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

Write and publish with love and fury.

Writing Moonlighting Top 10: There’s going to be a pie fight!

There are many ways to write and no one can say any are “wrong”. Well, the kitten sacrifice was a little much. Here’s one way to go:

Anybody remember the TV show Moonlighting? It was a comedy that was on TV when Bruce Willis was adorable and Cybill Shepherd was Cybill Shepherd. During production, sometimes the planning seemed haphazard. The lowest guy on the totem pole in the writing room would run down a hall, stick his head in the door at the props department and scream, “There’s going to be a pie fight! Get 500 pies ready!”

 

That’s writing toward a scene.

They didn’t have everything else filled in yet, but they knew they wanted a big set piece and pie would fly.

From Google: 

set piece
noun
A thing that has been carefully or elaborately planned or composed, in particular.
A self-contained passage or section of a novel, play, film, or piece of music arranged in an elaborate or conventional pattern for maximum effect.

What’s this mean to you and your readers?

Deliver maximum effect.

You’re writing your book. Events happen. Complications ensue. Characters conflict. You know. Story stuff. A set piece is a story beat but not every beat is a set piece. This strategy reverse engineers your novel. You think about the big scenes you want to deliver and sketch those out so you can lay the groundwork and build the ladder or plant the garden. Pick your writing metaphor here. Without that context, it will feel stuck on so be careful to stitch tightly and weave over the seams.

The Big Scene: Put on the Helmet of Imagination!

The Last Evil Clown fights The One Good Mime atop Mt. Rushmore. Or the nuke detonates in Dubuque just as the hero teleports away to the bridge of an exploding starship. Whatever. You could write the context that gets your readers there and excited about it.

Set pieces are big stakes scenes so:

1. Add the ticking clock device. 
2. Kill a major character.
3. See it as the movie scene where the special effects department blows wads of cash.
4. Make it a major turning point.
5. Reveal something huge.
6. Deny the protagonist their easy victory.
7. Award the main character their vengeance.
8. Reward the villain with a huge comeuppance.
9. Pay off the reader with a spectacle, or at least something spectacular.
10. Books are long. Don’t have just one set piece.
Robert Chazz Chute This Plague of Days: Season 3~ In This Plague of Days, Season 3, the big battles constitute set pieces. Not every set piece has to be a violent cataclysm though. When the big secret is revealed in the library in Season 3, that’s a set piece, too. You’ll know when you get there because you’ll suspect I wrote it high on acid. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I have something for your TBR pile. 

Filed under: Writing exercise, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

You are not an idiot Part II

“Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

~ H. L. Mencken

“Still! Don’t be that guy!”

~ Robert Chazz Chute

This part is about writing.

If you’re as cynical (or perhaps as realistic) as H.L. Mencken, you’ll dumb down your books to appeal to a wider audience. As Chris Rock observed, “Most people are B and C students.” A critic once told Sly Stallone his movies were for dumb people. Sly’s brilliant answer? “That’s okay. There are lots of them.”

It would be snobby to suggest every book should be “literature”, whatever that means. I like lots of dumb things. (For instance, I’ve seen every ninja movie ever made.) What I write, a lot of people would call “pulp.” They wouldn’t be wrong, either. (Check this link to The Vintage Library to read what pulp was really about. It’s not the pejorative some critics think it is!)

I’m not demanding that anyone write “up” or “down” to their audience. I’m not in the tell-you-what-to-do business. I’m in the brain-tickle business. I will tell you a quick story, though.

I just got a positive review of This Plague of Days by a person who identified themselves as autistic. My protagonist for those books is on the spectrum and, for that reader at least, the hero passed muster. That review is very precious to me for obvious reasons. I wouldn’t have received it if I didn’t reach a little.

This Plague of Days plays with language and expectations. It’s got a lot of Latin proverbs and a tiny bit of poetry amid the evolving carnage. It’s soft sci-fi with zombies and vampires and family dynamics amid disaster. The plot ventures into dark fantasy. Though readers may come in with low expectations because it’s essentially an end of the world dystopian saga about ordinary people facing infected monsters, the narrative never assumes the reader is an idiot. Escapist ≠ dumb.

The problem with stretching out and reaching as a writer is that someone, as a reviewer, will slap your hand for trying too hard. It’s true that some readers won’t read as closely as you’d like. They won’t “get it.” But few one-star reviews are worthy of serious consideration anyway, right?

Those who do grok it will love your work more.

What can I tell you about aiming higher versus what H.L. Mencken would consider “playing it safe”?

This is my 1336th post on this blog. Sift through and you’ll find I’ve frequently implored my fellow writers to “Follow the Art.” By that I mean, write what serves the story.

Today, I’m asking that when you write, be you. Be unique. Whether your goal is to write something fun and silly or earth shattering in its literary aspirations, be real. Whatever we do, our goal is to entertain. I write to entertain myself first, though. If readers dig my trip, cool. I try not to let reviews influence my game.

I’m taking the question away from a debate about whether to aim lower to achieve higher commercial success. I’m suggesting, as always, that we follow the Art. Be you because there’s only one of you. Don’t try to write like other people. Please don’t envy other writers’ success because envy is irrelevant. Please write what only you could write. Ultimately, it’s not about what seems smart and what’s really dumb. It’s about story.

All stories say something about the world and the writer who is the lens to that world.

Be a true lens that delivers clarity. The sights we point to may please the eye and ear and heart. Often the mind, but not necessarily. Lots of Charles Bukowski’s work is pretty dumb, but his lens was honest and I love his stuff. Though I admire their capacity for terrible vengeance, ninjas don’t say much about today’s world. They don’t say much at all. However, American Ninja 2 is still more fun for me than trying to stuff Ulysses in my head. Ooh! And Sho Kusugi in Pray for Death? Genius! Especially the execution with the buzz saw.

Robert Chazz Chute Bio Picture~ Hi. I’m Chazz. I write my variety of suspense. You can find all that stuff on Amazon here.

And now, some of it’s on Kobo.

 

 

 

 

Filed under: author platform, publishing, What about Chazz?, What about you?, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sweet Book Pie: Bonuses for readers, a tip for writers

When ebooks first emerged, the goal was to make them appear as much like paper books as possible. Generally, we’re still doing that and that’s a good thing. I’m not a fan of “enhanced” ebooks that pack in distractions. I don’t want the soundtrack to the battle scene as I read. I want to immerse myself in the story. A movie is a movie and the media don’t mix well. The movie we make in our heads from reading is usually superior, anyway.

I did use video in a different way to reach out to readers in This Plague of Days, but it’s a link buried in the back of the TPOD Omnibus, not something to accompany the story. (I told you about that secret video and the free ebook bonus last week, so click here if you missed that.) 

But yet another secret awaits in the This Plague of Days Omnibus.

Many readers may not really be aware of it. This is where thinking about ebooks as ebooks comes in. I did something fun with the Table of Contents, but you have to look for it to see it all at once. The key is, the Table of Contents doesn’t have to go in the front of ebooks.

Go find it Scooby Gang! 

To get the TOC in This Plague of Days, Omnibus Edition, you have to “go to” the TOC (which I placed in the back of the book.) I did this for several reasons. The main one is that it’s another Easter egg for TPOD readers. 

The TPOD TOC is one long, dark poem. It contains veiled hints and clues to the story arc from beginning to end. Much of the poem will make more sense in retrospect. To get all of it at once, it’s in the back of the TPOD Omnibus Edition, but the individual ebooks (Seasons 1, 2 and 3) yield chunks of it, as well. 

 

Why I love it:

It was fun to create. I like poetry, especially dark and mysterious poetry. I enjoy the fact that readers will see how it all comes together upon finishing the trilogy. I love the fact that I did something different from the expected. That’s my thing. To be perfectly honest, I love that I’ve done something a mainstream publisher probably wouldn’t allow me to do. I don’t consider myself an experimental novelist, at all. I just think it’s a fun add-on in this case.

Sure, readers could skip from chapter head to chapter head to get it, but that’s awkward. Most people won’t do that and you don’t get the full effect reading it piecemeal. Will it gain more readers? Nah, probably not many. I think of it as a little extra for people who are deep into TPOD. Cater to them what dig your grooviness and you’ll get more of those groovy people.

But there’s a much more important reason to put the TOC in the back of your ebook.

It’s about the size of the free sample on your sales page. When readers look at samples, they want to get into the story quickly. With non-fiction, I do want a peek at the TOC up front so I can grok what will be covered. With fiction, the TOC gets in the way of the narrative and cuts down on the sample size. To get readers deeper into the story, we have to get that TOC out of the way so we give the reader a bigger sample of sweet book pie.

Whenever possible, give the readers more pie so they can decide if they like your flavor. I’d rather have thousands read the sample before buying and say no than have dissatisfied readers who were looking for dragon/Big Foot erotica and, inexplicably, bought my book instead. Unread samples are where most bad reviews come from.

Generous samples get people to buy cartloads of stuff from Costco every weekend. Much of it they didn’t know they wanted until somebody said, “Would you like to try a taste?” 

Add value. Add fun. Play with the reader. Give ’em more pie. Always give more pie. Put your next novel’s TOC in the back of the book.

 

Robert Chazz Chute Bio Picture~ This Plague of Days book bargains continue. Find out about that here. 

Or not. I mean, geez. It’s a low pressure situation, man. Chillax and enjoy as the apocalypse unfolds all around us. You’re already soaking in it so you may as well soak it in.

Filed under: author platform, Books, ebooks, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writing: Tics and traps to consider

We all have tics in our writing that show up as we revise our manuscripts. I think it was Elmore Leonard who said we shouldn’t use, “all hell broke loose,” and “suddenly.” I actually don’t see a problem with suddenly, but because Elmore Leonard didn’t like it, I’m too chicken to use it. I also think adverbs get a bad rap, though I use them sparingly.

Here are some more things that get repeated in manuscripts you should consider leaving out for a faster, easier and clearer read.

1. When you can say it in fewer words, do so. (General guideline. No, this doesn’t mean all novels should be reduced to their three-paragraph summaries. Yes, we’d all be better read, but it’s about the journey.)

2. When you can use a simpler word instead of an unfamiliar one, consider that. I use some Latin and unusual words in This Plague of Days, but all is explained and it all has a point.

3. The house across the street or right across the street? In Nova Scotia, we said “right across” often, which technically connotes “directly,” or “nearest.” But across the street will usually do. “Right over there,” becomes “Over there.” Nothing lost.

4. Eliminate gerunds where possible. This often accompanies a manuscript packed with “was.” “He was working on the plan”? Will “He worked on the plan,” serve your purpose with a more direct and muscular verb?

5. Felt. He felt this. He felt that. I’m not saying eliminate it completely. But showing is generally better than telling (though not always) and doing is better than feeling (often.) Feeling is passive. Demonstrate how he feels that his wife walked out and took the beloved dog he brought into the marriage.

6. Up and down. I go through my manuscripts looking for “up” because that’s my tic. He stood up? He stood is the same. And “she sat down in the purple chair”?  “She sat in the purple chair,” communicates the same thought, right?

7. Began. “He began to think about…” How about, “He thought about…”? Once you start thinking, you’re already into it, right?

8. Then. “She then lit the match. Then she lit the fuse and then it began to burn.” Things happen in sequence in the order you put it down  write. Then is often unnecessary.

9. And at the beginning of the sentence. It’s not that it’s wrong. Some of my old-school English teachers went hardcore on this point. It’s when it’s used too often, it becomes a placeholder that delays the action by three little letters. It’s often unnecessary.

10. So at the beginning of a sentence. It’s not wrong, but it’s a common tic. It’s often the writing equivalent of “um” in public speaking. “So, how are you doing?” versus, “How are you doing?” This can be a stylistic choice. In dialogue, maybe it’s a subtle cue to the reader that the speaker is attempting to appear casual or isn’t sure what to say.

BONUS

Look for opportunities to vary sentence length. It makes for an easier read. Run-on sentences intimidate, confuse and frustrate readers. 

~ Robert Chazz Chute is revising Season 3 of This Plague of Days. Season 3, and This Plague of Days, The Complete Series is scheduled for release June 15th, 2014.

Haven’t started Season 1 and Season 2, yet? There’s still time. Grab them here.

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

Publishing Advice: Don’t Believe a Word

The writing and publishing business is full of, “On the one hand, this. Oh, yeah, but on the other foot, what about this BS?” Here’s the conflicting advice on my mind this week, to and fro, pro and con:

1. People complain about marketing on Twitter, “What can I say of value in 140 characters?”

It gets worse. It’s better if you say it in 100 characters. Say more with less and it’s more likely to be read and retweeted. Leaving more room allows for additions, links and commentary from enthusiastic retweeters. So be pithier. You’re a writer. You can handle that. 

2. More blog posts, daily, equals more traffic to your blog.

Unless you’re blogging a book, you’re losing time you could be using to write your next book. There are still many writers who struggle with time management and discipline. The writing — the book writing — has to come first. Promotion is secondary because you aren’t in the promotion business. You’re in the writing business. Promotion is for the stolen time that would otherwise be unproductive.

Hint: If you’re still flogging the same book, and you only have one book, and that was published over a year ago? You aren’t in the writing business. Finish something new.

3. Some people say we should begin promoting the book as soon we conceptualize what it will be….someday.

However, you’re going to change the title before you publish it at the very least and if you take too long, someone will steal that great title. Promoting too soon is an exercise in chicken counting that could just as easily wear out potential readers if you talk about the potential book, too much, forever. 

Corollary: Don’t write your blog or push your book until you have something solid to say.

And don’t repeat yourself too often, please. If I see one more blog post with the title proclaiming “Content is king!” I might have to shoot somebody with a water pistol full of skunk juice. And then kill them. (Note: Don’t swing sledgehammers in small rooms. Ice picks to brain stems are efficient. A disposable raincoat and a friend who gives alibis without asking questions is essential. Ask a mystery writer for best strategies…though you might have to wipe them out, too, just to cover your tracks.)

4. We all look forward to being discovered by a huge audience.

That’s where the negative reviews come from, too. Brace yourself.

My quest isn’t for a huge audience. It’s for 50,000 true fans. Yes, I know people usually say 1,000 true fans, but I’m ambitious and we all need to stretch and reach. (Plus 50,000 true fans fits my budget better. Daddy’s got bills!)

5. We aren’t supposed to respond to reviews.

It is a bad idea, generally….which means the false and misleading reviews stay up, uncorrected. This one isn’t about the conflict in the advice. It’s about the conflict that arises in you. You crave justice for your innocent book babies.

This one? Live with it. It’s not worth it. It’s annoying, but the Authors Behaving Badly meme is much stronger than the Reviewers Behaving Badly meme. We’re outnumbered.

Unless they’re threatening you physically, forget it. If they are threatening you physically, revisit #3 for helpful, murderous suggestions if you’re not into dialling 911. And click the Report Abuse button with gusto.

6. Everybody wants to write the great American novel.

It’s been written and it’s probably The Great Gatsby. The problem here is some writers get caught up in what they think they should write and how that ideal should look and sound. Don’t be the serious guy who takes himself too seriously. He is tiring to be around and his shoulds are misplaced.

Originate, do not emulate. If someone else did it better, we’ll go read the original. Of the hundred Harry Potter clones, how many do you really want to read? Do not chase trends. A trend is so fast, it runs you over and leaves you far behind at the same time.

7. Everyone says social media marketing is about having Internet “presence.”

Presence is weak. It says, “I’m here. I hope you find me.” Hunters don’t wait for deer to come to their house, knock on the door, peel some potatoes and conveniently slip into the oven. Hunters go hunting.

We’ll find more readers if we’re active and proactive. Go find book bloggers. Go where readers are. Make a list and follow people on Twitter as a planned approach. There are people out there who already proclaim their love of Steampunk in their Twitter profiles. If you write Steampunk, why haven’t you introduced yourself already? Stop waiting for them to come to you.

8. Gurus say, “Be everywhere.”

Maybe “everywhere” isn’t for you. Is LinkedIn really helping you as an author or is that medium best built for job searches? Unless there are forums there you love, maybe that’s wasted energy. What about Tumblr? It might be an excellent spot for you, but Tumblr’s users tend to be young, hip and artistic. Is pushing historical fiction about railway trains of the Klondike really the best use of your time there? Choose a platform or two or three you love. Focus.

Almost everyone says we should dump the exclusivity of KDP Select and be on all sales platforms. Maybe not or maybe not yet. I’ve written extensively on this issue in the past so I won’t beat that zebra into a coma again. However, when you do make that decision, don’t jump (or not jump) because someone told you to do so. Have a plan how you’re going to move those books on those other platforms (because, with few exceptions, those platforms don’t have tools you can use to raise that crop of readers.)

Don’t believe a word. Test suggestions instead.

9. When publishing gurus have nothing else to offer, they say, “Work harder.”

I don’t know a single author who isn’t working hard. Writing despite kids, day jobs, lost sleep, and long hours? Check, check, check, check. “Work harder,” for most of us, does not add value. It’s a bad math teacher telling a student staring, clueless, at an algebraic equation on the blackboard: “Stare harder and you’ll solve for X.”

Excuse me, sir, but your pants are on fire. With napalm.

“I will work harder,” is the horse that gets carted off for meat and glue in Animal Farm. What we need is to test strategies, first on a small scale. If Slideshare works for you and gets more clicks to your author site and conversions to your newsletter, do more of that. If one lure to your mailing list doesn’t work, add value and try again. Always focus on what works instead of trying everything at once. Eighty percent of results come from twenty percent of your efforts. Find your twenty percent.

Also, please, please, don’t work harder. We’re already sitting too much and worrying ourselves into an early grave while some consultants are actually making money off poor writers by yelling, “Work harder!” That damn whip arm never seems to tire. Screw those guys. We’re already putting in the time. We need smarter tools, not louder barking from the water boys.

Instead of working harder, when you’re writing, please write more joyously. Take chances. Have more fun. You can even enjoy the creative aspects of marketing, believe it or not. Joy translates to all your work. Readers won’t necessarily know why they love the joyous writer more, but they’ll feel it and respond.

10. We’re told to market to readers only.

Don’t bother writing a writing blog. There’s too much of that already and writers don’t buy books. They’re too busy writing them. Forget writers!

Hm. If true, that’s worrisome. Writers should read a lot. I think, generally, we do read plenty. I’m a voracious reader. I wrote two books about writing that emerged from this blog, so there’s that. But more important, the friends I’ve made through blogging to writers and podcasting with writers? They’ve been an immense help to me. I’ve connected with allies who’ve blurbed my books and been my beta readers and helped me expand my reach in many ways. The indie writing community is a very supportive group.

Through this blog and my podcasts, there are literally dozens of people who have helped me publish and publicize. I started to write a list of helpful fellow authors and fans, but the list got too long and I worried I’d forget somebody. Connecting with allies here, not aiming exclusively at readers, has delivered great opportunities. 

I hope I’ve helped my allies plenty, too.

Thank you all. Much love.

~ Robert Chazz Chute isn’t as mean as he sometimes sounds. His next books are This Plague of Days, Season 3 and This Plague of Days, The Complete Series. They’ll launch June 15th. For more on This Plague of Days, the international zombie thriller with an autistic hero, go to ThisPlagueOfDays.com.

Filed under: author platform, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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…

 

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

Filed under: getting it done, publishing, Rant, readers, Writers, 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, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

All the dark fantasy fun of the first three books in the Ghosts & Demons Series for one low price.

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

You never know what's real.

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

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.

Write to live

For my author site and the Chazz network, click the blood spatter below.

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