Basic Plotting (Part 1)

.

Rules-headerA notebook for fiction writers and aspiring novelists. An editor’s perspective.

Next post • Previous post • Index


Basic Plotting (Part 1)

Right Brain (creative thinking) vs. Left Brain (critical thinking). Unfortunately, we need both halves.

The fiction writers I know—we’re all daydreamers at heart. The obstacle confronting us is that, well—we’re all daydreamers at heart. But daydreams don’t magically turn into completed novels. If I had a dollar for every plot idea that wiggled into my head, I’d be driving a Tesla. And I do not drive a Tesla.

The truth is that daydreams—those misty thought-bubbles from which all novels spring—and the reality of churning out a book; e.g.; sitting down to write for months or years, require two completely different facets of a writer’s personality. Our Right Brain—the artsy-fartsy, huggin’ and feelin’ hemisphere—is content to sit on a comfy couch all day, dreaming about pirates or unicorns or maybe what happened that one night at summer camp. Our Left Brain—the logical, mathematical, factual part—pays the bills. For many of us who write (or sing or paint or philosophize), our Left Brain may be underutilized—unpracticed, whiny and suspicious of both hard work and success—and must, at some point, take the cerebral baton from our Right Brain and run with it.

And trust me, that race will be a marathon.

Successfully passing the baton from Right to Left is, IMHO, where a majority of novels stumble and fail. A notion may sprout, may grow a leaf or two, but then the idea withers or stagnates, only to dissolve back into a hazy daydream. And while there’s nothing wrong with that—most novel ideas don’t go the distance—without an eventual, diligent merging of the Right Brain and Left Brain, no novel will ever leave the warm, fertile comfort of your mind. And that would be a shame.

Refer again to Rule #1: Finish the book.

Which of course means starting the book, and then powering through the middle; endless days developing a coherent plot, re-thinking and rewriting scenes, missing more than a few weekends with friends and lovers. And then diving back in, day after day, and always into the deep end, scrubbing every word, sentence and scene until you feel that you’ve “got it right.” No, it’s not an easy task. Oh, but when it’s complete, that’s a feeling unlike any other. I can promise you that.

I’m not certain if anyone can truly explain how an idea, a daydream, a concept, can ultimately transform into a cogent story line. Plot development is in the eye of the beholder. Writing is a solitary journey. Most of us begin with a kernel of an idea; maybe only a wisp of dialog, a half-baked scene that sparks a series of “what if” questions. What if Adolf Hitler had won World War II? Or, What if I found an old suitcase washed up on the beach that contained an enormous diamond, a severed human hand and a mysterious note?

Maybe: What would happen if a small, bespectacled orphan turned out to be a sorcerer with a mysterious past? Or even, What would happen if seven kingdoms vied for power in a medieval fantasy world where dragons once reigned and a frozen wall saved the people from the walking dead?

Just thoughts. Daydreams strung together and eventually made real by the diligence of a single writer, by the power of the written word. ‘Cuz that’s how all novels begin.

If you’re new to the idea of writing a novel, new to the concept of formulating a plot, I have a few ideas. If you’ve never written a novel (but you’re excited to try) sit down and attempt to write a short story—3 or 5 or 10 pages. Short story plots are relatively simple, or else the sliver of a complex issue, but simply told. (A.K.A.: A slice of life.) And if those few pages result in a definitive conclusion, give yourself a high-five, write ‘THE END’ and relax. Then (after the hangover subsides) start another story. Many budding fiction writers find themselves to be highly-efficient short story writers, first and foremost. (And short story collections do have a place in today’s market.)

As you write, however, you may discover new thoughts crowding into consciousness, vying for consideration. You might discover that a few short stories feel suspiciously like chapters in a book—and with a little extra cogitating, your collection can become a novel.

Or perhaps your idea begins with grandiose underpinnings. What if I traced the life of a small street urchin who battled an evil witch and ultimately became the queen of a magical fantasy realm… 2000 pages hence. It all begins with a simple “what if?” scenario that takes hold and won’t let go.

If you discover yourself in such a predicament; that is, ready, willing but paradoxically uncertain, just begin writing. Certainly don’t ponder too far ahead at this point—and certainly don’t fret about finishing, or even worry about the uncertain vastness between now and then… simply start. The only way to succeed is to concentrate on one page at a time.

Refer again, should you desire, to Where To Start. Also see Focus on the Now.
.


Next post • Previous post • Index

 

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Author and Visual Artist, Stephen T. Vessels, Releases New Collection of Stories published by Muse Harbor Publishing


 

“A unique collection of 11 short stories and a novella ranging in genre from science fiction and dark fantasy to amalgams hard to label.”

 

The-Mountain-The-Vortex-and-Other-Tales-Front-Image-620x264

Los Angeles, CA, 2016-Aug-04 — /EPR Network/ — Muse Harbor Publishing has released The Mountain & the Vortex and Other Tales, a collection of stories by author and artist, Stephen T. Vessels. The collection of 11 short stories and one novella is a blend of science fiction, dark fantasy, and cross-genre stories with illustrations. The book is now available for purchase through Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com.

“Originally the book was not going to be a collection,” says Vessels. “We were only going to publish the novella. But the publishers said, ‘The more the merrier,’ and let me do whatever I wanted, and paid for illustrations, and were wonderful, and it became this marvelous reality. I’m amazed by how my stories talk back and forth to each other across the pages. It’s like getting to step back from my own mind and watch it work.”

Included in Vessels’ collection are the short story “Doloroso,” a Thriller Award finalist, and “Lighter Than Air,” which received the Best Fiction Award from the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. All of the stories in The Mountain & The Vortex and Other Tales are accompanied with illustrations by Jean “Mœbius” Giraurd, Alan M. Clark, Steven C. Gilberts, Cheryl Owen-Wilson and the author himself. Vessels is also a visual artist whose latest solo art exhibition, which features a collection of his ballpoint pen drawings, will run from August 4, 2016 through August 27, 2016 at the Andre Zarre Gallery in New York City (www.andrezarre.com).

Stephen T. Vessels is a Thriller Award nominated author of science fiction, dark fantasy and cross-genre fiction. His stories have appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and collections from Grey Matter Press and ShadowSpinners. He has written art and music reviews for the Santa Barbara Independent and is also a poet, whose poems have been published in journals and a chapbook from Slack Buddha Press. He writes all of his drafts longhand.

To learn more about Stephen T. Vessels, The Mountain & The Vortex and Other Tales (Muse Harbor Publishing, 2016, ISBN: 978-1-61264-240-6, $17.99, www.stephentvessels.com), or Vessels’ ballpoint pen drawings, please visit www.stephentvessels.com.

To learn more about Muse Harbor Publishing, please visit www.museharbor.com.

###

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Finding Your Voice (Part 3)

.

Rules-headerA notebook for fiction writers and aspiring novelists. An editor’s perspective.

Next post • Previous post • Index
.


Finding Your Voice (Part 3.)
Point of View: Narrative vs. Authorial Voice

A.K.A.: First Person vs. Third Person. (It’s a bigger issue than me or him.)

Note: Various writing teachers/critics refer to narrative and authorial voice as an author’s Point of View (POV). However, as not to confuse an author’s own voice with the author’s characters’ voices, I shall refrain here from using POV, and simply refer to narrative or authorial voices as first person or third person, respectively.

The Narrative Perspective—linguistically speaking, deictic referencing—is a grammatical stew of who, when and where, essential information that will greatly influence the tone and tenor of your novel. Who is telling the story—you, the author, or one or more or your characters speaking through you? Might you also choose to impart an all-knowing, omniscient voice to further describe your characters? And when is your story told? (Now or then?) Where? (Here or there.) All relevant questions to ask yourself before you begin to write.

Your options? A list of common perspectives:

• First person/past tense (e.g.; narrator’s voice): I loved Paris.
• First person/present tense: I love Paris.
• Third person/past tense. (e.g.; authorial voice): She loved Paris.
• Third person/present tense: She loves Paris.

Less relevant and not recommended (except as dialog or inner monologue, as these styles cannot wholly sustain a fictive work):

• Third person/omniscient/present conditional): She would one day find love in Paris.
• First person/future tense: I will love Paris.
• Second person/past tense: You loved Paris.
• Second person/present tense: You love Paris.
• Second person/future tense: You will love Paris.

Jay McInerney wrote the entirely of Bright Lights, Big City in 2nd person. The novel begins: “You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning…” This voice can sustain a novel—McInerney’s is a very good novel—but not easily and probably not without being regarded by your literary peers as ‘effusive.’ So, no, probably don’t use it.

Finding one’s own narrative perspective—that is writing a novel in first person (1P) vs. third person (3P)—is a bigger issue than simply writing “I am going to town” or “She went to town.” You’ll likely find that your sentence construction, your cadence—possibly your entire plot structure—significantly different, depending on which voice you choose. Visual cues will differ. Character depth will differ. Your character’s thought patterns will differ. Character motivations may differ in terms of your relying on dialog (two characters communicating) versus internal monologue (a character thinking unspoken thoughts to which the reader is privy). You may find your entire writing style shifting to some degree, to accommodate the voice you choose.

Also, when writing in 1P, using a narrative or narrator’s voice, you’re restricted to solely using the “I” character to impart knowledge to the reader. Mary may be thinking about killing me, but I don’t know that for certain. Only your principal character will reveal thoughts to the reader—an attribute that can be both incredibly illuminating and restricting. If you’re writing in 1P, you’re allowing the character to speak directly to the reader. For instance, Barbara Kingsolver begins her novel The Bean Trees:

“I have been afraid of putting air in a tire ever since I saw a tractor tire blow up and throw Newt Hardbine’s father over the top of the Standard Oil sign. I’m not lying. He got stuck up there.”

However, should you, as author, choose to tell your story from your own perspective, you’re speaking in authorial voice. You’re writing in 3P, typically in either past or present tense. In the novel Prodigal Summer, Kingsolver begins:

“Her body moved with the frankness that comes with solitary habits. But solitude is only a human presumption. Every quiet step is thunder to beetle life underfoot; every choice is a world made new for the chosen. All secrets are witnessed.

“If someone in this forest had been watching her—a man with a gun, for instance, hiding inside a copse of leafy beech trees—he would have noticed how quickly she moved up the path and how direly she scowled at the ground ahead of her feet.”

Using authorial voice, you have the added bonus of alternating with—should you choose—an omniscient voice. As omniscient narrator, you’re essentially a puppet-master looking down upon your characters and providing the reader with an objective overview of their lives. Interestingly, in Prodigal Summer (above), Ms. Kingsolver shifts to present tense to reflect her omniscient voice in the second line.

Remember the Stage Manager in Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town? (It’s been a staple in high schools for decades.) Mr. Wilder ingeniously offers his omniscient voice a living stage persona, a character unseen and unknown by the other actors. Early in Act I, the Stage Manager states: “Over there is the Congregational Church; across the street’s the Presbyterian. Methodist and Unitarian are over there.” The Stage Manager is not speaking to the actors. He’s speaking to the audience. The actors are oblivious to the Stage Manager’s presence.

Another example—and advantage—of writing in 3P is switching freely between authorial voice (shown in italics below) and omniscient voice (in bold italics):

As Jonathan stumbled through the steaming Manaquirian jungle, he felt a sudden sting on his shoulder. Christ, he hated mosquitoes. He considered them nothing more than tiny, insufferable vampires, sucking the lifeblood from any creature who dared enter their blistering realm. Little did Jonathan know that this insect would infect him with a lethal strain of malaria that would, without an antidote, inexorably dissolve his brain into a soggy beef broth.

It can be a good way to build drama.

If you write in 1P, do realize that we, your readers, won’t know (until Jonathan himself tells us) that his brain is turning to mush. If Jonathan doesn’t know, we don’t know either. However, there exists subtle methods to invoke a similar sort of faux omniscient information. No, you’re not using omniscient voice. You’re cheating by creating a useful backstory. Or hearsay. Or conversations with convenient strangers. Thus:

As I stumbled through the steaming Manaquirian jungle, I felt a sudden sting on my shoulder. Christ, I hated mosquitoes. They’re insufferable buggers, little more than tiny vampires sucking the lifeblood from any creature who dares enter their blistering realm. Years ago, while camped in Tupana, I’d heard horror stories about a rare killer mosquito hiding in this part of the Amazon. It was a new breed of insect whose sting would slowly dissolve a human brain into a soggy beef broth. I hoped to God one of those little lethal bastards wouldn’t find me, as the nearest medical facility, and the nearest antidote, awaited me in Manaus, a good fifty miles away.

Different voice? Sure, and likely a different style, subliminal or not. For instance, I didn’t intend to alter the above translation (3P/1P), but each voice demands nuance and subtlety. It’s not as simple as switching from him to me. Your novel will be built around the specific voice you use.

So… not sure which voice to use? Might I suggest allowing yourself a few pages to toy with different perspectives? Write a scene in 3P and then rewrite those same pages in 1P. Try past tense. Try present tense. Does a particular voice call to you? Do you feel yourself able to better express yourself more articulately using a particular voice? Personally, I find this exercise to be one of the more enjoyable guilty pleasures of beginning a new book.
.


Next post • Previous post • Index
.
.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Finding Your Voice (Part 2)

.

Rules-headerA notebook for fiction writers and aspiring novelists. An editor’s perspective.

Next post • Previous post • Index


Finding Your Voice (Part 2): Do your characters speak to you?

This one gets a little deep, so buckle in. To briefly recap: finding your writer’s voice is a combination of discovering your personality as a writer (See: Finding Your Voice. Part 1) and finding your characters’ fictional personalities. And the best way to discover those fictive voices? Listen.

So, basically, Rule #13 is: Shut up and let your characters tell their own stories. (And in doing so, you’ll discover your voice.)

Crazy, right? It’s a little like channeling Elvis.

As a fiction editor, I can discern—usually within a page or two—whether I’m listening to the writer speak or if I’m listening to the characters tell their own story. And I don’t want the writer’s version of what’s going down, I want the characters revealing themselves. You? You’re just the conduit.

Not that your characters should completely dominate their own fates. The writer’s job is all about forward momentum. Herd these people inside your head—some who may be obstinate, others cranky, some loving, others lazy—incessantly forward. Push that plot dramatically onward. You’re creating a road map from here-to-there, filled with tension and pathos (or emotion or zany humor) and profundity (or frivolity). And each character has an obligation to remain in the confines of the parameters you set.

How do you know that your characters are speaking their minds? Here’s a test. Visualize this hypothetical novel: You’re writing a happy/sad tale about four friends, all very different people from a variety of backgrounds, and each trying to live a life to its fullest.

It’s what I call The Lobster Bisque Variant. Picture these four characters sitting in a restaurant, enjoying the moment. Juan’s a middle-aged Hispanic blue-collar pipe-fitter, Andrea’s a 35-year old airline pilot, Zane is a young black Broadway dancer and Rosanna’s an old Italian grandmother. A waiter comes by and—visualize, in turn, four variations of the following incident—accidentally spills a bowl of lobster bisque in each of their laps. Juan gets the lapful in Version #1, Andrea gets souped in Version #2… and so on. Now, as a writer, describe their reactions.

If your results are:

Version 1/Juan: “Oh my God, how embarrassing. What a mess!”
Version 2/Andrea: “Oh my God, how embarrassing. What a mess!”
Version 3/Zane: “Oh my God, how embarrassing. What a mess!”
Version 4/Rosanna: “Oh my God, how embarrassing. What a mess!”

…then, guess what? You’re not listening to your characters, to the nuance of their unique personalities. You’re listening to yourself, confined to your own theoretical reaction. Ultimately, your characters may become little more than mini-you’s, clones of your boxed-in subconscious, and cookie-cutters of each other. Most readers will quickly detect such similarity, such ambiguity, and most likely find them (and eventually your story) flat and unappealing.

However, by discovering their various reactions to a wet lap can help determine each character’s emotional core. If you like what you hear, then continue (metaphorically, of course) to pour bisque in their laps every so often, careful to interpret and maintain the integrity of their distinct voices. 

When they speak to you, through you (and, believe me, they will) be aware of their cadence and vocabulary and motivation. A great novel, after all, isn’t about plot—it’s about people. (Also see Dialog.)

And so… voice? It’s partly your storytelling ability. And partly about each character’s unique emotional energy. Strip away voice and whatever’s left—however realistic, however meticulously constructed—feels dry, lifeless, vacant. He did this, she did that. I went here. I went there. A house on Main Street. It rained. John loved Mary.

Instead, allow your characters to reveal the passion that burns inside their souls. Give them sufficient room, sufficient stage time, to become real to both you and your readers.
.


Next post • Previous post • Index
.
.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Midwest Book Review: The Evolutionary Testament of Co-Creation is “an impressive and unique contribution to Christian Metaphysics”


Small Press Bookwatch has reviewed Barbara Marx Hubbard’s latest book, available now from Muse Harbor Publishing:

 

An impressive and unique contribution to Christian Metaphysics, The Evolutionary Testament of Co-Creation: The Promise Will Be Kept is an informative, absorbing, and inherently fascinating read that is highly recommended, especially for the non-specialist general reader with an interest in an iconoclastic and gnostic approach to Christian Studies.

 

midwest-book-reviewSmall Press Bookwatch is a publication of the Midwest Book Review, which was established in 1976 as an organization committed to promoting literacy, library usage, and small press publishing.

 

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather