Tag Archives: nonfiction

Jul 15

Multi-Published Novelist Louis P. Solomon Guests with Mike Angley Today

MA: I am pleased to welcome to my blog today, Dr. Louis P. Solomon. Louis founded Life Echoes, a Family Legacy Book Publishing Service. In addition he founded Pearl River Publishing (PRP), a publishing house. He spent most of his career in the military-industrial community in government and industry. He continues to be a consultant on business, technical, and financial issues. He is technically trained with a PhD from UCLA in Engineering in 1965.

Louis has written several books including five novels: The Third Legacy, Gotcha!, Unknown Connections, Library of the Sands, and Instrument of Vengeance, and several nonfiction books: Transparent Oceans: Defeat of the Soviet Submarine Force, Teleworking—A Complete Guide for Managers and Teleworkers and the Solomon Haggadah.

You have a fascinating background, especially in the technical realm. Please tell us more.

LS: I have substantial academic technical training. I have had a varied career, covering multiple disciplines, both in government and in the private sector. I received a PhD in Engineering from UCLA in 1965, specializing in Fluid Mechanics, Applied Mathematics, and Electromagnetic Theory.

Prior to entering government service I was one of three founders of a very successful consulting firm, Planning Systems Incorporated (PSI) which grew from three to over 400 people located in several states. PSI primarily supported the United States Navy (USN) during the Cold War. After ten years with PSI I went to work for the Department of the Navy for nine years as a member of the Senior Executive Service (SES). As the Associate Director of Naval Ocean Research and Development Activity (NORDA) for Program Management I was responsible for the Long Range Acoustic Propagation Project (LRAPP).

Subsequently I worked with the DoD National Security Education Program (NSEP) in placing within the federal government over 3,000 NSEP award recipients (graduate and undergraduates in all academic fields) who lived and studied throughout the world and learned less commonly taught languages and cultures. I also served as a subject matter expert in developing The Language Corps for the Department of Defense (DoD) as a national entity to support government agencies in times of national emergencies.

In addition to PSI, I am a founder and chief executive of several firms: LPS Collaborative Group, (a very unusual technical and management consulting firm), Pearl River Publishing (a book publishing firm) and Life Echoes, (a Family Legacy Book Publishing Service). In addition, I sporadically write a blog: The Wisdom of Solomon, which focuses on subjects which are of interest to me.

MA: I can understand the technical writing you’ve done, but how did you end up writing novels?

LS: In a single sentence: My Mother made me.

I wrote many technical reports and refereed technical papers. I eventually lost interest in discussing and writing about detailed technical issues. That is work for people beginning their careers.

I had no interest in writing fiction until my Mother came to me one day and told me that she had a fiction story she wanted me to write, based upon an actual event. Being a dutiful son, I said that I would write the story and promptly did nothing. But she was a tough old lady, and nagged me about it, regularly. I continued to put her off. But I was then invited, as part of a family outing to celebrate the 80th birthday of my mother-in-law, to go on an ocean voyage for a week. I find cruise ships the height of boredom, but as a son-in-law, I was obliged to accept the invitation with good graces. I then realized this was a heaven sent opportunity. I took my Mac Power Book laptop, and spent every day from 0600 to 1800 in the ship’s library. It was a nice little quiet room, which was never visited by another single soul during the entire trip. I wrote all day long, and by the time the cruise was over, I had completed the first draft of the book. My Mother loved it, and I found it a very interesting tale. This story, The Third Legacy, was edited by Linda Jenkins, who has edited not only all my books, but used to edit all my technical documents and refereed journal articles which I wrote while I was associated with NORDA. She is a superb editor, and I always accept follow her suggestions about making changes to the documents I entrust in her editorial care.

MA: Did your professional career inspire your writing? Are any of your characters based upon real-life people with whom you’ve interacted?

LS: My professional career did not inspire my writing. It had an effect on how I write my novels, just as my technical training influenced how I write. I focus on relatively complex stories, which fit together in order and sequence. All parts of my stories hang together. The problem that I have is that I do not focus on the characters of my books. I like them all, and would associate with them in real life, if they, in fact existed. But I don’t emphasize the emotional part of my novels, nor the character interactions. To me the story is one that I tell, in detail, in what I would characterize as a somewhat laconic voice. This is, I believe, the major drawback to all my novels. If I continue to write novels, and I probably will, I will be searching for someone who is very good at constructing characters who are lovable, hate able, etc. My coauthor will probably be sought as a budding playwright.

All my characters are based, to a greater and lesser degree on people I know, or knew. The skills and capabilities of my characters are based upon real people. However, I should add that I do not pay much attention to the human characteristics of real or imaginary people. They are what they are, and that is how I deal with people in real life. I like them, or do not; and friendships develop or not. I assume they think the same about me, but this may be an inaccurate assessment. I have many long term, close friends, in many fields and areas of endeavor, but I never think about them purely in an emotional way. They are wonderful in that sense that they have great enjoyment to me, but I never analyze them.

MA: Tell us more about your novels.

LS: I have already mentioned my first novel: The Third Legacy. This novel, written at my Mother’s request and prodding, was based upon the historical fact that Hermann Goering, Reich Marshall of the Third Reich, was sentenced to death for War Crimes at the Nuremburg War Crimes Trial at the end of World War II. He died a few hours before he was to be hung. How he died, and who helped him was never discovered or explained. This single event allowed me to develop a tale which explained all the facts, and hopefully was interesting as a novel.

The second novel, Gotcha! was based upon the Enron scandal and the terrible effects on the people who worked for Enron. The entire story of the Enron scandal was part of a Pulitzer Prize article from several Washington Post writers. I was infuriated by the way Enron executives handled themselves and decided that I could write a story which would have the characters, originally part of a fictional corporation who underwent the same series of events that Enron encountered. Once I had the idea of wrecking vengeance, the story was easy to develop.

The third novel, Unknown Connections was a little different. I have just finished a nonfiction book: Transparent Oceans: The Defeat of the Soviet Submarine Force. This book was written for a very select professional group of people who were familiar with the issues of naval submarine warfare during the Cold War. But several people suggested that I take the same information and create fictional characters and retell the story as part of a novel, using the same information. I did, and Unknown Connections is the result.

The fourth novel, Library of the Sands, is based upon the factual event of the destruction of the library at Alexandria in the 7th Century by the invading Arab armies. The library was itself about 1,000 years old at that time. It was the largest and most complete library in the Western Hemisphere with collections dating back 1,000 years from many sources. The librarians had a long and wonderful history in developing and protecting the collection. It was, and remains, my contention that the men and women of the 7th Century were emotionally no different than the men and women of the 21st Century; but the technology is different. If I were the Chief Librarian of the Alexandria Library at the time would I let my collection be destroyed by the invading armies? Absolutely not. So, how would I protect the collection which was in my care and my responsibility? The novel, Library of the Sands, is in fact, devoted to telling the imaginary story about how this was actually accomplished.

The most recent novel, Instrument of Vengeance, is due to my enjoyment of the assassin which was told about in the series of novels by Lawrence Block. I enjoyed them, and then, as is my habit, I asked myself how someone becomes an assassin, and how can a business which offers assassination as a service, exist in the modern world? How do you find clients? How do you stay free and not get caught by the law enforcement services? After thinking about it for a little while, and with the technical background I have, it was easy to solve the problem. So, I wrote a novel about how it could be done. All the technical details are correct, and plausible.

MA: How would you characterize the antagonists in your stories?

LS: My bad guys are really not people, but events and organizations.

MA: Will you keep writing fiction, or are you going to concentrate more on your technical writing?

LS: I will continue to write novels as ideas and events appeal to me. I can’t predict what they will be, or when they will occur. But my current focus on my firm, Life Echoes, I expect will have me encounter some interesting historical events and stories which I will use as a basis for a new novel, or series of novels.

MA: Thanks very much, Louis, for being my guest-blogger today. I encourage my readers to learn more about Louis Solomon by visiting his many websites:

www.pearlriverpublishing.net
www.lifeechoes.net
www.lpscolg.com
www.lpsseminars.com/LPSS/Presentations.html
www.tumblr.com/tumblelog/louispsolomon Read More

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Jun 01

Having Trouble Choosing a Subtitle? Ask Mary Deal for Advice

Choosing a Subtitle
by
Mary Deal

Sometimes you can conjure what you think is the best title ever for your book. No one has used that title and there is nothing close to it in all of literature. Then, after a while, you begin to wonder if your great title covers all that your book entails. You search for a new title but always return to the one you first chose. It is that good!

So you begin to wonder if you should also use a subtitle. Subtitles used to be seen as a way to enhance a weak title. However, at the writing of this article, the consensus is that if you want to utilize a great chance to tell more about your book, use a subtitle. Keep in mind, however, that some titles will never need a subtitle.

What subtitle would you add to Gone with the Wind or The Old Man and the Sea?

Peruse book selling sites and notice any recent books that have no subtitles. Notice those that do use subtitles. You will get a “feel” for when to use and when not to use.

Usually a title will tell the overall feeling or story without giving away any exact details. Using a subtitle allows you to hint at more of the detail.

Subtitles must be as short as possible. I have seen books with eight to ten words in the title alone, and then a subtitle with the same number or more words is added. This represents not only a misuse of a subtitle but shows an overall title not well thought out.

Your subtitle should give the strongest clue as to what the story is about. If you choose a subtitle because your title is not necessarily weak but is broad inclusively, then your subtitle will draw the reader in. Think of it. The title is unique and catches the reader’s attention. Then the subtitle tells more of what they can inspect of the prose. I use prose here because nonfiction, even books like cookbooks, sometimes has subtitles.

The reader will need to learn something about the book from the subtitle. Never use a subtitle with the intention of keeping the reader’s eyes glued to your cover. It doesn’t work that way. Every word must offer the reader something to learn about the book. A lackluster subtitle leaves the potential book buyer with a ho-hum feeling.

Your title can be anything from plain and simple to quirky. Whatever it represents will be enhanced and enticing through the subtitle.

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

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Jan 26

Something We All Hope for: Avoiding Rejection, an Article by Mary Deal

Avoiding Rejection
by
Mary Deal

The following tips are some that have been reconstructed from a handout I gave at one of my workshops for writers already far along in their manuscripts. On the registration form I asked what each attendee would most like to learn. Surprisingly, the frequently mentioned information pertained to feeling insecure about submitting once the manuscript was finished, and how would they know it was ready for submission.

In order to help avoid rejection of your manuscript, you need to think through what you’ve created. Start by analyzing these points before submitting.

Does your story start off strong enough to grab a potential reader’s attention?

Does your plot contain enough twists and turns to keep the reader from knowing the ending beforehand? Or is your story so predictable that it might be boring?

Does any possibility exist that you’ve created a story that creeps along, when it should fly and keep the reader turning pages?

Do you know the difference between a slow moving, arduous read and a story that moves like lightning where the reader has difficulty keeping their eyeballs in their sockets?

Have you included your own opinions in the plot sequences instead of allowing the scenes and characters to write themselves?

Are you preachy and trying to make a statement concerning something in which you believe and wish to share? Have no doubt. It is a definite turn-off and will show in your writing.

Have you developed your story to its fullest potential? If not, that would be the same as a detective having four clues and investigating only three. Whatever happens in your story, make sure you cover all aspects and possibilities of each scene.

What about your narrative voice? Is it different from your characters’ dialogues? Does it sound realistic or forced?

Always be careful of clichéd writing, and the use of stale jargon. Use only the most recent language of the time period of your plot that people in real life would use if they were your characters. To have a story taking place in present time, but using age-old language just doesn’t work. That’s unless the author shows that their particular story requires it.

Does each and every scene pull in the reader? Are the scenes developed so the reader knows when and where things happen and how the characters fit into that scene? In other words, have you written the scenes well enough so the reader will feel a part of it all and not know that they sit in a chair reading a book?

Do you have the appropriate beginning, middle and ending? As already stated, the beginning should grab the reader’s interest and make them want to keep reading. The middle may sag if you’ve simply tried to flesh out the story by adding inappropriate information that doesn’t feed into and forward the plot. The ending should be dramatic or contain the element of an Aha! experience. Whatever the experience, the reader must feel satisfaction for the characters when the story concludes.

Are your characters’ dialogues commensurate with the types of people you’ve created them to be? Do all your characters sound the same? Even if all your characters share the same backgrounds and social status, you must make each of them unique. One of the easiest places to accomplish this is through their dialogues.

As with the story line, the same applies to the characters. Are they lackluster predictable types?

Do your characters perform to the best of their abilities while moving through the plot? They can be demure to dastardly, but whatever they are, make them true to type and the best that they can be for the situation in which you’ve placed them.

Have you had your finished manuscript edited by a new set of eyes, preferably professional ones? A relative or friend critiquing your manuscript just isn’t enough – unless the person is an English teacher, perhaps.

Too, here’s something I do:

I have my final manuscript in one long file. I do a search for various important words that I may have used throughout the book. When I find too many of one word, I replace some of them with a different word or phrase with the same meaning. To read the same words too often begins to make the writing seem amateurish, as if the author had not seen the inside of a dictionary or thesaurus.

Lastly, these are some suggestions that should be thought through before submitting your work to agents or publishers. This information also applies to short story and novella writers, even some nonfiction. Much of this information may have crossed the mind of the writer way before getting to the end of the writing phase. In that case, that author is a huge step ahead and their manuscript will show it.

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

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Dec 29

Mary Deal Dishes on Designing Book Covers

Designing Book Covers

Do you visualize your book cover before you finish writing your opus? Maybe you wait till you finish and then decide what goes on the cover. Either way, several points to consider when designing a book cover can either promote your book or cause it to be overlook on the shelves, even online.

Your book cover must catch attention. It must also give a clue as to what the story may be about. The points listed are what convince a viewer to pick up the book and see what it’s about. But so much more goes into that cover.

1. Does your genre have the power to draw readers back to your next book? Many people read only one genre. They may read one book by you, but will your next cover entice them to pick up your next book? Too, many readers follow their favorite authors. If you are a new author breaking into a genre, does your cover have the power to entice a viewer to pick up your book?

2. The above point goes along with who your intended audience may be. Romance and mysteries are the best selling genres. If you write romance or mysteries, for example, then your covers are totally different. Where romance might show and man and woman in a love embrace, a mystery might have a pistol and spots of blood on the cover. That certainly wouldn’t work in reverse.

3. In addition to the art on the cover, you must plan the fonts you may use. The size and style of the lettering in the title and other verbiage also needs to be apropos to the genre. Also, the script on any cover needs proper placement. You certainly wouldn’t place any lettering over a crucial portion of the cover art, like a person’s face. Where you place the lettering can enhance the overall feel and promise of the story.

4. Color is vitally important when considering how to bring out the best of your story through the front of the book. All covers must offer their own eye-appeal.

While I use romance and mysteries in these comparisons, the same tips apply to books in any genre, including nonfiction.

Each one of these suggestions is vital if you are to create a cover that is eye-catching and can be the beginning or continuation of building your brand. The covers of your books should not only attract new readers but bring previous readers back to you time and again.

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

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Dec 08

“Preparing Your Manuscript for an Agent” by Mary Deal

Preparing Your Manuscript for an Agent

by

Mary Deal

Being aware of what agents look for will help you prepare the type of manuscript they will read. Keep in mind, these same rules apply once you have an agent and the manuscript is being sent out to publishing house editors.

All agents hope to find that one manuscript that is unique above all the others. It’s been said that all stories have been told. What makes them different is each individual writer’s slant on the topic, providing they have written a solid story.

When an agent begins to read, after years of experience, they are keen to grammar flaws. This is one area that could cause an agent or editor to reject a manuscript without consideration of any of its other merits.

Too, how long is your manuscript? Paper books presently should be 60,000 to 80,000 words. Anything more than that, since it’s the requirement, the agent will believe the writer too verbose, lacking control over their adjectives and adverbs and overall sentence structure.

With the advent of hand-held readers, entire books are now converted to ebooks. There may or may not be word count restrictions. Still, your story must be good to merit the higher-end costs of ebooks as well.

If the agent or editor reads on, they do so with one motivation. They need to decide if this book, when published, will sell enough to make back their commission and any advance royalty paid to the writer. And still, the book must make a profit for the publishing house beyond that point.

The agent or editor will also be judging the writer’s overall presentation. Is it neat? Was the cover letter professional? Did it follow standard form? Did the writer seem to know what he or she talked about. What they look for is how you, the writer will perform after the book is published. Are you going to be difficult to work with? Are you going to go out of your way to make this book a success? Or do you believe that’s the publisher’s duty?

Professionals know immediately if they want to spend the time to read all the way through. They are also concerned if a reader will want to spend hours with the story and author. They scrutinize to see if the writer’s descriptions are fresh and different. What the agent looks for is individual voice. It was once enough to say “the trees had greened up after the last heavy rain;” another to say “the morning sun reflected in the raindrops on the new green leaves and made the trees sparkle.” Your voice shows in how you describe scenes and action. Your description must be different than anything else you’ve read.

An agent is keenly aware whether or not they will turn from the first page to the second. Agents read thousands of stories. They know by the end of the first page if the book will stack up against others in the same genre.

Have you written characters that an agent will appreciate? Your characters must stand out from all the rest. For character development, see my articles Faces and Quirks and Character Sketches. Everyone, from agent, to editor to publisher to avid reader must like your characters. Make them likeable or make them the kind of characters we love to hate, but make them memorable.

The overall plot must be about something the characters need to attain or obtain. They must want it desperately or the reader simply will not care enough to follow the character through whatever conflict arises.

Not only in nonfiction but in fiction as well, your facts must be right. In nonfiction it can be no other way. If you wish to make your fiction true to life, which helps the reader suspend reality and keep reading, get your facts straight too.

Dialogue moves the story. It must be written in such a manner that enhances the character’s personality. Dialogue exchanges between characters must propel the story. Ordinary conversation is never written into books. It is boring and says nothing really. Consider this:

“Good morning, John.”

“Good morning, Jim. What’s on the agenda today?”

“Guess we’re supposed to take the plane out for a test run today.”

They went to leave immediately.

Or this:

“Morning, John,” Jim said, rushing in. He thumbed toward the sky. “Let’s get upstairs before the boss sees the plane still sitting on the tarmac.”

Ordinary conversation has no place in good writing. Dialogue and beats move the action. Oh yes, see my article titled Let the Dialogue Speak.

The above could easily be included in the instruction we’ve all heard: Show, Don’t Tell. Simply, what this means is that the reader must see the action happening. Dialogue promotes action. Any time the writer begins to tell what a person thinks, how they interact with others, that should raise a red flag in the writer’s mind. See the two examples above? The first version contains dead dialogue and stalls the action. The second example not only contains dialogue that moves the story, but shows us what these two people are doing. Shows, doesn’t tell.

* * *

Most of the information in this article applies to both agents and editors. You must find an agent before you can approach a publishing house editor. The agent does that for you. In rare instances I’ve heard about someone submitting directly to an editor, but it usually turns out to be a small start up publishing house. If you wish to approach the big houses, get an agent.

To help you find an agent, try the site which does not charge a fee. In my experience they have been totally reputable:

http://agentquery.com

The agents listed on this site tell you what types of manuscripts they will accept and in which genres. It’s very thorough.

http://www.writersmarket.com

These are the people who publish those real thick volumes about everything you need to know as a writer. The book is expensive. However, if you sign up for their online edition, you get new listings and updates as new information come in all year long.

You can double check the credibility of an agent or editor you wish to contact by finding them on Preditors and Editors at:

http://pred-ed.com/

Preditors and Editors tell you who is legitimate and who is a scam. Yes, there are scam artists in the writing industry. You knew that, right?

I’m sure other sites have additional information but these are great places to begin your search.

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

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Dec 01

Mary Deal Discusses Plot Driven versus Character Driven Stories

Plot Driven or Character Drive

by

Mary Deal

A book writing format includes numerous topics and fine points, many of which I have already written about. However, two writing objectives include knowing if your story is plot driven or character driven. Writing topics can sometimes dictate this but the story itself will identify into which category your story fits.

Plot Driven – We mystery writers or genre writers create plot driven prose. Early in the story, the mystery is introduced. Readers know that ultimately the mystery will be solved; it’s how the writer brings this about that drives the plot.

A recent example of a plot driven story is The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Another example from a little while back is Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton.

Putting the characters through their functions is what adds suspense and tension to the story. Whatever the characters stir up or endure all feeds into the plot. In order to keep these stories from feeling one or two dimensional, the writer must make the characters exciting in such a way that the information about each character enhances the plot. You can enhance your characters all you want, but if the information doesn’t enliven and enhance the plot, cut it. Find other ways to make your character three dimensional and that also make the reader feel they needed to know this or that about a particular character in order to further understand the plot.

Character Driven – Most nonfiction writers produce character driven fiction. Whatever the character says or does directs the story and the action. The character leads. You’ve heard the saying that the characters wrote the story, right? That is character driven. We are more concerned here in what the characters do and say that propels the story forward and creates new action. A plot may or may not exist, except to be created by the main characters actions and responses to story developments.

A good example of a character driven plot was Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden.

The fine line between the two – plot driven or character driven – is that plot driven contains a predetermined plot with the characters interacting in the story line and the story comes to a conclusion. In this sense, since no one knows how the characters will react, the characters lend a blend of character driven action to a plot driven story.

In nonfiction, even literary fiction, the story evolves from the character’s thoughts, emotions and decisions and where he or she will take the action. If the desired ending is strong beforehand, this lends itself to a bit of plot driven scenario, though character driven stories usually find their own endings as the story evolves.

A problem with character driven plots is that a writer may proceed to a certain point and realize they want the story go proceed toward a certain ending. From this point all the characters follow or feed into that end. This has a tendency to distort the part of the character because it’s easy to have your character do something that isn’t cohesive with the personality you’ve established for them. If at some point in the story, you see the ending and you make all the characters move in that direction, your story then becomes plot driven.

One of the main problems I’ve seen in some of the stories I’ve edited is the inclusion of a prologue. First, this represents the writer unskilled enough to work back story into the present plot. But more than that, plot drive stories don’t always allow for the characters to contemplate or think through their actions. Plot driven usually moves at a fast pace and characters react spontaneously or compulsively.

In character driven stories, characters are contemplative. We get to know their inner thought processes. It might be easier to work prologue into these types of stories because showing a person’s inner workings allows us to realize their back story and resultant motivations.

So the problem I recognized while editing is that writers do not know if their stories are plot driven or character driven. Understanding the difference between these two categories will make writing a lot simpler.

Distinct differences exist between plot driven and character driven. In actuality, a polished writer will create a unique balance of the two.

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

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Nov 24

“Plot Elements” by Mary Deal

Plot Elements

by

Mary Deal

Plot elements are always the same when writing any story through the stages of writing development. This includes when writing creative nonfiction.

If you are adept at summarizing stories, I doubt you will ever find stories where any of the points listed below are missing.

Analyze some of your own stories. Notice if you, too, have included each of these elements in your writing.

If any of these elements are missing from your stories, chances are, it will be a story you felt you weren’t ready to sell or publish because something “wasn’t quite right.” Check the stages of writing development of your story for plot elements.

The list below shows the major construction blocks and the order in which they will happen as a story progresses.

Set Up (Want): The protagonist’s or characters’ needs

Rising Action: What the character does to reach his or her desired goal

Reversals (Plots Points): Something happens to the character to thwart him or her achieving their heart’s desire. Either right choices or mistakes are made by the character.

This is one of the areas that allow you to take your story in a new direction from what the character had intended. This is a major portion of the story because your character should be headed toward his or her goal when an occurrence stops them cold.

This will be the lengthiest of the stages of writing development. This section is considered the middle of the story. You’ve heard people refer to “sagging middles?” A sagging middle means the writer did not keep up the action going through the middle of the book. An attention grabbing beginning falls flat when the excitement fades in a dull sagging middle. Then while slogging through a questionable middle, the reader may never make it to the climactic ending.

Recognition: The character realizes what he or she must do, how they must change, in order to overcome their mistakes and achieve their goal(s).

This is one of the plot elements that bring about an Aha! experience. However, the character may not always make the right decision for change.

The Recognition portion of plot elements is NOT the climax. Do not confuse recognition of a problem with the climax of a story.

This is another of the major story building points. Perhaps the character still insists on pursuing what they set out to achieve, in spite of receiving great setbacks. Then finally, once they acknowledge that they need to make changes, those elements and change need to be developed.

This is the second lengthiest of the stages of writing development. Now the character must not only right the wrongs, but also forge ahead to heal the situation.

Climax: The climactic – or at least surprising – result of the action, or where the character ends up, what situation they find themselves in, embroiled or accomplished.

This is also the lesson of the story, the message or metaphor that you, the writer, hope to accomplish by writing the piece. You need not incorporate a moral or ethical message in your stories. However, as you move your characters through their story lives, you inadvertently give the reader a lesson in right and wrong.

Plot elements say this portion of the story should be quick, for added impetus of the realization. It brings the story to a close.

Denouement (Sometimes optional): Of the plot points, this is the lesson learned by the character(s), the after-thoughts, from the character’s choices made in seeking their desire.

If the character happens not to realize his or her mistake, then this is the place where the reader will understand the result of the character’s actions, no matter how naïve or in denial the character remains.

Plot elements are easiest to build in longer stories such as novellas or novels, and creative nonfiction. The length of the story dictates how much time and verbiage can be allotted to developing the steps of the story.

In short stories, the writing is controlled, dependent upon the length of the story. Short stories need to be, at times, punchy, quick. It’s a nice test of making use of fewer words while utilizing all the plot elements.

In building a story through the limitations of Flash Fiction, you will see just how adept you’ve become at writing when you can incorporate all of the above plot elements in very few choice words.

However, do not be mistaken by thinking that in a full length novel you can use more words, take all the time and use all the verbiage you need to make your story work. Novels and long works need just as much attention, if not more, to writing lean as any shorter stories.

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

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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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Oct 22

Tree/House Author, Jessica Knauss, Visits with Mike Angley

MA: My guest-blogger today is Jessica Knauss. Born and raised in Northern California, Jessica has become something of a wanderer who hopes to settle down soon. She has worked as a librarian and a Spanish teacher. She lives with her husband Stanley, with whom she plans to open a soft-serve ice cream shop in the future. Jessica has participated in many writer’s groups and workshops, including the International Writers’ Program at the University of Iowa. Her nonfiction has appeared in Medieval History Magazine, Hortulus, LL Journal, and an encyclopedia entitled The World and Its Peoples. To date, she has published fiction in Bewildering Stories, Do Not Look at the Sun, (Short) Fiction Collective, Full of Crow Quarterly Fiction, Sillymess, This Mutant Life and Short, Fast, and Deadly. Her poetry can be found at Haggard & Halloo, Apollo’s Lyre and The Shine Journal. Her novella Tree/House, about a woman’s awakening through sleeping in trees, is available at Amazon. Açedrex Publishing will release her poetry chapbook, Dusk Before Dawn, in September. Get updates on her writing at her Facebook page.

You have been very busy with all your writing projects!

JK: I came out of the womb with a pencil in my hand. In grade school, I could hardly be bothered with math, but let all other experiences influence the stories that just kept coming out of me unbidden. I grew up in Northern California, close to the Redwood forests, near the foggy grey beaches, and gained a sense of awe at nature and a strong isolation from civilization that shows up in all my work. I studied a lot of subjects, mainly Spanish, because my love of Spain sprouted spontaneously one day when I was about 11. I’ve been a librarian (love those books!) and a Spanish teacher in the beautiful cities of Boston and Providence. Somewhere along the way I lost sight of creative writing, but have now taken it up again with complete seriousness. The stories and characters were patient. They knew I had to come back to them some day.

MA: Was your decision to write novels a conscious, formulated one, or did something simply inspire you?

JK: The novels chose me instead of the other way around. For me, being a writer consists of taming the wild muse and making a craft out of a formless mass of creativity I’m re-learning to tap into.

MA: So tell us about Tree/House.

JK: My novella, Tree/House, is a timeless coming-of-age story in which a woman, Emma, has made terrible decisions throughout her life, allowing herself to be led around by anyone with more force of will. When the husband who took her on dies suddenly, she slowly turns her drifting into a direction, learning some shocking truths along the way. She could not go through this process without Geraldine, a vagrant who camps on her property, sleeping not in the barn or the stable, but in the wild old trees. Geraldine is in need of some emotional rehabilitation herself, but with her assertive personality, she helps Emma see the alternatives to the passive life she has lived. The novella has a slightly nineteenth-century feel to it, because the characters write letters, build libraries, and trek through the countryside on foot, but at just 28,000 words, it’s a fast, fun read that will leave you time to read it again! It’s perfect for book clubs and discussion groups or just sharing with friends.

I also have a poetry chapbook that recently released, called Dusk Before Dawn. This is a compilation of most of my poetry from over the years, and I’ve put them together in a trajectory that addresses the nature of language, the search for love, the nostalgia of place, the creative process, and, most importantly, personal identity. Some are like stories, and others a very lyrical. They make a nice companion to Tree/House, as they address many of the same issues.

MA: Emma sounds like an intriguing character. How did you go about developing her in the story?

JK: One of the lines from what ended up being the third chapter came to me in a bolt of sheer inspiration. It’s when one of the servants on the estate is telling Emma some unsavory truths she didn’t know about Geraldine: “Do you know she killed the cat, aimed for the stable boy and slept with her boss?” The protagonist at that point was merely a receptacle for this information. Emma’s character grew out of the way she reacted to Geraldine’s extravagant style. The antagonist, Franklin, grew out of that passivity in a natural way, creating the drama organically.

MA: Would you say Emma is a strong character? Is she flawed at all?

JK: I’m afraid Emma is all weakness: confused, not confident, no direction, no definable talent, and worst of all, led easily astray. She represents any woman who finds herself at a crossroads, and I think her indecisiveness and insecurities make her very sympathetic for readers.

MA: Do you have a definable antagonist, or is Emma challenged by many characters because of her weaknesses?

JK: Franklin, who ends up as Emma’s husband (and then brutally murdered in revenge for past misdeeds) is very dangerous because he knows how to manipulate her, all while she believes she is making her own choices. His praise of Emma seems unfounded and bizarre, just like the rest of him. He seems to have sprung out of nothingness to impose an ancient order on her disorganized life. He is a jailer and a neglecter and represents every thing evil and intransigent, at the same time that he opens a new world of literature up to Emma. His gifts are awkward, beautiful only in a certain light, and I hope the reader feels as weird about him as I do.

MA: Is there any of Jessica’s real life story in Emma?

JK: Absolutely. Because of the organic development of the plot, Emma’s predicament reflects the trapped feeling and self-doubts I was going through at the time. The writing and sending of letters comes directly from my experience, and I think it increases the feeling of isolation as she’s trying to make a decision about what to do with her life. I had a terrible experience with a wrinkled wedding dress that I make Emma go through with a little more naiveté, and I had a friend in college who told me that eating French fries gave her the hiccups, so thanks for that tidbit! (I’m not sure she would want me to broadcast her name, but she knows who she is.) Franklin turned out as a Bluebeard type. He has elements from just about anything I felt stifled me in the past, including, of course, old boyfriends! I think all this leakage between life and fiction, unintentional or otherwise, helps give the story psychological realism the reader can really get into.

MA: Now that Tree/House and your book of poetry, Dusk Before Dawn, are out, what’s next on your writing horizon?

JK: I’m striking out into territory that may seem very different by writing a historical novel set in tenth-century Spain and based on an epic revenge poem. It’s full of battles, glittering armor, and exotic locales. It’s not really a departure for me because I have a PhD in Medieval Spanish, and, continuing the feminine theme of my previous work, the story has female characters who know how to manipulate the society in which they live.

I’m always working on weird short stories, and waiting for that bolt of inspiration for my next longer work.

MA: Will Emma come along in future works?

JK: Tree/House readers have said they would love to spend more time with the characters. I have considered writing the further adventures of Geraldine, or even a prequel showing how she really got to be the fascinating woman she is in Tree/House, but nothing concrete is on the writing schedule. Read More

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Sep 01

“Drop the Words” (Put Your Hands Up! Back Away from the Keyboard!) by Mary Deal

Drop the Words

Colloquialism and slang have their place in diction. That applies to both fiction and nonfiction. However, it doesn’t fit in proper grammar usage when attempting to make your story or book, fiction or nonfiction, the best that it can be.

Consider these:

Eat it up
Where are you at?

Read these sentences again, only this time, substitute the word “down” in place of “up.”

In the first example, how can you “eat it up” if you can’t “eat it down?” Simply put, you “eat it.”

In the second sentence the words “where” and “at” are synonymous as to location. You may as well ask, “Where are you where?” Properly asked, it’s “Where are you?”

When writing, in proper grammar usage, some words need to be dropped from sentences all together. However, if you develop a story character who speaks using these colloquialisms, then his or her diction must be established the first time that character speaks. And further, the character’s language must follow through with similar jargon anytime his or her dialogue is included.

Written dialogue allows for misusages of grammar. It enhances drawls, brogues, and general linguistics found in varying regions and among groups of people. However, in writing narrative, drop the words that make your writing look amateurish and you, the author, unprofessional. Dropping the poor grammar in the narrative portions of stories sets the dialogue apart, which is a must. and draws attention to the uniqueness of each character.

An exception is when the narrator intends to make the narration sounds like the storyteller speaks that way. An example would be when a person from the deep south is telling his life story. We know it’s about him in his own words. We allow for his dialect in both the narration and dialogue. Or a person with a foreign accent tells his or her story; then the narration and dialogue will have great similarities.

With the exception of the above example, and particularly in the editing stage, drop the words that do nothing but distract from the value of the sentence.
Read More

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