Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Comet Dust and the Gender Divide

Received 90% of male vote.

Book Cover Appeal: Men and Women are NOT Alike

Most of us are vaguely aware of this fact, but I was gobsmacked by it over the weekend.

Anyone who has followed my writing for a while knows how I like to experiment with book covers and titles. Hence, my new novel was called Days of Darkness for barely a week. The new title is Comet Dust. 

You'll recognize the same 'Brunette in the Wind' from the original Days of Darkness cover. Over the weekend, I came up with an alternative cover, 'Purple Starry Head'.  

The two covers are designed to give off different vibes.  In the aftermath of a comet hitting the Earth, Brunette in the Wind plays off of the ongoing chaos and decline of civilization. On the other hand, Purple Starry Head captures the main character's determination to hold onto her dreams and work for a brighter future.

Received 90% of female vote.
Anyway, I conducted a very scientific poll to gather input. It consisted of me emailing family members and asking random people on the internet to choose their favorite cover. Thirty or so people replied back. Age range: 13 to 59. About two-thirds were women.  

Since I didn't intend the poll to be a study of gender differences, the results surprised me. Only one male voted for Purple Starry Head. Two women voted for Brunette in the Wind. That's a striking gender divide. I'd love to know the reason. Do you think it's just a color palette thing with Comet Dust or something deeper? Feel free to comment below.

What I have taken away from this is that men and women have very different tastes. Duh. Of course, they do. But what does it mean for me as an author? 

The poll tells me that I should use a target market approach. When facing the apocalyptic fiction crowd, which has a strong male readership, Brunette in the Wind is the obvious choice. If I'm going after a female-dominated genre like paranormal suspense, I should probably go with Purple Starry Head. Then again, maybe I should toss both covers and go with something entirely different. Lucky for me, changing an eBook cover on a whim is super easy. Hurrah for the digital age!

The following was edit in later on August 26, 2016: 

Another hurrah for the digital age! Just because I can . . . my experimentation with book covers continues.

Here's a third option. I dub it 'Dusty Gloom'.

This cover displays the dust left behind by the comet in literal fashion. It lingers in the air, reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the surface of the planet, creating famines and economic disasters. The mood it's supposed to provoke is confusion and despair. Although the main character tries to remain optimistic, a sense of hopelessness has gripped the world, and it's weighing her down.

I wish the Dusty Gloom cover had existed when I conducted the poll. It would be helpful to know how it stacks up against the others. What do you think?

Monday, May 16, 2016

Common Newbie Writer Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them)

C. D. Verhoff
Fiction Writer

1. Starting with a prologue.

General rule of thumb, ask yourself if the story makes sense without the prologue. If it does, get rid of it and work the information into later chapters. When your book contains a prologue, in essence, you’re starting the story twice. It’s difficult enough to hook the reader once, so don’t risk having to do it a second time.

2. Opening with a dream scene.  

This is the equivalent to playing a trick on your audiences. “Ha, ha! I made you think this exciting scene was really happening, but it was only a dream. Fooled ya!” Readers will not be amused.

3. Avoiding the word “said”.

It’s the dialogue word of choice, so apply liberally. Professional fiction writers refer to it as an invisible word. The mind overlooks it, which keeps the attention on the events of the story, not the prose. That’s a good thing. Dialogue tags such as he replied, she grumbled, he sighed, she retorted and he quipped are fine, but use them judiciously. On the other hand, fully embrace he said and she said. 

4. Chapter One begins with the main character waking up.

Beginning your novel with a wake up scene isn't wrong, but it's certainly not original. “Are you crazy?” Some of you might protest. “The character waking up to a new day, to new possibilities, is the most natural place in the world to begin.” I won’t argue the point and neither will a million other writers who have started their stories exactly the same way. Having the main character wake up and throw the alarm clock is also cliché. So is waking up and shuffling to the mirror to give a character’s physical description to your readers (see #5 below).

Search your imagination. Bring out the conflict ASAP. Start with a bang, not the groan of someone getting out of bed.

5. Having the main character look in the mirror or some other reflective surface in order to give physical description.

I have seen new writers galore, including myself back in the day, start their novel something like this:

The main character wakes up, stretches, shuffles bleary-eyed over to the basin to splash water on his or her face. The character happens to catch his or her reflection in the mirror. If it's a woman, she contemplates her emerald eyes, ivory skin and silky raven locks. If it's a guy, he combs his fingers through his disheveled hair, studies his chiseled jaw and admires his six-pack abs. Does this sound familiar?

New writers think this is a clever way to sneak in physical description, but no. It’s usually the mark of an amateur. If you decide to give a character's physical description, and it's not always necessary, stretch your writing skills to bring it out in some other way. 

6. Waiting too long to introduce the conflict.

Paragraph one of the first chapter should deliver the conflict or at least hint at it. What obstacle will the main character face? Who or what is standing in the way of happiness? Conflict drives the story. Readers want to have an idea where the story is going before they invest a lot of time on it. It will be difficult to convince your readers to keep turning the pages if you fail to entice them with a juicy problem on page one.

7. Bad guy clichés.

Have you imposed a ‘bad guy’ dress code throughout your novel? Look around. Are your villains dressed in black, specifically black leather? Do they wear their sunglasses at night, have pock marked skin, scars, rotten teeth, bad hygiene or breath that reeks of garlic and onions? If so, relax the dress code a bit. Introduce some color to their wardrobes. Bathe them in Irish Spring and buy them a tin of Altoids.

For example, a killer in one of my stories was taught to knit by his dearly departed granny. The last thing his victims see as they’re being impaled with knitting needles are his bright homemade sweaters. Doesn't that cheerful smilie face sweater up the creepy factor?

Don’t get me wrong, there are times when black makes sense. It’s the choice of Ninjas and burglars alike, but don’t get caught in a rut. Stretch your imagination where you can to add extra personality to your villains.

8. Adverb addiction.

The first step is to admit that you have an adverb problem. If you’re unsure, look around. Do you see words ending in –ly lurking on every page? Study your speech tags. Do they look anything like this:

   “You’re beautiful,” he said sarcastically.
   “I bet you say that to all of the girls,” she retorted dryly.

If you answered yes to any of the questions, you are probably an adverb addict. There are numerous online articles about why adverbs ought to be avoided in fiction. I encourage you to search them out on your own. I also recommend Stephen King’s book, On Writing. If he can’t convince you to give up your adverb habit, I might as well forget it.

The first stop is acknowledging you have an adverb problem, but if you can’t give them up cold turkey, start by limiting them to two or three per chapter.

9. Average Joe and Jane characters.

I can hear the protests now. Are you crazy? It’s Joe’s ordinariness that makes him so gosh darn relatable. I agree to a certain point, but on some level a character must be larger-than-life. Part of the draw of fiction is that it pulls readers into someone else’s life. Readers don’t want to read about drab humdrum lives. They are seeking new experiences through the written word. The more dramatic, the better. Who wants to hang out with a meek little lamb who never makes a splash in the world? It’s human nature to want to hang out with inspiring friends or to gawk at the car wreck. Give your readers unforgettable characters in memorable situations .

If I’m going to hang out with Plain Jane for three hundred pages, she doesn’t have to be pretty or intelligent (though it’s recommended), but she needs to have something not-so-average about her.

Maybe Jane is incredibly driven to win the class spelling bee. Maybe she’s determined to avenge her father’s death. Perhaps she has caught the interest of a serial killer. Then again, maybe she is holding a grudge against her sister, they haven’t spoken for twenty years, and they’re shipwrecked on an island together. Will they forgive each other and work to get off the island? Or will they kill each other before they can be rescued?  

Part of the draw of fiction is that it lets us escape our own reality for a little while. That’s why a character and her problems ought to be extraordinary. Speaking for myself, that’s why I’m drawn to fiction in the first place. It pushes my imagination beyond the average, beyond the ordinary, to something larger-than-life.

10. Inattention to micro-tension.

This is the moment-by-moment conflict that keeps a reader in a continuous state of suspense. Micro-tension is separate from the main conflict; it is not the same as plot. This kind of tension comes from the inside of the your characters, their emotions in conflict, ideas at war with one another, their inner turmoil. Bring it out in your character’s thoughts, the dialogue, and his reaction to the world around him.

11. Going it on your own.

Four eyes are better than two. Two brains are better than one. I suggest growing a thick skin and seeking honest feedback from a critique buddy. And don’t be snobby about it. Finding an experienced writer to exchange chapters with is like finding gold and a beginner is silver. Both are valuable commodities. If you don’t know any writers who might want to exchange critiques with you, a good place to find one is an online site called Critique Circle. I found a great critique buddy on Goodreads by combing through the various writing groups. Hatrack is another possible avenue.

12. Adhering rigidly to advice like mine. 

First, learn the rules and expectations of good fiction, then occasionally break them. For example, the The Hunger Games begins with a wake up scene. However, Suzanne Collins is no newbie writer, making  newbie mistakes. Her wake up scene is masterfully done. Originally, I planned to discuss why it works so well, but I think it deserves it's very own post. Stay tuned.

If you’ve made any of this newbie mistakes, don't get discouraged. You’re not alone. I’ve made most of them myself. Consider it a right of passage. You’re on your way. Happy Writing.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Useless Facts You Might Not Know

Knowing my love of useless information, a friend sent me a list of strange facts. Just so ya know--I have not verified their authenticity.

1.    Your stomach has to produce a new layer of mucus every two weeks or it will digest itself.
2.    The dot over the letter "i" is called a tittle.
3.    A raisin dropped in a glass of fresh champagne will bounce up and down continuously from the bottom of the glass to the top.
4.     A female ferret will die if it goes into heat and cannot find a mate.
5.     Chewing gum while peeling onions will keep you from crying.
6.     A 2 X 4 is really 1-1/2" by 3-1/2" (actually, this is a pretty useful fact if you're in the building business).
7.   During the chariot scene in "Ben Hur," a small red car can be seen in the distance (and Heston's wearing a watch).
8.    On average, 12 newborns will be given to the wrong parents daily. (Perhaps this explains a few things!)
9.    Sherlock Holmes NEVER said, "Elementary, my dear Watson." (Tell me this ain't so!)
10.  Because metal was scarce, the Oscars given out during World War II were made of wood.
11.  The number of possible ways of playing the first four moves per side in a game of chess is 318,979,564,000.
12.  There are no words in the dictionary that rhyme with orange, purple and silver. (You mean to tell me that "nurple" isn't a real word?) 

13.  Astronauts are not allowed to eat beans before they go into space because passing wind in a spacesuit damages them. (I'm not sure I believe this one. Surely, beans or not, astronauts fart on occasion)
14.  The very first bomb dropped by the Allies on Berlin in World War II killed the only elephant in the Berlin Zoo.
16.  If one places a tiny amount of liquor on a scorpion, it will instantly go mad and sting itself to death. (Who wants to test this out?)
17.  Bruce Lee was so fast that they actually had to s-l-o-w film down so you could see his moves.
18.  The first CD pressed in the US was Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA." (BRROOOOOS!)
19.  The original name for butterfly was flutterby.
20.  The phrase "rule of thumb" is derived from an old English law which stated that you couldn't beat your wife with anything wider than your thumb.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Stupid Stuff We Ponder

These not-so-deep questions have been floating around cyberspace a while now. My sister just emailed me a boatload. These are my favorite of the bunch.


If you throw a cat out of a moving car, does it become kitty litter? 

If Barbie is so popular, why do you have to buy her friends?

If you choke a smurf, what color does he turn?

Why is it so hard to remember how to spell mnemonic?

Can you cry under water? 

Did Noah's ark have termites?

If a pig loses his voice is he disgruntled?

do radioactive cats have 18 half-lives?

If you swear with sign language, will mother make you wash your hands with soap?

How important does a person have to be before they are considered assassinated instead of just murdered? 

Why do you have to "put your two cents in", but it's only a "penny for your thoughts"? And, where is that extra penny going?

Once you're in heaven, do you get stuck wearing the clothes you were buried in for eternity? 

What disease did cured ham actually have? 

Why is it that people say they "slept like a baby" when babies wake up like every two hours?

If a deaf person has to go to court, is it still called a hearing? 

Why are you IN a movie, but you're ON TV?

Why do people pay to go up tall buildings and then put money in binoculars to look at things on the ground? 

Why is "bra" singular and "panties" plural? 

Why do toasters always have a setting that burns the toast to a horrible crisp, which no decent human being would eat? 

If Jimmy cracks corn and no one cares, why is there a stupid song about him? 

If the professor on Gilligan's Island can make a radio out of a coconut, why can't he fix a hole in a boat? 

Why does Goofy stand erect while Pluto remains on all fours? They're both dogs! 

If Wile E. Coyote had enough money to buy all that ACME crap, why didn't he just buy dinner? 

If corn oil is made from corn, and vegetable oil is made from vegetables, what is baby oil made from? 

If electricity comes from electrons, does morality come from morons? 

Why Do the Alphabet song and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star have the same tune? 

Why did you just try singing the two songs above? 

Why do they call it an asteroid when it's outside the hemisphere, but call it a hemorrhoid when it's in your butt? 

Did you ever notice that when you blow in a dog's face, he gets mad at you, but when you take him for a car ride, he loves to stick his head out the window into the wind? 

If swimming helps a person thin down, explain whales.

Do you ever wonder why you read my blog in the first place?

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