more on the Google settlement

More voices are joining counsel at William Morris with concerns about Google’s settlement with authors that would allow Google to profit from digital versions of millions of books it has scanned from libraries.  The Justice Department is involved too. If you have questions or want to opt out, go here.

Could you toss a 500 page manuscript?

Review of Richard Russo’s latest. Something to look forward to.

more on characters

Laurie Hutzler breaks down characters according to 9 types. She has a free ebook and newsletter on her site. Her emphasis is on film and television, but characters are characters and this is one approach.

Another piece of advice is in the current issue of Poets & Writers magazine. Benjamin Percy discusses the Geometry of Dialogue, specifically giving your characters something to do when they’re talking. You will add layers to both your narrative and your dialogue. It’s worth checking out.

research

One of the things that bothers me in fiction is sloppy or non-existent research. The internet has made research easier, but you have to check sources carefully. We’re human and we’re going to make mistakes, but my advice is to learn to research in a library the old-fashioned way first so you at least have some idea of what you’re looking at online. Example: Toni Morrison’s been taken to task for including starlings in A Mercy. Is the occasional anachronism or inaccuracy a problem? Depends on whether it takes the reader out of the narrative. Practice good research and it will lessen the odds that your reader will say, ‘wait a minute…’

Sometimes my research branches off into something that isn’t pertinent, but oddly timely. Turns out that today, Hilary Clinton is scheduled to preside over a ceremony honoring those in our foreign service who’ve died on duty. I was looking for pictures of eyes of Somalis and Ethiopians in order to describe a character and found the very sad story of Brian Adkins who was murdered in Ethiopia. I initially found an article that he was found dead, then looked further to find out what had happened. May he rest in peace.

renaming

Had to rename one of my characters about 130 pages in and found it traumatic. I’d gotten used to thinking of him a certain way. I should backtrack and say that I take naming characters seriously. I look up names and their meaning, I look at family patterns in naming children, and so on. I think names affect the reader on a subconscious level. So, neurotic me, I took a week to come up with another satisfactory name. One small complication is that I had made the meaning of the name significant, in a minor way, and wanted to preserve that little scene.

Upcoming news: I’m starting another blog in partnership with a talented writer so stay tuned for details when we get that up and running. Should be fun if you love books as well as the nuts and bolts of narrative.

strange stories

It’s been a week for strange stories. Robert McKee, screenwriting guru, said that people do bizarre or awful things more often and worse than you can imagine. They also have things happen to them that would challenge the most vivid imagination. Add in accidents, mistakes and catastrophes, and real life usually outdoes fiction. The crash of Continental Flt 3407 took the life of a 9/11 widow. She died in a fiery crash – her late husband died on the 98th floor of the south tower. Would you add such a twist to a fictional story? A woman was allegedly beheaded by her TV exec husband. A chimpanzee tore the face off the friend of its owner. Bizarre twists, tragic stories. McKee was hardly the first to note that life is stranger than fiction.

The chimp story did remind me of elements for the novel I’m working on now. Keeping exotic pets is very dangerous and we have developed a naive hubris about them. They are not just like us. There’s some exotic pet-keeping in my book and I need to address the danger. The book’s tone is darkly comic. If you’re writing something lighter, then you have to pull back in some way from the danger or explicit violence – either not showing it or showing it in an absurd way. However, that doesn’t mean that the danger is not present.