Is email dead?

by Joe Moore

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal talked about the topic while discussing alternative forms of communication such as Twitter, Facebook messaging and similar services, and how social networking and instant messaging are surpassing old faithful: email.

Before you say “no way”, think back to those distant dark ages when one of the main forms of business communication was the fax. How many faxes did you send last month?

And if you really want to get into the “way-back” machine and visit historical communication methods, let’s consider letter writing. Anyone remember that. While some used a gadget called a typewriter to compose letters, the shocking truth is that others actually wrote letters longhand using an analog marking device commonly known as a pen (or pencil). I know, it’s crazy but true.

Many of us are still using email everyday and are perfectly happy with it. But technology is constantly moving forward, with or without us. It’s well documented that Egyptian Pharaoh King Tut once proclaimed, “I’m still using hieroglyphics everyday and am perfectly happy with it.” But as the article points out, email is a function left over from the bad old days of logging off and on and checking stuff in globs. Today, everyone is “always on” with the latest generation of mobile communication devices and smart phones.

As an example, my son travels a lot. We both have Google Talk installed on our PCs so we can chat. Rather than emailing me a question, comment or a simple hello, he sends me an instant message. I hear a ping and within seconds I’m chatting with him anytime in real time. Last week, he sent me an IM from 30k feet over the Midwest on his way to Washington, DC now that airlines are installing in-flight wideband WiFi.

With services like Twitter and Facebook, you can answer a question before anyone even asks it. Rather than sending me an email wanting to know how my latest thriller is selling, I can update my status to declare that it’s selling somewhere under a million copies—way under.

But like the WSJ article asks, does the new generation of hieroglyphicscommunication services save you time? Or are they eating up your day? Now that we have so many methods to instantly communicate, are we going to spend more time doing so? Or are we already wasting more time in the process? What do you think? Is email dead at your house or are you still using hieroglyphics and staying perfectly happy with it? Send me an IM and let me know.

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The Rules for Writing Fiction

By Joe Moore

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that the only rule we should apply to writing fiction is: There are no rules; do whatever you want as long as it works. Okay, if you pressed me to the wall, I would have to add two others: don’t bore the reader, and don’t confuse them.

When I speak of fiction writing “rules”, I don’t mean the basics of spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax, split infinitives, daggling participles, and the other stuff we learned in school. As artists, let’s move beyond the assumed knowledge and manipulation of the English language to the aesthetics of writing. The rules that apply to the art of storytelling.

vonnegut When dealing with the art of storytelling, the great Kurt Vonnegut declared 8 rules to write by. If it makes you feel better, let’s call them suggestions. But we should all take them to heart because they go directly to the heart of telling a compelling story.

Here they are:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

The reader’s time is not only valuable, it’s sacred. There are a million other things demanding his or her attention. We should repeat that every time we sit down to write.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

The worst reaction that a reader can have is that they don’t care if the protagonist makes it or not. Let the hero or heroine see the goal line, then put a big wall in their way and hope the reader cheers for them to climb over it.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

This goes for all characters from the main stars right down to the single-scene walk-on.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.

If it doesn’t, delete.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

This is my all time favorite rule to write by. Whether it’s a scene, chapter, or the entire book, get to the point. Anything that happens before that, delete.

6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

Our characters are judged by their actions and reactions. Have them work for it.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

Picture the typical fan that comes to your book signings. That’s who you’re writing to.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

This one sounds contradictory at first. But it’s not. It’s just another way of saying, cut the fat and get to the meat.

No one wants to slap a set of rules on creativity. And I don’t think Mr. Vonnegut meant to do so. But he called them rules because he wanted writers to pay attention. He wanted all of us to become better artisans. Read them each time you start to write. And when you finish for the day, read them again.

How about you? Do you follow his rules? Do you have others that help you in advancing your craft?

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A Killer Confession

By Joe Moore

missile2 I’ve killed a lot of people. Along with my accomplice co-author, Lynn Sholes, I’ve shot down a fully loaded commercial airliner, set Moscow on fire, infected thousands with an ancient retrovirus, massacred an archeological dig team in the Peruvian Andes, assassinated a Venatori agent, killed a senior cardinal along with a Vatican diplomatic delegation, murdered the British royal family, and even brought down the International Space Station. I know I’m responsible for more deaths–I just can’t remember them all.

kremlin1 So I confess, I’m a killer.

It’s not always easy. Some of these people I really cared about. The dig team members were likable folks except for the chief archeologist who got on my nerves. I didn’t mind seeing him bite the dust. I really grew to like the Venatori agent, but he wasn’t doing what I wanted him to do, so he “slipped in the shower”. And the British Royals? Well, they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. peru But being a killer comes with the territory when writing suspense thrillers.

In real life, death is serious. Whether it’s by natural causes or violence, it’s not to be taken lightly. If the deceased is a loved one or friend, the emotional impact can be staggering, even debilitating.

But there’s a different level of death that we all come in contact with every day that rarely causes us a second thought: Long distance death.

Several hundred passengers drown in a ferry accident off the coast of India. Thousands are trapped in an earthquake in China. Millions starve in Darfur. A Columbian jet crash kills all on board.

buckinghamDo we care? Of course we do, but unless those victims were family or friends–unless we have an emotional connection with them–we only care for as long as it takes to turn the page of the morning paper or switch channels.

In developing our main fictional characters, it’s vital that the reader care about them enough to show emotion. Whether they’re heroes or villains, the reader must love or hate them. Neutral is no good.

And that’s a problem I see all too often in books, movies and TV shows. Sometimes I just give up reading or watching because I don’t care enough to care. The characters may be interesting but they get buried in the plot (or CGI effects) to the point that it doesn’t matter to me if they win or lose, live or die. And that’s the kiss of death for a writer. The wheels come off the story and the book winds up in the ditch.

We utilize long distant deaths in our books because we write high concept thrillers that span the globe–what my buddy David Hewson calls telescope stories rather than microscope stories like his. We need long distance deaths to support the big threat. But when it comes to the main characters, they better be worth caring about or the wheels just might come off.

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