by Lillian Csernica on June 1, 2017
Now that I’m home again after the big holiday weekend, I’ve been practicing some stress management by looking through the Amazon giveaways. I’m seeing a lot of books.
I’m also seeing a lot of subtitles. Long, cumbersome, unnecessary subtitles. Heaven knows we all want to win big in the SEO Sweepstakes. Trying to stuff a bunch of keywords into your title, subtitle, and series name is more likely to turn a reader off.
Here is an example of a rather lengthy subtitle:
Mr. Duswalt might have chosen to say Surviving X Years Touring with Guns N’ Roses. One can assume he felt the marketability of the book would be enhanced by all those details.
Still, tl;dr can be an important factor.
A subtitle is a lot like a prologue. If your story needs one to help the reader figure out what’s happening, then there’s something wrong with your story. Much like an adverb props up a weak verb, a subtitle is propping up a weak title and/or cover art that really doesn’t sell the story’s genre.
Yes, you can have a subtitle if the book is one installment in an ongoing series or you have the same main character. Even so, keep it simple. Book 12 in the Marybelle O’Shaughnessy Cozy Culinary Criminal Capers with Cats is a little much!
Filed under cats, creativity, editing, Fiction, Goals, historical fiction, Lillian Csernica, publication, research, romance, science fiction, Writing
by Lillian Csernica on January 26, 2015 We all know the feeling. We sit down at our keyboards to do the day’s writing, and there’s nothing in our heads but white noise. Vague ideas chase each other around. Nothing ignites. No conversations start between characters. Now what? I won NaNoWriMo last year, my first time out. The secret to my success became one simple question: How can I ruin my hero’s/heroine’s day today? Good storytelling is made of conflict, and conflict comes from throwing every plausible obstacle into your protagonist’s path. Sometimes you can get away with some implausible obstacles too, but go easy on those unless you’re sure they don’t damage the rest of the story. Let’s look at my work-in-progress today. My hero Tendo has just won a game of shogi against his father. This is the first time Tendo has ever beaten Oto-san at shogi. All those hours spent playing shogi against himself while he was still in exile during Book One have now brought him a victory he’s longed for ever since Oto-san taught him how to play the game. They sit back, light their pipes, and engage in some good-natured father-son joking about whether or not my heroine Yuriko has learned to cook. All this is lovely and tranquil, right? Surely Tendo has earned a few pleasant moments after at least two assassination attempts. He has indeed earned them, but the key words there are “a few.” Tendo’s father chooses this moment to raise the issue of the children that Tendo and Yuriko will have. He’s Japanese, she’s British by birth. That means the children will be “kon ketsu” or, to use the modern term, hapa. The children will be half-breeds. To a samurai, this is intolerable. Tendo’s father tells him that when Tendo’s oldest sister marries, Tendo’s father will adopt her husband as his heir.
I have just disinherited my hero. Because he married Yuriko, a gaijin, and she will be the mother of his children, Tendo will lose his place as eldest son and heir to the Tendo family line. In the world of the samurai, I have just ripped away the foundations of Tendo’s identity and sense of self. There is nothing he can do but bow his head respectfully and leave the room. Now that he feels cut off from his family, the only person Tendo can go to is Yuriko herself. This leads to Tendo learning what happened in an earlier scene when Yuriko and Tendo’s mother faced off over tea with both of Tendo’s sisters on hand to watch the genteel combat.
Photo credit: Okinawa Soba
I ruined Yuriko’s day, and then I ruined Tendo’s day. This is a romance novel, so the pain they’re both feeling will draw them closer together, right up to the moment where it drives them apart again. And people think writing romance novels is easy.
What does your protagonist want most? At that moment? In the big picture? Let him or her think he or she has finally gotten it, then yank the rug out and turn the world upside down. Here’s another secret to this whole process. If you find yourself resisting the urge to do something really terrible to your protagonist, that means you’re on the right track. I love my characters. I don’t want to hurt them or make their lives any worse. That’s the Reader in me talking. The Writer in me has to rain down hell and damnation at every turn to keep Readers reading and to show my protagonists are determined to win no matter what. Keep the pressure on, right up to that moment when your protagonist has to risk it all in the climactic moment of the story. Go big or go home, right?
Let’s take a quick glimpse at the options available if you’re considering writing in the First Person.
First person singular – I. This can be the main character or a secondary character close to the main character who tells the main character’s story. One of the best known examples of this is Nick in The Great Gatsby.
First person plural – We. The first person narrator is speaking on behalf of one or more other people.
Multiple first person – First person narrators all giving their own accounts of the same event. Each provides a different perspective including information the other characters might or might not have.
There are pros and cons to writing in the First Person. In the short story, it can be quite effective. In the novel, it may be harder to sustain due to the needs of the plot.
Better reader sympathy
Greater depth of characterization through the similarities and differences between the internal narration and the external behavior and dialogue.
The opportunity to use the “unreliable narrator” technique.
The strict limitations of what that character sees, hears, smells, tastes, and feels.
The challenge of consistency in terms of the character’s culture, education, speech patterns, basic personality traits, etc. (All the more so with multiple first person.)
The necessity of plotting the story around the limitations of the first person point of view.
Making sure the character is an active participant in the plot and not just a passive viewer/commentator.
Reader confusion about who’s telling what part of the story.
Who can tell your story best? Who has the most to win and lose? Who sees that critical moment that makes all the difference to which way the story problem gets resolved?
Take some time to weigh your options here. Your characters may surprise you with their willingness to work within the intimacy of their first person points of view.
Cover via Amazon
by Lillian Csernica on April 2, 2013
B is f or Back Story
The back story is everything that has happened to your main character leading up to the story you want to tell. Many writers believe that the more you know about your main character’s back story, the better you’ll be able to show him or her on the page. Spend all that time figuring out all those dozens of little details and you’ll come up with the one or two that make all the difference in the story.
All you really need to know about your main character’s past is what affects him or her in the context of the story you’re telling right now.
In my historical romance novel SHIP OF DREAMS, all I had to know about my hero Alexandre de Marchant was that he blamed himself for the destruction of the French naval vessel he served aboard because he didn’t kill their incompetent commander when he had the chance. If he’d done so, the much more qualified officers would have defeated their English adversaries and Alexandre’s shipmates would still be alive. His guilt and the pathological hatred of all English sailors that arose from it made writing his actions and reactions much easier.
Speed counts for a lot in today’s marketplace. Yes, you need those telling details to bring your story to life, but if you get bogged down in those details and don’t finish your story, it may never get the chance to live.