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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.tumblr.com/tumblelog/louispsolomon Read More

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Apr 27

Saturate Yourself by Mary Deal

Saturate Yourself


Mary Deal

Many writers see a piece of prose and feel they can write like that. When they make the attempt to write their own story or piece of poetry, they fail. Why?

We’re all told to read what we wish to write. That is, read the authors we like best. That’s one reason we choose to write in the genre we’ve chosen. But also read instruction books on how to write for a certain genre. With the advent of eReaders, more books can be available at our fingertips for a fraction of the cost. Your local library also has reference books.

Every genre has its requirements.

* A mystery solves a problem
* A romance brings two people together or apart
* Science fiction usually creates other worlds
* Fantasy has elements of imagination beyond the norm
* Literary fiction deals with a moment in time, the human element

And on and on…

One of the best ways to help you gain success with your writing endeavors is to immerse yourself in the form of writing you wish to accomplish. You’ll identify certain rules or formats followed in each type of story you read.

For example in poetry, if you’ve read a heartfelt sonnet that touched you deeply, and wish to write about your feelings but every time you try the words just don’t fall into place. The best thing you can do is to study how to write a sonnet. Read sonnets. Read other poetry so you can learn the different between forms of verse. The latter is a great way to understand the type of poetry you wish to write. Oftentimes, we must learn what it is not, versus what it is.

Read about the format of a sonnet, the grammatical make-up, and the purpose of a sonnet. When you come to understand exactly what makes a perfect sonnet, chances are, your words will tumble out in sonnet format.

Likewise, every writer should have a good grasp of what makes a great story in the genre of their choice. I want to say that you should read only the best books, but that doesn’t give you a well-rounded experience. Saturate yourself. Read some books that do not appeal to you in any way. Ask yourself why they don’t. You may realize that they were not written in proper format for the genre.

When you read books, be aware of what is good writing and plotting as opposed to poor or incomplete work. All of this helps you to know the rights and wrong, the ins and outs, of making your story great.

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

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Mar 18

My First Guest Author, John Wills, Returns and Talks About his New Release

MA: Today I am pleased to welcome back not only a veteran guest-blogger, but the first author who appeared as a guest when I launched my blog two years ago. John Wills “guested” with me back in November 2009, and you can go back and read that original interview here: Fellow Writer John Wills is Mike Angley’s First Guest-Blogger! John and I are fellow, former law enforcement officers, and it was through this affiliation (and via a website called PoliceLink) that we met and networked to join the same publishing house a few years ago. John, welcome back! Please tell us about your law enforcement career because I know it has shaped your life and it has informed your writing.

JW: I spent 33 years in law enforcement, including the Chicago Police Department and FBI. That background was a natural springboard for me to write about what I had been doing most of my life. As an FBI agent, much of your time is spent writing things such as affidavits for search and arrest warrants, interviews with witnesses and informants, etc. The problem is that once you’ve created a document it has to go up the line for approval, sometimes all the way to FBI headquarters. By the time it returns to you it hardly resembles your first draft. Once I retired I felt the bonds of oversight were severed and I was free to create whatever I wanted. One caveat . . . if a former agent writes a book, the manuscript must first be approved by the FBI. Why? The Bureau must ensure that no active cases are being written about and no covert techniques or national security issues are compromised.

MA: With such a broad LE background, you must have had a lot of experiences to draw from in crafting your fiction, right?

JW: I had thousands of stories knocking around inside my brain from my time on Chicago PD as well as with the FBI. I began writing professionally as soon as I retired, confining myself to articles on officer survival, firearms, ethics, and training. To date, I’ve had more than 100 articles published on sites such as Officer.com and LawOfficer.com, as well as several print magazines. But those articles were non-fiction; I was interested in telling some stories and giving them a twist that would engage the reader emotionally.

MA: I’ve read your first two books which I thoroughly loved, tell my readers about the series itself.

JW: I created a fictional series, The Chicago Warriors™ Thriller Series, in which two Chicago Police detectives investigate not only the violent crimes they are assigned, but often times the political machine that is part and parcel of Chicago. The books are part of the mystery/thriller genre, but with a twist. Both characters rely on their faith to see them through the challenges that big city police work presents.

MA: Now, you don’t have a single protagonist in your stories, rather, you have two. Tell us about them.

JW: The male protagonist, Pete Shannon, is an amalgamation of several cops and agents I’ve worked with through the years. The female detective, Marilyn Benson, is based on a real FBI agent who I helped train in my years at the FBI Academy. I’ve also continued to mentor her since she is still an active FBI agent. Both characters are very strong, tactically. I’ve ensured they utilize the proper firearms and street survival tactics. I think it’s important to be correct in describing police work of any kind to ensure authenticity and credibility. In terms of their weakness . . . they are both heavily invested in personal relationships, including friendships. This sometimes has a pejorative influence on how they react to certain situations.

MA: And what about antagonists?

JW: Each book in the series has its own unique bad guy, including bad cop(s). That’s how I bring a fresh perspective to each story and create a bad guy that my readers have to flesh out as the story progresses.

MA: I know from your real police work that you were involved in a whole lot of action, so how did that makes its way into your stories?

JW: Yes, I’ve been involved in several shootings, been involved in SWAT operations, execution of search and arrest warrants, and of course, experienced many of the challenges in my own life that I transfer onto my protagonists.

MA: You have a new release in the series, so please tell us about that and what else you are working on.

JW: I continue to freelance, writing articles for magazines and websites. I’ve written several award winning short stories and have had others printed in several anthologies. I’ve also contributed several stories to a daily police devotional entitled, Cops on The Street, which was released in December.

I am working on a new novel, non-fiction, entitled, Women Warriors: Stories from the Thin Blue Line. The book will be a collection of true stories, written by the women who’ve lived them. I include not only female police officers, but also corrections, dispatchers, chaplains, and prosecutors. If any of your readers know of a woman who might like to share their story in the book, which will be released sometime this fall, please direct them to my website; http://johnmwills.com/

In my latest release, TARGETED, I’ve brought the FBI into the story which may allow me to take a totally different direction in future novels.

All of my books are also available in eBook format on both Kindle and Nook.

MA: John, thanks again for coming back to my website. I wish you well with the new release and with all your writing endeavors.
Read More

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Feb 16

Prologue, Denouement and Epilogue as Only Mary Deal Can Describe Them

Prologue, Denouement and Epilogue
Mary Deal

First let me quote from the Oxford Dictionary before we discuss usages.

Prologue: 1) A separate introductory part of a play, book or piece of music. 2) An event that leads to another.

Denouement: The final part of a film, play or narration, in which matters are explained or resolved.

Epilogue: A section at the end of a book or play which comments on what has happened.

A Prologue can set up the rest of a story. That is, it can relate a brief occurrence that led to the present action of the story that we then jump into the middle of in Chapter One. Used this way, a prologue becomes a bit of back story, should not take up any more than a few paragraphs, and definitely should not be as long as a full chapter. Too, anything that isn’t foreshadowing for the rest of the story should be cut.

The longer the Prologue, the more it seems the writer is, again, quoting back story when, in reality, back story should be incorporated into the present of the telling. This is done through conversations between characters or brief remembrances of the main character. Providing too much life story in the prologue, keeps the reader bogged down in the past when you really want them immersed in the action of the now that starts with the first word, sentence and paragraph of Chapter One.

Completely opposite of that, the Prologue can also be used to show the outcome of the entire story up front before Chapter One begins. In other words, your story has a problem the main character needs to resolve. The story goes on to show the character resolved those issues and then shows the climax and denouement, which led to the information first presented in the Prologue.

My preference is not to read a book where I know up front that all ends well. I want to feel all the indecision, fright and other emotions that the characters may endure. Then I want the relief of learning how their situation is resolved. If I read up front that their lives went back to normal after something drastic had happened to them, I won’t feel their emotions as I read.

Part of reading is to experience what the characters endure. First reading that everything came out okay seems, in my opinion, to diminish the thrill of suffering with these story people. So what? I ask. I already knew these people would prevail.

The Denouement tells how the characters are affected once the climax of the action is made apparent. If a mystery, the climax happens when the perpetrator is caught or gets his or her comeuppance. You cannot end the story at that point. You must tell how this climactic revelation affected all the other characters. That portion after the climax is the denouement.

The denouement need not be lengthy. It can be a few sentences or a couple of paragraphs. It can also be one or more brief chapters.

In my thriller, River Bones, after the perpetrator is caught and people realize just who the serial killer is, many more additional clues are found to cement his guilt. Too, a few subplots needed to be wrapped up that did not really affect catching the perpetrator, but which followed through and fed into the action of the entire story. That wrap-up, my denouement, took two additional brief exciting chapters. But that wasn’t all….

An Epilogue is best used to show how the story resolution affected the characters after a period of time has passed. Yes, it’s enough to catch a perpetrator and everyone return to their normal lives in the denouement. However, in River Bones, I used an Epilogue to not only wrap up the strongest subplot, but to create a situation where it leaves the story open for a sequel.

Another example might be a romance. After the lovers settle their differences and end up together in the denouement, the Epilogue might be used to show that a year later they parted. What caused them to part must be something already written into the story beforehand. The Epilogue is not a place to introduce new information – ever. Whatever happens in the Epilogue is a result of some action already dealt with in the story.

Between prologue, denouement and epilogue, the denouement is the only part necessary to any story. Think hard about using Prologues and Epilogues and have good reason for doing so.

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


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


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 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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Sep 22

“Reader Empathy” An Article by Mary Deal

Reader Empathy

A rejection that I received for a short story caused me to take a look at the beginnings of all my stories, short or book length.

Your reader needs to make a connection with your main character. Your heroine or hero needs to have at least one strong quality with which a reader can empathize. When your readers make such a connection, they experience the story through that character’s senses.

Reader empathy must happen at the top of the story. When your reader cannot find anything about your story or characters to like, interest quickly wanes. Then they may not read deep into the story; if they get so far as to finish, the lack of connection will leave them asking “So what?”

I received a rejection from a magazine editor for my fantasy story about a woman’s experience with a UFO and aliens. While I thought it was one of my best fantasy stories, he said,

“I don’t know what to make of the protagonist’s experience. On one level, I don’t need to know whether they’re real or imaginary, but I didn’t learn enough about her to feel much empathy. Although I can’t use this story, please feel free to submit another.”

This editor didn’t say that I should tell more about my protagonist at the top of the story. Placing additional information at the top is my idea for the re-write. After all, how far into the story will a person read when they cannot find rapport with the main character? This editor, most likely, read or scanned the story all the way through because that’s an editor’s job. A reader is not obligated to do the same.

Another possibility of building rapport exists with the reader learning about the main character as the story unfolds. But again, how far into the story will the reader pay attention in order to build empathy? In the case of my story, I see that I can add two sentences at the very beginning of the story that should solve the problem.

Building reader empathy can happen by revealing anything about the main character that will draw the reader to them. The characteristic may be something that elicits any type of emotion, be it love, pity, admiration, or anything else that helps the reader feel connected to that character.

When your main character is the villain, you must still build a trait into her or his makeup to keep the reader’s eyes glued to the page. In a case like this, it might be someone we love to hate and will keep reading just to see that the villain gets a comeuppance. Yet, how many people write stories from the villain’s point of view?

Usually, stories are written from other than the villain’s POV. Not too many readers want to identify with a villain.

Test this advice next time you read a story or, specifically, when you are looking for a new novel to read. Usually readers test the story by reading the beginning paragraphs or pages. How soon do you make a connection to the main character, or even a secondary character? What was the connection made? Was it strong enough to keep you reading, even purchasing the book?

Clues, such as I received in the rejection, help so very much. If I must receive one, it’s the type of rejection I welcome. I’ve already fixed my story and sent it elsewhere. You can bet I will be sending other stories to this very generous editor. And I’ve already rewritten the beginnings of two of my future novels. Read More

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Aug 13

“Big Sick Heart” Author, Mike Markel, Guests with Mike Angley

MA: Please help me welcome my guest-blogger today, Mike Markel. Mike has published a number of short stories and nonfiction books. His collection of stories, Miserable Bastards, is on Scribd at http://www.scribd.com/my_document_collections/2509786. Big Sick Heart is his first novel. During the day, he is a writing professor at Boise State University.
Welcome, Mark. Please tell us more about your background.

MM: I’m a writing professor at Boise State, specializing in technical writing. I’ve published seven other books, mostly textbooks and scholarly books about writing and ethics. I’ve also published a bunch of short stories, some action-based, some more literary.

MA: With that background, and those non-fiction credits to your name, why did you decide to write fiction?

MM: I wanted to try my hand at another kind of writing. I’d like to be able to make the transition from mostly non-fiction to fiction. Fiction writing is simply more fun for me as a writer. The challenge, of course, is the familiar one: figuring out how to get my novel noticed and read, so that I can keep writing more. My blog, Fears of a First-Time Novelist (http://mikemarkel.blogspot.com), chronicles my thinking about this challenge.

MA: I think all writers experience those fears as they approach the business end of writing – getting published! Tell us about your debut novel.

MM: Big Sick Heart is a police procedural set in the small town of Rawlings, Montana. Karen Seagate, the Chief’s least favorite detective, is currently imploding. Her marriage has fallen apart, and she is drinking way too much. Her new, young Mormon partner, Ryan Miner, has just arrived from another century and another planet. Their latest crappy assignment is to provide security to a couple of guys debating stem cell research at the local college. But when one of the debaters, Arlen Hagerty, is murdered that night, what had been a boring job becomes a high-profile case.

There are plenty of reasons why someone would want to kill Hagerty. His wife and his mistress each had motive, means, and opportunity, as did his debate opponent. So did the man whom Hagerty pushed from his job as he clawed his way to the top, as well as the local politician whom Hagerty had been blackmailing.

Seagate and Miner are closing in on the murderer. The question is whether they can get him before Seagate destroys herself.
MA: That’s intriguing, especially the science fiction and fantasy elements of time and space travel. Tell us more about Karen Seagate.

MM: I didn’t think of her the way most writers would: as the best detective in the department, the best at this or that. I conceived of her as a character who might appear in a non-detective fiction book, a 42-year old woman with the normal set of family and identify and personal problems, who just happens to have a considerably more dangerous and stressful job than most people have.
Her strength is that she an intelligent, sensitive person with a strong moral compass and a willingness to risk everything for what she believes is right. Her most obvious flaw is that the stresses in her life, including a failed marriage, a kid in trouble, and an alienation on the job, have led her to a serious drinking problem.

MA: I understand you plan to use Karen in future stories, but what about an antagonist? Will you have a familiar nemesis in later novels in which Karen appears?

MM: No, there will be different nemeses in each book. Her real recurring nemesis is herself.

MA: Oftentimes when I have crime/detective fiction writers on my blog, they have backgrounds in law enforcement from which they draw to inspire their stories. How about you? Have you had any personal experiences with your storyline that influenced the plot?

MM: The murder at the center of the plot relates to ethical, political, and economic issues about stem-cell research, a subject on which I have strong views that derive from some personal factors.

MA: Interesting. Let me get back to Karen for a moment since you indicated there are more stories in the works featuring her. Tell us about your plans.

MM: I’m at work on the sequel to Big Sick Heart, which is tentatively called Unacceptable Deviations. Because Big Sick Heart is a series novel, the follow-up will feature Karen and her partner, Ryan. This time, the case relates to a murder of a state legislator by a lone wolf who has broken away from the patriot movement.

MA: Very good. I’m sure your readers will be looking forward to your sequels and new adventures for Karen and Ryan. Thanks for guesting today. Is there anything else you’d like my readers to know?

MM: I want to thank you, Mike, for giving me an opportunity to talk with your readers. I’d like to invite everyone to visit my blog (http://mikemarkel.blogspot.com) and sample Big Sick Heart online, at BooksForABuck.com (http://www.booksforabuck.com/mystery/mys_10/big-sick-heart.html). (While you’re there, you can read about the special offers and the “$100 for 100 Readers” contest.) The book is also available at Smashwords (at http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/15261). For paperback, please visit Amazon (at http://www.amazon.com/Big-Sick-Heart-Detectives-Seagate/dp/1602151229/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1279568281&sr=1-1) or Barnes & Noble (at http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Big-Sick-Heart/Mike-Markel/e/9781602151222/?itm=1&USRI=big+sick+heart).
Read More

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