Category Archives: My Blog

Where the rubber meets the road. How real life experiences and knowledge are woven into my writing.

Bringing a Story to Life – When Character Goes out of Character

notebook-fountain-pen-cup-espresso-elegant-top-view-writer-s-workplace-49123943Character development is conflict  – David Macinnis Grill

Yesterday I pounded out 18K plus words for Adjudication: Book 10 in the Metatron’s Army Series.

This is the final book in the series.

Satisfied with a solid day’s progress, I went to bed at peace.

And then… 

After my routine (prayers of thanks, meditation) I thought about how good it felt to finally get to a point in the series I’d been working on for several months, if not years.

I knew what I wanted to happen – I just had to wait til the other work was down – at least in first draft – before setting to work on it. 

As I went over the scene I realized that a twist I’d added didn’t work.  It pulled the character out of character.  It had to go.

I’ve had this issue before, even in other series.  I generally figure it out fairly soon after the scene is down and rectify the situation by either pulling the scene or doing a serious rewrite.

In this case it’s a bit of both.  Most of the scene will be yanked and what’s left will be tweaked.

In this particular case, the root cause has to do with how the series evolved.  Due to the format, even as I was publishing the first in the series, I was writing a first draft of the entire saga.  I had a general idea of how many books it would take, so I set out with a fair amount of structure.

I figured it would be 8 to 10.

I began working on the series (on computer) the summer of 2016.  By that winter I had a pretty sold framework for the ten books.

I had the folders, the titles, and a fair amount of content, though books 8, 9, and 10 were more or less one long document at that point.

After setting up the framework I went back to work on each separate title.  During the process of final edit, I made appropriate changes. This had consequences for later books.

Perhaps I’d added action scenes that had my characters going in a different direction than originally planned, or they matured more quickly than I’d planned.  Perhaps their viewpoints had changed in book 3, something I needed to continue with in books 4 through10.

In this final book, much is happening relative to the other books and/or the story itself.

Plot elements are coming together (mysteries solved/questions answered), characters are coming into their own( fulfilling their destinies, or perhaps leaving the story), etc. 

pexels-photo-769525There’s a bit of freedom but plenty of challenge.  Pacing becomes critical.  In having things move too slowly or too quickly for any one character, I risk throwing the other characters out of rhythm.  I also end up with a character who has come out of character.

Yes, this guy would do what I had him do.  Just not at that point in the story.

So, with only minor heartburn, I’m going to chuck a couple thousand words and start over.

This isn’t a scene where I can just take it and put it somewhere else in the story.  It just has to go.

There was a time – and not that long ago – that the thought of tossing a scene would have left me cringing.

Worried I’d never be able to redo it…as if that moment when I set the words down was never going to come again.

Experience has taught me that I may not be able to recreate the moment but I can recreate the essence.

The lifeblood of the writing will be there, regardless.

It’s something I think only experience can teach; faith in the process and in yourself as a writer.

Though I’d venture to say that’s the same in any career.

It’s why words written – even those deleted – are never wasted.

black_hole_by_vanishin-d32u47y1The energy lives on.

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Bringing a Story to Life – I’m in the Mood for…Fighting?

il_570xN.1008974312_bchrThere are good and bad times, but our mood changes more often than our fortune    – Thomas Carlyle

So, I just finished the first draft of Promotion: Book 9 in the Metatron’s Army Series.

I’ll be working on Book 10 tomorrow.

While I enjoyed working on this I did have an interesting challenge.

Well, two actually, though they are related.

Switch Scenes.  While there is a great deal of character development, if not character insight in the book, there are a number of action scenes.  The challenge comes in with transitioning scenes because – for me – I need to go with the transition in mood.

I need to get into the mindset and gut of the characters in the scene.

This was of particular challenge when I had to transition from a fight scene to a scene of passion.

I refer to it as passion rather than romance because they aren’t the same.  There is a physical release in a passion scene that may or may not be there in romance.  Or the motivations for the kissing or other physical acts may be different.

Both actions can certainly get the adrenaline going, as well as blood pressure, heart rate, but they aren’t the same mindset.  So, how do you go from one to the other?

I personally think it would be easier to go from the passion scene to fight or some other action, and in fact, there isa scene in this book where Ryal is brought in by one of the Light Beings to administer some emergency first aid.  They bring him through an energetic doorway and while it wasn’t a kidnap, it was unplanned. He growls to Verix that ten minutes earlier, and it would have gone badly since he would have been found in a compromising position.

Of course, Verix could have cared less.  Heh heh.

Going from fight to passion? Other than as an outlet for excessive energy, I think it is a more challenging transition.  Fortunately, the reality of that provided the answer.  It would be as difficult for my character – who’d been in a fight and was now in a position to have passionate interaction – as it was for me as the writer.

I’d just had my mind in a scene where they are blowing up part of a building.  I’m supposed to write about how good it feels to be in someone’s arms or kissing their lips? Yeah, right.

It was that realization that helped me because it reminded me it wouldn’t be realistic if the character went from one mood to the next without some sort of transition.  A come down if you will.  Once I realized this, a whole world of possibilities opened up.  There are a number of between activities that could help:

  • Eating
  • Showering
  • Debriefing
  • Following up with injured teammates
  • Getting into an argument because you didn’t inform certain teammates just what it was you were up to
  • All of the above – and more

Switch Characters.  A second related challenge has been that I not only need to transition characters from scene to scene, I need to transition between characters both within the action scene and again in the post-action scene.

It’s more or less like saying, “Meanwhile…”

To a degree, switching point of view can allow you to slow the pace, which theoretically could allow you to ease or justify the transition for a specific character, but this isn’t always possible.  For example, Christine is eating with a couple of her teammates after the battle, but her mind is elsewhere.  Of course, her colleagues know this and so the scene focuses more on the emotional and/or psychological component, but it means she can’t transition out of the fight state of mind.

Eating isn’t enough to do it and eating with those who were fighting alongside of you definitely won’t help.

If anything, it’s an opportunity to show a different side to a character.  In the above example, one of her teammates is married to a powerful woman so he understands and/or relates to what she is going through.  This empathy allows him to provide insight into Christine’s psyche to the reader, but also shows that one of the more formidable warriors she works with has empathy, if not a soft spot.

It took until this book to run into this, I think, because of what is taking place at this point.  I’m past the “moment” of the dark moment, so everything starts accelerating toward the finish.

As Corus would say, there are a lot of irons in the fire.

fitness-blog.jpgWhew!  Being a first draft, the important part – for me – was to just get the framework down.

Leave a trail of bread crumbs I can work from later.

I needed to put down enough that when I swing back around in the weeks and/or months ahead, I can tune into what it was I was trying to accomplish.  I don’t have to go back and wonder what it was I was up to.

Outside that cliff hanger I haven’t figured out yet.  Maybe I’ll solve it in the few pages I already have in Book 10?  As you can see, it isn’t a perfect process.

Tick. Tick. Tick.  For me, there is a sense of urgency about the process, likely because I’m so close to the end and it’s been living inside of me for so many years.

Though a great deal of the story emerged more recently.  Just the nature of the way this saga came about.

I already know what will happen in Adjudication: Book 10 in the series.

I’ve been mentally working and reworking the book at night for months now.

Knowing what I want to do doesn’t take the suspense out of it and it’s that suspense that drives me to get the words down.  Once I complete that – in a draft – there’s a sense of relief, and then I can step back and see what needs to be done next.

  • Beta reader finish Dark Bishop: Book 7
  • Book Trailer for Book 7
  • Book Cover for Book 7
  • Back of Book Info for Book 7
  • Format and Final Cut for Book 7

 Rinse and Repeat.  Following this process, which evolved as the story did, has allowed me to transition. 

Dark Bishop will be available September 2018.

Bringing a Story to Life – From Writer to Reader

morning-espresso-cup-busiessman-reading-newspaper-background-coffee-worktable-business-analyst-hold-hands-read-70577158From the beginning, Metatron’s Army has been a unique project for me.  Though I’d done series work before, this was more of a saga.  I had to deal with backstory as a story.  I had to deal with multiple characters with parallel and often intersecting lines

Sort of like driving on a freeway.

In the Beginning.  When the basic story was conceived, there were only a handful of characters and two planets.

It took hours of daydreaming for the earliest threads of a plot to come together.

Though the main story arc was in place some thirty-four years ago, the story itself did not truly evolve until right before I started Advantage, Book One in the series.

Once it came together, in the summer of 2016, I got to work on a first draft…of the entire saga.

I was happy to see that natural breaks in the story presented themselves, allowing for the saga to be broken into separate stories, with each book a chapter in the main character’s life.

This format allowed me to give each supporting character their time on the stage.

Along the Way.  Initially, I wove projects, switching between fiction and nonfiction, and then Metatron’s Army and Port Gallatan work.

Subsequent books in the Port Gallatan series are in various stages of development and due for release soon.

After releasing Port In A Storm, I came to realize it was far better for me to finish the entire series rather than interweave projects.

I also realized that taking any break was more painful than pushing through to the next book.

After completing Positional Play, Book Four in the series, I dragged the first drafts of the rest of the saga out and went to work.

Write.  Read. Edit.  For the  early stories, the timing lined up in such a way that I needed to set aside the later books of the series while focusing on whichever one I was getting ready to release.

Write.  Read.  In finishing the first draft of Dark Bishop, Book 7 in the Series two days ago, I caught up to the point I am able to go back to those final books in the series.

As much fun as it’s been working on this project, I’m pretty happy to be approaching its completion.

As I got into books 8 and 9, I came to see that I’d done a lot more writing than I remembered.  What I didn’t remember was exactly what I wrote.

How had I honored the story arc?  What side stories had I introduced to carry things along?

owl reading book clipartIt’s interesting being a true reader of your own work.  It provides a unique perspective that enables you to easily see where changes need to be made.  It can also be frustrating.

Toward the end of Promotion, Book 8 in the series, there is a conversation between Ryn and Christine that had me at the edge of my seat, wondering where it was going.  To my dismay, I’d left it as a cliff hanger!  

ARGGGGGHHHH!!!

Fortunately, I resolve it in Pin, Book 9 in the series.

At least, I think I do.  I’m currently reading that one and I reference the earlier conversation, so I assume.  Maybe I shouldn’t.  😉

apps_concentracion.pngWrite.  Setting aside later books to focus on earlier ones had another interesting effect. It allowed me, along with my characters, to mature with the story.  When I picked up the later books, I found that not only had the characters changed, usually due to the experiences in the story, had changed.

For a similar reason…experiences in living!

As a result, there was/is a great need to flush out subplots, characters, and introduce other necessary changes.

I’d added events in earlier books that changed relationships between characters.  I needed to reflect that (i.e. change dialogue or body language to better reflect how they felt about each other now compared to before a life-changing event).

I doubt that my other series work will take me in this direction as a writer, but I’m glad to have had the opportunity with this one.  Like so much else about the saga and its place in my life, it was rewarding, and unique.

Dark Bishop will be available in September 2018.

Bringing a Story to Life – Vive La Difference!

3c74d2946dbe74b7815482a3c1149669_full.jpg

I was sitting here, editing Dark Bishop, Book 7 in the Metatron’s Army Series, which is a challenge given how many times I’ve read this manuscript.

My eyes kind of defocused – which turned out to be just what I needed!

The dialogue between two of the characters in the scene I was reading filled in the missing piece of an article I wanted to write – this article.

If the mind is able to relax, be lulled into a meditative state, amazing creativity can be unleashed!

How do I relax?  Let me count the ways…

I love to read. Unfortunately, after spending hours upon hours writing and editing, my brain gets story fatigue.

This can be bad because nonfiction is either dry or – as in the case of the news – less than positive.

I was recently rereading an oldie but goodie, admiring the author’s style, and contemplating the irony of 80’s male agent/editor influence directing women authors.

Romance, if not fiction, has come a longgggg way.

The author is good. Her vivid description of a sudden summer thunderstorm was so crisp, I could picture the scene as if I was there.

When the first splat of cold water hit the hero’s arm, I could imagine the shock, given it was summer just outside of “N’awlins.”  Talk about hot and humid!

When the author mentioned the sky turning green, I paused.  Being from the Midwest, I’d seen that plenty of green sky during tornado season but never outside the Midwest.

And never when I lived in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana.

It made me consider

  • The author lived elsewhere
  • Louisiana may also get the green sky effect just before a tornado touches down

That made me think of the challenges author’s face when painting a scene for the reader.

Show don’t – yeah yeah…

Writing 101 teaches aspiring authors to show don’t tell. 

I imagine this is a little like telling a lawyer not to lead a witness.

The challenge, I thought as I read through that storm scene, is in assuming the reader will know what you’re talking about if you don’t tell.

I once had a European read something I’d written.  He had suggestions for a few changes and while they would likely have been right at home in Europe, if not his home country, they wouldn’t have struck the right tone in the US.

I considered the scene. Most people, regardless of where in the world they live, have been in a sudden downpour.  In spite of this, something bothered me about it all.

Something I could not put my finger to.

Aha!  My own dialogue scene revealed it.  Readers have been in a sudden downpour but unless they’ve been caught in the type of storm that is Mother Nature’s way of cooling an ungodly heat-humidity situation, they don’t exactly know what that’s like.

And unless they’ve lived in the location in which tis story takes place, they wouldn’t know what the air smelled like, or the color of the ground, which would be different than the color of the Arizona desert during a Monsoon downpour.  Not to mention, Arizona won’t have the level of humidity that Louisiana does.

You don’t know what heat is.  As I just wrote that paragraph, I remembered a colleague of mine in the Bay Area telling me that I didn’t know what heat was.

Unlike he did apparently – given he lived in an area that at the peak of summer got to 108.  Okay, Phoenicians, stop laughing.  The day I moved into my house in Scottsdale – unloading the truck with my husband – it was 118.

I remember explaining to my colleague that heat index was a better way of measuring than temperature, and if he really wanted to feel heat, he ought to try summer in New Orleans.

Translate please.  The scene reminded me of how much emphasis is put on description – how much effort goes into it – and yet how it can still fall short, but why?

What is it to you?  This question, posed by one of my characters to another, gave me the answer.

An author can be brilliant when it comes to describing an event or a location but still fall short for the simple fact that it’s shared experience that allows someone to step into your world.  In short, sudden storms are different depending on location and a reader’s experience.  A number of factors are outside an author’s control:

  • Age (critical as it sets up emotional response)
  • Location
  • Circumstance
  • Cultural and/or social influence on event interpretation

It applies to characters, too.  I remember someone once telling me they were happy about something bad that happened to an actor in one movie because this actor had been a bad guy in a different one.

Um, weird, but okay.  I mean – it was just a movie – the actor didn’t do those things…

Less is More.  I give my readers a lot of credit.

I give people credit.

I assume my readers can fill in certain gaps so I don’t have to go on and on with descriptors.

It’s a good bet that my readers have seen a forest, so I don’t have to spend paragraphs describing the flora and fauna unless there is something particularly unique about my forest.  I assume they’ve seen a military jet – at least in photos if not movies – so I don’t spend a lot on describing the one my character is in unless it’s relevant to the scene.

I would much rather focus on the plot and the characters than taking up pages and pages writing about location details.

Or the color of the threads on the hem of a dress.  I mean, who’s looking?  Unless – someone is looking and the color is relevant to the story.

I sprinkle descriptors in but don’t drown the reader in them.

You know and I know.  I believe my readers have enough experience to be able to fill in the gaps.  If I do it for them?  I run the risk of

  • Insulting their intelligence
  • Painting over their imagination and ruining it for them

Vive La Difference!  Of course, another author will do it differently.  That’s the beauty of it all!

Bringing a Story to Life – The Role of FreeCell – er – Meditation

screenshot_ios_667With Pawn Storm: Metatron’s Army Book 6 ready for pre-order and full release June 15, I have a bit of free time.  Rather than taking a break, I am working on Dark Bishop: Book 7 in th series.

Set for a September 15, 2018 release.

Keep Going.  I’ve learned that it’s best for me to go right into the next book rather than weave between the series and other material.

Because I just finished the final edit for Book 6, the story – where our heroine left off – is fresh in my mind.  It is because of this that when I went back to work on Book 7 I realized I wasn’t particularly satisfied with the opening scene.

Oh, it would grab the reader.  I just think it misrepresents the situation.

I have a pretty good idea how I’ll fix the issue but I’ve got to iron out the details, come to a place of satisfaction.  I’m finding it more difficult than anticipated, in spite of the fact I’m keeping everything, just swapping a few paragraphs around.

FreeCell to the Rescue!  I don’t want to lose momentum and if I step away and hope the solution will present itself, I will.  To avoid this, I engaged in an activity which will almost guarantee* a quick solution, FreeCell induced meditation.

*So far, it’s worked every time.

Setup.  There are actually two parts to the process.  The first is to select music to listen to.

I generally listen to the play lists that I’ve created for the series.  This gets me in touch with the characters and the scenes/environments in which these characters live and act.

 The next step is to launch FreeCell.  As I sit playing round after round of a game that requires little concentration – as if it’s just a background process – I find myself falling into a meditative state.

Doing a repetitive activity that doesn’t take much in the way of intellectual cycles is relaxing.

With my mind freed of the normal chatter the creative juices begin to flow and soon I’m writing scenes and dialogue, rapid fire.

Challenge One:  Guilt. I  feel squirmish when someone walks by and sees me playing FreeCell.

It’s silly because I don’t have to explain myself to anyone but there it is.

It’s worse if I’m in public.  I find myself wanting to prove I’m working.

Then I think, “Who the hell cares?”  Weird.

Challenge Two:  Write It Down.  This one isn’t really a challenge for me.  I generally begin writing within minutes of finishing the session.

Even if I have to wait, the scene is a movie in my head and very familiar, so I don’t have difficulty.

Think Session.  Many creatives have a time and/or place set aside for generating ideas.  For instance, many, including myself, find the shower conducive to the flow of creativity.

One author keeps a waterproof pen and pad handy for such an occasion.

Walking is another activity during which creative ideas flow, though for me, it’s better for solving non-writer related problems.

Quiet but not Creative.  I live in a relatively quiet area, which would seem the ideal getaway for some think time, but it isn’t.

My mind stays totally in beta and focuses on problems ranging from the mundane (I need to throw the sheets in the dryer or they’ll smell) to the serious (How can I better monitor the effect of new foods on electrolyte balance?).

Writing is pushed to the back burner, until the next FreeCell – er – meditation session.

Play On to Create!

For this article I listened to Harry Nilsson – Nilsson, Schmilsson, which is part of the Metatron’s Legacy Soundtrack.

Bringing a Story to Life – Location

orig_2bae763a-758e-48c4-8bcb-9215cc36b007Something like 80 percent of business decisions have a location element.  In fact, it’s probably higher than that.  – Jack Dangermond

 

The Setting.  When a movie studio decides to film a movie, one of the very first actions is to send out a team or expert to scout out a location to shoot the movie.  A variety of factors play into the choices but basically, you want the setting to reflect the story in order to bring it to life.

Make it real for the audience.

It isn’t all that different with novels.

Metatron’s Army is classified as a sci-fi.  All this means is the story takes place in a setting readers associate with science fiction (i.e. planet(s) other than earth, parallel universes, advanced knowledge, technology and weaponry).

The Scene.  Setting (Sci-Fi versus Medieval Europe versus Roman Empire, etc) is only one aspect of the location considerations that go into bringing a story to life.

  • Where does the story take place?

 City?  Country? A school?  If so – high school?  University? Special academy?

  • What locations within the story play a significant role?

The character’s home?  Their place of employment?  Their neighborhood?  The neighborhood they dream of?

The Real.  I’ve been fortunate to have lived and worked around the US and traveled to other countries.  This enables me to add locations to stories that I’ve not only visited, but have an understanding of.

Sometimes this understanding comes as an observer, sometimes as a local whose interacted with the places and the people in them.

I’m able to add real cultural quirks or unique characters, and/or buildings, and/or businesses into a fictional story.

Making it more realistic than it would otherwise be.

The Story.  Metatron’s Army truly began to take shape my sophomore year in high school, after a life-changing moment in my geometry class,**

This is where the plot – multiple universes and how they are constructed – was born.

For weeks after the event I researched*** theoretical physics, and the role of geometry and math in the construct of our universe.

What we thought we knew of it at any rate.

As the plot for Metatron’s Army unfolded, I was faced with location choices.  I needed to know where my characters would live and spend their time.

The Purpose.  One of the earliest location decisions was for a warehouse bar that would serve a dual purpose.

  • Relaxation
  • Information gathering

Once I had the location, I was able to visualize the type of people – and creatures – who would frequent the place.

Mercenaries and spies!

I also needed to understand just what went on in the bar.

Dancing?  Eating AND drinking?  Gambling? Fighting?

Then I needed to fill in the details.

  • Where was the bar?
  • What did the bar look like?

The answers to those questions involve amusing anecdotes.

Where was the bar?  I decided the bar would be located in the warehouse district of a major city on an as yet unnamed planet.  But, what city?  In a daydream state, I picked up a cast metal pencil sharpener globe from my dresser and began spinning it.  My eye fell on a name, Perm.  I frowned because I knew that there was no such place on the continent where it appeared.  Rolling my eyes, I realized the manufacturer had misprinted Perth.

The warehouse bar is in the warehouse district in Perm, located on the planet Catana.

What did the bar look like? When I was in my mid-20s, I went on a corporate junket to Toronto.  A small group of us wanted to go dancing, so we asked a local for a recommendation.  At first, she eyed us with amusement, and told us about a touristy bar at the hotel.  Fortunately, one of the guys at the table reset her stereotyped expectations, and she gave us directions to an after-hours bar in their warehouse district.

After taking the subway, which was eerily empty since it was well past rush hour, we walked to a nondescript building with a neon sign and enough human traffic to let us know we’d found the place.

I wish I could go back and find that waitress to thank her for the suggestion.  This fascinating place, which was unlike anything I’d ever seen, is the inspiration for the warehouse bar in my series.

It was a perfectly benign establishment, a multi-story warehouse with multiple bars serving drinks, a large area for dancing, music that pulsed through your blood and vibrated your bones, and lots of people enjoying themselves dancing and talking.

The Details.  While my colleagues talked about a variety of topics, I scoped the place out, taking in every detail.  I watched in curiosity as people danced in what appeared to be cages on an upper level.

I remember wondering how they got up there since it wasn’t too obvious.  The place was dark and I didn’t see any doors or stairwells.

I caught glimpses of side rooms with smaller parties.

These became the inspiration for the gaming rooms in my story.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at this unique dance bar.  The best part was knowing – even as I stood there barely able to hear my colleagues over the music – that I was going to be able to use the location in the story that had been evolving for over a decade.

What Goes on Here?  I’d long ago decided that gambling was going to be a major activity in the bar, with information the currency.  However, this vision lived in my imagination until I actually visited a casino in my late twenties.

Watching people sitting at bars playing game after game of digital poker while being served free booze fascinated me and inspired a scene between Christine and Jaliss.

Keeping It Alive.  I continue to integrate real locations into my stories, as I feel it enhances the realism, bringing them to life.

**  I write about this event in After Here: The Celestial Plane and What Happens When We Die.

Though I do not mention Metatron’s Army because it hadn’t yet become.  That took another 23 years and a boatload of living and learning.

 *** A number of open-minded individuals helped with that research, including my physics and pre-calc teachers, and a high school buddy who is now an astrophysicist at NASA.

Bringing a Story to Life – Did it Happen?

no-entrance_no-exitCatch-22:  A situation in which a desired outcome or solution is impossible to attain because of a set of inherently illogical rules or conditions.

 

 

 

The Catch-22 of being a fiction writer is creating a fiction story that is believable enough that readers can imagine it being true.

Reality vs. Fantasy.  Is it possible to make it too realistic?

Think War of the Worlds.

The first time I ran into the challenge of someone reading my fiction and deciding what I’d written really happened, was in first grade.  I submitted a short story about a girl finding a wounded deer and nursing it back to health before rereleasing it to the wild for a fiction writing contest.

One of the judges knew my father was a hunter and that we spent time up north Michigan.  She was so convinced the story was true, she was about to disqualify me for not submitting a work of fiction!

I managed to convince her – with the help of my father – that the story was pure fiction.

That story went on to take first in the contest.

We celebrated at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor.

There have been a number of times since then that people have read my fiction and believed I was writing from real life.

It got downright ugly a couple of times, so I stopped allowing family members or coworkers to read unpublished manuscripts.

Dangerous Territory.  I’m not the only fiction writer to run into this.

When working with Writer’s Digest, my mentor told me her mother-in-law was convinced she was having an affair because of one of her novels.

It’s also not limited to writers.

Mike Farrell spoke of getting letters from fans asking the fictional character he played on M*A*S*H – Dr. B.J. Hunnicutt –  for medical advice.

Write What You Know.  This is one of the fundamentals of fiction writing and it definitely contributes to the issue.

It isn’t that you have to, it’s just that it’s a lot easier and less time consuming than writing something you know nothing about, that would require lots of time spent on research in order to make it sound realistic,aka believable.

I have the additional challenge of writing not just to entertain but to educate.  This necessitates throwing in a bit of truth.

Like I said, Catch-22.

There are a number of specific pitfalls when dealing with Fantasy vs. Reality.

PEOPLE:  Since I write character driven stories, creating believable characters is particularly important to me.

It’s also important to me as a reader.

It helps that I find people fascinating.  I enjoy watching them, talking to them, learning from them.

Including what not to do.

This has provided me with a rich pool from which to draw when giving characters personality quirks or behaviors.  I also draw directly from some personal experiences.

PLACES:  I’m fortunate in that I’ve lived in several different regions of the United States and have traveled internationally for work and pleasure.  I know how regional factors influence behavior and drive people to do certain things in a certain way.

EVENTS:  My life experiences, including all the adversity, have given me unique perspectives I can give to the characters in my stories.

Not to mention, drawing from paranormal experiences which have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.

I can take readers through some of those same experiences by having the characters go through them in the stories.

All this and more goes into my creative process.

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Fantasy or. Reality?  If I’ve done my job well, you’ll not know the answer.

Bringing a Story to Life – Turn Up the Heat

sidewalk_eggAfter a bit of writer’s frustration [read: BLOCK], I decided to go sit in the sun.  Closing my eyes, I lifted my face and allowed the heat to seep into my soul.

EMF-Land.  Given the interesting [read HELLISH] turn my life – post-2000 Bay Area relocation – took, my first thought was that heat is radiant energy.

Analytical, if not truthful, it was kind of a sensual buzzkill.

As I sat there, I considered that I’m a fiction writer, and explaining heat as radiant energy was oversimplifying things.

And dull.

I challenged myself to describe the heat.

It was unlike what I was used to.  I stopped to think about about why that was.

To do this, I had to feel.

So?  The heat was not uncomfortable.  It wasn’t the kind of heat that would drive someone indoors or leave their clothes sticking to them, though they wouldn’t want to be reading an ebook on their phone in it.

The phone would overheat.

I continued to analyze the heat and how it felt.  The thermostat suggested it was hot enough that I should be uncomfortable, yet I wasn’t.  Why?  The answer was in EMF-Land!

Story of my life.

Radiant Heat.  If its radiant, it’s probably radiating from something.

Or, it could be bouncing off something that changes its intensity..

In this case, it was bouncing off natural wood, making it comfortable, not too hot.

Like sitting in a wood sauna.

The thought of a sauna reminded me of a scene in The Lover.

Hot it Hot.  Not!

Michigan.  Michigan summers vary depending on which part of the state you live in.  For the Detroit Metro area, the general pattern is warm and humid with heat and humidity increasing throughout the week so that many weekends have rain/thunderstorms, after which it cools, only to repeat the cycle.

Especially in late May and throughout June.

As the summer progresses, so does the heat and humidity.

As do the horse flies and brown outs.

By the end of August, it’s the Dog Days of Summer.  Being a Michigander, however, you’re loving every minute of it as you know cooler days are a-comin;.

Trick or Treating in a winter coat and snow boots is a real possibility.

Florida.  Once again, it depends where you live.  I was fortunate enough to live on the Suncoast, so the humidity wasn’t bad.

Though it did rain pretty much daily at 3pm – at least on one side of the street.

Louisiana.  Probably the closest I’ve ever come to getting heat stroke.

The bus drivers decided not to show up for work on the last day of school.  My  brother, his friends, and I had to walk home in that ungodly heat and humidity.  Not fun.

Fortunately, the friends’ mother worried when her kids weren’t at the bus stop and drove out to see what was going on – picked us up walking along the hot busy freeway.

San Francisco.  Well, once again we have the caveat of it depends. If you’re over near the coast, bring your Midwest winter coat.  If you’re on the bay side, you’re going to be fine.

If you’re north, south, or east of the city, you’ll be hot in the shade, though at least it’s a dry heat.

Scottsdale.  The day we moved into our house it was 118 degrees – actual.

The day we moved into our Fort Collins’ home was minus 18 – actual.

My husband and I unloaded the truck by ourselves.  I just had lots of bottled water to keep us going – along with the stares and comments from the neighbors who thought we were nuts.

Shrug.

Perception.  When I moved to the East Bay, CA, a local told me I didn’t know what heat was.

Really?  Try Louisiana.  Try Michigan in late August.  Humidity puts a whole new angle to a 90 degree day.

While living in the East Bay, I had someone from Chandler, AZ say I didn’t know what heat was.

It was 114 degrees in Walnut Creek.  I’d say that was heat.

Adjective please.  As I sat in the sun and searched for the words to describe what I was feeling, I realized that the answer was actually in EMF-Land.

Radiate.

The heat I was feeling wasn’t so bad because it was radiating off of natural wood.

As opposed to asphalt, gravel, metal, or some other man-influenced substance.

It wasn’t the kind of heat that left your clothes sticking to you.

Eloquently please.  A waiter in Durham once told me the difference between heat in North Carolina and heat in So Cal was that at least in So Cal you could cool off in the shade.  To me, this beautifully summarizes the different ways you can put context into heat.

Important in fiction writing.

Now That’s Heat!  Imagine an outdoor passion scene in those locales.  If everything else was equal, in one place you’d be peeling the clothes from your already sweaty body while in another you may be feeling a breeze off sunburned shoulders.

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Or you might shiver as shoulders burned from staying too long on Bolsa Chica Beach touched cool clover grass.

 

There are just so many things to love about heat…

Bringing a Story to Life – Latin Helps!

Latin

There was a time – for Catholics – when learning Latin was basically a requirement.

How else could you understand mass?

 By the time I was in high school – a public high school – the need, if not the desire to take Latin had all but vanished.

Not for me – I LOVE language!

Fortunately, my high school offered Latin.

Vive La Difference!  I also took two years of French and had the good fortune to have a teacher who was born and raised in Paris.  She taught us so much more than how to read and write French.  Great teachers definitely make a difference!

The Latin class was actually full. On the first day, our teacher asked if there were any Catholics in the class.

About half.

She made a point of explaining that she would be teaching Classical Latin, not Church Latin.

Different alphabet.

She went on to explain that come parent-teacher night, she had no intention of arguing with parents [who had gone through twelve years of Catholic school] over how the j was pronounced and whether or not there was a v.

The class was awesome. In addition to learning to read and write Latin, we learned about the Roman empire and about Roman mythology.

I have never regretted taking Latin.**

It keeps on giving.  In college, I took German.  Our professor asked how many had taken Romance languages in high school.

About 5/6ths.

He asked how many of us had taken Latin or Russian.

Small handful of us.

He explained learning German would be far easier for those of us who had taken Russian or Latin since we understood that languages didn’t always follow the sentence structure of the Romance languages.

i.e., English, French, Spanish.

He pointed out we would have a much easier time.

True!!!!!

It keeps on paying.  Perhaps the best evidence of a good investment has been with writing.  Not only is my vocabulary more expansive, my editing skills are sharper as a result.

The rules are different.  Where knowing Latin has been particularly helpful is in sentence structure.  There are more combinations in Latin and the verbs, nouns, etc are in different order than in the English language.

Same with German.

Past tense takes on an entirely new meaning in Latin-land.

Which has been very helpful with editing.

I’m currently doing final edit for Pawn Storm, Book 6 in the Metatron’s Army series.  Because I wrote my draft at lightning speed, I’m having to rewrite a few paragraphs, combining sentences in order to convey the meaning using fewer words/sentences.

As Hawkeye says to Radar in The Gun, “Radar, if you bring that sentence in for a fitting I can have it shortened by Wednesday.”

What happened WHEN?  Catching readers up in the middle of a series can present unique challenges.

I don’t like using backstory as filler.  I’d rather get to the point.  However, I know that

  • Some people may be just joining in/haven’t read the previous books
  • Some readers may forget some of the early stuff/need a refresher

Dealing with past tense can be tedious.

Do I say she had had or she’d had?  She went or she had gone?  Or she’d gone?

I can’t count the number of times when – while editing – I’d have a flashback to Latin class – learning about pluperfect or some other verb tense  lesson I was putting to work.

I also occasionally remember my 5thgrade teacher saying comma when deciding whether or not to put a comma – something for which the rules change constantly in publishing land.

Eye rolling – but true!  As early as second grade, I remember hearing – from parents and teachers alike – “Someday, you’ll use this.” You know what?  It’s true!

**  I achieved Magna Cum Laude in the National Latin Exam.

Pawn Storm will be available for purchase June 2018.

Bringing a Story to Life – [Building] Character Identity

cartoon-character-identity-card-70930838-2I’m preparing Pawn Storm, Book 6 in the Metatron’s Army series for publication.  While I’ve enjoyed writing the series, I’m particularly excited about this installment.

It’s where it all starts coming together. 

 Hard Work.  Putting together a backstory that supported the story has been a painstaking process.

I knew what happened…I had to explain 

  • How did this happen?
  • Why?

Patience.  I have known this story and where it would lead for years.  Developing the subplots and supporting characters has been fun but I’ve been very eager to see the story arc – rather than any individual book – come to be, and that took time!

I was eager to see it come together but worried if I didn’t slow down the pace of my writing, the story would suffer.

Who Needs Patience?  Slowing the writing pace led to weeks of insomnia.

The need to keep writing was too strong.  I ended up writing my story in my head as I stared up in the dark rather than on the screen. 

In February, as I was putting the final couches on Simultaneous Display, Book 5 in the series, I realized something had to give.

I was losing way too much sleep.

I decided to allow myself the freedom to write with abandon.

The first draft of books 6, 7, 8, and a first draft of Metatron’s Legacy were written in a little under three months.

To be fair, I’d done a little work on 6 last summer – a handful of chapters.

Whew!  It brought great relief to know I had the primary elements down.

I was more than happy to go back later and fill in.

I no longer felt compelled to write mentally before bed though I had to retrain myself to go to sleep.

It took about four days to create the new routine — and it was new.  I could not go back to the way it was before – I tried – was unsuccessful so I did something new.

Rhythm is a Dancer.  Throughout my career, each book I’ve written has come to be in its own way and time.

Sometimes I finished in weeks, sometimes in months.

What I learned from this series is that I need to allow myself the creative freedom to do what I need to.

Otherwise, lots of stress.

Slow down, take it easy.  Some parts of the series could not be rushed.  Getting the heroine where I needed her to go – stepping into her destiny – had to be accomplished over several books.  She didn’t have to grow into the role, she had to earn it.

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Hollywood aside, it isn’t realistic to expect someone in their late teens or early twenties to save the universe if they don’t have the credentials [read experience and wisdom] to pull it off.

 

She’s – HOW OLD?  Before I began the series, I realized that by the time my character actually took the reins of command, a lot of time had gone by.

Interestingly, a voice – the muse? – said “What else would you expect?  Do you honestly think someone just out of school, in their early to mid-twenties – with little to no experience – could do what she has to do?”

Good point.  

The wisdom needed to deal with what lay before her could only be earned through experience and that happens over time.

Even people who have a lot of adversity in their lives need to absorb it before putting it to good use.

If you look at the US military – command isn’t handed out to fresh faced kids.  My heroine was going to lead troops – she needed

  • Training
  • Experience
  • Guidance

This meant developing the supporting characters along with my heroine.  She wasn’t the only one who had to accept her identity and authority/right to lead.

You Need Patience!   I couldn’t rush the heroine’s character development.

Other authors may deal with backstory differently.  I did what was best for this series and the characters in it.  I absolutely refused to short-change them.

As I recently stood contemplating the sun shining on buds and blooms, it occurred to me that I’d learned something interesting while building my character.

  • You can tell someone who and what they are but until they accept it, it isn’t true
  • You can tell someone who and what they are not but if they know it and feel it in their heart and soul – you will never convince them otherwise

In other words, we are BORN, not MADE.  No piece of paper or certification will give what we aren’t and the lack of won’t take it.

This played out in the story in an interesting way.  The heroine has a destiny to fulfill and though this has been explained to her, and the reality of it corroborated by events and supporting characters, she hasn’t really come to terms with it.

Yet.  This changes in book 6, though it had already been in the works subconsciously.

Ohhhhh!  To my delight, feedback from my beta reader supported this.

I’d received feedback throughout all the books in the series but in this instance, some of it really stuck out.

  • “I wondered…”
  • “Oh, now I see…”

b57cb3fe060b4e365f4756e99b2b4287w-c264861xd-w685_h860_q80It made me smile because I realized I’d successfully navigated the difficulty of developing a backstory that had to span several books; a backstory that showed a character coming into her own – and into her destiny.

Pawn Storm will be available June 2018.  Trailer coming soon.