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|A weekly update on the antics of a tired old writer...|
"When I get a little money, I buy books;
and if any is left, I buy food and clothes."
~ DESIDERIUS ERASMUS
Sunday again already! For some this day is depressing, as their mind is focused on the return to the grind tomorrow. Studies show that that dread doesn't translate into negativity. On the contrary, your best work of the week, based on a study of Redbook members, and 28,000,000 of their completed projects, is complete by 11:00 AM Monday morning, so rejoice! Tomorrow you will be performing your best work of the week.
Of course, as a retiree, it's easy for me to be glib about this, but for 25 years before I retired, I was shift working, dancing to a schedule created by a random number program. I'd work a couple of days, a couple of nights, then have a couple of days off. I was all over the clock and all over the calendar, so Sundays and Mondays were "just another day" to me. But yes, I'd see the nine-to-five crew moping in every Monday morning, bemoaning the fact that they hadn't won the lottery or had a rich uncle die over the weekend, and it can really make you think about how you're spending your life. So if you have a job that fulfills you or is otherwise enjoyable, count your blessings and welcome Monday. And if you don't, well, you'll cheer up come payday!
Okay, now that I've redefined the whole concept of "filler," let me get to the blog post. I got three scenes of "Family Reunion" written this past week, and a whole lot of outlining. This story is flying along like they did in the old days, and I cannot begin to tell you how thrilled I am with the progress, Monday or not! By the way, if the item I linked above says "Invalid Item, Private," or something close to that, it's because you haven't yet joined "The Punk Fiction Library" . You may either rectify that oversight instantaneously, thereby opening my incredible, fantastic, magnificently marvelous story for the ages to your immediate view, or if you don't think you could take the excitement, you can wait until it is completed late Febanary/early March, when it will join the other fabulous items in my magnificent port (Hmmm, could it be Quill season... Nope, neither my port nor my blog is nominated. Just having some fun!).
Anyone familiar with me knows that I'm an old-fashioned writer, in style at least, but I recently learned that I'm old-fashioned in substance as well. A friend of mine recently blogged about an author who was prolific in the golden age of pulps, a literary style that describes me to a T, and he talked about how the pulp writers who depended on prolific output for their living never rewrote anything. The post has mysteriously disappeared, so perhaps he was shouted down by hostile modern authors, but a statement made therein was that rewriting didn't become a "thing" until the new-age movement took over writing in the 1970s, but that all the classical authors your parents have loved since before you were born, from Dickens to Kipling to Poe, didn't rewrite anything. Whether that's true or not, I have no idea, but I'm here to fess up: I don't rewrite either. I will say this about my writing style: I outline my outlines in two and three layers, so by the time I'm ready to write, I've already given deep consideration to what I have to say. As I write, I rarely add more than one scene a day, and before I start the day's writing, I reread what I've written before. During those sessions, I will often change a word or phrase, to strengthen or clarify a point, and in the final proofreading, which I do multiple times, I will make final adjustments, but what you are reading is essentially a heavily proofread first draft. My Beyond the Rails books have been reviewed all over the internet, and unless a bunch of strangers are all lying to make me feel good, that system is working for me. I don't intend to change it.
So there I am, as I have been so many times in my life, flying in the face of conventional wisdom. Now that you know that I don't rewrite, do you hate me? Are you going to go back and downgrade your reviews? I hope not, but there you are. It can be done, but I think it's only possible for a planner to get away with, because we already know where we're going. I'll be interested to see whether anyone has any opinions about this, because among writers in the 2010s, it pretty much amounts to blasphemy.
All right, let's lighten the mood a bit. I encountered several enjoyable examples of words having fun during the last week, but this one really stayed with me:
Don't assume malice for what stupidity can explain!
Until next week, play nice, look out for one another, and above all else, get out there and live life like you mean it!
Read well, and write better,
| Good day to you, friends, and I hope it finds you well. It certainly finds me well, as I've had a banner first week of 2018. I gave the "Talk of the Flight Deck" Award for December, got my writing sparked off again with two new sections of Beyond the Rails IV (title pending), and gave two detailed reviews to interesting items I found to read. In addition to that, two of my reviews took an Honorable Mention and a 2nd Place in the Good Deeds Get Cash program, which netted me 300,000 GPs, and will enable me to increase the quality of the ribbons I bestow for this coming year. The little cherry on top is that the chapter I have in my port to promote "Slayer of Darkness" was nominated last Thursday for a Quill Award. The downside to all this is that there's no way next week is going to match the exhilaration of this one, but it does establish a nice benchmark to shoot for, so I'll be keeping an eye out for more coolness... and more cool stories to review! So, in summary:
Two scenes on the page, which specifically amounts to 11¾% of the first draft of Family Reunion; I'll post that for general reading when it's completed, and everyone can have at it!
Plans for next week:
Two scenes on the page.
Two detailed reviews.
One entry in this blog. It is likely to take the form of this weekly journal from now on. If my writing style was different, I could probably turn it into one of those Dear Me letters. I'll know pretty quickly whether anyone finds it interesting, but the point is for it to be a record of activity for me, a place I can come to check progress, should there be any. If anyone would like to tap into my vast experience on the subject of how to avoid a mainstream publishing contract, ask your question in the comment section, and I'll put together a post for you. Other than that, what you see is what you get. We'll just have to see what happens from here.
For now, my writing has returned. I have learned recently not to make any rash assumptions; it stopped unexpectedly like throwing a switch, and I realize now that it could stop again at any time. That said, my plan going forward, my course for 2018 you might say, is to get two reviews written each week, two scenes on the page, and this blog post each Sunday. Why only two scenes? As I've mentioned before, I am the most detailed plotter you'd ever want to meet. Aiming for two scenes a week gives me all the time I need to keep the outline updated, responding in the process to new ideas, and is a reasonable goal I can probably meet. I could decide I'm going to do four. I have the time, but that just sets me up for failure and self-disappointment, so two it is. At that rate, I should finish a novella every two months, so look for Family Reunion to appear in my port at the end of February... Unless you're a member of "The Punk Fiction Library" , where it is visible to the membership as it is under construction.
I encountered a couple of reads last week that moved me in different ways. You might give these a try and see whether they move you:
I'll leave you with a thought for the week I encountered in my travels: "If you can't be kind, at least have the decency to be vague!" Until next week,
Read well, and write better,
| Good day to you, friends old and new, and Happy New Year. I don't know what you might call this, although I suppose a purist might label it a set of New Year's resolutions. That will do as well as anything, I suppose. All my friends have been posting retrospectives of 2017. I don't get it; that's all water under the fantail. I think one should look ahead, and if looking ahead reads like New Years resolutions, then so be it. Looking ahead, then, I came in here a year ago — today is my account anniversary — and proceeded to take on far too many extraneous projects that had nothing to do with writing, thereby sabotaging my own work for no particular gain in other fields. For my New Year's reboot, all of that will be corrected. I have frittered away an unconscionable amount of time on the social aspects, both here and on other sites, at the expense of actual writing. That is over. Point by point, then:
I have talked of reducing my membership to Basic, and I fully intended to do that. I requested that three items that were nominated for Quill Awards be removed from consideration based on the fact that they weren't going to be here any more. I transferred a group to another member to keep it alive, as Basic membership does not allow groups. I removed a couple of books from my port, as books are also not allowed. Now, realizing that an Upgraded membership supports my writing efforts, I will be maintaining that level.
Since you're here reading this blog, I will begin by saying that all the old chatty stuff has been removed, and I will be keeping it on the back burner. Don't expect a lot of activity, as I only plan to post in it when I have something important to say, and brother, that ain't often. If someone asks me a question about the Craft requiring a complicated answer which might benefit writers in general, I may turn it into a blog post, but realistically, that event happens, well, never.
I perform a number of reviews each month. I will continue to do that, though at a reduced level, and will continue to award this ribbon monthly. Each awarded item will appear for the five months following in the Highlighted Items section under my Bio tab.
This forum will remain as an invitation to anyone who might wish to try a uniquely American brand of short verse. "Twenty-five words or less" was an advertising slogan that dominated the '50s and '60s, and had legs into the '70s, and I have hijacked it to describe a form of flash poetry. It has been popular and successful, and I have no plans for it to go anywhere. By the way, you needn't be American to join in; I simply point out the origin of the phrase.
The Plot Room
This was my attempt to repeat a miracle that happened on another now-defunct site. It didn't catch on here, probably because writing.com already has so much to offer writers of every stripe, and it has become little beyond a drain on my resources. It looked briefly like it might take off, but that died within a couple of days, and I have removed this distraction from my focus.
It occurred to me that the Story Master might include me in the next batch of Preferred Authors based on all this activity I used to pursue, and I requested that I not be included until he feels that my new look warrants it. He has graciously agreed to my request; a dormant portfolio makes a poor representative of the yellow-case community.
So, what is my new look? In a word, writing. Long-time readers will know that I have questioned my own ability to write anymore, and it may be that I don't have anything left in the tank. It also may be that I have wasted all my creative energy on all the social activity I've been chasing all year. I don't know, but I mean to find out. As E.L. Doctorow has so wisely pointed out, "Planning to write is not writing. Outlining a book is not writing. Researching is not writing. Talking to people about what you're doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing."
So I will be writing. My plan is to collect five or six stories of The Nexus Chronicles into a book of about 100,000 words for publication. I chose that because the first story is complete (rewrites pending, of course) and can be read at "Possession of Blood" . I will be adhering to Anne Tyler's advice (no relation), "It makes me so uncomfortable for them. If they're talking about a plot idea, I feel the idea is probably going to evaporate. I want to almost physically reach over and cover their mouths and say, 'You'll lose it if you're not careful,'"
In keeping with these words of wisdom, I will not be sharing works in progress, so it will be a while before you see anything new appear here, and then only if my love of writing returns. I'll have time to exchange pleasantries with friends, of course, and those who might wish to be, but all this mindless, pointless prattling I've been engaged in will be left in 2017.
And that's what to expect in the coming year. None of us know what's coming, of course, but I'll be endeavoring to write, and if that doesn't work out, then I'll be loading up the blimp and setting a course for an uncharted horizon. Wish me luck!
| "When I hear about writer's block, this one and that one, f**k off! Stop writing, for Christ's sake; plenty more where you came from."
~ GORE VIDAL
Much like Mr. Vidal, I've never put much stock in writer's block, because I never got it. See, I plan in such great detail that I'm generally considered some sort of outlying freak by other planners. Sure, the muse decides to sleep in once in a while, but as far as the dreaded Block goes, all I've ever had to do was lay my hyper-detailed outline beside the keyboard and flesh out the scene. It may not have been my best writing, but it was always going to be a first draft, subject to revision anyway, and I had the scene on the page and was ready to move on; what is this "Block" you speak of, kemo sabe?
So you might be able to imagine the turmoil I've been going through since last August, which was, with the exception of two days, the last time I was able to produce anything remotely readable. In the last post on my personal blog, https://jackshideout.blogspot.com/2017/12/back-on-horse.html , I talked about how I was going to haul the muse out of the sack and beat on him until he produced some usable copy. That was a week ago. I did that, and he came across with a scene for "Invalid Item" , a steampunk spy story I've had in the works for a while. Following that success, I scheduled last Monday on the calendar to write again. I figured that gave me three days to prepare, to psyche myself up, to do some research on the history of the location it was set in. I did those things. Monday came, I sat down to write, and... nothing happened. Turned out this much-vaunted horse I thought I was riding turned out to be a worn out old mule who sat down in the road with me on his back, and dared me to make him stand up again.
As I said, I don't have much experience with writer's block, so I don't know precisely whether that is what I'm experiencing. At the age of 69, what I do have experience with is a wide array of hobbies. From the sedate, detail-intensive construction of plastic models to the adrenaline-donor excitement of extreme off-roading; from the campaign planning of tabletop wargaming to exploring the mountains and deserts of the back country on foot, I've experienced a lot of widely varied pursuits. As you might guess, I've also experienced the demise of a good number of those hobbies. Take plastic modeling as an example. You have all this paraphernalia, a thousand shades of paint, a dozen different kinds of glues and cements, all the tools for applying all the various forms of camouflage that the world's military forces have used on their weapons throughout history. You've done this for decades, and know through long experience that you love it. You visit a hobby shop and see a kit that just blows you away. You must have it, so you risk not being able to pay a bill, and bring it home. You examine the parts, decide which variant you're going to make, set up your work table with all the tools, paints, and associated equipment that you're going to need, and start spreading out parts... At which time you realize that this is about the dumbest, most uninteresting thing you've ever encountered, and it almost makes you physically ill to look at it.
That happened to me, and it was actually that sudden. I was making an S-3 Viking, an anti-submarine aircraft used by the navy, for my office. I worked at a naval air station where several dozen S-3s were based, and thought that would make an excellent display piece for a space on a shelf in there. It was about 80% completed when I sat down at the table on my day off, and found that I couldn't stand to look at it. I did eventually force it to completion, displayed it in my office, and it did get a lot of nice comments, but I've never made another one, and that was on the order of twenty years ago. I got a model of Jules Verne's Nautilus for Christmas three years ago. I'm looking at the box of parts from where I'm sitting, waiting in their packaging for the magic touch that will bring them to life. I'd love to have that completed and on display, but not enough to actually build it, at least not yet.
Wargaming faded away a bit more slowly, and I still fantasize about those good old days. I have a few of the games left deep in my closet, and I still get one out now and then and look it over, but there's no thought of playing one. Understand, if you're uninitiated, this isn't Risk I'm talking about here. These are games like Rise and Decline of the Third Reich, Breakout Normandy, and Pax Britannica. The rule books are thicker than many mainstream magazines, and maybe that's part of what drove me away. Regardless of that, the sudden and profound loss of interest is familiar and chilling as I look at the prospect of writing now.
All of which brings me to last Monday. I tried all day to write. I had material to type. I had free time to type it. There was no reason for not doing it, other than that I couldn't generate the slightest interest in the notion of actually spending two or three hours at the keyboard. My daughter, the youngest child, finally took the time to put it all into perspective for me, and she was able to do it without Mr. Vidal's resort to foul language. I'm going to paraphrase the conversation here; obviously I wasn't recording at the time, but this is pretty close to what was said:
ME: "Boo hoo hoo! I can't write any more. It's the end of the world!"
DAUGHTER: "Why? Do something else."
ME: "You don't understand. I need to write! I put it on the calendar and planned for a day of writing, but now I can't get any work done."
DAUGHTER: "You don't need to get any work done. You worked your ass off for fifty years providing a safe and loving home for half a dozen people. This is your time. You don't need a schedule, and you don't need a production tracker. All you need to do is enjoy the time that's left to you. If writing doesn't bring you pleasure, don't write."
ME: "But my friends all know me as a writer."
DAUGHTER: "Friends who like you for who you are will always like you. The hangers-on who just want to be able to say they know a writer weren't your friends anyway. If it brings you pleasure to explore Skyrim for the rest of your life, then that's what you should be doing."
All this time, my wife is sitting in her recliner, smiling and nodding. Has anyone ever had two better friends? A better daughter? I challenge you to show me one!
And that's where things stand with the ol' Blimprider at this moment in time. I will continue to put Writing on the calendar every four days, and I will continue to prep for it. If it comes, it comes, and I'll be pleased to tell you a story, but if it doesn't come, I will no longer stress over it. I've made my point with three books and a story in an anthology. I have nothing left to prove to anyone. Would I like to continue writing? Of course I would. Am I going to lose any sleep if that isn't what's in the cards? Not any more. I have a wonderful family to enjoy. That ought to keep me busy enough for one man! As for you, dear friends, play nice, take care of one another, and I'll see you around the Web.
All the best,
Jack "Blimprider" Tyler
| "To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk."
~ THOMAS EDISON
Steampunks are an exceptional lot. Most of us are imagineers. We invent the most wonderful devices that never existed and almost certainly never will. Steampunk builders and cosplayers are some of the most inventive people on earth. If you are putting a costume together for a convention, you don't just nip down to WalMart and buy a portable gunkulator. You build it. Are you an adventurer in need of a jetpack? A brace of cola bottles and an old mailbox could be just the ticket! Perhaps you're a Victorian tycoon who needs a pair of cufflinks that tells the world your backstory at a glance. Grab your soldering iron and pull the guts out of a couple of old watches, and go to town.
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One of my greatest disappointments is that I never developed the eye to bring these constructions to life. My creative skills are confined strictly to the page, and I must be content with that. But everywhere I look, I see things, items of unusual shape or function, and in my mind they become other things entirely. An elegant lamp becomes a flying machine; a novelty incense burner becomes a mad scientist's secluded laboratory; a kitchen gadget becomes his diabolical invention. I am training myself to see the fantastic in the ordinary, and it is turning out to be an enjoyable and profitable journey.
How about you? Do you see things in everyday stuff that no one else can? Does it figure in your writing? It's just one more tool in the writer's bag of tricks, and the wise craftsman ignores a gift at his own risk. Train your eye to look for these unexpected gems, and you may find, as I have, that inspiration surrounds you everywhere you go.
Until next time, Read well, and write better,
| "Writers seldom choose as friends those self-contained characters who are never in trouble, never unhappy or ill, never make mistakes, and always count their change when it is handed to them."
~ CATHERINE DRINKER BOWEN
1976 gave us Sybil, a film starring Sally Field in a tour de force as an unfortunate young woman who played host to thirteen personalities. She won an Academy Award for best actress for her portrayal of this confused and tragic figure, and it was richly deserved, but of course, I write here about the Craft of writing, and the writers who pursue it. So, what can we take from this movie, and the disorder it portrayed?
As writers, we have multiple people living in our heads all the time, and far from being a problem for us, they are there by invitation. As writers, we must be focused on the plot, the story arcs, the presentation of grammar, speech, and setting, and yet as writers, we also have to manipulate the characters. Characters who come with quirks, foibles, agendas, and complete personalities. Characters who exist only in our heads.
I am not Patience Hobbs. I am neither a dirigible pilot, a graduate of finishing school, nor even a woman. I never lived in the Victorian era, and when watching a show like Downton Abbey, I am constantly astonished by the rules, customs, and mores that these people not only put up with, but wholeheartedly embraced. They claim to accept these things out of their sense of duty and honor, yet if someone spoke to me the way some of the junior servants are spoken to in this show, I'm afraid duty and honor would require me to punch them in the snout!
Yet I must "live" in this world to write in it, put aside my 20th-21st century sensibilities, and inhabit the lives of multiple Victorian personalities, male and female, because steampunk is at its core Victorian. I don't have multiple personality disorder (though I may be a bit bipolar), but I have to act like I do in order to breathe life into them. And so do you.
How do you manage it? Of course, character sheets are indispensable if you hope to keep any sort of continuity between a dozen characters or more, but what about the world? I find Victorian slang and customs creeping into my daily life. I talk with many people on the internet, and I nearly always address women as "Milady." "Invalid Item" was set in Kenya, and many of the characters were fluent in Swahili. I often greet people in person with jambo, and thank them with asante. That's the level of immersion I need to achieve to bring life to a world I'm working in.
How about you? Does your writing bleed into your real life, and in what ways? Do your friends think you a little "off," or do they find the weirdness charming? What impressions do your friends have of a person who goes out of their way to cultivate Multiple Personality Order? Curious minds want to know!
Until next time, Read well, and write better,
| "If I didn't know the ending of a story, I wouldn't begin."
~ KATHERINE ANNE PORTER
I had completely different plans for today's post, but we'll get to that next week. You see, I posted in my personal blog, Jack's Hideout, over the weekend, and linked it here with a suggestion that you go read it. Several of you did, and one of you made a request. I live for friends and followers, and when one of you requests something from me, I deliver. The request came in the form of an Email: Hey Jack, I saw that you mentioned a new outline method and was wondering if you cared to share any tips from it? A couple of things before I start: I'm protecting this member's identity in case this doesn't go well; if he or she would care to take credit in the comments section, I'll be happy to corroborate. Second, I'm not doing this to start the old war between planners and pantsers again. If you're a pantser, you can feel safe moving on in the knowledge that I will neither insult you nor provide any insight that you need. With that covered, let's move on.
I haven't always been a planner. I wrote my first novel with the idea that I could sit down at a keyboard with no more idea than "This sounds like fun," and write the book that would knock Stephen King off the top of the heap. As a warning to others, I posted that rambling, disjointed adjective-fest here under its title, "Temple of Exile" . Have a read if you dare! I know people, authors, who have written perfectly coherent books and stories who claim that they never plan anything. Based on my own experience, I don't know how that's possible, but I'm not in the business of calling people liars. All I know is that it doesn't work for me; I need a roadmap.
I began outlining in great detail, but found that I was really doing no more than an involved form of pantsing. I really had to have some training in outlining. At some point discovering that there was an entire "How to write books" section in my local Barnes & Noble, I began to read some of the authors therein. Slogging through reams of advice such as "Define your crises and enter them into a V-diagram," and "Keep the surprise and delight coming," I encountered Evan Marshall, a successful agent, who had developed a method for writing he called The Marshall Plan. This is a highly disciplined approach to story construction that basically assembles the facts of your projects and enters them into a grid. I found that this disciplined approach was what I needed, and have used it to write every book and story I've taken on since 1998.
To use his system, you must be a "viewpoint" writer. This means that once you have decided to write a mystery, an adventure, or whatever, you decide how many viewpoint characters you're going to have. Viewpoint characters are the protagonist, the antagonist, the confidant, and so on. You can have up to six of these; more than that, and you're writing a series. Once you've decided whose stories you want to tell, you plug that number into a grid, and it tells you how many scenes you will write, and how many each character gets.
Let's say you're writing a murder mystery, and you want to have four characters tell the story, the detective, the murderer, a reporter trying to turn the case into his "break," and the murderer's sister, who wants to help her brother get away with it. Plugging four characters into the grid gives you a range of lengths, from 72 scenes all the way up to 88. Let's say that you decide that 80 scenes is a good target. This means the reader will be in the detective's head for 48 scenes, the murderer's for eleven, the reporter's for eleven, and the sister's for ten. Now you can begin to assemble your outline with a clear view of how much space each character will get, where to put the surprises and the revelations, and when you need to start bringing the threads together. You outline with this grid clearly in front of you, and there is no question of adding a ramble or going down a rabbit hole, because you have a template, and it has to fit.
For novels, I use 96 scenes with six characters. I begin by taking a spiral notebook and numbering scenes down the margin of four pages, 24 to a page until I reach 96 at the bottom of the fourth page. Then I plug in the high points of the story, the surprises and discoveries, in the approximate places they should fit. With those in place, I begin to fill in the rest of it.
Knowing how many scenes each character is allowed, I space their names more or less evenly down the lines, knowing that I can move them around later as long as the numbers remain the same. With a clear idea of my story's arc, the characters who will be telling it, and approximately where their scenes will appear, I then write one or two sentences on each line (I can write microscopically small) describing in barest terms what that scene will cover. Using my novel in progress, "Stingaree" , as an example, the first two bare-bones lines of the outline read:
1. Harold Youngblood arrives in San Diego, contrasts it with Charleston, finds it grubby and disorganized. Gets belongings from ship and hires a carriage.
2. Youngblood goes proudly to city hall to register ownership of the Oyster Bar. He is treated like scum, learning it is a gambling den and whorehouse.
If you go and read the first two scenes of the story, you will discover that there are things in those scenes that are not in the short-form of the outline. Those two sentences are merely to spur your creativity while giving you a form to hang it on. I used to use the rest of the notebook to write a paragraph or two about the scene, amplifying and setting in stone everything that I wanted to appear in it, but I quit doing that before this work, as the pantsers convinced me that I was stifling creativity, so the first half of the novel, which is complete, was written without those amplifying sections. I discovered, though, by getting lost and wandering down unproductive paths, that no amount of pantsing works for me; the creativity comes first, followed by the mechanics of putting the story on the page. No multitasking for me, thank you!
So I have begun to amplify those brief bits of scaffolding again, but this time on index cards, and that's the innovation I spoke of. My sixth character is Wyatt Earp, a fire-breathing badass of the old west who owned a string of saloons in San Diego following the more famous business in Tombstone, eventually including the Oyster. He is intended to be a powerful presence who is nonetheless peripheral to the story. Time and readers will be the judge, but here's how scenes 49 and 50 played out. First, in the notebook:
49. Youngblood needs to learn all he can about Belmont. His staff only knows bare facts. Jackson is out in the back country. The only other man he trusts is Earp. Will visit him.
50. Jackson visits ranch, learns that Earp was there the night of the murder. He lost big, including his watch, which they're holding against payment.
I then expanded these scenes onto index cards, which became this:
49. Youngblood up early. Wants to learn all he can about Belmont. Staff doesn't know much. He owns a boatyard, and heads the Northside Businessmen's Association. The Association resents the existence of Stingaree, and if Belmont is serious about running for mayor, that could be bad news for the red light district.
50. Earp in cell reading dime novel about Wild Bill Hickok's days in Deadwood. Youngblood comes for a visit. Asked for news, he tells Earp that Jackson has gone out to the back country to check on his alibi. Earp passes on some speculation about Belmont being violently racist, and having the temperament to employ thugs to do his dirty work. He wouldn't be surprised if Belmont was behind Price's murder. That would be just the thing to sow a little discord among the opposition.
The first thing you'll notice is that Scene Fifty on the card has nothing to do with Scene Fifty in the outline. I'll get to this momentarily. This method accomplishes a couple of things. First, it gives me a fully fleshed-out scene to work with when I'm ready to commit it to the manuscript. Second, having these on index cards instead of in the notebook allows me to lay them out in the form of a timeline, and third, if I want to see how they look in a different order, I can just switch a few cards and see. Is that important? Well, the scene where Youngblood meets Earp in his jail cell originally came after Jackson had visited the ranch and questioned the workers. That alone isn't the problem, but it screwed up the timeline for the next few scenes, and that stuck out like a sore thumb with them laid out on the table. It also made it butt-simple to fix by simply stacking the cards in the adjusted order.
Yes, I'm an obsessive planner; maybe that's why I'm not one of those writers who can churn out six novels a year, but does it work? I invite you to check my books' ratings here, on Goodreads, and on Amazon.com. I think that will answer that particular question.
I will be the first to admit that this method is not going to work for everyone. I have two points to this post, beyond simply answering a request. First, if you are a detailed planner, here is a detailed method that pays huge dividends. If you don't use it exactly as described, it will certainly provide a starting point that you can modify into a system that meets your needs. Second, planner, pantser, or somewhere in between, be aware that writing is hard work. If it wasn't, we'd all be on the best-seller lists! Nothing will guarantee that you will find your way onto those lists, but the one thing that everyone on those lists have in common is that they did the work. If you hope to join them, there's a lesson here somewhere. Take it to heart, and get busy!
Until next time, Read well, and write better,
| "Fear makes men forget, and skill which cannot fight is useless"
~ PHORMIO OF ATHENS, 429 B.C.
Fear. The most powerful of emotions. It can strike you dumb and paralyzed, and make you forget a skill you've practiced for a lifetime. It doesn't matter what else you're doing, figuring your taxes, driving your car, or making passionate love to your dearly beloved, the second fear strikes, everything else, and I mean everything, is put on hold until it is dealt with.
You're alone in that lovely cabin by the picturesque lake that you rented for the weekend to work on your novel. You've had a productive day and a robust dinner, and turned in early, eager to make a full day of it tomorrow.
What was that?
You glance at the clock: Two AM. You listen to the sound of the wind in the treetops for a while, and finally convince yourself that it was the remnant of a dream, something that only happened inside your head. Your eyes begin to drift closed.
You ain't sleepy now, are you?
Fear, then, is the greatest motivator in the human experience. I'm postulating that as a given, and if you can prove me wrong, I would love to hear the argument. People are afraid of different things. Snakes, rats, falling in love again... With me it's spiders, flying, and rejection. That fear causes me to react with sudden and extreme violence when I see one scuttling around my work area, or God forbid, on my person! Want to see a funny dance? Just let me walk through a web! Flying? Forget it! The bravest thing I've ever seen anybody do is get on an airplane. Fear of rejection has made me the sort of recluse who grows into a writer; gotta do something with all that solitary time, right?
Much has been made in recent years of the so-called Hierarchy of Needs, but there doesn't seem to be a corresponding hierarchy of fears. Most humans have a healthy fear of death. It's healthy because it keeps us from doing stupid things like trying to jump between two skyscrapers, swimming with piranhas, or getting into airplanes. We try to avoid pain, though that may be classed as an aversion rather than a true fear. But once we get past those, there's a much more "cafeteria" approach to it. Many people aren't afraid of spiders, and snakes don't bother me a bit. And if you want to get an idea of how many people are in the air at any given time without a care in the world, feast your eyes on https://www.flightradar24.com/28.49,-81.46/6
So, as humans, we all carry all of these different fears with us, and like the song says, my funk ain't your funk, and your funk ain't mine. How do you use it to shape your characters' actions? And let's clear something up here: a character who never feels, let alone shows any fear is about as one dimensional and uninteresting as anyone can get. Someone who is truly and deeply afraid, and is able to shake it off, pull themselves together, and do what needs to be done are generally considered leaders, heroes, saviors and the like. Those who can't manage it join the ranks of the cowards who leave friends in the lurch, the damsels in distress that need to be saved, the ones who, in short, make heroes necessary.
In writing this article, I have realized that I could do better at this. Could you? How have you used fear, and the reaction to it, to make your characters richer, deeper, more compelling? Have any insights you might share with us? We'd love to hear them!
Until next time, Read well, and write better,
| "I'm not afraid on 'em. I'll shake out another reef, matey, and daddle 'em again."
~ ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
This week's quote is from Treasure Island, and loving the old adventures like I do, I grew up in the 1950s reading the "boys-own" adventure stories and emulating their style. Those books, specifically that writing style, is outdated, and yet it lives on in the works of Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Rudyard Kipling among others, and so it continues to be seen by impressionable amateurs such as myself.
It took me a long time to discover that books were written in this style in the Victorian era because in the age before the internet, television, and even radio, reading aloud to the family was a widely practiced form of entertainment, and the dialect was written into the story to assist the reader. Not so much the case anymore, and not such a good idea. Behold:
“Bah, you English mit your eternal jokings! Vell,” he ordered Abasi, “bring your boys up und collect him.”
Source material? This is a single line of dialogue spoken by Baron Dietrich von Redesky, titular anthropologist of my story, "Invalid Item" , and this isn't as thick as it gets. Take a moment and contemplate reading a story that's full of that before we press on.
Ready? Okay, here's the guidance for dialogue of this sort: Don't. Just don't. There is a modern style of "suggesting" rather than imparting dialogue, and rather than blow it, I shall quote directly from Evan Marshall's fine self-help books for authors, The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing:
Some beginning writers, in an attempt to reproduce dialogue exactly as it sounds, take great pains to present dialect with all its idiosyncrasies. This is not a good idea. Readers inevitably trip on dialect.
"Lawd God, Serena, ah done tole you ter git yosef away from dat winder 'fo this whole town knows yo' bidnez!"
Instead of writing perfect dialect transcription, phonetic spellings and all, suggest dialect through word choice and arrangement.
"Well now, missy, I'd say your daddy and me are in for a mountain of trouble."
Would that I had read this before I tackled the good Baron! Learn from my mistake (the mark of true genius), and don't do this. I learned the hard way that it stops a reader in his tracks. There was a time when it was acceptable, even expected, but times change, and this technique, like the Tandy home computer, is most definitely a thing of the past. Don't try it, don't use it, and if it's in your repertoire, lose it!
And that's it for this week. One simple yet vitally important subject with no distracting side trips. This was perhaps my most embarrassing writing gaffe; have any you'd care to share?
Until next time, Read well, and write better,
| "There are two basic reactions. There are those who hate you because they think you put them in your book, and there are those who hate you because they think you didn't."
~ HANIF KUREISHI
We are all products of our past. Upbringing, peers, what family taught us about our heritage; what we learned in our first jobs we took into our second. From the loving aunt to the snooty receptionist, from sharing peanut butter with a fondly remembered dog to that first fall from the old oak tree, we are all collections of past experiences, stuffed in a sack and tied up with a bow. Your friends like you and your adversaries don't because of the hundreds of thousands of experiences and contacts that have combined to form your personality and world view. The vast majority of them, we don't remember, but they're all in there, having their effect on the face we present to the world, and that's fine. We don't have to remember every detail; we are who we are.
But what about our characters, the people who inhabit the stories we write? Oh, sure, if you're dashing off a piece of flash fiction, or a 3,000-word morality fable, maybe they don't need to be all that, but what if you're undertaking a novel, or a series? If that is the case, then I am here to suggest that if you want your characters to leap off the page, then you need to know every pertinent detail of the journey that brought them to this point. Sure, if your main character goes to buy some meat, and the butcher wants to tell a rambling story about his brother-in-law while he does the cutting, you can gloss it over; the butcher will never be seen again, and doesn't have to be explained. But your main character, the third-grade teacher who's tapped to serve as a juror on a high profile murder case, the killer's henchman who has decided that she is the weak link that can be influenced by threats, her husband, her sister, these people are instrumental to the success of your story, and nothing can be left to chance.
The henchman, the teacher, the criminal, the attorneys all have backstories, journeys, if you will, that made them who they are, and while it would be disastrously boring for you to give the reader all of these backstories in huge information dumps, you must know them! What made this woman devote her life to teaching? Was she dedicated to leaving no child behind, or was she afraid to leave the school environment and compete in the "real" workforce? Why did she not attempt to get out of jury duty? Was it a sense of civic duty, a desire to experience the courtroom environment to be a better teacher, or was she bored with the classroom and eager to take a break? How about her relationship with the aforementioned husband? Or is she a single mom, and if she is, how does she feel about that? Betrayed, abandoned, or relieved to be free? Does she have a tattoo? Something in her personality caused her to get it. Why?
Sure, you can just start writing: Most people are annoyed when they open their mailbox to find a jury summons staring back at them, but third-grade teacher Gloria Sims saw it as an opportunity. But if you want your novel to be memorable, to leave your reader thinking about the world you've created long after he's left it behind, you need to do more. You'd better know why, because fifty pages on, when she reacts to another unexpected stimulus, her reaction and her motives had better be consistent. This means a fully fleshed-out character sheet with background, upbringing, childhood, work environment, everything pertinent that contributed to who this person is. Let me repeat, pertinent. A lot of the little day-to-day things aren't, but the difference between an abusive childhood and a loving one is going to make specific differences in the life of the adult involved, and you, the writer, need to know how. And this is just for one of your main characters!
Once you know all these things, the temptation then exists to pile them all on the reader in huge information dumps. If you follow the sample sentence above with a six-page dissertation about Ms. Sims' education from kindergarten through her graduate work, I promise you that no reader will reach the end of it, and if your book doesn't get thrown at a stray cat, it will at best be used as a potted plant pad. But you need to know these things, and you need to use them constantly to inform your characters' words and actions.
I can hear the electric whine of attenuated nerves already, way up at the upper edge of the threshold of hearing: This guy wants me to become a planner! No, not really, not for the big picture, but characters are far more complex than simple plots, and it is flatly impossible for any one writer to keep up with every little quirk and foible that he attaches to the half-dozen major players that power a novel. What I'm telling you is that if you want your readers to be discussing your book a year after they've read it, your characters had better be as rich, nuanced, and consistent as your immediate family members. Readers notice things, and inconsistent characters are right at the top of the list. Get your characters right, and they'll write your story for you; take the lazy way out, make them up on the fly, and they'll get their revenge by dooming you to obscurity.
I think that about covers it.
Until next time, Read well, and write better,