Something Happened

Something Happened

Joseph Heller (author of Catch 22) published Something Happened in 1974. I read Catch 22 shortly after leaving the military, so the theme and humor wasn’t lost on me. I thought Something Happened would be a good read too. It was a good read in a very strange way. I won’t spoil the books in case you haven’t read them.  Something Happened was–as Kurt Vonnegut Jr. called it–deeply unhappy.

something happened | Guy L. PaceBut, something did happen.

That’s the point of writing a story or novel, isn’t it? Something happened. You develop characters, settings, motivations. Then something happens.

Unlike Heller’s second novel, more than the thing happens in most of our writing and usually much earlier in the story. Short stories may have one or two things happen. Novels can have a lot of things happen. In all cases, though, there is one key thing that happens and that drives the story or plot.

In my current work in progress, the main character Amy is working and living in the community her friends, family, and neighbors built after the collapse of everything, “the Troubles.” She’s mentoring Paul’s little sister, dealing with jealousy, and working in a subsistence lifestyle. Then something happens. It isn’t the really big something happens, but it does lead to other things. She gets involved in dealing with that, and something else happens.

Gardening

Think of a writer as gardener. The gardener plants a seed. Between the soil, the moisture, nutrients, and the seed; something happens. The seed sprouts and emerges out of the ground. The writer nurtures this new life to see it grow, bloom, and produce fruit. The result depends in large part on what seed the gardener chose, what kind of soil, and if the plant got enough moisture. It also depends on the nurturing the writer pours into it.

What follows after something happens spins on your character(s). Characters react and respond in ways true to their nature and believable to the reader. That, then, takes your story to the next thing that happens. And so on.

In the end, the reader find the fruit. The reader knows that something happened.

Keep writing.

 

Doors

Doors

Doors to open | Guy L. PaceWhen one door opens …

We’ve all heard some version of that. Whether it is the doors closing or the doors opening, we see it as new opportunity or opportunity lost. From an observer’s perspective, though, the door is just a door and it is either open or closed. To the character it is a portal. The character can watch the door open or watch the door close. That can make a story pretty boring.

Or, the character can take control of their own destiny (especially in a story) and open or close the door. That’s what can bring a reader into the story. The reader can identify with the character and follow him or her into the portal to discover what is on the other side.

Waiting for a door to open or a door to close tends to make a story boring. Give the character the motivation and desire to open the door and pass through the portal.

You might want to make sure the character closes the door behind them. Or, maybe not. It depends on the kind of story you are writing.

The character opens a door and enters. He or she continues through and leaves the door open. What could possibly go wrong in that scenario?

Just a little food for thought this week.

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.

 

 

What

What

The story element What is a critical part of a story. Who is important, but without What, there really isn’t any story. The What generally amounts to an event, a romance, an accident, a speech, an election, or an apocalypse.

what-arrowNormally, What is your plot in the novel or short story and is what your character will focus on. You tie your  protagonist to the What, the plot, and the story proceeds through to a resolution.

If you read book blurbs, those paragraphs on the back of paperbacks or the inside flap of a dust jacket, you get a feel for the What. Well-written blurbs usually provide a clue to the main character and the What they will face. Since I mention “well-written,” that indicates there are poorly written … but, I digress.

A lot goes into What. An event, say a wedding, takes a lot of planning and coordination (think Father of the Bride). The event beginning brings in the planner, they select the venue, they redecorate the venue, they select colors, they select flowers, the bride chooses the gown, and all the other details. And, it takes up to a year to carry out.

How you structure that and how your character(s) behave and interact in it can make the story a classic comedy, a bloody thriller, a murder mystery, or an intense drama. Just for a mental exercise, take the movie mentioned above and envision it as a murder mystery. The What doesn’t actually change much, but the characters involved and how they behave do. Significantly.

In my own mental reboot of Father of the Bride, the wedding planner ends as a gruesome murder victim. Of course, the father is the prime suspect, but several of the characters have motive. I even have the groom as a witness to the murder, but he dies horribly just before the ceremony where he planned to name the murderer.

So, you see, the What is a mundane thing. How you, as the writer, treat it is what makes the story.

In my post a couple of weeks ago, we talked about the lead. Who and What are two elements almost always included in the lead. As readers, we care most about who did what, or what happened to whom. As authors, we take the What and break it down to its parts and have the character(s) work in it.

Keep writing.

 

Who

Who

One of the most important story elements in any writing is: Who.

owlgifsAs mentioned in the previous post, The Lead, the first paragraph of a news story should at minimum describe who, what, where, and when. Unless, of course, there is a reason to add why and how in the lead.

Who is always a critical element. We all want to know who did what to whom. That is what we connect with, what we find important, what drives our curiosity.

Of course, the who of any story is the character or characters. The main character, secondary characters, and the antagonist are all included in the who. These are who the reader wants to know about, read about, get involved with.

So we make the character is as real as we can. Use of a character sketch (see an earlier post on just that topic) or character interview helps to fully flesh out details to make a character as real as possible. A character with depth is easy for the reader to settle in with for the duration of the story. To care about. To love. Or to dislike in the case of an antagonist.

The character sketch contains a lot of detail that may never make it directly into the story. However, you use it to add nuance and flavor to the words you choose when describing what the character does, says, and feels.

Keep writing.