Wednesday, August 28, 2013

My Frankenstein - Video Trailers

In my story, Maker of Angels, Miss Nelly owns the Empty Nest, a house for "soiled doves" in the dust town of Tumbleweed. She's a madam, and she's careful to make sure young journalist-turned-cowboy, Colton, understands that her interest in him is entirely personal, not professional. He enjoys pleasures of the flesh for the first time with this beautiful redhead. The amazingly wonderful experience keeps him content in her clutches for nearly a month, but it doesn't last.

Hoping this will be the room for
the seduction of Colton.
Cole is supposed to be traveling to Sacramento to chronicle the gold rush for his Boston newspaper. Eventually, sex is not enough to keep him around, so he announces that he's leaving to complete his writing assignment. Miss Nelly explodes in anger.

Long red braids fly wildly as she tries to hit him with rapid fire projectiles of her China. This fails to assuage her anger, so this former lover sends assassins to kill the man who spurned her.

Many months later, Cole discovers the truth. Miss Nelly is actually Tess Winslow, the fastest lady gunfighter in the country and wanted for murder in three territories. The Empty Nest was her hiding place. She's really a cold-blooded killer, and she's not done with him after he leaves.

What does this story have to do with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein?

People building. I feel like Victor Frankenstein as I create people. Sure, my characters are fictional despite seeming quite real. Tess, the gorgeous seductress with a fiery temper, is a loathsome killer. Cole, the na├»ve, sweet traveler, turns out to be tough. Women swoon over him, yet his humility leaves him unaware of his effect on them. These creations, good and bad, are MY "monsters." They come to life through my story, but even that is not enough to fuel this Frankenstein analogy.

Evek Studios is a local production company. They build great video advertisements and commercials. I hired them to make a video trailer for Ghost of Lost Eagle. They have actors (male and female) who fit the descriptions in the story, and have found a fantastic period-correct 1850's hotel to shoot the seduction scene. Everything is going according to plan . . . or, is it?

I just realized my characters are coming to life; real flesh and blood. Cole's reaction to Miss Nelly's advances will be played out by actors. My Frankenstein-like creations are coming to real life. I am giddy over this and can't wait to see my monsters in the flesh.

Mwahahaha <wringing hands and wearing evil grin>

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Painting for the Mind - Imagery

In writing, setting a scene properly can build powerful images in the minds of readers. However, unnecessary details can bore them to tears, and inadequate scene description can strip the angst out of a passage.

Ask yourself, "How would Helen Keller describe this homemade candle?" Maybe, writers should close our eyes and draw descriptions from senses other than vision.

Consider this jungle scene in a war story:

Temperatures climbed. Thick green vines hung from drooping trees, creating a sun-tight canopy above a lush layer of ferns. It was so thick even jungle creatures stayed to a few well-worn game trails. Tree leeches, thriving in the perpetually wet humidity, dropped on any warm-blooded mammals unfortunate enough to travel below. Decaying mulch ran deep, often sucking a man's leg up to the knee as he attempted to slog silently in pursuit of nearby enemy soldiers. Thank God for the safety of smokeless flames from the Sterno cans we packed to heat food and purify water.
Does this scene provide a vivid image? Yes, but does it provide the right imagery for the story?
Here's another example of the same scene:
Sweat dripped from the tip of my nose. I brushed squirming tree-leeches off my camo sleeve before leaning to one side, pulling my foot from knee-deep, rotting muck. In the low light of the heavy canopy above, I lost track of our game trail, the only way we could advance through thick ferns. Sounds of enemy soldiers carried through dense vegetation, making me thankful for smokeless flames from our Sterno as we heated food and purified water.
Notice both scenes provide vivid imagery. The first scene with 96 words concentrates on the visual image of the setting, while the second scene with only 77 words focuses on the consequences of the setting, thereby adding to tension.
How do writers determine the right detail to use in a setting? Those decisions can make the difference between a lackluster story and a page-turner. Writing would be easy if all readers brought the same expectations and life experiences to every book. The key issue is to figure out what readers bring to the party.
Fortunately, genres provide some guidelines about reader expectations. For example, YA and NA book buyers often want fast-paced tales with intense characters. Settings and scenes tend to be less important than character development and a dynamic plot. On the other hand, older readers enjoy more detail and are willing to allow a plot to develop more slowly. They are also far more likely to expect details in a story to be well-researched and accurate.

Another good way to learn about readers is to review successful books by other authors. For example, a book like Fifty Shades of Gray gives a good example of the level of expectations for one class of readers. If I planned to write erotica, I would study the successful books in that genre. If I planned to write literary fiction and appeal to typical readers who follow such a style, I would study books like Forrest Gump or Bridges of Madison County. Scene development in such books is a blueprint outlining the needs of those readers.

General thoughts about imagery in writing:

1) Detail provides a framework for the mental picture. Make sure the frame highlights the image you want readers to experience.

2) Like dialog, description must have a purpose. It must advance the plot, or it is empty filler that readers will skip over.

3) Keep it simple. One of my favorite methods for creating imagery is to give readers the basic parts of a scene, and let their imaginations fill in the rest.

4) Paint active mental pictures:  instead of saying "it was a hot day," talk about the dog in the shade that wouldn't bother to chase the nearby cat because of the heat, or let the reader "smell" the decaying dead man in the other room, rather than telling the reader about the dead guy.

5) Think outside the box. Use plot devices in scenes to advance the story. For example, in Ghost of Lost Eagle, I needed to introduce an impending flashflood to my main character. What better plot device than Tuck's horse that senses the coming flood and refuses to continue up the canyon? The imagery is palpable while he tries to coax his unwilling horse further up the gulch. The obstinate animal made a perfect plot device to enhance tension, advance the story and provide realism.

Painting pictures with words is our craft. Scenes make everything else in stories possible, so they are the key to imagery. When readers are allowed to supply essential parts of the overall vision, they feel the author has connected with them.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Is Your Well Primed? (Productivity)

Have you ever pumped water from a hand pumped well? If you haven't, you should find someone with an old well and experience it. There are some wonderful life lessons in such a simple piece of technology.
Dad & me 10 years before pump lesson.
My dad bought a campsite at Bates Pond in rural South Carver when I was young. He told us how much fun camping would be. He lied. Water came from a pump on top of a pipe sticking out of the ground. Dad explained about "the immense pool of ground water below us" and how I had to take my turn working the pump handle to keep the family's water supply up for everything from drinking to cooking to bathing. All I knew was that my arms and shoulders burned after fifteen minutes of my one hour chore.

The last responsibility at the end of each pumping session was to fill a metal bucket with fresh water and set it on the nearby picnic table.

One hot day, it was my turn on the pump. There sat the bucket of clean, fresh water, and I had just finished a long hike deep into the woods. I was mighty thirsty. That water hit the spot. I drank from the bucket, letting excess water spill past my cheeks to cool my chest. Most of it ended up on the ground. I didn't care. Figured I'd just refill the bucket when I was done.

I began working the pump handle, but nothing came out. In fact, the handle moved with unusual ease.

"Daddy!" I shouted for help. "Daddy, the pump's broken."

My father set down his axe and came to my aid. He lifted the handle a couple times.

"No problem, son. Hand me the bucket of water."

"Umm . . . there isn't any bucket of water."

"Sure there is. It's on the bench over there."

I soon got a heated lecture on why that bucket of water was so important. He explained how manual pumps worked, saying that we had to "prime" them by pouring water into the valve body. Then, he told me, the pump could build a suction and lift water up from the pool ground water. To complete my lesson, he handed me two buckets, each with a single wire handle, and sent me down to the local lake to fetch priming water. I asked why two buckets. He explained that one was needed to prime the well, and the other was needed to make sure I never screwed up like that again. It worked. The wire handles cut painfully into the meat of my palms during the one mile walk back from the lake. I could only walk a hundred yards at a time before having to massage my hands.

What does this have to do with writing?
Writing is no different than the old style, manual pump design. Sometimes our literary "pump" loses its "prime" and needs a little help to regain the ability to pull from our vast pool of creativity. I took the lesson dad taught me as a child and applied it to my writing. I always leave a surplus bucket of ideas at the end of each writing session to help prime my writing well after I have been away for a while.

Here is an example of that concept. Let's say I wrote the paragraph (below) before going to bed. I would add "priming" notes (in parentheses) for when I return to the story:

The children played quietly in the car while Megan and I argued about our child custody agreement. Neither of us noticed when the car slipped into gear and began rolling toward the lake. I heard the splash and saw Megan's car drifting into deeper water as it nosed down and began to sink.

(Notes:  How do I save the kids? Do I experience the horror of seeing their frightened faces in the rapidly diminishing pocket of air by the back window? What about reviving them if they have drowned? Do they experience brain damage from anoxia? Does Megan feel responsible for not setting the parking brake or leaving the car running? Can I . . . or will I . . . use her negligence against her in the custody battle?)

As you can see from the "priming" notes, I should be able to jump right back into the emotional grist of the story, quickly refreshing the tap into my pool of creativity. This kind of primer notation can diminish "writer's block" and produce increased author efficiency.

Thanks for the lesson, dad. I hated carrying those heavy buckets from the lake, but that simple punishment served me well, as applied the concept many times in life. Miss you, Pop.

Shameful promo:  If you enjoy my writing blogs, please try my book, Ghost of Lost Eagle (western-romance with strong paranormal element). It is getting great reviews.