How To Develop A Following On Twitter

On Twitter: by Kirsty Allen

The Ramblings of a Madwoman

As I hastily approach the 700 follower mark on Twitter it begins to hit me, nearly 700 people actually want to see my posts, support my writing and like my tweets. 700 people who have seemingly appeared from nowhere, only 6 months into using the app.

There are some days that gaining a Twitter following feels a bit like collecting Pokemon cards and then others, when prestigious movie directors follow you, that make you realise that those 700 people actually exist and are potential clients or networking connections.

So what are my tips and tricks for gaining followers for someone new to Twitter?

  1. Have a photo. Mine is a logo but it can be a picture of yourself, it just has to be a good image. Make it stand out, fit in your niche. I’ve seen paranormal romance writers use dark gothic colours and imagery in their profile picture and header…

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Pub Life #1: Query Advice from a Literary Assistant

On Queries: by Christine Herman (more great stuff)

Writer's Block Party

When I was still in school, I set myself the goal of having a career centered around books in as many ways as possible. Which means that now, as an adult, I wear two hats within the publishing industry. There’s writer-me, who signed with an agent in January, who participated in Pitch Wars, who writes from 6-11pm on every weeknight she can manage and every weekend she’s at home. And then there’s literary-assistant-me, who spends business hours working for the literary agent Matt Bialer of Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. What my job entails is flexible depending on the day, but some of my daily tasks as Matt’s assistant include evaluating manuscripts, mailing contracts, tracking submissions, and, of course, reading a whole lot of queries.

My experiences on both sides of the query inbox have left me with a lot of accumulated knowledge about the process of finding an agent —…

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The Top Five Reasons I Stop Reading a Manuscript

Really great guide here for the query trenches, by Christine Herman

Writer's Block Party

On any given day, I do a ton of reading. There’s my for-fun book on my commute to and from work. The unpublished manuscripts I read in the office as part of my job as a literary assistant. My after-hours beta reading for friends. And, yeah, okay, the occasional after-hours work reading, too — assistant life is busy!

So I’ve read a lot of books, many published, many unpublished (for now!). And today, I figured it might help those of you in the query trenches — or those of you who someday want to be in the query trenches — to talk about the most common missteps I see in requested manuscripts when I’m working as a literary assistant.

There is a lot of advice out there that focuses on how to make your query and first chapter shine — I’ve written some of it! But you must have a…

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The Soul of a Story

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Does anyone else get annoyed when they think they have come up with a decent insight about writing, only to discover that that knowledge was already out there, you just never stumbled across the right resource to hear/see/read it?

Nevermind.

The insight I gained recently was the realization that great stories typically have a simple soul, by which I mean that no matter how long or complicated the story is there the overarching arc of the story is straightforward.

With the word simple I don’t mean low-brow or childish, but rather accessible and pure, for want of a better word. Lord of the Rings for example is a multi-layer story but at its core its the story of a young(ish) hobbit who has to throw an evil ring into an evil volcano. A Song of Fire and Ice for all its many characters, kingdoms and pages to its name has a very simple premise, multiple figures vie for political power while snowy zombies threaten everyone. For a non fantasy examples, The Time Travelers Wife is a lengthy exploration of the emotional toll the premise takes on its characters but ultimately the title says it all – its the biography of a time travelers wife!

This is not to say there are no complex novels or stories out there, Justin Cronin’s The Passage and its corresponding sequels doesn’t seem to have a simple crux but is considered pretty successful.

But I do think there are several advantages to the simple story which I will extol presently:

It gives something for the reader to hold onto, provides a foundation for more complexity and creates a stronger message.

Again this isn’t advocating for low intellect material. I’m not saying readers are dummies who need easy plots to grasp. What I am saying that as a reader a simple premise is the glue that holds the story together, and often fixes a story in a reader’s mind long after reading it. In many respects its a simple soul, that allows a story to build more and more complexity, as a reader can link everything back to the basic plot, without getting lost along the way.

If the basics of a story aren’t simple, then any additional layer comes at a price. Watchmen is a great story but I would argue it doesn’t have a basic overarching premise, and the story is very challenging to follow as each character and arc gets a very developed backstory, motivation, stakes and so forth.

A simple core allows an audience to take what they will from the story, depending on how deeply they examine it, a convoluted core risks audiences getting lost if they lose track.

Finally a simple core gives a strong message. I don’t feel confident guessing at the message of Game of Thrones till the story ends, however Lord of the Rings tells us that the most unlikely of heroes can make a massive difference. To use Watchmen again, the message is not quite as powerful; a small evil for a massive good is justified? The best people (Night-owl and Spectre) are somewhere between good and evil? The world is f***ed unless giant octopus aliens attack? (my point is not Watchmen is bad just that a clear message will really enhance a story)

One of the things I see myself and other rookies do is build up elaborate lore, or setup their story with a convoluted plot. Often its not obvious as one reads through a draft but you just get a sense of purposelessness to the words, like several events are strung together without a strong link.

To round off a final advantage to a simple premise is the ease of composing a tagline or hook for your story. People often get to query letter time and struggle to squish their story into 1-2 lines. Harsh as it may sound I often suspect the problem isn’t how hard it is to do that (I mean it still is) but actually a story-level problem that there is no overarching premise to the story.

What are your thoughts on the soul of a story? as always would love to hear other’s thoughts…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WestWorld SE1

So its probably become a bit clear that a. I’ve been binge watching a few television shows lately, and b. I’m well behind the curve.

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For those living under the same rock at me, Westworld is a series about an amusement(?) park replicating the wild west and populated with ‘hosts’ artificial people who appear completely human but follow the story narratives of the park owners/programmers and basically allow the guests do anything they want to them without fear of harm.

As you can imagine the guests indulge in sex and violence in equal amount.

The first few episodes were some of my favourite. The nature of having human actors play the roles of non-human hosts and the shrewd directing helping create empathy towards the machines creating the perfect creepy atmosphere that exemplified the theme of the show, the question of whether the hosts were ‘real’ and to be sympathized with.

In terms of compulsion the show is not your typical story. The hosts gain a lot of sympathy as essentially targets of torment for the guests, but as automatons its hard to really root for them as characters. The workers and owners within the organisation are mysterious and callous in equal measure and again hard to root for as their motivations are kept close. In the end the driving force for the show is desire to know what exactly the heck is going on!

While I thoroughly enjoyed many aspects of the show I had a few sticking points that it feels like most of my co-watchers didn’t (it’s true I’m a nitpick). The man in Black just felt like a relatively pointless plotline yet dominated the screen-time. There was a cunning twist in timelines which was kinda forced, and didn’t really seem to add to the plot, it felt more like a series long red herring like it a little unfair from a catharsis point of view.

Anthony Hopkins character Ford was my highlight. Switching back and forth between villain and saviour throughout the show I found it very satisfying to learn that ultimately he shared his late partners vision but simply realized that some terrible things had to happen along the way.

Finally as I said above I liked how much of the shows thematic material was viscerally shown to the audience, but as the show got to the end too much got thrown at us in dialogue, i.e. the man in Black literally just explaining his own backstory to other characters even though a. they didn’t really ask and b. no-one really talks about themselves that way.

Apparently the next season is a long way away, which is probably a good thing for giving me a break from the scene, of course Game of Thrones is back very soon, so good luck with that fool.

 

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House of Cards SE5 (and a recap)

Just finished the latest season of House of Cards, possibly the pinnacle of ‘anti-hero’ television. But unlike the Seminal Breaking Bad, which was sort of time-bomb of the main characters descent/ascent into dealing meth, House of Cards feels like a never ending rabbit-hole of poor ethics, deception, manipulation and above all ambition.

I mean at this point I’ve pretty much lost track or am simply overwhelmed by who is playing who, for what and how.

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To catch up SPOILER ALERTS FOR ALL SEASONS I really enjoyed the first two seasons, which basically chronicled Frank’s response to being shafted by his own political allies and assent to President of the United States through murder, lies, manipulation, and just generally evil stuff. What I particularly liked about the 2 seasons, one is that the tension was well written and compelling, even though Frank Underwood is probably one of the most unrelatable protagonists out there its still a tense ride wondering if he is going to achieve his goals and watching him overcome the barriers to his goals.

Even if this show had ended with Frank becoming president, and that haunting image of him standing in the Oval Office starting at the camera I would have considered the show a success and been satisfied with the story.

That’s not to say that season 3 or the rest were bad. But simply that the tale changes considerably after season 2. SE3 sees Frank struggling to hold onto his presidency, and as it turns out his marriage. I confess for me the narrative floundered a little here, as a corrupt man trying to hold onto his position of power didn’t quite have the same oomph as without the underdog factor, or without a dramatic fall from grace it kinda just felt like Frank was generally a loser rather than the dangerous criminal mastermind of the prior seasons. The file of Claire leaving him was logically important, but lacked the emotional intensity I craved.

Season 4 was a great return to form, and ended with a appropriately powerful conclusion.

So how did season 5 go? AGAIN, SPOILERS FOOL

Well again things were a little odd here. The first half of the season was devoted to the presidential race which was played very well with Frank true to form basically pulling all the dodgiest moves to secure his position. The second half was where the rabbit hole started to deepen and reveal even more layers to the weirdness of this show.

Again the focus shifted from Frank’s political shenanigans and looked at Claire and Frank’s relationship. At this point the pair were president and vice-president and all the signs were pointing to Claire being the next president.

But I just want to take a moment to talk about narration. As any fan of the show knows, a hallmark of the narration is Frank himself speaking to the camera, this has always provided a often humorous glimpse into Frank’s mind although often throughout the show we are shown evidence of his monologues being just another layer of deception possibly even a self-deception of his. The first odd thing about this narration is Frank’s approach changes slightly in season 5, he even berates us the audience for enjoying watching his antics delivering some great lines about the end of reason.

But the second odd, thing, let me just take a breath, is Claire herself starting her own.

Yes Claire knows we’re there!

Typically when Frank monologues, like in a play he steps outside the rest of the characters reality, however other watchers may have noticed that when Frank addresses the audience at the end of season 4 Claire reacts like she can hear him too and it my memory serves she places a hand on his arm or holds his hand as if to support his speech. At first I thought Frank might be just speaking to us while ‘real life’ happened and it was just my imagination. But then I noted another moment during the season where Frank started to monologue and Claire again seemed to be able to hear him, and he awkwardly stopped.

Finally towards the zenith of the season Claire direction talks to the audience, telling us she isn’t sure how she feels about our scrutiny.

The feelings was mutual to say the least.

The season ends with Claire as president, not pardoning or taking Frank’s calls, and by all appearances allies that are just as manipulative if not moreso than the Underwoods.

Bastards have me hooked just waiting for the next one.

Overall the season was pretty good, the build-up towards the election was suitable tense and compelling, the shift in power between the Underwoods much as Claire’s reveal was perhaps a little more awkward and I have to say at times frustrating, as between all the lies and manipulations it gets a bit hard to really get invested because it takes a tonne of brain power just to keep up.

One thing I want to talk about is Doug Stamper, who is brilliantly played by Michael Kelly. I honestly thought his character was killed in season 2, but he returned from the dead with a severe head trauma. His character is strange to say the least, almost comically loyal to Frank, but with a tendency for debauchery he spends equal amounts of time trying to cover the Underwood’s crimes and his own. By the end of season 5 we see him on house arrest for taking the fall for Frank’s crimes (although also having a fair few of his own). The reason I find his character intriguing is it isn’t really explained where this extreme loyalty comes from, and every now and again he seems to show a bout of conscience which typically ends up expressed in a dysfunctional way. For example he starts a relationship with the widow of a man he basically allowed to die to save Frank (by manipulating the organ donor lists). He thinks that he is hiding this information from her, but its finally revealed that she knew all along and engages in the relationship as an expression of hate for Doug, who bizarrely seems genuinely shocked by this but also fails to see his own issues put him in that position.

By the end of the season it’s not entirely clear (to me at least) where Doug stands with the president, after having his loyalty questioned by Frank, and clearly being hurt by this, Doug is shown to leak information to the media, yet Frank claims he orchestrated this and despite possibly being put out by Frank’s words Doug still takes the fall for a murder (one of anyway) of Frank’s.

Anyway my mind boggles to see how much further House of Cards can go, its hard to imagine what will happen next, will Claire prove to be the Frank 2.0 that he could never be, or a force for good after all the crime, or will Frank wrestle power back from his wife, the underdog position being his forte?

Looking forward to finding out!