Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Truck That Sauron Built

When I reserved the UHaul I didn't think it would be Cinderalla's carriage but even I was a bit shocked at what I got. My first clue of impending doom should have been when they asked me if I could drive a stick shift. That's not a problem for this ol' farm boy so I said sure. Then around the corner comes this wheezing, grinding 30' long jalopy that looks like it was originally used by Jed Clampett to move the family to Californee. A walk around showed off its many scratches, bumps, dents, dings, and abrasions. I almost ran out of ink trying to mark up the contract with damge locations. After that I got to drive it home. Lucky for me this is all taking place in a three mile radius. I'll blog more about it later. (Probably when we set up the computer again, it's getting dismatled right after I hit 'publish' on this post.) Today we have another couple of trips to make and hopefully I'll figure out how second gear works.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Moving is Not Like Writing

We're moving into a house this weekend. I'd like to say that moving is a lot like writing but it's not. Moving is all about confusion, pain, and misery with nothing but eternal torment and no relief in sight. It's nothing like writing.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Good One From Number One

Son #1 came up with a clever question tonight. What happens if you've been naughty and you ask Santa Claus for a lump of coal?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Writing Lessons From Gymboree

Today I made the mistake of going the the local mall and trying to return stuff that my wife had mail ordered from Gymboree. I was in good spirits, I had a box of neatly arranged stuff with all the receipts, and it wasn't too busy yet. This is like the times when you have a good amount of time ahead of you, your outline is pretty solid, and you can't wait to get down to writing. You feel in control and you know that good things are about to happen. So I wait a bit and set my box down, the very nice lady starts matching up items to lines on the receipts, and everything's going great. This is like the illusion that you're actually going to have a good time writing and everything is going to flow naturally from your fingertips. Next thing that happened was she asked for the credit card that the stuff had been purchased on. I reached for my wallet. She said it was an American Express. Odd, I thought, we seldom use our American Express. This is like the time when you sense that the paragraph you just wrote didn't quite say what you thought it should but you plunge ahead anyway. Then I hand her my American Express. She looks at it and says that it's not the same card and company policy states she can't return anything without it. The immediate flaming rage I feel is a lot like that helpless feeling that washes over you when you realize that you haven't got any chance of writing anything worthwhile at all and you might as well type 'all work and no play make Jack a dull boy' over and over and over again.

Moral of the story: Don't go to Gymboree under any circumstances.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Discovering Infinity

I was doing research on some last little points for 'Faith' this weekend. I found that the definition of 'infinite' is now: "The amount of material regarding the Roman Empire that's available on the internet."

I haven't even gotten through Wikipedia.

I'm trying to nail down a couple of things. I'd like a better name for my centurion and there seems to be a naming convention that I could use with a little inventiveness. I'm also trying to find out which Roman legion was stationed in the area and how they operated; central location v. independent detachments. Little is said about the centurion who's servant was healed so much must be assumed from the historical record. Now that the story is finished, I don't feel like I'm avoiding real work by researching the details.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Writing the Too Big Story

Many of us have this problem: every story we come up with grows to novel size even though we're trying to keep it short. I gave some more thought to 'Skyman' and all the things I came up with seemed to take the story well out of the 10000 word range. I know it needs more filling out in order to become a complete tale but I'm not yet sure how much I want to put into it. Anyway, another thing this points out, to me at least, is that I'm now at a point where I can start to visualize how many words it takes to tell a story. When I think of ideas I seem to have a word count running alongside my train of thought. 5000 to work through this situation, 2000 to set up this side character's arc, etc. I think that's an important tool for writers. How many times have we started something and realized that the idea couldn't be captured in a nice neat bundle? It happens to me a lot, except now it happens in the idea exploration phase which handily saves me a lot of wasted writing.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Back In the Saddle

Weekend is over. 'Faith' went from rough draft to first draft. Taught sons #1 and #2 how to play poker. (Son #3 just wanted to gnaw on the chips.) Visited Astoria, OR. Ate lots of hotdogs and s'mores.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Faith Complete

I finished "Faith" yesterday. Now I have three stories that are finished and awaiting rewrite. Luckily for me, I received a truck load of great ideas about how to jazz up "Skyman" and give it the punch I knew it was lacking. That's the big payoff from having the best beta reader in the free or oppressed worlds. When I fail miserably, she comes through.

This weekend will be a long one for me and the family. We're going to a cabin down in Long Beach, WA. No phone, no TV, no internet. Lots of family time. Good stuff.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Article Publication

I just approved the proof of my article 'Rights and the Writer' for publication in The Sword Review and it should show up on their website shortly. This was informative for me to write and I'm glad it was accepted. It's not really a paying publishing credit but it's still kinda cool.

I also picked up another Gemmell book The Hawk Eternal which is a sequel to Ironhand's Daughter. I'm sure I'll review that one as I go along but first I have to finish A Fortress of Grey Ice by J. V. Jones. More on that later.

In other news, 'Faith' is nearly finished. I'm probably going to submit that one to Dragon's, Knights & Angels.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

How to Waste Time With 'Research'

It's pretty sad but so far Son Number Two has written more than me this weekend. I've been reading a lot at Faith in Fiction and while that has provided a lot of motivation to focus on my novel it has not provided much in the way of words on figurative paper.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Writing Lessons From Number Two

Son Number Two likes to write stories and this morning he has kicked me off my laptop so he can compose his latest masterpiece. If you haven't played hours and hours of Sonic DX on a Nintendo Gamecube then you wouldn't understand the plot and characterization. In any event, he has created a couple of paragraphs that are loosely coordinated and seems to be interested in doing more. He's peppering me with questions about spelling and punctuation while I type this and some are kind of enlightening. A few minutes ago he asked me how to punctuate dialogue when someone is both yelling and asking a question. He wanted to end the sentence with two exclamation points and two question marks. His question to me was whether or not to switch them around like this: !?!? or keep them grouped together like this: !!??. This caused me to think a moment. How would one use those punctuation marks? When I suggested that he end the question with one question mark and then put in the attribution 'he shouted' I could see him thinking about it. It was a thrill to watch several synapses suddenly make new connections in his brain. With his permission I will likely post his story here.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Bond James Bond

Just saw the new Bond movie, Casino Royale. It is excellent. Daniel Craig plays a tough guy Bond, raw and edgy. He shows emotion, laughs several times, regrets some deaths caused by his actions, and even falls in love. However, the pacing was a little wierd and the villain was set up well but didn't deliver (mainly because it turned out that he wasn't the main villain.) By pacing, I mean that the movie seemed to drag through most of what I thought was the third act but turned out to be an extended second act. In fact, now that I think about it, the third act was actually like a second 40 minute movie tacked on. I'll see it again and come to a final conclusion but this new direction for everyone's favorite British spy is a definite must see. Three Stars.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

New Link to Announce

I've added Writer Unboxed as a link on my sidebar. This is a great blog with lots of depth and wisdom. Highly recommended.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

More Faith

This morning 'Faith' crossed the 3K mark. It's a bit of a struggle to get the dialogue to a) sound natural and b) lead me to where I have to go. I don't have the leeway of letting characters come alive and set the tone, pace, and direction of the story. I have a specific place I need to get to. I'm not complaining, I'm just laying out the challenge ahead of me. I've also found that I'm having trouble with names. My thinking before starting this was that Jews of old had old sounding Jewish names. But when I started scanning through the Bible to pluck a few names out I discovered several of them named John, James, Peter, etc. Hmmm... Not very exotic. I also need some Roman names. The research isn't as easy as I thought.

Friday, November 17, 2006

It's Hard to Be A Cubs Fan

Since I like baseball so much I just had to steal this from another blog. More writing stuff will come later, probably tomorrow after I run into some kind of difficulty.

Twenty major events that have occurred since the Chicago Cubs last laid claim to a World Series championship:
1. Radio was invented; Cubs fans got to hear their team lose.
2. TV was invented; Cubs fans got to see their team lose.
3. Baseball added 14 teams; Cubs fans get to see and hear their team lose to more clubs.
4. George Burns celebrated his 10th, 20th, 30th, 40th, 50th, 60th, 70th, 80th, 90th and 100th birthdays.
5. Haley's comet passed Earth twice.
6. Harry Caray was born....and died. Incredible, but true.
7. The NBA, NHL and NFL were formed, and Chicago teams won championships in each league.
8. Man landed on the moon, as have several home runs given up by Cubs pitchers.
9. Sixteen U.S. presidents were elected.
10. There were 11 amendments added to the Constitution.
11. Prohibition was created and repealed.
12. The Titanic was built, set sail, sank, was discovered and became the subject of major motion pictures, the latest giving Cubs fans hope that something that finishes on the bottom can come out on top.
13. Wrigley Field was built and becomes the oldest park in the National League.
14. Flag poles were erected on Wrigley Field roof to hold all of the team's future World Series pennants. Those flag poles have since rusted and been taken down.
15. A combination of 40 Summer and Winter Olympics have been held.
16. Thirteen baseball players have won the Triple Crown; several thanked Cubs pitchers.
17. Bell-bottoms came in style, went out of style and came back in.
18. The Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox and the Florida Marlins have all won the World Series.
19. The Cubs played 14,153 regular-season games; they lost the majority of them.
20. Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Oklahoma and New Mexico were added to the Union.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Slushkiller

Writers struggling to get into the business should read this.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Writing Lessons From a Boring Dinner

The company I work for belongs to an industry association and we have dinner meetings every month. There's usually some sort of safety report and news from our legislative committee and then a featured speaker who talks about something regarding our industry. Tonight's speaker helped me formulate the topic for this issue of writing lessons. Don't bore your audience. The way we writers most often do that is to describe things to a level of detail that no one cares about. I found myself editing this speaker's presentation the whole way through. He was an engineer; that should have been our first warning right there. He went into minutia that was really not important for all us operations type guys that just want to move dirt. Second part of tonight's lesson: Don't clutter your slideshow. He put way to much stuff in his Power Point presentation and no one could read the slides or get any usuful information out of them. Instead of giving us lots of info, we zoned out and lost what he was trying to convey in all the clutter. Don't do that to your readers.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Faith Crosses 2K

This morning saw another burst of writing that carried 'Faith' to 2300 words. I'm at the part where Jesus agrees to come heal the servant. This is some of the tricky writing I knew I was in for. How exactly do you write Jesus? I kept the POV from the chief priest that makes the initial request so I could describe Jesus and show His reactions. I also added a few lines not in the Scriptures. Right now I'm thinking this is ok. The Bible often states that He taught or explained things without going into detail about His actual words. Therefore there had to be things He said that were not included in scripture. So while I will not be taking license with the Lord and having him announce new doctrine, I imagine he would exchange greetings and other pleasantries with people he meets. Plus I'm constructing a premise that seems plausible to me: the priests are actually not concerned with the centurion's servant as much as they want to see if Jesus will defile Himself by entering the Gentile centurion's house. That way they hope to blunt some of his popularity. This later becomes the main focus of the Jewish religious leadership so I figure it's not much of a leap to say it started in Capernaum.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Technorati

This service seems to be the Illuminati of the blogosphere. Therefore I've started a profile there.

Technorati Profile

Join the conspiracy!

Writing Lessons From Iraq

I spent half of my writing time this Saturday morning composing an email to a friend regarding the current state of Civilization's War Against Evil. (I think I like that title better than the Global War on Terror even though it would have taken up more space on the medal I got.) Anyway, I started thinking that disagreements in parts of Iraq are a lot like writing. Things tend to go along just fine for most of the day until the car bomb goes off.

Most of us write with some kind of plan in mind. It may be a detailed outline or it may be just the feeling we got when we started typing. That plan flows along just fine until something unforseen crops up. We throw in a line that we didn't intend because it sounded cool but later we find out that it takes the story in a slightly different direction and gums up the plan. Like a car bomb, it can make a mess of things. Also like a car bomb, first aid will be rendered and an investigation will be started. (Unlike a car bomb, no one is literally dead but since I like to live in a figurative world [just ask the friend I emailed this morning] that's not much of a concern.) After all that a new bus stop will be put in place and everything will be hunky dory again. Your writing will be stronger with a few car bombs thrown in.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

More Writing

More writing got done yesterday and that is always a good thing. I put a few more words down in my story about the centurion who's servant was healed. I also did a quick outline for a series of stories with more of a combat flavor and sketched out a scene for my novel. Here's a quick update on the stories currently in progress.

'Skyman'
Finished but missing the spark that will make it complete for me. It's about the dangers of messing with the status quo between two cultures, one that lives high in the atmosphere and one that lives on the ground.

'Right of Replacement'
Also finished but the end does not have the emotional punch that I felt when I dreamed it up. This is a Christ allegory about a newly victorious rebel leader sacrificing himself for one of his men.

'The Battle of Raven Kill'
This is mostly conceptual at this stage with a couple of possible sequels. It will be heavy with combat and the inherent internal struggles that that provides.

'Broken'
My novel that began as a story for a friend. This has a lot of potential but is tricky to plot because I've failed before at novels that fell apart late in the storyline. I'm trying to get a coherent plotline to go with the character arc that has firmed itself up nicely. It's a high fantasy story with heroic elements.

'Faith'
This is the working title for the story of the centurion of Capernaum in Luke 7 and Matthew 8. I'm telling the story from his point of view because he has always fascinated me, us both being in the military. Jesus will show up soon and say his lines. I hope to capture what the centurion must have been feeling based on the many clues sprinkled throughout those passages.

Monday, November 06, 2006

It's All In the Delivery

Tonight at dinner Daughter #1 came up with something hilarious. Unfortunately, it won't translate to the written word. We had pork loin for dinner (along with some stir fry veggies and egg noodles; we're trying to clear the pantry before the move) and I was trying to tell the kids how wonderful it was and that they should eat it. Now, I have a habit of calling food what it really is. I call beef 'dead cow' and pork products 'dead pig'. Maybe it's because I was raised on a farm, maybe it's just because I'm sick and twisted. I made a comment at the beginning of the meal that this pig had attained its highest calling in life: to be marinated, roasted, and spread about on our plates. Later, when Son #2 didn't want to eat it, my 5 year old daughter said in perfect deadpan, "It's pig butt."

Now I ask you, who could refuse a meal with such delicious description?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Clickety Clackety

I finally sat down and powered through a scene that's been rolling around in my head for quite some time. I think all the talk about NaNoWriMo has revved me up a bit. 1500 words in a few hours. It also helped to have a few hours of uninterrupted time with no internet connection. The scene lacks a lot of description, it takes place on the muster fields of a medieval castle early on a cold damp morning, but that can easily be slipped in later. The important thing was to get the right character interaction. I think I've gotten it right and I also came up with another minor character that might prove useful down the line. As Uncle Jim says, writing is like playing positional chess. Get your pieces into strong positions and interesting things will develop.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Lovely Bones

Today I actually made time to go over the novel I'm currently kicking around and came up with some new ideas that helped to put it together, structure wise. I've had separate body parts and fleshy bits in both note and first draft form for quite some time now but I wasn't really sure about the skeleton to hang all that on. Despite yeoman work by my trusted beta reader to organize my thoughts, I hadn't gotten very far in the last year. One of my problems was too many ideas. Another was a lack of an antagonist in human form. I've come up with an idea for a rival who will work into my existing idea of an ancient spirit as the chief antagonistic force. Good times.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

What if Sauron Hired Dr. Evil?

A few posts back I mentioned the Evil Overlord Plot Generator. Here it is. This is must reading for anyone who seriously wants to write genre fiction.

Ironhand's Daughter

I finished reading Ironhand's Daughter and I have to say that the diversion to the alien world was barely worth it. The problem was why bother with sending the heroine after an object that was through a magical gateway in a totally different world. It seemed like a long detour to take so in my opinion it needed to be brought back into the story's end in a very important way.

Sigarni travels to the other world and finds that her blood has powerful magic there. Her bleeding hand holds her bow and the bow begins to grow back into a tree when she steps through the gate. Her friend and sidekick, Ballistar, is what we would call a little person today. He has some of her blood on him from her hand and he grows into a whole and complete man. She also has a bit of bone from her long dead ancestor, King Ironhand. When she takes that out he reforms form it and thanks her for bringing him back to life.

They have adventures and regain Ironhand's old crown. This is supposed to be the reason they went through, the crown is needed to forge an alliance. But that alliance could have been achieved by any old plot device. It didn't need to have this alien world all of a sudden pop into the story. Sigarni does realize after seeing how this new world's endless war has destroyed the land that she no longer hates her enemies enough to do that to her world. So you have two Important Things happen but my point still remains that the side trip wasn't necessary.

The biggest thing that bothered me with this is that the Crown is hardly mentioned after she gets it. Also, she goes ahead and engages in a battle that saves her people for the time being but that she knows will only bring more Bad Guys along. So both objectives for sending her there turn out to be irrelevant.

The only good thing that comes of it is Ballistar's choice to return to the other world even though all its food and water are poisonous to him. He chooses to die as a whole man rather than continue living as a dwarf. Poignant, but I'm sure the politically correct crowd would criticize Gemmel for that.

Ironhand's Daughter gets two and a half stars.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Mines of Moria

This last week has been a busy one with not much happening on the writing front. We'll be moving into a house about a mile down the road at the end of the year and the packing has begun. Packing is a lot like trudging through the Mines of Moria. There's more to do than you first suspect, any time you stick your hand back into a dark space it might get bitten, and it takes so much time that the camera resolves into some long shots and then three days pass without you realizing it.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Strange Behavior

As I mentioned before, I'm reading Ironhand's Daughter by the late David Gemmel. He's done something odd in the last quarter of the book and I'm waiting to see how it pans out. The heroine, her sidekick, and the reincarnated ghost of her father are making a side trip to recover some important Crown from an alien world through a magical gateway. So far this trip has taken up twenty or thirty pages and it's almost a completely separate storyline, with its own characters and situations. I can't see what the importance of doing this is. She needs the Crown in order to bring one of the highland factions into her army but that's not a good enough reason for a writer to send a story off in a totally different direction. When I get to the end I'll see how Gemmell ties it all together but for now it's just a little odd.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The New 7 Wonders of the World

I always thought the old list was a little outdated.
Here is a new site of a bunch of historians and
'experts' that are trying to develop a new list.

The New 7 Wonders

Go Stonehenge!!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

To Illustrate

I watched a movie on AMC last night (or actually, I watched a lot of commercials with a movie sprinkled in between) called 'The Last Samurai' with Tom Cruise. He plays an American Civil War veteran who gets hired by the new Japanese Imperial Army to train and modernize their troops. The new government is trying to modernize and is outlawing samurai. The samurai don't take kindly to this and rebel. The story is about Tom getting captured in battle and slowly getting to know and respect his enemy before changing sides. It's a very good movie and you should watch it because it perfectly illustrates the topics of the last few days here.

Act One (part one)- Setup, orphan hero and other characters are introduced, hero captured in battle that is plot point 1.

Act Two (part two)- Reaction, wanderer hero lives among the samurai and observes their ways, pinch 1 happens with a wooden sword fight between hero and samurai warrior. The midpoint is revelation that chief samurai has been captured and will be executed. Hero changes sides and starts taking steps to free him.

Act Two (part three)- Proaction, warrior hero kills government assassins and becomes samurai himself in pinch 2. Frees samurai chief, some minor characters die, in plot point 2. Now we see that the antagonistic force has actually been the modernizing Prime Minister who is trying to destroy the ancient ways of the Japanese people.

Act Three (part four)- Resolution, martyr hero and samurai chief lead the last of the samurai into battle against the regiments of the Imperial Army who now have cannon and automatic weapons. The samurai make a good showing but they get shot up and only Tom Cruise survives. He gives the chief samurai's sword to the Emperor, who finally gets a backbone and fires the Prime Minister. Bushido, the way of the warrior, wins out in the end.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Stop Talking and Kill Sauron

Now for Act Three. Act Three starts with the warrior
hero, who has been getting more proactive towards
accomplishing his goal, becoming the martyr. He has
gone through whatever transformation he needs to,
using info learned in the last Act, to drive towards a
resolution and defeat the antagonistic force thus
getting what he needs. But first, more on how Act Two
ends.

Plot Point #2 ends the second act and announces the
beginning of the third. Vogler terms this as the
hero's death and rebirth, in figurative terms. Frodo
tangles with Shelob and doesn't fare well. Sammy
saves the day and the hero now knows that everything
may have to be sacrificed to dunk the stupid ring.
Aragorn reveals himself as the King of Everything and
admits that he must march on the Black Gate in order
to save humanity.

Another thing that has to happen right before we get
to Plot Point #2 is a lull. This is the darkest hour
where all seems lost. Ringwraiths ride unchallenged
across the battlefield. Not only is Frodo dead but
the orcs of Cirith Ungol (or is it Minas Morgul?) are
going to eat him. This is usually the event that
triggers the hero's transformation. Very often a
major sidekick or perhaps the mentor will die here.

So Act Three (or the fourth part) opens with a
transformed hero who has new power and is ready to
give everything. In Love Actually, this takes
place when Hugh Grant starts knocking on doors looking
for his love interest. In Notting Hill this
takes place when Hugh Grant starts driving through the
streets looking for his love interest. This part is
called, not surprisingly, the resolution.

A resolution must resolve things. If you have a big
novel, there will be a lot of things to resolve. This
part takes up about a quarter of your length. The
important thing to remember here is that all the cards
are on the table. Everything is revealed, except in a
mystery, and no new information or characters are
uncovered. As far as plot devices go, the hero has
all the means to achieve the goal. Sauron is toast.
The Death Star is headed to the scrap yard. Somebody
is finally going to realize they love Hugh Grant.
Whatever questions you brought up to make the story
interesting, they get answered now. Good guy wins.
Bad guy loses. Lights come up and you think, "Holy
cow, did I drop a lot of popcorn."

Now, a good resolution will still leave a reader
wondering how this is all going to happen. Everyone
knows the hero will succeed in the end. Unlike real
life, fiction has a climax and an ending. But we're
not sure who's going to survive with him. You should
have plenty of sidekicks around to kill off at this
point. Most importantly, the hero needs to be the
architect of his own victory. Even if the cavalry, or
perhaps the Rohirrim, rides over the hill to save them
all it is still the hero who kept it together long
enough to beat the bad guy.

Like any structure description for writing a story,
this can be wiggled around a bit. However, you move
off of it at your peril. There is a reason this
structure describes so many memorable and commercially
successful stories. There is a reason it has been
around since Homer. It has all the beats that
resonate with a Western audience. It is comfortable
to watch. Therefore it is satisfying, allows us our
catharsis, and fills up our need to be entertained.
All stories can benefit from a structural analysis
using this form.

This sure turned out to be a long series of posts.
I've got to review them now and make sure I didn't
forget anything. I took another look at a novel I
tried to finish a couple years ago and I'm noticing
that there are several places where I didn't follow
the structure. Sure enough, those were all the places
where I felt bogged down and directionless.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Act Two

To continue with architecture, Act Two is where things heat up. It is the meat of the story and it should take up about half of your length. This act is typically split into two parts and that creates a nice four part structure. (Why they don't just call it four acts is beyond me. Probably Shakespere is to blame.) Don't confuse acts with parts, it's easy to do, especially if I interchange them. The second part takes place when the hero has become a wanderer. He or she is gathering information and trying to find out just what the antagonistic force is all about. Vogler would call this the Tests and Trials portion of the journey where Allies and a Mentor figure are met. In westerns you have to have a campfire scene here. In romances you probably have the boy loses girl part here.

There is one specific scene that needs to happen in this part. Brooks calls this Pinch #1. You have to pinch your readers to remind them what the danger is and what's at stake. This is best done in a very blatant way, most likely after a particular test or trial is failed. You could also have one of you allies show up and save the hero. For Vogler this would be the Approach to the Inmost Cave. Beware, here there be monsters.

At the midway point of Act Two, which is also the mid point of the novel, you have a major revelation of information that completely changes the course of the story. Before that, your wandering hero was searching for clues. After it, your hero has the info he or she needs and is ready to become a warrior. They have stopped reacting to events and they start being proactive. Now they take the fight to the antagonistic force. Vogler places this as the Supreme Ordeal. In Star Wars this is the time spent on the Death Star and the midpoint is the revelation that R2 has the plans necessary to destroy it. From that point on, we're no longer just flying to Alderaan, we're trying to save the galaxy.

The proactive time after the midpoint also should include Pinch #2. Once again the hero and the reader need to be reminded in a pointed way that there is a real possibility of failure. The antagonistic force shows up again but this time we have new knowledge and the stakes have been raised. The antagonist is now more dangerous than ever before.

All this leads to Plot Point #2 and the end of Act Two. Act Three is the resolution and I'll discuss that later.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Making Sense of Story Architecture

OK, let's see if I can sum up Larry Brooks' explanation on story architecture in a way that makes sense. The architecture generally follows the heroic journey that was 'discovered' by Joseph Campbell and then reapplied by Christopher Vogler. First, a story has to have a hero and that hero has to need something, go through trials to get it, and go through an internal change that ends up being the design that gets him what he needs. Brooks has the hero going through four phases; orphan, wanderer, warrior, martyr.

As an orphan, the hero is disconnected from everything that's about to happen. Then a pivotal event occurs that launches the direction of the story. After that event, the hero wanders in search of information and has to learn how to get what he wants. Then the hero transforms into a warrior who starts taking steps to get him to his goal. After another pivitol moment, the hero is willing to give up everything necessary and become a martyr. This applies to almost all stories from romances to thrillers.

A very popular form of storytelling is the three act structure. This fits very well with the heroic stages above. Act One is about a quarter of the whole work and it is the setup for what we all need to know in order to enjoy the story. Introduce characters, set a hook (usually with foreshadowing), show the hero's needs and situation, etc. This does not mean no action. This just means that a story is building and the hero is mostly unaware of it. But the structure here is about pacing, whereas Vogler uses the structure for plot. The two are different.

Act One ends with a scene or two that make up Plot Point One. This should be roughly one quarter of the way into the story. It is the first time that the adversary, be it a person, a disease, or a storm, is put front and center so there can be no mistaking that the direction of the story is changing. The hero is usually presented with a choice to make. This is what Vogler describes as entering the Special World. In Star Wars, Plot Point One is the death of Luke's Aunt and Uncle. And I bet it happens at 26 minutes into the movie.

I'm running out of lunch hour. We'll move on to the rest later.

Monday, October 09, 2006

How to Write Fantasy

This article is hilarious. It's right up there with the Evil Overlord's Plot Generator.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Day The Second

Today was very eventful. Morning session with Jennie Shortridge who discussed what to do in the first ten pages. Her talk was called the Ten Page Promise and her basic point was to hook the reader early. If you start with a lot of description and backstory you'll likely lose your reader before he or she gets to the hook. What really struck me as interesting was the questions coming from the audience. They had the most basic formatting and grammar questions. It was one of those moments where you sit back and realize that you do know a thing or two after all.

The next two sessions were separated by a long lunch where I had to go meet with a potential landlord and walk through a house we're probably going to rent. Both sessions were taught by Larry Brooks and were absolutely excellent. They made the whole weekend. His explanation of story architecture was one of the clearest I've heard, and like I just said, I know a thing or two about storytelling. If you get a chance to go to one of his longer seminars I would highly suggest it. He gave us the sixteen hour version crammed into about two hours.

What some people don't like, most notably the self proclaimed left-brained writer who walked out on him, is outlining and organizing their story. They want to just let it flow and see where their characters take them. This is wonderful but will often lead down paths that don't make for good novels. This is why we have to write so many drafts before we get it publishable. Notice I didn't say, 'get it right.' 'Right' is a subjective thing that can change from person to person but 'publishable' is pretty well established by the industry. (Like it or not.)

He got his ideas on stroy architecture from writing screenplays. Almost all good movies have very similar pacing. A hook in the first five minutes, a pivotal plot point at 22 to 26 minutes, a major event that changes the direction of the movie at the midway, and then another plot point at the 3/4 mark that announces the beginning of the resolution. There's a great deal more to it than this because the main character is also going through their transformation at the same time. If I think I can present the ideas in a more logical fashion, I just might. It's much easier to grasp when you can draw out a timeline.

The point is that this is a time tested structure that matches the way a person emotionally responds to a story. It also synchs up with another popular structure, the Hero's Journey. More on this later, kids need to go to bed now.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

And There Was Morning and Evening, The First Day

The first day at WOTS has gone well. I got to see Ray Rhamey again briefly in the halls as he was going in to start his Flash Editing seminar. My thanks again to him for helping me out on a sticky portion of the story I recently sold. I had just come out of a humor writing presentation put on by Bill Stainton. He's actually quite the local celebrity; he was a writer and performer for a Seattle TV comedy show back in the 80's and 90's called 'Almost Live!' Personally he was hilarious but his presentation pointed out that humor writing is pretty much like other kinds of writing in that it all centers around conflict. In writing fiction, humor begins with 'what goes wrong' and takes off from there. Another thing he brought to our attention is that a comedic piece of writing (and for that matter, most sketch comedy) has something at the very end called a callback. It is a line that brings up the funniest part of the piece and uses it again to tie things up nice and neatly. All in all, a good hour and fifteen minutes.

The last class of the day was on Theme. Eric Penz gave a good presentation where he asked the question 'why write' and listed the answers; they all pointed to a need to say something important. That something is your theme. If you didn't have something to say you'd pick some easier hobby. As Jim Macdonald has often said, keep theme simple. This was the theme of the presentation as well.

After that it was home for cheeseburgers and kids who should have done more to pick up the downstairs room. Tomorrow: Day Two.

Some Clever Stuff

Two things of interest from this morning that I wanted to share, one is mine and one is someone else's. (I've got more time here during lunch than I thought, I missed the keynote speaker due to an errand that ran long.)

We were asked to write an opening line or book blurb that would hook a reader. Someone in class came up with this one that got the best reaction from the group (and I'm paraphrasing badly):

"When Jane found a body in the ditch she knew it would be difficult for her. The police were skeptical, her parents were ashamed, and her church group shunned her. The only one who took her seriously was the killer who knew exactly where she lived."

That's pretty good.

If we didn't have a mystery novel in the works, which I don't, we could come up with an opening line following the dialogue, "Where were you last night?" I offered this tidbit and it seemed to go over well:

"Rachel hid the knife in front of her and did not turn around. He was not close enough to kill with one strike and the kids might wake up any minute."

I then patted myself on the back.

WOTS Going On

It's lunch break on the first day of Write on the Sound. The first seminar I attended was pretty good. It was taught by Pat Rushford and called Writing Mysteries to Die For. She pointed out all the things that make mysteries what they are. Many of the same elements can be used in whatever you write; for me with fantasy it's pretty well parallel.

The most beneficial thing she helped us with was a two sentence formula for summarizing a novel. This is needed for query letters to editors and agents and always seems to be troublesome. Essentially you need to ignore 75% of your novel and get to the point. Too many people, me included, think you need to explain a lot or no one will understand what your plot is. The trick is to forget the plot and focus on five things: Situation, Character, Objective, Opponent, Disaster. This also is similar to Donald Maass' advice for queries: Setting, protagonist, problem.

It was interesting to try to write two sentences that encapsulate the novel I have percolating right now, Broken, which is the rest of the tale that is started with my short story 'Protector'. Here it is:

"With Kingdoms and factions pushing towards war, Jacob Trueman must keep the Kingdom's Daughter alive. When a ancient evil reveals itself and brings devastation to the Kingdom's borders, Jacob must fight enemies seen and unseen to protect his charge."

That's actually a shortened version of what I first wrote. I could probably take a few more words out as well. But that's the point of the exercise. The summary here is not the complete story and says nothing about the journey Jacob makes after fleeing from the good guys after being falsely accused, etc. etc. etc.

I'll have more time to blog later but things are off to a good start here.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Richard Curtis Makes Predictions

This article is pretty interesting. As POD expands, it will become incumbent upon writers to promote their own work through a variety of means. Like maybe, building up an audience with a blog or website...

Why Debate is a Good Thing

I often get into debates over silly things like
movies, books, or torture. I suppose I could avoid
these situations if I really wanted to but I don't.
They make me a better writer. I shall pontificate.

Debate is an exchange of ideas with the intention of
persuasion. It is not a simple conversation; there is
a presumption that right and wrong will figure into
the final assessment. There will be a winner and a
loser. (Unless you're arguing about abortion, then
there will be only losers.) Therefore, you must bring
your A game. You have to clearly state your position
and define how it differs with your opponent. Then
you have to support your position with facts and
reason while attacking the enemy's (sorry,
'opponent's') facts and reason.

Some people can do this well and some cannot. I've
found that when people start getting emotional about
an issue the debate portion of the evening is usually
over. Typically this is when I start talking about
football. This might also be because I have the
amazing gift of taking someone else's facts and
reasoning and making it say what I want instead of
what they want. (Why? Because sometimes I can't
dazzle 'em with brilliance.)

So how does this relate to writing? Fiction is much
like a debate. You are lying and trying to make it
sound convincing. Unless you're writing a sweeping
historical romance you only have a certain amount of
time to make your point and hook your reader. As a
writer, you should train yourself to quickly sort out
what is relevant, what is fluff, and how you can
quickly present it. Debate will help you with this.

It's also fun at parties.

Writing: Start Early

I had the pleasure of helping son #2 write a quick story this morning. His homeschool workbook had several words to study and 'envy' was one of them. He was asked to write a pargraph long story about that. After I explained what the word meant in terms he could understand he came up with something like this: "The early bird got the worm. The late bird hated that. He stole the worm. The early bird got it back and then shared it with the late bird."

Let's examine this. For structure, we do have a beginning, a middle, and an end. For plot, we have characters, crisis, and resolution. For theme, we have envy and redemption. Dialogue is a little thin. Scene and setting could also use some work.

I'd say he's halfway to a Hugo.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Movie Night Theatre

At my house we have something called Movie Night Theatre. This grammatically odd nomenclature was derived from somewhere that I've lost track of but that's not important. Tonight we moved the living room table out of the way, turned the lights out, made popcorn and cookies, and temporarily suspended the No Eating Outside of the Kitchen rule to watch the movie Holes. I have to say this was a good movie for writers. First, it has all the clever plot points that make for an instant classic. The quirky characters all have great stories to tell and they are so well done that you don't mind how implausible all the intersecting arcs are. Second, it has a large backstory that is told in flashback but out of sequence. That in and of itself was very interesting to watch. The scenes came up as they became important to the present day story and in my view they came up at just the right time. Everything came together for a happy ending. Go find this movie at Blockbuster and rent it. You'll thank me later.

Number One Sees Red

This morning I got another page written in my story of the centurion. The working title is "Faith" and I'm starting with a scene inside his house between him and his sick servant. I want to show the bond between them so I thought having the centurion cleaning him and changing the bed linens would be a touching way to show it.

After that the family split up and took charge of the day's activities. Wife took the minivan and sons number 2 and 3 with daughter and went to number two's soccer game. (They scored a goal!) I took son number 1 to his dojo and watched him test for his red belt. I was pleasantly surprised to see him work his way through the techniques. He was much smoother and in command of himself than I thought he'd be. The sensei was also impressed and said his was one of the best performances of the day. I was happy to see that number one had set a goal to get that belt and worked hard to overcome whatever obstacles (some self induced) that got in his way. Yay him.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

More About 'Write on the Sound'

I should give a little more detail about the writers conference I'm going to.

http://www.ci.edmonds.wa.us/ArtsCommission/wots.stm

It's a two day event. At least it is for me; there's a Friday session that costs extra and is more one-on-one workshop oriented. I signed up for classes on a wide range of subjects, hoping to gain some insight from people in genres I usually don't travel in. Mysteries, humor, and thrillers to name a few. There are also sessions about theme and marketing that I'll attend.

All in all, I think it will be especially helpful. There are two other writers conferences in the Seattle area and I'll probably go to them one of these years but this one I'm looking forward to the most. Unfortunately there is no hope that I will get a novel finished in time to pitch it to an agent or editor but maybe next year.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Two From Number Two

This morning I was taking son #2 to his soccer game when he came up with a couple of interesting points. They might be writing lessons but I haven't taken the time to cleverly figure out how.

First he asked who came up with the shape of a star. I wasn't quite clear on what he meant so I asked for further explanation. He said, "You know how you draw a star but the star really doesn't look like that." I had to think about it for a moment. Who did decide to draw a five pointed star the way we do? The answer I gave him was that light has a way of reflecting or refracting with four, six, or more points and some caveman must have tried to draw stars that way. After that, it's just a matter of picking how many points you'd like. It sounded plausible and authoritative and it may have been true.

Next he started commenting on what he would do if he really had a wish. "I'd wish that the whole world had people in it that were nice to each other all the time and that there was no war ever." Then he stared out the window for a moment. "If I had a second wish... I'd wish for a guitar."

The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword

The weekend started well for me. Home from work, get chores done, help son #2 with his schoolwork, watch an episode of 'House' with a glass of wine, and off to bed early. Then this morning, instead of waking up and playing Medieval Total War for those crucial quiet hours I started the next story I have in mind. It's the story of the healing of the centurion's servant from Matthew 8 and Luke 7. This will be the first biblical story I've attempted. I'm excited about it because the story has always intrigued me. When I did some research I found it even more interesting. There seems to be some rich characterization possible with the centurion and his relationship with the city of Capernaum and its Jewish leaders. We tend to think of the Romans as brutal occupiers, and they often were, but this man was respected, had some level of wealth, and was a friend of the Jews. The more I think of it, the more I like how this story should turn out.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

David Gemmell

This entry falls under the category of 'where the heck have I been?' I just now found out that one of my favorite authors died almost two months ago. David Gemmell died due to complications after heart surgery back in July. That's tragic.

He wrote exactly the type of fiction I love. Strong heroic fantasy with good bad guys and bad good guys. It was high stakes, fight for your lives, type stuff. I'm reading one of his books right now by the way, Ironhand's Daughter. It has a great protagonist; Sigarni, the last in a line of Kings and destined to become a great leader for her people. The event that ignites her drive to eradicate the occupying forces from her homeland is a brutal rape by five soldiers in a dungeon cell. Back in her home village a shaman/seer character knows all this. When another character asks where she is and what's happening, he looks up through teary eyes and says, "She's a sword... going through fire." Great stuff! (Holy cow does she get immediate revenge on the five perpetrators.)

Anyhow, the world will miss David Gemmell. My prayers are with his family.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Upcoming Writers Conference

I got my confirmation in the mail yesterday for Write on the Sound, a writers conference in Edmonds, WA. After three years of saying I was going to go to a conference someday, I finally found one that was within my budget and nearby and not scheduled on one of my drill weekends. It's October 7-8 and I'll be sure to share everything I can with anyone who cares.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Babies and Blogs

Since the two newest things in my life are this blog and our fourth child, a friend recently asked how babies and blogs were similar. After a few minutes of thinking I came up with this Top Ten List:

10. They both cry a lot and demand attention.
9. They're both going to grow up, and when they do, boy is it going to cost you.
8. Both have creators that sit around and lovingly admire them.
7. Both have audiences that smile politely but inside are thinking, "My God, that's an ugly baby."
6. Their audiences are forced to view them no matter how busy they are and it's quite rude to turn down an invitation.
5. They both were derived from previous activities (oddly both stressful and enjoyable.)
4. If you don't save them often, they'll crash and you'll lose everything.
3. Leave an uncapped marking pen laying about and things can get out of control.
2. Their brothers and sisters try to cooperate but when you get right down to it, they're all competitors.
1. Every now and again, something shows up on them that really stinks.

Shut Up v. Shut Your Mouth

This is an interesting conversation that my wife and I had. It's amazing how 16 years can go by and you still come up with new stuff that you hadn't considered before. Here's the gist of it: Which is worse, 'Shut up' or 'Shut your mouth'?

I happen to think that yelling at someone to shut up is more insulting and demeaning. My wife thinks that yelling at someone, "Shut your mouth" is more aggressinve and therefore a worse thing to do. I won't tell our kids to shut up but I say shut your mouth all the time. My wife will tell them to shut up and when she really loses it she'll yell shut your mouth. The funny thing is, because of the way I see the two phrases, when she's really losing it I think she's finally gotten some self control back.

Anyhow, like most things there is no answer. The reason I bring this up is because we as writers have preconceived notions about what things mean. We could be wrong.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Writing Report

OK, the current draft of Skyman has been sent off. Something came to me this morning; I'm seriously considering switching the two main characters. Right now the guy comes along and realizes that the damsel is in distress so he charges off to the rescue. What if the female was the lead character and had to go rescue the guy? I think that might offer some interesting twists on the classic rescue fantasy story.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Life Lessons Are Writing Lessons

All writers should be keen observers of the human condition. If you are to write convincingly, then you must be able to connect with readers at a variety of levels. I try to view everything in my life around the phrase, "How would I write that?"

Case in point: I work in the construction equipment rental industry and while loading a customer's personal truck I caused a scratch in his paint. I was basically goofing around and swinging myself down on some other piece of equipment. It was uneccessary and frankly a bit embarrassing. The customer's reaction is the lesson here. He starts in with semi-smart alec comments about what kind of discount he's going to get on what he's renting and who he should send the bill to for a new paint job. (Never mind that this is a work truck and is bound to rack up several scratches a year. You should see my F150.) The writing lesson is how to present his reactions. There was something in the way he held up and waited for a response that really aggravated me and made the whole situation very uncomfortable. I'm clearly in the wrong but there's no way I'm offering to pay for anything. I think this customer is just the type that likes to get one up on someone and then enjoy watching them twist in the wind, i.e. he's a jerk.

So do you write this from the outside and just describe the way he laughs and asks about new paint? Or do you write an internal reaction from my perspective and get into a character's thoughts? Which way would be faster? Which way would be clearer?

The great thing about these questions is that they have no correct answers. They all depend on the situation and the goal of the author. But this is the sort of thing I look for in life.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Thoughts on the Process of Writing

Here's part of an email I sent to a soon to be world famous writer friend of mine.

Did I describe my theory on writing and publication? (I'm sure I saw this somewhere and I'm subconsciously reproducing it here without attribution but since I can't remember the source I'll just say it's mine alone until a process server shows up at my door.) It's like a pyramid, but then a lot of things are. Lots and lots of people (but still shockingly fewer than there should be) can spell correctly and put a sentence together correctly. Take another step up the ziggurat and you find the people who can string sentences together and come up with some paragraphs that mean what the author thinks they mean. Next level and you find the people who can pull together writing correctly and writing creatively, i.e. merging ideas with properly constructed prose. On top of those, near the heights but still getting stepped over, are those that can do all of that below them and also keep an idea together long enough to craft a story or novel. On the top of the heap are those that can do all that AND keep doing it until they are published. All levels within this pyramid are honorable, it's just a matter of where you want to end up.

Other Things of Interest

Until I can figure out the link feature here I'll have to insert a couple of them manually:

www.theswordreview.com
This is an excellent publication as well as all its sister sites. And I'm not just saying that because I made my first sale there. I made my first sale there because they are great people and I can't be more honored.

www.theonering.com
As a Tolkien fan this site is tops. I hang out in the forums at the Scriptorium of Imladris under the pen name Galhadrim. (Yes, I got the idea for this blog's name from there. I'm also a big fan of Latin sayings, especially the made up ones.)

Duty Calls

Here’s a bit on Quantico, Virginia, where I’ve been for the past few days. I’m here on a boring military conference but there were a few highlights.

First, my fellow Marine officers and I went out to a restaurant called the Globe & Laurel just off base. It’s run by a retired Marine Major who knows more about the Corps than anyone I’ve ever met. Every square inch of wall space is taken up by memorabilia of some type. Just about any notable Marine for the past fifty years has given something to him. There are unit patches all over the ceiling and shadow boxes with all sorts of doodads in them. The place is really amazing and the Major can talk forever. We were there for an hour and a half listening to him and he barely took a breath. Fun stuff.

The other Really Cool Thing was a quick trip to the National Archives where the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are displayed. The Declaration is faded and wrinkled now and mostly illegible but if you’re an American and you don’t get choked up while looking at it then there is something wrong with you.

But since this is a writing blog, I'll give an update on my current works. 'Skyman' is my latest fantasy and that got a good rewrite. I'm sending it off to my beta reader (the best in the free or oppressed worlds) very soon. 'Right of Replacement', my Christ allegory, also got a rewrite and polish. So the trip was not a complete loss after all.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The First Post

In order to keep expectations low, this post will be of the 'test only' variety and will say nothing of importance.