Tag Archives: contact

Jul 01

“The Expendable Man” Author Peter G. Pollak Visits with Mike Angley

MA: My guest today is Peter G. Pollak. Peter is a retired business executive who has also been an educator and editor of two weekly newspapers. He also runs a web business where he interviews people, and he writes a blog on New York State government and politics.
Welcome, Peter. Please tell us more about your background.
PP: My working titles have included visiting professor, editor, publisher, CEO and lately chairman (of the company I founded), but what has characterized my professional career has been a willingness to take a risk in order to make a difference. After finishing my B.A., I spent a year as a VISTA Volunteer. Although I went back to school and eventually earned a Ph.D. (in history and education), in between I was editor of two alternative newspapers. In 1985, I said good-bye forever to being an employee and started a press release delivery service which is still in existence (under the name readMedia). I’m semi-retired now, spending most of my time writing.

MA: With your particular credentials in business and journalism, how did you end up writing fiction?

PP: I love to read fiction. To me fiction is on par with painting, sculpture and music as a higher art form. It requires both talent and dedication and good fiction rewards the reader by transporting h/h to another reality. In doing so, the reader can experience life’s horrors and its potentials.
MA: In your novel, did you create characters based upon people you’ve known in your personal and professional life?
PP: I don’t draw on real people for my characters. I suppose my characters are composites of people I’ve met, read about or come in contact with in some other way.
MA: Tell us about your novel.
PP: The Expendable Man is a political thriller. The protagonist is thrown into a bad situation for which he is ill prepared. He not only has to find a way out of that situation, but in order to regain his life he must find out why he was put there in the first place. He must survive the crucibles of being wrongly convicted of a crime and contracting a normally fatal illness.
MA: I love political thrillers. What makes your hero who he is? Strengths? Weaknesses?
PP: At the beginning he’s all about himself. He lacks family or friend. He’s not a bad person, but one who hasn’t allowed himself to smell the roses. No one can go through hell without being changed in the process. I hope my readers see the changes that take place in his personality as he struggles to regain his health and his freedom.

MA: Every good thriller has to have a bad guy, so I assume you have a unique one?

PP: Yes, of course. There is the person who sets the ball in motion and the one who has to do the dirty work of making my protagonist “expendable.” Readers may recognize their types.
MA: I imagine you don’t have any real life experiences that you drew from to create your story, or do you?
PP: I’ve been behind bars…for a few hours. I was arrested when I was about 19 for violating a local ordinance, selling without a permit. I was trying to earn money one summer selling encyclopedias. Later I had the privilege of teaching political science 101 to inmates at more than one NYS Correctional Institution (prison). What’s worse than being locked up? Answer: facing a deadly disease. What if you had to contend with both? That’s the fate of my protagonist.
MA: Well, I never saw that coming! What are your future writing plans?
PP: I’m working on a mystery which I hope to finish by the end of the summer and then publish a second mystery set in the same city using two of the characters from the first one. The protagonist of The Expendable Man has ridden off into the sunset. I’ll let my readers imagine what his life is like, but I think readers will like the main characters in my next two novels — Jake Barnes, a retired cop turned P.I., and Karen Battaglia, recently promoted to detective on her local police force.
MA: Excellent! Any parting thoughts for my readers?
PP: If you live in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. region, I’d be happy to do a reading for your book club or other organization. Contact me through my website: http://www.petergpollak.com/

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Nov 17

From Soup to Nuts…”Parts of a Story” by Mary Deal

Parts of a Story

by

Mary Deal

Parts of a story can be seen as action scenes or major scenes tied together with other action. They can also be seen simply as beginning, middle, and ending.

Tips for writing a story are many and varied. I’ve put together some suggestions that will help you analyze your own story plot. Or you may finally be able to get your story started. You’ll be writing a book before you know it!

These suggestions apply to any stories of any length. The only difference is in genre.

In fiction, you may lead your characters to do whatever the story dictates.

In nonfiction, you will have the usual beginning, middle, and ending, but you cannot manipulate occurrences since they actually happened.

Paying attention to the details given below can help you put your own story together. Other articles on this site will cover many more aspects of building a short story or novel.

The suggestions below apply to plot action and holding a reader’s interest. Building characters, a scene, or settings will be covered in other articles.

Here then, discussing parts of a story, are some valuable tips for writing a story, or for writing a book.

Beginnings

Always, that’s ALWAYS; remember to include the five senses in all parts of a story.

Most always, you will write the story from the point of view of your main character’s five senses. If any other character must say something about the heat that’s about to make them faint, this is a great way to have a person other than the main character contribute to the description of a setting.

If your reader’s five senses are stimulated, you are more likely to immerse that reader in your story.

The very first word or two should grab the reader’s attention.

In books written ages ago, it might have been okay to begin “The weather was temperate. I was feeling good.” Today, this is a waste of eight first words. Today’s readers want action or something to grab their attention to entice them to read further.

One of the most important tips for writing a story is to make sure you realize the value of your very first words. They must grab the reader’s attention.

The beginnings are the most crucial parts of a story.

All the main characters should be revealed early on.

Oftentimes, when writing a book of some length, new characters are introduced late in a story or plot. This seems only a crutch to get out of a dead-end plot situation to get the story moving again. There can be no saviors dropping into a story, only characters interacting together from near the beginning and carrying the plot toward conclusion.

In multi-genre writing, characters might pop up anywhere. Still, in order to make them credible, they must have a reason for being included.

Important characteristics of each character should be exposed.

Not important is a visual run-down of what each character may look like. Most important is to build each character’s personality.

It’s okay to state a few facts about their physical appearances, but it’s best done when describing them in action. If some information doesn’t help the reader visualize the character, or doesn’t apply to action to take place deeper in the story, leave it out.

An example: If a man never ties his shoelaces, only include something like that to emphasize his lackadaisical attitude (that you’ve already established) and if, deeper into the story, it’s what causes him to fall and break his neck. Otherwise, leave it out. Every act, every word, must have a reason for being included in parts of a story.

The main dilemma of the entire story line should be introduced in the first chapter.

Of all the parts of a story, this one is crucial.

The main dilemma can also simply be strongly hinted at as long as it’s immediately and progressively developed as the story moves along. The reader must see the succession of events moving along as it reveals more and more of the dilemma.

I don’t advise stringing the reader along. Let them know the dilemma as soon as possible. Otherwise, the reader may ask, “What’s the point.” They will put your book down and may not pick it up again.

When writing a short story, unlike writing a book, the dilemma must be revealed as soon as possible.

Almost everything in the first chapter should be considered foreshadowing.

All the plot action and character traits are set-up to propel the rest of the story. I have written a great article titled Foreshadowing, which deals with exactly that – better than I can explain here in few words.

Keep in mind that all parts of a story must lead to another, must hint at the next event. A future event should cause the reader to remember something that was said or done a few pages or chapters back.

Middles

Give your characters tough situations to face that make the readers wonder how things could possibly be resolved.

Make it seem there is no resolution. The situations are what flesh out the story.

Readers know that most situations get worse before they get better. This should determine exactly where you step into the action of the dilemma. Yes, step into it. Do not try to build the dilemma. You will be building back-story.

Have the situation already happening when your story jumps into it.

If you want to have your characters having a fun picnic in a park, and then a shooter comes along and ruins the day, that’s okay too. Just don’t waste too many words setting up how nice the day turned out to be.

Think of this example as if watching a movie. We see the family having fun in the park. We SEE everything immediately. Ten seconds after the film begins, the shooter comes along. If you think of the scene this way, you will know how quickly you must start the action in your written work. You will know how much to include in the first few sentences and how much to omit.

Thinking of your opening as a movie is good practice for including only that which applies and then getting on with your story.

Back-story is information that helps show why the characters have a dilemma.

Use back-story sparingly. Introduce it in snippets of conversation, or in your characters’ memories. Use it only if it enhances the present action. Too much back-story and the plot will stall instead of plunging your reader head first into the bramble bush.

An open ending of each chapter, known as the proverbial cliffhanger, encourages the reader to turn the page.

Another invaluable point in the parts of a story is to try to have cliffhangers at the ends of each chapter. Don’t bring all the action to a close just because the chapter is ending. The reader won’t have a reason to read further.

Leave some events open and questions unanswered. All the while, infuse that chapter with all that it can hold for that particular scene.

When writing a book, you will have many chapters in which you can build cliffhangers as well as great endings when the meanings of these are later revealed.

In various parts of a story, when developing the plot and continuing the action, what the characters experience must be a result of the plot dilemma you originally introduced.

Think about what you created. If you have someone robbing a bank, the plot dictates how these people elude the police. In the end, they are caught. A simple trail to follow only made interesting by complications you add.

Another example is if you begin your story with a seamstress sewing clothes, this could lead anywhere. However, you’ve chosen a topic that may be difficult to develop enough to hold a reader’s immediate interest. Your market for such a story would be limited.

The seamstress would then have to create some gorgeous line of clothing, maybe accidentally, that propels her to fashion design stardom. Maybe she comes in contact with the socially elite, while she, herself, lives in squalor. Think how a story like that might end. Her status is either elevated, or she remains an unknown.

Parts of a story such as this might suggest this seamstress is blind to improving her lot though she wants to. The ending must show the reader how the seamstress overlooks her chance at a better life – and is, perhaps, better for it. Or maybe she finds happiness and reason to stay in her own little world.

Endings

Endings make or break your story.

If a reader reads all the way to the ending and the ending falls flat, you will have a greatly disappointed would-be fan. That reader will not suggest her friends read the book. In fact, she may never buy another of your books.

The ending must follow the action. Only one ending would be apropos for any story, with rare exceptions.

The parts of a story must come together so that, with the climax and denouement, the reader feels a degree of satisfaction at having shared the characters lives.

Many stories have more than one ending.

More than one ending would be where the plot contains one or more subplots that, while carrying the main plot, are also nearly stories unto themselves. See my article Forensic Evidence in Plots. In the case of strong subplots, you would then have the main story ending, along with a wrap up of one or more subplots.

Ideally the subplots should wrap up before the main ending. That way, the wrap up of the subplots feed into the climax of the main story line.

When crafting the climax of any story, the actions of the characters will dictate the ending.

You’ve heard the saying “Let the story write itself,” haven’t you? Your story will write itself.

Don’t be concerned about the ending till you’ve arrived at the ending. Allow your characters to perform, to achieve greatness in their endeavors or their dastardly deeds. When you finally arrive at the ending, the characters’ actions will dictate the ending.

Then, as I always say, There is always an exception to every rule.

When I wrote my Egyptian novel, The Ka, I had the ending before I began. I also had many other scenes and knew how the story would flow. But I had to massage and manipulate the story line to arrive at the ending I could not change.

The denouement is the lesson learned after the climax has been realized.

Either or both the character and reader understand the result of the action that occurred in all the parts of a story.

For example, let’s say your character bumbles around doing bad things to people. Then he is caught in a situation where he needs help and things look pretty bleak because no one wants to help him. But someone steps forward, sees the good in the kid, and gives him a chance to turn his life around.

The climax to all this would be the kid getting help in the eleventh hour. The denouement would be the realization the kid has about how his actions hurt people and almost ruined his chance for getting help for himself. The kid’s life does a turn around and he now teaches other kids about good and evil.

The denouement is his self-realization, plus what the reader gets from it also.

Parts of a story can be developed on their own.

Often times, my mind is overflowing with the action of a scene that I write the scene without anything leading to it. Later, I go back and bring threads forward into the new action.

As long as you tie the scenes together in a cohesive manner, nothing says you can’t write the parts of a story that come into your mind in a rush. Write it! Catch that spark of creativity as it happens.

Tips for writing a story, as outlined above, are meant to help you understand the creative steps along the way to writing a book or short story; steps a writer must utilize in the beginnings, middles and endings of stories.

The parts of a story are scenes of action. Tie them together. Make one action cause another, and write it one page at a time.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Jul 21

Mary Deal Writes about “Starting Your Story”

When starting to write your story, don’t begin at the beginning, please! One of the main reasons writers fail to get their stories written is that they don’t know where to begin.

Once we have a story in mind, we’ve most likely created our fictional characters, to a degree. We know what makes them the people they are. We may even know how they will play out their parts in the plot, and therein lays the pitfall.

Many writers want to include a character’s life history. They feel if they do not include all of that information, the reader will not build empathy. This thought is a fallacy. How many times have you met a person you’d never met before? When he’s introduced, he wise-cracks, but in a manner that leads to like him right away. You don’t know his history, but you know that you and he will get along.

Thinking along the lines of presenting a character’s history, a writer may try to include much personal history, known as back story. If this has happened to you, have you asked yourself why you’re writing all this information and you haven’t yet begun the story? My advice here is that if you try to include at the beginning – don’t.

Here’s an example:

You’re writing a romance and your protagonist, a lady, is much sought after and can have her pick of suitors. But she hesitates to allow anyone to know her because she’s been jilted more than once.

So you, the writer, feel you must clue your reader about what makes her timid and hesitant before you can continue with the story you wish to tell. You think a Prologue would do the trick. Don’t even try it. Unless you’re an experienced writer with an established following who don’t care what or how you write, a prologue comes across as a new writer’s inability to incorporate back story into the plot.

Any back story included should pertain to the action of the real story you wish to write. The rule is that if whatever you include in the telling of the tale does not move the plot along, it should be cut. Since all that history stalls the plot and keeps it in the past, it has no purpose for being included.

Getting back to the example above, in this case the reader should be told what makes this much sought after beauty so fickle. The way to include relevant information is….

Let’s say she is interested in a man but fights an inner battle with fear of rejection again. The way to show your reader her fear is to have her come in contact with one of the men who jilted her in the past. This keeps the story flowing in the now.

Can you imagine the duress of her wishing to fall in love, and then at the moment of truth she must interact with the person who was the cause of her previous hurt? Are you able to see the back story coming into play when readers begin to understand her anxiety? And it didn’t take a prologue to set it up. It happens naturally in the course of the story.

Back story is easily incorporated through other characters, thoughts and brief memories, or occurrences that remind of past events. You want your story to move continually forward, not stall while you explain the past of it all. When you embed your character’s thoughts in the scenes and dialog, it keeps the reader inside that character’s head and within the resent story.

When I say don’t start at the beginning–you know your story–choose an action scene that you plan early in the first chapter. Jump into the now, the present time of that scene. Introduce your characters through their activities within the scene and let the story move on from there. You will have many chances to include memories, motivation and purpose as each new scene unfolds.
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Oct 30

Fellow Writer Bob Doerr is Mike Angley’s Newest Guest-Blogger!

My guest author today is Bob Doerr, who debuts with two novels, Dead Men Can Kill and Cold Winter’s Kill. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that Bob and I have known each other for many years, long before our mutual writing careers. We served together as Special Agents with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, even overlapping once during Headquarters OSI assignments in the late 1980s. Read More

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