Saturday, December 31, 2011

Scene, Sandy and Sophie recording, pt 5

This scene takes places somewhere in the middle of Street Glass, so the year would be '89 or '90. As currently written, this scene is not intended to be included in the novel. Its purpose is to practice writing, explore the earliest beginnings of Sandy and Sophie’s relationship, explore a bit of her relationship with Adam, and have some fun that wouldn’t be appropriate for the novel. As everything is in this novel, the scene is in close third POV.

The term “track” is sometimes used here as a synonym for the verb “record.” The term “cans” is used as a synonym for “headset.” Lennie is producer as well as engineer for Sandy’s song, with only Neal assisting him; that’s why I don’t mention anyone else. The
term “studio” can be a bit confusing. Used here, it refers to the specific room that the artist stands in to sing or play, not a building. If anything else confuses you, drop me a comment.
She matched his tempo perfectly. It was like they’d rehearsed this lots of times. Sandy had no idea how she could anticipate him that closely, but somehow it didn’t seem odd. In his cans, the bass line thrummed a muted heartbeat.

You took my broken soul
You picked up my shattered heart
You showed me how to fly
Giving in was never hard

Yeah it was more than healing
Well in your eyes I can see
The light of the universe
Your love has set me free

In between cascades of pealing Rickenbacker notes, Sophie slipped in an occasional "ooo" as gentle as a dove. Sandy didn't have an urge to add anything of his own; her small improv enhanced the song's energy all by itself.

You came straight as an arrow
I never had a chance to hide
I didn’t know which way to turn
But I never even tried to fight

Because you’re a part of me
I have never burned so bright
You're a warm soft shower
Coming down on a summernight

Instead of running from my pain
You wrapped me all in white
In your arms I'd gladly die
And I'll never even try to fight

Because you’re a part of me
I have never burned so bright
You're a warm soft shower
Coming down on a summer night
Coming down on a summernight . . .

Again, as the music wound down, her eyes kept the connection strong. He couldn’t even blink. When the last notes faded she lowered her head, and Sandy almost felt something physical snap apart. Realizing he’d been holding his breath, he released it and tore off his headset. He should thank her but nothing came out of his mouth.

[to be continued]

Saturday, December 24, 2011

"writing what you know" the painless way

We’ve all heard the admonishment “write what you know”. That’s how the best stuff gets written, even in fiction, right? Never mind that inexperienced writers of sci fi and fantasy don’t get much help with applying that decree. My novel is about a guy who starts out in a street gang in Los Angeles then becomes involved with a rock band. I didn’t know facts about those things; I wasn’t even sure I knew much about guys, though that can be a problem no matter how much experience is involved.

I was a little worried about it, but the story was intended to focus on character interaction. The music part was supposed to be in the background. Ha!

A curious thing happened, gradually. I did believe that the better you know your characters, the better your story will be. When you know what really makes them tick, they come alive not just for you but for readers. Writing a convincing gangbanger meant trying to find out what that life was like—in reality, not assumptions.

No, I didn’t prowl the streets. I read. Mind you, I needed info about the lifestyle in a very particular place and time, and I discovered that in fact, not everything is on the internet. A freaking lot of stuff is, but not everything. And people can be willing to tell you that what you’ve written is “off” but not offer to help with facts. So that part is the weaker area of my research. But I haven’t given up.

Sandy is a musician in a major rock band. Okay, specifics on how high-profile, high-income folks live is also a bit of a weak spot, but I was able to find info on the music business. Music has always been the soundtrack to my life and what keeps my heart beating. So I’ve paid attention over the years to interviews. Back when roadies still set up the stage when the audience took their seats, I’d always bring binoculars and study what was happening onstage. During a show, I’d watch performers when the spotlight moved *off* them.

Everyplace I thought I might read, hear or see something interesting, I paid attention, and often picked up a tidbit or two.

Then I realized that I couldn’t keep *everything* about the music business in the background. Neal roadies for Sylvyr Star and that couldn’t be glossed over. People have written books for public consumption about how to be a roadie! I couldn’t function without the internet. Found a documentary that follows Rush’s road crew on tour.

And that’s how writing what I love turned into writing what I know. Find the thing that you can honestly say is your reason for living, and no matter what you have to do to turn it into a book, it won’t be work. Love your subject and you’ll love research. I can prove it J

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Scene, Sandy and Sophie recording, pt 4

This scene takes places somewhere in the middle of Street Glass, so the year would be '89 or '90. As currently written, this scene is not intended to be included in the novel. Its purpose is to practice writing, explore the earliest beginnings of Sandy and Sophie’s relationship, explore a bit of her relationship with Adam, and have some fun that wouldn’t be appropriate for the novel. As everything is in this novel, the scene is in close third POV.

The term “track” is sometimes used here as a synonym for the verb “record.” The term “cans” is used as a synonym for “headset.” Lennie is producer as well as engineer for Sandy’s song, with only Neal assisting him; that’s why I don’t mention anyone else. The
term “studio” can be a bit confusing. Used here, it refers to the specific room that the artist stands in to sing or play, not a building. If anything else confuses you, drop me a comment.
Movement through the control room window caught Sandy‘s eye. Lennie and Neal glanced at each other with the wide-eyed look that said We’ve got magic here. Sandy read Adam’s lips: She could make the devil sing like an angel.

They would’ve recorded that first effort, but the technical aspects were settled now. This take would be for real.

Sophie waited several seconds past the last audible notes before speaking in a very low voice. “Good, honey. Now do it again, but better. Let everything out. You’ve got a miracle waiting inside you. Sing as if you can save the world with your voice.”

He nodded, not willing to break the spell by speaking. The music started again. She began to sway a little. Her eyes flicked down to the lead sheets then back up. Her voice came in at the exact instant his did.

I cried in my misery
It was more than I could bear
Ripped apart and bleeding out
Into the darkness I would stare

She reached one hand toward him. With the slightest effort he touched her fingertips. He wouldn’t have been surprised to see sparks. Filling his head, guitar and piano danced and swirled around each other. Little pings off the cymbal bell perfectly complimented the ringing guitar. Synthesizer crept in like an uncertain mist then swelled to wash over everything, carrying him with it. When the synthesizer eased back, lilting piano held him up. His voice grew stronger with the next verse.

And then I saw it from afar
I didn’t know just what it was
I was afraid of how it glowed
I’d never seen the face of love

Something about the way her deep voice backed him up—supported him—made it easy to lose the last of his inhibitions. He knew she’d be careful to keep her voice just below his. This was the way singing was meant to be.

You came straight as an arrow
I never had a chance to hide
I didn’t know which way to turn
But I never even tried to fight

You came out of nowhere
Like a comet burning bright
In all the colors of a rainbow
Coming down on a summernight

[to be continued]

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Scene, Sandy and Sophie recording, pt 3

This scene takes places somewhere in the middle of Street Glass, so the year would be '89 or '90. As currently written, this scene is not intended to be included in the novel. Its purpose is to practice writing, explore the earliest beginnings of Sandy and Sophie’s relationship, explore a bit of her relationship with Adam, and have some fun that wouldn’t be appropriate for the novel. As everything is in this novel, the scene is in close third POV.

The term “track” is sometimes used here as a synonym for the verb “record.” The term “cans” is used as a synonym for “headset.” Lennie is producer as well as engineer for Sandy’s song, with only Neal assisting him; that’s why I don’t mention anyone else. The
term “studio” can be a bit confusing. Used here, it refers to the specific room that the artist stands in to sing or play, not a building. If anything else confuses you, drop me a comment.
Sandy held the studio door open for Sophie. “I don’t need the lead sheets if you want to keep them with you.”

“Good. And if at any time you want to do something different, you just interrupt me.”

Neal followed close behind with another mic and headset. “This is the type of mic you prefer, yeah?”

She glanced at it then took a second look. “Yes, hon. That’s thoughtful of you.” She smiled before moving away.

He shot a grin at her though she didn’t see.

Sandy gestured for him to set the equipment up. It’s not thoughtful, Adam would’ve told him.

She told Sandy to stand at his mic then seemed to be gauging distance to some nearby spot. “Reach your hand out and touch my fingertips.” With her warm fingers just touching his, she backed up until their arms were completely outstretched. “This is where my mic has to go.”

“That seems pretty close,” Neal said.

“Don’t question the judgment of a seasoned artist,” Sandy said.

Neal scowled at him.

Sophie looked around the studio. “You haven’t got any ambiance here. That might have something to do with the problem. I always have candlelight and a bunch of beautiful things around the room, but we can at least cut the lighting here.”

“You have lit candles in the studio?” Sandy asked, picking up his headset.

“Sure. Full candelabras, four feet tall, each holding a dozen tapers. Usually I have incense too. Me and the girls dress up—well never mind. I’m sorry, you’re Neal? I need the lights lowered by half.”

“Yes ma’am. By half? Isn’t—never mind.”

He continued setting up her mic as she read over the lead sheets. At times she sang in a whisper. She took the headset from Neal without raising her gaze. He shifted his weight and looked over the new setup.

“Done?” Sandy said. “Or are you gonna do this too?”

Neal shrugged and went out. Sophie tried the lyrics as she read, her voice barely audible. She had the melody, all right. She pressed the button on the mic. “Thanks for dimming the lights. Can I have the music while I read this? Send it to Sandy too. I want him to get into the right headspace. I know you want to get levels on me, so let me hear this first and then I’ll run through it with Sandy.” She listened and read, continuing to sing to herself.

Sandy listened to the music in one ear so he could also hear Sophie. Maybe the song had been waiting for a woman’s touch. And maybe dimming the lights was a good idea. He’d been awfully nervous when she came into the studio with him, but now he breathed easier.

“Okay,” she said at the end. “Let’s do this. It’s not just for getting levels on my mic, it’s also so we can get a feel for how our voices blend. I’m going to stick to doing harmony. You look right at me while you sing, got it? You reach as far as you can for what you want, and then you reach further. You’ll see what I mean.”

The music started again and Sandy did as she told him. Her eyes held him. She didn’t look down at the words often but didn’t make any mistakes. A subtle electricity built up as the song carried on; even with her mysterious brown eyes fixed on him, the words and emotion flowed out of him easily. During the last half minute, while the chiming Rickenbacker faded into delicate piano, he couldn’t look away from her gaze. A sense of anticipation came over him.

[to be continued]

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Scene, Sandy and Sophie recording, pt 2

This scene takes places somewhere in the middle of Street Glass, so the year would be '89 or '90. As currently written, this scene is not intended to be included in the novel. Its purpose is to practice writing, explore the earliest beginnings of Sandy and Sophie’s relationship, explore a bit of her relationship with Adam, and have some fun that wouldn’t be appropriate for the novel. As everything is in this novel, the scene is in close third POV.

Background: Adam and Sophie are members of the rock/pop band Xenith. Sophie has also started the band Obsession to showcase her solo work; she’s active in both bands. She and Adam went through a very public and acrimonious breakup of their romantic relationship a few years prior, though they’ve continued to play in Xenith.

The term “track” is sometimes used here as a synonym for the verb “record.” The term “cans” is used as a synonym for “headset.” Lennie is producer as well as engineer for Sandy’s song, with only Neal assisting him; that’s why I don’t mention anyone else. The term “studio” can be a bit confusing. Used here, it refers to the specific room that the artist stands in to sing or play, not a building. If anything else confuses you, drop me a comment.

Sandy leaned against the wall. Maybe he shouldn’t get mixed up in whatever weird thing they had going on, even from the sidelines. Still, she had a reputation for getting what she wanted out of studio sessions. He, on the other hand, had spent a ridiculous amount of time on one track.

Lennie and Neal both leaned toward her with barely concealed desperation on their faces.

Sophie looked a little uncomfortable. “I feel like this is infringing on your work, but would you like some help from Adam or me?”

“Oh, God! I’m not stupid, I’d love some help.”

“Let’s hear what you’ve got so far,” Adam said.

Sandy grinned. “Damn! Thanks, I really appreciate you guys listening to this. Lennie, turn it up just a bit in my cans.”

Lennie and Neal both scrambled to offer Sophie their seats. Adam retreated to the rear of the room. How he managed to work with her years after they broke up was a mystery.

Back in the studio, the piano intro eased into Sandy’s headset. He didn’t need the lead sheets for the lyrics and being able to see Sophie just made him nervous, so he turned away from the window. Technically, he sounded fine, but still couldn’t find the soul the piece needed. If anybody would have ideas on how to fix it, Sophie or Adam would. Sandy wouldn’t turn down an offer of some magic Adam Emerson guitar, either.

He gave it everything he had. Maybe some of it sounded better, but by then, he just didn’t know. When he faced the window again, Adam had joined Sophie at the board. Nobody moved as the final notes played. Sophie’s eyes had become unfocused and her expression was so far away, Sandy half expected her to physically disappear.

She blinked several times. “Hon, I have an idea, if you don’t mind me singing with you.”

“Mind? I’d love to get this thing finished before I die.” Besides, I was hoping you’d say that.

“All right. Give me a few minutes to warm up.”

Everybody in the control room started talking then Lennie went out with Sophie and Adam. Neal was still looking after them when Sandy came into the room. “Forget it dude, that ivory tower is too high for almost everybody.”

“Don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.” Neal pushed some of the sliders on the board.

“Go ahead, play dumb. I’m getting some hot tea while Sophie’s busy. We might need to track it several times so be sure you record all of it.”

(to be continued)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Scene, Sandy and Sophie recording, pt 1

I've been continuing to play around with various scenes from Street Glass and have been able to expand one whose roots go back to the early 1980s. It was inspired by a song that I only heard once. I recently was able to track it down and it was a great help with the scene. I decided to make the scene the best I could, as if it had primary importance in the story, as practice for scenes that really are essential.

It came out well enough that I'd like to share it on the blog, but it's too long for a separate page like the other scenes I have up. So I'll break it up into 4 or 5 parts and add it as the main post.
This scene takes place somewhere in the middle of Street Glass, so the year would be '89 or '90. As currently written, this scene is not intended to be included in the novel. Its purpose is to practice writing, explore the earliest beginnings of Sandy and Sophie’s relationship, explore a bit of her relationship with Adam, and have some fun that wouldn’t be appropriate for the novel. As everything is in this novel, the scene is in close third POV.

Background: Adam and Sophie are members of the rock/pop band Xenith. Sophie has also started the band Obsession to showcase her solo work; she’s active in both bands. She and Adam went through a very public and acrimonious breakup of their romantic relationship a few years prior, though they’ve continued to play in Xenith.

The term “track” is sometimes used here as a synonym for the verb “record.” The term “cans” is used as a synonym for “headset.” Lennie is producer as well as engineer for Sandy’s song, with only Neal assisting him; that’s why I don’t mention anyone else. The term “studio” can be a bit confusing. Used here, it refers to the specific room that the artist stands in to sing or play, not a building. If anything else confuses you, drop me a comment.
In the studio to lay down the vocal track for one of his songs, Sandy wrapped up another effort. That hadn’t sounded right either. Standing at his mic in the studio, he shook his head at Lennie who sat in the control room with Neal. “I don’t know, maybe I don’t do this enough, but it somehow doesn’t feel right. Your piano must be off.”

Lennie laughed. “I don’t think so! Maybe the fact that’s it’s 2:30 in the morning and we’ve been at this for four hours has something to do with it.”

“Maybe it’s knowing that you’re staring at me while I’m trying to do this.”

“Oh good, how are you going to handle this live, then?”

“Ah, that’s different, I won’t have you in front of me.”

“Thirty thousand people in front of you will be better?”

As Len spoke, Sandy heard knocking at the control room door. Neal got up and went to the back of the room. Sandy swiped his bottle of water from the floor and took a drink. Four hours, damn. He should’ve been able to track a simple vocal in less than that.

Movement through the control room window made him look up. Oh God, Sophie and Adam! Sandy almost dropped the bottle. What in the world were they doing at the studio? And look at Len and Neal, chatting up Sophie. Adam looks like he might throw up.

Sandy hung his headset on the hook clipped to the mic stand and reached the door in a few long steps. Adam was in his usual jeans and dress shirt. Sophie wore a flowy deep blue dress with a sparkly necklace that dripped down the front. She tugged at a curl of her long, dark hair. She must be closing in on forty years old but man, she was hot. “Hey, hi. Those two aren’t the only people here tonight.”

“Hey ace,” Adam said. Sophie smiled.

Lennie said, “Aren’t you supposed to be working on something?”

“I need a break after four hours. It is really good to see some different faces.”

“Seriously, are we interrupting?” Sophie asked.

“Damn, no! I’m not even sure I like this song anymore, and I wrote it.”

“What’s the problem?” she asked, looking in at Sandy.

“It’s the vocal. I can’t put my finger on it, something just doesn’t sound right. I know what I want from myself but somehow it’s not coming.”

“Offer to help,” Adam said to Sophie. “That problem’s up your alley.”

She crossed her arms. “I’m not here to push myself on anybody.”

“Hey, a problem’s a problem.” He turned to Sandy. “She can nail a track in one take. Vocals are her thing.”

Lennie raised his eyebrows at Sandy. “I wouldn’t let this chance get away if I was you. Getting home before sunrise would be, like, really great.”

Adam bowed his head in Sophie’s direction and held out a hand toward her. “Miss Sophie Linn, fixer of vocal issues. Problems in the studio don’t stand a chance against her.”

She narrowed her eyes at him.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


So you know, I've updated the character interview page and the scene of Sophie's Christmas tree. I've also deleted the page with the scene of Neal and Lola, because it's no longer accurate. I've added a Cast of characters page. My posts often refer to people that casual blog readers may not be familiar with, so the list is an easy reference. It'll be adjusted as necessary.

Character fracking - in this case, it's good to keep digging

I've been asked about the interview I did with Neal to figure out what it is he wants at the start of the novel. It's a short interview so I'm including it here. I'll have some comments afterward. Since I talked to him while he was still with the gang, I refer to him by that name.
Owlie: Here you are, member of a street gang, with no permanent home and no family. What do you want to do with your life?

Razor: I wanna get away from Coyote. What’s this shit, nobody can look at his woman? She stands in front of me, what’m I supposed to do? If I can’t touch her, I don’t wanna be around her.

Owlie: That’s a start. What else? You must think about your life, up there on that roof you like to sit alone on.

Razor: I look at the little lights, some close, some far. Some of my friends let me help with fixing cars. I could do that, if I got out of MF. My friends make enough money to live on. But that’s just a dream. Coyote don’t let nobody out.

Owlie: He doesn’t let people out, but Flaco got out. You’re pretty sure his family, scattered around L.A. County, hid him. What if you got out too? Imagine MF is no longer in the picture.

Razor: Yeah, well, that’s hard because MF is everyplace. I used to want that, y’know, it was good to know they had my back. I had nobody else so it was good to see MF stand up for me. But Coyote got real crazy, rivals act up and you gotta defend your territory, there’s always shit happening that ain’t as cool as I thought it was.

I just want to know why mi madre left me to MF, y’know? What kind of mother just takes off and leaves a 10-year-old, when she knows there ain’t nobody to take care of him?
Mi padre, who knows who he was. Lola married some Anglo, but I ain’t Anglo, so who was he? Why didn’t she leave me with him?

Owlie: He might have died, like her husband Edward.

Razor: Both of ‘em kicking the bucket? What, did she slit their throats? No, I don’t know why she married somebody else, but I know she left me. Sonofabitch, I was ten years old! Who’d she think was gonna take care of me? Maybe she died, maybe she got jailed for the rest of her life. Blood family is everything and mine fell apart. It’s not knowing that kills me. I just gotta know why.
I think there was more going on behind his answers, and it's important to be aware of that because he may be holding out on me. At this stage of his life, it's very hard for him to be honest with other people.

Wow, that line of thought just led to a whole cascade of things. See, never accept the first couple of answers your characters give! Maybe Neal also wants to figure out who he really is. Before leaving Mi Familia, he was known to others as Razor, one of "that gang". His non-MF friends know him a little better, but he feels he can never completely let his guard down. MF always comes first.

Wanting to know more about his mother is a very personal thing; he must think about other personal things.

Why am I different? I'm in tight with MF, but I ain't got my own cantón, my own place to live. I got women and kids, but no other family. I live in the barrio, but my given name is Anglo. I got half a handful of lots of stuff, but I ain't got a whole handful of anything. But here I am - I'm alive. What am I, really? I wanna see stuff, do stuff! I wanna take these twisted up thoughts and feelings inside me and do somethin' with 'em.

That came from sitting up on the roof alone, as Neal often does. He likes to go up at night; everything looks more alive with all the lights. Wanting to know more of who he really is ties in with deciding to take an active part in co-creating the non-profit group. He wants to know not just his family background, but who he is personally. He doesn't think of it this way, but he wants to know what he's capable of.

Always pay attention if you sense something with your characters is not quite complete. Your intuition about these things is usually right.

Friday, November 11, 2011

What's going on

I’m putting Street Glass on hold because I’ve found an online course I think will help with the plot, but the course doesn’t start until February. I strongly feel I need a more experienced hand to guide me.

My plot problems, I believe, arise from Neal not having a strong enough goal at the start of the story. I may need to intensify things before he even meets Sandy. Readers have to care about Neal and sympathize with him very early on, or the chance to leave the gang won’t mean much.

But I’ll still play around with scenes as they catch my interest. Moving to the forefront is an idea I’m turning into a short story, with an eye toward making it the first of a series of shorts. I aim to submit the first story to some as-yet-unfound contests. This will keep me writing, and will help with the all-important skill of reducing my words. You may have noticed I like to talk J

This story is a fantasy, set in a medieval sort of era. It concerns the rediscovery of magic. Be assured it will not be a clichéd piece! Using this magic has definite physical consequences, unpleasant ones. This magic cannot do everything though it has certain attractions. I’m still filling in some of the details, but it’s already quite a bit of fun.

One of the members of my local writers’ group gave me a copy of yWriter5 to try. I’ve just started playing with it. It looks like it could be helpful for keeping people, places, and plots straight. Sure, you could use a spreadsheet, but yWriter lets you keep the lists and the story in one program. Okay, you could make lists in Word too. In fact I do that for Street Glass and I have two spreadsheets that I use less often. I’ll let you know what I think of the program in another week or two.

Speaking of lists, the discography for Sylvyr Star has been completed. You’ll find it on a separate page, here. It starts with the band’s first release in 1980 and goes up to 1991. I had to work hard to convince them to tell me the whole catalog; I think they had copyright concerns ;) I assured them that there’s nothing to worry about.

Neal tells me that at some point after he’s become comfortable playing rhythm guitar, he does some CCR covers with Star. He’s gotten so wrapped up in the project that when I listen to CCR, I can hear Star’s versions playing just underneath. It’s a weird effect, let me tell you. Just when I get a handle on the character voices in my head, I get fictional music playing along with the real stuff (insert googly-eyed smiley here!)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

what do you want and why do you want it?

Multitasking here; writing a blog post and working on my plot at the same time. You’ve probably heard it before—your Main Character needs to have a strong goal in order for the story to work and for readers to care about him. Case in point: the reason I have plot holes in my outline is because Neal does not have a strong enough goal that would drive the plot.

Don’t ask me why it took nearly three years to figure that out, but at least I realized it before cobbling together a shoddy plot then sending the manuscript out J

How do I find out what he wants? Why does he want it? One night, after having given up on the notion of sleep, I interviewed Neal to try to find out. He told me that beneath his hatred of his mother for abandoning him, he wants to know why a mother would leave her ten-year-old child to the clutches of a street gang.

With that as his original goal (the secondary goal being making a better life for himself), and seeing that Sandy has so many more resources than he ever did, he could become obsessed with finding out what happened to her. This of course leads to all sorts of questions I’ve barely started to realize—would the band’s “people” be able to find any trace of her? If not, how does the plot advance? My muse shakes her head at me:

“Come on, it’s obvious. By the time Neal moves in with the band, Lola’s been involved in Tony’s illegal activities for eight years. She doesn’t want any attention. So Tony would have to step in, leaving Neal with an ever-shifting series of tantalizing clues that may or may not be real.”

Well fine, I say, but how do you expect to pull that off? She just gives me that enigmatic smile. Maybe her name is really Mona Lisa.

So what I pull from this is to question your characters’ motives often. I thought that it was enough to show readers what an awful life Neal was stuck in. I forgot one of Art Edwards' valuable lessons—make your major characters more than you think they should be. Give them truly powerful motivations and they will drive your story. Art calls it “overshooting the runway”. He’s not only great for ways to bring a rock lit novel to life, he’s a straight-to-the-point, excellent general writing teacher. Best money I ever spent was for his class in Basement Writing Workshop!

I also want to say that this new goal of Neal’s makes me a little uncomfortable, because it changes the way he’s always been. However, changes are necessary to make the story better. It’s okay to need time to adjust yourself to character changes, but it’s really important to accept that sometimes big changes need to happen. Don’t let your attachment to anything keep your story from becoming the best it can be. Michelangelo saw the form of a finished sculpture while the marble was still uncut, but for most writers, it usually takes more work J

Friday, October 28, 2011

Reason vs justification

I want to say a few words on the idea that writers should be sure everything they include in their fiction is necessary, whether it's purpose is to move the plot forward or for  characterization.

It's related to my opinion that many unpublished writers don't have a lot of confidence in their ability. We don't have an automatic filter that lets us know what can stay and what doesn't need to be there. Most of us don't know anybody with editor training who can walk us through the process. Basically, we have to guess.

That leads us to worrying that we aren't explaining the characters clearly enough. We add on. We get sucked into that ubiquitous quicksand of characters and plot. We tell ourselves the MC's flashback to the time his sick puppy was kicked by the mailman is necessary to show why the MC is a twisted adult. It's showing, to boot, so of course the flashback is necessary.

Well, maybe, and maybe not. It's perilously easy to cross the line between what's necessary and what's justification.

My crit buddy told me that the fight scene between Razor and Coyote in my current draft of chapter one doesn't need to be that long. I have reasons why it's written that way, but his reaction makes me question whether those reasons are in fact justification.

Do I need to make the point that scene is there for? How would the story change if I did shorten it, or remove it? Is all that detail there because the truth is I think I did a great job on it?

I'll add that my local writers' group liked the fight, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't benefit from tweaking.

It's good to have self-confidence in what we write. It's even necessary in my opinion. It's got to stay manageable though. It's hard to write something we love (a phrase or a chapter) and then hear that people are not getting out of it what we intended. Really listen to yourself and your inner editor. If you find yourself offering reason after reason why you've included something, consider that maybe it needs to be changed. Ouch, I know.

Robert Kernen said that not every idea, not even every good one, needs to be included. I'd rather take out some stuff I like and have most people tell me they really enjoyed the whole work, than keep stuff I like and have readers point out bunches of stuff that didn't work for them.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Getting out of the "character comfort zone"

Sometimes I get so immersed in chapters of my WIP, and my main characters as they are in those chapters, that I have trouble remembering the characters are supposed to grow and change as the story progresses. When I think about the arc for each MC, I can see that change, but when I’m down in the trenches from chapter to chapter, it’s easy to get a handle on someone’s personality and then not want to struggle with changing it.

Of course, protagonists must have some degree of change. And for Street Glass, personality change for both Neal and Sandy is a major part of the plot. One way to keep from getting too comfortable with someone’s personality at any point in time is to jump ahead.

What I do for writing fun is think of an interaction I’ve never written out before; recently, it was events on the morning of Sandy’s wedding, and now I’m playing around with the evening of Neal’s first live show as second drummer. Neither of these may ever make it into any part of the novel. Critters may never see any version of them. But I write them mostly stream-of-consciousness style, with little thought to word choice, pacing, or those other things that tend to slow writers down. I just turn the characters loose and see what happens.

Not only is it incredibly fun (because there’s no pressure), scenes like that remind me of how the characters’ personalities change over time. Neal gets to a point where he eases from slangy English to grammatically correct English to slangy Spanish and back again, all in one paragraph, and Sandy has no trouble following his meaning. They’ve been through so much together that Sandy hardly even notices Neal’s language changes. However, in order for that to be plausible even in my own head, I have to show those changes happening gradually.

That keeps me focused on the chapters I know will be included in the novel. I tell myself that I’ll never be comfortable with those scenes that take place in the future if I don’t set them up right in the first place. Because I tend to be pretty literal and linear-minded, this works well for me.

By the time readers get to the end of your story, they should sense that your MC is not the same person he or she started out as. If you’re not sure that’s happening, or if critters are telling you they don’t think your major players have been affected by the big happenings, consider bouncing ahead several years. It make take you a few scenes to get the feel of how your character should have changed, but see what develops.

Don’t be afraid to get carried away. If you write enough future scenes that can be strung together, you might  do half the work for a sequel!

Friday, October 14, 2011

“Building Better Plots” by Robert Kernen, part 31

We’ve arrived at the final post in this series!

Kernen ends his book by giving a short rundown on non-traditional plots. He has concentrated on the usual ways plots are constructed—and published—and those probably do garner the most attention and sales. It makes sense, though, to at least be familiar with other ways of working. The best writing often uses bits of this and some of that in striking ways. You can’t do that if you only know one way to do it.

The epistolary novel and different ways of manipulating time are the two ideas he spends a fair amount of time on. As usual, he offers examples of works that have used each method. He suggests trying various twists on traditional plot construction to see if a stronger story emerges and just to improve your writing chops. He also suggested, earlier, to take all the index cards you’ve written your plot on, mix them up, then lay them out to see what you get. For some people, that’s going to be pretty tough to do. Mess with my plot? How dare you!

Yeah, guys, that’s the idea. It’s surprisingly simple to work yourself into writer’s blocks just because you think various things have to happen in certain ways. Writing is a creative process, so get creative!

Kernen then gathers all the exercises and quizzes together at the end, so you can have the tools all in one place as you go through your projects. I find that helpful. After that, he includes a glossary which is equally helpful. Things like “allegory”, “catharsis”, and “resonance” are briefly explained, as well as concepts like “conflict” and “raising the stakes”. If you’re going to talk about how to do anything, you ought to be sure everybody means the same thing when they use various terms.

In all, this is a darn useful book. The novel I’m working on is not really traditional, but I’ve gained a lot from Kernen’s methods. I’ve come back to the original idea that Neal’s and Sandy’s growth are the main focus. In other words, the rock-n-roll part of the story is part of the framework, not the plot itself. It’s a part that readers can see sometimes, but the details don’t matter as much as how the characters react.

I’m convinced that because all writers have trouble with various parts of their projects from time to time, that writers of any level will benefit from this book.

I recently got two books for research and started reading one, Street Wars by Tom Hayden. I’ll post a review of that at some point, plus I plan to read one of the rock lit novels out there and review that. Also, a member of my local writers’ group showed me a book on “creating original characters” that looks intriguing, so that may be on my “to review” list.

Thanks for coming along with me and Bob Kernen on the safari through plotting my novel! The process has to be internalized now. Feel free to add insights, tips on what works for you, or comments on failed efforts. We learn even when something bombs!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

pt 30 of Robert Kernen's "Building Better Plots"

Plot devices! Kernen says these are ways to focus the plot on the most important parts of characters’ lives, to clarify the context, or sharpen the story so that its fundamental meaning is well-defined—I like that. I think that’s just what I need to tackle the murky issue of Neal’s life during months-long tours.

The framing device. This is pretty much what it sounds like: circumstances and interactions happen at the start that we don’t fully understand, a narrator takes us back to where everything started and shows us how we got to that opening scene, and now we understand the connections and happenings. Kernen uses the example of the movie The Usual Suspects as one effective way the framing device has been used. I can see how some stories would gain excitement and tension from this device, but I don’t think it’s what my story needs.

The episodic plot. Kernen doesn’t really define this one, but says that this device is often used badly because the episodes are not well connected. He refers to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Each story is almost completely unrelated to the others. I personally think that something like the Tales remains popular partly because the society they show us is so different from what modern readers know. I do show glimpses of closed societies in Street Glass, but the differences are not as dramatic. Anyway, I don’t think an episodic form will work for my novel either.

The flashback. Yes, it’s true, the flashback is often a cliché. But the device can still have value if you use it right. Don’t stick one in just because you’ve thought of a clever way to ease into and out of it. The information you offer has to be important, and preferably, the flashback should be the best way to get that info out. Kernen relies on two movies for examples of this device, but I think that’s a failing. We’re talking about writing flashbacks so I’d much rather have an example of a book where that’s done well. I do have one flashback in an early chapter but I’m going to stop there. I think telling this story in a linear way will help readers experience the changes along with the characters.

Parallel stories. Kernen says you need balance and timing to pull this off. I can see how it could be tricky. You don’t want to confuse readers but parallel stories can add depth and tension. I could say that Sandy’s changes parallel Neal’s as the story progresses, though both characters change because of their interaction with each other. There’s no separation in time or location. I’m sure that many fiction pieces use more than one of these plot devices.

It occurs to me that my original pile of individual scenes could be considered an episodic plot form. As Kernen mentions can happen, they were too loosely connected in that form to make a coherent story.

Kernen points out that the way to use any plot device successfully is to let it happen. Trying to force something onto the characters never works. For example, the first couple of times I posted early chapters of Street Glass to Critique Circle, readers complained that Sandy seemed too nice. Why did he offer to help Neal, who had nearly killed him? Sandy only had one dimension and it wasn’t even an appropriate one for the situation.

In Art Edwards’ Rock And Roll Writing course through Basement Writing, we were challenged to get to know our characters better. I combined this with an exercise designed to help us create compelling characters. We were told to write about an alcoholic coming home for Thanksgiving. I discovered that Sandy had a cousin who resented his success and blamed him for her life falling apart; when she died, he shouldered the blame. With Neal, Sandy sees another young person whose life is out of control. By helping Neal, Sandy hopes to right a wrong and maybe put his cousin’s memory to rest. Now Sandy isn’t just Mr. Nice Guy, he has a personal reason for helping Neal. That background info comes out in a flashback.

Next post in this series is the last! I discuss the final sections of the book and wrap up my impressions of the whole work, and add some comments on other stuff coming down the pike for me.

Friday, September 30, 2011

“Building Better Plots”, part 29 by Robert Kernen

In chapter 9, Kernen gets into the nitty gritty of using the 3 x 5 index cards to complete my plot outline. He seems to expect that once I write out all my plot points, major and minor, and include blank cards for spots that I know need tweaking, I’ll be able to see and solve plot problems. He talks about writing the plot as fully as I can in outline format on a bunch of index cards then laying them out to study how the plot threads interact.

Well, okay, but I am not going to be able to fine tune my plot at that stage. I consider the nature of an outline to be an abbreviated form; therefore, I’m not going to see everything that needs tweaking or tossing until I flesh out each scene.

But that doesn’t mean using index cards is nonproductive. I cobbled together an outline on the computer, including spots where I’m unsure how to handle a scene, and adjusted the margins so I could fit individual plot points onto 3 x 5 cards. I haven’t printed them onto the cards yet because as I continue to read the book, I get possible ideas for spots where I’m stuck.

I do think that even without fine tuning my plot in outline form, being able to physically see what I do have all laid out in front of me will be helpful. I’ll get a good sense of how the major points fit together, and where subplots would be effective. I have enough of the plot to know that some areas are still weak.

Kernen suggests something to help in finding hidden connections: once you have the index cards printed out and in the order you think they should go, number them, then shuffle them like a deck of cards. Lay them out one at a time and see if any adjacent cards trigger new themes or make connections clear.

Yeah, I’m gonna pass on that, at least for now. I’ve already moved stuff around to the point of knowing which major points need to stay together and which are subject to being moved again. But I’ll keep the technique in mind in case I get stymied along the way.

In chapter 10, Kernen talks about the movie Rain Man and how the physical road traveled by the brothers is a metaphor for several things, as well as a simple and effective way to physically move the characters. This is encouraging. In my own story, Neal travels roads of various lengths which mirror his personal development. He eventually journeys around the world and always comes home to the same city, but a different neighborhood than where he grew up. Psychologically, he becomes more of a well-rounded person though he still has tendencies that make him wonder how much he’s really changed.

Kernen’s certainly right that having unifying elements throughout a story help give it depth and power. He refers to how James Michener uses places essentially as characters in his novels, and how that enriches the entire tale. Okay, I don’t expect that I’m going to write something that will be compared to Michener, but it’s a good point.

In a more distant way, Los Angeles might be seen as a character in Street Glass, or maybe several characters. Some neighborhoods shape the lives of residents and hold them there, while other areas encourage freedom. Neal’s basic personality was formed in the barrio—once he gets out of that stagnant atmosphere, how much is he able to change himself, and change society?

This is fun! I like thinking about broad themes. It gives me a sense of direction not just for the characters, but the story as a whole.

Next post: breaking down the usual ways to work a plot. Part 30 is the penultimate segment in this series!

Friday, September 23, 2011

“Building Better Plots” by Robert Kernen, part 28

Kernen’s idea for using 3x5 cards to list scenes and plot points seems to be a good idea. Since I’m well along in the plot process though, I’ll have to tweak his method. He says not to worry if you feel that some scenes or plot points need to be connected but you don’t know how yet; just put in one or more blank cards as placeholders.

He has a series of questions to help you decide if something’s missing in your plot. For example, how’s the level of tension; are major plot points spaced properly; and is something needed to keep or perfect the overall story’s pacing.

These and the other questions are not ones I feel capable of answering. If I knew those things, I wouldn’t need help with plotting. But then, I’ve never worked with an editor or agent, so maybe once that happens I’ll gain new skills that will allow me to see those issues myself. I’ll keep my fingers crossed J

As I create more scenes for major plot points, I’ll become aware of the story’s rhythm? Well, Robert, I’m not so sure, because I’ve worked through dozens of complete scenes since beginning this adventure, and I haven’t any idea of how the pacing or the rhythm are. The more I read about “how to write”, the more I feel that some of the things I’m “supposed to” be aware of are things that my subconscious may know, but my conscious brain just doesn’t have the room.

I think I understand what Kernen means by plot points being spaced properly. Major scenes shouldn’t happen too close together or too far apart because that will feel stilted and unnatural.

I guess what I’m having the biggest problem with as I go through this book is that it’s aimed at a huge group of writers (as in, anybody who buys the book). The best thing about having a teacher or editor work with you is that they focus on your story. They give advice for your issues. So, I’m very much looking forward to the new online writing course I’ve started.

I’ve interrupted my process with Kernen’s book because this online course came up. It’s called “Laws of Motion: Plotting the Compelling Story” and it’s through Writer U on Yahoo! groups. The instructor is Laura Baker. So far, I like the course because Laura is forcing the students to focus on what’s really important for our plots. Unpublished and therefore inexperienced writers (like me) have a tendency to think everything should be included in our plots. But like Kernen says, not every idea needs to go in. We need help deciding exactly what it is we’re trying to say, and the best way to say it.

An interesting idea that Baker puts forward is that the main character’s basic nature drives his choice of actions, which drive the plot. She forced me to pin down one protagonist; it was easy enough to say that Neal goes through the biggest changes and causes the most important plot points to happen. What’s harder is identifying his basic nature. Baker suggested that it could be he fears being vulnerable. While that’s true, I do feel that alone doesn’t adequately describe his basic nature. Like people in real life, Neal is complex and he sometimes acts in contradictory ways. But I’m far from done with the course!

In my next post on “Building Better Plots”, James Michener makes an appearance, in a sense!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Robert Kernen’s “Building Better Plots”, part 27

Well, regardless of who’s right about the definition of “interpolation”, Kernen says something pretty helpful about how to solve plot gaps. He says to put plot points on an arc, wherever you think it makes the most sense for each scene to fall. If you have two scenes that you don’t know how to bridge, consider the plot arc they form. What characters are necessary to move the plot to that empty place? You want to raise the tension a little from the previous scene, but not so much that readers are jarred.

If you have a blank space following two scenes, think about those two scenes. Look at the plot arc. What elements do you need to build tension and drama that will reach the next scene? What will raise the tension a bit from the last scene? What subplot needs development?

These are all great hints to help me get past that block of “what happens during these world tours.”

Kernen suggests using 3 x 5 index cards to write your plot points, because the cards are small enough to move around very easily yet are roomy enough to write a fair amount of scene information. He says the biggest problem he’s found with computer outline programs is that he can’t see the whole plot on a single screen, and that’s something I’ve thought about before.

If you aren’t bothered by how much you can see on a computer screen, and you find a program that lets you move plot information around to your satisfaction, run wild. I love computers (though I do wish programs were more customizable and I wish “in the background” online stuff really would be in the *background*), but for fiction writing, I need to see the whole picture as well as the parts. Currently my outline is just a straight listing of events in a word processing document because that’s a simple format I can manipulate, but it does have that visual limitation.

You guys born and raised in the digital age, don’t knock pen and paper! There was even a time when people didn’t leave the house with a phone. The authors of classic fiction from the 1800s wrote their drafts either in longhand or on a manual typewriter. The simplicity of paper has advantages. And besides, if you never hold a brand-new *book* in your hands, you miss that unique and special scent that whispers, “Fresh paper, just feel how soft I am, ahhh, a new story!”

Of course, one could argue that paper books are not ecologically sound, but that’s beyond my little blog. Which, ironically, is totally digital.

Anyway: Remember that writing advice is just that: guidance, suggestions. If you find a way of doing any part of the process that gets you to the end product better, go with that. No two writers work exactly alike. I am finding a bunch of advice that does work well for me, however, so it makes sense to start with that and adapt as you find necessary. Chances are you already have occasional “writer’s block” or “dry spells” or whatever, so don’t add to your stress by thinking that this or that method is the only way.

Having done a first draft, and therefore collected a large number of scenes big and small, I’ll need to adapt Kernen’s suggestions for working with a 3 x 5 card system. But, I’ll read through the section on using the cards and I’ll get back to you with thoughts on how I (and maybe you) can use the system.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Robert Kernen’s “Building Better Plots”, part 26

I’m a little annoyed with Kernen’s chapter on constructing an outline. Funny, that’s what I’ve been waiting for, and he starts out telling me some things he’s already mentioned, and telling me other things too cryptic to be of use.

He says that to build an outline, I should decide how the story ends and start there. Well, he’s previously given exercises on plots, so by now I have a bunch of plot points that span the novel. He tells me to focus on the climax scene and list all the elements that need to converge in that moment: which characters need to be present (I’ve done that) and which points need to be cemented in that scene. Well, but I won’t know *all* of them until I know how the story plays out. Unexpected themes and plot twists happen while I’m capturing scenes, so I can’t project that far ahead.

I suspect there’s a boatload of themes, metaphors and motifs in Street Glass, because they intertwine and some are subtle. Aren’t those terms synonymous in this context? I know many of the themes I want to explore, but as I see it after having done a first draft, some of them are *felt* rather than *heard* in the climax, to use a music comparison/metaphor/trope/thing.

For example, by the time I get to the scene with Neal and his mother Lola where they talk about his past and his future, readers should realize that Neal feels his past is smothering him without my having to be blatant about it. It’s a gradual build-up.

Neal struggled to make a good life once he got away from the gang. Attempts on his life were made. He overcame racial and social prejudice. He gave up a safe, private life to co-run a public, non-profit group that works to prevent kids from turning to drugs and gangs. He thought that at long last, his past no longer had a hold on him.

But then he’s caught in a riot and picked up by cops who think he’s just another troublemaker because he looks the part. He’s tossed in a holding cell with gangbangers and miscellaneous rabble-rousers. That’s bad enough. Then his biological father Tony (whom Neal hates) shows up. A brawl breaks out in the holding cell, and Neal is handcuffed, his ankles are chained together and he’s tossed onto a plane. He winds up clear across the country, where he doesn’t know anybody. He’s now battered and at the mercy of a father who has already made it clear that his only interest in Neal is to get money from him.

Locked in a lightless room, Lola visits him, the mother who abandoned him as a child. By this point, readers should realize that when I say he finds it hard to get enough air, it’s not just because there are no windows. Realizing that Lola is the only person who can free him makes everything worse. When Neal gets his hands on Tony and nearly strangles him, readers should understand why.

So I guess I’ve already got the bones of the climax scene. I know generally what leads up to it.

This is kind of funny: Kernen says that one way to bridge the gap between the inciting incident and the climax is through interpolation, which he defines as “predicting the location of something by knowing two points, one on either side of it.” But the dictionary in my word processor defines it as to “insert something into something else: to add one thing, often an unnecessary item, between the existing parts of something else.”

Contradictory information even at the most basic level! I’ll say it yet again people wonder why writers drink!

Coming up: the physical side of outlines, and I don’t mean the “word” part.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Bob Kernen's "Building Better Plots", part 25

This comment scares me. A “vast, complete knowledge of the world in which you are working will help you to avoid making poor decisions or untenable leaps of logic.” I get the point that the more the writer knows about the universe she/he is writing in, the better the story will be, but I’ve also read comments from published authors who say that a particular plot point or theme didn’t appear until the story was being written.

As in most (if not all) writing advice, I guess it depends on the specifics of your story and maybe somewhat on your way of working. All this “it depends” can get annoying. After all, why read advice if it can’t help you with specifics? It does, but you have to think about it. I’ve signed up for my third writing course so I do believe in getting advice. I’ll have to look at what I’m being told and see how it applies to my situation. Yes, sigh all you want, learning how to write well is cerebral and usually not quick.

I’ve discovered that just because most of the characters in my WIP have been in my head for a few decades, I didn’t necessarily *know* them. When I wrote out exploratory scenes and filled out character profiles, I discovered things I had no idea about. I knew Sandy liked his Ferrari, but I didn’t realize that when he got his first one, he went tearing all over the county and wound up in the Angeles Forest where he smashed into a guard rail. Despite his main quirk of being naïve, this also shows he does sometimes take chances. So, it is in fact realistic that he wants to take a chance on helping Neal.

My only concern is the idea that getting to know characters can be done in a few writing sessions. Maybe some people can work that way, but I think what worked for me are the dozens of scenes I wrote over a few years. Every new situation I explored showed more of each character’s personality. The characters evolved one way, but I realized that wasn’t realistic, and so I had to change things up. The guys in the band, originally, were too nice to each other. Sure, they’re friends, but they spend so much time together that it’s natural for nerves to fray and arguments to explode.

At first, it felt wrong to introduce a bunch of changes. I didn’t want to change characters’ fundamental natures. Now that I’ve had time to adjust to that idea, I see that I’ve simply enhanced their personalities. I always knew that Eric came from a religious family that he felt was too restrictive, and then I discovered that his family ran a mission/soup kitchen in the Denver area. He saw a lot of the dark side of life there. Being front man for the band is how he distances himself from his past. Of the band members, he reacts the strongest to Neal showing up at the band’s house because of his own background.

I discovered Sandy had a relative who resented his success because she couldn’t seem to get her life together; he felt tremendous guilt when she died an alcoholic. That makes him more than just a nice guy trying to do a good deed for Neal, it gives him an emotional connection to Neal. Those are concepts a lot of people can relate to.

So don’t be afraid to change your characters to bring out drama and realism. Delve deep and see what happened in their childhood, teen years, and early working life. Take a seed idea, plant in a big pot, water with “what if”, and then let the result break out of the pot. Climb that beanstalk and see where you wind up. I’ll bet you have great fun!

When my series resumes, I’ll touch on themes and the climax.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Some help from "The Farmer's Daughter"

Hot damn. I downloaded Fleetwood Mac’s 1980 “Live” album; I bought the LP when it first came out so I knew what it's like. But I haven’t heard any of the tracks in several years and I’d forgotten what a tight, top-notch, truly professional band those guys were. Because this is my blog, I’m going to rave about it. --A little, and then I’ll connect it to writing. Really!

You’d think a live “Rhiannon” when Stevie Nicks’ vocal prowess was at its peak would be the point at which I lost awareness of the room and whatever I was doing. No, it was the two-and-a-half-minute rendition of “The Farmer’s Daughter”. It’s a simple, rhythm-laden version with vocal harmonies so flawless and sweet that I’m quite sure my eyes glazed over. I’ve always thought that song was something special, but since delving much more deeply into music when I got serious about writing my novel, I’ve become more acoustically sensitive, or something. I hear instruments I never knew were there, I feel things in songs that my ears don’t pick up (which I understand is what a lot of music producers intended), and generally enjoy what I listen to a whole lot more.

(And I know that plenty of people already appreciate music this way. I don’t mean to imply that I’ve acquired some special power, here.)

Find that song online, put on a kick-ass headset, and just listen. Guitar and bass whup up and down like rubber bands the size of the Earth. There’s a shaker hissing in there and Mick manages to thump the drums gently. I think it’s Lindsey, Stevie, and Christine singing. No one voice stands out. They blend so very perfectly it sounds like totally different people (at least to me). I put this on repeat and trance out. The overall tone is soft and breezy with a bit of wickedness from the rhythm section. It beats in my ears and my gut like my own heart.

Now, this sort of examination helps in my WIP, because I’m writing about musicians. There are times when the storytelling segues into “music telling”. I’d love to have readers click a button in the e-reader version of my book and hear the music as they read about it, but that probably ain’t gonna happen. Therefore, I have to write as clearly as I can especially about those parts so readers can hear something in their heads.

You can benefit from that sort of observing. Pay attention to how different people speak; you’ll hear different accents and cadences. This is endlessly helpful for tips on how to make your characters sound different from each other. Think about how you’d write out slangy speech, for example, and how much or little to change it so readers consider it unique but not annoying. Think about tone and timbre of voice.

An easier one is to study how people dress. Practice describing them. What is it about one person that draws your eye but not somebody else? Does one person seem to stand taller, move more confidently, project an air of meaning business? How detailed can you get describing that person? How much can you then cut out but still get across a basic of sense of the person?

Sharpen your ability to see unexpected connections between things. Study everything, no matter how small. The process as I describe it does rely on eyesight, but I am confident that sight-impaired people are just as capable of “looking at” things in unique ways. As a writer, you have a superpower—a potent imagination that can turn you into a fly on any wall.

I’ve never been backstage at a rock show. I’ve done some research, but it’s not easy for me to find out the sort of details that would make it sound like I hang around backstage all the time. So, I have to work harder. As I do research reading, I picture things in as much detail as I can. I grab everything I read and drop it into my muse’s Magickal Crockpot. It simmers together continuously underneath my conscious mind. When I sit down to write, stuff pops out of that Crockpot.

Music has a way of freeing our emotions and our minds. The next time you find you’re really stuck on a scene or on characterization, get out your i-pod or other portable music, queue up your favorites, and go people-watch. Become a sponge. Be alert to the interesting, the thought-provoking, the different, the beautiful. Feel impressions sink down into you. Eat, nap, repeat. You’ll know when your cauldron of impressions has a batch of “alphabet soup” ready to go!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

What! I have to meet your eyes when I crit your piece?

I joined a local writers’ group! A physical, face-to-face group, not another online one. I plan to stay active on Critique Circle, because I get some good feedback and I enjoy that particular online community. But let me say a few words about the value of live interaction.

Those of you born into the electronic age, for whom social networks have become the main way of keeping in touch, allow me to say that you’re missing out. When all you have is text, you don’t get facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice. It’s the reason that some innocent posts are misinterpreted and start a flame war. When you have to look somebody in the eyes and say what you think of their writing—that very personal part of themselves—it’s different than hiding behind your laptop.

No more grimacing and eye rolling but then saying, “I loved your piece”. Of course not everybody is going to be totally honest in this context, but then humans are like that. I just think the interaction encourages a sense of togetherness and empathy that you don’t feel when texting and posting.

This local group meets in a coffee house. The ambiance, for me, is similar to that of an old, beautiful library. We sit around a real wooden table with our favorite drinks, maybe a snack, and dig into some writing. We’re surrounded by beautiful wall art, classy light fixtures, windows looking out at a busy intersection. Last time, we critted a short poem, and some members said they thought the single punctuation—a period at the end of the last line—should be deleted, and others said they thought it could stay but commas could be added elsewhere. Someone said that the lone period seemed to enhance the poem’s feeling of alone-ness. We looked to the author for clarification, and he shrugged and said “It’s just a period.”

How cool is it that one period can cause so many different opinions? Writing is so wonderful because the same thing can have as many meanings as there are readers. Sculpture, music, painting, and other forms are the same way. Art truly lifts us above the mundane.

I’m not sure that interaction would’ve happened the same way online. Face-to-face, you get lightning conversation. When everybody is respectful, you see a lot of light bulbs go off, one after the other and sometimes all at once. Trust me, it’s faster than texting.

I kind of laugh at myself, because in general, I don’t prefer groups. I’m waaay more confident when I don’t have to meet somebody’s eyes. But here, among people who share my most basic urge, I’m settling in faster than I would in other places.

Anybody who hasn’t tried being in a writers’ group, do a Google search and see if you can’t find one. You may decide it’s not for you after you go to some meetings. That’s fine. There is, of course, no set-in-stone way to get crits and improve your writing. This is, however, a time-honored way to bounce your ideas off people who share your love of words.

Keep your Facebook account, keep posting in your online crit group, but find some room in your life for live action. The nitty-gritty part of writing does happen alone; even if you do it in a crowded room, you’re the only one in your own head with your characters. I feel I write best when totally alone. Finding what doesn’t work often requires other eyes and that’s where crit groups are invaluable. I love seeing that spark of “I really get what you’re saying!” there on somebody’s face.

I do have one caveat for my comment on art and the mundane. The crazy conglomeration of life-size canoes in front of a local art museum just makes me scratch my head. Oh, and the weird yellow-orange thing that looks for all the world like a giant cheese curl? I much prefer the statue of David.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

"Building Better Plots" by Robert Kernen, part 24

Still grappling with the issue of those two world tours Neal comes along for, and how they should be represented in my manuscript. I’ve been stuck on the questions “What happens to the main characters during those tours? How can events during the tours advance the plot?” Maybe I’ve been stuck inside that “what happens?” box.

In chapter 7 Kernen says that “creating good plots is distilling a character’s life down to just the good stuff.” Recently, I’ve begun thinking that maybe it’s really not so important to show the details of those tours; maybe what I really need to show are the results, the impact on Neal’s character. Maybe some entries from his journal can be blended with interpersonal scenes that could happen anywhere in the world. That would allow me to focus on what happens between characters without having to fret over what goes on behind the scenes on tours.

“…Pull the noteworthy events together to become the major plot points of the story.” Ha! Really? But that’s sort of what I started out doing: only writing pivotal scenes involving the same set of characters. I didn’t think at all about how to bridge the scenes to make a coherent story.

I have a feeling Kernen is not telling me it’s okay to string together (mostly related) scenes and call it a novel. Darn.

Narrowing the scope of a story is one way to distill events. In my case, I’ve finally decided where the story should end, so where should it begin? I don’t think readers will be able to appreciate Neal’s changes unless they see what his life was like before he met Sandy. That’s not a failing on the readers’ part, it’s simple logic. So I can give a definite start point and end point now — yay!

I’m very interested in Kernen’s example of the movie Two for the Road. He says it’s about the disintegrating marriage of a couple, as shown through the prism of their yearly trip to the south of France. Viewers get to watch the couple without the distractions of friends or family, and they get to see how the couple changes over the course of the annual trip.

That’s a brilliant idea, if you want the focus of the story to be on the couple. I’m pretty much focusing on a couple too. Therefore, I should be able to show that while keeping other parts of their lives in the background. Theoretically, anyway!

I’m still needled by the idea that all of Neal’s experiences once he leaves the gang contribute to his development, and therefore need to be shown. But another little voice whispers that I should remember Kernen’s statement that not every idea, not even every good one, needs to be included. I need to keep the spotlight on what’s *important*.

Geez, this is slow. It’s late June and I’m not done with my plot. Well-crafted stories don’t write themselves! A look at any first draft will confirm that.

Next time — write yourself a beanstalk!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

pt 23 of "Building Better Plots", by Robert Kernen

At the end of Part 22, I said I’d be back with a clearer idea of where to end the story and what to include in what I will call the first book. I’m going to write it with enough stuff hinted at for the future that a second book will be possible.

Ending Book One is a matter of acceptance. My gut is telling me where the climax is. Trying to turn another scene into the climax will only mess things up for the reader. I still have to decide what to include in the resolution, but that can wait. I can live with that.

On to Part Two of Kernen’s book: Building the Plot. Kernen says that, over time, plot archetypes have developed. That makes sense, since there are character archetypes. I think plot archetypes are related to genre. He says that these archetypes help writers, because:

  • they offer a solid foundation with a “sub-frame” on which to build the story (there are some things the writer won’t have to make up or research exhaustively);
  • writers “can assume a certain body of knowledge on the part of the audience” (they’ve probably read similar stories and will be familiar with certain concepts).
Readers benefit from the patterns also because they can “more easily follow the story and understand the underpinnings of it.”

For the purposes of his book, he uses nine types:

The quest

Kernen offers a list of criteria and examples of stories for each archetype, in addition to an in-depth discussion of each type and why they work so well. I like this approach, but I have a problem with some of the examples he uses. Some authors of “how-to” books for writers stress classic novels as resources, but frankly, I don’t think the classics are that much help. I need to know how to apply these lessons with modern writing conventions. I don’t want to hear, “Your writing would fit right in with Shakespeare’s contemporaries. But we don’t publish that.”

Maybe this is why successful authors are often asked “What do you like to read?” The masses of unpublished writers assume that if they want to write kind of like Stephen King, and King likes another particular writer, that writer must “know how to write.” Maybe that person’s style is a bit more accessible to us than King’s.

I started to worry about seeing so many of these archetypes throughout my own WIP, but Kernen seems to imply that’s a good thing. What a relief.

Next installment talks about keeping a spotlight on without using a wash over the whole stage. Now that’s an appropriate metaphor!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Come bloom with us

Okay, I admit it: I live in Buffalo, New York. Yeah, okay, it gets cold here sometimes (but we hit 95 degrees F last week). Yeah, the local economy has been depressed since well before the recent national financial woes. But you know what we do have, that other people wish they had? Garden Walk Buffalo.

The 17th annual walk is this weekend. It's not the only garden walk in our town, but it's the largest and best attended. According to this article in The Buffalo News, people not just from coast to coast are saying the garden walk is fabulous, people come here from other countries to see our gardens. The part I love best, maybe, is that organizers in Cleveland were so impressed that they modeled their own garden walk after ours.

Ha! Take that, Clevelanders.

Seriously, the event is something that people have begun to plan their vacations around. Many of the gardens are in historic neighborhoods with beautiful old homes, but many are also part of smaller properties. The vast majority of participants do not use professional landscaping services. All that blooming beauty comes about because the homeowners love to garden.

That, friends, is more than 350 gardeners who invite literally thousands of people to view their handiwork. Some folks offer cold drinks to the walkers (for a small fee). Check out the official Garden Walk website.

Hey, next year, swing by yourself! I guarantee you, you haven't seen anything quite like it. "Screamin' color" is an apt description. If you wear a CC t-shirt, wave at anybody who looks owly, and maybe I'll wave back :)

Friday, July 22, 2011

What's this post about?

I’m halfway along my month-long course through WriterU on Yahoo! groups. The course is called “Laws of Motion: Plotting the Compelling Story” and the instructor is Laura Baker.

Maybe I really am a character in somebody else’s story. If stories are about characters going through struggles and learning something, I sure am struggling, so the learning part must be around the corner!

I’m having trouble with describing Neal’s basic nature, and with pinning down what my story is about (and what it’s *really* about, Laura makes a distinction).

One of the reasons it’s hard is that I’m not sure what aspects of someone’s personality make up their basic nature. To me, at this point in my WIP’s development, at the start of it all Neal *wants* a better life but feels helpless to go after it. He says it’s because life conspires to keep him in the barrio, but secretly he’s afraid that he’s really just a gangbanger at heart, nothing more.

I could say that my story is about discovering that while none of us is perfect, we all deserve a life worth living. Or, as Neal puts it, “Live like you mean it.” Or maybe the story’s about:
  • The way we grew up doesn’t have to pigeonhole us for our entire lives (or, as Lola puts it, “You are more than where you came from”)
  • Finding inner strength when we think we’re least able to find it.
  • The blooms of friendship and love make their thorns worthwhile.
See, most stories are “about” more than one thing. That’s why reading is so wonderful. I think my story Street Glass is about certain things, but readers may think it’s about other things – and they’d be right. Good stories are about lots of things, minor and major.

Laura says that your story is about what your main characters has to *do*, his struggle. What it’s *really* about is the personal discovery that character makes because of the struggle. I think I’ve got that right.

So, my WIP could be about a young man (if you hear a sound at this point, it’s Neal. He always laughs when I refer to him as a “young man”) struggling with wanting a better life but feeling that fate has decreed he can never be anything but a street thug.

And the story could *really* be about any of those things listed above.

This is why some people pay fat bucks for an editor: personalized attention, narrow focus on *your* story. *sigh* I miss the days when somebody in the biz would spot potential in a writer and help them develop that into a successful first novel. It just figures that that blew over before I got serious about being published.

Am I gonna give up? No. Why not? Because Neal has important things to say, and I’m the only one who can help him with that. I’m glad he picked me J

Sunday, July 17, 2011


A big welcome to Sunburstcp! I'm so glad you joined our little group, and hope to see a comment or two from ya.

I have the feeling I've forgotten to say Hi to somebody else, so if that's you, please know I didn't mean to overlook you. As the Rolling Stones so aptly put it, "What a drag it is getting old!"

Friday, July 15, 2011

Bob Kernen's "Building Better Plots", part 22

In discussing how to construct an effective climax in chapter 5, Kernen says that when many authors reach that point in their stories, they’re tempted to throw in every additional problem they’ve thought of (and maybe couldn’t work in earlier).  They think that tossing in new stuff heightens the drama.  All that manages to happen is that the moment they’ve spent 75% of the novel building up to becomes muddy with so much happening, and readers trying to figure out where all this new stuff came from.

Sometimes writers will find new connections to earlier plot points when they’re working through the climax. Then, they put things in because it seems to add dimension to the climax. Usually that just results in the same confusion.

I need to sit with my outline and pinpoint the climax, because right now it could be either of these moments:

  • Neal and his mother have a conversation about their lives
  • Sandy and friends break Neal out of the place he’s locked up in and Neal tries to kill his father

Either could have enough emotional drama to be the climax.  I’m tending toward the second scene, however. But again, more stuff happens after that, and it’s absolutely critical to Neal’s character development. I am waffling over whether or not to include the scene where Neal confronts the mayor and shames him into agreeing to tour some of the barrios still scarred from  rioting. If I show some of the actual touring, that will illuminate the social theme of the novel as well as show the kind of man Neal’s grown into.

Decisions, decisions. What is the point of highest emotion? Where do the threads come together? I have to laugh. Kernen says that “not every idea, not even every good one, has a place in a given story”. Do I have to throw out some of my plot? I’m between a rock and a particularly hard place here, because this is my first effort at publication. If I had at least one successful thing out there, I would have a bit more leeway with how long the novel is. I could work on getting something else published first, but that would take additional months (if not years). The longer the themes in “Street Glass” go without light shed on them, the less interested people may be. 

Mainly though, I’ve spent the past two years on this project, and while I don’t feel that would become wasted time if I moved to something else, I have the momentum to keep going.

In order to sort this out, I’ve written a summary of the scene involving Neal and his parents, starting when Neal’s swept up in the L.A. rioting and ending at LaGuardia airport in New York City . In that short summary, I can easily sense rising tension, a climax, then a wrap-up. That’s disappointing, because so much could happen after that! Well, how necessary is that stuff?

I’ll adjourn here to hash this out on my own time. I *will* resolve the issue before the next post in this series. J

Saturday, July 9, 2011

"Building Better Plots" by Robert Kernen, pt 21

Kernen compares writing to music, which really resonates with me. I’ve realized that point before. Each has its own sort of rhythm and guidelines; each requires its artists to tune in to their own creative process. Just as some musical effects are meant to be felt rather than heard, some writing effects are meant to impact readers subconsciously.

There’s “sledgehammer” writing and there’s metal music. There are stories you could describe as love songs, and there are ballads in music. Lots of similarities. As I’ve paid close attention to some songs with lyrics I particularly admire, I’ve come to realize how hard it must be to write a few lines that can only fill a 2 to 4 minute slot, leave room for music, yet impact listeners deeply. (Okay party songs are probably easier as far as lyrics, but then you’ve got to come up with punchy, edgy, or danceable music.) You think writing 70,000 coherent and striking words, put together in a unique way, is tough? Try to create a tiny story using form guidelines that fits into a 2 to 4 minute timeframe, has music with a strong hook, and present that in a unique way. And rhyme it, too! I’ve written things I think of as lyrics, though I’ve never written music, and I can tell you—sometimes (like fiction writing) it flows out of you already put together, other times you have to rehash and put everything back in the blender. Fiction writers haven’t cornered the market on doing something difficult with words.

I just needed to say that. It helps me feel connected to writers of various kinds. A lot of people have published books, some that might have benefited from further editing that became big sellers anyway, and a lot of people have written songs that don’t especially move me but get bunches of people up and dancing. If they can succeed, I can too. I’m putting effort into succeeding.

Anyway. Kernen says that just as musicians learn the time signature of a piece of music, writers can learn to “hear” the rhythm of their own stories. Finding that rhythm helps you to keep things moving forward and does help you find the best places to put plot points. I worried about having Neal at home for six months without the band, because I was afraid I didn’t have compelling enough plot points to carry that much time. I was afraid of breaking the rhythm by not having him continue to interact with the other major characters.

Then I realized that he doesn’t just sit there thinking the whole time, he interacts with other people. Plus, the band sort of shows up for radio interviews, then physically shows up when they decide to move to another house. Each appearance is brief but reminds readers what those characters are like.

Kernen suggests some exercises for finding fiction rhythm. Take several short stories, and write down each major plot point and when it occurs. Notice how much distance is between them, and the intensity of the points.

Move on to plays or novels. Make note of each major point, but before you reach the climax, try to predict when it’ll happen.

Take the same novel or play and try to tune in to its rhythm. See if you can figure out how the author controls the rhythm to keep readers on their toes and on the edge of their seats.

I recommend doing that. Having said that, I’m not going to do it right now, because I feel it would throw me off the rhythm of working on my plot. I’m in a groove now and I can sense that too long an interruption will spoil it. But it’s helpful to study successful works. Published authors continue to read, partly for that reason. They know they can always improve.

The rhythm of this blog series continues next time with thoughts on endings—when to apply the brakes to a runaway muse train.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

pt 20 of Robert Kernen's "Building Better Plots"

Who’s seen the Bela Lugosi version of the movie Dracula? I absolutely love it. I’ve seen it a couple dozen times. Even though I know exactly what’s going to happen, I watch anyway, because of the way suspense is handled. Since it’s a visual medium, I feel the creepiness even when none of the characters talk. The physical set, gestures and expressions are exquisite. Lugosi’s “I never drink . . . wine” is in my top 3 list of favorite movie lines.

Way harder to do in a written medium. If we wanted to do something easy, we’d take up flower arranging. Kernen reminds us that suspense is necessary to a great dramatic story, but we have to be very careful with it. Too much suspense and readers feel continually on edge. Too little of course doesn’t work either. If you increase suspense at the wrong time, the natural flow of the story is interrupted and readers may be tossed out of the story. Back to juggling on that tightrope again.

Kernen says a couple very important things about suspense. “Creating suspense is all about revealing part of the picture . . . Knowing a little bit about a situation, an audience will almost always desire to know more . . .”

And: “Suspense is also the clever balance of timing. It is giving the audience a piece of information and then knowing just how long you can keep them waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

Ways of doing this are the “time bomb”; the “puzzle”; and “truncating”, where you start a scene after some major event has happened or end the scene before that event occurs. An example of “truncating” is showing a couple in a heated argument and one pulls a gun. Then you cut to another scene where the character who was threatened is noticeably missing. Did the person get killed or not? Imagine the suspense if said character is your MC.

This is something I’ll have to work on a little at a time. I have some plot points that lend themselves to building suspense, but doing so I think isn’t something I can describe beforehand. It’s a very fine line. Some readers will “get it”, some will probably wish I’d hurry up, and some may think I’m going too fast. I won’t have specific examples for using suspense until I get to chapters where it’s relevant.

Kernen does recommend planting the seed of suspense that will carry readers to the climax early, even before the inciting incident. I can do that with Neal thinking about life with Trist outside of the gang, then dismissing the thought because he’ll never be free of the gang. Readers will remember that when Sandy offers to help Neal.

Also, the way I set up Neal’s eventual decision to leave the gang, I include a mention that the gang *will* try to kill him once they realize he’s left, so that bit of suspense always hangs over the characters and the readers.

That’s just one thread of tension. I’ll need to bring others out to keep readers immersed.

Ah, I thought of another example, using the “truncating” technique. I’ve discovered that Neal breaks out of rehab with his friend but then rethinks the move. I plan to drop the scene at that point, then switch to Sandy’s POV where he hears that Neal has returned to rehab.

Awesome. The more I read in Kernen’s book, the stronger my feeling gets that I’m solidly on the right track. But the devil is in the details, so I don’t expect everything to come easy from now on.

Next post, swinging to the rhythm.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Guest post: Success is a multi-faceted word

A guest post from Kathy Bennett, who recently self-published her first book. I think everybody, non-writers included, can gain some inspiration from this tenacious lady :) Her post is a bit long, but it's worth the read. Those of us who think 'Oh my life is so busy, I'll never be able to get anything published, I don't have time to put into writing' will learn a thing or two.

I'm excited to help get the word out about her book. You can see the trailer for her novel on Youtube:  A Dozen Deadly Roses .
Kathy's blog is at Pay her a visit!

From LAPD Cop to Author

I was a police officer for the City of Los Angeles for twenty-one years.  The road to becoming a cop wasn’t easy.  I’m not a large person; I’m not very athletic, and not particularly intimidating.  I also had the disadvantage of starting my career at an ‘older’ age – my mid-thirties. 

But what I had going for me, was a strong determination and desire to make my dream of being an LAPD officer a reality.  After achieving that goal, and being named Officer of the Year in 1997, I needed a new challenge.  That’s how I became a writer.

I didn’t seriously start writing until 1998 – and then, I wasn’t very good.  I hadn’t learned my craft.  I attended writer’s conferences, took classes, entered writing contests, and used all those experiences to hone my skills.  I became a better writer, but still I floundered. 

Also in this time period, in addition to working 40-60 hours a week, I was the primary caregiver for my brother who’d suffered a major stroke and was left partially paralyzed.  While his care side-tracked my writing, I have never regretted the time I spent helping him to live out his life with dignity and as independently as possible.

In 2008, at the RWA National Conference, I met a writer who invited me to join her critique group.  This is where my writing career took a huge turn.  The critique group was invaluable in forcing me to write regularly.  They showed me my strengths and weaknesses, helping me fix wrong things while enhancing the right things in my writing.

I’d written a good story, and with the help of my critique group, A Dozen Deadly Roses started to garner attention on the contest circuit and from agents.  But I started hearing a lot about self-publishing.  I did some research, and the more I heard, the more I liked.  Two or three years ago, self-publishing your own book labeled a writer as someone who ‘couldn’t make it’, or as a ‘loser’.   The new e-readers allowed some authors to become successful and make good money. 

But, for me, there’s a bigger draw to self-publishing besides the possibility of making a lot of money.  The lure is the ability to control my own destiny.  I liked the idea if my book was a hit, it was due to my hard work.  If the book flopped, that was my responsibility too.

In June of this year, I self-published my debut novel, a romantic suspense, titled, A Dozen Deadly Roses.  The book’s been out about two weeks.  I’m pleased with the results.  I’ve received some marvelous reviews and made moderate sales.

But it wasn’t a solitary effort to provide my book to readers.  I hired a book editor, a book cover designer, and also someone to help format the book to e-reader standards.  This was money I shelled out prior to earning a dime.  But there’ve been many others who’ve helped make my writing dream a reality too.

I’m sure I’ll leave someone out, but they include my critique group, several beta readers, contest judges, writers, friends but most importantly, my family.  My daughter has been instrumental in listening, but mostly being a cheerleader – when I needed cheering the most.

Then there’s my husband.  The support from him is extraordinary.  I’ve spent a lot of money over the past thirteen years pursuing my dream of being a published author.  I’ve attended dozens of conferences, purchased numerous computers, writing classes, and countless supplies.  Through it all, he never flinches when I say I’m going to do A,B, or C or I’m going to buy X,Y, or Z.  He just smiles and asks when I’m going to make my first million.

I retired earlier this year from the LAPD to help take care of my mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.  But I’m also spending time these days promoting myself via social networking, blogging, teaching classes, and speaking at conferences.  I’m getting some writing done too.  I’m happy.  

While writing is not an easy career, I can do it because I’ve brought along a skill-set I used when becoming a cop – determination and desire.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Robert Kernen’s “Building Better Plots”, part 19

Exposition—that age-old demon who afflicts experienced writers as well as new ones. It’s like the stick that you realized was no good after all, so you threw it away. But look out! It’s a boomerang, and it whacked you in the noggin!

I see writers who haven’t shown their work to strangers much shovel in so much backstory and explanation that it reads more like stream of consciousness. I did it too, so I understand the impulse. Inexperienced writers seem convinced that readers need to know a whole bunch of stuff before they can fully appreciate the story. They don’t realize that when readers get caught up in a story, it’s because the plot—yes, this again—steadily moves forward. It doesn’t stop in the middle of running for your life, and say, “Well, pull up a chair, I want to tell you about the childhood of the guy who’s trying to kill you. And, well, about his parents’ upbringing too, because you can’t understand him without that.”

How about right now we run, and you talk later?

The idea of not dropping in chunks of backstory has been talked about in other places, so I won’t belabor it here. But I do like the way Kernen discusses it, so if you read his book, you won’t waste your time with this section. His main point, perhaps, is that in real life we get to know people gradually, often over a period of years. In fiction, you can mimic that by disclosing things about major characters a little at a time.

I am not fond of one thing he does: using “relevant revelations”.  Mentally I tripped over that a few times, and that interrupted the flow!

I do want to mention something else that Kernen touches on. Writing is not a straightforward depiction of reality. Even in a memoir, when you expect more realism than in fiction, you have to tweak *how* and *what* you say to fit the medium. Ever listen to somebody relating information in such a boring way that you covered up yawns as they droned on? You don’t want to make readers feel that way, because they’ll simply put your book down and leave it there.

My friend Ray writes plays. He doesn’t do comedies, but he is the funniest man east of the Mississippi. He can tell a story about the most dull and mundane thing, but spin it so you laugh so hard you literally can’t breathe. You have to make reality more interesting than it is. You have to compress some things, draw out others, talk about things from a different perspective.

What I like to say when I critique is, We write for readers, not other characters.

When I write a scene for the sheer fun of it, I let characters play freely off each other. I can follow the reasoning of their conversations, but people reading it would get lost in places. Every few days I work on the scene of Sandy’s wedding. It starts with him and Neal bouncing their particular quirks off each other. It helps me understand how both characters feel that day, but a lot of it wouldn’t go into a manuscript draft. Long sections *are only interesting to me*.

You gotta face it, champs. A story idea grabbed you, the characters burned themselves into your soul, and the whole thing won’t let you go. This is *good*, but nobody can feel it the way you do. So please, don’t drive potential readers crazy by telling them long paragraphs of stuff they really don’t care about.

It’s hard. I know. I am so in love with my characters that I could write hundreds of scenes without any plot at all and I’d still love it. But I won’t subject readers to that. Slowly, slowly, I’m learning to condense and delete. I don’t have to throw away that stuff because I do find it helpful, but look at it this way.

If you cut some stuff *from the manuscript* that helps you learn about your characters, the end product will look smooth as glass. Readers will think you were born with such an intuitive understanding of your characters and the writing process that writing well is easy for you.

Fiction writers are, after all, liars ;)

Next week: Another guest post, this time by retired Los Angeles police officer Kathy Bennett, who is anticipating the upcoming release of her first novel, "A Dozen Deadly Roses". You can read about it here: I think a lot of writers are interested in the backstory of other writers who have made the enviable transformation to author, and Kathy will tell us a bit about what it took for her to reach that goal.