Sunday, December 30, 2007


A couple of weeks ago, the lovely and talented Shauna Roberts put my name up for the Roar for Powerful Words. I have to list, in my opinion, the three most important essentials for powerful and effective writing.

I may have taken the task too seriously. This blog is full of tools large and small, but three essentials demands getting down to first principles. Almost two weeks later, I'm finally ready to answer.

3. Practice: None of us is born perfect and at the height of our powers. Even the greatest talent is nothing more than potential. Learning to write, play the cello or do a backflip takes work: practice, development, practice, examination of the greats and the not-so-greats, and practice.

Sports authorities say it takes ten thousand hours to become good. John D MacDonald said it was one million words. No matter how you look at it, it's a long road...

2. Craft: James Joyce or James Ellroy, craft is at the heart of what we do. It's the lens through which your story is viewed.

You may use words to weave gossamer strands of lyric beauty or to craft razor-sharp icepicks. Either way, you should know exactly why you use every single word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, scene and chapter in your work.

I sometimes meet aspiring writers who assume their basic literacy is all they need to tell their stories. Vocabulary and grammar are fundamental and basic tools, but your tools need to be exceedingly sharp if they're to cut to your reader's heart.

And the number one essential to pwerful and effective writing....

1. Love: Ten thousand hours is a long damn time. One million words is roughly ten novels.

There are some gorgeous, gratifying moments on that road, but also plenty of despair. And even if you walk those long miles and use every step to become the very, very best that you can be, there's no guarantee your best will be good enough. I once knew a fencer like that: very dedicated and very, very bad.

Fate is fickle, rewards uncertain. Money and fame may find you, but they just as easily may not. In the end, the only reason to walk this road is love.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Iron Boots

My only prayer of victory.

The Tiny Dynamo didn't seem to notice that her racket weighed twice what she does. For such a delicate princess, she really is freakishly strong...

Her birthday's coming up, so I'll give the iron boots a try.

That, and a magnetic floor....

Monday, December 24, 2007

Reindeer Woke Me

Dawn. One heck of a lovely time of day!
Merry Christmas, all! Now, back to that second pass...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Dynamo Christmas

The first draft is wrapped. The second pass is coming along. Those pre-Christmas tattoos and piercing have all been needled. The house is clean and the fridge is full. I am very, *very* tired.

Tomorrow, the mighty members of Clan Dynamo shall descend upon our humble home. Papa Dynamo will be full of Christmas Cheer, and this year little brother SamBam Dynamo has decided to forego his traditional Christmas Hangover. I'm going to miss that green-gray color.

Black sheep of the family Angus Dynamo will be there, along with the Mysterious Reason he's a black sheep. It's entirely possible the Mysterious Reason will be full of a different kind of Christmas Cheer altogether, and may be found wrestling the cops on the lawn. If we're lucky, Elderly Great Aunt Agatha Dynamo will lift a car.

Not a large car, mind you. She *is* a startlingly old woman. A Toyota Starlet perhaps, or a Volkswagon Passat.

In the Dynamo Christmas Tradition, I shall be called up on to play some variety of sport involving nets and rackets.

I shall, of course, be humiliated.

Any member of Clan Dynamo, handed a racket, becomes inhumanly fast. Staggeringly, blindingly, Keanu-Reeves-in-The-Matrix-you-know-the-first-one-at-the-end-where-he's-all-like-whoa!-and-we're-all-like-DUDE!-and-he's-really-quick?--Yeah-like-THAT-fast!

I've been 'practicing' against the Tiny Dynamo. It's like facing a cloud of leprechuans. In fact, I'm pretty sure she has some sort of quantum tunneling effect going on. Like, she's *potentially* anywhere and therefore is *partially* everywhere. Until the ball comes near her. Then she's very, VERY definitely in the one place. I have scars.

This year, I'm giving the Tiny Dynamo a Christmas present that just might give me an edge.

Wait til she unwraps her new racket.

It's cast-iron.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sudden Seconds and Dead Darlings

So my well earned rest. Yeah.... That lasted about 36 hours.

A good day's rest, and I realized I was short one chapter in the denouement. Then I realized that I needed to give a minor guy just a little more time earlier on, to establish a relationship that comes in handy later.

And of course, there were all those small details: Character name changes, eye colors, traits that grew over the course of the book, etc.

Next thing I knew, I was back at the beginning, working on an immediate second pass.

The literature mostly counsels a long wait between drafts, but I actually *prefer* a quick second draft. Or as I think of it, a second pass. The material is still fresh in my mind, the story structure hanging in all its fractal beauty just behind my eyelids.

This pass is just about smoothing out the rough spots. Reconciling irregularites and adding the bits I left out in my headlong berserker rush to the end.

Only in writing can we rush to the climax, then go back and arrange proper foreplay! ;-)

This quick second pass has me thinking about this particular novel (working title: Crossroads Blues) and its odd, twisting genesis.

For instance, is this really the second draft? I had two false starts and numerous wrong turns finding that sweet spot where the story ripped free. The total word count in my various versions is over 200,000 words, and as faithful readers may remember, quite a few of those were paid down with a dip pen. A. Dip. Pen.

That was a *lot* of hard slogging, and looking back, I can see the problems.

#1) I tried to save my darlings.

Early on, I wrote three or four REALLY STRONG scenes. They HUMMED. You got character. You got conflict. You got plot. These scenes flew on greased rails.

They also didn't fit. For example, the big fight I wrote (in which I learned so much about the hero) pushed things too far, too fast. It was more of an ACT II climax than an ACT I intro, and it left no believable course for the characters.

#2) I wussed on my characters.

My hero is a drifter. The Minor Bastard is a narcissist. The Major Bastard is, well, he's the kind of thing children fear lurking under their beds.

But in those early drafts, the Major Bastard was too wishy-washy. The Minor Bastard was deeply concerned over the pain he caused. And the drifter?

He had an apartment.


The trouble was, those scenes that hummed, I couldn't change the characters without losing those scenes. And I was *really* trying to keep those scenes!

Trying to hold onto those darlings almost cost me the book.

Fortunately, Kate issued her challenge, and I accepted. I started over completely: word one, chapter one, full committment. Full throttle.

The book works. At least, I think. I'll read it sometime around the New Year, but it feels good, y'know?

The darlings? Dead. Dead, dead, dead, dead.... dead.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Stepping Razors - Life at the Edge

Serendipity: Charles' post today, combined with Peter Tosh singing Stepping Razor (a childhood favorite!) gave me this topic.

Fiction is about edges. Extreme edges. Nasty and jagged edges or so-sharp-you-never-feel-the-cut-til-you-see-the-blood edges.

If you've got your stakes right, your story happens at the exact moment, the edge, where one thing becomes another.

Sure, I write thrillers. Edges come naturally, since the stakes tend to be truly overwhelming threats. But imagine something a bit more... literary. A marriage in danger.

Betty suspects Joe of cheating. There have been little signs, nothing strong enough to confront Joe on, but tiny things adding up in the back of her head. Day to day, they go about their married life together with this tension between them. Every look, every gesture, Betty tells herself she's crazy to worry, or she tells herself she must be right. Betty is eating herself alive wondering if Joe is faithful.

Tension? Yup. Stakes? Sure. But there's no story here. Not yet. This is all the face of the blade, the flat of the sword. We have yet to reach the edge.

There's nothing happening.

To have a story, you have to push this situation to the breaking point. Betty finds someone else's panties in Joe's pocket. Or a matchbook from a gay bar. An adult movie company sends Joe a check or a strange woman shows up on the doorstep, belly swollen and pregnant.

That's where the story happens. Joe can turn out to be faithful or not. The story can be comedy, tragedy, adventure, whatever. But it doesn't start until you reach the very edge of the situation.

Can't you show any of that blade face? Sure. Exactly as much as you need to make the reader's heart race when she sees the edge. My usual rule of thumb is a chapter, maybe two. This is Life Before. After this, nothing will ever be the same....

Everybody up to speed with that? Okay. Because now I'm diving into the Full Throttle Toolbox of Cheap and Dirty Tricks!

Subtly amplify this sense of edges and stakes with setting.

Put your story in a coastal community, and set your scenes of greatest tension right on the beach, where water meets land.

Or a crossroads. A border town. A bridge. A place poised on the edge of becoming something else (torn down, built up, etc.).

Set a story in the last days of winter, so that it ends with a green and vibrant spring.

Set your story around a wedding, a birth, a festival.

Set important scenes at seminal times of day: sunset, dawn, high noon, midnight.

Combine any of these setting elements to add to the tension inherent (hopefully inherent!) in your stakes. After all, Frank McCourt's train gets in at High Noon, not 11:38AM.

And anything happening is more interesting in a border town before a storm front breaks a long and brutal heat wave, or at a sunset wedding on the beach. And standing in the crossroads at midnight?


Friday, December 14, 2007

Simpsons Fun

Thanks to Lana, I found the 'Simpsonize Me' website, promising to take my photo and transform me into a Simpsons character. It's amusing, but maybe not in the way they intended. To show you, I was brave: I took that challenge.

First, the photo. Now, this was done when my hair was still blond, and in that murky gray time before my first coffee. Why else would I look like some sort of carnival worker/serial killer? :-)

A few buttons punched in and voila! *This* is what the website decided I look like!

Sorry, I'm *still* laughing....

Okay, now, a little monkeying around and the Tiny Dynamo said, "That looks just like you!"
Awwww, man!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Yup, finally slipped my chain. Last night at about 8pm, I finished the first draft of Crossroad Blues.

I pretty much turned all the dials up to 'eleven' and snapped off the lever Tuesday and Wednesday. There were a couple-odd hours of sleep in there, and I may have eaten. Not entirely sure. What I do know is that I wrote a little less than 20,000 words in that period, including two of my favorites: The End.

As always here at Full Throttle Productions, hard work is rewarded. I had a nice glass of champagne, smoked a lovely Cuban cigar (they're legal here but this'll be the only one for me this year), had a *much* needed shower and shave and went to bed for many, many hours.

For their invaluable assistance, I'd like to thank the good folks at iPod.

(That's not photoshopped-- I got free laser engraving by ordering online!)
This poor bugger got quite the workout the last couple days. Four of my current favorites: Steve Earle's Oxycontin Blues, Tori Amos' Crucify, Avril Levigne's Girlfriend and Isaac Hayes's theme to Shaft. I reserve the right to be a man of contrasts...

Tomorrow: Simpsons fun!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Full Throttle Iconography

(A little homage to the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, there! Sorry about the flash burn - the paint is still wet...)

Where y'at, you say? Well....

The hero is isolated and alone. The Main Bastard's implicit threat is increasingly manifest. Innocent and guilty alike are suffering at this man's hands.

The hero has just made a Bad Decision. Fear overruled his better judgement, and he picked up a weapon. Things are.... about to turn very, very, *very* ugly.

Today or tomorrow maybe, he'll see this situation through to its brutal, bloody end.

I had a bit of a peek around on the net for a work-icon to describe my progress. No dice. In the end, I used one of those 'thinking up what's next' moments to whip up my own...

Sometime soon: Simpsons fun!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Holy Bookstores, Batman!

We here at Full Throttle productions are proud to share our latest international despatch from the Department of Really Freakin' Nifty:

A round-trip ticket from New Zealand to Amsterdam is $3-5000. I figure, bookstore like this, the ticket'd be the least of my worries....

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Sweet as Pie...

(this was the pumpkin pie I made all by myself - without even canned pumpkin to help! Mmmmm....)

Right now I'm soooo close to the Final Showdown.


But I've got all these notes about things that need to happen, and things that need to change.

I've got a couple of REALLY important plot points to change.

So I've gone back to the beginning and am doing a rapid rework. And I do mean rapid: roughly 10-20,000 words a day. My word count is staying about the same, mainly because I rip out almost as much as I put in.

Being so close to the end is the best place to see the beginning. And to tighten any flab from the middle. Also, tomorrow or the next day, when I *do* finally reach the Final Showdown again, I'll hit it with the momentum of a runaway bloody freight train!

Synchronicity: After staggering to bed at 1.30 last night (back up 5, but that was Butler's fault), I decided to 'chillax' with Joyce Carol Oates' Faith of a Writer. The essay I picked, Miss JCO talked about doing just the same thing I am, and for just the same reasons.

Oddly, that makes me feel better.

And for anyone who wonders about life with the Tiny Dynamo, I did do an 18"x48" painting on a break from writing yesterday!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

8 Days Later....

Five pounds lighter...

Twenty hours of sleep total...

The work stands at 68,238 words.

Events took some unexpected turns. Things that baffled me (why is that girl Irish? Why is she in here at all? What's with the horses?) have become clear. An encounter I'd been expecting the whole book never materialized. There are notes scattered through the text telling me what I need to add earlier...

The final showdown is underway.

The end is so close I can taste it.

Oddly, the Minor Bastard is still alive. I'm starting to wonder if he'll make it through the whole book. For that matter, I'm kind of wondering about the Hero and the Main Bastard as well. Both are more resourceful than I would have thought, and nothing is as simple as it seems.

I'm not quite finished, but I *am* having the time of my life!

Of course, once I'm finally done, I do plan to sleep for a week. That too will be most enjoyable!

In other news, the birthday was much fun.

The Tiny Dynamo provided me with some very nice gifts and a truly ginormous chocolate cake!

After all, I do have some missing kilos to put back on....

Saturday, November 24, 2007

I May Be Some Time

I'm just going outside and may be some time. Though hopefully not as long as that nice Titus Oates...

I've got a week left til my birthday. The novel's current incarnation is on 41,500 words. From what I can see of the road ahead, I expect to come in around 80-90,000.

Like that kid on the left there, I've got a daunting task. But hey, slugging out of my weight is practically second nature.

I've also got some kind of summer cold/virus. Given that I thought I saw a white horse in the back yard just now, I may have a bit of a fever as well...

At any rate, my only prayer of finishing this beast involves unplugging the modem. I do promise to check back in on the 3rd and let you all know how everything went.

Meantime, here's a painting by Robert Bailey with a title close to my heart!

Rest assured that this week will indeed be spent at full throttle!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Getting My Thanks On

Woohoo, Thanksgiving morning! My first in ten years...

Bought the turkey yesterday, should be about defrosted now. Even found cranberry sauce!

New Zealand simply does not get this Thanksgiving idea. Of course, they don't get Rammadan or Passover either, probably or the same reasons.

The turkey: Biggest turkey I could find was 14lbs. That one was $90. I settled for an 11lb. bird for $60. The Tiny Dynamo was spitting tacks.

Cranberries: Apparently only grow in America. Or something. One market in the city center carried some jars of Ocean Spray. I snapped up what I needed.

Pumpkin Pie: Canned pumpkin? What's that? Why on earth would anyone want a can of pureed pumpkin? For pie? That's just wrong. Sick and wrong!

I boiled and mashed and blended my own damn pumpkin and made my pie last night. Yup, I'm a night-before dessert guy, always have been...

And of course, celebrating the autumn harvest on a sunny summer's day (think early or mid-June) doesn't help, either!

But enough ranting. I'm having a BLAST!

I do love cooking, much to the Tiny Dynamo's surprise. Thing is, I lack her flair and artistry in the kitchen. That and my 'risk tolerant' personality have barred me from cooking for her!

It's a *great* day out here, and we might get up into the hills for a walk in the woods.

Later tonight, a few members of Clan Dynamo will gather to share the bounty.

And every day I am thinkful for the many blessings in my life. It's a chain of minor miracles and bold actions that brought me to this time and place, and I'm grateful for every single one of them. My life right now is paradise.

Official More-Daily-Than-Usual


40,066 words

Zipping right along!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Just for kicks, just kind of, you know, for today, I thought I'd forego my pot of coffee for a nice pot of tea.

It's warm. It's got caffeine. It tastes good.

It's like taking aspirin for a stab wound.

And I have to write like this...

Unofficial Not-So-Daily Wordcount-o-Meter:

38,000 words

The 'damage' (about 5k that just weren't up to snuff and had to come out) has been repaired.
Act II has its 'sagging middle' propped up with an action-filled climax to one of the subplots.
The field is clearer now, and three important clues wait to send my Hero hurtling into his final showdown with the Main Bastard.
I have no idea which one he'll find, or what he'll make of them when he does. That's part of the fun!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Where DO You Get Your Ideas

Don't you just love that question?

Right now, my Main Bastard has really found his groove. He's fiercely loyal to the Minor Bastard. He's charismatic in his way, a good friend.

He's also sadistic, murderous and terrifying. He moves through a world of pleasure, victims and opportunity. Pity anyone or anything the Main Bastard catches weak and alone.

Killing isn't enough for the Main Bastard. For some reason, he loves to play with his victims. He reenacts his triumphs with the dead bodies until the game bores him.

It's only a matter of time before he begins his search again.


It's his nature. Taking prey, he feels alive.

The Tiny Dynamo finds my work violent and dark. She often wonders where those terrible ideas come from.

Somehow, I don't think she'd believe me if I told her:

His fluffy, pretend victims aren't enough. He brought another bird in the house last night.... Gotta love him, though!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Okay, let's see if I've figured out how to do this....

Because, you know, these studio jerks are really getting to me.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Man's Best Friend

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mister Butler Dynamo

He comes when called.

He follows me from room to room, just kind of staring at me.

He holds a sit/stay while I eat, patient to see if there will be any table scraps for him.

He doesn't meow.

Yesterday, I caught him burying a bone in the yard.

I think I may have a dog...

Official Not-so-Daily Wordcount-o-Meter:
29,663 words,
down from 35k and boy am I unhappy about that!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Those Little Nippers

Turns out that gentle stoner whose original role was mostly the laying of pipe is a real passive-aggressive, backstabbing bastard.

And a Supporting Actress whose role I didn't (and still don't) quite understand has a lot more sand to her than I'd first thought. I'm starting to see how a gal like that might figure in the villains' denouement.

Oh, and my sweet-natured Innocent Victim? She might be a bit of a liar, and a thief.

At least, at long last, my Hero is finally alone among the villains, isolated and without solace on an estate that makes Thornfield or Manderlay seem like beachside holiday homes. The two Villains have different reasons for wanting him there, and Kane has his own reasons for going.

Yesterday was a day of surprises!

Official Semi-Daily Wordcount-o-Meter:

27,073 words

Will I make my unoffical Dec. 2nd deadline?

Let us hope....

Monday, November 5, 2007

Write Like the Wind

Burned the midnight oil on Sunday, then lit it up again Monday morning. So far, I am pleased.

It's a little daunting to know that I'm aiming for my Act II climax (which will also be the cliffhanger that carries us into Act III) by Thanksgiving. This point, it's all faith that these tangled bits of colored yarn will lead anywhere useful. But faith is part of the process.

Emotional Stages of Writing a Novel:

Infatuation: Like any relationship, we all start with that first rush of excitement. Based on anecdotal evidence, this rarely lasts more than 50 pages. After that wears off, mix at will:

Pride: Not just any old pride. No, I'm talking Luciferian Pride. Every word you write is pure gold. You're the shizzle, and you know it. Any old moment now, the world will lay at your feet.

This feeling is a lie. A tempting lie, but still a lie. Thankfuly, these days don't come too often. Not without chemical help...

Insecurity: The work's no good. Anything good you may have done, that was a fluke. Your words taste of ashes, and the light goes out of the sun.

This feeling is also a lie. Suck it up and keep moving. Tomorrow's another day.

Grinding: Most days are like this. Not too high, not too low, you just gotta have the endurance to keep putting in the work.

For me, these days are the challenge. It takes discipline to stick with the project and not chase after the next great idea. That's why I do 1000 words a day, like it or not.

Gethsemane: Every novel or graphic novel I've ever written has taken me through at least one long dark night in the garden. I'm pretty sure we all go through these. You just gotta have...

Faith: Where I'm at today. The work has enough of its own weight behind it to lend some momentum, but as writers we suspect the story is still fragile enough to shatter into a thousand fragments.

It isn't, but it feels that way. Hence, the faith.

Excitement: For me, that's usually when I turn the Act III corner. Everything's locked and loaded for the Final Showdown, and soon I'll be... DONE!

Sorta-Daily Wordcount-o-Meter:

24,572 words, not too shabby....

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Lest We Forget

For the first time in almost a decade, I'll be celebrating Thanksgiving. You see, not only is the fourth Thursday in November not a holiday here, unlike the US, a mammoth bird doesn't sell for $10-20. Oh, no. No, no no no.... A turkey that would have an American family giving you evil looks, here in New Zealand that bad boy goes for over sixty bucks!

At those prices, once a decade will probably suit me. :-)

At any rate, in honor of the approaching holiday, let's all revisit the Turkey City Lexicon. Solid, timeless advice on what NOT to do...

Official Not-so-Daily


19,458 words

I'm determined to finish this damned thing by my birthday!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

aaaaaaaaand...... ACTION! Final Take

And glad I am to see the back of this topic, too!

Today's final action-showing technique: Poetic Detail

Like Break It Down, this method of showing action is heavily grounded in our brains' chemistry. In moments of great stress (or great pleasure - our brains don't understand the difference), adrenalin floods our bodies and does whacky things to a little brain bit called the amygdala. That's the bit that controls how memories are written. Hence, the way I don't know what shirt I had on a couple days ago, but I *do* remember my first kiss, my first fight and exactly what I was doing the morning of September 11, 2001.

Thing is, the adrenalized brain is a quirky thing. Emotional memory is powerful and vivid, but also prone to pick out the oddest details.

This is where Poetic Detail comes in.

My first kiss was in a K-Mart parking lot. A drunk teen I barely knew wobbled up to me, said "You're cute" and kissed me. I was too stunned to do much more than stand there. Not exactly the stuff of movies, I know. Looking back, she was the first of too many bad girls.

But when I remember that moment, I feel the slap of summer sun on my skin and smell the hot asphalt. I see the movement of her hips and her flat bare belly. Her fingers were cool and slick on the skin above my heart. When she leaned in close, her hair smelled of strawberry shampoo, her skin of liquor sweat. The kiss tasted of lip gloss and cigarettes.

Now if I was to tell this event with Break It Down, I'd be shaving that moment into smaller and smaller increments, exploring each sense impression, each motion, whatever told the story best. But to use Poetic Detail, I'd pick *one*, or at most two, of those sense impressions and explore it at length.

He watched her approach. She was unsteady in her steps, thick cork heels sticking in the half-melted asphalt.

"You're cute," she said.

Her tongue flickered against his lips. Her teeth were small and sharp. She wrapped him in the smells of liquor and sweat and hot tar.

I really liked the 'slap of sunlight' bit, but instead I went with the asphalt. I could just as easily have gone with the sun on skin and stayed with the other touches on skin (her fingers on my chest, her lips), and on another day, I might have. Now, asphalt has nothing to do with the kiss. It's just one weird detail that my adrenalized brain fixed on and rendered in hyper-clarity.

Two things about that passage: I only give myself twenty minutes to post, so the writing is sometimes rushed. More important, I was trying to show how the brain picks detail from a real event. Writing fiction, that telling detail can come from any part of the imagination.

One of my favorite writers to use this technique is James Lee Burke. He has a beautiful way of choosing just the right image to impart moments of violence and terror with a sense of loss and redemption and the soul's flight from a world of beauty and pain.

Official Daily Wordcount-o-Meter:

12,678 words but I don't know what day it is!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

aaaaaaaaand...... ACTION! Take 3

Spit It Out.

Funny, but not a lot of writers think of this one. Don't move artfully away to the fireplace from those action details. Don't draw the moment out and break it down.

Just say it.

Each of these techniques gets a little harder. This one's a balancing act as fine as the edge of a razor blade.

And like a razor, it can cut deep.

I'm behind with my writing today, so you'll be spared my own examples. Instead, I'll give you a sample from some real masters of the technique:

J.C. and Tommy at the table, guzzling beer.

Say what?

What the--

J.C. first -- silencer THWAP -- brains out his ears. Tommy, beer bottle raised -- THWAP -- glass in his eyes.

James Ellroy, White Jazz.

I could feel the other cons come in behind me, watching. Nobody did anything. It was a crazy, wild place, that prison-- they wanted to watch me kill him. I got my thumb in his eye. Pushed it through until I felt it go all wet and sticky.

The guards pulled me off.

Andrew Vachss, Shella

I took her in my arms and mashed my mouth up against hers... "Bite me! Bite me!"

I bit her. I sunk my teeth into her lips so deep I could feel the blood spurt into my mouth. It was running down her neck when I carried her upstairs.

James M. Cain, The Postman Always Rings Twice

(NB. Notice the structure of that last Cain paragraph? Short sentence. Two longer ones. End on the evocative word 'upstairs', not something lame like 'her' or 'it' or 'doing', etc...)

These are some of the most hardboiled writers in print. I don't know if that's just my reading and writing taste, or because this technique lends itself to short, sharp narrative voices, characters who take the highest and lowest moments of our lives and only indirectly allow the reader to see how they are affected.

Using the Spit It Out technique is a balancing act. Do it wrong, and you deaden the impact of what ought to be an important moment in your story. Do it right, and those moments live in the reader's memory...

Official Daily Wordcount-o-Meter reading:

10, 548 words on, what are we on Kate, Day 6?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

aaaaaaaaand...... ACTION! 2

Action Technique #2:

Break It Down Now: Probably the most common way of showing action in fiction. Also the easiest to screw up.

The basic idea is simple. As the action heats up, our description of it slows down. We break everything into individual steps, stacking them one on top of the other. The reader (hopefully) gets a clear idea of what's going on. The writer gets to spend time getting deep into the most exciting parts of the book.

I think this technique is so popular because it intuitively mimics the effects of adrenalin on the human nervous system. Our time sense distorts. Memory scrambles. Perception sharpens.

"You shouldn't be here," Bob said.
"I know."
Sylvia took a half step closer. Bob felt the heat of her breath curl in the hollow of his throat.
Neither touched. The moment stretched, widened, spun out of control.
They fell together, growling. His hands were strong and knowing. Her tongue was hot and quick, her teeth sharp.

Lee Child may well be the current king of this method. He's certainly a damn sight better than I am. (I tend to be real sparing with this method, so it's not my strong suit.) Pick up any of Child's books, and you'll see the simple act of racking a slide and pulling a trigger, or of throwing a punch, pared down to tiny fractions of a second. Often with long lectures on physics!

Thing is, when *he* does it, it works. :-)

When it doesn't work, it falls flat. Your big action scene lies dead on the floor.

So, how do we make it work?

1. Choose the *right* details. This is the heart of storytelling talent, and it may be the one thing no one can tell you. Best advice I can give is to stay tight in your POV character's head and, no matter how tempting, do not use a detail your character would not notice.

2. Make conscious decisions about sentence length. Short sentences tighten tension. Long ones reales it. Even within an action scene, you need to tighten and release. See As Above, So Below for more on structure.

3. Forget what you know. This is the single biggest falldown I see, especially in fight scenes. Plenty of us out there have done some karate, swordfighting, shooting, etc. Expertise is good, and we all like a feeling of authentic detail when we read.

But. How often have you read an action scene where the 'expertise' gets in the way? I see it too often: Swordfights and fistfights that sound like they were taken out of manuals. Gunfights that read like advertisements for Smith & Wesson. Love scenes that make one think of Tab A and Slot B, barbeque assembly instructions.

Bad enough if your place/time exposition reeks of 'look at all my research!', but heaven help your story if you do this with your action!

Remember, your readers want the emotional experience of action. Make sure every word gives them that experience.

Official Daily Wordcount-o-Meter:

9459 words, every one a struggle

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

aaaaaaand.... ACTION!

Sex. Violence. Car crashes. Explosions. Those of you who write that kind of contemplative, solipsistic fiction where nothing much ever happens *might* just want to stop right here!

This might get a little basic, but it's on my mind lately. After all, the action is the juicy meat of the story. And nothing knocks me out of a story like bad action. Or maybe I should say action, badly done.

I'm going to have to let go of my coveted triple-tap here, because the way I see it, there are four basic ways to show action:

1. Cut to the Fireplace: An oldie but a goodie, and still a favorite of mine. Back in the days of the Film Censorship Board, the couple would kiss, the violins would swell and the camera would move to the fireplace. Or the pounding surf. Or a train going through a tunnel. So that *we* knew they were, you know, doing it.

I like this technique because your readers fill in the blanks. And they have much, much nastier imaginations than you do. *Much*. :-) You just show the upraised axe and cut to the scream, and their fevered imaginations strike the blow for you.

She stood in the doorway. Her body was framed in shadow and her eyes stayed on his.

"You shouldn't be here," he said.

Her bare feet made a whisper of sound crossing the threshhold. She locked the door behind her.

Drawbacks: Two things you have to look out for with this technique.

The. PRIME. Consideration. is that you don't shortchange action that needs to be in the story. If how the love scene, fight, crash, etc. happens matters to the story, you'd damn well better put it in there. If not, by all means, fade to the fireplace...

Also, be sure that you're clear enough to your target audience about what happened. The Tiny Dynamo *loves* the Bridget Jones movies (yet she likes me anyway - go figure), but it wasn't until we watched the director's commentary that she found out Bridget had anal sex with Daniel Cleever. That particular item was handled too subtly for her innocent ears to pick up.

And I say target audience. Readers know the ins and outs of their genres, but what might seem cliched to a 'regular' might completely stump a 'newbie'. Some people may read Miss Marple and wonder how this little old lady's supposed to be solving crimes the police can't. And I still don't see why every romance has to have a Big Misunderstanding in Act I that isn't cleared up until Act III. Your 'fireplace' action needs to take reader's expectations into account. Of course, since you probably read the sort of stuff you write, it likely will anyway.

(All right, this is taking longer than I thought, and I've got some novel to write. I'll pick up Part 2 tomorrow...)

And without further ado, today's

Official Daily Wordcount-o-Meter: 8898 words

Don't know what that is since yesterday. Simple math is beyond me this morning....

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Latest Methods

Official Word-o-Meter Day 4 Word Count: 6621 words

As readers of this blog may remember, I was, for a considerable portion of this current WIP, reduced to writing with a quill pen.

Yup. Dip. Scritch scritch scritch. Dip. Scritch, scritchscritch. etc.

Well, the quills are back in the art supplies now were they belong. That drawing in the top right corner was done with a quill. But writing with one? Let's just say, some things are obsolete for a reason...

These days, my method has changed a bit. So far, it's working for me. Finding out it worked 3000 words' worth was a surprise,but a happy one.

My newest method:

I keep a pen and paper with me and 'sketch' out scenes. Quick notes, in present tense to keep me from taking it too seriously and 'binding up' on word choice and language. Sometimes, I hear dialogue, or that telling detail of imagery swims right up. I jot 'em down. Otherwise, I just kind of loosely walk the characters through their conflicts and challenges.

Mostly, I do this at night. But I keep the tools with me, just in case. Yesterday, I sketched out a fine scene while the Tiny Dynamo shopped for shoes. I'd been thinking about it while we were at the supermarket. Basically, no scrap of time goes to waste.

When it's 'writing time', I sit down with the laptop in my, well, lap and my sketched notes in front of me. Now, I'm listening to imagery and language and what, exactly, is going on in the scene.

This: Kane up early. Not too rested after uncomfortable top bunk:
lights on & off
snoring, loud & wet
vomit smells
1 person sick again
He picks up some overpriced food & walks up into the hills.
Back of the mountain, hawks circle.


Kane was up with the dawn. Hostel dorm beds were the same the world over. Thin mattress and squeaking bedsprings, other backpackers turning lights on and off or stumbling drunken in the dark. Between the loud wet snoring and the faint smells of vomit from the bunk below him, Kane’s sleep was fitful.
Finally, he quit trying. Kane climbed down from his bunk, took his pack out of its locker and dressed in the dark. At a small market on Frankton Road, he paid too much for apples and cheese, nuts and french bread and a bottle of water. The mountain air was still watery and gray when Kane walked into the hills.

Midmorning, Kane stopped. He took his rest on a flat rock, warm in the sun and sheltered from the wind. The cheese was sharp and strong, the apples crisp and tart. Overhead, hawks circled, riding the thermals, hunting.

After a time, Kane moved deeper into the autumn forest. Leaves were turning all around him: yellow and gold and orange and brown and splashes of deep brilliant red. He hit a path and followed it. Bright leaves and dappled trunks gave way to stunted alpine scrub and harsh cold sunlight.

Faint scallops were visible in the grass. Deer, passing through. Past the ridgeline, the tracks descended into the forest shadows.

Kane felt at peace.

Now, careful readers might notice this scene breaks one of my own main rules: there's no conflict. Fair cop, guv. Guilty as charged. But I feel this scene is necessary for three reasons:

1. Pacing: We need a little rest between to high-tension plot points.

2. Characterization: Kane's a solitary man. One of the best quick and dirty shortcuts to charcterization is to put your character in a fitting environment and say 'he's like this place'.

3. Foreshadowing: I'm not sure how this story ends, but I do know that Kane needs to be comfortable outdoors, and a decent tracker, too.

And, this is the first draft. Before this thing is done, I may well have a scene that does all three of these things *and* throws in some conflict too!

Monday, October 22, 2007

It Begins.... AGAIN!!!

Kate's making a big push on her WIP and thought a team effort would help her along. Anything to help out a blogbuddy! :-)
So in the interests of Science and Friendship, the old Daily Word Count-o-Meter is once again out of mothballs!
Day One: we'll start with the clock set at 'zero'. Handy for me, since I've *no* idea how much I've already written will go into the torturous Work in Progress. (Anybody like my Dickensian use of Capitals? I do promise to Stop, soon. Probably.)
Official 30 day Word-o-Meter Word Count: 0
There, that wasn't so hard. but wait, there's more.
Actually, we're on Day 3, and I only just got the news. So.... (brief pause while I tally up three days' progress. Feel free to play your favorite music while on hold... still holding.... there!) we jump ahead to ....
Official 30 day Word-o-Meter Word Count: 3511
Staying on track, I guess. I might've done more, but yesterday was spent wrestling my lawn. Right now I plan to post about it on my other blog.
All right, back to work...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Bad Words

I'll be brief.
There. Then. Somehow.
Bad words: naughty, naughty, naughty. The first two are flabby, the last one lazy.
There: This one's actually the least offensive to me, which only tells me it's my own bad habit. Nine times out of ten, there is nothing but filler. It takes up space that might be given to more, well, useful words.
That tenth time? Remember, there is a direction, and an indeterminate one at that. If it's going to remain in your story, it'd damn well better be important. And if that direction is so important, *why* did you use such a vague one? Successfully defend your answer and you're... there.
Then: One of the flabbiest words in English. Ever since we all decided to read from left to right, causation has been indicated by sentence order. Bob started the car and (then) backed out of the driveway. Okay, who thinks we need 'then' to let us know that Bob moved the car *after* he started it. Ninety-nine instances out of one hundred, then is useless.
Don't believe me? Put your thumb over the word and see if the sentence still makes sense.
One Important Exception: 'Then' can be a good way to build rhythm, especially in a string of complicated, related actions. In that case, the word is used, not once, but a few times, each repition building the chain of action. It can also build a sense of procedure, of actions performed many times. Lee Child uses this technique to good effect.
Somehow: Laziest. Word. Ever.
All somehow tells us is that the writer couldn't be bothered to consider the action. I just read a book by an author whose work I *love*. So it ground my gears all the more that said author had all sorts of things 'somehow' happening.
Bodies were 'somehow' moved. Small children 'somehow' climbed up the sides of walls. Guys hit by cars 'somehow' found the strength to crochet afghans as Christmas gifts for the entire family. Etc, etc, et-bloody-cetera.
I'm not advocating spending a million words on a trivial action, nor on explaining an action in a way that kills narrative flow. I'm just saying, DON'T USE SOMEHOW.
Bob somehow fit the corpse in the trunk. He kept to the speed limit heading out of town.
Bob stuffed the corpse in the trunk. He kept to the speed limit heading out of town.
Now how hard was that. 'Stuffed' implies how Bob did it, and we're all happy. Easy! Of course, if it was me...
The body was heavy, and dead-limp. Bob wrestled it for ten minutes, praying no one walked past. He had to slam the trunk to get it shut. Something inside crunched.
Bob kept to the speed limit all the way out of town.
But what can I tell you? That's just me. That's also a value decision on the narrative importance of any given action and the usefulness of building tension there. I seem to've decided Bob is an amateur, and very nervous. If he was a seasoned pro at the body-disposal game, I'd treat his efforts with more workmanlike prose.
NB: These rules apply to narative voice ONLY. Dialogue has only two rules: get the point across and keep it natural. People *say* there, then, somehow and all sorts of stuff when they're talking...
In parting: Back in my wayward youth, I used to know a talented martial artist. The man was a morbidly obese chain-smoker who hated to work out. He was also a technical genius and mean as a snake. I learned what I could from him, but I didn't bum-rush the buffet with a Camel hanging from the corner of my mouth.
There are bestselling authors who have these bad habits. Like that martial artist, it's sometimes possible to be a flabby, lazy success.
But this race to the reader is hard enough *without* our bad habits...