How Does James Patterson Write So Many Books?

November 26, 2012

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James Patterson comes out with a new book as often as some people change their underwear.  I won’t name any names, but you know who you are.  Calling him prolific underestimates the scope significantly.  He released 13 books in 2011 and is scheduled for a total of 13 in 2012.  Don’t worry, there are already 5 books planned for release in 2013.  By comparison, Stephen King has released two books this year.

How does Patterson do it?  I’ve been aware of his secret for quite some time, but Parade Magazine spilled the beans to a broader audience yesterday.  Patterson collaborates with a number of authors to co-write most of his books.  Grab a random Patterson book – most likely you’ll see his name at the top and the other author’s name lower on the cover.

The breakdown of work is essentially this:

  • Patterson comes up with the idea and generates an outline
  • The other author fleshes out the outline into a first draft
  • Patterson tweaks as necessary and hands off to the publisher

I’m not sure of the exact agreement between Patterson and the other authors.  My assumption is that Patterson gets the lion’s share of the money.  Is this a fair deal for the other authors?

It sounds like other authors are doing a lot of the work – and they are.  However, we shouldn’t underestimate Patterson’s contributions to the books.  Coming up with a good idea for a novel is hard, as is determining that path the plot will take.  Edison once said that genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.  It’s important to remember that both aspects of genius must be in place for it to work.  Just as inspiration without perspiration will fail, so will perspiration without inspiration.

Most importantly, though, is the value of Patterson’s name.  Putting his name on a book guarantees premium placement in book stores, a huge number of sales, and likely a top spot on best seller lists.  This is due to a strong reputation Patterson has built up over the years.  While Patterson’s collaborators are doing a lot of the work, they are also reaping huge benefits by associating themselves with him.  They may get a considerably smaller chunk of the pie than they would if they created the same book independently, but they are getting a slice of a much larger pie.

For whatever reason, Patterson is an author I like best in audio format.  I don’t often grab his books and read them.  There’s no explanation for this – there are other authors I enjoying reading and dislike listening to their audio books.  Probably my favorite Patterson book is The Jester, which he co-wrote with Andrew Gross.

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The Challenges of Writing a Novel

August 31, 2012

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I’ve been working on my first novel for a few years now.  I got the first draft to about 10,000 (not terribly long) before deciding to completely re-baseline.  It’s hard to basically throw that work in the trash, but when I wrote it, I was basically trying to get some words down, knowing that I’d be heavily revising.  Over the past couple of years, I’ve had a lot of irons in my literary fire.  Recently, I’ve decided to shelve many of these ideas in order to work on the novel.  Here are some of the challenges I’ve been facing.

Finding time to write

With a 5 year old and a 2 year old in the house, much of my “free time” is already spoken for.  Simply finding a spare 20-30 minutes each day to write can be quite a challenge.  NaNoWriMo is looming in November.  Although I don’t plan to birth and develop and entire novel during the month, I am aiming to make significant progress on my novel during the month.  My goal is to add 25,000 words in November.  That’s a relatively modest word count compared to NaNoWriMo winners, but it would push me to the point of being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Baseball winds down around the same time, which will remove one competitor for my time.

Slow down

I’ve always had a tendency to race ahead in my story telling, focusing almost solely on the action.  I’d rather write a kill scene than anything else.  It’s always been difficult for me to spend any time describing the scenes or daily life.  Lately, I’ve been doing a better job of this, trying to get inside the heads of characters and looking around to see what they see and listening to hear what they hear.  Essentially, I have to tell the story telling part of my brain to pause while I stop and smell the roses (and describe them for you).

Exploring my feminine side

Although I’ve had strong female characters in many of my stories, my novel is my first longer work to have a female driving the plot forward (although there will be shifting perspectives in the book).  I have to take care in how I develop the role of Marina, a female detective.  As a homicide detective, I want her to be strong, but not over-the-top like Dirty Harry.  While I can write from a male point of view fairly easily, I actually need to put some thought into how my female characters act.  Marina is going to have to deal with situations that her partner Jake won’t ever encounter – and I need to make sure she handles them in a way that makes sense to my female readers.  Then there’s the matter of female clothing, accessories and makeup.  Dresses, skirts, blouses, stilettos, flats, mules, foundation, blush … Just getting a female character dressed and out the door in the morning can be a job unto itself.

How many of you are working on a novel?  What are some of the challenges you are facing?

What Does Your Audience Want?

July 30, 2012

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Last time we discussed knowing your audience based primarily on age and concentrated on interactions within relationships and complexity of story. For this installment, the focus will be on action and the various groups (in general) that will appreciate levels and types of action.

When writing an action scene, try to picture it within your own mind. How would it play out on the movie screen? Is it graphic, or suspenseful? Will your character (and audience) be exhausted or relieved at the end of the action? Is this the end of some element of your story, perhaps even the life of a character? As with relationships and complex story lines, action is extremely age and gender specific.

Teenage boys will (in general) look for the impossible situation where survival is not likely (i.e. zombies and vampires, not the sparkly ones). Survival is not required and the action has to be hard hitting and continuous. Older men will gravitate towards action that requires the protection of innocents such as war or spy themes. Here survival of the character is optional, as long as the greater good is protected. Older women seem to love the mystery, whether a detective story or complex romance where the solution brings happy endings. For young readers, the action can be fast, but usually rather tame. These stories will generally have to show that following rules (listening to parents for example) saves the day.

If we take just a singe type of scene to dissect as an example the presentation can be demonstrated relatively clearly. The setting is D-Day of World War II. The main characters are Canadian soldiers who have just landed on the continent.

For young readers, the focus must be on why they are there. Members of the crew can be shown to be hurt, but death and the destructive power of the weapons will have to be downplayed. For the teenage boys, the death and destruction is exactly what is emphasized. For older men, the higher purpose is the goal. For this, the inner thought of the men, remembering their families, fear and camaraderie are the details that must be included. For older women, the aftermath and return will be the most important part. Reuniting with the loved ones who inspired the great and heroic deeds will be the high point of the story for them.

This is only one example. If the scene is a chase, even the type of chase will have to be carefully chosen. For younger readers, the vehicle of choice would be bicycles. For teenager, it could be high speed car, airplanes or even a foot race if it involves the undead. Older readers will want more realism. There will have to be a non-superhero reason for escape.

As we get ready for our children to go back to school, we are presented with great opportunities to write. That is of course after we complete the clean up of having the kids home all summer.

Writing – Knowing Your Audience

July 16, 2012

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When you start writing a story of any kind, you must consider the audience you are addressing. This involves age, education, cultural background and gender. Let’s consider each of these elements individually, taking into account basic dos and don’ts. The first consideration is age.

When considering age, even the words and sentence structure may be important. For younger readers, simple and repetitive is best but not the only way. Direct stories with lessons are received well. Relationships and expressions of love have to take the younger reader into account as well. Writing about a mother’s love or father’s is appropriate. Including displays of affection between the parental characters can also be appropriate. The fumbling expressions of love between others can almost require humor, unless that is the lesson of the work, that expressions of love can seem really strange to a young person. The Dr. Seuss series of books are the most obvious examples to look at for communicating with the youngest of readers

For teens and young adults, topic must appear significant and adult. This is especially true for expressions of love between young people. Most successful young adult books mirror the experience of the readers. Older people, especially parents, just do not understand the depth of their love and everything is life altering. The Twilight series was so successful because it met this formula.

As the audience age increases, stories can become more complex or more simple as the individual tastes of readers stratifies. Complex mysteries, investigations, histories or intrigues grabs attention, as well as the simple story of good over evil or social reconciliation. In these stories, the opportunity to address love interests in a more intimate form becomes a valid option. How explicit the story becomes will definitely limit the acceptability of the work across your readership.

The true art is spanning multiple if not all age groups. Even rather young readers, although they may not be able to read it themselves, love hearing more complex stories. The Grimm’s fairy tales and The Hobbit, Treasure Island, Around the World in 80 Days are just some examples of such complex stories that appeal to younger readers. They are also stories that young adults and even older readers enjoy. If we consider the handling of love and relationships in all of these works, we can see a consistent method. In all of these works, true affection is repaid with true affection except in the case of acknowledged evil. Abusing the affection of anyone is repaid with terrible consequences. Thwarted love due to evil is redeemed and the evil is punished.

This article focused on writing about relationships across various age groups. There are similar paths when evaluating gender, cultural background and education. For example, you would not want to target a religiously serious group with sexually explicit material. You also would not target teenage boys with a story about a mother tickling her baby’s toes. This may seem obvious, but it is always a good plan to read you work with your target audience in mind.

I Like To Kill People

May 31, 2012

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I kill people.  I do it for pleasure.  Rarely does a month go by without me killing someone.  Often, I’ll kill several people in the course of a single day.  My weapon of choice is a knife, due to the up close nature.  When I use a gun, it’s always a Glock.  Sometimes I’ll use other methods to kill.

I’m not a violent person.  The killing I do is within the pages of my fiction.  I first create characters, and then kill them off with just a few clickety clacks of my keyboard.  I’ll admit that I love writing murder scenes, and I think I’m pretty good at it.  An acquaintance once told me that a story of mine gave him a bona fide nightmare.  How great of a compliment – a story of mine actually made its way into his subconscious, where it waited for the opportune moment to scare the hell out of him.

In “real life” I’m a pretty mild mannered person.  I could never exhibit the type of brutality that some of my characters do, nor could I cut someone’s life short by plunging a knife into their heart.  When people learn that I write pretty violent crime fiction in my spare time, it often comes as a shock.

When I’m in a particularly mischievous mood, I comment that the murderous energy must come out of me in one of two ways – words or actions.  I choose words, simply to avoid the bloodshed.

My thought is that every person has a dark side.  At some point, the energy from the dark side needs to be releases, or it will build up into a violent climax.  My stories give my dark side a place to come out and play.  The dark side can maim and kill, without causing any damage to the “real world”

The Oracle of Key West, Jimmy Buffett, once said “Therapy is extremely expensive.  Popping bubble wrap is radically cheap.”  Like bubble, writing is a very cheap way to exorcise some internal demos.  It costs almost nothing to start.  Grab a pen and and a sheet of paper, and you’re good to go.

Project Update

May 25, 2012

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It’s been a while since I’ve given an update on the status of various projects.

The Soap Boxers – the one you’re all familiar with.  The site never has monetized very well, but it’s always been a labor of love.  In recent months, traffic has really taken a hit – dropping 60% from previous levels.  I suspect that a Google algorithm change may be the reason.  We’ve also lost two writers recently.  Both left on very good terms – just got caught in a time crunch and had to prioritize activities in their lives.  We’ll miss Squeaky’s views on politics (though he’ll be an occasional guest writer) and Princess Kate’s insights into the world or art.  Regardless of how many visitors we have or how much money we make (lose), I have every intention of keeping The Soap Boxers alive until I die 🙂

Casting Stones – This is my serial killer novel.  It’s been on the back burner for a while now, to allow me to work on things that can actually make money in the shorter term.  However, it’s time to push it back to the forefront.  Techniques I learned in a recent writer’s should be a great help with this book.  The book follows a female detective as she tries to track a brutal serial killer.  Like many of my fictional killer, the preferred weapon is a knife.  I enjoy writing knife scenes because of the up close nature of the weapon.

Freelance writing – I continue to churn out an occassional personal finance article for The Digerati Life.  Hopefully I’ll ramp up this production in the second half of the year, since I actually get paid for these articles.  I’m not looking for any other personal finance gigs at the moment, but I’d be happy to write some freelance articles about sports (baseball in particular).

Short stories – I tried to bundle 75 of my short stories into one Kindle books, and it flopped pretty hard.  Instead, I’ve decided to break things apart into smaller pieces for a lower price.  The Cell Window (voyeurism) and Key Relationships (love story) are longer stories (10,000 words) that are available as stand-along stories for 99 cents.  The simply titled Stories About Sports is a collection of various sports stories that is also 99 cents.  In the second half of 2012, I’ll be releasing a collections of crime stories and stories with a twist ending.  I’ll also write more short stories for The Soap Boxers.

Helping other writers – I assisted Martin with the launch of his novel, A Changed Man.  I’m hoping to help some other writers launch books under the Hyrax Publications label later in the year.

 

What about you?  What are your plans for the rest of the year?

Fiction Contest – Win Prizes!

May 7, 2012

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In an effort to cultivate writing among our base of readers, I am announcing the first annual Soap Boxers Fiction Writing contest.

Prizes:

  • The first place winner will win a $25 Amazon gift card.  You can buy nearly anything from Amazon, but I’d personally suggest using the $25 toward a Kindle.
  • A random voter will win a $5 Amazon gift card.
  • Writers for The Soap Boxers, and their immediate families, are not eligible to win prizes.
  • There are no other eligibility restrictions.  The winner can be any age, and from any country.

Dates:

  • Stories must be submitted by noon Central time on May 21, 2012.  Entries should be emailed to kosmo@observingcasually.com.  I will send an email confirmation within 24 hours.  If you don’t receive a confirmation, please follow up.
  • Stories will be posted on May 23.  Voting will end at midnight Central time on May 25.  One vote per person.

Rights:

  • The story must not have been published previously, either in print or online.
  • By submitting an entry, you grant The Soap Boxers the one time right to post the story.  You retain all other rights to the story.
  • Entries must be your own work.  If plagiarism is discovered, your entry will be disqualified and we will fully cooperate with rights holders who wish to sue or have you prosecuted.

Content:

  • The story must be set during the summer.  Summer does not have to be the overriding theme, but the action of the story should take place during the summer months.  I’ll be flexible with regards to what constitutes “summer”, but if you write about dragging home a Christmas tree, I’ll have to disqualify your entry.
  • The contest is open to any genre, with the exception of hard core porn.  Stories that fall within the confines of an R rating – such as crime fiction – ARE allowed.
  • Suggested length is 500 to 2000 words.  This is merely a suggestion, but keep in mind the fact that the site’s readers will vote on the winner.  It can be difficult to get someone to read an 8000 word post on a web site.

Questions?

If you have any other question, post them in the comments section below.

Let your friends know about the contest – share via email, Facebook, and Twitter.  The more entries, the better!

If you’re new to The Soap Boxers, take a look around.  A complete listing of the site’s 1100+ articles can be found in the archives.  You’ll find writing, sports, politics, art, crime, news, and much more.  All of the content is completely free, but if you like what you see, considering using one of our many Amazon links to kick off an Amazon shopping trip.  There’s no added cost to you, and we get a small commission on each sale.

Good luck!

 

What’s Your Point Of View?

May 4, 2012

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When I write, I am a god.

No, I don’t mean that I believe that my work is as good as the legends of fiction.  I mean that I most often write from the third person omniscient point of view.  The narrator in this point of view is detached from the characters and can see everything – even the thoughts that are inside the heads of the characters.

I tend to kill off a decent percentage of my lead characters, and this is one reason for using third person point of view.  If you’re using first person point of view and the character dies, the story pretty much ends there (unless you switch the perspective, which can be awkward).  More important, though, is that the third party omniscient narrator works with a full complement of information and can describe the action in a completely non-biased way.  Additionally, a third party narrator can include certain content that a first person narrator can’t.  If two minor characters have a private discussion, the omniscient third party narrator can tell the reader about it.  The first party narrator, however, can’t.  If the main character doesn’t know about the conversation then the reader can’t know, either.

Lately, though, I’ve been tinkering more with first person point of view.

Why the change?

The Hunger Games (film)

I’ve been reading The Hunger Games.  I’ve had an interest in this for quite some time, since the concept was my idea.  Well, perhaps not completely my idea, but about ten years ago I had an idea for a novel that had quite a few similarities to The Hunger Games (to be fair, there are a lot of differences, and both ideas probably were inspired at some level by The Running Man).

I’m about halfway through the third book (Mockingjay) and have thoroughly enjoyed reading it so far.  That’s not particularly unusual.  I enjoy most books I read – it’s pretty rare that I deem a book a complete stinker.

The Hunger Games, though, takes this to a different level.  Instead of simply enjoying the story and having a fondness for the characters, I actually find myself emotionally invested.  It’s not difficult to figure out why.  It’s because instead of seeing the action from the detached point of view of the third party narrator, I see it from the point of view of Katniss Everdeen.  Within the reading session, I effectively become Katniss Everdeen.  I share her thoughts, her feelings, and her biases.  I don’t have the choice of remaining detached from the story.  I am Katniss and MUST be emotionally involved.

As a writer, I’d love to get my readers emotionally involved, as it makes it much more difficult for them to put the book down or have a muted reaction to it.  An additional benefits is that it makes it easier for me to include details of a scene.  This has always been a weakness in my writing, as I skimp on description and try to race along toward the action.  From the first person point of view, however, I noticed more of the surroundings, as I look at the world from the viewpoint of the character.  Even if I discard writing from the first person point of view, I should be able to pick up some good habits in the process.

And you?

I’ll certainly still write a lot of stories from the third party point of view.  However, I’m planning to begin writing a substantially higher percentage from the first person point of view.

I know there are some fiction writers in our midst (even if you don’t self-identify as such).  What point of view do you write from – and why?
 

 

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How To Write Like A Professional (Part 4)

April 23, 2012

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This installment of discussions about types of writing and using examples from successful writers will focus on Historical Fiction. Fiction alone is far too broad of a topic and must be broken into several parts. Earlier, in the discussion of series, the focus was on fantasy fiction. Some of the works of historical fiction are also available in the series format.

Historical fiction is specifically stories built around historic epochs. This is different from period fiction, which occurs in but is also written by authors of that period. Examples of this would be Tolstoy with War and Peace or any of the Jane Austen novels. A better example of historical fiction would be Shogun by James Clavell. Published in the 1970’s, the story is about a pilot of a tall ship and his adventures in 19th century Japan. Obviously Clavell was not alive in the time period of his work, he used the historic evidence to build a framework around his story. The historic structure provided both unique opportunities and restrictions on his characters and plot.

He followed up with several more books that marched through time, not quite getting to the present. These works could be considered a series, as Clavell was comfortable in the epoch he chose to use, but the story is not continuous between the books. Tai-Pan and King Rat followed. Together with Shogun, they became television miniseries. In this way, Cavell’s works are similar to an even more famous book turned to mini-series, Roots by Alex Haley. [Editor’s note: here are links to the videos for Shogun, Tai-Pan, and King Rat.]

Roots is fascinating no just because of the story, but also because of the genre that it covers. It is biographical, autobiographical, historic, period, fiction and non-fiction all rolled into one. Haley moves easily between the genre as his story progresses. It is a simple story of a man searching for his roots to help define himself. The story progresses through each of his ancestors, until he get to himself searching for that beginning.  [Editor’s note: video link for Roots.]

One of the best historical fiction works comes from a man who spent most of his life studying the historical period in question, then filling in details that give you the feeling that you are actually there. This book, actually two books, are I Claudius and Claudius the God by Robert Graves. It is the story of the Emperor Tiberius Claudius (know as Claudius to differentiate him from his uncle the Emperor Tiberius). Claudius grew up under Augustus, his step grandfather, and survived the reigns of Tiberius and Caligula (his nephew) to become the emperor himself. He was lame, stammered and was considered an idiot by most historians, but he survived, became emperor and wrote more documents, histories, and books than any other roman emperor. It is written in the first person, and although all of the dialog and action are conjecture, all of the story fits within the known historical context.

 

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How to Write Like a Professional (Part 3)

April 16, 2012

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This installment of writing like a professional will concentrate on biographies. Just as in other forms of writing, biographies have several types that are related. A good example of what could be described as a trans-generational biography is “The Arms of Krupp” by William Manchester. This book traces the life of a corporation through the several generations of the family who founded and ran it over close to 400 years. It is a true biography of the company with many mini-biographies of the individual players spread through the pages. What makes this particular biography so useful as a reference, is that it satisfies both the supporters and the critics of the subjects.

The Krupps were a family in the steel business. They made things from table wear to cannon. They typically supplied both sides of any European conflict with arms until World War II where the limited their efforts to supporting their native country, Germany. This book was embraced by the family as a magnificent testimony of the good that they had done over the centuries. People who wanted one of the last Krupps to be convicted and executed for his role in the Nazi regime also found what they wanted in this same work.

It could be said that Manchester had an easy time, since the people described had been historic figures in his lifetime and those that were not were very colorful. One of the leaders invented the precursor to post it notes by leaving messages on his engineer’s chairs overnight. One leader had his wife put into an insane asylum to hide his homosexual liaisons. The WWII leader convinced the Nuremberg tribunal that his senile father was the one who used the slave labor during the war. All of this is great fodder for writing the story. But Manchester had to do a lot of research to write the book and had to master story telling to be acceptable to both sides of a debate.

Biography is not just depicting a life. Biography is bringing that lifetime back to life for the reader. One of the more famous biographies is James Boswell’s “The Life of Samuel Johnson”. This subject could be very interesting as Samuel Johnson is a significant figure in the development of English as a literary language. Johnson provided one of the first dictionaries and wrote essays and critiques that high school students across America still read. This is an example of a contemporary (Bosworth and Johnson were friends) writing the biography. In this case, the lifetime is exposed with intimate details, private conversations and confessions of fears.

Biographies of famous people are of course the most common, and are usually written well after the life has passed. These works very often carry the personal message of the writer portrayed in the structure of the life being addressed. An easy example of this is Thomas Jefferson. If you call up Thomas Jefferson Biographies on Amazon, there is a list of 454 paper back, 309 hardcover and 29 Kindle versions available. These books have titles such as “The Jefferson Lies”, “Undaunted Courage”, “American Sphinx”, “American Emperor”, and “The Real Thomas Jefferson”. How many of these works actually portray Jefferson accurately is up to the reader and the writer to determine.

There is yet another type of biography to consider. Fictional biography could be the most colorful form of biography available to a writer. In this style, the writer invents the person without having the annoying real person and documentation mucking up the story. “Emma” by Jane Austin is a good example of such a technique. The writer creates everything about the subject, knows all and presents what is most important to the story. It is not political, it is not judgmental, although judgments and political views can be conveyed. This is the best venue to write and not have critics say “it was not that way”. In some ways, any work of fiction includes fictional biography, as the writer must develop characters so that the reader can accept them as real persons.
 

 

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