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Clarity on opening a book with "action"

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Miskatonic, Nov 1, 2015.

  1. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist."
    - Pablo Picasso

    Writers hear a lot about how there's always exceptions to every rule, & that if you want to be published or commercially successful you must ignore the exceptions and instead focus on A, B, & C.

    But maybe, just maybe, the exceptions...those that fly in face of the status quo & the expectations, are the models to emulate. Perhaps being different, developing a distinct voice and style in a sea of sameness, is the key to true success & longevity.
     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2015
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  2. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Honestly, I think story "rules" are nothing but a negative influence on writers and should be done away with completely. They just shouldn't exist. They are stupid.

    Grammar rules: yes.
    story telling rules: are you serious?
     
  3. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    People just have to realize they aren't rules. They're points to consider when writing a particular type of fiction - namely, light, commercial fiction.
     
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  4. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    For me I don't see it at 'rules' so much as I see it as learning from the masters. I think in any craft (be it art, or construction, or glass blowing, or pottery) you need to learn from those who came before you and have mastered it. Of course you can pick and choose what you use and what you don't use, but if great authors have done certain things that I love when I read them, why not try to do those things myself?

    That is why I try to study exactly what my favourite authors do. How do they start a story? What do they include in their opening lines? How do they describe setting? How do they develop characters? How do they show action and introspection? Then I can take those tools and apply them to my own writing instead of trying to re-invent the wheel.
     
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  5. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    As a whole, perhaps.

    However, I think each writer can have their own personal set of rules that factor heavily in the development of style & voice.

    I believe that's what is meant by knowing the rules so you can break them like a pro. Understanding techniques doesn't mean you have to follow them blindly, but knowledge of how authors you admire, or emulate, created a certain effect in you as a reader is a positive.
     
  6. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    T.Allen,

    I love the quote. I'm not so sure about your conclusion, though.

    To me, the quote is saying: Learn the rules and use them as a foundation for your work. Learn them so much that they become instinctual. Like an athlete's muscle memory. Once you understand them that well, you don't have to worry about them at all and can break them at will.

    The goal, imo, is to be able to write intuitively. The problem is that, as a beginner, our intuition is crap because we don't know what we're doing. The rules, to me, are the first step to understanding what we're doing.
     
  7. kennyc

    kennyc Inkling

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    Yes, as per the pirate code....it's really more like guidelines than rules per se. :D
     
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  8. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    There's no conclusion in my statement.

    I purposefully used the words maybe & perhaps because I do not know. It is only offered up as a point of consideration & something I presently wonder.
     
  9. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    For some reason I can't thank your post Kennyc, but I'd like to give that a 'boo yeah'.

    (This coming from the woman who every Halloween watches all three Pirates movies…. Just finished At World's End last night).
     
  10. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Understood. Perhaps I should have written, "I love the quote. I'm not so sure about your wonderings, though."
     
  11. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    The post prior to yours, which you might have missed, illustrates my current individual view, minus the wonderings.
     
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  12. kennyc

    kennyc Inkling

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    Yeah, I think the # of Thanks per day are limitied....I find myself in that position with your (and other's posts) often....just too free with my thanks perhaps. :D

    Thank you!
     
  13. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Then you have to think about who you consider "masters." The rules you see on fiction forums are very narrowly-focused to producing more or less generic commercial fiction. That doesn't mean they can't be used with other works, but commercial fiction is the focus. I think studying what your favorite authors do is a great idea - much better than having a set of rules in a vacuum. If your favorite author is James Patterson you are going to come up with a much different set of ideas about how to write than if your favorite author is Steven Erikson, which will again be different than if your favorite author is Angela Carter, etc.

    Write the kind of work you like to read, and find out how to do that most effectively. Simply applying a basket of rules is not going to further that goal, except in the case that your favorite kind of writing happens to be in the style of light, popular, commercial fiction. If you're trying to do something else, those techniques are still worth knowing because you might want to employ them from time to time, but if you consider them necessities to your writing then they're doing you more harm than good.
     
  14. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Yes, I think this is true. But it is contrary to how rules are often expressed in a writing forum, or in critiques. The more knowledge you have, the better off you are, because you have more tools in your toolbox to create different types of stories. If all you know is the hammer of a set of common writing forum rules, then every story you want to write is going to look like a nail.

    Not all stories are nails :)
     
  15. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    I agree with most of this.

    I'd rather the first few paragraphs or pages give me an idea of the quality of writing I'm going to experience throughout the book. Not necessarily from a purely literary sense, but if it just seems generic and amateurish (especially with description) then my interest is quickly evaporating.

    However, even if it can't be made into a formula as far as an exact science, when publishers are looking at novels as a business investment, they will take into account what is selling and what isn't.

    The shift in trends is what they can't predict with any real degree of certainty.
     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2015
  16. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I've stated this many times lately, but this isn't what I'm hearing. I've read post after post from experienced self published authors who are saying:

    "Look, if you want to sell books, read the best selling books in your category. Figure out the commonalities. Outline and graph the books. Make sure that your books hit all those must haves. That's what I did to sell a lot of copies."

    I can't stress this enough: I get that, from a philosophical standpoint, writing what you want to write and following your muse and all that is really attractive. From a pure "this is how I, as a successful self published author, did it (not Brian Foster personally; I'm a prawny little prawn. But authors who have had real success in the market)" perspective, you absolutely can figure out what a big pool of readers (agreed, not every reader) want and are reading. That's because, imo, a lot of readers are like me. I like to read the same stories over and over. Thus, I tend to buy books that are those stories retold.
     
  17. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I haven't read through this very long thread, but I wonder. Has anyone yet questioned what constitutes a book's "beginning?"

    I mean, sure, a paragraph, or two, or three of very descriptive telling might technically "open" the book, if we narrow our consideration to that level. But I'd say that probably the first third or so of the first chapter would better constitute the "opening." I mean that, unlike movies, people coming to a book expect the whole process to take longer to get through. Of course, browsing for a new book might put a little more emphasis on the first few paragraphs, but I suspect that word of mouth, product description, reviews, and so forth probably play a much larger role than what constitutes the first few paragraphs.
     
  18. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Yes. That's how you write generic commercial fiction. If a person wants to write that, that's great. If someone doesn't want to write that, that's great too. Pretending everyone wants to or should want to write that doesn't make sense. Nor does it make much sense to pretend that those are the only authors achieving success, when the empirical evidence of books on shelves signifies that it isn't.

    Also, the current biggest success story in self-publishing has to be The Martian, which deviates heavily from what would be considered "good advice" in writing forums and by the kinds of people you are talking about.
     
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  19. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Just from the standpoint of reading what advice is given to new self published authors, it seems like the biggest factors in initial sales seem to be cover and pitch.

    I'm really unclear as to the value of reviews. I think it is important that you have reviews, because readers apparently need the "social proof" that other readers have tried your book. Beyond that, I'm not sure what the reviews actually say carry all that much weight.

    Personally, the sample is the single biggest factor in whether or not I buy a book. If you engage me from the start and don't hit any of my pet peeves (good luck with that one :) ), I'll definitely buy it. I don't think, however, that I'm typical of the majority of readers just given all the advice I've read. Maybe the average reader is easier to engage? Or doesn't take the time to open the sample? I've noticed that purchasing on my phone makes downloading the sample a pain in the butt, and I think that the number of purchases through phones is increasing all the time.
     
  20. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Excuse me, Steerpike, but I did not "pretend" any of that.

    I responded specifically to the comment that "The truth is that you can't turn book appeal into a formula."

    From what I'm hearing, that statement is false, which is exactly what my post said. You choose to read more into the post than what I said.

    The biggest self publishers appear to be the ones, like Hugh Howey and Andy Weir, who build up an audience over a long time period before publishing.

    Frankly, I don't know how to build that audience. But, if one can figure that out and has the patience, I think it is a fantastic route to take.

    The advice I'm following is specifically targeted to those self publishing who have not yet built up that audience.
     
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