Risk

It seems to be a law of nature, inflexible and inexorable, that those who will not risk cannot win. — John Paul Jones.

Risk

risk and rewardYour main character in a story must risk something–or many things–to grow and resolve the core problem in the plot. In other words, to win. And, when you get right down to it, the reason for the plot, the story, the character, is to win in the end. Right?

Well, unless you are writing a story about losing in the end.

I think the little quote from John Paul Jones above is definitive. If you do not risk, you cannot win. It doesn’t mean you won’t lose, it just means you cannot win. There are no guarantees. That’s why plots with the main character risking something, risking much, can still end up in failure, at least after a first or second try. Of course, we always want the main character to win out in the end, so somehow, he or she learns from previous failure and puts together a winning final solution.

This is the character arc. The plot presents our character with a problem, who attempts a solution. Our character fails, stumbles, falls, but gets up and tries again until successful. Along the way, the character must risk something. Reputation, career, wealth, family, health, love, life, are some things we lay on the table and place our coins of risk on them.

What the character learns through risk and failure drives the character to new risk, new trials and eventually success.

But, most people are risk averse. They fear losing. That applies to businesses and corporations as well as people. During my career in information technology, the greatest roadblock to implementation of new technology or stronger security was the organization’s aversion to, or inability to accept risk. The old technology was something they knew and the security levels in place were comfortable, if not adequate. But, to grow and improve services and capabilities for customers, they had to accept a certain level of risk. This wasn’t always a recipe for success.

Characters

Characters–our people–are similar. They fear risk, change, disruption of their daily life. That disruption the plot puts in front of them shakes them up. Our character wants to continue with their day, meet their friends, do their work and not go gallivanting across the country on a God-sent mission. In Sudden Mission, the angel Gabriel brings the mission to Paul. Paul resists the mission, the message. He struggles with the risk, the size and scope of the mission, and doesn’t have faith in his ability to complete it. He finally accepts, and it boils down to his faith and obedience to God.

The struggle to accept risk doesn’t stop with that first challenge from the plot. A fully fleshed out plot will have challenges all down the road and the main character must continue to accept the challenge, accept the risk and fight on until the end.

Risk it the coinage we use to wager against fate. If we do not risk, we cannot win. If we win, only then can we expect reward. Success is not guaranteed. Anyone who ever played poker can tell you that.

Keep writing.

 

Opening Lines

Opening Lines

BugBear BooksThe first chapter and scene of a novel begin with powerful, strong opening lines. These should grab the reader, show some potential conflict, set scene, and introduce the character. And, they should entice the reader to keep reading.

The power went out. Again.

Amy Grossman fumbled on the dresser for a candle and some matches. I should have been prepared, she thought as she lit a candle. The power went out almost every day lately.

I’m working on the opening lines of the third book. The above kind of meets the criteria. Something happens. It involves the main character. It sets the scene, a little. Let’s see. Can we make this better? There is a passive voice clause we need to fix. How’s this look?

The power went out. Again.

Amy Grossman fumbled on the dresser for a candle and some matches. I know better than this. Be prepared, she thought as she lit a candle. The power went out almost every day lately.

But, I think the scene needs some work.

The power went out. Again. Silence. Dark.

Amy Grossman fumbled on the dresser for a candle and some matches. I know better than this. Be prepared, she thought as she lit a candle. The power went out almost every day lately.

Quiet

Ever notice when the power goes out, everything gets very quiet? Yeah. Hums quit humming, buzzes quit buzzing. And, it gets dark. That helps, I think. But, what was Amy doing when the power went out?

The power went out. Again. Silence. Dark.

Amy Grossman dropped her gear bag on the bed and fumbled on the dresser for a candle and some matches. I know better than this. Be prepared, she thought as she lit a candle. The power went out almost every day lately.

Okay, she had a gear bag, so she’s getting ready to leave. She’s in her room, evidently, and there are candles on the dresser. But, she’s frustrated. She needs to do more than just “think” the internal dialog.

The power went out. Again. Silence. Dark.

Amy Grossman dropped her gear bag on the bed and fumbled on the dresser for a candle and some matches. I know better than this. Be prepared, she chastised herself as she lit a candle. The power went out almost every day lately.

So, with active voice and getting the character involved in an active way, I think I have a good start to the first chapter. Well, the first scene, anyway. There are twenty-four chapters to go through now, and here you get a little insight into my writing process. Not to mention getting a preview of the opening lines. Hope you are intrigued.

Keep writing.

 

Short Fiction

Short Fiction

Writing short fiction helps you develop your craft. You learn the structure of a story, how to develop a character, and how to keep a story focused. A short story is usually between 3,000 and 7,500 words. Of course, this depends on your market. Some print and online magazines have their own ideas on short story length and the lengths can vary widely.

On this blog, I’ve posted a short-short story and a short story (See Amy’s Lesson and The Gift). These are not sellable, stand-alone stories that would be picked up by a print or online magazine. I wrote them to help bridge the gap between Nasty Leftovers and the third installment of the Spirit Missions series (in progress) and provide some seasonal stories.

Sometimes, you have to write something short to help develop something longer. Those two short pieces helped me set the stage for the third novel, and helped mature the characters a little. From Sudden Mission to this third novel, the main characters Paul and Amy go from age 14 to almost 18. What happens in the third book needs older characters to make the action and events more believable.

I have other, unrelated short fiction, including one published (New Kid in Neo-Opsis Science Fiction Magazine). Another story I think is promising, but it’s out to a market that doesn’t seem viable any more. I may withdraw and move on.

Strengths

That’s another strength of short fiction. There is a huge market for it, but it is competitive. Write your short fiction, get some beta-readers for it if that helps, and submit to appropriate markets. And, keep submitting. When you get a rejection, don’t take it personally. Look the story over, make any edits or corrections that seem right, and send it back out. One rejection is not a judgement on your story or the quality of your writing. It just means that whoever screened the submissions didn’t think your story fit their needs. Move on.

You get two things from this: 1) thick skin from dealing with rejection and criticism; 2) practice. Keep writing those short pieces. Keep submitting them. The more you write, the better you get. One day, you’ll get a response that has constructive criticism. That’s a good thing. Eventually, you’ll get an offer to publish one of those short pieces. New Kid cleared the bar, and at an award-winning small magazine. But it had been around the market for about a year and collected several rejections before acceptance.

Short fiction is hard work, though. Harder than longer work, like novels. Keep your language precise. Keep your descriptions spare. And, you have to hit the reader with a strong story line. Granted, that helps a novel, too. But, you hone the craft in the short pieces.

I know I spend more time on the three-to-five thousand words of a short story as opposed to the 60+ thousand words of a novel. I play with point of view and voice. First person seems to fit short fiction better. I rewrite the drafts more, edit between submissions, spend more time re-reading it and analyzing it. It’s all part of the process.

Go on, write that short story. Write several. It’s good practice.

Keep writing.

 

 

Get Mobile

Sometimes, you have to get mobile.

Scrivener LogoPrior to the current version of Scrivener, I would save a copy of my current project to a thumb drive (USB flash drive, the little dongle that plugs into one of the holes on your computer) and carry it along with my laptop when I traveled. This worked fine, for the most part, and I was able to continue work on a project while on the road.

With the current version of Scrivener, you have the option of using DropBox as your online storage site for a project and you can somewhat seamlessly go from the desktop to the laptop or iPad Pro and continue to work on that project. If you are working with one or more other writers on a project, this is a good option so long as your collaborators understand security and use common sense.

But–and there is always a “but”–I’m an old security curmudgeon. DropBox failed me on more than one occasion and I removed my account. I won’t go back. I have no need or wish to.

Since I’ve moved to Apple products as my primary platform, I’ve learned to use iCloud and iCloud Drive. What’s the difference? Well, from a security perspective there is a lot of difference. iCloud and iCloud Drive are tied to my AppleID. There is no intermediary cache that maintains my credentials and everything gets encrypted between my device (computer, laptop, tablet, phone) and the iCloud. But, for some reason, Scrivener wasn’t able to set the application to work from the iCloud Drive. Something about the number of files or dependencies in a project, as they told me. I can set Scrivener to maintain backups to my iCloud Drive, and I can Save As from the File menu and manually place a copy of my current project on my iCloud Drive (or the desktop, if it synchs with the iCloud Drive). Close the project or quit Scrivener on the desktop and give it some time to synch. Then, on my laptop, I can open that file and continue working.

The warning is, if you Save As, be ready to overwrite or add a draft number to the project file. If you overwrite, you might accidentally destroy some later work. If you add a draft number to the file name, you must keep that information in mind when you move to your mobile device. I prefer to verify what is on the iCloud Drive before I Save As the current project and keep the same file name across devices.

iPad Pro

The version of Scrivener for iPad Pro will not see Scrivener project files saved to iCloud Drive. They show up as file folders with no content. I worked around that once using a USB Disk tool to get the file on the iPad Pro, but the full version of Scrivener for the iPad Pro no longer supports that, it seems. I’m hoping that the folks at Literature And Latte are working to figure out how to make the iPad Pro version work with iCloud Drive.

In the meantime, I can start and work on a smaller project (say a short story) on the iPad Pro, get it to a finished state, and compile and export it to iCloud Drive in Word format (.docx format). From there I transfer the file to Pages for final revisions, formatting, etc. Pages saves the file on iCloud and I’m able to seemlessly move from the iPad Pro to the desktop or laptop.

There is always a way to work around things.

Keep writing.

 

What You Know

What You Know

Most have heard this advice about writing: Write what you know.

For new writers, especially younger ones, this is a confusing bit of advice. You want to write a mystery novel involving a murder set in Rome. Your mind is full of the plugs you’ll have: “International intrigue!” “Globe-trotting Sleuth!” But, then you heard someone say you should write what you know. CRASH! BURN! You’ve never been to Rome. You’ve never committed a murder. You have no experience in crime detection and investigation. Huh?

Here’s the truth. “Write what you know,” is a blow-off line. Incomplete. Inaccurate. It’s the advice you get from someone who just wants to cut you off at the knees. Why? Because you know a lot more than you think. Or–well–you will know a lot more. Follow me on this.

Research.

SettingOkay, you haven’t been to Rome. Big deal. Maps, Google, your browser, the library, bookstores, and other resources can get you all the information you need to create a setting sketch and write believable scenes set in Rome. Some writers use those travel guides they find in bookstores that provide details on restaurants, sights, events, and customs of a place like Rome or other cities.

The US State Department has information online for potential travelers for almost every destination on the planet. Here’s the link to information on the Holy See (Vatican City) in Rome. It also provides access to the CIA World Factbook for further information on the Holy See. If you want in-depth information, the State Department and the CIA are great resources. They are free. I don’t know if you can get access outside the US.

I used Google Maps and Street View as I worked through settings in Sudden Mission. I’d track where my characters would be on Google Maps, then drop down to Street View to see what they would see as they went down a specific street or highway. Near St. Louis, MO,  is a town named Edwardsville, IL. I know nothing about this town. I studied the maps carefully, looking for a route around St. Louis and across the Mississippi River. Edwardsville was a good find. I had my characters going up a residential street there just as I dumped a plague of frogs on them.

This image on the right is that street in Edwardsville, IL. This kind of tool makes it possible to describe a place accurately and realistically. I just added frogs. I used the scene to describe what happened in the novel and it added realism and authenticity. You’d never know I’ve never been to Edwardsville. Ever.

I wrote Sudden Mission in 2012, so I had to use Google Maps with Adobe Flash (Bad JuJu) installed on my system. When I didn’t need it any more, I took Flash off. Fortunately, Flash is no longer required. Most browsers support the protocols to render Street View correctly.

Setting Sketch and Research Section

The setting sketch provided in Scrivener’s templates can contain a lot of details you gather from the above resources.

In the research section of your project binder, you can add folders and documents, then cut and paste entire web pages or just links and references. This is handy. You can refer back to the items in your research section to verify details or facts. Keep links related to your work in progress from the US State Department and CIA World Factbook in folders here. Don’t be afraid to use the Factbook. It’s paid for by the US taxpayer and published for your benefit. As for Google Maps, take screen shots of your key places and save them in your research section.

Now, as for the murder. Do some research on crime scene investigation (not by watching TV). You want to avoid the CSI Effect. Research the law, police procedures, crime scene and evidence collection, evidentiary processes, custody of evidence, and anything else relevant. Since you set your crime in Rome, you’ll also want to check out law enforcement cooperation and investigation across international boundaries. Much of this information is found online with some searching. Here’s a Wikipedia link to get you started.

When you find something, dump the link, page, information into a document in your research section.

The key to remember is that nothing is ever as simple or straightforward as it might at first seem.

Oh fun, you say.

Keep writing.