The Unknown

The Unknown

Unknown Road | Guy L. PaceYou probably heard of or read the poem by Robert Frost of “The Road Not Taken.” It is sweet poetry and one most of us heard in school. My take is a little different. Any road traveled leads to the unknown. You can never predict what you’ll find around the next curve, or down that little lane through the trees.

It’s the unpredictable, the unknown, that helps drive the story and develop the character. As the author, you should have some idea of what is going to happen in the story. There is a purpose and reason behind the writing, after all. Right? But, sometimes you must let things surprise even you.

In Sudden Mission and Nasty Leftovers, I allowed the story and the characters to surprise me as I wrote. As the characters moved through the United States in the first book, and Washington, D.C. in the second, I had an idea about what they would find or do in the end. But I didn’t have a complete, detailed plan for how the characters would get to that end, or what they would meet on the way.

One mantra I use as I write is “what could go wrong now?” That usually brings surprises.

Adventure

Turn down an unknown road, take a new route–that’s where the adventure begins. The unpredictable, the unknown awaits beyond that next curve. You’ll find it down that tree-lined lane, or over that next hill. The drive to seek adventure is part of what makes us human. Characters we create for our stories are no less prone to taking that unpredictable turn, or finding that tree-lined lane irresistible. They will roll on the throttle and charge into the twisting curves of a new road with the same enthusiasm we have in the same situation. They seek adventure with wild abandon.

When your character finds the adventure–that’s when the story gets interesting. That’s when you drag the reader kicking and screaming into a fight against a horde of zombies. Or, encounter aliens for the first time, and your character isn’t sure if they are friendly or not.

Not everyone is open to adventure. Some are afraid of the unknown. Sometimes, that is all thrust upon them anyway. That tree-lined lane holds terror and horror for them. But, they must go down that lane and they must face that horror. This is a trope you find in horror movies and novels. The young babysitter hears a noise at the door. She approaches and the audience or reader shouts, “Don’t open the door!” But it is in our nature to open that door. Take that new road. Charge ahead. We can’t help it.

Sweet dreams, and …

Keep writing.

 

Something Simple

Something Simple

Old Timer | Guy L. PaceThere are times the tool you need to save the world is something simple.

The Old Timer pocket knife given to the main character, Paul, in Sudden Mission didn’t play a huge role right away. That changed in Nasty Leftovers. I’m not going to give anything away here. The Old Timer is a simple story element. Why did I choose an Old Timer. Well, almost every adult male I knew growing up carried one of these little knives made by Schrade. Grandpa had one. He wore the blades down to almost nothing because he’d used them so much and sharpened them so many times. He finally bought a new one. Probably paid all of five dollars for it then.

They are small and fit in a pocket. Most of the ones I saw when I was young were two-blade folders like the picture here. Simple. Useful. Vital. Easy to carry and always in the pocket. If you needed a bit of twine cut, there it was. Need to trim your finger nails? Here you go. Want to whittle a bit on a stick or carve a buffalo head out of a chunk of cottonwood? Yep, you got it.

Fathers handed Old Timer pocket knives down to sons. Or, granddads to grandsons.

Now this is from my memories growing up in the western US. Your mileage may vary. But, when you find that item in either book, you now know where it came from and why it holds so much value. Something simple. But something that fulfilled a tremendous role in the story.

Save the World

Can you save the world with an Old Timer? Maybe. Maybe not. You might be able to build a civilization with one. Or save a life.

When you put your own story together, think about the simple things attached to the character or the action. What impact do they, or could they, have on the outcome? What impact might they have on the character and his or her development? Are the other characters in the story impressed by this simple thing? Something simple can feed the story’s crisis and conflict, or help the main character find the solution.

We often overlook the little things. The simple things.

In the case of the Old Timer, it was something simple Paul carried around with him. Until he needed it.

Keep writing.

 

Note: This isn’t on Tuesday because, well, life. It happens. Enjoy!

Words

Words

Words | Guy L. PaceThe words we use color our lives and our relationships. Some bring people closer together and others tear people apart.

I’ll be honest, I haven’t always used the best words or language. I was a sailor and I’ll use that as my excuse. But, there is no excuse for what some of those words and some of that language led to. All I can do now is ask forgiveness.

As a father, and now a grandfather, I see the children and grandchildren trying to navigate this world. In my writing, I try to give lessons and examples they can use. If I used words like I did when in the service or later, I find I’d be mortally embarrassed to have my granddaughters read my work.

The problem with them–and we all know what words we’re talking about here–is they often represent a violence. Some just physical violence, some sexual violence. Some are just plain degrading and disrespectful. The last thing I wanted my granddaughters to see was their grandfather using those words in any form.

Today is my 30th wedding anniversary. My wife had a huge influence on me. It took a lot of years of work for me to remove those words from my daily speech and writing. Now I wince when I hear or read any of those words. An author I’ve read for a while suddenly includes more of those words in his work. It’s a shock when I run across them in my reading, but they are becoming more frequent.

Anglo-Saxon

Granted, those are good old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon words, single- or two-syllable. Direct and emphatic. Is there a place for them in today’s literature and film? They are, as I mentioned above, violent. They describe emotional, physical, or sexual violence; carry a negative connotation; are derogatory and insulting.

You won’t find them in the stuff I do. They don’t fit the story, the message, or the tone. I try to set a positive tone, create solid relationships, and respectful communication.

I think the strongest expletive I’ve used in my writing to date is, “Oh, crap.” The hero has to have something to say when he or she exhausted all options, finds him or her self cornered, and there seems no way out.

Find good words.

Keep writing.

 

Smelly

Something is smelly.

I smell something up thereThings smell. Sometimes the smells are good, sometimes the smells are not good.

In my current work in progress, the main character encounters a lot of different smells as she moves through the story. Riding in the back of a military truck is “hot, loud, and smelly.” Of course, that is pretty generic, so I’ll add some things that mix in to make it smelly. There are other aromas she encounters later that are disgusting or nasty, and some that are just from the terrain she is in.

Like the cat in the picture here, smells connect her to her environment or the action. You probably connect certain smells to memories, like the smell of pine trees and their sap in the early summer at Salmon La Sac in the Cascade Mountains. Or the aroma of fresh-baked bread from grandma’s kitchen when you were young. How about warm cherry pie with a melting scoop of ice cream? Then there is the smell of new-mown hay, onion fields near Ontario, Oregon, or a nearby stockyard.

Or, skunk.

Smells help set a scene or help evoke emotions, and can accomplish a lot in just a few words. Smells trigger memories and you can use that to enrich what is happening in your story. They clue your character in to what might be coming, or what might be nearby.

Think about your own memories, especially those triggered by smells. You know the ones. You’re walking down a street, entering a building, strolling by Cinnabon in the mall. A smell hits you and it brings a memory front and center. Is it a pleasant memory? A sad memory? Or, does it just make you hungry?

Some may say that visual or audio experiences are powerful, but don’t forget smells. In Nasty Leftovers, the main characters used mentholated cream smeared in paper masks to help deal with overly strong aromas of rot and filth, the sour stench in the air of the city, and the burning sulfur smell of the hellhounds. Dealing with the smells affected almost everything the main characters did.

Some of smells carry forward into the work in progress, adding continuity and bringing up memories for the main character. Those memories impact her reactions and behaviors as she works through the story.

Right now, I smell a Cinnabon and I think it’s calling my name.

Keep writing.

 

 

Voice

Voice

It’s best to use active voice in fiction writing, they tell us. Passive voice we’d best avoid.

I’ll break it down for you. Active voice keeps your reader engaged with action verbs. Passive voice puts the reader to sleep.

Back in the day, my mentor in the Navy, Senior Chief Journalist Raymond P. Lucasey*, put it this way when he found a passive voice sentence in my work.

“Why do you keep backing up into your sentences?”

He was right. Passive voice not only puts a sleeper hold on a reader, but puts the predicate first in the sentence and uses a lame verb that doesn’t direct action at all. It gets it all backward. Active voice gets your subject up front and uses a more powerful verb to direct the action.

We weren’t writing fiction, then. We were writing news releases and other material for media folks, as well as material for historical records of our command. Chief Lucasey demanded quality from me in everything we did that went out for media consumption. “What they do with it after they get it is on them,” or words to that effect were his sentiments.

A side effect of passive voice is it adds a lot unnecessary words to your writing. Cleaning up and replacing passive voice with active voice makes your writing tighter and more on point. Crisper. More intense.

Lazy

Text Clip from WIP

In this clip, Scrivener marks some of the text it thinks may be incorrect with green underscores.

But, I’m lazy and I need help. I’ve used grammar checkers since their inception back in the ’80s and I wrote reviews of them in an academic journal (Text Technology). But, that was when they were a separate, add-on application you might use with Word Perfect or Word. Then, software companies integrated the spelling and grammar checkers into the word-processing applications. Now, you have spelling and grammar checking as a menu option in the Edit drop down menu of your editor of choice. The problem with this is all you get are these colored underlines in your text where the spelling or grammar needs work.

For example, the above paragraph originally had two instances of passive voice. When I tested the text in Pages and Scrivener, they indicated nothing wrong with the paragraph. They both marked the “your” words in the previous paragraph, indicating I might substitute “you’re” (wrong). Both Pages and Scrivener have limited grammar checking capability. You can turn it on or off, but you can’t drill down into settings and configure the grammar checker for your needs. I’d love to find a reasonable grammar checker I can add to my Mac to help. Until then, I found a solution I can use until something better comes along.

I copy the text from a scene in Scrivener, paste it to a new post in my WordPress editor, which uses After the Deadline. Then I click the spelling/grammar checker. Where there are passive voice instances, or other errors, I make the corrections in Scrivener (because copy and pasting back to Scrivener makes a mess of the text).

Granted, a good grammar checker isn’t going to solve all your active/passive voice issues. You still need to know the difference between your and you’re; there, they’re, and their; to (toward) and too (also or excessive); and its (possessive) and it’s (it is contraction). It helps you take a more critical look at your writing. Is it okay to use passive voice sometimes? Well, yes. I allow characters to say things using passive voice in dialog sometimes. Not a lot, though. My rule is it cannot get in the way of the story or the action.

A may look at Grammarian Pro2 X as a grammar tool.

Keep writing.

 

*I lost track of Chief Lucasey after I separated from the Navy. I understood he retired to Arizona or Florida. Here’s to you, Chief, wherever you are.