WRITING: “Writing Fiction Is Easy”

If you ever want to piss off an author, tell them:
If I had the time, I could write a book. Easily. Anybody can write. I used to write essays and stuff. I have tons of ideas. My life is very interesting, I could fill a book with just my experiences. 
Well, if these people ever found the time, they would realise that writing a book is not just about having the time to sit down and write.
If you can write a thousand words a day, and your book is a hundred thousand words (like my books typically are), then theoretically, you only need 100 days to write that book. So why does it take me 6-9 months to write a book? Considering that I know what I want to write and I’m working on my sixth novel?
Not to mention that, once you wrote the book, you still need readers to pay for reading it.
I’m not hugely popular, but after 3.5 years and 9 publications, I sell about 3-4 books a day to complete strangers, who are willing to pay for the privilege of reading my work.
When I started off in 2012 (with 2 publications), I sold about 1-2 books a week, which can be disheartening unless you factor in the competition – 350,000 books published each year, on top of the millions of books already available. And with hardly any marketing budget (I’m on disability*), I mostly sell through word-to-mouth: readers telling other readers to read my books.
So writing is only part of the equation. I could write more books if I didn’t have to worry about taking my books to market. And it’s pretty much the same for any published author – the publisher leaves a lot of the promotion to the author, who needs to build their own fan base and organise their own book tours and blog interviews. Only the big names get the assistance of a publicist and a marketing department to help them into talkshows and book fairs.
I love writing and editing, but I still have trouble with (self-)promotion. Just writing quality books is not enough. And I can count myself lucky writing a popular genre (suspense fiction) – a friend who writes literary fiction barely sells 2-3 books a year. And his books are great, but literary fiction is always a much harder sell. Which is why I’m still smiling.
So, piss off a writer today and tell them, ‘writing fiction is easy, I could do what you do, if only I had the time’. 

*My disability has been terminated, by the way, sending my marketing budget all the way down beyond zero. So now, I’m relying even more on you, my readers, to do what I cannot do – tell others that you liked my books and help spread the word that my books are worth reading.

I thank you for your support.

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WRITING: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I came to writing really late, which is weird because the signs were there for a long time – my father wrote non-fiction about nature and gardening (for several decades he wrote a weekly 3/4 page in the weekend supplement of a national newspaper on the appreciation of nature) and he used to work as an editor for a children’s publisher in the Netherlands (Ploegsma), so we had all the Ploegsma books. I was an avid and voracious reader, and a convincing storyteller, but my parents were abusive and neglectful of my talents and those of my three brothers, so we were not inspired and motivated to do something with them.

It was only after I got new friends who were impressed by my storytelling capacities that someone mentioned that I ‘should write a book’. I wasn’t susceptible to that suggestion at the time – I didn’t actually liked to write, I liked to read. And there was always something impressively magical about the fiction I read that I couldn’t see myself doing the same thing.
Then I took a job working security and had a lot of long night shifts. Night shifts where I imagined I would read books and study languages, but I had the germ of an idea, so I started to write it down. After a few months I started to enjoy the writing more and more and though that I could actually see myself finishing the novel. That was in 1992.

OPINION: Verisimilitude in Fiction, Redux.

As I mentioned in this article, I’m a stickler for verisimilitude. I found some discussion on the lack of realism in fiction, which is not the issue:

What many people are looking for in fiction is verisimilitude: the story has to ‘ring true’. Actions have to be believable. Behaviour has to be consistent. Actions need to have consequences.

It’s not the same as realism, as reality will have unbelievable action, inconsistent behaviour, and the consequences of actions are sometimes completely lacking or not in relation to the action.

Verisimilitude—like justice and honesty—is an idealistic concept: we think we know what the truth is, just as we think we know what justice is and think ourselves to be honest. However, truth is different for anyone; justice is an ideal that is rarely found in real life; and if you’re honest 24/7, you will be severely lonely.

Truth is relative, which is why it can be applied to fiction. If the author poses a kind of truth that is supported by the story, the reader will suspend their disbelief, trusting the author to deliver on their promise.

If the author fails to support the truth they pose, the story will become ‘unbelievable’ and reviewers will say the book isn’t ‘realistic’. That’s not the case: the author just didn’t manage to support the truths they posed in the story.

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WRITING: Creating believable dialogue.

Creating believable dialogue is an art, but part of the craft can be learned.

First of all, there are two adages that come to mind when writing dialogue. Strunk & White’s ‘Omit needless words’, and Elmore Leonard’s ‘Skip the boring parts’.

My own process:

What I most often do is write pages and pages of dialogue before I start culling the pages back to paragraphs. I’m a stickler for verisimilitude, so I tend to write dialogue that’s close to the real thing.

However, dialogue has a function in fiction, so I remove the quotidian from the verbiage and keep that which hints or tells something about the situation or the perspective of the character, as well as moving the plot forward.

I dislike ‘exposition’, but you can inform the reader in dialogue without info dumps if you infer rather than inform. So hint at stuff, instead of explaining things outright.

Another thing is that in real life, people rarely say what they mean. So that’s important to keep in your fictional dialogue–sometimes people are direct, other times they’re circumspect. Some characters are blunt, others tend to be more sophisticated.

An example from my current WIP, In Pocket. Wolfgang the pickpocket visits his fence to cash in his plastic:

I slipped into the booth, ignored the smoke from his cigar smouldering in the chipped glass ashtray, and placed a stack of credit cards in front of him. Mink sifted through the cards, refused three and pocketed the rest. His pudgy hand reappeared with cash and a gold-plated necklace, the lock broken to make it appear snatched.

“Two hundred retail,” Mink said. “Yours for twenty.”

“I don’t wear jewellery.”

He dangled the necklace from his thick fingers. “It’s a woman’s.”

“Don’t have a woman.”

I stuffed the money he gave me in my breast pocket, not eager to let him know where I stash my cash.

Mink smoothed the necklace on the table. “You should get out more.”

“If that advice had come from someone who didn’t live inside a dingy bar stuffed in a back alley, I might’ve taken it.”

“Always the smart mouth.” Mink shook his head. “One day you’ll learn that moving around isn’t the same as moving up.”

“Is that the voice of experience?”

He steepled his stubby fingers. “Don’t push your luck.”

“Respect goes two ways,” I said, “Don’t insult my intelligence pushing that gold-plated crap on me.”

Grinning, Mink put the necklace away. “You’re right, I should’ve known better.”

I got up to leave, but he flapped a pudgy hand. “Sit back down, we need to talk.”

“We do?” I sat back down, even though I didn’t really want to. Mink is connected and while I don’t want him to disrespect me, I also don’t want to piss him off.

Mink leaned back and drew on the stub of his cigar. “You work hotels?”

“Lobbies, on occasion. Sometimes hotel restaurants at breakfast time.”

He blew a plume of smoke at the ceiling. “But no further?”

“Not much to gain from venturing into the corridors.”

“Not for a pickpocket.” Mink ground out the cigarette in the ashtray with a savage twist. I heard somewhere that he used to have a highly volatile temper. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t be useful.”

I didn’t respond. Sometimes it’s better not to talk.

“I’m putting together a small crew for hotel burglaries,” Mink said. “You’d be a good addition.”

“I’m not into team sports, Mink.”

“I’m talking about a crew, not a team.”

“There’s a difference?”

“Members of a team all work towards the same goal, although there can be different tasks. A crew unites members with diverse specialties to work together as a cohesive unit.” He steepled his fingers. “You’d be part of a three-man crew. One stays by the door while two work the room. You have a good eye for valuables.”

I pointed at his pocket. “That necklace was a test?”

“You’d be in charge. I have passkeys, maps of the rooms, floor plans of the hotels. Three-way split. You, me and them.”

I shook my head. “Three people triple the risk.”

“I forgot, you don’t like to take risks.” Mink grinned, but his eyes stayed dead. “Let me know if you change your mind.”

I left the bar, glad to be back in the sunlight again.

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WRITING: Dialogue and the ‘Said’ rule

After someone had read an article on Writing World on the abuse of dialogue tags, there was a discussion on Quora whether the dialogue tag ‘said’ was the best and only tag.

This is what I had to say on the subject:

The main reason for the ‘said’ rule, is that ‘said’ is invisible.

If you write a whole page of dialogue, readers need to be able to distinguish between the speakers.
There are several ways of doing that:

  • action tag: Peter threw the mug across the kitchen. “Don’t ever talk to me that way again.”
  • name of the character in the dialogue: “Don’t ever talk to me that way again, Mary.”
  • distinctive speech pattern: “D-don’t ever talk to m-me that way again.”
  • inserting ‘stop’ words particular to the character. “Like, you know, don’t talk ever talk to me that way again, you know?”
  • dialect: “Don’ evah talk t’me them way agin.”
  • emphasize the words: “Don’t. Ever. Talk. To. Me. That. Way. Again.”


If you need to add a speech tag, ‘Peter said’ is pretty invisible. It’s similar to a stage direction:
(Peter:) Don’t ever talk to me that way again.

The other part of the rule is that novice writers are tempted to pimp up their speech tags instead of the dialogue.

  • “Don’t ever talk to me that way again,” Peter hissed.
  • “Don’t ever talk to me that way again,” Peter threatened.
  • “Don’t ever talk to me that way again,” Peter yelled.
  • “Don’t ever talk to me that way again,” Peter bellowed.


If you need to increase the impact of a dialogue and you cannot think of a way to change the dialogue, adding an action tag is better than changing the speech tag from ‘said’ to ‘threatened’.

 

The twinkle disappeared from Peter’s eyes and he stepped closer. His voice was low, almost a growl. “Don’t ever talk to me that way again.”


Every rule can be broken, but most can be circumvented…

 

My Quora answer was re-blogged on several other blogs, most specifically on Reference For Writers, so I figured it was time to give it an article page on my own blog…

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WRITING: Tagged for the Writing Process Blog Hop…

I got tagged by author/musician Jamie Schultz, who answered the same questions on his blog. So now it’s my turn to answer these four questions…

What am I working on?
Currently I’m working on three projects:
– the fourth KillFile, as yet untitled, that revolves around Katla fulfilling another contract. This time, she has to enter a secluded estate and get her targets to leave their fortress-like villa.
– the fourth novel, working title Ghosting, which happens during Katla’s sabbatical year. She finds out quickly that it’s harder than she expected to shelf her homicidal enterprises.
– a stand-alone novel, In Pocket, about a nomadic heroin-addicted pickpocket who gets drawn into a potentially fatal situation by a scheming woman.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I think the suspense fiction genre is replete with unfailing heroes and unrepentent antagonists. My Amsterdam Assassin Series differs in the sense that the protagonist, freelance assassin and corporate troubleshooter Katla, would be the antagonist in most suspense fiction books, just because–although she had her own ethics–she’s a morally ambiguous remorseless killer for profit. Another thing is that I strive for verisimilitude. Everything that happens in the books could happen realistically. So Katla is no ‘superwoman’. She’s smart and resourceful, but she has severe flaws and she makes minor mistakes with huge consequences.

Why do I write what I do?
In short, I write what I wanted to read but couldn’t find.
Longer version: What I couldn’t find is Katla. A resourceful remorseless protagonist who, unencumbered by her virtually non-existent conscience, works her way through conflicts in a way that most heroes wouldn’t be able to. And her ruthlessness is balanced by her blind boyfriend Bram, who is also unique in the sense that his blindness is not a mere plot device, but something that shapes him into Katla’s ideal companion.

How does my writing process work?
I start out with story ideas–I need several different stories that I can weave together into a cohesive novel, so the ideas need to have the potential to become linked.
While I’m researching story ideas I write scenes that I hope will fit within the story ideas. If they don’t fit, I shelf them. I rarely throw anything away. Chapters that couldn’t be used Reprobate were modified to appear in Peccadillo, and scenes removed from Peccadillo appeared in Rogue. So I have a whole file with ‘deleted scenes’ that might turn up in new books or become a KillFile.
When I finish the first draft, I turn the manuscript into an ebook that I can read on my iPad. This is in essence a modern variant on the ‘print out your manuscript and read it through’-method often cited by authors. Both a printed manuscript or an epub cannot be edited, but with both you can highlight sections that need to be corrected and you can sprinkle the text with footnotes on what you want to do, like ‘move this scene up’ or ‘this section contains too many crutch words’. In fact, the epub version works better than the printed version for several reasons:
– you can insert longer notes than what you’d be able to write into a margin of a printed version
– you don’t have to carry around 500 double-spaced A4 pages and a highlighter and a red pencil.
– epubs have a feature where you can make a list of all the ‘Notes & Marks’ you made while editing the draft, which makes it easier to go through your manuscript and make changes. If you use a print version, you have to leave through the whole print-out again and hope you don’t miss a note or highlighted section.
– It’s easier to track the corrections you have to make, because you can delete the notes you corrected in the manuscript.
– the disadvantage is the same as with any e-reader versus print book–if the battery quits, you can’t continue. On the other hand, it’s much easier to take your manuscript anywhere you want. And nobody wonders why you’re marking up a sheaf of paper…

I hope my answers were illuminating and entertaining. I’d like to pass on the tag to three writers I greatly admire:

First off, I tag Henry Martin. When he’s not buried elbow-deep in some greasy motorcycle project, Henry Martin enjoys reading quality literature and writing prose and poetry of varying coherency. He finds inspiration in conquering the open road while trying to outrun some of the characters he created in the past. He lives with his family in the Northeast, surrounded by coyotes, foxes, and bears. Click on his name to check out his blog. Click on the cover to check out Escaping Barcelona on Amazon.

9781478362166_frontcover

Second author I tag is Roberta Pearce. Roberta likes to have fun breaking some (but not all!) clichés in her contemporary romances – her latest novel, A Bird Without Wings, features a heroine who is smarter than the hero. And her soon-to-be-released The Value of Vulnerability has a hero who is a sociopath (that’s sociopath, not psychopath!). If you click on her name you’re taken to her blog, if you click on A Bird Without Wings, you can check out her book on Amazon.

Bird Without Wings, A

The third author I tag (all good things come in threes) is Gregor Xane. Gregor is the author of the horror novellas Six Dead Spots (one of the weirdest books I read) and The Hanover Block (forthcoming). He resides in the U.S., in a small town in southwestern Ohio. He’s currently preparing a rather large and ridiculous work of science-fiction for publication. Click on his name to check out his blog and/or click on Six Dead Spots to read a sample of his work on Amazon…

SDS-digital-compressed

 

 


WRITING: Considerations before becoming a novelist…

When asked, many people will say they want to write a novel, but do they? While there are many considerations to make before embarking on this fickle career, these are some of the basic considerations you might want to ponder:

  1. Can I tell the story in less than 10,000 words?
  2. Can I create multiple characters all equally able to be protagonists in their own stories?
  3. Can I suspend the disbelief of my readers?
  4. Do I have the stamina to create a 80,000 word novel?
  5. Do I have more than one novel in me?
  6. Can I handle making less than minimum wage while I work almost 24/7?
  7. Can I handle the ridicule and stupid remarks if I go public?

The reason you need to consider these questions:

  1. 10,000 words is a short story. Novels take up more words.
  2. A protagonist needs peers and antagonists, who need to be equal to the protagonist to make the story interesting.
  3. Readers want to be immersed in a story, they want to believe in your characters. So the desire is there. If you weave a story that makes believers out of readers, you can be a writer.
  4. Although everything over 60,000 words can be called a novel, most novels are between 80,000-100,000 words. If you write a 1000 usable words a day, that means about three solid months of writing.
  5. Most successful authors are prolific with at least 5+ novels to their name. There are exceptions, but don’t imagine yourself to be one of them.
  6. Do you know the author Philip K. Dick? People who are serious about storytelling are generally in awe of his storytelling ability. His novels and short stories form the basis of movies like Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, Paycheck and a host of others. Even in his best years, Dick rarely earned more than 12,000$ per year. In fact, most writers don’t earn more than 10,000$ per year and most earn considerably less. Even Stephen King had to support his family with his teaching job for the first decade of his career. And James Patterson made his money in advertising before he turned to writing fiction.
  7. I’m fortunate that most people don’t want to antagonize me (based on my size and my encyclopedic knowledge of murder), but even I get disparaging remarks, or questions how much I earn with my books, or people who think their ideas are sufficiently interesting that they can tell them to me and I ‘just write them down’. Not to mention the many many people who would love to write a book, if only they had the time. Of course, the idiocy gets balanced by people who are genuinely awed by a writer’s ability to create stories and characters ‘out of thin air’ and readers writing you about the character they like the most and ask if that character will be featured in the upcoming book. Still, a writer needs thick skin. If you’re sensitive and insecure about your own abilities, you might want to reconsider choosing writing fiction as a career.

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