What Big Data Tells You About Exodus

Being an egomaniac author with an inferiority complex, I commissioned a Helix Review to analyze Exodus against all published works within The Book Genome Project as well as making specific comparisons to titles in the science fiction genre. The big data mash-up tells you a ton about how your book works and your particular writing style.

bookstats

So the first thing you can tell is that Exodus is short! In spite of its length, it does have a healthy vocabulary for its length.  Sentence length is average. While classified as a science fiction book, it tends to have longer paragraphs than most books within the genre.

The review also analyzes the text for complexity, dialog and pacing.  To help compare the book, I suggested Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Often classified as a science fiction book, The Handmaid’s Tale shares similarities with Exodus in that they are both dystopian future fiction books focusing on religious fundamentalism and oppression.

handmaid comparison

 

As you can see, in almost every category Exodus exceeds The Handmaid’s Tale. It has more action, complex language, dialog and descriptive text.  My book is slightly slower paced than Atwood’s. It fits within the norms of the genre except that it moves slower than and has more complex language than other science fiction books.

Story

The final piece of useful information I got from the book was the general elements that fit into the story DNA.  I have been focusing on the religious conflict, but Helix shows time, rivers (lots of rivers in Exodus), conflict, combat, pain, rocky terrain and history as critical underlying components in the book.

Then Helix shows you how these elements rank against the general book project and your genre.

genres

 

So all in all, you learn a lot about what you wrote, and  how your book fits within the larger context of the Book Genome Project. Now if the big data analysis could only tell you if the book was good!

What do you think of big data barometers like the Helix Review?

I am on vacation until September 30th and will not be responding to comments. The floor is yours!

How to Write an Addictive First Chapter

One of the best compliments people have given to Exodus is that the first chapter grabs them, and launching them right into the text. So I decided to share how this chapter was crafted.

First of all, before I begin let me say not everyone likes the book. I’m not painting Exodus out to be the second coming of the Lord of the Rings or anything. There has been some constructive feedback that I will apply to future books. In other cases, I have been absolutely shredded by those outraged by the book’s position on religion (no surprise there).

But most of those that say anything seem to like it. Some call it a compulsive read right out of the gate, with nods to the first chapter. And that’s funny to me because I actually deleted the original first chapter ten years ago.

Seriously.

I deleted the whole damn thing.

The original first chapter was overburdened with backfill, the story of how we got to this moment kind of thing. “And through the centuries after the the Great Sickness.” It sucked, and was totally boring.

I read somewhere that every author should lop the first chapter off their text. It’s always important to the author, but rarely to the reader.

The current first chapter was rewritten at least a dozen times. My head tells me more than 20, but I don’t want to exaggerate.

I wanted to create that moment in time when everything gets turned on its head! Novels are usually about something or someone remarkable. Stories always start somewhere, the day in the life kind of thing. Begin when the remarkable events change characters’ lives, and let the book provide the context.

The wounded man crawling down the path toward the the village was rewritten to be that moment. It had to be active. Creating tight sentence structure was critical. I recall repositioning this numerous times. Even this past winter I paired down the chapter to tighten it. And then Jennifer Goode Stevens edited it even further.

The framing was intentionally unusual and menacing, in large part because I wanted to set the tone for the grave danger that forms the premise of the novel (trying not to spoil the plot here). Setting the tone for a book has to occur in first chapter. It needs to convey the general direction of the novel. In the case of Exodus, alarm had to drip off the page, and hopefully it does.

Finally it needs to end with the hook. In Exodus, the danger is revealed and you are left hanging right there. If I couldn’t get you to chapter two and beyond on that opening salvo then I suck as a writer. Straight up.

To me the first paragraph of a novel is the most important one, as is the first chapter. If the novel fails to captivate readers from the get go, it’s highly likely that it will be put down like a bad tasting sandwich. I know I put down books within the first 20 pages if they don’t grab me, and I do that no matter how good the reviews are.

Resonate or collect dust (or ether dust bunnies). What do you think?

Crazy Characters Work Better

So I thought it might be talk about creating fictional characters as we head into the weekend. On that note, when writing about folks I prefer boiling unpredictability into characters, or a little bit of crazy.

When reading or watching stories, I prefer main characters who screw up, make bad decisions, flip flop, and do other things that generally drive people a bit crazy. They are human, and we can identify with or simply doubt them.

Developing a character or screenplay in a novel requires tension and conflict. And there is no greater conflict than the one that lies within. We think we know how folks will respond, but then they do things contrary to expectations. This is true character development to me, reflecting what we experience in reality.

Tensions exists because we lack certainty about how protagonists will act. It’s the quintessential trust issue. Perhaps that is more a reflection of my own expereinces with people.

Invariably, man or woman, people will always let you down at some moment. This is the human condition. But principles never do, and that creates tension between doing right and wrong.

Favorite Crazy Characters

frodo

This crazy factor is why Cervantes’ Don Quixote is perhaps the most brilliant of early novels. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are maddeningly nuts (chase that windmill!). They don’t make characters like that anymore!

In the modern tough guy vein, Richard Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs evolves and matures over time. Morgan’s work created a series that I could not put down, and desperately hoped would continue. Like so many characters though he does seem to fit into a stereotype, the anti-hero tough guy that survives and eventually conquers, albeit in a never-clean fashion. You kind of always know how Kovacs is going to respond to things.

In Lord of the Rings, Frodo is a sweet young man who faces terrible challenges. His character is pretty straight forward, and in that oh so English way, he continues because he must. Frodo does succeed, but the journey bludgeons him, killing his spirit. In the end as he sails off to Valinor in an effort to find peace.

While I loved Kovacs and Frodo, I’m not sure they’re really human. Because both protagonists are heroes, they rise above the normal foibles we all seem to muddle through.

A better tough guy is the comic character Batman, who is just nuts, as all of us familiar with the movies know. The underlying gritty subversiveness of the Bruce Wayne/Batman character reminds me of the duality of ideal versus humanity.

This same character tension was played out subtly and brilliantly in Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. Through narrator Nathan Zuckerman’s recreation of the Swede we saw how really crazy and subversive people are regardless of their outward presentation.

Exodus features an anti-hero character, Jason. I actually named him after Jason of the Argonauts, because that Jason seemed too perfect to me. I thought a little more perspective on a young “hero” was needed. Several of the characters are named after Greek legends, an intentional ode and post modern riff on epic tales.

In Jason’s case, the fundamentalist threat alluded to in the novel’s teaser text provides external conflict, which in turn forces his internal crisis by thrusting a great responsibility on his shoulders. This is a classic character development technique.

Most novels make you wonder how the hero will succeed. Me, I wonder if Jason can handle it or if he’ll go nuts. His process is very much what I think happens in real life as opposed to the archetype of yeah, we know he’s going to make it, it’s just a question of how and when.

What do you like about your favorite characters?

Two Ladies Lead #Demand13

Elisabeth-Moss-Demand13

As one of my projects, Vocus asked me to program the Demand Success 2013 conference (6/20-21), their first marketing conference open to the general public. Last week we announced our second major keynote, Elisabeth Moss, who plays Peggy Olsen on Mad Men. I was tickled that the buzz revolved around Mad Men, and not the presence of two strong ladies Moss and Arianna Huffington as the leading voices of Demand Success 2013.

To me, that’s remarkable because for once female speakers at an Internet marketing conference are a non-issue.

Our two primary keynotes are women, and no one cares. Why? Because they are qualified, relevant, and obvious.
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Google Author Rank and the Have Nots

Image by Mukumbura
Image by Mukumbura

The rush to become officially integrated into the Google Author Rank system or has begun. It’s unfortunate, because Google Authorship forces weighted search rankings that favor popularity and SEO skills over substance.

If content creators want to optimize our chances of being read, what choice do we have but to implement the system? Our search results depend on it.

There have been many blogs about how to implement Google’s Author Rank system, but this isn’t one of them.

Continue reading “Google Author Rank and the Have Nots”