Dancers – my new short story - has had a long 12 month journey from initial idea to shareable first draft. It all started back in 2013 when a scene kept on popping into my head. The scene was a couple dancing through the streets of Paris. That’s generally how my stories start with an image or a scene. I start by writing that scene. Sometimes all I’m doing is writing notes as opposed to prose. That’s how I started with Dancers by scribbling down notes.
So at this stage I had some rough notes and the inkling of an ending, but little else. Next I had to think about characters. I don’t define my characters before I drop them into a story. I literally drop ‘shadows’ into stories and then the characters start to define themselves. The conversations that occur are those of the characters not mine. I have no idea what they’re going to say. In respect of Dancers I knew where the characters and the story had to go, but I had no idea how my characters were going to get to the end point.
A strange thing happened with Dancers. The characters that started to appear on the page were completely wrong for the story I was trying to write. That’s never happened to me before. Initially, I thought that maybe the scenes were wrong so I kept dropping the characters in different locations, a hotel room, a restaurant, and numerous other locales and venues to see what difference it made. Changing the setting / situation didn’t work, but the characters that were evolving on the page were real living breathing people.
The solution was to break one of the cardinal rules of writing (if such a thing exists): Finish what you start.
I left Dancers well alone and dropped the two characters into a London mews house and just started writing. By removing them completely and giving them their own world to inhabit a second story Acid House sprang into life which will be published late 2014 / early 2015. I can’t be specific because I’m waiting on an update from the publishing editors.
Once Acid House was wrapped I went back to Dancers . The first time that story went wrong I had two characters coming out of a Paris restaurant. I went back to the original scene and this time the story wrote itself. The new characters inhabiting Dancers are fitting for the story at hand, and are complete opposites of the Acid House characters.
The point of this blog? Listen to your muse. Had I ‘forced’ these particular characters into Dancers then the story would have been a mess. More importantly the original two characters were obviously desperate to get out into the big literary world. They wanted to tell their own story, and not the story I had planned for them. In those circumstances my advice would be to always follow your characters. Characters will quite often define stories. Trust them. They’re the lifeblood of any story.
I’ve added Dancers to the ‘My Stories’ section of the site. I’ve broken that page down into published works and works looking for a home. Dancers at the moment will go into a drawer. In a couple of months I’ll dust it off and do a final re-write before sending it out to publishers. Feedback from my inner circle is very promising.
That’s It! The first submission period for the inaugural edition of Firewords Quarterly has closed. It closed a couple of weeks back, but I’ve just caught up reading the last of the submissions assigned to me.
It’s been a complete eye opener being on the other side of the fence. There’s a great sense of responsibility that bears down on you. The responsibility to Firewords Quarterly in only accepting stories that genuinely warranted publication. There’s the responsibility to the submitting writers. Reading all work in an open and honest manner, and giving honest feedback.
Rejections are inevitable. The majority of submissions will end up being rejected at any publication. The reasons for rejections? Well, I can’t list them all, but in this post I’m going to talk about the Stock Concept. But one important point of note before we begin, and it’s vitally important. Any comments I make regarding my experiences with Firewords are my own personal opinions. They in no way reflect the views of the owner, or any other editor. Now we’ve got that sorted let’s talk about…
The Stock Concept
What do I mean by the stock concept? Anything that’s been done countless times before. Here’s a few off the top of my head, and some of which we’ve seen at Firewords:
· The best-man forgetting the wedding rings on the big day
· Characters that don’t know they’re dead until the ‘twist’ at the end of the story
· The ghostly house that seems to have a life of its own
· The killer prostitute – throw in a caring punter and an aggressive pimp too
· The boxer paid to throw the fight
· A young girl nervous and afraid to tell her overly strict parents she’s pregnant
Hopefully, you get the idea. So they should be avoided at all costs right? Well, not exactly. They need to be handled with care. You – as the writer – need something unique. It could be a unique setting, an unusual character, something that gives your ‘stock concept’ story an edge over anything similar.
Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot is a great example. It’s littered with stock concepts. Vampires have been with us in literature for a long time. King’s vampires obey all the usual rules: sunlight kills them, a stake through the heart kills them, a familiar protects the ‘master’ through the daylight hours, the master vampire sleeps in his coffin, holy water burns the undead, etc, etc. However, King replaced the mystery shrouded gothic castle with the ramshackle house shrouded in urban myth. He put his vampires on your doorstep and he set his story in the present day. The first part of that book sets up character and setting. King does that to put you in the world of the everyday, with characters you know or you can relate to, because they’re the people in your town. King did something different with a stock concept, and he sold a lot of books in the process.
Watch the film 28 Days Later. The film draws a lot from John Wyndham’s The Day of The Triffids. The man eating plants were replaced with zombies, a classic horror monster, but instead of the lurching lumbering zombies of old we were introduced to the fast and agile running zombie. Danny Boyle and Alex Garland did something different with a stock concept, and a film that cost approx. $8M to make raked in almost $85M at the box office.
Probably the best example of recent times has been GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF). There are many stock fantasy elements in this highly entertaining saga: Numerous prophecies, a magic wall to keep the bad guys out, dashing princes and beautiful princesses and the list goes ever on. But Martin took those stock items and literally tore the rule book up. Fantasy before Martin was pretty linear. Good guys were good, and the bad guys were bad. Sure the good guy would have difficulties and adventures aplenty, but they’d pull through in the end. Not in ASOIAF. Good guys – as in main characters – die. The most dashing knight of all is gay. Characters evolve and some that were most definitely ‘bad’ become ‘good’ or at least inhabit some grey middle ground. Martin took a whole genre – that had become very predictable - and he rode rough shod over it and re-invented the genre in the process.
So if you want to tackle stock concepts / themes, or ideas, go right ahead but push the envelope and take some risks. Dream big! Playing safe will likely lead to a rejection slip irrespective of the publication you send the work to.
That’s it for now.
A writer friend once asked me where I get my inspiration from. I don’t think there’s an easy answer to that question; neither do I think there’s one answer to that question.
I’ve read a thousand times before that inspiration comes from the following:
Newspaper articles, podcasts, blogs, radio shows…
There’s this guy I once knew who…
I was walking down the street when I saw…
I had a mad drunken uncle who would…
The list of “inspirations” rolls ever on. But do they? And are they really moments of inspiration? I’m not sure. I prefer to think of the above examples as trigger points that unlock the writer’s real inspiration.
Fact: Writers carry emotional baggage. That baggage whether we like it or not swims around in our sub-conscious. That baggage is both positive and negative and that’s where the real inspiration lies. It sits there waiting for the right vehicle, the right trigger point to release it into the wild.
Take my story, Night Owls. I was reading a newspaper article about two historic events that caused the sun to darken over for about a year in 536AD and again in 1816AD. That’s interesting I thought, so I started writing. What became of that writing? Nothing, because it was interesting, but not inspiring. There’s a difference.
About a week later I was reading Steinbeck’s, “Of Mice and Men.” I love the beginning of that book. We meet these two characters on a woodland trail, they are obviously good friends, who trust one another but they are also very different.
I started thinking: What if these two characters didn’t trust one another, what if they’ve only just met?
I stopped reading Steinbeck’s novel there and then, and I still haven’t gone back to it. I started writing this story about two characters who meet on a narrow trial, on a bleak and desolate world of endless night. The trail is so narrow with natural obstacles all around them that they can’t walk around each other. They have to be able to trust one another to let the other by.
Was the inspiration Steinbeck or that newspaper article about a darkened Earth, or both? It was neither. The inspiration was Trust.
Trust is locked away in my own personal baggage. I believe in people, my friends and my family, and I trust them impeccably. I expect the same in return. I can be a bit reserved with people until I get to know them, until I feel I can trust them. Once I’ve let them inside I’m vulnerable, and that trust can and has been betrayed. It hurts!
That’s the inspiration for Night Owls. That baggage was sitting there on a shelf waiting to be used, and I didn’t know it. Some would call it theme, and I wouldn’t disagree. Night Owls is about trust and one or two other things, but it doesn’t mean that theme and inspiration can’t be aligned.
The point of the blog? Sometimes it’s a good thing to deliberately hide that story in a drawer for a good six months. When you go back to it ask yourself one question: What was the real underlying inspiration behind this piece? Not the trigger point, but the actual real source.
If you take that time to look deeper into your writer’s soul I can guarantee one thing: A really tight and focussed re-write.
Take care and good luck with your writing.
I was having an online chat with my writing buddy, and fellow Project 13 collaborator, the immensely talented J T Harrell.
JT was telling me how he'll initially attempt to write out a story idea as a 250 word piece of flash fiction. If he manages to get to that limit, or below, then the story stays as a piece of flash fiction. If it just can't be done then he sets about writing a short story, or possibly even a novella.
It's an interesting technique / process.
The feisty fellow also laid down a flash fiction challenge: Write a max 250 word story. The theme was voyeurism, but we agreed we were able to interpret voyeurism in any way our muses demanded.
Prior to the challenge I'd never managed to finish a story in under 600 words.
The challenge turned out to be a great piece of creative fun.
It wasn't without it's frustrations. I aborted the first attempt. I was thinking about it too much, trying to be too clever, and failing.
I then did what I usually do best. I emptied my mind and just wrote. Those who know me well will tell you there's not a lot to empty!
The end result was "The Man on The Train" completed in 220 words. I doubt anybody would call it a masterpiece. It isn't. But it's very me. Simplistic and above all it's tongue in cheek. Nothing more than a bit of fun.
Creatively, I took a lot from the challenge. 250 words isn't much. I found myself ruthlessly editing. If a line of prose wasn't moving the story forward then it became history. I loved some of the lines I had to delete. I can honestly say that I've never been so hard on myself in any previous story edit. It was a real eye-opener and I know that all my future edits are going to benefit.
I doubt I'll work in the same way as JT but I wanted to share the experience.
JT came up with a story that had more depth than mine. A kinky tale about a blind man who shares his wife with a sighted man. The sighted man has to describe what he's seeing as the blind man's wife reaches her climax. I loved the concept. As a writer it's an idea that can be tackled in many ways. My only complaint is that he thought of it before I did.
I'm beginning to understand, and appreciate, flash fiction to a much greater extent.
A lot of the story can be outside what we see on the page. The trick is to use the right words to make it so.
I won't be neglecting the longer short story, but I can see my flash fiction output increasing.
Hello, to one and all.
I've been quite busy lately. Yesterday, I finished a short little horror story which has been titled - 13 Seconds.
The idea behind 13 Seconds was originally conceived at the inception of Project 13. For reasons I can't recall I decided not to progress the idea at the time. Yesterday I was in one of those writing moods / zones where the muse was in total control of everything I did. The story just poured itself out.
Usually when I finish a story I'll lock it away in a drawer for a week or so and then go back to it. As soon as I finished this particular story I had a really positive vibe about it. I sent it off to one of my writing buddies, the incredibly talented J T Harrell.
J T pointed out a few areas for tightening up the feel, and his points were relevant and honest. He also described the story as "Fun, and unnerving" which really made me happy as that's exactly what I was aiming for.
On another front the editors of the 13 Anthology have told me that the final story in the anthology will be The Thirteenth Camera. I'm quite proud of this. Ordering the story content of an anthology is a really difficult task. The two hardest positions to fill are the first and last stories.
The first story has to be the anchor, the story that will intrigue the reader enough to draw them in to the rest of the anthology. The final story is - presuming the reader tackles the anthology in order - the last story the reader will read. It will be the one most recent in their memory. It will be the one that completes the experience of the anthology. Nobody wants to end on a bum note so I'm more than happy with where they've placed me.
Night Owls has been sent to a literary magazine for their consideration. I'm expecting a rejection as I targeted one of the toughest markets to crack, but you've got to roll the dice. I'll do a post on the submission experience once I've had a response.
I've re-written The Flower Woman again. This will probably be its final straight forward re-write. Any further revisions will be radical. In some respects I haven't given this one too much of a chance. It was only ever entered into one competition. I'm currently getting feedback from a trusted source after which I'm going to make a point of submitting it to every qualifying market I can find. It's always been a popular story on TSL & Zoetrope so there must be an editor somewhere who will take a shine to it.
We're in July and 2013 has already been my most productive year. Three short stories finished, and one existing story re-written. Hopefully, I can maintain the productivity.
Keep writing, and keep reading, but most importantly take care,
The ‘rules’ below stem from an essay Heinlein wrote in 1947 on the art of speculative fiction writing. Point 3 generates some debate these days. I’ve even heard it referred to as ridiculous. I’ve added my own comments under each rule.
1. You Must Write
It sounds obvious but there are a lot of wannabe writers out there who will talk a great masterpiece but never actually get anything down on paper. Thinking up stories is great fun, but if you're serious about writing you have to put pen to paper.
2. You Must Finish What You Write
Oh, I can identify with this one - see here. I've managed to address this issue with my own writing, and it was something that needed addressing. Having thirty or forty unfinished stories is not good for you as a writer. It represents a lack of discipline. I know it can be difficult. Some stories are harder than others, but you need to get it down from beginning, to middle, to end.
3. You Must Refrain From Rewriting Except To Editorial Order
I've heard this rule referred to as ridiculous. I think that statement takes the rule too literally. One issue I used to be plagued with was rewriting my work endlessly...before the story was even finished (See rule 2). I think that's what Heinlein was saying. At some point you have to let the work go. I also think that Heinlein was saying "Believe in yourself". Don't re-write elements of your story that you totally believe in because the friend next door says they weren't sure about chapter 2 or the last paragraph on page 6. If you believe in your work then the only other view that counts is that of a publishing editor, and you do need to listen to them.
4. You Must Put The Work On The Market
Boy do I agree with this one. I've met some really talented writers but you'd be surprised about how many don't put their work out there. It's fear of rejection which I totally understand. I think it took me three years from the day I started taking writing seriously to the day I sent a short story to a magazine. The story got rejected. What's the big deal? Am I publicly humilated the next time I walk out of the house? Sure the ego takes a dent, or let's put it another way...the ego gets a reality check. You know how good your writing is at this stage. You pick yourself up, you dust yourself down, and you try again. Which brings me nicely to Rule 5...
5. You Must Keep The Work On The Market Until It Is Sold
It's a simple message - Don't give up. Perserverance pays off. If a magazine turns down a story it doesn't necessarily mean it's not publishable. It could mean you haven't researched the magazine properley and it's not for them. There are many successful novels that were rejected out of hand by one publisher only to be picked up by another. Let's just say that the same work does get bounced by multiple publishers / markets. Ok it's time to admit that the story needs work. Well, work on it. Try to figure out what's wrong with it. Are the characters cardboard cut outs? Is the plot too thin or too cliched? If it's a magazine rejection buy the next couple of issues to see what stories they did buy. Compare your rejected work to the accepted works and learn from the experience. Perserverance is an outstanding attribute for a writer. Embrace it wholeheartedly.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know.
Take care and happy writing,
I was rummaging around my old computer files when I stumbled across this little picture. It’s the work of a great graphic artist by the name of Bryan Riolo. He’s a talented writer too who tends to stay in the fantasy / horror genre with occasional forays into everyday drama.
The picture above was pulled together quickly, for free, and as a complete surprise to me. It’s a depiction of a prose scene written by yours truly showing the meeting of two beings of pure light. The smaller point of light “Graykin” is about to be transformed into human form and sent to Earth to investigate the disappearance of a Troll from a travelling circus.
It was a key scene from a chapter that I wrote for a Round Robin story.
Everyone know what a Round Robin story is?
For those who don’t think of it as a writing relay race. One writer kicks off the story, and then the next writer starts where the last writer finished. This is not a collection of themed / similar stories. This is one story being told by numerous writers.
They are great fun to do.
It’s also a really good creative and collaborative exercise. It’s advisable to agree a few ground rules before you start such as:
Genre – straight drama, fantasy, crime, sci-fi. It needs to be a genre everyone is comfortable with, or willing to tackle for the first time.
Order of writing – This is important. The first writer has it hard. That was Bryan’s job and he did a fantastic job. The first writer has to set the tone. They need to leave threads that the other writers can pick up. The trick is to not make those threads too obvious, so if the next writer doesn’t use all of the available threads the unused ones blend into the background, literally as background info, without reading like unexplained plot threads. I’ve gone back and read Bryan’s first chapter and it’s only now some four or five years later that I can see what he did was exceptional. I always knew it was good, but had I been more experienced in this writing malarkey I would have been even more impressed. He gave us so many characters to play with, and yet it didn’t feel cluttered. It really was the work of a writer firing on all cylinders.
I was a coward I volunteered for the second chapter which is an easy one. I couldn’t resist reading my early efforts after finding Bryan’s picture. I did ok. I held my own in some tough company considering I’d only written one short story at that point. It’s funny looking back. Bryan’s chapter was entirely set in Florida. So I decided to start my chapter in the far depths of space, and bring my characters into Bryan’s Florida setting. I have no idea what I was on. But hey, it worked.
The other writers who have it hard are the ones responsible for the finishing stages; pulling all the threads together to ensure a cohesive story. All of the writers have the issue of continuing the threads but the final writer has to draw them all together. Not easy.
Style – If your natural writing style is verbose, and you like to drop in the occasional word that will have the reader running to the dictionary you’re going to have to tone it down. The story won’t work if it’s obvious that the chapters are clearly written by different writers. The change in writing style will jar with the reader. A well written Round Robin story should be seamless from one writer to the next. You have to be style neutral while avoiding bland. It isn’t easy, but the creative challenge is rewarding
Handover Points – Define them up front. We had a really fun agreement in place. Each chapter had to end on a cliff-hanger. One of our heroes in peril or deadly danger. It was great writing the chapter because you could write the next writer into an absolute corner and you didn’t have to worry about the resolution. Yeah, I do have a wicked side. But it was good for the next writer too. They didn’t have to think about how to start their chapter. They could kick off straight into an action scene. It made it easy to get the pen moving.
Plot – This is a difficult one. If you completely plot out the whole group of chapters you’ll lose a lot of the sheer blind fun and creativity out of a Round Robin exercise. However, you can’t ignore it either or you’ll end up with an incoherent mess. The current writer, the previous writer, the upcoming writer, and the Editor need to keep talking.
Our project never got finished for reasons too long to go into here, but if you’re a writer who knows a bunch of other writers I’d recommend a Round Robin challenge any day.
I’d gladly do one again post completion of the Project 13 collaboration.
Anybody out there thinking that it’s just a game or not something a serious writer would consider…think again. Anyone read Windhaven by GRRM & Lisa Tuttle? It started life as a Round Robin story. There are many other examples of published Round Robin works out there so dismiss it at your peril.
You’ll also find that the interaction with other writers improves your solo work.
In an earlier post I mentioned that I free write as opposed to plotting my stories. I write in that way for the sole reason that it works for me.
However, not all writers work in this way, some very successful writers plot. The photograph above shows a single page from J K Rowling’s plot notes for one of The Harry Potter novels.
I’m not sure if you can read all the text. I don’t think it matters, because you can see how the process works. JK was mapping out her characters, character interactions with other characters, and character interactions with events etc.
When Chris Chibnall was writing the truly excellent TV Drama Broadchurch he whiteboarded. It’s the same approach as JK utilised except a whiteboard was used.
I’ve heard of other writers utilising post-it pads and having a plot wall. A timeline is placed on the wall, and key plot points / character events are scribbled on the individual post-it notes which are then placed at the appropriate point of the time-line.
All of the above methods are variants of a particular type of plotting. They give the writer a visual aid to refer back to so they can keep track of the story. It’s very easy to get lost in a large or even small but complex novel. These methods allow the writer to stay focused.
Below I’m re-producing the Lester Dent Pulp Fiction Master plot. Please don’t switch off at the mention of Lester’s name, or don’t run away at the mention of those words pulp fiction. Sure Lester wrote pulp fiction. I’ve read many of his novels. Some are good while others are not so good. However, all of Lester’s stories have one thing in common…they sold!!!
The other reason that I don’t want you to run away is because you can adapt Lester’s Master Plot to pretty much anything. Here it is exactly as Lester wrote it:
The Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot
This is a formula, a master plot, for any 6000 word pulp story. It has worked on adventure, detective, western and war-air. It tells exactly where to put everything. It shows definitely just what must happen in each successive thousand words.
No yarn of mine written to the formula has yet failed to sell.
The business of building stories seems not much different from the business of building anything else.
Here's how it starts:
1. A DIFFERENT MURDER METHOD FOR VILLAIN TO USE
2. A DIFFERENT THING FOR VILLAIN TO BE SEEKING
3. A DIFFERENT LOCALE
4. A MENACE WHICH IS TO HANG LIKE A CLOUD OVER HERO
One of these DIFFERENT things would be nice, two better, three swell. It may help if they are fully in mind before tackling the rest.
A different murder method could be--different. Thinking of shooting, knifing, hydrocyanic, garroting, poison needles, scorpions, a few others, and writing them on paper gets them where they may suggest something. Scorpions and their poison bite? Maybe mosquitos or flies treated with deadly germs?
If the victims are killed by ordinary methods, but found under strange and identical circumstances each time, it might serve, the reader of course not knowing until the end, that the method of murder is ordinary.
Scribes who have their villain's victims found with butterflies, spiders or bats stamped on them could conceivably be flirting with this gag.
Probably it won't do a lot of good to be too odd, fanciful or grotesque with murder methods. The different thing for the villain to be after might be something other than jewels, the stolen bank loot, the pearls, or some other old ones.
Here, again one might get too bizarre.
Unique locale? Easy. Selecting one that fits in with the murder method and the treasure--thing that villain wants--makes it simpler, and it's also nice to use a familiar one, a place where you've lived or worked. So many pulpateers don't. It sometimes saves embarrassment to know nearly as much about the locale as the editor, or enough to fool him.
Here's a nifty much used in faking local color. For a story laid in Egypt, say, author finds a book titled "Conversational Egyptian Easily Learned," or something like that. He wants a character to ask in Egyptian, "What's the matter?" He looks in the book and finds, "El khabar, eyh?" To keep the reader from getting dizzy, it's perhaps wise to make it clear in some fashion, just what that means. Occasionally the text will tell this, or someone can repeat it in English. But it's a doubtful move to stop and tell the reader in so many words the English translation.
The writer learns they have palm trees in Egypt. He looks in the book, finds the Egyptian for palm trees, and uses that. This kids editors and readers into thinking he knows something about Egypt.
Here's the second instalment of the master plot.
Divide the 6000 word yarn into four 1500 word parts. In each 1500 word part, put the following:
FIRST 1500 WORDS
1--First line, or as near thereto as possible, introduce the hero and swat him with a fistful of trouble. Hint at a mystery, a menace or a problem to be solved--something the hero has to cope with.
2--The hero pitches in to cope with his fistful of trouble. (He tries to fathom the mystery, defeat the menace, or solve the problem.)
3--Introduce ALL the other characters as soon as possible. Bring them on in action.
4--Hero's endeavours land him in an actual physical conflict near the end of the first 1500 words.
5--Near the end of first 1500 words, there is a complete surprise twist in the plot development.
SO FAR: Does it have SUSPENSE?
Is there a MENACE to the hero?
Does everything happen logically?
At this point, it might help to recall that action should do something besides advance the hero over the scenery. Suppose the hero has learned the dastards of villains have seized somebody named Eloise, who can explain the secret of what is behind all these sinister events. The hero corners villains, they fight, and villains get away. Not so hot.
Hero should accomplish something with his tearing around, if only to rescue Eloise, and surprise! Eloise is a ring-tailed monkey. The hero counts the rings on Eloise's tail, if nothing better comes to mind. They're not real. The rings are painted there. Why?
SECOND 1500 WORDS
1--Shovel more grief onto the hero.
2--Hero, being heroic, struggles, and his struggles lead up to:
3--Another physical conflict.
4--A surprising plot twist to end the 1500 words.
NOW: Does second part have SUSPENSE?
Does the MENACE grow like a black cloud?
Is the hero getting it in the neck?
Is the second part logical?
DON'T TELL ABOUT IT***Show how the thing looked. This is one of the secrets of writing; never tell the reader--show them. (He trembles, roving eyes, slackened jaw, and such.) MAKE THE READER SEE HIM.
When writing, it helps to get at least one minor surprise to the printed page. It is reasonable to expect these minor surprises to sort of inveigle the reader into keeping on. They need not be such profound efforts. One method of accomplishing one now and then is to be gently misleading. Hero is examining the murder room. The door behind him begins slowly to open. He does not see it. He conducts his examination blissfully. Door eases open, wider and wider, until--surprise! The glass
pane falls out of the big window across the room. It must have fallen slowly, and air blowing into the room caused the door to open. Then what the heck made the pane fall so slowly? More mystery.
Characterizing a story actor consists of giving him some things which make him stick in the reader's mind. TAG HIM.
BUILD YOUR PLOTS SO THAT ACTION CAN BE CONTINUOUS.
THIRD 1500 WORDS
1--Shovel the grief onto the hero.
2--Hero makes some headway, and corners the villain or somebody in:
3--A physical conflict.
4--A surprising plot twist, in which the hero preferably gets it in the neck bad, to end the 1500 words.
DOES: It still have SUSPENSE?
The MENACE getting blacker?
The hero finds himself in a hell of a fix?
It all happens logically?
These outlines or master formulas are only something to make you certain of inserting some physical conflict, and some genuine plot twists, with a little suspense and menace thrown in. Without them, there is no pulp story.
These physical conflicts in each part might be DIFFERENT, too. If one fight is with fists, that can take care of the pugilism until next the next yarn. Same for poison gas and swords. There may, naturally, be exceptions. A hero with a peculiar punch, or a quick draw, might use it more than once.
The idea is to avoid monotony.
Vivid, swift, no words wasted. Create suspense, make the reader see and
feel the action.
Hear, smell, see, feel and taste.
Trees, wind, scenery and water.
THE SECRET OF ALL WRITING IS TO MAKE EVERY WORD COUNT.
FOURTH 1500 WORDS
1--Shovel the difficulties more thickly upon the hero.
2--Get the hero almost buried in his troubles. (Figuratively, the villain has him prisoner and has him framed for a murder rap; the girl is presumably dead, everything is lost, and the DIFFERENT murder method is about to dispose of the suffering protagonist.)
3--The hero extricates himself using HIS OWN SKILL, training or brawn.
4--The mysteries remaining--one big one held over to this point will help grip interest--are cleared up in course of final conflict as hero takes the situation in hand.
5--Final twist, a big surprise, (This can be the villain turning out to be the unexpected person, having the "Treasure" be a dud, etc.)
6--The snapper, the punch line to end it.
HAS: The SUSPENSE held out to the last line?
The MENACE held out to the last?
Everything been explained?
It all happen logically?
Is the Punch Line enough to leave the reader with that WARM FEELING?
Did God kill the villain? Or the hero?
The reason I’ve always loved the above is that it’s adaptable to almost anything. Maybe you want to write a thriller with a central blackmail element. Take out the word murder at the beginning and replace it with blackmail. Now read it all again. Sure you might have to adapt other parts but you have a template nonetheless.
Maybe you’re writing an everyday drama about a struggling relationship. Remember that part about Eloise. Maybe Eloise is another woman in a love triangle. The protagonist tracks her down to tackle her head on. The protagonist believes she has persuaded Eloise to stay out of the picture, to not interfere / destroy her current relationship. Lester’s three rings on the tail then become a subsequent find by the protagonist showing that Eloise isn’t out of the picture, or maybe the find indicates that there was more than just the affair that there’s something else – some mystery - about this underhand tryst.
The above is me just pointing out how flexible Lester’s master plot actually is.
Have you read George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire novels? If you have think about the individual character stories. Each character has highs and lows, desperate highs and lows. Isn’t that what Lester is advocating for the hero in his master plot. No, I’m not for one minute saying that GRRM utilised Lester’s approach. I am pointing out that the master plot is good structure that can be utilised to pretty much all longer works – from novellas upwards – irrespective of story type or genre.
Michael Moorcock is one successful author who has openly acknowledged the use of Lester’s master plot in the production of his novels. His advice to aspiring authors is to do the same.
It’s also worth comparing the master plot to films that follow the classic three act structure. You might be shocked by how closely the main protagonist’s journey aligns to the master plot.
It might seem surprising to find a self confessed free writer waxing lyrical about plotting. The truth is that any aspiring writer should embrace different techniques. It’s the only way to find out what works for you, and what doesn’t. I’ve successfully free written short stories, and a single one act play. On the two occasions that I’ve tried to free write a screenplay I’ve met with abject failure. The next time I’m up for tackling a feature length script I’ll be plotting. I’ll be using the methods described above or variations of the above.
I hope this has been of some use. If anyone has any other methods for plotting that I’ve not covered please let me know. I’m happy to add to this blog, or do a separate post.
We have a website for this eclectic meeting of imaginations from around the globe. I’m not going to share the web address just yet as we’re still making some tweaks. We’re even posting mug-shots. Looks like I’ll have to find a camera with an unbreakable lens. Failing that I’ll just send in a picture of Daniel Craig and see if I get away with it.
The websites looking good, and should be an excellent marketing tool for the anthology. Below I’ve posted the blog entry which I was asked to write for the site:
We’re going on a short ride together. I’ve been invited to write the first blog entry for 13 – The Anthology. My brief was any subject related to writing.
Tricky, very, very, tricky.
You see, we don’t know each other. At the moment were on a level playing field. I don’t know you, and you don’t know me. That’s going to change, and you’re going to have me at a disadvantage. Being the first of our little group to kick off this shindig there was really only one topic to blog about:
Why write in the first place?
I can’t answer that without bearing my soul and telling you something about myself. Like I said, you’re going to have me at a disadvantage.
Enough pre-amble let’s just get on with it…
Writing is hard. Kick you in the nuts, chew you up, spit you out, and stamp all over you kind of hard. Oh yeah, it hurts.
A genius who was much better at this than me once said:
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
The geniuses name was Hemingway. He also said:
“Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt, use it-don't cheat with it.”
I could have posted any one of a million and one quotes on the art of writing, but those two are the ones that really resonate and strike a chord deep within this writer’s soul.
I’m a free writer, as opposed to a plotter. Plotters map everything out, and mostly know exactly where a story is going before they’ve written that first sentence. Free writers just write. One sentence leads to another, and characters start introducing themselves. It’s a bit like reading a novel in real time. As soon as the writer types the finished line you get to read it instantaneously. That’s one of the reasons why I write. The sheer exhilaration of events unfolding around me, events that I’m dictating with characters I’ve created, and yet I have no idea what’s about to happen.
Free writing is a bit like riding a bicycle, with no brakes, down the steepest most pot hole ridden road you could imagine. The road that I ride down has a lot of bystanders looking on. Those bystanders are hope, loneliness, loss, love, laughter, sadness, failed relationships, departed loved ones, insecurity, the ghosts of my yesterdays is a good way to describe them all.
Each of those bystanders has a voice, and they shout like Hell to be heard. Whoever shouts loudest tends to shape the story that I’m putting together. That’s where the pain of writing really kicks in.
If a character of mine is in distress, if they’re emotionally ripped apart, then I’m re-living sections of my own life when I experienced something similar so I can capture the emotion as honestly as I possibly can. It sounds masochistic, and it probably is. It’s also fantastic self-healing. That’s another reason why I write, I can’t afford the expensive therapists.
A lot of what happens above happens at the re-writing stage. A free writer doesn’t always know exactly what they’ve written until they’ve finished and start reading it back. The pain and the blood come with the re-writes.
My story in this collection is entitled The Thirteenth Camera. It’s an adaptation of a short play I free wrote about four years ago. I’m not going to tell you anything about the story that unfolds. When I started writing the adaptation I was in a philosophical, mischievous, and irreverent mood. That should at least give you a flavour of the story.
I enjoyed the ride that the story and the characters took me on. I can’t guarantee that you will enjoy the ride in the same way, but I sincerely hope you will. I can absolutely guarantee that every word and every sentence, although presented in fine print, has its origins in blood.
There’s nothing more I can say.
(M J Wolfson)
Take care and I’ll be posting more on the 13 Anthology soon.
It has been a while since I did a post on Project 13 but rest assured this mammoth project roles ever onwards. All of the contributing writers have been busy reading and reviewing all of the stories in the collection.
I know I’m biased because ‘The Thirteenth Camera’ is one of those stories, but I have to say that the quality of the stories is high.
The collection itself will have something for everyone. There are stories that will make you laugh, cry, and ponder. There are stories that will take you to other worlds, Las Vegas, depression era America, you’ll meet assassins, ghosts, phobia driven characters, alcohol driven characters, sassy characters, and then there’s…no…that would be telling!
At the moment we have a graphic artist designing a cover. Once the covers available I’ll post it here.
Aside from Project 13 I’ve just finished a new story called ‘Night Owls’. I’m quite excited about this one. It’s a little bit different. I’m not certain it’s absolutely as good as it can be yet, which means I’ll post it on TriggerstreetLabs to see what the gang think. I’ve sent the story to my regular reader (every writer should have a regular reader) and their feedback was: Great story, great theme, different, original, but maybe XXXX. Note: One or two TSL members do check the blog so I’m not mentioning the point that was made in case it affects their view should they be actively reviewing. Interestingly the point made is one of the concerns I had.
While I’m waiting for reviews on ‘Night Owls’ to rain in I will be working on the final re-write of ‘The Thirteenth Camera’.
Once that’s done I’ll be working on a ‘Night Owls’ re-write.
Take care and to quote one of my fellow Project 13 contributors: “Keep the pen moving.”
M J Wolfson - That's me.