Monthly Archives: September 2012

Chapter Six: One Monkey and a Typewriter . . . And, GO!

You ever hear that old saying? If you had a million monkeys pounding away on a million typewriters, eventually they would reproduce the works of Shakespeare?

Not to start preaching or anything like that, but I’m calling bullshit.

Monkeys are not at all qualified to attempt the graceful prose of the Bard, nor would they have the emotional context with which to create and evolve characters into believable and meaningful stories. So, in summary, that’s hogwash.

To be fair, if you throw down a smattering of words, chances are something good will come of it. If I give someone a guitar and teach them which side is the business end, do you think eventually they will become James Taylor? No. It takes talent and personal experience to come up with the material that these artists have created.

Is that to say you are a monkey with no shot at producing something good? No, and don’t ever call yourself a monkey in my presence again. I’ll slap some sense into you.

The point is, sometimes you have to throw down a lot of words before you create something worth keeping. I have a practice, and I think it is one that many writers share, of writing down every idea I get. I don’t care how many times I come up with the same “Wizard fights dragon with the power of song” story, it keeps getting better. One day I will find the chocolatey center of that puzzle and strike literary gold.

When I started writing my first manuscript, I had a lot of trouble working out different scenes. It wasn’t exactly writer’s block, but I could feel the stress building. So I did something a little different and tried free writing something completely out of left field. I wrote a fantasy story, starting with nothing more than “She found the boy near her usual walking path,” and what came next was a universe of unexpected detail and filled with unique characters.

Is that fantasy story available for download onto my Kindle, you ask? No, it isn’t even CLOSE to done, but the point is a threw down some words and found a story where before there had been nothing.

We are in a noble profession, us storytellers. No matter how many times your family says “Just be a lawyer,” you need to know where your passions are and pursue them with tenacity. We create life out of nothing, weave stories with digital ink and electronic paper. We take people on journeys to places that never existed, and then make them sad to leave. People get angry at villains made up in your imagination. And there is, in my opinion, no better feeling than that.

So if you find yourself stuck on a particular scene, or lost as to how to start a story, try free writing. Shut off your brain and let the letters fall off your fingers. Or, in the grosser sense, cut your wrists and bleed out a story.

And if you need a prompt, I’ve got five journals full of them.

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Chapter Five: Agonizing Antagonists

I’m terrible at coming up with a good antagonist. 

It’s not that I can’t make a bad guy. That’s easy enough. Put a mustache or black hat on them and BAM, you’ve got yourself a villain. My failing comes in not making realistic or compelling antagonists with which to harass and haunt my heroes. 

I’m reading an excellent book on writing called Deepening Fiction, and it suggests that the best characters in any story share a deep and meaningful relationship. The villain and the hero are intertwined; they have to be. If there is no conflict or pull on an emotional level, the reader has lost a valuable level of interest. 

Now, this isn’t to say that you should always make your villains somehow related to the main character. But there needs to be a relationship. Think about Frodo and Sauron of “The Lord of the Rings.” Sauron is never actually IN the books. He is an ever present force that exists in a tower in spirit form, a looming threat that could congeal and destroy all of Middle Earth. Frodo and Sauron never meet directly, but they share a ring. A piece of jewelry that carries the darkest, most evil power in existence. 

Harry Potter and Voldemort were bound by a prophecy, but even more so by the violent act that scarred the “boy who lived.”

You can go a more direct route, such as Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, but often the less intimate the relationship, the more powerful the antagonization. 

And remember, there are three basic types of conflict to fall back on: Man VS Man, Man VS Environment, Man VS Himself.

What are some great relationships in movies, books and films that you enjoyed? Comment and post below and share your opinions. 

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Chapter Four: Full Steampunk Ahead

This will be a short post, as I’m preparing for the Jewish New Year and there is much still to do. Like shower.

I’ve been tossing around the idea of setting a new series in a Steampunk universe, but I don’t know much about the universe. I’ve seen some steampunk movies and read my share of novels, but I’m trying to wrap my brain around the physics and science of such a place. I’d like to know if any of you have suggestions for good material.

I need to know what’s been done to death so I can look for a new angle. And I’m looking forward to writing about something that is not steeped in aliens. But there might be mutants, so I’ll have a fall guy if I need a villain.

But please, comment and post and let me know what you think so I can get to work on this. I’ve been working on a non-fiction book so much over the last few days that my brain is starting to become, shudder, logical. I’d like to spend a few hours delving into something completely ridiculous and have some fun. Then I’ll come back to the surface and see how much work I can do.

For all of you who are members of the tribe, have a happy and sweet New Year.

And, for you budding writers out there, if you want to add to the conversation, or have a question of your own, I want you to let me know. This blog is not about me. This is about writing in general. I have questions, definitely more than I do answers, but I want a discussion and not a rant. That means I need you to add in your two cents.

Just a thought. But you should totally act on it.

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Chapter Three: An End by Any Other Name Would Be as Sweet

How should your story end?

First of all, why are you asking me? I’m just some guy. I started this blog as a dude who enjoys writing, and since that was just a few days ago you shouldn’t be taking anything I say as gospel. I appreciate the thought, but please do your research as well.

So let’s talk about endings. How do you go from starting a story, from beginning the journey of a new and lovable character, to the denouement and the final page before all the back patting begins? To be honest, I’ve never had a dedicated process to finishing my story. Often I’ll start an idea with the end goal in mind only to change it halfway through, and then again a bit later. 

There’s no science to it. As a creator, you must be willing to step up and ask the hard questions. If your story is worth the pages, then there must be a point to it all. Where does this quest your knight is on take him? Do the aliens win in the end? Was it all a dream?

Sometimes you have to write without knowing what comes next. I wrote most of my shorts with only the vaguest idea of where the end game took the reader. The novel was a little different, but as it turned into a trilogy there have been many deviations from the original plan. And I have embraced each one. 

You have to be willing to roll with the punches. Sometimes that means your idea will twist and turn into something completely different from what you had to start. That’s fine. Be willing to accept change. More often than not, change is good. 

Here’s your homework: Take any idea that you’re working on and come up with two or three new endings. Go radical, don’t just change the main character’s hair color. And you know what? I think you’ll be happier with some of the weird crap you divine. 

If you’re not, I’ll be here. Let me know.

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Chapter Two: Drawing Outside the Outline

I won’t say that I retained everything I learned in college. Heck, I won’t say I remember most. But some things stick with me as I work on writing and editing the novel.

My teacher, the esteemed Leslie Epstein, always stressed a strong outline for a story. If you free wheel, you tend to end up with a mishmash of ideas and no real point. Remember that nearly every combination of elements has been tried and tried again, often without success. Before you start any new piece, ask yourself why you’re telling it.

Does something specifically important happen? Is this character unique or interesting in any real way? Are you action sequences really that freakin’ awesome?

More than likely you’ll answer no to many of these questions, but that’s OK. You wanna write it? Go get ’em, tiger.

Seriously.

I’ve written more than my fair share of terrible stories, all in the name of writing something truly interesting. I have a short that read 28 pages long, all about giant sand golems from space that take over Earth. Which all somehow had to do with a convoluted love story between a cadet and his teacher. It was epically terrible, but some of the themes and scenes from that crap fest ended up in the scifi novel, filtered down to their bare elements of course.

My point is that, as Heinlein famously said, a writer must write. And if you want to be a writer, than you need to finish what you start. No matter how it ends.

Which brings us back to the outline. How else do you expect to build the proper foundation for a solid story? If you can lay the groundwork for a beginning and middle, some A and B plot per se, then the ending will come much easier. Even better, the whole thing can make a lick of sense.

I free wrote my novel, which was not at all a good idea. It took much longer than it should have, and in the end I did not accomplish my original goal of actually finishing the story. Now, while playing with ideas for book two of the trilogy, I am actually designing an outline chapter by chapter to really get this story flowing.

And it feels great.

So here is your homework, you writers out there (who somehow accidentally found this blog). Take a story you love, one you wrote and didn’t finish–or finished and hate the ending. Start over with an outline of the plot and see what you get. Can you summarize the story in a few sentences? Can you find your A, B and C stories? If not, try harder. You have the words inside, just spit them out onto the page.

Good?

Now, flesh out the outline into beats. For scriptwriters, this means literal beats and scenes. For novelists, try laying out individual chapters.

If you can manage to do that, I bet the next step of actually writing things down will come much more quickly. And if it doesn’t, there’s always working in an office.

Just kidding.

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Chapter One: Man, You Script

I spent the better part of ten years not working on my manuscript.

This isn’t something I’m particularly happy about, but there’s no way to change it now. I wasted a lot of time getting to this stage and now I’m playing against the clock.

But I’ve realized that the “clock” is self-imposed. If I don’t reach my deadline for publishing, who have I let down? My legion of fans? My agent? My mother? (OK, that one maybe) Like so many creative types out there, I’m plagued by the “if only” of the situation.

–  If only I had done X, then Y would be easier right now

It’s the same concept as sitting at a poker table, hand already folded, and watching the card you needed arrive on the river (we’re playing Texas Hold’em in this simile).  You can’t bet on what’s already been folded, and you can’t kick yourself over what is already done.

When I finally decided to sit down and write what is now The Gray Wars (working title) Volume One, I did set myself a deadline. In all honesty, I missed that deadline. But what I did get was a first draft of the first part of a trilogy, which was not what I expected at all. Am I happy with it? Hell yes, it is an accomplishment I worked long and hard to achieve. Step two, editing, has been another story altogether.

So what nuggets of wisdom can I impart on you, the struggling writer / my mother who reads this to support her son?

Put yourself on the spot.

When I wanted to write my manuscript under a deadline, I knew that I was the worst timekeeper of all. But my friends, they can be anal about that sort of thing. So I made a FaceBook group, put an end date, and made them my editors. I told them to be harsh, to criticize my habits and to make my life hell if I didn’t sit down, shut up and write. And you know what? It worked.

In writing this blog, I hope that I can lock down some of my process for future writers. I don’t know if any of it will be helpful, but I have a tremendous ego and that’s a start.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a slice of banana bread in the kitchen with my name on it.

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Prologue: The Big Bang

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It’s a tired saying, but every journey begins with a single step. I prefer to take it a different direction and say that every universe begins with a big bang. 

This is going to be an unusual blog, and I’m known for taking things in interesting directions. I have a compulsion toward the absurd, and every intention of bringing you all along with me. This is not so much a series of essays on any particular topic. This is an exploration of my increasingly twisting psyche. And, perhaps, we’ll come up with some delightful recipes for crepes as well. 

As most of you may have figured from my clever title, I’m a writer. And I’m working on publishing my first manuscript. And, with your support and encouragement, I will. And then another. And another. Ad infinitum. 

So come along, bring a snack, and let’s get a little crazy. 

Minus the “little” part. 

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