Haven’t Forgotten!


When I started this, I promised I’d write some fiction just for the readers of the blog! I haven;’t forgotten, and I’ve got some stuff in the works. Hang in there… it’s coming.

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Character Growth and Plot


Let’s go back to our example of 3 days of the condor. What does Condor (code name) want?

He would like to live. We were introduced to him in his perfect world. He works for the CIA, making good money reading fiction, doing a written analysis of the books, and sending them off. He sits in an office with smart people like him and has fun discussions about the books, and how viable are they for actual CIA work?

Man, that sounds like a job I’d like.

So, he enjoys his job, his friends, and his life. What do I as a writer have to do to that scenario?

I have to take most of it away, and threaten him with the loss of the rest.

Friends. Killed. Job. He’s threatened by the very job he loves. Life?

They’re trying to kill him.

The only choice he has is to put into play EVERYTHING he’s learned over his career as a fiction reader/analyst for the CIA. And the only recourse, once he realizes the threat is from the CIA itself, is to find the cause and confront it.

Oh, and stay alive.

What drives this?

Believe it or not, CONDOR himself drives the story. He rides a bicycle. He’s obsessive about knowing time, date, weather. He sits between everything happening in Manhattan, untouched and separate while in the midst of it.

You have enough there to drive the story. Don’t need to know that Condor never learned to swim, or that he knocked a tooth out falling from a tire swing as a boy.

Condor is an intellectual powerhouse, a maverick. At this point, I narrowed down the number of actors who can convincingly play him to one. Robert Redford, the very man who played him in the movie. I don’t have the book, but from what I see of the screenplay, sure – it was almost written for him.

Because he’s an intellectual, with near complete recall of a thousand books he’s read, he’s actually considered a menace by the very organization who hired him. And literally, he’s almost unstoppable.

So, how do I increase the jeopardy?

I construct a hitman who is as formidable. How? He’s got to be identical to Condor, but an assassin.

Unstoppable.

Tense yet? This is how I write. I have to think this out. Character drives plot. Plot is the framework I must construct, pick the right character, and find what motivates that character.

Who’s the single most intense character I’ve ever read? Easy one. Paul Atreides, the Muad’ Dib of Dune. INTENSE. Intense is not the word for it. A teenager who was never allowed to be a teenager… and grows to be a man under the most dangerous of situations. Ends up walking into the desert after his eyes burn out. And there were hints that if Frank Herbert had lived, the last book was going to bring Paul Atreides back.

Who’s the most likeable character I’ve ever read? I dunno. Han Solo? I tend to gravitate towards the more intense characters. One of my favorite of all times being Dirty Harry Callahan. The dime novels of the 80’s were horrid. TERRIBLE. Bad plots, bad writing, and horrific events in them. But the firs three movies were great.

Most annoying character? Anything Eddie Diezen could have played. But I really like the portrayal of the know it all kid from Polar Express.

Construct the right characters, find te motivations, construct your plot. And the right character drives your plot.

Writing


Since this is primarily a blog from a writer to readers (and not yet another “How to be a writer” blog), I thought I’d explain a little about the PROCESS of writing.

Like the guys at Pixar, I write to movie soundtracks. Since I don’t write light stuff that will make you smile, my music has to be more dramatic. Sometimes its Classical. There’s nothing more dramatic than Bach. Mozart has the right feel for light, quirky passages. If you’re writing a novel about a guy who wears a leather jacket and carries a single, small pistol, then Paganini would be your man.

Movie soundtracks like “the rock”, like “dune”, anything epic and powerful. Unfortunately, MANY epic movie soundtracks tend to have a lot of melancholy feel to it. So sometimes if I set my music player (Media Monkey) to shuffle, I can end up a little depressed by the time I head to bed, sniffling a little.

I’ve also got a bunch of Akira Ifukube, the composer for Toho Studios – most famous for Godzilla. But I listen to the works he did for… well… godzilla. godzilla is cool. Yup. Spent many an hour watching godzilla movies.

You have to have a good working memory when you’re a writer. I have to open Scrivener (for novels) and be ready to start typing SOMETHING right away. I’ve got 1667 words to get in. Where did I leave off?

This is where you learn the concept of poking at a novel or screenplay. I have to know:

  • Where I’m at
  • What is next
  • what was before
  • And… I have to know the entire flow of the movie or book.

If I DON’T know the flow of the movie or book – I very quickly stop writing. It affects me to the point where even if I know what the next two scenes are, but I don’t know what’s next in the scenes after that – I get bogged down right there. I have one script where I PRETTY MUCH know what when where. I know how and why for the entire movie. And I’m having troubles banging out more than 4 pages a day. Indeed, I’m almost frozen right now.

BEFORE I begin writing, I mentally poke at the story. motivation? Frustration? Needs? Character? Plot? Structure? I’ve got to have that resolved. Growth? Character arc? to me, if you set up your character just right, and your plot just right, all of that is automatic.

Examples tomorrow!

Systematic Time Keeping


If you’re going to be a writer, then you need to learn to be a writer. Part of that is effective time management. See, a reader develops really bad habits, but you don’t care. I can remember spending entire days as a kid reading. Wake up June 27, eat something, sit down with a book and a glass of iced tea or soda, and… read.

now, if you don’t have demands on your time as an adult, you can write the same way. Alas, I have a job. Kind of a stressful one at that.

Now you have to learn timekeeping. I have an OLD version of Microsoft office – Win XP, actually. So Microsoft Outlook is kind of limited. Yes, I used to use it around 1999. I used to get Daytimer printer sheets and print out my schedule, and keep it in a Daytimer binder.

But I feel like… I’ve WAY outgrown that software. So a few years ago, I moved to looking for PIM software – personal information management, is what it’s called.

I DO NOT LIKE on-line software. It HAS to be computer based. That way my reminders pop up and I can snooze them. I tried the “Buy The Milk” program, because the screen shots made it look unique. But by the time I tried it, it was um… web-based. No. Deleted my account, because they didn’t mention that.

I tried Agenda At Once. It had a problem in that both my wife and I were using it, and for both of us, it stopped working at the same time. i tried several others, and finally came back to AAO.

So, I wrote my schedule. 6:45-700 is “Read scripts.”

7-8 is “Work in novels”.

8-9 is “write screenplays.” Now, it depends on what my current work load is, Right now, I’ve got deadlines. I MUST get 4 pages of script in a day. MUST. If things get hectic, and I miss a page or even a day, it MUST be made up on weekends. And if the deadlines get too tight, then the novel work MUST be put aside.

I may TRY the online Outlook, and see if I can set up scheduling. I guess maybe it can be set-up to email me. But that’s just not as effective as a pop-up saying, “work on scripts.”

Setting up My Writing Office


Last month, my wife bought me furniture for my writing office. This month, I ordered my office supplies. What did I get?

3X2 1/2 cards – smaller than 3X5 cards. I got those because I don’t want an entire wall of untidy cards not tacked in even rows. I like order. Order and cleanness creates calmness. So, smaller cards mean that disorder is more likely to be minimized. Remember, I want to be PRODUCTIVE. As soon as my corkboard is ready, I’ll get started.

Tul pens. Pronounced “Tool.” Tul owners actually call themselves Tul users! Read the reviews on Officemax. The common thread is, “I won’t use any other pen.” I found one at work, and it lasted four months of incredible smooth note taking. I ordered a 12 pack for $17 and gave my wife one of them, because I love her. But if you want to borrow a pen, the answer’s no. Nobody takes my Tul pens!

Colored pens. I got papermate colored pens to mostly underline things in writing books. I’ve found the really good books by the really good authors (Iglecias, Kress, Snyder) often have huge chunks of stuff to underline on one page. If you do it, the page blurs out as a dark mess. If you combine colored underlining with black, each thought stands out. You don’t need a system of “Green means…” just alternate.

I also use them for writing on 3X2 cards. That you color code. Yellow is this guy. Red is this guy.

I bought colored highlighters for the 3X2 cards as well. Just single dashes in colors will let me know who’s present in a scene.

Brass tacks. Got those for my cork board.

My wife bought really nice coasters for my desk, because I’ve been using a Webster’s New world dictionary as a coaster up till now.

New, smaller notebook. I tell ya what, you live or die as a writer by your notebook. I really wanted to get the Tul notebook system, but at this point, I’m convinced that it’s too expensive. It might be the right level of organization I need! But I don’t know if I want to spend what will probably be about $30 to find out.

Guns Explained for Non-Gun Owners


I remember my mom once saying she wanted a book that would tell what kind of injury resulted from what kind of gun. There were a lot less ammo sizes back then, so I could kind of run down the list.

Today there’s a lot more. I’ll just sy, I know guns. I know the peculiarities of certain ones. I know for instance, the Glock pistol causes most people to shoot slightly off center – because the grip is rounded. So you curl your fingers more than slightly off.

Hand guns come in two types, revolvers and semi-automatic. Revolvers take from 5 rounds (Charter Arms – the quintessential Saturday Night Special), and 12 rounds (.22 LR pistols).

Semi-automatics come with a magazine that ejects, and is refillable, rather than a cylinder that pops out like revolvers. THey hold usually from 8 rounds to 17 rounds. When dealing with semi-autos, the capacity always is described with a plus sign. For instance, the venerable Colt Government model pistol (called a 1911) is a 7+1 or 8+1, depending on which one. A Glock 17 is a 17+1. WHat does that mean? You load seventeen rounds in the magazine, rack the slide, and put one more bullet into the magazine.

Why? Because there’s one in the chamber.

Many pistols do not have safeties. Some do. Glock claims to have three safeties, but in reality, the only thing stopping it from going off is a finger on the trigger… or not on it. A Glock CANNOT go off if dropped or slammed on a tabletop or a floor.

A 1911 CANNOT go off unless it is gripped by a hand. In addition, there is a trigger safety that must be disengaged. In one movie blooper that stayed in the final print, an Army Sargeant pulls his 1911 and points it at a doctor, ordering him to operate on his near dead Captain.

The safety was still on. Nobody noticed it. But when I watch the movie, clear as day… you can see it.

It makes no sense to show someone buy a Smith and Wesson Model 27 (you can always spot the newbies – they get a catalog and just put in the model number), and then say, “slowly he attached the silencer…”

Um… can’t really silence a revolver. You can try, but there’s a big gap in the frame where the cylinder is.

Revolvers do not eject shell casings. Semi-autos do. If they don’t, you have a problem.

You CANNOT arm your hero with a .44 magnum, and have them shoot an elevator button and have it open the elevator. In reality, the round will hit close to the button. If they’re good, they’ll hit the button and blow a hole in the wall.

There is a difference between an SKS, an AR-15, and an AK-47. If you’re a writer and you’re going to write about any kind of guns, you need to take a safety course, rent one from the range, and put TOT – time on trigger.

There’s no other way. I can spot when I’m reading a book by people who don’t shoot, people who only casually shoot (once or twice a year – Jerry Jenkins!), and people who shot a lot (Tom Clancy).

Here’s the quick and simple explanation – the higher the caliber (you can get caliber charts online), the more damage – sort of. People do laugh at .22 LR, but something you don’t know about them… they won’t go through you. The old rounds from the 90’s would go in, get stuck in a muscle, and hurt. The newer .22LR will bounce around inside a person. That’s never good on your insides.

.40 S&W does a lot of hurt. .45 ACP does more. .45 GAP does LESS damage.

The bigger the round, the more traumatic the wound. The LONGER the shell casing, the more traumatic the impact.

Magnum rounds are described by a trauma doctor as “Pretty memorable”. .22LR’s are described as “Bee stings.”

Bottom line: The only way to WRITE about guns is to BUY and SHOOT them.

Write Every Day


I actually really enjoy writing. I love the constant thinking about story ideas. “It’s about a guy who…”

Yes it is. Finish the sentence, and you have the germ of a novel.

“It’s about a guy who goes and buys lunch.”

Believe it or not, that’s the genesis of one of my favorite movies. A man goes out to buy lunch for everyone in his office. He specifically tells everyone that it’s going to rain starting at 11:22 and finish by 12:17. So he’ll pick up lunch for everyone. After that, they all talk about a book that’s got them stumped. A man shot, no bullet, and only a couple of drops of water.

The man who knows the weather explains it came from Dick Tracy, and it was a bullet made of ice. He then runs outside to get lunch for everyone.

Sounds like a winner of a movie or novel, huh? Well, if that’s all you got, hang it up. That’s not a novel.

Okay, let’s gum it up. He comes back to the office and everyone’s dead. As a matter of fact, let’s make the killer the mailman whom the hero ran past on his way to buy lunch for everyone.

Now what do you have? THe hero has to run, and keep running. He works for the CIA as a book reader, and knows that whoever killed everyone knows where he lives, who his friends are. So he takes the pistol from a co-worker, and starts running.

Okay, now you got a novel. That’s Seven Days of the Condor, released as a movie of 3 Days of the Condor. One of my favorites, because I saw it when I was 12, and it made a huge impression in me. My dad shared my interest in shadow government novels, and I used to read through his collection after that – novels by Forsythe, Trevanian, etc. Some were TERRIBLE, some were not.

So, tying up the loose thread from yesterday about not spending two weeks writing character bios for every last character in your book (2 weeks per means one month wasted writing 4 character bio’s), here’s the main thing – write every day.

Don’t know how to type? Stare at your keyboard. I don’t know how to type, but I can most certainly type quickly, because I memorized the keyboard. Kwerty-yoo-eee-op is qwertyuiop, As di fidget kill is asdfghjkl, and the third row I know and can’t prounounce!

Write every day. That’s advice I’ve read, advice I’ve been given, and advice I pass on to you.

When one book is going nowhere, try writing a different one. Doesn’t matter what it is. Just write it. You may end up with four incomplete novels, but by that time, you’ve figured out where you got stuck on book one. So finish it. In two years, you suddenly have four books publish ready.

write, write, write, write!

Characters


Characters are what they do.

That’s the first essential rule. When you read about a character that rejected his social security number in the hopes he would not pay his taxes, it tells you a lot about that character. When you read he deliberately drove a Chevy Corvair despite Ralph Nader, it tells you more things about him. You now know he doesn’t toe the line – as a matter of fact, he considers himself separate from society.

I read about a lot of writers who construct deliberately long bios about their character. They often write for a few days on what they did in third grade, etc. I’ve never done that. I’ve written some small things. But I find that as I’m writing, I quickly grasp every last thing my character does defines them.

Aaron Sorkin says, “You know you fill up a legal pad with things like, your character eats creamy peanut butter. And you write a scene where they’re saying, Mom Dad, we need money for this, and now you’re staring at your legal pad trying to figure how to work creamy peanut butter into the dialogue.”

Although I don’t quite agree with Sorkin’s contention that, “your character was never 8 years old – they were always the age they were when you write ‘fade in’, I do see his point.

There is two magic ages that determine who and what your character is – eight and twelve. It’s been said that what you want to be when you’re twelve is who you are. I dunno, at twelve I was struggling with the fact I had a really nice collection of GI Joes and I knew deep down inside I was too old to play with them, so I gave all my toys to my nephew. So now both of us, fully grown, are kicking ourselves over getting rid of the Space Capsule toy, which is worth $600!

Some would say the primary ages are 8,12,16 – these ages (all multiples of 4 – what’s up?) seem to be the defining ages. Now if you’re one of the people who write that your character likes creamy peanut butter, you now have the crucial ages you MUST think about.

I liken it rather to someone who buys a violin, practices five minutes, and then daydreams about playing Paganini’s 24th Caprice Op. 1 Variation #5. You’re NEVER going to play it if you don’t play the violin!

I personally think if you’re a writer, and you spend an inordinate amount of time on character sheets… you’re not writing.

Now, Scrivener has built-in character bio’s you can fill out. I’ve even made a three act template that I made all colorful and everything! I’ve filled in, for example, that Yossi was born in the city my novels start out in, but spent most of his life in New York. Brooklyn, as a matter of fact.

It popped out in one bit of dialogue that probably nobody will read and say, “AHA! He’s spent most of his life in Brooklyn!” My beta reader actually never said anything about it.

So, this is a long way of just saying – I don’t sit and write for days on who my characters are.

Another Thursday


You know, I see so many people who say things like, “It’s just 2 more days to the weekend…”

I’ve never thought like that, I guess.

Wanna know a good way to make every day after dinner seem like it’s the weekend?

Get rid of your TV.

No, I’m not kidding!

People spend their lives thinking, “today is Ghost Hunters. Tomorrow, Deadliest Catch.” or whatever. I don’t know what shows are on tv.

Now, get a book, and read.

Or take up painting.

Or something.

We’re all so passive nowadays, from a lifetime of sitting and watching to see what’s next.

Not a Writer’s Blog


This is not so much a writer’s blog, but a reader’s blog! I’m a writer, and I talk a little about the process of writing, because I always was interested in that.

When Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001, what struggles did he face? What parts were easy? Was he able to do it in 80 days? 50? 18?

One?

WHat about when Tolkien wrote? I know he wrote his books as letters he mailed to his son in the RAF. Did he sit in his study from 6 pm to 8 pm every night, with ink, quill and a candle? Was he like a modern day Scrooge, hunched over an empty desk save for a solitary piece of paper? Or was his desk littered with scraps of this and that?

I always wanted to know that kind of stuff.

I could write a lot of stuff of interest to other writers. But then my audience is mostly… other writers.

I want to talk to readers, because after all, they’re the ones who will buy what I write!

What do you like to read? Do you have pet peeves, things you hate when writers do something?

I always hated when writers would start to go one way, then suddenly go in another direction. I read a book about a man once who was smart, an exceptional military commander. The book as a champ at leading you in one direction, then flying the other way. He starts out his military career making his men crawl through jungles, not trusting intel reports. You see the other armies just walk to the destination, la de da.

You WANTED to see them get blown away. You WANTED to see the commander vindicated. But you’re treated to a plot that… vaporizes. Promises much, then is gone like morning mist.

You were shown a scene where a Buddhist monk tells the man, “I believe you can walk on air.” the man walks off, and realizes he’s stepped off a stone path.. and literally is walking on air. then he falls, when he realizes that.

And can’t do it ever again.

I felt cheated as a reader by that.

What bugs you as a reader?