Nathan Bransford, Author


Thursday, March 19, 2015

4 ways to avoid screenplayizing your novel



One of my favorite jokes on The Office is when Dwight Schrute boasts, "I know everything about film. I've seen over 240 of them."

It's funny because it sounds reasonable at first, but then you realize that's seriously nothing -- when you think about how many movies you've actually seen, it's surely thousands, not to mention thousands of hours of scripted TV shows (that's also when you realize just how much time you actually have on your hands).

When we tell stories, it's almost impossible to get movies and TV shows out of our heads. So when you sit down to write a scene, it's exceedingly natural to think of it like a scene in the movies. But it's also extremely problematic. Books are wholly different beasts than movies.

Here's how to avoid screenplayizing your novel:

1) Don't construct a scene around dialogue

Two people simply talking is not at all interesting on the page, no matter how scintillating the dialogue.

In movies, watching two people just talk can be fascinating because we are actually watching the actors and we're absorbing way more than just the words they're speaking. We're seeing their facial expressions, their gestures, we're hearing their vocal inflection, we're absorbing the setting, and there are sound effects and music and countless other small sources of input. Reduce all of that to simply words, and you have yourself a hollow experience.

Instead, it's up to writers to set the scene, to give the nonverbal cues, to articulate the physical action, and create a full picture of what's happening. Elmore Leonard probably came as close as you can to successfully constructing novels wholly around dialogue, but his approach was more about economy of nonverbal cues than it was about removing them entirely.

2) Don't rely on the reader to imagine a scene

Novel writers are not screenwriters. They're also directors, actors, sound engineers, cinematographers, key grips, best boys... you get the idea.

When you're writing a screenplay, all you have to do is say that the scene takes place in Rick's Café Américain and it's up to the director and movie crew to figure out what that looks like.

When you're writing a novel, you have to describe the interior and provide all five senses for the reader. They simply won't know what things look like unless you tell them.

Many writers feel like they're being boring when they take some time to set the scene, but it's so crucial for the reader to be able to physically place themselves within a scene and have enough context to picture what is happening. You don't have to overdo it describing everyday items -- a hammer is just a hammer unless you specify otherwise -- but it's not the reader's job to fill in all the missing details.

3) Remember that books are about your characters' inner lives 

Movies are about the exterior. They show characters moving physically through a world. Even when they're intensely personal and even when there is voiceover narration, we don't generally see a character's inner thoughts. Instead, we deduce motivation by what we see in a character's actions and expressions.

Novels are about the interior. They're more personal and more connected to a character's thoughts and emotions.  Even action-packed genre novels, which have much in common with movies, have more emotional context than their cinematic counterparts.

Don't neglect the interior by keeping everything in dialogue-driven scenes. Make sure your reader is in touch with your characters' emotions and motivations.

4) If you're going to draw upon movies, think cinematically and not screenplay-y.

None of this is to say that movies can't be an inspiration for the way you write. But if you're going to incorporate some movie tropes, set aside dialogue and instead think about physical actions.

One of my favorite series of scenes from the past few years was in Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park. In the opening stages of the novel, the two eponymous protagonists oh so gradually escalate their relationship over the course of several morning bus rides largely without talking to each other at all. Instead, they're simply sharing comics back and forth, then sharing music.

What's important about these scenes are the gestures, those little physically acted moments. Park holding open his comics so Eleanor can see them, Eleanor showing interest and moving a little closer, escalating to sharing music.

Don't think about what characters are saying, think much more about what they're doing.


Have you noticed novels that read like screenplays? How do you avoid movies getting in your head?






Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Which book have you read the most times?


We all have a book we return to again and again.

Some people re-read A Christmas Carol every December, some have tattered, falling-apart copies of Harry Potter.

I've read Moby-Dick, The Great Gatsby, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and The Elfstones of Shannara three times each, but nothing compares to the countless number of times I read Rifles for Watie growing up, which I found endlessly fascinating as a pre-teen.

What about you?

Art: The Story Book by William-Adolphe Bouguereau






Tuesday, March 17, 2015

7th Annual Blog Bracket Challenge!!



It's mid-March, and you know what that means. Our 7th blog bracket challenge!!

Who is the greatest literary bracket prognosticator of them all?

We'll see. I didn't watch a single game of basketball this year, so you'd better watch out for my picks.

As always, the winner of the Blog Bracket challenge will win a query critique or other agreed-upon prize.

Will it be you?

Here's how to enter:

1. Go to the front page of the ESPN tournament challenge: http://games.espn.go.com/tcmen/frontpage

2. Make your picks.

3. If you have an ESPN username and password from last year you can log in when you submit your picks, and you can also just click to rejoin the Bransford Blog Challenge. Otherwise you may need to create a new user ID and password. But don't worry, it's not onerous and you can decline to receive updates in case you're spam conscious.

4. Hover over the link that says "My Groups" and then click "Create or Join a Group"

5. Search for "Bransford Blog Challenge." Enter the password, which is "rhetorical" and then click Join Group.

Then you're all set! You can make changes to your bracket by clicking on it until it locks on Thursday (and yes, there are play-in games before then, but the bracket still doesn't lock until Thursday).

Good luck!!







Monday, March 16, 2015

Should you self-publish or traditionally publish? 7 questions to ask yourself


To self-publish or traditionally publish. That is the question.

Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of agents and publishers or to take arms against a sea of books on Amazon, and by being among them, rise above? To die, to sleep (oh wait you won't), to sleep perchance to dream of fame and riches... aye there's the rub.

Ahem. Sorry.

So. You have yourself a book. Should you just go ahead and self-publish and see how it does? Should you try your luck with agents and publishers? Should you try agents and publishers first and then self-publish if that doesn't work?

Having traditionally published the Jacob Wonderbar series and self-published How to Write a Novel, I've seen both sides of the publishing world.

Which way should you go? Here are seven questions to ask yourself:

1) Is your book a niche/passion project or does it have broad, national appeal?

In order to attract a traditional publisher, especially one of the major ones, you're going to need to have a book that fits squarely into an established genre, is of appropriate length, and has mass commercial appeal.

Be honest with yourself. Is your book something that has broad, national appeal or is a niche? Is it a potential bestseller or something you just wrote to, say, have your family history recorded for posterity?

If it's hyper-specialized you might want to either try for a similarly specialized publisher, or just go ahead and self-publish. And if it's a passion project without commercial potential you're probably best-served going straight to self-publishing.

2) How much control do you want over the publishing process?

If you go the traditional route, you'll have an agent who will likely want you to edit your work before submission. You will (hopefully) have a publisher who will want you to revise your work. You won't have approval over your cover, and you'll probably only have mutual consent on your book title, meaning if your publisher doesn't like it you'll have to think of a new one that you both can agree upon. You'll probably have limited control over how and where your book is marketed.

Traditional publishing is a group process and you absolutely cede some control over your book. This can be a good thing, chances are you're dealing with experienced people within the publishing industry who are experts in their fields, but you may be frustrated at times with decisions you don't agree with.

Meanwhile, with self-publishing, everything is up to you. Edits, cover, title, fonts, marketing, whether or not you want to include that stream of conscious sequence about the philosophical implications of of cotton candy... all your choice.

3) How much does the validation of traditional publishing matter to you?

The stigma surrounding self-publishing has largely dissipated, but it's not gone entirely.

And there's still something gratifying about doing something as hugely difficult as making it through the traditional publishing process, having your work validated by professionals, and being paid for your efforts. The names Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster... they still matter to many people.

Success is success, and in the end it's the readers who are the ultimate validators. Do you want the validation that comes with traditional publishing? Or are you cool going straight to readers?

4) How important is it for your book to be in bookstores and libraries?

While you might be able to strike up some individual relationships with local bookstores and libraries as a self-published author, the surest route to bookstores and libraries is through traditional publishers, who have wide distribution.

Do you care about being in bookstores? Are you writing in a genre, like books for children, where libraries are super-important? If so, you might want to pursue traditional publication.

5) How capable are you at self-promotion?

There's no guarantee that a publisher is going to adequately promote your book, but they'll at least give you a bit of a boost at bare minimum.

If you self-publish, you're entirely on your own. You don't necessarily have to be a social media maven or a celebrity in order to give your book the boost necessary to generate crucial word of mouth, but you're going to have to do something.

6) Can you afford to invest money in your book?

Say what you will about traditional publishing, but one great thing about it is that it is not very cost prohibitive. You might incur some postage sending your manuscript around or if you choose to pay an editor before pursuing publication, but agents don't charge you until they get commission for selling your book, and publishers pay you.

Self-publishing similarly doesn't have to be hugely cost-prohibitive, but there are a lot of tasks involved in self-publishing, such as generating a cover, editing, copyediting, formatting, self-promotion, that you're either going to have to spend the time to do yourself or pay someone to do for you.

Depending on how much time you have to spend and your level of expertise, you may end up spending a thousand dollars or two to effectively self-publish. Can you afford that? (And you shouldn't necessarily assume you're going to get it back).

7) How patient are you?

Choosing traditional or self-publishing isn't necessarily an either/or decision. You can absolutely decide to pursue traditional publishing first and fall back on self-publishing if you so desire.

But even in the best case scenario, traditional publishing can take forever. It can take a year or more to query agents, and then a year or more to find an editor when you're on submission to publishers, and then even if you get a book deal it can be a year or two after that before your book comes out. It can very easily add up to two or three years or more after you finish your manuscript.

Meanwhile, when I finished How to Write a Novel, it was up for sale a few days later. Self-publishing is practically instantaneous.

Are you the patient type? Do you want to cut to the chase? That can perhaps be the most important factor of all.


How did you decide whether to pursue traditional publishing or self-publishing? Did I miss anything?

Art: Le tour de la France par deux enfants by G. Bruno






Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Would you take money or an award?


You are visited by a genie. He offers you two choices.

One, your book will become a runaway commercial success and you will want for nothing. You will sell bazillions of copies, make bazillions of dollars, but even though it's popular, pretty much everyone thinks your book sucks.

Two, your book will not sell that well, but it will be remembered forever. You will win a major award and be widely regarded as a notable writer, but you will receive very little financial benefit and will have to continue to scramble to make ends meet.

What do you choose?

Art: Lais Corinthiaca by Hans Holbein the Younger






Monday, March 9, 2015

The importance of change in a setting


The setting is often referred to as a novel's canvas, but that's not right at all.

A canvas is blank. It's white. It's unchanging.

If you think of your characters acting within a blank world, no matter how interesting they are it will feel like there's something missing.

Instead, it's crucial to think about what's happening in the broader world of your novel, what is changing, and how these larger forces are impacting your characters. When you do, your novel will feel like more than just an interesting series of events, it will feel deeper, richer, and more meaningful.

One of the (many) elements that elevated Gone Girl above a regular suspense novel was the creeping ways the economic downturn affected the lives of the main characters, from having to move to the Midwest, to the abandoned mall, to Amy's feeling that she couldn't escape her parents' shadow. The characters are acting within a world where they don't have limitless control over their lives.

Or think about the way Sauron is ascendent in The Lord of the Rings, how racial turmoil is a backdrop for To Kill a Mockingbird, how even an apocalyptic setting like Station Eleven is made more interesting by a sense of progress.

The thing about all of this change is that it's feels truer than a static world. We area all living in a world that keeps changing around us, that constrains our choices, that opens up new possibilities, and where new things are invented that alter everything around us.

Map out what's changing in your world just as surely as you map out what your characters do and how they change. Think about your world's government, its moral standards, its religion, its wars, its culture. Find a way to shake things up where it makes sense, and make sure it impacts your characters and plot.

Set that canvas in motion and your characters will feel more alive.

Art: Hungry Lion by Henri Rousseau






Thursday, March 5, 2015

Page Critique: Vagueness tends to deflate a mystery



If you would like to nominate your page for a future Page Critique, please enter it in this thread in the Forums.

First I'll present the page without comment, then I'll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer your own thoughts on the page, please be exceedingly polite. We aim to be positive and helpful.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to Justin McKean, whose page is below:
The taller stood near the third floor window, scanning the crowd of parade-goers lining the streets. He turned to the shorter and smiled.
“Bigger crowd, yes? Than last year?” the shorter said.
“Last year wasn't as big a deal. Oop – here we go.”
The shorter crossed to the window as well, standing carefully back from it. Outside the number 150 was blazoned on just about everything. One hundred fifty years since the Great Tomes revealing the Builders had been discovered.
A troupe of actors passed, playing out one of the Tome stories. The Tomes claimed an ancient enemy had chased the Builders across the sky and that they had died in a final stand, here, at the valley of Safehaven. Debate about the veracity of the texts shook academic halls for over a century.
The crowd roared. The King arrived, waving and laughing. Richard was in his sixth year as King. Kind, fair, savvy enough to throw a good party regularly, King Richard was the most popular monarch the realm of Safehaven had seen in generations.
The crowds' adulation continued but the King's laughter abruptly stopped because of the arrow which seemed to suddenly appear in his throat. He fell to his hands and knees, then began to get back up again, falling as a second arrow pierced his sternum. The crowd still screamed his name. It took another moment for the tone to change from praise to horror.
Authors sometimes have a tendency to want to create mystery by withholding information. This is a natural impulse, but it can be a very dangerous business.

In this case, while I am definitely intrigued by this world and this king who got rather abruptly shot with an arrow, I kept thinking, "Taller what? Shorter what?" Are these people? Gnomes? Squirrels?

It's so important to pick and choose what you decide to reveal and withhold. This scene would be no less mysterious if we had a better mental image of the people/gnomes/squirrels observing this action, and in fact it would perhaps even heighten the intrigue. Are these people in on the assassination? Are they horrified?

And throughout this page, specificity would go a very long way. My thoughts below are only directional, the author alone knows what's really going on in this scene, but hopefully will illustrate how things can be improved with a bit more illustrative detail.
The taller man stood near the third floor window, scanning the crowd of parade-goers lining the streets. He turned to the shorter his colleague Igor and smiled.
“Bigger crowd than last year, yes? Than last year?Igor said, twirling his uneven mustache.
“Last year wasn't as big a deal. Oop... here we go.”
Igor crossed the dark room to peer out the window as well, standing carefully back from it. Outside, the number 150 was blazoned on just about everything banners, on signs, on balloons, and capes [be specific to create a better mental picture for the reader]. One hundred fifty years since the Great Tomes revealing the Builders had been discovered.
A troupe of actors passed, playing out one of the Tome storyies of the sky chaser ["one of the stories" is vague, better to be specific]. The Tomes claimed an ancient enemy had chased the Builders across the sky and that they had died in a final stand, here, at the valley of Safehaven. The actors, wearing flowing blue tunics, leaped and twirled in a pantomime of a race through the heavens. Debate about the veracity of the texts shook academic halls for over a century.
The crowd roared. The King had arrived, waving and laughing. Richard was in his sixth year as King. Kind, fair, savvy enough to throw a good party regularly, King Richard he was the most popular monarch the realm of Safehaven had seen in generations.
The crowds' adulation continued but tThe King's laughter abruptly stopped because of the when an arrow which seemed to suddenly appeared in his throat. He fell to his hands and knees, then began to get back up again, falling again as a second arrow pierced his sternum. The crowd still screamed his name. It took another moment for the tone to change from praise to horror.
The arrow still perhaps appears a bit too soon in the narrative and it might be better to have more setup on "taller" and "Igor" and Richard and what exactly is going on during this day, but this redline hopefully illustrates how replacing vagueness with specificity will give the reader a better chance at imagining the action and becoming invested in what happens.

Thanks again to Justin McKean, and if you'd like to have your page critiqued you can enter it here.

Art: Coronation of Nicholas II and Alexandra Fyodorovna by Laurits Tuxen






Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What's your writing routine?


Much like athletes warming up for a big game, just about every writer I know has a routine to get them ready and focused to write.

What's yours?

Mine: I wake up relatively early on the weekend (7:30-8:00am), start up a pot of coffee, go outside to get a bagel or breakfast sandwich, come back, turn on soccer, answer emails, and then get myself started writing.

What about you?

Art: Été by Claude Monet






Monday, March 2, 2015

Why we write (in GIF form)

We write.
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We write because we want to change the world.
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We write because we want to walk a mile in someone else's shoes.
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We write because we want to travel new places.
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We write because we want to see what we know in a new way.
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We write because we want to create.
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We write because we want to connect.
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We write because we want to inspire.
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We write because we want to see the future.
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We write because we want to remember the past.
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We write because it's an immense challenge.
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We write because it's an incredible feeling to finish.
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We write because we want to make magic.
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We write because sometimes we just can't deal.
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We write because we seek the truth.
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We write because we want justice.
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We write because we're angry.
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We write because we're happy.
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We write because we're lost.
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We write because we want to find something better.
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We write because we love.
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Why do you write?


Want to write your story? Check out my guide to writing a novel, How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever, on sale for just $4.99 at:

Amazon Kindle
Apple iBooks
B&N Nook
Kobo
Smashwords

The print edition is on sale for just $11.99 at:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
CreateSpace






Thursday, February 26, 2015

My blog should now be safe for Outlook


One of the unintended consequences of my switch to MailChimp was that I crashed the poor unsuspecting Outlook users out there.

Sorry! I mean you no harm!

This should now be fixed. If it is not, please let me know and I shall work on another fix ASAP.

And if you don't use Outlook and are wondering why you are reading this post, here is a fantastic cat GIF for you:



Art: Schipbreuk by Henri Adolphe Schaep






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