Thursday, April 29, 2010

Have the Hero Save the Day

One thing that writers, specifically suspense writers, are told is that when the conflict is resolved the resolution needs to come from the main characters. If your hero is saving your heroine from a killer who’s following her, he needs to be involved when the take-down occurs, even if he’s not the one who physically does the taking down himself.

A while back I wrote about the video game “My Sims Agent” and showing not telling. Here’s another great lesson to be learned from My Sims Agent.

At the end of the game, you’ve solved the little mystery. You’ve saved the day, but unfortunately one member of your team has been pulled, along with the bad guy into another dimension (I know it’s kinda cheesy, but that’s okay). And now you have to finish those annoying little side games before you’re given you’re final mission (the secret one that you can only find by finishing everything) where you’ll be able to save your teammate. But you don’t get to go on the mission. You pick people to go. You sit there waiting while they do their thing, just waiting for the call to come that you’re needed, that you need to go save the day.

And that all never comes.

After a while of waiting you get a call saying that they’ve saved the team member. That the bad guy got away.

And that’s it.

No more.

It’s so anticlimactic. You feel cheated out of your chance to save the day.

I would imagine that that’s how the reader feels when the hero is sitting around drinking coffee, flirting with the heroine when he gets a phone call saying that the police picked up the would-be killer on a dead tail-light and the danger is gone.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hey Kid - Short Story

**NPR hosts a competition called “Three-Minute Fiction.” The goal is to write a short story about the prompt that can be read in 3 minutes (under 600 words).

About a month ago the prompt was this image:

This is the story I wrote (it didn't get picked, but that's okay).**

Hey kid.

Yeah, you. With the ear-things in your ears clacking away on your computer.

Hand me that newspaper will ya’?


You know what I like best about the newspaper? Everything in it’s yesterday’s news. None of this late breaking news crap. Everything in here’s done broke already. There’s nothing in there that hasn’t been checked and rechecked up the wazoo.

Whatsat? Dewey defeats Truman? Everybody makes mistakes. But that’s my point, had they waited a day ‘til it was old news, they woulda got it right. That’s the problem with this computer-web-net thing. Everyone wants their news right now and nobody cares if it’s right or not. I’d rather have real news later than maybe-real news now.

World events? Why should I care that some yahoo has blown himself up in Wherezitstan? I don’t live there. I don’t know anyone who lives there. I don’t own property there. What does it have to do with me? Is it going to affect crops in the US? Will it affect the cost of my coffee?

Speaking of coffee, where’s the waitress? Whatsat? I have to go up to the counter to get my coffee? I paid four-fifty for a cup of coffee and they won’t even bring it to me? How do I know when my coffee’s ready? I don’t remember what I ordered. Since they don’t have just black coffee here I told the guy in the green apron “I’ll have what he’s having.” It’ll probably taste like watery milk. All these frou-frou drinks taste like that. Whatsat? You can get black coffee here? Does it cost four-fifty? No? It’s a racket, I’m tellin’ ya.

I could have had free coffee at the hospital. But as crappy as this coffee is, that coffee’s worse. And it’s cold. Even free coffee should at least have the decency to be hot.

Why was I at the hospital? My wife’s a patient. She’s got cancer and our doctor back home didn’t know what more to do for her, so he sent her here. They’re doing tests. Always more tests. She says it’s like being in school again, only with needles.

We’ve been married forty-eight years, y’know. We were just out of high school. Thought we knew everything. That’s a laugh. Her daddy made us wait until we were done with school and I had a job. It wasn’t much of a job but it paid the bills. I started out as a farmhand. A cowboy you could probably say, but it didn’t have much to do with cows. I mucked stalls and sat on the tractor. We did well enough that my wife stayed home when our kids were little. Heck, By the time I retired I practically ran the place.

We have three kids. Two boys and a girl. She’s still my baby girl, even though she’s in her thirties. Our little miracle born eight years after her last brother. We’d given up havin’ a girl. She keeps tryin’ to plan a fiftieth anniversary party for my wife and me. Her oldest brother tells her not to bother; mama won’t be around that long. He’s such a bully, always was.

Oh, that’s my cell phone. About the only good thing that’s come from technology. Not that I want just everyone to be able to reach me at a moment’s notice, but it’s been useful since she’s been sick. She can get me whenever she needs me.

The latest test results are in.

If you find my coffee you can have it.

Whatsat? Sports page? Sure. They’re last week’s scores anyway.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Name of the Wind

I recently finished the book The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. This is a tough book to put into a genre or category because while strictly it’s a fantasy novel, at the same time it’s so much more. It doesn’t read like a traditional fantasy novel. There’s a social system rivaled by few other than Tolkien and Rothfuss has this amazing ability to blend things from this world with things from the world in his own imagination so well that you can’t see the seam.

The story is told on two layers. The first layer is that of the third person narrator. It is the story of an innkeeper in a small village. Strange things are happening in the surrounding areas and the superstitious townspeople are growing worried. They’re harkening back to traditions and fairytales and nursery songs in order to fight against things they cannot understand.

The second layer is told in the first person. It is the story of the innkeeper told to a man known as the “Chronicler.” He tells The Chronicler that his story will take three nights to tell. The Name of the Wind is night one.

There are only two complaints (or perhaps warnings) I have about this book. The first is that the first three chapters or so are a little on the confusing side. This is the part of the story told in the third person at the beginning. I sat there thinking “What’s going on?” most of the time. However the person I borrowed the book from warned me that she had the same problem, so I was prepared for it, though, and that helped. In some ways this confusing is good, because it means that Rothfuss throws you right into the story, with little time to get acclimated to the new surroundings. In any other genre this is the way you’re told to write, so it really shouldn’t be any different in this case. And don’t worry, the confusion doesn’t last long.

The second warning is that this is the first book in a trilogy, but it’s the only one that’s out yet, and it sounds as though it will be some time before the second book is out. So if you’re the kind of person that doesn’t want to wait… you probably won’t want to start this trilogy, as good as it is.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Festival of Faith and Writing

Last week I attended the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI. It was an amazing experience and I thought I’d share a little of what I learned.

· “Paradoxes are a truth standing on its head begging for attention” – Chesterton (from the Session on Imagery)

· Great art makes you feel humble. (more from imagery)

· “The way to paradoxes is the way of truth. To test reality we must see it on the tightrope.” – Oscar Wilde (also from Imagery)

· “Wherever two or three are gathered… there will be an argument” – Matt Ruff

· “Writing is one of those careers where many are called, but few are chosen.” – Matt Ruff

· “Trying to justify a story before it’s written is probably a waste of time” – Matt Ruff

· Start suspension of disbelief by suspending your own. – Matt Ruff

· Make real, flawed characters – Christa Parrish

· Don’t cater to the stereotypes – Christa Parrish

· If you’re a pain at night, and then you set the microwave on fire at 1:30 am, chances are you’ll get kicked out of the hotel (and if you don’t the angry lady in the room below yours will call the police) – fortunately I got to learn from someone else’s idiocy

· Picking up the phone will not stop the fire alarm from going off.

· A book needs to work on multiple levels. There needs to be the basic entertainment level, without it no one will want to read it. There should also be a deeper level that is there if the reader wants to see it – Joshilyn Jackson

· Ask yourself: How can I be more of the me that God wants me to be? – Joshilyn Jackson

· Love wins – Joshilyn Jackson

· Setting can be a character – Matt Ruff and Kathryn Davis

· “I like to do enough research that I know when I’m lying” – Matt Ruff (I think)

· “I let myself research, but I can’t write about something I don’t remember” – Kathryn Davis

· Don’t always write about what you know because you’re more honest and open that way – Michael Perry (I think)

· Always wear your boots. At some point something’s gonna go wrong and you’d better have your boots on. – Michael Perry

· “I became a writer because I was born baffled” – Parker Palmer

· Writing and reading are at their best an act of caring – Parker Palmer

· Most of us live lives of self-impersonation – Parker Palmer (Quoting someone else?)

· “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than others – Parker Palmer (Quoting someone else I think)

· Make them laugh. Make them cry. Make them wait. – Kate DiCamillo

· You compromise your beautiful novel the moment you begin to write it – Kate DiCamillo

· Make a cemetery file on your computer. Put the stuff that you love but can’t keep in that file so it’s still around and you don’t have to feel like it was unimportant. “Children of Divorce” Panel

· Write your story the way it needs to be written. The changes can be made in house later on – “Children of Divorce” Panel.

· “A dysfunctional family is a family with more than one person in it” – Mary Karr.