Focus on the Now

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Rules-headerA blog for fiction writers and impending writers. An editor’s perspective.

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Focus on the Now.

Writing the Now is crucial in those segments or scenes of dramatic relevance (particularly action or emotionally-charged sequences). The Now is all about focusing on an immediate moment in your plot or in your character’s story—and not reminding us of what’s previously occurred or inferring what might happen next. In those tension-charged “inhale” moments (see Rule #8: Keep your characters moving) one’s writing should never dawdle, or drift, or pull away from visual or emotional impact. Thus, this rule’s addendum to #8’s sage wisdom is this: Keep your characters—and the reader—grounded in space/time. (Seriously.) Keep us here. Keep us now. When you’re confronting drama, your writing should be its most concise and free of asides and philosophical segues. Keep your writing linear.

Ah, yes, linear writing! We humans lead our physical lives (and we writers tend to tell our tales) in linear progression. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to do otherwise. Yesterday, today, tomorrow. It’s how to build a house, how to prepare a meal, how to walk from here to there and how to write a book; word by word, page by page, chapter by chapter.

Yet in terms of thinking—that is, processing our thoughts—we’re typically all over the bloody map. In a single moment, we may be pondering the water bill, what we ate for breakfast—do I have clean clothes for tonight? What was her name again?—while concurrently anticipating a vacation to Maui. We’re a myriad, a kaleidoscope, a raging volcano of random and unconnected thoughts, every minute of every day.

Unfortunately, we writers have to mute this cerebral cacophony and assemble a string of linear thoughts sufficient to complete a coherent book. When we sit down to write, some of us have barely a vague notion of what comes next. But we typically begin with a single idea that will (and must) grow and expand in a polite and orderly fashion—that will eventually encompass several hundred pages.

So how do we squeeze out the fat but leave the gristle? My suggestion (and now Rule #16) is this: Focus on the now. Stay in the moment. Don’t remind us of what’s already happened, and don’t allude to what might happen.

Thus, midway through a daring cavalry charge against a hoard of angry hostiles, a writer shouldn’t suddenly decide that the protagonist once had an aunt named Rita who smelled like persimmon blossoms. Maybe the dear woman exists in your mind—but now isn’t the time to introduce her.

Or perhaps we’ve maneuvered Rhonda and Robby, a pair of young lovers, atop Misty Mountain, alone beneath a full moon and about to share that first kiss. Once the puckering begins, we shouldn’t decide to pause to extensively examine what Rhonda ate for breakfast this morning. If there’s a plot-specific reason for depicting breakfast, sure, mention it—but not here. Not now. See Rule #26: Don’t mix action and information (and vise-versa). Meaning that once you’ve decided on action, stay with the action—follow it through. When you’ve fully inhaled—that is, infused your scene with sufficient drama—then it’s OK to exhale.

Ideas often form in bits and pieces; can ease into a writer’s consciousness like fragments of a wispy dream. It’s too easy to sidetrack ourselves, or to take off on flights of irrelevant fancy. Our fragile minds generally lack the comprehension skills to immediately structure each necessary thought in proper sequence, chronologically from A to Z.

That precise chronology requires editing and re-editing and re-re-editing. Adjusting. Pruning. So replay each scene, stripping needless verbiage until you’ve whittled your prose down to raw excitement. If you determine that Aunt Rita’s germane to the story, then by all means include her—but at the proper moment, where she can enter your tale bringing her own excitement with her. (As Sophocles once said* about drama; “T’is better to crash through a window than stroll through a doorway.”)

It’s typical to write a draft or two filled with holes and gaps, fits and starts, of competing scenarios and conflicting timelines and ‘what if’ possibilities; additions, deletions, asides and notes-to-self. We’ll rearrange our thoughts—finding Aunt Rita a proper home at the proper time, for instance—and telling us, preferably, only what’s transpiring at this moment.

To more closely examine the two major culprits that I typically find bogging down the momentum of Now:

The Recap. Recapping is reminding a reader, or summarizing, passages or events that have already transpired. A good novelist tells the reader once and moves on. Typically, a recap tends to be an unnecessary reiteration of a previous scene or sequence. Yet strong prose needs no reassurance. If you’re unsure whether a reader will remember your relevancy, revisit that scene and strengthen its potency (in its own Now.) Then move along.

BTW: Beware summarizing any verbiage as a fictive device. Usually lacking drama and stylistic intensity, a summary is a limp noodle of a segue or brief passage. Say it eloquently, or not at all.

The Telegraph. It’s common for some of us to inadvertently sneak bits of clairvoyance to a reader. For instance, I already know that Sheriff Bob and the Schoolmarm are going to sneak a kiss in Act II, even if I’ve barely started writing Act I. So it’s easy to placate my own excitement by writing: One day, Sally Sue knew she’d share a kiss with Sheriff Bob, and had dreamed of little else for the last two months… if only because I’m damned excited about that impending kiss. So I deliberately or subliminally tease the reader to wait for the fireworks. But what I’m really doing is telegraphing that probability to the reader—defusing the tension—and when the moment of the kiss arrives, many readers may feel cheated. T’is far better than to surprise the reader than render the moment predicable by providing that unnecessary wink and a nudge.

BTW: There’s a difference between a telegraph and the perfectly acceptable foreshadow. The foreshadow is a whisper; the telegraph is a shout. Or, to revisit Sally Sue’s predicament in a less obtrusive way: Sally Sue had never been kissed. So, sure, in the midst of revealing her loneliness, such observation can provide insight, yet won’t tease away any secrets or deflate tension.

So… Beware of recapping past events. Of foretelling the future. Stick with the events of the moment. Mesmerize your reader with the vibrant immediacy of the Now.

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* Or maybe not.
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“Stephen Hawking Smoked My Socks” Sparks Controversy in Science World

Muse Harbor Publishing launches controversial book, Stephen Hawking Smoked My Socks by noted dissident mathematician, astrophysicist and author Hilton Ratcliffe. Loved by some and reviled by others for challenging the scientific powers that be, Ratcliffe examines the sociology of belief, dissecting the almost impenetrable layer of belief that protects our opinions and convictions, and offers a novel method for revealing objective truth in any and all fields of enquiry.

Los Angeles, CA (PRWEB) November 21, 2014

Why did Stephen Hawking become so famous? What is it that makes Albert Einstein so instantly recognizable? Why have they become icons to rival film stars? South African-born physicist, mathematician, astronomer and author Hilton Ratcliffe seeks out the answers to those questions, and discovers that they have nothing at all to do with science. In Stephen Hawking Smoked My Socks (Muse Harbor Publishing, November 21, 2014), Ratcliffe puts it plainly:

“It is profoundly important that I state up front what this book is about: The power and influence of belief over data-driven science in creating our opinions, and the eternal, polarising conflict between belief and instinct in the development of our mindset. This book is not about my scientific theories, nor does it promote my personal models of the Universe. Please bear in mind that I am not proposing an alternative model of anything; I am merely tendering a method that favours objectivity in the development of all theories and philosophies, whatever they might be.”

In the prologue to “Stephen Hawking Smoked My Socks”, Ratcliffe says, “The aim of this discourse is not to prove either of us right and the other wrong, but for us both to find an accurate and realistic way of looking at the world. I contend that everyone, without exception, is powerfully affected by personal belief, so I suppose I have at last produced a book that is relevant to 7 billion people!”

Against the backdrop of his own worldview as a philosophical astrophysicist, Hilton Ratcliffe:

  • Examines Dr. Hawking’s career and what he achieved;
  • Describes the empirical scientific method, exposing its inherent weaknesses and how untested theory-stacks lead to the so-called standard models;
  • Investigates the nature of belief and the influence of dogma;
  • Illuminates the synergy between scepticism and pragmatism;
  • Drills down into defensive social groups, including sects, gangs, cults, conspiracy theorists, and the scientific elite;
  • Reveals the territorial imperative as a fundamental instinctual driver of human behaviour;
  • Offers a solution to all these dilemmas—an investigative method called scientific pragmatism.

Stephen Hawking Smoked My Socks is available on AmazonBarnes and Noble, iTunes and museharbor.com.

On the issue of recent theories on black holes, Ratcliffe believes this video, “Einstein Said There are No Black Holes” by Chief Scientist, Focus Fusion Research, LPPhysics.com, Eric Lerner, addresses the issue best.

Dr. Cliff Saunders, Cybernetician, says, “South Africa’s very own Dr. Hilton Ratcliffe shows, in this remarkably entertaining book about the physics of reality, the inevitable and tragic hubris of Prof. Stephen Hawking and most of all, he shows me my very own place in this Universe, this folly we call home.”

South African-born astrophysicist Hilton Ratcliffe has garnered respect amongst the global scientific community for his classical approach to space science: His belief system is based upon observation rather than esoteric theory, a reversal of the standard approach to cosmology. The author first exposed the suffocating control exercised by an entrenched scientific orthodoxy of which he was once part. He opposes the stranglehold that Big Bang theory has on astronomical research and funding, and to this end became a founding member of the Alternative Cosmology Group (an association of some 700 leading scientists from all corners of the globe).

Based in Santa Barbara, CA, Muse Harbor Publishing was founded in 2011 as “writers helping writers, in service to our readers.”

 

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What’s your intention?

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Rules-headerA blog for fiction writers and impending writers. An editor’s perspective.

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What’s Your Intention?

Each chapter (or individual scene) that you write must have a specific intention. Your goal is to propel the story rationally forward in terms of: scene-setting, character-setting and/or plot development. (Refer to Rule #5.) Each scene has, to some degree, a beginning, a middle and a conclusion—or if not a definitive conclusion, a consequence. A predicament. Each scene moves the reader from here to there with both precision and passion.

Even truncated scenes, brief interludes and segues—often the most difficult scenes to write—have an intention, if only to kill time (The icy grip of winter passed slowly while Martin languished in prison…), foil a protagonist, set a trap, build emotional tension or intentionally mislead the reader. Thus, each chapter—each scene,  paragraph and single line within—must be lovingly manipulated to best accomplish that task. When you’re finished writing a scene, ask yourself: How has the story improved? How has the novel advanced? If you can’t answer precisely, rethink your intent.

Remember, whatever your intention: clear and concise sentence construction, told dramatically and passionately.

While editing, I’ll sometimes come across a scene containing a character who is confused or muddled (or an amnesiac or drugged or dreaming) and the writer decides to mirror the character’s vague and perplexed state by writing vague and perplexing prose. Absolutely not! Rule #29: Your characters may be elusive or distracted, but your prose must remain clear and concise. The writer must always maintain clarity, and in solid communication with the reader.

This excerpt from Mind Games (written by me, so I’m free to plagiarize):

He remembered only colors.

Neon spirals morphed into a myriad of indecipherable images, bright kaleidoscopic fragments of light that filled his sleeping mind—colors he had never before known, nor would remember again. He felt both terror and awe and swam chaotically through the illusion, toward the encroaching pallor of consciousness. Finally, exhausted, he opened his eyes to an empty room, the residue of color fading from memory. The dim haze of approaching dawn painted the small room’s only window and, standing unsteadily, he peered toward an unknown and distant landscape, mute with the greys and browns of an unwelcomed reality.

Meaning that my intention had been to introduce a character in some sort of mental anguish, perhaps on the verge of emotional collapse. Yet told (one might hope) with a lucidity that hints of both a specific setting and the character’s state-of-mind. Once established, it’s time to move the plot forward.

Hollywood’s directors are often screaming at struggling actors; “What’s your motivation?!” In fiction writing, that relentless director inside your head should be screaming those same words. What are my intentions on this page! What am I trying to achieve here? If you’re writing a visual scene, are you providing sufficient clarity, grounding the reader in sights, sounds and textural richness? In an action scene, are you including only what’s necessary; excluding elements that slow pacing; e.g.; eliminating passive voice and avoiding unnecessary inner monologue?

From On The Edge—again, one of mine—and deep in the midst of an action sequence:

Nikki had neither the time nor the inclination to announce herself as a federal agent, bringing her revolver into a two-handed firing grip, pointing at the gunman who’d invaded her night. She squeezed the trigger repeatedly and saw the back of the pea green jacket pucker several times between his shoulder blades—her fifth round exiting high, spewing bone and teeth fragments from the side of the intruder’s face.

“You shit,” she seethed. He’d crumpled to the floor, leaving a dark smear against the wall. She stepped quickly, her pistol still trained, one left in the chamber, ready to blow out whatever remaining brain matter at the slightest inkling of life. She nudged the shotgun away with her bare toe.

Keep the pacing taut, not bogged down (in red) with extraneous or irrelevant—for the moment—information.

Nikki had neither the time nor the inclination to announce herself as a federal agent, bringing her revolver into a two-handed firing grip, pointing at the gunman who’d invaded her night. Who was this stranger? Might he be the same man she’d seen around town for the last several days, following her? She squeezed the trigger repeatedly, the way she’d been taught years before at the academy, and saw the back of the pea green jacket pucker several times between his shoulder blades—her fifth round exiting high, spewing bone and teeth fragments from the side of the intruder’s face. She had never killed a man before and wondered if her sleep would be filled with nightmares from this day forward.

“You shit,” she seethed. He’d crumpled to the floor, leaving a dark smear against the wall. She stepped quickly, her pistol still trained, one left in the chamber, ready to blow out whatever remaining brain matter at the slightest inkling of life. She nudged the shotgun away with her bare toe. Now what, she wondered? What would happen next? How could she explain this to her boss, special agent Raleigh, who’d warned her to stay out of trouble?

In other words, in action scenes, your intention is to embroil your reader in a sudden rush of adrenalin. The verbiage in red may indeed be integral to the story—but not here. No flashbacks. No philosophical rhetoric. This is a literary inhale. The extraneous facts are the exhale (Refer to Rule #8)… and belong elsewhere, when the action is complete.

Or, should two characters fall in love, are you clearly identifying those characteristics—two young, confused lovers pondering their next move? Even if your lovers are doomed to ultimately fail, are you clearly elucidating only those first tender moments—and not telegraphing the heartache that will appear 200 pages later? Because revealing too much is as erroneous as revealing too little. Your intention—in this scene—is only to delve into their burgeoning passion. What comes before and what occurs next—well, everything in its own sweet time. (See Rule #16: Focus on the now.)
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2014 World Science Fiction Convention Loncon3 Hosts Award-Winning Author Leslie Ann Moore in London, Aug 15-16

Muse Harbor Publishing’s Science Fiction/Fantasy Author Leslie Ann Moore to speak to fans and promote her upcoming “A Tangle of Fates” trilogy novel at Loncon3 in London, August 15-16, 2014, home of the famed Hugo Awards. Moore is the author of the romantic fantasy, “Griffin’s Daughter” trilogy, winner of the acclaimed IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award for Best First Book in Fiction.

Los Angeles, CA (PRWEB) August 11, 2014

The 72nd Annual World Science Fiction Convention (Loncon3 2014 London) will host Muse Harbor Publishing’s Award-Winning Science Fiction and Fantasy Author, Leslie Ann Moore, as a guest speaker on two nights; Friday, August 15, and Saturday, August 16, 2014. Loncon3 features art, comics, film, literature, music, science, TV and is the home to the 2014 prestigious Hugo Awards.

Moore is the author of the romantic fantasy Griffin’s Daughter trilogy, winner of the acclaimed IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award for Best First Book in Fiction. Moore’s latest book, A Tangle of Fates, Book One in the Vox Machina Trilogy, is a New Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy/Romance novel featuring a young, gutsy heroine and heir to the kingdom, Deanna Hernaan. Moore’s unique tale of ‘Snow White as a revolutionary, instead of a pawn’ takes place four hundred years after a devastating war on the alien world Nuetierra, in the still recovering, steam-powered, dangerous civilization of Nue Bayona. Here, massive air-breathing jellyfish float through violet skies trolling for prey, and giant creatures roam the ancient ruins seeking human blood.

Forced from her comfortable home after escaping an assassination attempt by her own stepmother, the brave Hernaan embarks on her revolutionary journey where she befriends the oppressed Tiqui people and must choose between love and sacrifice, justice and safety, a shaman’s wisdom or her own instincts, all while the fates of three women, two people, and one planet hang in the balance.

Emma Bull, Author of War for the Oaks, says, “A Tangle of Fates mixes planetary romance with a fairy-tale subtext and serves it up with an intriguing background of reimagined technology and religion. The result is delicious.”

On Friday, August 15th, Moore will give insights to her success as a professional sci-fi fantasy storyteller, as well as the practical side of the industry, specifically the realities of making a living in today’s digital age of Science Fiction literature. On August 16, Moore will discuss disparities that arise between authors and readers in the interpretations of stories, and what tools authors can use to help convey their intended message to their audiences.

Steven Barnes, author of Lions Blood, says, “A Tangle of Fates is an exciting start to a new, lushly written and deeply imagined fantasy trilogy.”

Moore’s books can be found on Amazon.com, Museharbor.com. Like Moore on Facebook at leslie.ann.moore8 and follow her on Twitter at @Leslie_AnnMoore.

Moore has been a storyteller since childhood and a fan of science fiction authors Ray Bradbury, Terry Brooks, and J.R.R. Tolkien since middle school. Her creative writing training and fascination with science fiction/fantasy inspired her to write the popular, 2008 IBPA award-winning “Griffin’s Daughter” trilogy. Moore, a graduate of UC Davis and a practicing veterinarian, now shares her love for writing and cosplay with her husband in Los Angeles, California. Vice-President of the Greater Los Angeles Writers Society, Moore is an animated and engaging speaker, and can be reached for book reviews, radio, TV, feature articles and blog interviews or event speaking engagements by contacting margaux(at)museharbor(dot)com.

Based in Santa Barbara, CA , Muse Harbor Publishing was founded in 2011 as “writers helping writers, in service to our readers.”

 

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