Fiction Friction & Constant Conflict

Back to editing basics.  Point of view, or POV, should probably have followed voice, because it relates to the eyes through which the story is told.  What the heck.  Let’s mix it up like a can of nuts.

Per Rey’s recent post, we’ll look at friction and conflict—what to consider, rework or rewrite (e-d-i-t), improve.

friction =  tension  / antagonism  / discord

 conflict =  struggle  /  clash  /  controversy

Friction and conflict are a must for fiction novels.  They bring your story alive; they create fire.  Tension should exist between characters.  If they’re all happy and smiley, huggy and kissie, the story [plot and subplots] lean toward flat and boring.  That’s not to say that everyone should be fighting and cursing all the time because that, too, can quickly grow wearisome.  There should constantly be enough of both throughout the story to make it compelling—to draw in readers and hold them through an emotional, exciting roller-coaster ride. friction2

Friction and conflict, as an FYI, don’t have to be between two or more persons; they can exist within an individual.  Maybe he/she has an inner demon or two to conquer.  The eventual conquest of conflict can draw two (or more) characters together—like a romance hero and heroine riding into a vivid sunset on a valiant stallion—or enable a self-doubting or struggling individual to develop and mature.

Dissention between two characters or more is referred to as external friction while that within a solitary character is internal.  There’s no reason why you can’t employ both.  A quick/simple example might be this: the heroine suffers from agoraphobia, but the hero is a renowned musician and must tour often.  Heroine loves hero, and vice versa.  How does she overcome overwhelming anxiety so she can accompany him on tours?  How does he deal with (react to) her repeated debilitating/fretful fear?

The Triple Threat Investigation Agency series incorporates conflicts between people: as the private eyes doggedly track a murderer or two, they butt heads with various people in the process.  For many genres of fiction, person-against-person is commonplace.  If however you’re writing sci-fi or fantasy or steampunk, or speculative fiction, conflict and friction can occur amid paranormal or technological entities.

Whether external or internal, friction brings a story to life; it offers insight into characters (what they think and feel, how they respond, what makes them tick).  If it’s weak or illogical, or humdrum, it’s not going to do much for the tale or reader.  When you’re editing, give thought to whether:

⇒  the main goal of your main character(s) is clear (what drives him/her)     ⇒  the “problem” (the plot/storyline) is well-defined and logical     ⇒  motivation, struggle(s), and attitude are evident and sound     ⇒  you’re throwing enough hurdles (obstacles) along the track to keep your hero/heroine leaping to the finish line     ⇒  you’re creating empathy (the hero/heroine should possess frailties, flaws and fears that the reader can relate to)     ⇒  doubt exists (i.e. do some scenarios have your reader wondering [worrying] if a grave situation will be resolved?)     ⇒  secondary characters prove hostile or portentous, thus adding to the conflict and friction     ⇒  friction and conflict are suitably drawn out (resolution shouldn’t come too quickly).

When you’re editing, carefully review every scene.  Does each one draw your protagonist closer to his/her goal—i.e. help solve the “problem”?  Consider it this way: action = reaction.  Something transpires—an event or emotion—that affects the main character.  He/she progresses, stumbles, changes . . . and reacts to the conflict in some way.  If the scene doesn’t contain conflict and/or friction—and neither has to always be of gargantuan proportions—there’s no advancement of the character or story.  As such, maybe it needs to be rewritten or even discarded.

In a mystery, as quick example, the P.I. may hit stumbling block after stumbling block in the quest to locate a killer.  Red herrings are strewn along the winding path.  Just when it’s certain the killer will be unveiled, another body drops.  Frustration looms.  Self-doubt—can I solve this crazy case?—increases.  A developing desire to give up may overwhelm.  Finally, a confrontation with the killer transpires into fisticuffs . . . and it’s not clear who’ll win.

Vary the intensity of friction and conflict.  View it like a NASCAR race:

⇒  is the car speeding along at a fantastic (winning) speed     ⇒  can it maneuver those rain-drenched turns     ⇒  will it manage to pull into the pit stop safely despite a low or blown tire     ⇒  will strong winds serve as an impairment     ⇒  what about that loose steering wheel . . . .

Incidents, events and emotions are your driving forces.  Ensure friction and conflict flow logically and effectively.  Think of them like keeping your ducks in a row. ducksinrow

Break Time (Sorta)

That 9-5 j-o-b has The Boss in training all week, so her time’s more limited than usual this work week.  But have no fear, Rey’s here!

She’s been posting about editing, but I’m gonna steer clear; sure, I could research a related topic, but to be honest, I’m not really into it like she is.  So what’s my post about?  Me, who else?  Okay, okay, the three of us—JJ, Linda, and me.

Update re “Forever Poi”.  The Boss is still at it.  Work/life have been getting in the way, but she’s determined it will be ready sooner than later.  Besides, she wholeheartedly believes nothing good comes from rushing.  So true, so true.  To be honest, though, the three of us would love it if we could move on to our next big case; there’s rumor of one coming soon.  Fingers crossed!

I know she wants to extend a wholehearted, heartfelt thanks to all her followers, so on behalf of the Boss: thank you!!!

Starting with me, I’ve got a three-week engagement at a community theater as Betty Rizzo in Grease.  For those not in the know, yes, I do sing.  Don’t get many opportunities anymore, except at b-day parties, but it’s all good.

 

JJ’s got an invitation from “Sometimes Boyfriend”, a cocky undercover agent who’s too way too dishy for his own good, to visit him in Miami.  Personally, I think she should ditch the dude, but she thinks she’s suffering from “bad-boy syndrome” and just can’t seem to rid herself of the symptoms.  Been there.  Poor kid.

Linda’s still doing wine and food blog reviews.  Loves it.  She’s made friends with a couple of women in the building where the agency’s located.  They’ve started going out for lunch every Thursday.  I’m glad she has new people in her life; I’m just hoping she doesn’t forget who her BFF is.

There you have it folks.  The Boss’ll be back on the weekend with more editing advice.  Given the last one was about plot and subplots, I think she’s looking to post about conflict and friction (because, as I understand it, the plot contains, or should contain, a lot of both).

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The Essence of a Story: Plots (and Subplots)

Today’s post is about editing plot and subplots (or side plots).  Kind of obvious from the title, huh?  <LOL>

A plot is the main story: it’s what your book is about.  It doesn’t normally stand alone; subplots may weave through it like the crossed threads of cloth.  Subplots can be synchronic or divergent—maybe a subplot ties in with the main story, maybe it doesn’t.

Here’s a possible plot-subplot breakdown for The Triple Threat Investigation Agency mystery series:

⇒   plot:  the major [murder] case the TTIA trio solves (which takes readers from beginning to end)  ♦  subplot:  JJ’s relationship with her “sometimes boyfriend”  ♦  subplot:  a minor case that’s quickly cracked (while the major one is being solved)  ♦  subplot:  Linda’s new relationship  ♦  subplot:  Rey’s acting adventures.

Let’s do another, random one:

⇒   plot:  seven people have to survive after being marooned on a deserted island (no, one of them is not named Gilligan) ♦  subplot:  one person requires daily medication, but has none on hand  ♦  subplot:  a couple is having an affair, and a spouse is part of the marooned group  ♦  subplot:  another person is on the FBI’s Top Ten Wanted List  ♦  subplot:  an active volcano is rumbling.

You determine how many you want subplots to include.  Up until now, I haven’t felt a need to provide a multitude of them in any of the ebooks as they’ve never seemed overly crucial.  As JJ often says, however: never say never.  It’s possible that at some time I may want to include related adventures to disclose more of the trio’s personal lives, goals and ambitions.

I’m guessing (hoping) you’ve started writing your magnum opus with a plot outline in place or, at the very least, a sketch (winging it may work for posts and emails/texts, and possibly short stories, but I’m not sure it’s that effective for books).  If you have subplots in mind, note them.  If not, allow them to develop as your characters do; allow these folks to drive “mini escapades”.

In terms of that plot outline, important elements include (but are by no means limited to):

⇒  story start (where and when, and the action that sets everything in motion)   ⇒   story end (where and when, and how everything culminates)   ⇒   reason(s) and purpose(s) for your main characters to endure/undertake all that they do   ⇒   challenge (the drive behind your main character)—also known as conflict   ⇒   trials and tests, and incidents (that draw your readers in)—also known as hooks   ⇒   goals and motivations, emotions and reactions   ⇒   settings/locations   ⇒   functions of secondary characters   ⇒   logic and believability of characters, events and actions (pretty much everything).

Fix areas that don’t mesh.  If something is weak, strengthen it.  Story structure has to be sound, plausible.  Action, description and dialog should flow like champagne at New Year’s Eve.

The storyline has to keep readers interested, so yank them in from the get-go!  Motivate them to keep reading by impelling your characters to take action and respond (to situations and people).  Constantly challenge and push them.  Ultimately, your plot should serve like a chariot that transports your readers—and characters—into different settings and situations.  Some might even prove prickly or unpleasant.

Refer to that outline now and again to ensure you’re on track.  Keep notes re new plot/subplot ideas that have sprung to mind.  Once the first draft is completed, determine if you’ve followed the course . . . and if you haven’t, maybe that’s not a bad thing (maybe your characters navigated you along a different route).  You decide.

We can go into all the components that a great book make, but let’s stick to plots (storylines, scenarios) for today.  Take into account the following:

♦   Is your plot logical?  Has it progressed as planned?  Does something need to be added or removed?  Have you tied up loose ends?  Is there enough tension/excitement throughout?  Are those plot twists plausible? WPplottwist

♦   Does each scene—a plot piece, as it were—serve a [viable] purpose?  Does each one steer that story forward?  Are there any that prove confusing or dull/uneventful?

♦   Does every conflict have a resolution by the time we reach “The End”?  Do events and actions flow soundly?  Do characters react logically/convincingly to those events and actions?

♦   This may prove painful, but if you have a scene or subplot that does nothing to advance the plot, chop it!  In fact, remove everything that does nothing to progress the plot.

When you’re doing a final or next-to-final edit, evaluate the plot as a reader, not the writer—i.e. use a critical (objective) eye.

The Right/Write Voice . . . or . . . Talk to Me Lucky Number 3

The last two posts touched upon voice, but given it’s a crucial component, maybe we should take it into a third.  A few points will be repeated, but . . .  Repetition is the mother of learning, the father of action, which makes it the architect of accomplishment.  (Thank you Zig Ziglar.)

An important rule when it comes to multiple characters: they should not sound the same.  If they do, your story will likely end up flatter than a flapjack; subsequently, you’ll lose your readers’ interest.

Given upbringing, lifestyle, career, and likes/dislikes—among other things—every person has a particular way of speaking.  Cadence/pattern differ, too.  A psychologist isn’t likely to speak with the same intonation as a construction worker; a child won’t articulate like an adult.  Bear in mind diversities.

Certain characters, like the folks we work with and meet in life, have funny streaks and can make us laugh at length.  Nothing wrong with having one in your book, if the story/plot can carry a comic.  The same holds true of a whiner, collaborator, grumpy old fart, shower singer—you get the idea.  Think: uniqueness, individuality.  Variety truly is the spice of life . . . and stories

Don’t drag on conversations or comments at length.  Readers shouldn’t embark on a snoozzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzze-fest.  Sure, some characters may be overly expressive or descriptive (in real life, lots of people truly love to talk).  If it’s part of the character’s make-up, have at it, but ensure it’s meaningful and appropriate to the story/plot.

And while we’re talking “story”, remember to always give thought to emotions, feelings, and reactions.  If there’s been a murder, characters will react differently.  A few may be appalled, others frightened, and the odd one inquisitive (like a sleuthing protagonist).  Ensure voice and dialog reveal this.

Here’s an example—a discussion between several characters—from my first e-book, The Connecticut Corpse Caper.

“The workout equaled five espressos,” I said cheerfully, stirring milk into a mug with a character resembling Count Chocula on it and taking a surreptitious glance around to see if any eyes were peering merrily around a corner or through a window.

“Gawd, you’re actually eating,” Rey groused, semi-staggering into the room. She was dressed in black jeans, black Roslynn UGGs (same as mine), and a cashmere fern-green turtleneck that would have offset her eyes quite nicely if they hadn’t been bloodshot.

“The frittatas are delicious.” Prunella beckoned my cousin to the chair beside her.

“Ugh. I’ll just have some java.” She plunked herself down and gazed from one face to another, as if attempting to recollect who each one belonged to and why they were here at the table. She gulped back Linda’s coffee, sighed deeply, and nearly smiled. “Any more news on our weird lawyer?”

“Our weird dead lawyer.”  Linda eyed her empty cup with a frown.

“There hasn’t been any word,” Jensen responded, spreading something resembling mushroom paté on a thick slice of white bread.  I’d half expected him to request Marmite.

Rey’s brow puckered and she watched Beatrice carry in a bone china coffeepot. “Are we still expected to stay, considering?”

“Yes Miss Fonne-Werde. ‘Regardless of what may occur’, so our mistress stipulated.” The maid offered a near smile. What an interesting if not unnerving voice she had: a hint of an Ingrid Bergman accent coupled with a Humphrey Bogart timber. The maid refilled more cups and did her lumbering thing across the room, leaving a whisper of rosewater behind.

They all possess idiosyncratic tones, slang/lingo, and expressions.  Rey, for example, has an extremely casual way of speaking (and isn’t opposed to swearing whenever the mood strikes); she’s also no stranger to “gonna”, “whadya”, “wanna”.  The maid is more formal or professional, given her role.  You’ll find that narrator Jill (JJ) speaks like an announcer (she’s a meteorologist); she tends to relay events with a newscaster approach.

Several editors say don’t state the obvious.  For example, his eyes gazed at her.  Eyes do that, so why tell us?  Speaking of eyes, Geena’s eyes flew across the room.  Ouch!  That’d hurt.  John whispered softly.  Whispering is speaking softly.  Lidia clasped the doorknob with her hand.  How do we normally clasp a doorknob—with our teeth?  This will be another post, but when you’re writing—using voice—watch unnecessary [useless and evident] explanations or narrative.

Many editors also say the word “said” is unnecessary.  Here’s an example from a book I purchased for a flight home from Hawaii—Murder She Wrote, Aloha Betrayed by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain.  I was once a big Murder She Wrote fan but, in terms of this novel, I never got past page 100 because it was so flat (b-o-r-i-n-g).  Here’s how you never want to write:

“Good evening,” I said as he reached me.

“Hi,” he said, flashing me a boyish grin.  “Enjoying yourself?”

“Very much.  It’s a beautiful night for a sail.”

As he started to walk away, I said, “Excuse me, but are you Carson Nihipali?”

He turned and gave me a strange look.  “Yeah,” he said, drawing the word out.

“I apologize if I’ve mispronounced your name,” I said, “But I’m still trying to get the hang of the Hawaiian language.”

A lot of “said” there.  Whew.  How might we make this sluggish scene a teeny bit more interesting?

“Good evening.”  I offered a cheery smile as he stepped alongside.

“Hi.”  The lanky, handsome man flashed a boyish grin.  “Enjoying yourself?”

“Very much.  It’s a beautiful night for a sail.”

With a wave, he started to saunter off.

“Excuse me!  Are you Carson Nihipali?” I quickly called after.

He turned with an inscrutable expression and drawled, “Ye-eah.”

“I apologize if I’ve mispronounced your name.  I’m still trying to get the hang of the Hawaiian language.”

As writers—narrators—we have the task [challenge] of successfully communicating our characters distinct voices, actions and emotions.  Using “said” a dozen times on one page probably won’t help achieve that.  blwed2

A weak voice:

⇒  wanders   /   uses useless words/phrases   /  is unemotional/flat/stagnant.

A strong voice:

⇒  is clear/logical/concise   /   uses dynamic [evocative] words and phrases   /   portrays a picture   /   is emotional.

Keep it fresh; keep it interesting.  (You’ll do just fine.)

(Next post, let’s look at plots and subplots.)  maybe

 

Talk to Me, Too/2

The intention of providing short posts—snippets of advice—has gone [as an acquaintance often says] kablooey.  <LOL>  It seems when it comes to editing, there’s much to share.  As such, I’m thinking to be true to the goal, maybe I’ll simply provide more posts on certain topics—like voice.  Hmm.  Let’s just go with the flow, and see where the current takes us.

The last post touched upon the narrator’s voice.  What about yours—the writer’s voice?

It’s often said we should write as we speak, but that’s not always doable or practical, given the scenario.  Sometimes the situation, or the narrator and character(s) have particular personalities and speech or vocal quirks that require a shift in written speech and expression.  This is good.  You don’t want a flat voice throughout your book; you want it to sound real.  Just listen to those around you: no one speaks the same.  We all have our own [noticeable] cadence, expressions and phrases.

If you follow certain authors regularly, you’ve likely noticed that they often use the same specific words and phrases, idioms, sentence structure and lexicon, and rhythm.  I have a certain diction/delivery style and so do—or will—you.

Here’s an example from Chapter One of Tricky Twenty-Two by Janet Evanovich:

Ginny Scoot was standing on a third-floor ledge, threatening to jump, and it was more or less my fault. My name is Stephanie Plum and I work as a bounty hunter for my bail bondsman cousin Vinnie.

Ginny had failed to show for a court appearance and it was my job to find her and return her to the authorities. If I don’t succeed my cousin is out his bond money, and I don’t get paid. On the other hand, there’s Ginny, who would prefer not to go back to jail.

My colleague Lula and I were on the sidewalk, looking up at Ginny, along with a bunch of other people who were taking video with their smartphones.

If you’ve ever read Janet’s [funny and enjoyable] Stephanie Plum books, you’ll recognize her distinct style.  Bounty-hunter Stephanie is relatively laid-back and tells it like it is.  She doesn’t have a university education, which shows in her voice and attitude/outlook.  The job leans toward dangerous, given most of the folks she has to find are unwilling to be put back in the pokey.  That sense of danger is communicated when she imparts her (and Lula’s) antics and you perceive her emotions/feelings: resolve, trepidation, uncertainty, annoyance, worry.

How about before and after examples from another writer (yours truly)?

Before“She wouldn’t say what it was?”  Sach’s voice was sounding slurred.  Small wonder; he was about to down what had to be his fourth shot.  That, with the four beers he’d recently tossed back, should hit him much like the soccer-ball that caught him on the forehead early last November.

What have we learned about Sach?  He likes to bend his elbow from the sounds of things.  Because he was hit with a soccer ball, we could assume he enjoys sports, or at least soccer, but whether as a spectator or player is unknown (at least in this example).

After“No shi-it?  She wouldn’t sa-ay what it was, huh?”  Sach’s baritone voice sounded slurred.  Small wonder; he was about to down his fourth shot after having tossed back four beers.  Those would fell him like that soccer-ball that smashed into his forehead at Busch Stadium last fall.

Now what have we learned?  Again, he likes to bend his elbow from the sounds of things.  He has a baritone voice and he’s not opposed to using vulgar slang.  Watching soccer is a favored pastime.  Anything else?  Yes—he likely hails from Missouri, given that’s where Busch Stadium is located.

Diction (the selection and use of words in writing/speech) can paint an extensive, colorful picture. 

What makes up your writer’s voice?  Your outlook, tone/feeling, and personality.  Outlook: what you believe and stand for.  Tone/feeling: how you speak, the sort of feeling and emotion [attitude] you convey.  Personality: who you are, your personal likes and dislikes, and behavior. voicesat3

These come naturally, given who you are, but they can be developed or polished to produce a specific or new writer’s voice.

It’s tempting to talk about using multiple voices in a given project, but for this post at least, let’s stick to your voice on the whole.  Here’s an example of my writer’s voice 20-some years ago from an old manuscript, “Sardines & Cheese”.  My voice has remained rather similar (though nowadays I steer clear of attempting to sound cleverer than I am).

Allow me to officially introduce myself.  Kentucky Justice Smith, at your service, as my dear deceased brother Shane would have added.

The name Kentucky came about not because I was born in the state, as I’m inclined to tell people, but because I was born on the day of the great derby, a day my departed father had placed (and lost) a big bet.  Ian James Smith had been a copper on the Montréal force, a hard-edged one, but a fairly efficacious one when he wasn’t being questioned for questionable tactics or behavior.  He’d also been a gambler, as you may have surmised, and a drinker, one who ironically succumbed to primary liver cancer.

Me, I’m a private investigator and a part-time bartender.  I was an aspiring mystery writer, “was” because I’ve been in writer’s block mode for about nine months now, but then to be fair to myself, things like homicides, world-wide travels, and a bit of bedlam have consumed many cycles of the moon’s phase.  More on all that later.

The intention was to have my narrator, Kentucky, sound easy-going yet “clever” and witty.  Reviewing it now, I’m not sure that that was accomplished.  There’s a hint of patronization perhaps.

The intention re my writer’s voice was . . . LOL . . . the same.  To sound easy-going yet clever and witty.  It’s not patronizing, but possibly endeavoring to be something it’s not, such as cunning or maybe even glib.

Learning and developing are par for the course in anything we attempt and do.  As writers and bloggers we grow and mature . . . we improve with time, like a good wine.  Writing regularly will assist with that, so will reading.  And don’t just “read”, but notice (scrutinize) how the author has presented his/her voice through narrator, character(s), and/or actions.

And when you’re writing, review the voice(s) in your work for uniformity.  Are outlook, tone/feeling, and personality consistent?  Is there too much repetition for naught?  Does it read naturally—like a smoothly asphalted street, and not a gravel-lined rural road?  If it doesn’t, don’t fret.  It will come, like anything, when you apply yourself.

. . . On that note, although irrelevant, here’s a little sing-along to start the day off on a happy-talk note.

Talk to Me

Continuing with editing, let’s talk about voice.  As previously mentioned, there are two: your narrator’s voice (how he or she thinks and speaks or, if you like, how the story is written/told) and yours (how you, as a writer, convey your personality and approach through words and content).  Let’s focus on the first today.

A narrator’s voice can be distinctive or veiled, depending on the aim of the story.  If distinctive, the goal may be that the narrator evokes a particular personality; if veiled, the goal may be that the narrator blends into the background so that all else leads.  Whatever the objective, ideally, the reader should be grabbed from the get-go.  Not only should that first “it-was-a-dark-and-story-night” sentence attract readers immediately, it should set the mood and tone of the story (another post).

How do you create a unique voice for your narrator?  Start by outlining what he or she’s all about.  Consider character traits (throw in likes and dislikes, hobbies, background and history, and so forth).   Is he/she:

⇒  cold-hearted  /  bubbly  /  bold  /  diffident  /  angry  /  depressed  /  honest  /  crazed  /  funny  /  serious . . . ?

Does he/she:

⇒  like kids and animals  /  have phobias  /  possess a deep, dark secret  /  do volunteer work  /  have a hobby  /  come from a poor or rich family . . . ?

What motivates your narrator?  How does he/she speak—with a Swedish accent, a Southern drawl, a lot of colloquialisms or swearing?  Does your narrator hail from another era?

You’ve got the idea—develop your narrator to breathe life into him/her.

Here are two examples of openings that introduce the narrator/main character—one from a cozy I’m currently reading and one from an old manuscript of mine (that may still, one day, evolve into a book).

Example #1—British Manor Mystery (Leslie Meier)

“If only they’d send a ransom note,” wailed Lucy Stone, pulling her old gray cardigan tighter across her chest.  “Then at least we’d have a chance of getting Patrick back.”

What do we immediately know about Lucy from the opening paragraph?  We can deduce that she’s:

  1. older (the old gray cardigan suggests someone who’s not fashion-conscious and likes comfortable clothing)
  2. caring and emotional (Lucy’s anxious about someone).

We also sense that it’s a mystery or drama because of the seriousness of her speech.

Example #1—Sardines & Cheese (Me)

This is the zany tale of Johnny “Baloney” Tino Vespuzzi and Sammy Mohammed “Mo-Mo” Martine, two dime-store mobsters.  How factual it is, is anyone’s guess, but all gossip and hearsay, even that related to murder and mayhem, begin with some kernel of truth.

We know who the tale revolves around, but we don’t [yet] know who’s telling it.  It has a casual tone, so we can assume that he/she speaks informally and is likely someone not in a highly professional career.  The fact it’s a mystery is obvious, thanks to the “murder and mayhem”, and “zany” suggests humor’s to come.

Has either pulled you in?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  Sometimes it depends on the reader’s personal tastes and interests, other times on the success of the paragraph’s suck-you-in drawing power.

Your narrator shouldn’t just tell us what’s happening, but draw us into his/her world.  We should envision the action and setting, feel the mood and ambiance, taste food, smell odors, and hear sounds.

Here’s something from Sardines that incorporates the above:

Strolling along a tourist-heavy, bustling side street were three men—one would be reluctant to call them gentlemen, for reasons that will become clear later—who’d just finished a three-hour stick-to-your-ribs meal at Reg’s Parmigiano, owned by gourmand-glutton Regulus Febrezia, a rotund and rapacious young  proprietor.  The dinner had consisted of crostini de fegato, quaglie, tortellini and tagliatelli, and osso buco, a favorite of Sammy Martine’s.  There’d also been three bottles of Regulus’ homemade red wine, an intriguing little red number that might not have made the top ten list in Wine Spectator, but received rave reviews from the locals because of the way it pricked the palate with a salty-sweet astringency, not to mention the way it complemented any dish.

Give thought to expressions and cadence.  Does your narrator have a certain tempo?  What about jargon or particular phrases?  If you capture your narrator’s [genuine] voice from the onset, things might fall into place a little easier, because you’ll have an idea of how your narrator’s tale should unfold, how he/she will proceed and react.

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When I first started writing back when, I wanted to sound [overly] clever and witty.  I came across as anything but.  I overused the thesaurus and wrote how I thought I should sound (without giving much thought to the reader or how the story should advance).  Looking back at the super old stuff prompts winces.  I wasn’t being myself and I wasn’t being true to myself.  I’m inclined to say write how you speak, but perhaps it’s better to say: write from the heart and gut.

It took many years to develop my voice, but it may not take you half that long.  For some it comes naturally, for others it’s acquired through trial and error.  (We’ll look at before and after samples next post.)

Voice is the key [selling] component in fiction.  Don’t be afraid of experimenting with a few voices until you get the right [write] one.  . . . You’ll know it when you’ve got it.

Genre Juggling

Last weekend’s post touched upon editing components to consider when doing your own editing.

  • genre
  • voice(s)
  • POV
  • plot/subplots
  • conflict/friction
  • action
  • scenes
  • settings
  • characters
  • dialog
  • motivation/moods/reactions
  • facts

Not one for abundant eye-glazing details, I prefer to—as you’ve likely noticed—keep posts reasonable in length.  While the above list doesn’t comprise the be-all-and-end-all of editing elements, it’s a solid place to start.

And speaking of starting, let’s take a gander at genre.  You probably already have one or two you like and write.  Or maybe you’re setting forth on your first writing adventure, debating what sort of story you’d like to weave?  Let’s give some thought to the multitude of genres you can choose from.

Firstly, books are either fiction or nonfiction.  The former revolves around a story created by an author (you)—courtesy of that wonderful creative faculty called imagination—while the latter comprises factual information.

We could break down the two types even more.

Fiction would include, but not be limited to:

⇒ mystery (a personal favorite), thriller, police procedural, romance and erotica, horror, Gothic, children’s and YA (young adult), fantasy, science fiction, drama, saga and western, action/adventure, fabulism (also known as magical realism), satire and parody.

Fiction could come in the form of a novel or novella, short story or prose.  We also have literary fiction and commercial or popular fiction.  The first is more “cerebral”, if you like; the stories tend to be more involved, non-mainstream, and “clever”.  The second is what the majority of readers enjoy—those books we purchase (or used to before Kindle) at the airport or corner store.  Most books on bestseller lists tend to fall under the commercial umbrella.

Nonfiction would include, but again not be limited to:

⇒ history, politics, how-to advice, travel, true-life tales (biographies and autobiographies), science, health, guides, cooking, inspirational, religion and spirituality, New Age, anthology, creative (decorating, refurnishing, remodeling, crocheting, you-name-“ing”), diaries and journals.

Nonfiction can be divided into narrative nonfiction and general nonfiction.  The first is factual information arranged to convey a story while the second is information that revolves around an actual/factual topic.

Both fiction and nonfiction, of course, break down even further into sub-classifications/subgenres.  If you’re interested in learning more, I heartily encourage you to go Googling—there’s oodles to be discovered.

If you’re determining which genre you’d like to write, be aware that each one has specific rules—but you may already know this.  If you’re devoted to a certain genre, you’ve no doubt recognized its pattern and rhythm.  You know that certain types require a specific ending: a happy one.  Yes, of course, you can always break the mold, but that’s another post.

Some genres will require more imagination than others, such as sci-fi and fantasy.  Here you’d be creating unique worlds and non-human characters.  You’d have to visualize—and aptly describe—them.  With other genres, such as westerns, family sagas, and historical romances, you’d need to do in-depth research re costumes, locations, vehicles and paraphernalia.  Mysteries, particularly those that lean toward police procedurals and crime dramas, would benefit from actual law enforcement (and related) processes.  More on fact-finding in a subsequent post.

If you’re looking to earn some serious$ money, you’d likely want to write in a top-selling genre (though, personally, I believe you write for the love of it).  The five genres that sell exceptionally well are:

⇒  romance (and erotica)     ⇒  mystery (and crime)     ⇒  religious and spiritual/inspirational     ⇒  sci-fi and fantasy, and     ⇒  horror.

genreswp1Truly, there’s much (!) to offer on the subject of genres—I could probably write four or five posts on them alone, but the idea here is to give you food for thought, a (teeny) taste of all that’s available.  Once you’ve determined your genre, know it inside out—and own it.  Understand your audience, and deliver what it expects and wants.

Happy genre picking.

Father Figure by James J. Cudney

James J. Cudney IV (Jay) has penned a stellar personal-journey fiction novel.   As a fan of searching-for-self stories, where characters pursue truths and eventually realize them, I found Father Figure delivered precisely that—with all the requisite components.

The first few chapters roused distinctive memories and feelings that had long been buried for yours truly and wounds thought closed, proved raw once again.  When an author succeeds in evoking emotion, mission accomplished: the reader has been snared and secured.

The tale entwines the lives of two young women: Amalia in 1984 and 1985, and Brianna in 2004.  Jay has painted them vibrantly, with distinct and different personalities.  He’s captured the conflicting emotions of youthful awkwardness and confusing sexual awakening.  Also effectively depicted are the characters’ personal frustrations and angst, and that “suffering” patience only a loving parent can provide.

Reading Father Figure is like being a fly on a wall; you’re privy to secrets and private/intimate conversations.  Fathers—absent or dead—are key to Amalia and Brianna.  One has lost her beloved dad, the other has yet to find him.  We weave through their lives during crucial periods and in due course discover how they connect—in a rather clever way.

It’s hard not to feel—and despair—for Amalia.  You root for her strength and conviction, and applaud the love she holds for her father despite his flaws and weaknesses.  And you hope (like crazy) she’ll free herself of a self-centered, vicious mother.

Understanding what Amalia has had to endure, it was easy (and emotional) for me to relate to her struggles and emotions.  Brianna was a little more difficult; she was almost too self-absorbed to be likable.  Still, I could appreciate that impassioned search for self and the fixation re finding an unknowable father.

Throughout Father Figure, a strong sense of realism encompasses all senses.  You can see the cityscapes and countryscapes . . . smell grass, freshly baked scones and rich nutty brew . . . hear rural birds and insects, and bustling NYC transit and traffic.

It’s a wonderful, winding tale of quests and findings juxtaposed with twists and turns.  There are happy times and sad ones, and tragic if not terrible moments.  Will Amalia marry her inane beau?  Return to Mississippi to take care of her ailing mother?  Will she find true love with an older gent?  And what about Brianna?  Will she decide her sexual proclivity?  Finally find out about her father?  Return to New York to her mother?  Forgive, but not forget?

The narrative and descriptive components keep the reader engaged.  The novel could have been tightened a tad as it leaned toward long.  But, overall, Father Figure is a compelling suck-you-in-from-the-onset novel.

Rating: star2star2star2star2  4/5 

About the Author

NYC-based Jay is a prolific author and blogger first and foremost, but also a reader and reviewer, thinker, and genealogist and researcher.

After college, he took a technical writing position for a telecom company and spent 15 years developing a career in technology and business ops.  While doing so, he wrote short stories and poems, and—like many—dabbled with the “great American novel”.  Work being what it is, he couldn’t devote the required time to writing, so he left behind the 9-to-5+ world to focus on his passion full-time.

Look for Father Figure, as well as his first well-acclaimed book Watching Glass Shatter, on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/James-J.-Cudney

forreview

Genre: Fiction

Setting: Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania,

Publisher: Creativa (April 3rd, 2018)

# of Pages: 430

ISBN-10: 1980727740

ISBN-13: 978-1980727743

Editing the Rehashing of the Initial Proofreading

Been posting a lot about blogging and only touched upon writing and editing a bit here and there back when.  But before being a blogger and writer, I was also an editor.  This got me to thinking: why haven’t I focused more on this?  Ya got me.  So let’s look at editing, shall we?

Depending on who you talk to some will say don’t edit your own stuff, others will say do.  If you can afford to hire an editor, go for it (personally, I’d prefer to spend money elsewhere).  Daunted by the task?  Don’t be.  Anything can be learned (as Queen of the Technically-Challenged, I’ll attest to that)!

A [very] quick explanation re proofreading versus editing.  No, they’re not the same.  Proofreading, basically, is correcting superficial/apparent errors in writing (grammar, spelling, punctuation, and other language errors).  Editing encompasses the aforementioned, but is also about improving the overall quality of your writing, such as language use and expression.  You’re also ensuring your work is well-organized, clear, and that ideas and actions flow logically.

Let’s say you’re a first-time writer and you’ve [happily and proudly] completed your first draft.  Now it’s time to edit that magnum opus.  Fret not.  Give thought to these components (and think about incorporating them into some sort of checklist, if lists work for you):   blog5

  • Given your genre, have you captured its essence, its “flavor”?
  • Is voice consistent?  We’re referring to two types.  One, your narrator’s voice (how he or she speaks and thinks) and two, yours (how you, as a writer, convey your personality and approach through words and content).
  • POV (point of view) should be consistent.  Change it only when you want to influence readers—i.e. by drawing them in or keeping them removed or distanced.
  • Is the plot—and subplots—logical and complete (i.e. have you explained, and tied up, everything satisfactorily)?  Is the plot—storyline—entertaining, appealing, and/or captivating?
  • Conflict and friction should exist within scenes and characters.  You want to evoke tension, maybe garner a little anxiety (as readers we often “feel” for characters and there’s nothing better than being sucked into a good story).
  • What about the action?  Is it plausible?  Is there too little action?  Or is there too much for naught?
  • Scene breakdowns are important.  You don’t want them to be flat or identical (in length, style, form).  You want enough to advance the plot/action.
  • Is the setting consistent and realistic?  If you’re writing in a specific era, make sure you stick to it.  Does the locale work, given the plot/action?  Have you painted a realistic [visual] picture?
  • How about your characters?  Are they “real”—i.e. do they come across as genuine human beings or as props, non-entities?  Do they have depth (likes and dislikes, dreams and phobias)?  Do they add to the plot?  Do they detract from the plot?  Each character should serve a purpose in advancing the story.
  • What about dialog?  Is it—yup—logical?  Does it help further the story?  Or is some of it just jibber-jabber?
  • And how about motivation, moods, and reactions?  Do they make sense, given the scenes?
  •  Facts must be spot-on.  If you’re writing in a certain era or about a particular place, you want to ensure everything is correct.  Confirm that fashion, music, events, lingo, objects and gadgets (to name a few) are appropriate and accurate to the time and location.
  •  You know the story you’ve just told—you’ve envisioned it.  Is your vision clear to the reader?  Has everything truly been tied together or might something be missing?  Does the flow/pace progress smoothly and quickly?

Strengthen what’s weak.  Eliminate what’s of no value-add.  (Too much of anything is not a good thing.)  “But I spent days conceiving of that scene!”  “They’re having such fun.”  “The dinner conversation’ sounds good.”  Yes, it can prove painful to remove something we’ve worked hard to envisage and write, but sometimes it’s a must do: when it comes to editing, think with your head, not your heart.

In subsequent posts, I’ll provide before and after examples, using works stuffed into a drawer, written over—ouch—a quarter of a century ago [before editing and writing became a way of life].

In the meanwhile, if you’re beginning to edit, have at it—go freely with the flow, focus, and be objective.  Mark my words  <wink>  you’ll do fine.

Bots & Blogs

In my recent blog travels, sometimes known as checking on the other guys, I came across the topic of bots.  These “web robots” are basically software applications that perform automated tasks.  Many, in fact, are programmed to act like humans, so when you talk to them it seems as if you’re asking a fellow being for help instead of simply typing a search item into a search engine.

Hurrah.  Another [new] realm to explore.  Not sure if I should be worried, unhappy and/or stressed, thanks to that technically-challenged [now officially technically-behind] thang of mine, or simply suck it up and gleefully go with the flow.

There are different types of bots—or chatbots as some call them (you say poe-tay-toe, I say poh-tah-toh)—but let’s stick to messaging bots.  They ask questions and alert people about new info.  And they’re not just little mechanical devices anymore; they’re drivers that prompt action.  Some would say they’re similar in concept to email lists—i.e. they notify followers [of something significant].

Use bots to your [blogging] advantage.  Launch one of these chatty avatars, or virtual assistants, to inform followers when you’ve posted, are going to provide instruction or advice (lessons, as the case may be), or are about to host an event such as a contest or podcast.  Have one connect with your landing page viewers.  Invite visitors to subscribe and provide a bit of background as to why they might like to do so.  Make sure your bot is relevant (of interest) to your given followers.

There are tons of bot-related tools and sites.  Given bots are relatively simple to set-up and manage (so they say), you can transfer content as questions and answers, and allow a no-coding platform to handle the rest.  (I’ll leave it to you to do your due diligence and check them out.  Please feel free to share your findings.)

We bloggers know how tough—hear, hear—it can be trying to keep ourselves in the public eye and gain more followers.  We constantly have to find ways to engage people, be it through blog design or content (as examples).  Bots, however, can help simplify things because we don’t have to be available all the time: they can reply on our behalf, share our posts, and provide useful feedback re commencing certain actions.

botblog3

Like our blogs, bots should reflect who we are, what we’re about, so creating a memorable bot is key.  We should ensure our happy l’il fellas/gals prove fetching, providing the right info when asked— and with a bit o’ panache.  They’re not perfect yet, but like good wine, they’ll improve with time.

Looks like another “must do” to add to the [growing] list.  <LOL>

Happy bot-ing.