MA: Before he became a mystery writer and reviewer, Carl Brookins was a counselor and faculty member at Metropolitan State University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Brookins and his wife are avid recreational sailors. He is a member of Mystery Writers … Read More
Tag Archives: RMWA
A scene ends when the action ends or the conversation can add no more to that part of the story. Maybe one scene is in the grocery store; the next scene is outside on the docks. Usually when a huge shift in location happens, you begin a new chapter.
(Don’t try to write a sequel to “My Dinner with Andre” which happened totally in one scene at the dinner table. It’s been done and was successful because the actors were good.)
When you end a scene, leave the reader wondering what could happen next and wanting to read further. It’s called a cliff hanger. Leave something unfinished, like a threat of action yet to happen and we can see one character gearing up to do some dirty work. The reader wonders what could possible happen next? And so they keep turning pages. Read More
Want to wake in the morning with more creativity? Then pay attention to what’s on your mind when you fall asleep.
Research has proven that the mind uses its most recent daytime images and thoughts to create dreams. So, too, the mind produces the mood with which you wake after sleeping. Read More
MA: My special guest today is Nancy Ellen Dodd. She is a writer with many voices, a university instructor, and an editor. She received her master’s in Professional Writing (MPW, which is a multi-discipline approach to writing) from the University of Southern California with a concentration in dramatic writing/screenwriting and her MFA in playwriting at USC’s School of Theatre. Having studied writing for more than 25 years, Dodd currently teaches screenwriting at Pepperdine University to undergraduate and graduate students.
Her book, The Writer’s Compass: From Story Map to Finished Draft in 7 Stages, covers the full creative writing process from which she draws lessons for her classes. The Writer’s Compass teaches the writer how to develop and focus their ideas, the use of a story map, and building the story through 7 productive development stages. Published by Writer’s Digest Books, the book was released in June 2011.
Dodd has received numerous awards for her writing, which includes screenplays, plays, short stories, short films, and novel-length works, as well as inspirational writing. Some of her short stories have been read on public radio. She also studied writing with several successful, award-winning writers: Pulitzer-prize winning playwright Paul Zindel; playwrights Velina Hasu-Houston, Oliver Mayer, David Milton, and Lee Wochner; screen and television writer Sy Gomberg; and international poet James Ragan.
Currently on faculty at the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University, Dodd serves as academic editor of the Graziadio Business Review, an online peer-reviewed business practitioner’s journal with over 500,000 page visits per year, 35% of those international. She also produces and edits video and audio interviews for the journal. Dodd’s journalistic career includes publishing more than 130 articles in local and national publications including interviews with celebrities and business leaders.
Well, that’s a pretty impressive background! It’s obvious that writing has been a major part of your life.
NED: For more than 25 years I’ve studied writing in all forms. This led me to having several articles and some short stories published, then to two master’s degrees in writing. From there I’ve had some of my work produced and received several awards and acknowledgements for my writing. It also led me to two stints as editor of two magazines and now academic editor of a peer-reviewed journal as a faculty member at Pepperdine University. Plus I teach screenwriting to undergraduates and graduate students there. I write in all forms: fiction and nonfiction; novels, screenplays, plays, short stories, and some inspirational prose. Most recently I’ve written The Writer’s Compass: From Story Map to Finished Draft in 7 Stages, about the creative writing process for developing stories based on what I’ve learned from thousands of hours of lectures, books, seminars, and two graduate degrees. The book teaches how to use a story map as a tool for developing your story and how to write your story more efficiently in seven stages.
MA: You have such a variety of writing experiences. Tell us, from your perspective, what is the difference between writing a novel and other forms of writing?
NED: People often ask me what my favorite form of writing is. I think it is always whatever form I’m writing in. That being said, there is something special about the novel. You can really evolve and develop the characters and the setting and the emotions in a novel. You can write it however you want. It can be formulaic or completely different from anything else out there. You can write sequels to infinity, or confine the story to a couple hundred pages. A novel gives you an intimate look at the story and characters in a way no other form can quite match. Other forms of writing have more rigid requirements for how the story is written on the page and different challenges and are much more restricted.
MA: How do you see character development, and do you address it in your books about writing?
NED: I’ve heard it said that most of our writing is a reflection of the people we know, of our selves, and also from our own experiences. Characters are often compilations of characteristics that we find interesting from what we’ve seen in others, or read, or watched on television. Unfortunately, if you draw your characters too much from fictional sources, as opposed to real people, your characters are flatter and more two-dimensional. In The Writer’s Compass there is a large section on characterization to help you draw out a fully rounded character that feels real—like someone your readers could know.
MA: What is your advice to writers about how to approach developing their protagonists?
NED: The development of the protagonist is something that takes time. We start with a glimmer of who the character is, but to write the truth about how he or she would behave takes knowing your character better than you know anyone else, perhaps even yourself. To write a gripping character you have to know what motivates her or him, what would destroy the character, what would force the character to take action, and what the character would do when their back is to the wall. When you know your character that well, and you have developed that character in your writing, you can take the story to the next level and surprise your reader with what your character does next, instead of the expected, and make it believable.
MA: How important is it t have strengths and weaknesses when developing characters for a novel?
NED: The strengths and weaknesses you give your character are critical to making your story believable. I recently read a book, published by a major publishing house, in which the author kept telling me that the protagonist was this disciplined martial arts expert and showed me the character spending time every day practicing with a sword in the back yard and freaking out the neighbors. However, the character did not act or react with the discipline that someone this focused on martial arts would have. His daily routine was to get drunk and eat poorly. He couldn’t stay focused on the task of finding his kidnapped girlfriend and his decision-making process was very faulty. The character and the book were totally unbelievable because the author told me who this character was supposed to be, but the entire novel showed me that the character’s behavior did not match who the author wanted me to believe the character was.
A hero should have weaknesses or a vulnerability, even Superman was allergic to kryptonite, but those weaknesses should be organic and make sense in the context of who the character is supposed to be. And the hero’s strength or weakness can be the opposite to what the reader anticipates or even the unexpected, as long as the writer gives the character a strong reason for having that flaw or that strength. If the reader doesn’t buy what you are saying, then neither your hero nor your story will have credibility. Which, of course, takes us back to knowing your character well.
MA: Great insight! You must have something to say about developing an antagonist.
NED: Creating an antagonist or a nemesis for a story is an interesting process. Often my students will say they don’t have one, and it’s true, some stories don’t need a particular “bad guy.” However, having a specific nemesis usually brings more tension to the story and creates obstacles for the hero to overcome or fight against, creating the action in the story. It may not be a person. It could be natural forces such as a hurricane or being lost in the heat of a desert. It could be an animal like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park or a bear in the Alaskan wilderness. It could be the protagonist is her or his own enemy, fighting addictions or emotions or a change in their life. It can be an organization that is trying to destroy the protagonist or that the hero is trying to stop from doing something bad. The antagonist could also be a good person trying to keep the protagonist from making a “mistake” or wrong decision in their life, even if it turns out not to be one. When you turn a vague problem into an actual thinking (or appears to have the power to think) enemy, you will find more ideas for building your story.
MA: What about using real-life experiences in the plot?
NED: Writers often have interesting stories to tell or to interpret through fiction, but it can be very difficult to have the perspective needed to tell the story, without the passage of time and the benefit of knowing the outcome down the road. I think it is very difficult not to incorporate some facet of our real lives and experiences into everything we write, even if we fictionalize them. Which can be a way of working through the incident or changing the outcome.
My students sometimes want to write about real events that happened to them or their family. I try to discourage them from doing so. The problem is that in one semester they only have time to scratch the surface of what can be a very traumatic experience for them. I don’t want my class to end and one of my students to be in the middle of an emotional crisis. In some cases I tell them that I will only allow them to write that story if they agree to get some counseling while they are doing so.
MA: What are you planning for your next writing project?
NED: Currently, we are in pre-production for one of my screenplays. I’m also working on a final rewrite of one of my plays and of a novel I’ve been working on for some time. I’m also putting together a collection of short stories. There is no shortage of projects, it is time I find difficult to come by.
MA: Any final thoughts or advice for my readers?
NED: This is an amazing time for writers. There are so many ways to get your stories out there. Cut yourself some slack. If you read successful authors’ work consecutively from their first published piece to their most recent, you will see development and growth in their writing. Unless you are a genius at writing, you will have to go through that same process of development—writing, learning, writing, learning. Don’t be like I’ve been in the past and always have one more draft that keeps you from putting your work out for public consumption. On the other hand, don’t put your work out before it is the best you can make it; and had a good edit.
You can find more writing tips at http://thewriterscompass.com and visit my website: http://nancyellendodd.com
MA: Thanks, Nancy! I appreciate the time you took to be my guest today, and I know my readers will enjoy reading your advice and insights.
I grew up among middle-class everyday folk. Language was one thing that separated groups of people as I had come to know them. When I was young, every once in a while I’d hear someone say, “Oh my! She talks so uppity!” Read More
MA: Today’s guest is George Mavro, author of the thrillers Operation Medina: Jihad and Operation Medina: Crusade. George and I are kindred Air Force veterans, both of us having worked in the security field within the USAF. Welcome, George. Please tell us about your background.
GM: I served in the Air Force for 24 years, 22 of those in various Security Force assignments in Europe and the Balkans, which gave me a great background for writing my first novels. I also hold advance degrees in History and International Relations specializing in the Balkans where my novels take place. Knowing the history of a region is a plus when trying to write a war and political thriller. I have also held teaching positions at the university level. I currently teach part time for a junior college. I also work as an Information Security Officer for a major financial institution. I presently reside in Florida with my wife and two sons.
MA: With that background, I can understand why you would want to write political/military thrillers. I imagine you must also enjoy reading that genre.
GM: I always enjoyed reading historical and action adventure war novels so I finally decided to try my hand at it.
MA: Excellent. So tell us about your novels.
GM: My debut novel is a military action adventure war thriller called Operation Medina: Jihad. My second novel is Operation Medina: Crusade which is the grand finale to the Jihad. Both go hand in hand. Both are about an attack against a US ally and terrorist attacks against US forces.
MA: How did you develop your main characters, your protagonist?
GM: I had a basic idea of what I wanted the protagonist to be when I started the story. As the story developed he developed and matured around it. Because my book encompasses a war on several fronts involving several nations there are a couple of characters that could be called heroes. But my main hero, Colonel Jack Logan, is a professional and combat skilled pilot. His strengths are that he is very sure of himself and good at what he does. His weakness would be under estimating the enemy, which causes him to get shot down, and falling in love with one of his pilots/subordinates which will play a major part at the end of the story.
MA: Terrorists, huh? So is there one main bad guy?
GM: Yes there is. General Muhammid Kemal, the dictator of Turkey, who wants to replicate the old Ottoman empire at his neighbor’s expense.
MA: With your background in the USAF, and your education in International Relations, did your real-life career or experiences influence your fiction writing?
GM: Yes my military career did and through my experience I am trying to convey military life and operations as accurately as possible. The characters in my novels are original, but I have pulled from my life experiences with the many people I encountered and some characters may be a slight medley from the people I shared experiences and worked with.
My career as a Law Enforcement and Force protection professional did play a role as it provided me with the knowledge and insight to write my story and accurately portray the role that a security Force Shift Commander and an airbase ground defense team could take in time of war.
MA: Will there be a follow-on story to the Medina series, or will you write something new, different?
GM: I am presently working on an adventure novel that takes place during WW II starting with the Nazi invasion of the island of Crete in 1941. I am developing a whole new set of characters. It is possible that a couple of my current day character’s grand dads may be in it since they did fight and meet in Greece during WW II as allied agents.
MA: Thanks, George. My very best to you for a successful writing career. My readers can learn more about George Mavro by visiting: https://sites.google.com/site/operationmedina/home Read More
“Repetition Offends Your Reader” Let Me Repeat, Okay, You Get the Point! Another Writing Advice Article By Mary Deal
When descriptive words are used repetitively in writing, it makes the reader wonder why they have to be told something they’ve already learned earlier in the story. Repetition can kill your reader’s interest. Read More
MA: Please help me welcome my guest today, Barry S. Willdorf. Barry grew up in Malden, Massachusetts. He attended Colby College, the University of Manchester (England) and Columbia Law School. Barry is a top-rated trial attorney with 42 years experience including 100 trials, everything from courts martial to murder to securities fraud. He began his professional career as a criminal investigator for the Legal Aid Society in New York City. A preview version of his novel, “Flight of the Sorceress” was featured on Scribd and awarded a rating of 4.7 out of 5. It has a Five Star rating on Amazon. His new novel, “Burning Questions” is set for publication at the end of July, 2011 and is the first of a trilogy (The 1970s Trilogy) that is under agreement with Whiskey Creek Press. Barry is a member of the San Francisco Writers Workshop, The Blackpoint Writers Group and is represented by The Krista Goering Literary Agency. He and his wife Bonnie live in San Francisco.
It sounds like writing is a major part of your life. Why novels?
BW: I have always written. I have written poetry and songs. Of course, I spent 42 years writing legal briefs, but that’s not supposed to be fiction — although sometimes, as you might imagine, the line gets blurred. Anyway, it’s a lot more honest to just admit you are writing fiction. The best part about novels though is you get to play God.
MA: Have you found inspiration for fiction from your personal life?
BW: Most of the novels I write draw on personal experiences. Even The Flight of the Sorceress, a historical novel set in the 5th Century, A.D. draws on personal experiences I had when I studied at the University of Manchester and visited Bath and other Roman historical sites. But my 1970s Trilogy actually includes vignettes and events that are close to things that happened to me. I am into verisimilitude.
MA: So tell us what you’ve written!
BW: My debut novel, “Bring the War Home!” (2001) is about anti-war Marines at Camp Pendleton, either going to or returning from the Vietnam War. I was a civilian defense attorney at Pendleton in 1970 and 1971 and represented a lot of Marines who were having moral and political conflicts over the war. I made it into a novel to protect the privacy of the men, but the stories are very real. It received great reviews and was endorsed by Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
“Flight of the Sorceress” (Wild Child Publishing, 2010) took 8 years of research and writing. It is the story of resistance by two women (one fictitious, the other Hypatia of Alexandria) against misogynistic clerics of the newly-empowered Catholic Church to restrict their rights to be healers, teachers, librarians and philosophers. Their heroic struggles culminate in the cataclysm events of Lenten Week, 415 A.D. that ushered in the Dark Ages. Can anything be saved?
“Burning Questions,” Part One of my 1970s Trilogy tells a story about the corruption that changed a fishing town into a tourist destination.
MA: So who are your protagonists?
BW: In “Bring the War Home!” the protagonists are sort of fictionalized versions of myself, my wife, Bonnie and composites of the Marines I represented and befriended.
In “Sorceress,” Glenys was constructed from accounts of classical Celtic healers. Hypatia, being a real person, was kept as true to history as possible, given the fact that the Church destroyed all or her writings and all accounts of her are second-hand by men with agendas.
In “Burning Questions,” I got a lot of material from some case files about a teenage suicide I investigated, plus I lived at that time and in that place and “borrowed” characteristics from people I knew, not to mention myself.
MA: What are your heroes’ strengths and weaknesses?
BW: Let’s just deal with “Sorceress.” There is only one person who even approximates a “hero” so I will go to heroine and use Glenys of the Silures, a fictional Celtic healer. Glenys is strong, stubborn and determined. She wants to be an independent woman in the ancient Celtic tradition and will not compromise on the issue of her independence. If she has a weakness, it is that she is willing to use other people to accomplish her objectives, even though they may not approve of her goals. She has her fears and is vulnerable. Sometimes she is naïve. But she sees the consequences of surrender to be very dangerous, not just to her but to women who will follow in the years to come.
MA: And the antagonists?
BW: There are some particularly odious bad guys in my books. In particular, there is the fictitious Ignatus, an ambitious and unscrupulous bishop in “Sorceress.” He hunts Glenys across the Roman Empire, much in the way Inspector Javert hunts Jean Valjean in Les Misérables. There is also Archbishop Cyril, a real person, who was sanctified, primarily because he successfully orchestrated the murder of Hypatia and the forced expulsion 70,000 Jews from Alexandria in 415 A.D.
MA: You mentioned being influenced during your time at Camp Pendleton to write one of your novels. Tell us more.
BW: I certainly couldn’t have written “Bring the War Home!” or the 1970s Trilogy otherwise. I could have probably done “Sorceress.” However, I have seen how poorly sheltered or inexperienced people fare when they attempt to create fiction in any form or genre. They just don’t know what facts or events will move people to do the things they do, so accounts of actions and behavior lack believability.
MA: What’s in store for your next writing project?
BW: I have two more novels to come in the 1970s Trilogy. Both are written and in a final draft form. I am in the process of submitting a contemporary novel that I don’t want to give away just yet. I also just finished an intermediate draft of a novel made up of five connected novellas that involves the influence upon the later lives of each of the five protagonists that derived from knowing a murder victim who was their neighbor. A lot of that one came from experiences I had growing up near Boston.
MA: So you will continue to feature the same protagonist in future stories? Will any other characters migrate over to future books?
BW: I don’t think I’m going to feature the same protagonists in future books. They may be peripheral characters, but none of them are going to be in the spotlight. I don’t want their egos inflated. Most of them already have narcissism problems and I am not going to be an enabler.
MA: (Laughing) Yes, those pesky protagonists think they own their own stories! What do you consider the most difficult aspect of being a writer?
BW: One of the things I think we all find hardest about this writing gig is the promo. (After all, that’s what we’re doing here, isn’t it?) There are so many books out there, and so many good ones, it is almost impossible to get your stuff noticed. I HATE promo. What I’d like to see is some Sci-Fi gizmo where you just feed your manuscript into a reader-thingy and it somehow comes out with a rating. Then Thingy spits the MS into a series of tubes like the internet, (Ha Ha) and shuffles them to a cyber-promotion specialist machine that electronically sends your stuff to all the people on the social network that say they might like to read or listen to the kind of stuff you write. It gets dropped on their computer doorstep like the milkman used to do, in the form and format they prefer. And if they like print, there is a low cost printer option on your computer that produces a bound, full-color cover copy in five minutes or fewer, depending on page count. And of course the author gets to keep a 90% royalty. My idea of heaven.
MA: (Smiling) Well then, on that note, I want to thank you for stopping by, Barry. For my readers, please visit Barry’s website for more information: www.agauchepress.com. Read More
When we writers select a topic on which to expound, chances are, we choose that topic because of its emotional impact on ourselves. We feel something strongly and want to let the world know our opinion. If we felt nothing, what’s to write?
Once the essay or story is finished and we’re feeling good about having gotten our brainstorm on paper, the next step is to decide if what we’ve written is important enough to send out to get published. Or have we simply committed a lot of weak personal opinion and gibberish to paper? Read More
In order to make that story linger in the memory of the reader—which will make them yearn for your next book—your characters must not only have differences but they might be irreconcilable. Certainly two people in love and having those kinds of problems ache inside. You as the writer must ache with them. You must write that story so that you feel all the pain. If you do not feel the pain, you have not presented a plausible enough reason to keep these two people apart. More importantly, you probably haven’t written convincingly enough for your reader if you cannot convince yourself.
If you can write so that you ache for your characters, then can come up with a solution that alleviates your own pain, your reader will feel that same duress and subsequent relief for your characters. You will have raked the reader’s emotions over fiction’s fire, presented a viable solution, and enticed your reader to remember your byline. Read More