C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

The publishing revolution already happened.

Writing Process: Ten Moments in the Writer’s Life

1. You become a writer.

It’s usually not something you really decide. It happens to you, like disease. It’s a life where you’re either writing or you’re distracted and feeling you should be writing, forever. Like homework, for adults, 24/7. And some of the teachers mark really hard.

2. You escape the life of mortals.

You become so involved in the story that time flies and you don’t care that you’re cursed to do homework for life. In fact, you feel fortunate you’ve found this for yourself. You dream of seeing your name in print. And the accolades! That will be sweet! Finally, self-worth fed to you by strangers!

3. You meet your first dream killer.

Someone scolds you for daring to use an adverb and shrieks that, “A sentence fragment is not a sentence!”, as if you didn’t know. Then they tell you not to bother with writing.

“Perhaps you’ll find animal husbandry more fulfilling,” they’ll say, because they’re full of terrible advice and, oddly, they sound very confident.

This is a critical juncture.

If the person has too much influence over you or you’re young enough, you might quit. If quitting is an option, that’s okay. Writing isn’t for everyone. 

4. You enter the Octagon.

You send out queries and manuscripts and you get rejection slips but you don’t care because it means you’re putting yourself out there and you’re in the game. You’re not talking about writing like it’s a dream in a far off retirement. You’re doing it now. Every moment of it feels important.

5. You get feedback on your writing that’s really useful.

You put away the first bunch of stories or your novella or even your first novel or two and you begin again. You improve.

6. You get your first success.

It might be a writing award or an article in a magazine. Maybe you get $25 or maybe you don’t, but the money’s not important to you. Your parents will ask how much you won or got paid. That dagger in your heart comes from a place of love. Probably.

7. You get your first hater.

I won third place in short story contest and $1000. Someone was offended that my story won and wrote a screed about how it sucked, I sucked and this was what was wrong with the world (and possibly this side of the galaxy.) He didn’t win so, naturally, now we’re all gonna die!

The thing about the Internet is, people will say things on their blog that, if said in person, would lead them on a trip to major reconstructive surgery and not a judge in the land would convict. As far as I know, that dude still hasn’t written anything besides his doctoral thesis in English literature. Poor guy is still unread and still brings joy to no one. If only he’d pursued animal husbandry, we’d all be happier (though that’s a terrible thing to do to innocent animals.)

8. Your finger hovers over the mouse.

You’re about to hit the “publish” button. It’s nerve-wracking. How many mistakes have you missed? How mean will the reviews be? How good might they be? You thought this would be one of the highs moments of your writing career. Instead, hitting publish is remarkably stressful. After you hit that button, birth that book and send it out into the cold air, you might even feel postpartum depression for days or weeks. I do, every time.

9. You get your first true fan.

For some reason, vague to both writer and reader, something you wrote connects viscerally. Someone loves what you wrote and you love them for it. They are invaluable. They are your chief five-star reviewer, defender, cheerleader and advocate. They’re so awesome, you’re pretty sure they don’t poop. Inexplicably, they think the same of you.

Through the simple mechanism of words on the page, you’ve bypassed his or her brain and you have their heart. Then you start to worry that, with your next book, you’ll screw it up and lose them. The thought of losing a die-hard fan? Hello, Insomnia.

10. You go deeper with your writing.

You tell yourself you’re sufficiently seasoned now so the haters should bother you less. Maybe they shouldn’t bother you, but they will. I got a belittling letter at Christmas that knocked me so far down I didn’t write anything for a month.

But then you get back to it and you remember what cartoonist Lynda Barry calls “that floaty feeling” you get as a creative.

Publication per se? That matters less. It’s the writing process itself that is the thing. Yes, you want readers and lots of them, but you write for yourself first. You discover what you think and feel by writing. The writing journey is the reward. You lose yourself in the prose and in a small way, there’s something immortal and divine about that dopamine drip, washing your neocortex as you write and dream and create.

It’s just so darn godlike to kill people…

Um…in fiction. Right. That’s what I meant.

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute and I poop. I also create worlds. If you create worlds, too, you’d probably enjoy reading this.

If you like to read stories that make you question whether the author may or may not poop, try this.

Also, right now, for a more buck, you can get a box set from me and seven other writers who are so awesome, they definitely don’t poop. Get the Horror Within box set now. 

This is the most I’ve written the word “poop” in one blog post. Or 3,000 blog posts. Why was I denying you this joy for so long? Now I feel bad. Better go kill some people…

 

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Genre Writing: How to make your book funnier if you want to (and why funny is important)

I’m not talking about writing comedy per se. I’m talking about giving a too-serious book some oomph. (Oomph is funny. Ooh-la-la is erotica, and that’s a different post.) It’s not for every author or every book, but if you’re looking for ways to add a lighter touch to your work in progress, consider this:

1. Say what everyone else is thinking but would never say. Explore why you, too, love disco. You have always loved disco and yes, you, like everyone, have had angry sex in the back of a taxi. It made you feel disappointed in yourself and oddly Germanic. But that was this afternoon, so let’s not live in the past and…

2. Punch up, not down. This is why Jon Stewart is funny and Rush Limbaugh isn’t. Rush mocks the poor while Stewart goes after power. Mocking our betters is what betters are for, apparently. Not many of them seem to be good for much else.

3. Have a sense of humor about yourself and let your protagonist be less monolithic, too. Self-deprecating humor works because, well…few of us are really that great but anybody who thinks they’re great sounds like a donkey. Watch Grosse Pointe Blank or High Fidelity and fall in love with John Cusack (again) because of that funny vulnerability. John Cusack is a funny puppy in those movies (even when he’s killing people for profit.)

4. Juxtaposition can be funny. For instance, I wrote on Twitter that I had an awkward encounter with someone I’d accidentally insulted. I added, “Hiding in my office. Like a man!”

5. Twist it. “I love kids. Not mine, but…” Attack jokes are hard to pull off without supreme confidence. They’re more suited to villains or more minor characters who have a terrible vengeance coming to them. When the boss is caustic and sarcastic, the reader will achieve greater satisfaction when the twit is hoisted screaming by his own penis. Or someone else’s. Hey, I’m not here to judge your book.

6. Find the funny in the character. In Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon would add Xander to a scene to deliver a particular line because, though everyone on the show could be funny, a Xander joke coming from Willow’s mouth would break Willow’s character. Jokes and characters have a point of view, so make sure the joke sounds right coming from your character.

The jokes that spring from my autistic hero in This Plague of Days originate in his innocence. He doesn’t see the world as others do so he often says the unexpected, but from his unique, laconic perspective. There is nothing angry or world-weary in his observations, only wide-eyed, what the heck are they doing now and why? This is normal?

7. Don’t be afraid to deliver a line in a low-key way. In Bigger Than Jesus, Jesus Diaz gets beaten terribly. His girlfriend, the lovely Lily, finds him lying on his kitchen floor icing his blackened eyes. When she tells him that his situation does not look good, the hit man deadpans, “I don’t know why you’d say that.”

8. Outrageous works. Rants can be awesome. Give it a context to sell it and an entertaining rant can go a long way. For instance, in this little Season 3 spoiler from This Plague of Days, Shiva gets some good lines: 

“Please don’t hurt anybody.”

“Darling, I’m the Queen of Hearts.”

“So, you’ll rule with love?”

“No, stupid. I mean I can say, ‘Off with their heads,’ at any time. Love takes time, Rahab. Fear takes root in the second it takes to slap a child.”

9. Writing jokes is difficult. There are many more comedians than there are comedians who are really killing. To improve your chances of hitting the right notes to a killer joke, don’t sweat it so hard on your first draft. Jokes are easier to find and unearth when you’ve already laid the foundation of character, action and dialogue. Jokes are for the second and third pass where you’ve already got something to riff from. Lots of people aren’t quip machines on their own, but when they hang out with friends and loosen up, they can bounce lots of funny ideas off what’s already in the ether over the cocktail bar.

10. A joke is set up, punch. The punch should be fast and short. Don’t reach for it. Eschew dumb, easy jokes and never make a joke you have to explain. Use the fewest words possible to get to the POW! 

BONUS: Why is funny important?

I write suspense. I deliver on a lot of grim scenaria. Horror presents many opportunities to be funny because both scares and laughs are about playing with the audience’s brains and delivering the unexpected. When the reader expects you to zig, zag. These devices are necessary because few readers want to read a long horror story if it’s not an emotional roller coaster. The horror on the next page will have a heavier punch if I can get you to chuckle on this page.

One of the things I don’t like about some books is that they are relentlessly monotone. The reader begins to feel like there’s little emotional payoff and the book becomes a grim march to the finish. Grim can be fun, but a book with only one tone and no cookies and candy along the way isn’t rewarding the reader with enough wit. One tone for a whole book is so hard to pull off, I don’t recommend trying it in most genre fiction. Life’s tough enough. We all need comic relief. (Yes, I can think of exceptions, but I’d rather read the exceptions less often.)

Funny helps your characters. In Die Hard (the original), the hero gets a lot of funny lines. Bruce Willis was a lot easier to like when he was more of a hapless, shoeless badass instead of being the go-to smart ass tough guy out of the gate. Heroes in real danger are compelling. Heroes who face that danger with at least some appreciation for the absurd? We love a wry hero more than the strong, silent type.

Hold back on the easy joke if it saps another emotion’s power moment. In the final battle for the survival of the human race, don’t let your hero suddenly turn into Andy Dick. (If your villain in that scenario suddenly turns into Andy Dick, however, that could work.)

It’s not that hard to give your reader a story with emotional range. Send in the clowns. When you’re done terrifying them with clowns, give them something to laugh at and light some tax accountants on fire.

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute and some people think I’m funny. I wasn’t always funny. I learned that when you hide your rage behind jokes, you get fired less. I’m not very funny on Twitter, but it would be cool if you followed me there @rchazzchute.

If you like to laugh, and breathe, and eat things, then continue laughing, I recommend Bigger Than Jesus. Bestselling author of Vigilante, Claude Bouchard called it “Wickedly real and violently funny!” and Claude would not lie.  Seriously, he wouldn’t. I tried to get him to write me a better blurb, but that’s it.

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Writing Process: How to screw it up

1. Talk about it too much without typing. Lose energy that could go on the page. Talking is so much easier than typing. In fact, maybe you should be in radio.

2. Don’t write notes as soon as great ideas, additions and twists occur to you. Better to stay in bed another few minutes than catch the lightning.

3. Don’t outline at all for fear it will screw up your spontaneity. You’re an artiste, man! Let the muse sing! Planning is for wussies and many successful writers.

4. Even if a new and brilliant scene occurs to you, don’t stray from your outline because letting OCD control you is much more important than writing a better book. Readers will understand. Well, not readers plural….

5. Take all opinions from your writing group and try to accommodate everyone. They must know your story better than you do, or you wouldn’t be asking everybody, right?

6. Write it quickly and keep going no matter what, even if it appears you’re headed for a dead end because your track coach told you to run through the pain (that spring you tore your knee up and were on crutches all summer.)

7. Write it slowly because the longer it takes, the better it will be, even if the process and the manuscript become so long and involved you can’t keep the core of the story straight in your head anymore. It’s okay, you’ll live forever so it doesn’t matter when, or if, you ever finish the book.

8. Don’t bother with taking any notes for a character guide or story bible. Who cares if your heroine’s eye colour changes eight times and her name changes four times in the space of two paragraphs? You can hate yourself forever, sure, but you were going to do that anyway, right?

9. Don’t read any books in your genre. You wouldn’t want to risk being influenced by anyone good or be aware of what clichés to avoid. That sounds like a task for nasty reviewers.

10. Don’t defend your writing time. Everyone’s more important than you and your dreams. If you don’t allow everyone to stomp all over you, how will you be the martyr who never published because…well, life is just too darn hard, isn’t it? But you could have been great! You’ll always have that.

BONUS:

Hate everything you write. There’s no time to improve it later in revisions so everything sucks and always will. Well…that’s a timesaver!

Love everything you write. History will realize your genius after death. It’s just the editors in this epoch who have you all wrong.

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Writing: How to get it done

1. Write what you’ll finish and publish soonest, first. Propulsion increases closer to payoff.

2. Don’t tinker forever. Set a deadline. Stick to it, on penalty of noogies.

3. If you’re a slow writer, outline first so you’ll stay on track. Stop at a place where you know what happens next. You’ll start tomorrow without pausing, stopping or getting stumped.

4. Think of how great it’s going to be once you’ve published. Alert your readers to your progress so they know when to expect the next book launch. You’ll keep your momentum going with a little positive pressure. There are numerous free word count bars you can put on your author site to display your daily progress. That which is measured, improves. That which is not, is rued.

5. Give your graphic designer enough warning so when you’re ready with the manuscript, he’s ready with the cover. You’ll deliver rather than stretch it out past the deadline you set.

6. Give editors, proofreaders and beta readers a deadline so the manuscript gets read, checked and back to you in a timely manner. Write an editorial and production schedule down but put it up where you can see it.

7. Write to a word count or write to a page count or write to a timer. Write. The hardest part is to start. If the story is any good, you won’t want to stop.

8. Don’t wait for inspiration. Go find it by sitting down to write. (My bills, narcissism and terror are all the inspiration I need. What motivates you? Use that.)

9. Don’t count procrastination, marketing, or Internet distractions as writing time. The earlier in the day you get your writing done, the more you’ll get done because your greatest resistance is at the beginning. Start early and you’ll write longer and more.

10. Sleep, exercise and eat well so you don’t rob from your writing time by having to take a nap (due to a gluttonous, glutenous binge.) Naps can be great and rejuvenating, if they’re short and scheduled. (If you’re sleeping to retreat to a safe place, stop reading your bad reviews.)

BONUS:

If you aren’t lost in fun as you write, something’s probably wrong.

Spice it up and twist that plot like you’re wringing out a wet towel.

No one willingly gives time. Take it. Have a schedule and control it.

Write.

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“Writing a book by committee is a great idea in every way!” said everyone but the writer.

Imagine all the people from all the classes you’ve ever taken in one room. Each group has its own character, but today we’re going to focus on the outliers and oddball characters with whom you’ve gone to school. I’m not talking about those who stand out for their smarts and sweetness. I’m talking about the girl who, just before the last bell rang, reminded the teacher about extra homework for the class just before the long weekend. Remember the annoying guy who always had another question or inane comment to add long after a subject was beaten to death? And don’t forget the person who was really stupid, but for some reason thought he should speak a lot. Worse, he was smug about it.

Now put all those people you didn’t like in school and put them in charge of your work in progress.

That pressure behind your eardrums is your brain trying to escape.

This scenario isn’t entirely theoretical.

Recently, I listened to two different podcasts about two of the most successful television shows that exist. These were true fans…but:

1. On several points, they seemed determined to be confused about plot points even though the answers were readily available on screen, if only they’d looked.

2. Several weenies missed subtleties that weren’t really that subtle. It’s not the fault of the show’s writers if you aren’t paying attention. If you’re missing something, stop tweeting while you watch The Walking Dead

3. Someone objected to issues within the shows that are non-issues. e.g. Is Leonard’s mom on The Big Bang Theory really a licensed psychiatrist? If true, she’s terrible! Answer: it’s a comedy and you aren’t supposed to like that character and it’s a comedy and it’s a comedy and oh, for the love of Thor! Stop!

4. These dedicated amateurs had one or two good suggestions (I’m guessing by accident.) The rest of their requests for changes were objectively terrible, like dumping beloved characters that made the shows work, for instance.

There’s a reason we don’t write by committee.

It’s good that writing is a lonely job. You don’t get book ideas and plot points from other people. The elements develop organically, rising up from character and logic and by answering the question, “What’s next?” And then answering it again and again until you stop writing or die. The writing grows from the act of writing.

Input is helpful after you’ve done the work, sure, but don’t even ask a trusted friend what to do when you’re still in the second draft. He doesn’t know. How can he? You wouldn’t ask if you should turn left or right when all he knows is that you’re somewhere in New Mexico.

“Is this the right direction? Should the Mom die in the middle of the book?” A good friend will tell you to keep writing and hang up on you so you can get back to it. Finish something before you show it to anyone. You’re in command. Steer your ship solo. Lots of people will have their say later.

Everyone has an opinion on everything, even more so when they know less about the subject.

Once upon a time at a writing conference, an author asked me about the book I was writing. I gave him the broad strokes and he said, without hesitation, that my second act was “wrong”. If there’s a high school suicide in the first act, then the main character has to be torn up about it.

“Not if he hated the suicidal kid’s guts to begin with,” I replied. 

“Dude!” he said without a microbe of doubt, “High school kids don’t act that way. They shouldn’t act that way!”

“In my book they do.”

Summarily dismissed, I slunk away and have since dedicated my life to hating Stephen King with the fiery heat of a thousand suns. (No! I’m kidding! The offending author was not Stephen King. I love Steve! Him, I would have believed.)

Here’s the crux:

There are few rules in writing, but one I’m sure of is this, “If it plays, it plays.” You can make anything work in context. You can sell anything if the story sells it.

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

People doubted me, but I created a sympathetic hit man named Jesus (in second-person throughout, no less.) I create a lot of anti-heroes and no, I don’t care if readers love and agree with all my characters. Loving and agreeing with characters is overrated. Interesting is more important than loving.

Many of my stories don’t yield an easy happy ending but give unexpected, yet satisfying endings instead. I rarely do happily ever after, but you’ll often find transcendence there.

My main character in This Plague of Days is on the autistic spectrum and hardly ever speaks (and when he does, it’s often in Latin phrases.) When Doubting Tommy asks, “How the heck are you going to make that work?”, the answer is, “Watch me.”

My mission isn’t to write something easy that entertains. My mission is to write something different that entertains. Too much consultation, especially early on, would squelch my process. We don’t write by committee because committees are how most things don’t get done. Committees are where good ideas go to die. Committees are where you’ll find three reasonable, intelligent and helpful people compromising with one insane fascist to arrive at something closer to crazy than good.

Choose your beta readers, editors and allies carefully and don’t show them anything too early in your process. The book is only yours as long as you’re writing it. After that, it goes out to the world and it’s up to thousands of readers to decide if your vision pleases them. 

Make sure that, whatever you write, it pleases you.

~ The latest All That Chazz podcast is up at AllThatChazz.com. You’ll also find helpful affiliate links to my books there so you can buy them, which is quite a happy coincidence, isn’t it? Thanks. For a topic sort of related to this one, you can also get the latest update on Season 3 of This Plague of Days here.

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Top Ten: Some things no one tells you about writing

1. Nobody cares about your book at first, even if you think they should. Even if you think they care about you, they’re indifferent. It’s maddening. For you, each book is a magical dream made real. For them, “Nice hobby, but so what?” 

2. Since typing looks a lot like writing to the casual observer, you don’t get extra respect for being a writer from a lot of people. Anybody can type, so don’t think you’re special. “Who do you think you are, anyway? You think you’re better than me?” Oh, they won’t really say that. That’s silly. But some may as well say that by the way they’ll treat you.

3. A lot of people can read, but don’t. They care even less than the casual observers in Items #1 and #2. I don’t understand these people. Why live? It’s a mystery.

4. Some people do read, but they’re jealous of those who write. Read any one-star review that seethes with the venom usually reserved for a pedophile’s first night in prison or a family reunion. Yeah. Those people.

5. You and your family will make sacrifices for Art. Your kids’ friends will be able to afford nice vacations, cool stuff and the latest technology. Your kids won’t get that stuff, though they will get an in-house example of someone daring to follow their dream and buck conventional expectations. At least cover the basics somehow: food, shelter, clothing and good minds.

6. To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, pursuing the arts is a great way to disappoint your parents. Don’t expect them to understand. That’s presumptuous and unfair to them since they (probably) love you. It’s not that they don’t want you to succeed as a writer. They want you to take that accounting job because they don’t want to see you suffer. They don’t understand that the safe job they want you to take will hurt you in ways that last, too.

7. The first book that consumes your energy and attention which you poured your heart into? Odds are, first attempts aren’t that great. But no matter how many books you write and no matter how big you get, someone will say you can’t write. In fact, the bigger you are, the more negative messages you’ll get. (If so, congratulations! You’re reaching a wider audience.) That cost-benefit analysis works in your favor, but at some point you might still consider antidepressants, booze or illegal substances or too many brownies. Avoid self-medicating. Write more instead.

8. Sometimes betrayal arrives from unexpected sources within your circle of friends or family. This will hurt most and saps your creative energies. These incidents often lead to divorce or more heated arguments at family reunions. The alternative is you’ll quit and hate yourself because you are no longer being you. Anyone who forces you to choose between them and your passion is gangrenous. Amputate.

Another thing I learned just today:

If you’re being a dick, that doesn’t mean I’m thin-skinned.

9. Writing is harder than it looks, especially before you start. It’s more fun than it looks after you start. Begin.

10. Somehow, at least some readers will find you. You probably won’t even know what you did right, exactly. But there will be readers and even fans. Super-uber-robo fans that so get you, so love your work? Well…you’ll wish those negative friends and family understood you as well as these strangers. Don’t sweat it. You’re making new friends through your fiction.

Treasure your readers. Love them. Inspire them. Nurture them. Entertain. Make them laugh and cry and hit them with love and surprises. 

When you succeed, make sure everyone who tried to put you down on your way up finds out. You’ll care less about how they hurt you by then, of course, but not so little that your vengeance won’t be delicious.

~ I am Robert Chazz Chute. I write about funny hit men, autistic teens and humans versus zombies versus vampires. But mostly I write about the caprice of vengeful gods. I create gods in my own image.

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Why I no longer swear in my books

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00004]When I wrote my crime novels, I wanted verisimilitude. I’d watched Goodfellas repeatedly, The Sopranos religiously and, of course, I’d been through high school. Naturally, I’m acquainted with an impressive list of swear words and they don’t bother me.

Swearing seemed like a good idea at the time.

Bigger Than Jesus is about a Cuban hit man who, after a very rough childhood and military service, ends up working for New York’s Spanish mob. The subtext is sad but the jokes and movie references come fast. The language reflects reality. In other words, the characters swear quite a bit.

(And the sex scene in Higher Than Jesus? It’s so steamy and frank, that scene was all my dad wanted to talk about after he read it. Sigh. That’s a different post.)

When I wrote the crime novels, I thought any dialogue that reflected the way people really speak was the only way to go for me. I thought that if readers didn’t accept swear words in fiction, they were reality-impaired. Suck it up or don’t read my books, was my policy.

I don’t feel that way anymore.

Well, I do still think people who don’t accept appropriate use of swear words in fiction (and author autonomy to write what they want to) are reality-impaired and intolerant.

But “Suck it up or be shunned,” made me intolerant, too.

Swearing will alienate some readers.

I knew that, of course, but I thought verisimilitude was more important. Now, after two volumes of This Plague of Days — which is devoid of such strong language — I’ve decided I’ve lost nothing by omitting obscenities. Those who aren’t offended by swearing don’t seem to miss it if it’s not there. There’s just no value added, or at least not enough value added, to keep the swearing in. I think I can attribute many of my happy reviews of This Plague of Days to the fact that I did without (though I do skirt it a bit. More on that in a minute.) 

Is my self-censorship a (possibly pathetic) bid to gain more readers?

The short answer is, yes.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00004]The longer answer is, it didn’t start out that way. Jaimie Spencer, the hero of This Plague of Days, is autistic. He’s seventeen, but he’s a sensitive kid. A book that included a lot of swearing just didn’t feel right for the tone of the piece. Much of the drama happens around the Spencer family in Missouri and somehow, zombies or no zombies, peppering the text with f-bombs just didn’t fit this story or the readers likely to enjoy it. I salted it with Latin phrases, instead.

The really long answer is that it saddens me that some readers are so sensitive to curse words. I hate that they wouldn’t read some of my earlier work because of that sensitivity. However, my writing is about much more than swearing. I can do without it and not hurt the dialogue or the story. This Plague of Days is effective suspense and horror and this stylistic choice doesn’t affect that. Many of the people who love This Plague of Days are related to people on the autistic spectrum. They’re more comfortable spreading the word about the serial and sharing it with family members and friends because I changed my policy on swearing.

The f-word can be a crutch.

Use it too much and dialogue risks a feeling of laziness and sameness. Increase the frequency and the impact suffers. Working around that obstacle has proved so minor, I wish I’d done without cursing from the beginning. “She cursed him as she sliced his throat,” can serve just as well, or better, than a string of expletives.

We all know the words. My kids knew the words when they were quite little. Amazingly, they didn’t learn those words from me. They had to go to school for that. There’s no shock to it and sometimes it just gets in the way and the reader’s eye skips over it. I want all my words to count. I insist on delivering impacts to brainpans and adrenal glands. Swearing doesn’t do the job.

I have not suddenly become a prude.

My daily vocabulary reflects the full range of human experience, though the monologue in my head contains much more swearing. (I get points for holding back, right?)

In This Plague of Days, a “damn” might squeak in from time to time. My mother said that was okay since that was her swear of choice. North Americans tend to find British people saying, “shite” kind of charming. I use that. However, even that little is very sparse in This Plague of Days. 

I’m not claiming that no one could possibly be offended by something I wrote. I’m sure someone will clutch their pearls over the discussions between the religious wife and the atheist husband. That’s sure to annoy both sides, in fact. Reviewers have described the story as “creepy”, “scary” and “terrifying.” Well, I should hope so. Swearing or not, it is still very much horror and suspense.

I haven’t gone soft and I’m not writing children’s books.

This Plague of Days contains many scenes that are descriptive of the gore of war. There are some whimsical touches, but much of the story feels real enough you might worry I’m not a horror writer, but a futurist. However, like Twitter’s 140-character limit, the omission of cursing in my zombie apocalypse has forced me to be more clever. Sometimes the omission of swear words has even opened up new avenues for character expression. By that, I mean that there are some really good jokes in This Plague of Days that hinge on the power of irony and understatement, not f-bombs.

Conclusions

1. This doesn’t mean I’m saying you shouldn’t swear in your books. I’m not here to tell anyone what to do so stop feeling threatened.

2. This doesn’t stop me from writing books with so-called “bad words” in the future, though I think I’ll continue to do without. This bears repeating: Those who aren’t offended by swearing don’t seem to miss it if it’s not there. I don’t miss it. Anybody read any Vonnegut and think, This isn’t bad, but it would be so much better with a bunch more f-bombs? (I did, however, note that Norman Mailer could have cut back by half and helped Tough Guys Don’t Dance.)

3. This doesn’t mean that I think swearing is bad. It might be right for your books and I admit that, when done right, a string of obscenities certainly has its place.

4. I also have to admit that I think doing without swearing (in the text!) has made me a better writer.

5. This isn’t a moral stand. It was a solid artistic choice that stumbled into a good business decision. I confess. I want to be read by a wider audience. This is one of the ways I’m accomplishing that.

Filed under: author platform, book marketing, Horror, readers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Way of the Hack: Writers, you might be a hack if… (plus death threats from space)

Long before computers, a hack was a worn-out horse used for pulling tourists around parks. You know, because before you propose marriage to your sweetie in Central Park, you need to build up your courage by bathing in elderly equestrian flatulence. Then unimaginative comedians were dubbed hacks in the fifties, after a decade of tired jokes (mostly about hateful mothers-in-law.) I wish it stopped there. Writers get called hacks, too. Let’s dodge that fate (and, as you’ll see, you’ll also get one last chance to avoid dying by giant rock). Those two things seem equally important, so read on.

For writers, “hack” is a pretty bad insult.

Recently, on a podcast I’ll never listen to again, the host asked, “So, do you write about zombies or are you a serious writer?” Dude! Dangers, betrayal, and ordinary people facing grim existences and horrific mortality? That (and rampant, grisly cannibalism in line at the post office) is what we’re all facing every day! A book’s subject matter doesn’t make the author a hack. Failure of execution makes the hack.

To avoid becoming a hack, do not follow The Way of the Hack:

1. Tired subjects with no fresh takes. Ever read a book and somehow you’re reminded of a disappointing salad, measly on the croutons with brown lettuce? You might have been reading a hacky book.

On sale now for just $2.99. I mean, c'mon!

On sale now for just $2.99. I mean, c’mon!

On the other hand, ever read a zombie story with an autistic hero, whales, evolutions of numerous cannibalistic species and Shakespearian trees, all in three books called This Plague of Days? I think you see where I’m going here: this is a blatant plug so you’ll buy This Plague of Days, Seasons One and Two. Season Three, and the conclusion of the serial, hits this spring. Very well, on with the helpful, preachy bits…

2. Don’t write stories that look, feel and sound like a ton of other stories. Sometimes you can spot a hack book by its cover. You want your cover to convey what genre it’s in, but you don’t want potential readers to think they must have already read it. That’s why you should consider the services of my buddy Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com. Your book needs a distinctive cover. Okay, no more sweet little commercials for my friends and me (today).

My point is, there are no new stories, but there are still plenty of ways to surprise readers, even the jaded ones. Hit your readers in the brainpan and adrenals. Read any novel by William Goldman if you aren’t sure how. (Okay, that was sort of a plug, but he’s not a friend. I just wish the most underrated, living American novelist was a drinking buddy, that’s all.)

3. Clichés. Hacks love them. Don’t. And why would you? It’s so easy to take a familiar cliché and give it a new twist. Don’t avoid clichés “like the plague.” Avoid them “like a stampede of zombie office workers, oddly indistinguishable from non-zombie office workers.”

4. Hacks lack complexity in plotting. If the story is too easy, the subtle message to the reader is the author is too stupid to create something more interesting. Or possibly the subtext you convey is, the author is a smart, lazy hack who thinks readers are stupid. Either way, readers won’t like the book and they’ll really hate you. So be like Batman — always be Batman — and be complex.

5. Villains who are just bad because they’re bad are hacky. Everybody, even psychos, have reasons and rationalizations and justifications. Don’t be lazy about their motivations. Writers who aren’t hacks take the time to construct origins and context so we understand why they broke bad.

6. Heroes who lack any flaw are hackneyed, boring cartoons. Or Superman. (But I repeat myself.) Protagonists without flaws and weaknesses have it too easy.

For a better example, watch the movie The Rainmaker. It’s about a young lawyer taking on what should be impossible odds and…things go incredibly smoothly for him. You’ll think, that’s it? He just had to show up and obstacle after obstacle falls down and his path is cleared? Really? It may be a good book. I haven’t read it. The movie appeared to be written by a hack who had one eye on the clock and the other on a ham on rye. 

For contrast, a great courtroom drama is 12 Angry Men. You’ve no doubt seen it. Watch it again. Henry Fonda slowly convinces eleven other jurors there is room for doubt. It seems such an unlikely outcome, but every minute of that film is riveting as you watch the dominoes fall.

7. The free online dictionary defines a hack as “One who undertakes unpleasant or distasteful tasks for money or reward; a hireling.” (Whoa! That’s most anybody with a regular job, isn’t it? But I digress.)

If you aren’t finding any joy in the writing, you might be a hack. No fun for you? None for the reader.

8. Some snobs conflate “hack” with “commercial.” Wrong. Those are two separate issues. A book can be commercial and not be the work of a hack. JK RowlingThis Plague of Days Season 2 is one of the most successful writers ever. Who but the most dedicated troll would dare to call her a hack?

Also, just because a book fails commercially doesn’t mean it was hacky writing. Moby Dick was never a commercial success in Herman Melville’s lifetime. Lots of good books fail. Don’t let The Way of the Hack be the reason for your book’s commercial failure.

I’m hoping the reason for my books’ commercial failure is everybody dies when a rogue asteroid hits Earth…but don’t worry, there’s still time. Just click here and buy my books so I can succeed and we avoid the grisly alternative near-future where the world’s population chokes to death in fire as the planet’s oxygen burns away in the ugly celestial calamity to come. Hey, it’s all on you now. Please don’t think of this as an ultimatum. It is, but please don’t think of it that way. And thanks for contributing to the Arts. Congratulations on having children and grandchildren and having another February.

9. Lack of research. If you’re banging out your manuscript to make a word count without care for details, you might be a hack.

10. Lack of humor. When a book has one unrelenting, dour tone, I begin to suspect the author just put his or her head down and said to themselves through gritted teeth, “By all that is unholy, I will get through this and grind it out.” You miss opportunities for non-linear thinking when you’re rushing to a deadline like that. Slow down, Speed Racer! Enjoy the ride more. Give it another read and look for new angles, holes and opportunities to deepen and lighten the tone and give that prose roller coaster more hills and valleys. Take the time to threaten your readers with certain death once in a while. Carpe noctem!

Get this one, too, just to be safe. Post holiday sale: just $4.99.

Get this one, too, just to be safe. Post holiday sale: only $4.99. Shake out the couch change.

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute. Today I have plugged my books, garishly, but I tried so very hard to be polite about it. Later on I threatened genocide by giant burning rock from space. Clearly, you need to buy Murders Among Dead Trees, The Little Book of Braingasms, Bigger Than Jesus, Higher Than Jesus and, of course, This Plague of Days, Seasons One and Two. They are each on sale at a special low price for January 2014. Now is the time. Or an asteroid kills us all. Those are the only two possible outcomes. But, like I said, It’s up to you, killer. Yeah, let’s just click here, ‘kay? Again, thanks so much.

If more than 70 happy reviews don’t convince you, learn more about This Plague of Days and how a boy on the autism spectrum could possibly fit into the plot, at ThisPlagueOfDays.com.

For podcasts and more about the books and the author, check out AllThatChazz.com. I’m starting to feel needy now, so I’ll stop.

Filed under: Amazon, What about Chazz?, What about you?, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Post-holiday sales and writing stronger characters readers will love (and love to hate)

Season One of This Plague of Days is the siege. Sutr-X was the pandemic. Sutr-Z's next and it's coming for you and the Queen's corgis.

Season One of This Plague of Days is the siege. Sutr-X was the pandemic. Sutr-Z’s next and it’s coming for you and the Queen’s corgis.

1. Good characters have secrets they are trying to keep from the other characters. For instance, there is no major character in my zombie apocalypse, This Plague of Days, who does not guard a secret that’s contributing to the hullabaloo. Plenty of room for conflict there. Secrets are hard to keep and the longer they’re kept, the bigger the explosion when the secrets are revealed.

2. Good characters do not get along. In This Plague of Days, the matriarch is a Christian. The patriarch is atheist. They love each other, despite their differences, but it makes for some friction and they cope with problems much differently. They also begin to come closer to the other’s position, so rather than getting preachy, it’s an exploration of how people cope in a crisis. These details make them relatable so readers care about them.

3. Good characters have competing motivations. In Bigger Than Jesus, my Cuban hit man kills for love. Competing characters want power, sex, money and vengeance. All those characters are after the same thing for different reasons, so tension is built as allegiances are broken.

4. Good minor characters don’t know they’re minor characters. Everyone is the star of their own movie. If your henchmen might as well have the labels “Heavy #1 and #2″, give them more life history. I have a bad guy, a drunken marauder, in Season One of This Plague of Days you don’t really get to know. He wears a wedding dress into battle (stolen from the protagonist’s mother.) It’s a brief brush stroke that lets the reader figure out the rest as to where that guy is coming from while fuelling reader outrage.

Now in paperback!

Now in paperback!

5. Good characters are conflicted and can change. Sometimes, real people do in fact do something uncharacteristic. That makes them interesting. To make this believable, give them good reasons to change their behavior. With enough correct and detailed context, you can make the reader believe an out of character choice is logical at the time. Let a bad guy aspire to be a hero. Let a hero do something petty, just for spite (and the joke.) People who are too sure of themselves are often boring, unimaginative, predictable. I hate predictable choices in plots, don’t you?

6. Good characters, even heroes, make bad decisions that make them more interesting. As with #5, context makes this work. The reincarnation of Battlestar Galactica is a perfect example. You were probably rooting for the human heroes in the show, but they made terrible decisions all the time. Overall, that didn’t make them bad per se. It made them less predictable, more interesting and more human.

So, for instance, victims who are chronically bullied are tragic figures. Push that victim too far and they can fight back believably. If the bullied person overcorrects and becomes a bully or a killer, or fights back and fails, that’s even more interesting. The reader will expect them to triumph. You could give them that happy ending, but don’t deliver it too quickly or in a way they can anticipate.

Click it now to get a huge short story collection of dark fun. On sale now for only 99 cents. Love it? Give it a review, please.

Click it now to get a huge short story collection of dark fun. On sale now for only 99 cents. Love it? Give it a review, please.

In The Dangerous Kind (ahem: my novella found in the huge collection of short stories, Murders Among Dead Trees on sale for a short time for just 99 cents) a boy forms a plan to murder his abusive older brother on a hunting trip. Complications ensue and his resolution comes in a way neither he, nor the reader, expects. No spoilers. Just go read it. You’ll love it.

7. Good characters have conversations. I’m already mentioned Tarantino recently as the apex writer of tangential dialogue, but there are many examples. Think of Tony Soprano’s conversations with his therapist or all the geeky arguments about Star Wars and comics stuffed into Kevin Smith movies.

Bigger Than Jesus, for instance, is stuffed with movie references. I didn’t do that just for the jokes. I did it so readers who were uncomfortable rooting for an assassin would discover they shared a lot of common ground with my luckless Cuban hit man. The Hit Man Series works because, despite what he does for a living, Jesus is always trying to escape his life in the Spanish mafia. He’s actually very funny and loveable. Throw in a tragic childhood and all those little conversations really aren’t tangential at all. They’re the key to the character’s choices. That connects him to readers.

8. Good characters have depth. Anybody can write a scene with two hit men disposing of a body. I’d write that scene with the details you’d expect, I suppose, but I’d have the assassins argue over the Obamacare while pouring concrete.

In This Plague of Days, we learn how a deadly octopus leads to Dayo’s migration to England. When the Sutr virus outbreak hits and Buckingham Palace is attacked by zombies. I want you to know who Dayo is and why she got that way. You don’t have to do a ton of research to give every character a rich family history (and if you do, I don’t suggest you use it all.) Give us just enough to make them feel real and just enough for us to feel like we’re witnessing a friend’s death when you murder them horrifically. (Attention Plaguers: I’m not saying Dayo will die in Season 3. I’m not saying she won’t. I’m not saying. You will find out her last name in Season 3, but that’s all I’ll promise.)

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

9. Good characters have physical problems. Most heroes in action movies get a scratch high on the forehead, even after a couple of hours of near misses, crashes and mortal combat. Picture wounds in most any old movie with Bruce Willis and Harrison Ford. All that fighting and not one chipped tooth? Really? Not one broken hand after all those haymakers? That’s why everyone remembers Jack Nicholson’s cut nose in Chinatown. He dared to look bad for the camera.

In Bigger Than Jesus, Jesus Diaz has the snot beaten out of him from the beginning. I’m trained in pathology, so physical ills turn up a lot as I give characters more barriers to their goals. I made the hero of This Plague of Days an autistic selective mute. In Vertigo, Jimmy Stewart’s goals wouldn’t be so tough to deal with if he didn’t have…you guessed it…vertigo. In Rear Window, he’s got a leg in a cast when the villain comes to kill him. Mo’ problems = mo’ thrills.

10. Good characters are familiar, but not necessarily archetypal.

Shiva, in This Plague of Days, is the Snidely Whiplash of the story. She’s a big character who, in the movie, will be played by Helena Bonham Carter or some dark beauty from Bollywood who isn’t afraid to chew the scenery. The whole moustache-twirling bit is archetypal. However, when her secret is revealed, we understand why she wiped out a major chunk of the world’s population and why she thinks she’s doing the right thing as a bio-terrorist. Her motivations are pure even though any sane observer sees her as pure evil. Before we’re done with This Plague of Days, you may even feel sorry for her. Sure, she’s a vain bitch, but so’s your sister and deep down, you still love her.

Crack the Indie Author CodeHere’s the thing about familiarity.

I don’t suggest you do as Larry David did, modelling the character of Cosmo Kramer on Seinfeld on an actual person. That sounds like a lawsuit in the making. However, take your crazy Aunt Sadie’s Red Rose Tea figurine collection and make it the fancy of the brutish pro wrestler you saw on TV once. Take information, life experience, Wikipedia and expertise you possess and put it in the blender of your imagination. Find their combinations and permutations. Come up with something new, familiar, yet not clichéd. Don’t make your character recognizable as a family member because Aunt Sadie will sue. She’s crazy, remember?

We are surrounded by fascinating characters. Write them and build something fresh.

Click here to get Higher Than Jesus, #2 in The Hit Man Series

Click here to get Higher Than Jesus, #2 in The Hit Man Series

~ Robert Chazz Chute is a complex character, better suited to minimal human interaction. However, I’m friendly on Twitter. Follow me @rchazzchute. I tweet about writing, books and publishing.

Filed under: writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Pulp fiction doesn’t have to sound like pulp fiction

A friend of mine has a strict rule about writing: “Remove it from the manuscript if it sounds like writing.”

Writerly = Bad

Some sentences do call attention to themselves. It’s not supposed to be a good thing, but I don’t think it should be an unbending rule. To me, it’s a guideline reminding me that story always comes first (but we should enjoy ourselves along the way.) It’s up to the creator to make an informed choice about the narrative and the reader will decide if they groove on that choice.

In film, sometimes a director will take you out of the movie’s illusion by putting the camera somewhere unexpected, lingering, shaking or going for some special effect that reminds the observer, “Hey! You’re watching a movie!”

That can happen when you write something in such a way that it reminds the reader,

“Hey! You’re reading a book!”

Maybe the prose is beautiful, but some will accuse you of writing purple prose, being too precious or being maudlin. But many readers aren’t just readers. The best readers are also lovers of language. They want the reading experience to transcend mere delivery of information. When they read your writerly passage, it transports them.

I write a lot of action scenes, but I make sure to balance out the action with pauses so the reader can catch her breath before being thrown into the next chasm.

We’re pushed to begin in the middle of the action and make the pace fast. However, too many beats in too short a time sacrifices character development. Lose that, and we don’t care about the action scene.

Dare to go deeper so the bad guys don’t devolve into “Heavy #1″ and “Heavy #2″ come through the door with guns. You may or not remember details of the scene in Pulp Fiction where John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson take down the guys who stole from their boss. However, film buffs can recite the lines from the drive to the shoot out. Remember? “Royale with cheese.”

Take time to build tension. There are scenes (yes, even in novels about the zombie apocalypse) that pause to show how people and their relationships are changing. Sometimes the pause is a great chance to write something for comedic effect. If you can make them laugh on one page and cry on the next, they’ll love the story more.

We can use our words to communicate the power and depth of the ocean and of personalities. We can show happiness and tragedy in a few brush strokes or we can dare to go deeper sometimes, reaching for the uneasy metaphor. Readers appreciate a story that explores emotional range with developed characters they care about.

My friend, the hardliner, says, “Never sound writerly!”

“But dude!” I replied, “Sometimes it’s only the elegant turns of phrase readers remember. It’s the flourish that captures the detail that makes the scene memorable. Without a little reach in description, I feel like I may as well be tapping out the story on a telegraph.”

“You’re just writing a zombie novel,” he said. “That’s not what they’re expecting.”

“No book has to be just anything. Any writing can turn the dial up to eleven and sound epic with the right twist on the expected. We aren’t supposed to give them what they expect. That’s mundane.”

“Okay,” he said, “just don’t make it sound too writerly. You know what I mean.”

“I promise I’ll delete it if it’s too obscure or gets in the way of the story.”

Mostly, I keep my promises.

Filed under: writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

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