Thursday, February 26, 2015

Revenge as a Character Motivation

Character motivation revenge
It's Dan today and I'd like to discuss a powerful character motivator: revenge. Many outstanding books and movies are built around one character's burning design to take vengeance. A few famous examples:

  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  • The Princess Bride by William Goldman
  • Moby Dick by Herman Mehlville
  • Carrie by Stephen King
Everyone loves a good revenge story, and when you begin to deconstruct that idea, it's not hard to see why.

Revenge Builds Character Sympathy

A revenge story begins with a character (usually the protagonist) suffering a terrible injustice. We've all been there. We've all been dumped out of the blue by a boyfriend/girlfriend, or humiliated by a rival, or screwed over by a large corporation. We see someone suffer, and we relate to that person.

The Appeal of Revenge

The desire to get even is a basic human emotion. Most of us never act on it, or we lash out in impatient, immature ways. Maybe that's why we admire someone like the Count of Monte Cristo, who suffers for years and devotes decades to rain vengeance down on his enemies. The best revenge stories involve revenge that was a long time coming.

Revenge is All-consuming

Some wonderful characters in fiction are defined by their path to revenge. Captain Ahab from Moby Dick is the perfect example. His need for revenge consumes (and ultimately destroys) him. Or there's the Spaniard from The Princess Bride, who gave us this little gem:

Come to think of it, there are many great quotes about revenge:
"Revenge is sweet and not fattening."
-Alfred Hitchcock
"If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?"
-William Shakespeare
Even the big guy is a fan:
"Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord." -Romans 12:19
Another way to put it: Karma's a bitch.

Revenge Has A Dark Side

It's important to point out here that revenge doesn't always have a happy ending. Look at The Hadfields and McCoys in Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Their blood feud leads to retribution after retribution, and the deaths of several people on both sides. Captain Ahab loses his life, his ship, and most of his crew to the white whale.

Even so, we have to admire characters who are so driven towards a single goal. Who do whatever it takes to get there.

Full disclosure: I'm writing this post while in the midst of a Netflix binge of the aptly-titled show Revenge.

What About You?

Have you written a revenge story, or lived one out in real life? Please share!

Karlie: I love this post Dan! Revenge is a favorite topic of mine. :) Actually, in one of my first novels, the main character Nolan becomes obsessed with revenge. He blames the death of his sister and the loss of his son on his father, and this eventually evolves into his driving force. I think it's entirely possible to root for a character eaten up with revenge, as long as there's sympathetic backstory there. It's all in the motivation and how you lead up to it - it's really hard but I think it's worth it! Awesome post!

Caitlin: I love the idea of revenge as a motive but, I’ll admit, I struggle actually applying it to a main character. Unless you’re a really strong writer, your main character needs to be likable, and it’s hard (but certainly not impossible, who doesn’t love Inigo Montoya!) to have a likable character who’s consumed by revenge. So, I’m definitely still struggling with this, but I’d love to be able to use it as a character motivation soon. :)

Lisa: That's a very good question, Dan. I don't have any stories in which the goal is revenge. I have a few main characters who have incidental revenge. But I just don't know if I could pull off a story whose sole purpose is to get back at someone. Actually, that's not true. I've been thinking of my main characters. Nope, their main goal isn't revenge, but the antagonist in my novels are generally seeking some sort of revenge. That's there drive. Bad people need a good reason to be my books anyway. :)
So, for me, revenge is only good for antagonists...most of the time. Of course there are always exceptions. I love those darned exceptions.
As for in my own life, I have doled out one big slab of revenge, and I'll keep that story to myself.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The length of blurbs

What I'm talking about is the summary on the back of your jacket - some call it a short synopsis, some a blurb, some a summary. But what I want to know is what are your thoughts on the length? Can a one-sentence blurb work? Two-sentence? Or should it be more normal or else people will turn away? What about a six-paragraph blurb? Too long?

Dan: I think that it's advisable to have at least two different lengths of pitches for your book. First, a brief pitch of 1-2 sentences that captures the essence of your book. These are tough to write for a variety of reasons, but you'll likely use this pitch more often -- on Twitter, on the elevator, or during in-person conversations when someone asks, "So what is your book about?" It might be at a party or in the elevator or during a podcast interview, but no matter the situation, you'll want to have this pitch in your holster.

The second pitch you'll need for things like query letters or cover copy probably runs longer: 2-3 paragraphs, maybe 250 words. The good news is that you can spend a bit more time on the essential elements: character, goal, conflict, and stakes. The bad news is that the length brings new challenges, because compressing a 75k or 90k book into a couple of paragraphs is (in many ways) harder than just a sentence. There's an art to this, and it probably comes easier with practice.

Caitlin: Like Dan says, one sentence pitches have their place, so, conceivably, they could work to sell the book. But, I think the point of those pitches is usually to get the reader to go to a "buy" page with the full blurb. Rarely am I set on buying a book after hearing a one sentence pitch, but there are many that make me think "that sounds cool, I want to know more!" And the "more" should be in the blurb. I, personally, get a little annoyed at super short blurbs, for example like the "We Were Liars" one. But...that books sold really well, so, I guess the lesson is yes, it can work! :)

Karlie: Those 1-2 sentence pitches really do help avoid awkward fumbling and lots of "um"s when someone asks you what you're writing - so I definitely do recommend having those ready. But when I pick up a book, the more information on the back, the better. I've read so much it takes a lot to catch and hold my attention (a sad fact, because I've become rather picky about what constitutes an amazing book) so I really prefer three-four paragraphs.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Author "Slash" Book Reviewer, and Not the Other Way Around

Zoolander - The SlashiesSeveral book reviewers are also authors, which makes a lot of sense. If you read that much and understand what makes good, and bad, novels, it stands to reason you might also be pretty good at writing them.

But there’s another school of thought. If you’re an author, with your work out there, is it wise to nitpick other books? I’ll admit that, personally, I subscribe to this perspective. While I used to review books on Goodreads, now that my own writing is out there, I feel weird about criticizing another book publicly. How can I lament the poor pacing or character development in a novel when I know the pacing and character development in my own books isn’t perfect?

But, to be clear, that’s just a personal choice for me. I don’t think authors necessarily shouldn’t review books, but I do wonder what, if any, additional considerations they should take? What do you think? What are the disadvantages and advantages of being an Author/Book Reviewer?

Lisa: I'm not sure on the answer of whether or not it's wise for authors to nitpick other authors' books, but I am sure  whether or not that's something I want to do. No. As an author, I know what a hard job writing a book is, so I hesitate to publicly criticize someone's hard work. Publicly is the key word here. Authors will talk among themselves about shoddy editing, plotlines or characters: "What was she thinking?" The craft of good storytelling is such a subjective thing, so I think it's a good idea to let the readers hash out their negative opinions on the end product, and this author stays out of it. Yes, I'm a reader also, but I'll still leave the criticizing to readers-only. You could say that I'm doing a disservice to the author, not letting him/her know my opinion. How can a writer improve if s/he isn't hearing what he needs to hear? To that my answer is: When or if I see a story that could benefit from my opinion, I might contact that person privately. Might. It just depends on how receptive I think the author might be.

Karlie: I'm kind of in the middle here - I'm a member of a private book club (we critique each other's work), and we're usually pretty straightforward with each other. If there's something not adding up, well, someone's going to point it out. And that's awesome. I wouldn't have it, or do it, any other way. But as for publicly criticizing someone's work - no. I probably wouldn't do that. As an author, I believe criticizing other works is a great learning experience - I have learned a huge amount from my time in the book club. Other than that, I'm staying out of it.

Dan: This is an interesting question, and one that was debated recently by the Rocket Talk podcast (run by an author and blogger who'd been a well-known book reviewer). There's almost a conflict of interest for people who were multiple hats in the publishing industry, like authors who are also book reviewers, or even editors who are also authors. It's a difficult balance to achieve, especially given the important influence that book reviewers can have on the success of a book.

Personally, I don't do a lot of book reviews, but I have no issue with writing about someone else's book, what I liked, and what I didn't like. Usually my comments lean more toward the former -- if I don't like a book, I'm unlikely to spend time blogging about it. Unfortunately, I don't have nearly as much free reading time as I once did. My time is given over to my own writing, or else beta reading for my author friends or writing workshops. So I'm not sure how many books I could be reviewing anyway!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Getting Back in the Loop

Hi, it's Lisa with you today.
At the last minute I found out it was my turn for the blog prompt this week, and guess who all the sudden has writer's block. Yeah. So I figured I'd lean on my fellow bloggers and write something about what I know they're going through or what they're busy with right now. The problem is - I've been so busy lately that I'm a little out of the loop. I know Caitlin is preparing for the release of her book Heartsick (2-16-15, I'm so excited), and Karlie is just busy with school. But I don't know what either of them are doing as far as their current project. And, Dan, your other blog is very active, so I guess that is what's keeping you busy. Yet I still have no idea what's going on with you writing-wise. So, I'm opening up the table for discussion.

What's going on with all of you?

I've just released my book and am getting ready to release another. I'll curb my urge to plug it. I'm also trying to find the time to write a sequel to the one I'm releasing in May. Releasing, pre-releasing, and writing are difficult tasks to juggle, but I'm managing.

Now, your turn.

Dan: Congratulations on the book releases, Lisa! You are so productive. On my end, my agent and I are seeking publication for my adult sci-fi novel THE ROGUE RETRIEVAL. I'm revising a second project (an epic fantasy novel), and have yet a third one (a sci-fi novella) out to beta readers. At the moment, though, I'm working on some short stories.

My first fiction sale -- a short SF piece called "Going Viral" -- will appear in the Spring 2015 anthology from Third Flatiron Publishing. The theme is "The Time It Happened" so every story will be about world-altering events. It's due out in electronic form on March 1st, with print to follow.

On the blog side I've been putting out weekly installments of the Science in Sci-fi, Fact in Fantasy series (aided by a growing team of expert contributors) and serving as a mentor for Michelle Hauck's team in #SunVsSnow.

Karlie: Congrats Lisa and Caitlin!! As for me, I'm extremely busy, but I'm cranking out a little here and there - mostly rewrites and editing. I'm currently working on a short fiction called "Poisoned", and the rest of my time is split between rewriting Kismet and planning Abducted, which will hopefully become my first finished thriller. Title definitely subject to change.

Caitlin Well, I don't mind plugging Lisa's book! Buy Moments!!!! It's great! :0)

I am in the midst of a flurry of blogs and pre-release activities for Heartsick! I'm also working on two new New Adult books and really hoping to get them both done before the fall, but we'll see! I'm also continuing to update the second book in my Denali series on Wattpad, though not nearly fast enough for some of my readers...not that I'm complaining! There's nothing more flattering than having readers get on your case because they really need to know what happens next. :)