Two Quick Points about Setting

Writing allows you to be in two places at the same time. While I’m sitting in a library in New Jersey, I’m also on the quarter deck of a brig in the Caribbean Sea. With that said, reading allows for the same thing, as long as the writer does his or her job.  The hard part is getting the reader to join you where you want them.  These are two quick points about setting.

PIECING IT TOGETHER

The settings we create come from fragments of what we know.  The gnarled and knotted trees from the woods behind the house in which you grew up now find themselves bordering a clearing in a dark forest of a far away land.  These trees give your characters the same foreboding that you felt when you were seven.  At the same time, the lush and well lit path from your walk in the mountains of Vermont last week seems like your characters’ best chance to escape this forest with their lives. These two pieces of your woodland experience didn’t share a field of view except in the world that you created.

PEOPLE HAVE NO PATIENCE

The days when a writer could go on for pages about the majesty of a mountain are long gone.  People simply do not have the patience for it.  The difference in modern fiction is that the details now need to be artfully dropped into the action.  Even the most beautiful field sits idly until acted upon by characters.

My philosophy on setting is an adaptation of the question: If a tree falls in woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?  It may make a sound, but no one cares.

For more on setting, check out my previous posts on World Building and Setting vs. Setting the Scene.

Use Adobe InDesign CS6 to Format Your Book Interior

The Price of Self-Publishing

There are many skills an author simply doesn’t have.  I am not a graphic artist, so I pay for book cover design.  I cannot objectively review my own work, so I pay for an editor and abuse my friendships.

When it came to designing my paperback book interior for Captain James Hook and the Curse of Peter Pan, however, I found that Adobe InDesign for CS6 was easy to figure out.  There was a time in which I thought that my word processing software had the capabilities to format a book interior.  I was wrong in the way all amateurs and novices are with their first book.

The typical price for a professional to do your book interior ranges from $379-$700, depending on where you look.  The advantages are that you don’t have to do much aside from answer a few questions about the overall theme of the book.  They’ll churn it out and have it back for you in a couple of days.  There are many advantages to this and, if you have the money, I suggest that you pay.

However…

Adobe InDesign for CS6 costs between $350-$400.  It is easy to learn and is cost-effective if you plan on publishing several titles before you expect to make any money.  This is doubly true for me, since 98% of my book sales are digital, not print.  The only reason I want a paperback book is as a business card for future work.

Book Sample

Here is a two-chapter sample of the book as it is now:  Captain James Hook and the Curse of Peter Pan – Sample Formatted.  It includes the front matter, two chapters, an about the authors page, and a call to action.  There are some notable oddities to it when you look at it as a .pdf, though.  For example, blank pages are inserted for spacing so that the writing starts on the appropriately-numbered page.

Get Help

Here are some great sites that tell you how to use Adobe InDesign to create your book interior.  These are the resources that I use after a week of hunting and pecking for the best advice. InDesign Tutorial: Designing the inside pages of a book , Book Layout in InDesign How to Layout a Book in InDesignBook Interior File Formatting.

When is it okay to change an existing work?

This week, I received an Amazon “Kindle Quality Notice.”  It stated that Captain James Hook and the Curse of Peter Pan had internal errors in which “at least one” reader reported.  The errors weren’t related to formatting or appropriateness in content.  It was about an alleged typo.   Now, to be fair, some of my readers have found keystroke mistakes before and their input is always welcome.  Still, a man is innocent until proven guilty, so I investigated.  

DISCOVERY

The Kindle Quality Notice stated: There are typos in your book. You can see examples of this error at the following location(s): Kindle location: 577; Error description: “I led.” should be “I lied.”

This seemed like an open and shut case until I opened the document and read the whole section.  It is at the start of Chapter 8, when Peter meets James for the second time.

“I’m Peter Pan,” the child said proudly. He was standing on the mast as if it were the floorboards of the deck. I had seen him fly before and although this was nothing new, I was still amazed.

“I’m James,” I told him. It didn’t bother me that I had to reintroduce myself. “We’ve met before.” His blank expression told me of his genuine surprise that we knew each other. “We played weeks ago in my room in Port Royal.”

“Oh,” was all he said, as if bored already. I decided to retell one of the adventures in my literature books as if it were one of ours.

“Did I say my room?” I led. “I meant we played in a magical forest.” His head turned and bent to the side with interest. “You and I had a jolly time robbing wealthy carriages and saving England from the evil prince and his sheriff.” His eyes burst with excitement as I retold the whole adventure.

This wasn’t a typo.  Although “lied” would fit, I purposely chose “led” because young Hook leads Peter in the conversation.  Looking  back, there are other things I would love to change about my writer’s voice from that time, but that word isn’t wrong.  The question is whether it is distracting.

WORD CHOICE

The problem develops from one of an alleged typo to one about a word choice.   James leads Peter in this conversation, but do enough people read it that way or do they see that word as an oddity?  If it gets in the way of the flow of the story, then it doesn’t serve its purpose and it doesn’t belong.  However, the story is nearly one year old and this is a change that is not necessary.  The Artist in me is offended a the idea of making an unneeded change to my work.  The part of me that wants to sell books is more eager to appease any request.  What to do?

VERDICT

I decided to keep it as it is.  If this were a genuine typo, I’d change it, but the section above is narrated by an older James Hook and his voice has to show through.   He would have no problem saying that he “led” his one-time friend this way and that, not as a boast, but to demonstrate his superiority without expressly saying so.  That is good form, after all.

Viewpoint – How close is too close?

How close to the character do you have to be when narrating from a third person perspective?

First, let’s review the difference between perspectives.

FIRST PERSON

First person perspective is written from behind the character’s eyes.  This is the easiest way to narrate if you are starting out because this is how we all live our lives.  We wake up, brush our teeth, go to work, come home, have dinner, and go to bed all without knowing what anyone else is thinking.  We have only what we see and hear to tell the story of our day.

THIRD PERSON

This is more than using pronouns like he, she, or they.  There are two types of third person narration: singular and omniscient.  Omniscient is all knowing and drifts between different characters’ thoughts within a scene.  Singular follows only one character’s thoughts in a scene and is what we’re talking about in this post.

HOW CLOSE IS TOO CLOSE?

The problem with new authors, myself included, is that third person singular narration sometimes floats away from within the character’s head.  Readers don’t need to feel every subtle twitch of emotion, but the narration should flow from what that character sees, hears, and feels.  No one thinks about the color of their own eyes while they’re in a firefight, but they should feel that anxious shutter as the adrenaline grips them.

HOW MUCH INFORMATION IS TOO MUCH?

The general rule is that if the character is unaware of something, that something shouldn’t be written.  If that something is critical to the story, drop pretty obvious clues that the character observes and overlooks but the reader may pick up.  This is a great way to surprise your character in the same way you are surprised in your own life by things you should have paid attention to in the first place.

Humor vs. Horror in under 2 minutes

Much like science fiction and fantasy, humor and horror are close cousins.  Both genres rely on a suspenseful build to a surprise.  Both are entirely subjective and both are difficult to do well.

The setup

Suspenseful expectation is critical for humor and horror writing.  A monster needs to be made terrifying over time or it won’t scare anyone.  The same rule goes for a comedic situation that gets funnier as it develops.

Think of the similar build that runs through “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “the Call of Cthulhu.”  Both sources use shocking details and (sometimes) grotesque descriptions to elicit reactions.  In each, there is a balancing element, such as a straight man or a character who serves as the voice of reason.   Just as importantly, there is an element of the unknown in which the point of view character faces the unexpected.

Timing and execution

Not everyone is funny.  That’s fine, because not everybody is scary either.  However, the delivery of the surprise is a critical skill for both genres.  The difference is often what the surprise is and how it is presented.  An overly simple example is having a character walk in a dark hallway when she slips and falls.  If she slips on the blood of a severed head, the story is horror.  If she slips on a banana peel, it’s humor. 

Subjectivity

The difference between humor and horror is the difference between a Dracula movie starring Gary Oldman or one staring Leslie Nielsen.  Even if you use the same script and cast other than the lead, the outcome will differ because the subjective expectation changes the delivery. 

An intertwined connection

There are noises in your kitchen at 3 a.m.  If you walk downstairs to investigate and find that the noises came from your cat’s insatiable lust for eating and vomiting parsley, then you’ve felt the tense buildup and release of humor.  If, after cleaning up cat puke, you turn around and see the broken lock on your now open front door, then you know how close humor and horror are.