Thursday, July 24, 2014

Remember the Reader

Today we have a guest post from Roy Faubion, a Texas writer who does a newspaper column Ponderations From the Back Porch that is published in a couple of small town newspapers. Roy has been a journalist for many years, and finally settled into this once-in-a-while offering that he shares occasionally with readers at my blog, It's Not All Gravy. I thought this piece was particularly interesting and had a message for writers as well as entertainers. Enjoy....

“I am the star; therefore I am the most important person here tonight," declared the diva as she expressed her feelings of herself, the Grand Lady of the opera.  Standing in the wings, listening to the orations of the presenter and his magnificent introduction of her, she smiled with the confidence developed over the years by the pampering of her managers and the adoration of music lovers of several continents.

Responding to her remarks, the stage manager gritted his teeth and said, "No one is more important than I as there would be no curtain opening, no lights, no stage decoration should I not be here to see to things so you high and mighty can get all the credit.  Just look at the stage.  What do you see?  I see an artist's pallet.  It is where I put everything together to make the things you do possible.  Forgive me if I boast, but I have reason to do so."

"Bosh!  Neither of you know anything!  I give you everything," said the orchestra leader, waving his baton in a sweeping gesture.  "Surely, there is no music unless I say so.  Certainly, there is no crashing of the cymbals without my pointing to the percussionist.  Drama will never appear on it’s on.  It must have the rise and fall of the symphony, and I make it so.  How dare you suggest otherwise."

"My, my, how totally self absorbed are we!  I am completely immersed with awe as I listen to the gushing of over inflated self admiration coming forth from each of you.  Surely you jest.  I laugh at you.  I pity you. All you can see is the face in the mirror, the face you feel the whole world loves and admires.  Well, my friends, I suggest you get real.  Get a grip on reality.  Without me you would be nowhere.  Who am I?  I am the owner of the building you are standing in.  Now who is the big shot around here?"

All heads turned and glared at the owner.  Not one of them said anything.  Each was set back a little.  The owner smiled victoriously.

It was about at that moment when a soft small voice spoke up from somewhere nearby and asked, "What about me?"

"Who are you?" They all demanded.  And the little voice said, "I am the audience."

Roy Faubion has written columns for small-town newspapers for most of  his adult life. The first column was entitled Around The Sagebrush. Second was The Clodkicker. Finally, he arrived at a title and concept with which he is most comfortable, Ponderations from the Back Porch. Through the years of being a radio announcer (preceding the term Disc Jockey) and years of news reporting, and doing all the other jobs in the industry, he racked up enough experiences to shape a column of thoughts, remembrances, and often, true stories.

Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent book releases are Doubletake and Boxes For Beds, both mysteries that are available for Kindle and in paper.  Stalking Season is the second book in the Seasons Mystery Series, also now available as an e-book, along with Open Season, the first book in the series. To check her editing rates visit her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Prologue and Epilogue

I’ve seen a lot of questions about using prologue and epilogue lately in forums. I’ve heard many an agent or panelist at a conference say: cut them, period! There is some truth to that. However, I’ve seen both done well. This rule is often broken to effect, particularly in Literary, Fantasy, and Thriller and Suspense genres.

The prologue gives background information to the story that would give the reader insight that helps the story move along that is not found within the story itself. An author might add a prologue to help the story flow more smoothly by getting in information that would be clumsily delivered otherwise.

The epilogue is the opposite. It helps tie up loose ends or possibly hint about a sequel or continuation of the series. An author could add an epilogue to entice the reader into buying the next book in a series or provide resolution by telling us how the characters end up further down the timeline.

There are multiple ways to use prologue and epilogue.

1. In Thrillers, the story can begin with a scene from the antagonist's point of view. This is good if you are following a serial killer, not so good if you are listening to an angry spouse rant. It shouldn’t attempt to tell the reader every little detail about your story world or the history of a situation before the action begins. Some readers will flip past the prologue anyway, especially if it is long. If it is used to set up the villain as really, really bad, it could be a turn off. Your villain is supposed to be bad. The first chapter should include the inciting event. If your prologue does that job with the antagonist or secondary characters, it is weaker than meeting the protagonist and making the reader care about how the inciting event affects the hero.

2. In Literary stories, we often first hear from the protagonist long after the events are over. The entire story is one long memoir with an epilogue that reinforces the wisdom gained. The entire story can be told in flashback between the prologue and epilogue “bookends.” It irritates, rather than delights, if not done well. Many readers don't mind this method if it is intriguing or poignant.

3. In a Fantasy, the prologue sometimes sets up the time, place, and story world. If it is kept short, the reader might actually read it. Otherwise, they flip to chapter one. If necessary, they reference the prologue later. You should be able to fit in the crucial setup and history without using this device. Done badly, it is received as melodrama. Too long and the reader feels overburdened before the story begins, and they may not purchase the book at all.

4. In a Suspense story, the prologue can set up the story problem in advance or hint at the ending before the beginning to set up suspense. You should be able to write suspense without this device, but it is certainly used.

5. In a Mystery, the author often writes the prologue from the villain’s POV or sets up the finding of the body by secondary or tertiary characters. This can be a weak start and the reader might flip past it. If the mystery has multiple scenes from the killer’s POV, then the prologue should really be chapter one or two. If this is the only scene from his POV, you have to ask if it is really needed and if it is a way of introducing false suspense. It is much stronger to pull the reader in with the sleuth being made aware of the crime.

6. A prologue may introduce a past mystery relating to a present day story. If the book alternates past story and present story scenes, the prologue could easily be converted to chapter one. Since a reader picks up the book and opens it to read the first few pages, you might lose them with the past story if the setting or situation bores them. These prologues tend to add color and set the stage with no real action or interaction for the reader to care about. If you use it, make it count. Consider starting with the contemporary story in chapter one, then weaving in the past story as chapter two. Give the reader a reason to care.

Revising Tips:

1. Do you really need a prologue or are you just in love with it?

2. Is it crafted with intention or lazy writing?

3. Is it riveting in its own right?

4. Is it too long?

5. Does it regurgitate information or try to stuff an entire world history in before the story starts? If so, cut it.

6. Does the story work without it? If not, are you in trouble if the editor says “Delete?”

For more information on prologue and epilogue, check out:

Backstory, How Much Do You Use?

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Similar, But Not the Same

Camilla Franks at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia, photo by Eva Rinaldi, via Flickr
The other day when I was at church I couldn't help noticing that two women sitting apart from each other wore the same floral patterned top.

After a second look, I realized that actually one of them wore a pull-over blouse, while the other had on a short-sleeved cardigan.

What could this discovery have to do with writing?

Well, some authors get the notion that others steal their ideas. In some cases, that might be true. However, in many, it's not.

According to British journalist and author, Christopher Booker, in his book, The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, there are only seven basic storylines.

Wikipedia lists them along with examples, of which I've provided one for each.

1. Overcoming the Monster - James Bond
2. Rags to Riches -  Cinderella
3. The Quest -  The Wizard of Oz
4. Voyage and Return - Odyssey
5. Comedy - A Midsummer Night's Dream
6. Tragedy - The Picture of Dorian Gray
7. Rebirth - Sleeping Beauty

For every example here, there are many others which also follow the same basic plot, yet are unique in their own right.

In other words, there may be seven plots, but it's what authors do with them that set their stories apart.

Can you think of an example from one of your books, or another's, using one of these plots?

Experience the diversity & versatility of Morgan Mandel. For Romantic Comedies: Her Handyman & its new sequelA Perfect Angelor try the standalone reality show romance, Girl of My DreamsThriller: Forever Young: Blessing or Curse. & its Collection Sequel: the Blessing or Curse CollectionRomantic suspense: Killer Career. Mystery: Two WrongsTwitter:@MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com & Morgan Does Chick Lit

Monday, July 21, 2014

32 Reasons to Read a Good Book

From John Kremer's blog, Tips on Marketing Books and E-books, here are 32 great reasons to read more books. Please share.
  • To escape your normal life.
  • To travel to real destinations.
  • To explore new worlds.
  • To imagine more than you could on your own.
  • To understand something new.
  • To understand something old.
  • To connect with the author.
  • To connect with other readers.
  • To dream a new life.
  • To compare dreams, realities, and in-between.
  • To laugh and enjoy.
  • To deepen your understanding and insight.
  • To know more than you could learn on your own.
  • To learn what you don’t know.
  • To learn what you do know.
  • To discover something extraordinary.
  • To meet incredible characters.
  • To build a larger vocabulary.
  • To cry after a great read.
  • To be entertained by a great story.
  • To relax with a great storyteller.
  • To stimulate thought.
  • To grow your spirit.
  • To find motivation to do more.
  • To go on a great adventure.
  • To learn how others live or have lived.
  • To expand your horizons.
  • To explore inner dimensions.
  • To educate yourself.
  • To inspire your own writing.
  • To learn how to change the world.
  • To discuss in a reading group.
  • To share a good book with your friends.
What are your reasons for reading?

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona where she blogs, teaches writing, and edits. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreamsis based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. The next book in the series, Dare to Dream, has just been released, and her non-fiction book Cowgirl Up: History of Women's Rodeo will be out in September. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Narrative Voices - Part Two: Third Person Limited

Photo by Ryan Wick, via Flickr
As noted in my previous post, in First Person narration, the angle of vision is “single-track”. The central character is also the story-teller who addresses the reader directly, uses first person pronouns for self-reference, and recounts events in his/her own words.

In Third Person limited narration, the angle of vision is similarly “single-track”. There is only one focal character, and our access to plot developments in channeled through his/her personal perceptions, experiences, and discoveries. But there the similarity ends. In Third Person Limited narration, the focal character is being viewed through a telescope wielded by the author. And this makes a Critical Difference.

In Third Person Ltd. Narration, the character is oblivious to the fact that he/she is under observation. Meanwhile, the author plays the role of an on-the-scenes reporter operating under cover. Like a Nato observer, he/she uses third person pronouns when reporting narrative developments to the reader - ostensibly without bias.

But by inserting himself/herself between the focal character and the reader, the author asserts his/her mastery over the writer’s craft, via diction and selective detailing, to influence our assessment of the focal character’s actions. The designedly ironic effect is that we see the character, not as he sees himself, but as he really is.

A stellar example of Third Person Limited narrative technique can be found in the Carnegie-Prize-winning Y/A novel The Scarecrows, by Robert Westall (Puffin Books, 1981).

Our focal character, teenaged Simon Wood, is the son of a soldier killed in action. At the point our story begins, Simon’s widowed mother has begun seeing a new man, who turns out to be a famous political cartoonist. Simon’s Oedipal tensions are evident in the first chapter of the novel, at a public school event at which his pretty mother is invited to play a tennis match on Parents’ Day:
Summer Parents’ Day. Started all right. Mum had done nothing to shame him. Red hair short and clean, her make-up slight, her skirt a decent length…Nothing for Bowden to get his rotten little teeth into.
  It was Montgomery’s father who spoiled it. Montgomery’s father, who used to play tennis for Gloucestershire…with his lanky legs and bounding stride and crinkly black hair. Montgomery’s father had buttonholed Mum. Somebody’s [parents had cried off from playing] tennis against the staff; would Mum step into the breach? Mum had fallen for it, like a sucker. Even though Simon begged her not to; with his eyes. Begged and begged…
  Mum coming onto court, beside Mr. Montgomery. In borrowed shorts. Showing her legs. Not that Mum’s legs weren’t all right…But when she bent over to pick up a ball, you could see her bottom…
From this short passage, we can tell Simon has serious proprietary issues when it comes to his mother. Even before we’ve seen the full extent to which he idolizes his dead father (whom Westall, using Simon’s memories, reveals to us in his true guise as a self-involved macho prig), we know that Simon’s views of his family situation are pathologically unsound. The dramatic tension thus created, as we wait to see how this toxic situation unfolds, renders this novel a riveting page-turner.

Third Person Limited narration demands a lot from the writer, but if you can pull it off like Westall, the effect is stunning!

Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Connect Those Dots

Danger in Deer Ridge by Terry Odell
Every now and then, there's a scene that absolutely refuses to get from opening to closing in a straightforward fashion. When I was working on a scene for Danger in Deer Ridge, I had my starting plot points, there were only two characters in the scene (and one was asleep for most of it), and I had a reasonable idea of where it should end.

As I worked on it, however, it was more like a connect-the-dots picture, but without any numbers telling you where the next dot should be.

This scene happened to be one of my few ventures into the villain's POV. It's only the second time he's been on the page, so I wanted to show what kind of a man he was in a little more depth, as well as reveal some points that would heighten the tension. And, as I was writing, it turned out he was a lot nastier than I'd first thought.

My plot points for this single-scene chapter:
Bad guy is having an affair. He's thinking about breaking it off. He's looking for something he thinks his wife (who's our heroine, and is supposed to be dead) took with her before she left him. He's hired someone to investigate. Bad Stuff will happen if he doesn't find it.

Seems simple enough, especially since the foundation for these points has already been established. But that creates other problems—like how much is adding depth, and how much is just plain repetitive. Since this guy's POV scenes will be several chapters apart, a few reminders to the reader might help.

But for some reason, the details to expand each of those plot points kept hopping around. There was no flow. My system of asking "why?" seemed to create more questions. I couldn't find the next dot.

Starting the scene was easy enough. He's in bed with his mistress in the hotel room. He's the villain, so I saw no need for showing the actual sex.

Why a hotel room? Why not his own home, or hers? How much detail should I show for the mistress? How much back story is needed to explain the affair. I needed to show that it had started while he was still married. How much more? Why is he still in the room? Why doesn't he get dressed and leave?

How much is he thinking about the relationship, and how much about his dilemma? How much to reveal about exactly what it is he thinks his wife took? Do I try to layer in a red herring? Could someone else have taken it?

Eventually, I think I got all the information on the page exactly where it needed to be so it flowed smoothly. I think it works. But I had a few surprises along the way. In one of the first versions, this came in the opening paragraphs:

He stood in the doorway and watched her sleep, her red curls splayed over the pillow. Not a natural redhead, he'd discovered early on. One way or another, he figured he was paying for her hair color along with her wardrobe.

However, after two days of juggling plot points, this paragraph moved down to the end of the second page, and this is what happened to it:

He paced to the doorway and watched her sleep. A dim glow filtered through the curtains, highlighting her red curls splayed over the pillow. He stared, transfixed, at the rhythmic rise and fall of her chest. His gaze wandered to the pile of bed pillows strewn about the floor. How easy to creep in, pick one up, cover her face until her breathing stopped. His shoulders bunched, and he rubbed his neck.

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She’s the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Villains Are People Too

A line in a recent review of one of my books gave me the idea for this blog post.

“I loved the way in which even the so-called unsavory characters have been endowed with humane and just feelings.”

Villains in mysteries, thrillers, and suspense novels are many times more important than the hero and heroine. Antagonists drive the story, create the suspense, and put the main characters at risk. The worse they are, the more tense the story. We want our readers to turn the pages as fast as they can, but if they don’t feel the hero or heroine is threatened, that their life is on the line, we probably haven’t written a memorable villain.

However writers craft their villains, we have to be careful. The reviewer who prompted this post wasn’t talking about the true villain in my book Threads, an unrepentant psychopath, evil through and through. He is a rare character for me. I like to imbue my bad guys or gals with characteristics that make the reader care about them; otherwise, they become stereotypical clichés, direct from central casting.

Authors spend so much time creating their heroes and heroines, bestowing them with defining traits, we sometimes forget that our villains are people too. We want to cheer when they get their comeuppance, but we should have some sympathy for whatever made them the way they are. Is the shark in Jaws the villain or are the people hunting him down? Is Moby Dick the heavy, or is Captain Ahab?

One reviewer of Mind Games said this: “...the villain is marvelous--evil but human. I almost felt sorry for him.”

Now that’s a villain. His young life was a disaster, and he had no hope to be anything but what he turned out to be. He knows he’s on a downward spiral to hell because he’s smart, but he can’t stop his trajectory. Knowing his history makes the reader that much more sympathetic toward him. We wonder what he would have been like if someone had loved him as a child.

The antagonist in Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, is a nasty piece of work. Yet even as he eviscerates his victims, the author imbues him not only with brilliance but with a spark of humanity that keeps us riveted. Lecter is fascinated by the novice FBI agent, Clarice Starling, and feeds her hints so she can find the murderer, Buffalo Bill. Reading that book was like watching a horror movie through splayed fingers, yet I couldn’t put it down. Lecter has to be one of the most compellingly evil villains in crime fiction, but....

My work in progress, Backlash, has what I hope to be a sympathetic villain, even though he’s a cold calculating killer. Actually, there are multiple murderers in the book, and ridding the world of their victims starts out as a noble mission. If the law can’t deliver a just verdict for these sinners, then this band of avengers will. Unfortunately, committing immoral acts to balance immoral judgments tends to result in bad endings.

I was discussing villains with my son, and he made a blanket statement about comic book villains: they’re all products of something bad that happened to them early on in their lives. So as evil as they might be, the reader, especially kids, can find something sympathetic about them.

How do you craft your villains? Do you make them all bad, or do you leave a little light to shine in their eyes?

Polly Iyer is the author of six novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and two books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games and Goddess of the Moon. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


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