Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Transparent Narrative – Character Development


2011
10.14

As you may have noticed, it has been a long time since my last post. While I can’t promise my posts are going to start to become frequent, I can say that I plan on making an honest effort to post at LEAST once a month – to start. The end goal is a post a week, but we shall see!

Quick Update: My twins are now 1.5 years old, and still as time consuming as they were before… just in a different way. Right now, however, I am in the middle of move (from CA to UT), and while I started a new job in and moved right away, the family is still in California. I miss them dearly, but it has allowed me a few extra minutes to write – hence this post!

On to the goods!

First, let me say that there are many good books, posts, and articles about character development. My good friend, R. Garrett Wilson, has several posts on the subject, so I am only going to focus on how character development affects transparent narrative.

To reiterate for the newbies, transparent narrative, is in essence, a concept where the words, paragraphs, chapters, and pages become transparent, rendering a clear and unobstructed path from the story teller to the story receiver. This is the the most important goal of every writer.

An essential piece of creating that transparency is to sell the reader on the plausibility of what you are sharing. During your character’s development, it is very important to maintain believability. For example, let me introduce a character here while you pay attention to your doesn’t-feel-authentic-o-meter (DFAM for short).

Kyle, a short, overweight man, had always wanted to be a police officer. Always cautious to pay his debts and follow the local laws, Kyle was determined to have a spot-free record for his background checks – once he lost enough weight to pass his physical-exam, that is.

Early one Saturday in early summer, Kyle had decided that diet alone would not make him succeed. No, Kyle would need to do more than that. So, instead of watching the news that morning, he decided to go out jogging.

The day had already began to warm up as Kyle trotted away from his porch. He smiled despite the fact that had ran out of breath, only 15 seconds into his run. Breathing heavy, Kyle slowed to a walk and put his hands on his hips.

He continued to gasp for breath, finding he was much more out of shape than he had deluded himself to be. Lifting his arms above his head – a trick his mother had taught him to get more oxygen into his lungs – Kyle crossed the street.

A blaring honk and a screech made his heart race even more. He jerked to his left just in time to see the taxi cab slide to a stop, not two feet away.

Kyle raised his middle finger at the driver and swore. He stood there, waiting to see if the driver was going to get out to start something. Kyle was always ready for a good fight.

What struck you as out of character? Did your DFAM go off when Kyle flipped off the driver? Did that pull you out of the story? Now, what if the story went like this instead:

…A blaring honk and a screech made his heart race even more. He jerked to his left just in time to see the taxi cab slide to a stop, not two feet away.

Kyle stood in shock as the taxi driver swore at him. He put his hands up and said, “I’m so sorry! So sorry!” as he continued across the street. His heart raced fast as he realized just how close a call that had been.

He would have to pay closer attention, light-headed or not. You can’t join the police force if you’re dead, he thought.

Does that seem a little more in character? Sure it does, which makes for smooth reading. Keeping your character true to themselves is important. To do that, you need to know your character.

So if making your character contradict his own personality takes your reader out of the story, you should never do that, right? Wrong. Actually, contrary to what I had written, there are times that making your character act out of character, is actually in character. What do I mean? Well, Nathan Bransford, author and blogger-to-the-stars, has an excellent post on using contradictions to develop characters.

The takeaway from this post is that you want your characters to be well developed. If the reader doesn’t connect with your character, or if they do not believe your character is authentic, they will be removed from the story – hence, no transparency for you!

Watch for more on transparent narrative soon…ish.

Seeing your name in print


2011
01.16

There’s just something about seeing my name in print that makes me absolutely giddy. My writer’s group, the Fresno Sci Fi and Fantasy Writers Group, recently published (albeit self-published) an anthology of short stories.

I was one of the writers who made it through the selection process (yes, we had to meet criteria in order to make it into the book), and am quite proud to be in league with some of the wonderful writers in this book.

Life, with its many curve balls, has kept me away from the blog. I don’t see that changing for the next few months, but I wanted to post about our Anthology (like 2 months late, of course), and I wanted to share this picture with you:

My everlasting child-hood best friend took the antho with him on his honeymoon. Perhaps I should be jealous that he is sitting on this beach, but I am too elated with seeing my name, in print, being read there.

There’s just something about seeing my name in print…

Making SOME headway… sort of


2010
10.05

So I had written another chapter to my current WIP, The Faraday Cage, about 3 weeks ago, and let me tell you, it felt GREAT to write! It had been so long, and like riding a bike, it came back to me (minus the falling and knee scraping).

Unfortunately, it didn’t gain any traction… my writing habit, that is. I hadn’t followed up that win by writing again… until last night.

Okay, so I didn’t “write,” but I DID write. I wrote an outline for the rest of my Manuscript. I didn’t realize it before, but having no direction REALLY hindered me, which is totally weird, because the first half of the manuscript was very… un-outlined. I knew I had a starting point and a concept, and I knew the characters. I had a rough idea of the direction, but that’s it.

I LOVED writing the first half that way. The second half, however, I felt blind — and I didn’t even realize it. Now that I have a solid outline (and summary) of what is to come, the fire withing is burning again!

On a slightly related, yet unrelated, note, I threw together a concept cover. Yes, I know… cover art is a time waster, and should I ever get published (fingers AND toes are crossed), they will most likely do whatever THEY want anyway, but there is a reason!

See, my Grandpa Davis is one of people in my life that has inspired me to write. In his old age, however, reading has become harder for him. I have really wanted his feedback on what I have so far, but without reading it, I get nada. Recently, however, he bought some sort of magnifying machine to help him read. Don’t know what it is, just know he can read fine with it, and is excited to read what I have!!!!

Yippee!!!

So here is where the cover comes in. For like $6, I can have my Manuscript, thus far, printed and bound, with cover art, and shipped to him. Much cooler than having a notebook with standard printer paper bound inside it.

Anyway, I got halfway through getting it sent off, then I realized: all of these stock covers suck. I want MY cover on this thing (even if him and I are the only ones to see it).

So, I made up something quick… wanna see it? I guess you, him and are now the only ones to see it 😉

So, what do ya think?

Transparent Narrative


2010
08.28

Day 46 of life with twin babies. The water is getting scarce and I am starting to hallucinate. My final brain cell will pop any day, leaving me a lifeless vegetable.

That being said, I have been forcing myself to return to a state of normalcy, one action at a time. Don’t get me wrong, my babies are AWESOME; I am just uber tired, and resuming regular activities (writing, exercise… breathing…) has been slow coming. Mostly because I only sleep about 3-4 hours a night (30 mins here, 30 mins there) and these two tiny dictators have a relentless supply of demands.

So, although I have been procrastinating my “writing life,” one of my readers, Melihah (from Desi Blonde), recently commented on my POV post, and had forced me to return. Thank you Melihah, your comment was MUCH needed!

So, on to the meat and potatoes! Quoted from my previous post:

Transparent Narrative is what happens when your reader stops reading and starts seeing. They no longer read word by word, sentence by sentence, or paragraph by paragraph. Rather, they mindlessly flip pages, absorbing the story into their heads, unaware of the outside world and are completely immersed in the movie that is playing in their minds eye. This one thing, above all else, should be the goal of every writer. I know that I made comments about how POV affects transparency, but that is only one piece of the puzzle. Every thing else… I mean everything (character, plot, motivation, word craft, voice, pacing and rhythm, etc etc etc) will determine how transparent your story is. Once again, watch for a post about transparent narrative coming up.

I realize that I made a promise there at the end and never followed through. This is the start of a series of posts about transparent narrative, and hopefully, I won’t be as sporadic with my blogging.

So, as I said/wrote above, transparent narrative is the goal, the most important goal, for every writer.

Wait, what? The MOST IMPORTANT goal, you ask?

Yes. THE MOST IMPORTANT goal.

How can I make such an audacious statement? Well, it’s simple. All of the “rules” you’ve been taught/forced to eat/hide from and pretend they don’t exist, are there because they are a “best practice” to attain transparent narrative.

Why should you start with action (not necessarily grenade-to-the-face action, but tension-inducing action)? Because it immediately draws the reader in. A quick trick to start the movie playing in their head, and thus, begin transparency.

Why should you have a main character that is flawed? Too make them more real. Why make them more real? Because when what you are reading raises a flag as “possibly fake” in your readers head, it temporarily pulls them out of the narrative. To attain transparency, the reader cannot be pulled out even for a moment (then they might realize that they haven’t eaten or showered for days!)

Everything you will be taught; every cool trick or tip from a pro; all of the books on writing; they all point (whether directly or indirectly) to transparency.

So, HOW do you do that, exactly? Great question.

I will answer with a question: how do you write good prose? Obviously the answer is long, variable, and subjective, but for now, know that I will be presenting MY viewpoints in upcoming posts about how to attain transparency through the use of:

  • Character development
  • Character motivation
  • Plot
  • Word craft
  • Voice
  • Pacing and rhythm
  • Tension
  • Point of view (HAHA! I already did this one here)
  • World construction / setting the scene
  • Reader leading (like a magician, making them look over here instead of your right hand)
  • Making (and keeping) promises to your readers
  • Showing vs telling

These are all I can think of for now, but I will surely add to the list as time goes on. For now, keep reading, and if you have anything to add to this, please do! I LOVE to hear how other writers attain transparency!

Poetry?


2010
08.17

I rarely write poetry (mostly because I stink at it), but here is a recent attempt:

The dark pushes inward

Breathing becomes labored
Reason and logic claw at reality
Begging for an answer, or relief

The dark pushes inward

Self worth slips into apathy
Apathy adds fuel to the fire
Desperation takes it’s hold

The dark pushes inward

Suffocation is imminent
The heart beats slower and slower
Time is the both the answer and the problem

The dark pushes inward

Synthetic loneliness comes in waves
Fight or flight, although neither work
The lungs cease to function

The dark pushes inward

I was published again, and I need your votes!


2010
07.06

I was lucky enough to have another short story published at the Dailey Swan Publishing’s website. They post short stories every month, and the one with the most votes, will also get to be published in their anthology.

If you can spare the time (please please please), check out my story (scroll to the bottom where it says “short stories for July”), and if you think I am worthy, email Casey (the email is listed near the short stories) and vote for me!

Woo hoo!

Balance


2010
06.21

As I eagerly await the arrival of my twins (anytime between now and July), I struggle with finding time to write, read, blog, etc.

See, my wife is basically on bed rest, so that means I have to work, come home, do laundry, dishes, dinner, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining at all (I would MUCH rather be picking up the slack than be the one pregnant… hand down!), I’m just preluding my point that finding balance has been the name of the game as of late; balance between work, chores, kids, wife and me time (which ranks low on the “necessity” scale) has been rough.

Earlier today, I was reading P.D Wright’s blog, and she has a guest post by David Oliver (GREAT post on slang, ninja’s, and writing). His post discusses the importance of avoiding contemporary terms in a fantasy (or futuristic) novel.  I suggest you check it out, then come back to read the rest of this… go ahead, I’ll wait. 🙂

Welcome back! Where was I… oh yes, balance. So his post got me thinking, “How can you remove all contemporary terms, but still have your contemporary this-world readers understand it all?” The answer is simple: you can’t.

Don’t let me detract from David’s post here. I don’t mean to say that you can throw caution to the wind and write however you like, rather, there are a certain amount of words and phrases that you will NEED to use in order to have your reader follow the story. You should strive, however, to remove as many unnecessary euphemisms as you can, and even create new one as David suggests. All in all, this is going to be a balance. Somewhere between losing your readers because they don’t understand you, and losing your readers because you continuously rip them from the story, there is a perfect balance.

That got me thinking about other aspects of writing, and it occurred to me, that ALL of writing is balance. Between word economy and wordcrafting (could also be thought of as the difference between showing and telling), between over describing so your reader has to use ZERO imagination, and using too little so they can’t picture anything, and between foreshadowing too much so the event loses its impact, or too little, and the event seems either hokey, out of place, or just unbelievable.

The examples go on and on, but they all boil down to balance. I think that they key to GREAT writing, is mastering this balance. This is what I strive for whenever I open my word processor.

When anyone figures out how to master that balance, be sure to let me know. I’m having a rough time trying to figure it out. 😉

When to start your story


2010
05.30

You’ve probably heard lots of rules about when to start your story. Some of these include, “start at the moment of change,” “never use a prologue,” “never start with a dream,” “start late, end early,” etc.

So when should you start? First and foremost, let’s consider what NEEDS to happen before the end of the first chapter (in my opinion).

Set the Scene – The setting will show where and when, and include some vital details about your world that must be conveyed to the reader. The consequences of not setting the scene properly are severe. You reader could mistake the world for 1800’s China when you mean to write about 3200 England, and when they see a laser gun come into play, you’ve lost them.

Introduce the Main Character – When you reader engages the first chapter, they are subconsciously giving you, the author, a free pass. “Yes, Mr. Author. I will go out on a limb and try my best to become attached to your world, and more importantly, your main character. I will learn what they are like, and I will empathize with them,” they think. They will want to be attached to the main character (and in most POV’s, the narrator). Consequences of NOT introducing the main character are also harsh. Your reader will get all set to read a story about a elderly werewolf getting long-in-the-tooth (sorry, couldn’t stop myself!), then the next chapter, feel totally ripped off when they find out the story is about his great grandson instead.

Set the Tone, Voice and Pacing – Is this an action book, jumping from explosion to fight scene? Or is this a love story, windy and laced with emotion. Perhaps it is a story about internal conflict, where we struggle slowly with the main character as they grow through things like addiction. Also, how does the book “sound” in the readers head? Is the narrative matter-of-fact, or witty and spry? If you setup for something that you don’t deliver in the following chapters, your book will be dropped to the floor.

Hook the Reader – By the end of the very first chapter, your reader MUST be hooked. If they are not hooked, they have no reason to keep reading. How do you hook them? Usually by introducing the main conflict, or having something unanswered that the reader can’t wait to find out. I can write a whole post on how to hook, but for this post, just know it is necessary by the end of first chapter.

Show the Moment of Change – The moment of change in the single action or event that starts THIS story. Now, you can justify ANY moment of your characters life as the “changing point,” but you must really look at JUST THIS STORY. It is easy to say, “Well, if he didn’t apply for this job, the story would have never started.” Or, “If he didn’t meet that girl, he would have never applied for that job,” or, “If he didn’t go to that college, he would have never met that girl,” etc, etc, etc. The fact of that matter is that every single event leads to the next one, so these are poor excuses. What you need to do is find the moment in which the characters life is altered from THEIR daily routine; The moment in which they START the journey that leads to the climax. The moment in which the character starts to chase after his one main goal for the story (whether he knows that is what he is doing or not) is where the story begins.

So, you must set the scene, introduce the main character, set the voice, tone and pacing, hook the reader, and show the moment of change. How are you going to do all this? By timing it perfectly. If you start too soon, you won’t have time to show that first moment of change, and probably won’t hook the reader. You also run dangerously close to infodumping, and even if you can avoid it, you will find you are telling a story that is not imperative to your plot. If you start too late, you will have a difficult time weaving in the settings, the characters personality, and the tone and voice, as the action or tension will take over the chapter.

You are tasked with starting the book at the perfect spot.

About half of a chapter BEFORE the moment of change seems to be a pretty solid rule. You give yourself a little time to set the world and introduce the character so the reader can get a picture of who he is and what his daily life is like. The moment of change also will have more meaning to the reader when you know what is changing in the first place.

The second half of the chapter can start on the journey, all the while giving your reader questions that they are dying to find answers to. This will both hook them and set the tone, voice and pacing.

I find there is not perfect formula. There is no one-size-fits-all, and there is not hard fast rule, rather a set of guide lines, but the previous seems to work most of the time.

I WILL say this, though.

If you have a prologue, it had DARN better be important to the story. SO important, that if it was removed, your audience would be confused. If you don’t introduce your main character in the first chapter, you had also better have a DARN good reason. Your reader WILL be jarred when the next chapter is about someone else, and you risk loosing them. Ask yourself, “is it worth the risk?” In the same vain, you had better have a DARN good reason to show the first chapter from a different POV from the rest of the book… same reasoning as leaving out the main character.

So, dear readers, be very cautious about your beginning. It’s true that every part of your manuscript is important, but the beginning is when you will either earn (and I MEAN earn) your reader, or you will lose them. You must consider every word, every sentence, every paragraph, and every scene. If it is not building the character, starting the plot, setting the scene, or hooking your reader (and really, everything should be doing MORE than one of those at a time), then you need to scratch it.

Your reader is promising you a certain amount of attention. It is up to you to ask them for more. Every word you write is costing you a portion of that “promised time,” so be sure what you “must” keep in is worth the price you are paying… valuable moments of attention that will either earn, or lose, your readers time.

Right problem, wrong fix


2010
05.21

So there you are, sitting in on your critique group as they ravage your piece. You thought it was flawless, yet they will point out this and that, have logic problems here, flow problems there, and show you how your characters are out of character. They make suggestions, and not wanting to disappoint, you rush home and start making those changes as soon as the group is over.

If you’re a writer who has a critique group (or lets ANYONE read your work for that matter), chances are you have been in that situation at least once. I know I have.

A few weeks ago, I lived through that very situation, but instead of rushing home to make the changed, something hit me.

What if they’re wrong?

Okay, so my particular group of critters and friends are all SUPER smart and talented, so they can’t be totally wrong, but what if they are partially wrong?

I pondered the large issue and the accompanying fixes that was suggested. The problem was really small, but would require a major rewrite of one of my chapters. Now I am all for rewriting if needed (trust me, I’ve done my share, and probably more), but what if the suggestions were wrong?

See, I could almost agree with the problem (two of my characters were acting way to relaxed and chummy considering the circumstances), but they didn’t understand that my characters were faking. They were clinging on to “normal” social idiosyncrasies to avoid the death and destruction around them.

I knew why my characters were acting this way… why didn’t the readers?

The more I thought, the more I realized that the situation wasn’t the problem, it was the presentation. I hadn’t sold it properly.

Instead of rewriting the scene and making them act different, I change a few words here and there, then reorganized the sequence of events. It too me all of 15 minutes.

The next week, I submitted the same chapter. Low and behold, everyone loved it! Okay, maybe not love, but they liked the changes just fine.

How could they be so wrong? Well, they weren’t… not exactly. See, this turned out to be a case of what I like to call RPWF, or, “right problem wrong fix.”

See there WAS a problem, but the fix they were offering wasn’t what I wanted, so I toyed with it and came up with a way to fix the issue in a way that I still liked.

All this to say that when you get advice, try to figure out what the root of the real problem is. Consider the advice, and if you think you can address the REAL problem better, go for it! The worst thing that can happen is that your critters still won’t like it 😉

On a completely unrelated note, Ryan and I were trying to figure out the most accurate genre for my wip, and this is what we came up with:

Survivalistic Contemporary Hard Sci-Fi, Pre-Post-Apocolyptic, Yet Still Dystopic Romance Thriller With Short Ventures Into Chick Lit

SCHSFPPAYSDRTWSVICL for short. Yep. I’m gonna claim that as a real genre.

Through the magic of the inter webz


2010
05.18

I stumbled upon a blog post on write-brained that was talking about another post on Fiction Groupie and had to follow the linkage. Turns out Fiction Groupie is hosting a little blogovent (my new made up word to describe these awesome blog events lately, you like it?) called The “Let’s Talk” Blogfest. Basically, post some of your MS’s dialog on your blog, link back to Fiction Groupie (done and done!) and have fun! PLEASE go to their site and look at everyone that is participating. Super rad!

So, here is my dialog… Standard paranoid writer disclosure (it’s not done yet, blah blah blah). The conversation is between the Chief of Police, a NY State Tropper Captain, and his friend just after a major catastrophe… let’s watch!

“Well, it’s only going to get worse. What’s your plan?” Ellis asked.

You can do your job, that’s my plan. You know how your team is. Without you, they’re like fricken’ teenagers on steroids. When they get back, I want you to talk to ’em about duty, pride and all that crap. Then we gotta figure out what to do about our squad’s. We can barely monitor a five mile radius of the station without vehicles, let alone the whole town.”

“Well, sir, Brandon here has a working truck. I’m sure he’s willing to chauffeur us around, right?” Ellis asked, knowing Brandon would agree.

“Uh, yeah, that’s fine, on one condition.” Brandon uncrossed his arms and leaned in closer to the Chief. “I expect that I can carry a weapon? I’ll be putting myself in harms way, and I should be allowed to protect myself.”

“Yeah sure. No problem. I’m gonna have to deputize you though, to make it copacetic. Not that anyone gives a crap right now, but I gotta stick to the rules while there are still rules to stick to. Besides, Ellis has been talking about getting you on the force for at least a year now,” The Chief said.

“Hold on, now. I’m just helping out, I’m not looking for an employer.” Brandon put his hands up defensively.

“Fine, we’ll call you a contracted deputy if it’ll help you sleep at night. Come and go as you want. Just help get my guys get around.”

“And I can carry whatever weapon I need, right?” Brandon asked. Ellis knew Brandon had a particular weapon in mind.

“Yeah, yeah. Sure. Your buddies with the Captain here and have decent taste in cigars, so I trust ya not to do anything stupid.”

Brandon smiled. “Alright, sign me up.”

“Alrighty, Captain Johnson, you’re the witness to this. By the power vested in me by the state of New York, blah blah blah, I hereby deputize Brandon… what’s your last name?” The Chief asked.

“James,” Brandon replied.

“Okay, Brandon James as a deputy of the New York State Troopers, yada yada yada. Congrats, your an officer.”

Brandon turned to Ellis and said with a smirk, “So I guess you’re my boss. Happy now?”

“No… not like this, Brandon… Never like this,” Ellis replied. Brandon’s lips fell to a frown, almost quivering.

Tada! What do you think?