Friday, April 4, 2014

No Rhyme or Reason

Writers, and I include myself, fumble and perspire to create the best prose possible. We judge ourselves, unmercifully so. And, what is the commercial outcome? We don't know. It's impossible for us to project. And, that's the truth.

This simple truth was no more apparent to me then this week. Attending a book club of which I've been a member for years where the books are member-chosen it's always interesting to see what selections are agreed upon. This month's book, the core of which I had no quarrel, did cause me pause in that the writing switched numerous times from past to present tense. I have no quarrel with either tense (in fact I've written novels utilizing both) but it drove me to distraction when reading to have to switch from one to the other, back again, and then to switch again.

Yet, while fellow book clubbers had no difficulty appreciating my concern, they were willing to overlook it. As one member said, this was a first time author. What a break. I stayed silent, but thought where was the book editor.

This past week I found a copy of a book on editing by Sol Stein. Admittedly it was an old book. However, editing principles don't change that quickly, if ever. He took to task The Firm, an early novel by John Grisham that achieved remarkable sales. And, one of many movies made from Mr. Grisham's writing endeavors. The point by Editor Stein was that commercial fiction could be successful even if it didn't meet what could be considered "literary" standards of writing quality. One can not begrudge the success of Mr. Grisham, in fact, it should be idolized for, notwithstanding critical judgments, he's made the book buyers of the world ring his cash register. We should all be so fortunate.

Nevertheless, we shouldn't jump to the conclusion that editors, even hardnosed ones, are unnecessary and that any writer will be successful no matter what they write. Do I hear an "alleluia?"

There are many factors to successful writing. Clear prose should be one of them. It's like a well-built automobile: if nothing goes wrong and gets us economically to the intended destination, we don't give it much thought. If the onboard computer malfunctions and leaves us at the side of the road the screams of "why me" can be heard across numerous counties. In writing, concrete prose correctly presented doesn't receive encores. It's taken for granted. Or, is it?

Let's say it ups a writer's chance to obtain reader approval. Reader approval will make for greater sales of the current book and, hopefully, others that follow.

As a native of Ireland, I'm mindful of the Irish author who came to New York, wrote four novels, and achieved no commercial success. After his death, his novels were "discovered" and made his heirs or the publisher a pretty penny. Was he a failure as he thought? Apparently not depending on when the judgment is made. So, does this true to life story inspire? We can hope so, not that I wish any writer to die.

There is no rule that says violation of what is considered to be preferred writing style will condemn that writer to failure or poverty. However, there are many other writers who gain both monetary and public acclaim by being exceptional writers, not by talent alone, but by hard word in learning the craft of writing, nurturing their own instincts, and abiding by the skills gleamed from others. There is no official survey, but I would speculate that those writers who have acquired and polished the skills espoused by well-known and esteemed editors have prospered by all yardsticks of success.

Yes, there will always be exceptions. Isn't it better to shoot for the majority road to success?

If you answer, the truth will be known to you and you need not share, but keep on writing.

Author Donan Berg has published five novels, the latest is Adolph's Gold. It's available at major online book retailers in e-book format and in paperback (374 pages) at . He also is available for flat-fee manuscript critiques and line editing through . Click on the marketplace link for more information. He offers a no obligation consultation. What have you to lose?

Also, he's scheduled to be on blogradio April 14, 2014, at from New York City. Listen in or join the conversation with a call in.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Characterization Should Surpass History

Characterization in fiction commands top attention. That's a given. Considering history in the mix is often overlooked. It should be more than avoiding the faux pas of placing a cellphone in the hands of a Roman soldier. Yes, my example is ludicrous, but it should make the point.

If your character is an every day worker in the contemporary United States, have you considered the work environment? There are cultural influences at work. In recent history, from the 1950s onward, there's been a dramatic shift with the emphasis originally on mechanization and automation that has brought us into a larger digital world. Management has been concerned with better methods, lower costs, higher output; but the workers may be concerned with the loss of individuality in that their contributions have been downgraded, i.e., the worker is more of a cog in a machine than an thinking, problem-solving member of a team.

In fiction there is a striving for conflict. Manager versus worker is a no-brainer. But for the fiction to be credible, there must be a recognition that the concepts of leadership have changed greatly since the 1950s. In the United States, from the beginning of the century to 1950, the leadership philosophy was that "leaders were born, not made." The leaders were charismatic. And fiction writers using this time period, then or now, must reflect that.

In portraying characters, the boss as a character was "king of the mountain" and his word trickled down to the workers in the valley. The boss set the goals and did so unilaterally. The whole scheme to be set out in fiction had to recognize this hierarchical model.

The system, whether ideal or not, seemed to work. The United States with six percent of the world's population, seven percent of the world's land mass, had almost fifty percent of the world's wealth.

Now, since 1950, the workplace has changed dramatically. The complexity of the task, at least in the worker's eye, is such that no one manager can either absorb or innately have enough knowledge to know everything. The worker may be told what to do, but he or she does have the necessary acceptance to believe in the unerring wisdom of the manager.

Fiction has to acknowledge, if not accept, that the whole concept of leadership in the United States has changed. Modern-day managers must act on the basis of getting the sanction and support of subordinates.

If your fiction presents a workplace with a very structure-centered, rule-centered manager, and the time is present day, that may stress the seams of reader credibility. Sure, such workplaces may exist, but if fiction is to present the extreme as the mainstream the necessary suspension of disbelief will be harder to obtain.

What is the fiction writer to do? If he or she portrays an outdated workplace, it's an uphill battle to win the reader. If he or she portrays the workplace as a modern day cooperative venture, the goal to increase tension and conflict is tamped down and bores the reader.

That there has been and will forever be conflict in the workplace between manager and worker can almost be taken as a given. If so, what to do?

If you want to have conflict and a problem arise, envision its ancestry. Look at the relationship between manager and worker. What would be their goals? The manager may be looking a more money. The worker might like more money, but maybe he desires respect for individual contribution. What started the conflict? Was it family? Hatfields and McCoys? Was the self-made manager envious of the college-educated upstart? Perhaps there was discrimination. Any kind will do.

Maybe there is a simple miscommunication or that the manager sees the situation one way and the worker, legitimately, sees it different. Comedy writing is full of these situations.

Fiction must delve deeper. The conflict is not that one person is the boss and the other person is the worker. Be more creative and create multi-dimensional characters. The dynamics of conflict in the workplace invade from all corners of human relationships. Strive to get past the historical framework to hook your reader and then keep your reader engaged with conflict between characters that transcends the original cardboard vision of the workplace.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Adolph's Gold and an Editing Testimonial

Adolph's Gold, a 374-page trade paperback novel by Author Donan Berg, has been released. It has been available since March 25, 2014, at . Priced at $14.95, it is slated for extended market distribution in the days ahead. Latest information is that it's already displayed on Author Berg's pages at .

The Adolph's Gold e-book version, released March 13, 2014, is available at and other online book retailers worldwide.

Praise is always welcome and appreciated.

Feedback on what a person does is extremely important. Within one day of my completing a scientific manuscript editing Saturday, the following e-mail arrived in my inbox:

"Thank you very much for your excellent manuscript editing. The manuscript has been substantially improved with your help and looks very nice." Signed Y. Y.

This was the first scientific manuscript edit I agreed to attempt. While not a work of fiction or a non-scientific manuscript, my research into what scientific papers require showed that, outside of format, which is easily learned, there is a common thread to good writing.

As an aside, I must say, any repulsion I had against animal research was mitigated when the procedures explained were done with compassion and had a direct correlation to improving human health and survival.

Good writing transcends the subject matter is a truism all writers should all remember.

For all who chose to read this blog post, until March 25, 2014, go to and enter the coupon code HN522 at checkout and receive the short story "Amanda" for free as a thank you for visiting this blog.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Path to Create


A reader doesn’t willy-nilly wander just any path in your writing. He or she sprints, trudges, or aimlessly wanders in step with the journey you, as a crafty writer, have created to prod or enthrall the reader into. If you’ve plotted adeptly or strung your ideas on an unbroken string, the reader doesn’t get lost or shunted to the path of disbelief. This includes fiction where a major purpose of the writer’s task is to build suspense, throw in a red herring, or tilt the reader’s sense of balance.

Prose that is loose and unstructured loses the reader along with the writer.

Two writing concepts: “unity” and “flow” are often dressed or considered to be identical twins but really aren’t. “Unity” is a coherent journey that, more likely than not, takes the reader back to a character’s beginning in either time, space, thought, or location. “Flow” is pacing and markers along the reader’s journey that keeps he or she moving forward to the next page, the newest thought built on or created out of a previous thought, or the revelation of an underlying theme.

While Tarzan swung from vine to vine, he had to keep looking forward to determine if the next jungle tree was strong enough to hold his weight and offered a new vine able to swing in the direction he wished to travel. Each tree or vine could be a different native species. It didn’t matter. Writing instructors often use the analogy of a flagstone path. Each stone is of a different dimension and/or shape, yet together they “flow” in a direction that can be discerned and followed.

“Unity” is to make each tree or stone suggestive of the journey and provide for its accomplishment. Linkage is how you, as the writer, arrange and order the individual pieces. You as writer keep adding new things: Tarzan meets Jane. Tarzan reaches for a coconut. Tarzan avoids the swipe of a lion’s paw. You’re building Tarzan’s life. Giving the reader perspective and insight into Tarzan’s existence.

While Tarzan grows wiser, he ages. The sun dips below the horizon and dawn breaks to provide transition between days. A scrape on Tarzan’s leg first bleeds, the escaping blood coagulates into a clot, a protective scab forms, and then the healing process culminates when the scab dries up and disappears to leave new skin. Similarly, Tarzan’s life events are expounded upon and blended together like the transition of a healing wound.

But be on guard for tried-and-true words and phrases that may be convenient, but should be avoided. Example: “After having …” Having means the action has already taken place. The writer has indicated he or she is writing about the past. You would not say” “After having looked around the forest, Tarzan eyed a cypress.” Redundancy abounds. Use either “after” or “having.” “After looking around the forest, Tarzan eyed a cypress.” Or, “Having gazed about the forest, Tarzan eyed a cypress.”

Tarzan swung from a cypress to an oak and then to a palm tree. The coconuts were ripe, unlike two months previous. A single action ties together Tarzan’s journey and experience. There is both flow and unity. The logic is implicit and, while the writer keeps the reader on a unified journey, the flow is a separate entity for it may be fast, slow or impeded.

While the flow may vary, unity should be one coherent and constant path.

Author Donan Berg's latest novel, Adolph's Gold, will be available March 13, 2014 at major e-book retailers, and . Not willing to wait until March 13 to read a sample, go to for a free sample read. Pre-orders are $2.99, the lowest available price. Expect price to increase after release.

Also now out, Author Donan Berg's latest short story, Amanda, $0.99 cents, at . If you e-mail a copy of a pre-order receipt for Adolph's Gold from Barnes and Noble, Apple, or Kobo, you'll be given
a coupon for a free download of Donan Berg's short story Amanda.

If you enjoy either Adolph's Gold or Amanda, please write a review.



Monday, February 3, 2014

Develop a Winning Attitude for Successful Writing

What does it take in our everyday writing lives to be successful? In order to evaluate this question it is first necessary to understand what "success" is and what all successful writers have in common. It is probably safe to assume that anyone continuing after the first sentence wants to be successful as a writer.

However, only five percent of the population will ever reach their potential for all activities, ninety-five percent will never truly be successful. It may be worse for writers. There's a common statistic that says eighty percent of the people wish to write a novel and only one percent do. That's not very encouraging if looking at the whole.

Let's assume you will be in the one percent. If you're dedicated to writing, that's not unreasonable for there is no time frame that you have to complete your project in thirty days, six months, or a year.

There are five characteristics you must have in common with successful novelists. Think Stephen King, Michael Connelly, James Patterson, Jan Burke, Patricia Cromwell, and you can add all those authors on the New York Times Best Seller list. And, yours, too, if not now, in the future.

Let's get back to the five characteristics.

One, goals. Goals are the single most important factor in achieving success. They must be realistic. You wouldn't want to say you have a goal of writing 20,000 words in a day. Sure, you could do it. But it's not realistic. Instead, bite off those 20,000 words in smaller portions to make the achievement of the eventual goal of 20,000 easier and manageable. All successful people set goals, reevaluate their goals and scale them upward to even greater achievements.

I will digress a moment. I was trying to work on three novels at once. Wasn't getting me anywhere. You can guess why. Overload. I diverted my mind with writing a one-act play on a topic of local news interest. A local community theatre ensemble offered to perform it. I sat in the audience. What I gauged from the audience reaction (positive for the most part) re-energized me. Not to rewrite the play, but which novel to focus on. My novel writing goal was now clear. (Read Adolph's Gold sample at )

Two, positive attitude. Having a positive attitude is the second factor that successful writers have in common.  Say hello to a successful writer and you'll come away with a "can do" attitude. They believe and communicate in terms of the reality of their initial goal. Grab onto it. A positive attitude is contagious.

Third, truth. The truth, expressed in your writing, and everyday activities is always best for several reasons. The least may be that it's always easiest to remember. People kid about that, but it's true. If you are going to be a successful writer, and I believe you will be, you will not have time, energy, or ability to remember the untruths or lies told. Furthermore, true winners face the truth, learn from it, and triumph in the end because they never have to backtrack to cover up problem areas created by lies.

Fourth, research. Successful writers are always on the prowl for improvement. It's not only research to keep the elements of their stories faithful to reality, it's also a constant striving for improvement through seminars, reading, and listening to the ideas of others. While this may incur a cost in time and effort, not to do will bring about a return on investment (to use a banking term) that equates to zero. And the lack of effort always results in zero.

Fifth, think. A writer's ability to think is a talent to be exploited. With the ability to think, writers not only embellish plots or story lines, but they engage readers. Readers latch on to the power writers possess. This power of writing is awesome and, at times, frightening. Writers make readers believe.
Why? Because writer's already believe because they have goals, a positive attitude, speak truth, research and think.

As a writer, it's your task and opportunity to unleash that which is in you. You know you can do it.

Donan Berg's newest novel mystery/thriller Adolph's Gold comes out March 13, 2014. Read major preview sample at or at Barnes and Noble, Sony, or Kobo online. E-book priced at $2.99. Special pricing for libraries. Ask to upload for Kindle.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Seven Triggers to Writing Success

All writers desire success. I wouldn't say all unless I included myself. The difficulty is a challenge, but also an opportunity to understand and put into practice seven mental abilities that will get you there.

Why is this important to your next great novel?

While it might not be the end all to the fictional story, it should be to your entire personal life of which writing is such a fundamental part. Let's trigger your success. Here are seven.

1. Passion. All truly successful people have a driving force within them that sets them apart from others. It may not be going an extra mile in reality, but the metaphor sets forth the principle. It is that extra energy that gives you the fuel to reach your true potential. It'll be with you 24/7. It will never subside. Oh, it may seem to ebb like the tide, nevertheless, like the tide you come back as strong as ever. Your only goal is to achieve and this goal never leaves you.

2.  Belief.  Virgil is quoted to have said: "They can because they think they can." You can only do that which you believe you can do. If its a particular annual income goal or number of books sold, the belief in that goal must exist or you will never accomplish it. Your limits are self-imposed. Have a belief in what you can achieve or you will never climb the mountain and reach the summit. "Man is what he believes." -Anton Chekhov.

3. Strategy. A strategy is your game plan of life. In a novel you might label it a plot. The strategy is the road map you use to accomplish your goals, ambitions, and desires. While you must believe, there is a need to incorporate a navigation that leads you to success. Sure, there might be detours, but you'll never let a setback take away your passion and belief. You will find the shortest distance between where you are now and your ultimate goal.

4. Clarity of Values. You must determine what is of most value  to you. For some its patriotism, love of family, excellence in what you do, ownership of your life, and tolerance to your fellow man. This list is not exhaustive. You must select the moral, ethical, and fundamental core values that will guide your life. How does it fit in with the above? Without a clear system of values, you will most likely find it difficult to believe in something exhibiting a true passion. Humans typically don't believe in things they don't value. If there is no consistency in belief and value, passion will come across as a veneer not to be given credence.

5.  Energy.  Without physical vitality to take action, lack of success is the predicted outcome. This doesn't necessarily mean a sculptured body built by a gym. It means a physical, spiritual, and mental energy that allows, actually compels, you to take the first step and accomplish the most with what we have to work with. At the least it means eating nutritious food to build body strength, obtaining enough sleep to replenish our bodily systems, and not stressing over every little incident in your life. Remember, you're exercising a passion, not living a detour.

6.  Bonding Power. You will bill rapport with other people. You will use the understanding that different people see the world differently and not demean or degrade others. You will use this ability to communicate with others while not sacrificing or being deceitful about your life's values.

7.  Communication. You will take charge of your own mind. "There is only one Success - to be able to spend your life in your own way." -Christopher Morley.  You will not shy from your passion, belief, or values. You will believe that any sale of your writing should leave the purchaser with the willingness to purchase your next work. That means you'll not mislead in your one effort. You will be honest and clear in what you communicate and delve to understand, or ask questions if you're not sure, what the other person is saying.

Remember, as one wise sage once said, success if what you make it. It's out there, embrace it.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year

From all here, may you and your loved ones enjoy a Happy 2013 Christmas Holiday in peace and gratitude, no matter how or for what reason celebrated.

May your 2014 be extra special as well. Happy New Year.

Coming soon
Expect a new blog post on or about January 2 exposing the
seven triggers for success.