Posts Tagged With: writing mysteries

The Plot Thickens (if you add some flour)

What do you need to create a plot? That’s the big question isn’t it? Well, here’s your answer: stuff. You need stuff. That was simple. End of blog. You can go about your business now. Wait wait wait… no. That’s cheating. Sorry. Okay. Alright. Someone on the facebook page just said it’s Goal, Motivation, Conflict. Okay. I can agree with that. It’s got a good beat. You can at least shuffle like an injured zombie to it. But is that enough?

I have decreed that it is Plot week on the Nanowrimo group page. Not the official page, mind you. The big unofficial one. The facebook one. So this is mostly for those folks, should they find their way here. If you’re not from the group, though, that’s okay too. Hope you enjoy it. It’s bound to be a rambling incoherent mess.

Okay. Just to start with, i remember when i was a young lad my mom got me a book for my birthday. Not exactly a unique occurrence. But this one was really good. It was The Fiction Writers Handbook, by Hallie and Whit Burnett. I was…. probably 12. It had a section on plot and it started thusly: The king dies. Then the queen dies. Now, according to Hallie and Whit, this right here is the essence of plot. This happened, then that happened. Is the happening the result of the first thing happening? Could be. But either way, everything between those two happenings (whatever you figure out) is your plot.

So you can say Goal, Motivation, Conflict and those certainly help. But, to me, that’s more of the order of character. Your character needs the goal, the motivation, the conflict. The Plot is the media in which those ingredients thicken and become a stew. I mean…. what’s my goal? To not die a horrible flaming death at the hands of the big damned dragon. What’s my motivation? Not dying is pretty good. What’s the conflict? Those big nasty teeth and, you know, the gouts of flame that are scorching my eyebrows off. Yeah. That’s good. But how the hell did i get into the damned dragons lair anyway? What am i doing here? That’s your plot.

Plot is simple. Really. It’s the barest of all possible bones in a story. It’s like a femur or something. And all plots are fairly alike… Mystery: Find the how and the who and bring them to justice. Fantasy: Recover the MacGuffin for the good guys. Sci Fi…. could be anything. Romance: Girl and guy hook up – happily ever after or no? Lit fic: Discover the X within yourself (or don’t and live as an educating wretch) It’s all pretty simple. So why bother?

Well… that’s the BIG BIG BIG damned question. The why bother is the thing that YOU bring to the table. The why is the thing that keeps you moving forward.

So you want to tell a story about dragons. Cool. Everybody loves dragons. Why not? But why you? What is it – inside you – that causes you to want to write about dragons? Find that. It can be almost anything. It can even be ‘dude. i just think dragons are wicked cool.’ That’s fine. But what is it about them that makes them wicked cool to YOU? Let’s take superheros for example: now it’s common knowledge that the superhero is an active character battling for justice in an inactive and occasionally subverted world, right? But what made someone write them to begin with? Probably a feeling of powerlessness in the face of powerful forces that seemed insurmountable. In short. I want Captain America to kick Hitler’s ass because my big brother Jimmy is over there and i’m scared shitless i’m never going to see him again and if Cap does it, Jimmy can come home. X-Men – racially mixed teens expunged from a society that hates and fears them, battle the forces of intolerance.

See? Simple but really damned powerful motivations.

Start from the small bones. The King dies then the queen dies. Then figure out why you care and put the muscle on those bones. In all probability you will start with your own motivation – what things are YOU trying to deal with? The king dies then the queen dies. Is it grief? Are you dealing with grief? Now you might say… i just want to write a really great story with lots of derring do and heroics. Who cares about all that thinky psychologizing stuff. Thousands of books are written just to sell a quick buck. Why can’t i just write one of those. Well, you can. But believe it or not, not caring is way harder than writing something you actually give a shit about. If you give a shit, you will want to know how the story ends. You will want to overcome the obstacles you set out for your Main Character. Because they’re YOUR obstacles too.

So. move forward from the basics and put the bones together with the idea of overcoming those things you need to get past, deal with, overcome. Hell, maybe you can’t. But you can create someone who can and when you do… well that’s the whole point. That’s the writing getting to the next level. That’s giving people the chance to say ‘you know what? I read your book, and the way you got Bobby over the hump of dealing with the death of the king so that he could then go and slay the evil queen? It saved my shit. No lie. I was in a bad place and i read that and i was like ‘i can get off my ass. If little Bobby Peachtree could do it. I can.’

Now that may seem more like thematics. Which i should talk about, but i won’t right now. Ideally you’ll be building your themes concurrent with the plot. But just remember the plot starts simple. Keep it simple. Little girl finds home. Detective finds the bad guy. Good overcomes bad. Then ask questions. Ask LOTS of questions. What is the good? What is the bad? How does good overcome? What is home? Who is the bad guy? How does the detective find him? What clues are left behind? Where do they lead? Plot is a series of this/then. That happens because this happened. Chain them all together and you have your plot.

 

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Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Have Pen, Will Sing: Karaoke for the writing soul.

keep-calm-and-karaoke-4-1The fact is writers, when traveling, should karaoke. Why? Cuz. Reasons. Let’s face it – most of the time, you barricade yourself behind a computer. You hammer out stories and words and thoughts and all that stuff and that’s terrific and all but you probably need to loosen up around people. Maybe just a little, maybe just a lot.

So what do you do, hotshot? Yeah. You with all your pretty words. Here’s what you do. You get out there while you are traveling. And Karaoke in an unfamiliar city is the perfect opportunity for this. Why? Because, there’s a good chance you may never see these people again which nicely mitigates the risk of complete embarrassment.

And you will, most likely, be completely embarrassed. It’s okay. That’s completely built into the matrix of Karaoke. Let’s face it, you could use it. You think too much of yourself already. You’ve got a chip on your shoulder. You need to take yourself down a peg.

So this is one moment in the life of the traveling writer where you can leave your notebook at home, grab a vodka cranberry (or four) and screw up the courage to put yourself on stage to belt out (as best as you can) the lyrics to Celine Dion. Or something.

But here’s a little tip: If you want to go whole hog on the knocking yourself down a peg (and want a fairly cheap, but well worth it show) try Karaoke in LA. Yes. Home of every up and coming or want to be up and coming star. They do things pretty seriously fun out there and the show you’re about to see is worth some writing fodder.

In my case, we went to a place for my birthday. A friend suggested it as I was incapable of coming up with an idea for something to do and they already knew i loved Karaoke. It was, well…. it was something else. I was expecting the usual ego massaging sort of thing where everyone is of a similar talent level (ie – None) but this definitely isn’t the case. There were people there who could flat-out wail. There were those who couldn’t carry a tune. There was a guy and his friend who danced out ALL of Kevin Bacon’s dance routine in footloose while someone sang it. There was the girl who timidly climbed the stage to sing Whitney Houston and then nailed it so hard I actually LIKED Whitney Houston for five minutes. Yeah. And I had to follow her on stage with my weak rendition of Johnny Cash’s Big River.

Intimidating? Yes. Totally worth it? Absolutely.

So what does this have to do with writing? Well… as you’ve probably gathered from many of my other posts, everything has to do with writing. And once again, it’s a great place for character. We writers are introverts by nature. And that’s okay. But while traveling, it’s critical to get out there and meet and do things a little outside of your comfort zone. If you don’t, as i mentioned before, you’ll most likely end up sitting in your hotel room tapping away on something. This is fine. You should do that. But not that ALL the time, and you need to smash down your own barriers. Karaoke is a fairly efficient method for doing that. Let the song flow through you. Be it’s conduit.

I don’t care that you sing like a tortured moose. Do it anyway. The guy who actually SANG the footloose tune that the other guys were dancing to? Yeah. Awful. But he did it anyway. It brought him joy and happiness and it will to you to. It doesn’t matter if you wail like you just stubbed your toe on a porcupine. The most important thing is just showing up.

Categories: Uncategorized, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Second Week Blues – Continuing Tales of the Ravaging NaNo.

PandaGood morning, NaNos. I’m sure by now you’ve collided with that invisible barrier – the two-week blues. You’ve been watching the unbelievable progress of your fellow nanos with a mixture of Hulk Rage and Sad Panda. By now you’ve had some time to get into the middle of your plot and realized it’s all mucky and full of weeds and you’re wondering why the hell I ever bothered with this stupid NaNo stuff. This is usually the point in your november when all seems lost. If you had a fainting couch you would throw yourself dramatically upon it at least once a day. Your hair is getting thin. Your characters suck and they hate you. And why can’t I write an action sequence has crept up and strangled you with its cold icy fingers.

Don’t despair, brave NaNos. It’s only week two. This is the hard part. The rest is easy.

Okay. That’s a lie. But this is the hard part. This is EXACTLY the reason you are doing NaNo.

Here’s the little secret about this giddy madness you’ve engaged in. It isn’t REALLY about writing a novel. It’s about getting over those internal hold ups in you that don’t let you finish your novel. It’s about persistence and grinding away. It’s about the reward of just winning. Sure it’s fun to have a brilliant novel that just rollicks off all over the place like a mining cart full of kittens playing big band music while it hurtles down the rollercoaster track ala Temple of Doom. But that’s not what writing is all about. It’s about work. And a mining cart full of kittens. It’s both. But it’s about getting through those moments and winning in spite of that little niggling voice telling you you can’t and that your ideas are all stupid.

So you’re in the two-week blues. Everybody gets them. Hell, I even got them recently after realizing that my characters have all spent more time in restaurants chatting about the case than actually DOING anything. So I skipped all that stuff and started working on a different part of the story. It is a part, I might add, that I didn’t even know WAS a part until I got desperate and tossed in a guy with a gun. Why? Why not? Voila! Unstuckitude. I know, I know. You want to take yourself seriously and preserve the integrity of your work. You feel the need to keep your plot cohesive. Giant lizards stomping on your city or playing parcheesi with each other while using buildings as seats and a table doesn’t really enter in to your concept for your story. You think i’m just being silly. But the thing is – it isn’t silly if it works. If it gets you putting words on the page – and most importantly – if it gets you to STOP TAKING YOURSELF SO BLASTED SERIOUSLY.

Look, YOU opened the door to the world of imagination. You’ve looked out upon its landscape and took the first steps. You may have laid out your story like a nice yellow brick road and are determined to walk it but just look out on that lovely grass. Look around. Do you have your tourist flyer for the land of imagination? THROW IT OUT! Get off the path. Take a hike. Get lost. Just down the hill over there are some alligators in top hats. What are they doing? You tell me. What kind of trees are those over in that misty valley – the ones with the purple on top that those weird birds keep fluttering around in singing old Morrissey tunes?

NaNo is for you. It’s not about creating an everlasting masterpiece of unbelievable brilliance. It’s about showing yourself that you can win a freaking marathon with your MIND. And it’s about learning how to play again – or maybe for the first time, maybe showing you just how brilliant the imagination can become when blended with the adult in you. Maybe it’s a boot camp for learning to think outside the box. Or maybe it’s the great awful dungeon from which you must escape but you’re the one that writes that story. No one can write it for you.

So what are you going to do, Panda? Are you going to pine at the iron bars of “i’m too far behind so why bother?” Are you going to stare at that massive wall of “My plot is totally boring so why should i keep going because i suck”? Or are you going to invent a troupe of freaking Ninjas to help you scale it? Will you find the bar-bending hulk roaming through your own dungeon? Will you help yourself release your own imagination from the trap of every day. Will YOU win the marathon – dragging yourself across the finish line in a heaving gasp but with a grin wide enough to swallow a bus?

It’s your call, writer.

 

Categories: Fiction, Mystery, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

It’s Here! It’s Here! The NaNo has arrived – Week One

For a few weeks now I’ve been building up to this NaNo thing, right? Telling you all about my prep or lack thereof – in lurid and exaggerated detail and all that stuff. I’m sure it was very amusing and stuff. But all that fun aside it is now upon us. Bam. Just like that. Did i panic? Did i lose my marbles and go screaming into the night? Did I hide under the covers? Nay! I did not. I stood tall and proud and joined the fray like a true damned hero.

Okay. So I may have peed my pants just a little.

NaNo launched at Midnight last thursday. If you were up at that hour you probably felt the furious tapping of hundreds of thousands of keyboards all over the world. It probably sounded like a herd of pygmy goats. I was up. One of those little tappings was my own. Mine. My precious. I did 2000 words that first night which is off to a pretty nifty start if i do say so myself. And yes i did panic just a wee bit in the small hours before kickoff. I got that little nervous jitter in my chest that niggled at me and filled me with self-doubt. But then it started and it was all like “you got this?” and the steely eyed missile man inside glared down and said in his best Clint Eastwood impression: “Yeah. I got this.”Clint

Three days later and I’ve crested the 10,000 mark and things are still going strong. I think. Honestly, I wouldn’t know as I’m terrified of looking back at what I’ve already written. It feels like its working pretty well but almost immediately something popped up in the story that I didn’t expect: Meg sorta fell for the Los Angeles Cop she met in the opening chapter. It had been in my mind that that might happen, but I figured ‘it’s Meg, we’re talking about. The chances of that are fairly slim.’ and then it happened. That’s characters for you. You never can quite tell what they’re going to do until they do it and Meg is particularly that way. I love her a lot but it’s a ride writing her. Most of the time i just feel like I’m following along.

And once again I’m struck with what a weird magical mystery writing is and that’s what NaNo is really all about in my opinion. If there is one thing I want all NaNo participants to find it’s that word count doesn’t matter. Yeah, it’s great to have goals. It’s a moment of great joy when you hit that 50,000 and kick on the Queen and go strutting around your minuscule monastic cell but that’s secondary to all the moments in between. LIke everything else in life the journey is the destination. Don’t forget the little things. Like when you’re just writing along, grinding away and suddenly the giant puzzle pieces drop out of the sky and fill the landscape and you have that first gasp that everything might actually work out. Or that moment when you suddenly see your scene so well that you can hear the seagulls in the air and feel the breeze. You might not be able to write it but you know it and you know it’s there when you need it.

Those are the great moments. That’s why this is a blast and why NaNo is so cool. Not everyone is going to have those moments. You can’t engineer or create them. They just happen. You can read every pro writer tip out there and soak in hundreds of hours worth of boring lectures and never have that moment. But then one day you’ll be writing along – maybe in the middle of a word sprint and BAM! Like you just ran into something with your face and liked it.

I’ve been hearing an awful lot lately about how hard writing is and how you need to respect it and how it’s hard work and it will twist you into knots and no true writer can say they are a true writer until they learn to hate it just a little. Personally I think that’s bullshit. You’ve caught someone trying to make themselves sound more respectable because ‘who doesn’t hate their job a little every now and then? I’d be an asshole if I said the truth – that this is the only damned thing I have ever wanted to do and when it’s working its like angels singing.’ Are there rough times? Sure. But whatever.

Let’s put it this way: I remember the playgrounds of my youth. I remember transforming a pile of old tires into a tank, or a horse out on the open plain, the swings were like flying, that weird collection of splintery beams and chains was a pirate ship, or the back of a dragon. I remember nothing being what it was. Everything changed dramatically with the power of invention and imagination. Writing is the playground. A piece of paper or a blank screen turning into forests, space dragons, the Santa Monica Pier, the bridge of a starship. It’s the place where your own personal memory meets the kid in the adult – your imagination makes alchemy happen and it’s magic. But in order to let that magic happen, in order for NaNo to really live up to its full potential – you need to get that ego out of the way and just learn to surf the resurgent wave that is that resurrected little kid fighting it’s way back into the adult.

Anyway. That’s Day three of Nano. Now i’m heading back at it. Rig and Meg are about to interview an elderly criminal. This is going to be fun.

Post Script – Last week i wrote a teleplay involving Castle working through NaNo while trying to solve a case. As soon as i figure out a way to share it here i will. In the mean time, drop a line and ask about it or share ideas on how i might be able to share it. Cuz i’ve got nothing.

 

 

 

Categories: Meg Brown Mysteries, Mystery, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Calm Before The Storm – Nano Prep pt. 3

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Listen. Shhhh….

Do you hear that? The Quiet? It’s eerie isn’t it? The cold wind whistles. A crow cries in the distance. A tumbleweed blows by carrying the poems of dashed dreams tied in its desiccated branches. Quiet. Deadly quiet.

I have no pictures of Scapple to share today. No images of the Scrivener set up. My eyes are scanning the distant horizon for that hazy lurking figure. I’m crouched in my trenches. Waiting, Taking deep breaths, hauling in gallons of coffee and dried meat. I’ve got a little fire burning to keep the chill off but there’s a chill buried deeper in my bones that I can’t shake. Will I make it or will that thing stomp me to dust. There’s nothing to do but wait.

Which, of course, isn’t true at all. There’s a ton of shit to do. You’ve got to wave a fond farewell to friends and family. You’ve got to make sure the barricades are well stocked. You’ve got to check your prep again and, seeing as there is still a week to go, you can still prep a lot more. Me? I’m just chilling for now. Tomorrow I do a bit more prep, check the fence and the razor wire but I’m feeling pretty good about my chances because I finished the novel I was working on last week. It’s these little bits of confidence builders that boost the energy for the long haul. Do more of these throughout the year and you’ll be fine. Today I worked on a ton of editing for the other work in progress. Ain’t no moss growing on this rolling stone.

NaNo is just a month of writing, folks. I’ve been going on about what a noble battle it is but the truth is that it’s like Christmas for writers. We throw caution to the wind and dive in feet first. It is the time to be mad. It’s the time for a literary bacchanalia. In the last month I’ve chatted with pantsers who haven’t a clue what they’re going to do. I’ve talked with plotters who have their whole thing laid out to the very last detail. And every variety of literary lunatic in between – some are planning on doing the whole 50,000 in 24 hours, other’s are planning 2 novels of 50,000 and still others are hoping to work through 5 short stories of 10,000 each. It doesn’t matter how you get there. Just get there. Join the party. Throw caution to the wind. Don’t panic. And whatever you do – don’t worry. This isn’t really an epic battle unless it’s an epic battle with yourself and your own torpor or your own resurgent wishes and desires.

Burning Man Car

NaNo is the festival. It’s the burning man of writing. Come one come all. Put that lampshade on your head and sing sea shanty’s. Dress up like a pirate while you work. And if you find yourself stuck, frustrated, confused, or reaching the end of your rope with whatever you’re working on, take a deep breath and find some way to make it FUN. Has the plot gone completely off the rails? Throw in a gang of super intelligent baboons. Is you’re MC pissing you off with his insufferable judgements about people and things? Stomp him to death with Godzilla. Murder him with a troupe of Bulgarian clowns. Why? Because you CAN! Don’t take it seriously if it doesn’t help you. Don’t set unrealistic goals. Don’t think for a second that you will be writing the next nobel prize-winning novel in 30 days of literary abandon. If you do you’re going to miss out while the rest of us are holding hands in the back yard singing sea shanty’s around the burning pyre of our ambition.

Just write.

Be free and howl at the moon. For 50,000 words you can purchase your freedom from everything. That’s all it takes. 50,000. And really that’s nothing. 1700 a day. You can do that in your sleep. Now I sound like a late night advertisement, but seriously. Or not. It’s true. Oh the places you’ll go – moons to visit, space dragons, faeries with a penchant for playing marbles in the back alleys of Manhattan. Freedom. For just 1700 words a day. burningman Car

But you, dear quivering hopeful writer, must make the choice. Are you going to let that poor shriveled thing inside you starve or are you going to give it one hours worth of sustenance a day? That’s all it takes and you too can have your very own set of banjo minnows, or a new moon, or a fleet of interstellar battleships screaming their way to certain doom.

Save yourself, write a book.

Give in to the howling quiet in your brain. Let it feed you. Be a great god and join us  – the weary and the willing – in one more years worth of the valiant stand against the gloom of all there is. Prepare (or don’t. It makes no bother with me) for we – in one week – shall sally forth and do something pretty damned awesome.

(All purchases of soul freedom are non-refundable. Offer not valid on some systems. Please check with your doctor if Soul Freedom is right for you. May cause bouts of giddiness and in some patients, moments of quiet rage, depression, goofiness, insanity, hysteria. Rare side effects include publication and possible fame and fortune)

Categories: Mystery, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Plot Thinkens – NaNo Prep pt 2

santa_monica_pier

 

Let’s make this quick shall we? I’ve been at this damned computer ALL DAY again. That’s what unemployment will do to you. But you stay busy and that’s what I’ve been doing. Staying busy. Actually, way too busy. I have no idea how I accomplished anything when I actually had a job to be honest. I mean, srsly folks – I’ve been working harder in the last month than I think I ever have in my life. At anything. And let me tell you something else. It feels GREAT!

Anyway. Last week you saw the beginnings of the panic of the impending NaNo. I managed to calm myself down and look into its steely cold dead eyes and give it what’s for but you will recall that there still wasn’t much. It was a wing and a prayer at best. Better than a broken wing and a tattered couple of letters that once belonged to a prayer but still. Well this week we’re building up steam. We’re filling the ditches of the entrenchments with poisonous snakes (dangerous to handle – don’t try that at home) We’re mounding up the vicious snowballs for our defense.

If you recall, when we left off last week the anti NaNo defense looked a bit like this: MB7 scapple pic

Pretty fricking sad. But it was something. Scapple is my new friend. I took that little sad-looking blankness and thought to my self ‘self, how the hell are we going to make a go of that map of horrors. It’s truly awful and if I go into a scrap with that ‘ol NaNo will breathe fire and brimstone straight down my throat.’ Well… Self answered. Self thought long and hard about that and stared like the gray-bearded general he is and came up with this: MB7 Scap1

It’s better but it’s still not great. The thing is Scapple lets you see and ponder your elements in a zen way that makes things pop. You know you need to connect the things in there somehow and it lets you look at all of them in one spot and just…ponder, man. Really ponder. And soon enough things are building, you’re making those connections, you’re adding things. But the more you add the more your scrivener project starts taking shape. Like this:MB7 Scriv1

Now doesn’t that look better? Ahhh… breathing a sigh of relief. Lets see what do we have here? Oh look – I’ve got a whole opening sequence laid out. I’ve got note cards. If you were able to look in the characters info you would see the pictures from my past series that I just moved straight in here with no muss and no fuss. I’ve even added a few new ones.

Now I’d show you the progress I’ve done in Aeon Timeline too but frankly my brain is fried. But that’s the great thing about doing work that you love. You put in a good days work and the fried brain is a sign of a job well done. It’s satisfying. And that is what NaNo is all about. It’s about working your silly writing ass off and giving you permission to feel like a dedicated professional even if you’re an unemployed bum.

So for all you folks still prepping out there: Prep (or don’t). Prep like the wind. Gird your loinchops. Get ready. It’s coming. Your apotheosis. In November you shall rise from your pathetic cubicle torpor and become GODS! GODS I SAY! Beasts shall rise, mountains shall fall, oceans shall boil, kittens shall destroy a thousand words in one errant paw on your keyboard and you shall sigh and say ‘Foolish kitten! I care not for a thousand words for i shall write 50,000 before i am through! The NaNo MUST and WILL be defeated to slink it’s hoary way back to the depths for another year. To rest. To be soothed by the cool waters of editing. Yes, ye gods. RISE!

Categories: Mystery, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scapple, Aeon Timeline, The NaNo Approacheth and Horror Ensues

Oh dear god here it comes again. You can just see it in the distant haze, shambling along. It’d coming. It lumbers like thunder. It is The NaNo and it comes to destroy time, patience, habitats, and sanity. You’d better run. You’d better hide. Snatch a quick glimpse at its impossibly huge form in the distance. Can you see the sudden bursts of flame erupting from where it’s mouth might be? Run.

November.

It’s not the prospect of November’s weather that sends the chill through me. It’s the gibbering wreck that I’ll become as it approaches and I begin to realize i still don’t have a plot for Meg Brown Number 7. “Oh, just adopt a plot.” they’ll say. Right. That’s like borrowing a rusted fork to battle a dragon. ‘Oh don’t worry. Something will come.’ Oh will it? You’re sure about that?

MB7 scapple pic

So that’s what I’ve got so far. LOOK AT IT! That’s from Scapple. It’s not exactly a new program from the folks over at Literature and Latte – I’ve had it for a while now but I gather it’s new to those poor souls who have a windows based system. The basic idea of it is sort of like a mind map but you can connect anything to anything else and it’s nicely free form. It can also be exported as notes into your Scrivener project. Which is terrific. If I had anything there which, clearly, I don’t. Ideally, there would be lines connecting many of those ideas and things would rapidly spiral out of control as I find connections between everything and everything else. In this case all I have is disconnected elements.

That’s not good.

It should look something like this:

MB6

And even that is just so I have some place to throw stuff when I’m busy losing my mind. As you can see, this is much nicer. You can throw a lasso around a bunch of elements and shift them all around and it will preserve the links you’ve established. You can add things to your heart’s content – well… it is finite and it does expand to the point where everything in your scapple doc is so tiny it looks like a hairball but you can zoom in and scroll around so it all works out.

Of course that helps not at all if you have no story or plot to connect anything to. Which, as you can see up there, I do not. The Great Beast NaNo shambles one awful step forward.

Next we’ll take a look at the project from the perspective of Aeon Timeline where.. I think… I have even less.

MB7timeline

Timeline will… when I have more strength and intelligence… provide a formidable bulwark against the terrible onslaught of the mighty NaNo. right now, on the other hand, it’s like a fence made of toothpicks. There is nothing there. I have even less assembled than I do in Scapple so I’m in real trouble here. That big bastard is coming closer. I’m starting to feel its hot breath wilting the toothpicks of my barricades.

So what do I do? I scratch my head. I think of things I want to talk about – things that are pissing me off and I need to address. This is where the pantsing of writing might happen but it might provide a few pointed sticks of planning, firmly implanted in the mud in front of the barricade.

It goes a little like this: I am unemployed. Hmm… well.. the process of finding a job pisses me off a lot. I hate resumes. Is there something I can do with that? Any way I can make that into a plot? Hmm… Well the frustration of resume sending and the like can make me practically homicidal. Is there a ‘what if’ that pops up when I think of this? Where does that Vampire Character fit in? Do I need to worry about that idiot? Hmmm…

So the salad ingredients are slowly… ever so slowly… getting mixed up into very lethal bombs. When cooked properly i can make them into land mines to slow the assault of the great beast.

What else have I got? I’ve got two victims. Tameka and Eric. Where do they fit in? Does Eric die right away? Does he die before the story starts? Is that how my Minneapolis detectives end up in Los Angeles? Could be. That sort of works. We can live with that. I’ve also got Big Deans Oceanfront Cafe, The Santa Monica Pier, Chez Jays, and well.. it’s freaking hollywood ain’t it? How many weirdos, actors, cops, movers and shakers can I throw in there? Is this a fish out of water story? Or an underdog story or some combination of the above?

Anyway. Whatever is happening here you can see how this stuff is growing the more i am talking about it. The Shambling Beast NaNo is looking just a little worried. It’s thunderous steps are just a little more hesitant as it glares at me with its volkswagon sized, coal-black eyes as I frantically prep my November Defense. I’m still on shaky ground. There’s a lot of work to do. But it’s only 50,000 words. That’s a little less than 2,000 a day. It’s going to be a big fight but I’ve done it before. I know how to handle this.

I ain’t scared ‘a you, NaNo. Bring it, you big ugly bastard.

(Note – if you want to know the sort of horror that NaNo is check out the Don Kenn Gallery – some pretty incredible art work there. Go Buy Some.)

Categories: Mystery, Uncategorized, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Few Unkind Words About Beta Reading…

Statler-and-Waldorf-ShoppingUp to a few months ago I’d never heard the term ‘Beta- reader’ and honestly I kind of hate it. I’m not kidding. I get the relationship between it and the whole computer program, game-playing culture and I’ll freely admit that it fits but ugh. It sucks. But it still fits so we’ll run with it until something a little more poetic comes by. Anyone? Please? Come up with something better. It grates on me. So fix it people! Please your weird blogger.

Anyway. For the time being we’re going to run with it.

I get the concept. You have a few select readers – or victims – peruse your erstwhile completely untested and frequently quite unfinished manuscript to work out the kinks. Sort of like sending the babe off to kindergarten – if kindergarten was Lord of the Flies. Which it sort of is isn’t it? Writers need this sort of thing. Nothing flies when it first tests its little wings. You have to give it some time, some encouragement, let the people you trust shower some advice and attention on the little feller and get some air under its wings. That’s what it’s all about. In theory at least.

UNFORTUNATELY…

Many folks seem to think that beta reading is a nice way to sharpen their critical teeth on someone else’s work. You get the input back and within the first sentence you can practically envision that reader furrowing their brow as they slip on the tweed jacket they’ve reserved JUST for this purpose. They clamp the pipe they don’t smoke between those sharpened teeth and then they bite. Hard. Right into your little bird that hasn’t done a thing to them except peep hopefully at them. They seem to think that this is their chance to show their chops (choppers) at VALID LITERARY CRITICISM. Like that’s actually a thing. Like that’s exactly what they should be doing.

Well stop it. If that’s you… close your salivating mouth. Save it for the book review published to much imagined praise in the anals of the New Yorker. (Yes… that is what I meant.) Here’s a tip: YOU ARE NOT HAROLD BLOOM. And even if you are Harold Bloom this is not the time for it. Your basic job, that you have been entrusted with, is to be helpful. No matter how godawful the thing you’re reading actually is you are NOT permitted to say things like ‘why are you wasting my time’ or ‘didactic’ or ‘good lord, you should really think of doing something else.’ You may think these things and that is perfectly fine but your job is to be helpful. You are reading for concept, flow, tension, character. You are reading for compassion. Act that way. Be critically brilliant somewhere else on your own time.

Now I’m sure we’ve all sat in some tiny room at one point or another around a table at which we are being fed piecemeal to the class and masticated by a professor whose own books didn’t sell well enough to avoid having to teach. How did that feel? Good? Nah. I’m guessing it sucked. Was it actually helpful? In my case I can say all it did was puff up my own writerly ego and made it don armor against such stuff. You know how it goes: first it’s “good lord that hurt like lemon juice on a bee sting.” Then it’s like “oh yeah? what the hell do you know you little turd. Wait till I get a chance to review YOUR stupid story…”

Do not give a writer an excuse to grow a whopping ego. It’s pretty much the worst offense any writer can ever commit. They start thinking stupid things like ‘I am the author of the universe.’ or worse ‘I made that.’ If you are Beta Reading you first goal should be – really – to help said writer to put down that ego. The ego is the biggest impediment to decent writing there ever was. Which is amazing considering the best writers ever had MASSIVE egos. Maybe that’s why. They somehow managed to put it away while writing then looked upon their own works and thought ‘dang. I’m pretty awesome.’ and then they believed it. As Ricky Roma put it in Glengarry Glen Ross: “your job is to HELP US. Not FUCK US UP.” 61586534_640

To do that you need to have some compassion. Realize that the person behind the excremental piece of trash that you are slogging your way through is trying to do the best they can. They are doing the best they can. AND THEY CHOSE YOU to help make it better. Why? Yes. Because they kind of think you’re at least a little bit awesome. That’s called respect. What happens when you dance around on their blessedly ugly little bird? They stop thinking you’re in any way awesome and now think you’re a total turd out to kill the things they love. And why would they think that? Because you just did. Congrats. Douche.

So have some respect. You wouldn’t go up to a friend who just had a baby and say ‘Awww… Congratulations… but seriously, don’t you think it’s not too late to abort?’ If you are I’m guessing you don’t have too many friends and have gotten used to being punched in the face. And besides, I know you think you were a virgin birth that came borne fully on a sun-beam to the tune of angels but really you came out kinda tiny and gross just like the rest of us. Harold Bloom might be a titan of literary criticism but at one point he too was a geeky little book nerd and you still aren’t him. So have a little humility and appreciate when someone wants you to read. Take it seriously. If you don’t think you can reign in that penchant for critical brutality (or worse yet, think it’s somehow necessary to ‘toughen someone up’ – sadist) then DON’T AGREE TO DO IT. It’s that simple.

Categories: Mystery, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Right writing

You’ve probably popped in here to get my long-awaited words of wisdom on plot. Yeah, sorry to disappoint but that post has been delayed yet again. Just think how insightful it will be when I actually do get around to it though! Nope. This one is about getting it right. That’s pretty much the be-all-end-all of what you’re writing. Write right. Hemingway once said something about it. His idea when he sat down to his little moleskine notebooks was to write one true sentence. Tim O’Brien took that theme a little further in his section on war stories in The Things They Carried. Buddhism has hammered it into maxims that I am constantly forgetting: right speech, right thought, and then I lose track.

Write right.

I know what you’re probably going to say: “But, dude. I write about vampires and stuff.” I don’t care. Get it right. You can’t possibly tell me that your four hundred year old bloodsucker is perfectly fine with taking his senior year over again for the three hundredth time. That’s the trick.

Now here’s the extra crispy corollary to that trick: You Will Fail. Actually You Must Fail. One of the most charming and amazing thing about reading Hemingway, to me anyway, was how his characters failed so beautifully. If you’ve read A Moveable Feast it isn’t too hard to see how Hem himself failed gloriously. It takes an amazing amount of talent to wrap your most painful failure between two covers and publish it posthumously. What a jerk. Failure, after all, is its own amazing truth. It’s right, in other words.

Now, not content to stick completely to one topic I’ll tell you why this is so important. See, I spent a good long time farting around with my writing: plonking out little stories where and when they’d strike me. I was sort of aimless. Y’know? Just putting words on the page, whipping up some characters with some stuff and throwing them in a blender and seeing what came out. It wasn’t a lot of fun, actually, but it was writing and that enabled me to call myself A Writer. Yes. In caps. Just like that. A Writer can scribble away for hours in coffee shops. A Writer has an opinion on books that you must listen to because he’s A Writer.

Uh huh.

The thing is, I kind of cracked my mind a few years ago and after that just cranking out any old story wasn’t good enough. I wanted to write the stories that I actually felt and frankly I wasn’t really feeling any of them. I could make it look like I did and – just to polish my own beret – some of them were pretty good. So once I got my head back together I started working on stuff again. At first it was simple little stuff. The Short Man. Just a little story about a detective trying to find a killer. But it fit. And it fit well. It might not have been terrific but it fit well. And it was a hint of something that was… yep you guessed it. Right.

Now I’m not saying that it was true. In fact, I really didn’t know shit about writing mysteries. Truth be told I still don’t. I really don’t think anybody does. Mysteries are messy, which is why writers are constantly reinventing them and why defense attorneys are still so mighty popular. You put a guy on the floor with holes in him. How did he get that way? Yep. Sounds simple enough and for some writers that’s where it stops. Intrepid hero finds the bad guy and saves the day. But it’s never that simple as any attorney – prosecuting or defense will tell you. Heck it’s not that simple for a detective. Stand yourself in front of a witness who has every reason in the world to tell you what happened to the dead guy and have them lie to you. You know they’re lying. Why in god’s name are they lying? And that’s just one aspect of an investigation, right?

Well that’s what I mean by getting it right.

After a while with my detective I realized that I could make this thing sing. Maybe you don’t see it if you’ve read them, but – again being honest here – I don’t care. I feel it. I can see the potential and I want to get it better, why? Well it’s simple. But before I get to that let me hop back one more little step to explain something else about me.

I tend to yell at the tv a lot. And the radio in my car. Which I foolishly keep on the news. That should tell you something about the dire state of musical radio in Milwaukee that I’d rather listen to the news. One of the things I yell most often (a running theme of my rants of which my cats are avid listeners) is that none of it is actually helpful. In fact, it’s the opposite of helpful. Which is hurtful. Thanks. I know. I’m getting to that. And lately I’ve been feeling that way about fiction and TV too. I grew up in a time where… well… they created characters like Magnum, Indiana Jones, Han Solo. We were outside until dark when we could be and hated rainy days because it meant being forced to play boardgames with your brother or *Gasp* share your toys with them. Which meant sharing your world. Yikes. The Horror. I know you’ve heard all this claptrap halcyon days shit before. I won’t bore you with it. But my point is that it was – hell – it is good to look at guys like Magnum, who always tried to do the right thing, and want to be that guy some day.

We now live in a world that loves to believe its much more complicated. Somehow we’ve come to believe that we’re deeper, wiser, more intricate. Fact is, it’s the same world but we’re sorely lacking in folks to help guide us through it. That, I believe, is what makes us think it’s a lot more complicated. It makes us feel better that our problems are bigger than us. We’re helpless little waifs in a dangerous, wolf infested world. But it’s really a damned lie. It’s the same world only more people are out there shouting wolf all over the place and keeping our heads spinning. Yes. There are wolves. There always are but it’s getting a little hard these days to tell a wolf from a poodle and while you’re waiting for some gibbering head to tell you which is which your sheep are all gone.

And that’s where I pull this long segue back to writing. I figured I could do it right. Right by me and right by the world I wanted to help make by writing. I wanted good people. I wanted people who worked hard to be good, honest, right, true. Sure Meg’s a smarmy wise-cracking detective but I know there is some part of her that believes in the good she’s doing. But that’s not to say she’s a starry-eyed upholder of the red white and blue. No, she’s seen far too much for that, and so have we, but that doesn’t give us the permission to be exhausted by it. That’s what I mean about right. Write right. Write true and keep in mind the world you want to create, a world you may feel is slipping by the wayside. Meg’s my avatar to hold back the crap i yell at on the TV.

So that’s what I’m doing and some folks are going to say ‘that’s not realistic. Realistic is gritty, dirty, putting a jaundiced eye on the ugly things in the world and not flinching.’ I say that’s bullshit. People flinch. They should flinch. They should turn away from the awful things in the world. Witness doesn’t mean staring vacantly at the terrible. It means being human – being affected. It means you didn’t want to see but you did and now you’re just a little bit haunted by it. I’m not interested in being presented with the realistic on a silver platter. What sort of horrible platter is that anyway? ‘here folks, it’s a yummy four course dinner of pain and suffering, get used to it because tomorrow you get more of the same until you insist it’s steak tartar.’ Screw that. Resist the awful. But be right and true.

Now I’m not saying ‘go forth, minion writers and create an army of captain america’s to fight the demons that plague us.’ Nope. I guess I mean: unless you’re ready and able to stand over a slaughterhouse without batting an eyelash don’t pretend that the slaughter is just okey-dokey, or that ‘hey, this is really going to be an awesome motivator for my main character’. Unless you’re willing to chat with the devil and shake his hand don’t pretend you are. Write what you feel and make it true. If it pisses you off enough to yell at your television, put that into your characters, your plot, your settings but work really hard to be true to them too. Seek that authenticity if you can. If you write about firefighters get out there and talk to some. If you write about soldiers, find some. If you write about housewives, etc. Take whatever they tell you and put it through your own experiences. How do YOU feel about this or that. That’s what I’ve been preaching about with the seminar’s I’ve written about and the TV Shows i bitch about.

Think about why you’re writing. Ooh. There’s another eightfold path thing! Right action. If you’re motivated by adoring fans and people being dazzled by your riches and awesomeness please try to think deeper about what you’re doing. You are creating worlds. You’re creating readers. You’re creating the taste by which you’ll be enjoyed. Someone famous said that. Byron maybe?

Shelley once said ‘Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world’. Sad thing about that is we’re doing about a good a job of it as the actual legislators of the world.

If you ask yourself the question ‘why am I writing this’ and the answer is ‘cuz buff dudes with swords are cool’. Try again. You can still have fun but make it matter. Trust me: its way better when it actually matters. It’s even more fun.

Oh yeah, and Fail – but make it worth failing at.

Categories: Deep Thoughts, Mystery, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mired. Stuck. and other unpleasant writing realities.

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Yep. I’m stuck. You might have noticed that I didn’t write anything at my regularly scheduled time last week. The fact is I haven’t been writing much of anything lately. I have two novels and two screenplays I could be working on. Nice, good, solid ideas with wings and legs. Sort of like flamingos. But these flamingos landed in some hip deep mud or something and it may require a crane to get them out. By crane I mean the metal type, not the bird type.

It happens sometimes. I don’t really call it a writer’s block. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to deal with anything like a writer’s block. Nay. The ideas are there. The vision, the character, the scenes, it’s all right there. In the mud. With the flamingos. It might be quicksand. I’m a little worried. The flamingos, on the other hand, aren’t at all worried. They are just standing there looking at me and getting a little pissed off that I’m not working on trying to extricate them.

I’ve heard flamingos get violent when they get angry.

Maybe that’s geese.

Anyway. What do you do when you get stuck? Not jammed or blocked. Like I said: there’s no block here. Honestly. Seriously. I know what you’re thinking. Yes you. And you’re wrong. There is no block. In one novel I’ve got the set up to kill off a character (sort of) and in another I have to have my MC visit a witness. I know what I have to do. I just don’t want to do it. So instead I’ve been (as you know) ripping through Longmire books like they’re running out. Until I ran out of them. That’s right. I finished them.

So now what?

I guess I have to get to work.

I’ve heard lots of things about being stuck. I’ve heard more about blocks. You should write through your block. You should research. You should use writing prompts. Well here are a few gems from Mcsweeney’s. You’ll love them. They’re pretty much the bleak bowl of awesome my brain’s been in lately:

http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/thirteen-writing-prompts

The truth is I’m on the NaNoWriMo Facebook page and I get TONS of stuff from them every day. Each missive is a cheerful, happy, little writing fairies delivering oodles of golden streams of writing wonderment. One part of me is enormously happy for them. Congrats to you winners of last months Camp NaNo! the other part of me just wants to bludgeon my writing desk with my head. But it’s more than that. I’ve been dealing with more health crap again. Gluten allergies are no joke. Food allergies of any kind are no joke. If you think it’s funny or a ‘fad’ I will gleefully dose your tea with ex-lax and see how you feel. Or maybe I’ll make you a peanut butter sandwich and choke you out while you eat it. Hey. How’s that for a writing prompt?

But here’s something I’m finally coming to realize: you’ve got to do it anyway. It’s true. And trust me – if you’re in my situation or any similar situation, i know it sucks. I hate it too. I think it’s a perfectly rational reaction to punch the next person in the head for saying ‘you’ve got to do it anyway.’ Just don’t punch me. It’s only dawning on me now that the mud isn’t going to free itself and suddenly, spontaneously shake loose from those long pink legs or the wings that should carry them aloft. I think i knew this already but my innate sense of incredible laziness was trying to convince me that somehow, magic would happen and everything will be fine. Well it isn’t. It’s not going to be fine. And still you have to work.

So I’m reading. I’m going to get back to writing. And I’m going to be on this blog a little more often than i have been. I have to be. My readership has sunk back to the doldrums again. How am i going to build interest in my work if I don’t work? Answer? I’m not. Duh.

So crack the whip. If it’s a slog then slog. There will still be moments of beauty in there. You just have to find them.

Categories: Mystery, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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