Saturday, July 11, 2015

Quo Vadis Writing - End Devices

First if all, sorry about the late posting of this post. I had some kind of first draft, second draft and rewrite-the-whole-thing experience with it. However, here it is.

I admit, I love SiFi. I read Perry Rhodan when I was a kid, I watched Star Trek and I always wanted to be a Jedi. Well, quite possible that I had dreamt of being a wizard if I had grown up 20 years later. However, what I actually wanted to say is that I loved the fact that Tom Paris in Voyager became a Hologram novelist. How cool is that - a Hologram novelist.

How would this work? Could the "reader" select the role he wants to play - the hero, the villain or a side-kick? Would they have to "follow" the story (like in captain proton) or can they decide differently. If yes, it would allow almost infinite possibilities in story creation. It would almost be like a guided role-play. You could even "read" the same story multiple times with different outcomes.
Ok ok, this example might be a bit far out into the future. However, my point is that technological development drives development in story telling, distribution and marketing. We've seen the e-book and e-book readers changing the landscape with audio books as a kind of side story. What's next? 
The first blog post in my new series about the future of writing is about new possibilities in the end device - i.E. physical book, e-book etc.

Question of Senses
When it comes to end device we have to talk about senses. Books and e-books are basically written words seen by our eyes and when it comes to this I think it is probably the end of the story. 

Don't get me wrong here - we are only at the beginning of the digitalization of books. In my last post we already found out that currently 23% of book sales are e-books. To be honest, I love hard cover. I love to see books in my library and the memories that come with them. I only have to glance at The Old Man and the Sea and the whole story is back. And then again I find myself reading e-books because it is simply more convenient and less expensive. We've only scratched the surface of digitalization yet and I am convinced, that e-book sales will take over. 

However, when it comes to reading I don't see a lot else. Pictures? Well, let's call it comics or movies - at least the silent movie's because modern ones include sound and ears. 

VR how we imagine it

VR and the Five Senses
When we start talking about storytelling the possibilities become almost infinite and I think we will see a development towards VR. However, VR right now is more a buzzword than it is actually a reality. We are still far away from covering sense of touch, taste and smell. We are probably closest with smell and then again wouldn't it be more like watching TV? Reading a book on the other side covers all senses thanks to the power of imagination. It is that real that we can fall in love with characters and cry when they die. Those amongst you that have this power understand me.

VR how it will probably end up

The next logical step is tapping directly into the brain. Crazy future talk? Of course it is. The brain is still one of the biggest mysteries and science seems to be closer to understand the Universe that understanding the human brain. Still, I am convinced that whatever is possible will explored. And yes, there will be social and legal implications, but they never stalled progress. The novel "Amped" by Daniel H. Wilson or the movie "The Surrogates" are good examples for what it could mean.

Having a story playing directly in my brain is somehow like a holodeck. Scott Adams wrote in "The Future by Dillbert" that he was afraid the holodeck would be the society's last invention and I  kind-of-agree with him. Why bother with real life, when I can have my dream life directly in my head inclusive taste, feel and smell. I would be highly addictive.

What does long-term mean? Well, my guess is as good as yours, but I think we will see first steps in gaming within the next 20 - 30 years. If you think this is not possible, just remember where we were 30 years ago - 1985. Today, an iPad 2 is as fast as the cray 2 and cray 2 was the fastest supercomputer   in 1985.

Long story short, if we talk about reading in a narrow sense we won't see a lot of innovation over the next decades. But this doesn't mean that an author could not try to make first steps towards a different kind of storytelling - maybe in a collaboration with others, but this would be a topic for another quo vadis blog post.

The next post will be about the future of distribution.

In that sense, happy forecasting
Your writer in a foreign land

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Quo Vadis Writing

Back in 2009 I wrote my Master thesis about the optimal way to publish a debut novel in Switzerland using business strategy tools. I had a raw draft of my first novel in my pocket and slowly started to think about how to get it out there. The thesis was accepted and I got my MBA, but I was wrong about my conclusions - not back then, but in retrospective. Well, maybe even back then.

Synopsis of my thesis
Amongst other results, the analysis showed an expected further concentration in the publishing industry and an erosion of margins. It also predicted an overflow of manuscripts in the market based on the possibilities of the digitalization. 
Basically, I developed two strategy options:
  • To create a pull via social media in order to overcome the lack of publicity and find a publisher as a second step
  • To go the self publishing route using digital media solutions
Later, I abandoned the second option due to the expected erosion of margin as well as the lack of experience as a debut novelist with regards to the end-to-end publishing process. 

How it developed in the meantime 
At the time I wrote my thesis, e-book readers were still in their fledgling stage. Kindle 2 and Nook had just been released and back then in Europe they still had the nerd-factor. But the real revolution was the introduction of KDP in the US, cutting out the middle men and gatekeepers. However, KDP was not released in Switzerland in 2009.
The expected concentration took place. There is this wisdom in business that every industry will consolidate until 7 +/-2 competitors control 80% of the market. Starting in the 1960 the book publishing industry saw a consolidation down to the current big five. Then the technological development disrupted the market. Recent statistics from Author Earnings indicate that only a third of e-book sales are the big five and over 40% are self or indie published. Obviously this is only for e-books, however based on Nielsen, e-books made 30% of overall book sales in first half year 2014. 
At the same time, we've seen major bookstores like Borders disappearing and Barnes and Nobles stalling mainly due to the increasing competition through channels like Amazon. Interestingly, small independent bookstores seem to be more resistant than I originally expected. 
However, while digitalization led to concentration in channels, it also led to a higher variety in content and worked as a catalyst for small businesses. As every other entrepreneur, independent authors need suppliers during different steps while creating an e-book, from editing, design services to marketing and consulting.
You might say the gatekeepers have been watching quality and with their falling the quality is at risk. Well, I would say quality is now defined by the market - I call it voting with the wallet. About a year ago I bought a book from an independent author in Wyoming. He was a park ranger at Yellowstone and wrote a thriller about a terrorist attack with a potential natural disaster. The story was ok with a nice plot twist, but there was far too much back story in it. His knowledge about the park was his darling and he wasn't willing to kill it. Honestly, I don't remember the author and I probably won't buy another book from him. The quality was just not good enough. However, the amount spent was low enough it did not really hurt.

Why should I have seen it coming
Well, I was right in some aspects, like the margin erosion, but I didn't realize it would hit more the publishers than the authors. I also didn't consider the additional additional sales due to the lower prices and the increased availability of the digital content.
But I was wrong about some other major aspects.
When I wrote my thesis I was focusing too much on the impact of digitalization on the creation of content and the use of existing social media. I should have seen that the real change will be in the distribution. Other industries had similar changes, from retail via tourism to news. I also did not consider the potential of additional online tools, like goodreads or bookbub.
I have not seen all this, because... well, because I have no crystal bowl. But some of it would have been foreseeable by having a more open mind and include broader basis of interviewees, rather than focusing on publishers, bookstores and authors. They tended to be too much focused on threads and not seeing the opportunities of the digitalization.
I also should have taken a look at the US. Europe, except maybe the UK, tend to adopt change later than the US.

Quo Vadis Writing
That's the question. Over the next blog posts, I will try to give an outlook where the industry will go. This time I'm going to focus on one topic or aspect at a time, from content creation via distribution to marketing and sales. Probably I'll still be wrong, but once in while it's healthy to try to look ahead.

In that sense, happy scrying,

Your writer in a foreign land

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Humor Reloaded - The Pun

Some month ago I glanced at puns in my series about humor in writing. But as much as I love them, it is difficult to come up with an original pun. This is not primarily a foreign language thing even though it adds to it. 
There are different levels of puns
  • Puerile puns
  • Everyday puns
  • Sophisticated puns
  • Top class puns

Let's dissect the topic a little by looking at some examples from the internet:
  • Always trust a glue salesman. They tend to stick to their word.
  • Where do you find giant snails? On the ends of giants’ fingers.
  • What do you call an alligator in a vest? An investigator!

Those are, what I call it, puerile puns. Their wit is based on simple everyday facts. At a certain age, children love these puns. However, as grown-ups they seemed to be a little silly.

  • Two antennas met on a roof, fell in love and got married. The ceremony wasn't much, but the reception was brilliant!
  • When a woman returns new clothing, that's post traumatic dress syndrome.
  • A pessimist's blood type is always B-negative.

These puns are already a little more sophisticated. You need to understand the importance of a reception or post traumatic stress syndrome or simply what is a pessimist. These are everyday puns, which might still make us smile, but wouldn't surprise us anymore. Even for me, as I probably heard them for the first time, they seemed nice, but no really worth remembering.

  • In a democracy it’s your vote that counts. In feudalism it’s your count that votes.
  • Two hydrogen atoms meet.  One says, ‘I’ve lost my electron.’ The other says ‘Are you sure?’ The first replies, ‘Yes, I’m positive.’
  • If you don't pay your exorcist, you will get repossessed.

These puns are even more difficult to understand as they require more knowledge about the underlying topic or simply more life experience. You need to know financial processes around repossession or physical knowledge about atoms or simply an understanding of history and global politics. Those are the ones I call sophisticated puns.

And then are the top class puns. They are not only funny, but they also convey a truth or a greater meaning. They are the ones that make it on quotes. Below two examples from Dorothy Parker:

  • It served me right for putting all my eggs in one bastard (which she allegedly said on about her her abortion). A simple pun, but to understand it depth you need to understand the hardness of life as well as the concept of humor as a way to deal with it.
  • On another occasion she said to tell somebody that she was "Too fucking busy, and vice versa."
  • Or one with unknown origin: "Guerrilla warfare is more than just throwing a banana."

How to Use Puns in Your Writing
In first person you can have a character or the narrator make a pun. In all other viewpoints, I would let a character make a pun as a general rule. A pun made by a narrator in third person feels like the author wanted to be witty.

However, a character shouldn't pun out of character. Or put differently, the pun defines the character. For example for a character that is insecure or afraid of something you can let them constantly make everyday puns. If you want to give a character a sarcastic or cynical note you can let them make sarcastic or cynical puns. 

Pun Testing
If you have a great pun, one that you invented yourself, you should test it before using it. 

For years I had this answer ready when somebody asked me in Spanish, "Que pasa?" (what's up?), I would answer "El condor". Well, what is funny about this? The verb pasar in que pasa means what happens but in the song el condor pasa it means the condor passes by. Although I am still convinced, none of my Spanish speaking friends actually found it funny. 

Hence, not everything that is funny for you is really funny for others and especially as you put it into a book it needs to be tested. Tell it to friends, to fellow writers or test it with strangers. You will immediately see their reaction.

In that sense, happy punning.

Your writer in a foreign land

Sunday, April 19, 2015


Hibernation noun (uncountable): When an animal passes the winter in a torpid or resting state. The German word for - literally translated - is winter sleep and that's exactly how it felt with my blogging over the past two month. But now it's spring and here I'm back again with a new topic that repeatedly pops up in my current work. 

I am still rewriting a story I wrote in German some years ago. It's exciting and there are many new ideas coming up, but I find myself quite often taking a note on the side - needs foreshadowing. Same happens with some of the existing parts of the story and I get the bad feeling that I'm giving the whole story away too early.

Foreshadowing is tricky, but well done it's half the rent. 

You want some examples? Here you go:

  • In Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption Stephen King writes "Getting a pass out of Shawshank when you have murder stamped on your admittance-slip is slow work. As slow as a river eroding a rock." Ingenious as Andy actually uses his understanding of long-term geological processes to escape.
  • Later in the same book the Warden takes Andy's bible during the cell inspection he tells him, "salvation lies within". After Andy's escape it was revealed, that he was hiding the rock hammer in the bible proving the Wardens comment.
  • In Lord of the Rings Tolkien lets Gandalf say about Gollum, that he has the feeling Gollum still has an important part to play. At the end Gollum is the reason the ring gets actually destroyed.
  • There are also great examples in film. In Jurassic Park Dr. Grant tells a boy at the digging site of a raptor skeleton, "you stare at him and he just stares right back, and that’s when the attack comes; not from the front, but from the side.” Later in the film, that is exactly how Muldoon is hunt down by the raptors.
  • Foreshadowing has not always to be spoken, it can also be a picture or impression. In The Day After Tomorrow Sam Hall looks up to the sky observing thousands of birds flying south indicating the danger coming from north.
  • Obi Wan Kenobi tells Anakin in Episode 2 of Star Wars, "Why do I get the feeling you will be the death of me?" Ultimately Darth Vader kills Obi Wan in Episode 4, but as Episode 4 was aired decades before Episode 2 was even written I think this was more a joke from the screen writer than an true foreshadowing.

Why and where we Foreshadow
Foreshadowing is an important catalyzer for a story; it increases or maintains tension.
Basically there are two types of foreshadowing, subtile and a less subtile ones. I know that is not really helping right now, but bear with me for a moment.

Let's first look at the less subtile ones, because they are easier. Whenever you want the reader to know, that there is something coming you place it directly in his face. The birds in The Day after Tomorrow are a good example for that. I usually include this kind of foreshadowing in the first act to show the reader, that this nice world the protagonist is living in wouldn't last any longer. Change is coming that will throw him for a loop. They are the clouds on the horizon that indicate the storm. Jurassic Park is another very good example for that. Take Dr. Grant's comment on the raptor combined with the scene where they were told that they have raptors on the island. Earlier, Dr. Grand was happy to hear that they have a T-Rex, but when they hear about the raptors you see Dr. Grand swallowing. You immediately know that the raptors will be their biggest threat.

Sometimes, I also use the less subtile foreshadowing as a cliffhanger in order to keep the reader engaged at the end of a chapter, but you should not overdo it as readers tend to have a learning curve and it will become less effective every time you use it. 

Subtile foreshadowing is more difficult - not to write it, but to hide it. But let's look first at its purpose. One of the worst things that I've come across yet in books is the deus-ex-machina sin. Deus ex machina refers to a situation in a book, when a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by a newly introduced character or device. This is as if Superman would appear at the battle of Hogwarts to save Harry Potter. I call it a sin because I think it is a betrayal to the reader. However, I also think in most of the cases it is a foreshadowing issue.

Let's stay with Harry Potter for a moment (the books, not the film), the fact that he could survive the second time Voldemort killed him was foreshadowed and seemed reasonable to believe reading the book. The protection he received when his mother sacrificed herself was mentioned several times and Voldemort used his blood to gain back his physical presence. The answer comes at the very end, when it was revealed that these two items together protected Harry again. Who would have foreseen that? Outside of Dumbledore I mean - there was a moment when Dumbledore noticed the fact that Voldemort used Harry's blood at the end of the Goblet of Fire, he seemed to be satisfied. Without this foreshadowing, Harry's survival would appear unreasonable.

Techniques of Foreshadowing
Foreshadowing of the final resolution, the climax of the story, is difficult because it is a tightrope walk between revealing and hiding. Let's look at some techniques.

The normal human brain is laid out for linear thinking: A-B-C-D. This is your opportunity as a writer to trick the reader into plot twists and ultimately an unforeseen climax that is not perceived as deus ex machina

Combination of two individual facts
Harry Potter is a great example for this (see above). You take two or three strength, facts or circumstances that have a purpose in its own. This is important - imagine a reader will assume any open string to be important for the final count down. If you use this foreshadowing technique, the fact or strength must have a purpose that is immediately visible to the reader and ticked-off as understood and completed. Simple example - if you have a character who is capable of reading minds it is obvious that one of readings will be part of climax or lead to it. You could solve this by limiting his abilities so he doesn't know who's mind it is or he can only read people's minds that are in less than 10 feet distance. Going back to Harry - the protection he received from his has ended before the last book starts as clearly stated several times throughout the books. Its purpose seemed completed and therefore it was perfectly arranged for the plot twist. 

Small hints
Using a series of small hints can work as foreshadowing. Shawshank Redemption is a good example. Next to the big hint where Andy tells Red where he should come looking for him, indicating his escape, a series of small hints point to the solution. Red's comment at the beginning about the river eroding a rock or the Warden's "salvation lies within" are both very subtile and there are further hints about geology spread out through the book. They all point towards geology, but you see the whole picture only at the very end, like a jigsaw.

Visual Foreshadowing
Yes you understood correctly - also in books, foreshadowing can also be done in visual form. The book cover is the easiest example for visual foreshadowing or you can have small pictures at the beginning of each chapter, like the Harry Potter books.

Distraction (red herrings)
Red Herrings are clues placed to distract the reader. In basic it's pretty simple; you place clues that are misleading or could be taken as something else. The prophecy in Star Wars is an example for that. It says that Anakin Skywalker would bring balance to the powers and the dialogue around it leads to the conclusion that they were wrong when he falls for the dark side. There is one rule though, ultimately you have to give the reader a reason for the red herring. The reader still needs closure. Otherwise he will not be satisfied with the story.

One more thing - as much as red herrings are a great tool, use it scarcely and wisely. You want to distract the reader not loose him. Too many distractions might throw him out of the story. 

Foreshadowing vs Easter eggs
In an earlier blog post about humor I had briefly explained easter eggs as insider jokes in books. Harry Potter is full of them if you want to believe the internet. I wanted to bring them up again for his blog, as there is an important difference between foreshadowing and easter eggs - with a blurred line in between. A reader should remember the foreshadowing when he reads the climax of the story. Yes they might have been hidden, but they should reveal their true nature at the end. Easter eggs on the other side reveal themselves often only after the second or third time you read a book (or when you google them on the web). If you use small hints to foreshadow the story, the small hints might become easter eggs in case you are too successful in hiding them.

When do we Foreshadow
The point in time when you foreshadow is probably an experience thing. While an unexperienced author will go back and place the foreshadowing after he has finished the plot or the first draft, more experienced writers will learn to do the main foreshadowing while they progress with their story. I am somewhere in the middle. I get the main parts right, but when I read through my first draft I still see many items that need more or better foreshadowing. Quite often I also have to go back and hide it better, because my original foreshadowing was too obvious.

Foreshadowing is a crucial element of storytelling. I always see it like the shopping list for a five course dinner and the reader has to guess the menu.

Happy shadow throwing,
Your writer in a foreign land

Sunday, February 22, 2015

We Have No Clue What Will Come

We have arrived in 2015. A truly exciting year. This year we will see the invention of flying cars and highways in the clouds. We will see hover boards and self-drying/self-adjusting clothes. At least that's the way the 1985 released movie Back to the Future has foreseen the world. Well, they got some things right, like the flat screens, video chat systems or head-mounted displays.

How Much Has Changed
I grew up in the 80ies in a bi-polar world. I got my first computer when I was 10 years old - a 286 processor where I had to load MS-DOS via floppy disk because it had no hard disk. Looking back now, how could anybody have predicted the Internet and much less the impact it had on our daily live.

Last week I saw an article on about 5 women that represent the last 5 people born before 1900. How could anybody have foreseen what they would see in their first forty years, the first plane flying, the rise of communism and a world war. And how could they even have seen the second world war coming.

So how can we predict the future? Well, we can't. 

Some Were Wrong, Some Were Right
The web is full of examples of people who were hilariously wrong.  

  • In 1920 the New York Times wrote that a rocket would never be able to leave the earth's atmosphere.
  • "There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home," said Ken Olson the founder of DEC in 1977. 
  • "What can be more palpably absurd than the prospect held out of locomotives traveling twice as fast as stagecoaches?" wrote The Quarterly Review in March 1825.

On the other side there were especially writers pretty good in painting a rather accurate picture of the developments. H.G. Wells predicted the massive bombings in WWII in his novel "Things to Come" and Jules Vernes predicted the  travels to the moon and large submarines.

Still, even the ones that hit the technological progress had two problems, timing and development of society. Let's look at Jules Vernes' stories. With him it almost feels like it could have happened the day or the week after he published the novels. Society, political landscape even clothes did not keep up with the technological development.

But How Can We Write About the Future?
But if we can't predict the future, how can we write science fiction? Here is my take to it.

a) Home Grown Development
If you assume the technological development is purely human based you have to factor in economics as well as political constraints. Let's look at space travel. The decommissioning of the space shuttle marked somehow the trough of disillusionment in the hype curve and now with handing over to private industry we might be on the slope of enlightenment. I dare to predict private service to space stations within the next 5 - 10 years. But this is basically very short range only.

The step afterwards would a permanent basis on the moon. Well to establish that certain circumstances would be needed, such as benefit, e.g. minerals or a hub for further space travel due to the lower gravity and the missing atmosphere. The rational could also be for political or geopolitical reasons. Warfare was always leading development in a way and the gigantic efforts could be used to keep millions of otherwise unemployed people occupied. Anyways, for this step we probably need 20 - 50 years.

What comes afterwards? Travel to Mars or within the solar system - I'd say 50 - 100 years, give or take a decade or two. Over-light speed would need an breaking technological invention, which could be tomorrow as well as never. However, such an invention would immediately lead to a boost in the overall development.

That was quite easy - now comes the more difficult parts. For example, if you write about travel in the solar system in the year 2100, how does the geopolitical situation look like? Would it be bipolar again with USA and China or rather the United Nations of America and Asian Union? It could also be a united earth government, however, that would need more explanation than the bipolar world, e.g. a threat that would keep it together. Another angle would be the society. How would society look in 85 years? Is it the upper class living in highly secured communities and the vast majority living in ghettos or does the world consist out of supercities and large empty and poisoned countrysides.

Don't get me wrong, you don't have to put all this in your story, but you need to have it in the back of you head. 

b) Technology Infusion from Outside
One trick to overcome the constraints of home grown development is a technology infusion from outside. Extraterrestrial species could make contact and help or force humanity to do a technology leap or technology could result out of our own future (i.E. time travel). However, in both cases you have to be willing to deal with the implications.

First you have to provide a little more information about the why, when and how in order to not let it look like deus ex machina. But also, you have to deal with the impact on society as soon as humanity realized they are not alone. Will it result in staying in a war against the aliens, like in Independence day or Enders's Game, or in peaceful development under a global government, like in Star Trek. 
Additionally, as soon as you use time travel you have to decide which philosophy you are following - Back to the Future, where the past can be altered or Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, where the impact of the time traveler is already baked in the events of the present. I don't want to go deeper into time travel theories, but I just want to emphasize the importance to remain consistent and believable.

c) The Lucky Punch
I wouldn't go there. Most of technological development follows a long time of foreshadowing. For airplanes it took over 100 years from the concept to the first flight and there were 25 years between the research start in nuclear fusion and the first atomic bomb and I am pretty sure it would have taken longer without the war.

Not that there might not be a lucky invention, even though it doesn't happen too often, but I think it will be very hard to make your reader believe it. You risk that your story appears unrealistic.

To bring all this to a point: I think Science Fiction and Social Fiction should go hand in hand.

In that sense, happy forecasting.
Your writer in a foreign land

Monday, January 19, 2015

German Words in English

My second blog post was about a German word used in English: Wanderlust. In English it has the connotation of longing for far places while in German it means desire for hiking (although rather outdated).

Doing my writing over the past months I came across several other German words who made their way into English. Some of them for the good, some of them for the bad. Following several sites that focus on this, there is one main reason for including a foreign word into a language; a word fits into a gap. It then is a matter of time until people adopt the word so it is not seen as a foreign word anymore. My guess - it takes a generation or two to forget. In this process, the meaning of the words can diverge. 

Food related
A lot of words are related to food, actually to beer and beer garden. Starting the late 19th century, probably with the German immigrants, some words made it into the vocabulary. Lager, Stein, Dirndl and Schnitzel are only some of them. Sauerkraut and Gasthaus had a peak in the 40ies and Muesli came up in the 60ies. Google's Ngram viewer is an awesome tool to track the usage of a word.

War related
A less pleasant angle are war related words - most of them came over during world war II.

  • Blitzkrieg 
  • Reich
  • Ubermensch
  • Fuehrer
  • Götterdämmerung - although it came up earlier due to Wagner's opera it peaked very much in the 1940ies.

Special words
There are a lots of other words, of which some are already seen as English words, like Kindergarden.

However, I want to pick some pearls:

  • Angst in German means simply fear. In English it leans more towards panic and extreme fear.
  • Schadenfreude and gloating are very similar. So why did it make it into English at all? I think to gloat is more an action whereas schadenfreude expresses the malice behind the action.
  • Gemütlichkeit is a very sensual world and the best translation would be coziness, but coziness is missing some aspects. Coziness is more focused on how one feels in a nice and warm environment. Gemütlichkeit has also a social angle similar to amity and it also means going with a slow pace.
  • Waldsterben - it literally means dying forests and had its origins in the environmental discussions in Germany in the 1970ies. So why is there no corresponding word in English. I have no evidence, but I remember how fierce the discussion was in Germany and I assume the discussion was not as strong in the US.
  • Zeitgeist - as per Merriam-Webster it refers to the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era. However, in german this word has a positive connotation.
  • Kitsch is a funny word. In English it has has the stamp of being lowbrow or tacky. In German it has also a negative angle, almost as being too much. But there is always an underlying hope or respect for the better cause or value underneath. I remember standing at the beach on some island watching the sunset and a friend said, "It's almost kitschy". Or there is this joke about a conversation between friends on the background of the German saying "rain makes you beautiful":
    "Why do you have an umbrella. Rain makes beautiful."
    "Yeah I know. I just don't want to get kitschy."
    The second speaker emphasizes the point that too much beauty makes you kitschy.

Interestingly, I haven't found such an extreme discrepancy as with wanderlust. Still, I'm always surprised when I come across one of these kind of inherited words.

In that sense, happy writing
Gilbert de David

Thursday, December 25, 2014

X-Mas in Writing

It's been looking a lot like X-Mas outside. I love the Holiday Season. Even though work seems to triple during this time, there is a special spirit out there. People are friendlier and more willing to give.
You can use this spirit for your writing. Holidays and special are a great source to support conflict and tension.


  • X-Mas: You could use the spirit and holiday feelings to create conflict in the protagonist. He might have just returned from a war zone and the spirit seemed unreal or a relative might have stage four cancer and the protagonist questions the meaning of live. 
  • New Years Eve: Use the spirit of new beginning with all the new years solutions to create a turning point I the protagonist's life. He might feel the need for change, but he is neglecting it until a plot twist on New Years Eve lets him embrace the change.
  • Pentecost: If you want to know how to use pentecost just read Pentecost from Joanna Penn. It is a brilliant example using the spirit and meaning of a  Holiday in a story.
  • 4th of July: Same here - I love how the movie Independence day uses this date to create tension. On July 1st you know there are still three days to go. But there is more to it - using the 4th of July implies the bigger cause. This is not a simple fight. It is all or nothing. It is about everything we believe in.  

Special Days

  • Birthday or Anniversaries: Birthdays and Anniversaries are a ticking clock. Every year we are shown our own mortality and that the number of years are finite. That is why we celebrate - it is less of an accomplishment, more an achievement.
  • Weddings: Despite the option to divorce, weddings have a notion being final. This creates tension - in the bridal pair as well as in the bridal party. Sisters/brothers could be jealous or here could be a rival amongst them. There are tons of fils out there covering this - My Best Friend's Wedding, Made of Honor or The Wedding Planer just to name some of them. You want novels as example? Here you go: Great Expectations where the marriage of Estella increases the tension by seemingly moving them out of reach for the protagonist.

Other Religion's holidays or special days
Even holidays of other religions might help to create tension in a novel, be it on Diwali, during Ramadan or Hadj or on Yom Kippur. However, there are two things you need to remember when doing so. First, treat the holiday with respect the way you want to have things treated that matter to you. Second, understand the holiday, its customs and meanings and especially they way people feel and celebrate it. If you are not sure, ask for help.

Other special days/historic days
There is an almost countless number of special or historic days or times you can use, discovery of America, Russian Revolution, assassination of JFK, Tchernobyl-incident etc.
The broader known the better, but you can also use less known events. On December 22, 1974 the Comoros voted for their independency from France. This is hardly general knowledge, but we all understand the notion of independence and freedom and therefore it creates tension.

You could also use general events, like the Superbowl or the inauguration of a president. It doesn't have to have a direct connection with the event, but the event itself creates a collective feeling. We have all memories accompanied with one of these days.

But why is it that these examples work? Because all these dates and events are important in some way.  They matter and whenever something matters there is a high chance/risk for conflict.

Merry X-Mas and Happy Holidays
Your writer in a foreign land