Fodder For the Facebook Machine

I have a discussion group on Facebook, Suspense/Thriller Writers, that is constantly evolving because of the site’s ever-changing policies, and what was once fun, has now turned into a burden.

In the beginning, when I was new to Facebook, the groups were pretty much worthless. They were mostly discussion groups where no one discussed, but I found a way to make it work. At the time, FB had separate areas for links and promos and such. I was fine with whatever anyone wanted to post — I just wanted the discussion group. And it was a great discussion group. Each week I’d ask a different author to pose a topic, I’d email the group members, and we’d have an interesting discussion. I learned a lot from those people.

Well, Facebook couldn’t leave well enough alone. They changed the group format, and since our original groups didn’t fit in with their new format — we had too many members — they planned to get rid of all of us. Eventually enough people complained, and they let our groups remain, but they changed them completely — got rid of the discussion forum, took away the ability for Facebookgroup administrators to send messages to the group, and combined everything else into one huge mess on the wall.

Members of the group left in droves. They couldn’t stand the constant barrage of promotion. Finally, we decided to ban any sort of promotion from the wall and turn it into strictly a writing discussion group. (No publishing, formatting, or promotion questions are allowed — this is strictly a group to discuss the craft of writing.) It actually worked well. As a thank you to the members for adhering to our rules, I set up a separate event every Saturday. Well, FB decided there was something wrong with that, and took away my ability to set up events. So I set up a separate group for promotion.

All went fine for a while until FB decided to change things again. Instead of ignoring groups, they decided to promote them — and the groups with the most members got the most promotion. Sounds great, right? Wrong! Now every author on FB who has a book to promote is made aware of our group, and we’ve been inundated with new members. Members, I might add, who don’t pay attention to the group rules, which are pinned to the top of the wall for all to see. (It’s amazing to me how often someone will “like” the rules or comment about how great the no promo rule is, and then immediately post a promo. I guess people think rules apply to everyone else but them?)

I spend way too much time every day deleting promos and banning those who posted the promo link. I used to give people the benefit of the doubt, but if I didn’t ban them, they’d simply post something else. (Doesn’t anyone get the point of soocial networking? You don’t constantly beat people over the head with the links to your books. You get to know them and then let them find you.)

I realize that FB is not a public site — we are all fodder for the great FB machine, and are subject to whatever changes they deem necessary — but all these machinations are burdensome. Still, the group is worth saving. How often on the internet, and especially Facebook, do you find a group of people who help each other with the craft of writing? So I’ll just deal with the frustration and hope that eventually the gods of Facebook decide to turn their attention elsewhere.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Fight Scenes and Motivations by David Lucas

The internet truly is an egalitarian place. Where else would I be able to meet someone like David Alan Lucas, a writer, poet and martial artist who is an expert in the arts of physical and psychological combat?

David belongs to my Suspense/Thriller Writers’ group on Facebook, and he has been discussing fight techniques with the group. I asked if I could post part of his discourse, and he kindly said yes. Thank, you, David!

Fight Scenes and Motivations by David Lucas

This might be a bit of a ramble, but let’s talk about fight scenes. We all have our areas of expertise. Do you ever feel thrown out of a story or movie when “they” get it wrong? I know I do. I have closed those books and never picked it up again. If I go to a movie by myself, I will walk out of it. When I am with others, they can usually tell from my facial expression that I am biting my tongue. (I’m polite and don’t ruin it for them—there is always the after movie drive to talk about it.)

Besides being a writer, I am a fighter. I am a 3rd degree Black Belt in a Black Art (Black=War Art instead of a sport style). I have been in more hand to hand (or bare hand vs armed) fights than I even want to contemplate. Fight scenes are hard to write, even for me. But when someone gets it wrong I shake my head. But when they get it right, I want to jump up and dance (I almost did that when the 2009 Sherlock Holmes came out and they actually got into the Holmes’ head as he planned the fight before it began).

As a result of being a fighter and a writer, I have been writing about fight scenes and have given a few seminars. While I would imagine there is a book on how to write a fight scene, I haven’t seen it. So, I am going to tear apart the process as best as I can over the several months. Before I begin to outline it, let me be very clear: Writing is an art. Martial Arts is an art. There is no one way to do anything. Take from this what works for you, knowing that, like all writers and marital artists, we all walk our own path.

The first thing I do with writing a fight scene is to understand who is involved. When people fight in real life, everyone has a set of skills, a way they think, and a motive to be in the fight. Let’s work this backwards and start with motive. Why does your character want to fight?

Let’s face a few facts about fights. On film they can look exciting. But the truth is that in every fight (even among friends) there is a risk—even if it by accident—that you can lose your life. Let me use a real life example.

fightHave you ever been there when someone yells, “Fight! Fight! Fight!” People gather around cheering it on. They are stupid. No I am not holding back punches. Here is the true story that happened in one such case and why I called them stupid. One of the fighters in such a case—it was at a bar—took a glass bottle and broke it. He swung wildly at his opponent. His wild swings cut the throat of a guy I knew in the crowd who had stupidly thought he was going to see a fight. His funeral was a few days later.

All fights are dangerous—being in one, seeing one, etc. It doesn’t matter if it is in a ring where people are trying to be sure that no one is harmed in the long run or on a battlefield somewhere—and they are painful. What were the two drunks I talked about above fighting over and what had been worth so much for someone to die?

Someone can be beaten to a proverbial pulp or lose their lives over trivial issues–like a pair of shoes, a spilled drink, or (as a guy I once knew discovered) looking at someone’s girlfriend the wrong way. In St. Louis, Missouri a game among teens has developed where they go up to complete strangers and try to knock them out. Fights can start over imagined slights, being drunk, forced to protect yourself or a loved one, property and so forth.

Why is your character willing to fight?

Before you decide to turn your character into a super hero or the next Jet Li, let me break down the motivation a bit. There was a story my Master Instructor once told me that I have never forgotten.

A man, who was studying Martial Arts and had grown so confident that he felt like he was bullet proof, was once asked what he would be willing to fight for. He was asked, “If ten men were leaning on your car and causing trouble, would you fight them?”

He replied with confidence, “Of course I would beat the . . .” You can fill in the words.

His instructor then asked, “What if they all had chains and baseball bats and you were unarmed?”

The student thought about it and agreed he would not fight them.

The instructor then asked one final question, “Take these same men, armed the same way, and now they are raping your wife. Would you fight them?”

His answer changed.

The circumstances in real life and in our fiction writing are what will determine if someone will be willing to risk their lives in a fight. What are you willing to fight for and lose your life over? If you answer that quickly, I personally ask–plead with you–to think about it a little more. What is your character willing to fight for? What is their line in the sand?

How do they fight? More importantly, how do they think about fighting?

If you have questions about writing fight scenes or about how various characters might act in a fight, please feel free to ask. I will do my best to answer your question. Your question’s response may even lead to a blog entry in my blog relaunch on The Writer’s Lens.

David Lucas’s blogs: http://davidalanlucas.blogspot.com/ and http://www.thewriterslens.com/

David Lucas’s website: http://www.davidalanlucas.com/

David Lucas on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Owlkenpowriter

Unfriending Facebook Un-Friends

I’ve been doing a series of posts on the effectiveness of Facebook as a promotion tool for authors, based on my research and my experiences. Some people have taken these as complaints and negativity, but I’m just trying to make sense of a confusing world.

There are four billion users on Facebook, yet most authors seem to be shunted off into a corner of the FB world with other writers. While I’ve gotten to know a lot of great authors this way, I’ve found few readers, which makes sense when you think of it. Authors want something — readers — so we frantically add friends in an effort to reach readers. Readers, on the other hand, don’t frantically friend unknown authors. Most readers stick with previously read authors, or find books by word of mouth, blog reviews and book websites, local bookstores, online stores, the library. (This information is from an informal poll I once did: How Do You Choose the Books You Want to Read?)

When I first joined Facebook, I was guilty of adding as many friends as I could since I thought that was the purpose of social networking. In fact, I almost reached the cut-off point of 5,000 friends. (I’m sure you’ve noticed that some people have more than 5,000 friends. That’s probably because of inactive accounts. I go through my friend list periodically and delete inactive accounts. The only serve to swell numbers and make FB even more unwieldy than it already is.)

When I realized that social networking is about being social, I stopped sending friend requests, and started trying to get to know the people I am connected to. In the process, I am gradually culling my friend list. If someone has four or five thousand friends and has never once bothered to respond to anything I have done on Facebook, I unfriend them. If someone whose friend request I have accepted (I have not sent a friend request to a stranger in over three years, so I know that any friends made in those years are at their behest) spams me or ignores me, I unfriend them. If they are multi-level marketers or any other such blatant scammers, I unfriend them.

This sounds harsh, doesn’t it? But if Facebook hasn’t created a mass of readers for me, then it’s mostly for fun, and if it’s mostly for fun, there is no point in being connected to people who do not enrich my life. (I hope you don’t think I am unfriending everyone. I still have almost 2,000 friends, a good percentage of whom I actually talk to.)

Of course, some people think unfriending is silly, because what difference does it make how many friends you have, especially since you see so few of them anyway, but it does make a difference. When I had close to 5,000 friends, every time I tried to individually invite friends to an event, it crashed my computer. (Except for the Suspense/Thriller Writers Self-Promotion Extravaganzas on Saturday, I don’t bother to do events any more. Where hundreds of people used to respond, now only a handful do.)

Also, too many friends clogs the news feed with posts I have no interest in. It is possible to hide those posters from my newsfeed, but if I have no interest in people’s posts, why am I connected to these un-friends? Why not just unfriend them? So I do.

People do the same to me. One woman told me she unfriended me because I never participated in any of her events. It was a valid observation. At the time, I had 4,000 friends, and couldn’t keep track of them all. All I did on Facebook at the time was keep my writing discussion going, so the people I was most interested in were the people who participated in my discussions. (I hate to admit it, but I still don’t participate in other people’s events; there are simply too many. And anyway, I still prefer to spend most of my time with my discussion group. It’s a small space of sanity in the choatic FB world.)

Perhaps none of this matters. Perhaps unfriending is just a game or a phase I am going through. But the truth is . . . hmmm. I don’t know what the truth is. Maybe I don’t like being ignored. Or maybe I have had a surfeit of inanity and negativity. (What many people consider as positive thinking, I often see as inane, and inanity feels to me like negativity.) Or maybe I’m fighting a system I have no way of beating. Or maybe I’m getting curmudgeonly. Or maybe I’m trying to do FB over, and do it right this time. Or maybe, just maybe, I’m positioning myself for success, making room for the thousands of new friends I am going to make through my writing.

Facebook Makes Us … (Fill In the Blank)

Facebook has become an icon, a symbol for our times. We are lonelier than ever — disconnected from family and friends in offline life — yet at the same time we are more connected online. Various recent articles have suggested that Facebook makes us sick, narcissistic, depressed, lonely, and anxious, partly because of the shallowness of Facebook relationships. But honestly, does anyone consider “liking” a comment an actual relationship? I doubt it.

Facebook is good or bad depending on how you use it. An article in The Atlantic that suggested Facebook makes us lonely used Yvette Vickers, a former Playboy playmate and B-movie star (best known for her role in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman) as an example. Apparently, the actress had been dead for almost a year before anyone realized she was gone. (This is hard for me to believe. Perhaps all her bills were automatically paid out of her bank account every month, but what about taxes? Wouldn’t someone from any of the various tax collecting bureaucracies have noticed her delinquency?)

Still, the story goes that a neighbor found her and was so concerned about Yvette’s ignominious end that she scanned Yvette’s phone records and discovered that the former actress’s last calls were to old fans who found her via Facebook. Ignoring the neighbor’s decided lack of concern for the actress while the woman was alive, what business was it of hers how Yvette spent her last days? What business is it of ours? There is no way of knowing how Yvette felt. Perhaps it made her happy to connect with her past, to remember that she once had a life, to know that she once touched people. Perhaps everyone she knew and loved had died, and she needed to reach out and connect somehow. We don’t know the truth. We can never know another’s truth. The story is only pathetic because of our own fears of ending up alone.

Facebook doesn’t create loneliness. It might exacerbate a loneliness that already exists, (and face it, if we really had full offline lives, would we be spending so much time online?), but it also gives us the opportunity to connect with our past and maybe our future. I know several people who fell in love online, and the connection continues offline even now.

Facebook makes us informed. If it weren’t for Facebook, I would never have seen the above-mentioned articles, hence I would never have known about the deleterious effects of Facebook. Nor would I have seen these incredible before and after photos of Nagasaki.

Facebook makes us humble. You’re feeling thrilled that you sold ten books that day and then someone boasts they sold 10,000. Brings you down a peg, that’s for sure. Is humility such a bad thing? In a world that seems to revere aggrandizement, a bit of modesty is good for one’s soul.

Facebook makes us grateful. Mixed in with all the brags and too-cute animal photos are the heartbreaking posts. People talking about how their chemo is going, sharing their angst at the death of a loved one, giving updates on their hospital stays, telling us about the traumas their children and aged parents are facing. Such posts make us realize that no matter how bad things are for us, someone has it worse.

Facebook makes us aware of community. Or at least that’s the goal of my various groups. In the Suspense/Thriller Writers Group, I’m trying to keep writers focused on the craft of writing, on helping each other attain our writing goals. Perhaps together we can do what each of us can’t do alone.

In other words, Facebook doesn’t make us do anything. We make of it whatever we can.

The Miraculous Resurrection of the Suspense/Thriller Writers Group on Facebook

A few days ago I talked about how when I first joined Facebook, I hadn’t a clue what to do, and how quite by accident, I became a moderator of an almost defunct writing group called the Suspense/Thriller Writers. I was trolling around the site, looking for groups that might interest me, and I stumbled on that particular group, which had but eight members. On the right sideboard was a button that said, “become a moderator of this group.” I was curious what becoming a moderator would entail, so I clicked the button. And that’s how I became the moderator of the group. To make it a viable group, rather than a typical Facebook group where people just posted book covers and other promotional bits, I decided to have weekly discussions.

We had some great discussions about improving our craft, but facebook, in it’s infinite wisdom (that is irony, in case you didn’t catch it) decided to get rid of the discussion boards. Without the discussion board and the help we offered each other, any serious discussions rapidly disappeared beneath the steady stream of self-promotion. So all we could do was post information about our books, and in doing so, we lost many of those serious about writing.

On Sunday, something miraculous happened. The members of the group began talking about what they wanted from the group and what they didn’t want. Mostly, what they didn’t want was blatant self-promotion, and especially from members who never bothered to participate in any group activities. So, we decided to limit such promotion to Saturday (and I’m hoping to make that a fun day where everyone gets together to talk about their books).

This is the first time in a very long time I’ve felt any excitement at being on Facebook. Not only did we reclaim our group, but I made new friends and reconnected to some long-time facebook friends who had disappeared from my newsfeed.

And today, something else miraculous happened. I found the link to our original discussion board!!! It’s still viable, just not linked to the group, so I don’t know if  it’s worth using, but all that great information is not lost, and losing the information worried me most of all.

So where did I find the link? Here on my blog!! I have a terrible habit of blogging about everything in my cyberworld, and once (or twice or who knows how many times!) I blogged about my facebook activities.  Three years ago exactly (well, minus one day — the post was November 14, 2008) I asked people to join the Suspense/Thriller Writers group, and listed some of the links. And darn if those links don’t still work! Wow!

So, if you’re interested in learning more about writing, meeting writers, networking, join the Suspense/Thriller Writers. All writers (and readers) are welcome. If you don’t think you write suspense, think again. Whatever genre you write, you still write suspense. Suspense at its most basic is making readers worry about what is going to happen to your characters. If they don’t worry, they have no reason to read. Besides, all genres make use of the same basic story elements: plot, characterization, scenes, description. So, see you on Facebook.

Speaking of facebook, you can friend me here: Pat Bertram, but if you want to friend me, be sure you tell me why (say you saw me on my blog or some such). I don’t friend everyone who asks, though I once did. I want to actually get to know the people I know. Also, you can “like” me here: Pat Bertram. I hope you do. “Like” me, I mean.