Incredibly, this year marks the 20th anniversary of 'A Game of Thrones', and to mark the occasion, George RR Martin has teamed up with Apple to release a new interactive digital edition of the book.
The new release 'A Game of Thrones: Enhanced Edition' features interactive maps, character journeys and timelines, family trees. audio clips and annotations. It was released on Thursday through the iBooks platform.
“We’re now entering a new period in the history of publishing […] The digital book gives readers the ability to experience all this rich secondary material that had not been possible before,” said Martin of the new edition.
Publishers Harper Collins are already working on enhanced releases of the remaining books with A Clash of Kings scheduled for 27 October and A Storm of Swords scheduled for release on 15 December. Books four and five will be enhanced in February and March.
The release of book six, The Winds of Winter, may, however, take a little longer.
PRIME READING HITS READERS (AND AUTHORS)
Amazon - why pay anyone else?
Amazon have introduced Prime Reading to its US Prime members. The programme offers unlimited free reading from a selected range of books, magazines, comics etc.#
This marks an expansion of Amazon's general strategy to make TV, film, and music available for free through Prime. It doesn't seem as though Amazon recognises a difference between these forms or whether the making available of free, big-name books will have a negative impact on the thousands of self-published authors that make money for the company.
Prime Reding currently features over 1,000 books with a list including Stephen Covey, Barry Eisler and Rachel Abbot.
So this is the third post of five, looking at the opening sentences of my favourite reads of the past twelve months, based on an idea from the beginning of K.M Weiland's book Structuring Your Novel.
A good opening should:
1. Questions – establish tensions to be resolved.
2. Character – engage the reader with the protagonist.
3. Setting – give the reader a sense of place.
4. Declaration – a sweeping, provocative statement.
5. Tone – establishes the style and mood of the writing.
So here's number three:
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
“I was going to say something,” he said.
“So say it,” she said.
He was quiet, his eyes on the road. In the darkness of the city's outskirts, there was nothing to see except the tail-lights of other cars in the distance, the endless unfurling roll of tarmac, the giant utilitarian fixtures of the motorway.
Subject Pronouns not Proper Nouns
The novel opens with an exchange of direct speech. The gendering of the pronouns establishes that the relationship will be key to the novel. And while this might seem to be a perfect opportunity to name the protagonists, Faber uses the anonymous pronouns 'he' and 'she'. Perhaps he is establishing Peter and Bea as universal 'everypeople'.
The exchange 'I was going to say something', 'so say it' works as sort of literary joke at the start, mirroring the job of the author / storyteller.
Like both previous writers Faber includes cumulative syntax (subordinate clauses following the main clause), the adjectives 'endless' and 'giant' show the impressiveness of the road, the marked out journey that Peter and Faber intend to leave.
A funny one this. The opening, like the book as whole feels metaphorical, hard to pin down. And that's a big reason why I love it (a lot of readers don't if the reviews on Amazon are anything to go by). It is without question one of my favourite books not just of the past twelve months but of ever and all time.
Introduction As a blogger about writing, it probably comes as no surprise that I dabble with story myself. I recently read K.M Weiland's 'Outlining Your Novel' as I am looking to scrap and restart an old project. K.M. Weiland takes a non- prescriptive approach to outlining, recognising that writers are an idiosyncratic bunch, and that each one of us needs to develop our own approach to outlining. What Weiland does brilliantly is to describe her own process and to offer other strategies that may appeal to others.
One of the strategies that she uses herself and recommends is the character interview. Weiland has developed a comprehensive 100 question interview on her blog and you can get it here. I decided that I would give it a go as a part of my own process.
If you listen to the Story Grid podcast as I do, you may have heard editor Shawne Coyne talk about the importance of the antagonist, about how these bad guys are the most important character in terms of driving the story, about how despite this they are often neglected by novice writers like me.
The interview begins with biographical stuff: places lived, education and schools, dating history, self-image. I found myself in 'interview mode' writing fairly fluently in the first person, thinking little or nothing about the literary quality of what I wrote. And I found that I was coming up with stuff about my character that I didn't know – most significantly a failed marriage, and a sadistic pair of step-brothers.
This was powerful stuff that I simply wouldn't have without having done the interview.
However, I came unstuck a bit on 'Is he lying to himself about something?' I couldn't answer this in the first person, and if I did I would obscure the information I wanted to detail.
The next section is a description of the character's appearance, preferences and habits, and I felt I had to stay in the third person for this. That said the physical stuff made me see that I really had not considered the character in adequate depth. My descriptions led me to do an image search on Google, where a found a rugby player who pretty much matches the ideas I had.
I saved the image so I can load it into YWriter. I even came up with a few usable similes!
Getting to know the character
Some of the most exciting questions in K.M Weiland's interview are the ones that you could almost transplant directly into a key moment in the book.
What’s the worst thing he’s ever done to someone and why? And What does/will he like least about the other main character(s)?
Answering these questions made me think about those revelatory moments in Game of Thrones where George R.R. Martin's characters share character forming incidents in their pasts. I could just imagine my antagonist revealing the angry 'self-defence' attack on his brother at some key moment I have yet to discover. This was feeling like a really useful exercise.
Developing my own approach
In terms of developing my own approach I think I need to divide up the questions into those I can answer in the first person and those I need the third person for. I'll put the first person questions first so that I can dive into the character before defining them from the outside in.
Having considered my story's overview using the Story Grid foolscap method in previous weeks, I really wanted to make sure that I was considering my characters in terms of their link to my controlling idea and key themes, and about the values they represent more specifically.
I also want to move the history to the beginning so that I can add key dates as I think of them. Also I imagine that these dates may be useful to me, and that I am likely to want to access this information quickly.
I'm always a little bit envious of writers whose characters speak to them. K.M. Weiland writes about characters that 'speak' in relation to this exercise. If you are one of those people then this exercise might get you there quickly. If you are more like me, however, and your characters just don't like you enough to chat, this exercise will give your plotting more power and fuel emotive revelations that will fire up key scenes. Either way the task is really enjoyable. It is, as K.M Weiland says, 'grand fun'.
David Farland is a prolific and successful fantasy and sci-fi writer. As a writer who hasn't ever written a complete novel, I was, unsurprisingly tempted to read David's outlining book, 'Million Dollar Outlines'.
I am currently working on a plan of a novel that I half completed , before abandoning the first draft at about 40,000 words. I am pretty sure that my decision to plan only in the form of six pretty sketchy bullet points was the reason that the novel just sort of ground to a disappointing stand-still. Having tried unsuccessfully to outline my way out of the plot hole I put myself in, I have decided to start from scratch.
The book was a compelling read that related genres to audiences and emotions. The primary emotional resonances of a story, Farland argues, are key to its success with specific audiences. He supports his points with evidence from reader surveys and from the preferences of film-goers.
What I had really been looking for was a clear, step by step plan that will lead me towards a brilliant and cohesive story. David Farland gives us that, and here I will outline his ten step approach:
As a fantasy / sci-fi writer setting for Farland is an imaginative process in itself, and he doesn't specify as to whether the story idea comes first or whether the setting leads him to the story and its themes.
What he does say is that the setting should be closely linked with the ideas in your story.
In my case my story is to be set in and around a particular town in England. So I researched the town and its prominent locations and tried to find ways that they linked to the themes and the key ideas I thought might feature in my story. Ideas of rejuvenation and rebirth came to mind.
Make a list of the main characters that you are going to need. For Farland a main character is anyone we follow through the whole story. I get the impression that Farland is fairly loose at this stage, just defining roles and vague backgrounds and descriptions for his characters.
Starting with protagonist and antagonist decide on some key conflicts. Farland tells us that he often uses plot charts for main characters onto which he pencils in possible key conflicts. He seems to be fairly loose at this stage, adding conflicts that come from setting and context along with specific details about characters' problems – misfiring weapons etc.
4. Conflicts for each character
Every character deserves a few 'juicy' conflicts that give them depth. Farland tells us to pile on the conflicts for individual characters until every character is done. The conflicts should interlink and cross and link the characters into a web of 'circuitry', where each character's goals become dependent upon a number of other characters.
5. Attempts to resolve conflicts
Farland writes about stages of resolution that link with Todorov - ie recogntion, attempts, resolutions. We need to think for each of our characters how they recognise their challenges, how they make failed attempts to resolve their conflicts, then finally how the character confronts and successfully resolves the conflicts.
6. Produce a plot chart
Buy a huge piece of card – 2 feet by 3 feet! I guess (hope, wonder) you could do this on a computer program – Excel maybe? You should start with your protagonist's main plot-line and this should be plotted strongly. Onto this we add the hero's romantic, internal, maturation plots etc. Farland talks about story shapes emerging in 3D and I think that's a pretty powerful concept.
Once this is done you should add the stories of your other major characters to your plot charts. From this chart you can see when characters' storylines are peaking and troughing. The visual representation should enable you to spot slow sections where no tensions are peaking and to make adjustments to your story accordingly.
7. Scene by scene outline
Look at the plot points on your chart and turn them into a series of scenes or chapters. Each chapter needs to have at least one key change. Farland tells of a writing teacher who wouldn't write chapter that didn't achieve at least three things.
Farland uses colours to show the viewpoint or focus character in each scene. This enables us to ensure that there is a variety of settings and possibly speakers across the plan.
At this stage Farland may add key lines of dialogue and possibly even descriptions of key objects and locations. You will be forced to create a thorough 'game-plan' of evenly developed scenes.
8. Map how emotions flow
By focussing on the emotions of each scene we can ensure that our novel is meeting the emotional needs of the audience of our particular genre.
We can also ensure that there is a good range of emotions across the text. Farland tells us that at key points of the novel we may choose to hammer home the same emotion over a number of scenes, but that a range or 'symphony' of emotions is required to deliver truly satisfying results.
9. Add non-plot details
Essentially, Farland argues that a satisfying story will need what he calls 'non-arc' problems. He gives the examples of unresolved arguments and irritations that characters engage with. This should give the story some 'rough edges' that give it heightened sense of realness that readers will appreciate.
10. Write a final draft of your outline
Remove colours and notes and retell your story in the present tense. Farland tries to write this outline beautifully. Add dialogue, craft your sentences, and build to emotional highs.
And there you have it a succinct ten step approach. Naturally I totally recommend buying the book if this process appeals to you as Farland gives context and examples throughout the book to help us understand how this stuff fits together, and how the outlines we create can be crafted to target audiences and create success.
For those who don't know, AdHoc fiction is a weekly competition in which writers enter a 150 word story that contains a specified key word. The stories are voted on by the public and the winner each week gets free entry into the Bath flash fiction award proper which has a top prize of £1,000.
I am always surprised at how effectively the public vote system is in choosing the best work, and the winners are always tiny gems of real literary quality. I entered five consecutive competitions myself last year without winning or deserving to either!
The skills that the winners of this competition never fail to impress me. And I cannot help but check the winners from time to time. This month I came across 'Just a Crisp' by Alison Wassell which you can read here.
Alison kindly agreed to tell me a bit about how her winning entry came about.
Alison Wassell - The Interview:
How often do you enter stories on AdHoc fiction?
I've only ever entered three times.
How did you approach the key word?
I just let it float around in my head, with all the other rubbish that's in there, for a day or so. The key word was 'crisp', and could have been a noun or an adjective. I had a few different ideas. Then when I was bored in work I read an article on The Guardian website written by someone whose sister suffered from anorexia, and that became my inspiration.
Did you outline your piece before you wrote it?
No. I'm not much of a planner, either in life on in writing.
How did you approach the writing / redrafting of 'Just a Crisp'?
I 'write' very short stories in my head when I'm walking to work at 7am in the mornings. The walk takes about 40 minutes, which is plenty of time for 150 words. I fiddle around with the words on my way home, or going round the supermarket. Which I suppose counts as redrafting.
In the past I have posted on Twitter etc. that I've entered. To be honest I've always been a bit cynical about these competitions with a public vote. I thought they were probably won by people with lots of friends who were told which story to vote for. But I can honestly say that this time I told absolutely nobody.
Do you think about your story much during the week it's up on the AdHoc site for the public vote?
No. Mainly because I assume I have next to no chance of winning. I just send it out there and get on with the next thing.
Do you enjoy writing within to the 150 word limit?
Yes. My winning story was actually less than 130 words long. I was always criticised, at school, for not being 'more prolific' in my writing, and it always really annoyed me, because I say what I've got to say, and then I stop. Flash fictions suits me perfectly. The shorter the better.
What advice would you give to other writers having a go at the AdHoc fiction competition?
Just have a go and don't take it too seriously. Nothing is ever wasted. If you end up with something you're even slightly happy with, that's something to work with and build on, and it costs you nothing. That tiny germ of a story could become something much bigger. Or it could stay small and, with a bit of editing, end up published elsewhere.
Read More of Alison's work.
Alison's work is currently available in two anthologies (and I'm pretty sure that there are more anthologies in the pipeline). So, if you like the AdHoc piece you might like some of these other pieces too.
The most recent anthology I've appeared in is A Box Of Stars Beneath The Bed, the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology 2016. I have 2 pieces in that.
Also the anthology of women's writing My Baby Shot Me Down (Blinding Books 2014) has a selection of my work.
I've just bought them myself. And I can't wait to read them.
Seth Grahame-Smith caused quite a stir in 2009 with his hit novels, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and the follow-up Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, both of which sold well, and brought Zombie Mash-Up into the literary mainstream.
In 2010, with striking success and a breakthrough genre, Graheme-Smith signed a $4m deal with a $1m advance. In return the author agreed to produce two new works, with delivery of the second novel expected by 2013.
According to The Guardian, Hachette is not satisfied that the second novel, which was finally submitted in June 2016, meets the terms of its contract with Graheme-Smith. The publisher is unhappy, believing that the text is “in large part an appropriation of a 120-year-old public-domain work”.
The publisher is suing the author and his company Baby Gorilla for at least $500,000.
Print books still dominate but e-books close the gap.
The number of Americans who read books in print remains strongly ahead of those who read e-books, but the gap is narrowing year on year. The survey, conducted by The Pew Research Center, found that while only 6% of Americans are 'digital only' compared to the 38% who describe their reading habits as 'print only', the percentage of readers who have read a book digitally has increased to 28% from 17% in 2011.
Further good news for those who publish digitally is the increasing use of mobile phones and tablets to read, especially among the young. 22% of 18-29 have read a book using a mobile phone in the past year. The percentage of readers using mobiles to read books has more than doubled since 2011 while the percentage using tablet computers has more than tripled to 15%.
College graduates are nearly four times as likely to read ebooks compared with those who have not graduated high school. Perhaps this is indicative of the cost of the technology as a barrier to entry into the e-book market, and we might expect this gap to close as the the tech becomes more broadly used. Men and women are equally likely to read ebooks and audiobooks.
The findings are taken from a telephone survey of 1,520 American adults conducted between March 7 and April 4, 2016.
NEW FRONTIERS FOR ARTHUR C CLARKE.
Jeff Noon missed out; Becky Chambers on the shortlist
The Arthur C Clarke award for science fiction has changed its rules to allow self -published titles to be considered.
The competition's director, Tom Hunter, cites the changing publishing environment. He makes the point that under previous rules, works like Jeff Noon's Channel Skin have not been considered, and that the judges would not have been able to include Becky Chambers' The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet on this year's shortlist.
Hunter told The Book-Seller the search for the UK's best science fiction will be widened across new frontiers.
RICHARD AND JUDY LIST CHAMPIONS NEW WRITERS
New writers and old publishers: Richard and Judy
This autumn's Richard and Judy Book Club list features three debut novels. The debut texts are Fiona Barton’s 'The Widow' published by Corgi (Penguin Random House), Katarina Bivald’s 'The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend' Vintage, (Penguin Random House), and Sharon Guskin’s 'The Forgetting Time' published by Pan Macmillan.
It's great to see R & J championing new talent, and that publishers are actively promoting new talent. That said, with half of the books coming through Penguin Random House and no independent titles on the list, we perhaps have a right to be cautious in our optimism.
First sentence, first page, first scene's closing hook, first impressions count. They may not govern how our stories or novels or poems are judged overall, but they must surely influence the reader's decision to download, to read, to buy our work so that we can show them what a great story we have to tell.
To that end I decided to look at the top three sellers on the Amazon.com ebook fiction chart and see how the writers used language in their opening pages to hook their readers.
The books here were the top three on the 24th of August, 2016. They were:
1)'The Things We Wish Were True' by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen
2)'Interference' by Amélie Antoine, Maren Baudet-Lackner (Translator)
3)'Everything We Keep: A Novel' by Kerry Lonsdale
The first two titles are 'Kindle First' titles. Some people might argue that this means that they are not true bestsellers, but I would argue that in the current context it highlights the importance of impressing the Amazon Editors as well as the broader reading public.
Put simply, the purpose of an opening is to engage the audience into the story and its protagonists as quickly and as deeply as possible. It needs to establish a distinct and credible narrative voice and to provide exposition efficiently, and on top of all that, it should hint at the controlling idea and at the deeper themes of the text as a whole. Oh yeah - and then, after all this i done it needs to excite the readers curiosity, to energise and to make us emote, emote, emote - 'Bloody Hell, Harry!'
All three of this weeks best sellers begin with temporal and / or geographical reference. This creates the effect of an 'establishing shot' in the style of film or TV drama or documentary. The fashion for these kinds of openings perhaps reflect the increasing cross media literacy of modern audiences.
In terms of function these choices have benefits for the author. The use of precise reference to time and place gives an immediate sense of credibility and helps the reader to cross the boundary of believability that so many people feel about fiction.
Secondly, it saves the author the effort of exposition as including exposition of time and place can be cumbersome, and awkward. By using headings, bestselling authors are able to dive straight into the drama of the scene.
The Things We Wish Were True and Interference also use the narrator's name to immediately precede the main body of the prose. This allows the reader to feel that they know the character to some degree before the narrative begins. In Everything We Keep, Lonsdale uses direct speech: “'Here Aimee.' Mom gave me a clean one” to achieve the same effect. Perhaps this is because her audience is more plot focused.
All three texts have female protagonists, and focus the use of proper nouns on a male character. As readers we are focussed quickly on the theme of romantic love. The names of the characters imply outsiders ('Cailey and Cutter' in The Things We Wish Were True), link with faith (Gabriel in Interference) or establish the 'normality' of the characters (Aimee and James in Everything We Keep). In terms of proper nouns The Things We Wish Were True establishes its literary credentials through an early reference to 'Charlotte's Web'.
Starting Sentences with Co-ordinating Conjunctions
With all three texts using first person narrators we expect to feel as if we are being spoken to. And in so many texts, we have become used to sentences beginning with 'And' and 'But'. All three writers use this method of imitating the cadences of speech to create a sense of intimacy between narrator and reader.
The Things We Wish Were True 'But no one wanted to hear that spider's message'
Interference'But I know he'll be angry this time.'
Everything We Keep 'But instead of walking down the aisle towards my best friend, my first and only love, I was at his funeral.'
Bicolons and Tricolons
Bicolons and tricolons are terms that mean repeated grammatical structures. They are a feature of rhetoric favoured by politicians and advertisers. All three novelists use this feature.
When I read a novel, I like to enjoy the language; I like to feel that I am in safe hands, that my novelist knows what they're doing. Using rhetorical techniques is attractive to us and helps us to emote.
The Things We Wish Were True 'His body was tense, his inner self trying to get over to those boys even as his arms and legs stayed still.'
Interference'I love how he makes me feel about myself, and I love knowing that he's nothing without me.'
Everything We Keep 'Same church. Same flowers. Wrong wedding'
The texts use sentence structures to reflect their themes and protagonists.
Mayhew Whalen's writing is the most heavily textured of the three texts. She combines the use of sophisticated sentence structures with colloquialisms ('smack-dab' 'superheroes') to create Cailey as a protagonist who is an outsider but who is also clearly an intelligent young woman. It includes a great cumulative sentence too that adds and adds and adds to the theme of the outsider.
The Things We Wish Were True 'Cutter and I stood, the two of us, off to the side, apart from the crowd.'
Amelie Antoine's Interference is the most clearly stylised of the three books. She uses short sentences most of which start with subject pronouns to create a staccato effect, creating a powerful impression of a detached and possibly psychopathic speaker.
Interference 'I feel like I'm in the here and now.'
Though the most traditional in terms writing style, Lonsdale does make use of minor sentences (or fragments to MS Office users). She does this to represent the emotional difficulty that Aimee has when thinking about her deceased love, James.
Everything We Keep 'The little boy I imagined standing between James and me, his small hands linked with ours.'
As you would expect – these three book openings are different! That said it is interesting that all three are using female protagonists and first person narrators and that all three use similar chapter headers.
My favourite sentence: 'Maybe I should be using the past tense' (Interference).
Tim Grahl is the marketing brain behind the Story Grid podcast. He has worked with the likes of Hugh Howey and Dan Pink.
Listening to Tim and Shawne on the Story Gridpodcast recently got me thinking, not only about writing stories that work – the main focus of the project – but also about marketing books that sell. And marketing books that sell is something that Tim Grahl knows a thing or two about.
I guess it was the podcast that made me purchase Tim's ebook from Amazon: YOUR FIRST 1000 COPIES: THE STEP BY STEP GUIDE TO MARKETING YOUR BOOK. I thought it might be useful to me with this Blog. Hmmmm – time will tell on that one! Anyone who has listened to the Story Grid podcast will know that Tim, despite some pretty impressive achievements in his field is refreshingly arrogance free, and has a laid back persona that is welcoming and inclusive. And in Your First 1000 Copies we find that Tim's persona on the page is equally accessible.
With his work on the Story Grid project with partner, publisher and story charmer, Shawn Coyne, Tim's profile is on the up. Now I've never written a novel (more of that later) but my dad has (more of that later too). I'm sure he'd be the first to admit that like so many self-published writers in an increasingly competitive market, his sales so far have hardly set the world alight.
In Your First 1000 Copies, Tim outlines what he calls the CONNECTION SYSTEM, which basically means that in marketing what we need to think that everything we write is all about building long lasting connections with people and that we do this by beingrelentlessly helpful.
How to do it:
Connecting with people directly and regularly is key to the Connection System in Your First 1000 Copies and for Tim this means building an email list (do sign up to ours!). The argument is that only email connects you directly with an audience that is already receptive to what you are doing as a writer.
To build an email list you will need: a web presence, an email marketing tool (like MailChimp for example), a clear and prominently placed email sign up form, something to give away.
And of course when your email list grows, you need to keep that connection with relentless and regular content.
One of the sub-headings in Your First 1000 Copies is, tellingly, To blog or not to blog. Tim's answer to this is to celebrate the potential of the blog, but also to warn of the challenges that blogging brings with it. In this book Tim recommends making use of others' platforms as a first priority, be that through columns on major websites, guest entries on other people's blogs, and publication in magazines and anthologies.
Whatever mode of internet presence you choose, Tim's approach to content can be summarised in two words: sharing and adventure.
By sharing we mean to share both what you are doing and what you have. Whether that be extracts, or plans, permafrees, or supplementary resources like reading guides. Long lasting connections depend on being open with your audience. If you think you're sharing just enough, you need to share a little more is the mantra here.
Adventure means that life can be be every bit as engaging as fiction, and that what sharing what we already do – sharing our own learning process – is almost certainly going to land with a lot more people than we think that it will.
If we want people to notice what we are doing we need to be the best influencers that we can be. And just as in the Blog or not to blog section, Grahl suggests that working with other proven influencers can be the best way to build our own following. And how do we get to work with great people like this? By being helpful of course!
Don't ask for help; offer your service.
This is the section where social media comes in. To do that we need to understand our readers or potential readers and give them what they want too. To this end choosing the most appropriate Social Media platform can be key. If you write Young Adult, shouldn't you be on Instagram already?
Don't forget, though, that the best way to connect is always to meet face to face. So go to events and do this whenever and wherever you can. And no, folks, I do not think that this does include Skype.
The final ingredient of successful book marketing is sales, and sales Grahl reminds us, is not a dirty word. In Your First 1000 Copies reminds us to be our own fans. Be positive and enthusiastic about your work. Enthusiasm is infectious.
Make it easy to buy your book. In email communication, give your audience clear and repeated opportunities to buy your book. And don't be afraid to ask for the sale either. Remember that your customers gave you permission to contact them.
They want to know what you have to offer.
Obviously, this article contains a condensed version of the ideas in Your First 1,000 Copies, and to get the full version you can buy the book and read it for yourself. I found the book compelling and the ideas engaging. It's not expensive and it's a pleasant and uplifting read.
As I mentioned at the start, my dad is a self-published author with only limited sales. It'll be interesting to see whether applying the principles of Tim Grahl's Your First 1000 Copies can help him with his next project.