Hacking Popular Books But Still Confusing Popular With Good

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Every question can be answered by computers, apparently, including What’s the difference between bestselling fiction and fiction that doesn’t sell?

Oh hell, am I supposed to make you click a link??? Have this relevant blockquote instead:

They took the first 1,000 sentences of 4,129 books of poetry and 1,117 short stories and then analyzed them for various factors. They looked at parts of speech, use of grammar rules, the use of phrases, and “distribution of sentiment” – a way of measuring the use of words.

They found that successful books made great use of conjunctions to join sentences (“and” or “but”) and prepositions than less successful books. They also found a high percentage of nouns and adjectives in the successful books; less successful books relied on more verbs and adverbs to describe what was happening.

More successful books relied on verbs describing thought processes rather than actions and emotions. The results varied by genre, but books that are less successful, the researchers reported, used words like “wanted,” “took” or “promised.” Successful authors employed “recognized” or “remembered.”

“It has to do with showing versus caring,” Choi said. “In order to really resonate with readers, instead of saying ‘she was really really sad,’ it might be better to describe her physical state, to give a literal description. You are speaking more like a journalist would.”

Communications researchers believe journalists use more nouns, pronouns, and prepositions than other writers because those word forms give more information, Choi explained.

“Novelists who write more like journalists have literary success,” she said.

And to think that I deleted all those prepositional phrases from my books because I thought they were unnecessary! Josh Helman might be playing Ray Lilly in the movie version right now if only I’d left them in.

More seriously, color me skeptical that Choi’s analysis above, which boils down to showing vs telling, is more than post hoc rationalization (or a mundane error in science journalism) since it seems to contradict the paragraph before, which says “actions and emotions” take second place to “thought processes” in successful books. It’s almost as though the data has to be twisted to fit the popular model of how to write well.

It’s almost enough to make me grab a Lee Child novel off the library shelf to see how much ink is spent “retaliating first” and how much analyzing story beats.

At the back end of the article, a writing teach claims that the research must be all wrong, since it’s verbs that make for good writing, and that people choose books based on subject matter rather than style.

Both statements might be true, but good writing is not the same as popular writing, and if you’ve got the subject matter, maybe there’s a boost to be gained by writing in a journalistic style.

Which, honestly, is interesting to think about, but which I’ll completely forget about by the time I return to my current book. I just gotta do my own thing. As much as I’d like to be successful, I suspect I’m immune to the advice that could make that happen.

Huge delay in my next book

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As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m not going to hit my NaNoWriMo goal. No big deal; I was just using it as a goad to pick up momentum with ONE MAN, my current WIP which has stalled.

It was a new thing for me, and it didn’t work.

What I realized on Wednesday was that I needed to start over. I plan to keep most of the 65K I’ve written so far, but I need to revise it extensively. The protagonist need to be someone else. I’m even going to give him a new name.

So today is the second beginning of my book. It’ll be a deeper, stronger story, and I’ll be able to make serious progress on it.

Sometimes I wish I could be one of those writers who finish a paragraph, tweak it here or there, then never look at it again. Sometimes I would like to be one of those writers to takes five years for a single book, and just keep revising like mad until it’s perfect.

Unfortunately, I’m me, and tossing a book so I can start over is part of how I work.

Portugal posts on hold, plus gaming and other stuff

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My kid is downloading Fallout 4, and we’re already into day 2 and it’s only half done. Our internet is bullshit, but I hate the idea of upgrading to a cable company for better. So while that’s using up our internet, no uploading pictures, so no posts for a short while.

My gaming group is about to start up a new game with a new system: BREACHWORLD. It’s been a while since we started a game with practically helpless level one characters. I’m concerned. My PC has zero fighting skills and the magical healing skill that’s his whole justification has a 16% chance of success.

I’m currently reading The Luck Factor by Richard Wiseman. There’s all kinds of woo woo bullshit around being lucky, but (as I’ve mentioned before) a lot of luck seems to boil down to specific psychological traits and behaviors, like being open to meeting other people and so forth.

I’d like to be lucky. I’m giving it a try.

My NaNoWriMo is still bullshit. What I need to do is ruthlessly cut out everything from my life for a week or so just to get back into it. It doesn’t help that I have all kinds of distracting crap going on–not all of it bad, but still distracting. For example, our dishwasher broke and the landlord replaced it. The guy who put it in tore the front off our cabinet (and I didn’t even notice at first). Plus, I keep thinking I need to put together a Bookbub proposal and whip up reddit ads for my trilogy.

Stuff! There’s so much stuff all the time, and I just want to write my book.

My NaNoWriMo is off to an amazing start!

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It’s day six of NaNoWriMo.

I said I was going to give it a try this year because it’s been hard to get back into the swing of things after a month without any progress while I was in Portugal.

Words written so far this month: 1900.

Truthfully, I don’t give a shit about goals and monthly word counts. I just want to regain the momentum I used to have on this book, and I’m not sure how. Frankly, I think I’m going to have to blow off some of my current responsibilities so I can pick up the pace again.

I’m not feeling it.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s this: the way to pick up momentum is to start moving forward and don’t stop. That’s what I need to do, and that’s been really difficult.

NaNoWriMo and Portugal

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Portugal posts have been delayed, obviously, because I got sick as soon as I got back to Seattle. Also, our shitty internet means that the online backup issues we had while we were away are taking forever to resolve.

Soon, though. Soon.

Additionally, it looks as though I’m going to jump on the NaNoWriMo bandwagon this year. After my vacation, which was supposed to be a working vacation but absolutely wasn’t, I’ve been having trouble getting momentum going on One Man. I doubt I’ll reach 50K for the month (not with the holiday right at the stretch) but that doesn’t matter if I can get this book going again. And I’m not going to sign up on some website to post my progress; I’ll do that here.

And now I’m off to get started on today’s work.

Three Things Make a Post

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1. There’s less than 24 hours to take advantage of this Humble Bundle of books funded through Kickstarter. It’s an embarrassment of riches. Don’t miss out.

2. I have a Facebook page, where readers can keep up with my blog posts and other new, and a Facebook account, which is (mostly) for family and friends I know in real life. At this point, the account is utterly moribund. No one comments, no one shares or clicks “like”. As far as I can tell, no one sees what I put there.

That might be because FB is hiding my stuff. It might be that they’ve “hidden” my updates because they’re sick of my bullshit. Hey, half the time I’m sick of my bullshit, too. It doesn’t really matter. I’m going to scale way the hell back on what I post there.

3. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m working on a new book, called One Man. Unfortunately, the writing schedule that has served me so well over the last few years has to be ditched, and I haven’t found a new one that works. In fact, I don’t have any set schedule at all, just random day and hours when I can grab writing time. That’s fine for the short term, but it won’t work for me long term.

It still feels good to be moving forward on something new.

Back to drafting new fiction

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As I mentioned on Twitter, yesterday I wrote the first sentence of my next book. Here it is:

On the summer solstice in the year 402 of the New Calendar, Chatayzik ward-Safroy de-Safroy, admir-Safroy hold-Safroy slipped into his own funeral in disguise.

Actually, that’s a revised version of that first sentence, because first sentences get changed over and over.

I was planning to write a second sentence today (or maybe even two!) but my wife has injured her knee and I’m taking care of her. I still have time to type (obviously) but first chapters require a lot of concentration. But who knows, I might manage something later.

For the record, this is the first new novel fiction I’ve drafted since August, 2013. Since then, I’ve written some short fiction, revised the hell out of The Great Way and Key/Egg, and done endless promotional work, including 40+K worth of blog tour and 50K worth of game supplement. But no new novels.

It feels a) good and b) nerve-wracking. I’ve done this before, right? I don’t have to feel intimidated by my own work, right? Right.

Also, I’ve sold the audio rights to The Great Way. If you want to be notified when that becomes available, sign up for the newsletter in the sidebar of my blog.

Not fair

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I return to the rallying cry of my son, from several years ago. Because guess what: shit is not going my way right now.

The continuing heat wave we’ve been suffering has been triggering my allergies. I take my anti-histamines, but I still itch down my back and along my arms.

Yeah, I know that our temps aren’t nearly as high as the temps in other parts of the country (low 90’s), but other parts of the country have air conditioning, or at least buildings that are meant to pass a breeze through them. Seattle, not so much. Bad enough that we have to run baseboard electric heat in the winter (with no insulation in the walls at all, and no storm door) but in the summer there’s nothing but to set a fan beside me and keep still.

On top of that, last weekend I had a sudden recurrence of my back spasms. It’s been years since my back gave me any trouble, but I confess that I’ve let my stretching and exercises lapse over the last few months while I wrap up the Kickstarter, and now I’m paying the price. Exercise is slowly making things better, but the sudden jab of pain when I turn my body the wrong way is not conducive to careful thought.

And I just burned my hand on the oven door.

Which is pretty fucking annoying, because I’ve finally begun work on the first book of a new series, but almost everything about my life is conspiring against me actually getting anything done. I have to work out details of the plot and the world-building, but between itchy hives and sudden jabs of/lingering pain, I can’t fucking concentrate.

Still I have an interesting book to read, and homeschooling to manage. Something will get done, if not as much as I’d hoped. I just wish I could finish the prep for this book so I could start it.

Time to buy a bottle of Arrogant Bastard Ale

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I’ve mentioned that here before, haven’t I? Arrogant Bastard Ale?

It’s the beer I buy for myself when I finish something big. Something difficult. Something like… oh, I don’t know, the Fate Core writeup for The Great Way and A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark!

It’s about to go out to its first beta-reader, my current GM (who’s probably the best GM I’ve ever gamed with). When it comes back, there will be fixes.

But for now, I can put it aside and work on the NEW THING.

OH MY GOD FINALLY.

To commemorate the opportunity to write new fiction, I’m going to tag this post with a new tag, the working title of the new book.

So excited, you guys.