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Free Characters for Your Novel!

Free Characters for Your Novel!

Is your plot dragging? Is your protagonist starting to annoy you with long, boring speeches that add nothing to the story? Are you contemplating plagiarism to fix the problem of a go-nowhere middle third of your novel? Well, put down that copy of The Pillars of the Earth (did you really think Follett wouldn’t notice you “borrowed” a few words?) and pay close attention to this post. I have the perfect solution for all your novel-writing problems: the introduction of a Brand New Character. That’s right, with addition of a BNC you can kick a dragging plot into overdrive or kick a protagonist in the asterisk so he or she stops blathering on about nothing and starts doing Very Important Things.

Today, and today only, I’ve got five, count’em, five BNCs you can add to your novel. And what’s the cost? Well, you’ve probably seen BNCs advertised for as much as $1000 elsewhere. But for you? They are Ab-So-Lute-Ly Free. You heard that right. Free. And they’re plug-and-play! Just select any one of the characters below, write him or her into your story, and watch the magic happen.

  • Sylvester Thorogood – Sylvester is a 64-year-old widower who recently quit his job as assistant manager of a local Ace Hardware, took the insurance money he got after his wife died in a tractor-pull accident (don’t ask) and bought a KOA campground he plans to turn into the “Disneyland” of KOA campgrounds. He has no hair (except for a gray ponytail which may or may not be glued on) drives a restored brown 1975 AMC Matador wagon, and is allergic to seafood.
  • Laverne DuPrix – Laverne is a seven-year-old girl who loves her first name and spells it out loud whenever anyone asks “what’s your name?” In fact, she loves spelling words so much she pretty much spells everything she says. She doesn’t have curly hair or sparklingly bright eyes, so don’t even try to work that into her description.
  • Skip (just “Skip”) – Skip is 19 and a high schooler (technically, still a junior) who may have actually forgotten his last name due to the drug-addled year his friends refer to as “the year Skip skipped.” He’s a really smart kid, but you wouldn’t know it because he only speaks when the topic of conversation interests him. And the only things that interest him are novels by Stephen King, serial killers, and angel food cake. With strawberries.
  • Pat Blurry – Pat is a forty-something woman who doesn’t know the meaning of the word “subtle.” No, you misunderstand. She really doesn’t know what the word means. Okay, and in addition to that, she wears gaudy, bright colors (think Carmen Miranda’s hat) and talks with a very loud voice that at times seems to have a southern accent and at other times a Canadian accent. She lives with a collection of exotic talking birds, one of which speaks only in profanities.
  • Gary Munson – Gary lost his high-profile job in the financial industry when the recession sent his firm into bankruptcy. He’s not a happy man. He has a gun. And he kills people. That’s all you need to know. (Keep him away from your protagonist. I mean it.)

Use your characters wisely. And have a good day.

[Fake Legal Disclaimer: While each of the BNCs will fit anywhere in a novel, they are officially certified to be effective only when inserted somewhere between the 20,000 and 40,000 word mark and only if The Writer doesn’t change the BNC’s name. Once a BNC is inserted into The Writer’s novel, the BNC becomes the property of The Writer. Use of a BNC does not represent an implicit or explicit or illicit endorsement by the Noveldoctor or any real or imaginary members of the Noveldoctor Collective. Use of characters is at The Writer’s own risk. Remember, never drink and write. Well, actually, that might not be such a bad idea. Especially if your novel is so troubled you’re resorting to using a BNC. This ends the fake legal disclaimer.]

Revealing the Hidden Secrets to Publishing Success

Revealing the Hidden Secrets to Publishing Success

Tired of having to jump through all those silly hoops agents and editors keep placing between you and your dream of becoming a published author? After literally minutes of research, I have uncovered 10 secrets that practically guarantee success. Sure, I could keep them to myself, but I’m feeling generous today so I thought I’d share them with you.

Study these secrets. Use them wisely. Become hugely successful.

Then buy multiple copies of my soon-to-be-released fiction bestseller, The Last Days of the Literary Agent*. It makes a great Festivus gift.

  1. Legally change your name to Stephen King. Then write under a pseudonym like Harold Johnson. Once you get your book into the marketplace (self-publish if necessary), leak to the press that Harold Johnson is really Stephen King. Watch your Amazon rank soar.
  2. Earn your pilot’s license. Get a job flying for a major airline. Have a friend release a flock of geese over the Hudson…
  3. Create a compelling new genre and write the first book in that genre so people will refer to you as “the father (or mother) of [clever genre title here].” Here’s my genre suggestion: querypunk.
  4. Threaten to release a deadly virus in unspecified major metropolitan areas if you don’t get a seven-figure deal for your memoir-in-progress, When Anti-Depressants Fail.
  5. Go to writers’ conferences and…skip the sessions. They’re only helpful if you want to take the long, labor-intensive route to success. Instead, track agents to nearby bars and ply them with drinks until they agree to represent you. This could take quite a few drinks, so plan your budget accordingly. And make sure you have an iPhone 3GS. (The earlier generation iPhones won’t be much help.) You’ll need the video function in case of Karaoke.
  6. Self-publish your first novel as cheaply as possible, then ask your millionaire uncle to buy 100,000 copies so you can include this little detail in the “previous sales” section of your proposal for the next one.
  7. Flying monkeys. Any book about flying monkeys is a guaranteed bestseller.
  8. Pen a quasi-sequel to a seminal novel like To Kill a Mockingbird or Catcher in the Rye. Then…um…never mind.
  9. Find Osama bin Laden. Write about it. (Michael Bay wants to direct the movie adaptation.)
  10. Spend all your reading time between the covers of great novels, all your studying time scouring intelligent publishing-related books and blogs, and all your vacationing time at writers’ conferences soaking up the wisdom of agents and editors and published writers. Then use what you learn to write a book that is smart, entertaining and defined by a compelling voice that is yours and yours alone.

Had you going there, didn’t I? Just kidding on that last one.

*I’m not really writing that novel. Because I love and respect literary agents. I really do. But it is a compelling title, don’t you think? Maybe you should write it.

7 Random Distractions to Keep You From Noticing There’s No Real Content In This Post

7 Random Distractions to Keep You From Noticing There’s No Real Content In This Post

seven-box1All indications are that it’s Friday. And apparently, it’s a holiday weekend, too, though I didn’t realize this until my fictional next door neighbor started setting off fireworks in his driveway. I think it’s some sort of holiday to celebrate man’s dominion over dogs. I didn’t verify this in the “current holiday we just made up” section at the Hallmark store, but previous experience and the ain’t-that-cute tweets of complete strangers on Twitter give me reason to believe July 4th is known as “Make Your Dog Cower Under Your Desk” Day. I could be wrong about that.

I don’t have a dog.

So, in honor of this fine holiday, I’m going to fill this space with words so you have something to read after you’ve enjoyed six pieces of corn on the cob, five slices of watermelon and four hot dogs (hot dogs, eh? I see what you’re going for here, but don’t you think the sudden loud noises and subsequent cowering are enough to make your point?).

Anyway, the things below are typical Friday fare. In other words, they’re random and potentially meaningless. Enjoy.

  1. A friend just sent me a copy of Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading. Yes, this is the Nabokov of Lolita fame. My friend says it’s a surprisingly modern read. This, despite having been published in the year of my birth. Go ahead, look it up. Shed a tear for me if you want, I’m a thirtysomething on the inside and that’s what matters. But back to the book – don’t you love that title? I’ll let you know what I think.
  2. I’m falling in love…with the TV series Mad Men. Yes, I am slow to the party, but thanks to Comcast’s On Demand feature, I’m making my way through the first season four episodes at a time. I can see why it’s an award-winning show. Much thanks to a different anonymous friend (not the unnamed one above) for the recommendation. You were right.
  3. One of the projects I’m wrestling with in my “free time” is a movie screenplay. Well, I’m actually not that far along yet, I’m still arranging the scenes into a detailed treatment. I’ve been working on this for two years now and it has changed dramatically during that time. What began as a dark, edgy story about a mysterious character who brings redemption to a corrupt town has morphed into a lighter, quirky story about a mysterious character who brings meaning to the lives of a few people in a small town. (Reason for most of the changes? Anticipating a low budget to work with.) I’ll keep you posted.
  4. Want a fix of beautifully poetic narrative writing? Go to Amber’s website and read her posts. The My Love Songs thread is particularly amazing. I told her she has to write a book someday. You can tell her that, too.
  5. Thus far, my limited experience with Twitter has granted me a brief conversation with Augusten Burroughs, a re-tweeting by uber-nerd and former Star Trek: TNG whipping boy Wil Wheaton, and a kind three-word response from the American God himself, Neil Gaiman. Oh, and a rather significant number of my tweets are going to appear in the book The World According to Twitter, by NYT columnist and techno-geek David Pogue. Twitter is fun. Especially when used to stalk famous people. You should follow me. Sometimes I actually tweet something witty.
  6. Dark Chocolate Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups = Happiness.
  7. For some strange reason every time I hear the Indiana Jones theme I feel compelled to salute. In a related story, every time I hear the soundtrack to Legends of the Fall I want to marry Julia Ormond.

There. That’s seven things. If you’re still reading the dog has had way too much time to plot his revenge.

Step carefully.

Fiction Trends of the Future!

Fiction Trends of the Future!

Yesterday I was in the future. Wait, I mean in the future, I zipped back to yesterday. Or was it tomorrow that I…never mind. It doesn’t matter. Bottom line is what’s important here and here’s the bottom line: I know what book trends are going to be hot in three years. Yes, you heard me. (Really? Did you just hear me right now? Like in an audible voice? Because that’s either the coolest thing ever or a sign that you should schedule an emergency appointment with your psychiatrist.)

While I was in the future, I did a little historical research. All because I love each and every one of you like Stephen King’s literary agent loves Stephen King. In other words, a lot (pending your decision to utilize my editorial services for a perfectly fair fee considering how famous you’ll be someday thanks to all the information I’m providing).

The following seven trends are going to be huge. I’m talking Dan J.K. Meyer Brown Stephenie Rawlings huge. You have just enough time to complete a novel in one of these genres so that it will be ready for the literary agent of your choice to sell to the highest bidder.

At great risk, I’ve included the actual title of the trendsetting novel for each genre to make it even easier for you to succeed. I have not, however, listed the authors. Did I see the authors’ names? Yes I did. But I don’t want to mess with the future any more than I already have. You know how this time travel stuff works. It’s delicate and wonky and there’s always a chance of the universe folding in on itself. I don’t know about you, but I’m not quite ready to be folded out of existence.

Okay. So here they are. Pick one and write it. And remember, if you need editorial help from a sharp editor (who has already seen the finished book), just email me.

Future Fiction Trends

1. Science friction fiction – Read that again, carefully. This genre is devoted entirely to stories about scientific things that rub against each other. This might seem an impossible challenge, but you’ll be happy to know “scientific things” includes hot scientists. You do the math.

Future Bestseller: Iris and the Spectrometer of Doom (Mostly it’s about the Spectrometer. Iris is just there for eye candy. And for rubbing up against things.)

2. Hamish love stories – I know. I had to do a double-take on this one, too. In case it’s not clear, these are love stories featuring a protagonist named “Hamish.” And that’s all you need to know.

Future Bestseller: Gwen’s Eggs and Hamish (No, not those eggs. It’s not about procreation. Gwen is a breakfast cook at Denny’s. A really good cook.)

3. Plant fiction – Think Charlotte’s Web, except with talking plants. Most of the books in this genre apparently are set in the jungle, though the chart-topping bestseller listed below was obviously set in a backyard garden. So if you’re the lucky author of this one… sorry about that.

Future Bestseller: Rutabaga’s Lament (NYT review: “A literary, vegetarian masterpiece of Dickensian brilliance!”)

4. Gaimaniacal fiction – This one threw me at first. Any guesses? Yep. It’s a genre of paranormal novels in which every character is a creative interpretation of real-life author Neil Gaiman. (This is because Neil is a fantastic author and a tremendous human being and everyone likes him. Plus, he just responded to a Tweet in which I mentioned referencing him in this blogpost and it is quite possible that in so responding, he triggered the very event that will result in the future Gaimaniacal fiction phenomenon described here. Makes your head spin, doesn’t it?)

Future Bestseller: Neil Before Me (It’s really quite amazing. Did you write it? Can I have your autograph before Neil sees this on the front table at Borders?)

5. Historical fiction: 1970’s – This might seem like the easiest of the bunch, but there’s one little detail you should know: every chapter has to feature a detailed description of orange shag carpet. The noted book below did this with subtle grace, by the way. If you’re the author, I salute you. (And you owe me a box of Kleenex.)

Future Bestseller: Shag ‘n Me (This was huge in Britain – first day sales of 500K. But then they read the book and discovered it was about carpeting. That’s when it took off in America. Go figure.)

6. Adverbial mysteries – Save those adverbs. You’re gonna need ’em for this genre. Basically, it’s a mystery genre – but each page is packed with a plethora of adverbs. I guess people like adverbs in the future.

Future Bestseller: Beautifully, Seriously Killed Dead (I know. That’s a terrible title. Don’t shoot me, I’m just the messenger. And who can argue with 3 million units sold? Well, you could, stupidly.

7. Neurotica – I don’t have to describe this genre do I? Good. Because I’m not sure I could do it well enough to satisfy the critics who will spend upwards of three months obsessing over an accurate definition before ultimately decrying the genre as meaningless, purposeless soul-sucking crap.

Future Bestseller: Does Distress Make Me Look Fat? (I’m not going to tell you any more about this one.)

Well, there you have it. Enjoy writing your bestsellers. And let me know how I can help.

Until next time…

Pause, Consider, Caption

Pause, Consider, Caption

I’m swamped with work so I’m taking the day off from writing a post. Why don’t you use this time to work on your entry for the Help Keep Stephen Off Prozac Writing Contest Extravaganza? The competition is really heating up. I’m thinking of posting a few teaser excerpts on the blog tomorrow.

The promised post on how to make your second novel better than your first will appear next week.

But since you took the time to click and visit the blog today, I have to give you something, right? So here’s a photo I snapped last summer in Chicago at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Hey, I know… why don’t you write a caption for the photo? (The button for adding comments is at the top of the post.) Will you win a huge prize? No, but you might have fun. That’s a prize in itself.


Come back soon.

Titles, a Sentence and Contest Plans

Titles, a Sentence and Contest Plans

Friday Item The First – Titles

I like book titles. I make them up all the time. In fact, most of my short stories began as nothing more than a title. If you’ve memorized James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure, you know that on page 38 he lists “making up titles” as a great way to spark plot ideas. Well, continuing the spirit of generosity I began yesterday, I thought I’d just go ahead and give you five titles.* Now all you have to do is write a great novel around them. You can do that, right?

  • Kick the Mountain
  • The Truth About Climbing Trees
  • A Modest Collapse
  • Thief of Seasons
  • Hello Lucid

Friday, Thing 2 – A Sentence

I like this sentence and the sort of person it describes:

There is a certain kind of confident traveler who likes to open the carriage door just before the train has stopped in order to step out onto the platform with a little running skip.

On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan

Make it Three, Friday – Contest Plans

Someone must be spiking my coffee with bailout funds because I’m suddenly feeling generous again and I want to give stuff away. So next Friday I am going to host a fun little writing contest right here on this blog. Hey, you know what would be super great? If you started telling your friends about before the official contest announcement. One really good reason to do this is that I’m going to base the coolness of the prize on how many folks stop by the blog during the week. The greater the number of visitors, the cooler the prize. Another good reason to send your friends here is that my self-esteem is based entirely on the popularity of the blog. Because of this, I am naming the contest the “Help Keep Stephen Off Prozac Writing Contest Extravaganza.”

All the important details will be revealed next week.

That’s all. Enjoy your weekend.

*I didn’t search any of these titles on Amazon to see if someone else is already using them. But you can be assured your publisher will. And then they’ll change it. To something like Cupid Has Terrible Aim. Or maybe Bunny Slippers of Doom. Hey, I kind of like that one.

Free Book Ideas For You

Free Book Ideas For You

A few years back when I was working in a real office and enjoying the perks of the cubicle life, I had a particularly prolific creative season during which I came up with lots of ideas for books that I was going to write someday. (Note to former boss: All these ideas occurred during my lunch hour.) So I compiled a list. (Um, during my lunch hour, of course.) When the season of idea abbondanza was finally over, my list had grown to 150 titles.

Yes, 150.

Last night, after accidentally looking in the mirror and remembering how old I am (don’t ask), I realized I might not live long enough to write all those books. In fact, based on my writing pace for the current w.i.p. (50,000 words in the past four years), it appears that I’m going to end up about 1000 years short.

So, rather than let these C-list…I mean quasi-brilliant ideas go to waste, I’m going to give them to you. Go ahead, take one. Don’t be shy. All I ask is that you mention my name during the tearful speech you give while accepting the Pulitzer. Or the Hugo. Or the coveted top prize in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

This Isn’t the End of the World (But You Can See It From Here) – A former best-selling author who is suffering from a 20-year case of writer’s block turns suicidal and plans a dramatic demise by jumping out of a plane without a parachute. But just as he leaps into the sky, he has a brilliant idea for a book that could change the world. He writes the whole thing in his head on the way down.

Out of Ideas – What happens when there are no more original ideas? The world ends. This is a story of the last dozen original ideas in the history of mankind. And the end of the world. (This is not a sequel to the previous book about the author who runs out of ideas. But it could be the “book within a book” that he writes in his head. If you like that sort of thing.)

Sending Picasso to His Room Without Supper – This is the story of a young boy named Jeremy Picasso (no relation to that other guy) who is always getting in trouble for playing with his food until quite by accident it is discovered that he’s not playing at all, he’s creating perfect reproductions of famous sculptures he’s never seen in real life. Eventually, he gets his own show on the Food Network. (Just a suggestion.)

Crossed (S)words – In this novel, a small band of post-modern Catholics stepping into a subway car are suddenly sent back in time to 1200 AD when the words “transubstantiation” and “train substation” unexpectedly switch definitions on Wikipedia. This puts them smack dab in the path of Pope Innocent III’s Fourth Crusade and provides them with an opportunity to change history. (Based on a true story.)

Do-Over – This is two books in one: the first tells the story of a man who makes a series of horrible decisions and ends up homeless and destitute; the second tells the story of the same man making a series of really good decisions and still ending up homeless and destitute. (I see it as a funny book. Nick Hornby funny.)

Expectant Leigh – This is a parable for adults disguised as a children’s picture book. It’s about a young girl, Leigh, who, against all odds, is hopelessly optimistic in the midst of the most horrific of circumstances. SPOILER ALERT: She dies in the end. But we all learn Something. Really. Important.

Dividing Time – Some guy who probably looks like Nicolas Cage finds himself sent backward and forward in time at the very same time in a race against time to stop the detonation of an atomic bomb that is the very reason he is sent backward and forward in time. (Alternate title: Brain Whiplash.)

White Space – This is the literary equivalent of John Cage’s musical opus, 4’33”.

Have fun kids. I’ll send more ideas your way soon!

Okay, so they’re not the top-drawer ideas you were hoping for. What did you expect? They’re free.

[Three or four of you might think you recognize some of these ideas from a post you’re reasonably certain I wrote for a different blog more than two years ago but you’re sadly mistaken and suffering from some sort of mass delusion. Hey, this sort of thing happens all the time. I read about it in a book once.]