Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Content - The Mystery Revealed

Exactly what is content? Well, to start, it is the bulk of the story. Content. This is where you tie it all together: concept, character, climax and conclusion. Seems easy enough, doesn't it?

Well, Content can be broken down into segments - and so we shall do that.

CONTENT ONE.

The character. Whoa, you say. We just spent two sessions on character. That is true but now we are looking at more than names, physical descriptions, etc. How about a character's entrance?

The writer should be subtle but thorough in giving a character his or her entrance. Which is better?

The brown dog walked toward the fence, looked in and watched the white dog in the yard.

OR...

The light brown shepherd-mixed dog with the plumed tail pranced grandly down the cobblestone street toward the newly painted white picket fence that enclosed the towering two story Victorian house with its circular turrets at the corners. Fozz stuck his long nose through an open area of the fence and watched the attractive American Eskimo dog frolic in the freshly mowed grass and romp between the trellises loaded with blooming pink roses. On the porch Fozz noticed the two humans as they stood beside each other watching the white dog. He spied the fancy purple collar with rhinestones glittering in the sunlight that encircled Tasha's white neck. In fact, he saw the shiny metal tag that hung from her throat on Tasha's collar. She was owned; he was envious.

If you noticed, we used our dogs as described before but a new character was added. Did you recognize that one? This is what I tend to call the 'forgotten character' and is so casually overlooked by novice writers. The scene! The location!

A friend of mine once told me that reading my stories was like watching a rehearsal of a play with the actors strutting across a blank stage. The dialog was great but the background was bland. I tried to say that this allowed the reader to fill in with their imagination. He retorted that even for the imagination to work, there had to be some basics and my descriptions were rudimentary, at best.

By taking the advice of my friend, I was able to add word count to my tale without changing the storyline.

Which now begs us to ask - How much content?

A story's length (content) is decided by the story itself. To condense it too much is to cheat the reader of the glorious details. Yet, to expand it too far is to bloat and fluff the tale, making it a boring read.

You, the author, must decide if what you will create is a short story, a novella, or a full-blown novel. This is where you unfurl the mast rigging and allow the sail(s) to billow out whether it be a small sheet on a raft, a large sail on a yacht or multi-sailed on a ship.

This concludes CONTENT 1 - next time we will continue with CONTENT 2: Dialog and Voice.

Enjoy your writing and tell me how things are going. If you have a specific question, ask and I will attempt to answer.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Character - Part 2

Another week, another entry. I'm hoping somebody out there is reading this and learning.

So, back to our puppy dogs. Last week we spent a lot on getting them somewhat defined. This week we will attempt to describe the human aspects of the story.

Therefore we will start with Craig Smiles. He is young, we'll say around 30-ish, maybe late 20s. Craig is tall, slim, dapper and a writer - but of course. He has a hook nose, but not a nasty one but a nose that has a certain flair. His hair is fine, a light brown and parted just to the left since he is left-handed. And he loves his little Tasha girl.

Now Craig's counterpart is Jennifer Smiles and she is an artsy craft type person. She has short dark hair and lovely complection. In fact, she is a little daring and adds a blond streak to her hair from time to time -- just to mix things up. Jennifer loves to cook and is very content on being a happy housewife.

Yes, they live the perfect life; a lovely 2 story somewhat colonial home with a fireplace in the living room, leaded glass window and 2 stained glass windows in the dining room. And the yard, that is Jennifer's pride and joy including the rose beds and all the lovely flowers around the picket fence. The arched entry of the gate has a mixture of honeysuckle and morning glories.

Now, of course, we have the mother-in-law. But, let's make it an aunt. She will be Jennifer's mother's sister. Her name is Gertrude and she just isn't sure about Jennifer's carefree hair color and Craig's so-called writer's life. Still, she is impressed by Craig's ability to supply her most favorite niece in such comfortable surroundings.

And, lest we forget, Aunt Gertie ... uh, Gertrude, comes with 2 absolutely spoiled rotten Persian cats. I know they aren't human but they will be very important in some aspects of the tale so we need to define them. Their names are Deedles and Doodles. Deedles has gray brindled hair with a black streak near his left eye. Doodles is also gray brindled in color but has a black tip on his tail. They look identical except for the black differences. There is long hair everywhere and the cats know that everything visible is part of their domain and needs to be closely examined - even the antiques high on shelves. And, there will be some issues between them and Tasha.

Do you remember the first villain mentioned last week? That's right, we can't forget our dog catcher. He will be very important playing opposite our lead, Fozz. So he is a wee bit overweight, but not fat. Not the most graceful man but a very determined man who always gets his dog.

There is Leo, our butcher. Now this man is tall and lean but very personable. He has a sweet spot for Fozz and gives him scraps from the pricier cuts his customers order. A dog and a little steak can go a long ways.

As mentioned last week, Leo's brother, Mario, has the restaurant La Italia and it is right next door to the butcher. Both men vie for Fozz's attention. Italian food is every dog's dream come true.

And Maxine has a diner just two blocks away from Leo and Mario. Even the high class need to occasionally schmooze with the less-than-rich. Maxine is a strong-willed woman who has lived the hard life and struggled to get where she is. Nobody is going to get the best of her... except Fozz who is able to melt this woman's heart. Maxine might be skinny and mean looking but she really is a soft stick of butter. Of course, she does have a broom that she uses to shoo away the unwanted.

There will be other human characters but they will play small, insignificant parts in the story and we don't really need a lot of detail. Who are they? That would be the owners of the neighbor dogs, Remember? King and Antoinette. Depending on how you write your story, it could also be customers at Leo's butcher shop, Maxine's diner or even Mario's elegant restaurant. Or it could be a policeman, mailman, even paperboy. Life is filled with secondary characters; just look around.

There is one last character to include. I touched on it earlier. The house that the Smiles live in. So who is this character. In this particular case, it is the town, the setting, the period. Obviously if we attempted to set it in today's society we'd have difficulties with the dog catcher. So we'll make it somewhere in that ambiguous period of the 1920s where things were exciting, things were changing and women were starting to propel themselves into the mainstream. See? Jennifer's little quirk of hair coloring fits. If I had said she tinted it purple or hot pink, that would have made it more today and then how would you have a dog catcher running around with a net? So we'll have a quaintness - model-T's, gas lanterns, a quiet life devoid of today's hustle and bustle.

Strangely, even then was a crazy time... so I've been told.

That completes the character definitions for our story. Next week we'll deal with Content.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Character

Moving along this week with our writing exercise... what did you do with your dog(s)?

Obviously, as a writer, you need to be able to tell the story from some perspective; usually through the hero/ine's eyes. That is sometimes considered POV (point of view) and we'll discuss that later. Right now we want get to know who our main character(s) will be.

We have a dog, well, really two dogs, so this is going to be an animal story. Hey, just go with the flow.

Dog 1. I stated last week that he was a mongrel, a canine familiar with the streets. So what kind of mixed breeds do we want toss together? How about a mix of long-haired shepherd and Char Pei -- yeah, a lovely dog with the stately build of a shepherd but with the wrinkly, extra skin hidden under a gorgeous coat of light brown hair. He's even got a nice, plumed tail and brown eyes that suck you in so quick you don't even realize it. Yup. That's our hero. And, like all good heroes, he's got to have a great name so we'll call him Fozzie Bear, or just Fozz for short.

Dog 2. This one will be the female; the love interest. And like any female worth going after, she has class. Yes, this dog will be a registered pedigree. She is a gorgeous American Eskimo, all white, fluffy and quite the prancer. Of course, she will have an exotic name: Natashia, but we'll call her Tasha for short. Being pedigree, she will be the family dog and therefore will have a beautiful purple collar with white and pink rhinestones. Every girl deserves bling.

See how quickly I have created my characters. Of course, there will be other characters in this story. A house dog always has neighbors and Tasha will have two friends; a beagle named King and a poodle named Antoinette -- after all, you need somebody with an accent.

Our street hero, Fozz, now he has the street gang and it is a very large group and they will have some extremely colorful names. We'll get to them later as we decide what is going to happen.

Of course, with animal stories there has to be humans involved. The owners of Tasha are a lovely young couple named Craig Smiles and his beautiful bride, Jennifer Smiles. They own a two story colonial home and Tasha is their pride and joy. Newlyweds... sigh.

And Fozz is not without his human counterparts either. The local butcher, Leo and two of the finest restaurants in the neighborhood; La Italia and Maxine's. I'm sure you see the characters already in your mind's eye. Leo is a nice, rotund man and ... would you believe, his brother, Mario, is the owner of La Italia. Now Maxine is owned by none other than Maxine and she is not a pushover type gal; nope, she's got spunk.

Now we need a villain. Who could that possibly be? Enter the dog-catcher. Oh, wait, that is so cliche. Okay, we'll add a couple more: a mother-in-law, a cat (maybe 2) and some sort of vermin.

I'm sure your mind has already created a colorful image of the mother-in-law and probably some cartoonish image of the dog-catcher. The cats will be finicky Persians and I'm still not sure about the vermin aspect... that can wait a while.

Just how strong do your characters need to be? A wimpy character means a wimpy tale. Your characters need to come alive, be bigger than life and grab the reader and hold them at the edge of their chair. Fozz will be a strong dog, a fearless leader and totally incorrigible, while Tasha will be the demure d├ębutante, the overly protected waif. King the beagle is a hunter and Antoinette is so French and so prissy.

I don't want to boggle your mind too much so more next week. We're just getting started on characters. After all, they are the mainstay of your story.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ignition!

So following last week's thoughts -- where writer's get their ideas. Today (and over the next few weeks) I will share with you how it goes from thought to a full blown work to be published.

The writer had a spark of an idea; some marvelous epiphany to see something that perhaps others haven't seen. S/He takes that minuscule, itty-bitty, infinitesimal spark and works it into something that will ignite. The ember of this idea will intensify and glow and soon become a major thought of imagination igniting your mind to a story.

Remember last week I ended with 'a dog is walking down the street, it stops...' and believe it or not, that was your spark. What did it do for you? Did you see something? Did you think it was just a phrase for me to end with? Wrong. I was 'sparking' your imagination!

So, we had 'Concept' and now we need to move forward. From Concept we go to what I call 'Capture' and what it involves. You had a thought and that thought caught your attention. Why? What was there to make you stop and go 'hmm?'

You were 'captured' so now you need to explore and explode that idea to capture your reader. Writing is about entertaining the reader. A boring dissertation on the sex life of a cabbage head will definitely NOT make your reader go 'WOW' and rant about your story. BUT, if after dark, the cabbage head spreads open all its leaves, spins in the ground or walks about the garden - maybe the dissertation will be, shall we say, very interesting. Your imagination is the only limitation.

Back to the doggie thought. Let's work the stream of thought and play the 'what if' game to see where it goes. It stopped. Why? It sees another dog? A dog who has a collar and family. Our dog is collarless and fancy free. Give it some thought. The family dog wants to be, just once, a free spirit like the our dog and our dog secretly desires to have a family; a sense of belonging.

There, you have the beginning of a story. You've added just a couple of ideas and already have your capture. Your reader wants to know how each of the dogs will realize their goals and how those goals will be met.

Wait a minute... your dog didn't see another dog? Okay. What did your dog do? Share...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sparks!

Welcome back. Today I am going to answer the age old question everyone asks writers.

Where do you get the idea for your stories?

This is a deep, dark secret writers have kept to themselves over the years and it is now time to throw back the veil of mystery.

Writers get their ideas everywhere. Anything that can spark the mind. A woman shopping with two incorrigible children - no, wait, that is a small shoplifting gang of a man dressed as a woman and two dwarfs dressed as children.

It isn't magic. It isn't voodoo. It's 50% imagination; 50% quirk, and 50% drive. A writer needs to put more than 100% of him/her self into it. Writing is NOT something you do on a whim because it is easy. Writing is NOT easy. People have typed for years before getting published. Oh, sure, there are those who get discovered overnight, but think about it - that is less than 1% of 1% of 1% of 1% of the population. Very small.

This 'getting an idea' is called Concept and is the very first step in the writing process. Without some form of concept you are just slapping a lot of words together for no coherent or apparent reason.

Now back to where do ideas come from. Michael Crichton wrote "Jurassic Park" using today's headlines - taking blood from a mosquito encased in amber during the days of the dinosaur. He did a "what if" and the rest is history.

I was on a flight from LA to Chicago. The woman next to me got a mixed-drink and told me she thinks it is the tonic water that makes her tipsy. I wrote a short story about an alien posing as a human getting drunk by just drinking tonic water. Uh, by the way, the earth was saved by the puny human giving it to her.

Even poetry can be written on a whim's thought; and usually is. It was a beautiful summer day at the lake, I was sitting under some pines, listening to the wind whistle through them above my head. Suddenly I had goose bumps as the wind curled around my neck. Moments later I watched the wind ripple the surface of the lake... like goose bumps. I wrote a poem entitled "Have You Touched the Wind" from that experience.

So what is the magic formula for writing? What is the catalyst that creates the momentous thought for your story? It can be anything: a small news article, a scientific discovery, your neighbor's bad day, this morning shaving in the bathroom, a person you see in the park, rain sleeting across the road, a sunrise, a mispronounced word, the moon, and the list can go on and on. Just add a 'what if' and start...

I said it was 50% imagination. Maybe I was a little short there. Make it 75% imagination, 50% quirk, and 100% YOU. Your math teacher may not like my numbers but this is writing, not math.

There is a dog walking down the street, it stops and...

Now, WHAT IF?



Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Why Do I Exist?

Good question. I originally started The Writer Haven to be a BE ALL/DO ALL site for ALL writers. Hmm? Perhaps I spread myself too thin? I just couldn't get a grip on exactly what I wanted to share. Obviously I am NOT the Great and Wonderful Oz, nor am I the Oracle of Delphi. So what am I? And why do I exist?

I am a writer; a published author. I am an editor and edited several books, some now published. I am a speaker, lecturer, the guy standing at the front of the room babbling on. I want to share my knowledge and skills with others who are still banging on the wall trying to discover themselves.

Epiphany time.

Published authors still can learn but, for the most part, have very little use or time for such sites, like this one. So let's eliminate them from the mix.

So what do we have left? The struggling writer. The "I want to be a writer but haven't got a clue or even how to start" person.

Great! I now have a demographic. My aim is to guide those who are behind me, not ahead of me so much -- but if they want to glance back to see the competition, please feel free to do so.

Therefore I exist to share my knowledge with those who want to be like me -- published.

It is now my time to 'give back' to the community. Get ready. Take notes and absorb... OR come and get it, grasshopper!

----------------------------------------------

You want to be a writer. Great. You have no idea. Being here, reading this, is a good start in the right direction. I'll share secrets... at least what you think are secrets but, in reality, are just common things you learn.

To write you need an idea. A spark of a thought. It can be a simple sentence, image, sound, smell, even taste. It is something that makes your mind go 'Hey!' and you act upon it. How can a sound, a smell, a taste be the start of a story? Easy.

Cherry pie. You can smell it baking. Your mouth drools at the thought of those luscious red balls of... Remember grandma's house when you were a little kid? Out at the farm? Did you hear the horse, maybe some cows or chickens? There is a memory there and if so, there is a story.

Memoirs are a big seller to a lot of hometown newsletters or the "Mother Earth" types. They are looking for those quaint stories about growing up in rural America. Even a little girl growing up in the boroughs of NYC can share a tale - a day in the country.

So, you sitting there wanting to write something. Take that thought and build a few words around it, then add a few more. Stand back; read it aloud. A little rough but even you realize that there is a story to be shared. Work with it. Clean it up. Then, and only then, let somebody -- preferably a writer -- read it. Your mom, Aunt Sue, brother Tom or even one of your kids are not going to be totally honest. They will hail it as the next great American tale to rival Stephen King. Trust me, it won't be. A writer friend will judiciously read and edit your story -- and trust me, it will have a lot of needed corrections. They are NOT some jealous monster out to destroy your creation.

Fix the problems. THEN slowly read it aloud, pronouncing each syllable with care and you will hear any awkwardness or killer wrongs.

Finally, the most important step - this is the step I avoided for over 20 years - you must submit. If you don't submit your story to anyone... First, it won't have a chance to be published. Second, you won't get positive feedback. By the way, a rejection is valid feedback so don't take it as an affront or slap to the face. They don't hate you. All they are saying is a) not the type of story they are looking for; b) we just ran a story like this; c) not our genre; d) super crappy writing.

Okay, they really won't put option D down unless you really don't have the skills to write, so don't fret D.

You received a rejection; send it back out the exact same day to another publisher UNLESS the editor gave you some valuable feedback, not just a simple rejection form. IF you got hallowed words from a publisher, read them and think deeply over what he or she said. Most editors do NOT say a lot on a reject. Save the rejection, fix what you were told, THEN mail it out to the next possible place to publication.

Oh, wait. Maybe the editor asked for a fix and re-submit. Do it.

And, while you're waiting for that acceptance or rejection -- what do you do?

Start another story!!!

A writer writes.

I hope you found this useful; let me know. Until next time...

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Writing Muse

What does yours look like? How does s/he work?

We, as writers, are a fickle group. If we can't write, we blame our muse, s/he has temporarily left us, forcing us to fumble about in the darkness upon the paper to which we are to place our words. If we are able to write, we have a myriad of phrases to describe the moment...

S/He is sitting on our shoulder.
S/He is whispering in our ear.
S/He is sitting across from us, dictating.
S/He is placing the words in our minds like the notes of a perfect concerto.
S/He is screaming at us to write the damned words.
S/He is torturing us, fire on our fingers which only typing will extinguish.

Okay, you noticed the "s/he" in the above sentences. I always thought the muses were female and I am guessing that is due to my studies of Greek mythology. Originally, maybe they were but only because men were the creative types and women were the family and not required to ...

No matter how I tried to finish the above sentence, I could see myself deeper and deeper in a quagmire and sinking fast.

Today's writers are of both sexes and their accompanying muses are what they feel comfortable with. My one friend has a muse who he says is a miniature faun; yes, part man, part goat. Another friend told me her muse was a butt naked stud with the eyes of James Dean.

My muse? Well, I discovered mine changes sex, likes to wear costumes or disguises depending on my moods and what I'm writing. Sometimes I have a clown up there, sitting on my shoulder. Yes, I'm of the shoulder persuasion. Anyway, I've had a clown, a spaceman, a pirate, a naughty imp, and the stereotype Greek goddess in sheer silks, sometimes with wings. Most of the time I would say she appears to look like Sophia Loren. The voice is usually a soft whisper in my ear, but not necessarily all the time; I have been yelled at.

So, tell me about your muse. Tell us how they appear and work with you.

(as a side note; consider this a creative writing assignment... just don't tell your muse!)