Thursday, October 29, 2009

#FridayFlash - "Missing"

By this time, It's already Friday somewhere in the world...

Carter looked up from his discovery, the result of a broken-down tractor and a long walk through the forest as the shortest distance between today’s work and the farm house. He glanced around, thinking: Here’s a nest full of unusual critters, but no mother or father. And they were unusual, their shape and color unlike anything he’d ever seen in National Geographic or on the PBS shows he occasionally watched.

Slowly, one of the babies lifted its head and blinked at him, so Carter kneeled down and reached out a friendly hand, saying, “Hey there, little fella.”

The young creature sniffed at first, and then it snapped, shearing off his right pinkie at the second knuckle.

A cracking twig cut off Carter’s wailings, and he whirled around to the form of a giant, lizard-like animal crouched, ready to strike, its long tongue licking at more teeth than he’d ever seen in his life.

(Image courtesy of

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story appears in the 30 Days, 30 Writes 2009 chapbook, released on October 30, 2009. The chapbook features more stories by Stephen Book, as well as stories by Jane Banning, Greta Igl and JC Towler. Please visit the 30 Days, 30 Writes blog for more details.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

On the Horizon

This last week has been filled with ups and downs. On the up side, 30 Days, 30 Writes is coming soon. What is 30 Days, 30 Writes? Earlier in the year, Greta Igl challenged her writing buddies to a little adventure: based upon prompts, write a six-sentence story every day for thirty days. Including Greta, four of us took up that challenge; and in the process, we accomplished some amazing stories. I eventually fleshed out one of mine into a longer piece, “Pure White”, which found its way into the Flash Fiction 40 Anthology, promoted by Editor Unleashed and published by Smashwords Press. After our adventure came to a close, Greta suggested that we compile a collection of those stories into a Chapbook. This week has brought about the finishing round of edits and formatting. Within the next couple of weeks, we should have that collection available to anyone who wants it. Stay tuned for the details.

This week also saw the completion, and first submission, of a short story, and my fingers are now crossed as I wait for a response. Another short story almost made it the gate; however, like usual I'm still tinkering with the details, trying to make sure it's just right. My friends say I'm a perfectionist, and that pretty well sizes things up. Hopefully, though, I'll have that second story ready for submission this next week. My goal is to have at least two more stories submitted prior to November, and I'm on target to get that done.

On another good note, I finished reading one of the books I purchased in preparation for NaNoWriMo: Contrabando by Don Henry Ford, Jr. As the book opens, Ford takes you on a trip to Del Rio, where he learned his first hard lesson about the drug-smuggling business. Then, he takes you further back to his childhood to reveal a grandfather who shaped his love for the land—for farming and riding horses and the rodeo. He writes about his days in college, how he met his wife, as well as his attempts to farm cotton in the Pecos Valley, which ultimately left him bankrupt. As the saying goes, desperate times can lead to desperate measures, and Ford left Texas for a while, where he ran into his first acquaintances in the drug smuggling world, thus gaining a taste for the business and the lure of easy money.

Contrabando is an autobiography, though Ford admits to receiving some help from Charles Bowden in order to piece it all together; and by the end of it, you’ll be left with the feeling that Ford was lucky enough to write it. On more than one occasion, he could have lost his life. I read the hardback version, which was published by Cincos Puntos Press. Unfortunately there were occasional incidents of editing errors—sentences that were obviously re-written and then spliced together with the original text—however, considering Ford's background, as a reader you have to accept those errors as minor and keep reading to catch the story. I don’t know that Cincos Puntos Press has the editing budget of other, larger publishing houses, but the paperback version was picked up by Harper Paperbacks, and hopefully they had a chance to correct some of the errors.

On the down side for the week, I eagerly awaited the arrival of two more books, ordered in preparation for NaNoWriMo, and both of which I need to understand certain types of characters. Each day, the mail brought disappointment as the books never arrived. But there are still two weeks before November, which gives me plenty of time to think about my plot, my protagonist, and some of the people surrounding him.

Which brings me to the NaNoWriMo project and a progress report. Over the last few weeks, I’ve done a lot of thinking and road mapping for this story. I’ve ordered books and scratched out notes, and this week I also started a summary for the novel, a way of organizing my thoughts and channeling my efforts. Finally, based on a suggestion by writing buddy Linda Wastila, I have set aside the first week of November, taking annual leave, so I will have seven full days of writing time, which will hopefully give me a good jump start on the project.

Until next time…

Friday, October 2, 2009

Using Epiphanies to Develop Characters

An epiphany is a moment when awareness or a sharp insight dawns suddenly on your protagonist as a result of events and interactions that have driven him to this moment. Epiphany is synonymous with change when it comes to character development. Very often epiphanies come with a cost—characters can be very attached to their perceptions of things and people, and it often hurts when they finally gain awareness.

Jordan Rosenfeld, Make A Scene.

Walking this last week has fed some good food to my brain. After reading the excerpt above, I remembered an answer Michael Connelly gave during his interview with The Writer.

Q. Which comes first, the character’s story or the idea for the novel?

A. That changes from book to book. With Harry Bosch, it is usually a character dimension I want to explore, and then I fit that into a cop story I’ve heard…

Jeff Ayers, “In the ‘lab’ with Michael Connelly” (from the October 2009 issue of The Writer)

As I walked, I mentally questioned how authors turn one novel into a series. How do they keep it going? What’s more, why would readers care enough to follow page after page, book after book? For an author like Janet Evanovich, the answer is easy. Struck by the outlandish character of Stephanie Plum, including the additional crazy people in her life, readers continue to turn the pages not only to watch Stephanie solve the crime, but to see how wild things will get. What trouble will she trip into this time?

Even with a character like Stephanie Plum, though, a crime series is more than just pushing your main character through the next case. It is also about exploring issues in their world, opening their eyes. It may also be an opportunity to address one or more character flaws.

Flawed (but likeable!) characters are the ones readers root for, because a character without flaws or fears is a character without conflicts.

Karen S. Wiesner, “Your Novel Blueprint” (from the February 2009 issue of Writer’s Digest)

Whether those flaws are fixed by the end of the book is not the issue. It’s all about the journey. In fact, it is more “human” to have a character try to fix their flaws, yet fail to do so. Take Robert B. Parker’s character Jesse Stone, for an example. In each book, he continues to deal with drinking too much booze and the strained relationship with his ex-wife. What keeps readers going, I think, is not just the hook of each case. It’s the pull of Stone’s flaws, and the lingering question about whether he’ll find some peace.

As the quote from Jordan Rosenfeld implies (above), this act of realizing an issue and making some decision to change, even if you fail at it, is called an epiphany. While the main plot line in any crime story will have its own epiphany—Who did it? Will he/she go to jail?—epiphanies can also be found within the subplots. Will Jesse Stone reconcile with his wife? Will Stephanie Plum finally realize how deeply she loves Joe Morelli? It is these issues that flesh out the character, enrich the total story, and keep the reader begging for more.

With these things in mind, then, I have spent a few days exploring issues for my own protagonist. The last time I posted an entry, I mentioned how I tried to see my character through those around him. Now, I’m trying to see my character through the issues inside of him because those are the intimate areas my character will have to face in the story (or another story hopefully) and by facing them come to conclusions about himself or life in general.

You might ask: Why are you doing that now? Shouldn’t the process of writing bring its own discovery? True. It can. And for some writers it does. But then there’s the answer from Michael Connelly which suggests that some stories are designed around the internal issues (i.e., character dimensions) he wants to explore. Personally, I think it’s a process of both. There are character issues a writer wants to address before the novel begins, and then there are other issues which writers discover along the way.

How about you? Do you spend time thinking about your protagonist before placing your pen to the paper? Or are you totally about a plot device, or a scenario, and letting it all come out during the process?