Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Successful Novelist - Lesson Six

The Tactics of Structure
- subdivide the huge task of a novel into smaller, more manageable steps
- using the 3-part plot structure, he suggests The Beginning (1/7), The Middle (5/7), and The End (1/7), 300 pages novel should be about 40 pages, 220 pages, and 40 pages
- you can then break down each chapter into a beginning, middle, and end, but focus on dramatizing the middle and implying the beginning and end of each chapter
- by subdividing your novel, by thinking of it in terms of arcs and small units within those arcs, you’re not only making it easier for you to write, you’re also making it easier for the reader to appreciate the unity of those fifty-page sections
- by definition, flashbacks impede the forward movement of the story and should be approached with severe caution
- beginning each chapter like you begin you book, use a strong event to grab the reader’s attention
- ask yourself: What is the event that sets the story into motion?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Successful Novelist - Lesson Five

The Importance of Research

- "Write what you know" - a common rule, and sounds like good advice, but what does it mean?
- today, most writers writing about what they know is writing about books and movies
- get out there and experience as much as you can
- as writers, you'll spend a lot time writing at your desk, labouring over stories while life passes you by
- in between projects, find stimulating new things to do, take advantage of vacations to research locales
- everything you experience has the potential to be usable in a book
- be careful as a lot of writers draw their experience pool from movies
- do the reading, conduct the interviews, then get hands-on experience
- research should be considered a reward and not a penance you need to go through before you start writing
- if you don't have a strong motivation to learn about the background of your story, maybe you'd better reconsider how interesting that story is
- be careful as the details of subject areas depicted in movies don't always bear a resemblance to real life
- don't get conditioned by what you see on the screen, do your research
- getting your details firsthand will give you unexpected dramatic details that make your scene feel authentic
- take no background details in your plot for granted
- learn about the type of fiction that you write, study its masters if you're at all serious about writing in that genere
- you need to be an expert in the subject area, as if you were preparing to teach a course in it
- don't ignore literary history, literary innocence isn't a virtue for a writer, you need to know that what you're writing isn't derivative and stale
- no matter what you write, you should want to be an innovator and research is crucial to achieving that goal

The Successful Novelist - Lesson Four


- Henry James: “What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?”
- the task is to get a satisfying proportion
- sometimes plot control character (but not having them behave stupidly and unbelievably) and sometimes characters determine the plot with their needs and frustration setting events in motion
- characters need to interact with other characters, we enjoy dialog
- give incidental characters that little extra something and the effect only requires a few extra words and adds depth
- respect your walk-on characters and find efficient ways to make them seem fuller
- there are no minor characters, only minor authors
- type vs multi-dimensional
- a type is someone who is constructed around a single quality and can be defined in a sentence or two
- main characters of most popular fiction are types and while they are given interesting backgrounds and winning personalities, they are defined by their plot function in the story
- multidimensional characters are difficult to describe succinctly and are capable of surprising us, someone whose complexity becomes more manifest each time we read abou them
- these characters control their stories, give the impression of action on their own and not being under the command of their authors
- in plot-driven stories, the goal is to create the illusion that the characters are more than types
- remember Hemingway’s iceberg theory: What’s on the surface should imply an unstated depth
- in your written conversation with yourself, create a detailed history for your character, keep asking questions.
- most of these details will never appear in print, what you’re trying to do is get a sense of this person so that you know the way they think, talk and dress.
- the reader will have a sense of them as strongly as if those details were included, provided that the details that are include have weight.
- the key to your character is what he or she wants and what they have to overcome to achieve that goal
- character sketch sample from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House: “Eleanor Vance was thirty-two years old when she came to Hill House. The only person in the world she genuinely hated, now that her mother was dead, was her sister. She disliked her brother-in-law and her five-year-old niece, and she had no friends. This was owing largely to the eleven years she had spent caring for her invalid mother, which had left her with some proficiency as a nurse and an inability to face strong sunlight without blinking. She could not remember ever being truly happy in her adult life.”
- Forester’s observations: “In daily life, we never understand each other, neither complete clairvoyance nor complete confessional exists. We know each other approximately, by external signs, and these serve well enough as a basis for society and even for intimacy. But people in a novel can be understood completely by the reader, if the novelist wishes; their inner as well as their outer life can be exposed.”
- “That is why novels can solace us. They suggest a more comprehensible and thus a more manageable human race.”

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Conversation - End Times

Using David Morrell's suggested device, I started a conversation with myself and started to work through the core story idea and character I have in mind for my novel. It went pretty well and it is indeed a fun and clever method to get you going and to track your thought process.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Danse Macabre - Rejection

Rejection is a harsh word. My idea didn't quite fit into Nancy Kilpatrick's anthology.

Here it is...

Mark Drake, a retired 1980s tech entrepreneur, struggling with his thanatophobia, devotes his entire fortune and energies to eluding death. His tenacity pays off and he’s granted immortality, youth, and health. Every ten years Death revisits their arrangement. Drake refuses Death’s embrace despite watching his loved ones die of old age. Again, he declines Death's offer despite having to fake his death and create a new identity. Embittered and fueled by pride, he continues to refuse Death, until he rediscovers the simple joys of existence and a meaningful life through a terminally ill woman and decides to cross over with her.
And Nancy's kind words from her email:
I do hope you'll write it anyway because there's nothing wrong with this idea, it's just a non-fit here, but there are other markets.
Which brings me to another topic, professionalism. Although this wasn't a rejection, it's always important to reply to the rejection email. Just a polite thank you and wishing them luck on the anthology is usually all it takes to put a smile on the editor's face. And get you remembered for the next time they put out a call for submissions.

The Successful Novelist - Lesson Three

- high concept: an intriguing one-liner description of your story, such as Alien being a Haunted house in outer space
- in a high concept story, the plot controls the character
- EM Forester: A story is based on the progression of time. A plot is a more sophisticated form of narrative and is based on causality.
- If it is in a story we say "and then?'
- If it is in a plot we ask "why?"
- insist on knowing your character's true motivations
- characters control the plot
- properly motivated, their fears and desires set events in motion and cause the plot to proceed to a satisfying, inevitable end
- at climax, reversal and recognition occur in an ideal plot
   - where reversal means the events abruptly go in the opposite direction
   - where recognition means the protagonist achieves an important self-discovery, not always pleasant
   - sometimes the reversal causes the recognition or the reverse
   - the character experiences a change, learns something to overcome a flaw
- without conflict, no plot can be interesting, you don't have a plot
- when you understand a person's motives, we are sympathetic to that person, sympathy causes interest
- narrative's unified field theory = a quest and obstacles
  - to turn the story into a plot add motive to conflict, what matters if the conviction with which the two forces compete with each other
- plot = conflict + motivation

The Successful Novelist - Lesson Two

Getting Focused
- Morrell finds plot outlines restrictive
- an alternate is to have a written conversation with yourself to help focus what you want to do
- in the end, you can use that conversation to build your outline
- don't get discouraged with your ideas as familiarity breed contempt
- plot outlines put too much emphasis on the surface of events and not enough on their thematic and emotional significance
- writing is the point, while all of your thinking and talking has been going on if you talk to friends and family about the idea, not a lot of writing gets done
- the ability to write is a perishable skill
- the written conversation should take several weeks to write and amount to roughly 20 single-spaced pages
- remember to keep asking the most important questions: Why is this idea interesting to me? Why would I want to spend a year or more working on it?
- it's a self-analytic quest to create a story and you learn as much about yourself s you do about your work, growing as a person as well as a writer

The Successful Novelist - Lesson One

Why Do You Want To Be A Writer?
  • writing is difficult and requires a considerable commitment of time and energy
  • on every page, confidence fights with self-doubt
  • 2,500 writers earn a living in the US
  • average writer's salary is $6,500
  • writer's write, it's that simple
  • find what sets you apart, find out what your afraid of, find out what you need to tell
So why do I need to be a writer? Because I need to be. There's something inside of me always nagging to get out, a story that needs to be told.

In this chapter, Morrell discusses finding that story within you that needs to be told. It seems to be all related to stress. Using Hemingway as an example, he tapped into the post-traumatic disorder he suffered during World War II and how that fuels his writing. Morrell himself had a terrible childhood with a father killed in WWII and a mother who was forced to put him up for adoption because she couldn't take care of him. She reclaimed him eventually and married again, but Morrell never saw eye-to-eye with his step father. That experience and conflict can be seen in his novel, First Blood, and his protagonist, John Rambo.

Searching within my 40 years of experience, I'm struggling to find something equivalent that I can tap into. My childhood was amazing as were my generous and loving parents. In comparison, it seems to be too good to be true!

There was my mother's battle with depression when I was in high school and that lasted several years through her menopause. I vividly remember taking her to the sanatorium in Sudbury and being unwilling to leave her there with the rest of the disturbed individuals that were there.

There was the summer I came back from University and butted heads with his parents constantly.

There was the time I was dating a young woman and took a stand by moving in with her despite my parents disapproval.

There was my marriage and divorce with a middle-eastern woman that still haunts me and probably needs some cathartic release.

So take some time to reflect on the events in your life that you might also underestimate their effect...

Ideas come from within the writer and you need to be on the look out for the clues your subconscious mind is percolating up.

So ask yourself why do you want to write. My answer is because I need to. The follow-up question is why?

Continuing to answer these questions will help you be honest with yourself and help you find out how to do what you need to do.

So following up with that question, Why do I need to write? Because I feel like I have a story to tell. Because stories are what gave me so much escape as a child, not that I needed an escape from anything horrible, and that I want to give something back.

What stories appealed to me? The ones that immediately come to mind are David Eddings' The Belgariad, Star Wars, Star Trek, and Issac Asimov's The Foundation. Why? They seem to all share a theme of a grand drama and exploration.

The Successful Novelist - First Day in Class

I'm currently reading The Successful Novelist by David Morrell and wanted to share any tidbits as I read it.

From the prologue, First Day in Class:

When he was seventeen, Morrell wrote to the writer of a TV show called Route 66 and told him that he wanted to be a writer just like him. The writer replied with the following advice:
  • write, write, write and keep writing
  • find other people who write and trade ideas with them
  • critique one another's work
  • send out your stuff, but don't get discouraged
  • keep writing
  • it's just that simple, and that terribly difficult
And Morrell's further advice includes:
  • desire alone doesn't get you to be a published novelist.
  • learn about writing by analyzing great novels
  • discover how the experts achieved their effects
  • the only reason to write a novel is that if it grabs you and doesn't let you go until you put it down on paper
  • write a story you feel passionate about and write it well

First post and welcome!

I'm using this blog as a method to chronicle my adventures in writing. It will also serve to keep me motivated and on track to write my novel.

Here's my current writing bio:

Jason Shayer's love of dark fiction has given more than a few people a reason to raise an eyebrow, most often his wife. He's been recently published in Necrotic Tissue #6, in the Dead Science and Through the Eyes of the Undead anthologies, and in Arcane magazine.
And my current bibliography:

“The Ranch” – Necrotic Tissue #6
“No Man’s Land” – Dead Science Anthology
“A Boy and His Zombie” – Flashes in the Dark
“Fitful Rest” – Through the Eyes of the Undead
“The Mine” - Arcane Magazine issue #1
“Steve Gerber and the Marvel Universe” – Back Issue! Magazine #31
“Kitty Pryde” – Back Issue! Magazine #32
“Black Cat” – Back Issue! Magazine #40
“Cloak and Dagger” – Back Issue! Magazine #45
“Thuderstrike!” - Back Issue! Magazine #53
“Legio Mortuus” Zombies Anthology, Dark Moon Books
“Stagnant Waters” - Made You Flinch—Again!
“The Toll” - Zombie Zak’s House of Pain
“Roger Stern’s Avengers” - Back Issue! Magazine #56