Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Intriguing Observations: Has social media handicapped our social?

The Intriguing Observations series was created to gather some of the greatest supporters and bloggers to provide their own insight on all things creative both in their ventures and their techniques. This week on the guest series is another all-star supporter, fellow AP author and an outstanding wordsmith Bri Clark.

First of all Phil thank you so much for having me on not to mention the reminders, frankly I need them. My life is busier than a piglet on a tit. This would probably be a good place to introduce myself and explain what I do...

In a nutshell I'm a literary strategist. I own and operate Belle Consulting. The definition of just what that is has not been determined by Wikipedia at this point as it keeps changing. I'm many things to different clients. Beta reader, Publicist, Social Media Manager, Speaking Coordinator, etc etc... In conjunction with my consulting business I'm a speaker, event board member, promoter, and author.

It was while fulfilling the role as a publicist/event specialist that I came upon this observation. Linda Bernardi, my client, is an Amazon bestseller and top woman in the technology field. At an event in Seattle surrounding "The Cloud" I couldn't help but be flabbergasted by how unsocial some of the vendors were.

A conference is the place to be our most social, our most charming, to present our best! It's at these events that I make most of my leads or create long lasting contacts. Nevertheless, it seemed that several of the peers that surrounded me couldn't pull their eyes from their cell phones or laptops long enough to look at the people in front of them.

Picture it an area with tables set out in a manner that suggests flow. Black cloth and skirts cover and surround the tables. Random catalogs are set out with a free gift such as a pen. Behind the tables are one usually two people with their heads down in a laptop or a cell phone. Some of the tables didn't even have a sign at a vertical angle to say who they were. But that's another rant. I'm very much a stickler for presentation and invoking the senses. Attendees walked by several feet away the fleeting look of interest on their faces. Only they were never greeted, because they were never seen.

FAIL!!! And what's worse is it was a fail that could have been avoided. The worst was one booth where two men sat side by side for hours ( I kid you not) pounding away on their keyboards. The staccato of the keys like a alarm to the audience stating "Do Not Disturb: What's on here is more important than you are." Side by side they beat those keys as if they were in some kind of virtual email race. After watching 10 potential leads walk by I decided I might vomit or use my stun gun on their computers and ignored them.

Nonetheless, the lingering effects of the occurrence wouldn't go away. I noticed it several places around me. Granted it wasn't all but most. If they were a vendor with an elaborate interactive booth they were like the ringmaster of a circus. "Come here! Step up to my amazing product!" It was as if the tables and black table cloths were kryptonite for my fellow vendors.

Alas, no it wasn't the table cloths (Did I mention I always bring my own table cloth?) it was online social media and email. I know this for a fact because being the bold nosy southern belle that I am I walked around and looked over their shoulders.

Now I more than anyone else know that response and timing are key in our businesses. However, it is not hard to post an update or an automatic email response saying, "Hey! I'm at a conference from this date to this date. If you are in the area please come by. If this is an emergency please reference my phone number."If anything I have found people respond in a huge way to those that have lives beyond Facebook. You come back with ideas and experiences that they couldn't have.

Perhaps I'm being a little dramatic, I do have that tendency. But it really did seem that the only way some people can be social is through social media. They need the anonymity the internet provides. They require the control that editing pictures and retyping or erasing status updates enables. And because of that weakness that one contact that could open the door to their career success just passed by and they didn't even see them.

What do you think? Am I being dramatic?

Website: Belle of Boise
Twitter: @BriClark
Facebook: Bri Clark
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Buy Bri's Books on Amazon

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Titanic Story

"I think that it was definitely a goal of Titanic to integrate a very personal, very emotional, and very intimate [story]... something that has a profound impact on your imagination..." - James Cameron

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In today's industry where publishers, Hollywood, music and even game developers are constantly in a race to 'remake' previous works or produce ones that are so similar to what has already been successful that they couldn't make it in the witness protection program, one wonders how it is possible to make something significant.

I recently had the pleasure to see the re-release of James Cameron epic as Titanic 3D. While I had seen pieces of this behemoth before, I never really saw it from beginning to end nor had I ever looked at this in terms of story. After watching I can only marvel at the culmination of elements that conspired to make it a true modern 'epic.'

Examining the story it seems to be a very simple romance. The boy from the wrong side of the tracks, the rich socialite that wants to escape her confining life, the jealous bad-guy fiancé and the helpful friends. On paper this sounds rather mundane, it very well sounds like almost any other romantic story in existence. So, where does this story become an epic?

The setting for the story is aboard the ill-fated cruise ship in 1912, this is not an original setting by any stretch of the imagination, There are no fewer than fifty different movies about the ship not counting the hundreds of documentaries. If we look at strictly the literary scene there are thousands and thousands of fictionalized accounts with a large percentage of them as romance stories. While tragic, this setting does not necessarily equate to an 'epic.'

If it's not the overall story or the setting, one might wonder if it's the characters that make this such a significant story. The characters are quite flat overall with a street kid, the socialite cheating fiancée, a controlling millionaire, and countless other rather flat characters. The superficial details to their lives, the personality traits and their interactions do not even pertain to an 'epic story.' Just sampling quotes reveals how dull or predictable most interactions are and how unusual some of the dialogs are.

Are the Events of the story what drives it to epic status? Outside of context you have a poker game, a guy that talks a socialite out of suicide, a dinner where socialites discuss status, a number of conversations about foreshadowing, a 'low-brow' party, a violent outburst from the millionaire towards his fiancée, a drawing session, a romantic moment between the star-crossed lovers, a moment of false imprisonment, survival on the sinking ship, treading water, character death and finally the heart/staircase. Is it the events that make this story epic? If it is the case then the story should be able to be moved to any other setting and have the same results.

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After looking at all of the elements it is abundantly clear at what makes this piece an epic, a story that is still successful 15 years later. It's the emotional punch.

The romantic story feels unique and new because the characters are drawn together in a believable way, reacting in an expected but emotional manner. The characters conveyed the emotions of each event in such a manner that even years after everyone knows the whole plot that people still react emotionally to Jack attempting to escape from the handcuffs or when Rose is slapped. The setting keeps the story together, it makes it a period piece that never feels out of place where technology can give away the age of the piece and pull the audience from it. These emotional punches culminate with the very moment that makes it an epic. Jack's death.

If the story had concluded with Jack and Rose making a new life together it would certainly be a happy ending but it would never even touch epic status. The only plausible ending was to take the one thing that the audience became so attached to throughout the journey, their relationship, and breaking it with something beyond their control. Old Rose's photos and the staircase scene give a sense of completion but also convey immense emotion. Even to this day, the audience can see an image from one of the 'emotional hits' and immediately feel it personally.

So what makes a story an epic? Is it unhappy endings? Is it the story alone? Is it the characters, their lives, the setting or the events? It is a culmination of all of these elements, each element that comes with it's own emotional hit and is then tied together. Creating a Titanic story is not about the individual elements or what they represent but the emotions that they convey.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Intriguing Observations: Writing is an Illusion

The Intriguing Observations series was created to gather some of the greatest supporters and bloggers to provide their own insight on all things creative both in their ventures and their techniques. This week on the guest series is another all-star supporter, fellow AP author and an outstanding wordsmith Meg Mims.

Writing is never easy, no matter what the genre. It’s an art—and crafting scenes to draw the reader in from the first line and keep them hooked until the last page takes hard work. One writer’s “trick” is relying on specifics. Word choice, in other words.

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Take “dog.” What kind of dog? A white dog. What size is it and what does it sound like? A yappy white poodle. Adding color, sound, even texture makes that vague word come alive. I used to teach elementary kids about using specifics when writing. Writers finagle words in fresh ways. “Digging up a cloud of dust, the dirty white poodle’s shrill yaps echoed in my brain.”

Shallow writing skips the surface of the author’s “world” and presents characters acting out scenes on an empty stage. I’m not advocating the use of info dumps. But the best writers will spin out a story on a slow line, fishing for depth. Oral storytellers do the same, using pauses and extra information to keep the listener’s interest. Take Harper Lee’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel, To Kill A Mockingbird. Being literary, she took free rein to build her world. And what a world it is, enough to shower a reader in specifics and place them smack dab in its midst.

“Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town before I knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the Square. Somehow, it was hotter then:   black dog suffered on a hot summer’s day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.”

Readers (even ones who don’t like historical novels) enjoy specifics of a “story world” right along with the characters. My own trick is infusing several of the five senses within a character’s Point of View. You have to balance a razor’s edge between too subtle and overload. In Double Crossing, I used first person POV—primarily because I wanted that immediate close bonding between the heroine Lily Granville and the reader.

Writers tend to visualize their story world. Go beyond the “eyes” of a character, though, to hear, smell, feel and even taste within the scene’s action. In the following excerpt, I tried to use two or three senses at various times as Lily walks along a street in Nebraska, 1869:

I clamped a handkerchief over my mouth but Omaha’s black dirt still choked me. My hard sneeze left a ringing in my ears. There had to be a general store somewhere with needles and thread. Stray sparks from the Chicago and Western’s smokestack had burned tiny holes in my split skirt and jacket, and I was desperate to repair them both.

At last I found a shop. A bell jangled above my head when I entered. The bulky proprietor laughed and joked with several customers while he filled orders at the polished walnut counter. I meandered down each crowded aisle. Scents of dill, chives and cinnamon tickled my nose. Potatoes with earthy skins and papery onions filled open barrels. Small jars of pickled beets and corn relish, tins of fruit and baked beans lined the shelves. Huge burlap sacks of flour, sugar, salt, coffee and beans lay near the door, and wheels of cheese had been stacked above crates of smoked fish and salt pork.

Seeing the flatirons, hoes, plows and other tools all around brought a sense of normalcy back to my life. I realized I’d been wandering in a haze since Father’s funeral.

I could have had Lily touching the earthy skins of potatoes, but that would have dirtied her gloves! So keep in mind your character’s personality when writing. Vivid details come from specific adjectives and nouns—silver folding scissors, sturdy butter churns, oilcloth cape, shiny snaps. Readers can quickly identify the items with the visual cues. Dropping a few other sensory cues—bell jangled, scents tickling the nose—helps also. Adding a brief dialogue exchange with minor characters will also balance out the scene.

Your readers will appreciate that the characters are not acting on an empty stage.

Meg Mims is an award-winning author and artist. She writes “blended genre” fiction, and her western historical suspense won the 2012 Western Writers of America Spur Award for Best First Novel. Meg earned an M.A. from Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction program and is a staff writer for Lake Effect Living, a West Coast of Michigan tourist on-line magazine. Double Crossing is available both in e-book and print.

Twitter: @megmims
Facebook: Meg Mims and Double Crossing

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Artistic Product

Desire, Appeal, Demand, Art....

In any creative venture there is an element conceptual fulfillment and appeal. Often many choose to define their works as an art. These concepts demonstrate a defined expression and communicate emotion through specific aesthetic criteria, in short works that are of more than ordinary significance.

There are many different mediums that can be termed art, ranging from the standards of painting and sculpture to writing and even film or gaming. The ideal of conveying a concept through a medium in such a way as to be desirable is a fundamental motive for many artists. Through practice, refinement of technique and expression a work can be viewed as art.

While any work can be viewed as a work of art it is undeniably the aesthetic criteria that permits the work to be classified and termed "a work of art" within the medium. The aesthetics of a piece, while entirely subjective, are often representative of the 'high-concepts' that determine the appeal of the piece.

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As with any creative work, the determination of appeal is quite subjective however the broader the appeal the more accepted the piece is overall.

It is the appeal of a piece that many artists seek so that the work is broadly accepted as a work of art without dispute. Many artists are willing to sacrifice for the sake of their work, barely making a living while trying to find 'mainstream success' in their desired field. These Starving Artists epitomize the concept of an artist and are entirely dependent on the demand for their work.

Starving Artists and demand are where a couple of misconceptions enter.

Many writers/artists that are new to the industry often claim that their work is art as a defense to changing their work. As previously discussed, there are components to this that determine viability of their claim and then there is the misconception about the 'Best Seller' author.

The Best Seller author may have made their way into the best selling ranks but it does not mean that they have left 'Starving Artist' status. Most authors work other more permanent jobs because it often takes more than six published works and at least 2 'best sellers' before they can even consider focusing on being an author as their career.

In reality, an artist creates a work that they hope has enough appeal to drive the demand for their work including future works. Successful artists can convey their work with broad appeal but still remain truthful to their original concepts so that it is a work of art. Even starving artists who have sacrificed for their art dream of 'breaking into the business' and having their work desired. This desire effectively makes the work of art a product.

Products rely on marketability to determine success and even art needs an audience to claim success. In the writing industry success is measured in more facets than stars in the sky but claiming a work is art is not a defense against change, it only means that you'll be left by the roadside in an industry of unique artistic products.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Intriguing Observations: The Illusion of Writing

The Intriguing Observations series was created to gather some of the greatest supporters and bloggers to provide their own insight on all things creative both in their ventures and their techniques. This week on the guest series is another all-star supporter and an outstanding wordsmith Michele Shaw.

People love a puzzle. One of my favorite types of puzzles to solve is the optical illusion. I especially like the ones which use words. (Go figure) For fun, go here and try these. When you look at the words, there are two different ways to see them.

When writing fiction (and especially with thriller/suspense/crime novels), we often use a form of this technique. Sometimes it's a red herring. Sometimes it's a real clue, but deeply hidden under cryptic words or a situation that isn't what it seems. We create an illusion to keep the reader interested and asking questions.

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But there are pitfalls that can trip us. Especially when we get wound up in the story as a whole and get, ummmm...confused. (Not that this ever happens to me. *grin*) This can get tricky in a complicated story (*cough* aren't they all?), but there are 4 things I think every writer should avoid when creating their illusions:

1.) Don't get your wording get so convoluted that the reader just says, "Huh?" I try to go for, "Aha! That means something, I must read on to figure it out!" Or, "Ooh. Where is this headed?" Most of the time, simple and to the point is best.

2.) Avoid randomness. Don't stick in some random person, setting, or dialogue that has nothing to do with anything just to throw your reader off track. That's not fair and goes against the idea that each scene does have a purpose, even if that purpose isn't revealed until later.

3.) Don't hold back too much. As author, we hold all the cards and shuffle them as we see fit. But, if we hold back too much in our endeavors to create an illusion, we risk losing the reader. They get tired of waiting and want give up instead of having just enough curiosity to keep them going.

4.) Don't drop story threads. Sometimes our set-up gets so big and bloated that we add too many details which we forget to sew together by the end. Go back and make sure you’ve pulled in and resolved everything. And I mean tight!

I speak from experience with all of these. Guilty as charged and did my time in writer jail. No chocolate. It was brutal. Let’s all agree not to do it anymore. (I’m trying really, really hard.) So, hopefully, if you look for these signs of trouble, you can save time in revision, and create magical illusions with your words.

Please share. Any illusions to offer or other pitfalls you've noticed? I’d love to hear from you.

Michele Shaw writes YA romantic suspense, horror, short stories, and poetry with at least one dog by her side and plenty of candy on hand. She is a member of SCBWI, a fellow of the Midwest Writer’s Workshop, and represented by the amazing Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary. You can find her on Twitter @veertothewrite or visit her blog at  

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Assembling Art

The argument of art has always been not only a conceptual one but one of personal perception of both the product and the practice used to create that product.

A recent story that has brought into question series endings as well as artistic vision has been the whole Bioware/Mass Effect 3 ending that has managed to go from an industry specific topic to national news and even spurred Forbes to begin analyzing the industry. This is really interesting because it is an argument of artistic expression versus respect for the property for fans.

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Many critics and writers, even myself have dedicated significant time to analyzing writing as an artistic expression, an art form. Through comparisons in perspective, similarities in techniques across mediums including photography, film, sculpture and even performance arts, writing is about the art of creation but is that all?

The primary dispute that critics are using to defend the flawed story of Mass Effect 3 and often what many writers also rely on it the idea that it is art. The story is an art and the creator has full artistic license to craft the work however they see fit but this isn't entirely true.

"Many definitions of art have been proposed by philosophers and others who have characterized art in terms of mimesis, expression, communication of emotion, or other values. During the Romantic period, art came to be seen as "a special faculty of the human mind to be classified with religion and science"-Wiki

When an artist creates their piece of work it is what they envisioned and they are ultimately only constricted by how they perceive their own work. This entire process changes when the artist chooses to share their work with others as a career. The work then needs to become commercially viable.

In every artistic medium there are criteria that need to be addressed for the work to be accepted by enough critics and individuals to be a viable work.

What this means in short, a toddler's crayon drawing may be art to their mother but no one is likely to be buying it for thousands of dollars. In writing terms if someone writes a 200,000 word novel with the grammar of an eight-year-old and refuses to address these issues no one will publish it or want to read it.

For all of the artistic intent every work needs an outlet to be viable. In the writing industry, as in photography and film these are publishers. Publishers set criteria for all works because they have a set target market and prospects for those works already that also establish the work's commercial viability. It's an assurance that any work that they accept will be viable for them. If the artist's work does not meet their criteria then it will not be accepted or they will request it is changed to suit their criteria.

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Many budding writers instinctively dispute the need for changes to their work but the publisher is focusing on what is commercially viable. EVERY work is altered for publication. Some publishers require larger changes and more dramatic alterations to the piece to suit their target while other publishers will only refine the work.

When I was editing Nightfall for my publisher their requirements were fairly simple, no profanity and no trademarks. I had no problem dropping the cursing, it opened up the audience for my work but I found more difficulty with trademarks, mostly giving up car models. In the end it was just a matter of edits.

No matter the medium, if an artist wishes their work to be successful then it should be expected there will be changes that need to be met. If the artist resists the recommendations, then they should also expect the criticisms that come with that choice. While the work may be a piece of art it is also a product. If the customers are not happy with the product while the artist defends their work as art then they should know that they will have fewer customers next time.

While we regard writing as an art form, artistic expression in the finest, we should always be wary of claiming it's our artistic license to make certain choices about our work. If we want to succeed as authors we need to accept the criticisms and make the changes that make our works viable, otherwise it's not a career in writing just more unpublished works in our desk.

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