Friday, October 30, 2015

PNWA 2015 Workshop Review #12: Using Language to Enhance Story

(Image from:  Last Kiss by John Lustig)

One of the main reasons why I love comics and graphic novels is how the blend of words and pictures can tell a story.  Even a one-panel image, like the one above, implies a lot.  I liked how a common expression is paired with a gothic image for comedic effect--not to mention being in the spirit of Halloween.

Anyway, the title of the next-to-last workshop I attended at this year's PNWA Summer Conference my seem self explanatory. 

However, even if you string words together in a coherent manner your narrative may turn out to be as exciting as a technical manual.

Varying language, sometimes by bending, or even breaking grammatical rules could enhance your work.

This workshop was the second one in the conference hosted byTerry Persun and Nicole Persun.

True, the father and daughter duo didn't discuss graphic novels.  However, I found it beneficial listening to Terry and Nicole read select passages from the piles of books they brought as examples on how you can mold words more creatively to create a more vivid mental imagery.

Terry even read from a cookbook.

Who'd a thought making mashed potatoes could be so poetic?

It was impossible to write down all the prose, and I even forgot to scribble down the authors' works they read from. 

I did manage to jot down some keynotes to keep in mind if you decide make alterations to grammatical rules...

No matter what you write, or how you write it, without your work you have nothing to market.

Varying your language usage can affect a story's pacing, characterization and plot.

Make use of foreshadowing, that is, give a hint at what's to come.

You can sprinkle a leitmotif, that is, a recurring idea or image, throughout your story.

Use of fragment sentences--

--Used to focus on an image.
--Focus on emotions.
--Convey the spanning of time.

Long sentences can be--

--Used for lengthy descriptions, which gives flavor to the setting.
--Can be action-based, especially when describing complicated movement.
--Can convey thought.

While short sentences--

--Emphasis on what is currently happening.
--Often appears as dialogue, and can be used as such.

Repeated words--

--Brings the reader closer to the scene.
--Can be used to overlap descriptions, to reinforce imagery.
--Establishes a rhythm.

Most writing instructions recommend banishing adverbs from your work.  However, if done properly, adverbs can set the tone of your story.

Use descriptions specific to each character.

One final word of advice:

If your style is out of the ordinary, be sure to talk to your agent/editor and express your concerns about wordage.

In the meantime, continue writing and Happy Halloween!

(Image from:  Last Kiss by John Lustig)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Of Spammers and Derelict Sites

(Image by Seraphmx)

 Last week I discovered the Reading List on my blog's administration page was overrun by Indonesian gambling sites. 

In response, I changed my password and filed a complaint with Google, who owns and runs Blogger.
The gambling spam was still in my Reading List the following day, so I fired-off another complaint to Google.

On the morning of the third day, the spam was gone, so I thought my problems were over.

But then a couple days later, I discovered two spam posts from the same Indonesian gambling sites.

This time I Googled "Spam found on Blogger Reading List."  Fortunately, I found a woman who had the same problem two years ago.

The first person to respond told her that the problem wasn't her blog, but one or more of the blogs she had on her reading list.  Spammers hijacked one of the blogs she was following and was using to spam other blogs.

It was like facehuggers infesting a derelict spaceship.

(Image:  The derelict ship in "Alien," found on Electric Shadow)

The recommended solution was to find the infected blog and delete it from her Reading List. 

I was following over 100 blogs.

Was I reading them every day?

No, of course not, but they were blogs I was interested in and would check out some of them when the mood struck me.

So I scrolled through my list.

I found five that were infected.  

However, I didn't just delete the five infected ones--I deleted over 40.  Some of them were from close friends and family.

These blog owners hadn't posted in anywhere from 1-5 years.  I figured sooner or later, these "cyber derelicts" would be too inviting for facehugger/spammers.

There were some I hated deleting, but I didn't want to run the risk of being spammed, or worse, passing along viruses.

(This Halloween-appropriate image found on The Richest: The 10 Most Dangerous Computer Viruses Ever)

Now I scroll down my Reading List every day I log on and scan for facehugger/spammers.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Jet City Comic Show

(Image:  Bomber Girl 2013, by Rebekah Isaacs)

I just found out the Jet City Comic Show is this Halloween Weekend, held again at the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center.

This convention is now in it's fifth year, and I've yet to attend.

I'm already involved in family activities this weekend, but if I get some spare time, I may be able to do my usual event fly-by...

(Image:  Bomber Girl 2010, by Ben Hansen and Levi Skeen)

For those who are attending, or can attend, I hope all of you have an enjoyable time!

(Image:  Bomber Girl, by Don Brereton)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Book Review: Agincourt

Happy Saint Crispin's Day!

Normally, today was honored by the early Christian Church for the martyrdom of two brothers.  However, a battle was fought 600 years ago this very day that's continues to capture the imagination of wargamers and military historians ever since--Agincourt.

Overall, I enjoyed the book.  The author's prose blends historical detail into a narrative that doesn't bore the reader with a "data dump."  Cornwell excels at describing the course of a battle from the viewpoint of the troops doing the actual fighting.
However, compared to Cornwell's other medieval works, the Grail Quest Series, Agincourt only earns an average rating of 4-stars on
The low raters (giving only 1-3 stars) complained about plodding prose, historical inaccuracies and/or too much inconsequential detail, shallow characters, a formulaic plot and a cookie-cutter protagonist.
The 4-star raters loved the book but also remarked about the formulaic plot and cookie cutter protagonist.
I enjoyed the book as I have with previous Cornwell stories I've read, even The Fort.  However, I have to agree with the 4-star raters and add another fourth star to Agincourt
In this story, the protagonist Thomas Hook follows in the wake of other Cornwell-conceived anti-heroes (Sharpe, Derfel, Thomas of Hookton and Uthred).  They're all low-born, but natural warriors, who have to combat not only their external enemies, but the ones within their own ranks as well.  Usually this takes the form of a rival, often paired-up with a certifiably insane priest.  Of course, the Cornwellian bad-boy can't confront his lethal frenemies openly, lest he be condemned as a criminal.
But just because a story is formulaic, doesn't mean it's bad.  In writing, as in science, formulas are used because they work--if followed correctly. 
And Bernard Cornwell is a master formula mixer--even if his spin on Agincourt didn't include the coolest battle speech ever.
(Image from:  Henry V)

Saturday, October 24, 2015

PNWA 2015 Workshop Review #11: Book Trailers for Marketing & More

For this workshop review, I thought I'd use my webcomic trailer to Breakout from Bongolaan--as an example of what not to do when creating a book trailer. 

I made my initial trailer before I attended a lecture on making book trailers.  I actually like my latest trailer, which I remade when I took additional photographs for my webcomic, despite its shortcomings which I'll mention in parenthetical comments on this post.

This workshop was hosted by Rian Fiske and Steve Ahlbom of Visual Quill.

First, what is a book trailer?

--It's an advertisement for your book.

The internet has changed the way we market products and today's society is the most marketed in history.

What a book trailer is not--

--A plot reveal (mine is)
--A story summary (mine is)
--More important than your book (I'm still writing my webcomic, so I hope not)
--Boring! (I hope mine isn't)
--Unappealing (I hope mine isn't)
--Too focused to a specific person or group (okay, mine is guilty of this last one)

A good book trailer--

--Has a good script, is brief and creatively edited.

Time length:

30 Seconds = Good
60 Seconds = Okay  (mine's just over a minute)
90 Seconds = Not Good

A book trailer should evoke a visceral response from a viewer, not an intellectual one, and the mood should be similar to the book.

A book trailer is an important part of book marketing because--

--It takes advantage of the explosive growth of online advertising videos.
--It's on a shareable medium.
--It fosters a deep like-know-trust connection.
--It keeps your book in a reader's mind.
--It's cost effective.

Some interesting statistics--

--Viewers are 64% more likely to buy your book.
--There's usually an 80% increase in conversion rates on your website.  That is, visits turning into actual purchases.
--There's often an increase of 2 minutes per stay per viewer on your website.
--92% of mobile viewers share videos with others.
--There's a 19% to 300% increase of sales if a book trailer supplements e-mails and flyers.
--These statistics hold no matter what genre you're writing.

Elements of a good book trailer--

--Visually hint at what takes place.
--Keeps the story moving and is not too short, or too long.
--Uses a good selection of graphics and music.

Bad book trailers are everywhere.
--Most aren't trailers, but rather do-it-yourself (DIY) slide shows (like mine).
--DIY tools exist, but you still need to use them correctly.

What makes a book trailer bad--

--Low quality graphics and photos.
--Too many graphics.
--Too much explanatory text.
--Poor music.

The five elements that make a quality book trailer are:

1. It's not a plot reveal.  Think of it as a pitch session.
2. Plan the entire trailer with a story board.
3. Production quality is essential.  Hire a professional, if necessary.
4. Know what style you're using and make sure it all hangs together.
5. Don't confuse building your brand with selling your book.

Here are some tips if you are going to go the DIY route:

Your book trailer needs a script, so here are some things to consider--

--Start with your book's synopsis.
--Duration should be between 30-60 seconds.
--Consider this rule of thumb:  50 words = 30 seconds of video.

Utilize appropriate music for your trailer.  Music sets the emotional tone and should coincide with the tone of your book.

Editing tools for your DIY book trailer--

--PC users can utilize Windows Movie Maker.
--Mac users can utilize iMovie.
--Tutorials are available on

And speaking of websites, there are several doityourselfers can make use of.

(Image found on: Freepik)

For free high resolution images there's--

--Unsplash and

For images that you have to pay for, but may be unavailable elsewhere, check out--

--Getty Images and

IStockPhoto also has video and music available for downloading.

One site dedicated to video downloading is VideoBlocks.

(Image found on Lakewood Music Boosters)

To add music to your book trailer for little or no cost, there's--

--FreeStockMusic, and AudioBlocks

While paid sites include--

--Premium Beat and
--Pond5 (which also includes photos, videos and sound effects)

For my book trailer and the gaming videos I've produced, I've used--

--SoundDogs (which also includes sound effects)
--and my personal favorite has been--
--Kevin Macleod's Incompetech (Kevin requests donations for downloads)

On deciding whether to use voice-over or text in your book trailer, either will work if done well.

Once you've made your book trailer you'll need to distribute it.  For this, you'll have to go beyond Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo.

Upload your trailer on top websites in your niche or genre, along with your personal website, your Amazon Author page, library catalogues, and distribution sites like OneLoad.  Also, be sure to set up a computer to play the trailer during book signings.

If you'd rather hire a professional to create your book trailer, there's a few questions you need to keep in mind--

--How much will it cost?
--What can I expect?
--What will the pro do for me?

Prices range from $400 to $4,000, with $1,200 being the average.  The more material and input you provide, the less it will be in price.

As to the last two questions, you'll have to discuss the details of the services a professional offers to provide.

With all this information, hopefully you'll be able to say "Lights! Camera! Action!" soon.

(Image found on Pintrest)

Friday, October 23, 2015

PNWA 2015 Workshop Review #10: The Five Essential Elements for a Short Story

(Image from:  Mr. Donn's Site for Teachers & Kids--Stories)

First, a note on the intrusion/hacking I reported in my last post. 

It looks like the Indonesian gambling spam, courtesy of Read List from "Thrillofadventure" has been purged from my blog's Read List.  I hope this hasn't affected any of my readers' systems.  Thank you for your patience.

Now getting back to the PNWA 2015 review I meant to write a few days ago...

One of the most daunting issues to me as a writer is the idea of stringing 100,000 words of "literary code" into a coherent novel.  So before I turned to writing webcomics, I looked into writing smaller works from Flash Fiction to Short Stories, and everything else just shy of a novel.

When it comes to writers conferences, I'm always interested in workshops on shorter works; in this case, The Five Essential Elements for a Short Story, presented by Bharti Kirchner.

Miss Kirchner always gives a pleasant presentation, and I've enjoyed attending her seminars.  In fact, I attended her Jump-Starting a Short Story five years ago.

Going over my hastily-written notes, I can't discern five distinct essential elements this year's workshop was suppose to be about, but I managed to scrawl over five pages of my notebook.

So I'll just post what I have in the order I scribbled it down...

Why write a short story?

--Provides feedback and experience in between longer works
--Short stories are popular again, thanks to the internet.
--Short story collections are popular, especially if compiled into a common theme.
--Can provide insight to writing techniques.

What is a short story?

--It's not a personal essay.
--It centers on something happening to a character that means something to that person.
--It's a complete story.
--It's not a character sketch, vignette or anecdote.
--Each sentence must have an impact.
--You must create an emotional effect on the reader.
--There must be an internal change to the character.

What makes a short story work?

--An action or gesture that evokes something occurring beyond the character.
--A mental image of the passing of time, which can be flexible.

Structure of a short story.

--The character understands something profound.
--The readers learn or feel something when finished.
--The first and last paragraphs must be strong, especially in first person.
--The story contains a mystery that grows.

Timespan of a short story.

--Time is comparatively short, but flexible, as previously mentioned.
--It's better to have a narrow timeline as opposed to one dealing with global issues.

How many characters should be involved?

--Usually no more than three.

Elements of a short story are--


Character development in a short story--

--Character can be revealed through dialogue.
--Know your character--what does he want and what motivates him?
--Keep in mind the nature of the speaker when writing dialogue.

The voice of a short story can be ordinary, but natural, as if sounding from a real person.

Advancing the plot in a short story--

--Ask "what if?"
--Ask "what does the character want?"
--If the character is thwarted, what provides the momentum?

Short story styles--

--Dropping the reader into the middle of the story.
--Writing the story from the point of view of one of the characters.
--Writing the story from a character's point of view, but talking about another character.

Tips on staying motivated to write a short story--

--Write every day, even if it's only a few sentences.
--Think about the end of your story--and fill in everything else.
--Think about dropping your first paragraph.

And finally, short story markets--

--literary contests
--Writer's Digest publishes Writers Market that lists opportunities
--DuoTrope is another site that you can sign up for and search for markets

So that's it for my stammering on short stories.

(Image found on Writers & Artists)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Possible Blogger Account Hack

I think my Blogger account has been hacked.

On my Blogger homepage there's usually a Reading List displaying the latest posts from the blogs I follow.

About an hour ago, instead of seeing other bloggers' activities, I now have a list of Indonesian gambling sites.

I filed a complaint to Google, which runs Blogger, along with initiating a password change.

I'm not tech savvy enough to determine whether reading any of my blogs will cause any virus or malware to be transferred, but I thought I'd transmit this warning.

I hope to get this resolved soon.

Please accept my apologies.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Watch Mojo's Top 10 Historically Inaccurate Movies

I love reading history and I love watching good movies.

However, sometimes the two don't go well together, as this Watch Mojo video illustrates.

I have to admit though, I still like some of the movies on this list, despite their inaccurate portrayal of historical figures and events.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Product Review: Field Commander Napoleon

 My brother bought me my first boardgame for my 16th or 17th birthday.  I was instantly hooked on this new hobby.  Sometime later, I joined my brother's friends who already had their own gaming group established.  My first taste of playing with miniatures was a World War II naval scenario of the Battle of the River Plate.
During my high school and junior college years, few of us had full time jobs--and fewer of us had girlfriends.  We scraped together whatever money we could get--allowances, mowing lawns/shoveling snow/babysitting for neighbors--in order to fund our boardgame/miniatures purchases.  But since we all lived within walking distance, more often than not, we managed to get together on the weekends and play our games.
Then at some point in my adulthood (at least as measured chronologically), I reached a transition point.  Having decent-paying, full time jobs allowed, and still allows, me to purchase the games and miniatures that tickle my fickle fancy; even many out-of-print stuff I wanted to buy when I was younger--as long as they're not being sold at a "collector's price."
However, I now have less time to game than I did when I was a girlfriendless, introverted teenager.
In conversations I've had with my fellow middle-age-ish gaming buddies, I've found many that have experienced this phenomena. 
So what's all this waxing poetic have to do with a product review?
Well, tabletop gaming is a social and interactive experience, and it's hard to interact with your gaming buddies, even via the internet, when you're life-schedule gears don't mesh well together.  (Due to my rotating shift work, I swear I have the worst attendance record in my regional gaming group).
Anyway, I've tried a handful of times to play a game solitaire.  I have a couple of friends that do this on a semi-regular basis.  I've found the experience lacking, primarily because I'm playing a game designed for two or more players, and have had a tendency to cheat favor one side over the other.
But thanks to Dan Verssen Games (DVG), I may have found a solution:  Field Commander Napoleon.
This game is one of four currently in DVG's Commander Series and is designed specifically for solitaire play.  The player assumes the role of Napoleon, and plays-through one of the 11 campaigns, which span from 1796 to 1815.  These can be played separately, or combined.  The rules contain a handful of modifications needed to tie all the campaigns together.
But no matter which way you play, the goal is to see if you can achieve the same fame and glory as Napoleon did...
(Image found on New Historian)
...or meet the same ignominious end.
(Image found on the Napoleonic Society website)
Or both.
The quality of Field Commander Napoleon is exceptional.  The campaign maps are mounted and the counters are extra-thick, and the tactical maps and quick reference sheets are cardstock.
The game is expensive, $99 at retail, but I found mine through the Boardgamegeek Geek Market for about three-quarters of this cost, including shipping and handling.
The artwork is good.  My only quibble are with the images of Prussian infantry, who look like their wearing headgear popular during Fredrick the Great's reign. 
The rules appear to be clearly written, but often gave me the impression of reading a legal document.  This isn't a complaint, merely an observation.   I do most of my reading while exercising on a stationary cardio machine, so I don't have the game with me when reading examples of play.  The "legalese" impression comes-in when reading how the non-player coalition forces move and act.
There's even a two-part video review by Marcowargamer available.
I look forward to taking to the field as Field Commander Napoleon.
(Image found on IZ Quotes)