Jeff Bezos Defines the Essentials of an Epic Story

The author Brad Stone, in his book ‘Amazon Unbound’, mentions a moment when Jeff Bezos rattled off a list of the main ingredients of a great story. You might like to check these against your writing too. They are (condensed):

1. A heroic/compelling protagonist who experiences growth and change
2. Wish fulfillment (e.g. the protagonist has hidden abilities)
3. Moral choices
4. Diverse worldbuilding (different geographic landscapes)
5. Cliffhangers (urgency to read the next chapter or watch the next episode)
6. High Stakes (a global threat or a devastating pandemic)
7. Humor
8. Betrayal
9. Positive emotion (love, joy, hope)
10. Negative emotion (loss, sorrow)
11. Violence

source: Amazon Unbound, pg 151

Polished editing takes time

It can take 21 months or more to cut a diamond into sparkling perfection. Rushing the process could lead to excessive diamond wastage, unnecessary ugly inclusions and poor shaping. The Diamond cutting business is a prime example of an industry in which “Slow and Steady” wins the day. The same applies to editing and polishing a manuscript. I, for one, have been too keen to take my rough manuscript and hoped it would pass the keen eyes of an accomplished literary agent, only to realise too late that the work needed many more months of fine revision. My humble experience has taught me to not rush the process, and take as long as it needs to make it ‘shine.’ With my first book, 3 WISE MEN, I was not happy until about a year after the first version; with my new book, it has taken a similar length of time to get feedback and re-work the ‘final’ draft. I am so pleased that I slowed down the revision process and hope my readers will be too. A good red wine needs to be opened and sit for a while, allowing it to “breathe”and soften the flavours and release enhancing aromas. Writing is no different? No. JD Salinger took 10 years to write Catcher in the Rye, and the first Harry Potter instalment was six years in the making. Time heals many things and writing is no different.

The value of a Writers Circle

Beta Readers are a great source for discovering faults in a draft manuscript, but a Writers Circle can add real value by providing advice on improving the impact of your novel on readers, and for giving encouragement from an author’s perspective. Writers value input from other writers. I recently asked a fellow writer to be part of my Beta Reader group. His input was especially helpful for identifying weaknesses in my plot. He also validated his impressions of my novel from his perspective as a writer. Now, I have the privilege of doing the same for his new novel and we have discovered the joy of forming a small Writers Circle. In conclusion, I have discovered that Beta Readers, and the added value of a Writers Circle, are key elements in helping take my writing to a new level. I appreciate their input – it is like gold to me as an author.

What is the probability of finding an agent?

The best book agents can get as many as 1,500 queries per month, and they sometimes only offer to represent approximately 6 new clients per year. Of those 6 new clients, 3 will most likely have been published elsewhere already. So, in a calendar year, a top agent may receive as many as 18,000 queries and represent as few as 3 unpublished authors from that pile! Others are more optimistic, saying that an unpublished author has a 1 in 500 chance of finding representation.” [source: here] . If you do the Mathematics, that is as likely as if you are standing in a crowd of 6,000 people at a concert and you get picked from that group to come on stage. In other words, 99.97% of submissions are rejected. Ouch!

Here’s another take on the subject. “According to Heather Hummel, founder of PathBinder Publishing, only 4% of the query letters sent to agents get a positive response. Of the approximately ten million proposals sent to agents and editors, only 65,000 become books. That’s 0.0065% of all book proposals being accepted. Not even 1/10th of 1%. Yikes!

Conclusion 1. It’s incredibly difficult to gain an agent’s interest, and 2. It’s incredibly difficult to get published in the traditional way.

Prepositions expanded

A preposition is a word or group of words used before a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase to show direction, time, place, location, spatial relationships, or to introduce an object. Some examples of prepositions are words like “in,” “at,” “on,” “of,” and “to.”

Prepositions in English are highly idiomatic. Although there are some rules for usage, much preposition usage is dictated by fixed expressions. Used wisely, with effective placement, prepositions:

  • Create dramatic effect or flourish.
  • Enable the writer to finish scenes/chapters by making a statement of intent.
  • Help heighten atmosphere with a sense of immediacy.
  • Make a direct point.
  • Ask rhetorical questions.

Example 1: He wasn’t sure who they were or where they were going; the human misery cooped up in the foul, stained wooden train. But he was determined to find out.

The placement of the preposition of ‘But’ creates directness, a blunt atmosphere for the scene, and it also becomes an effective way to finish the scene within a determined statement of intent, thus informing the reader of what is yet to come.

Example 2: He stepped back from her, unwilling to engage. She couldn’t find the words…Since when did John start carrying a knife?

Here’s a much better definition:

 

Successful Authors

“Successful authors are those who know just how difficult it is to write a book.” Stephen Fry

“A man who is not born with the novel-writing gift has a troublesome time of it when he tries to build a novel. He has no clear idea of his story. In fact, he has no story.” Mark Twain

It starts with the fear of writing your first essay in English and submitting papers at college. When I look back on my time as a student, not one teacher was able or willing to give lessons on writing a novel or novella. At college, I was taught by professors who had published works, but they were mainly collections of poetry or scientific works. However, most of my teachers were willing to correct mistakes in my writing. If only they had taken the time to inspire writing? Our heroes were sporting stars and famous politicians or engineers, etc. Except for one, and he was significant—so much so, that I just have to tell you about him in the next post!

Great and Terrible Writing Tips

I enjoyed this short video on writing tips (both good and bad) from Jericho Writers. This one stood out for me:
Why did this tip seem such a good one? It’s simple. Your writing should include YOU—your experiences, your heart and soul; the beat of your own drum. When I was editing my second novel, this became so important that it caused me to rewrite my characters to include the leadership conflict I had experienced in my own career. And, as a result, the book gained more power and a sense of poignancy that made it real. At least, I hope it did! So, take Franz Kafka’s words of wisdom to heart and write from your heart.

Beware the Writer’s Trap Door!

The Writer’s Trap Door. You never see it coming, then “Swoosh”—you are down in the writing dungeon and your words are lost forever.

“Right?”
“Oh, so very right!”
“Well, hurry up and give it to me!”
“What? the lost words?”
“No, stupid, the trap door! What is the trap door?”

It is…hmm, should I really be telling you this? OK, it is falling into the trap of showing, rather than telling.

First, a definition: “Show, don’t tell is one of the most frequently given pieces of advice among writers. But just like “write what you know” and “write every day,” it can be difficult to follow — especially if you don’t really know what it means! Luckily, we’re here to show you exactly what this involves. We’ll explain the various benefits of “showing” in writing, and provide plenty of helpful examples.

Show, don’t tell is a writing technique in which story and characters are related through sensory details and actions rather than exposition. It fosters a style of writing that’s more immersive for the reader, allowing them to “be in the room” with the characters.

In his most commonly repeated quoted, Chekhov said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

In short: showing illustrates, while telling merely states. Here’s a quick example of showing versus telling:

Showing: As his mother switched off the light and left the room, Michael tensed. He huddled under the covers, gripped the sheets, and held his breath as the wind brushed past the curtain.

Telling: Michael was terribly afraid of the dark.” [from the reedsy blog here]

But, why am I telling you this? Because, even though I have written two full novels, I still have to watch out for the “showing, not telling” trap! No writer is immune and, after many rounds of editing and beta reader feedback, I still missed un important chapter ending that…you guessed it…fell down the trap door! I am ashamed to share it here, but you can work out which is better:

A. There was a disturbance among the ranks and Boreas went pale.. He rose from his makeshift throne and thrust out his trident, defending himself.
“Sailor, you can’t do that!” he yelled. But it was no use.

vs

B. What happened next shocked them all.

Yes, A is a better “showing” than the “telling” example in B! I hope you don’t mind me telling you all this?

Characters make your book, but only if the readers are invested in them!

What makes for a good thriller?

Author Brad Taylor says, “Without a doubt, characters. Characters, characters, characters. One could write a scene where a car bomb is placed in an empty parking lot, set to go off in two minutes. The buildup is intense, with a “Day of the Jackal” feel of finding components and creating the device, but at the end of the day, do readers care about the empty parking lot? No. They only care if that bomb is going to harm someone they’ve invested emotional energy in — and that is the character of the story. Setting, pace and trajectory are important, but they’re irrelevant without the reader’s emotional investment, and that is driven by characters.” Read more on thrillers from the NY times, here.

Skip to toolbar