Friday, October 31, 2008

Make It a Story You Love

When someone asks how to know when a novel is complete, I always say that when it is good enough that the author wants to read it just for the enjoyment of reading it then it is done. Another question we might ask is when we know we have a story idea that is worth writing.

Before I even knew that someone else had written a novel even loosely based on the story of Hosea, I fell in love with the story and decided that I wanted to tell the story that has since become For the Love of a Devil. As always, the first draft was terrible and I asked myself what I was thinking, but after several edits I got the book to the point where I can enjoy the story. Now I am considering my next project. As I look at some of the ideas that pop into my head, I keep wondering if they will make a good story.

I think the key to my next project will be to develop a story for which I love the concept. If I love the concept, after some hard work, I will then be able to produce a manuscript that I love. That doesn't mean that the first draft won't be terrible, but if I love the concept then I can mold the final story into something I love.

A good story has to be molded before it is written. The problems have to be defined. The characters have to be created. There are many things to determine. Once they begin to look like a story I would enjoy, then it is time to begin to write.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Advantages of Small Publishers

Yesterday, I talked about large and small publishers. In case you missed it, the point was that large publishers can produce a higher quality product and market it more efficiently than a small publisher. Before you conclude that small publishers have nothing going for them, let me discuss some reasons why a small publisher can be a good thing.

No publishing company is very large, when compared to businesses in other industries. Random House has less than 6,000 employees and the big boy in the Christian publishing world, Thomas Nelson, has somewhere around 700. The reason I point that out is because we really can’t claim that small publishers are more personal. They are all small enough to have a personal feel to them.

One of the real advantages that a small publisher has over a large publisher has to do with risk. Suppose I am a small publisher with five employees. A manuscript comes along and we fall in love with it, but it may seem offensive to our customer base. In fact, it might be so offensive that they will stop buying our books. As a small publisher, it is a small risk if I decide to publish it anyway. If it works, we do well, but if it doesn’t the worst that can happen is that the six of us will be out of work for a while. If the man or woman at the helm of a large publisher makes the same decision then it could result in hundreds of people losing their jobs. In spite of what some politicians will tell you, large businesses aren’t just these big entities with lots of money. They use that money to pay workers and if the business isn’t doing well the workers are out of work.

Small publishers are motivated by a higher goal. They often focus on a niche in publishing or they focus on authors who have common thoughts. Some associations operate a publishing company so they can publish the work of their membership and work that their membership wants to read. Unlike large publishers that must appeal to a large audience, these publishers have the means to communicate with a close knit group of people who are highly likely to buy the books published there.

Large publishers must publish or they won’t make money. Sometimes, this means publishing some things that aren’t as high of quality as others. A small publisher can afford to be much more selective about what they choose to publish. There is a Catch 22 here because the better writers will tend to go to the higher paying large publishers, but a small publisher with a history of only publishing the best can get a reputation that will allow it to do very well, even though they don’t publish much.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Do Larger Publishers Have More Overhead?

There is a perception among some people that smaller companies are better because they have a smaller overhead. I noticed this when talking about building contractors. A friend of mine thought a large company would tack more onto the contract to cover the cost of paying office personnel. I noticed that Jeff Gerke holds that same view as it relates to publishers.

Traditional Christian publishing companies have so many employees and so much overhead that they have to sell at least 5,000 units of any book in order to break even. MLP has one staff member and has such a low overhead that it needs to sell only 250 units of any title to break even. (Jeff Gerke, MLP Website)

Jeff’s assertion is that a company like Random House, the parent company of one of his former employers, with about 6,000 employees or even the much smaller Christian publisher Thomas Nelson, with about 700 employees, can’t make a profit from a book that sells only a small number of copies. That's an interesting claim, since, with about 17,000 employees, is making a profit by publishing books that are doing good if they sell as many as ten units.

But doesn’t follow the traditional publishing model. In their case, it is possible to make money because they keep their per book overhead down. The size of their company makes it easier to do that because overhead costs can be spread across thousands of projects rather than just a few. Consider that while Jeff Bezos’ salary may only add a few cents to the cost of the books they produce, Jeff Gerke’s much smaller salary may add dollars to the cost of each book.

The real story here isn’t the size of the company, but the publishing model. The traditional publishing model is expensive. Each book requires approximately $40,000 and that may be on the low side. That means that the publisher must get about $8 from each unit sold. If we take that $8 and apply it to Gerke’s 250 units, that means he is starting with a budget of $2,000 dollars on each book. $2,000 dollars doesn’t go very far when you have to pay for editing, typesetting, printing, cover design and promotion. But you also have to pay the talent. After all, the Bible tells us that, “the laborer is worthy of his hire.”

The fact is that you can’t get to the $2,000 dollar mark simply by reducing overhead. To break even at the $2,000 mark requires that you cut corners. Random House can make money from their 5000 units and still afford to pay employees and other companies to seek good writers, edit manuscripts, design books, print the product and promote the work. It is inconceivable to think that a tiny company of two people can produce three books in a year and make enough money to eat, much less pay production costs.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Linking Stories

For many years, Stargate: SG1 was a relatively popular television show. Eventually, the producers spun off Stargate: Atlantis. The two shows were very different and very much alike. On the DVD special features for one season, someone related to the shows made the comment that they viewed the shows as taking place in the same universe. Just because things are happening on Atlantis and we can’t see Stargate Command doesn’t mean that things aren’t happening back there.

When we think of our stories as taking place within the same universe, it gives our backstory more depth. Even if books aren’t part of the same series, tying the story back to another book gives the reader the sense that the universe of our story is a much bigger place. We could have a story that is set in a small town and we might feel like that small town is all there is, but if one of the characters mentions a sister from Dallas that has a major role on another book, the world begins to take shape for the reader. The reader saw in another book that things are happening in Dallas, so when she has the feeling as she is reading about the small town that things are still happening in Dallas, even as she is reading about the small town.

Many fantasy novels take place in unreal places. Though the author may describe these places well, we seldom see much that happens in the areas around them. Everything takes place on an island. There is the good country and the bad country, but there is little to tell us that there are countries that want nothing to do with the conflict because they have enough problems of their own. This usually helps the story, so it may be that the only place we can tell about these other countries is by giving them a story of their own.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Save the Cat

If you have paid attention lately, you probably know that I am a fan of Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. A big part of that is because he views writing in a similar way to how I viewed it before I read his book. If there is any book that should be recognized for its crossover potential, it his Save the Cat. I first came across the book after hearing the author of a computer book refer to it as indispensable to her work. Many novelists are using this book as a guide. The truly fascinating thing is that Save the Cat bears the subtitle The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need. That’s right, Save the Cat is a book about screenwriting.

Obviously, there are many similarities in all forms of storytelling and that explains why there is so much crossover. It makes little different whether a writer puts a save the cat scene in a novel, a script or a computer manual, it will have the same affect of making someone look good. The beats Blake says are in all good screenplays are easy to find in great novels as well. Look at the opening scene of Blue Sword by Robin McKinley and see if you don’t see a status quo equals death moment there.

She scowled at her glass of orange juice. To think that she had been delighted when she first arrived here—was it only three months ago?—with the prospect of fresh orange juice every day.

The beats are all in Blue Sword. The catalyst or inciting incident occurs at almost exactly the right spot. I haven’t checked the other beats, but Blake Snyder’s theory seems to hold up very well with one of Robin’s most loved books.

As much as I like the beats in Save the Cat, applying the beats to a novel requires some manipulation. Unlike a movie, which can show an event in less than a second, a novel may have significant explanation to tell the reader about the even. Yeah, I know we are supposed to show and not just tell, but the fact is that when we compare a novel to a movie, the novel is all telling while the movie is all showing. At least it is supposed to be.

There are things that work in novels that don’t work in movies and vise versa. While that doesn’t keep Blake’s theory from working with novels, where his beats can be identified with a page number in a script, they may be spread across several pages in a novel. The novelist constantly finds himself asking, How does this apply to a novel? rather than simply laying it out as described.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Why I Write

Big Teeth GuyEvery writer has some reason for writing. That reason is rarely money, since most writers don’t make money at writing. I don’t care what the guy with big teeth told you in the How to Write a Book and Make Tons and Tons of Money seminar. The thing I enjoy most about writing is the challenge to figure out what makes a book good. Some people find a particular genre and settle into it. Me, I enjoy many different genre’s and much prefer the idea of picking the right genre for a story than molding the story to fit within a genre. I enjoy seeing if I can make several different genre’s work.

Sadly, the publishing industry is not well suited for people who choose to move from genre to genre. People like to see writers write the same type of story over and over. I know of one romance author who used two plots almost exclusively throughout her career. She changed the names and gave the characters different circumstances, but her readers most certainly knew how her books would turn out, before they read them. She had many books to her credit. I know of another author who had fans in one genre, but she moved to another genre and now some of her original fans won’t read her new work.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

It's All About People, Not Things

Yesterday I talked about a bad example of Christian Fantasy. Today I want to talk about a problem that Fantasy and Science Fiction writers face. I hope to also address how to correct this problem.

When writer chooses to write speculative fiction, it is because he wants to place elements in his novel that you won’t find in our concept of the world. In speculative fiction you can have elves and fairies, wizards and dragons, spaceships that move faster than light and pretty much anything you might want to dream up. As fascinating as these things are, they are just things. A novel isn’t about things. A novel is about people and how far they are willing to go to accomplish their goals. In a fantasy novel, a person may be a troll, but the troll has something he wants, even if it is eat the human princess. That is the story that we must tell, even though it is so easy to get caught up in talking about the odd characters, the scenery, the political climate and everything else except the story.

Let’s look at what a story is.

The old troll has been hungry for several days. He sees the princess out for a stroll and decides to hide under a bridge and wait for her. A young knight sees this and comes riding down the road. When the troll thinks the princess is on the bridge he reaches up to grab her, but feel a sword slicing through his hand instead.

Billy’s sister has a new boyfriend. Being the great brother he is, Billy hides behind a corner, ready to spray the new boyfriend with a water gun. The boyfriend approaches and just as Billy is about to jump from his hiding place, he feels his sister’s sharp fingernails grab his ears.

Do you see the similarities between the two stories? One is fantasy, one is not, but they are both the exact same plot. There is conflict here. Each character has different goals and these goals work with and against each other. The troll’s goal of eating is helped by the princess’s goal of going for a walk, but her goal is hindered by the troll’s goal. The troll’s goal is hindered by the knight’s goal of protecting the princess, but the knight’s goal is helped by the troll. In each case, we learn something about he character by what he or she is willing to do to accomplish the goal. The princess risked death by walking alone. The troll risked death by attacking the princess. The knight risked death by protecting the princess. As we see more of the plot, we can learn more about these characters and what they are willing to face.

Fiction allows us to learn how people will handle different situations. That allows us to consider how we might handle the same situation. Readers don’t care what things look like or how they work as much as they do about how characters will handle the problems we throw at them.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Is This Christian Fantasy?

I read a Christian Fantasy novel the other day. Correction, I read half of a Christian Fantasy novel the other day. The reason I didn’t read any more of it is because near the beginning of the book the characters got on horses. Then they rode and talked, rode and talked through the middle of the book. I kept looking for something one of the characters needed to change about his life. It wasn’t until page 47 that the author revealed that the character didn’t like the level of respect he received from his bosses. I thought that was a little weak, but at least there was something. After that, they rode and talked some more. There wasn’t an inciting incident in the first 115 pages. If there was one, it was so weak I missed it.

This is sad. The book has a potentially good premise and will probably sell several copies on that alone, but the writing quality just isn’t there. I haven’t seen the body of Christian Fantasy, but I would hate to think that this novel is representative of Christian Fantasy. There are many people who think Christian Fantasy would sell if the publishers would publish it. Some publishers are moving in that direction, but could it be that the problem isn’t the lack of fans or the unwillingness of publishers to meet the demand, but a deficiency in the quality of manuscripts authors are submitting?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Around The Room

You arrive at the designated classroom five minutes before class time. Some of the other students have already arrived, so you take a seat near the front of the room. On the table in front of you is a binder and a cardboard placard. You use the green marker to write your name on the placard. It isn’t neat, but it will do. You place the placard on the table, doubting that anyone will read it. You begin to look through the course materials and wonder why you are required to take this class.

The instructor takes his place at the front of the room. The first slide in his presentation tells you what number to put on your timesheet. The next slide shows an outline of the day’s activities.

Then you hear those familiar words, “Let’s go around the room. Tell us your name, how long you have worked her and what department you are in.”

Why do we have to waste time doing that? You try to think up what you need to say, so you don’t sound silly. What’s the name of our department again?

Though their teaching styles may vary greatly, many instructors like their students to introduce themselves before they get into heart of the lesson. Most students see this as unpleasant and a waste of time. Don’t these instructors know this? Absolutely, but it looks very different from an instructor’s point of view than from that of a student.

One of the benefits of the around the room activity is that it causes every student to say something early in the session. People are the most uncomfortable about speaking in a group setting the first time they open their mouth. By forcing people to open their mouths, there is a greater chance of getting them to participate in class discussion during the lesson.

Another benefit is that the instructor learns something about the class. The instructor may teach differently to a group of managers than he will to a group of factory workers. While they may need to know the same information, it may require different examples to get the point across.

The around the room session establishes the instructor as the person in charge. Training classes are often taught by people who are equal or of a lower pay grade than their students. The instructor may even be in a situation where she is training her boss. Even something as simple as telling her boss to state his name for the class and having her boss do so is enough to establish that the instructor is in charge for the space of the training session.

So the next time you are asked to identify yourself before a training session begins, remember that the instructor isn’t trying to make your life miserable, but is trying to prepare the class for an effective period of learning.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Slowly Revealing a Character

I read the article What Agents Hate the other day. It talks about things agents hate to see in the first chapter. One of the things is a backstory or an information dump. That, I am afraid, is one of the things I struggle with. It is my nature to want people to understand where I am coming from with what I say. Even with this post, I told you about the article I read. I could have just gone into what I have to say, but I gave you the backstory first.

Fictional characters should be like a carving. We begin with a simple blob that has an uninteresting shape. Slowly, we reveal details about this blob until it isn’t a blob any more, but the shape of a person, or an animal or something else. The worst thing we can do with writing about a character is to simply state what he is. Let’s look at an example.

The ball flew high into the air and out over left field. The left fielder watched it and ran back toward the fence. The ball hit the glove and then the player hit the chain link fence. The ball hit the ground and came to a stop at the player’s feet.

“Get the ball Johnny!” Bob yelled above the noise of the crowd as the runner rounded first base.

Bob felt the phone on his belt vibrate. He looked at the display and saw the all too familiar of his secretary’s phone. He had to answer it.

“Can you come to the office?” Her voice was barely audible with everyone either yelling for Johnny to get the ball or for the runner to come home. “We had another break-in.”

“I’m at a ball game.” The last thing Bob wanted to do was to tell Johnny he would have to miss part of another game.

“The police are here and they want to talk to the owner.” Her voice was even harder to hear above the roar of the crowd as the runner crossed home plate. “I didn’t think you would want me to call your father.”

”No, that wouldn’t be good.” Bob looked at his son in left field. “I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

Compare that to:

Many years ago, Bob’s father began a successful furniture manufacturing business. Bob’s father is having health problems and the business has fallen to Bob to run. Bob loves his son very much and would rather watch him play baseball than to work so much. One Saturday, while watching his son play in the most important game of the season, Bob receives a call about a break-in at work. There have been three break-ins during the past week. Bob decides to go to work.

Notice the difference between the two. They both tell us that Bob wants to watch Johnny play and that he is responsible for his father’s business. What it doesn’t tell us is what kind of business it is why he doesn’t want his father called. The second paragraph gives us more information, but the reader doesn’t care. We are more interested in what is going on in the ballgame and whether Bob will watch the game or go to work. It takes longer, but the first version will reveal the most important parts of the backstory in time.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?

Which Jesus do you follow? Have you ever stopped and wondered if the Jesus you worship is the same Jesus that died for your sins? It is interesting to listen to people talk about Jesus. I don’t believe Jesus would allow anyone to go to hell, one person might say. I don’t believe Jesus causes us to suffer, he just allows us to suffer, another might say. It isn’t that big of a deal if we get a divorce, Jesus just wants us to be happy, may be someone’s statement. People make many statements about Jesus. It is popular right now to think of Jesus as a buddy who wants our worship and gets it by standing by ready to pat us on the back and say, “I know you messed up again, but that’s alright.” Maybe we will find him out in the woods cooking pancakes. But is that the same Jesus who died on the cross?

What we know about Jesus is what is in the Bible. We can’t just make up a new Jesus because we don’t like the Jesus in the Bible all that much. If we do, all we have done is give someone else the same name. To do so is no better than what the Children of Israel did when they made a golden calf and declared that it was the god that brought them out of Egypt. We can make up a Jesus that we think is better in some way, but our made up Jesus can never save us from our sins.

The Jesus of the New Testament is the same Lord God of the Old Testament who spared Lot for the sake of Abraham and then turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt because she disobeyed. He is the same God who freed the Children of Israel from Egypt and then made them wander in the desert forty years because they didn’t have faith to take the land. He is the same God who set David on the throne and then took his child after he sinned with Bathsheba. Jesus is a God of love, but he is also just. He will not allow sin to go unpunished.

Before latching on to the idea that Jesus is some benevolent mother who laughs at our sin and says, “boys will be boy,” go figure out how the Bible describes Jesus. That is the Lord we are to worship and the Lord who is able to save us.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Christian Writers Who Don't Know What They Believe

Recently, this blog has focused on writing. Occasionally, I cover some topics that aren’t as mundane as others. Some may even offend a few people. You may recall that I took a strong stance on Thomas Nelson’s statement about the Nicene Creed, a few weeks ago. It keeps things interesting. Today, I want to cover a similar issue, so it may offend a few people, but it also has something to do with writing.

Thomas Nelson has made the statement that if a writer says he or she is a Christian they aren’t going to question that. I want that to be a reminder to me that I should not make claims that specific writers are not Christians. But I believe I am safe in saying that there are many Christian authors who are not saved. You may find that easy to accept. I don’t care what church you attend, you will probably find a few church members who aren’t saved. Even among those that give evidence of salvation, there are many who don’t understand the very basic doctrines of the Bible.

Let that sink in. Christian publishers make statements that they want to publish books with a Christian world view and they often weed out some books by people with a clearly non-Christian view, but there are still books published by authors who are biblically illiterate. The power in Christian books is that it can be used as a tool to carry out the final part of the Great Commission, “teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you.” It will be a great tragedy if we allow people who do not understand the Bible to try to teach it.

Without naming names, let me give a specific example. I visited the blog of an author who has signed a book contract with a major publisher. On this blog are some statements about what the author considers to be unknowns. The one that really got me was the statement that the author didn’t know how God would decide whether a person would go to heaven or hell. That goes to the very heart of the salvation message. Let me put it simple. There are many doctrines that are confusing and many of us may disagree on many things, but if you don’t get this one doctrine you are messed up.

Look at what the Bible says. What child didn’t learn John 3:36 in Sunday school? “He that believeth in the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.” You can’t make it any more simple than that. If you put your trust in Jesus, you are going to heaven. If you don’t, you are going to hell. Are you still not sure? Go read the book of First John. It was written so we could know whether we are going to heaven or not. For more information on that, check How to Know If You Are Saved.

Now, while I believe it is very important that you know whether you are saved or not, “so your joy may be full” or so you can take care of that before it is too late, that is not my point. My point is that people who haven’t studied the Bible well enough to know what it says about knowing that you know Jesus have no business writing books for a Christian market, whether it a book on Bible doctrine, a novel or cookbook.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Faithful Sidekick

Here’s a rule, every Superhero needs a good sidekick. We have seen this work often enough. In the show Lois and Clark, Lois played Superman’s sidekick. Watson was sidekick to Sherlock Holmes. Jane Marple in many of Agatha Christie’s books had various sidekicks from a police officer who just wasn’t as smart as her to one of her friends to some young man who could do some running for her. But why is the sidekick so important?

The superhero has trouble connecting with the world. The superhero is better than the lowly people around him and though they men wish they were as strong and the women want to have his baby, they want him to stay aloof. They don’t want to think of him as living somewhere as a common man with his own problems. They want him to always wear the cape and always be on guard. The sidekick sees things that most people don’t wan to see. The sidekick sees the superhero with his hair down.

The superhero can talk to the sidekick. This is an important aspect of all sidekicks, even if the hero isn’t a superhero. The hero doesn’t have to impress the sidekick. In writing, this provides a convenient way for the writer to tell the reader about the hero without revealing his flaws to the majority of the people in the novel. The sidekick is a good friend and makes good fodder for the B Plot. The sidekick encourages the hero to keep going and may help the hero if he gets in trouble.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

First Three Chapters - For the Love of a Devil

Here are the first three chapters of For the Love of a Devil. I am posting these hoping that they will entice you to purchase the book. If not, then maybe they will serve their purposes by helping you decide if the book is right for you.

The book is about a beleaguered English teacher, Geoff Mywell, longs for the love he once thought his wife had for him, but when she leaves him for another man on their fifth anniversary, he is forced into the life of a single parent. He isn't sure whether to give in to the relief of having her out of the house or be sorry that the marriage seems broken beyond repair. He goes after her as she moves from one man to the next and eventually falls into prostitution. Geoff must enter the darkness and pull her back or lose the woman he loves forever.

An Example Book Outline

There is a very unheated debate over whether to outline a novel before writing
it or not. For me, it is easier if I know where I am going, so I create an
outline. Also, as I noted in a previous post, if you ever need to write a
synopsis, an outline can cut your workload significantly. There are different
ways to do an outline. I find that I describe the current state more than I
describe the action. The action will come as the manuscript begins to take

Below, I have included my outline for For the Love of a Devil. Some of
you may recognize the high level outline as coming from Blake Snyder’s Save
the Cat
. If you haven’t read that book, you really should. The numbers
beside each heading are word count totals. Blake Snyder defines when things
should happen by page count, but novelists tend to think more in terms of word
count. My goal was an 80,000 word novel. I went a little above, so the work
count is a little off, but the intent was that it would tell me when I finished
each section. Notice that the Opening Image is 727 words long, which is about
two and a half pages. One of the good things about his outline is that there
isn’t much room for backstory.

I followed the outline for main points, but I made changes as I went along.
That is part of the process. Things that seemed right when you wrote the
outline aren’t going to work when you get to them in the story. Anyway, I just
wanted to provide this outline for anyone who may be wondering what a completed
outline looks like.


For the Love of a Devil

  • Opening Image (1%:727)

    • Geoff has

      • a wife

        • isn't satisfied

        • is cheating on him

      • unsure future

        • has had problems with wife before

        • wants good things, but will they come

      • reason to question his wife

        • wife cheated but he forgave

        • he doubts she's learned lesson

    • arguments at home

    • wife shows self-centeredness

    • Geoff shows worry

    • Geoff shows doubts

  • Theme Stated (5%:3,636)

    • Is Unconditional love possible?

      • Students discussing a story

      • Student asked is unconditional love possible?

        • What if other person never loved?

        • What if other person is hateful?

  • Setup (1-9%:7,273)

    • Introduce A plot Characters

      • Goeff

      • Heather

      • Jesse

      • Laurel

      • Logan

    • Things that need fixing

      • Shaky marriage

      • stressed over future

      • mother doesn't like Heather

      • wife questions his love

      • wife is a big problem

      • children caught in middle

      • Heather wants Independence

  • Catalyst (11%:8,727)

    • wife leaves Geoff for Stanley

      • Geoff comes home

      • finds kids alone

      • finds a note

  • Debate (11-23%:18,182)

    • should he go after his wife?

    • should he give up and move on?

    • divorce is wrong

    • its okay when there is fornication

    • he loves her, right?

    • maybe he just thinks he does

    • He is to protect her

    • what if she won't allow him to protect her

    • No matter what, the children need a stable family

      • This fact ends debate

      • of course he goes after wife

  • Break into Two (23%:18,182)

    • Geoff finds his wife

    • Geoff begs her to come back

    • wife laughs him off

  • B Story (27%:21,818)

    • Sara Expresses her concerns about love

    • Could Ellen just decide to leave her Dad?

    • Geoff shares why he thinks it is different

      • wife self-centered

      • Ellen and Mark committed

    • Sara expresses dislike for situation

    • Sara wants a car

    • Sara working hard to make money for car

  • Fun and Games (27-50%:40,000)

    • Geoff tries to win wife back

    • Wife somewhat receptive

    • Geoff gives her things

    • Wife accepts

    • Geoff asks her to come back

    • Wife dumps lover and says she'll think about it

    • Geoff starts dating his wife

    • Wife is willing to go

  • Midpoint (50%:40,000)

    • Wife wants to meet and talk

      • Geoff thrilled

      • All seems good

      • False Success

  • Bad Guys Close In (50-68%:54,545)

    • Wife tells Geoff moving in with mother and grandmother

      • mother is a high priced prostitute

      • grandmother runs business

    • Geoff unable to disuade her

    • Geoff tries to see her

    • Not allowed to see her

    • Wife goes to work for a pimp

      • holding something over grandmother

      • Wife is protecting grandmother

      • mother tells Geoff

    • Geoff talks to pimp

      • pimp laughs him off

      • pays pimp to take care of her

  • All is Lost (68%:54,545)

    • Wife becomes a slave

      • Geoff defeated

      • All is Lost

      • What can he do now?

      • Whiff of death

  • Dark Night of the Soul (68-77%:61,818)

    • Geoff returns to pimp

    • Learns that wife not there

      • from another prostitute

      • learns she has been sold

    • Goes to her owner to demand her release

    • Owner has already sold her

    • Is told new owner will kill her if police involved

    • New owner might kill you

  • Break into Three (77%:61,818)

    • Sara shows up with a bunch of cash

    • "Go buy her back."

  • Finale (77-100%:80,000)

    • Sara convinces Geoff to buy back wife

    • Geoff locates owner by talking to former students

      • convicted drug dealer

      • out of parol

    • Geoff estimates the money needed

    • puts together the money

    • shows up at slave auction

    • finds wife in disgusting situation

    • puts up with ridicule and overcomes fears

    • out bids others

    • buys her back

    • takes her home

  • Final Image (100%:80,000)

    • Geoff has

      • a wife

        • sees life with Goeff as ideal

        • is committed to Geoff

      • a sure future

        • knows they will work through problems

        • together they will make good things happen

      • reason to trust his wife

        • wife anxious to return to him

        • knows she has seen the result of her action

    • wife expresses her unworthiness

    • wife expresses her desire to be with him

    • Geoff assures her that she is to be his and none other

    • They look to the future together

  • Main Characters

    • Geoff Mywell

      • Modeled after Hosea

      • School Teacher

      • Teaches English

      • Wears Sweeters

      • Very Reserved

      • Very Easy Going

      • whistles when happy

      • Anniversary: Sept. 12

    • Heather (Diblaim) Mywell

      • Modeled after Gomer

      • Very Attractive

      • Self Centered

      • Inconsiderate

      • Always wants her way

      • loves goofy stuffed gorillas

      • Anniversary: Sept. 12

    • Three Children

      • Jesse

        • age 4 at beginning

        • Birthday in June

      • Laurel

        • age 2 at beginning

        • Birthday in November

      • Logan

        • 7 months at beginning

        • Birthday in March

    • Sara Dawson

      • Sophmore at beginning

      • Senior at end of book

      • Birthday in March

  • Minor Characters

    • Allen

      • Second Lover

      • Middle Class

      • Appearance

        • Eyes close together

        • short nose

        • balding head

        • comb over

        • Mr. Squashed Head

    • Stanley Miller

      • First Lover

      • Wife is Wealthy

    • Mrs. Sheila Miller

      • Owns buildings across from Ellen's Cafe

    • Mark Dawson Sr.

    • Ellen Dawson

    • Regina Diblaim

      • Heather's Grandmother

      • Mother of Heather's Father

      • Scar on Chin

        • Rubs it when she's thinking.

        • Came from a fight with a man.

    • The Raven

      • Now "Ray"

    • Samantha Diblaim

      • Heather's Mother

    • Rachel Dahl

      • Grade School Principal

      • Divorced

    • Star

      • a.k.a Stacy

      • Works for Regina

      • Has sold to her by The Raven

    • Dan

      • Former Student

      • Takes him to find Heather in gutter

    • Jay

      • Heather's last owner

      • Pimp in St. Louis

  • Bit Parts

    • Angelica Long

      • Daughter of Sheila Miller

      • Step-daughter of Stanley Miller

    • Tony Gonzales

      • Owns Mexican restarant

      • Rents from Mrs. Miller

    • Mrs. Gonzales

    • Carla

      • Manager at Ellen's Cafe

    • Jim Cummins

      • Neal's Dad

    • Geoff's Mother

    • Mark Dawson Jr.

    • Kid on a Bicycle

    • Matt Diblaim

      • Heather's Dad

      • Shot by The Raven on release from prison

    • Mr. Phillips

      • High School Principal

      • First name, Charlie

    • Valerie Sands

      • High School Student

      • Long Blond Hair

      • From Michigan

      • Two Year younger than Sara

      • Daugher of Nora

    • Nora Sands

      • Long Blond Hair

      • From Michigan

    • Blake Sands

      • Husband to Sheila

    • Will Sands

      • Brother to Valerie

    • Jenna Beth

      • Star's Daughter

    • Regal

  • Locations

    • Home at Beginning

      • Brown

      • Small porch with posts

      • garage on right

      • no red door

    • School

    • Miller Residence

      • Large

      • Expensive

    • Ellen's Cafe

      • Pastry Shop at front on left

      • Restaraunt to right

      • Upstairs seating added

      • Fancy looking

      • Chandeliers

      • Big windows

      • Next to Hotel Downtown

    • Little House with Red Door

      • Heather stayed here when with Allen

      • 1741 Parkview Avenue

      • white

      • red door

      • Has little Black kid who watches

    • Big white house with red door

      • Five miles out of town

      • Large shade trees

      • Middle of 40 acres

      • tire swing

      • wide porches

      • red door

      • view of farmland

Be sure to check out

Mother Not Wanted Book Cover

Mother Not Wanted

Monday, October 13, 2008

Platform: Defined

Last week I mentioned the writer’s platform. It is a term that is thrown around a lot, but it isn’t always used in a meaningful way. The dictionary definition of a platform is a position of authority or prominence that provides a good opportunity for doing something. Let’s consider what this means. A platform is not the same as a fan base. Many people look at celebrities. A movie star’s platform is based on his prominence. He can be as stupid as a fence post, but people will listen to him because of his prominence. People start to think that this means that how many people you can get to listen is more important than what you know.

If we look at the other piece of the definition, a platform is a position of authority. Do people really listen to the political statements that movie stars make? Not really. Some of them have a lot to say, but most people just ignore them, but if a Senator gets up to speak, people listen. They may not agree, but they listen. The Senator has a position of authority that the movie star doesn’t. Likewise, if a movie star who has been divorced several times talks about how to have a successful marriage people will just laugh. If a couple, who have been married for sixty years writes a book, some people will listen. What is the difference? Platform.

Publishers aren’t just looking for someone to draw a crowd. Publishers need writers who are experts on the subject they are covering. The fan base is a natural result of the platform. The saying goes that if you build a better mousetrap the world will beat a path to your door. If ten thousand people want a book about a better mousetrap and they have a choice between a movie star who pays people to catch mice and one by an unknown exterminator who catches mice in rural fields, it is obvious which one they will choose. They don’t care that the exterminator has never appeared on television, only that he knows what he is talking about.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Why I Won't Be Watching Knight Rider

I watched the new Knight Rider the other night. I suppose it was the pilot. Pilots are notoriously bad, but this show has some major problems that will keep me from watching it again.

The original Knight Rider was a classic Superhero story with KITT as Michael Knight’s sidekick as well as his source of strength. Episode after episode, we knew what to expect; Michael and KITT would swoop in and help the underdog. Then Michael would have to leave because the life of a Superhero is a lonely life.

The new Knight Rider has an updated KITT, which can transform in to any FORD product. The special effects are better, but the writing is terrible. Instead of being one man against the evil in the world, the new show appears to be a large company against the evil in the world and part of that evil is in the company. More realistic, perhaps, but who wants to see that? We want to believe that we could be Michael Knight with a fancy car and we could right the wrongs that we see around us.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the recurring female character has gotten an update as well. In the original, the female character was the mechanic who could upgrade KITT with anything he would need during the show. Most of the time, she appeared only in the B Story. In the new Knight Rider, this character has a different role. Her role is to be nothing more than eye candy. Women across America should be offended by this, but sadly they are not. In the episode I watched, this female character is in the passenger seat and KITT is hit by a weapon is a variation on napalm. The burning substance sticks to the car and the interior is getting too hot. What is the woman’s solution to the problem? Instead of trying tell KITT what to do, this woman decides that now is the proper time to take off her clothes. Why can’t television shows portray women as intelligent people instead of as nothing more than an object to look at?

That is reason enough for me not to watch the show, but the napalm weapon is a major problem. When writing about a Superhero, it is best to give the audience the impression that the Superhero is far above ordinary men. For KITT to have already faced a weapon that he could not handle and a car he could not catch is a disaster. KITT should have the technology to handle any weapon and should be able to blow past any car. He might find an equal that uses the same technology, but that is all. The true challenges should rarely be direct confrontations because the villains know they can’t best the Superhero. Villains must try to outsmart the Superhero, or take him in some way that prevents him from using his strength. The Superhero must then find a way to adapt and handle the problem.

I wanted Knight Rider to be a good show. The premise has such promise, but the creators have taken the heart out of the show and all that is left is a show that is like the original in name only. Unless they correct these problems, I will not be watching.

Friday, October 10, 2008

How Can I Build a Platform?

An author writes a non-fiction book and sends it to an agent. The agent sends back a reply, You have made the subject easy to understand, but I am unable to offer representation at this time because your platform is weak. The author looks at this response and asks, what is a platform and how do I get one?

Many authors go at this process backwards. A platform is not something you need to build if you hope to sell a book you have already written. The platform is what gives you the authority to write the book in the first place. It also makes it a whole lot easier to write the book.

Let’s look at an extreme example. Suppose a fourteen-year-old student writes a book about how to drive a car. True, the student may have some very good thoughts on the subject, but without having ever driven a car, he isn’t going to have the experience that someone like the current NASCAR points leader has. The guy from NASCAR has a platform. The student has opinions.

We develop platforms in many ways. Sometimes we develop a platform without trying. Other times we spend years learning a subject. Once we have developed a platform, we can sit down at a computer and record what we know for the benefit of others. When people ask us why they should listen to us, we can point to our experience and say, “Because I have lived it.”

Some people complain about celebrity books, but the fact is that celebrities have a platform. My pastor loves to say, “when you see a turtle sitting on a fence post, you can be sure that sucker didn’t get their by himself.” People don’t gain celebrity status without first living a life that put them in that position. That life is their platform to talk to people who wish they were celebrities too.

If you want to write a book on a subject, go out and study the subject, try your theories and learn from your mistakes. After you have done that, go back and decide what people need to learn from your experience. Don’t write your opinions and then try to make it look like you know what you are talking about.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Don't Chase the Porsche

As I was going home the other day, I saw a Porsche traveling very fast down the freeway, passing the rest of the traffic. It wasn’t long and a Jeep pulled in behind the Porsche and began to chase it through traffic. “That isn’t very wise,” I thought. The Porsche may be the one that a friend of mine owns. If it is, I can tell you that she has the speeding tickets to prove that she owns a Porsche. And if that isn’t enough, even though it is never safe to drive fast in a lot of slower traffic, a Porsche is designed for high speed while an SUV is not. My advice to the guy in the Jeep, “don’t chase the Porsche.”

We can apply that to writing also. Writers know about the rules. If you have listened to anything I have said on the topic, you know that I prefer the idea of understanding the reason for each of the rules and applying that understanding to writing rather than either following the rules blindly or simply throwing them out. I have seen in the comments of some unpublished and rare book authors that they are frustrated when they see books by well-known authors that violate the rule indiscriminately. They wonder why they can get by with it and others can’t.

Just like a Porsche has a better chance of safely weaving in and out of traffic at high speed than an SUV, an author with a large fan base has a better chance of producing a book that isn’t as good as is could be and not offending his fans. Every author has a few books that don’t measure up to the rest. The faithful fans will overlook one or two and return for the better ones. For authors with a small fan base, that safety net doesn’t exist.

Another similarity between the highly successful author and the Porsche is that sometimes they get caught. When you see a Porsche sitting on I-20 and a white Corvette with flashing lights sitting behind it, you can be glad you weren’t chasing the Porsche. When readers find an author they think writes well, they buy the next book and the next, but if the author writes three good books and the rest go downhill, the readers will stop buying books. They may not stop right away, but if the author can’t keep his standards up, his fans will turn to writers who are producing better work.

So, don’t chase the Porsche. It might save you a bunch of headaches.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Keep Things Simple

Every good story has an element of escapism in it. No matter how gritty a story may be, readers don’t sit down to read a story about their current situation. Readers are looking for looking for something to free them from the boredom of their current situation. I was looking at an Amish romance the other day and I began to wonder why the fans of these novels enjoy them. The only think I could think of was that people dream of a simpler life. It is the same reason that people enjoy Historicals. While sitting in a nice air conditioned house reading these book, it is easy to imagine that life must be simple for the Amish or for the people who lived in past centuries. It is easy to forget that washing clothes was a backbreaking task and to wash the dishes after the meal required someone to carry water and heat it. The world people imagine as they read these books is far from the world as it really was or in the case of the Amish life, as it really is.

Modern day novels should be much simpler than real life. For example, if there is a boss character in the book, instead of having him refuse to give a character a raise because his boss own boss won’t allocate the money, who won’t allocate it because her budget has been slashed, which was a result of the increase in fuel prices, just have the boss refuse to give a raise because he is playing favorites. (I just had a thought as I wrote that. I wonder if the reason so many actors are liberals is because screen plays simplify everything to the point that you can no longer see that for the little guy to make money the big companies have to make and spend money.) People in the working world often have problems, such as low pay or job cuts and they feel like someone is out to get them, but they don’t know who to blame. They can pick up a book and escape to a world where the problem doesn’t exist or it is very clearly defined who has caused the problem.

Even though real life is much more complicated, keeping things simple in a story make it easier for the reader to understand. When given a choice between making things more like the world or making things simple, the writer should choose the simple path because that is the path that give the reader the escape he or she desires.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Premature Marriage

One of the classic plots in the romance genre is that of the convenient or premature marriage. I prefer to call it a premature marriage because the couple marries before they fall in love, but since it is a romance, we know they are going to be in love and looking for a future together before the end of the book. It is a compelling plot because it is a story of self-sacrifice. The woman offers herself up on the altar of marriage to serve some greater purpose. Maybe it is so she can take care of his children, or he her children. Maybe it is a requirement for him to become king. Maybe they both have grown tired of going home to an empty house and there is no one else.

We all know this plot is fanciful in modern America. I can’t think of any situation where I would walk up to some woman that I don’t know very well and say, “I don’t expect us to ever love each other, but let’s get married anyway.” For that matter, it is unbiblical. The Bible commands husbands to love their wives. It isn’t optional.

No matter how fanciful the plot might be, it is compelling whether it is in a modern romance novel, in the classic tale of Beauty and the Beast or in the biblical account of Esther.

In Blake Snyder’s terminology, unlike most romance novels, which tend toward Buddy Love in which the characters argue until they figure out they need each other, the premature marriage plot often parallels the Dude With a Problem plot. Through no fault of her own, the lady is in a difficult situation in which she, her children, her country or someone else needs help. This help seems to come in the form of the premature marriage, but that is a false victory. She is now worse off because she must suffer through an unhappy marriage, presumably for the rest of her life. True victory comes when the two characters figure out that they actually want to spend their lives together and it isn’t going to be the sacrifice they thought it was.

Plots dealing with self-sacrifice encourage the reader to ask, “Would I be willing to do that?” or “What would it take for me to be willing to do that?” The premature marriage plot is especially poignant in today’s culture because our culture puts so much importance on this concept of the soul mate. Many people assume that God has one ideal person for each person and if it doesn’t work out then it must be that we didn’t wait long enough to find the right person. The premature marriage opposes that idea so strongly by implying that two people can love each other, even if they didn’t come together under ideal circumstances.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Symbols in Writing

In a painting, a photograph or a movie, the dominant colors determine how the viewer will perceive the image. Blues, for example, tend to make the image seem cold. Yellow make the image much warmer. In writing, there are symbols that do what colors do for images.

Snoopy always began his novels with, “It was a dark and stormy night…” The darkness of night, mixed with a storm gives us a sense of foreboding. Something bad is sure to happen. We may stumble upon a dead body, or the house may fall down. Maybe we will find a ghostly figure at our door.

Contrast the dark and stormy night with the sunny beach. Nothing bad ever happens at a beach unless it is raining or it is nighttime. Bodies do wash upon the beach during the daytime, but only because someone killed it the night before.

Dead is a very important symbol in writing. Dead has finality to it, so it tells us that things can never get better. If the husband walks out of the house and the dog dies on the same day, that tells us that the husband will never return home. The woman will never be happy again. That makes it so much better when the husband does return at the end of the book, but if the dog hadn’t died we might not have been surprised that he would come back.

The images of springtime bring with it images of life and new birth. Singing birds and blooming flowers give us a feeling that whatever bad thing has happened it can be made right.

Friday, October 3, 2008

How to Describe Beauty

I once knew a woman, the most beautiful woman in the world, and all the kingdom came to see her beauty. She had a large black mole on the left side of her mouth and her right eye would stray off to one side. She weighed three hundred pounds and smelled like fresh hog lard.

Does that sound like a description of a beautiful woman? How about this?

There was once a beautiful young woman who was white as snow, rosy as the blood, and whose hair was as black as ebony.

For some reason, that doesn’t sound very beautiful to me either. I suppose you have to be a magic mirror or a prince to think that is beautiful. I am neither. So, the question of the day is, how do we describe a beautiful woman or for that matter, a handsome man? The answer is, we don’t.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. For all I know, someone may think the woman I described in the first paragraph is beautiful. And who am I to say she isn’t. What I consider beautiful and what another person considers beautiful are two different things. Even among the women that I consider exceptionally beautiful, I would have a hard time defining which ones are the prettiest. They may all be pretty in different ways. Now you married guys have it easy. If don’t think your wife is the prettiest woman in the world, you don’t have your head screwed on straight.

In writing, one of the best things we can do is not describe something. If the character is beautiful, let the reader decide what that means. If the character is humorous, don’t let him open his mouth and tell jokes. The reader won’t think he is as funny as you think he is. If the character is ugly, we are free to gross the reader out as much as we dare. Ugliness is much easier to describe than beauty. Bad jokes are easier to tell than good jokes. When in doubt with bad jokes, just throw a few puns in. Even a pun that works well in speech will almost always fail in written text. A good rule of thumb is that if it is subjective then don’t assume the reader will agree with you.

Be sure to check out

Mother Not Wanted Book Cover

Mother Not Wanted

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A Real Superhero and His Arch Nemesis

Though writing fiction is supposed to be a creative pursuit, it is impossible for us to write an interesting story that does not have a parallel in real life. Even something as fantastic as the superhero story has a parallel. The life that Jesus Christ lived looks very much like the life of a superhero. Jesus had an unusual origin. He was wiser than the wisest. He healed the sick and raised the dead. Though he drew large crowds, he didn’t fit in the people of his day and the people in the area where he grew up rejected him. His brothers didn’t accept him until later in life. All of that looks very much like the classic superhero story and that may be part of why people reject Jesus. Their logic goes something like this. Superman is a superhero, Jesus is a superhero, Superman does not exist, superheroes do not exist, therefore Jesus cannot be a superhero. The problem there is that we cannot conclude that all superheroes do not exist because the ones we made up do not exist.

Most superheroes have an arch nemesis. In fiction, the arch nemesis is the evil opposite of the superhero. This character is as powerful as the superhero, until the superhero defeats it. If Jesus is the superhero, who then is the arch nemesis? Many people have the idea that Satan is the arch nemesis of Jesus. This is an incorrect assumption. Satan in no way equals Jesus in power and never has. Satan is a created being. In fact, Jesus created him. God never created his equal. The arch nemesis must be something that God did not create. God is light, life, love, holy and righteous. The direct opposite of that is darkness, death, hate, the grave and sin. The arch nemesis of Jesus is sin and death. That is what he defeated when he died on the cross and rose from the dead. They are the things that cause a challenge for God because he wants fellowship with his people and they keep getting in the way. But Jesus has defeated them and we have no need to fear them.

“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (I Corinthians 15:55-57)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

We Need Some Superheroes

A few days ago, I talked about the royal family. They represent the wealth and power we all think it might be fun to have, but in fiction the royal family has a problem because there must always be someone who wants to take that wealth and power away. There is a similar character in fiction that has power (though not always wealth) and does not have to fear that he will lose that power. This character is the superhero.

The superhero doesn’t have to be a Superman type character. Daddy Warbucks from Annie is as much a superhero as Superman. The fairy godmother in Cinderella is another superhero, as are angels and wizards and other similar characters.

The superhero outshines ordinary people. Within the characteristics of the character, the superhero can do whatever he wants without exerting a sweat. It is nothing for Superman to fly to China and bring back Chinese takeout for Lois Lane, or for Daddy Warbucks to buy another company. It isn’t hard for us to think, “If I could do that, I would…”

Superheroes have a hard time fitting in with the rest of the world, so they must wall themselves off, either with a disguise, such as Superman’s Clark Kent disguise or a good security system and a house full of employees, as is the case with Daddy Warbucks. Santa Clause, another classic superhero, hides out at the North Pole.

For the superhero to work well in fiction, the superhero must face a problem that his position of strength cannot solve. If Superman can turn back a meteor with his strength, it isn’t very interesting if we throw one twice as big at him. If the meteor is made out of Kryptonite, the problem gets more interesting. Daddy Warbucks can buy Annie whatever she wants, but no amount of money will replace her parents.

The superhero does not have to be bigger than life. A doctor who can help most woman have children, but can have no children of her own may be a superhero. Mr. Monk, who solves unsolvable mysteries but is afraid of everything, is a superhero. The stereotypical computer geek who can crack any system may be a superhero.

Even though some very ordinary characters have traits of superheroes, we must be careful about treating out superhero characters as ordinary people. I have a character that is fairly ordinary, but she can cook better than everyone else and she owns the best restaurant in town. That is a part of who she is. Whatever problems I might throw at her, moving a better chef into the building across the street would ruin the character, unless I also provide a way for her to prove that he is just a wannabe compared to her.

The superhero is problematic because it is so fantastic in nature, but readers need a few superheroes. They give us hope and even tell us a little about God, who is the only real superhero. The superhero gives us a feeling of assurance that no matter how bad things get, there is someone who will do the right thing at great cost and save the day. They assure us that there is a safety net. When we are at the end of our rope, there is someone to keep us from falling.