Don’t let the rain drown your novel

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Too many times do I read the same old, same old, scene.

It’s raining, grey clouds overhead. Drizzle, cold wind.

Why?

Because it is a funeral, or someone has discovered a friend’s death.

OR

There is a tempest, heavy rain, thunder, lightning. Gale force winds rattling the windows.

Why?

Because its eerie, a big house, a derelict building, a graveyard. Or the cars broken down on a country road.

OH, PLEASE. Come on. Enough is enough.

I know you want to set the scene, make the reader ‘feel and see what is in your mind. But not like this; not again.

Hollywood and television overworked this format years ago. Mary Shelly used it way back in 1817… (yes, I know Frankenstein’s Monster was not published until 1818. 11 March 1818 to be precise! but Mary completed her work in May 1817).

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After that, I can understand some writers utilising Mary’s techniques (which she stole anyway!); but that was almost two hundred years ago! Surely you can work your wordsmithing magic without falling back on this old literary cliché?

Let’s take a look at the graveside scene again. This time, dismiss the notion of grey skies and rain.

Try and build that ‘feeling’ you want, let’s say, for this exercise, sadness and sorrow. (Although in another version it could be joy and relief, dependent on your character’s viewpoint).

‘The solemn parade of black clad mourners slowly crunched their way over the gravel and melted into the dimness of the church, passing under the gothic arches of time worn stone’.

Here the tone is set using a few simple, but descriptive words, to create the mood. ‘Solemn, black, mourners, slowly, melted, dimness, gothic, time-worn’ All carefully selected words that imply the general emotion of the procession.

An alternative may be something along these lines.

‘James glanced at Mary, her eyes glistened as tears formed. Small dew-drops of sadness sparkling, reflecting in the sunlight. The scent of yew trees and grass added to James’s sense of numbness as he watched the coffin being lowered into the grave’.

IMG_4424Approaching the scene from an oblique angle often offers the author an opportunity to ‘drip-feed’ the reader, only giving them a small bite sized piece of the overall scene with each sentence. This allows for an element of surprise, or revelation.

Neither of the above paragraphs have fallen back to the old ‘grey sky and rain’ chestnut. Yet they convey the very essence of emotion which one wishes to communicate with the reader.


 

Onto the scary stuff!

The haunted house? The killer lurking in the dark woods, the stranded car on that country lane.

Hey, guess what?

You’re right, it’s NOT raining here either! No lightning, no storms and no doors banging in the wind.

So, how to get away from those ‘same old, movie style embedded notions’.

Well, let’s try. Let’s start with an approach to that (possibly) haunted house or old barn.

‘Two huge stone eagles balanced precariously on the dilapidated columns. The bindweed twisting about their talons as if securing them, denying them of flight. Framed between and beyond stood the old mansion house. The bright sunlight reflecting from the walls enhanced the blindness of long lost windows. Empty hollows, gaping holes beckoning us towards them’.

Locals say the owner of Ohio’s Milan Mansion was a practicing witch.

Note the ‘bright sunlight’. This time using the opposite, of what has become expected, to enhance the ‘darkness’, the brooding mood.

Not a raindrop in sight and the clock is not about to strike midnight!

As for breaking down on a country lane, perhaps having to abandon your vehicle to seek help…Let’s attempt to approach this in an unexpected style too.

‘He had been foolish for stopping; but nature would not wait and the hedgerow of holly offered the ideal shelter to hide behind while he answered her call. The car was going nowhere. The tyres just spun in the deep snow. With each attempt they sank lower until now; now the car was axel deep. He was stranded.

In the far distance the occasional puff of smoke drifted upwards into the crystal blue, cloudless sky. Turning his collar up, ramming his hands as far into his overcoat pockets as they would go, he started to plod through ankle deep snow towards the smoke. Gregory guessed it was from a cottage chimney. How wrong he was…’

Here I have constructed the paragraphs to portray a relatively normal situation, feeding the reader small tidbits about the weather, not only to ‘set the scene’, but as miss-direction, so that I can increase the effect of the final few words.

I beg you, if you are about to write, (or re-write), a section of your novel where you have been sucked in by the old ‘rain & storm’ caper, alter it. Dismiss the rain; freshen up your narration, pleasantly surprise your readers with something new and exciting.

Please do not let the rain make your book a wash-out.

Thanks for reading, Paul

Feel free to comment, leave feedback and ‘follow’ Ramblings from a Writers Mind.

Oh, don’t forget to read the new edition of CQ Magazine. It is jam packed full of great ‘stuff’!

https://issuu.com/ramblingawaymagzine/docs/cq4prt1_1_2016

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How to write better… by watching more movies.

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 I for one love to read ‘the book’ rather than watch ‘the movie’. The reason is, I want to let my own imagination create the world the book has drawn me into.

I want ‘that’ character to evolve as I see him or her; guided by the author’s words, yes. But I do not want it forced upon me, in such detail, there is no room for my own mind to fashion form.

The pity is, there is no choice when watching a movie. A film shows the actress’s face and how the character’s voice sounds.

There is very little left for one’s own imagination.

Yet, I have formed some of my [best?] writing techniques from watching movies. Well, not just movies but TV dramas, plays, even commercials. Almost anything, in fact, which contains moving images.

Now, you may think, from what I have written above, I am contradicting myself by making what seems, at least on a superficial level, contradictory statements.

So I shall, in my normal ‘Rambling’ way, try to convey exactly how watching moving images has enabled me to hone my skill as a writer of words.

It is mostly to do with the film’s editing, a lot to do with camera work and a bit to do with stealing the director’s viewpoint.

However, before I can start on that, I must tell you when I am watching a film or TV with a ‘writers eye,’ it is not the same as watching for enjoyment or pleasure. Even if sometimes I cannot help but notice things when I have no intention of thinking about writing. (But that is my cross to bear, not yours. At least not yet, not until you have finished reading this!)

 

Ok. The Director’s viewpoint. This is probably the most obvious, yet, in this great scheme of things, the least important.

Imagine the opening shot of a film scene.

The camera slowly pans across a room, it is dull. Dust mots hang in the air, highlighted by faint shafts of light streaming downwards through a window. As the camera pans the_room_is_dark_and_empty____just_like_me_by_potpoorri-d5pvf7b.pngfrom the window, a small figure of a young girl wearing a white cotton nightdress is revealed.

This is gold dust to me.

The scene, altered to suit my style and the storyline I am writing, is something I can use.

NO… this is not plagiarism.

I would not copy it, but use the imagery as a base to create my own, dull room in which I could slowly reveal a figure of… someone.

My room may be a log cabin, a large warehouse or a compartment in a submarine. The light source could be from a fireplace, daylight filtering through a damaged roof or the ‘red’ lighting used on ‘that’ submarine.

The figure I reveal may be an old man, a dead body lying on the cold concrete floor or maybe the ghostly spectre of an old sailor.

BUT…. all this has come to me from watching the opening shot of the movie; seeing it, not from the ‘viewer’s’ eyes, not as a member of the ‘audience’, but from my imaginary ‘director’s chair‘. To have an understanding of the atmosphere the director was trying to create when he shot the scene and how the darkness, the light and the slow reveal assisted him in conveying the mood and ambience to those watching.

Recognising the director’s intentions and methods, simply leaves me is to translate the scene, or my version of the scene, into words, imagining it over and over in my own mind like a movie, so as I write, the ambience and timing of my own story is just as cohesive to the reader.

 

Secondly. Camera work.

While the above scene clearly needed the aid of a camera to record the director’s instructions, all of the actual imagery in a film is down to how things enter the lens. Yes, some of this is to do with lighting and the type of film used, but here I am speaking of the camera alone.

Firstly, the angle, the position of the camera to its subject. Not forgetting its height. Generally, a low shot, ground level, is used to enhance the perception of speed. Think about car racing or chases. How the tyres almost run over the lens or rock the camera as the vehicles flash past. (Yes, depth of field and all that matters, but it is not important here).

4240A high shot, from a boom, tall building, a crane or drone, one which looks down on the subjects, can give expression of vastness, loneliness or being lost.

Next time you go to the movies take note of where the camera is situated to get ‘the shot’. I do, it enables me to hold the moment, the feeling of vastness or loneliness, in my mind while I write my next paragraph.

Reading my words back to myself, I am hoping they evoke the same feelings; if they do not conjure the right imagery, as when watching the film, I will re-write, over and over, until I get it right.

 

Lastly, but for me the most important, is the Editing.

Now, I am not talking about editing words, but editing film, which is a totally different beast.

I cannot help myself with this…

When I have my ‘writers head’ on, I am constantly, without any self-control, watching for the ‘cuts’. Often more intently than whatever I am viewing. I know it is sad, but it is the truth… maybe I do need to get out more?

For those of you who may not be familiar with the terminology,  a ‘cut’ is an abrupt, but usually trivial transition from one sequence to another, usually, without breaking the flow necessary to keep an audience engaged with the narrative.

Cuts are noticeable when two characters are holding a conversation. Each time one character speaks the viewer sees who is talking. So, say firstly you see a boy speaking. When he stops the girl starts to speak and you see her face. That change of viewpoint, from him to her, that is a cut.

In fast moving action scenes and in most advertising, where time is at a premium, you will see many ‘cuts’ per minute. Chances are you will not have been aware of them… until after you have read this, when you will be unable to watch anything without trying to count how many ‘cuts’ are involved, even in the simplest broadcast. (Sorry.)

I hear you asking, how the devil can that help me write better?

Truth is, it may not help you.

But it helps me. This is how I utilize ‘cuts’ when writing.

For this explanation assume I am writing an important part of my stories plot, one where I need to get the emotion and feeling soaking into my reader’s psyche. This is one part of my book where I must get the reader totally immersed in the story, where they must believe they are living in my fictitious world.

I have already written the basic scene, it is in outline form, a rough, very rough draft. Now I need to build it, develop it, into a masterpiece.

Going back, to the early shot of the young girl in the dull room. Let’s say the story is of a child longing for her dead mother’s return.

This time, instead of using the scene as an opening, we will use it as a scene somewhere within the depths of the book, a part which needs far more input to make it ring true.

It is here I will start bringing in those [film] ‘editing’ tricks.

I shall still start with the description of a dull room, but this time I will place the reader at a set viewpoint, say, they are looking into the room, through the doorway, from an even darker hallway.

Once the reader has that firmly in their mind, I will ‘cut’ the shot.

Now the reader is looking down from above. (Remember this viewpoint conjures a sense of loneliness and being lost). This allows me to ‘open up’ the scene, to use words which reinforce the atmosphere I am creating.

I will employ words which carry connotations and suggest the values I desire. In this instance that could be, “a heavy shadow” or possibly, “even the floorboards seemed to weep with sadness as I crossed the room.”

I want the reader to envisage a large empty room, a figure, the introduction of my second character, walking across it towards the young girl. I want the floorboards to creak, to give an impression of neglect, of loss or of foreboding. (This can be used as a form of foreshadowing.)

The words ‘heavy’ & shadow’ both work well individually and better in combination.  With ‘sadness and weep’ I manage to blend the sound of the floorboards as they are walked upon without saying ‘creek‘ or ‘crack‘, which are ‘harsh’ words and far too direct to covey the correct ‘mood’ in this scene.

Cut.

sophia_blog1Now I use a close-up of the young girl. For the first time, we see her face, the way the “sallow light settled on her fair skin” or “her pale blue eyes, damp with tears yet unformed.”

Again using simple words which are descriptive of the girl character, but also in the context and reinforcement of the mood of the scene.

Cut.

Now… the viewer sees both characters together, giving a juxtaposition of size and age, hints at the relationship between the two. One speaks to the other… Etc.

The second figure could be a sister, a social worker or nurse, maybe the step-mother or even the ghost of the girl’s maternal mother.

Cut.

Now the viewpoint is of both of them looking out of the room, into the darkness of the aforementioned ‘darker hallway’; they have just heard a noise… “their heads snapping around, towards the sound…”ZGPIAp

Cut…

This is how I write many of my scenes. by watching a movie inside my head, in the darkroom of my mind. Personally, I find it helps me construct a whole, comprehensive section of my plot. It stops me rushing, stops me skimming over sections which deserve more care.

Please note, when I say ‘viewpoint’ in this essay, I am not speaking of the ‘narrator’s viewpoint’, but that of my imaginary camera/ cameraman I carry within my mind. Sometimes this may be in harmony with the narrative viewpoint, but more often is not.

Mostly I write a complete scene from a number of these converging angles, such as in the brief example above. But the stories narrative perspective is kept constant.

This is not to say I do not need to edit or re-write, far from it, but each time I do, I use the same technique to make ‘tweaks’ until the scene works. Editing and re-writes purely allow you to correct the detail and flush out unnecessary and often misleading words and to hone the cutting edge of the stories mood.

This way of writing may not work for you. It may go against all you have learnt about writing, or just not suit your style.

But then again, it may be worth having a go, maybe a short story or even a piece of flash fiction to start with. You could even employ it to write an Electric Eclectic book, why not have a go?

Or maybe you are struggling with a scene or section of your work in progress and I have now come along with this amazing and brilliant idea, one which gives you the next international bestselling book this millennium, or a Booker prize-winning novel?

If this proves to be the case, please keep me in mind when you receive that big royalties cheque.

Honestly, I hope you can glean something from this Rambling, whatever it might be.


 I am, as always, open to feedback and comments.

Oh, if you have not done so yet, please ‘follow’ this blog.

Thanks for reading, Paul.

You can read some of my short stories HERE

or visit my website HERE

where you can see my books, my blogs and what I am getting up to right now.

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A piece on the noble art of writing ‘Flash Fiction’.

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Basically flash fiction is a short form of storytelling.

Trying to define it by the number of words is a futile exercise. Purists may give a figure of 100 words, but that is arbitrary at best.

For most a story of under 1,000 words can be considered flash fiction, some even stretch this number to 1,500 words.

What is generally accepted is that ‘flash’ is an extremely short medium in which the writer must tell a complete story. Fragmented tales are not tolerated.

The challenge is to tell the tale in a way that every word is absolutely essential, discard all words which can be considered superfluous, leave only the gleaming white bones of direct narrative.

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Ernest Hemingway stated this wonderfully in his (over-quoted) dictum referencing an iceberg: Only show the top 10 percent of your story, leave the other 90 percent below water to be conjured.

Although it is a rather worn and overworked cliché it is one that should be born in mind when writing flash fiction.

Flash fiction is not a new phenomenon created by social media or the internet, it is an ancient writing form which has existed for millennium.

Some other names for this form of writing are: Sudden, fast, quick, postcard, minute, furious, and even skinny fiction!

The French often term this as ‘nouvelles’.

In China, pocket stories, minuet longs and palm-sized writings are frequently used terms.

download (2)I have also heard flash fiction referred to as ‘smoke stories’. A reference that it only takes as long to read a flash story as it does to smoke a cigarette!

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I know that this is a very short post in comparison to most of my ‘Ramblings’, perhaps it should be called a ‘flash blog’?

Thank you for reading this, enjoy the rest of your day.

I the meantime I shall leave you with a little ‘micro fiction’ piece which was inspired by the aforementioned Mr Ernest Hemingway.

‘Colt45. Used only once. Includes 5 shells. Sale due to recent bereavement’.

© Paul White 2015

Why not mosey over to my other blog ‘Further Ramblings and read some irreverent ruminations.

I love it when something random triggers your muse!

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I am certain all writers of fiction understand that some of the most satisfying things you ever write are those which ‘jump’ out at you for no apparent reason, particularly if they do so when you are not actively seeking conceptual stimulation.

I have written a short story which is the result of one such instant. Yesterday a picture set off a string of thoughts which I have done my best to capture as a flash fiction.

The quandary I had was where to post it. The reason is, that although this is a story, it also has great merit to feature here in ‘Ramblings from a Writers Mind’ as it has significance as a writing exercise, even an aid for those looking for inspiration.

So I have decided just to leave this notification, along with this link, http://wp.me/p5od8T-5B to ‘A Little more Fiction’, my short story blog where I have posted the story in full.

I do hope you will go to ‘A Little more Fiction‘ now because I am sure you will enjoy the read.

Thank you, Paul.

The Wind & the Sun

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  This is a story my father used to tell me as a young child.

  Way back then I had no idea that this story was his version of an Aesop’s fable.

  I loved listening to him regale it over and again; although I had heard this story many times, it was not until I was about seven that I began to understand how the moral of the tale, or at least the basic message it carried, related to life.

   My father has now been dead for over thirty five years, yet I still recall his voice when I think of the Wind & the Sun.

   Moreover I am still learning the true extent of how the simple and basic message this story carries can affect every part of our lives, in work, play, socially, and in our domestic and love life relationships.

   I will try my best to recount this tale as closely to my father’s recitation as I can recall, because I still prefer his version to that of Aesop!

   Maybe you would too, if you could hear his voice as clearly I still do.


One day the Wind and the Sun were looking down upon the earth when they saw a man walking along a footpath.

‘Look at that man’ said the Wind, ‘I bet I can get his jacket off him quicker than you ’.

‘You think you can?’ answered the Sun.

‘Of course’ the Wind replied ‘because I am strong and powerful’.

‘Go on then’ said the Sun ‘let me see what you can do’.

So the Wind began to blow. As the Wind blew the man’s jacket flapped in the breeze. The Wind blew harder, whipping up clouds of dust and blowing the leaves from the trees.

The man buttoned his jacket, turned up his collar, lowered his head and continued walking.

Displeased with his efforts so far the Wind let a howling gale bellow over the ground. It was so forceful that the man had to fold his arms across his chest to stop his jacket from being blown off.

The Wind saw what the man was doing took a huge puff and let loose a tempest.

The man clutched his jacket tighter to himself, holding it firm with both hands.

Again and again the Wind blew and blew. The harder the Wind blew the tighter the man clung to his Jacket.

Eventually the Wind had puffed so hard for so long that he blew himself out.

The sun laughed and said to the Wind ‘Now it is my turn to try and get this man’s jacket off’.

So the Sun smiled and shone his gentle rays of warm sunlight upon the earth and upon the man.

The man took his hands from his jacket.

The Sun continued to smile and spread his warmth.

The man unbuttoned his jacket and loosened his tie.

After a while the man, bathed in the glorious heat from the sun, removed his jacket, slung it over his shoulder and began to whistle as he walked.

‘You see, Wind’ said the Sun, ‘you can accomplish far more by being gentle and giving than you can with brute force alone’.

.

I hope you enjoyed my father’s version of this story.


You can read more by visiting https://alittlemorefiction.wordpress.com/

It’s been a long walk home.

Many of you will be aware that I am (almost) at the publishing stage for a book I have been working on for a little over three years. The book is titled ‘Life in the Warzone’ it is about the effects that living in an area of conflict has on people, be they combatants or innocent civilians, even children.

During my research and interviews (from Sarajevo, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Syria, and the Ukraine) I often come across essays, poems and other forms of accounts which expresses personal trauma.

Here is one such piece I would like to share with you.

This is not my work. I take no credit for these words.

 


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It’s been a long walk home.

(Author unknown)

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It’s been a long walk home, I’m almost there,

I see that flash, I hear that scream,

I’m right back there again,

lost in that same damn firefight,

It’s been forty years,

When will it end?

Every night it’s that same damn firefight,

We lost Sam and Bill,

Tag’em and bag’em,

we were told,

we’d never seen em again.

But every night, it’s their faces that I see,

and I ask myself why wasn’t it me,

my name should be etched in that cold black wall of stone,

It’s been a long walk home,

I’m almost there.

.

But I hear that chopper so near,

Raining tracers down,

Can’t they see us here?

Marine down, corpsman up,

But silence is all I hear.

Why am I the only one left,

Screaming GOD get me outta here?

It’s been forty years,

I still see that day,

We were almost there.

.

The edge of the jungle,

I see that flash, I hear that scream,

Tag’em n bag’em the list goes on,

To many to remember,

It was their last firefight.

I’m the only one left,

Lost and running looking for my way out.

It’s been a long walk home.

.

My family, don’t understand

When I say that this can’t be real

Just let me wake up one time and this not be,

But it’s that same damn firefight every night,

I wake up shaking like a leaf in the wind,

Tell’n my wife that it was just a chill,

Not that rage to kill,

But she sees it in my eyes,

That same damn firefight,

It’s been a long walk home, I’m almost there.

.

I was telling her good-bye,

When she realized I didn’t fear death anymore,

It was my life I was about to take,

She cried out for me to come out of that jungle, out into the daylight,

Think of the kids and what this would do,

She took me by the hand helping me make that first step,

Coming out of that jungle into the daylight,

It’s been a long walk home.

.

Forty years and I’m almost there,

I see that flash, I hear that scream,

but this time it’s a younger brother yelling out,

trying to find his way out into the daylight,

Out of that smoky fog of that same damn firefight,

It’s been forty years for me,

I see that flash, I hear that scream,

It’s their pain that I feel,

Knowing that this damn firefight is not real,

I’m here to help lead my younger brothers out,

Not to walk forty years as I,

Lost in that same damn firefight of PTSD!


If you would like to know more about my forthcoming book ‘Life in the Warzone’ please visit my website and look on the ‘works in progress’ page. http://paulznewpostbox.wix.com/paul-white

Thank you, Paul.

Naked thoughts in New York City

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Restless.

I throw back the white cotton sheet.

Laying naked, letting the air circulate over my skin hoping for coolness.

No relief.

Padding barefoot I cross the room.

Sliding the glass doors open, stepping onto the balcony.

The slight breeze a welcome freshness.

Looking down, way down below,

I see the cars snaking through the city,

Yellow cars.

All cars are taxis at night, cabs running to and fro,

Making frivolous journeys for inconsequential people.

I see dots, little dots moving irregularly.

They are humans, tiny individuals,

Way below.

A fire truck passes, lights flashing,

Multiple glints against the glass buildings.

The deep honk of the fire trucks horn billows,

Suffocating all other sounds for that instant.

I look out, around me.

Towers.

Reflections, light and glass.

I see inside lighted rooms, empty offices, lounges, bedrooms.

Nobody has curtains, nobody draws their blinds.

Seduced by the height, blinded by reflection,

They think they are obscured from vision.

But I can see them, all of them.

I am standing in darkness, hidden in the shadows, looking out.

One pair of a thousand eyes, from a thousand dark places,

Windows, balconies, rooftops, all staring at the city,

Watching it move, pulsate, vibrate, gyrate.

Who, I wonder, is watching me as I stand here naked,

Breathing in the night air, cooling my skin.

I do not care.

Look all you want, feast your eyes,

Fantasise, ogle, masturbate if you wish, I do not know you, nor you me.

Even if you are there, in one of those thousand windows,

Or upon one of a thousand rooftops, if you exist anywhere but in my imagination,

I still do not care.

Another siren, echoes reverberating up the sides of the towers,

Lights flashing, reflected, refracted, distorted in the mirror glass.

I turn around and pad barefoot back to the bed.

The faint light falls on her skin, she sleeping with one leg out,

Twisted in the sheet I discarded, the other splayed wide and her arms akimbo.

Hair pouring over the pillows, a delta of soft threads.

There is no room for me now.

I do not want to wake her, or disturb her slumber.

I am not tired, I have no desire to sleep.

I grab a drink from the kitchen and go back onto the balcony,

This time I sit, open my laptop and light a cigarette.

I write this, my random thoughts of dark recesses, prying eyes,

Mirrored glass walls, and yellow taxis,

I write of my sleepless night in New York City.

END

© Paul White 2014

FFCO‎0911‎2014

Ex Libris legatum

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As we age we amass many life skills; some taught to us by teachers, lecturers, professors and our parents, some self-learned by patient practice and repetition, while most such lessons are thrust into our consciousness simply by the pure events of living life itself; births, love, passion, loss, hurt, pain, grief and death.

At some point, during the period betwixt being born and gasping our last breath, we have also, hopefully, gained some wisdom.

Although only too often, such wisdom is realised and recognised far too late in life for us to use it in any true and meaningful way, such as the cruel nature of growing older.

However, for those who manage to avoid a premature departure from this world, those who never got hit by lightning or run over by a trolley bus, become in some respect like a soggy sponge! Yes we droop and some often uncontrollably leak and dribble I am sure, but the analogy I was trying to draw was one of absorption and storage.

I know for a fact that I know more than I know I know, even if in that knowledge there is the realisation of knowing that one knows nothing.

With that stated clearly I will return to the train of thought which initiated my fingers to start tapping away today; that is, that within these southerly wilting, rather wrinkly, fading bodies which those ‘of a certain age’ seem to acquire, for the majority of us at least, are still our sprightly, lively young minds that have seldom aged beyond fifteen…or maybe (for legal reasons) that should read eighteen!

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Now….these minds of ours need a little control. You see they tend too often fool us by considering that whatever they think that we, (those of us who are over 40 something…{no not waist size}…years of being alive), still have the physical ability to achieve such things as skateboarding, zip-lining, mountaineering and even imbibing in a large amount of alcoholic beverages and awaking in the morning with a clear head….hummph….I wish.

The reason that our minds ignore our creaking joints, throbbing tendons, scar tissues that pull as taught as an elastic band every time we move like this…ouch….I should not have done that! Is that once-upon-a-time we have done all of those things, once-upon-a-time when that same mind was in its infancy and knew nothing of risk or fear, that mind which we (mostly) protected from going too far; well far too far, too often.

Now during all those life-threatening adventures, (those naughty and dangerous liaisons, the arguments and battles, the fights and flights that our immature brains took us on), we collected lots and lots of information, comprehension, realisation, skills and familiarity.

In other words, we gained awareness, understanding and experience, this is how we became educated and intelligent, and this is what gives us an erudition of life. This is what we loosely and casually refer to as wisdom and knowledge.

These are the life skills one collects in the only way possible, by living over a long period of time, or at least the longest period that time allows our weak and feeble bodies to function. Gladly, but tinged with some forms of sadly, mine is doing…..okay….at this moment.

You see I have out-lived many thousands of others over the years I have been walking upon this earth, (which I can still do….unaided). I am glad that I saw the sunrise this morning, the sad is that many did not.

Over the preceding years, many of those who never got to see the sunlight today are a whole host of friends and family, many older than I, many younger. Worst of all some had only minutes of life with which we could chart their age.

IMG_4424The fact is, that the number of people who are older than I is quickly diminishing. Now my mourning’s are frequently for those of my own generation, a generation who should use the life skills and knowledge that they have acquired to help and nurture those who are young enough and fortunate enough to have one of those minds which believes it is protected by an invincible body, such as our own did all those years past.

All that we have learned by events of life and living; those births we have witnessed, our loves, both lost and lasting. The passionate moments, some intimate, comprised of twisting limbs and thrusting loins, others of the soul; music, art, theatre, dreams and scenes, vistas of natural beauty. The recollection of our times of loss, of hurt, of feeling pain; both physical and of the heart, not forgetting the grief and deaths.

This is our accumulated wisdom.

This is what we should share, what we should endeavour to teach our children and their children.

‘Ahh’, I hear you say, but children do not listen, do not take heed, so it is best to leave them to find their own way.

I do not disagree.

However, (which is a nicer way to say but, because there is always a but)! If we share our knowledge, leave it somewhere our future generations can discover it for themselves, then they will learn, or at least hopefully be guided by that which we have spent a lifetime accumulating.

This is why I believe I have a duty to leave my own thoughts behind me when I have gone when I have shuffled from this mortal coil.

No one can teach from our personal experiences as we ourselves can.

This is why I choose to write. Even within the lines of my fiction, on the pages of my fantasies, are woven the truths of life and the facts of living.MagicBook

The words within my books and short stories are my bequest to the world, to a future I cannot be a part of, at least in person.

I chose to be a writer, not for monetary wealth or recognition, but to leave a legacy beyond the simplistic value of personal greed.

My wish is that my words are read by the generations yet to come.

Maybe then my life will not have been lived in vain.

Ex Libris legatum Paul White.


Thank you for reading this Rambling.

To find out about my Published Books & Short Stories please visit my web page, http://paulznewpostbox.wix.com/paul-white-writer

© Paul White 2015

An unintended post!

Frustrated-20-year-old

Below is a statement which I have recently left as a comment on a Blog. It was only after doing so I decided to re-post my words here, as a stand alone post on Ramblings from a Writers Mind, because each word I hastily tapped-out on my keyboard represents precisely my views on the current balance of Indie Publishing and why many writers are (seemingly) having a bad time.

You may even consider this a ‘bit-of-a-rant’!

I shall let you draw your own conclusions. Feel free to reply, comment, or argue with me, I don’t bite!


I do not & will not discount or give away may published work.

I price my books according to the value (i.e. Creativity, Hard Work & Effort) which I put into them.

My books therefore are not the low cost option because my readers are buying high quality content.

If a book is free, .99c or £2.99 for a full length novel, then the author of that work clearly has either devalued their work, themselves, or the quality of the book will be crap.

This is a major problem regarding Indie Publishing Vs Mainstream Houses. Mainstream only discount AFTER a long period and then they do so firstly via discount shops, book clubs & supermarkets.

Readers should understand that good quality books, premium books may cost more, but are far better value ultimately.

Just like most things in life, buy cheap, get cheap.

How to write a book which agents WILL accept…… (probably)…………..(or not)!

This is not my usual type of Rambling post, in fact this is not a Rambling at all, but a serious article…without nice pictures to look at :-(


I posted an article a short while ago entitled ‘Why would you ever bother reading a book’.
The majority of folk understood that there is absolutely no other medium which can take you on the same journey, in the same personal manner, as reading a great story.
However there were still some, a very few I am gild to say, who admitted to not reading, not wanting to read, or suggested that watching a film or television is exactly the same as reading!
Oh how my head hurts!!!
However that said there are reasons that so many books ‘out there’ do read in much the same way as a movie is constructed. One of the main reasons for this is the demand from mainstream publishers for the majority of their titles to follow a predictable format.
This is a very similar format which is used in mainstream visual arts, film, televised plays, series etc.
The main reason is that it is the literary agencies and publishing houses duty to sell books AND make a profit while doing so.
With only a very few exceptions, by selecting manuscripts which follow the old ‘tried & tested’ formats the publishers almost guarantee a return. The downside is that many great stories are left untold, the public’s choice diminished.
This results in too many authors’ works are rejected in favour of those who are willing to ‘sell their soul’ for a few sheckles by producing the same story over and again, the only difference being the location and the characters names.
Many Romance, Thriller, Crime and Fantasy writers are skilled at using set formulas. I shall mention no names here. But you know who they are!

So what is this wonderful formula?

Simply it is a set of between six and nine ‘Plot Points’ which can be applied to almost any story in any genre.

I shall now endeavour to explain.

(This is a longer than normal post, but for clarity it must be. So if you have little interest in story construction you may leave now)!

So may all of you who do not wish to ‘Sell out’ your individualism, the artistic artisan skills of a indie writer……Just saying!

I have said above that a conventional STORY PLOT has between six and nine ‘plot points’, I will work with eight points; just to be awkward!

So first we must grasp what these points are intended to do, after which we can look into each in a little more depth.

Stasis

This is the “every day life” in which the story is set. Think of Cinderella sweeping the ashes, Jack (of Beanstalk fame) living in poverty with his mum and a cow, or Harry Potter living with the Dursley’s.

Trigger

Something beyond the control of the protagonist (hero/heroine) is the trigger which sparks off the story. A fairy godmother appears, someone pays in magic beans not gold, a mysterious letter arrives … you get the picture.

The quest

The trigger results in a quest – an unpleasant trigger (e.g. a protagonist losing his job) might involve a quest to return to the status quo; a pleasant trigger (e.g. finding a treasure map) means a quest to maintain or increase the new pleasant state.

Surprise

This stage involves not one but several elements, and takes up most of the middle part of the story. “Surprise” includes pleasant events, but more often means obstacles, complications, conflict and trouble for the protagonist.

Critical choice

At some stage, your protagonist needs to make a crucial decision; a critical choice. This is often when we find out exactly who a character is, as real personalities are revealed at moments of high stress. Watts stresses that this has to be a decision by the character to take a particular path – not just something that happens by chance.

In many classic stories, the “critical choice” involves choosing between a good, but hard, path and a bad, but easy, one.

In tragedies, the unhappy ending often stems from a character making the wrong choice at this point – Romeo poisoning himself on seeing Juliet supposedly dead, for example.

Climax

The critical choice(s) made by your protagonist need to result in the climax, the highest peak of tension, in your story.

For some stories, this could be the firing squad levelling their guns to shoot, a battle commencing, a high-speed chase or something equally dramatic. In other stories, the climax could be a huge argument between a husband and wife, or a playground fight between children, or Cinderella and the Ugly Sisters trying on the glass slipper.

Reversal

The reversal should be the consequence of the critical choice and the climax, and it should change the status of the characters – especially your protagonist. For example, a downtrodden wife might leave her husband after a row; a bullied child might stand up for a fellow victim and realise that the bully no longer has any power over him; Cinderella might be recognised by the prince.

Your story reversals should be inevitable and probable. Nothing should happen for without reason, changes in status should not fall out of the sky. The story should unfold as life unfolds: relentlessly, implacably, and plausibly.

Resolution

The resolution is a return to a fresh stasis – one where the characters should be changed, wiser and enlightened, but where the story being told is complete.

Ummph. So you got all that?

Now you have your eight points, so let’s delve a little deeper.

Consider the above the ‘rough sketch’ of you stories outline. Now you need to build your guide so you do not wander ‘off track’ or write yourself into a ‘dead end’.


Now let’s build you story into that Novel.

The beginning

Plots, subplots, characters, goals and conflicts are introduced at the beginning of a story. Your goal is to pull the reader in with an exciting opening, then begin setting up the basis for the rest of the book. Depending on the length and complexity of your story, the beginning generally amounts to about the first 50 pages.

The start of your story is where you introduce your main characters’ attributes and motivations. The qualities you give your characters are what makes the reader care about them. Your characters’ behaviour, reactions and introspection, as well as their ever-evolving goals, draw sympathy and interest from the reader. The main characters in your story don’t have to be the moral equivalent of Snow White, either. Even character flaws and sins can draw the reader’s sympathy.

Don’t be afraid to get inside your characters – revealing their most heinous thoughts and secrets along with their most noble ones – in order to create compassion in your readers. It’s important to think about your characters’ conflicts, motivations, intentions and weaknesses right from the start. As the outlining process grows more intense, your insights into your characters will deepen, and your finished manuscript will be much the better for it.

Conflict

Your reader needs to be assured from your very first sentence that something suspenseful and exciting is happening or about to happen. Conflict is the root of everything exciting and suspenseful in your story.

Conflict can be internal or external. Each of your main characters should have internal conflicts – opposing desires, beliefs or motivations. External conflict can (and should) occur between characters, but characters can conflict with other things as well (such as fate). A solid plot gives all main characters (including the villain) internal and external conflicts.

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Be sure to lay the groundwork for conflict in the beginning section of your outline.

Keep the following tips in mind when building opportunities for action and suspense into the beginning of your story:

1 Keep the reader on edge with baffling contrasts in characters, setting and dialogue. If you put two seemingly opposed characters in play together, you’ll intrigue your readers and they will stick around to figure out why.

2 Take advantage of pacing, especially as you move toward and through the middle of your story. Don’t rush in to pick up the story threads. Keep the reader guessing.

Draw out scenes involving rescues and explanations. Offer the reader unsatisfactory alternatives to problems. Alternate suspense and action within your outline, even if just by giving yourself stage directions for accomplishing this.

3 Carefully construct mood by using description, dialogue, introspection and action.

4 Use foreshadowing. Foreshadowing shouldn’t answer the crucial questions of a story but, instead, create possibilities or uncertainties that will evoke mild or extreme tension in the reader.

Conflict, suspense and motivation will be the driving forces behind your story. Lay the groundwork for them in your outline, and they will reach their full potential in your story.

Now that we’ve reviewed the fundamentals of writing a good beginning, let’s discuss the first section of the story evolution worksheet:

1 Conflict is introduced

Most writers have been advised to begin each story with a bang. There’s a good reason for that. You want to hook your reader as early as possible. Detail here what will happen in your first scene, and briefly describe how the conflict you introduce at this point will dominate your story through each section. Also, hint at looming conflicts. As your beginning progresses, you’ll want to fully introduce the villain.

2 Story goal is introduced

The story goal is your dominant plot thread. You will introduce it at the beginning of the book. Review your plot sketch worksheet from your preliminary outline (Worksheet 4), then describe the story goal and how it will push your story forward through each section.

3 Characters are outfitted for their tasks

The character sketches you have created as part of your preliminary outline will help you continue to think about who your main characters are and how they’re involved in achieving the story’s goal.

Your characters should be designed with the resolution of the story goal in mind. They should have strengths they themselves aren’t aware of at the beginning of the story – strengths that evolve steadily throughout the course of the book as the characters face adversity.

They also should have internal and/or external weaknesses that hinder their progress. Detail these things in this section.

As you think about the first 50 or so pages that set up the premise of your book, continue to expand on the three points we’ve just covered. These points will help you come up with everything you need to keep your audience reading voraciously.

The middle

If you haven’t already, review the plot sketch worksheet (Worksheet 4) you began while creating your preliminary outline. The middle is usually the largest portion of any book. In this section, plots, subplots and conflicts work together to create a tug-of-war between the story goal and the opposition. Essentially, the action in the middle section of a book revolves around the main characters confronting the opposition, though most of the time this opposition is hidden from or unseen by the lead characters.

Your main characters must grow throughout this section of the book. Therefore, each of the events that take place within this section will require multiple scenes to work in and work out. In other words, you will be planning multiple scenes for each pull in the tug-of-war between your main characters and their opposition. The longer your book, the more complex this tug-of-war will be.

Here’s how the story evolution worksheet can help you to plan out the middle of your book:

1 Characters design short-term goals to reach the story goal

For each main character, introduce short-term goals that will assist that character in reaching the story goal. Give a brief description of each goal and how each character is attempting to reach it. Use your plot sketch (Worksheet 4) as a springboard for this section.

2 Quest to reach the story goal begins

In this section the characters put their first short-term goals into action. Sketch out what they go through during this time.

3 First short-term goals are thwarted

The first short-term goal proves impossible. What events take place to make this failure come about?

4 Characters react with disappointment

Characters react differently to disappointment, and these reactions show the kind of people they are. Provide insight into each major character’s reactions.

5 Stakes of the conflict are raised

Giving up the quest to reach the story goal is never really an option, though the characters may wish they could. In every exciting story with worthy heroes, something always happens to make it impossible to concede defeat. Inevitably, the stakes are raised and a new danger is introduced. Detail the new danger and its effect on all subplots.

6 Characters react to the conflict

In this section describe each main character’s initial reaction to the new danger or problem.

7 Characters revise old or design new short-term goals

Though the initial reaction to the danger is usually one that’s far from calm and logical, this must be a temporary reaction. Eventually, each main character will need to devise a new short-term goal to lead him/her closer to reaching the story goal. Briefly describe each character’s plan of action.

8 Quest to reach the story goal is continued

The characters put their new short-term goals in action. In this section, sketch out what they go through during this time.

9 Short-term goals are again thwarted

The new short-term goals prove as impossible as the first. What events took place to make this failure come about?

10 Characters react with disappointment

Character reactions will run the gamut here, but each character will be tiring of the battle a little more each time he/she fails.

11 Stakes of the conflict are raised

Remember that each time something happens, it must create ever more dire consequences if the characters don’t act quickly.

12 Characters react to the conflict

Show marked growth in the characters. Make the readers empathise with them. At this stage you can repeat steps 7-10 as many times as necessary to accommodate your story’s length and complexity. Steps 11 and 12 aren’t repeated here because the cycle becomes more dramatic with each repetition, thus allowing the last half of the middle portion of your book to be even tenser and your characters more desperate.

13 Downtime begins

The last section of the middle portion of the story begins with the downtime, which precedes the black moment. Your characters are coming to feel they have nothing left to hold on to. Detail these feelings.

14 Characters revise old or design new short-term goals

Your characters are going to make their next decisions out of sheer desperation. From this point on, they seem to lose much of their confidence – or, worse, they’re feeling a reckless sense of bravado that may have tragic consequences. What are their new goals and how do they plan to reach them?

15 The quest to reach the story goal continues, but instability abounds

Though your characters are ploughing ahead bravely, each step is taken with deep uncertainty. How does this action unfold?

16 The black moment begins

The worst possible failure has now come to pass. The short-term goals made in desperation are thwarted, and the stakes are raised to fever pitch as the worst of all possible conflicts is unveiled. Describe it in detail.

17 The characters react to the black moment

Characters react to this major conflict with a sense of finality. Never will there be a moment when the outcome is more in question than in this concluding section of the middle of the book.

The end bit….

At the end of a book, all plots, subplots and conflicts are resolved. In the last few chapters, the characters are finally given a well-deserved break from their recent crisis. Here’s how it takes shape through the story evolution worksheet:

1 A pivotal, life-changing event occurs Something crucial must happen in the first part of the end section – something that will change the lives of the characters irrevocably.

2 Characters modify short-term goals one last time

Whatever the life-altering experience the characters face, the desperation that drove them only a few chapters earlier is completely gone. They’ve never had such clarity of purpose as they do at this moment, and they revise their goals with the kind of determination that convinces the reader they can’t possibly fail.

3 The showdown begins

The main characters and opposition come face to face. It’s in these moments of confrontation that the main characters move to accomplish the story goal.

4 The opposition is vanquished and the conflict ends

You know the showdown that follows the moment of clarity very well.

5 The story goal is achieved

That which all the characters have been striving for has come to pass and this will affect everything. Detail the consequences of victory.

6 Characters react to the resolution of the plot and subplots

In this section, release is given to the characters who have worked so hard to achieve the story goal. Describe their reactions.

7 Characters revise their life goals

At this point the main characters have learned what they’re capable of. Now their life goals are revised.

8 Possible re-emergence of the conflict or opposition

At the end of a book it’s possible for the conflict or opposition to re-emerge – just when you and the characters thought it was safe.

Using a story evolution worksheet to plot the course of your story helps you to:

(1) see a snapshot of the highlights of your story; (2) pinpoint with accuracy precisely where potential problems are within the story; (3) make the weak areas of your story more solid; (4) avoid sagging, uninteresting middles; and (5) avoid repetition in your stories.

Once you’ve learned to see the framework of a story, you’ll never look at a book the same way again. What was invisible has become visible, even stark. As an author yourself, you now hold the key to creating the strongest framework for your novels.

Structure is something that every agent, editor, publisher, Hollywood executive, public speaker, marketer and story teller talks about, to the point that it can seem complicated, intricate, mysterious and hard to master. So I want to give you a starting point for properly structuring your novel, screenplay or presentation without overwhelming you with rules and details and jargon.

Here are what I consider ten key elements of structure – ten ways of looking at structure that will immediately improve the emotional impact – and commercial potential – of your story.

  1. THE SINGLE RULE OF STRUCTURE

There is only one rule for achieving proper plot structure: What’s happening now must be inherently more interesting than what just happened. The goal of structure – the goal of your entire story, in fact – is to elicit emotion in the reader or audience. If your story is increasingly compelling as you move forward, that’s all you need to worry about.

  1. IT’S ALL ABOUT THE GOAL

The events and turning points in your story must all grow out of your hero’s desire. Without an outer motivation for your protagonist – a clear, visible objective your hero is desperate to achieve – your story can’t move forward. Repeatedly ask yourself, “What does my hero (or heroine) want to achieve by the end of the story? Can readers clearly envision what achieving that goal will look like? And will they be rooting for my hero to reach that finish line?” Apply the same questions to whatever scene: “What does my hero want in this sequence? And how is this immediate goal linked to her ultimate outer motivation?” If your answer is “I don’t know,” or, “They don’t,” your story is dead in the water (a sailing term that means “adrift, not going anywhere”).

  1. MORE, BIGGER, BADDER

Structure is built on desire, but the emotion you must elicit grows out of conflict. The more obstacles a character must overcome, and the more impossible it seems that he will succeed, the more captivated your audience will be. The conflict must build: each successive problem, opponent, hurdle, weakness, fear and setback must be greater than those that preceded it. Repeatedly ask yourself, “How can I make it even harder for this character to get what he wants?”

  1. SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW

In each successive scene, something must happen that has never happened before: a new situation for the hero; a new secret to reveal; a new ally to join; and new enemy to confront; a new lover to pursue; a new (even bigger) problem to solve; a new tool for solving it. If scenes are interchangeable, or if nothing of significance changes from one scene to the next, you’re treading water.

  1. BEFORE AND AFTER

In creating the overall structure for your story, look at it as symmetrical, and divided into three sections (these are NOT the three acts – we’re looking at structure a bit differently here). Section 1 shows us your hero at the beginning of the story, living his everyday life. He’s stuck in some way – settling for something, resigned to a life that isn’t that fulfilling, or oblivious to the fact that deep down he longs for more.

At the other end of this symmetrical structure is another portrait of that same hero, this time transformed. Living a different life, more mature and self-aware than he was at the beginning. This final sequence must give us a clear picture of your hero, after having reaped the rewards (positive or negative) for finding (or not) the physical and/or emotional courage that was necessary to achieve his goal and complete his journey.

In between these before and after snapshots is the journey itself – the hero’s pursuit of that all-important goal.  This is where the compelling desire and the overwhelming conflict come face to face. But without those beginning and ending sequences, the structure is incomplete, and the story won’t work.

  1. THE OPPORTUNITY

At the end of that opening snapshot your hero must be presented with some opportunity. Something must happen to your hero that will engender her initial desire, and move her into some new situation. This is where the forward movement of your story begins, and it is out of this new situation (often geographic, always unfamiliar) that your hero’s outer motivation will ultimately emerge.

  1. FOCUS & DETERMINATION

Whatever outer motivation drives your hero, she shouldn’t begin pursuing that goal immediately. She must get acclimated to her new situation, must figure out what’s going on or where she fits in, until what has been a fairly broad or undefined desire comes into focus. Only then can she begin taking action toward the specific outer motivation that defines your story.

  1. LINES & ARCS

Structure applies to both the outer journey of achievement, and the inner journey of transformation. In other words, as the hero moves on the visible path toward that finish line, facing ever increasing obstacles, he must also gradually find greater and greater courage to overcome whatever fears have been holding him back and keeping him from finding real fulfillment or self worth. Repeatedly ask yourself “How is my hero changing in this scene? How are his emotional fears revealed and tested?” And, ultimately, “What does my protagonist have the courage to do at the end of the story that he didn’t have the courage to do at the beginning?” Whatever the answer, this is your hero’s character arc.

  1. SECRETS & LIES

Superior position is the term for telling your reader or audience something that some of the characters in the story don’t know. This gives you one of your most powerful structural tools: anticipation. When we know who and where the killer is before the hero does, or when we know the hero is keeping a big secret, we will keep turning the page to see what happens when that conflict appears, or that secret is revealed.

  1. TURN FANTASY INTO REALITY

Your job as a writer is not simply to take the reader to incredible places and show them exciting or astonishing characters and events – it’s to make the reader believe they are real. Your reader wants to suspend disbelief, but you’ve got to enable them to do that, by having your characters behave in consistent, credible ways. Your audience is eager to embrace fantastic, faraway worlds, bigger than life characters and startling events, but only if your characters react to them the way people in the real world would. You can even give your hero extraordinary powers, but we have to learn how she acquired them, and these powers must be limited in some way, in order to make her vulnerable.

This list certainly doesn’t cover every element or principle of plot structure that I lecture about or use with my consulting clients. Nor does it reveal all of the tools and turning points at your disposal. But every story I have ever encountered that followed these ten principles was properly – and effectively – structured.

Or you could just lay back and watch a film………but then it will not be a movie of YOUR book, but someone else’s!