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TECH: A Checklist for Fractured Novels?

Original Posting Feb. 7, 2017

That's right! Over here Sarah Hoyt talks about what to do when your novel has been through the wringer and needs to be sewn together again. Obviously, not all novels need this level of surgery, but, consider these points:

1. Is your ending the strongest possible? You want to make a deep emotional impression on the reader. If not double check:
– Who is the most affected or changed by what happened? Can you get the reader in that person's head at the end, or at least get their feelings about it?
– Does your ending drop an elephant from the ceiling? It may be meaningful, but you need to foreshadow it. So, go back and add foreshadowing!

2. Is there a lot of nonsensical running around? Action is good, but it needs to be meaningful. So,
– Look at the scenes. Are they advancing the plot, do characters get closer to the goal, do they learn something?
– If not, can you change the scenes so they push the character towards the goal?
– If not, can you write new scenes that do that?
Try-fail cycles! Just like the three in the middle of every fairytale. Not random, building towards the final climax.

3. Is the final climax satisfying? Did it get lost in a swamp of minor squirmishes (Sorry, I loved that word so much, I had to borrow it!). Doublecheck:
– The final encounter is not a bang but a whimper? Whoops! Start adding more detail.
– The big battle is just a bunch of little battles? Choose one, and make it the focus.

4. Lots of other goodies to check:
– Every character gets a character arc! Even minor ones.
– Every large change/idea/reveal is foreshadowed and motivated.
– Vary the locations for your scenes. Everything shouldn't happen in the same place.
– Avoid killing characters twice, unless they are vampires or other undead.
– Brilliant ideas? If it's a series, make sure it's consistent.
– Make sure character descriptions are consistent, especially minor characters. Watch those hair colors, speech tags, and so forth.
– If it's a series, try to let new readers enjoy the books too. Not always possible, but try.
– Watch out for characters who acquire persistent habits.

And of course, the biggie. Keep writing!
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TECH: Put Punch on the Page (moldy oldie!)

Original Posting Feb. 1, 2017

Writers Digest, March 2001, had an article on pages 32, 33, and 51, by Steven James with the title, "Put Punch on the Page." Basically it's about converting oral stories to written stories. I'm sure most of us have a personal story, a joke, an anecdote, some kind of a story that we tell people. However, when we go to write it down, somehow it just fizzles. So Steven lays out a way to go from the story we tell to the story we write.

1. Record your ideas. Brain dumping! Just get it out there on paper. Write it the way you tell it. Don't mess with it. And then take a look at what's missing.

2. Restructure your story. Find the hook, or as Steven prefers to call it, the gaff. Grab their attention. Start with action, energy, emotion, suspense, something to make the reader want to keep going. Hold off on the background and other stuff.

3. Reshape your story. Oral language tends to be immediate and informal. But now you're going for more complete sentences. Dialogue, keep it short and snappy, interruptions and all. Descriptive and narrative parts? Here you want sentences with detail, complexity, link. Be precise, make it good readable text.

4. Reveal your emotions. You've got emotion or an idea that you want to express. Show the reader through action and reaction what is happening. Remember, readers can't see your expression, so you have to give them the written hints. When you tell it, how do you convey the emotions, what do you do or say? Now, how do you translate that into text. You want the feeling and the mood, not just the same words, but through the story.

5. Reduce the confusion. Telling a story, we separate characters through inflection and expressions. Writing dialogue, you've got to add speaker tags. You may need to add new dialogue, additional transitions, details and descriptions. Don't get carried away, but do create images.

6. Remember the audience. Make sure your story is clear for the audience. Get someone else to read it, and give you a honest opinion about how it flows. Are there gaps, unanswered questions, unclear transitions? Now, reread it, and revise it until it's as exciting as the oral version was.

Incidentally, page 33 includes a "creativity starter." It's almost an exercise! So, put your writing hats on, and try this:

1. Select a personal anecdote you enjoy telling friends. Write it down.
2. Add structure. Is there extra background you should eliminate? Try making a brief outline of the story.
3. Review that outline. Do you need to revise some of the sentences so they work better together? Rewrite!
4. Add texture. Is there information about the characters or the setting that you can add to make this a richer story?
5. Check the transitions. What about those adjectives and adverbs? Can you drop some, make some more specific, or otherwise tweak them to help the story read smoothly?
6. Think about the audience. Who do you want to read this? What are they likely to have trouble understanding? How can you clarify? Go ahead, clean up your story and make it read like the wonder it is!

There you go! An anecdote, a personal story, turned into words!
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FILL: Check out the lyrics!

Original Posting Jan. 30, 2017

Yesterday, we went to a small performance. An opera singer and her husband, a pianist, and a belly-dancer with her husband playing drums. About 30 people in a local coffeeshop, enjoying the performance. But one of the pieces caught my attention.

See, they did the Copacabana. By Barry Manilow. Instrumental, with the pianist and the opera singer playing a keyboard, the drummer thumping away, and the belly-dancer happily shimmying and shaking. But... I was trying to remember the lyrics. It seemed to me that this was one of those songs that has a happy tune, but lyrics that are a bit less upbeat? I mean, I enjoyed the melody, and the dancing, but... what was the story in the song?

So when I got home, I checked it out. Google immediately turned up the lyrics. OH! That's right.

Lola and Tony! The showgirl and the bartender, "They were young and they had each other, who could ask for more!"

And Rico. "He wore a diamond. ... But Rico went a bit too far. Tony sailed across the bar. ... There was blood and a single gun shot. But just who shot who?"

And the last verse... "Her name is Lola, she was a showgirl, But that was thirty years ago... She lost her youth and she lost her Tony. Now she's lost her mind."

With that trailing advice in the chorus, "don't fall in love..."

Oh! Three verses, about 200 words, and there's a whole story there! The two lovers, Rico and the fight, and... the aftermath, 30 years later. Whoosh. That's storytelling.

And the setting, in the driving rhythm and happy melody.

Can you do that in a short story? Why not! Hey, go ahead and tell us the story of Lola, Tony, and Rico. It's a well-worn tale, but there's still a few times to run it around the ring of tales.

Music and passion were always in fashion...
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EXERCISE: Random Images?

Original Posting Jan. 28. 2017

I'm sure you've all seen the books of pictures for writing and such? Well, if you go over here

or over here

or over here

or... wow, almost anywhere! How about over here (and enter a word, a thought, something... )

Anyway, lots and lots and lots of random images out there. So all you need to do is think about:

What is happening?
Who are the people?
What happened before?
What do they want?
What will happen next?

Then let that stew briefly, and write! A picture is worth a thousand words, more or less? So here are the pictures, now, you add the words! Tell us all about it!

(word provocateur in chief, or something like that)
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TECH: True Beginnings? (A moldy oldie)

Original Posting Jan. 11, 2017

Writer's Digest, January 1996, pages 35 to 37, have a short article by Darrell Schweitzer with the title "Finding Your Short Story's… True Beginning." The focus here is on finding the right place to start your story. Darrell starts out with the proverbial Western writer's advice, "Shoot the sheriff on the first page." He adds "The science-fiction version may involve denting the sheriff's carapace, but it's pretty much the same." However, a common problem for stories is starting in the wrong place. So how do you tell where the beginning of the story is?

Well, Darrell suggests starting with Krazy Kat! Ignatz Mouse, in that old comic strip, kept throwing bricks at Krazy Kat to get her attention. So... you got it! "The story starts when your character gets hit in the head with a brick."

Not a long description of who the character is, a history of the world, or even what daily life is like. Short stories start "when the protagonist's life is disrupted. When the routine changes. When something extraordinary manifests itself."

Often, this is just a very obvious change. However, some stories do start with a description of routine, showing what life is like before the interruption. Why? It depends on the theme. But even there, it's kept tight. Basically, the archetype is:

"Routinely, Harold Hero went through the motions of his life, doing what he always did. And then, one day…"

Conflict. Get to it quickly. "So, to begin a story, think of the hurled brick: the intrusion, the disruption, the sudden explosion of conflict that yanks your character out of his daily routine, the extraordinary happenstance that gives him a story worth telling."

Now, a short story means everything needs to do multiple tasks. In fact, along with that brick, we need to introduce the tone, the emotional flavor. We need to present a point of view, how are we seeing the brick. And don't forget the setting! Along with some characters. So we're looking at:

1. Introduction. Who is the narrator, what's the point of view?
2. The hook, something unusual to get our attention.
3. Premise. A hint about what's coming.
4. Tone. What kind of a story is this? What emotional strings are going to be played?
5. Conflict. Internal, external, what's wrong?

So, if your beginning doesn't seem to have what you need, where should you look? Well, Darrell suggests looking at your ending. "All too often, the amateur story stops where the professional one starts." That's right, that climax might be the best place to start!

Darrell has an exercise to check this. Write a sequel! Suppose all the characters know and take for granted what happened in the original story. But now they are going on. Write that story. Don't build up to an idea, use that as the beginning.

And don't forget to throw a few bricks.

All right? WRITE!
Fireworks Delight
  • mbarker

EXERCISE: Happy New Year!

Original Posting Dec. 31, 2016

Watching the New Year's Eve show here in Japan. The theme this year was yume no uta (song of dreams? Or maybe dream of songs?) Anyway, I was thinking you might take that as a writing seed. Or perhaps just the change -- we're headed into the year of the chicken, if you feel like twisting that ancient notion. A bird, at least, although you might prefer the Phoenix or peacock or some other more elegant bird. Chickens, well... when the rooster crows?

No matter what, take a few moments and think about what you want to do with your writing this year. Not great vows of undying effort, but just set your own goals.

And, as I tend to say, write!
  • mbarker

TECH: Four Ps? (Moldy Oldie!)

Original Posting Dec. 29, 2016

Digging into the stack of slowly browning sheets, I find… Writer's Digest, June 1996, pages eight, 10, 11 or thereabouts, had an article by Nancy Kress with the title "The Four Ps" subtitled how to keep your fiction effectively dramatic – and keep your readers from snickering in the wrong spots. Drama, melodrama, parody? How do you get the emotion and the drama without going too far.

Well, Nancy starts out by reminding us that these three categories often are quite close. "Drama means a scene depicts events that evoke strong emotions in the characters, the reader or both. Melodrama means the events and emotions are exaggerated past the point of real credibility. And parody means everything has become so exaggerated that the only emotion now evoked is laughter."

So how do you control this? How do you control the emotions, making them dramatic, but not overdone? Four Ps! Placement, preparation, point of view, and precision. Here you go...

Placement. Nancy reminds us "no passion on the first date, please." At the very beginning of your story, we don't know the characters well enough to have a very emotional scene. Give us some time to understand the situation and the characters, and the scene might very well play. "Save your emotionally juicy scenes for placement in the last half of your short story. Or at least the last two-thirds."

Preparation. Here we're going for ripeness! Prepare us for the emotional reactions. Foreshadow that the characters are capable of strong dramatic reaction, and convince us that the trigger event, the thing that they are reacting to, really would push them into that strong a reaction. "To earn the right to a dramatic scene… Concentrate on foreshadowing. Both characters and situation must have demonstrated the capacity for losing control."

Point of view. Carefully pick who we are witnessing the drama through. An observer, standing outside the dramatic explosion, may help us feel balanced. Even a participant may be more rational and thoughtful than the characters who are exploding. A calm point of view can be an anchor in the midst of the storm.

Precision. Finally, tone down the melodrama with careful word choice. Avoid clichés, use fresh and original phrases to convey the emotion without slipping into parody. Details, precision, sincerity can help make your drama dramatic without going overboard.

Nancy ends with a warning. Some readers are going to find parody and melodrama in everything. After all, the reader interprets, and they may simply not want to invest themselves that deeply. But, do your best, put it in the right setting, foreshadow it nicely, use the best point of view, and pick your words carefully.

Let's see. This is kind of an interesting one to try to dream up a good way to practice it. Perhaps the easiest is to take a scene, from your own work or someone else's, that you consider dramatic, that has that emotional punch that Nancy is talking about. Now, try rewriting it, at least two different ways. First, push it over into melodrama. Yes, let the villian twist his black moustache, and let the cliches fall where they will! Second, try turning it into a parody! Can you make us laugh at the ridiculous lengths that this scene is going to? Then, of course, you might want to try a rewrite as a pure and simple dramatic highlight, with the words and emotions intended to work with the reader.

All right? Write!
  • mbarker

EXER: Part of a line...

Original Posting Dec. 27, 2016

One fine morning recently, I woke up with this line running through the little grey cells...

The steeplechase that day killed three of them, and...

Go ahead. Finish the line, or perhaps just use the line as is? Beginning of a tale, or perhaps embedded in it? Heck, even just a seed for you to think about, and then write your own tale.

Just write, okay?
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  • mbarker

TECH: Outlining Your Novel (Part 10!)

Original Posting Dec. 20, 2016

Okay. We're still talking about Outlining Your Novel by K. M. Weiland. Chapter 10 has the title Abbreviated Outlining: Drawing Your Roadmap. The key point here is that when you finish outlining, you should make an abbreviated or perhaps condensed version. That lets you see the whole picture at a glance. It's the highlights.

But, why not use the extended outline from chapter 9? Well, K gives us several reasons:

1. Skip the rambling. Remember, the extended version has all the options and pondering, questions, and just about everything else in it. The abbreviated outline is just the key points.
2. Make it legible. K does her extended outline by hand, so turning it into something a little more easy to read is worthwhile.
3. Distill the pertinent points. Pick out those highlights, the key parts that you want to keep in mind while writing.
4. Save time. Getting this all straight before you start writing makes the writing easier.

K gives a couple of examples. One is a straightforward set of one sentence summaries. Another is somewhat more in-depth scene descriptions, but still focused.

So besides boiling it down into a roadmap, K points out that another benefit is that this is a time to really analyze and organize things. Cut out the extra stuff, strengthen what's needed, and go ahead and rearrange if you need to.

Finally, K points out that you can at least begin to divide your material into scenes and chapters. This is a good time to look for dramatic high points and breakpoints. You can start working those into cliffhangers, or other transitions that keep your readers going. K recommends 11 different possibilities:

1. A promise of conflict
2. Keeping a secret (hinting that there is a secret!)
3. Making a major decision or commitment
4. Announcement (Revelation) of a shocking event.
5. A moment of high emotion
6. A reversal or surprise that turns the story upside down
7. A new idea (or new plan)
8. Raising an unanswered question
9. A mysterious line of dialogue
10. A portentous metaphor
11. A turning point (a big change!)

The point is that this is a good time to start to decide your pacing. Short sentences, paragraphs, scenes, chapters – and lots of them! – Probably means a fast pace. Longer, more leisurely development, and perhaps less scenes and chapters, most likely implies a slower pace. In any case, don't forget to cut out the fat!

So, K summarizes this as really doing three things. First, pick out the highlights, the pertinent notes that show the way your story is going to go. Second, check out your scenes and ideas to get rid of extra stuff and organize it all. Finally, at least begin to set up your scenes and chapters. In particular, start working on those transitions! What kind of hooks, cliffhangers, or other tools of suspense are you going to use to keep the reader going?

All right? So now we've got our extended and abbreviated outlines in hand! Time to put it all to work, and start writing? We'll see, in Chapter 11!

  • mbarker

EXERCISE: It's beginning to look a lot like…

Original Posting Dec. 19, 2016

It's late, I know, but… Walking around the mall the other day, I was reminded that it's Christmas! Enormous bright colored boots filled with who knows what, racks of Christmas and New Year's cards, there was even a Santa Claus having lunch in the food court. So…

Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to take a song, story, or whatever else you like, and fit it to the season! Christmas, solstice, Kwanzaa, bah humbug, whatever you like. Feel free to take the drummer boy, and make him a rock guitarist. Or perhaps you want to redo A Christmas Carol? Sure, why not? Let's see. has a list of some great stories you might want to consider. Or perhaps you prefer this list? Wow! 100 or so?

Something for the holidays! Go ahead, give us your best cheer.

And a Merry Christmas to all. Or as Tiny Tim put it, "God bless us, every one." Not to be confused with "Tip toe through the tulips..." okay?