Tag Archives: writing tools

Back to work

Today was the day for medical appointments. All is well, but I have another one set for a few months. Must be part of the aging process. Either that, or they’re really exited that I have insurance.

I spent the weekend reading my own WIPs. I didn’t get all the way through both of them, but anticipate new words some time this coming weekend.

I decided to share something different tonight. I confess that it could be somewhat promotional in nature, but doesn’t have to be.

I use Pinterest a lot. I try to create a board for all my stories, but the older ones aren’t there. When it comes to The Hat Series, it’s all on one big board. You’ll find things that have appeared in the stories. There are some things that inspired something I created for the series, and there are some things I haven’t used yet, but intend to. I have inspirations for Ray’s Harley bagger, his gunstock warclub, several Colt Pythons, and some upright basses.

If you scroll through it, you can use your own imaginations to decide what I might come up with. You can also see the sinkholes, wooden pitchforks, and a broad spectrum of hats. There are even Lisa Burton posters included from various tours she participated in.

I’m going to keep adding to this board and there are some things saved that might not get used for two years or more.

If you’re looking for something different, check it out. https://pin.it/6UZcF9I

Do you use Pinterest as a writing tool? Do you want to after glancing through this?

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Leave your characters alone

Yeah, it's a play on words. This is a writing tip, of sorts. It wants to become a several thousand word post, but I'm going to try to focus.

Where do you feel safe? Most folks choose their home or room. Others might choose a crowd somewhere. This is because humans have an instinct for personal safety.

Even children will crawl into bed with parents to feel safe. Now let's turn this on its head.

We see characters who meet the villain in a crowded place. This is to eliminate some perceived danger the villain poses. We take away the villain's power – temporarily.

Now place your heroine deep in the desert. It's nighttime. She has her rape whistle in one hand, and a keychain pepper spray in the other. It's only 50 miles from the nearest person who can hear the whistle. Add in a two headed werewolf and you're golden.

The environment adds an underlying stress of its own. This also plays to human instinct, and you don't even have to explain it. Your heroine doesn't have any water in this desert. It's going to be scorching tomorrow- if she lives that long. Maybe there are rattlesnakes around too.

Think about one you've all seen before. Sheriff Brody and friends are in a small boat on the ocean. Captain Quint smashed the radio, and there is a killer shark with a powerful hunger.

If you've never been in a rat bag old boat and out of sight of land, you've missed out. (I've been in that situation.) I felt cheated when they swam to shore at the end. Until that point, they were out to sea.

You can't swim all that far. Even lovely water is still colder than your body temperature. Eventually, you're going to tire out, and the warmth is going to get sucked from your body. People instinctively know this. It adds stress to the story without losing focus on the killer shark.

If the shark gets bored and leaves, hypothermia and drowning are still real possibilities.

I like to move my characters around. Even leaving town adds a subtle smolder to the story. Wrong turn in the big city. Apple Maps that can't be trusted. There are all kinds of possibilities.

I like to plan these things out ahead of time. Last Saturday, I watched two NPCs running behind Dr. Who to escape a monster. They're all together, and within touching distance. One woman made a hard left and hid inside a room. She actually watched the others run the other way. The monster killed her.

Nobody wants this. This is bad. Your character shouldn't ask to be excused at the dinner table like this. “Great dinner, Mom. I'm going into the creepy cornfield now to confront the monster with a paper clip and a Swiss Army knife.”

To avoid this you should have a plan that both moves into isolation, and a logical escape plan. It hasn't been acceptable for the cavalry to arrive at the last second for decades.

Isolation can be used at any point in the story, but it nearly must be used at the end. This is where the hero faces the villain on the villain's turf. This is the part where I want to stretch this into a huge post, but I'll resist. In books, everything ties together but I'll focus.

Note that Sheriff Brody didn't lock the shark in an interview room. It all went down at sea.

This isolation can be physical, like Sandra Bullock drifting through space, but there is an opportunity for it to be more spiritual too. Maybe your heroine refuses a marriage proposal from the most eligible bachelor in front of everyone at her daddy's country club. They all want something she simply does not. She follows her heart and becomes a sponge diver in Florida. She was isolated in a crowd.

Unfamiliar settings and isolation are powerful things. The bad guy has an advantage, and skewing the odds adds that delicious tension a good story needs. Many times you get the advantage of an inbred fear to underly the main points.

So how about it? Do you ever think about this writing tool? Do you plan for it? Possibly outline around it? I do, but I know there are many seat of the pants writers who may have different methods.

Let me hear it in the comments. (I used copy and paste to set this up. It all looks great. If it comes out as one big paragraph, I won't be able to edit it for hours. I'm busy at work when this posts.)

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Does your story need more, or less?

Charles Yallowitz has a great post today. His topic is extremely powerful characters and their use of restraint. I recommend reading it for his topic, and the comments that went along with it. Here's the link, Legends of Windemere.

Charles' post got me thinking about the wonderful character struggle this creates. Then I started relating it to my own recent efforts. This post was inspired by Charles, but is going to be a different topic.

Most of you know that I've been writing short stories. Last Spring, I worked on a novel and some short stories at the same time. Charles' wonderful layers will enhance a novel, and in his case a whole series.

A novel needs this kind of conflict. The main character struggles with more than just defeating evil. Things gnaw at his soul. When the only power you have is a nuclear bomb, it's challenging to deal with a termite invasion. This makes for some good internal tension.

I'm free writing this tonight, but this must be my point: novels need more, and we're not talking about more words. They needs more story.

I fell in love with short stories years ago, but they almost disappeared. Today, they're coming back in a big way. They usually involve someone with a problem either overcoming it or succumbing to it – in a hurry.

I've made this mistake myself, so I get to talk about it. (I've read a few too.) We get a great idea, and find out our story is concluding at about 50,000 words. The first thought, after blind panic, is to add more words. This is how we get novels that describe every course of a drawn out meal. It's how we get tons of description. It's how we make our story boring.

Charles beefs up his characters. (Never a bad idea.) His character has an internal problem. He has to worry that he's not keeping up with his companions, or he's risking them when he could exercise more power. This adds more than words to a story.

Novels need a bit more complication. Maybe you need more than one hurdle to overcome. Maybe there is a competing hero, but he isn't a bad guy.

I've never had a series length idea. That doesn't mean I can't learn from a series type writer. What is needed is more story. Short stories might be about trimming to the essentials, or sticking to one plot element. Longer works need more plot elements, possibly more characters, and more complications. They don't need another dessert course after supper.

Story lengths are just extra tools in the writer's toolbox. Self publishing made them viable tools once more. If your story won't carry a whole novel, maybe it makes a better novella. If you really want a novel, add more story, not more fluff. If you have a cool idea that just won't come together, try it as a short story or even a micro fiction. In today's world you might find a market for almost anything.

I think Jim Butcher is a master of this. His Dresden Files involve Harry solving multiple disasters. The basic idea is: What's better than one major villain? Two major villains. (Plus a pending natural disaster, and an angry love interest.)

The last Dresden novel I read involved no less than four pending disasters. In some cases winning in one corner involved failing in another. Then, of course, there are always a few things screwed up in Harry's personal life. Still, he manages to bring about some measure of success.

I'm free writing this tonight, so I'm rambling a bit. If you work with me a little, there are some points.

  • Story lengths are not detriments. They are tools to use when we need them.
  • Longer works need more story. This isn't about extra characters or more situations. It is about more complications, emotions, and twists.

What do you guys think? Am I on to something here, or am I off my rocker? Maybe it's both and my Life story makes a better novel.

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