Category Archives: Writer’s Log

Telling is easy, showing is hard

Kill me now. Right fucking now. Alright, wait a moment, but just a moment. Have that shiv ready.

I’ve said it before. As have a million bloody armchair writer/teachers. I’ve said it to myself a dozen-fifty times. The truth is: this is a truth that never stops being true.

And you can beat your head against it, and wrestle with it, but the bottom line always comes down to the fact that the best stories go the distance, spend the effort, take the time to show the reader and not tell the reader.

Everyone died.
The end.

There. The ultimate “telling” story line.

What more do you need, really, to get the point across about this story? If that’s all you wanted to convey, the fact that “everyone died,” then you’re done.

But if you want to entertain, and here, I think, is the crux of the matter, if you want to entertain a reader then you must lead them purposefully on a storytime journey.

Yeah your story is complex and the physics and chemistry and technology and geology and climate and every gottdamned natural (or unnatural aspect) is integral to your story and you just have to get that knowledge into the reader… Or do you? Maybe it’s our assumptions about what WE, the writer think is important — just isn’t.

And if it is, then the information should must come from one of the characters. If the CHARACTER thinks it’s important to dwell upon, then that must be the test as to whether the reader should dwell upon it too.

Phil says: get out of the damn way and let the story tell the story.

But it’s so much damn work. Christ on a swizzel-stick, can’t I just TELL the reader some stuff? Sure, but apparently only, like .004% of your story should be of the flavor, “And so it transpired, Job felt he must succumb to his wife’s beatings, lest his lord think him a braggart and a louse of the lowest level.”

Showing is work. Telling is not. But telling is not entertaining. Showing, reader discovery through envisioned settings, behavior and events — is. Sorry.

So, get back to work you mewling Mole!

 

 


Writer’s Log: 1885 Pedalin’

Back when I used to ride a street bike through the hills of Marin County.

Pedalin’

I pedaled long,
barbed fence after fence raced my fleeting form.
I pedaled smooth,
muscled metronome, one revolution per second.
I pedaled steep,
shady redwoods grew at impossible angles on the mountain side.
I pedaled quick,
a blue Mercedes grazed my left hip.
I pedaled hard,
salty beads slid down from my armpits and temples.

I coasted.

Black and yellow bees, large enough to hurt,
buzzed at my head.
Thin strands of weeds, tanned in the summer sun
whipped at my ankles.
Flitting brown sparrows, trim ones with sleek profiles,
air danced at my side.
Heady scented wind, warm but touched with ocean mist,
streamed into my lungs.

I pedaled slow,
cool sweat chilled the nape of my neck.
I pedaled on,
under bolls of clouds hanging listless in an achingly blue sky.

I stopped.
I had reached the cheese factory and it was time for lunch.
I ate.
I pedaled home.


Writer’s Log: 1885 Floatin’

Back when I used to strum a 6 string…
Chords are:
E then A (repeat), Chorus is B7, A, and E, then B7 — E

Floatin’

Lazy we’re layin’, an afternoon snooze.
Cast the balloon, our inflatable cruise,
begins with a whisper, the touching of lips;
sparkling smiles that launch fantasy ships.

Floatin’, floatin’ with you,
Floatin’, stayin’ next to you.

Lift me up, and set me on high.
Sift down a kiss, from a piercing blue sky.
Nudge me to moving, coasting on clouds,
shout to the wind, our love bright and loud.

Floatin’, floatin’ with you,
Floatin’, keeping close to you.

Sailing with seagulls, drifting a breeze,
a feather traced, along taboo a tease.
Weightless we hang, in a passion filled fever,
Dreamin’ together, ’cause never I’ll leave her.

Floatin’, floatin’ with you,
floatin’, holdin’ onto you.

Floatin’, lovin’ with you,
floatin’, lovin’ always you.

 

 


Writer’s Log: 1884 PBBFH

This is a bit I wrote at the end of a vicious emotional extraction, e.g. breakup, way back in my mid-twenties.

PBBFH = Psychotic Blond Bitch From Hell

~~~

Twilight finds me dyin’
from the daggers thrown by you.
Insinuation, lies, deceit
flowin’ blood, I’ve paid my dues.

I see a tear fall from a dark eye
shattering, it strikes the stone.
Your hands reach out to touch me
but grab the knife and twist it home.

The pain has spread, but all pain fades
memories of you are just a shade
of a need I licked, a fix I’ve kicked;
my thoughts of life no longer stick
on your love of jealous jade.

I’ve pulled the knife, healed my wounds
I smile and tilt my chin.
I check the blade, the one you picked
a narrow minded tongue of tin.

A dagger dull to a heart like mine.
I trace the scar and sure enough I find,
that I was only nicked.


Writer’s Log: 1882 Villains

What makes the best stories?

I would wager that the best stories have the best villains. Sure you need a good hero/protagonist — or at least an adequate one. But without the threat of a convincing villain, how can the conflict truly escalate?

With this in mind I wonder if the approach I’ve been using to create story lines has been wrong. I typically come up with a situation that needs fixing or a problem that needs a repair or dissolution and then build a character who could accomplish this. Or I create a character bent on some journey and some wrong they feel compelled to right. I would then have to fabricate the antagonist as a counter agent to the hero.

But what if we dreamed up a villain first and then contrived how to fight, defeat or fail against this anti-hero. Invert the creation process. Most likely I’m just late to the party on this concept. But, as a mental exercise, how about a list of villains to spur thoughts of stories in which we create heroes to take-them-down. I’ll call these “root” villainous foundations. Individual villains can be derived from each of these.

  • Time (age, senility, ability, heirs)
  • Environment (volcanoes, floods, global warming, asteroids, drought, earthquakes, tsunamis, plague)
  • Mental health (psychosis, sociopathy, psychopathy)
  • Injustice / Government (slavery, working conditions, oppression by the system, totalitarianism, protectionism)
  • Jealousy (of or by siblings, parents, friends, the public)
  • Ignorance / Stupidity (suppression of knowledge or learning, genetic bottlenecks, inbreeding, coercion of the mentally frail)
  • Indifference (aliens, society, parents)
  • Evil

From such a list we could mix-and-match to create a bad dude which we could then impose upon the world. From the situation created by such a villain we would then have automatically created the need of the protagonist. We would have a compelling force which would drive our hero forward. The villain must be confronted, challenged and battled. Perhaps if we start with the bad and derive the good based on the opposing force we’ll always have the protagonist’s motives in mind.

For instance let’s pick mental health and indifference: There’s a young man who believes he’s invisible (psychosis). He lives in a town where people are very private and standoffish. When he interacts (or tries to) with the townsfolk, they ignore him. No one ever looks his way, says hi, stops their cars as he crosses the street. The villain here is the town in combination with his mental illness. From such a loose but evocative situation, we can now build a story. The character would have to face both of these villains to fulfill the plot’s premise.

Let’s do another. Two brother’s are separated at birth. One gets raised in luxury in high government. The other gets raised by a sensei. Sounds formulaic — the first sounds like he will become the villain. But what if we introduce jealousy in both characters. The second, though disciplined, has always been jealous of the first’s life of leisure. The first, covetous of the second’s dedicated teacher. But let’s not stop there. Separated at birth? Why? Ah, part of an evil experiment done by a third entity — the true villain.

Now that we have the villains defined, we can build a story around the protagonist and their struggle to defeat their foe.

~~~

Here is a villain list pulled (and condensed) from the net:

  1. Anti-Villain – Evil written as the protagonist.
  2. The Authority Figure – Opposition to a character’s free will.
  3. The Beast – The Beast has intent – beyond Mother Nature.
  4. The Bully – Opposition to the protagonist for psychological reasons.
  5. The Corrupted – Those that were once good but have fallen.
  6. The Criminal – Villains in it for money, power, and prestige.
  7. The Disturbed – Those with evident psychological problems.
  8. The Equal – Share skills and knowledge but the ethics between protagonist and antagonist are different.
  9. Femme Fatale – Attractive and seductive woman to clash with the protagonist.
  10. The Henchman – One that works for major villain.
  11. The Machine – Lifeless, without emotion, pain or fear, cold and calculating.
  12. The Mastermind – Brilliant and ruthless character that oversees the plan that is in opposition to the protagonist’s.
  13. Mother Nature – The environment.
  14. The Personification of Evil – Pure evil, with little to no backstory.
  15. The Supernatural/Extraterrestrial – Faceless foes in horror, science fiction, and suspense thrillers.

(https://screencraft.org/2015/08/26/15-types-of-villains-screenwriters-need-to-know/)

 


Writer’s Log: 1881

I picked back up on Shadow Shoals, another 10k words. Recently I tried to perform that character shift that I mentioned a few weeks ago: Start with a character’s persona on one side of a paradigm — evil say — and then try and convert that character to good. I had to be subtle, dropping allusions to the shift, hints that the character’s mind appeared to be changing. I think I succeeded.

Dred Rowland drops as a fiend into the tightly knit group and eight thousand words later, after dramatic trauma and multiple events, emerges the friend. Of course, this is just a subplot, but it needed to be done to affect the end result I’m going to reveal later.

Towards the end of his conversion Dred feels compelled to ameliorate the angst between he and the sister of a wounded girl so, he recites a rhyme of his youth:

Dream of the dandy, lions and lambs.
Drink honey nectar, eat toast with jam.
Swim with the fishes, fly with the geese.
Sleep in soft blankets, your head on soft fleece.
Dream of the night we sailed the sea,
Dream of the day you come home to me.

~~~

And, in the spirit of every little bit helps Inkitt has a free mini-course for writing a novel:

https://www.inkitt.com/writersblog/new-program-for-authors-inkitts-novel-writing-bootcamp/

Lesson II portrays the three act pattern and to it the speaker models Star Wars: a New Hope (the first made Star Wars). It made sense as the guy explained it. Having some broad organization seems wise when creating a massive writing effort. One wouldn’t write a 10k line software program without having a pretty detailed plan.

~~~

And I’m anxious to get into the 2000’s for my writer’s hours. It’s been too long already.

 


One man band

In Pleasant Grove Utah, there is (was?) a small restaurant called One Man Band that served breakfast/lunch for a small Mormon town. On Sundays we’d go down there and have the place to ourselves. On Sundays, a slow day, there truly was just one guy doing everything: orders, cooking, billing, cleaning up. Slinging eggs and hash and pancakes, he was a marvel to watch, especially when a few other families would join us.

OneManBand

I think about that guy’s job and equate it loosely to writing.

So many jobs get bundled up in the task that is writing, novels mostly, but any substantial writing contains the hallmarks of the One Man Band.

First you have to create a compelling story, with compelling characters. Those characters need to enjoin a cyclically action packed and restorative plot, with dramatic tension between them. The story must unfold in parts made from parts each with tension and relief. The story calendar must remain accurate, the plot context’s must remain cogent, and the foreshadowing, and allusions must pan out with accuracy and intrigue.

And then there’s the craft. The writing must have a rhythm of tight terse prose and flowing boisterous description. The mechanics must be accurate, the dialog must be leading but not too vague. The tags and actions must introduce speakers while the play out of angst between said speakers ebbs and flows. And the hundreds of other nuances that make up great writing must all be compiled into this story.

And then you need to rehash it through editing. Then package it up for querying. Maybe you need to cover it, blurb it, synopsis it.

Dozens and dozens of tasks, all must come together in a natural, cohesive blend that is a novel.

After the lunch rush, the One Man Band guy always looked exhausted. Yeah, I think I know what he was feeling.