This first post is entitled: "Plot or Character: Who's in Charge Here?" The title pretty much tells you what the post is about. You can read it at:
This is the first of two guest posts that recently appeared on Bookgoodies.com.
This first post is entitled: "Plot or Character: Who's in Charge Here?" The title pretty much tells you what the post is about. You can read it at:
I used Grammarly to grammar check this post because one pair of eyes is never enough when it comes to proofreading.
It must be pure serendipity that I would discover Grammarly, which advertises itself as the world’s best grammar checker, this week. It just so happens that I was thinking that my next post would be about one of my biggest pet peeves: sloppily written books.
Now I, like most writers, spend a lot of time rereading, revising and rewriting everything I write. This goes for novels, letters and little posts like this one. I hate it when I miss a typo, or punctuation error, or any other grammatical mistake. So I try so hard to make sure I get them all. I don’t, of course.
The fact is that no writer does. The more you write, the more mistakes you will make, and the more mistakes you will end up missing when you reread your own work. Now the quantity of mistakes in a given texts often has little to do with the writing ability of the author. Unfortunately, even the best writers will miss some of their own errors, and need an outsider or two to review their writing for them.
I’m sure this is not news to most people reading this. Everyone who has tried to sell anything they wrote has been warned about the perils of sloppy writing, and the concomitant need for top-notch proof-reading. Despite how obvious this is, in book after book that I’ve read the past few months I still find mistakes that are so obvious that I wonder how the writers (or their proof-readers) could have missed them.
What do these books have in common? They are for the most part self-published or published by small presses. Perhaps these authors did not want to spend a lot of money on proofreaders, but they often leave the results on the page, like an ugly stain in the middle of a beautiful painting.
The irony is that many of these books are extremely good. These authors often show as much story-telling skill as the best-sellers or most critically acclaimed literary giants. Mainstream publishing houses can only put out so many books, and self-publishing allows readers to discover talented writers who may have otherwise toiled in obscurity. However, what can be worse than picking up a book and getting slapped in the face with typos and grammatical errors on page after page? No matter how talented the writer, or how enjoyable the story, this thoroughly ruins the experience of reading.
One of the benefits of the many self-publishing tools that are available on-line is that texts can be revised and corrected constantly. If I could be so bold as to ask a favor of all those authors who’ve received a comment from readers about mistakes found in their books: go back and correct them. Get a friend (or several) to reread your work with a fine-toothed comb if you can not spend the money on a professional proof-reading service. Make your future readers happy. Leave them savoring the great story you just told, or the wonderful ease with language that you have. Do not leave them shaking their heads at the glaring mistakes that pollute your writing.
(For those who are wondering, I have already had to take my own advice.)
I prefer character over plot...even in my own book.British author and blogger Steve K. Smy recently gave my novel, The Guilty, a five star review on his site: Imagineerebooks.
What made this review different from so many others that I've received is that he intentionally makes no mention of the dramatic trial scenes in the book, or the surprises in the plot. He talks mainly of the characters, and the conflicts, particularly internal, that they are caught up in.
Now I think my book contains a pretty gripping murder trial, and the plot packs a few good twists and turns. And, obviously, when I'm called on to promote it this is what the focus is primarily on. But, the truth is, when I wrote this book all that mattered to me were my characters, especially the protagonist Robert Bratt. Of course, things happened to them; the kind of things that happen in all our lives, as well as things that would only happen to defense attorneys, some in the beginning of their careers, others at the end of their tether. But what I cared most about was how they dealt with these highs and lows in their lives, their joy at success, their fear of failure. Because these characters were real to me, so their feelings were real, and I wanted to make them real to the readers as well.
I knew I had succeeded, at least for one reader, when I read the following from Mr. Smy's review:
"If you’re looking for a Perry Mason or other similar fictional lawyer, then you’ll be disappointed. There’s a disturbing ring of honesty about the portrayed lawyers’ defects. You’ll find those you can happily despise, but you’ll also be confused by those who exhibit more humanity than you would expect. They are complex people. They have lives. You could, with little effort, imagine how they live their lives away from the spotlight of the story."
In the constant debate about whether plot or character is more important, I must simply say that the most exciting plot would never hold my attention if I didn't care or believe in the characters involved. Certainly, everybody enjoys a clever plot, but when a reader says, as Mr. Smy does, "I genuinely regretted the book ending," I know this is because the characters mattered, and it is they that the reader will miss. And it's at that point that I can truly feel a sense of accomplishment.
This Friday, July 19, the Book Connoisseurs site is featuring an excerpt from my legal thriller, The Guilty.
The scene comes from the book’s first chapter, and sets up pretty much everything that happens in the rest of the book. The scene is told through the eyes of the main character, Robert Bratt. He watches a rape trial unfold and sees a young victim, who also happens to be his daughter’s best friend, crumble under cross-examination. For a criminal lawyer this is all part of a day’s work, but seeing it as an outsider he realizes that this is not an attempt at uncovering the truth, but a strategy to win at all costs. The truth, like the young woman, becomes a victim here.
This raises the themes of truth and morality that are examined in the book. As a criminal lawyer Bratt is a sworn officer of the court with ethical rules he must obey, yet as a paid representative of sometimes violent criminals he is obliged to do whatever he has to in order to defend his clients. These are questions that lawyers do not, for the most part, spend their time worrying about. Quite simply, they get in the way of doing the job to the best of a lawyer’s ability, which is also something he is ethically obliged to do.
When a personal interest does get arise, and a lawyer starts seeing things like an outsider, it becomes hard to perform his sworn duty. On the other hand, if he is so intent on winning at all costs, then he can bend the rules of ethics until they’re all but unrecognizable. This delicate balance is what Bratt begins to ponder as he watches the other defence attorney at work in this scene. In the following days and weeks, as he goes about his own practice, and prepares for a murder trial, he has to decide how he can best defend his client while being true to the demands of his newly-awakened conscience. It is a sometimes impossible balancing act.
I recently downloaded a short book called I, The Provocateur, which is described as dystopian science fiction. That’s a coincidence, I thought, since the book I am presently working on is also a dystopian vision of the future. This led me to ask myself if there are many literary visions of the future that are not dystopian.
I’m not talking about science fiction that takes place in a totally different plane of existence, or in a different galaxy, or so far into the future that there is almost no connection with our own reality. (eg. Star Wars, Star Trek, etc.) I’m talking about speculative fiction that purports to look at how our world and our society will turn out in a few decades, or maybe a hundred or so years. Once you move away from aliens attacking Earth it seems that most speculative fiction, and certainly most good speculative fiction, is very pessimistic about the future.
If someone were to ask you to name a good book that tried to envision the direction our world was headed which names would pop into your mind? Nineteen eighty-four? That would be on the top of my list. How about Brave New World? The Handmaid’s Tale? Fahrenheit 451? Never Let Me Go?
All excellent books by any definition, but not an upbeat vision of the future in any one of them. Certainly these don’t represent all books, but are there any books out there that predict society is on its way to becoming fairer, freer, less polluted, more harmonious? I can’t think of any. I’m no expert on books, and maybe these examples are representative of my own taste more than they are of what’s out there. So let's look at movies, which reach a wider and more diverse audience .
Coming up later this summer, Elysium: Rich people above in an Eden. Poor people below in misery. Or from a few years ago, Children of Men: No more babies, so kiss humanity good-bye. Go further back, to Logan’s Run: Everybody lives a wonderful life, until 30; then they kill you. And there are many others.
Of course, there has to be some sort of conflict for there to be a story, so it makes sense that things don’t work out as planned in the future. But the conflicts are always because the world has become a terrible place, whether the misery is shared by everyone or is only reserved for an abused underclass that is hidden under a thin veneer of beauty or perfection. The only stories in which people defend a happy world against dark forces, either external or internal, are usually fantasies, or maybe space operas.
Nope, I may be wrong (and I expect some smarty-pants will take all of three seconds to show how wrong I am), but I think that most writers who attempt any sort of serious contemplation of where our world will be in a generation or two, or three, inevitably picture it as heading downhill. And this is not a recent phenomenon, if you consider that Brave New World was written in 1931, and Nineteen Eighty-Four was written in 1948. Have writers been so cynical or pessimistic for the better part of a century? Clearly, this trend is not a consequence of World War II, or Vietnam, or 9/11. Every generation seems to have had its exponents of a negative world view, warning about the dangerous path we’re on.
Do they think it makes for better fiction? Are they right? Is it a kind of snobbery, that looks down on any optimism for the future as naïve, or old-fashioned? Maybe it’s a specialized genre on its own, and pessimism is a necessary part of the criteria. All I know is that, as I work on my great DYSTOPIAN VISION OF THE FUTURE, it never even occurred to me that I didn’t have to.
The first week of my blog tour to promote my novel, The Guilty, is over; seven days of interviews, book excerpts and guest posts, with some book reviews still to come. Quite the interesting experience, reaching out and interacting with readers on a number of different sites who will, I hope, discover and enjoy my book. Coming up next are weekly posts, starting Friday, July 12 and continuing every Friday through to the end of August. All this is organized via Orangeberry.com, and the details of the tour can be found at http://blog.orangeberrypromo.com/2013/06/ob-light-me-up-gabriel-boutros/. Updates as they happen...
Assuming the link works this time, I get another shot at telling somebody else's readers what I think. This time Blogalicious Authors allows me to pontificate about what inspired me to write my courtroom drama, The Guilty. Click on Blogalicious Authors.
Just in case there's a problem opening it, try saying Open Sesame!
Not satisfied with having my own blog, I hijack somebody else's...
Interesting thing about being asked to write a blog on somebody else's site: suddenly I'm confronted with the possibility of being ignored by a whole new range of readers. Not like that's going to stop me from expressing my opinion, this time on a topic that every writer struggles with: making characters believable. For some strange reason the link to my guest post on The Bunny Review doesn't want to work, so I'll just copy it here:
How to make characters believable.
(As I write these few words of advice, I wonder if I’m living proof of the old adage, “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”)
Lots of things characters do in books can be believable, even if they might seem otherwise outlandish, if the writer has put the time into establishing that this is precisely what this character would do in the particular situation. Sometimes writers are so determined to keep their plot moving forward that they forget that the plot is simply what people say and do. They spend a line or two describing the character’s hair, or a little quirk, to distinguish them from the other two-dimensional characters in the book, and then rush into the action. But if the characters are so thinly drawn that they have no real “character” or personality of their own, then the audience will have little at stake in how the plot turns out.
What turns me off, in a book or a movie, is when somebody says or does something that is totally against his own nature, or human nature in general, but only serves to advance the plot. An obvious example is in horror movies where somebody goes down into a dark basement alone to investigate a strange noise when he knows the crazed killer is nearby. The reason the audience is yelling out “don’t go down there” is because nobody in their right mind would do so. Of course it is lots of fun for horror fans, but that’s mostly because everybody knows that it is totally UNBELIEVABLE!
How much more interesting would it be if the character is drawn in such a way that you know he has no choice but to go down in the basement? Then he is being true to his nature, and his horrific fate is that much more poignant, because it is so much more believable. But it takes time and effort, not to mention talent, to draw up a character who would actually want to go down those stairs, instead of just sending him down there because the writer thought it would make for a good splatter scene.
Another aspect of writing realistic characters is that they have more than one side to their personality. They may be kind and loving with one person, and rude and indifferent to others. We all know people like that in the real world. Of course, this is a tricky balancing act again, since you don’t want a smart-aleck like me to complain that the character is not being true to his nature. Once again, the challenge is in writing a character whom the reader knows has different sides to his personality, so that the changes of moods, for example, seem natural, instead of forced. When the reader isn’t jarred by something a character does that just rings false, then you have succeeded.
Nobody said that writing believable characters was going to be easy!
Hey everybody, I've been very busy getting ready for my first blog tour to promote my novel, The Guilty, beginning this Friday, June 28 and running on several different dates through-out the summer. The tour is run through the orangeberry.com website, and you can check out all the sites where I'll be posting guest blogs, being interviewed, and where my book will be reviewed, as well as the various dates, by clicking on:
I decided to go all out on a promotional push this summer, and so I'll also be slashing the price for the book to .99 a download. I realized that the best way to get the book into the hands (and onto the Kindles) of the greatest number of readers is to discount the book deeply and to not worry about how big or how small each royalty payment is.
You can also follow my occasional (ie. few and far between) tweets about this book tour at @Boutros_Author. I'll certainly be letting everyone know how well this promotion is going, and whether it was worth doing. Watch this space for further news!
I attended the Ottawa Small Press Book Fair yesterday, June 15, and the experience was neither an unqualified success nor an unmitigated disaster. First of all, it was important to get out in public with my book in hand, and get comments and reactions face to face. Having someone pick up my book, read the back cover quotes and blurb, then raise an eyebrow in my direction, as if to ask, “YOU wrote THIS?” can be a fairly intimidating experience. But it also led to several stimulating conversations about writing my book, as well as writing in general. I also enjoyed meeting the couple of dozen small press and independent authors who had brought their own work to the fair: novels, memoirs, poetry, graphic novels, and so on. Speaking with them about how much of themselves they put into their works, whether it was a tell-all, very personal story, or a piece of pure imagination, I saw the reflection of much of my own journey as a writer.
The weather outside the community centre was gorgeous, and Ottawa streets and neighborhoods were full of summer activities, and this may have cut into some of the walk-up crowd that the fair’s organizers might have hoped for. So that was perhaps the only downside to the experience, because, not only did we all want to sell lots of books, but we also wanted the chance to chat with lots of people about the whole experience of reading and writing. At the end of the day, we all got some of what we wanted out of the experience, even if it wasn't everything, and I, for one, am grateful for that. It was a chance to learn a lot about what readers are interested in, and about what goes into selling books. I’ll be just that much more prepared for the next fair or public event I attend. Can’t wait.