Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Predictable Characters

Just as a reminder, be sure to check back tomorrow as it’ll be time for another edition of Barrie Summy’s First Wednesday of the Month Book Review Club. Anyhow, as I researched for my book review tomorrow, I found a couple of website criticizing my pick (I’ll reveal my choice tomorrow).

Their complaint stemmed from the fact that the characters’ predictability. I see their point, and I know what they mean – the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad. But, nearly every great story to survive the ages has the same “fault.” Is it really bad that the hero be a good guy?

It reminds me of DC Comics’ latest twirl with the Batman movies. Today’s audience wants a grim, brooding hero. Batman must be full of faults. Bruce Wayne can’t just be a successful businessman. No, we must emphasize his inner demons, etc.

Call me overly wholesome, but every now and then I think it refreshing to see the good guy win. Am I alone on feeling that way? Do you disagree?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Dawn of Empire

I’m reading Sam Barone’s DAWN OF EMPIRE at the moment. One thing I thought interesting was Mr. Barone’s decision to start the book with a fairly lengthy prologue told through the villain’s perspective. I’m 2/3 through the book, and I don’t think we’ve returned but maybe (?) once to the villain character.

This technique enables readers to immediately form a distaste for the Alur Meriki, the villainous barbarian tribe of invaders serving as the book’s antagonists; however, I can’t help but think this a risky strategy. I had already paid for the book (an online purchase), but I wonder would I have kept going had I been browsing in a book store?

What do you think? Would you risk starting with a villain?

UPDATE -- By the way, I do like Mr. Barone's book so far and am glad that I kept reading.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Fall of Kings - D.Gemmell

My dad gave me David Gemmell’s FALL OF KINGS yesterday to read. I’m thrilled! It’s the last part of Mr. Gemmell's Troy trilogy. If you aren’t familiar with Mr. Gemmell, you might recognize his name as the author of LEGEND. He passed away before writing the ending to FALL OF KINGS. Thankfully, his widow finished it. It’s been out awhile, but I just haven’t had the money to pick up a copy. Alas, that my public library doesn’t carry any of his books.

Anyhow, in the previous book, SHIELD OF THUNDER, the battle for Troy had begun. Here’s an excerpt of Priam speaking to Hecuba from before when the Greeks attack:

‘We were the mighty,’ he said aloud. ‘But now you are gone from me, and the wolves are gathering.’

I love it! Now, as a caveat, I will say that Mr. Gemmell’s rendition takes certain artistic liberties and that he emphasizes the violence and sex of ancient Greece more than I would prefer. Still, the Troy series is an artful retelling in that he follows in the spirit of Homer. Homer, a bard, entertained. Homer altered history to fit his story, so I can hardly hold it against David Gemmell from doing the same. Regardless, I certainly look forward to finishing this trilogy. It’s the most fun/exciting/entertaining recount of Troy that I’ve come across. I’ll report more on it once I finish the book.

Happy March 29!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Artemis Fowl on Platform

I started reading the popular ARTEMIS FOWL books this past week. Not too many books offer a twelve year old boy international criminal as a main character. It’s entertaining.

I was thinking about my experience reading it after having perused yesterday’s discussion on platform. Platform gives authors a launching pad of sorts for success. It also helps establish future readers’ expectations.

Whether a platform consists of university lectures or a modest blog, platform offers a glimpse into one’s writing. Well, possibly, anyway – what I am trying to say is that platform generally precedes publication, and platform sets expectations.

For instance, if you flip the back of a historical fiction book and read that the author served as a history professor, you expect credibility, possibly some scholarly tangents, etc. All I knew was that kids loved ARTEMIS FOWL and that it sold well. I didn’t know much else nor had I read any of Eoin Colfer’s other works.

As we talked about yesterday, a well written book trumps platform. I’d say my experience with ARTEMIS FOWL didn’t require an author’s platform. A kid told me I should read it, and I did. That’s the best sale, right?

I’ll close with this early morning Saturday thought – as good as having a platform is for an author, there is something delightful as a reader in reading a book (like me with ARTEMIS FOWL) where you have no preconceptions (i.e., no idea what is going to happen nor how an author likes to treat his/her characters and endings and so on … I’m certainly enthralled by the young Artemis Fowl.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Rachelle Gardner (an insightful agent) re-posted a previous blog entry yesterday on the necessity of a platform for fiction writers. She believes platform will become more critical for fiction writers because of increasing competition. It makes sense. The more you do to distinguish yourself, the better you fare.

Her post included excerpts from authors regarding their feelings on platform. They mention things like public speaking, sending copies of your book out, and even blogging. Basically, they focus on ways to garner a following. Having a good story makes one author’s list.

I realize non-fiction writers need a platform as a means of credentials or authority for supporting the statements within their product; however, a fiction writers’ product speaks for itself and its quality can be judged by its readers. Is it platform enough? I at first thought it was.

After some thought, I say that with the upheaval in the publishing industry, the economic downturn, and dwindling marketing budgets, Ms. Gardner makes a good point in reminding us to build our platform. New authors like new bands or any other mass media hopeful must make distinguish themselves. I'm sure everyone has probably heard a local band sound better than one on the radio. They just hadn't been in the right place at the right time. Platform, then, is about making enough opportunities to put yourself in the right place at the right time. It only takes one "right" person.

Incidentally, I look at my bookshelf and see books I’ve bought due to blogs. Ah, the blog platform at work! What about you? Do you think fiction writers need a platform?

UPDATE - Jessica at BookEnds just (~7AM) posted on "What Authors Can Do to Sell Books" -- a very similar topic if you want another good read.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


I found out yesterday that Meghan at Ancient Musings has awarded The Writing Greek the Fabulous Blog Award. How fun is that? Recipients have to first name five things they are obsessed with, and then name five other blogs they think are fabulous.

After hasty consideration, my 5 obsessions:

  1. Travel – I love new places and just get the urge to go on occasion
  2. Reading and writing and all things books
  3. No weeds – if they land in my yard, they’re exterminated!
  4. Texas Rangers – someday they’ll win a playoff series …
  5. Photos – landscape and wildlife are my favorites

My obsessions aside, today, I salute the following fabulous blogs:

  1. Dark Star Discovery – Marty writes Greek stories and poetry. Fabulous!

  2. Magical Musings – Different authors, each with different voices and clever analogies. Fabulous!

  3. Sarah Lawrence – I always look forward to the photos accompanying Sarah’s posts. Fabulous!

  4. Barrie Summy – Full of witty posts, she already garnered the award, but I can’t resist: Barrie also hosts the monthly Book Club. Fabulous!

  5. Roots in Myth – PJ takes time to post pics along with her posts, and more importantly, she confessed on her blog to having owned the same Swingline stapler for 32 years. Nuff said. Fabulous!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Sometimes, I reach the end of a story and realize that it’s grown too long. Offshoots and tangents distract from my plot. Lacking focus, a believed to be exciting tale instead branches into unexplained, different directions.

I thought about that yesterday evening after work as I pruned the backyard’s flowers. The Confederate Jasmine that I’ve trained to wind its way up and over the pergola needed all sorts of attention after an isolated winter. I snipped here and there, trying to give it back its natural look. Needless to say, this vine would have looked much better had I done a little at a time. It would have taken less time to fix, too.

Stories are the same way. Just like with a plant, you have to know how you want it to look before you start shaping it. Remember in KARATE KID, Mr. Miyagi carefully trimming his bonsai tree, slowly shaping it as it grew? The end result of any carefully groomed plant will be a prettier plant that looks much more natural. Authors want the same with their stories. It just takes a little foresight and a little grooming as you go.

Now, if only I had kept up with the Confederate Jasmine this winter …

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Dorian Gray

I recently finished THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY by Oscar Wilde. It ends abruptly, which I found annoying. I suppose it’s rather unauthorly of me to not appreciate this or the tragic nature of the story and its poetic elements, but I’ll confess that I found the book tiresome. Mr. Wilde drones on for pages at times promoting anything from his hedonistic lifestyle to political views.

The book debuted in 1891, so I don’t hold this against it as wordiness seems to have been a selling point for that time period. I thought throughout that the author must have been a withered old man to capture the moanings of old age as he did. Nope, it seems Mr. Wilde was in his early forties. He clearly must have, however, spent a great deal of time in thought and in reckless living, reminding me of the Ecclesiastes’ author. If I had to guess, Mr. Wilde felt like he had done everything and that everything under the sun is old and in vain. At least, this is how his characters come across in the book.

The concept of young, innocent Dorian Gray making a rash promise and inadvertently tying his soul to a portrait intrigued me. This and that lovely, tidy 19th century dialogue sustained me. Mr. Wilde’s characters, especially the devilish Lord Henry, has a quick tongue and sharp wit. I suspect he embodies a great deal of how Mr. Wilde viewed himself.

Reflecting on what I learned from this classic – First, I vow to always give my readers a pleasing ending. Artsy ending aside, Mr. Wilde could have made a great end of DORIAN GRAY. It doesn’t have to be happy, but my endings will strive to at least equal the rest of the text. Does anyone enjoy these critically acclaimed endings? I’ll admit, it’s a great ending, just not an enjoyable one or one deserving enough for the story’s depth.

Second, I mentioned the dialogue earlier. It’s my other takeaway. Reading a poet like Oscar Wilde helps me view the world through an author’s eyes. He masterfully brings the mundane to life. I love how he describes people and objects in terms of flowers and jewels.

Ever since seeing the character in the movie, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN some years ago, I wanted to read about this fascinating character, Dorian Gray. The book didn’t quite measure up to what I had hoped, so I’ll end by quoting a passage from chapter 7 of the book, “You used to stir my imagination. Now you don't even stir my curiosity. You simply produce no effect.” That sums up how I feel about Mr. Wilde’s only novel, THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Keep Trying

Back when I first decided to try my hand at authoring, one of the things that surprised me most was the abysmal success rate and overwhelming competition. It takes substantial effort to write a story, more effort to find an agent, even more effort to get published, and then even hundreds time more effort to become a best seller. In fact, the odds appear daunting.

I’m not worried. Let me share with you why. I downloaded the latest version of ACDSee (a photo organizer) two weeks or so ago. After numerous attempts, I finally converted my prior version’s database this weekend so that I will be able to make use of it. Make fun of me if you will, but I love organizing my photos.

As I set all the new features up, I was reminded of one thing I’ve always said about my photography hobby. If you take enough pictures you’re bound to get a few good ones. Modesty aside, I’ve some outstanding photos. Granted, I’ve over 13,000 so even a 0.1% success rate can get a fellow you somewhere.

One secret that successful authors share is to write and to keep writing. “Don’t get stuck and don’t give up,” they urge. I’m sure seasoned authors would agree with me that you have to remember why you write. You do it because you love it. Some say they write because they have to write – it’s who they are. I’d say the same is true of my photography.

If I ever make any money photographing, that would be a treat. I’m not counting on it, though. I take photos because I enjoy it.

Not all my stories will sell for millions. Ha! Will any? One can hope. Regardless, I do enjoy writing them, and I’m determined to write a great many tales. Who knows, if I write enough, I’m bound to land a crowd pleaser at some point. Right? ;-)

I guess I’ll keep on writing. You do the same …

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Monologue

Plays often utilize soliloquies where a character muses their inner thoughts to the audience. Writers refer to a character’s thoughts as interior monologue. Movies, however, rarely make use of this technique, and those that do usually get berated for being cheesy.

Accomplished fiction writers, however, do make transitions in and out of monologues so smoothly that readers forget to even notice that they were just ”inside” a character’s head. Revealing these interior monologues draws readers closer to a book’s character. A character’s thoughts offer an unfiltered lens for the reader to learn not only the character’s motives but their voice. Too, authors can offer access to motives and information that otherwise would be difficult to convey.

I picked a book at random from my shelf, Wilbur Smith’s thriller, THE SEVENTH SCROLL. Flipping through it, I came to this example of interior monologue where Royan (the heroine) has just been listening to Nicholas (the hero) tell about his prior trip to Africa:

She stared at him with a feeling of awe. He had actually rafted the Abbay. It was as though she had been led to him by some strange fate. Duraid was right. There was probably no man in the world better qualified for the work in hand.

Mr. Smith consistently does an excellent job of transitioning viewpoints between Nicholas and Royan in the middle of chapters and amidst heavy dialogue. As a reader, it’s all seamless. This comes with writing practice and comfort with the direction of scenes and characters. For instance, notice that Mr. Smith didn’t find it necessary to lead off with “she thinks.”

Instead, the jump occurs from what Royan sees (i.e., “she stared”). The reader then knows subconsciously without thought to follow Royan’s perspective. So, even though the next sentence begins with “he,” the reader still knows it is Royan’s thoughts about Nicholas. As a reader, you don’t even stop to think about it, but as a writer, you have to be very conscience of this technique (at first, anyway) so that you don’t overuse it.

Keep in mind that characters’ dialogues should stand on their own as should the gestures and body language of each. In other words, don’t duplicate or rather, reiterate, what was just accomplished in dialogue by following up the same point via an interior monologue. An example:

“You stink,” Joe said. Joe glared at his son’s messy shirt. Tommy smelled bad.

Use either the dialogue or the internal monologue but not both. A reader can tell from either sentence that Tommy smells. Trust the reader. Oddly enough, they’ll follow your thoughts.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Today's topic: items called after a certain dirt digging device

I've been reading Oscar Wilde's THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY. One of the book's chief characters, Lord Henry declares, "a man who could call a spade a spade should be compelled to use one."

Yikes, that serves as motivation for this writer. Although, my flower beds do need work. Oh my. I'd probably be just as maligned by Lord Henry for calling the thing a shovel, huh? The witty spade quote, of course, makes a great line for writers to use in deriding one another, but Spades also happens to be the name of one of my favorite card games.

So, not only did I read that quote yesterday, but I then later played the card game, Spades (and, no it wasn't even at my suggestion). That's enough to merit a Saturday blog entry, I'm sure, which leads me to the useless information drop for the week.

I remember several years ago my grandfather telling me that while crossing the Pacific to go fight in the Philippines during WWII that he and his fellow soldiers would sit on the deck of the ship and play Spades. This made me think the game had been around long before then, but according to Joe Andrews at Mind Zine, Spades came about in Cincinnati in 1937.

Mr. Andrews further writes, "From there, it spread to other cities in the general region and eventually into the military. Spades was played extensively during World War II as it was a fast paced game, which could be interrupted at any time – especially during battle conditions!"

Even Lord Henry would have to admire that. The article goes on to say that Spades is now the most popular partner-card game in America. Though I lost playing last night, in honor of the greatness of Spades (yes, I used the word), I salute Cincinatti, Spades, and Granddad.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Storyteller Part II

I strolled through blog land yesterday, and one of the first sites I came to was Magical Musings where Michelle had posted about the very thing I had just blogged about. What topic is that you ask? First, in case you missed it, I ended Thursday’s post by asking if anyone might identify what item, in addition to plot and conflict, makes a great story.

The third item then for making a story, which is what Michelle nailed, is characters. A good story requires good characters. Not many people can recite story plots, and even fewer will summarize a story’s conflicts for you. However, give your audience a memorable character, and most folks will let you know why they love or hate the character.

We’ll visit characters more at a later time on the blog. For now, my two cents worth: strong story characters, the ones we remember, are the characters who evoke an emotion within us.

Before going, I did want to share a couple of links.
  1. Fast Company predicts that Sony/Google will give the Kindle a run for its money. Apparently, over 500,000 pre-1923 books have already been added to Sony's book reader using Google's book library.
  2. Last, in different news, if you ever needed photos for your blog but worried about the legalities of borrowing them off a random website, check out Thursday's Life Hacker article where Kevin Purdy shares sites that compile royalty free (and legal) downloadable images.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Storytellers v. Writers

When I first started writing fiction, I fancied that it would be easy as I had always enjoyed spinning a good yarn around a campfire or during a long car ride. Truthfully, I tell stories quite often. My friends can testify that most of these tend to be painfully overdrawn, a habit I’ve been trying to rectify.

It got me to thinking about the difference between telling a story and writing a story. If asked, I could recount to you one of my backpacking adventures. It’d have a few interesting points, but I doubt whether it would captivate you for more than a few minutes. Why is that?

The plot: Dan and four friends hike a week in the wilderness, see wildlife, eat bland trail food, suffer numerous near death experiences, and return safely home.

Such a plot couldn’t support a novel on its own. No, it needs something more, and I believe one of the missing items to be conflict. I can’t just tell readers that I ate bland trail food. No, I must set it up by letting my audience know that I hiked 10 hours a day, all uphill. I burned ‘x’ thousand calories, and unless I could eat a good meal, I might not make it over the final pass, etc. Each element can be similarly embellished. The story sounds more interesting already.

I’ve pointed out half of the solution to transitioning from modest storyteller to crafty novelist. Would anyone like to venture to guess what might be the other aspect of missing magic? There’s likely several good answers, but I do have one in particular in mind that I’ll share tomorrow (full credit given, of course, to whoever guesses my answer).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Break the Rules

A couple of days ago in the 3/16 blog discussion on minor characters, David Cranmer (The Education of a Pulp Writer blog) cited the example in Nero Wolfe that Archie gets more page time than the main character, Nero. This is totally contrary to the general story writing “rules.“ Hello, a main character has to be the main character!

What is it Captain Barbossa tells Elizabeth Swann? “The code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.”

Sailing along, if we only base our writing off what has been done before or what the masses popularize, we box ourselves within an area already set. As a broad generalization, in my humble yet entirely accurate opinion, nobody’s teen vampire book will top Stephanie Meyer just as no boy wizard book shall surpass Harry Potter. Authors trying to replicate those successes will likely go adrift.

Now, to be more specific, let us return to David’s example. Rex Stout broke the rules. Yet, it works beautifully, acting almost as a suspense mechanism which pulls the reader along. You read Archie’s parts at times wondering when he’ll go to Nero. Archie gets more pages, but David nailed it. Nero is undoubtedly the main character.

Writing conventions give the reader a familiar ground to stand on, which can at times be good. Mitch Wallace (Sphagnum Patch blog) and I blogged a couple of weeks ago about the standard use of past tense and the possible merits of present tense. Yesterday, over at Magical Musings, Edie Ramer wrote about how James Patterson consistently defies not only chapter lengths but also the standard 3 sentence paragraph. My goodness, we're all rule breakers!

There’s an exceptional business book sitting on my desk at work that came out about 10 years ago by Gallup called “First Break All the Rules.” It shares that the world’s best managers don’t follow the norm and goes on to identify common ways in which these managers differ.


I’d say the world’s best authors don’t necessarily follow the norm, either. Could that be what differentiates them from the rest of us? Can you think of some other writing rules we can break? Or, name some rule breaking authors?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Does anyone using Feedburner experience delays? I switched to it last night to redirect my RSS feeds for this blog through it, but I noticed that my blog from earlier this morning still hasn't posted in my google reader.

Anyone else have a problem with such a delay? Should I get off Feedburner?

I guess I'll give it a day or so.


Happy St. Patrick's Day!

So far this week, we've talked about the difference between main and minor characters. One of the things Ms. Seger said in her book came to my mind this morning. She likened choosing the number of characters in one's novel to a bridal portrait.

Include Buck the groom, and it can be argued that the focus remains on the bride. Add little Jennie the flower girl. Okay, your attention might still go to the bride. But, seriously, what photographer or painter would include the bride's entire extended family?

The point goes back to the question we examined earlier in the week. How many characters are truly appropriate? The point of the bridal analogy is that the focus of the portrait needs to stay upon the bride. The best way to do this is to limit the clutter surrounding the bride.

LIkewise, in writing, authors must take care not to distract the reader from the true centerpoint of the story, which is generally going to be the main character. And, yes, in some cases, it might even be a bride!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Minor Characters

We examined main characters yesterday, so how about we consider minor characters for a brief moment? Many of the different writing books I’ve studied warn about letting minor characters take over your story. ‘Keep them in control,’ the seasoned author warns. ‘Don’t let them overshadow your main character.’ Geesh, you’d think they were weeds.

I do agree that one should take care with the time apportioned for lesser roles, but I also think that the nice thing about a story’s secondary set of characters is that unlike the main hero, these folks don’t have the burden of moving the story forward. This, I feel, allows authors more liberty in their development.

All the fun quirks that just wouldn’t work on your main character can be assigned to various minor characters. For instance, I doubt readers would want to suffer through an entire story of reading about a hero with a nervous twitch, but it admittedly makes for a nifty detail on a minor character.

Do you have any guidelines to offer on minor characters? Words of warning?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Main Characters

In PHAIAKIA (my book), I’ve 3 main characters that I follow. This involved some extra work in developing a unique voice for each as I alternate telling the story though their separate perspectives. Too, I at first struggled to ensure that the audience identify and like the characters fairly equally. When I failed to do so, my early readers grew frustrated as the story alternates.

One bestselling author who seems to alternate multiple character viewpoints fairly well is Terry Goodkind. I’m not going to name any names, but I’ve also read books where this tactic came across poorly.

I recall having read that the most an author should attempt is six main characters. This sounds like a staggering figure to me. What do you think would be the most an author should attempt? Or, better yet, what is the most you would be willing to try?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Favorite Things

It was a dark and stormy … morning. Actually, it’s Saturday morning with dawn just breaking. We did sleep late – 6AM!! Wahoo for us.

I’ve always liked the song, “Favorite Things” or whatever it’s called that gets sung during Sound of Music. The lyrics, courtesy of http://www.stlyrics.com/:

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things
Cream colored ponies and crisp apple streudels
Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
These are a few of my favorite things
Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes
Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes
Silver white winters that melt into springs
These are a few of my favorite things
When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I'm feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don't feel so bad

Julie Andrews didn’t sing about writing, but one of my favorite things that I look forward to all week is getting up on Saturday morning and writing. She's right -- remembering the things you love help you make it through an otherwise rough week. On Saturday, I make a batch of coffee just for me (the dog and LW don’t drink it), huddle in front of the computer, and write.

"Nuff said," says Stan Lee.

What about you? Got a few favorite things?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Mary Renault's Greek Standard

Just curious for comment land’s perspective – have you read any of Mary Renault’s Greek books? Aside from her passion for Alexander, she was highly acclaimed fifty plus years ago for taking tales such as Theseus and the Minotaur and retelling the old myths without the supernatural. In other words, she explained away all the fanciful elements.

It’s a matter of preference, I suppose, but I can’t help but think that Ms. Renault stripped out the most beautiful pieces of the old tales. The immortals and monsters embodied the rawest fears and beliefs of the ancient Greeks. It seems a shame to me to not utilize this poetic imagery into one’s story. Granted, a stigma against ‘fantasy’ prevailed back in her day.

Ms. Renault's books tend to be the standard for contemporary Greek fiction to which all new Bronze Age works are measured. Would you agree? We’ll have to talk more on Ms. Renault later.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


It’s time for another episode of Thesaurus Thursday. As today’s contestant, we have Ernest Hemingway and THE SUN ALSO RISES. I’ve a paperback copy, and the back of it says, “Ernest Hemingway did more to change the style of English prose than any other writer in the twentieth century. <…> Hemingway wrote in short, declarative sentences, and was known for his tough, terse prose.”

So, you’d expect a short sentence for today, right? Not so much. I read this book the last time I went to Spain which has been 5+ years ago so my memory of it is somewhat sketchy. That caveat aside, I’ve turned to the opening of Chapter 4 wherein Jake is drunk in Paris and has just gotten into a cab with Brett (an attractive female). They tell the cabbie to get away from the dancing club and drive around. Here’s our sentence:

The street was torn up and men were working on the car tracks by the light of acetylene flares.

First, in case you don’t know here’s http://www.dictionary.com definition of acetylene:
A colorless gas, C2H2, having an etherlike odor, produced usually by the action of water on calcium carbide or by pyrolysis of natural gas: used esp. in metal cutting and welding, as an illuminant, and in organic synthesis.

Let’s break out the thesaurus for some grins and see how different we can make Hemingway’s sentence sound. Here’s my try:

Glaring torches revealed zombie like workers clanging away at rehabilitating the doleful street.

Go ahead, Frankenstein. You’re turn. Create. You can do better than doleful, rehabilitating zombies, right?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

More on Paradox

Yesterday we braved a discussion on incorporating a few paradoxes into our story’s characters. Let’s follow up that up with a more specific thought. How about utilizing emotions to create an interesting character?

In writing, we try to avoid directly stating that a character feels glad or mad, but we do convey their feelings through the scene. Wouldn’t it then stand to reason based on yesterday’s entry that an emotion contrary to the character’s stereotype might heighten the scene’s interest?

I’ll use an example from BATTLEFIELD EARTH since it’s my most recently finished reading. Toward the end, Sir Robert is acting as earth’s leader, which is a position of dignity. Furthermore, Sir Robert’s character to this point has been resolute and steadfast. My fear for earth’s safety thus increases tremendously when Sir Robert (who I had counted upon) grows desperate and tired in a meeting with the Galactic Bank. He fails. His emotions show that he despairs, and the scene heightens because as a reader, I know the planet’s future rests solely with what the hero, Johnny, can do.

By using an emotion contrary to what I expected of the character, Ron Hubbard (the author) greatly increased the suspense for the final chapters of BATTLEFIELD EARTH.

Well, if I wore you out with all that talk of paradoxes and you’re wishing for something simpler, I did want to leave you with a bit of fun. Check out today’s blog from Marty on Dark Star Discovery regarding the history behind the authors of CURIOUS GEORGE.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Straight from the magic of www.dictionary.com, the definition of a paradox is: “any person, thing, or situation exhibiting an apparently contradictory nature.”

Authors generally intend for their character’s dialogue, mannerisms, etc. to remain consistent. A good writer, however, often works in a few quirks. These come in the form of a paradox, a nifty trick of the trade to spice up an otherwise dull character.

Literature, as well as life, is full of individuals with a contradictory nature. In BATTLEFIELD EARTH, the book I finished yesterday, the hero (Johnny) is basically a caveman who questions things. Later, we meet a bad guy alien thief (Ker) who has a sense of humor. The book’s true villain, Terl, is a security chief who lies and cheats. Little, unassuming gray men that drink yarb tea turn out to be the universe’s most dangerous enemy.

Every good book makes use of paradoxical elements in its characters. I’m making a note to do the same. Can you think of an example of a character paradox in something you recently read?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Battlefield Earth

Did everyone survive Daylight Savings Time? It seems so early this year! Literally.

I’ve nearly finished Ron Hubbard’s 430,000 word epic sci-fi, BATTLEFIELD EARTH. It’s long but well worth it as I draw to the end. I always enjoying finding new favorites, and this is one I’ll reread.

As a side note, did you know Mr. Hubbard also wrote westerns? I didn't, but check out David Cranmer's blog where earlier this week several of us had a good discussion around David's post on Hubbard.

Spoiler alert – don’t read ahead if you don’t want me to give away part of the ending.

So, the premise of the book has been that it’s the year 3000 and aliens have mined the earth and reduced us to cavemen, but we steal their technology and battle back. It’s great, but what I like here at the end is that just as I think humanity has overthrown its aggressors (the aptly named Psychlos), we discover that there’s an even deadlier threat – a mortgage on the planet owed to the Galaxy Bank!

Perhaps it’s the current economic times and news of Citi and all these others struggling, but I just love this twist that Hubbard has thrown his readers. Just when we think we’ve saved the planet, we forget that we need money to pay the mortgage. I hadn’t quite figured out the little gray bankers, but they seem devious (no offense to the bankers out there).

On a writing note, I’m making a note to try and give my readers a little unsuspected, ending twist in my future works. It takes some extra planning and forethought, but I always like a book with an extra surprise to it.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Evan & the Hike

Yesterday’s hike included 3 river crossings, and we only lost one ball cap (sorry, Jeremy, but you shouldn’t have seen if it’d float). Alas, lost cap aside, I’m happy to report that all kids (and sponsors!) made it back safe and sound.

The fossilized T-Rex like tracks in the river bed highlighted the outing. Those and the nice weather and being with friends and a good group of kids and all made it a fun time, but what really stood out to me was a 5th grader named Evan that I hadn’t met before. Books were everything to this kid. Once Evan found out that I, too, liked books, he spent the whole hike at my side asking me if I’d read this or that particular book. His favorites are the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson books.

It was great seeing Evan’s unbridled enthusiasm for reading, and I wanted to share it with anyone authoring. Keep writing as I’m sure your work will brighten someone’s day.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Renni Browne and Dave King have a book out called SELF EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS. One of the chapters discusses voice, and to make their point, they cite two passages.

PASSAGE #1: It was the middle of a bright tropical afternoon that we made good our escape from the bay. The vessel we sought lay with her main-topsail aback about a league from the land and was the only object that broke the broad expanse of the ocean.

PASSAGE #2: Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the water part of the world.

Herman Melville wrote both of these sea-faring passages, each introducing a novel. What are the differences in the two passages? The first appeared in a book called OMOO that he penned four years prior to the second. As Browne and King point out, the OMOO passage has a bit of intrigue to it (an escape) and details a boat. It’s a great opening to a book.

The second passage, which has been practically immortalized, comes from MOBY DICK. It’s rather irresistible, and the reason is its voice. Ishmael lures us into the story.

By the time Melville wrote MOBY DICK, he’d already written three more books since OMOO. A good writer works on developing his/her storytelling voice. Sculpting a voice takes time. It’s not just us that is speaking, it is our character. Patience.

So, speaking of patience, I’m off to help take a group of grade school boys hiking at Dinosaur Valley State Park. If I survive and return, we’ll blog again tomorrow! More patience …

Friday, March 6, 2009

You're Fired!

Nope, I'm not Donald Trump nor have I been fired, thankfully. I did, however, come across an interesting bit of English trivia today that I thought you might enjoy in today's turbulent economic times. You decide if this is true or not --

The history behind saying, "you're fired," actually stems from olden times when the only way for a settlement to get rid of somebody (short of killing them) was to burn their house down.

Well, even if it may not be true, you can use it at dinner tonight to impress your friends. My sympathies are with all the folks who have been laid off of late, but I'd say that is different than being fired. Incidentally, the only history I can find as to laid off is that it came about in 1955 as a euphemism for being temporarily unemployed.

Last, if you don't already have it as a book mark, add the handy http://www.etymonline.com, an online etymology dictionary.

Happy Friday!!!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

B. Summy's Ostrich Farmer

If Microsoft Word’s thick menu bar gives you grief or if you want an all black Word workspace, check out yesterday’s LifeHacker blog. It provides tips to turn Word distraction free.

Time for a bit of Thesaurus Thursday. Today, in honor of the leader of yesterday’s Book Review Club, I’ve selected at random a sentence from Barrie Summy’s fun new mystery book, “I So Don’t Do Mysteries.”

The farmer plucks his straw hat off his head and runs his fingers through thinning, greasy hair.

This is the point in Barrie’s book where the heroine (Sherry) tracks a clue to an ostrich farm. Sherry, an 8th grade sleuth, wants to learn about one of the farm’s employees and has to cajole the facts out of this farmer. Sherry’s point of view is conveyed in the sentence.

Like last week, this is just a fun exercise that I do to help develop my writing skills. Here’s my re-draft (attempting to maintain Sherry’s POV):

The old farmer picks at his straw hat, lifts it, and reveals hair as oily as an ostrich feather.

Yikes, that was a tough one! I feel like I butchered Barrie’s beautiful sentence (sorry, Barrie!). Like with last time, type out your version in the comments section. Let’s see how many new versions we can end up with.

[Subliminal message – Order one of Barrie’s books … Do so now …]

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


SPECIAL ALERT – It’s the first Wednesday of the month, time for another enticing edition of Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club! Read other blogger’s book reviews by using the nifty typewriter widget on the left.

Last month, I reviewed Rick Riordan’s PERCY JACKSON series. I’ll confess upfront. Zeus and 3 immortals helped me with that review. I thought I’d be done with the Olympians after that, but they’ve returned (more from them in a moment). So, I just couldn’t resist doing another book with a Greek connection …

2005 Flashback -- I enjoyed watching SAHARA starring Matthew McConaughey. I had no idea at the time that it was one of Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt novels. Then, only days later, I was browsing the bookstore looking for a Greek story and stumbled across THE TROJAN ODYSSEY. I bought it thinking I might learn more about ancient Greece to help me with my own writing. That didn’t really happen, but I loved the book and have ever since been devouring Mr. Cussler’s novels, which are every bit as clever, funny, and action-packed as the Sahara movie.

Returning to the present, allow me to recapture for you my meeting yesterday with the immortals. In case you missed last month, they enjoy meeting me at my office, which can be a bit awkward at times (e.g., Zeus nearly set the fire alarm off in February).

SIDE NOTE: Since the immortals tend to verbose, I’ve highlighted their more relevant contributions to this book review.

Me [at the receptionist’s desk]: Mr. Poseidon, Mrs. Hera! Umm … I thought just Zeus was coming today.

[Hera and Poseidon argue. Hera turns to face me.]

Hera: Stupid Zeus. He got crossed and sent me here. The oaf must’ve forgotten that he’d already told seaweed breathe here to come in his stead.

[We enter the nearest conference room.]

Me: No worries. Have you both read Clive Cussler’s THE TROJAN ODYSSEY?

Poseidon: I told you last time. Listen, we immortals read everything. We’ve ample time for that sort of thing. I took special interest in this one being that it involves a madman wanting to flood the ocean.

Hera: Look, Da, I know heroes.

Me: Excuse me, it’s actually D.A.

Hera: Nevermind that, dear, let me assure you Dirk exhibits everything a goddess likes to see in a mortal. Dirk Pitt and his sidekick, Al Giordino, use muscle some but also smarts. They’re very ingenious, just like the plot. Clive puts them against everything from a hurricane to that odious villain, Spectre.

[Poseidon waves his trident toward Hera.]

Poseidon: You’re forgetting Pitt has help from his twin children and Admiral Sandecker. They all work for NUMA [National Underwater & Marine Agency] . Curses upon NUMA! And, no, just because I’m the sea god, doesn’t mean I have to like NUMA. I like the Dirk Pitt novels, but I detest things being taken from my oceans. This Clive fellow is more than just an author. Clive founded that NUMA bunch in ‘79 and has since removed 60 of my underwater wrecks. He’s only …

Me: Mr. Poseidon, sir, we weren’t discussing Mr. Cussler. Let’s return to his book. I happen to love the characters and stumbled across this quote, which I thought captured the book’s essence as well as their appeal: “Call it luck, call it foresight or fate. Giordino’s weight and momentum striking the stern deck was the extra inducement it took to jar the boat loose. Sluggishly, inch by inch, the boat slowly slithered off the unyielding muck.”

Hera: I’m naming my next child, Clive.

[Poseidon and I look at her incredulously - she's serious.]

Hera: Clive keeps the action moving. He’s a master of the American thriller. Tell your blog friends, not to worry. TROJAN ODYSSEY might be the twentieth some odd book in the series, but they all read as stand alone works. Perhaps the son after Clive will be Dirk. I can hardly use Zeus Junior, can I?

Me: Yes, well, I was wondering what you thought about the book’s beginning.

Poseidon: It’s typical Clive. Clive always starts with some old myth. He’s like a fisherman that way, hooking you. This time, he retells that Trojan War. Then, like usual, you don’t really see how it relates to Dirk Pitt until halfway through the book.

Hera: It’s part of Clive’s charm, dear.

Me: I don’t want to give anything away, but what did the two of you think about the twist Mr. Cussler put on the facts surrounding the Trojan War? Is it true?

[Poseidon grins.]

Poseidon: Clive’s presentation of the Trojan War is all fact, or rather, researched theories. Didn’t we tell you last time, mortal, that we don’t like disclosing facts about locations?

Hera: Yes, leave it to the readers to form their own judgments. Either way, I know readers will be fascinated to learn more about the Trojan War. It was my doing, you know.

Me: Poor Helen and Paris. Well, on that note, I thank you for coming. Security being what it is, I’ll need to escort you out.

Poseidon: That’s right. We don’t have time for idling. I’ve books to read. Hmpf. I’ll say, though, that I certainly thought well enough of Clive’s work. It’s a thrilling adventure. One that befits the seas.

Hera: I hate to say it, as we never agree, but Poseidon is right. THE TROJAN ODYSSEY is everything a Clive Cussler fan such as myself expects from him. New readers to the series will be equally as impressed.

[Poseidon and Hera leave.]

Alright, that concludes my time with the Olympians. I think you can see that all three of us really enjoyed THE TROJAN ODYSSEY. It was published in 2003, so you can find it in paperback if looking for a bargain book. If I had to sum it up in one word, I’d choose “entertaining.” The numbers don’t lie -- as stated on http://www.numa.net/, Mr. Cussler's books are published in “more than 40 languages in more than 100 countries with a readership of more than 125 million avid fans.”

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Rest of the Story

First, thanks to those who expressed sympathy over my computer. Good news – I recovered my files! That said, onward to blogging …

I’ve always loved radio legend Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story.” Each show begins with an enticing event and ends with an unsuspecting twist. Yesterday, when I learned of his passing away, I reflected on Mr. Harvey and these segments. What could I learn from them as a writer?

Lesson #1: The show’s opening always snagged the audience with an interesting tidbit.
Application #1: Every chapter deserves a good hook.

Lesson #2: The audience never knew who Mr. Harvey was talking about.
Application #2: Divulge only the details necessary to keep the story moving.

Lesson #3: A commercial always broke just as your interest in the story climaxed.
Application #3: Chapter breaks and scene switches can be a good thing.

Lesson #4: I always felt satisfied at the conclusion of the segment because the surprise of the ending equaled the suspense created at the story’s opening.
Application #4: A thriller book needs a thriller ending.

And that, folks, is the rest of the story …

Monday, March 2, 2009

Conveying Your Character's Past

Here's hoping everyone had a good weekend. Welcome to Monday, folks.

My weekend highlight: pulling weeds in the front yard.

Alright, on we go to writing. I came across a slip of paper yesterday where I'd jotted down the following note for myself (apologies to the brilliant author whose name I cannot recall):

It's not important what has happened in your character's past but rather, it is how he/she feels about it.

Too many stories become overburdended with backstory. The beauty of adhering to the above-mentioned advice is that it encourages us to convey a sense of memories versus events. As an example, mention his most embarrassing adolescent moment rather than telling what high school he attended.

It sounds simple, but it requires an intentional mindset. Most people don't naturally think this way when storytelling. I'd say the ability to incorporate such subtle differences into one's writing distinguishes the master from novice.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Dwight Swain

I found a new favorite book on characters. Dwight V. Swain wrote CREATING CHARACTERS: HOW TO BUILD STORY PEOPLE in 1990. I've only read the first couple of chapters so far, but Mr. Swain tackles each chapter with a relaxed conversational tone. I feel like we're chatting as I read.

For instance, the first sentence of the book says, "What's the one key element any major character must have? The ability to care." Mr. Swain then rambles along with examples and before you know it, you've learned two or three new insights.

One of the insights I jotted into my notebook: When preparing to start a new work, treat your characters as though you're a casting director. Audition and scrutinize each role and find the character that you want. Find someone that intrigues you and that you'll be excited to integrate into your story.

I'll share more insights from Mr. Swain later this week. I'm signing off because I have to go brush Buster's teeth. Remember 2 weeks ago when he got a tooth pulled? Well, the vet said we have to start brushing his teeth once a week. Oh my.

Do you think Buster suspects anything? The problem is that he insists on licking the toothpaste while I brush. Aye-ya-aye ...