Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Movie Cliches

Our household subscription to Netflix brings a regular round of digital video entertainment to suit our eclectic tastes. What, I wonder, can be said about a couple who enjoy Jane Austen movies, samurai movies, film noir, Buster Keaton, and the entire Hercule Poirot series?

Yet in movie after movie, the same cliches turn up with tiresome regularity. Maybe it's just the storyteller formula showing up. But I'm sure you all recognize these movie cliches, and can list more that I've missed:

  1. Spaceships are always fully-armed, make a rumbling noise in space as they travel, and their weaponry causes audible explosions.
  2. A thousand bad guys, armed to the teeth, firing rapid-fire automatic weapons at the good guy, can't hit him even though he's running across a mile of open ground, dressed in street clothes or formal attire. However, the good guy can hit any bad guy he chooses, even while running in formal attire across open ground with a thousand bad guys firing at him.
  3. When the villain runs out of bullets in his revolver, he will click the trigger three times, then throw the revolver.
  4. When running away from a speeding car, rolling giant boulder, or similar oncoming danger, people always run directly in front of it instead of darting to the side to get away.
  5. Even in nylons, a dress, and high-heels, the heroine can outrun the bad guys, and can usually out-gun them.
  6. At the point of death, the dying person always has breath enough to gasp a coherent conversation, then collapses peacefully. If about to name his or her attacker, the dying person collapses mid-sentence. The hero/heroine then gently closes the person's eyes.
  7. A highly-competent detective can't solve the biggest crime of his career until his boss fires him for obsessing over it -- then he goes all-out to hunt down the villain.
  8. Only bad-guys play cruel tricks on people, shoot innocent people, or use booby-traps -- and good guys only do those things to bad guys.
  9. In a mystery, the non-main-character who claims to know who the murderer is, but has a few more facts to check before announcing the name, will die in the next scene.
  10. Native Americans, Australian Aborigines, and similar indigenous groups in modern movies are always wise, possess mystic powers, and can commune with nature. In modern movies, they are as invariably the good guys as in old films the are invariably either the bad guys or the comic relief.
  11. In family films, men are clownish, women are much smarter than men, and children are much smarter than either parent, as well as being smart-mouthed and highly technologically competent.
  12. Plain girls always wear their hair in a bun and wear glasses. As soon as they take off their glasses and let their hair down, they're gorgeous.
  13. In a scary movie, whenever there is a door that should not be opened, a room that should not be entered, or a cave, cellar, or tomb emitting odd noises that would cause rational persons to turn away, a minor character will always enter, and will be killed.
  14. Cars involved in accidents explode violently -- except in comic action movies, where car chase scenes involve smashing dozens of cars, but without a single fatality.
  15. A main character, when pursued by villains, will all too often go up some tall structure, where he is forced to fight the bad guys at dizzying heights. Was he expecting to out-climb them? Or to find an escape route at the top?
  16. If there is some huge, whirring, grinding machine in an action film, someone will end up falling into it -- and if the villain deliberately feeds an innocent victim into the machine early in the movie, he will surely die the same way by the end.
  17. When main characters defuse a bomb, it will always have a digital timer that will always stop at the last possible second.
  18. Computers are always operated by typing on a keyboard, which always makes a clacking sound. Hollywood does not seem to have heard of the mouse.
  19. Characters who announce they are looking forward to retirement, their 50th anniversary, or similar long-awaited celebration will either die or have the celebration disrupted.
  20. No meal that the main characters sit down to is never finished.
  21. When the villain captures the hero, rather than simply shoot him in the head and get it over with, the villain admits his guilt, tells the whole story, then sets in motion an elaborate device to kill the hero, and walks away, allowing the hero time to escape and time for any of the hero's allies to arrive.
  22. People in all cultures speak English. If the movie is a period piece, they speak English with one or more British accents. All except henchmen, who speak in some vague accent that could be Russian, Arabic, or a blend of both.
  23. Ventilation shafts are always large enough to accommodate adult humans, are clean, and always go where the hero needs to go.
  24. A blow to the head with a heavy object knocks a main character out, yet they always recover with no skull fracture and no brain damage. Not even a concussion. If the person knocked over the head is an unnamed guard, they will always fall unconscious for any length of time convenient for the hero.
  25. If a lead man and lead woman fight and bicker in the first half hour of the movie, they will fall in love or fall in bed (not necessarily in that order) before the end.
  26. All evil villains have henchmen who obey their every command without question. Most of the henchmen don't have names or speaking parts.
  27. In action movies, the hero and villain will meet face-to-face for hand-to-hand combat.
  28. A female character, when being chased, will keep looking over her shoulder to see how close the bad guys are, even though it obviously slows her down.
  29. No matter how far the good guy falls, no matter how hard of a blow he takes, no matter how hard he is kicked, he'll still won't die soon after from massive internal bleeding. If the fight is late in the movie, he will rise up, and find the strength to pummel his opponents into the dust.
  30. When the villain cuts the phone line, cutting off the hero or heroine who is calling for help, the telephone will more often than not emit a dial tone. And of course the character doesn't carry a cell phone.
  31. Regardless of what damage the hero does to public places and no matter how many traffic laws and laws about discharge of firearms he breaks, he will never be arrested for these. If he is arrested, it will be on trumped-up charges arranged by the villain.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Friday Finds

A few cool writing finds from across the web:

  • Language is a Virus: Some cool word scramblers and random word generators. Fun n' games for chronic procrastinators.
  • Common Errrors in English Usage: Finally a quick, online reference to solve the that/which and who/whom questions.
  • Booktrust: A U.K. charity that supports literacy, and gets books into the hands of kids. What writer wouldn't want to support a program that creates more readers?
  • Absolute Write: Not a new find, but one that all writers should know about.
  • Writerisms and Other Sins: On the SFWA site, a concise article about line-editing your prose.
Keep writing.

New look

Were you tired of reading white text on a black background? Black does make a statement, but white on black makes your eyes cross, doesn't it? Tan looked okay, but was a bit dark and didn't fit the color scheme. Let's try deep blue for a while, shall we?

A Publisher from Hell

Authors for this small press:

Better Be Write

recently received this charming email from the publisher:

What the hell is wrong with some of you? First of all, those of you that have books out are acting like you are on a damn vacation. You came to me wanting a career in writing. Was it all a farce? You just wanted to see your one book in print and I, the sucker, fell for it? Everyone of you told me what you were going to do to promote your books, to push your books, how you were going to be on TV and radio, and how you wanted your books to be in the top ten. What happened to that?

I have to put our brochure out and some of you have not done your next book; some do not want to write any more books, using me as the excuse; some are just throwing crap at me for me to publish, as if you have no time to do it. If I, who is very ill, can keep going and trying to get you to the top, how dare you give up? How dare you put me to the background of your life? Do you not realize that you will be giving up your careers as I have to see anything that you want to publish so your careers can be shot to hell??? I want to know WHY YOU ARE BLOWING YOUR CAREERS AS AUTHORS!!!!! You owe me that! One of you wants to quit when their book has the highest ranking of all of you!!

I just do not understand. You do not want to be authors. You are G_damned liars! No guts! Did you think that this was going to be easy?? I might as well have taken that $100,000 and gone to Europe! If you are serious about being an author, then get your asses in gear NOW! If not, I will sell your contracts and your books to another publisher who will probably be a POD publisher and you will never be able to get that label off your back with any real publishers. If you think I am kidding, I am not! That was my savings account to open this company and I chose you people. What a freakin let down. You all have one month to do what you are supposed to be doing, and I want proof or so help me God I will recoup some of my money through a POD publisher.

Just makes you want to jump up and mail in your next submission to this company that claims to be very author-centric.

The person who aired this letter to friends, and the place in which it was aired, will remain anonymous.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

English Lessons

If you haven't seen this bit of internet lore, that used to be photocopy lore, that used to be ditto sheet lore, here again in all its glory:

Rules for Writing
  1. Verbs HAS to agree with their subjects.
  2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
  3. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.
  4. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
  5. Avoid cliches like the plague. (They're old hat)
  6. Also, always avoid annoying alliteration.
  7. Be more or less specific.
  8. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.
  9. Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
  10. No sentence fragments.
  11. Contractions aren't necessary and shouldn't be used.
  12. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
  13. Do not be redundant; do not use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.
  14. One should NEVER generalize.
  15. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
  16. Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
  17. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
  18. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
  19. The passive voice is to be ignored.
  20. Eliminate commas, that are, not necessary. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.
  21. Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice.
  22. Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.
  23. Understatement is always the absolute best way to put forth earth-shaking ideas.
  24. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."
  25. If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: Resist hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it correctly.
  26. Puns are for children, not groan readers.
  27. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
  28. Even IF a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
  29. Who needs rhetorical questions?
  30. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
  31. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy 4th of July

Today, U.S. citizens gather to celebrate the day that these men:

gathered to sign this document:

which proclaimed the radical liberal notion that all people are equal in the sight of God and should have equal access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that governments should uphold and not take away said rights, and not become a burden to those governed.

If you've never read this document (and if you're a U.S. citizen, you should have), here is the text:

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred. to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Monday, July 03, 2006

How to get published, part 3: Finding an agent or publisher without getting burned

So you followed step one. You wrote something. Then step two: you polished your writing to a high gloss. Now you're ready to send it out, right?

Okay, fine, you probably are. But hold on to your horses, cowboy, because there are a whole lot of bad guys out there who'd like nothing better than to hold up your literary stagecoach and take all of your cash. But they won't do it with guns and evil sneers, no. They'll smile and coo and tell you what a wonderful author you are, and how they are just dying to publish your masterpiece for only... and they name a sum in the hundreds or thousands of dollars.

These people are called vanity publishers. They call themselves POD publishers, but POD (Publish on Demand) is a technology, not a type of publisher. Stay away from them. If you want to know why, read my earlier posts:

Also see this article:

And these sites:

Okay, convinced yet that this isn't just one author singing a sour grapes song? That the publishing industry in general has a low opinion of vanity presses, and for good reason?

We're not talking about self-publishing here. If you want to know all about self-publishing and how to do it right without getting ripped off, see the Books Just Books website for tons of free information. They know all the details about self-publishing. I don't. So go there if you want to know about how to publish your book yourself. It's a great site.

So, assuming that by "getting published" you mean that you want publishing rights to your book to be purchased by a traditional publisher who will pay you an advance and royalties, let us proceed in that direction.

Finding an agent

In some genres, you can still do very well without an agent. The children's market, much of the how-to market, paperback romances, mysteries, and similar markets still have plenty of publishers who will accept queries or manuscripts from us ordinary mortals. But in other areas, such as literary fiction, an agent is almost a necessity. And the markets in all fields are getting tighter, so agents are becoming more and more valuable to all sorts of writers who have been doing well without. If you know your market well, you'll know if you need an agent or not.

Agents can open doors that writers cannot open for themselves. Good agents know editors well, know their tastes, and know what kinds of books they can sell to which editors. Agents know how to negotiate deals and get the best contract. Good agents work hard for their percent take of the total, and are worth every penny. What agents can't do for you is sell unsellable work. Nor will an agent take a manuscript that's already been shopped around to forty different publishing houses. Nor are they likely to take a book that's been published by a vanity press and sell it to a traditional publisher. They're agents, not miracle workers.

Bad agents are worse than no agent at all. How do you spot a bad agent? The most obvious red flag is that they charge upfront fees, such as reading fees. The best place to check out an agent's reputation is the Preditors and Editors website. Having a well-known bad agent's name on your submission is the kiss of death. Don't let an agent with a bad reputation bamboozle you.

And where do you find a good one? Frankly, marketing to agents is as hard as, if not harder than, marketing the manuscript yourself. You check sources such as the Writer's Market (look for a current issue in your library or bookstore). You ask agented writerly friends who know you and know your writing if they think their agents would be interested in your work (but you do not ask writers you don't know well to recommend their agents, because if they did, that would imply that they endorse your work, and they may not be willing to do that). You check out the Association of Author Representatives and search for agents who represent work that is like yours. You join writers' association, such as the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America or the Romance Writers of America or the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators to get access to their lists of agents.

Make a list of possible agents that you want to contact.

Finding a publisher

So you want to go it alone? Fine. Plenty of authors do. If you're selling articles and short stories to magazines, you will probably have to go it alone, since agents usually don't take on small jobs like that. Unless you're selling regularly to the New Yorker or Vanity Fair, magazines don't pay enough to make the commission worthwhile to an agent.

So how to you find a publisher? What you don't do is answer one of those ads in writer's magazines that say, "We want to publish your book!" Most of those are the vanity presses -- especially the ones with full-page ads (smaller, less glowing, more honest ads may be those of legitimate book printing services). If you're not sure if a publisher is a vanity or not, look the company up on Preditors and Editors.

One way to find a publisher is to get a copy of the latest Writer's Market. Some genres have their own market guide, such as the Children's Writers and Illustrators Market. Make sure you have the most up-to-date copy. Peruse the listings for publishers that publish works that are like yours. Go online and check out their websites so that you can see exactly what they publish. Just because you've written a science book for kids doesn't mean it's suitable for every publisher that says they publish science books. Each publisher has its own flavor, its own style.

Another way to find a publisher is to stroll through the library or bookstore looking for books that are similar to yours. Check out who publishes them. Write down the name and website of the publisher, and again see what kinds of books the publisher already wants.

There's no use in sending your manuscript to a publisher that doesn't already produce books similar to yours. There's no deadlier phrase in a query than, "I know you don't usually publish books like this, but..." Don't argue with the publisher. Don't try to tell them why they should publish your manuscript when it isn't anything like what they publish. They know their business. You don't.

Make a list of possible publishers that you want to contact.

And now send the manuscript off, right?

Almost. You're almost there. You still need to have the manuscript formatted correctly. You probably need a query letter and perhaps a synopsis or outline. And you need to know exactly what the publisher or agent wants, so you can deliver exactly that. Those are subjects for the next installment.

How to get published series