Exercise in Writing Book Descriptions

It’s a funny thing about writers. Sometimes it’s easier for us to write a whole novel or a ten-book ‘trilogy’ than it is to write a simple little book description that you will need for a book blurb or book promotion.

The best way to learn to write book descriptions is to read good ones. Most traditional publishers had people on staff who were skilled at writing the kind of book description that made readers want to buy.

For this exercise, go to your book shelf and pull down some books with book descriptions. Don’t consider the bestseller books that have excerpts from book reviews and quotes.

Read the book descriptions. Pick out one you thought really caught your interest and perhaps made you want to buy the book.

Write the book description out by hand or type it into a computer file. This is to make you pay attention to what the individual words are, so you don’t skim-read and miss stuff.

Now you are going to change that book description. Pick a book or WIP of your own, or even a favorite book by another author.

Change individual words from what describes the original book to something that describes the book/work you have chosen.

Stick close to the original! Don’t add five sentences to explain the unique stuff in your work, or replace one adjective in the original with four describing your own.

Keep to the spirit of the original. You will not be generating a useable description of your own book this way. The end product will seem like a mishmash of the two books.

Do this same exercise on other days. You are doing this to internalize the way effective book descriptions are made.

You don’t have to always match the genre of your example-book with your work. If you write starship-based science fiction, you can use a science fiction example book one time, and the next time a mystery or historical.

When you are better able to write book descriptions, you may want to share your descriptions in a writing group. This can be a problem. Why do you assume everyone else has a sounder opinion than yours? Even a professional English teacher can give you advice that will lead you astray.

What might help is if you can find and befriend a published self-published writer who has great book description. If you regularly buy that writer’s books, read them, and post reviews, he may be inclined to give you trustworthy advice. Or not. Good writers get asked for favors a lot.

Nissa Annakindt can be reached at MeWe under the name Nissa Annakindt, and at Gab as nissalovescats.

Writing for a Cause

Does your soul burn for a cause? Whether it’s the cause of Christ or the cause of Karl Marx, there will be an accusation made against fiction for a cause — it’s preachy.

Oh, some Leftwing people remember to call Leftwing fiction ‘messagy’ instead. But it’s still the same thing.

Should you then try to write avoiding mention of anybody’s cause? Some writers, especially of the more escapist type of fiction, try to do so.

This is a valid approach, but be warned. Certain persons of influence keep changing the rules about what words are allowed and what words are toxic hate speech. So your work may end up with ‘messages’ you never intended, and you may be placed where you have to offend one group or another just to tell your story.

If you do feel moved to write for a cause, you will draw haters. If you state in your fiction that enforced universal vegetarianism will cause mass starvation deaths, vegetarians will hate you forever.

But on the other hand, carnivores and low-carb/keto near-carnivores could end up being a super-loyal fan base. Even if your fiction writing skills are not yet up to the level of an Orson Scott Card or Declan Finn.

But there is a problem with your super fans. If you are a global warming novelist but proliferation, and the majority of your fans expect you to embrace massive increase in abortion rates as the only way to halt global warming, you may have a problem. Your readers may expect to agree with you on everything. You have to find a way to make readers happy without feeling like you’ve sold your soul.

That’s a key issue for all writers. You need to please a fan base, but you also need to feel like you are not a sellout. You may need to work a little harder to find a fan base, but the confident feeling you get from being a writer with integrity will be worth it.

Your WIP Notebook

Writing projects generate notes. A sci-fi or fantasy project may generate pages and pages of world building or backstory notes. A small town mystery, just lists of character names and names of significant places. I used to be unorganized with my notes, and lost some that I wanted later. So now I have 3 ring binders dedicated to a project or group of them, with alphabetical dividers to make things findable.

I used to print out these things— I wrote them down in the Scrivener project in files under ‘research.’ But because of current computer/printer woes, I now write things by hand.You may wonder why I want hard copies at all. It’s because when I am actively writing a scene, I may need info that isn’t in that particular Scrivener file. I may need to consult my master list of words in the Konju alien language to give a Konju person or place a name. It’s easier to find in an organized notebook than by searching through multiple Scrivener files. If you might use the same setting for multiple projects, don’t file it all under the names of individual projects. I’d never find my Konju stuff if I had to remember the original name of the project for which I created the Konju!

Character lists might be under the project name, or be under ‘character list’ with the project name or number as a subcategory. The reason for your notebook is to make your writing work easier. You don’t want to have to skim through one hundred or one thousand pages to recover the name of a person or place you mentioned in passing. With a good notebook, you can have all that stuff to hand. Some writers plan everything out in advance, in detailed outlines. Others don’t. All kinds of writers should take notes as they go, for filing later. You may invent a minor character or an event or place that wasn’t in your outline. Make it easy on yourself- jot down notes, and file them.

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Meet me on MeWe– I am Nissa Annakindt there. MeWe is becoming fun and is less commercial than Facebook.

First steps on MeWe, Parler and Gab

Since Twitter &Facebook have gone into full-fascist mode to influence a US election, many writers, bloggers and influencers have lost trust and sought for backup social media, if only in case of an emergency– like getting banned for no apparent reason when you have a new book out.

Step one is to open an account. MeWe, Parler and Gab are all free. Choose your user name with care. If you have a day job in a sensitive environment, you may not be able to use your real name. A pen name works for writers. A nom du guerre works for others. Something memorable, anyway.

Next, you need a photo of yourself or avatar. I like something with a face for a profile picture. When I joined Parler, I used a picture of my kitten Kos before I figured out how to change it.

I use an old, black & white photo of myself at age 4. I’m weird that way. It doesn’t reveal my current age or weight.

I used to use different profile pictures for different accounts or FB pages, but now I’m unifying to the one picture everywhere. It helps people find me.

Your self description should mention that you are a writer, blogger, Martian ambassador, whatever you are.

Should you hint at things like your political or religious affiliations? It can attract like-minded people, but repel others. If your politics or faith are mentioned a lot in your work, it’s probably best. But if your work is neutral on these controversial things, you may keep your social media neutral as well.

Next, friends/contacts. You need lots. Remember, lots of people don’t check out their alt social media accounts every day.

You might ask on FB or Twitter if your friends there are on the alt medium. Once you find a few, check out your friends’ contact list and send friend requests to anyone you recognize.

Also, post something. Almost anything except naked pictures or death threats. People will check out what you have posted before they accept your contact request.

I participate in #MeWeMondays where I do stuff on MeWe on Mondays and mostly stay off the fascist social media. I may be doing that on Thursdays as well, because of a suggestion from a friend.

Be faithful. It took us years to build up FB and Twitter accounts. Success won’t come on the although social media right away. I’m concentrating on my MeWe at the moment, but intend to build up my Parler and Gab also. Look for me under NissaAnnakindt on MeWe and Parler, and @nissalovescats on Gab.

Please drop a comment with your social media handles— let’s follow each other.

How to ‘Witness’ to Catholics.

Imagine this situation on social media. There is a Catholic discussion group and the members are currently discussing good First Communion gifts, and a new group member breaks in. ‘Hello, I’m a REAL Christian, not like you hellbound Catholics. I know this is supposed to be a Catholic group. I lied about being Catholic to get in. But that’s OK because I’m here to SAVE YOUR SOULS by getting you to repent of your sins of worshiping Mary and the Pope instead of Jesus. And you call your priests ‘Father’ and my father always told me it’s a sin to call any man ‘father.’ I have ten great books written by the pastor of my church on why all Catholics are hellbound, I will give you the list, and you can buy the books, read them, and then I can explain to you all the things you don’t understand…’

Now, is this person witnessing, or just Catholic-bashing? Most Catholics would say the latter. It doesn’t matter how sincere you are, when you insult people you are trying to witness to, you are not planting seeds of your faith but pushing people farther away.

If you feel called to ‘witness’ to a Catholic, you must know actual facts about what the Catholic Church really teaches. Don’t go by some anti-Catholic book written by a member of your denomination, or even the testimony of someone who came from a Catholic family and got ‘saved’ in your church. Many childhood Catholics never had any sort of Catholic religious education and may know less about what practicing Catholics believe than anybody.

Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church to know what real-world Catholics believe. This document has many references to Bible verses or sayings of Early Church leaders that back a certain teaching up. If you are not willing to read from a Catholic source, perhaps you should restrain from making claims about what Catholics believe.

Read The Catholic Verses by Dave Armstrong. He is a former Protestant who became Catholic.

Another important point is to know what you believe and why you believe it. If your church has a catechism or statement of faith, read it. If you don’t believe in ‘doctrine ‘ but just in ‘what the Bible teaches,’ learn more about the many different teachings different Bible-believers find in the same Bible. Learn from Bible commentaries or by learning to read the Bible in the original languages.

Above all, be civil enough to see things from other points of view. You may think a Catholic is hellbound, the Catholic may think you are hellbound. Bickering and insulting is not the way to win people over.

I find that a good number of those who purport to ‘witness’ online are just exposing their ignorance and incivility. Remember, Jesus did not win over the Samaritan woman by declaring she was a whore from a false sect. She had heard insults before, she would not have been moved. But Jesus cared enough about her to be kind even when she was in the wrong on some things.

Let us hope we can all be more like Jesus and less like the online jerks we have all encountered.

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Contact Nissa Annakindt on MeWe, the less censored social medium.

Ye Prologue that Sucketh

There is a writing rule that your shouldn’t write prologues. That rule should be don’t write prologues that suck.

A classic prologue that sucks can be found in certain SF and fantasy books where they open with a prosy, dull rehashing of the history of the kingdom or galaxy of the fictional world. In a trilogy in also sums up what happened in the previous books— in the style of a particularly dull history textbook.

Cut that kind of prologue. Start with chapter one with a character in action– learning to use a sword or pilot a starship, chasing a buxom alien woman or an escaped riding dragon, coping with the fact he’s just been turned into a cockroach and that might make him late for work…

There is another kind of prologue often used in horror novels that you can keep. The prologue introduces you to a character who is about to be murdered by the monster or serial killer or whatever you’ve got that kills people, and this killing launches the story. Calling this story start a ‘prologue’ acts as a suggestion to the reader not to get too attached to the prologue viewpoint character.

If you have a prologue in mind that isn’t that kind or a history lesson, and it features your Lead character, is there any real reason to call that a prologue instead of Chapter One? Many readers have been so burned by bad prologues that they don’t read them. Putting ‘prologue’ on a first section just diminishes the number of people to read it.

‘Don’t write prologues’ is not a valid writing rule. Write all the prologues you like. Just don’t write ones that suck. If you put your best foot forward and write things that make the reader curious, you have hooked the reader, and that’s the job of any kind of book beginning.

The Great Facebook Exodus

Facebook has done itself in. In September they made a dreadful new Facebook that you can’t get away from, and forced it on everyone. In October, there are rumors that they will retroactively ban people. My guess is that my conservative or libertarian friends are more likely to get banned than my foul-mouthed stalkers. 

I’ve been annoyed by Facebook for a while because they use what I post on Facebook to pick which ads to throw at me. When I mention my diabetes, I get flooded with ads for diabetes gimmicks. When I mention my low-carb, ketogenic diet, I get flooded with keto gimmicks. You don’t want to know what happened when I mentioned I had an appointment with a kidney doctor.

I’ve never been banned by FB even though I’ve expressed opinions I hate. I only had one post taken down, and that was because I mentioned my stalker, asking people to pray for him. FB likes my stalker more than it likes me, I guess.

I’ve had MeWe and Gab accounts for some time now. I did Gab when a lot of people from the Conservative/Libertarian Fiction Alliance recommended it, and I started on MeWe when the CLFA group migrated there from MeWe.

MeWe seems dull, but I have fewer friends there and a lot of the friends I have there are only there part-time. I have found when I do more things, like comment on posts from pages, I get more interactions. Posting on MeWe is important. I try to post my blog posts onto my timeline, or in some cases in an appropriate group.

Gab has strong free speech policies, but it has a minority of troublesome troll users. Many of the trolls are political extremists of one type or another. Others are ‘88s’— they use the code 88 to signal their sympathies with the NeoNazis or KKK. I dislike it when trolls try to bully me. Which is why it is good that you can block people.

For writers and bloggers, I think it’s important to look into Facebook alternatives. What if FB takes down YOUR page or account overnight? It is only prudent to have a backup. Though I think FB is catching wise. Today a number of people posted links to their MeWe profiles or groups. And when I clicked on the links on my cell phone, MeWe wanted me to sign in again. Even though I have the MeWe app and used it earlier in the day. That didn’t used to happen. 

Join me on MeWe: : https://mewe.com/i/nissaannakindt

Be sure and add a link to your own MeWe profile in a comment, if you want more MeWe friends.

World-Building: Enforcing Laws

In the process of world-building for fantasy/sci-fi writing, we not only need to make up laws for our worlds, we  need to think about how the laws are enforced. Without any enforcing of laws, chaos arises. Why shouldn’t someone steal all your stuff if there were no consequences? Why shouldn’t they stab you to death to get a chance at your wife/husband? Or do it just for the hell of it?

Most people don’t look forward to going to jail for long sentences, being hanged or beheaded, being put in the stocks, or whatever other punishments your world has. Many early societies didn’t have actual police forces to catch the criminals— families often had to catch their kin’s murder themselves. Among the ancient Norse, when some one killed your brother, you were free to kill any member of the murderer’s family in vengeance. 

More civilized societies as in most sci-fi worlds have a system more similar to ours. Criminals need to be caught. Perhaps technology will give better ways to find the criminals— we see that already in places with CC-TV cameras everywhere, and the use of DNA identification. 

In our world some charming people have decided ‘defund the police’ is a cool slogan, but they get dismayed by a resulting crime wave that affects them. Being a person tasked with law enforcement will always be a tough job. You have to gain control of possible criminals who are high on drugs, or drunk, and who may be belligerent and think there is nothing wrong with what they have done— even if it’s murder. And if a law enforcer makes a mistake— catching an innocent person, who dies in police custody— they can get called murderers, even if they had no way of preventing the death.

Some people think that looting and shoplifting from a business is OK because the business owner is insured and rich enough to afford insurance rate hikes. But people who own a business, large or small, aren’t in business just for the fun of it. The business needs to make enough money to cover the costs, both of the wholesale cost of anything sold and the cost of paying employees’ wages. As a bonus, the business owner usually expects a little money for his labor— if he’s not getting it, he might as well go home and do things he likes.

High shoplifting rates, or an incident of mass looting, makes businesses go away. That’s why so many urban ‘bad neighborhoods’ don’t have any of the chain discount stores in the area. They have individual stores with higher prices, because of the shoplifting rates. 

My father, who worked as manager in a discount store most of his working life, dealt with shoplifters all the time. He liked to say they had never caught anyone stealing a loaf of bread. I think what he meant was that people didn’t steal basic food items, but things they didn’t need to survive.

Out-of-touch people think looting is OK because it means people— including non-employed Leftist professional protesters— get fed. Real-world poor people tend to get food it more legit ways. If there are no wages to buy basic foods, they panhandle, or apply for charity/Food Stamps, or go to a food bank or soup kitchen. I’ve never panhandled, but I’ve done some of the other things— food banks are frustrating when  you have to be on a low-carb eating plan and most of what they have is Hamburger Helper and ramen noodles. 

Some people think training the young people with the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule would help reduce law-breaking. It might— a lot of crimes that are common now were less common when most kids were taught these things in home, religious education and school. But this training gets overcome when there are loads of people promoting ‘situational ethics’ or the idea that there are no absolute rules without exceptions.

Not murdering and stealing are good rules. In a major crisis, we all agree that one may use deadly force in self-defense or the defense of others, and in an apocalyptic situation one can break into a sporting goods store to get a crossbow or ball bat to kill zombies with. But if your mind is filled with the exceptions more than the rules, you are always finding good reasons to break laws. You speed through the school zone because you’re running late. You steal ‘protein bars’ from the mini-mart because you’re hungry and you left your wallet in your other pants. You kill Joe because he flirted with your wife, or he cussed you out, or you want his stuff…. I have read about a lady serial killer who was a devout church-going Christian on the surface. But she kept feeding people ant poison when they caught her stealing to get drug money. I’m sure she knew the ‘Thou shalt not murder’ rule. She just got in a habit of not applying it to herself.

In fantasy and sci-fi stories, the shared moral rules may be similar to those of the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments, or quite different. Maybe one rule is that you don’t say the Fearless Leader or Dark Lord’s name, or he will get you, through magic or technology. Maybe your hero will obey his society’s rules, or be looking for a better way. In either case there will be some sort of law enforcers to keep him on track.

You Need To be Mean to your Characters!

Zombieland (2009)

You put a lot of effort into creating characters. You hope your Lead character is interesting, and that readers can identify with him. But what will make that happen? Trouble!

How many readers would have liked Harry Potter if an evil wizard hadn’t killed his parents, leaving him to be raised by horrid Muggle relatives? How many would have identified with Katniss Everdeen if she had lived in a peaceful, prosperous society with no ‘Hunger Games’ competition in sight? Would we have followed Scarlett O’Hara through the Civil War if she’d got Ashley to dump Melanie for her right at the beginning?

Being a big meany to your characters makes those characters more relatable. Most readers have had troubles, and even if their troubles were very minor, they felt big. It’s easier to care about an orphan, an unfulfilled person, even a doomed person, rather than someone for whom everything goes right. Everything going right is what happens to other people, the ones we don’t like so much.

Lots of troubles give characters lots of chances to show good qualities. If Katniss never had to volunteer for the Hunger Games to save her sister, and therefore never allied with little Rue in those games, we might think she was just a self-involved teen with no redeeming qualities. In ‘Gone With the Wind,’ we are shown that Scarlett is shallow and self-centered, but she stays with Melanie and delivers Melanie’s baby, and then helps her sisters and the servants survive when she returns to Tara to find everything she had known destroyed. 

Imagine instead you write a character named Mary, who is popular and a good student and has a wealthy family who gives her everything. Will we even like her? Probably not— unless we make her lose her popularity, lose her family, and have to drop out of school to work in a cotton mill. Troubles like that will make any good qualities Mary has shine forth so that even the more inattentive readers will notice.

Now, you don’t have to give every character the same set of troubles. There have been many fictional characters who were not orphans, or not poor, or not unpopular. You just have to give your character some troubles.

The center of most fictional plots is the things the Lead character wants but can’t seem to get. It must be something important to him— for example, if he can’t get the girl he wants, he can’t have 10 other more available girls around him that he likes just as much. Getting the girl has to seem like life-or-death to your character if that is at the center of your plot. Your Lead can best be defined as someone who wants something, and wants it with all his heart. 

Without being mean to your characters, in particular the Lead character, the characters are just going through the motions of something that won’t much matter to anyone. Your readers might not even know what’s missing, why they could never really ‘get in to’ the story, or care enough about the story to finish it, or why they couldn’t give it a good review. But now, YOU know what is missing. Get writing, and add some troubles to your fiction!

Preaching To or At Catholics Online

Jesus. He’s a Friend of mine.

I am a former Protestant (Presbyterian, Lutheran) who is now a convert to the Catholic church. And lately I’ve noticed something that bothers me. There are Protestant/Evangelical preachers or would-be evangelists who troll Catholics in the comments section of various posts on Facebook and MeWe, and I have also noticed at least 2 who have joined Catholic groups under false pretenses, don’t interact with the group, and post long, long sermons, clearly Evangelical, in those forums. In one group a guy was posting sermon-videos at a rate of one a minute for a while. Another fellow posted the exact same sermons in two groups, one Catholic, one about Christians who support Israel. That sermon mentioned neither Catholicism nor Israel.

I am a firm believer in the idea that throwing sermons at the unwilling is not a way to win over hearts and minds. Nor is calling Catholics or other non-you Christians ‘hell-bound’ going to do the trick. Other Christians are mostly as convinced of the truth of their branch of Christianity as the online-preacher is about his.

And being insulting isn’t too convincing. Since I have a controversial, pro-man/woman-marriage page on Facebook, I have a lot of ‘athiests’ calling me a crazy liar and calling my disabled kitten ugly, and somehow those insults never made me doubt my faith. Nor want to become that kind of ‘athiest.’ If I lost my faith I would be an atheist— properly spelled— and I would still be civil to other human beings, because that approach is better. I can’t imagine the beloved writer C. S. Lewis, during his atheist youth, insulting other people’s disabled kittens to spread the atheist nonfaith.

What if these fire-breathing Protestant/Evangelicals had instead joined the Catholic group, made 10 encouraging and denomination-neutral comments for every one that might be perceived as being a bit non-Catholic, and had never posted any long sermons at all but just done a little ‘seed-planting?’

I believe in is seed planting. You can plant seeds of faith, and trust the Lord to bring the harvest. Yes, I know, Jesus preached long sermons like the sermon on the mount. But you are not Jesus. Jesus also spoke in parables— short illustrations— and we don’t know for sure how often He used the one method rather than the other. 

If you honestly think Catholics are ‘hell-bound,’ using an approach that will give the Catholic in question one more story about how Evangelicals/Protestants are hateful of Catholics is not effective. That’s how you get Catholics who question whether Evangelicals/Protestants can even be saved enough to get to heaven.

You want to save some Catholics? Do this: Buy a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a Bible with the Deuterocanonical books (Apocrypha), and get the little leaflet from CHResources on how to read through the whole Bible and Catechism in a year, and do it in a year. Next step: get a good book by a Catholic apologist that explains why Catholics believe the things we do, such as ‘The Catholic Verses’ by former Protestant Dave Armstrong, and read it. 

Then you will be equipped to go out amongst Catholics, knowing what they really believe, and plant seeds of what you think are the essentials of the Christian faith. Be encouraging, kind and loving. You may find after your studies that you no longer believe that getting Catholics to doubt their faith and leave their Church is your goal. Perhaps you will think it’s enough to lovingly encourage Catholics to draw closer to Christ and to the Bible, even if they stay Catholic. 

My personal belief— and I’m just a laywoman not a priest, pastor or bishop— is that God wants us to follow Jesus in the best way we know how, and even if we are in the ‘wrong’ church and believe false doctrines God still wants us in heaven if at all possible. I do believe my Catholic church has the correct and Biblical teachings, but I know there are also people who don’t believe like I do and who love the Lord. Let’s ignore the sad Christian divisions and recognize one another as fellow believers when we can.