Thursday, December 6, 2012

An Expert’s Guide to Character Building Essentials, By Michelle Rebecca




A good writer knows more about her characters--and the world they inhabit--than she ever tells her readers. The more you know about your character--likes, dislikes, habits and history--the better. Character building rounds out your story's main players. 

What's the Point?

The reader may never learn the taxi driver who dies in Chapter 2 has three children, or the talking dormouse who helped your hero traverse the Desert of Failings has an addiction to cauliflower. As such, you may wonder if character building isn’t a waste of time. 

A well-developed character comes across stronger in a story. You understand her motivation, her reasoning, and that understanding seeps into how you describe her. Besides, as you explore your characters they can surprise you, adding elements to your plot and atmosphere you hadn't realized were missing.

Getting the Whole Picture

Take our dormouse as an example. He's a minor character who only shows up for one chapter, but he plays an important role in the hero's journey, teaching the hero to face his fears and feelings. 

How can he do this? Because the dormouse experienced his own failings. He's felt the sinful allure of forbidden cauliflower. He's stolen and lied to obtain the vegetable. And he only recovered because someone cared enough to get him into drug rehab (well, veggie rehab I guess).

You might hint at this in the story. You might decide it requires more explanation or simply use it as part of the story's larger backdrop. Either way, the character seems more real to both you and your reader, because you took the time to develop his history and personality.

The Importance of Backstory

Writers such as J.K. Rowling are masters of character development and backstory. We never learn whether Professor Snape likes his steak rare or well done, but it's a good bet that Rowling knows. Her notes on the world and her characters are, by all accounts, voluminous.

Only a tiny portion of Rowling's character development makes it into her books. She may have map of Hogwarts and a list of every headmaster ever to preside over the school, but readers don’t need that information. Instead, she uses such facts to keep the school--itself as much as character as any wizard--consistent in tone, history and construction.

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Byline: Michelle Rebecca is an aspiring writer with a passion for blogging. She enjoys writing about a vast variety of topics and loves that blogging gives her the opportunity to publicly voice her thoughts and share advice with an unlimited audience. Read her blog at Social We Love.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Haki Madhubuti Interviewed by Authors Road


Like several of the writers we’ve had the great fortune to interview, Haki Madhubuti found his voice in the social, cultural, political, artistic and civil rights turbulence of the 1960s.

Born in Little Rock, Arkansas and growing up in Detroit under his given name, Don L. Lee, he discovered answers to his many questions at the local library through the leading black writers of his day. It is also the time when he began writing poetry and essays. His life led him to enlist in the Army, followed by college, and in 1967, an historic gathering in a Chicago basement with two other poets. That meeting resulted in the launch of Third World Press, which today ranks as the largest independent black-owned publishing house in the nation.

In 1972, he changed his name to Haki Madhubuti, Swahili words meaning “just” or “justice,” and “accurate and dependable.” He continued his writing and earned his M.F.A. from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1984. During the subsequent five decades he has been recognized with numerous  honors,  founded several schools, taught at several universities, lectured in almost every state, and become one of the most prolific black writers in America.

We met with Dr. Madhubuti at his  offices in South Chicago. He took the time to show us around his extensive personal library, art collection, and the many awards and honors he’s received in his illustrious career before sitting down with us to share his remarkable stories.

We are very pleased to bring his interview with you.
 
The Authors Road

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Taking Steps -- Setting a Story Into Motion, A review of the opening chapter of Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn

by Bill Johnson
Good stories create a journey a story's audience can share. One aspect of creating a journey is taking a first step. When the first chapter of a novel takes that first step, the storytelling demonstrates an ability to create a story journey. Some writers struggle because a first chapter is not a step forward, but an introduction of characters, settings, and plot. I'm going to use several paragraphs from The Last Unicorn to demonstrate how Peter Beagle created a compelling, engaging first step in a story journey.

The title of the novel raises several questions: why is there only one unicorn left? Will it survive? A good title can raise or suggest a dramatic question that draws in readers.

The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone.
 
This first sentence suggests a story about being all alone in the world, an issue that resonates with many people.

She was very old, though she did not know it, and she was no longer the careless color of sea foam, but rather the color of snow falling on a moonlit night. But her eyes were still clear and unwearied, and she still moved like a shadow on the sea.
First the introduction of an issue for the unicorn, then a lyrical physical description. Some hunters pass through the unicorn's forest, and from evesdropping the unicorn learns that she is probably the last of her kind. This sets up in her a state of narrative tension, as she wonders if she is indeed the last unicorn, of if the others were waiting for her?

But when she stopped running at last and stood still, listening to crows and a quarrel of squirrels over her head, she wondered. But suppose they are hiding together, somewhere far away? What if they are hiding and waiting for me? From that first moment of doubt, there was no peace for her; from the time she first imagined leaving her forest, she could not stand in one place without wanting to be somewhere else. She trotted up and down beside her pool, restless and unhappy. Unicorns are not meant to make choices. She said no, and yes, and no again, day and night, and for the first time she began to feel the minutes crawling over her like worms. "I will not go. Because men have seen no unicorns for a while does not mean they have all vanished. Even if it were true, I would not go. I live here." 
 
A character is in a state of narrative tension when he or she feels compelled to act, but with compelling reasons not to act, and acting increases the tension. A novel with a main character who is not in a state of narrative tension risks not being dramatically compelling.

Continuing,

Under the moon, the road that run from the edge of her forest gleamed like water, but when she stepped out onto it away from the trees, she felt how hard it was, and how long. She almost turned back then; but instead sh took a deep breath of the woods air that still drifted to her, and held it in her mouth like a flower, as long as she could.

The unicorn has taken the first step of her journey. She doesn't just make the decision, but takes that step. Many stories have both this physical journey and a journey toward the resolution of an issue of human need, or the illumination and exploration of ideas.

On her journey, the unicorn meets a man who confuses her for a horse.

Sometimes she thought, "If men no longer know what they are looking at, there may well be unicorns in the world yet, unknown and glad of it." But she knew beyond both hope and vanity that men had changed, and world with them, because the unicorns were gone. Yet she went on along the hard road, although each day she wished a little more that she had never left her forest. 

This raises the stakes in the story, that what's happening is not just about a solitary unicorn, but about the larger world; that if this last unicorn is lost, something fundamental about this world will be lost. Some writers struggle because they don't set up something to be at stake in the larger world of their stories.
And, the narrative tension continues to increase for the unicorn.

The unicorn meets a silly butterfly who sings silly songs, but just before leaving, the butterfly reveals to the unicorn, 

"You can find your people if you are brave. They passed down all the roads long ago, and the Red Bull ran close behind them and covered their footprints. Let nothing dismay you, but don't be half-safe." His wings brushed against the unicorn's skin.

Now the unicorn knows what happened to the other unicorns, but not where to find them. She now has a clue to what happened, but the clue frames larger questions: Where did the Red Bull take the other unicorns, can she find them, can she defeat the Red Bull?

Continuing, a carnival carvan led by Mama Fortuna, a wise woman, happens upon the sleeping unicorn. Knowing what she has found, she has a cage built around the unicorn to trap it. The first chapter ends with the unicorn waking. This sets up a powerful question, will this help or hinder the Unicorn in her quest?
The end of the chapter also suggests that the Magician, who is in conflict with Mama Fortuna, might become an ally of the unicorn.

To get the answer, a reader must turn the page and keep reading.

If Peter Beagle had started with an introduction of the unicorn, an introduction of the old man who mistook her for a horse, an introduction to the butterfly, and Mama Fortuna's carnival, then brought these characters together in the second chapter, that kind of first chapter would have been dramatically static. He choose instead to set the Unicorn on a journey where she meets characters who impact that journey.

The Last Unicorn is a great example of how to introduce and set a story into motion in one chapter.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Authors Road Interview with Frederick Turner


On a lovely spring day in old Santa Fe, New Mexico, we met and interviewed Frederick Turner, one of the more versatile and accomplished writers in our series. He is an author equally comfortable in crafting non fiction as well as fiction, short works and long.

After a few false starts in the art of writing as a child, Fred really launched his craft once he began his career in academia. Scholarly essays grew into opportunities to publish non-fiction works on topics that ranged from jazz, to post-WWII baseball and Henry Miller. In addition, Fred’s relentless curiosity led him to write several novels that explored topics of compelling interest.

Fred writes because that’s what he is: a writer. And he was kind enough to meet with us and share some of his insights and lessons he’s learned in his many years working at his art – stories we’re pleased to share with you. 
 
Thanks for . . . 
. . . joining us . . .
  . . . on the road!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Fiction-Writing Secrets to Letting Go of Your First Draft




Some writers love the freedom of working on a first draft; other writers find the process of getting words down on a blank page to be the most agonizing part of the fiction writing process. Whichever camp you fall into, you will eventually complete your initial draft. 

The next step is revision. Revision often means letting go of or changing much of the material in the first draft. This can be hard for writers who fall in love with the words they write, but story revisions are not optional — they are a crucial part of creating a publishable manuscript.

Murder Your Darlings

English author Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch advised, “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it — whole-heartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscripts to press. Murder your darlings.”

While this advice isn’t always applicable, if you find yourself inordinately fond of a certain paragraph or phrase, take a close look at it to see if it really is helpful in telling your story. If not, out it goes. Some writers who can’t bear to hit the delete key copy and paste their favorite bits of prose into another document in case the words are needed at a later date. They rarely are.

Tie Up Loose Ends

Take some time to read over your story carefully to catch “orphan” devices, characters, or plotlines. These are elements that you introduced in the early part of your story and never mentioned again. For instance, if you dwell on a description of rat traps in the first chapter, those traps should play a significant role in the plot later on. Similarly, don’t spend three pages introducing the reader to a character that you never mention again.
If you find any orphans in your story, delete them or add them to your “darlings” file.

Re-Evaluate Your Point of View

Finally, make sure you are telling the story from the most logical point of view. If your main character is “off stage” for most of the action, consider rewriting the piece from the point of view of a character who plays a more active role in events.

Now that you know what to watch out for, you can turn that ho-hum first draft into a shining finished product.


Byline: Michelle is an aspiring writer with a passion for blogging. She enjoys writing about a vast variety of topics and loves that blogging gives her the opportunity to publically voice her thoughts and share advice with an unlimited audience.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Are You Really the Character You’re Writing About?

by Bill Johnson



When people decide to start writing, most of them start with their own lives. Some draw inspiration from the places and people around them, while others decide to write about real life as it happened … or so they think.
It’s okay to embellish or change the truth in fiction — it is fiction, after all — but if you’re writing nonfiction, you’ll fall flat if you don’t make an accurate, honest assessment about who you are. Make sure you can tell the 
difference between what actually happened and what you think happened.

You’re Being Honest If…

One sign of a goodwriter is the ability to see things objectively. These clues tell you if you’re doing the same for your own characterization:

You’re not perfect:  If you have flaws and you’ve done bad things, then you’ve written honestly. If, however, you’re always the good guy put upon by bad guys, then you’re writing an ego trip.
Your life is sometimes dull:  Like everyone else, your life has some interesting stories in it. But not every story is interesting to others, and hopefully you’re perceptive enough to distinguish those that make good reading and those that don’t.

Other people play a role:  Your story isn’t all about you. If you’re good, you know who helped make your life what it is today, from the wise kindergarten teacher to the first person who broke your heart.

If Not, You’re Doing This:

If you’re in a writing workshop where students sit in old classroom desks sharing their roughest drafts, a good writing teacher will advise you to avoid these autobiographical pitfalls:

Everyone loves you:  No one is beloved by everyone, and your work will ring false if everyone in your life idolizes you, falls in love with you, or asks your advice about all the challenges they’re facing.

Life’s a non-stop adventure:  That funny incident at your first job might have been hilarious to the people in the room, but probably not to the people reading about it 20 years later.

You learned nothing:  Seinfeld was about nothing, but your life can’t be. If you’re going to write about your life, be sure you learned something along the way.

If you’re the subject of your own story, be as honest and objective as possible to make your story uplifting, compelling, and, most of all, interesting to readers.

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Byline:  Michelle Rebecca is an aspiring writer with a passion for blogging. She enjoys writing about a vast variety of topics and loves that blogging gives her the opportunity to publically voice her thoughts and share advice with an unlimited audience.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Finding the Right Critique Group

by Bill Johnson
As office manager of Willamette Writers, a non-profit writers group, I often get calls asking about critique groups. I advise people to think of them as coming in four types:

Support
Light Critique
Heavy Critique
Wise Reader

Support groups generally offer encouragement in writing or marketing, and little or no critique. Some support groups also operate as social networks, and might involve eating a meal together or meeting at a restaurant.

Light Critique groups could have a format for critique, like a time limit to respond; or limits on the person responding; or a requirement that a critique start and end with a positive comment, etc. This is something a group works out. A group might have a moderator to make sure the guidelines are followed, or a rotating moderator for each meeting.

Heavy Critique

This is generally for writers who are published or who are interested in mainstream publishing. People read something and offer a no-holds barred critique. The author takes it in and does what they want with what is offered. There's no mentoring here.

As an office manager, I once had to listen to a heavy critique group self-destruct when they were joined by a new writer who demanded and insisted on support only.

Wise Reader

Orson Scott Card developed this idea, that an author can give a spouse or friend guidelines for how to respond to a manuscript (for example, when someone started skipping pages or lost interest). A good resource for getting good feedback from casual readers.

Where to Meet

Some people meet at a home; others meet at a Starbucks (some do close at 6 pm); some people meet at a local restaurant (3-6 is often a quiet time for a restaurant, and they appreciate people coming in; this is also a typical Happy Hour time for lower costs for food). A few groups sign up to meet at the WW Writing House.

What to Look For

I advise people to try 2-3 groups to find a group that offers the right fit and personalities. Cynthia Whitcomb, president of Willamette Writers, belongs to both a support and critique group to meet her needs.

Some people call the Willamette Writers office and want to join a critique group (or be mentored by) New York Times best-selling authors. Those kind of authors are generally protective of their time and not open to working with unpublished, inexperienced authors.

That said, I've known published authors who have Beta readers to go over their new work and offer feedback, and sometimes that includes some feedback from the published author on a reader's work.

Finding a group that works for you could take some time and effort, but the rewards can be worth it. Even a group with prickly personalities that don't accept feedback on their work might offer you the feedback you need. Just don't get 'stuck' in a group that doesn't work for you.

A student mentioned recently she used the online group MeetUp to find a screenwriting critique group. If you can't find a local group that meets your needs, there are online options.

Good luck.

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Bill Johnson is the author of A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, available on Amazon Kindle for $2.99 and on Smashwords. More about Willamette Writers at http://www.willamettewriters.com

Find me on Google+

Monday, September 3, 2012

Authors Road Interviews Laura Chester



On a nearly perfect spring afternoon in the high Arizona desert we met and interviewed Laura Chester at her winter home. For years she and her husband have spent their winters down along the Mexican border where she devotes her time to riding her horses in the rugged landscapes, and working on her writing and editing.

In this interview Laura tells of the support and encouragement she got for her writing from her earliest years. And how, because of that reinforcement, she wrote and published more than two-dozen books and anthologies. As a young adult she fell into the world of poets and small presses, and became an editor and publisher, creating a full house of writing skills that we think you'll enjoy.
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Also, we've recently seen a surge in new subscribers to The Authors Road. We want to thank you all for your joining us on this journey, and we sincerely hope we can keep your interest and support in the months ahead. We can assure you we have some wonderful interviews slated, including with songwriter Terry Allen, experts on Nobel Laureates Hemingway and Sinclair Lewis, novelists Audrey Niffenegger and Lois McMaster Bujold, Civil Rights activist Dr. Haki Madhubuti, and many others.

Welcome aboard The Authors Road.
The Authors Roadhttp://www.authorsroad.com

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Michael Blake Interviewed on Authors Road


Michael Blake is a writer few may know, yet most know his work – Michael wrote a blockbuster.

Like a few other legendary writers, Michael “paid his dues.” For more than a year, while sometimes homeless and living out of his car, he held on to what he envisioned and continued to work on it.  And just at the edge, on the day he was fired as a dish washer from a Chinese restaurant, the phone call came, and it wasn’t long before his efforts exploded around the world.

Michael Blake had written "Dances with Wolves," and the story, writing, and movie dominated the awards and recognitions for the year.

Michael agreed to meet with us at his elegant ranch in southern Arizona one sunny afternoon, and share with us a part of the story. Outside, a few of the wild mustangs he'd rescued stood around, curious about the attention, while inside his dog took a long nap, quite used to the attention, and we stood hypnotized by a Hollywood movie story more Hollywood than even tinsel town can create.
 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Indie Author Riley Hill and Riverhouse Lit Launch Mystery Thriller About Sauvie Island


"Split River," authored by Riley Hill, a former Sauvie Island resident, provides a chilling dip into fictional happenings on the island. Published online through Amazon by Riverhouse Lit, the novel is available in e-book and soft cover, and available to libraries and bookstores beginning August 17, 2012.

The dark moon of August 17, 2012 lights the way for Riley Hill's tale of mystery and suspense, Split River. Set in the lush countryside of Sauvie Island, the novel invites readers to probe deeper—beyond the Rockwellian glow of pumpkin farms and wholesome children. Into the minds of a serial killer, and the woman whose life was ruined by him.

Jeroen ten Berge, a New Zealand artist who designs covers for notables, including J.A. Konrath, created the cover for Split River.

The author, Riley Hill, previously lived on Sauvie Island. Inspiration for the book came from the stripping of sand from under the trees along the riverbank, after the flood of 1996, combined with the history of the Warrior Rock Lighthouse. Interviews with local Fish and Wildlife officials, Deputy Larry Weaver, and residents provided additional realism to the fictional tale.
Ms. Hill says "Split River carries the reader through an idyllic world of abundant vegetation, wildlife, and island people, as a young woman struggles to channel her fractured life streams and wash clean the mystery of Warrior Rock."

As Cayenne Jensen, the protagonist, seeks to resolve the reason she was abandoned in a boat on the Columbia River at four years of age, she discovers truths about herself that make her a good match for the serial killer. The story setup contains fairy-tale elements, then quickly plunges the reader into adult themes and occasional dark humor. Combined with CSI-style macro views, lovely description, and character-driven plotting, this thriller's pace encourages page turning to find the clues.

About Riverhouse Lit and Riley Hill:

Riverhouse Lit is a subsidiary of House of Lit, an independent electronic book formatting and publishing intermediary company, located in Dewey, Arizona. Riley Hill plans another book with Riverhouse Lit later this year.

Contact:
Yoly Fivas, Owner
House of Lit
houseoflit@gmail.com

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Self Awareness/Directed Awareness

by Bill Johnson
For people, self-awareness has many facets. People in general need brain power to filter out much of the information their senses collect. I think self-awareness for particular people can end up running in channels, so that we can quickly assign meaning and values to people and relationships in our lives and not get bogged down/drown in processing details. Relationships can also be symbolic, in the sense that a symbol can stand in for a relationship, a kind of short hand code.

The problem arises when a new writer doesn't realize their particular short hand code (a dark-haired woman with thick glasses could be a symbol for an abusive parent) doesn't evoke anything for a reader. The job of our brains to filter out details or shape our reality to a particular design can lead to a kind of neutered, thin writing that fails to ring true. Except for the person writing in their particular symbolic code.

Directed awareness, however, is a choice about where to focus awareness. Cynthia Whitcomb, the President of Willamette Writers, has had a long career as a successful screenwriter. When she began focusing more on writing plays, she read a play a day for a year. That was one way she assimilated a deeper understanding of what makes for a good play.

I find students in my screenwriting classes who don't like or watch movies. They simply want to imagine an idea of theirs turned into a Hollywood film, or imagine their life being turned into a major motion picture, with the money involved. I sometimes lose 50% to 70% of my students in a particular class. I suspect when I try and teach them directed awareness about storytelling -- consciously learning the craft -- they aren't ready for the work involved, or they come to realize the work involved.

About directed awareness versus intuition, recent brain scan studies have shown that once people have assimilated understanding (gained understanding about some facet of writing like plot, for example), when a problem arises, the subconscious can take that assimilated understanding of storytelling and find a solution to a particular plot problem. Then pop the answer in to the conscious mind.

Which some people interpret as intuition.

The catch is, the subconscious can only present that answer to the conscious mind when that mind is not preoccupied with a particular problem. Being preoccupied with a problem blocks the subconscious mind from accessing the conscious mind and providing an answer.

I go over this more in the latest version of my book, and reference some of these new scientific studies. I find it fascinating that brain scans give a more accurate representation of how the brain works and functions.

Many years ago I was in a state of deep meditation where I could see the flow of my subconscious thoughts/feelings/awareness welling up into my conscious mind; be aware of thoughts before they became conscious thoughts. Odd, enchanting process to observe.

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A fifth edition of my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, is now available for $2.99 from Amazon Kindle.

Authors Road Interviews Jim Harrison

 
Jim Harrison is repeatedly described by book reviewers as “legendary,” often compared to Hemingway, Faulkner and other great American writers, and well known for the life he’s lived and the company he has kept over the decades of his prolific career.

Most Americans know him for the films he is responsible for: Legends of the Fall, Wolf, and Revenge are a few examples. But lovers of great literature know him best by his many books of poetry, novellas, novels, leading magazine articles, and his insightful memoir, Off to the Side.

We had the good fortune to meet with him, his lovely wife, and gentle dogs while we stayed in southern Arizona on our travels. Many days we’d gather for a sip and animated conversation at the town watering hole, The Wagon Wheel, a place featured in a few of Harrison’s stories, and a gathering ground for locals, other writers, truckers and bikers passing along the edge of the Mexican border. We quickly developed a sincere fondness for the man behind the written words, for his crusty honesty and penetrating intellect—and for his uncompromising zeal for life.

One afternoon, while Salli prepared a gourmet meal for this noted gourmand, I interviewed Jim in the backyard of his casita. We chatted about his background with writing and a slew of other views that seemed to bubble up during our conversation before dinner was served.

The dinner was great, but the conversation was what will remain longest with us, a few pieces of which we’ve tried to capture here for your enjoyment and learning. And I must add an apology for the inconsistent audio of this interview. My bad! Multitasking while sipping wine is not a skill I can claim with pride. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

From Book to Screen: The Hunger Games

by Bill Johnson
This well-made film offers a great example of how to turn a popular novel into a movie. The film eliminates several minor characters and shortens something that preoccupies Katniss in the novel, whether she'll go along with playing someone's girlfriend to score points with the audience for the Hunger Games. A common mistake for novelists writing a first script would be to take a scene of Katniss looking out a train window and adding that she was 'pondering if she could pretend to love Peeta.' This isn't something that shows up on the screen, so it normally would not appear in a script. (As with any convention, there can be reasons to violate the 'rules'.)


Katniss' relationships with her mother, younger sister, and her younger sister's cat are also conveyed quickly. In the novel, the cat serves as someone Katniss can speak to in a way that conveys information to the reader and as a comic device. In the movie, the cat is just noted briefly as another mouth to feed.

Another common problem in first scripts is the photographic detail that goes into describing environments, whether they are important or not. The absolute poverty in District 12 is conveyed in some quick shots in the movie, while conveying that poverty occupies a number of pages in the novel. The moment Katniss steps into the train transporting her to the capitol, a great deal is conveyed about the difference between life in District 12 and life in the capitol. This is what is meant by showing versus telling.

A film that demonstrates what happens when detail takes precedence of story is the first Harry Potter movie. The novel is a chronicle of narrative tension. The movie is a chronicle of what Hogwarts looks like.
 
A common mistake for novelists writing a first script would be to take a scene of Katniss looking out a train window and adding that she was 'pondering if she could pretend to love Peeta.' But this isn't something that shows up on the screen, so it normally would not appear in a script. (As with any convention, there can be reasons to violate any particular rule.)


Years ago I stepped into a screenwriting workshop led by Larry Brody. One of his techniques of teaching was to have someone read from the opening lines of script while Larry sat poised with a drumstick and a cymbal. As soon as the writer wrote something in the script that would cause a film executive to stop reading, he would whack the cymbal. Inexperienced screenwriters rarely got through a first page.


The movie deftly conveys the central question of the novel, whether Katniss will be able to keep her humanity when she enters the games? A major secondary question in the book, whether Katniss would have a relationship with Gale, is simply suggested in the movie.

The movie of The Lovely Bones offers an example of how turning a novel into a movie can go off the rails. That movie starts with an image of a penguin 'trapped' in a snow globe. This muffles what the story is about, grief destroying the family, to offer a different, unrelated idea, how someone can be frozen in an environment (like Suzy in the after life). The movie continues with narration to try and quickly convery the main character and plot threads, but with the central issue of grief muffled, the opening of the film feels busy and muddled.

And a central feature of Suzie's after life -- that it's a kind of drab way-station for people who haven't let go of earthly life -- is turned into a kind of super-sized, colorful, amazing theme park that everyone should desire. It's late in the film before the real purpose of this after life becomes apparent and reconnects to the plot of the film.

By that point, the film has for too long been a series of haphazard plot and character threads, unlike the movie of The Hunger Games, or the novel of The Lovely Bones.

I suggest that people who want to convert a novel into a script focus on the spine of the story, the action of the main characters, and be willing to let minor threads go.


Lastly, people who loved The Hunger Games the novel should enjoy the movie very much, unless you're a cat person.


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Bill Johnson is the author of A Story is a Promise and The Spirit of Storytelling, a writing workbook. He is also the web master of storyispromise.com, a web site that explores principles of storytelling through reviews of popular movies, books and plays. Spirit is now available at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52699

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Power Networking for Writers: It is About Who You Know, by Julie Fast

Julie FastIt's very exciting to finish a writing project. This requires time and diligence and is a true accomplishment. Unfortunately, some of the most talented writers work for years to sell a project, be it a book or a screenplay and wonder why the success they crave remains elusive.
It's easy to feel that authors who are published know something secret. And they often do. They understand that who you know is sometimes as important as the project itself. They understand the power of networking.
Networking takes confidence, research and planning. But it can make a huge difference in your conference experience.
My best advice is to take advantage of every networking opportunity you can find. Scope out the agents and publishers you want to meet and take their classes. You can then hear their special offers. Talk with people in the cafĂ© and sit next to the person at lunch who has something you want. Yes, it's Machiavellian, but if you want to get published, this is often what it takes.  
I've taught ePublishing classes at the conference for seven years. I always say, "Let me know your topic and I will point you in the right direction of an agent or my agent." Guess what? About 10% take me up on the offer. Five of my students are now published and one worked with my agent. As a teacher, I'm impressed by networking. So don't be shy about networking. They weren't.
You are no different than writers who seem more successful than yourself. They wrote well (as I hope you do!) and then knew how to relentlessly network to get what they wanted. I've been in the publishing world for ten years and I know the big secret. Agents and published writers have to network as much as you do. So get out there, network at the conference and sell your project!
I hope to see you in class.
Julie A. Fast
 
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Julie is teaching a class at the Willamette Writers conference, August 3-5th in Portland, Oregon.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Notes on Hysteria (the Movie)

 

This movie demonstrates the problems of trying to cover a lot of terrain with a shifting mix of tones. The first set up is a young doctor in 19th century London who discovers his promotion of the new ideas of germs and washing hands between patients keeps getting him fired by older doctors. He then gets a job with a doctor who uses orgasms to treat the the common malady of upper-middle class women, hysteria (which was considered to be a condition afflicting women until 1950).

His employer has a chaste young daughter he's opening shopping to the young doctor, and a fire-brand, force of nature oldest daughter who torments her father with her ideas of poor people being human beings deserving of compassion, education, and medical care.

The film covers the slow, sedate courtship of the young doctor and the young woman, interrupted by ocassional outbursts when the older daughter passed through pleading for money or support.

The question, who will he end up with?

But his immediate problem is he's wearing out his hand servicing women in the clinic, some of whom take hours of stimulation to climax and get relief from their symptoms (which mostly seem to be passing the time in the long wait for treatment).

Meanwhile, the young doctor's wealthy benefactor invents what becomes the first electric vibrator, creating a huge demand for the young doctor's services. At this point, the film shifts to being a droll British sex comedy.

The film shifts back to a realistic tone to deal with the young doctor realizing he's in love with young fury, not young chaste.

The problem is, he's barely spent any time with her, so the relationship feels abrupt, and has a different tone from the realism about medical procedures, then the comedic tone, then the serious tone about women's rights and the treatment of the poor.

The film has a good heart. It allows the young daughter to have the realization that a better life for her won't involve being the wife of the young doctor.

Shifts in tone can be one of the most common problems in first scripts. The shift in tone helps create the effect of a climax at the same time it undercuts the effect. 

 

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Director:

Tanya Wexler

Writers:

Stephen Dyer (story), Jonah Lisa Dyer (story)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Juanita Havill Interview on Authors Road


   

After only a few minutes talking with Juanita Havill, it comes as no surprise to learn she is author of a number of successful children’s books. She is possessed of that elegance, gentle style, and hopeful optimism that we all want our own children to learn. And for this reason it is very easy to imagine her having been honored at a White House reception for children’s authors after the First Lady read one of her stories to a radio audience.

Once more we are excited to share with you yet another noted American writer that we’ve met along the Authors Road. We spent a morning talking with Juanita at her home in the warm winter sun of southern Arizona. She shared with us tales of growing up and loving to read and treasuring books, her early life working at a newspaper founded by her great grandfather, and learning the rules and discipline of writing that have led her to a long and successful career.

We’re certain you’ll enjoy and benefit from her insights and wit as she shares her story of becoming an author, and how she sees changes ahead. 
 
 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

About Doubt, by Molly Best Tinsley


  Writers hear voices--a provocative sentence or two bubbling up in the mind’s ear; a created, or remembered, character beginning to speak autonomously.  These are gifts of the creative process to be cherished.  Then there are the other voices, the ones that chime in when we’re mustering the energy to get started on a project, or when the first burst of energy has been spent and we’re trying to figure out where to go next.  “Why bother?” these voices ask.  “You’re not a real writer.  That was a dumb idea.  You’ll never get it  to come out right.  What’s the point of going on?”
 
These doubts are the legacies of childhood, when parents and other adults defined who we were and decreed what we had to do.  Back then, writing meant navigating a tangle of rules—spelling, grammar, and “what the teacher wants.”  There is safety in all these obsolete limitations; they maintain the status quo.  But they have nothing to do with our creative abilities or the vitality of our writing.  We must laugh them off our mental stage, embrace the freedom, and forge on. 
 
No one ever postpones or stops writing because of lack of talent or technical expertise.  The talent is always there to be tapped, and solutions abound for any technical writing problem.  There’s only one thing that can stop us from writing if we let it, and that is self-doubt.

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Molly Tinsley left the English faculty at the US Naval Academy to write full-time.  Her story collection Throwing Knives won the Oregon Book Award; her most recent release is the memoir Entering the Blue Stone.  Three years ago she donned the editor/publisher hat, co-founding the small press Fuze Publishing (www.fuzepublishing.com).  She facilitates the workshops, Crafting Lively Dialogue and The Second Draft.

For more information about the conference, visit http://www.willamettewriters.com/wwc/3/

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Graph Your Novel (Seriously!) , by Amber Keyser


If writing a first draft is like trying to out-run an avalanche, revision resembles digging out with a shovel.  Any tool that can cut through the details and provide a panoramic view of the shape of our story is useful.  Try a graph—seriously! 
Pick 1-3 things that you want to focus on and that you can rate on a 1-10 scale.  Some examples include voice, pace, likeability of a character, emotional intensity, conflict, fluidity of language, narrative coherency, moving plot forward, or a character’s transition from one state to another.  If a critique partner is doing this for you, asking if s/he’s “lost” will help analyze backstory components.  One of my critique group members analyzed the “turn the page factor” on a scale from 1, completely uninterested, to 10, can’t stop to pee.
Next make a graph that has all the chapters of your book on the X-axis (that’s the bottom line) and the numbers 1-10 on the Y-axis (vertical line).  Read each chapter and try to give a gut-level rating for each of your factors.  Connect the dots with a different color pen for each factor (e.x. red for conflict, blue for emotional intensity). 
Patterns will emerge.  For example, if properly plotted, conflict should trend upward (zigging and zagging a little on the way) toward a peak at the climactic chapter and then resolve downward quickly to the end.  One recent novel analyzed this way showed three distinct peaks at the end.  The author gave equal weight to the resolution of three major plot lines.  The book felt like it didn’t know where to end.  A line tracking reader’s involvement of the story will identify flabby chapters. 
Graphs like these can be powerful tools to help writers identify the parts of their manuscript that aren’t doing enough work or aren’t doing the right work.  They help you see where to focus your revision work.  And they’re pretty cool—seriously!
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Amber Keyser is the author of five books for young readers, including a picture book, three nonfiction titles, and a forthcoming novel that is part of Angel Punk, a transmedia storyworld.  At the conference, Amber will teach Creating Transmedia: Big Stories, Collaboration and Cross Pollination and Using a Critique Group to Enhance Your Writing Life.  More at AmberKeyser.com and VivaScriva.com.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Low Cost Book Publicity

by Bill Johnson       

As the office manager for a writers group with over 1,750 members, I'm often asked by newly published or self-published authors, what do I do to promote my book in my local area?


First, it's easier to get an announcement about a talk into a local newspaper than a lone author doing a book signing. Many authors have some lifetime experience they can speak about at a local library. And some libraries also allow book sales for a nominal commission.

If you can't arrange a talk through a library, local community colleges often rent rooms on weekends for a small fee, and such locations generally offer easy parking and access.

Using a space at either a library or school also lends some status to your talk.

If these spaces aren't available to you, many communities have arts organizations, some that meet in publicly subsidized spaces. They can also be a resource for renting a room to hold a talk.

Retirement communities also will host speakers (or performers in general).

My most dependable resource for getting the word out about these kinds of events has been a local alternative weekly (most major cities have one). These weeklies generally have a bulletin board in their print editions that anyone can put notices in for .95+ cents a word. (Online bulletin boards are vastly cheaper, but you get what you pay for).

If you have an event, always keep fliers about it in your car. Bookmarks and post cards are also good resources that you can distribute; Avery provides templates for creating them. There are online services that will print small quantities of inexpensive business cards that can include the cover of your book and info about an event.

If you are near a community college, see if they have a continuing education program that offers non-credit classes. Such programs are frequently open to instructors with new class ideas. Teaching a workshop at a community college will help raise your newsworthy standing.

If you are determined to do a book signing at a book store, I suggest you set up a signing with at least three other authors who write in a similar genre. I've known authors who banded together to set up a signing at a table in a mall during a literary-themed time (like a national poetry month).

I advise new authors to think long and hard about putting down money for table space at another author's book fair, unless money is not an issue. If you choose to be involved in a book fair, look for one that is part of a larger event that generates foot traffic.

If you do want to do a book release party, contact a local book store and see if they can accommodate you. Many book stores are set up to handle authors giving short presentations. This is where a well-designed media kit can make a great first impression.

Prlog offers a free service for sending out PR announcements. I've never had great success with these kind of announcements for local author events getting picked up for distribution, however. Some of these services send announcements to link farms that are set up to automatically post every announcement received, so don't be fooled by promises of wide distribution if you'll just sign up for a service that costs hundreds of dollars.

If you can't get a response from a major newspaper in your area, contact someone at your local neighborhood paper. I've known a number of authors who have been interviewed and featured in smaller, community papers.

Does your town have a local public access radio station called Golden Hours? See if you can get interviewed about your book.

Whatever kind of event you set up, NEVER depend on anyone else (including book stores, loved ones, friends, or fellow authors) to send out your event/meeting/workshop PR. Always do it yourself to be sure it gets out. And if you send out notices to local papers or magazines, make the effort to read their submission guidelines. A third of the PR notices I receive are deleted because the authors didn't bother to find out my guidelines, like someone sending me a website link and telling me I can go there and write an announcement for them.

Ask your extended family if anyone has any media contacts or would be willing to do a book review and post it online. In general, the more relevant links you have on the web, the higher your search engine rating (some search engines discount links posted on link farms).

Authors Den now offers contacts for people who do inexpensive book reviews.

Writing a book is a creative process, but marketing a book requires a different kind of mental focus, determination and planning. But if you put yourself out there in the world, you'll come across avenues to promote your book you never knew existed.

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To read some of my longer reviews of popular movies, visit my website or check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise, available on Amazon Kindle. Or, find me on Google+ and tell me what you think.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Writing the Emotionally Resonant Character, by Rosanne Parry



Rosanne ParryOne of the pleasures of great fiction comes when a character you love takes an action that you didn't foresee and yet is so right for the character that it feels inevitable. You find yourself saying, "Of course! That's so like her!" The flip side of the experience is the character whose action so surprises you that you scratch your head and flip to the cover just to make sure you're still reading the same book. That's emotional resonance at work (or not at work in the second example.) Character interviews and charts listing personal appearance and habits are an excellent beginning, but how do you move into the realm of what makes a character internally consistent and emotionally true? To get at the deeper character, a writer has to ask herself deeper questions. Here are two to get you started.
What is the virtue that my character's family or friends or community values most highly? What is the worst sin this character could commit in his social circle?

For example, soldiers don't leave men behind. They will risk everything to bring the body of a fallen soldier home. This has been true since Hector and Achilles were fighting at the gates of Troy. The worst shame and guilt that a soldier suffers is from a failure to protect his men, even in death.

This question gets at the heart of what motivates your character's choices, and gives you a basis for escalating the conflict in your story. The more you put a character at odds with his personal moral compass, the more tension you will have in your scenes. It also protects you from unintentionally making a character choose something that is inconsistent with his values. For example a good soldier may well leave bodies on the field in retreat, but he would never do so without exhausting every option and suffering remorse. Having your character's core virtue or sin firmly in mind helps keep that character consistent and emotionally resonant.

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Author Bio: Rosanne Parry

If you are interested in exploring these ideas further, please consider taking Rosanne Parry's conference workshop Character and the Seven Deadly Sins. Rosanne is the award-winning author of Heart of a Shepherd and two other novels. She has taught workshops at Fishtrap, SCBWI, NCTE and numerous schools and book festivals across the country. She lives in Portland. http://www.rosanneparry.com

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Authors Road Interviews Phil Caputo

Philip Caputo

Writer #18

  

For most of us of a “certain age,” the Vietnam War had a radical impact on our lives. For Philip Caputo, the impact was felt in many different ways, one of which resulted in a long and successful writing career becoming the focal point for his first published book, A Rumor of War.

On a cool day near the Mexican border in Arizona, we met with Philip and had the pleasure of hearing many of his stories about his writing career. It's a career that began with his publication of two poems while he served with the first Marine Corps battalion sent to Vietnam. After he returned to the U.S. he began working as a journalist, then as a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune assigned to Moscow during the height of the Cold War. He also wrote on a team of reporters awarded a Pulitzer Prize for their expose of Chicago voter corruption, covered the fall of Saigon, reported from the front line of numerous wars around the world, and wrote stories on some of the earth's most amazing animals. His adventures have been the inspiration for more than a dozen fiction and nonfiction books, and articles for National Geographic, Esquire, and many other major publications.

We’re certain you’ll enjoy the time we spent with Philip, a gifted storyteller and a writer with much to share.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Jessica Morrell Hosts Summer in Words (Oregon Coast)

Writers of all levels can be inspired from some of the best in their field at the 5th annual Summer in Words Writing Conference.

Dates: June 15-17, 2012 in Cannon Beach, Oregon.

Theme: Refinement, Resonance & Renewal.

Keynote speaker: best-selling author Chelsea Cain.

Her Heartsick series is now in development with FX Network.

Other instructors: Sage Cohen, Jessica Glenn, Jessica Morrell, Naseem Rakha, Bruce Holland Rogers Discount room rate at the Hallmark Inn is available through 5/17.

Enjoy an intimate conference experience overlooking Haystack Rock. SIW provides aspiring and established writers the opportunity to hone their writing skills, hear inspiring advice, and network with fellow writers.

Cost for all three days is $265.00; single day pricing is also available. For information contact conference coordinator Jessica Morrell at 503 287-2150 or jessicapage@spiritone.com

Registrations can be mailed to Summer in Words, P.O. Box 820141, Portland, OR 97282-1141 or
 PayPal.

Website: http://summerinwords.wordpress.com

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Richard Christian Matheson Interviewed by Authors Road 


Malibu is a place of surprises, a strip of dry land that abuts the mighty Pacific, a location where the rich and famous gather, and TV and movie directors never tire of grabbing a scene, usually filled with mystery, angst or love and a couple in a convertible. And it was there that we met Richard Christian Matheson, a prolific writer of scripts and stories, often macabre, sometimes funny, but always creative.

Our interview with him was at the home of old friends from Alaska, on a cool December day, or at least as cool as Southern California is known to get. Also joining in the interview, like a hopeful starlet, was our friend's dog, Lily, who fell in love with Richard as we did.

Richard is part of a dynasty of LA writers. His father is the legendary sci-fi writer, Richard Matheson, and his siblings all have credits of their own. But Matheson is unique. As he tells in this interview, from his earliest days his gift for writing was noted by others, and by the age of 19 he was lead script writer on a prominent and successful TV series. And so began his adventure on the road to professional story telling, an experience he shares in this interview, and a road with sign posts and pull-outs he willingly shares with all other writers.

We hope you enjoy and learn as much from this interview as we did.

Authors Road

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Conveying a Character's Journey on the First Page of a Novel

Notes on Good Grief, a novel by Lolly Winston

by Bill Johnson

I teach that a story creates movement and the movement transport an audience. In many of the unpublished novels I read, I'm often 40 pages into a manuscript before I have any idea of a main character's journey. In some cases, I have to read to the end of a novel to understand that journey. This puts me (and readers) in the unfortunate position of needing to keep track of all the details about a character while I wait for some sense of purpose to become apparent. This makes reading a novel work.

Lolly Winston's novel Good Grief has a structure that clearly conveys the stages of grief that a young woman goes through when her husband dies and leaves her a widow. This external framework communicates that the novel has a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end. From its opening lines, the story has a destination.

Each stage of the main character's journey is divided into sections. The chapters in Part One are about denial, oreoes, anger, depression, escrow, and ashes. Each chapter that follows is about the main character's journey in dealing with her grief over her husband's death. The title, Good Grief, speaks to the narrator learning that there can be good grief (which revolves around passing through the stages of grief) and bad grief (getting stuck on the journey).

A review of the opening of Good Grief conveys how a main character's journey is set out.

The opening line:

How can I be a Widow?

The answer to this question comes in the opening paragraphs as the narrator sits in a grief support group. In a few paragraphs, the narrator explains why she's in the group.

My name is Sophie and I've joined the grief group because...well, because I sort of did a crazy thing. I drove my Honda through our garage door.

What's important about these lines is they show the narrator is not only in grief, she's being overwhelmed by grief. What set up the garage accident was an irrational thought that she needed to get into the house quickly to tell her husband something. Except he's deceased. She's in denial.

Continuing in a few paragraphs:

Maybe later I'll tell the group how I dream about Ethan every night. That he's still alive in the eastern standard time zone and if I fly to New York, I can see him for another three hours.

The narrator tries to deal with her grief by going back to work, but she quickly finds herself overwhelmed. In the past, when she felt overwhelmed, she called her husband. The chapter ends with these lines.

The cursor on my computer screen pulses impatiently, and the red voice mail light on my phone flashes. My stomach growls and my head throbs. But I can't call my husband. Because, here's the thing: I am a widow.

She has started to come out of her denial about her husband's death. The first chapter is a clearly defined step on her journey through grief.

Each chapter continues that journey until the narrator has passed through good grief to being whole again.

Highly recommended for writers who want to learn about structure from reading a well-written novel.

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Bill Johnson is the author of A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling. Promise is about the mechanics of telling a story, Deep Characterization (a section of the book) is about how the mechanics break down when people write stories to process their personal issues in life), and the Spirit of Storytelling is about how great storytelling relates to the conscious, subconscious, and superconscious minds. Available at Amazon  and Smashwords.

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