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Monday, March 30, 2015

Is Your Prologue Cheating?

Prologues. Young and beginning writers seem to love them. And, there is nothing wrong with adding one to your story. In fact, they can be very helpful!

But, the problem with them is that young writers oftentimes use them to cheat. They don’t realize it, but their use of prologues is really lazy writing and people can sense that. So, the reader skips the prologue.

Which, for a writer is always bad. If your reader skips something, you’re doing something wrong.

But, how is the prologue lazy writing? How do people use it to cheat?

I’m glad you asked!

  • Info Dumps

I talked about this a while back. An info dump with when you dump a large amount of information on the reader, instead of letting the necessary info work naturally into your story. Many young writers I know use prologues as a means to dump the entire history of their fantasy world on their readers.

The problem with this is that people’s first impression of the book is a boring history lesson they don’t really care about. They don’t know your world or characters so they have no reason to invest their time and energy into remembering any of it. But, the writer usually treats the prologue as the only means in which they convey the necessary info. They assume at the beginning of chapter one that the reader read the prologue and has all the information they need.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. I know a lot of people who skip the prologue. If they don’t find it interesting enough, they just move on to chapter one. But then, they’re so confused because they don’t understand the world’s history that they often end up not finishing the book or enjoying it very much.

Or, the reader opens the book, starts reading the prologue, gets bored, and quits. They never even make it to chapter one.

  • A Teaser to Make Up for a Boring Beginning

Another common thing I see in prologues is that the writer uses it to draw the reader in with some super exciting opening. The prologue is so compelling that the reader just has to keep reading.

But then when chapter one starts is slow and uninteresting and it takes a while before the action picks back up.

It’s like the writer wants the reader to know the book is going to be exciting so they tease the reader with action at the beginning to make up for a boring first couple chapter, hoping the reader will stick around because of how much they enjoyed the prologue.

But, often times, readers will put the book down because they’re no longer interested or they’ll skip until they find something exciting. At any rate, they’re less likely to recommend the book to anyone, or, if they do, they pull down the rating because of the slow start. So, while you may have hooked the reader with your prologue, it’s really just a lazy excuse not to work on the opening chapters to make them more interesting.

  • Innocent Jumps to Warrior

We have all read at least one of these books- the one where the writer goes to great lengths to convince us  that the main character is a sweet, innocent person at the start of the book- whether they’re a child or just a sheltered young adult.

Then over the course of the prologue something happens to the character. Their village is burned. Their parent is killed. They’re kidnapped. Something terrible.

And then the writer ends the prologue with this a paragraph or line or something that indicates the character’s innocence has been stripped away. They are now so jarred by the realities they are facing that they are no longer the person they were on the opening page. A dramatic picture of that would look like the main character’s eyes going red and them silently vowing to have their revenge no matter the cost.

And then chapter one starts some time later when they’ve become a strong warrior or the like, doing things the sweetheart on the first page never would have dreamed of doing.

Then problem with this, is that we’re introduced to one character in the prologue and another in the first chapter. Only, we’re told they’re the same person. But, as have to take the writer’s word for it because we didn’t actually get to see the change from innocent to warrior. We saw the first seed of it, but oftentimes, the character is so different that the reader is left wondering how the transformation happened. How did the innocent from page one become this mighty warrior? How did they do from the character who wouldn’t hurt a fly to the person we see now who is killing people in battle left and right without a second thought?

There’s nothing wrong with this transformation. But, writers tend to use it as a means to explain what happened without giving the readers the emotional payoff they desire. They use it almost opposite an info dump, giving so little details that the reader is left with too many questions.

If you are going to use this sort of prologue and then spend the rest of the book exploring the emotions of the character, slowly providing the reader with the answers they want, that’s great and can be very effective.

But, if you’re going to use this and then only mention the transition once in that scene around the campfire and then again in the black moment or showdown, it’s cheating in the character development department. You can’t just explain away the character’s emotions- or lack of them- by a traumatic experience. By putting it into the book, you promise your readers it’s something you’re going to deal with. If it’s nothing more than a fancy info dump, drop it. Because nobody wants it.

This can go the other way too, with a bad guy in the prologue who vows to become good and then the next scene he’s helping widows and orphans and you’re left wondering how the change happened. Though, usually, this is dealt with better because very often his past comes back to haunt him and the writer deals with change over the course of the book. Like Jean Valjean in Les Miserables

  • We Don’t Know Who to Love

Another way writers tend to use prologues is to add that scene the main character would have no way of knowing about. Or, to add that scene from twenty years ago that was important. There’s nothing wrong with the scene, it’s well written and engaging and leaves the reader wanting more.

But then chapter one starts and we’ve got a whole new set of characters to learn about and the reader suddenly has to start over.

I am very character driven, as you probably know if you have read even a few of my other posts. So, when I encounter a prologue like this, I have a hard time because I’ve become attached to the characters in the opening pages.

Then chapter one comes and said characters are nowhere to be found. It’s as if the writer promises one set of characters in the prologue but then say “Just kidding! Here’s the real set of characters.” And the reader is left wondering if getting attached to them is wise as they’re now unsure if this set of people will get taken away from them without warning as well.

Or, the prologue is about the villain and the reader is left wondering who they’re supposed to care about in the scene and if these are the good guys or the bad guys. You throw a character into a scene, which is told from his perspective, a lot of times, and assume since he’s doing bad things that the reader will know he’s the villain.

But, let’s face it. The anti-hero is very popular right now. So, the reader is left wondering if the person they’re reading about is the hero and if they’re supposed to be supporting these decisions.

Either way, the reader is confused about who they’re supposed to care about. And, the opening pages of your book are critical when it comes to introducing your characters and making your readers care about them. Don’t waste your pages confusing people.

How about you? How do you feel about prologues? Do you use them in your writing? Are there any ways they can be used as cheating that I’ve forgotten?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Are You Using Pinterest Right as a Writer?

I love Pinterest. I love it for a variety of reasons, but when it comes to storyboarding and working on a new ideas, I find it’s beyond helpful.

It’s also a powerful marketing tool, the Pinterest storyboard. It’s a way to reach readers who use that medium and get them interested in your story. A well-developed storyboard could be the thing that ultimately causes your reader to become interested in your story.

I know there are a dozen or more stories I am dying to get my hands on because of the storyboard the writer has for them. But, there are also plenty of stories I would probably never read because of their board.


I’m glad you asked!!

Here’s a few tips for things you should never do in a Pinterest storyboarding that will help draw readers in and make your boards more appealing:

  • Don’t Wait Until You’re Ready to Publish to Do This

This one isn’t necessarily a way to make your board more appealing, but it will certainly make your book so. Instead of creating a board when you are finally ready to share your masterpiece with the world, start now. Drum up interest so when you are ready you will have many buyers lined up already.

There are plenty of boards I follow whose book I would buy in an instant if I saw a pin to buy the book. But, if I saw the option to buy when I first discovered the board, I might not be as inclined to buy the book.

You want to drum up readers now, get people interested and talking about your idea. Get them excited so that when you are ready to publish, people will be eager to buy your book.

  • Don't Forget to Check Your Descriptions

The worst thing you can do in a storyboard is forget to check your descriptions before you pin something. People are looking at the board to see what your story is about and it is by far better to have no descriptions than someone else's. If it's a piece of art and the description is crediting the author, it's considerate to keep that there. But, otherwise, take it out. It bogs down the board and confuses the readers. Which is something you don't want.

  • Don’t Just Include Pictures of Actors Who Look Like Your Character

So many times when I look at a board, it’s just a bunch of modern day snapshots of famous actors and the caption is simply a name that I presume is the character’s. This doesn’t give the reader any idea of what your story is about, it just tells them who you would cast if they ever make a movie of your book.

Which they won’t if you can’t get people interested in it.

It’s okay to include a few pictures like that. It gives people a feel for what the character looks like and who they are. But, if you want to pique people’s interest, you need to include more than that.

  • Don’t Post Major Spoilers

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been scrolling through a storyboard that I really like and I come across a caption that reads something like “At the end, when Brian dies.”

Which means I haven’t even read a word of your story, but I now know Brian dies at the end. And, from your board, I know the gist of who Brian is and I like him. But, since I know he dies when I start reading your book that will always be in the back of my mind. Which will either cause me to put down the book because I like him too much to know he’s going to die or it will cause me to become emotionally detached because I know what’s going to happen.

Either way, it’s not good for your book. And, the emotional scene you’ve got planned goes downhill and doesn’t pack anywhere near the punch you want it to. Because you spoiled it for your readers.

If you want to save a bunch of pins that remind you of spoilers, secret boards are great for that.

  • Don’t Post a Bunch of Research Stuff

Have you ever been looking at a board and really loving it and then bam! you come across a chunk of pins that are all links to research sites? If you’re looking for research sites, it’s awesome, but if you’re looking for information about the story, it’s boring to scroll through all the pins about fashion in the 1880’s or western slang.

Or, even worse, your reader might get distracted with these sites and forget they were even looking at a storyboard. Which is bad for you, as a writer.

If you want to save research pins, I would recommend creating a separate board just for those sorts of pins. That way, if someone is looking for those sorts of pins, they can scroll through your board. But, your readers won’t have them interrupt their browsing.

  • Don’t Leave the Description Section Blank

The description section is there for a reason. I am more likely to browse a storyboard with a description because it helps give me context as to what the story is about. And, I know it’s something I’m interested in.

If you’re scared of your idea being stolen, you don’t have to put a lot. Just enough for your reader to understand what’s going on. Even if you just put a high concept (i.e. Greek Mythology Meets Modern Day High School or Modern Retelling of Hades and Persephone) then whoever is browsing your board gets an idea of what’s going on.

Or, you can post a short synopsis if you like. Try to be mysterious and intriguing. Don’t explain your story, drop hints about it. Don’t tell the reader what they’re in for, pique their interest. Draw them in.

For example, which sounds better to you?

Death and Karma meet at a conference and butt heads. When they’re forced to work together sparks fly because of their opposite personalities.
He was the picture of ultimate neutrality. He did not decide when people would die, he merely carried out the sentence. She was a judger of men, divining thoughts and intentions. They were never meant to fall in love.

  • Don’t Keep Your Work Hidden Away

It’s really good to share your writing with people. You could have the best idea ever but if people don’t know if you can write, then why would they want to buy your book? Draw your readers in with some of your best lines and quotes from your story. Make sure they’re good ones that represent the book and also show off your talent. They don’t have to be long- even just one of two sentence- but it will give the reader a feel for your writing style.

Writers are oftentimes scared of sharing any tiny piece of their writing online because it might get stolen. Most people who pin things, I’ve come to realize, don’t even pay attention to the caption when they pin it, so your little snippet of writing could be pinned all throughout cyberspace and no one would ever know the quote came from you.

You can always add your name at the end of the quote. Some people even add a little copyright symbol which you can get by holding the alt key and pressing 0169 on the side number pad of your computer.

Or, if that’s not your thing, Pinstamatic is a great resource. You can go to the text section and punch in your quote and then add your name at the bottom. No one can remove it that way and people are more likely to repin it that way. You can even link it back to your blog or website once it’s pinned. Just go to the “edit pin” option and change out the pin source to your site. And then every time the pin is clicked on it will link back to you.

  • Don’t Leave Your Cover Photo the Same

If you don’t know how to change to cover photo of your boards, it’s really simple- go to your profile, pick the board you want to change the cover on, click the “edit” button underneath the board, and click “change cover.” Then pick the picture you want and you’re done.

It’s really important to do this because this is the first impression people will have of your book. The cover photo is by default the first thing you pin. And, that doesn’t always represent your book the best or sometimes the picture’s too big to fit into the cover properly and it gets cropped or cut off.

Once you’ve worked on your board some, make sure you go back and change the cover. Pick the picture of quote that best represents your book. And, keep in mind that color scheme also plays a part in the picture. If you’re book is light and upbeat, pick something colorful. Don’t pick the quote that’s white lettering on a black background because people will get a more serious impression of your book.

And there you have it! Some easy measures to take to make your board more appealing to readers. Now all that’s left is for you to actually get the book finished so you can share it with the world! :D

How about you? Do you have any good tips or tricks you use to make your boards more appealing and marketing worthy?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Not Really Candor Fridays

Hello, Readers!

I planned to post today but didn't get any questions :/

So, no real post but I wanted to stay in contact to let you know I will be posting more regularly from now on (I have my post for Monday all written already!).

Also, I'm going to be giving my blog an overhaul and there will be some exciting new features coming soon as well some exciting news not too far off down the road!

I hope you will all stick around and share this with me. If you have any feedback you would like to provide (topics you would like me to post on or features you'd like to see) please feel free to drop a comment below or email me at jennifersauer73@gmail.com

See you all on Monday! :D

Friday, March 6, 2015

Virtues, Blogging, and Critiques- Candor Fridays

To everyone who has been wondering if I’m alive, I have good news for you: I am. Alive. Mostly.

I’m sorry it’s been so long since I posted! I don’t even have an excuse. I just haven’t posted. But, I’m back on schedule starting today!

And so, without further ado, this week’s (okay, all my back up from the last month) questions!

Harpley asked: What virtue (such as humility, honesty, loyalty, etc.) do you respect the most in a fictional character, (or, alternatively), do you find a specific virtue showing up in a lot of your own characters?

Okay, this on stumped me, I’m not going to lie. And, after much consideration, I’ve got an answer. Sort of.

For me, there isn’t one virtue I respect the most. Looking at some of my favorite characters, I can’t seem to find a common thread. Like, I have loved Edmund Pevensie for many year because of his humility. But then, I love BBC’s Robin Hood and I really wouldn’t apply the word humility to him. So, no, there isn’t one virtue I respect the most.

That said, I will add that for me, a hero needs a strong moral code. I am not and never will be a fan of the anti-hero. If he doesn’t have a moral code or if he does things that are immoral, I can’t respect him as a hero. I might love him for other parts of his character, but he will never be a hero to me.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily a fan of the stereotypical hero mold. I am not saying you have to do that in order for your hero to be a hero. In fact, I like heroes who challenge my moral code with their own. For instance, the hero of one of my favorite movies- Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon- does things that make me doubt he’s a hero all throughout the movie. But when push comes to shove, in the end, you realize everything he’s done is because he’s been working toward setting things right.

And then, when I look back on what he’s done, I go, “Why did I think what he was doing was wrong? He was working toward saving the day…” and I realize a lot of what I didn’t agree with is some sort of code that’s been ingrained in me that I don’t know why I believe.

So, strong moral code and the attitude of doing what’s right in the end.

And, as for reoccurring virtues I find in my characters a lot, does a good sense of humor count? Because, otherwise, again, I can’t seem to find a common theme…

Elly asked: How do guest posts work? Do you just ask someone to post on your blog? Does it have to be another blogger?

I have not actually done guest posting before, but I have read up on the subject a good deal while doing marketing and publishing research.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

Usually, the blogger who wants to guest post will do the asking. Let’s say you’re blog is dedicated to fish. If there was a fish expert looking to get their name out there, they might ask if you were interested in them posting something. That way, you have content and they get their name out there. It generally is another blogger, because it gets their own blog out there when you link their post back to them.

However, this is just internet blogging we’re talking about. So, there aren’t specific rules. There is nothing wrong with asking someone to guest post. I know a lot of people would probably be glad they didn’t have to initiate. And, if they aren’t a blogger, but have something to say, then by all means, as long as you credit the writer, you can ask them to guest post.

Essentially, it’s your blog and you can do whatever you like. No one is going to judge you or gasp because you’ve committed some huge internet blunder if you don’t follow the standard method. But, normally, it’s bloggers asking other bloggers if they might be able to post something on their blog.

Doug asked: When you've been blown away by constructive criticism that you know is valid, as I was last week regarding a novela I'm writing, what helps you to rework the passage when you really think that the current rendition was good enough?

At first, I was unsure how to answer this. But, after rereading it, I discovered you answered it yourself, with the wording.

The question to ask yourself is: is “good enough” good enough for you?

As writers it’s so easy to say, “The scene was good enough as it was. Why do people want me to change it?” And, we may very well be right. The scene probably is good enough. If we didn’t make any changes it wouldn’t bring the book down or cause people to stop reading. Some people might even enjoy it.

But, it might not be the best it can be. It could quite possibly be the best scene in your book, if you reworked it. It could be people’s favorite scene or the scene that makes them love the book. It could be the scene they best remember.

Or, it could be less obvious than that. The reader might not realize it was that scene that made them want to keep reading. They might not realize how much the scene adds to the story. It might be subtle and add layers in ways you or the reader can never grasp. But, it will be there, in the back of their mind, adding something.

So, the thing we writers need to ask ourselves, when we receive criticism like this is to ask ourselves “Is good enough good enough? Or do I want this scene to be the best it can be?”

Then we bite the bullet and set to work reworking the scene we thought we’d never have to touch again.

And, there you have it faithful readers! If you have any questions you would like answered, be sure to drop me an email by next Friday!