Character Introductions: Backstrom 0

Bones is one of my favorite police procedurals, although not as dark as the richly-disturbing Criminal Minds, with humor, well-written characters, and charm.

Last night, Bones writer-producer Hart Hanson brought to life Detective Everett Backstrom, a Fox-TV series titled Backstrom based on a Swedish book series by Leif G.W. Persson.

Backstrom has a bit of a House feel to it, with the lead character, played marvelously by Rainn Wilson (The Office), and full of wonderful writing. For instance, we immediately understand Det. Backstrom has problems, quirks, and a biting humor. Continue Reading

Character Sketch 0

Your job, as a writer, is to introduce your characters in a way that:

  1. is interesting
  2. brings them to life for the reader
  3. conjures up an image that is as close as possible to the way you see them in your mind
  4. gives the reader more information than just their physical appearance – i.e. also gives an insight into their personality and what drives them

Your job is to let every sentence earn its keep – not just telling us what happens, but leading us to other understandings as well. Use this as an opportunity to enhance the emotional depth of the piece. Describe actions that lead to reactions. Avoid the easy descriptions, the cliches, and the stock phrases. Put yourself in the heroine’s mind. Imagine what she’s thinking. Help the reader to experience her emotions and to see what she’s seeing. It’s a lot of extra work – but your writing will leap up a couple of levels.

The False Ending 0

I have mentioned that many stories fail to gain traction in the second act. This is where the viewpoint character forgets why they are in the story. Of course, it is the writer who has forgotten; either by writing by their pants or failing to plot in enough conflict to keep the story moving forward. Stories thrive on conflict and bad things must happen to the hero before it all ends up as good and satisfying.

That is why within the second act, is the false ending. In fact, you might say this is the top of the hill. And this is why screenwriters call it the midpoint. Everything works up to the midpoint and then tumbles down into the depths of hell before the beginning of the end.

Screenwriters know they must take the viewer to the first turning point within 12 pages. Novelists also incorporate a turning point before the end of the first act. The second act is reserved for the hero doing heroic things; nothing can go wrong. And then it happens: the midpoint. Writers reserve the midpoint for the center of the story and add the ultimate conflict for the hero to face.

The midpoint is when the girl discovers the guy is hiding a secret girlfriend (who usually is revealed in the third act as his sister). Or at the midpoint, the hero faces emotional or physical death. Will she make it? Keep watching. Everything is revealed in the third act.

A good midpoint incorporates a false victory for our hero; she defeats the bad guy, only to discover a badder bad guy is standing behind her. Another excellent midpoint is to have the hero face ultimate disaster; the singing cowboy movies called this a cliffhanger. Finally, a midpoint should provide the ultimate obstacle in the story. What happens to give the antagonist the upper hand? What is the chink in our hero’s armor?

Midpoints add conflict, which is the main reason anyone reads a novel or watches a movie; they want to see the hero defeat the antagonist. They want to see the hero survive the midpoint.

[plain]How have you used this technique to infuse your stories with conflict? Reply below in the comments.[/plain]

You’re a Writer, Right? 0

A Conversation

“So you’re a writer?”

“Yes, I guess I’ve been doing this for going on 23 years.”

“How come I haven’t read any of your stuff?”

“Hum, you might have seen my technology articles. I had a press release practically reprinted in the newspaper last week.”

“So you’re name wasn’t on it.”

“Well, not on that one. But my name was in High Technology Careers. I wrote an article about Microsoft and the Art of War.”

“Never heard of it. What I’m hearing is you’re really not a writer, right?”

“No, that’s not true. I may not be as well-known as James Patterson, but I am a writer.”

“I haven’t heard of him either.”

Pantser Plotter 0

There are two camps of thought: the people who listen to the muse and write by the seat of their pants and the people who write an entire book-length outline prior to starting to write.

I prefer to combine the two, without writing an entire book-length outline. Let me explain my thoughts on this debate.

Pantsers argue they are free to listen to the story and the characters. It is a muse-centric approach, with the characters exploring the milieu and wandering about discovering the story. All fine and well. It is interesting how a story can take on a life and allow a writer to document scenes and fill in the story.

Plotters say there is no way a story can take shape without a road map: it requires a structure to allow the characters to face their inner and external conflicts. The characters are forced to face their fears. Plotters like to know where the story is headed.

Here is my take: Pantsers need to outline and Plotters need to be open to just writing.

In my experience, without an outline I have twice been abandoned by my characters in the second act. They exhibit attention deficit disorder and climb out of the book. The characters say “well, that’s all I got,” and the story sort of fizzles out. I’m rewriting “Fish Tacos: Or How I Went To Mexico to Save My Soul” because the main character started bitching about his past and failed to get off his butt. Sure, I’m the writer, it is my story, but I let the character dictate where he would go and when he would get there. Believe me, if left to his designs, the main character would still be sitting in the desert waiting to move.

So now I plot everything: short stories; novels; non-fiction; and, screenplays. I give the viewpoint characters a purpose and a timeline to meet. I challenge them to face their demons. I gift them happy successes. By the time the story ends, they see their doubts, obstacles, challenges, and growth.

In some ways this is the perfect way to write by the seat of your pants: the story structure lets them wander about, as long as they meet their deadlines. So I guess I’m a Pantser Plotter . It seems to be working.

[plain]How do you plan your projects? Do you outline or just let it flow? Leave a comment below.[/plain]

A Kenning Ramble 0

kenning ramble

Deadline horror
Original thinker
Metaphor drifter

Word shaper
Keyboard charmer
Alphabet wrangler
Paragraph plodder

Plot maker
Scene creator
Tension builder
Page burner

On the path to becoming
an author.

The Bedwell Curse 0

I am sure she really meant no harm when she said, “You will never be a writer.”

The shock of the statement caused me to burn inside and I ached to prove her wrong. My sophomore English teacher failed to understand my punctuation and short sentences that often lacked complexity or my fascination with Tyburn poems.

“Rat-a-tat-tat,” she would write on my papers.

“Less poetry, more exposition,” she scrawled in big red letters.

[plain]Rhyming
Timing
Quaffing
Imbibing
Rhyming, timing spontaneity
Rebuffed as a quaffing, imbibing wastefulness.
[/plain]

Sentences consisting of subject-verb-object became my bread and butter; my go to sentence when I needed to clearly state a point. Ten years of television journalism proved a simple sentence often was all that was needed.

I felt pride in knowing Mrs. Bedwell was wrong.

Yet, I wasn’t really sure.

Writing 75 words a day for a crime story really doesn’t make for a deep writing career. The first day on the job as a science writer, I was assigned to write a 3,500 word story on a complex chemical reaction. I nearly left the Selectric II behind.

“How do I start?” I asked my new editor Kippie.

“Start by writing,” she had replied.

I still couldn’t begin. This was the first time I considered Mrs. Bedwell might have been right.

“You will never be a writer.”

The blank page turned brighter and I just stared at it until whiteness filed the room. I was pulled out of my brooding by a phone call.

“Just start,” Kippie, said through the speaker.

The typewriter clacked out the first word. Then the next. Soon there was a page of thoughts and sentences. Surprisingly, some of it seemed to flow and tell the story. It was rough.

“That’s what editors are for,” said Kippie, when I confessed it wasn’t very polished.

Who knows if I am the writer Mrs. Bedwell envisioned.

It doesn’t matter.

I am the writer I want to be.

[plain]Where you ever told you couldn’t write? Was that a proper judgement? If not, what did you do about it? Add your thoughts to the comments below.[/plain]

A Simple Mistake 0

It had happened again. And he feared the result. A near miss or a slip up and the entire room was questioning his ability. More than 30 years doing this job. And yet, he wondered if he really understood how to do it.

The mistake had happened almost as soon as he made the decision to move forward. A reaction timed wrongly, and if it had not been noticed, he might have been able to correct it. Unfortunately, he was no longer as young as he was once was and others now seemed to be quicker and better able to do the job. They pounced on the mistake faster than a lioness. He was dead before he hit the ground.

“Let me just try this again,” he said sheepishly.

“It’s really nothing,” she said.

“Just give me a minute.”

“No need. We’ll take it from here,” she finalized.

Continue Reading

The Thrill of Writing 0

I started Wordsmith Holler to experiment and put myself out there. I have no other reason. It seemed pointless to keep writing first drafts and store them in the cloud. Stored and forgotten. Go ahead and post them and let others decide their true worth.

I also do not understand the current publishing business. Writers are discovered online on Twitter. Can 140-character riffs really indicate your ability to write? I suppose if you are writing one-liners. Before my birth, a writer would sit in a pub, think Starbucks, and write an essay, short story, diatribe, and submit it for publishing. Edgar Allen Poe comes to mind.

Continue Reading