Tag Archives: description

Show and Tell

My story this week was about a crime scene. I have been watching a lot of old episodes of Castle recently and wanted to see what I could do with a murder mystery.

Apparently, not much.

The problem that I found with the story is one I have struggled with a lot. That is the old rule of “Show, don’t tell”. What that means is that you need to put your reader in the middle of the story. Show them what is going on by describing the scene as they might see it themselves. It also involves showing thoughts and feelings by the actions that characters take. Instead, what I tend to do is tell the reader about it in a more detached way. In short, my story turned out to be more of a lecture about crime scenes and detective work than an actual story about a murder. Four days in I gave up and ended it. I’m counting it as a story because it is a complete scene, even though it sucks. I finished the week working on the secondary story I started last week, which is still going strong.

I don’t have anything against my murder mystery. It’s just that I don’t know who any of the players are. What I think I need to do is find a good character for my detective, then figure out what happened to the victim, including who killed her and why. Once I do that, I can plan out the story as a longer narrative. But for now I’ll just put it on my list of stories to revisit later.

As for my secondary story, that’s coming along pretty well, but I’m still trying to figure out what, exactly, is going on. I started with a woman lost in the woods. She comes across a lab surrounded by an electric fence and yells for help. She’s scared that she is going to be caught outside when night falls and freeze to death. She actually gives up after a while and starts walking around the fence when someone comes out of the lab. In her excitement, she forgets that the fence is electrified and ends up getting shocked enough to knock her out.

Part two is when she wakes up in the lab. Unfortunately, her rescuers aren’t very nice people. They have strapped her down to an exam table and despite her protests, they inject her with some kind of weird serum. Once again, the pain from whatever it was they shot her up with causes her to lose consciousness.

I have just started part three, which is where she wakes up naked in a cage. She feels okay and can’t even find the injection site. I’ll probably have her doubt her memories for a while, as there seems to be no evidence of the experiment. I still haven’t decided what they injected her with, or what it is supposed to do, but it will probably be something that will give her extraordinary abilities. Can you say “superhero”?

My story this week has the typical fairy tale beginning. “Once upon a time.” It’s about a beautiful princess who travels around her kingdom helping those less fortunate solve their problems. The family she is helping now lives on the edge of a cursed swamp. That’s what I’ve got so far. I wonder where it will take me.

That’s all for now. See you next week for another update.

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A Man and His Dog

Once again I started a story with no real idea where it was going. I began by describing an ugly dog. A mutt whose better days were all behind him. And then I decided that my hero was the human equivalent. A bum who lived out of trash cans, but still had a code of honor.

The story was nothing special at first. I just told how he rolled into town and found a meal in exchange for doing some odd jobs for a widow. But I couldn’t leave it there. Our hero got jumped by an overprotective neighbor and the dog protected him. Together they made their escape, and that was the start of their friendship.

Again, this is a story that will probably need a lot of editing before it becomes what it should be. I think I need to amp up the dog’s part in the story building up to the fight. I might want to bring in the attacker a little earlier in order to foreshadow the conflict and increase the tension.

But at least the bones of the story are there. And I practiced using description, which is something I have struggled with. My writing tends to be a little on the bland side, and I am trying to work on that.

In other news, my Magic Spreadsheet chain is still going strong, and I am still using DuoLingo on a daily basis. I’m not adding new words very quickly, but I’m getting a lot of practice with the ones I already know.

That’s it for today. I’ll be back next week to tell you about Story #32. I wonder what it will be?

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Portrait of a Character

This week’s story wasn’t so much a story as an exploration. I started simply, with a visit to a tailor to get a tuxedo for a wedding. As the story progressed we discover that he works in Hollywood and knows Bruce Willis. And the I tried to throw in the weird.

When the tailor goes to measure for the pants we find out that our hero has something wrong with his legs. They are covered by some kind of metallic substance that even he doesn’t understand. And apparently it’s dangerous to others.

By this time I was already flailing, searching for an actual story. After he showed the tailor the danger involved in setting off whatever the stuff was on his legs, the man is completely professional and finishes taking his measurements. And then our hero leaves.

As he goes, we find out that he is a stuntman, not an actor, but it is the “armor” as he calls it, that lets him do what no other stuntman can do. A walk through memory lane then goes over what happened the first time he used his power in public. It was at a bank robbery, and he ended up killing someone, which haunts him to this day.

Definitely not much of a story, but it might be an interesting character concept for a larger tale later on. If I end up publishing an anthology of these tales, this one probably won’t make the cut, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth writing.

In other news, my writing streak on the Magic Spreadsheet  is still going strong, and I rewarded myself by buying some games. I didn’t have any games on my netbook before, as it was intended primarily for writing, but I saw a sale on GOG.com for some old D&D games that I couldn’t pass up. Even though I already owned most of the games in the bundle, there was one included that I have been lusting after for years and that alone was worth the price. (Neverwinter Nights 2, in case you were wondering.) Also, they were all downloadable, which is important since I don’t have a CD drive for my netbook.

The only catch to buying these games was that I had to promise myself that I would never start playing before I got my writing done for the day. After all, a writer has to keep his (or her) priorities straight. And having a little fun after finishing my work is a nice reward.

That’s all for this week. I’m starting a new story today as soon as I finish this post. I wonder what it will be this week? Tune in next Sunday to find out!

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Whoops! I Did It Again.

I finished story #9 for my Dirty Little Freaks series yesterday, and it wasn’t too bad. But once again, I had to go to the dark side.

The story is about a little boy, about eight years old, who is orphaned and homeless. He is on his own in the big bad world, except for one thing. He can see ghosts. To be specific, his dead parents are still looking out for him, and he understands that as long as he listens to their advice things will turn out okay.

This time, however, he’s not so sure about what they want him to do. While he was settling in for the night, hiding in the woods along a deserted country road, a car parks nearby. The man driving then pulls a bound woman out of the trunk and takes her into the forest to do terrible things.

Little Jimmy wants to run away, but Momma and Poppa have other ideas. They convince him to go help the woman, even though he thinks the only possible outcome is for him to end up dead like them.

Then I cut to the woman, Jessie. I had to do this because I wanted to go into the characters of each of them before the end. I describe some of the details of how the kidnapper prepares her for what he plans to do to her, and mix in some of the thoughts running through her mind. In particular, I explain that she thinks she is doomed and she regrets not having kids of her own.

Just when our villain gets to the point of no return, however, Jimmy shows up with a tire iron and conks him over the head. That gives them just enough time to get Jessie out of her bondage, but she has to hit him again to keep him out of trouble so they can get away. In the end, the victim and her rescuer tie up the bad guy and head back to the road. When they get back to the car, Jessie meets Jimmy’s parents and find out that they want her to be his new mother. So we get a happy ending.

Not a bad story, but I woke up this morning still thinking about it. Going over and over in my mind some of the edits that need to be made. For example, I really think that I need to focus more on Jimmy and Jessie’s character, and less on describing their situation. In order to properly build up to the ending, I have to make them both realize how much they belong together. I also think I need to work in a little more history of each of them, such as how Jimmy’s parents died, and what Jessie’s lifestyle was like before she was kidnapped.

But that’s exactly what editing is for. No writer expects to get it right in the first draft. The trick is to ignore all those nagging thoughts about correcting your work while you are still writing that first draft so you can get the story done. If I had gone back to rewrite the beginning before I came to the end, the story wouldn’t be done right now. And if I took the time to start working on my edits right now, I probably won’t be able to finish this week’s story on time.

So this story is going into my pile along with all the others, and will be one of the first on my editing schedule at the end of the year. Between now and then, however, I’m going to ignore it.

I’m still trying to figure out a way to write a story without it being rated PG-13 or worse. I know that the most powerful stories are where the characters are put through hell, but I’m getting tired of the twisted thoughts that are coming out of my head. I’m considering attempting to write a comedy, even though my sense of humor is probably just as twisted.

That’s all for today. I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts about my story. Feel free to leave a comment. And as always, I’ll be checking in again on Wednesday. Catch you later!

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Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby

I’m posting an early update today, so I can focus on my writing for the rest of the day. I’m over 26,000 words and am nearing the halfway point of my goal. Things are slow, but I have been making my daily goal of 700+ words, so I guess I can’t complain.

And now, on to our topic for the day:

SEX

Specifically, how do you handle sex in a book that is supposed to be intended for younger readers? After all, this novel is supposed to be YA. So what am I supposed to do with this scene I am currently writing where one of the boys is rubbing suntan lotion onto the back of one of the girls?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like he’s trying to untie her bikini top or slip his hands under her bottoms. But he is a teenage male, and is definitely getting aroused.

This also ties in to the problem I am having with keeping the writing appropriate to their age. I’m finding it difficult to keep the kids’ down to the point at which I originally started. When I first conceived this idea, they were supposed to be around ten years old. Then I decided to raise it to fourteen. With this scene, they seem to be approaching eighteen. I suppose I could argue that teenagers’ actions regularly swing between that of a two-year-old and a twenty-year-old, but what kind of writing is it where the character is that out of control?

Another thing I have to consider is the censors. Despite the fact that this is a “free country”, and this story is just a story, I would be a fool to think that if I tried to publish it there wouldn’t be any negative reactions from someone who thought it was inappropriate to discuss kids thinking about sex. Even though we all know that they do. I’m not planning on letting them actually have sex, but I would probably be accused of being some sort of pedophile if I got too explicit and let them do “it”.

Does anyone have any suggestions for me? Or maybe examples of mainstream books that cover this issue? I would definitely appreciate any feedback.

Thanks in advance. I’ll see you again on Sunday. I’m going to try to hit that halfway mark by then, and hopefully I’ll be past the sex and on to a different problem.

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Same Problem, Different Day

ROW80 update: I’m still going, trying to get at least 700 words in every day. However, I’m really struggling with getting this middle part down. There are so many problems, I’m not even sure where to start.

First, I think I might be dragging this out too much. I thought I should take my time and develop the characters as they discover their powers, but the way it is going, there aren’t that many powers left for them to discover. Cailin has found all of her abilities, and is rapidly learning how to use them with skill and finesse. Carter doesn’t know he can breathe underwater yet. I am thinking of having the killer try to drown him after stabbing fails, but that probably  shouldn’t come in until near the end of the book. Andy has discovered his ability to use his energy blasts, but I have only hinted at the prophecy power as if it was simply a danger sense and nothing more. As for Lisa, I have hinted at her telepathy, but she is keeping it a secret from the rest of the group, so I haven’t brought it into focus yet for the reader. She has no idea about her shape-shifting ability yet.

So as the kids are rapidly getting comfortable with their new powers, I don’t have a reason to drag out the story. But if I don’t extend the middle, then it will definitely end up being less than the 60,000 words I have planned. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it certainly isn’t what I want.

Another problem I have is that the characters aren’t behaving the way I expected them to. I wanted Carter to be a sullen boy with a bad temper, and he is turning out to be more of a wise-cracking joker. I thought that Cailin and Carter might hook up romantically, but everything he says just makes her mad. She tends to practice her telekinesis by dropping large rocks on his head. Andy had become the leader of the little group, which is strange for someone who I thought would end up to be a lot like a serial killer himself. And Lisa isn’t the camp slut as I expected, but is instead more of a wallflower who hangs on Andy’s every word.

I had to rewrite the first chapter because of this, and now the kids are doing it again. I don’t know if I should just give in to it, or try to force them to be more of the juvenile delinquents that they are supposed to be.

On a similar note, the final problem that I have is writing for this ensemble cast. I find myself repeatedly focusing on Andy, even though all the others are there as well. I have worked their viewpoints in to the story too, but not nearly as much as for him. It almost seems like every scene needs to have either the whole group in it, or at least Andy. While I know that I should be branching out to the other kids more often, and writing scenes that don’t include Andy, it just doesn’t seem to be happening. Part of it may be that he is supposed to be the most intelligent person in the group, and so can explain the things that are happening to the reader, but that is a lousy reason. The story would probably be better if there were more scenes where the reader didn’t get that explanation. And having a certain level of confusion in the story would mean that the book would have to be longer as things are figured out and explained later. But how do I do that now, when I have 40% of the thing written?

I guess probably the only thing I can do is continue on and try to work out some of these issues as I go. I’m sure that editing it will be a nightmare, but I still believe in the story and I think it will all turn out okay in the end. I just need to keep on keepin’ on. If nothing else, these regular blog posts are helping me evaluate my writing as I go. I’m making notes about all the editing issues that will need to be done later.

I’ll see you again on Wednesday. Wish me luck!

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Vacation/Research

I didn’t get a lot of writing done in the last few days (almost none, in fact). The reason for this lack of butt in chair is that I was on vacation with my wife. We traveled to Door County, Wisconsin. It is a well-known tourist spot for Wisconsinites, and although we have lived in Wisconsin for decades (me about 25 years, she her entire life), neither of us has ever been there. So we decided to rectify that omission this week in celebration of our 15th anniversary.

It was a long trip north from Madison. Almost a four-hour drive, so we left before 8:00 AM. It wasn’t easy for our little car, but we took it easy and our GPS kept us mostly heading in the right direction. I thought that we were going to have trouble finding WiFi access while we were up there, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it almost everywhere, including the little B&B we stayed in. It is called the Cornerstone Suites, and is a converted barn.

They have four suites available. We stayed in the Garden Suite. It was fabulous, and I would definitely recommend it. We would have loved to stay longer, but unfortunately we couldn’t afford it this year. But it will definitely be top on our list when we go back.

Our anniversary wasn’t the only reason we decided to go to Door County this year. The other reason we went is because I wanted to do some research for the Valkyrie book I wrote last fall. I set the story in Door County and I wanted to check out some of the places in person that I had written about earlier. I also wanted to take some pictures that I could potentially use for a book cover. I think I was successful in both endeavors.

We started by going to Cave Point County Park. This is the place that I wanted to use for my book cover. The shoreline is very rocky, and the waves from the lake have work caves into the shore. It’s really cool, and I took a lot of pictures like these:

     

     

          

Next on my list of things to do was visit Washington Island. It is a large island just off the north tip of the mainland. It is accessible by ferry, and we caught the last one of the day. The Island Clipper took us through the infamous Death’s Door channel and we landed on the island at about 4:45 PM. That only gave us fifteen minutes to explore, but that was okay with me. I was mainly interested in the boat ride and not the island. Once again, my camera was busy on the trip over, and I got shots like these:

                         

After the ferry, my wife and I were pretty worn out. We stopped at a farm market and picked up some of the cherry goods that Door County is famous for. Then we found a nice Italian restaurant to celebrate our anniversary. The waiter joked that the food was excellent but the service left something to be desired. I won’t mention the name of the place, because when we left we were agreeing with him. The food was great, but our waiter was a bit slow. He was very accommodating, and brought us everything we wanted, including some non-alcoholic cherry spumante, which was really good. But they charged fifteen dollars a bottle for something that we could have bought in the store for six. The total bill (including tip) was $120, which is a lot of money for dinner for two. I’m sorry to say we probably will never go back again.

The next morning we had to check out by 11:00 AM, so we didn’t do much, just laid in bed and read a little before breakfast. We went to a little cafe which had excellent, but simple fare. My wife had cherry pancakes, which had whole cherries baked into them, while I had a nice ham and cheese omelet. Then we went back to the B&B, packed our suitcase, and left for home. We stopped at the Door County Maritime Museum on the way back. I was hoping to find something about the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, but was told that they had that exhibit last year. This year the star attraction was about pirates.

I did manage to learn some cool things though, and it was worth the stop. We probably should have spent more time tooling around town, but my wife wanted to get home to her animals, so we didn’t stick around. The only stop we made on the way back was at a Subway for lunch, and we made it back before 4:00 PM.

The rest of the day on Friday and all day Saturday we mostly spent in recovery mode. We read our books and watched a couple of movies. In short, we just enjoyed being home together. That’s got to be the best way to end a vacation, in my humble opinion.

So I managed to get lots of pictures, and the places and things I saw up north were definitely worth the trip. It gave me a few ideas for some revisions in the book that I will be pondering over for a while.

Speaking of edits, I am still working on the revisions for the first chapter of my current YA project. Even though I did almost zero writing for the last few days, I think the time off helped me to gel some of the ideas in my subconscious, and the next draft should end up to be that much better for it.

I’ll be checking in again on Wednesday. I hope to have the revisions done by then and maybe be finished with Chapter Two. See you then!

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Off to a Slow Start

Not much to report since Sunday. I started off with a short prologue (733 words) that I completed on Sunday, and then started Chapter 1 on Monday. I only managed about 600 words total over the last three days. Not a great beginning to this project, but since I am giving myself three months to complete it I’m still pretty confident.

I’m not sure why I am having so much trouble getting started. I know exactly where I want to go with this, but I’m not feeling it yet. Maybe it’s the third person viewpoint that is throwing me off. I kind of wish I could go back to first person, but with four main characters that really wouldn’t be a good idea.

Maybe the problem is that I’m trying to introduce two different characters here (the two boys) and since I started from the viewpoint of one of them I’m not sure how to introduce the other one. I’m also introducing the setting (a summer camp) and since I haven’t been there the description is really rough.

Or maybe the problem is that these kids are supposed to be delinquent or disturbed in some way, and while I was plenty disturbed growing up, I never was a delinquent. Somehow I need to get into the mindset of a bully who lets his unbridled anger speak for him. And yet make him into a hero by the end of the book. This is going to be tough.

I still have time yet today to get some more writing done. I’m hoping to at least hit 1000 words for Chapter 1 by the end of the day. Wish me luck, and I’ll check in again on Sunday to let you know how it went.

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Looking for the Right Characters

My latest struggle with my new book is trying to decide who my main characters are. This is a pretty big deal for me, as I firmly believe that a good story depends more on strong characters than the plot. That’s one of the reasons why my latest book is proving to be such a difficult process for me. I have no idea who my characters are. I have plenty of ideas on the pain and suffering I am going to put them through in the course of the story, but until I find out who they are I don’t have a story.

So what are some tips on finding your characters? Names are a good start. A lot of people use books on baby names to help them choose the right name for their characters. You will probably want to pick one that also lists the meanings of the names. Those can help give you some ideas on the type of person that might have that name. One of the books I have heard about is Beyond Jennifer and Jason, Madison and Montana, by Linda Rosenkrantz. It includes details such as period popularity, connotation, and the classical meaning of hundreds of names.

Pictures are also helpful. As I mentioned in my “The Outline Begins!” post on June 3, I went to a teen modeling website and found pictures of kids that I thought would be good inspiration for the characters in my novel. I won’t post the pictures here because of possible copyright issues, but it is pretty easy to find modeling websites through a quick Google search. A lot of them are also searchable by height, weight, gender, age, and even hair color. I found pictures of two boys and two girls that looked like kids I wanted in my book, and saved them to my netbook. I also noted a link to the original website and the model profile for each kid. That way I could refer back to it in case heaven opens up and I am blessed with a movie deal. 😉

Going back to the question of names, while I had actually picked out some names earlier, after picking out the pictures I decided to change most of the character names to the actual names of the models. I decided that since these kids had grown up with these names they should actually be well-suited for them, and if I was going to use their images I might as well use their names too. I’m only using their first names, and they are from all over North America, so I’m guessing none of them will have an issue with this. And besides, if they make a movie, they will be the first ones I recommend to play their part. The movie would have to be made within the next two or three years before they get too old for the part, but I guess that can’t be helped.

So I have names and faces. Now I need to find out about their personality. Some authors will get a degree in psychology in order to more fully understand the voices in their own heads. I don’t have that luxury, so I have to rely on reference books and my own gut instincts. I do have some books on my shelf that deal with standard character types and their traits, but those don’t really help until I can get at least a basic feel for my characters. In my last post I  listed some of the things I am looking for in regards to character history and personality. The problem is that even with the pictures of the kids I am still unable to fill out most of those questions. I’m just not feeling that special connection with these characters that is needed in order to write a good story. So I took a different route.

Have you ever looked at someone and come to a snap judgement about what kind of person they are? If you say no, I’ll say you are lying. All of us have been guilty of “judging a book by its cover”, despite the many times we have been told not to. While at WisCon last month, I was out walking with one of my friends and we passed by someone who was making a fairly innocuous comment. I didn’t even hear the whole thing, but the three or four words I did hear set me off immediately. Maybe it was the fact that the political tension in Madison has been so high for the last eighteen months, but those few words made me instantly judge this person as a Tea Party Republican and I just wanted to beat the crap out of him. I didn’t know this person at all, I didn’t have any idea what he was actually talking about with his friends, and I am normally not a violent person, but I had to get away from him as fast as possible before I did something I would regret.

So what does this have to do with the kids in my story? Well, I’ll tell you. What I decided to do was to take a long, hard look at their pictures and start doing what writers do: make stuff up. I decided I would judge these kids by what they looked like. I would reach into my subconscious and decide what kind of people they were based solely on how they looked. I would take little cues based on their clothing and facial expressions to decide things about their personality and background. Instead of filling out my little list, I just started writing some thoughts down, and eventually I had a short paragraph which told me a little about each of them and why they were in the camp in the first place.

The rotten thing about this process is that I had decided that the camp was going to be for juvenile delinquents, so I had to give each of those nice models a reason to be in a place for kids that were just short of going to jail. The thing I am most ashamed of is that it wasn’t hard to do. I turned those four innocent children into a slut, a kleptomaniac, a bully, and a borderline psychopath. I’m not proud of that, but the important thing is that I now know who they are.

And now the fun can begin.

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The Outline Begins!

On Friday, June 1, I began a 30 day outline plan. I am using the schedule provided in the book “First Draft in 30 Days” by Karen S. Wiesner to get this done.

Day 1: Character Sketches.

This didn’t go very well. I hate doing character sketches, so I didn’t do a whole lot. I started by naming the main characters and deciding on their hair color and ages. Then I went to a teen modeling website and found pictures of kids that I could use for inspiration. They will help me picture the kids in my head as well as provide a basis for description. I haven’t put anything down on paper yet describing their actual personality though. At this point I don’t know anything about them, they are just faces in a crowd.

Day 2: Setting Sketches and Research List

Again, this didn’t go very well. I made a list of possible places where the story could go, and tried to find pictures online for the area. I plan on setting the story in the neighborhood where I grew up, and use my old house for the main character of the story. The trouble is that this town is in another state and I haven’t been there for almost thirty years. I asked my mother for pictures of the old homestead, but she is currently on the West Coast visiting my older brother and almost certainly doesn’t have any of those pictures with her. The good news is that her house is nearby, so if she can tell me where her photo albums are I may be able to get them myself.

Another thing that I did on Day 2 was rename most of my characters. I decided to actually use the first names of the models I selected instead of the ones I had originally chosen. I made them all a year older as well, to match the ages of the models, but I may change that back later. The problem is that if they are a year older, then they will be freshmen in high school instead of in the 8th grade. Since I left that town before I started high school, I don’t know what the high school was like. That makes it a bit harder for me to use the place in my story. Of course, I barely remember the middle school that I went to, so it probably doesn’t matter either way.

As far as the research list goes, I didn’t do that at all. Since I am still unclear on most of the plot, I have no clue what I will need to research. I’m hoping that will change by the end of today.

Day 3: Plot Sketch

Today I need to figure out the high and low points of my plot. I need to decide exactly what kind of story I am writing here and make sure it is something that people will want to read. I have a general idea of what I want (detective story with elements of the paranormal and a possible government conspiracy), but it is time to get the half-formed thoughts out of my head and onto the page. I don’t need to work out the whole flow of the book today, but I need to at least get it started.

The next two days are scheduled for writing my summary outline, which will be where I set out all those other details. After that is almost a week of research. I think that I will probably end up using a lot of that time ironing out all the details about character, setting, and plot that I glossed over earlier.

I’m not sure how well this process is going to go, but I am hoping that by the end of June I will have a decent outline and will be able to start writing the story on July 1. I’ll post regular updates to let you all know how it is going, so stay tuned!

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