Category Archives: Writing

Posts on the art and business of writing.

The Fabula and the Syuzhet

Fabula versus Sujet in Memento

The distinction between the ‘fabula’ and the ‘syuzhet’ as it applies to storytelling was first made by members of the Russian Formalism school of literary criticism, popular during the 1910s and 1920s. The ‘fabula’ refers to the chronological order in which the events of a story take place: the timeline, in other words. The ‘syuzhet’ refers to the sequence in which the author chooses to relate those events, which we could describe as the storyline or the plot. In the film Citizen Kane, for example, the fabula is the story of Kane’s life, from birth to death. The syuzhet, on the other hand, starts with Kane’s death and continues as the story of a journalist investigating Kane’s life, interspersed with a series of flashbacks. By using this device the screenplay introduces a degree of mystery and tension that would otherwise be absent. Continue reading

Flash fiction

Just published: a couple of flash fiction pieces that I wrote back in 2014 while member of a writing group. To read them click on the ‘Writing’ menu option above, or on one of the links below:

Pretty straightforward, in which a mobile phone conversation is overheard.

Sam’s story, in which a young man describes his world.

Word as a writing machine

Word for novelists

An uncluttered Word (click image for a larger version)

Microsoft Word is the world’s most popular word processor and has become a standard in the book industry. However it is criticised by novelists for being too complicated, and for lacking the facilities of something like Scrivener which is designed specifically for creative writing. Thankfully Word is highly adaptable, and can be customised to give you just the features you need. It also has some advantages over Scrivener, in that it’s display adapts better to smaller devices such as tablets, and it saves your document as a single file which means it works better with cloud services such as Dropbox.

Here are some steps you can take to give yourself a relatively uncluttered screen, and add some features that are particularly useful. These instructions refer to Word 2010, but should work with later versions as well: Continue reading

The cost of self-publishing

Having published When Computing Got Personal: A history of the desktop computer in both Kindle and paperback editions, I thought it might be helpful to share the costs that I incurred in doing so. Much has been made of how cheap self-publishing can be, but there are some costs that you should not avoid if you want a professional product, even if you only intend to publish to Amazon’s Kindle platform.

Kindle only

Copy editing by LibroEditing cost £420. Liz Dexter’s standard charge is £8 per 1,000 words, but she offers a discount to self-publishers and quotes on the text as presented. Don’t even think about publishing without having your copy edited by someone who knows what they’re doing as readers are very unforgiving of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Continue reading

Choosing a narrative mode

NarratorAn important choice for any writer, particularly of fiction, is that of ‘narrative mode’, by which I mean the choice of viewpoint and tense. It is rarely make-or-break as you can usually rewrite your story in a different narrative mode, but you don’t want to have to do this after you’ve written a substantial amount, so it makes sense to get it right early on.

In most cases the telling of a story involves at least three people, namely the reader, the narrator and the protagonist (or protagonists). However they can be combined. In a first person present tense narrative, for example, the narrator is the protagonist and the reader is invited to occupy his shoes, as in “I pick up the gun and point it at the burglar. For a brief moment I wonder whether I should pull the trigger, but then he moves and my instincts take over.” In the right hands this can be effective, but it is limiting as it gives no scope for reflection. Continue reading

The link between storytelling and Gestalt therapy

I’ve just finished reading Into the Woods: A Five Act Journey Into Story by John Yorke, a profound and detailed study of the underlying structure that is common to all stories, whether told through film, television or print.

To recap, the storytelling process starts by introducing the basic setting and the main character, the protagonist whose story it is. The protagonist is then presented with a problem or a challenge which he or she may at first refuse, but will eventually have to face and take steps to solve or overcome. His actions may bring some success, or make things worse, but either way they bring ever bigger challenges until he overcomes the final crisis and gets the girl/boy or vanquishes the monster and is able to return to continue on his way, enriched by the experience. Continue reading

Tax matters with Kindle Direct Publishing

Setting up an account on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing service (KDP) now requires you to submit the information they need to deduct the correct amount of tax from your royalty payments. The process is not very intuitive and the documentation difficult to understand as it is intended to cater for a wide range of eventualities. What follows is a description of what you have to do if you are not a US citizen, do not have any other operations in the US, and are not operating as a limited company. These details are specific to a British publisher, but are probably valid for many other nationalities.

What Amazon requires from you is a Certificate of Foreign Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding, otherwise known as a W-8BEN. This is a four-part form that enables you to take advantage of a tax treaty that exists between the UK and the US which allows Amazon to release the full value of your royalties, with nothing withheld for tax purposes, on the basis that you will be declaring it to the UK authorities. Note that this applies to all royalties, regardless of the country in which the sale occurred. Continue reading

Is Waterstones selling Kindle ebooks?

Anyone who has wandered into a Waterstones bookstore recently will have noticed a display of Amazon Kindle ebook readers, apparently for sale at the same prices as those displayed on the Amazon Web site itself. More recently you would also have noticed prominent signs encouraging you to connect your Kindle to the free in-store WiFi, from which you could presumably buy any book you fancy directly from Amazon. So why is Waterstones doing this?

James Daunt, MD of Waterstones, announced a deal with Amazon back in May 2012, but was reticent to discuss the “commercial details of the partnership.” Howevere his response to the accusation that he had signed the company’s death warrant was: “Do I look like a total moron? Because what you’re describing is the behaviour of a total moron.” (BBC News)

So there is definitely more to the arrangement than meets the eye. What I have heard from private inquiries is that a substantial chunk of the proceeds of a purchase made from a Kindle through the in-store WiFi go to Waterstones, rather than Amazon. In return Waterstones makes no profit on the devices themselves, which is why they match Amazon prices.

Waterstones press office still refused to disclose details of the deal when I spoke to them this morning, but they did not deny this was the case, and indeed confirmed they had heard the rumour before. If it is the case then I assume the details are being kept quiet to prevent unrest from competitors. There will also be technical changes that need to be tested. However such a deal would allow traditional bookstores to participate in the ebook boom, which can only be a good thing.

Tom Abba on the future of the book

I went to a talk last night by Tom Abba entitled “This isn’t the future of the book”. I was expecting something different – more to do with eBooks, iPads and Amazon – but what I got was altogether more interesting.

Abba is a lecturer in New Media and Visual Culture at University of West of England in Bristol and recently completed a PhD, out of which came the subject of the main part of his talk. What concerns Abba is the future of the book in an age where both creation and consumption is (or can be) digital. Right away he suggested that “we can’t see the wood for the huge tree labeled ‘interactive fiction’ that is blocking our view.” By this he means multi-threaded or hyperlinked stories where your route through the story is determined by choices you make, but all the paths are predetermined by the author. Continue reading

Useful sites for writers (2)

Editors and proofreaders may be suprised to discover that there is an organisation devoted to their needs, namely the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. The society runs training courses, holds conferences and has a magazine called (rather cleverly) Editing Matters. It even includes a self-test in proofreading that you can run online to find out just how good you are at proofreading.

It’s also worth noting that Scrivener for Windows 1.0 has now been released. You can buy a copy from the Web site for just $40 or download a 30-day trial version for free, and I highly recommended it.