Friday, May 19, 2006

Friday 20

One of my favorite movies of all time is the dark police drama L.A. Confidential, based on a novel by James Ellroy. Brilliant storytelling, an inspired cast and a plot that managed to be straightforward and twisty simultaneously. I could not predict a single minute of the movie, especially the ending -- a great ending, btw; quite possibly the best movie ending of all time.

I won't reveal any spoilers (if you haven't seen it, and you aren't squeamish, do get a copy of it, it's wonderful) but at one point during the movie, promotion-loving Det. Lt. Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) tells fame-loving Det. Sgt. Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) the story of his father's senseless murder, the name Exley gave the killer (who was never caught), and how that compelled him to become a cop. Although I hated Exley's character, who was an uptight opportunist for most of the movie, that confession redeemed him for me. Exley then asks Vincennes why he became a cop, and Vincennes smiles and says that he can't remember.

I won't compare the publishing industry to the bleak world of L.A. Confidential. Being a writer is not being a cop. Publishers are not riddled with corruption. Some nice writers do finish first, and not everyone in the business is a Vincennes or an Exley. But losing track over the years of the reasons why you take on a difficult job, and keep working at it, now that is something that can happen to any of us (which is why I thought of the movie when I was writing this.)

The point of all this: Whatever happens to you before, during or after publication, whatever is said and done, whatever good or harm comes your way, don't forget why you're a writer.

I'm double-blogging today, and a little later on I'll have a link* to my other, guest post elsewhere, but in the meantime: any questions for me this week?

*My guest post over at RTB is up: Don't Dump That Weblog!

31 comments:

  1. Well, you may have addressed this before somewhere - or may be sick of answering the question - but my brain's a bit fuzzy. I just jotted down 3200 words tonight, and it's late. ^_^

    How do you determine your word count? What is your best advice on length? As new writers we hear everything from 70,000 to 120,000.

    Thanks! I'll check back later for the other link.

    ~PJ~

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hmm, being a writer isn’t like being a cop, eh?

    Does that mean I’ve got to stop arresting people and tying them up in my basement?

    ReplyDelete
  3. I too enjoyed the movie of LA Confidential. So much so that I bought the book and read that. Wow! Compared with the book, the movie is a little ray of sunshine.
    I highly recommend the book if you haven't read it already.
    Have not been able to get along with the rest of Ellroy's output though. I put it down to my tired brain, the plots are pretty subtle and convoluted, as you describe in your post. I think I enjoyed the book of LA Confidential all the more becuase I had seen the movie and so had a skeleton of it in my mind. The other couple of books I read were harder to get into without that mental help.
    There have been lots of postings and comments all over the blogs and, before blogs, all over everywhere else, about books vs movie adaptations of books. I think that as a movie-goer you have to forget the book (if you have read it) and try to see the movie afresh. I can't think of many or even any movies of books I've read that I've enjoyed more than reading the book.
    However, if you really enjoy a movie that has been made from a book you haven't read, the reverse does not apply. LA Confidential is one example; another is Cold Mountain, which I hadn't read when I saw the movie and read subsequently -- and very much enjoyed.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I agree with Maxine that you need to put aside the book when watching the movie adaptation. I personally find it hard to do that and actually prefer to read the book after the movie. That way I can enjoy the book without having it spoil the movie for me.

    And thanks to pj for asking the question on suitable length for newbies...I've been wondering the same. I have another question as well: do you ever get bored with your wip along the way? If yes, what do you do to overcome that? Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I was browsing through some of your past posts and came across the one on blurbing which made me think - is there ediquite to blurbing? How do you address a letter like that? What makes up a good blurb request?

    While I haven't gotten there yet writing to someone I dont know and asking them to read my book and give me a written opinion makes me nervous.

    ReplyDelete
  6. PJ wrote: How do you determine your word count?

    The old industry standard was to assume 250 words per page (page defined as a 8-1/2" X 11", double-spaced, 1" margins on all sides, with standard 12 pt. font typing.) Multiply the number of pages in your ms. by 250, and you'll have an approximate wordcount.

    I don't use the page count method. Most word processing programs have a built-in word counter, and I use Microsoft Word's because that's what my editor uses.

    What is your best advice on length? As new writers we hear everything from 70,000 to 120,000.

    Length should depend on two things: what you're writing and where you plan to submit it. First, check publisher guidelines. If you want to submit a historical romance to Avalon books, for example, they prefer ms. with 40K to 60K word length (but will accept longer books.) Category romance lines like Harlequin can have very strict wordcount limits, so checking the guidelines is always a good thing.

    Length also depends in what genre you're writing. There are still 200K fantasy novels being published out there, but hardly any romance novels longer than 100K. If you're looking for an average to shoot for, I'd say most publishers are more inclined to publish novels that fall into the 80K to 100K range, but you should still check guidelines.

    If you're writing literary versus genre fiction, check the other books being published by the publisher to whom you wish to submit. If there's a good range of length, then you likely don't need to restrict yourself to a wordcount limit -- but check to see if the publisher has guidelines available anyway.

    If you don't know to whom you want to submit, or are looking for an average to shoot for, I'd say most publishers prefer novels that fall into the 80K to 100K range. Longer books are more expensive to print, and some publishers like Tor have started splitting up long novels they publish into two volumes. This is not to discourage you all from writing a very long book, but be aware that it's likely going to be harder to sell.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Stuart wrote: Does that mean I’ve got to stop arresting people and tying them up in my basement?

    I keep telling you, MacBride, there are other ways to get people to read your books.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Maxine wrote: However, if you really enjoy a movie that has been made from a book you haven't read, the reverse does not apply. LA Confidential is one example; another is Cold Mountain, which I hadn't read when I saw the movie and read subsequently -- and very much enjoyed.

    Good point. The Natural was another example -- I loved the movie, went out and got the book, and didn't care for it at all. A lot of SF novels have been vastly improved by screenwriters, too, although I'll probably be lynched for writing that.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Dawn wrote: ...do you ever get bored with your wip along the way? If yes, what do you do to overcome that?

    When I was younger, I had the attention span of a cranky toddler. I used to get bored with what I was writing regularly and often dumped a WIP to move on to something else. At one point I have twenty or thirty partial novels, and only a few that were finished, and realized that it was no way to write books.

    My solution was self-discipline. I made a personal promise to myself to finish writing whatever WIP I started, no matter how boring it became, and I stuck to that vow like glue.

    Knowing that I had to write the entire thing made me more selective about what I wrote, and more attentive to planning it out so that I knew it would work as a book.

    These days when I feel boredom coming on (and it still does, no matter what or how much I write) I sometimes take a break from the novel for a day to write a poem or a short story in a completely different genre. It satisfies my boredom demons and allows me to focus back on the novel when I return to it.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Loved your post over at Romancing the Blog--wanted to say so, but you disabled the comments? Anyway, it's interesting as your topic related to the one I'd guest blogged there yesterday.

    Love you comment on self-discipline, too. That's exactly what I had to do to beat boredom. And like you, it cured me of writing every idea that occured to be instead of being selective and thinking things through before I committed myself.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I'm curious about the disabled comments on the RTB post too. It's not very...incendiary, is it? Especially given the words at the bottom of your blogpage, LOL.

    I have been doing some of the things you recommended in the post, and it seems to be working.

    Can you suggest a cookie for me to bake this weekend? Nothing too complicated. I just need cookies to fuel me through the week, and I look through my recipes and I can't decide.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Loved your post over at Romancing the Blog--wanted to say so, but you disabled the comments?


    My fault. I posted it half asleep and half sick and didn't notice. The comments are back on.

    ReplyDelete
  13. L.A. Confidential is a great movie I watched it a dozen times. Studing it so hopefully It will help me become a better story teller.

    What voice recognition software to you use and or recommend?

    Your post on romancing the blog is brilliant. Makes me want to start my own blog. What advantage do you feel an unpublished author has in doing a blog?

    Thanks, Tiana

    ReplyDelete
  14. I don't know other people's views on it, but there are several people I know who are currently unpublished, but they still use the blog as a marketing type tool.

    one of them is at www.jaynier.blogspot.com

    She's got a ton of people who visit her blog and chances are, when she does sell, many of her visitors are going to check out her book just because they've gotten to know her.

    As to remembering the why... well, i still remember why i started writing. It made me happy. That still holds true for the most part, but I'm having serious motivational issues lately.

    however... I did get some work accomplished today. Not as much as I wanted, but I'm not going to complain. I even manage to plot out the bare bones of the book. That almost unheard of for me.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I have two questions (yes, I'm a hog!).

    Question 1: How do you handle ret-con issues? And I'm talking in a small-scale, book-by-book sense and also in the bigger, series sense.

    To clarify, say you've been writing along and you hit Chapter 10 and you realize the plot requires your character to have a car. But you haven't set things up such that a car is available. You know you need to go back and add in that car someplace. Do you make a mental note or jot on a sticky note that you need to do that later, during the editing phase? Or do you immediately go back and add it in where appropriate?

    On the bigger scale: Say you have written two of three novels in a trilogy or series. In book three you discover you need some aspect of the world you've built to be a certain way, yet you haven't shown that aspect in the prior two books. Or - worse - you realize you've set things up to be the opposite of what you now need/want to occur. How do you handle this? Or do you simply figure what you've already written is the Bible In Stone and deal? Or, do you spend oodles of time world building such that every minscule aspect is covered so this doesn't happen to you?

    Okay...sorry so long. Question 2 in a second post.

    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  16. Question 2: Do you ever worry that a scene you want to write is too intense or inappopriate for the genre?

    I'm working on a scene that I feel does a good job showing a particular aspect of a character's past and current state of mind. However, I fear that it is too intense to be acceptible in the genre I'm writing. I don't like the idea of writing to industry. I'd much rather do what my writer's gut tells me is the right way to do this.

    However, I don't want to fall into that trap of writing "the book of my heart" only to find it'll never sell.

    Any advice?

    Thank you. ThankyouThankyouThankyou!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Hello,

    Since you work in Microsoft Word may I ask how you use Word for your writing?

    a) do you do the entire manuscript as one document? And navigate through it via "Bookmarks?"

    or

    b) do you write in individual chapters and then work the chapters as a collective "Master Document?"

    Thanks for all the great info.

    c) Was Stuart the culprit who kidnapped you a couple of weeks ago?

    ReplyDelete
  18. Julie wrote: Anyway, it's interesting as your topic related to the one I'd guest blogged there yesterday.

    Great blog about self-promo -- and I must have been channeling you, Julie, because I didn't get a chance to read it before I zapped off my guest post (we Florida writers have to be a bit psychic, if only to avoid the gators lying in wait while we walk the dog.)

    ReplyDelete
  19. Milady wrote: Can you suggest a cookie for me to bake this weekend? Nothing too complicated. I just need cookies to fuel me through the week, and I look through my recipes and I can't decide.

    These Cinnamon-sugar cookies are simple but kind of different -- I underbaked mine a few minutes to make them more chewy. I also just made this chocolate-banana cake recipe last night for the kids and they raved over it. Both recipes, btw, are part of a section on making bake sale goodies in the May 2006 issue of Cooking Light.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Alison wrote about the disabled comments over at RTB: My fault. I posted it half asleep and half sick and didn't notice. The comments are back on.

    Thank you, ma'am. :)

    ReplyDelete
  21. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  22. (I messed up the code for the earlier comment, which I deleted.)

    Tiana wrote: What voice recognition software to you use and or recommend?

    I presently use Dragon Naturally Speaking Version 8.0 Standard, which is also what I recommend. I wrote a bit about using it here.

    What advantage do you feel an unpublished author has in doing a blog?

    I think the primary business advantages are making connections and gathering information as part of the writer blogging community, developing some name recognition for yourself, and (although rare) possibly attracting the attention of an agent or editor.

    On the personal improvement side, a blog is great writing practice, plus you can work out all your blog kinks before your novel is published, so that when you go pro you'll also be something of a pro at blogging.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Shiloh wrote: I don't know other people's views on it, but there are several people I know who are currently unpublished, but they still use the blog as a marketing type tool...one of them is at www.jaynier.blogspot.com.

    Agreed, and thanks for the perfect example. Tiana, stop by Jaynie's blog when you get a chance; she illustrates my point beautifully.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Great RTB entry. I'm going to have to adopt a few of those ideas. :D

    ReplyDelete
  25. Lynn wrote: I have two questions (yes, I'm a hog!).

    No problem. I haven't been counting them.

    Question 1: How do you handle ret-con issues? And I'm talking in a small-scale, book-by-book sense and also in the bigger, series sense.

    Logic patchworking and backtracking issues. Gotcha.

    To clarify, say you've been writing along and you hit Chapter 10 and you realize the plot requires your character to have a car. But you haven't set things up such that a car is available. You know you need to go back and add in that car someplace. Do you make a mental note or jot on a sticky note that you need to do that later, during the editing phase? Or do you immediately go back and add it in where appropriate?

    I put the car in wherever I am in the manuscript, and make a tag in the same place indicating that I need to go back and do a write-in of the car where applicable during the final edit.

    On the bigger scale: Say you have written two of three novels in a trilogy or series. In book three you discover you need some aspect of the world you've built to be a certain way, yet you haven't shown that aspect in the prior two books. Or - worse - you realize you've set things up to be the opposite of what you now need/want to occur. How do you handle this?

    Well....lie like hell to the reader, I suppose. Lol.

    This doesn't usually happen to me, thanks to my obsessive-compulsive planning. Exception: when an editor decides he or she wants some change in mid-series that I have to incorporate into my plans, and which should have been part of earlier books -- then I just get as creative as I can to make the new change logical while working it into the series.

    Or do you simply figure what you've already written is the Bible In Stone and deal?

    I think sometimes you do have to just deal. There are all kinds of monkey wrenches that mess up a novel, and as I've indicated, not all of them are not the writer's fault. Doing your best to clean it up, adjust what you can and make it logical.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Lynn wrote: Do you ever worry that a scene you want to write is too intense or inappopriate for the genre?

    Nope. If I push too hard, an editor will shove me back.

    I'm working on a scene that I feel does a good job showing a particular aspect of a character's past and current state of mind. However, I fear that it is too intense to be acceptible in the genre I'm writing.

    I'd trust your instincts versus trying to censor yourself. If you've really gone over the top, the editor will let you know (then you have the fun of deciding whether to rewrite or let it stand and take your chances with the reader, but that's another post.)

    I don't like the idea of writing to industry.

    My feeling, too.

    I'd much rather do what my writer's gut tells me is the right way to do this.

    See? The instincts never lie.

    However, I don't want to fall into that trap of writing "the book of my heart" only to find it'll never sell.

    I really think the "book of my heart" syndrome is more when you can't let go of a book you love that will never sell and move on, but I know what you mean.

    Pushing the envelope is a gamble, and I won't kid you -- you can end up writing something that (without making changes in the future) is ultimately unmarketable. But you can also end up with something brilliant, something that hasn't been done, something that grabs the editor's attention by the throat and won't let go.

    I'll tell you something that I did with one of my books: I pushed so hard with one story element that I felt I had to warn my editor up front that it could be an issue. Upon hearing of it, she was worried, too. When she read wthin the context of the story, though, she thought I handled it well and it worked for her. She then asked me to make a minor change to the element that didn't affect the intensity or how it worked in the story, but made it more palatable to the purist genre reader whom it likely would have offended most. That was a compromise I could live with, so I made the change. This is the kind of thing editors do brilliantly, and why when you find a great editor you never want to stop working with him or her. :)

    ReplyDelete
  27. ea wrote: a) do you do the entire manuscript as one document? And navigate through it via "Bookmarks?" or b) do you write in individual chapters and then work the chapters as a collective "Master Document?"

    c) Neither (or b) sorta.) I write daily files which can be part of a chapter, a whole chapter, or a chapter plus, save them in rough draft form, edit them at night, save them in a second daily edit file, then merge the daily edit files into a single document when I'm finished writing the book.

    c) Was Stuart the culprit who kidnapped you a couple of weeks ago?

    No, but I suspect he was the mastermind. :)

    ReplyDelete
  28. Gotta agree with you about LA Confidential. One of the first movies I bought for my first DVD player. I can watch that movie over and over and never get tired of it.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Rob wrote: I can watch that movie over and over and never get tired of it.

    Same here, and very few movies are like that for me. The only ones I can think of off the top of my head would be Amélie, Gladiator, The Natural, and Brotherhood of the Wolf.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Jessiegirl, whose comment I missed earlier, and who should smack me for not answering it until now, wrote: ...is there ediquite to blurbing? How do you address a letter like that? What makes up a good blurb request?

    I think the best way to ask for a blurb is to just ask whoever you'd like to have blurb you. Most of the time the answer will be no, but you never know -- you might get Stephen King on a day when he's bored and has nothing to do.

    Do be aware that big name authors are often so bombarded with requests for blurbs that they simply say no to everyone except close friends. Writers aren't the only ones who ask for blurbs, either -- editors, agents and publicists ask for them, too.

    A letter or e-mail requesting a blurb should be brief, professional, and polite. Unless you know the author you're asking, don't talk to him or her like they're already your pal. Also, avoid using cutesy language, phony gushing about their work, name-dropping, etc. Treat a blurb request letter the same way you would a query letter asking an editor to read your novel, because in essence that's what you're asking the author to do.

    And sorry I missed this earlier, Jessiegirl. :)

    ReplyDelete