an illustration. They’re boiled down and refined, without a word wasted. That’s why they work. Extra verbiage would drown the funny.

1 Comment

Filed under 5 Random Thursday, Fiction, Red Pen of Doom