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Jun 29

“Staying in POV” by Mary Deal

Staying in POV
Mary Deal

Let’s say your story is being told from Sadie’s point of view. She’s your main character. As the story progresses, you have her friend approach and you write it like this:

Jeremy walked straight toward her. “Great to see you, Sadie.” His words couldn’t express what he was thinking. She had lost all that weight and bordered on having a model’s figure. Now he really wanted to bed her. He decided he’d treat her real sweet this time.

Notice that the above paragraph tells us what Jeremy is thinking. He is not the main character. Sadie is the main character. She cannot possibly know what Jeremy is thinking, so you cannot include it written that way.

You can, however, have Sadie read Jeremy’s facial expression and mannerisms and react to it from her point of view. She can show the reader what Jeremy does that will tell the reader what’s on Jeremy’s mind. What Jeremy may think and feel doesn’t have to be spelled out. It can be interpreted by the main character. Like this:

Sadie watched Jeremy walk toward her. His sauntering gait gave him enough time to notice her new figure and to feel his glands working as he eyed her from head to toe and back again. She knew him. He’d always made innuendoes about wanting to hop in bed again and renewing their sorry relationship.

“Great to see you, Sadie,” Jeremy said. His eyes had that hungry look. He always looked that way, as if sex was the only thing her image triggered in his mind. Maybe it was, but being used and cast aside was no longer part of her new image of self-respect.

Sadie stepped away when he reached for her. “Don’t try to touch me, Jerry. We washed up a long time ago and you’re still trying to own me.”

Jeremy’s expression went hollow. “You got me all wrong,” he said. The corner of his mouth twitched. That always happened when he was faced with the truth.

Staying in the POV character’s head gives you a chance to create a character with some smarts, at least, enough to intuit other characters’ actions and thoughts. It also gives you a greater chance of added detail and some interesting fleshing out of your prose that makes the action come alive. Notice that in the above short paragraphs, Jeremy actually confirms what Sadie has interpreted from him. It’s much more interesting.

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

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Nov 19

All the Way from Australia, Please Welcome Narrelle M. Harris to Mike Angley’s Blog

MA: My guest today, Narrelle M. Harris, is a multi-talented person. She’s a Melbourne-based writer with four novels, one play and several short stories under her belt to date. Her latest book is The Opposite of Life, a vampire novel set in Melbourne. She is about to launch a new iPhone app, Melbourne Literary, a guide to books, writing and literature in Melbourne, which was designated a UNESCO City of Literature in 2008. Narrelle lives in the city centre of Melbourne, Australia, with her husband, Tim Richards, and their apartment-bound cat Petra.

Welcome, Narrelle. Please tell us how your involvement with writing began.

NH: I think I’ve been writing pretty much ever since I knew how to make the letters. I even recall one of my brothers and I getting a tape recorder and telling a story about the life of a little germ, which we made up as we went along. I don’t remember much about that one, except that at one stage the germ was having a great time tumbling out of a carton of milk and swimming around in a bowl of cereal. He was a fairly harmless germ, as I recall. Anyway, I always loved assignments where I had to make up stories, and I wrote them to entertain myself in exercise books as well. Eventually I discovered science fiction TV shows and fandom, where stories you wrote could be published in fanzines and people would write in with feedback. That was fantastic, a great training ground on developing technique. Eventually I got too restless writing with other people’s characters, so introduced a lot of new ones of my own, and that morphed into writing my original fiction.

MA: It sounds then, like writing novels was not a difficult transition for you.

NH: Novels came about as a natural extension from the short stories I’d been working on – I was enjoying world building and I liked my characters and wanted to do more with them, so over time the plot ideas and themes I had grew more complex and needed more time to explore.

MA: Tell us what you’ve written so far.

NH: I’ve been a bit all over the shop, really. My first book was a crime thriller called Fly By Night. It had two novellas in it with the same characters, Frank and Milo, musicians and a gay couple. That was published by Homosapien Press in 2004. (The two novellas are now available separately on Kindle). Then I wrote the two fantasies, Witch Honour and Witch Faith. Like Anne McCaffrey’s dragon books, they are fantasy with a touch of an SF back-story. They were published in the US by Five Star. Then I was inspired to write a book about how being a vampire isn’t as sexy as its reputation would suggest, and wrote The Opposite of Life, about a girl who has suffered a lot and a short, chubby, geeky vampire called Gary. That was with Pulp Fiction Press, and there’s a sequel in the works.

My latest project, though, is a non-fiction iPhone app, Melbourne Literary, which is a guide to literary Melbourne. I’ve done other non-fiction – I had an essay on what’s called The CSI Effect in a true crime collection called Outside the Law #3, about whether watching too much forensic TV affects juries. I’ve also been working on some short stories lately, mainly in the comic-horror genre. One, about a girl whose brother gets turned into a zombie and she’s trying to fix him before Mum finds out, will be published later this year in Best New Zombie Tales Volume 2.

Comic horror seems to have become a bit of a thing since The Opposite of Life, which has a lot of humour in it, as well as an exploration of what makes life worth living even though it can hurt beyond bearing sometimes.

MA: With so many projects, how do you go about developing your characters?

NH: Characters in my earlier books were often inspired by people I knew, or at least amalgamations of people I knew. The Opposite of Life was different, in that Gary the Vampire came up as a response to being tired of seeing all the thin, glamorous vampires in all the films. I just wanted to write about an ordinary guy who was really uncool and didn’t get any cooler just because he was undead. Lissa, the female protagonist, arose out of the kind of story I was telling. I wanted her to be young, a bit funky but also a someone outside groups because her experiences of loss and grief had left her not quite fitting in anywhere completely. She’s a librarian mainly because I thought someone who had lived her life would find great comfort in the escapism of literature, and that she would love the idea taht she could maintain order in some part of her life, at least. She’s one of the few librarians who really loves cataloguing and shelving. She loves imposing order in a tiny corner of her chaotic world.

MA: Are your characters as superhuman as they sound?

NH: I try to make all my characters very textured and human, so they have different kinds of flaws. Frank, for example, gets impatient and can be bad tempered while Milo has a tendency to just sail through life and be a bit thoughtless. He’s not intentionally mean, but he just doesn’t think sometimes.

Gary’s flaws – well, he’s a bit slow on the uptake sometimes. He’s a nice enough guy, really, but he just doesn’t always know what’s appropriate in conversation. He didn’t have those social skills when he was alive, so he can’t blame being a vampire for that. But as the story develops he learns to be more thoughtful. He’s a very straightforward guy too – I don’t think he knows how to lie. It’s one of the things that Lissa likes about him – she might not always like what he has to say, but she knows he’s honest with her. Lissa is courageous and loyal, but also stubborn and a bit impetuous. It gets her into terrible trouble. She has to confront one of her worst flaws by the end of the book – she’s a bit self obsessed and everything she goes through forces her to come up out of the grief and anger she’s been lost in. Both of them, really, have to learn how to engage more with life.

MA: Any recurring nemeses?

NH: The Opposite of Life is written in the style of a crime novel, so the ‘bad guy’ is the person or persons who have been killing people around Melbourne. It’s obviously the work of a vampire, and the vampire community isn’t pleased by that – they try to live under the radar these days. But while there’s an actual bad guy doing bad things, I guess the real bad guy is thematic, the idea that you can avoid life’s pain by withdrawing from it, refusing to engage, and the kind of person that decision makes you become.

MA: I assume you’ve not had any real experiences with vampires (wink), but did your life inspire your writing in any way?

NH: My books are full of real life things, from characters being inspired by friends, to things I’ve read in the news becoming part of the plot. I put a lot of landscapes in. The Opposite of Life is full of places I love (and sometimes loathe) in Melbourne. The Witch books contain landscapes that I travelled through or lived in when I spent three years abroad. I lived in Egypt for two years, and in Poland for one (my husband and I were teaching English as a foreign language) and so much of what I saw and did there has been incorporated into the stories.

MA: Given your prolific writing career so far, I take it you aren’t finished yet, right?

NH: I’m working on some short stories at the moment, as I’ve been invited to submit some to a potential anthology project. I want to write three books about Gary and Lissa as well, so after the current sequel I have to start work on the third. I have ideas for a third Witch novel and some more Frank and Milo stories too. I also have an idea for a rather more complex crime type novel. I’m also planning to create a few more iPhone apps once Melbourne Literary is out there. I have note books full of ideas too, so I don’t think I’ll run out of things to do for a while.

MA: Very interesting and varied. Anything else you’d like to add?

NH: One of the things I’ve been doing, to entertain myself as much as anything, is using Gary and Lissa outside of their books. They are huge fun to write, and their (most definitely not sexual) friendship comes out so well in their conversations. Gary actually collects vampire films and books, and Lissa as a librarian has a lot of comments to make on fiction generally. This meant that when I see vampire stuff now (or sometimes just interesting things, like art exhibitions) I get a triple viewpoint. There’s what I think of it, but also what I think Gary and Lissa would think of it. I started writing up their observations and now I have a semi regular part of my blog called the GaryView, where the two of them discuss pop culture from their rather unique point of view. Gary mainly complains about how most vampire fiction is nothing like the reality of being a vampire. Surprisingly, a certain amount of their back story gets revealed this way, and sometimes these funny little reviews get unexpectedly poignant. They’re a popular part of my blog, but really, I do it because it’s fun and because it’s a really useful writing exercise.

Gary and Lissa also have Twitter accounts, for the same reason that it’s an interesting writing exercise. They occasionally have tweet-chats with other people. That’s fun because I don’t know what people are going to ask, so again it’s a good exercise to consider how Gary and Lissa might respond to issues that I might not have previously considered. It was through doing the tweets that I realized that Lissa never goes to the cemetery to visit the graves of her loved ones. That’s the place where she had to say goodbye to them, and it gives her no comfort. Instead, I realized that she would go and do the things that she used to do with them while they were alive. She might go to a particular cafe to spend a moment thinking about her Nanna, or to a library where her eldest sister used to find books for them to read.

MA: Thanks, Narrelle! Please visit Narrelle’s website: http://www.narrellemharris.com
and Blog: http://narrellemharris.wordpress.com
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Nov 03

Mary Deal Dishes on Dead Words

Dead Words
Mary Deal

Write lean!

When I began to scrutinize my writing for words I could cut and still keep the story together, I was surprised! In the interest of keeping my stories lean and to the point, I found I could drop modifiers and make my sentences more professional.

Sometimes we want to add a word or two, seemingly to deepen the meaning of an act or some bit of dialogue. This is where many writers ruin their stories. For example:

She was so very ecstatic!

“So” and “very” are modifiers that needn’t be used in this sentence. The word ecstatic is the height of elation, the nth degree. The word needs no modifiers.

She was ecstatic!

Three little words that say exactly what I meant it to say without being verbose and taking up word space in the story that could be put to better use.

Another word is “just.”

– It was just that he wanted to go and she didn’t.

– The problem was that he wanted to go and she didn’t.

Drop the modifiers even if you must rewrite the sentence. Notice, too, that the corrected sentence doesn’t begin with “it,” which has no meaning when used this way. “It” has no meaning at the beginning of a sentence until we know what the sentence is about.

“It” can begin a sentence, usually inside a paragraph, when what is being referred to has already been mentioned.

Another example of dead words or overuse is the word “had.”

When writing in 3rd Person or past tense, it’s appropriate to use the word early in a paragraph. The rest of the paragraph should not contain the word “had.” Had sets up the paragraph in past tense. Only occasionally will there be no way around it and you must use it twice. Used early in the paragraph it sets up the tone of the action, even through subsequent paragraphs.

More dead words appear at the beginnings and ending of sentences.

-Where are you at?

-Where are you going to?

-That they could not have known, they took a chance anyway.

-They came running around the corner.

In some cases, your characters may speak like this, but sentences such as these should not be part of the narration. Unless we know to what or to whom these particular words refer before using them, they are out of place and make the subject of conversation obscure.

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

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Oct 06

“Talk the Talk” Sage Advice from Mary Deal

Talk the Talk

Is your dialogue authentic?

I write mysteries and watch some reality cop shows listening for police techniques and jargon. It’s a way of keeping stories in the now, exciting, up to date and understandable by readers. With an open mind and ear, you can learn how to make your characters act like the police or the perpetrator. You can learn search techniques or glitches in the schemes of wrong-doers. All of this knowledge enhances the reality of the stories you write, not just mysteries.

When writing dialogue for each character, it’s important that each person in the story have their own personality. When speaking, no two characters should sound alike. So it’s important to make a cop sound like a cop and a perpetrator like a perpetrator. It’s important t make these characters sound authentic in any story.

Especially, dialogue is critical in defining character personality. Here is a piece of dialogue I heard when watching Manhunter:

“Do you have an eyeball?”

The scene was a stakeout. Lenny DePaul, on one side of the building, was asking Roxanne Lopez at the corner of the building, if she had a clear view to the doorway where the perpetrator might appear. In another show, I heard “Do you have an eye?”

A book I recommend where you can find police jargon if you’re not into scrutinizing TV shows is Cop Speak: The Lingo of Law Enforcement and Crime, by Tom Philbin.

Here are some examples from the book that can easily be incorporated into dialogue:

Flashlight roll = A police technique of rolling a flashlight across a doorway of a dark room to illuminate the interior.

Make a canoe = Do an autopsy.

Catch a stack = To rob someone who turns out to have a lot of money.

Grounder = An easy case to prosecute; also known as a ground ball.

Mutt = Police term for a person with very poor character.

Hello phones – Telephones that informants use to reach their police contacts.

Still more of the terms and definitions in this book run from hilarious to dead serious. You can find any term explained and some mean far more than you think they do.

If you want your stories, especially mysteries to sound authentic, this book or other similar ones listing terminology and definitions will greatly enhance your writing and dialogue. Make them part of your instructional library.

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Apr 07

“Dig Deep” No…not an Article about the IRS, but another Mary Deal Writing Post

Understanding a form of writer’s block.

My experience has been that when I write, I must allow the plot and characters to go where they may. We are all told that a story will write itself. I heartily agree, but this only happens when we go deep into our creativity and let things unfold naturally. As writers, we are products of our experiences and that’s the fertile ground from which we create.

The norm for me is that I don’t know where the story will go, which action or direction to take or how the characters will play out their parts. I don’t know this even if I begin a story knowing how it will end.

Our muses will do a lot for us if we allow. Writing is like rearing a child. We discipline and nudge in the right direction, but should never be so controlling that we stifle the natural development of the child and as the child grows, it takes on a life of its own. So it is with writing. All aspects of our stories can write themselves.

One way this will happen is when we allow our characters to play out their parts. When we’ve gotten our protagonist or other character into a situation and don’t know how to get them out, we should not quickly back out of the scene and take another course.

What writing teaches is that the writer should put her or himself into the action of the character. Play like you’re faced with this dilemma and ask yourself what you would do in such a case. This takes you deeper into yourself and your own creativity where you can root out the answers. Allow yourself to face these situations as if you were the character backed into the much-clichéd corner.

If you have your villain in a tight spot and can’t see yourself ever getting into such a place, or being that villain, then you should play-act the gestalt of the situation. Look into a mirror and be the villain who is talking to you. Based on how you’ve created this character, and the action of the plot, you have only so many choices to make and that’s all.

When I wrote many of the scenes in my novel, “The Tropics,” at times I found I didn’t know where to take a character. One example in the first story, “Child of a Storm,” is that when Ciara is trying to keep Rico awake and treat his concussion and near drowning, I didn’t know what to have her do. I couldn’t apply knowledge that I know today to a situation that took place thirty years ago, and that was my key.

In the late 1960s, my limited knowledge is that one had to keep a person with a concussion mostly awake, maybe moving around but not jarring their head. As far as the near drowning, if you got some water out of their lungs and the person is able to walk, they were assumed to be okay. So that’s all I could put into my story—partly because that was not only my knowledge back then but also the general knowledge of most people at that time. I couldn’t say much about respiratory therapy as we know it today because back then it was just being studied as a possible treatment.

So the part of me that went into the story was what I knew during the 1960s and nothing more. It ended up being the truth of the plot action. What my protagonist did to help her fiancé’s condition, albeit limited, helped me to further build my protagonist’s character and resolve. She did as much as she possibly could. So I wasn’t stuck in the plot anymore.

In the second story, “Caught in a Rip,” when Lilly is facing death at sea and suddenly spots a turtle snagged in a drift net, I wondered how I would give Lilly stamina enough to do what she wanted to do. She wanted to photograph that turtle knowing her waterproof camera would float to shore after she died and someone would find it and hopefully develop the photos.

What could I do with Lilly? I had already nearly killed her off and her energy was depleted. It would look awfully contrived having her energetically swim down and take those photos and then die. Then I asked myself, if in that situation what would it take for me to rally my resolve and get those photos? That’s when I was forced deep into my own psyche to compare notes with my muse.

Exactly what would I do? The answer was simple. I slowed the speed of the story in order to show Lilly’s resolve. I did it with her inner thoughts, some momentary flashbacks that made her take a look at her strengths and weaknesses, and showed the reader how she convinced herself to do it. Had I been in that situation that’s how I would have reacted.

I could have written in that a tour boat came along and rescued her, and that the captain photographed the turtle, but that was too easy. She had to do it on her own in order to become this much-admired heroine and only I, the writer alone with my Muse, could think it through.

Truth is, if I knew I was going to die and I wanted to leave something behind to show the plight of that turtle, I would muster everything I had left as one last great gesture to amount to something in my life. You can bet that I would be thinking about my strengths and past successes in order to hype myself before diving down to take that photo.

Finding the character’s motivation was my motivation as the writer that helped the character to decide what to do.

Another writer might look inside themselves and feel a bit of writer’s block and say, There’s no way out of this! Then they might back up in the plot and rewrite it to go in a different direction.

Our characters and plot decisions come from deep within us. Something in us has made us bring the story dilemma to light. Facing and solving our characters’ dilemmas allows us to take a deeper look at ourselves and find inner strengths that have never been challenged in our daily lives.

If we, as writers, allow our Muses free reign and we do not soon back out and change the course of the story simply for an easier way out, we will find more exciting resolutions to the dilemmas we create. We may also come in contact with personal strengths we never knew we had.

At times, my Muse says, “This is the only way to go. You figure it out.” So if we don’t wish to rewrite an entire section of the story, we must dig deeper into ourselves to create the plot remedy.

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

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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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