Thursday, May 26, 2016

Three Thoughts about Show Don’t Tell

Three Thoughts about Show Don’t Tell
By Brad R. Cook

Show Don’t Tell is probably the most reiterated writing rule… after write a good sentence… but what does it mean. Obviously, show the reader what the character is doing rather than tell them every action. There is so much more to this than three simple words. It personifies the idea that Show Don't Tell is easy to understand and impossible to master.

I think Anton Chekhov said it best:
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

Showing – using an active voice and giving rich descriptions to imply what is happening to a character and how those actions make them feel.
Telling – using a few words to inform the reader of what has transpired.

Here are three thoughts about Show Don’t Tell:

1 – Don’t Skip the Good Parts
Telling robs writers and readers of what they both want out of any story – vibrant descriptions that create images in their minds. Writers want to create them, it’s what we all strive to do, and readers want them out of every book they pick up. We read or write to be transported to a different world. Showing allows us to sell every scent, feel every surface, see every wonder.

Telling a scene skips over all the good parts and cuts to the bare bones of the story. Wouldn’t everyone rather have a thick, juicy, St. Louis style rib, than a bone with a little bit of meat covering it. Of course. So don’t skip the good parts. Stretch out the moment. Spend time describing the details. Make the reader feel every emotion. The book will be better and your reader will adore you. 

2 – Add Rich Descriptions
Showing is all about descriptions. Use them. I’m not talking about purple prose - overly elaborate, long-winded paragraphs without any white space on the page - I'm looking for vibrant and well worded passages. Add descriptions to enrich the senses. Make every word count, make the reader cling to every moment so they pray it never ends. Descriptions are one of the best ways to show what is going on in the scene. 

Don’t say he swung the sword and cut the bad guy. Have the flick of a wrist circle the enemy’s blade and thrust through his defenses to push into the thick leather armor and the flesh underneath. Show the enemy collapse on the blade. The sword penetrates the internal organs and emerge out the enemy’s back. Tell the reader how the character feels seeing the life drain from his foe. It will be a stronger scene than just saying he swung his sword and cut the bad guy.

3 – Make it a Conversation
The other technique, beside descriptions to show and not tell is to turn it into conversation. Rather than have a single throwaway line. Have two characters talk about it. Have the main character see what is happening and describe it to another. A great example of this is Ant-Man when Luis info dumps what is happening off screen. They could have had all those scenes but that would have slowed the story to a crawl by having Luis tell Ant-Man about everything it goes from a very telling scene (literally) to a rather iconic and funny scene. So much that now there are calls online for Luis to recap the entire Marvel story line.

Not only do agents, publishers, and editors want you to Show Don’t Tell, the real reason we follow this writing rule is for the reader. Our job is to give readers the best, most immersive story possible. With so many books on the shelf, readers gravitate to the ones that provide a unique experience and rich descriptions are one way to impart that experience.

So spend a little time with each scene in your next manuscript figuring out where you can Show and not Tell the story.





Brad R. Cook, author of the YA steampunk series, The Iron Chronicles. Iron Horsemen - http://www.amazon.com/Iron-Horsemen-The-Chronicles/dp/0989207951 and Iron Zulu - http://www.amazon.com/Iron-Zulu-Book-Two-Chronicles/dp/0989207978.  A member of SCBWI, he currently serves as Historian of St. Louis Writers Guild after three and half years as its President. Learn more at www.bradrcook.com, on Twitter @bradrcook https://twitter.com/bradrcook, or on his blog Thoughts from Midnight on tumblr http://bradrcook.tumblr.com/


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Three Thoughts about Steampunk!

Three Thoughts about Steampunk!
By Brad R. Cook

What is steampunk? Simply put – Victorian Science Fiction. Steampunk is a genre of movies and books that takes the possibilities of steam technology and the technology of the Victorian Age and then twists it into a myriad of possibilities. It’s part historical fiction, and part fantasy. But it’s all awesome. Steampunk is sky pirates on airships, gear technology, steam and steel mixed with corsets and top hats.

As a steampunk author, I have loved the genre since before it officially had a name, back when it was just Hollywood and authors infusing technology into their historical action flicks. I’m looking at you Wild Wild West. I love steampunk. I love taking what might have been and finding a plausible way to infuse it into my projects.

For anyone who doesn’t know about Steampunk and wants to, or for those like me who love all things steampunk – here are three thoughts about the genre.

1 - History is Steampunk!
One thing I love to do is go through the patents from the turn of the 20th century. The Victorian age was filled with dreamers who were only limited by their imagination. They came up with so many ideas that we might consider ludicrous but at the time were deemed plausible. Pictured is a German design for a saddle balloon. The designer believed that police would patrol the streets from a balloon, hovering above trouble. Today we have police in helicopters, so he wasn’t so off, but you have to love the ideas. There are so many more, I give a lecture on the great inventions of the Victorian age. You might have seen it at the St. Louis Science Center’s steampunk event but if not no worries I will be holding it again.

2 – Steampunk is Crafters and Storytellers
Steampunk is all about immersion. The many festivals around the country are about transporting people back into the age of Steampunk. We dress in period clothing, though adjusted to make it even cooler than history. Books and movies transport us to a variety of worlds. One of my favorite parts of Steampunk is that no two books, movies, or games are the same. Each is a unique world where steam, brass, and gears create the common thread that keeps them all cohesive.

3 – Steampunk is World Wide
It’s not just about the Victorian Age or London. James Ng is one of my favorite steampunk artists. He has this great Chinese steampunk aesthetic and I will fully admit that it inspired part of my next novel Iron Lotus. I wrote the Iron Chronicles as a worldwide adventure. The first book, Iron Horsemen, takes place in Europe. The second book, Iron Zulu, takes place in Africa. The third book, Iron Lotus, coming this fall, takes place in the Himalayas. With a grand ending in America just to make certain I got all the way around the world. Steampunk has gone all around the world. I’ve seen it in India, in China, in Australia, all over America, and of course in Europe and Russia. So it doesn’t matter who you are or where you are – Steampunk can be for you.

There is so much more, I might have to do another post. I didn’t even mention steampunk guns, watch part designs, furniture, steampunk computers and flash drives, or the entire top hat industry. There is too much steampunk to fit into any one post. Not to mention the other “punks” like dieselpunk, clockwork, atomicpunk, and more…

What’s your favorite part of steampunk, have a favorite author, artist, cosplayer, designer, or movie? Let us know in the comments.

Bonus!
The Milli-train from my second novel Iron Lotus. What could be more steampunk than a train with legs!




As always a big thank you to my illustrator Jennifer Stolzer for bringing my steampunk inventions to visual life. www.jenniferstolzer.com 


Brad R. Cook, author of the YA steampunk series, The Iron Chronicles. Iron Horsemen - http://www.amazon.com/Iron-Horsemen-The-Chronicles/dp/0989207951 and Iron Zulu - http://www.amazon.com/Iron-Zulu-Book-Two-Chronicles/dp/0989207978.  A member of SCBWI, he currently serves as Historian of St. Louis Writers Guild after three and half years as its President. Learn more at www.bradrcook.com, on Twitter @bradrcook https://twitter.com/bradrcook, or on his blog Thoughts from Midnight on tumblr http://bradrcook.tumblr.com/

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Learn how to boost readership with mailing lists & advertising campaigns

Bestselling fantasy author Eric R. Asher will offer tips on using third-party tools and Facebook ads to rapidly grow your reader base at the St. Louis Writers Guild workshop from 10 a.m. to noon, June 4, at Kirkwood Community Center, 111 S. Geyer Rd, Kirkwood, Mo. Free to Guild members; $5 for nonmembers.

“A solid marketing strategy is important whether you're traditionally published or self-published,” he said. “While established strategies like blog tours and release parties can still be effective, authors need scalable, long-term campaigns to help keep their readers engaged.”

Eric will discuss:
1. Why newsletters are one of the most reliable marketing tools.
2. How to bring more subscribers onto your lists.
3. Why Facebook ads are more powerful than ever, and how anyone can benefit from them.
4. Landing pages, and why you need them.
5. His three favorite list-building courses and companies.
6. Effective sites for promoting discounted ebooks.

We will also review the upcoming St. Louis book convention, Penned Con.

Eric is the author of the Vesik urban fantasy series and the Young Adult steampunk series, Steamborn. He is a former bookseller, cellist, and comic seller currently living in Saint Louis, Missouri. A lifelong enthusiast of books, music, toys, and games, he discovered a love for the written word after being dragged to the library by his parents at a young age. When he is not writing, you can usually find him reading, gaming, or buried beneath a small avalanche of Transformers. www.ericrasher.com.

Learn more about the St. Louis Writers Guild at www.stlwritersguild.org.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Three Thoughts about Writing a Book

Three Thoughts about Writing a Book
Brad R. Cook

Everyone has a story to tell. Those of us that write them down earn the moniker – Writer. Those that persevere through the publishing process become known as Authors. Here’s the secret, anyone can write a story. As a people, we have told stories since the dawn of time. People go into work on Monday mornings and tell stories of their weekends. We tell children stories to get them to go to sleep. The trick, and why some authors get paid the big bucks, is to make it a good story.

Ernest Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Stephen King said, “If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

Octavia Butler said, “First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.”

They said it best, but here are my three thoughts on writing a book…

1 – Be a storyteller
Writers are wordsmiths, gods of our own universes, grammar Nazis, and more, but beyond all of these we are storytellers. Learn the three act structure, the bell curve of story arcs, and writing in an active voice. These are important but what matters most is that a writer be an excellent storyteller. Everything else is fixable in edits.

2 – Write Regularly
Octavia Butler and Stephen King both emphasized this, why, because it is paramount to being an author. The only difference between wanting to be a writer and being a writer is putting words on the page. I try to write every day, when I have a deadline I will write several times a day. However, if you can only write once a week that is fine. Maybe a couple of hours every weekend is all you can manage. I promise if you stick with the writing eventually you’ll write The End, and there is no greater feeling than hitting that last period.

Guard this time like a dire wolf… everyone and everything will try and chip away at that time. The trick is to make it routine, then your muse, your body, and your mind will be ready to write when the time comes.

3 – Read
Read books in your genre, books by your favorite authors, even books on how to write. Read a variety of things, in different styles, different genres, and be certain to read for fun. Seeing how sentences are structured will improve your writing. Seeing what others are doing will let you know what are the tropes of your genre, the clichés, and what you can do that will stand out from the others.

I am a fan of authors rules, I read everyone I can get my hands on. I like to see what other writers think is important, but I also read books on writing. Like Stephen King’s On Writing, the Emotional Thesaurus, and Punctuation for Writers. But there are so many more. Remember, reading is fundamental…


So write. Revise. Write some more. Then Submit.

I leave you with this,
Brad R. Cook’s advice on writing – “The magic is in the rewriting.”



Do you have any advice for writers, a favorite book, or quote? Let us know in the comments.



Brad R. Cook, author of the YA steampunk series, The Iron Chronicles. Iron Horsemen - http://www.amazon.com/Iron-Horsemen-The-Chronicles/dp/0989207951 and Iron Zulu - http://www.amazon.com/Iron-Zulu-Book-Two-Chronicles/dp/0989207978.  A member of SCBWI, he currently serves as Historian of St. Louis Writers Guild after three and half years as its President. Learn more at www.bradrcook.com, on Twitter @bradrcook https://twitter.com/bradrcook, or on his blog Thoughts from Midnight on tumblr http://bradrcook.tumblr.com/


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

First Look - A Clockwork Heart: A Steampunk Short Story by Brad R. Cook

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a new series of posts called FIRST LOOK featuring excerpts from stories. We hope you enjoy them!

A Clockwork Heart
Brad R. Cook

Obadiah has the most broken heart in all the land. After months of tracking his sorrows, and weeks hard at work in his workshop, he devises a solution – a clockwork heart. Lilly, his assistant, comes every day to care, feed, and clean up after the town’s inventor. Today is a special day, the day he fixes his heart.

A Clockwork Heart is available on Amazon.


Brad R. Cook is the author of The Iron Chronicles, a y/a steampunk trilogy, and a regular contributor to The Writers’ Lens. He began as a playwright, then dipped into the corporate writing world before moving into the publishing world. A member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, he currently serves as Historian of St. Louis Writers Guild after three and half years as its President. He can be heard weekly, as a panelist on Write Pack Radio. He learned to fence at thirteen, and never set down his sword, but prefers to curl up with his cat and a centuries’ old classic.

Bradrcook.com @bradrcook on Twitter, Instagram, and tumblr.

The Writers’ Lens is about "Bringing fiction into focus." What brings your writing into focus-- the characters, the stories, the love of words?
I’d have to say it depends upon the story, but for A Clockwork Heart it would have to be the story. I write young adult Victorian adventures, and this was such a departure from that. However, it’s still steampunk which is close to my heart. I wanted to write a love story… with a twist.

How much fact is in your fiction?
It is fantasy, but I try to keep many of the historical elements. I do know that an artificial heart is much more complex than I have made it seem in this story, but that’s the fantasy. It is true that barbers used to be doctors.

Which line did you struggle with more, the first or the last?
For this story the last line was easy. It almost wrote itself, but the first line has changed in every incarnation I’ve created. Opening lines are tough. I’m always thinking of how can I hook the reader in only a few words.

What inspired your story?
Love. I wanted to write a steampunk love story. I always write adventures and I wanted to twist things up a bit.

A first look at A Clockwork Heart

Obadiah’s heart had cracked, been repaired, and shattered again. Now the pieces lay in the bottom of his chest clinking together whenever he walked.
The depths of this depression hadn’t been reached overnight, or even a couple months. It took years to reach this barren rock bottom. He tried to figure out where it began, and even created an intricate chart that spanned three walls of his workshop. Strings wrapped around push pins marked out all the connections of his life. How tragedies had strung themselves together in a linked chain. Small bits of parchment with notes scribbled in ink had been pinned to each point where the strings connected. Circled in white chalk were the biggest tragedies….



Thursday, April 28, 2016

Three Thoughts about Book Covers



Three Thoughts about Book Covers
By Brad R. Cook

Some book covers are artistic, some are photographic, some are horrific… but the cover is as important as the words inside. The classic cover, leather bound, gold embossed, with the cool ribbing along the spine put the focus on the material. The words almost didn’t matter. They were just there to let you know what was inside. With the switch to paper covers, we lost the cool look of the tome, but the importance of the cover image became the focus.

We’ve all heard the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” I wish it were true, but the reality is that everyone will judge your book by its cover. Readers want a cool cover, something that draws them in, bookstores want a professional cover to match the stock on their shelves, and publishers want an interesting cover that will stand out from the crowd. A good cover can elevate an okay book, and vault great books into mega-sales. It can make a reader spend two to three times or more the cost of a book just to snatch up the must have cover for a book with multiple editions.

A bad book cover can be a death nail to a book, killing sales, and giving the publishing house, and the author a bad reputation. There is a game, that myself, and a few other writers like to play when we’re in bookstores… Spot the Cover. It’s easy, as you pass through the shelves, spot the truly beautiful covers, and the absolutely horrible covers. Bad covers are usually blurry, have clashing colors, unidentifiable images, or are so basic that they look amateurish.

I’ve been a cover designer for a couple of years now, sure my covers for The Scribe, the monthly literary magazine published by St. Louis Writers Guild, are kind of simple, but keeping them interesting is still important. As I move into novel covers, I find that keeping up a level of high quality is the biggest challenge. So here are some of my thoughts about book covers.

1 – Depth and Layering
One of the most important things a cover can have is depth. Flat covers appear basic. They push the eye away. A cover with many layers draws the eye in. There should be a central image to hold the reader’s attention, and then images layered behind so the eye can move around. A simple image isn’t bad, bold colors can make a great cover, but the image still needs layers, or maybe a gradient for the background, to give the illusion of three dimensions. One of the worst things to happen to cover is pixilation of the images. Every layer needs to have a high dpi (dots per inch) to ensure the highest quality.

2 – Readable Names
After the central image, the two most important aspects of the cover are the title and the author’s name. They need to be easy to read both from a distance and in the thumbnail image as well. Having the right font is important. It needs to be big enough, clear enough, and thick enough to read. The lettering can be a script, or blocky, but it should mesh with the rest of the images. A thin script can get lost in a busy background, and a blocky font, if too squished together can be difficult to read. Focusing on the spacing, size, and color of the font will ensure that it can be read from a thumbnail to a poster.

3 – Consistency is Key
Covers should match the novel’s genre. A non-fiction historical novel with a flowing-haired, buff romance cover model, might give the wrong impression about what the book is about. It is also important the covers match, or at least hold a similar theme for a series of books. It will help readers know that each book is part of the series and will look good sitting on the shelf. Using the same font is one way to achieve this affect, as is using a similar theme for the cover images. Having the same artist create each cover is a good way to ensure this consistency.

There are millions of book covers on the shelf, meaning there are plenty of covers to study. So make your next book cover the best it can be.  Identify what you like and what you don’t like, and suggest those ideas for the next book. Here are a few covers I really like to get your started.

One of those gorgeous older covers...


The abstract cover for The Alchemist.















One of the most iconic covers in history...



 Harry Potter has had several covers - this is the US version. 













One of my favorite covers.... it has so many layers and was done by noted illustrator Keith Thompson. He did a gorgeous map inside too. This edition is now highly sought after by collectors.



Brad R. Cook, author of the YA steampunk series, The Iron Chronicles. Iron Horsemen - http://www.amazon.com/Iron-Horsemen-The-Chronicles/dp/0989207951 and Iron Zulu - http://www.amazon.com/Iron-Zulu-Book-Two-Chronicles/dp/0989207978.  A member of SCBWI, he currently serves as Historian of St. Louis Writers Guild after three and half years as its President. Learn more at www.bradrcook.com, on Twitter @bradrcook https://twitter.com/bradrcook, or on his blog Thoughts from Midnight on tumblr http://bradrcook.tumblr.com/