Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Full Information for my online seminar

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Brief Note in the Interim...

If you're interested in becoming a novelist, screenwriter, or simply want to improve your writing skills, why not sign up for my online writing course, "Think Like a Writer"?

This right-to-the-point course deals with descriptions, transitions, dialogue and the crafting of believable, "breathing" characters your Readers won't soon forget. You'll get reports, exercises and If you're interested, please contact me at simon_lang@rocketmail.com, and write the word, "Student" in the subject line. draft
More next time, I promise.
Lang out.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

They stole my idea!

How many of us, especially in the beginning of our careers, have said (or shouted or cried) the same words!  Here we have a wonderful idea--for instance, a boy living with relatives or friends, somewhere out in the outback, who dreams of greatness, of going to the stars, as it were--and he's stuck, until--surprisingly--some wise, wonderful old tutor/mentor/guru breaks him free into a whole new life!

And then we go to the movies or buy a book, and by jiminy, there's our idea, staring us in the face!  Worse, this writer, whoever he is, is making a mint off of it!  What a ripoff!  What a gyp!  What a crume! 

What a mistake!  And we're the ones who make it.

You see, it's not really your Iidea!  The fact is, no one ever owns an idea

The scenario above, that I gave you as an example, could just as easily be applied to Star Wars as to Harry Potter and to a hundred other terrific stories.  Two really good writers took the same idea, the same "skeleton," and fashioned two entirely separate worlds,
two entirely different Protagonists and Villains and Gurus--from the same idea.

Ideas don't belong to anyone.   You can't copyright them, you can't bank them, you can't own them.  The only thing you can do is to make something amazing of them.  That you can own.  You can own and copyright and best of all, sell, whatever you make of an idea, and God bless you for it!  But you can never, never, NEVER own an idea.

So no, Virginia, nobody can steal your idea, because it's not yours in the first place.  (I was very annoyed when I realized this, and had it corroborated for me by professionals far greater than I ever have become; but whether or not I was personally annoyed, it's true, and that's that.)

But the ideas float around out there, waiting for some enterprising writer to grab them and make them into somethign.  So grab one or two or ten.

You can take that idea and run with it, mold it, shape it, craft and maneuver it, until it's something no one ever has seen or felt or witnessed, and every last letter, word, character, scene, and, yes, dollar it contains or can garner, is yours, plus byline.

So go for it.  Grab an idea and wrestle it into the shape you think it should have, coax it to bend, flatter it into shrinking here, expanding there, and one day you'll have something fresh and new and yet warmly familiar, that people will pay to read or watch or sit through.

Good enough?  Sure it is!

Now get out there, tiger, and show them how it's done.

More next time,


PS:  If you'd like me to show you how it's done, I'm opening my writers' membership group to online students in January, which will be ongoing thoughout the year.  It comes in three levels, and in it, I'll share with you everything you need to know to write a saleable story or novel.  But remember, my course doesn't work unless you do. 

If you're interested, and you're willing to do the work, drop me an email at simon_lang@rocketmail.com with "Student" in the subject line.  Then I can let you know the particulars, when and where the course starts online, and you can decide which level you'd like to come in on.  Some of you will be more experienced than others, so the different classes address your own level of writing.  Looking forward to seeing you there!  L--

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Shape of Things

Hello again,

I had a visit yesterday from a colleague, a screenwriter who’s been struggling with a screenplay for some time now. She’d asked me if I’d read her first ten pages, and I was happy to agree.

When I started reading, I was almost envious of some of her dialogue. It wasn’t only good; in places it was absolutely brilliant! In one six-word line, she gave an entire paragraph’s worth of exposition, including a relationship, a prefiguring of coming events, and a commentary on the locale her scene occupied. I found myself wishing I had written it first.

Old story I know, but true as the sunrise, nevertheless.

The problem certainly wasn’t her dialogue. The problem was that what she was writing—the subject and theme of her piece—were more correctly suited to a novel. Only in the novel form, I felt, could she encompass the broad scope of her story, and bring it all to life.

If she tried to fit all that into one 120-minute film, she would have to cut away too many vital issues that strongly affected the shape of the story. Cut them away and the story would fall apart. She would diminish it to a shadow of itself, a tantalizing but unsatisfactory taste of what more properly should have been a delicious and satisfying full meal.

What about your work? Are you trying to expand a focused, tightly-plotted action-adventure idea into a novel, when it is more suited to a short story? Are you taking a novel, and, instead of giving it the “sprawling room” that novels require, giving your story only mere finger-and-toe-holds in a film? A film that must, by definition, be a tightly-structured script, because of film’s inherent time  parameters?

In short, are you writing your wonderful story (because as we all know, wonderful stories are the only kind worth writing) in the correct format?  Or are you missing the mark?
Very often, a story will dictate its desired form to the writer. Other times, we have to tease and play with it until it suddenly blurts out its secret wish—it wanted to be a novel/short story/film/poem, whatever. Let it.  Keep playing with it until it tells you, until you are sure what it is you actually are working on. ‘
It’s no good spending months on a screenplay only to discover weeks or months later that it was a prose poem; or a novel, or anything else. Get to know your story, and the best way to do that, as we have seen before, is to write detailed backstories of your main characters.
Once you know your characters well, the correct storytelling form will suggest itself to you.
Make sure you give that great story every chance for success. Give novels the room they need for their characters to think and dream and be aware of their settings (some of which settings can actually function as a character in themselves, e.g., the cold, in Jack London’s stories; the sea in C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series, etc.)

Give short stories their finely-trimmed and focused excellence, and films their own sort of disciplined structure that also allows for the cooperation of many creative people to bring it to fruition.
Let your choice of the proper structure fit the story you’re telling, and your chances of success will increase exponentially.

Amd have fun!
More next time.

Lang out

Friday, October 8, 2010

My Apologies!

Well, the secret is out, if it ever was a secret to begin with.  I make mistakes.  Yes, I'll cheerfully admit it.  I make mistakes.  Some of them are doozies, like the last (deleted) post, in which I told you how to grow and prepare Chinese Cabbage.

It's a pretty good recipe, too.

But it has no place in a writing blog.  It belongs on my "growing and cooking" blog, www.eatingyourgarden.blogspot.com/  I'll try not to have that happen again.  No promises, but I'll do my best.

While we're just talking, I want to tell you about a terrific site called "Talebait.com."  It's fun and interesting, and I urge you--especially if you're a new writer--to hop over there and get involved. 

There are stories already running to which you can add your own segment, if you like; an area called "Open Water," where you can post your original story; and lots more interesting and fun places where writers can flex their creative muscles and intersct with colleagues.  I've mposted numerous times.

If you're fishing for a welcoming place to drop a writing "hook" or toss your bait on open water, don't miss "Talebait.com." In fact, as soon as you've finished reading this entry, go over there and check it out!  It's great!

BTW, this writer receives nothing for mentioning this except the gracious gift of having Skipper--Open Water's WebMaster-- mention my writers' course on Talebait.  She needn't have offered; for I would have told you how good it was, anyway.  But you can bet I took her up on it!

Another great place for writers is the Fiction Writers' Guild. It's a Linked-In Group, and lots of writers--from professionals to brand-new beginners--all interact and comment on the samples posted.  Any writer would do well to check it out.  Go thou and do likewise.   ;-)

Now for a hard right-hand turn:

I finally broke down and went to the dentist’s office yesterday. He’s a new dentist--for me, at least-- a fine young man who met all my requirements: he had to have graduated from Baylor Dental School, he had to be intelligent, and his office had to accept my insurance.

This young man fit all the parameters, and he was polite and kind as well. He was obviously not from the States, but not to worry. Baylor liked him; why shouldn’t I?

He did a thorough exam of my mouth, while I tried to explain to him—past his whole fist and three or four pounds of metal--that I was going to be teaching, so any extensive repairs were out of the question for the time being. He smiled and inserted an anchor chain complete with anchor, and two rubber tires.  Truck sized rubber tires.  It took him a while.

When the examinatin was finsihed, we consulted together and finally settled on a root canal.  Not happily, but we settled.  Anything is better than a toothache when you’re standing in front of an audience trying to wax lyrical about writing.

I asked him whether it would be painful, and he quickly assured me it would not. “Your mouse,” he said. “will be numb. Rearry.” That one took me a minute to work out. My mouse’s rear would be numb? At last I got it.

“Oh, you mean, I won’t feel anything,” I suggested.

“Yes. Your mouse will be numb. Unfeering. No sensation.”

I liked the juxtaposition of “root canal” with the concept of “no sensation.”

“You’re saying I won’t feel the root canal at all.” He grinned reassuringly.

“Not until rater. Your whole mouse,” he reiterated, “will be numb.”

Okay, that’s fine with me. I’d just as soon have a numb mouse than not, when I’m up for a root canal. (I’d like to go numb all over when something painful is being done to me, but they don’t have shots for that yet.) Like many writers, including, I’m told, the great James Agee himself, I always put off going to the dentist as long as possible.

I understand from what I have read about Agee that he put off the dental visit a bit long, but then, his mouse probably didn't go numb.

And yes, I know that the American Dental community recommends twice-yearly checkups, but I keep telling myself I’m really, really busy. I am busy, as a matter of fact. I’ve got all these kids and grandchildren. I’ve got my writing, the coaching, the teaching, the cooking, the cleaning out of nail holes with a pin, whipping up great art with discarded tin foil…

Okay, I admit it: I also don’t like to go to the dentist.

But I reassure myself that I have some discipline. After all, I don’t like to go to the dentist, but I went, nevertheless. That says something about courage, determination, and fortitude; and, incidentally, the fact that I couldn’t stand another second having half my face throbbing until it fell off. Especially in front of an audience.

Well, I went and I’m glad. It’s all going to turn out fine.

According to my dentist, I’ll go in there, open wide, and two hours later, I’ll come out with a completed root canal, a follow-up appointment on a (happily) distant date, and a very numb mouse.

You’ve got to admit, it can’t hardly get any better than that.

More next time.

Lang out.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Why Is My Publisher Sitting On His Hands Instead of Marketing My Book?

The people in my online Fiction Writers’ Group recently were asked the interesting and very common question above, and I thought I’d post it and let you know what my answer was. I wish someone had told me ths answer when I was a new young writer. It would have saved me about eight years and some tens of thousands of dollars had I known what I have written below.

Maybe it will help you, too. I hope so.

My friend, you're making the same mistake I made when my first novel was published, those many years ago. You are expecting the publisher to be your marketing specialist. Unfortunately for writers (who really just want to write), publishers are not marketing specialists at all; they are publishers.

These days, writers must market their own stuff, and that means having an impressive platform.  I know personally of some agents who won't even handle writers who don't have a significant platform.

A platform, as I'm sure you're aware, is your sphere of influence--your mailing list, your contacts, socially, in business, and in normal everyday living, who can and probably will buy your book and/or talk about it on their show, invite you to speak at their university/college/highschool/group, and to people who also have a copious sphere of influence.

This may sound daunting, but anyone who has written a book and gotten it published can do just about anything!  You're one of a very small percentage of the population of the world.

The first thing you need to do is to start a media blitz. Google "media kits" and see what kind of suggestions the different sites make. Make a list of the items that are common to all of them, get those together in a brief, neat format, and send them to your local radio and TV stations, as well as to your local newspapers.

Tweet about your book--and yourself. Talk about it on Facebook. Hopefully you will be able even to do a video message. Tell people in line at the grocery about it, using your "elevator speech." (An elevator speech is a 10—30--second synopsis of what your novel/film/story is about.)

Don't ever tell the ending. If they know that, they don’t have to buy your book. You just told it to them, chapter and verse.
Lots of writers make video trailers for their books. You might try contacting the producers on this list to determine prices and details.


Its a very effective way to promote your book, and expense varies, depending on your needs.

You might even want to try doing one yourself with your video camera.

Make up bookmarks and business cards for your book, and ask local libraries if you might leave some of the bookmarks on their countertop, where people check out and return books. Pass out the cards to everyone you encounter, whether or not you know them.
You can get really nice business cards from VistaPrint.com, at a reasonable rate.  Sometimes they have 'giveaways' of postcards, magnets and the like as well.  It's well worth checking them out.

Use every way you can to promote that book.  Never give up.

The famous author of “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” Mark Victor Hansen, had his first book signing and no one came. The venue was inside a mall, so instead of getting depressed, he ran out into the mall, bought a whole bunch of helium balloons, and ran around giving them away to children, telling the parents, “Have you heard? Mark Victor Hansen is having a book signing today! Can you imagine? Mark Victor Hansen!  Better get over there before he leaves!” People flocked to the bookstore (possibly feeling obliged because they had just gotten a ‘freebie’ from him) and the rest is history.

Do anything legal, moral and non-fattening that will get your book marketed, no matter how foolish it seems. If it makes them buy, it’s okay.  Sometimes it's good only if it’s legal and moral.  I just threw the "non-fattening" thing in because I saw myself sideways in a mirror last night.

Set up a book signing at your local bookstore, introduce yourself to the manager, and autograph all the books they have in stock--in fact, if you're smart, you'll talk to the manager ahead of time and ask if he will order a few extra for your signing.  I've always found that bookstore managers are delighted when I autograph my books. They put a special "Signed by Author" sticker on the front, and people seem to buy them faster.

Research "Marketing your books," and go to http://www.wheatmark.com/ and sign up for their newsletter, and also sign up for free publicity for your non-fiction book.  News releases are sent up to three times a day to keep you up-to-date.  It's at:  http://www.reporterconnection.com/JoinNow/?11528.

Both are very informative. I wish they'd been around when I was first publishing.

Sorry you have to do this yourself, but we're all in the same boat, I’m afraid. The best thing to do, now that your book is published, is roll up your sleeves with a big smile and get out there and tell the world—shouting it from the virtual rooftops—how great your book is!

Simon Lang is paid for advertisements posted on this blog.
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Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Comic Novels of Charles Sorel: A Study of Structure, Characterization and Disguise (French Forum Monographs, 32.)Comic Novels of Charles Sorel: A Study of Structure, Characterization and Disguise (French Forum Monographs, 32.)

Tonight I want to talk to you about a trend I’ve been noticing in my own Fiction Writers’ Group on LinkedIn. So many young writers worry about a good deal about competition, about whether and when they will get an agent, be published by one of the big Houses, or even be published at all.
These are important things to think about, but not yet.
Not yet.

What’s important now, and this applies to all writers, is the story. Always and everlasting, the story. That is and must be your total focus.
Since the beginning of time, as long as Man has occupied our beautiful little planet, there have been storytellers. Whether it was a hominid (yes, I know he wasn’t quite Man, but close enough, just now) telling his group in primitive signs that he had seen something with too many teeth to argue with; or a male Australopithecus pointing for his clan the way north out of Africa; or a Cro-Magnon man—or woman—drawing tales the hunt, of anticipation and terror and delight, on the walls of a French cave, Man has been a storyteller.

We have found many ways to tell our stories, in television, movies, audio cassettes, in person in schools and churches and around campfires, and by parents and grandparents telling the tales to children. Oral histories; old legends with the fire of truth in their hearts; fairy tales; ancient stories told a thousand times and still new, still funny and horrible and tender and memorable, stories are like a fire that can destroy and consume, or warm and comfort.
We are the keepers of that ancient flame, and we must see to it that it never dims, never falters, never fails.
The story, to paraphrase Shakespeare, is the thing. Stories must start as close to the rising action as possible. I don’t give a tinker’s dam whether Millie-May Jumbles sleeps on her left side, wears a flannel nightgown, and puts in her teeth before she waddles into the loo to wash up and comb her hair and floss her teeth, unless that’s vital to the essence, the core of the story.

But if the story begins when she steps into the barn and hears the click of a gun’s hammer snapping back, Im suddenly alert, and I'll be all ears from then on.
The description is fine, and often necessary. but don’t turn off your reader with incidentals before you hook him. Once the reader has committed to reading your piece, then fine, drop in the description bit by bit, hopefully by showing us, rather than telling us. And only tell us what we need to hear.
Don’t give poor old Milly-May her false teeth unless they’re going to play a role in the story. That is to say, for instance, that she can keep complaining about her false teeth, how they make her mouth sore, and keep trying to fall out, and are a total bother; and perhaps the nervous intruder keeps telling her to shut up.
Then, if he carries her off, maybe her dropping those teeth somewhere they’ll be found or snagging them on a cactus (or whatever) as she passes, will spin the story around into a completely new direction. That would follow. But if you’re going to simply tell us she has false teeth (just to be cute) and then never mention them again, or mention them to no avail, forget it. You’re wasting your time and the reader’s time, too.
Here’s a non-rule that works like a Rule: Don’t show your reader anything—especially by mentioning it two or more times—unless you’re going to use it in the story.

Everything is important; you just have to decide what’s the most important in your story.
More next time.

Lang out.