Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Midweek teaser: Favorite Book Endings

A good book has a great ending. A great book doesn't end, it continues in our head. 

Here some of my favorites endings:

"After all, tomorrow is another day."
Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

"The old man was dreaming about the lions."
The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway

"He loved Big Brother."
1984, George Orwell

"Max stepped into his private boat and waved goodbye and sailed back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day and into the night of his very own room where he found his supper waiting for him—and it was still hot."
Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak

"How wonderful the flavor, the aroma of her kitchen, her stories as she prepared the meal, her Christmas Rolls! I don't know why mine never turn out like hers, or why my tears flow so freely when I prepare them - perhaps I am as sensitive to onions as Tita, my great-aunt, who will go on living as long as there is someone who cooks her recipes."
Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel

"It begins like this: Barrabás came to us by sea…"
The House Of The Spirits, Isabel Allende

"Now the search is all that matters. I know there will come a time when I find my book, but it is far in the future. And I know without doubt that it will not be today. Yet, a strange hope remains. A hope that somehow, something, God, the demon, Ahura Maza, someone, will see I’m trying. I’m really trying and that will be enough."
A Short Stay In Hell, Steven Peck

Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, Stephen King

Which ones do you like? Let me know your favorite book ending.

Your writer in a foreign land

Sunday, April 27, 2014


Translators are the writer in a foreign land's best friends, aren't they?

Yeah, of course - but even best friends might mislead you sometimes. There are some awesome tools out there, but there are also some traps you have to be aware of. Here are my favorite tools:

  • Leo: In my experience, this is the best online source for translation. Outside of the usual translation functionality it also gives you examples how words are used and it also includes a forum which helps sometimes. On the negative side, the tool is only available online. That might be an issue if you are writing in a cornfield somewhere in Iowa.
  • Linguee: This website not only translates, but also looks up documents/webpages available in both languages and how a word was translated there. Very helpful.
  • Dictionary-App: Offline dictionary I use when being in a cornfield somewhere in Iowa
  • Thesaurus rex-App: Thesaurus application from Dictionary. You can tap on the results and get a short explanation or you can select if the result should be simpler or more complex terms. Additionally, the app is also available offline. Again, very helpful.
  • Longman, Merriam-Webster: The source to find the correct meaning of a word and its connotations. Personally, I use the Longman, because its a nice offline application, although a little expensive for an app. However, from time to time I think about switching to Merriam-Webster. The difference? Merriam-Webster is best for American English and Longman for British English.
  • Google search/Google book search/Google ngram viewer: Last but not least, the source to find out how often a word is used and in which context. Google is my last back-test to find out if I really have the right word and context and especially if the word is outdated or not. In the Ngram viewer, I also compare the word with other, similar words to see the development.
  • Other sources: There are tons of other services out there, from Oxford Advanced Lerner's Dictionary via Google translate to Babelfish (who remembers the time Babelfish was leading in this... a long time ago in a Web far, far away). Try to find the ones that fit best to you.

In order to come up with the right word, I use a combination of above tools:

  1. Translate a word with Leo. If the result consists out of multiple words, get a feeling of the flavor of each word by back-translating it within Leo. You will be amazed how this step already give you a good view on the word you are looking for (or not).
  2. Backtest it in Linguee and Longman: Look-up the shortlist in Linguee and Longman. Usually it already boils it down to the right one.
  3. If non of the words fit, I use the Thesaurus to give me a broader view. With the new list of possible words I start again with the backtesting in step 1.
  4. In the worst case, I can't come up with the right word at all I have to go back to the source and think about the German word where I started. There might be a better word or phrase in German that helps me coming from another angle. In that case I have to start the whole process with step 1.
  5. Check the use, context and frequency in google if necessary. Usually I only do this if I haven't heard a word before at all.

In most cases I'm able to come up with the word I'm looking for. If not, I've learned a lot.

Your writer in a foreign land

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Midweek Teaser: Five Warning Signs Your Story Needs Revision

Some red flags (I'm sure, there are many more) from Kristen Lamb that I story needs revision. I have the tendency to have too many characters at the beginning - like in real life, there's always a bunch of people. Usually I have to cut them down/combine them to get to an acceptable number. 
I'm glad too about the other red flags, most of them source in the "Show, don't tell"-paradigm. But as usual, "these are more guidelines than rules".
Your writer in a foreign land

Originally posted on Kristen Lamb's Blog:

Original image via Jenny Downing Flikr Creative Commons

We can have the best story ideas in the world, but to be blunt? There’s a lot to be said for delivery. While these problems might seem picky, there are some fundamental errors that can weaken the writing. If our writing loses power, this can become distressing or distracting to readers.
Many readers (not being editors or professional writers) might not be able to articulate specifically why they lost interest in a story, but often the answer is simple. It can be an accumulation of the small things. The little foxes spoil the vine.
Most of us make one or more of these errors, especially when we’re new. Hey, that’s called “being NEW.” No one is born with the natural ability to write brilliant, perfect novels coded into their DNA. It takes time and practice, so give yourself permission to make…
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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Of Plotters and Discovery Writers aka Pantser

There has already a lot been written about Plotters and Discovery Writers, for example there is this awesome guest post from Karen Henderson on The Struggling Writer or several episodes of Writing Excuses took care of the topic.

So what can I add to it? A lot, well, at least my humble opinion and the way I approach it. 

What is What?

First, some definitions. The plotter is a type of writer who outlines his story before he starts to actually write it, using writing tools, such as Scrivener, Storyist or simply excel or index cards. The discovery writer aka pantser sits down and writes, letting himself be surprised where the story takes him. The word pantser seems to have its origin from somebody who sits down on his pants and writes. What an ugly word. This must have been invented by somebody who hates discovery writing, I'm actually glad they haven't called it something like Butter. I haven't heard any Discovery Writer calling himself Pantser. Out of respect for colleague writers, I'll call it discovery writing going forward.

Second, these two forms hardly exist, at least not in their purest form - just like the long tail of normal distribution. Extreme plotting would mean write the novel before writing the novel and an extreme Discovery Writer would sit down and start with the first word without knowing anything about the story. The truth is in between, from plotting chapter and scenes, having all character sheets ready and lots of background material saved, to knowing only very little like what is the topic of the story or who is the main character. I've also heard from Plotters, that they would have two outlines, if they had two possible ways the story could go. Just in case.

I am an Inbetweener

I can plot and for business papers I'm the perfect plotter. Usually I write 3rd to 4th level outlines with keywords for each point, before I even start the paper. I can't do this with my creative writing. I tried it, I really did. I got stuck in the middle with an immense urge to write the scenes. And the worst thing was: I lost some of the great scenes that emerged in my head, simply because of the fact I didn't write them while plotting.

After having written for a while now, I found my optimal writing approach:

  1. The vague story: In order to sit down, I need an initial idea of the story. That can be as little as the topic "fear" and its different shades or the personality of the protagonist, who tries to solve his dating issues by applying the strategies and techniques he learned during his MBA.
  2. The very high level outline: With the vague story in my head, I do a very rough outline, something like: Main character had only unsuccessful relationships in past. Led by the idea, that he is a successful manager, he tries to apply the techniques learned during his MBA. He meets somebody, but is not able to overcome the manager and getting real. The ending, however, might not be defined yet. Either he is successful if there should be a happy end or not. The focus should be on the main character and his developments, rather than the story being a romantic novel. 
  3. Sit down and write
  4. Plotting/re-plotting: After having reached the first third of the story, I know enough about the characters to do the character sheets. This is important to remain consistent. At that point, I also know enough to do the plotting in deeper granularity, including a re-plotting of what I've written so far. Sometimes I have to add another chapter or scene in the part I've already written.
  5. Keep on writing
  6. Plotting/re-plotting: After two third of the story I need to repeat the re-plotting. It is healthy to make a step back in order to not loose the big picture of the story.  Step six can be repeated if necessary several times.
  7. Write the rest

The Risk of Being Me and How to Mitigate

Even though I feel comfortable with my approach, it doesn't prevent me from the various pitfalls of discovery writing. 

Writers block as sword of Damocles to be named first. This could happen when I the vague story idea and the arising conflicts are not strong enough or when the plotting/re-plotting wasn't done thoroughly. If it is the plotting/re-plotting the solution is simple: Do it again, but better, and don't hesitate to cut out parts already written if they don't fit anymore. In case it is the conflict, try to add more or different layers of conflict. However, if additional conflict doesn't solve it you might come to the conclusion, that the conflict serves only a short story. 

Lost in your own story, doing circles with your characters or writing chapter over chapter without real progress. If this happens to you, the solution is to get back into plotting/re-plotting. I've also heart some other advice which I have tried once and it worked: Cut everything back to the last place you've been excited about your story.

Increased revising and editing efforts. Yes, that comes with it. Live with it.

Other issues, I deal with them when they come up. Or rather when I discover them.

Happy discovering
Your writer in a foreign land

Friday, April 18, 2014

Tribute to Gabriel Garcia Marquez

At first, I wasn’t sure if I should write a tribute to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, at least not as aspiring writer. How presumptuous, as if I would critique The Old Man and the Sea or War and Peace. But I could do it as a reader.

And then again I can't really separate the reader from the writer. 
I loved Gabriel Garcia Marquez' stories. I loved the magic and the sometime surreal touch I also found in Argentinian films. A way of looking at the world with the ken that there is more in the world than just matter. I was working in Buenos Aires, when I got his first book into my hands “One Hundred Years of Solitude”. I read it Spanish, it took me almost three month and not only helped my language skills, but also gave me another view on storytelling. After that I picked up the “Autumn of the Patriarch” and again I was impressed by the way he was able to create this vacuum of power, an almost Kafkaesque reading. With “Love in the Time of Cholera” I was halfway through until I got stuck, mainly because I was back in Switzerland and reading in Spanish became much more difficult.
At the same time I was writing my travel journal on the emerging internet, a kind of blog without knowing back then, what blogging means. Looking back, it was the point where I started to think about bringing all these stories and ideas I had (and still have) on paper. Probably it wasn’t him who triggered this wish to write, but he’ll be always connected to that time and my experience.

I loved Gabriel Garcia Marquez stories, I still do. Maybe it’s time to pick up “Love in Time of Cholera” again to continue reading it. I’d love to.
Your Writer in a Foreign Land

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Midweek teaster: Opening Line of my current Novel "Exodus"

"Thoughts were flying through his mind, just like the fireflies that were flying by the window on his journey back to Capital Federal."

or rather

"Towns die of different causes, some die of old age, some drown, some are poisoned and there are those, who are stabbed and bleed to death."

I go with the last one, for now

Current wordcout: 20832

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Crappy Drafts

"Write drunk, edit sober" ~ Peter De Vries

The web is full of writing rules, but there is one follow I intuitively: I write crappy drafts. I admit it. Actually, I could have invented this rule. 

Not that I love crappy drafts per se, but in the process of writing, creating something, my brain is completely in the story. I can even hear the characters talking, thinking, feeling. 

Beautiful, isn't it?

But here comes the other side of the coin: As much as I love the creative part, as much I'm struggling with editing. Not the revising, that's still part of the creation process, but the pure finding the right word, the best sentence, the right tone. Some of it is probably might be the language, some of it is my personality. 

Writing in an other language, crappy drafts tend to get more crappy.  If I can't come up with the right word, I'll put the german word and correct it afterwards - with the danger that I might have to change the paragraph. The same with the tone. I realized, some of my characters speak the same way, use the same words. It happens mostly with the side characters, where I don't hear the voices that clear. I usually have to rewrite their whole dialogue parts.

So here are some strategies I developed to overcome this

  • If you don't know a word, look it quickly up. The key word word here is quickly - have the thesaurus, a translator and a dictionary open and flip the word in quests once or twice between them. It should take you 30 seconds and you have a good answer and as a side benefit, you had to think twice what is the right word.
  • Use character sheets for side characters. It probably doesn't solve the problem, but it helps. Anyway, you should have character sheets for every character (side note for myself: Use character sheets! I know I am a discovery writer, but at least after 20'000 words I should have and stick to them)
  • Get into the right mood before you start writing. Sometimes all the words, all the sentences come wrong. You want to write a deep conversation, but all you get is a dispute or you want to write in english, but you still think german. Here is my solution: Plan and get into the right mood before starting. I listen to music for specific moods, for example for disputes I listen to fast rock or punk, for romantic scenes to bossa nova. And if I'm not in the mood for writing at all, I listen to writing podcasts, like "writing excuses",  "I should be writing" or "the creative penn". It helps me a lot. Sometimes I even watch films. After "Finding Forrester" or "Wonder Boys" I'm like - where's paper and pen. It's "Kopfkino" after all (another nice word that misses translation. It means something like mind cinema or using you imagination).
  • And last but not least, stand by your crappy draft. Don't jeopardize your creative process simply to have a better first draft. 

I hope these strategies help. They work for me. What are your tricks? Looking forward hearing from you.

Your writer in a foreign land

And yes, "Write drunk, edit sober" is not from Hemingway, even though half of the web attributes it to him. In Peter De Vries' Novel "Reuben, Reuben" published in 1964 the main character says “Sometimes I write drunk and revise sober, and sometimes I write sober and revise drunk. But you have to have both elements in creation — the Apollonian and the Dionysian, or spontaneity and restraint, emotion and discipline.”

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Midweek Teaser: The Great E-Book Pricing Question by David Gaughran

Awesome post by David Gaughran about pricing strategies for e-books. Probably one of the more difficult parts of the marketing mix, especially with the increasing options in promotion and place in the digital world (eventually each one with its own pricing). Leaves me with the product - but is it really the story only or might this be a bit more complex too. Let me know your thoughts.
Your writer in a foreign land

Originally posted on David Gaughran:
The Great E-Book Pricing Question
soulsaleThere’s more guff written about pricing than almost anything else, resulting in an extremely confusing situation for new self-publishers. I often see them pricing too low or too high, and the decision is rarely made the right way, i.e. ascertaining their goals and pricing accordingly.
Price/value confusion
Before we get to the nuts-and-bolts, it’s time to slay a zombie meme. Much of the noise on this issue springs from conflating two concepts, namely price and value.
Authors often say something like, “My book is worth more than a coffee.” Or publishers might say, “A movie costs $10 and provides two hours of entertainment. Novels provide several times that and should cost more than $9.99....”
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Sunday, April 6, 2014

"Fernweh" and the Difficulty to Find the Perfect Word

In the novel I'm currently writing, I planned to give the main character an emotion called "Fernweh".

The book is about the agony of a town that lost its main economic supplier of work and the hero should already have an underlying motivation to go before he is forced to. 

That is where "Fernweh" comes into place, but there is no word in english that seems to fit the concept. The word means longing or a yen for distant places. Not for a specific place, but for discovering and exploring something new. Imagine a nice summer day and you spot a plane on a spotless sky asking yourself where it possibly goes. And suddenly you want to be on that plane, wherever it goes, you want to be gone right now. But it is a bit more than just longing, there is also a part suffering; enjoyable suffering similar to melancholy.

So let's see what insight translators provide. Leo gives me "itchy feet", "wanderlust" and "yen to see distant places", in others I find "travel bug" and in Wiktionary "far-sickness". Linguee is mostly showing "wanderlust".

"Itchy feet" and "travel bug" seem to pronounce more to the lust to travel, less to the longing, the suffering.  On the other side, "far-sickness" emphasizes too much on the suffering, like "home-sickness" is not enjoyable at all. I'm not even sure it is a official word. Wiktionary has it and there are a lot of google hits for it, however Longman doesn't carry it. Yen to see distant places is more of an explanation than a precise term, as if you would replace mansion with "very large house".

Leaves me with "wanderlust". C'mon, "wanderlust"! Ok, you might not understand my issue here. I understand, "wanderlust" is the right word. As per Longman and Merriam-Webster it is "a strong desire to travel to different places". I really do understand it. But hearing the term "wanderlust" with its roots in the 19th century german, sounds to me very much like enjoying hiking. There is even the hiking song we sang when we were out on a hike with our parents "hiking is the miller's joy". In my ears, this is so the wrong word, but apparently it is the right word.

So, there are two solutions for this problem. Either I can convince Longman and Merriam-Webster as well as the whole english speaking community that actually "Fernweh" should be taken instead of "wanderlust". Or I go with wanderlust is the perfect word. Well, I think I have to embrace the fact that it's who has to change. And it probably won't be the last time. 

Any suggestions, thoughts, better ideas?

Your writer in a foreign land.