Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Reblog from Lit World Inteviews - Why Readers Stop Reading a Book

Why Readers Stop Reading Image


Recently, we here at LitWorldInterviews.com conducted a survey,“Why do you put a book down?” and through the assistance of the writing community we had a very nice response. Now it’s time to share what we found.
First, I want to say why the survey was conducted. We wanted to help writers by giving them the information they most need. If a reader takes the time to check out your book and don’t like it, they are unlikely to give you a second chance with your next work. First impressions mean a lot.
For the rest of this most interesting read, go to: 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

A black-eyed Susan by any other name

What if Ishmael had said, “Call me Leonard?” 

And what if Ishmael’s Captain hadn’t been named after the evil idol-worshipping ruler in the Book of Kings?

At the least it would have created a lot more work for Mr. Melville.  He’d have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do!

Instead, with his choice of those two powerful, meaning-laden names, he deftly planted the threads of the themes in MobyDick into the minds of his readers.

In Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver includes the history of her lead character Dellarobia’s name: 

Dellarobia was “…the given name her mother first sounded out for [her] birth certificate in a doped anesthetic haze, thinking it came from the Bible.  Later her mother remembered that was wrong; it wasn’t the Bible, she’d heard it at a craft demonstration at the Women’s Club.”

When Dellarobia learns that her name isn’t biblical after all, that she’s been named after a wreath made by gluing pine cones and acorns to a Styrofoam core, it presages for her a lackluster performance in life, her own letdown and her impending fall from grace.

By explanation of her character’s name, Kingsolver gives us an insight into Dellarobia’s roots, her self-perception, her outlook on life, her expectations for and disappointments in herself.

Makes you want to choose your characters’ names with care.  Why would you be casual about something so important?  That book of babies’ names is only a starting point. 

Kingsolver goes a step further:  Dellarobia is married to “Cub,” the son of “Bear.”  And she hasn’t married into a Native American family! 

Those nicknames alone tell a big story about father and son, yes?  With only that much information, their nicknames, we can surmise the father’s stature and disposition, the son’s status and maybe even the role of tradition in that hierarchy.

Imagine if father and son were “John” and “Russell.”  Just feels like a missed opportunity, doesn’t it?

Wouldn’t you love to ask Cormac McCarthy about the impact of names?  Why do you suppose he didn’t name the man and the boy in his Pulitzer Prize winning novel?  He might argue that names are so important that the wrong ones can be detractors. 

What if he had sent Fred and Fred Jr. onto The Road?  That’s a different story!

How important is your character’s name?  If she’s pivotal to your story, so is her name.  If not, just call her “the woman at the cash register” and everything will work out fine.  

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Papa was right

Ernest Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Ernest Hemingway, father of Writer’s Melodrama!  He gave us all some anguish to latch onto, right? 

We are bleeding!  We are suffering!  We are writers!  Nobody knows the trouble we’ve seen!

Hemingway inspired me when I was in 7th grade and first read his short story “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”  That one stuck with me as a prototype for exterior action revealing interior life. 

And his style!  So direct, so clean, so free of the extraneous that I just knew I could do it.  Why, he’s just telling the story, I thought!  How hard can that be?

Good thing I didn’t find out until later how he met his demise…I might have been dissuaded!

As it was, I sat down and wrote.  My stuff at that time was full of teenage angst, but it didn’t have the surplus of adverbs and adjectives that some beginners pepper through their pages.

Papa remains a good model for rookie writers and a good one for apprentice editors as well.  

But maybe you have another favorite in mind.  Jeannette Walls comes to mind as someone who strips away the frills and seizes her readers with unflinching accounts of her wild early life. 

Frank McCourt, same thing.

But here’s the deal ~ you cannot let yourself be distracted by the story!  As writers we have to learn to look at the what and the how of it: 

Ø  What does Walls choose to show and what does she leave out? 
Ø  How is McCourt’s use of language riveting? 
Ø  How does Hemingway reveal his character’s inner life?

Put on your analyst’s cap and give your favorites a second read.  This is one of the best ways to quit bleeding and learn the craft.  

Matter of fact, for all his drama, Hemingway also said, “It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write.  Let them think you were born that way.”

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

You don't have time for a muse

 We writers are an eccentric lot.  We love our quirks and idiosyncrasies.

Civilians – “non-writers” – find us mysterious and we love that.  There are few things with greater cache than mystery.

Mystery allows us to create a sacred space that is untouchable.  Our loved ones respect it, even tiptoe around it. 

If we have incense and chimes, or white noise and blinders, it simply adds to our inscrutability.  The only other room in the house with such an invisible force field around it might be the bathroom.

The downside of all the enigma is that we abuse it.

Admit it.  It’s all too easy to close the door, dim the lights, pull up a blank document and stare.  For a little while.

Some of us have been known to open multiple screens.  One blank document, one Words with Friends, a YouTube and Wikipedia.  We can rationalize all of these as mind-freeing, meditative research.

We are masters at minimizing when prying eyes come near…What?!!  I’m writing!

Well that just won’t do.

Pablo Picasso said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.”

So set aside your alter ego, perfectionism, and get to work. 

Set a goal for the amount of time you’ll write every day.  Make it manageable.  Small is good.  Small does not intimidate.

Bring in the kitchen timer, set it and WRITE.

And write BEFORE you do ANYTHING else.  Really.

Chances are good that when the timer goes off, you’ll have a bit more in you and not want to stop.  But even if you do stop, you can stop with a measure of satisfaction.  You accomplished something extremely important. 

You wrote today.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Personal is the Universal

A perennial excuse, er, reason for abandoning a writing project is that no one will be interested in reading it.

I mean, who really cares about your hangnail?

Maybe you’re right. 

But look.  Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Connie Schultz wrote about cutting her hair – or rather not cutting it – in her first contribution of her new agreement with Parade magazine.

Just let that settle in for a moment:  Pulitzer Prize winner writes about her haircut. 

And because she talked about middle-aged women getting haircuts that make them look like they’re wearing football helmets, I took offense.  I’d just cut my hair into a skull-hugging protective device, you see. 

Her personal experience hit home with me.

So I took the topic and ran with it.  Put my own spin on it.  Gave it a fresh (I hope) perspective on getting older and wanting to look good.  (You can read that column, “Helmet Head at the Bates Motel,” elsewhere in this volume of Epiphany.)

The take away is that, while any individual’s experience of aging will be unique and personal, almost everyone can relate to the phenomenon.  Hearing how you’re dealing with it can be energizing and affirming…if it’s well written.

Whether we cling to that last greying strand of our youth or shave it off without sentiment, we all have hair.  We all can appreciate the metaphor.

Morgan Freeman frequently opens episodes of “Through the Wormhole” with a story of his childhood encounters with the mysteries of nature.

The President cites a single citizen by name and tells her individual story to illustrate his point about healthcare for all citizens.

The personal is the universal.

And so, Dream Writer – Don’t discount your experiences. 

Whenever you tell the truth about making your way through the world, or making your way through the parking lot, you are telling the truth for lots of us. 

If it’s frustrating, funny, poignant or pissy, the truth resonates with humanity.

You should write it because you’re the one who can write. 

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Start your story in the thick of it

Today’s readers have the attention span of a gnat.  No patience!  No appreciation of the written word! 

OK, you’re right, video games did it.  Or maybe it was CSI, solving all those crimes so fast.  Or maybe it was all that tedious buildup getting in the way of what’s immediate in your story. 

Folks ~ facts is facts and writers have to face ‘em!  Too many words is too many words.  Like they say in the movies:  Cut to the chase! 

Eliminate all that verbiage that explains the motivation of the tortoise and the hare.  You can come back around to it later.  We want to see the race. 

Don’t expect your reader to dredge through the deep and lengthy psychological explanation of what happened when the man was a little boy that makes him want to set his parents’ house on fire before he even stops at the gas station.   

Start with him in their bedroom, the spilled liquid, the fumes rising around him and the match in his hand.  After I’ve seen that, I’ll want to know why.  I’ll keep reading. 

What?!!  But I have to set the scene!  I have to give some back-story!  Otherwise my readers won’t know who’s on first!  They’ll be confused.  

Really?  Or do you just love your own writing so much that you can’t cut the superfluous? 

Be honest now, which of these story starters would keep you reading: 

Madeline Harris was dating an organic apple farmer from Lodi.  She drove a school bus in Moravia.  [Ho hum!  Not confused, but also, not interested.] 


Madeline Harris showed up out of nowhere one night at Lucy’s Tavern and beat Hank, the owner, three times in a row at darts.  [Really!?  Who is this Madeline?  Is she married?  Why is she alone at night in a bar?]


Bill Kane had a lean, tough face and sandy-colored hair.  He had sworn off women since his last girlfriend.  [Zzzzzz.] 


Bill Kane watched partly because Madeline was good-looking and partly because he liked to see Hank, his boss, lose.  [Hmmm!  What kind of man is Bill Kane?  How did his face get so tough?  What’s up between him and Hank?] 

[These examples excerpted and paraphrased from “later, at the bar,” by Rebecca Barry.] 

Today’s takeaway ~  

Don’t get all self-righteous and indignant about your “literature.”  

Jump into the action to snag your readers.  They’ll hang around for the back-story when your story’s well told.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Please! Climb down from there and WRITE!

If you're a writer, there's no question about it. 

The true question, perhaps too often asked, is not, "Am I a writer?" but "Why don't I write?" 

Only a writer asks that question!  If you're asking it, you're a writer. 

But, but, but, you say.  How can I claim to be a writer when I'm stalled?  I haven’t written anything in (fill in the blank – days, months, eons).  

Cue the shrieking from Psycho! 

I'm non-productive!  Wait for it – the "B" word of the writer's world - I'm BLOCKED! 

Well, no.  You're not.  And here's how you can tell:  Write something. 

OK.  It's dross.  It's dregs.  It’s…what's a nicer word for 'crap'?  

The nicer word is 'words.'  How about 'brainstorming'?  Or '1st draft'?  That crap is words on the page.  It’s a start.   

If you're above writing the crap first, you have strayed onto that fork in the dark, forested landscape of a writer's mind that leads to the cul-de-sac of mental turmoil, frustration, dismay, self-loathing and cliche`. 

But you wouldn't be there if you weren't a writer. 

And, if you weren't a writer, not writing wouldn't bother you.   

So turn around and go toward the light.  You’ll feel so much better. 

Get off it Dream Writers, and WRITE!