Category Archives: Kaleidoscope – growing a novel

Starting off on the right hook…not in a pirate sort of way.

This is part of a series I’m posting as I write THE KALEIDOSCOPE A Novel of Unusual Circumstances.

I’ve been reading about making great openings. As soon as I’d arrived at a conclusion (notice I didn’t say The End yet) of most of the story threads, I zoomed back to the beginning.

I don’t know about you, but when I read a novel, I want all the pieces to fit together and the journey to end in a satisfying, even in a clever way, that the author had my satisfaction in mind both from the first to the last.

The First FiftyI picked up a copy of Jeff Gerke’s First Fifty Pages and devoured it/lost sleep/highlightedtheheckoutof. Trained as a screenwriter (and having worked as an editor and successful author), he zooms right to several points I could understand how to implement, and WHY.

Last night, I had critique group to attend, so I printed out my first three pages. After some  a lot of tweaking. I even moved an entire scene to the beginning based on Jeff’s advice. My opening had bogged because it was a lot of blah-blah narrative. But I need the reader to know my guy, I whined.

So Jeff, when is it OKAY to give information? Here’s what he says:

A)   when the reader must want to know it

B)   when the story cannot go on without the information (Kindle loc 683)

As you know, I wanted to raise the bar on myself, so instead of beginning in dialogue or action, I had started out in my MC’s head, and that was borrinng, but he’s a complicated guy.

Aannnddd then I read Jeff’s advice and now I have my MC DOING something, the thoughts in his head are now generic to what he’s doing, even though he’s just on his way to work (I’m also establishing his normal, another necessity of an opening), we see a lot by how he thinks about what’s around him. Notice I said SEE?

So did my tweaking work for my critique buddies Veola, Ron, Ralph and Kelly?

You decide.

Here’s one of the opening paragraph for which I got several positive comments:

“He double-timed the staircase and sailed inside the office building. His steps clapped against tile, echoing around the bank’s tiled lobby. ID card drawn for the guard and swiftly replaced, he tapped a loafered toe to send a subliminal message to the couple selfishly absorbed in a personal discussion, and by 8:58, pushed the elevator button. Despite the challenges of the morning, it was going to be a good day.”

What’s interesting about this one is, I had it buried about five pages later, and when I read Jeff’s logic, I brought it forward to the opening. (BTW, he’s just bypassed a homeless encampment, and that’s why he’s in such a hurry…nice guy, right?)

Something else Jeff said resonated as I realized my “cuts” file is getting longer than my MS. “What you lose in detail, you more than make up for in reader engagement.”

To write complicated characters, which makes them more compelling and makes the reader want to know what happens next, you need to know a LOT of details and background yourself. In first drafts a lot of inner thoughts may find the page, but to follow Jeff’s most compelling nugget now burned into my writerly brain: “Can the camera see it?”

Sean Maxwell

Here’s my BIL Sean, an uber talented cameraman. (He’s smiling because he knows how the camera adds ten pounds. LOL. Or maybe just because he knows how all those gizmos work.)

Like I said, he was a filmmaker by education, but that explanation makes it so much easier to remember than the tired old, “show don’t tell” which doesn’t really say anything to the 21st century brain. But I get camera angles and the importance of “the visual.”

Also this week, I hit a low when I realized how long this was all taking, and I want the book done NOW.

But I read the terrific writer, Jess Walter’s BEAUTIFUL RUINS, a complex, character driven, yet plot complex story about an American actress, and the Italian hotel owner she meets when she’s looking for privacy…a great read y’all.

Anywhoo…Jess admits it took him fifteen years to get the story ready. FIFTEEN YEARS. But it’s a great read, recommended!Beautiful Ruins

A big shout-out of thanks to both Jeff and Jess this week. (And Rebecca’s critique group)

Writers, what’s helped you with your opening?

Readers, What keeps you interested past page one…or worse, what makes you toss the book aside and reach for the remote?

I’m having fun writing The Kaleidoscope, A Novel of Unusual Circumstances, where the main character, Harold, finds himself the custodian of a magical scope that reveals much more than just colorful shapes! Here’s a Pinterest board where I’m gathering images of the characters and setting for Kaleidoscope.

The Kaleidoscope

 

 

 

Why writing can be therapeutic..building up characters so I can take them down!

Blogging about the process…while I write The Kaleidoscope, a Novel of Unusual Circumstances – Entry 2

My main character, Harold, is the most complicated character, and he should be, because most of the book will be from his point of view- POV. And because of that, he’s the one whom I should pay the most attention to in preparing to write. Because I challenged myself to really get into his head, I have been studying how other authors do it.

To make it workable, I will concentrate on three major areas:

  1. Use details that resonate – sprinkling in small moments from Harold’s memories will make him seem more real, less cardboard
  2. Demonstrate motivation with feelings– people are emotional beings, and before we form words, we feel our hurts and hates.*
  3. Know a character’s backstory, shames, accomplishments, and what he WANTS, even if every detail doesn’t seem important at first.

I read a couple of novels recently that demonstrated these points really well. Tammy Greenwood’s “Two Rivers,” is a first person POV of a widower with a young daughter who becomes involved with a girl stranded after a train wreck. Greenwood’s depiction of Harper meets all the rules for writing a dimensional character. From the beginning, we’re drawn into Harper’s world:

Photo courtesy of Wanacommons - Kass Lamb

Photo courtesy of Wanacommons – Kass Lamb

“Once, a long time ago, I made a split-second decision that has made me question who I am, what I am capable of, every day since. And this instant, this horrible moment, has haunted every other moment of my life. I don’t think I am a bad man, but sometimes I just don’t know.” (Kindle loc 222)

Immediately, we’re into Harper’s head, feeling his angst and also, cleverly enticed by Greenwood to keep turning the pages to find out what happened so long ago. Conflict and mystery!

Some complain that deeply written character-based stories have little plot, but Greenwood’s able to handle both because her character’s thoughts and memories help to move the plot forward, adding dimension:

“On Christmas Eve we always stayed up until midnight. And just as my mother’s Windsor chimes rang out, my father would make a big show of going to get the Yule log (which was actually nothing special, just the biggest piece of wood on the wood pile), and my mother would ceremonially disappear into their bedroom. A few minutes later, she would come out Church in snowwith a handful of splinters from the previous year’s log, which she kept in a shoebox under her bed. This tradition, pilfered from her distant European ancestors, was meant to keep the house safe from fire and other demons. I hadn’t thought about the irony of this, one of my mother’s few but beloved customs, until this moment. I felt suddenly wrecked with nostalgia.” (Kindle loc 3771)

Harper recalls this childhood memory with such detail we feel as if we’re there with him…no! We feel as if it’s OUR memory. It would take me two more pages to list all the details Greenwood packed in here about her MC. You’ll have to read for yourself why this memory is another important tactic. By the way kids, did you spot the RESONANCE? Another important tool.

Another master at character development is author Joanne Bischof. In “Be Still My Soul,” bad boy Gideon finds himself in a shotgun wedding. (Bad boys are particularly tough to cast as main characters, but Bischof’s a genius at making us love and hate him at the same time. In this scene, Gid regards his life situation so we know how he feels about his dilemma:

Be-Still-My-Soul-3D-Cover“Whether he wanted to or not, he’d have to take responsibility for his family…The thought sobered Gideon, fueling the fire under his feet. He would have to find work soon. And a house. He could not offer his family much, not in eight months, but there would be a roof over their heads…Through his own blood and sweat, he would spend the rest of his days repaying an unseen debt. Apparently God hadn’t been satisfied with his sacrifices already. With his fingertips, Gideon turned his glass in a slow circle on the table.

Figures.” (paperback, p 135.)

*Each author paints an internal picture, never using the words “feel” or “thought” but actually walking the reader through the thought process.

To do that, an author skillfully shows, not tells using natural beats, action and emotion. “To convey feelings well, a writer must also utilize nonverbal communication, which can be broken down into three elements: physical signals, (body language and actions), internal sensations (visceral reactions) and mental responses (thoughts).” “The Emotion Thesaurus” (Kindle loc 93)

That’s talent.

Why does this work so well? There’s actually psychology involved!

In “Million Dollar Outlines,” David Farland explains that when reading fiction, our minds don’t separate what’s going on with a character and reality. It’s like we really get in there and feel the experiences. A surface treatment of “he anguished” or “worried about” wouldn’t provide the same response in us, the reader, as the two examples.

Another ingredient that’s important is conflict. Notice in both samples, each of the guys struggles against something. They’re not cardboard guys wearing the latest jeans and cologne, they have spiritual selves, railing against God in Gid’s case, or being chased by guilt in Harper’s.

Back to Kaleidoscope. Here is Harold’s character description, so far:

Harold XXX (no last name, yet) a 39 year-old divorcee, works in a bank processing commercial loan paperwork. His ex-wife, Georgia, left him for the Sparklett’s delivery guy, telling Harold he was boring and dull, and would never make anything of his life. Ruddy complected, he pays great attention to his appearance, pressed slacks and white button down shirts, laundered weekly. He also keeps his cubicle at work immaculate, and expects everyone else to do the same. He lives in an apartment complex within walking distance, across a city park from his work, making it convenient since he doesn’t drive (having failed every driving test he’s ever taken). Harold has a plan to win Georgia back; he’s convinced that if he gets a promotion he will once again earn her respect, but first he must correct all his officemate’s errors, which will prove his worthiness for the job visiting commercial properties to evaluate them for their loan status. But since he doesn’t drive…

Here are the books I’ve referenced in this post:

“Two Rivers,” by T. Greenwood

“Be Still My Soul,” by Joanne Bischof

“Million Dollar Outlines,” and “Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing,” by David Farland

“Building Believable Characters” by Mark McCutcheon

“Rivet your Readers with Deep Point of View,” by Jill Elizabeth Nelson

“The Emotion Thesaurus, A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression,” Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglish

What books would you recommend that drew you into the character? Books on craft?

What do you think of Harold so far?

*update! Kristen Lamb has a blog that you HAVE to subscribe to if you are serious about writing. Here is one she just posted on complicated characters. Creating Multi-dimensional characters. Must. Read.

 

The Kaleidoscope – a novel from Inception to Conception

The KaleidoscopeI’m asked two questions most often about my writing. One is, “how do you come up with story ideas?” and the other usually centers on the actual methods…translate: how many hours are spent planning, plotting and preparing before actually setting pen to paper?

Since I’m all about FRESH STARTS here, and I am beginning a new stand-alone novel, The Kaleidoscope, a Novel of Unusual Circumstances, (This is my working title, and as with everything else here, open for discussion.) I thought it would be terrifying  fun to post along the process as the story takes shape.

THE CHALLENGE

I’ve added some personal challenges (besides blogging the journey) to up the ante. I want to grow as a writer, and as I study from some terrific teachers, I will post what I’m reading and studying.

So please, join me as I take you backstage so to speak, as my idea becomes a finished book.

Practice, practice, practice.

Practice, practice, practice.

If you’ve written before, or heck, learned or practiced anything while others watched, maybe a new sport, talent or craft, you know how it feels to bare all. I applaud you for that. The accountability can be scary, right? But we’re all friends here. Can I get an amen?

Most writers are advised to do several things: take classes, go to conferences and join a critique group (and/or find a critique partner who isn’t related to you…or in your employ, LOL.) Check, check, and check.

I’m proud to say I have had some of the most awesome critique partners who speak truth in kindness. (Shout out to Rebecca Farnbach and her group; and Ashley Ludwig, Dona Watson, and Joanne Bischof!)

Joanne and Bev

L-R, Ashley, Joanne, me, Dona

I’m eager to get your input, so if you have a question, have read a great book or site that adds to the conversation, or even if you sense a wrong turn, see a misstep or catch me in a foul-up, please weigh in. I welcome your input and always covet your prayers.

And if you’re writing, I’d love to hear from you!

Beverly on Sissy

I used to show hunter-jumpers, and when my green horse got comfortable taking small hurdles, my coach would remove the pegs, and raise the top rail for a higher challenge. Literally, I am raising the bar on myself, and hopefully this preparation will bring me a clean round when it’s showtime.

 

Let’s Roll!

Here’s how I conceived of “The Kaleidoscope.”

One of the techniques I wanted to improve upon was to “deepen my POV,” to build believable characters who are dimensional and complicated. To write a book where the people begin to seem so real, you know their thoughts, childhoods, secrets and shames.

imagesThat’s good casting, folks.

You have to test a character’s chops to discover motivation, and one way is to offer them a challenge. So I searched for a method or idea to really scare the daylights out of my main character (MC).

01I used to work in the properties department of live theatre, providing handheld items for actors to carry, so props are special to me, close to my heart. I searched for something that would be used throughout the book to further the trouble my MC would face, something he would learn to love and hate. (Every story needs trouble in River City!) Beware, I will use a mash up of theater and horse riding metaphors, LOL. #selfediting!

I considered using a snow globe for my prop. Somehow the MC finds or becomes its guardian. But that bothered me for two reasons: a) it’s kind of cliché, overdone, and b) I also wanted the image revealed to be a secret, visible only to the viewer… so my MC would have to get to know the person better after they looked.

snowglobe purchased istockphoto

Snowglobes evoke winter, another reason I passed on using one.

Voila, I decided a magical kaleidoscope would work! (I’ll discuss exactly how the MC is terrified by it in a future post, but don’t worry, we’re not writing horror…um…I don’t think.)

Before I was settled on a ‘scope, though I also searched Amazon to see if there were many books using Kaleidoscopes as a motif, and found a few, but none using the plot device I plan. Perfect.

As you’ll notice, I haven’t identified what genre I am going for. Yet. But I’m beginning to see lines forming. Because I will attempt to write deep POV, I’m dabbling in literary fiction (with my little pinky), and a magical ‘scope, so the fantasy element is now there. (NEVER thought I’d write fantasy.)

I’ve been writing for mainly a female audience until now (THE SEASONS OF CHERRYVALE), and I wanted to really stretch myself, so I decided my MC should be a man.

I’ve been reading “Million Dollar Outlines” by David Farland, and he reminded me that by casting the MC as a man, I might attract more male readers. (More on this EXCELLENT book in a later post.)

Aaannd…not only will I no longer be able to fall back on “how would a woman think/react,” I will have to do my homework and pay attention when I write how a guy thinks.

Which is a perfect setup for the next post, which will cover some terrific books I read to prepare myself for laying down the groundwork for the plot, setting, characters and other tools.

To see the pictures I’m gathering around the casting and setting for Kaleidoscope, check out my Pinterest board.

I’d love to hear your stories of making fresh starts, thoughts about writing, or what new talent, hobby or endeavor you’re challenging yourself with. If I’m really inspired, I might enter you to win random giveaways from my overstuffed shelves.

Bev out!

Be sure to check out Christina Katz’ list of terrific freelance writing books!