End-of-the Month Roundup: August 2016

My Friday Updates started off with a bang, and then they tapered off, and most of August has been without. “Why?” you may ask. Well, the simple reason is that I haven’t had much to talk about in August.

But, I suppose that’s not entirely true. I have actually done a lot of work, but not on my writing. I’ve been spending much of August studying, marketing in particular, but also editing. It’s the editing I’ve been learning that’s stalled my free-flow of writing. In short, I want to get my stories right, and to do so, I have to better understand the genres they fit in.

I’ve always had a problem with genre classification. I get the general genres like action and drama. But I’ve never been taught the conventions of these global genres, nor the conventions or obligatory scenes of their more defined parts (like action adventure, for example). Thanks to The Story Grid, I’ve been learning more about the genre types, and to some extent the conventions that make them work. More importantly, I’ve been giving more thought to what defines certain stories within their chosen genres, including my own stories. Especially my own stories.

I’ve been wanting to write an update to The Computer Nerd for a while, but I’ve been holding off because I want to attempt to run it through the grid (as outlined at The Story Grid website), and I want to be sure I fully understand how the grid works, and in turn figure out what I still need to do to make The Computer Nerd work. I also want to pick up Shawn Coyne’s book so that I have some kind of textbook to refer to when I give storygridding (a term Shawn Coyne coined) a try. I think it’ll be easier to graph once I know exactly what I’m supposed to do.

To be clear, I do think the story works based on the genre I’ve established. But now I’m wondering if I’ve picked the right genre. And I also think I can make it better. Even still, I have pictures in my head for improving it.

But, of course, that’s not the only thing I’ve been studying, nor the only thing keeping me up late at night.

When I do put it through a new rewrite, and eventually rerelease it, I also need to consider the cover image. I like what I have, but I don’t know that it’s appropriate for the genre. So much to consider, and I feel like no matter how much I learn about my craft, my awaiting knowledge seems to stack and stack.

There’s also the secondary concern about marketing. Whenever I do reedit and repost the story, I’ll want to do so with a change to the metadata. In short, I want this thing primed for marketing, and that means stripping out much of what’s already in there and replacing it with a more direct (and beneficial) link.

But how do I follow that?

The primary marketing tactic I see and hear all over the Internet is that the mailing list remains king. And guess what. I don’t have one. Nope, no mailing list. My blog subscription option is the best source I have for sending out new information, and most of the people who come here come to read my one comedic post about hoverboards, so they’re not going to subscribe. Clearly, that needs to change. So, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the mailing list and when to start it. But, I don’t want to really push the thing until I have what Nick Stephenson calls a “reader magnet” ready, and I’m starting to think that moving the post-credits scene to a mailing list exclusively is a bad idea. That scene is really part of the book, and should remain with the book. So, I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a novella about the bounty hunter who’s searching for our mental institution escapees (spoiler alert if you haven’t read The Computer Nerd) and using that as my subscription incentive.

Would you be interested in reading the story of Mr. Sanders’s pursuit of our escapees?

Of course, getting people to subscribe means giving them something else to buy down the road, and The Computer Nerd is not something I plan to make a sequel or an entire series out of. It’s supposed to be standalone. Assuming they want something in the same genre, what do I give them?

I’ve been giving more thought to other stories I’ve posted or have planned to post by now–Gutter Child and Teenage American Dream specifically–and considered that maybe their stories could fit more into a mystery or thriller convention, and less in the convention they already have. So, among all of my other stray thoughts, I’m wondering if I should expand Gutter Child and turn the current plot into a subplot, and give Teenage American Dream a darker problem. I have some ideas on how I can expand them, but that will undoubtedly hold up my current plans of the other stories I’ve mentioned on this blog. I feel like I’ve been ignoring them long enough.

So, that’s how my month has been. No progress, just a lot of studying.

I also host a biannual game-making contest, which had a deadline this month, so I’ve been giving that a lot of my attention. But you came here to find out about my writing, didn’t you?

Advertisements

Friday Update #6: The Branding Betrayal and Other Briefs

I haven’t posted to the Friday Updates in a couple of weeks, mainly because I haven’t had much to say since my last post, but also because I’ve had other commitments and time got away from me. More on that later.

In Support of Branding

I wanted to kick off this post with a slight nitpick. As some of you may know (if you know me personally), I’m a fan of movies. I enjoy a good movie as much if not more than a good book. I enjoy them for the stories, sure, but I especially enjoy them for the experience they provide. And I’m especially a fan of movie franchises, as I can continue to reenter the worlds of my favorite characters and experience something new while hanging on the edge of my seat to the exploits of people old (but not necessarily those of old people, except for maybe Clint Eastwood, and only if he does another Dirty Harry, which I guess would be hard to watch nowadays given that he’s the same age as my grandmother, who just recently passed away—more on that later).

However, one of the things I depend on in my movie experiences is continuity, and that’s especially true of those that actually continue into sequels and more sequels. Franchises like James Bond can get away with actor changes because there are so many of them that eventually the actors will get too old to play the part, like Sean Connery, who’s the same age as my grandmother, who just recently passed away—still, more on that later). The only thing we really must have in a James Bond movie consistently is the tracking gun barrel sequence at the start of each movie, and the opening credits sequence with the dramatic song and the nearly naked women superimposing the movie’s weapon of choice. There are story points that must be addressed, too, but those are related more to the genre than to the franchise itself. At any rate, James Bond has a specific brand we expect each film to adopt, and those are the things we expect—oh, and of course the James Bond theme song by Monty Norman. Other movie franchises like Mission: Impossible also have an expected brand, with the lit fuse marching toward an explosion and the classic theme by Lalo Schifrin (I almost mixed the two composers up—I’ve watched these franchises so many times that they sometimes run together on details like that). It’s also well-known for its anti-brand of style by changing directors and storylines so much that each movie barely resembles the one before it, and really only has Tom Cruise and the opening fuse to bind all five together. Weirdly, this works out great for that series.

If you’re paying attention, then you’ve noticed that I’ve addressed two of the top three blockbuster spy movie franchises currently running. The third franchise, the Bourne series, also has a brand, with each film taking the exact title from the book that corresponds with its entry number (The Bourne Identity is the name of the first book and movie, The Bourne Supremacy the second, and so on through The Bourne Legacy, which changes the lead character but stays firmly in the established cinematic universe), and this keeps them all in the same family.

Or, at least this is true of the first four films.

Now, I just saw the latest Bourne film, Jason Bourne, on Wednesday, and even though I enjoyed it, there are a few things about it that annoyed me. And it all has to do with its branding.

Movies like this remind me why branding in a series is so important. On the outside, novels in a series establish brands by having similar covers and similar fonts from one installment to the next. Their internal content can also establish brands, with recurring themes and recurring popular characters populating them. But they also form brands by the titles they use. Novels do this. Movies do this. Even the names of television episodes (something many audiences will never even see) do this. The show Scrubs, for example, would title each episode as “My [Something].” That puts every episode into a family. My favorite show, Community, would title each episode after a fake and ridiculous course title (“Advanced Complaining,” for example, was never a Community title, but it could’ve been because each episode was titled something like that). I think branding among titles is a good idea, but keeping a continuity among titles to establish that brand is vital if the series has three or more installments and the first two are of the same style.

Before I saw Jason Bourne, I watched the Honest Trailer for the original Bourne film trilogy, and I think it does a fine job highlighting many of the trilogy’s repeat items, enough for me to recognize them when I see them in new installments. I must also say that plenty of elements within the newest movie match those of the older films (the use of the word asset, for example) quite faithfully. And I was pleased to see that the end title song, “Extreme Ways” by Moby, makes its fifth appearance in the series, over the usual hi-tech background graphic where the credits flash, with its expected differences in style from its previous incarnations. And, of course, the story is basically the same as it is in the first four movies. Even though it brings nothing new, it’s still most everything I expect from a Bourne film. Well, almost everything.

Going back to the title, there are two expectations that people like me will have whenever a new entry into the series is released: 1. The title will be The Bourne [Something]. This is how it’s lain out in the previous four films. It’s how the fifth movie should’ve been presented. It’s what we expect when we set up our DVDs and Blu-rays beside each other on the franchises shelf. 2. The title should coincide with the book that matches its installment number. In this case, the fifth book is called The Bourne Betrayal, so the movie should’ve been called The Bourne Betrayal. Even its IMDB entry mentions this inconsistency in the trivia section. What’s worse is that the movie’s plot actually supports this title.

So why change the name? I don’t know. I suspect that the studio dipped its hand where it shouldn’t have, as it often does, and decided that it would make more money or be more appealing to feature the main character’s name instead of what audiences actually expect. I mean, it worked for Jack Reacher, right?

Here’s the thing. The movie is the same regardless of what title it’s given. My complaint is about as OCD and nit-picky as OCD and nit-picky get. But I also think this inconsistency is as annoying as snot. Just give it the expected title. As long as it has the name Bourne in the title, we’ll know it belongs to that franchise. The title change has single-handedly taken a franchise I love and made it into something I love a little less. It just feels like a detached entry now. Being that it takes place 12 years after the previous three just isolates it even more.

Now, if the next Bourne movie is called Jason Bourne 6, and not The Bourne Sanction (the sixth book’s title, and the sixth title to maintain consistency), then I’ll have to stop caring what decisions the studio makes for this franchise. Seeing as how they aren’t changing the formula a lick from movie to movie, either, I’m guessing the series has had its heyday and is ready to take another long nap. I don’t know. Makes me sad, though. This really was one of my favorites for the longest time.

For those of you who write series books or make series movies, please stick to your established brands. Changing them by even the slightest angles derails the momentum you’ve created. Don’t do it. Change the stories instead. That’s what we care about being new.

Other Non-Writing Things

So, I missed last week’s post because I was distracted. We had my grandmother’s memorial the following day, and I was mentally checked out from doing anything creative or informative in the hours leading up to it. I was also exhausted from two straight days of walking several miles on the soggy beach during the hottest time of the day, so I ended up sleeping through most of it. So, sorry if you were expecting news. But I really didn’t have any.

The week before, I was supporting a friend at a cocktail party on the 29th floor of a beachfront condo about an hour from where I live. I was tired when I got home. Plus, I didn’t have any news. I did have fun though. I don’t get invited to cocktail parties like that too often.

Smashwords Sale

For those of you who might’ve been interested in buying my e-books during the Smashwords sale, the sale is over, and everything is back to full price. But, you can still find coupons for discounts and freebies in the Promotions sections in the header, so don’t worry about it. Thanks to those of you who bought something, or will buy something.

(I just noticed that most of the existing coupons are expired or soon to expire. I’ll generate a new batch at some point soon. Keep checking back.)

And that’s it for this week. I’ve spent the last few days working on my computer game, Entrepreneur: The Beginning, and I’ve been reading a lot on the Story Grid website, catching up my knowledge on how to edit, so I haven’t been writing much lately. I will soon, though. Don’t worry. I did write a poem called “My Fading Silence” a couple of nights ago, however. You can read it in my previous post. I don’t write poetry often, so it’s a rare treat.

Oh, and I’ve officially cancelled my preorders for Teenage American Dream, Sweat of the Nomad, and Zipwood Studios until further notice. I will be reinstating them at some point, but not before I get an email list together or something substantial toward their development. I also need to figure out if I want to release their original short story versions under their existing titles and their novel versions under new titles. Check back here often for new information.

My Fading Silence

August 4, 2016

I don’t write poetry often, but I do appreciate what it accomplishes when done well. Every once in a while I get a little inspiration to poeticize, and last night was one of those moments. Here’s what I wrote. Enjoy.

My Fading Silence

I’m not sure where I am, or how I got here,

But that person whom everyone surrounds

Immediately takes notice of me,

And he calls me over, as if he knows me.

I know I should listen to him, listen intently,

For he commands authority—

I can tell by his voice.

I can tell by the way everyone stops to hear him speak.

 

He recognizes me, I know that for sure,

And perhaps I should be troubled,

Troubled that I’ve yet to recognize him.

But I don’t. I don’t feel any trouble here at all.

I sense that the man already knows this,

For he’s nodding at me, as if to say it’s okay,

That he’s not offended by my ignorance,

That in time my blankness will all make sense to me.

 

“Over here,” he says, as he points at a spot nearby.

“Come, let me offer you a word.”

I push through the crowds,

Still wondering how I even got here,

As I don’t remember where I came from,

Or what I was doing when I left wherever.

I just know that I’ve never been here before,

Yet, somehow I’m no stranger to this man.

 

I sit by his feet, and he instructs me to take higher ground,

Not quite level, but close enough to look him in the eye.

I feel a little small, if I’m honest,

Though, maybe I am a little small.

Many of the people here are larger than me,

Not all, but many,

And a part of me wants to feel intimidated by them.

I’ve already figured out that I’m not.

 

Anxiety does not describe my feeling,

Even though I wonder if maybe it should.

I know next to nothing but what I see.

The faces in the crowd are peaceful,

Convincing me that I’m right to relax,

But I can tell they’ve left behind some baggage—

It seems their peace has come at a price—

They hide it well, their smiles are bright, but I know I don’t identify.

 

The man does not hurry in his speech.

Whatever he has to tell me, it is no longer urgent.

But his soft smile convinces me that I still need to hear,

That a lack of urgency is not the same as a lack of importance.

I open my ears and wait for his word with anticipation,

As does every person still standing in the crowd,

Every person who leans forward in expectation,

Also without hurry in their faces or posture.

 

The man balls up his hand into a tight fist,

And he gently taps me in the shoulder with it.

He says, “Sorry you didn’t get your shot, my son.

Sorry they never gave you a chance.”

With a comforting look he says, “You could’ve been a contender.

A fighter like you, I know you would’ve changed their lives.

And you would’ve put a smile on their faces.

You had such potential, and you would’ve done much, I’m sure of it.”

 

Sitting up as straight as I can,

I look him back in the eyes,

Wondering what more of this I don’t know but should.

“My son?” I ask, flabbergasted at my memory lapse. “Am I your son?”

At least, that’s what I think I say—

It’s hard to tell if my mouth has a voice,

As I’ve never actually heard it before,

But it sounds like I might.

 

The man opens his palm—it looks different than mine—

And he pats me on my head.

For some reason, this makes me smile.

Again, I don’t know why.

“You are always my son,” he says,

“But I wasn’t always your only father.”

I hear the words washing over my ears,

But I don’t fully understand what they mean.

 

He acknowledges my silent question with an audible answer.

“Let me explain,” he says, but he doesn’t stop there.

Just as many of us here, who also rest in this unfamiliar place,

Do not have the wealth of memories that so many others do,

He recognizes mine as being equally dry,

And he begins to tell me how I got here and why.

None of it makes any sense to me.

He smiles and says it’s not really supposed to make any sense.

 

He tells me my story, and I don’t know how to respond,

For even though it’s true, it feels like it should be a lie.

Maybe I don’t understand the place I’ve come from,

But I find it hard to imagine it would treat me with such disregard.

When I look at the people around me,

Each with their own stories to share,

I silently beg them to help me understand,

Yet they only echo the story my father tells me.

 

They tell me what I don’t want to hear:

That even though they’ve all come here under differing circumstances,

My circumstance is among the most common—

Traveling from stage one to stage three,

Without the necessary transition through stage two,

An arrangement by way of ignorance, or stupidity,

Or by way of entitlement, they say.

The hand of a robber, of a soulless villain.

 

He assures me that I’m not alone here.

Sixty million others were once like me.

That’s a number I don’t fully comprehend,

But he tells me it’s enough to fill a civilized nation.

I continue to listen to what he says,

And he continues to explain things to me with an apology.

He keeps telling me that I’ve come here prematurely,

But now that I’m here, I can live again.

 

Perhaps I should be okay with this reality,

And maybe I can be fine with the reasons that drive it,

But I have to wonder now if I am, really.

I have to wonder if I’ve been cheated somehow.

I can’t say I feel any animosity toward those who put me here,

For this place doesn’t seem to generate negativity,

Whereas the place I came from was full of it, so I’ve heard,

But I know something about the way I’ve come here isn’t fair.

 

I don’t know how many years have passed since I’ve awoken here.

They say time has no meaning in this place.

But what I’ve learned from my father in this ubiquitous infinity

Is allegedly heartbreaking—it certainly is to him—

Though, I must confess that I don’t know what I’m missing,

Or what opportunities I’ve been denied,

Or what emotions have been stripped from my existence,

Or why such lack of emotion has sent me here in the first place.

 

All I know is that I had a different body once,

Not yet fully formed, but certainly formed enough.

I did not yet have a voice, but I could still scream.

And scream, I did plenty of in those moments before I came here,

When my body was ripped apart from suctioning,

And my head crushed between two steel clamps,

In the name of women’s right to choose, whatever that’s supposed to mean,

Though I’m sure the people killing me couldn’t quite hear my voice.

 

–Jeremy Bursey

Just a side note, I know I’m behind on Friday Updates. Haven’t had much news the last couple of weeks. Not sure if I’ll have one tomorrow, either. I’ve been spending a lot of time relearning editing techniques and things, and I want to eventually apply them to some of my existing works. I still have all of my future plans for this site in mind. Sometimes takes a while to get everything together.