First, the weather report from Central Pennsylvania. It’s a chilly 6 degrees and slightly overcast. Snow still covers the ground from last week’s storm. Typical Pennsylvania weather for January, but never fear. April is coming! Okay, now on to our thoughts for the day.
A great story doesn’t happen without great characters. Whether you are an outliner or a pantser, you must have well-defined characters. If you are into outlining, perhaps the best way to get to know and develop your character is by interviewing him/her. Dig into their backstory, future dreams, what makes them tick. If you’re a pantser, your protagonist will naturally reveal himself as you write, but he still must be well-developed.
Regardless of which way you go, be sure your character is flawed and imperfect. Perfect characters have no place in fiction. The obstacles she faces should change her but not perfect her. The more challenges he faces, the better. Only the toughest challenges and seemingly insurmountable odds transform characters and compel readers to care.
What drives fiction is conflict. Make sure there is plenty of it – and make sure there is no easy way out for your main character. Make the odds almost insurmountable, but in the end, he must overcome them and win.
Just some things to think about as you write. Let me know your thoughts and I’ll see you next week.
Pennsylvania is experiencing the heaviest snowfall of the year – so far. The white stuff is beautiful, but traveling is terrible – just another year in the making. With that being said, it’s time to get busy and plan your year, if you haven’t already. Let’s look at three areas that might help.
Analyze Last Year’s Goals
Think about last year’s goals. Did you plan on writing a novel? Maybe starting a blog was on the list last year. Maybe something you wanted to edit.
Now, what did you actually accomplish? What goals did you meet? What still needs work? Maybe you can write a dozen drafts in a year, but you take much longer to edit. Or maybe you can edit a dozen novels, but in writing them, you proceed much slower. Use last year’s goals and accomplishments as a kind of roadmap to get you where you need to be in the coming year. Play to your strengths and give yourself lots of time and patience for tasks you know will cost you more.
Step Down Your Goals (Just a Little)
I know that sounds counter-productive, but think where the past two years have taken us. Our world has changed dramatically (thanks or no thanks to COVID), and it’s necessary to reexamine how we accomplish things. It’s a brand new ball game with new rules which affect almost all we do.
Lowering your goals just a bit may help you adjust. You can always overachieve if the goals are too low. It may mean being willing to write a first draft rather than deliver an entire novel in print by the end of the year.
It may also mean setting smaller goals along the way to reaching bigger goals. You may still get that novel completed, but it may mean fewer words per day or week. These in-between steps matter as much as the ultimate goal. Break the goal into steps you can handle and complete. Don’t get overwhelmed. That’s a sure way to miss the mark.
Plan for Breaks
Like it or not – or believe it or not, breaks are important. Nobody is exempt from the possibility of burnout. Save yourself the trouble and intentionally plan to have a week off here and there. The necessity of taking a break is real, but also, it might inspire you to work harder as you look forward to the break.
You will need to allow room in your schedule for unplanned breaks. Emergencies happen frequently, and they don’t a;ways pick a good time to occur. You need to have space in your overall schedule to allow for them.
Regardless of what you schedule. You just need to schedule. With nothing planned, very little will be accomplished. You know the old saying, “Aim at nothing, and you will hit nothing.”
Welcome to my Wednesday, the first of 2022. I hope you have had a great start to the new year and my best to you in the weeks to come. Let’s get started on this week’s topic – Conflict.
Without conflict, your story is doomed to boredom. It’s conflict that drives the plot and keeps your reader reading. Conflict creates tension, and tension keeps the pages turning.
Use both internal and external conflict. Internal conflict takes place within your character as he fights his own demons and self-doubt. External conflict is simply the obstacle or challenge your character faces.
Let me briefly mention fives areas of conflict to consider as you create.
Man vs. Self – although the battle takes place within, it is usually caused by something from without. Perhaps your normally honest protagonist can only accomplish his goal by dishonesty and/or manipulation. How does that play out?
Man vs. Man – you do not always need to involve physical interaction in this type of conflict, but the resulting conflict will be protagonist against antagonist.
Man vs. Nature – think deserted islands, jungles, wild animals, sweltering heat, etc.
Man vs. Society – this type of conflict pits a character against his government, the police, the military, or some other powerful force — including social norms. It’s usually most effective when Society is personified by a specific villain.
Man vs. Supernatural – consider conflict with vampires, werewolves, aliens or wizards in fantasy, science-fiction or horror stories.
Okay. Experiment. Let me know what you come up with, and I’ll see you next week!
When it comes to writing, there are many ways to accomplish the purpose. Song writing is just one of them. This week, I’d to examine the depth of one song written by Paul Simon over a half century ago – The Dangling Conversation. It has since been recorded by other artists as well, but no one has ever touched on the brilliance of the original.
There is an art to writing poetry and lyrics, and Paul Simon has fine-tuned his ability into this song of sorrow and remorse. His use of figurative language stands with some of the greats.He paints with words a detailed picture of a failing relationship – no doubt something most of us can identify with. Somehow, the story takes on a life of its own in this, The Dangling Conversation.
It was during the folk-rock period of the late 60s and early 70s that Paul Simon, along with Art Garfunkel, rose to fame.
It was the release of The Graduate in 1967 that catapulted them to stardom. The movie contained the hits Mrs. Robinson, and Scarborough Fair/Canticle.
We remember songs like The Sounds of Silence, The Boxer, Bridge over Troubled Water, and others, but few have heard of The Dangling Conversation, much less paid attention to the message.
The story deals with the crumbling relationship between a couple, perhaps husband and wife. The hopes of early life have dwindled into the past and leaves in its place loneliness and regret.
Let’s analyze the lyrics to this classic.
It’s a still-life watercolor As the sun shines through the curtain lace And shadows wash the room And we sit and drink our coffee Couched in our indifference Like shells upon the shore You can hear the ocean roar In the dangling conversation And the superficial sighs The borders of our lives
And you read your Emily Dickinson And I my Robert Frost And we note our place with bookmarkers That measure what we’ve lost Like a poem poorly written We are verses out of rhythm Couplets out of rhyme In syncopated time And the dangling conversation And the superficial sighs Are the borders of our lives
Simon mentions in the first verse that he is observing a still-life watercolor of late afternoon. His description of still-life is fitting as the relationship has come to a standstill. Watercolors in comparison to oils tend to run and fade. The couple’s lives has begun to run in different directions and hope fades into the late afternoon.
As the day is divided into three sections – morning, afternoon, and evening, we see that we are approaching the end of the day or the end of the relationship. The evening of their relationship has not fallen yet, but time is running out.
The sun which gives light is partially hidden behind a curtain – the end of the play, but yet the curtain hasn’t fallen yet. Shadows of past lives still linger hoping to salvage whatever might be left.
The couple still share a common habit – that of drinking coffee; we sit and drink OUR coffee. But yet they’re both couched in indifference. What could be a time of intimate communication is reduced to neither one caring to take a step toward healing.
They’re couched in their indifference like the shells of the seashore. One shell is completely oblivious to the others although they share common ground. Likewise, the two, although sharing the common ground of drinking a coffee, are not connected in any way.
Simon uses the line, “you can hear the ocean roar,” and fits it neatly between two statements. The shells are close enough to hear the ocean roar, but yet they are not in the waters that give life. On the other hand, you can hear the ocean roar in the dangling conversation that is marked by superficial sighs and seals off the borders that neither one can pass.
Again, reference is made to a shared interest – that of poetry. Poetry could have been a good connecting hobby for the couple, but even in their mutual interest of poetry they disagreed. She liked Emily Dickinson. He favored Robert Frost. Even though both poets were from New England, their lives were very different, just as the couple’s lives had become very different.
Simon uses the symbolism of the book marker to measure what was lost. The intimacy that both needed was sacrificed on the altar of self and independence. They themselves became a poorly written poem of life, not rhyming, and walking out of step with each other. To emphasize this point, Art Garfunkel sings the line in a syncopated rhythm on the recording. Their relationship has deteriorated to nothing more than dangling conversations and superficial sighs.
Now the sun of the late afternoon has disappeared. Evening is approaching. The end is near. She’s not there for him. He can only kiss her shadow. He cannot feel her hand as he once did. He must face what he knew all along. Their lives have been lost in the dangling conversation and superficial sighs. The borders of their lives have been set, and they can go no further - and neither shall we. Have a great new year. See you next week!
Well, it’s Wednesday again. The older I get, the faster time passes. Another year is about to end. Can you believe it? Since time is running out, let’s get to it.
Where do your ideas for stories come from? Last week we talked about you, the author, hidden in the characters you create. Let’s consider real life in a story line. I think I’ll title my next book, To Kill a Pastor. What I’m about to share is not fiction, but it certainly could create some fictional what ifs.
A year and a half ago, a man became unruly at our church and unfortunately had to be removed. That is never pleasant for me, but sometimes it is necessary. He stalked my family, and eventually we needed to get a restraining order against him.
During the past three weeks, he broke that order three times. He acted out (hopefully) for the last time this past Sunday.
In the middle of our church service at Lifegate, he attempted to enter the church toting two handguns calling for my death. The men of the church quickly secured the doors as I called 911. Within minutes, the police arrived, disarmed him, and arrested him.
To be honest, the situation angers me, but I also feel sorry for the man. There are mental issues that have never been dealt with. What makes the mind succumb to such unreasonable actions? What if he succeeded? What if, in the end, his own demons attacked him? What if this was only the beginning of a murderous rampage? What if? What if? What if?
Fortunately, nobody was injured or killed. Everything worked out, but the scenarios are practically endless. Take your life events. Dress them up in some fancy what if clothes and go for it.
I better get going. Next Wednesday will be here before we know it.
First things first – I apologize for not posting the last two weeks. Things at the church are terribly busy this time of year and will continue to be until after the holidays.
Second things second – weather report: typical Central Pennsylvania weather for late fall. Cold and damp.
Now – on to the good stuff, whatever that may be. Seriously, as I sit here at the keyboard, I have no idea what to write about. This is an exercise in complete pantzing, if you know what I mean. Let’s see where it leads.
Writing is giving imagination life. In fiction writing, w can imagine our own world, our own friends, our own agony, our own triumphs. It’s as easy as asking “what if?” I am sure that much fiction is based on actual life – the life of the author. I’m not talking memoir. I’m talking fiction. There is a little bit of us in every story. Even though we might mask the details, we know what’s behind the scene – a slice of real life.
Think about the theme, the character arc, the setting, certain scenes. We know you’re hiding somewhere in there. I wonder if you are the protagonist or the antagonist. Or maybe a character not in the spotlight. Maybe the story is set in your hometown, or maybe one of your characters actually represents a friend (or enemy) you had growing up. Maybe it’s a hate letter to your present employer that you’re not ready to deliver yet. We don’t know for sure, but we know you’re in there. So write away.
Another week is history. Where has the time gone? I have no idea. See you next time!
Welcome to another Wednesday! And thank you for inviting me into your life. I’m glad to be here, and I value your friendship. Snow is in the forecast for Central Pennsylvania. I guess it’s that time of year. There’s nothing we can do about it, so let’s get on with some quality time.
Our topic for today, The First Paragraph, applies to all writing but especially to fiction writing. We all know, if you don’t grab ‘em in the first few sentences, you probably won’t get your reader back. It’s imperative we have a good opening line. So how do we accomplish that? Let me share four thoughts.
1. Begin with action. I’m not saying it has to be a knock-down, drag-out fight, but give your audience a sense they are in the middle of something. Stay away from backstory and setting. Weave that in as the story grows.
2. Introduce your main character early. Generally, he/she should be the first character introduced. Allow your opener to focus on him/her and set the tone for the rest of the story. I’m a stickler for names. Be sure to name your characters appropriately.
3. Don’t describe; layer in. Whether it’s setting or backstory or present action, don’t simply describe it, but reveal it a little at a time. Your reader will thank you as they subconsciously take in the details.
4. Show, Don’t Tell. We have certainly been through this before, but as in number three, don’t just give statements or facts. Allow your audience to see what is happening, not just hear about it.
Well, it’s time to prepare for the coming storm, so I gotta go. Enjoy your week. I’ll see you in seven!
It’s been five years since I published The Voice. Here’s the opening scene.
All was silent once again. Peter McClanahan struggled to stand. The fiery pain engulfed his body, but he knew his only hope was to make it back to town. He stood. The dark woods swirled around him. The only sound now was that of an owl in a nearby tree – “Who? Who?” As if to emphasize its point, the owl repeated the question – “Who? Who?” Peter had no answer for who or why or anything else. Dizziness swept over his body, but he fought his way to the old farmer’s field at the edge of the woods.
He tried to hurry as best he could through the standing corn, but the continual contact of the stalks brought a searing, hot pain to his many wounds. Each step brought a pounding to his head. Each breath brought him closer to exhaustion – and death. If he could get through the field, he would be able to reach the town and hopefully get the help he so desperately needed.
Blood was pouring from more than one open wound. Just how much damage was done, he didn’t know. He had never felt so weak. Nothing seemed real. Reality left him in the woods. But by now the town was in sight. He could see the glow of lights over the horizon as he pushed on.
Peter stood at the corner of Green-Briar and Meredith Roads. The pouring rain began to collect in puddles around his feet as he leaned against the street lamp for support. How he got there, he didn’t know. The last five hours of his life were non-existent. Now at 1:00 a.m., the bewildered boy stood on the verge of collapse.
One car passed – then another. Both looked and drove on. Finally, a white Chevy Cruz slowed and pulled over to the curb. The woman on the passenger side rolled down her window to ask Peter if he needed help. Then she screamed.
“Call 911! Call 911!” She yelled to the driver. Blood flowing from Peter’s multiple wounds tinged the puddles a diluted red as the rain continued to fall. His faded, pale face told the story. Confusion. Pain. Trauma. – Coming death.
I run my stories through ProWritingAid.com for editing. Just for fun, I ran the opening scene through PWA again. Flag after flag popped up. I plugged in their corrections and said, “No. No. That’s not how I want it.”
Online editors have their place and can be helpful, but they don’t live where we live – the place where the writer and reader meet. Most technical errors I make are on purpose. It’s part of my voice, my style, whatever you want to call it.
My voice is my voice. Your voice is your voice, and it’s individual and unique. I’m not about to let any online editor silence my voice.
Today’s lesson – write from the heart. That’s where you, the writer, will meet your reader.
To see more about The Voice, go to the resource page, and I’ll see you next week. Have a great one!
I’m baaack – after some time off to celebrate my 41st wedding anniversary with my wife. She deserves something special. She’s put up with me for 41 years.
I’m not sure how I came to start my blog with the local weather report, but here goes. Central PA is experiencing rain and temperatures in the high 40s. So who really cares, right? Okay, let’s move on to why we’re here. Today’s topic is sci-fi and fantasy.
Before we begin, I’d be the first to tell you, sci-fi is not my genre. The closest I come to it is the book, The Voice, where Peter McClanahan takes a trip into the future to hunt down yesterday’s killer. I’m fascinated with time travel, but that’s as far as my sci-fi or fantasy writing goes.
Here’s the thing. If you’re going to build a fantasy world, it has to be believable. Consider:
Was your world always the way it is now? If not, what changed it. How was the world before? What caused the change in your fantasy world?
How much of your world do you need to show to support the story?
What about the lay of the land? Mountains? Deserts? Forests? It’s your world to create. Just make it believable. Don’t get carried away. Just add enough to give the big picture.
How about the weather? Does the weather play a part in the reshaping of your world? If so, how?
Where are the borders? Maybe they exist here on earth, or on another planet, or somewhere in deep space.
What do your characters have for resources? These can be things known to us now or something from your imaginary world.
In presenting your new world, please show us, not tell us. And we don’t want to just see it and hear it. Let us smell it, touch it, taste it. Bring your magic to life.
Okay, some things to think about. Now, get busy and see what you can do, and as always, I’d love for you to leave your thoughts in the comments below. Until next week . . .