Monday, August 27, 2012

What Do People Want? Good Writing or Good Story?

There has been a lot of buzz lately about whether the publishing industry sets the bar on writing too high, and that what people really want is just a good story.

So which is it? Writing or Story?

Do readers only care about easy entertainment? Do they like the familiarity of the same stories told over and over again with only minor plot changes? Is real life so stressful that all we want is to lose ourselves in a simple, predictable form of entertainment?

I have a friend who said she didn't want to read books that challenged her way of thinking. She said she already finished college and didn't want her reading to feel like homework. Is that how everyone feels?

Some people worry that really great works of fiction will be overlooked as more and more readers get caught up in the commercial, no-brainer stories, and then all we'll have left is the slush pile.

Is there still room for good writing and thought provoking works of fiction? Years from now, who will we be quoting?

Is this surge of mediocrity in fiction only a phase brought on by poor economic times? Or is society lowering its standards?

What place does the indy and self-publishing industry hold in all this turmoil?

Which is more important to a work of fiction, good story or good writing?

Monday, August 20, 2012

College Advice

Today's post is on a more personal note.

In a few hours we will be dropping our oldest child off at college. It scares the living daylights out of me. He is going beyond the range of our safety net.

I hate to be cliche, but where did the time go? It really does pass in the blink of an eye.

Blink--kindergarten. Blink again--junior high. Blink--ohmyheck he's driving. And now he's out the door and on his way.

He's a great kid and I know he'll do well, but what can I say? I'm a mother. I worry.

So, as I enter this new phase of parenting, I'm open to advice.

All you parents who have done this before--what are the dos and don'ts? What worked for you? Any mistakes I should avoid?

And all you youngsters out there--what did your parents do that you appreciated? How did they help? How did they not help?

I look forward to lots of useful comments. Please... I'm desperate.

And because I'm old and feeling particularly nostalgic, here's a very sappy but true Joni Mitchell video: Circle Song

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Judging a Book by its Cover

We've all heard this saying a million times: You can't judge a book by its cover.

But I really wish you could.

Some of my favorite books in the world have unattractive covers. Granted that's just my opinion and someone else probably loves the covers I hate.

How many times have you recommended a book and added the caveat to ignore the hideous cover.

Cover styles come and go. But lately, there has been a huge surge of nearly identical covers--especially in Young Adult fiction. Just click on this link and check out the covers of the 2012 YA debut novels.

Luckily, I think (hope) the random girl in a flowing dress (which usually has NOTHING to do with the story) is going out. Now we're seeing the close-up of a face with a haunted look.

We all know that as authors we have no say (or in some cases very little say) about our covers. Each book is marketed to a specific audience, so if a prom-dress is what's selling, then I guess it makes sense for every book to have one?

What do I prefer? I like covers that set the tone of the story, that give us a hint of what to expect. I like covers that leave the looks of the main characters up to my imagination. The character in my mind never matches the one on the cover.

Here are a few covers that I love because they convey the tone of the book and are visually enticing. 

What covers do you love? What covers do you hate?

If you are already published, what was your experience regarding the cover of your book?

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Rose By Any Other Name

I've always felt like it's important to give my fictional characters meaningful names. Names that say something about the character and give them added depth.

Draco Malfoy, Napoleon Dynamite, Huckleberry Finn, Ebenezer Scrooge, Malvolio. Each of these names evokes something about the character.

But it's not that easy to come up with great names.

Here are a few quick tips I picked up from various places:

1. Make it easy to read. Especially in fantasy and science fiction. Readers don't like stumbling over names as they read a story. A name can be easy to read and still sound exotic, foreign or futuristic.

2. Make the name appropriate to the time period. Use census data or the Social Security Name Popularity List to find names that were common to the time period of your story.

3. Consider the meaning of the words in the name. What does the root of the name mean? What country does it come from? For example compare the name Sunny to Draco; Lucy to Lucia.

4. Consider what the name means to the general public. If you pick the name Brittany readers will immediately think of Brittany Spears. Is that who you want your character associated with?

I have this book called The Baby Name Survey Book that lists hundreds of names and what the general public's first impression is about someone with that name.

Example: My name is Julie, here is what the book says about it: 
Image: The name Julie calls to mind a tall, quiet woman who is pleasant and average. 
And then it lists several famous Julies that people might associate with that name, such as Julie Andrews.
5. Avoid overused and cliche names. Like Jack. How many big strong heroes are named Jack? Unless of course you're going for the cliche.

What are your favorite fictional names? I'd love to hear your examples of best character names.

What are your tips for naming your own characters?

And let me know if you want me to look up your name in my awesome book.