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Review of The Stranger by Christ Martin

This is one of those darkly compelling thrillers where, once you’ve reached the end, you start going back over what’s happened to try and marshal the twists and turns. Like so many busy people these days I had only a few brief wedges of time to read The Stranger, but I kept having to go on to the next chapter and the next and the next. The characters are original and engaging, the protagonist, Dillon, not your typical hero but instead a slightly nerdy computer repair man who nevertheless has a degree of cool about him; compounded by a dark secret in his own past. As I said, compelling stuff and well worth a read.

You can download The Stranger here http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Stranger-A-Novella-ebook/dp/B008XQ2Q0U/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1375261249&sr=1-1&keywords=the+stranger+chris+martin

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Help me out – go on…

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart said, “I pay no attention whatever to anybody’s praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings.”

Luckily for Mozart, that’s a maxim that served him pretty well during his lifetime, not to mention the 220 odd years and counting that have followed. Unfortunately for the rest of us, we weren’t born into the cloak of genius – whatever our pursuits.

But what does that mean?

It means that, unlike the revered composer, we do need to listen to what people have to say about us because it’s one of the only ways we can improve. I suppose, as an end-goal, we could have the ambition of no longer requiring feedback to better ourselves, since we’ve achieved that zenith of creativity, but really – are we ever going to stop wanting to know what people think?

I’m wandering off-track here though; it doesn’t matter. The point is: we…alright I…need feedback in order to get to where I want to be. Maybe you do too, maybe you don’t, but what I’m asking for here, in my usual round-about manner, is a helping hand.

At the moment I have two ebooks in publication and I’d really like some constructive feedback on them. Or…if it’s de-structive…so be it, I guess that will paint just as vivid a picture. In any case I am more than happy to return the favour if anybody’s interested. If you’re a writer (and logically, most of my followers will be) then great, but if you’re not I still value your opinion.

Just in case I still have anyone’s attention (hello…hello…echo, echo..) you can find my short story conspiracy thriller ‘The Villager’ for free just here:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/334134 (use promo code SW100 at checkout)

And my full length crime thriller ‘Pursuit’ here:

 http://www.amazon.com/Pursuit-ebook/dp/B00CRQZY2O/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1374046898&sr=8-1&keywords=pursuit+matt+kruze

This one isn’t free but if you like what you see (oh and yes I have edited it and ‘put down the thesaurus’ since some of those reviews went up) let me know and I’ll find a way to get a copy to you.

Like I said, I am more than willing to return the favour, so please do let me know if you’d like something looked at.

 

Speak a foreign language badly? Then you can master ‘show-don’t-tell’

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We currently have a German exchange student staying with us. My son is studying the language and this is the return visit, following his trip to Stuttgart earlier this year. Much to my son’s dismay I have been relishing the prospect of our visitor’s arrival for some time, seeing as it would give me the opportunity to haul out my very rusty German and crank it up.

You see I studied German myself but haven’t spoken more than a few words in the last fifteen years, and I wasn’t fluent even in my hay day, so you can imagine how clunky are my efforts now.

So what does this have to do with the art of showing, not telling, your readers?

Well now, there I was yesterday evening explaining that our shower was broken and that, just for the first night, would he mind taking a bath instead. (If you’re even vaguely interested to know, yes I’m going to remedy that problem today with my equally rusty DIY skills). Anyway, the issue with our shower is that it works, but it leaks a little, and we don’t have a shower curtain because…well because we don’t use the shower. But for the life of me I couldn’t think of how to say ‘shower curtain’ auf Deutsch. I managed the rest of the explanation with aplomb – please don’t use the shower until tomorrow, please take a bath instead (oh and they do say ‘take’ not ‘have’ – little lesson there for me) but I had to hack my way through the foliage of cluttered vocabulary and long-forgotten words in order to forge a path through to some kind of an explanation. In the end I told him that there was nothing to shield the water and that if he took a shower the floor would get wet.

In return for my heroic efforts he reacquainted me with the German for curtain, but something dawned on me: by struggling around the actual words, I had been forced to create a picture. I couldn’t say: ‘We have no shower curtain.’ Instead I had to paint an image of a semi-flooded bathroom and drops of water hurling through the air, unchecked.

And, actually, it doesn’t take a great deal of extended thought to use this method in your writing. Think about it. Next time you find yourself typing: ‘I checked into a cheap motel but I couldn’t use the shower because it didn’t have a shower curtain’, imagine you have forgotten a key word, the object in fact. And before you know it, you’re taking that shower under cold water from rusty pipes, exposed to the draft seeping in through the crack in the wall as well as anyone choosing to walk in to the bathroom. You might need to cajole the image a little, but by leaving out the obvious bits, you can create a nice vivid picture.

So next time you’re trying to show-not-tell, try to forget a few basic words and feel your way around the scene…

Would love to hear anyone else’s tips on this subject!

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Stop Press – One Star Review for Pursuit “I couldn’t get past page two..”

Stop Press - One Star Review for Pursuit “I couldn’t get past page two..”

Well come on, it would make a refreshing change wouldn’t it? Poking its head above the parapet of 5 star review notifications, my little shout to the world that here was an opinion that didn’t exactly sing my praises.

Oh and besides, it’s true–I actually did receive that review.

Seeing as we writers–well, we write–I turned to my first instincts and decided to hammer out a few of my thoughts on this. Bad publicity? Maybe so, but I’ve always claimed to be in this game for the long-term; I’m not interested in quick boosts to my book sales, rather the chance to hone my skills and develop myself as a writer. So here I am, laying bare all my literary transgressions because–why?

Hm, maybe just because it makes me feel better to thrash them out, or maybe it’s because by writing about the downs as well as the ups, I can better learn from them.

Before I go on though, let’s have it all out in front of us shall we–a purging of the sole as it were. The review (as already established) gave me one solitary star, and went like this:

“I couldn’t’ get past page two. The wordsmithing combined with run on sentences were more than I could stand. Editor?”

So what was my response? First and foremost, I felt pretty gutted. Maybe a little angry, because really, why was this reviewer displaying such vituperation at my work? Couldn’t she just have contacted my off-air and said, ‘Hey look, I read the start of your book but some of the long words put me off, you might want to look at that.’? But no, this one had to be put up in lights, smack bang in the public eye. I assume she knows a thing or two about writing, but she couldn’t even bring herself to construct the review properly–a couple of grammatical errors, and a punchy, one-word sentence that frankly had the impact of a forty-five shell on my confidence as a fledgling writer. I’m not slating her writing abilities, far from it, just pointing out that although she can almost certainly write a decent sentence, she couldn’t be bothered when it came to me. Is there a more biting, scathing insult?!

But then I looked at it, thought about it. You see, I’d had almost no reviews after a thousand downloads (free downloads I should point out) and that seemed odd to me. Surely there ought to have been a few, even negative or neutral ones right? But no, all I’d had was one 5 star review that really raved about my book. And then…silence.

Until the bomb dropped and that little un-star-studded number detonated on my Amazon page. Ahh…a light went on. People were downloading my novel, but struggling to get through the cloying prose and quitting within a few pages. Why bother to write a review of a book you haven’t read, right?

So I took on a philosophical attitude and thought, ‘You know what, Deborah’s right. The language is too poncy, to cluttered, to allow the story to flow.’ The truth of the matter was, she wasn’t the first person to suggest that. A couple of others had said it before her, but I ignored them, assuming I knew best. It’s not true that I spent all my time buried in a thesaurus. But it is true that I took far too much time constructing each sentence. The fact is, I wanted to really please my readers, to give them true quality. But I was trying too hard, and I came across as someone attempting to sound smarter than they really are. It actually took that review to make me look at it. It was like a slap round the face, rather than the gentle suggestions I’d had before. It woke me up.

Great, I thought. Let me at it. I started going through ‘Pursuit’ and smoothing out the creases with a vengeance. But then something else happened.

A few more reviews trickled in. One that gave me two stars (whoa, celebration) and again, the thesaurus references, but also a concession to my plot being ‘pretty decent’. And then a four star review by someone who really enjoyed the twists and turns. And you know how I felt?

Guilty.

I actually felt like I had a small contingency of readers whom I’d let down. And that made me all the more determined to make improvements. I dropped everything and as we speak…um, write…I’m almost finished with the editing of ‘Pursuit’.

So what do we, as authors genuinely open to bettering our craft, stand to gain from reviews? I’ll tell you from my perspective: we need a true gallimaufry-sorry just kidding-we need a true mixture, a blend of perspectives and opinions. Because the good reviews highlight what’s–well, what’s good about your work, but don’t cover the improvements you need to make. The bad ones just make you feel bad (unless you can take a step back and carry them on very broad shoulders) but the whole picture, the contrasting ingredients, are what you need to actually improve your writing. Or at least that’s my take on it. Had I just received praise, I would have rambled on assuming I was doing the right thing, but never really got anywhere as a serious writer. By the same token, if I’d just taken hit after hit, maybe I would have thrown in the towel.

So, conclusions? That one star review really opened my eyes. I doubt that was the idea, because she was clearly somewhat frustrated in writing it and I suspect sought only to hamper my sales. But it did work for me; it truly gave me the wake-up call I needed. Plus, seeing it there, perhaps other reviewers thought, ‘Okay, okay, she’s made that point, I’ll temper my own by highlighting at least one of the positives.’ And now I’ve had a couple of very constructive reviews. I don’t really care that they’re so publicly displayed. I write under a pseudonym anyway so if and when I become a good/successful writer, I’ll revert to my real name and voila, any damaging publicity gained under my pseudonym is rendered completely harmless. As such, I welcome all feedback. Bring it on – give me your best shot!

Oh and if you want to see what all the fuss is about, have a look inside here for uk or here for .com

But hurry, before the edited version comes out, and I put down the thesaurus…

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Help – plot on the rampage

Help - plot on the rampage

Do you ever feel like your plot is running wild, out of control?

Do you think it’s time to tame that plot?

Maybe you’ve planned your story to perfection, written it in a nice succinct manner, and then you come back to edit it and: Bam! You realise you’ve been unravelling it in great big clumsy chunks, cramming in those revelations, wedging a bit of character background into place, hurrying to tell one segment of the story so that the next makes sense.

Well, as far as I’m concerned: Guilty, Your Honour.

I had two or three plot elements to convey to the reader, and there we were – me, my readers, my protagonist and the villain, all in the same room at the same time, and what should transpire between us, but a firing off of plot developments like Arnie’s Uzi 9mm, and every bit as subtle. It was a crime scene, and I mean in the prose sense rather than the literary one…which it was too…oh never mind.

The point is, it was one of those moments where an author bangs his head against the desk and realises his whole plot has been delivered with the finesse of a drunken elephant. I feared reading on without a crash helmet. Or at least a pillow strapped to the desk.

So how do you bring your plot under control? Allow me to introduce Matt’s Plot Traffic Lights. Has a certain ring to it, right? No? Hm, oh well. Anyway it works like this:

Open up a fresh document. Type out an outline of your plot. Just the kind of thing you would keep to yourself, no fancy language, no frills, nothing punchy, just a basic summary of your story.

Next, turn it into bullet points. Don’t worry if they’re not in order from a timeline perspective, that doesn’t matter, just make sure you get every important development, revelation, etc. down.

Now, change them all to red. (You see where we’re going with the traffic lights now I reckon).

Next, go and remove all the clumsy bits of plot from your story, the ones you’ve forced into place against their will. (Yes I know this will take time but if it needs it, you have to do it, am I right?). That’s it, just cut them out – save them somewhere else, by all means – but get them out of your story.

Now, referring to your newly hacked up manuscript, change anything in your bullet point list to green if it’s happened in your plot, AND you’ve shown it to your readers.

The amber comes in for those pieces that have taken place BEFORE your story begins, and you haven’t yet mentioned them. So maybe an event that takes place in the past – a falling out between friends, a family feud, a lottery win, the contraction of an illness, whatever.

The red points are those that have NOT YET been written about in your story (these will be most of the developments that you have deleted).

Ultimately you will change everything to green, as you go back adding the bits and pieces of your plot back into your story.

So why do this?

Because it allows you to keep an easy track of your unravelling plot, to see clearly what your story is all about, what actually happens, and then monitor how much of it you’ve covered and what’s remaining. That way, you don’t panic into spilling all the beans at once. You can hold one or two surprises back, without the fear that you’ll forget them, because they’re right there on your traffic light board. Sorry, Traffic Light Board ©. Oh okay I’m getting ahead of myself, it’s not the greatest writing tool since the word processor, but it helped me. I didn’t once smack my head on the desk after creating it, and my plot is beginning to look like something elegant and…enticing. Yes, that’s the word, enticing. That’s what we’re all aiming for isn’t it?

Anyway that’s all for now. Try it out if you think you need it, and also if you think it needs modifying, or you can explain it better than I have, let me know, we can share the patent on it. Hm, maybe I’ll do a plot traffic lights for my plot traffic lights piece.

Next up, if I can bring myself: ‘How to deal with the emotional torment of a one star review that says something along the lines of ‘I couldn’t get past page two’’. Not that anyone would ever receive such a review. Can you imagine? Really…

Is it worth paying to promote your ebook – conclusions

Well I’ve just finished my five day free promotion for Pursuit on Kindle, and I paid $30 to have the word spread far and wide.

And the far and wide bit certainly rings true: I had downloads in Italy, Germany, France, Canada, all those places where I don’t normally see much readership.

But, numbers wise? Well pretty much the same as my last free promo, which I publicised myself. In fact, downloads were very slow, less than 100 per day, to begin with, but only really salvaged on the last day when I saw almost 500. 

I wonder if it’s got something to do with that fact that my first ebook was a short story. Perhaps people are itching to get their hands on a quick read but don’t want to pay that much for it (I agree – if I could offer my short stories for 30 cents/fifty pence I would) and therefore when they’re free, a short story represents something more tantalising.

Yet, doesn’t a full novel, by a different token, represent more of a bargain?

I’m not sure, but what I would say is that, personally, I wouldn’t pay in future. Partly my success might be down to the fact that I’m a newcomer to this game, but surely in that case, in future (and if all moves in the right direction!) I’ll have even less requirement for someone else to do my promoting?

On a related note, said short story is now out of the KDP select window and I’m going to publish it elsewhere, to see what impact the likes of Kobo, Smashwords etc will have.

I’ll keep you posted!

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The dirtiest word in fiction writing

So.

That’s it.

Innocuous little thing isn’t it. Not exactly a literary crime by any definition. So what’s the problem? Sorry – I mean to say, ‘What’s the problem?’

I was busy writing a scene of dialogue between my two protagonists, and on the re-read I found myself cringing at how blatantly I was ramming a development of the plot down my readers’ throats. It was almost tantamount to a James Bond villain revelation scene – you know, the bit where the megalomaniac reveals his plan for world destruction/domination to Bond, just so that we can get to grips with it as an audience.

I needed to show that character a) was not all that he seemed, that preconceptions can sometimes be inaccurate. To do this I had him engage with character b) (at a point where they’d just met) and berate him for just such preconceptions. It was all going reasonably smoothly until character b) clarified what he’d just heard: ‘So, you’re telling me that you don’t do that and in fact you do something completely opposite’. (It wasn’t quite that bad, but you get the gist).

What I wanted was for character a) to show the reader something about himself, by having character b) confirm it as he made the connection.

But it came across all clumsy, like I was holding my reader by the back of the head and pressing his or her face into the page at the appropriate point.

I made a few changes, but I realised the key crime here was the use of the word ‘so’. I mean, it just comes out all on its own and says, ‘I am about to confirm a fact for you, the reader, so that part of the plot or a character trait is clarified.’ The thing is, I HAD to put character b)’s comment in, otherwise character a) would have been necessitated to state out of the blue: ‘By the way I don’t do that and in fact I do something completely opposite’. It would have been even worse surely?

So…Uh…I mean, therefore, I turned to one of my many writing influences, the late Craig Thomas, whose character’s converse in such intense, emotive, tones that nothing is corny or too conspicuous. How did he do it?

By burying his revelations in detail and argument. Almost all of his dialogue is confrontational, and if it’s between colleagues or comrades, then there’s still the element of banter. A level of disagreement or some undertone of disrespect (or else forced deferral).

Thanks to Craig Thomas, I went back to my little exchange and still offered the suggestion of a surprise character trait, revealed by character a) but instead of just having character b) mindlessly confirming it, I made him argue the point. In fact he denied it outright. ‘Rubbish! No way in the world are you like that. Sorry – try again!’ Or something like that.

It didn’t matter that character b) had actually done the opposite of confirming (and thus clarifying) what character a) was inferring; the statement had been made, the words put into print and, hopefully, the reader sneaked up upon. Because subconsciously, that reader is going to be at the very least wondering if it’s true or not. A few little hints and actions later will be enough to compound the supposition into fact.

Does any of this make sense? If not, just think about it next time you’re trying to wedge some essential element of plot into your writing and it comes across as if you’ve drawn a big pointy finger on the page with a note saying ‘Psst, N.B.’ next to it. And go and read one of your favourite authors to see how they do it. They, after all, will show you much better than I can tell you..

Oh and I bet they almost never use the dirty word. 

That’s it, rambling over for now – I’m off to bed.