Action/Reaction

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

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Action/Reaction.

Sir Isaac Newton should have been a fiction writer. When one of the most famous minds of the 15th century proposed his 3rd Law of Motion; that For every action force there is an equal and opposite reaction force, he may as well have been speaking at a writer’s workshop, wearing corduroy and sipping a cappuccino.

Because old Fig was absolutely correct. This rule applies not only to the nature of the universe, but to the nature of literature as well. Because for every action one writes in fiction, one should create a reaction. Conversely, for every reaction one writes, there must be a new action (or a re-reaction.)

We shall make that Rule #10: In fiction, for every action, provide a reaction.

Life’s like that. Reality’s like that. Fiction’s like that too—at least good fiction. Why?  Because that’s the way our brain registers life.

An example:

Action: Jason pulled a pistol and pointed the weapon quite calmly at his wife’s head.
Reaction: Martha screamed.

However, let’s back step a bit:

Action: Martha stormed into the den, where her husband sat, writing a letter. “You’re an evil, conniving bastard,” she screamed, raising a kitchen knife. “I’m going to kill you!”
Reaction: Jason pulled a pistol and pointed the weapon calmly at his wife’s head.

And again, another back step:

Action: Martha’s brother, Bob, a Morristown deputy sheriff, revealed on the phone that he had proof Jason murdered their mother to claim the insurance money. Bob told Martha not to “do anything stupid” until he got there.
Reaction: Martha stormed into the den. “You’re an evil, conniving bastard,” she screamed, raising the knife. “I’m going to kill you!”

One more hit, bartender:

Action: Martha’s ex-lover, Bruce, erroneously told sheriff Bob that a surveillance camera had captured the image of Jason, killing his mother. (Although the man in the surveillance photo was really Phil, Jason’s long-missing twin brother.)
Reaction: Bob told Martha that he had proof it was Jason who murdered their mother to claim the insurance money.

See how this works? (The principle applies seamlessly as forward chronology as well.) An entire novel is essentially a ping-pong game of actions and reactions—each reaction also becoming an action in its own right.

A good novel is the literary perception of the Butterfly Effect—mathematician Edward Lorenz’s example of chaos theory—in which a small change (the air movement created by the flap of a butterfly’s wing) might eventually create a much larger phenomenon; theoretically in Lorenz’s case a hurricane. Filmdom is filled with such examples (ironically including the time-traveling head-scratcher The Butterfly Effect). Another nifty example is 2003’s John Cusack-starring film, Max. In Germany, a Jewish art dealer befriends a young, unpopular, confused artist named Adolf Hitler. A tenuous friendship blossoms. Yet—sorry, a spoiler!—when Max is indiscriminately killed by thugs, an enraged Adolf Hitler forgets his budding art career and becomes—well, y’know. In terms of dramatic impact, a very good example. A terrific film.

After all, who are we as writers, if not those who can ask; “What if?”

Breaking the Rules (Sort of)

Simple? Ah, but what about this scenario:

Action: “Mrs. Tummins,” said the brain surgeon, “your loving Harold, your husband of 21 years, the father of your children, the keeper of the magic key, did not survive the operation.”
Reaction: “Thank you, doctor,” replied Mrs. Tummins calmly. She walked outside without another word, across the street to the Nuvo Café and ordered espresso and a bagel. She began flirting shamelessly with the waiter.

A valid reaction? On the surface, it’s an avoidance. Mrs. Tummins’ sudden, nonchalant detachment provides us with a delicious response—but not quite the reaction anyone might expect. If readers have already been introduced to Mrs. T as a rational, loving wife, then—for the moment—the writer’s got us hooked. But a writer has to keep us on that hook. We’re looking for an ultimate reaction. And if Mrs. T’s response isn’t ultimately revealed… then it becomes a bit of negligent plotting. (And, no—it’s not up to a reader to “determine” her rationale. That’s a cop out. It’s the writer’s job to divulge.) See: Rule #17: Don’t hide from your characters. (…coming soon.)

A sly writer may not reveal Mrs. Tummins’s inner truth until the next page or the next scene or even late in Act III—but her eventual reaction is crucial for the story. If Harold’s death proves unimportant to her, then why should it be important to us? So if Mrs. T’s reaction is never explained, her action remains an avoidance… and thus the action/reaction principle stalls. Miscue a few reactions as avoidances and the book may not ultimately ring true. Why? Characters can keep secrets from other characters, but the writer should not keep secrets—unless plot-crucial—from the reader.

By the way, don’t confuse the action/reaction principle with Rule #8: Inhale, then exhale. Tensing and relaxing the plot (inhaling, then exhaling) at regular intervals provides an overarching ebb and flow to dramatic impact—the calm before (and after) a storm. A good novel might alternately inhale and exhale once or twice each scene, or perhaps each subsequent chapter. (Tolstoy’s War and Peace for example. There’s war and then peace. They fight, they make up; they fight, they make up; they fight, they make up.)

Realize that the action/reaction principle can occur on the macro level (chapter by chapter) but can also function on micro levels; for instance, as immediate as alternating lines of a terse dialog—snap, snap, snap—fast and furious. One character shouts furiously and shakes his fists. The other walks away in a brooding funk. Not only is this the action/reaction principle, it illustrates the inhale/exhale principle. All the while providing valuable dramatic impact and pushing the characters or plot to deeper levels.

Both Rule #8 and Rule #10 are critically important to a novel’s success. No breathing, no reacting, and a novel will simply sit… like a lump, like a wet fuse, like a sleeping tiger, like a car idling… awaiting a foot-stomp on the gas pedal. Remember, action/reaction need not be physical attributes—for instance, love found, love pondered, love lost, love rekindled, or an internal struggle with mental illness perhaps—each depiction of internal or external action followed by a reaction, continually, like the rise and fall of a butterfly’s wing, flapping furiously, anxiously anticipating that ultimate hurricane.
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Humorous Fatherhood Book “Everything Ever After: Confessions of a Family Man” by Popular Columnist Launches Tour June 14

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Muse Harbor Publishing launches the book tour for “Everything Ever After: Confessions of a Family Man”, based on Michael Picarella’s Southern CA-based syndicated family columns at the Conejo Valley Botanic Garden’s Kids’ Adventure Garden, at 400 West Gainsborough in Thousand Oaks, CA on 6/14 from 3- 6 p.m. and on July 8, 2014 at Mrs. Figs’ Bookworm at 93 East Daily Drive in Camarillo from 5-7 p.m.

Los Angeles, CA (PRWEB) June 11, 2014

On Saturday, June 14, 2014, Muse Harbor Publishing will host a family fun event to launch their new illustrated humor book, Everything Ever After: Confessions of a Family Man by popular columnist Michael Picarella, at Conejo Valley Botanic Garden’s Kids’ Adventure Garden at 400 West Gainsborough Road, Thousand Oaks, CA, from 3-6 p.m. This is a special Saturday public opening of the Kids’ Adventure Garden, which is normally only open on Sundays.

Picarella offers witty and often laugh-aloud funny stories about marriage, fatherhood, family and suburban community life in his book. Recently coined a “User Manual for Dads” it is being promoted by Muse Harbor as “a great Father’s Day gift.”

Picarella will entertain attendees with hilarious and poignant fatherhood excerpts from his book at 4:00 p.m. The author will sign copies as his publisher provides food and refreshments to the public from 3-6 p.m.

The next stop on the author’s book tour is on Tuesday, July 8, 2014, where Picarella will be appearing at another fun book signing event at Mrs. Figs’ Bookworm at 93 East Daily Drive in Camarillo from 5-7 p.m. Visit mrsfigs.com.

Author Picarella (aka Suburb Man) is an award-winning writer and National Society of Newspaper Columnists member. Since 2006, he has written his column “Family Men Don’t Wear Name Brands,” for The Acorn Newspapers in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. His other column, “Picarella Family Report” for The Signal Newspaper for over two years.

Picarella’s refreshingly clean humor stands out from other humorists in an age where families are often depicted as wisecracking and argumentative. Writer/Director Gregory Poppin (ESPY Show Awards, My Crazy Life) says, “Michael’s sharp wit collides with the stark reality of trying to be a Cosby husband and father in a ‘Pulp Fiction’ world. I read about his misadventures with pity, until I realized, oh… that’s my life, too.”

Everything Ever After is also available online on museharbor.com on June 10, 2014. Muse Harbor is offering a 15% discount on both print and e-book copies when purchased at MuseHarbor.com using this coupon code: ACORN. The book is also available on Amazon, BarnesAndNoble.com and iTunes.

To read stories by the author, visit MichaelPicarellaColumn.com and his website MichaelPicarella.com.

Everything Ever After  is illustrated with clever cartoons by famed illustrator F.M. Hansen, whose cartoons have been published in numerous anthologies worldwide.

Picarella can be reached for further Radio, TV, Print and Online interviews by contacting Margaux (at) museharbor (dot) com. Friend Michael Picarella on Facebook for his latest humor and news.

For more information on the Conejo Valley Botanic Garden, visit www.conejogarden.org/KidsGarden.

Muse Harbor Publishing was founded in Camarillo in 2011 as an organization of “writers helping writers, in service to our readers.”

 

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A Busy Weekend at The Harbor

postpicThe Harbor being, of course, wherever our authors or their books are.

Through a quirk of scheduling, we’ll be having two book signing events this Saturday, June 14. Everything Ever After: Confessions of A Family Man author Michael Picarella will be, appropriately enough, signing his stacks of books at the Kids’ Adventure Garden, while Shalanna Collins, author of the magical adventure April, Maybe June will be doing the same at Lucky Dog Books.

It’ll be difficult – but not impossible – to attend both. Michael’s signing is in Thousand Oaks, California, and Shalanna’s is in Dallas, Texas. Still, that’s only three hours flight time if you get a non-stop flight. If anyone shows up in each venue we’ll all be very impressed, and somewhat frightened.

Lucky Dog Books is a bibliophilic Dallas institution that’s marking its 40th anniversary this year. Anyone who’s been following the seismic upheaval in the book selling business over the past couple of decades should appreciate what an achievement that is, and we’re pleased to help John and the rest of the Lucky Dog crew celebrate their longevity with Shalanna. That’s magical all on its own.

The Conejo Valley Botanic Garden’s 33 acres are dedicated to environmental conservation, education, and recreation, and include a dozen unique garden areas and trails, bird and butterfly habitats, and – my personal favorite – a rare fruit garden. The Kids’ Adventure Garden is designed to sneakily teach science by disguising it among tree houses, hydroponic pods, and other kid-friendly things. On Father’s Day weekend, Michael – our teller of family tales – will be holding forth in a place built for the upcoming generations.

Muse Harbor Publishing is growing as well, and it’s taken a lot of work to get this far. We’re happy to help Michael and Shalanna present their stories to the world. That’s what we’re all about. We’re also about having other positive effects on the world around us, however small. So we’re also happy to help bring some attention to a long-lived bookstore, and to a non-profit environmental educational center. If you’re in Dallas or Thousand Oaks – or both – this weekend, stop by and say hello!

 

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Lucky Dog Books Dallas Launches YA Magical Mystery Novel Series “April, Maybe June” on 6/14

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Popular Author Shalanna Collins Debuts “April, Maybe June” Novel as Book One in the Bliss Sisters Magical Adventures Series from Muse Harbor Publishing

Dallas, Texas (PRWEB) June 09, 2014

On Saturday, June 14, 2014, Muse Harbor Publishing’s popular author of six published novels, Shalanna Collins, debuts her new Young Adult (YA) mystery novel with a magical twist, April, Maybe June, at the Lucky Dog Books launch event in Dallas, TX from 11:00 – 1:00 p.m. Lucky Dog Books is located at 10801 Garland Road (just south of 635, between Easton Road and Jupiter). Collins will sign books and discuss her path to being a professional YA author. Muse Harbor will provide food and soft drinks at no charge to the public.

Collins’ clever YA novel April, Maybe June finds homeschooled siblings April and June Bliss inadvertently sucked into their older cousin Arlene’s troubled life when the street-savvy 17-year-old disappears, then sends for their help via an inscrutable grimoire and a mesmerizing silver ring. When life turns supernaturally spooky, April and June must pull together to survive.

April, Maybe June is available on Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com, iTunes and Museharbor.com in paperback and e-book versions. Muse Harbor Publishing will be offering a 15% discount. Click on museharbor.com and use coupon code: LUCKYDOG.

Collins, who also writes as Denise Weeks, has had her fiction published in several genres, including mystery, fantasy, chick lit, and romantic suspense. The author has a strong web and social media platform which can be seen on her blogs on writing for teens and other genres at shalanna.livejournal.com and shalannacollins.blogspot.com. Fans can friend her on facebook.com at Shalanna Collins Books and follow her on twitter at @shalannacollins.

Collins teaches how to be an author in today’s digital world. The author is available for radio, TV, online interviews and speaking engagements at writers conferences. If you’d like to book Shalanna Collins for your show, blog or event, please contact margaux (at) museharbor (dot) com.
For more information on the book signing at Lucky Dog Books, please visit luckydogbooks.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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Perfection

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

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Perfection.

Ah, that elusive, manipulative, petulant little imp known as perfection. I mention the illusion of perfection in a previous post (See: Where to Start) but it bears repeating. Rule #25: Perfection in writing doesn’t exist. Stop trying to find it.

If you’re goading or flagellating or juicing yourself into writing a perfect novel, waiting for all those perfect ideas to fall—bump, bump, bump—into place, understand that you’ll discover no Holy Grail. No perfect chapter, nor page nor sentence occurs in a writer’s reality. Any word, any phrase, any idea, can be altered. Nudged. Tweaked. Deleted. As a writer, I can spend the remainder of my lonely days chasing a phantom that doesn’t exist—or I can sit down and write a story to the best of my ability. To the successful writer (or at least to a sane, successful writer), the glass is always half full. Knowing when to “leave it be” is key.

As scribes, we accept our limitations and strive for a single goal: Doing the best we can. So Rule #4: Do the best you can.

Don’t think of Rule #4 as settling for meh. Rule #4 isn’t about compromising your talents; it’s about stretching your genius—taking the time and making the effort—and trusting that your next book will be a tad better than your last. Only in a world unencumbered by perfection does room for improvement exist.

I bring up the notion of perfection again because I suspect a vast number of novice writers begin a manuscript with the expectation of reaching literary nirvana, the anticipation of soon seeing themselves at #1 on NYTBSL. Somewhere around page 3 or 30 or 300, those writers begin to realize instant fame isn’t going to happen. Some give up, leaving talent and a worthy, half-finished (and perhaps nearly awesome) effort behind. Pity.

Interesting mathematical statistic: 99.9% of all writers never make the New York Times Best Seller List. Many of them still find a way to live happy, fulfilling lives. Some even have cats.

I’m personally aware of several writers—and very good writers—who’ve been slowly chipping away at the same novel for years. Why? Some of us are seeking perfection, and not finding it, or maybe we’re simply seeking “good enough” and not finding that, either. (Occasionally we’re simply methodical writers—and that‘s a damn good excuse. A word of advice: Write at your own pace. Writing a novel isn’t a race, it’s an achievement.)

However…! Seeking perfection (and not finding it) is an entirely different dilemma. Occasionally, a story isn’t good enough. One’s writing isn’t fully developed or else bumps into impossible obstacles that we find ourselves unqualified or emotionally unable to handle. Most of us have a novel (or two) that has “gotten away”…that sits unfinished in our closets or in some obscure folder on our desktop. And that’s okay too. I consider those failed attempts to be a necessary learning curve. Those manuscripts are part of the process, part of our eventual success. Let them rest in peace.

So what are a few possibilities for a stalled manuscript?

  • Seeking perfection. Right. Doesn’t exist. Refer to the above.
  • Fear of failure. Understandable. Although… d’ju know what’s worse? Thinking you might have the gift, but not even trying. On your deathbed, trust me, that’ll be a big regret. You’ve been warned.
  • Fear of success. Although I’m not sure why. Talent deserves success.
  • Fear of the future (good or bad). As in…what if it doesn’t sell? What if it sells big, but my next book sucks? What if people begin to love me for all the wrong reasons? Or hate me for all the right reasons? What if I trip heading toward the stage to collect my Pulitzer. Please refer again to Rule #100: Get Over Yourself. (In it’s own humbling way, it really should be Rule #1.)
  • Writer’s block. Yeah…a bummer, but it happens: That mental or physical fatigue when words and their meaning become lost in a haze, or simply run away from your brain. You’re overtired or stressed or simply out of ideas. Don’t worry, because the empty vessel will eventually refill. But if the vacuum persists, it’s possibly something else. Eventually, it becomes an excuse. (Valid or otherwise.) One can insist to family and friends “I have writer’s block,” for a year or two…but then we just smile politely and realize the book’s not forthcoming. (It’s OK, we still love you.) But either the book’s wrong for you, or you’re wrong for the book. And, hey, it’s not your fault.
    ……I wanted to be an astronaut once. Never was. Moon block. By the way, my own personal solution for writer’s block? Stepping away from the computer and watching a Firefly marathon or else reading a book I absolutely love… for the 4th or 5th time. (Recently for me: The World According to Garp, The Forever War, The Sirens of Titan and Elmore Leonard’s Cat Chaser.) When my eyes blur, I clean the garage or drive up the coast. Give yourself permission to give yourself a break. It’s part of the process. If your mind’s still writhing with uncorked creativity, write a short story or work on the outline. Dream up another novel. Paint a picture. Take some photos. Often, alternate forms of creativity can replenish your writer’s drive. Give it time.
  • Fear of ridicule. (Rare, but it happens.) Your friends may find you pretentious for even trying. Seriously? Find new friends.
  • Fear of offending somebody. That somebody is usually a friend or family member, and a typically unsavory character prominently featured in your tale. Sorry, Aunt Lucy! The homicidal maniac in chapter 8 isn’t really you. Trust me, they won’t see themselves in your book. Just be sure that you change the names.
  • Fear of offending yourself. Ah, but here’s where the circle closes. We’re back to looking for perfection. Refer to Rule #25 again.

While I have no degree in shrinkology, most fiction writers are somewhat familiar with the above ambiguities. Most writers can relate. So… don’t worry, just write.
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