Friday, February 26, 2010

Revision Test Results!

Revision Test Results!

In my previous post, I ask you to consider which of two versions of the same scene was better. Here are the results:

  1. Which version did you read first?
    Everyone read #1.
  2. Which version interested you more in reading the whole story?
  3. Which version would you say is better? Why? (briefly)
  4. #1-8
  5. Which do you think is the revised version?
  6. #1-6

And now for the dramatic reveal:

You were (mostly) right! #1 is the revised version!

Here’s the story. I wrote this originally about 15 years ago for a creative writing class at the local university. So when I looked at it again, I had very fresh eyes. #2 is definitely not first-draft, but it reflects kind of “where I started.” I wrote the revision from scratch, creating a new outline and throwing out the old story. Here is a list of things I changed between the two versions you see:

  1. Deeper POV. Even in first person, you can still distance your readers from your characters. There’s a difference between a character explaining, “oh here’s something that happened to me that might be interesting” versus “you have to hear this. You won’t believe what I’ve been through. I want you to really understand what I’ve been through.” It really comes down to the old “showing vs telling” maxim. In version #2 he seems annoyed. In version #1 he’s enraged.
  2. Sparse description. In #1 I have maybe 4 adverbs, and looking at it now I can probably remove at least 2 more. I have 7 in #2. Adjective counts are similarly slanted. In fact, the one line of description, about the sky, needs to go as well. I’m thinking I want him to shade his eyes against the sun instead of just noting it. Then the harsh glare becomes more important, but I still get in the hint that we’re not on Earth.
  3. Almost no backstory. Instead of explaining why the narrator doesn’t like androids isn’t as effective as him railing against them. I have even less explanation of who Nancy is as well. It’s not that important.
  4. Inner dialog. It puts the reader into the narrator’s head, instead of hearing his impressions almost second hand. This makes everything more immediate.
  5. The character acts. In every paragraph, he does something. In #2 he’s just an passive observer.
  6. Other style changes. Variable sentence length, smaller focused paragraphs (that second paragraph in #2 actually goes on for  ~150 more words), voice, etc.

Here are some additional things I did to the story that aren’t evident from this small section:

  1. Reduced word count from 10K to 8K words. There was a lot of backstory in there, as well as either unimportant scenes and/or unnecessary exposition.
  2. Eliminated four characters, added one. He interacts with a lot of people, but I thought that was too much for this length of story, so I combined a few of them into one character.
  3. Reduced scene count from 19 to 13. Combined redundant scenes, eliminated some “traveling” scenes.
  4. Added new ending. The original story really had no Dénouement so I figured out how to tie everything together in a way that hopefully will elicit some OMG’s from my readers.
  5. Added conflict everywhere. Every page, every scene, every paragraph. This is a man who is struggling to avoid the Stockade himself, so there’s a high level of tension throughout.
  6. Story Structure. I’ve used Hero’s Journey and other structures to ensure that the story flows nicely.
  7. Better world building. I added a few twists in there to give the reader pause. But I dole out the world in dribs and drabs, and I try not to explain everything. I want people to want to re-read the piece to find all the clues/breadcrumbs I left for them.

One comment I have about the original version #2: a couple people noted that they like a couple things about #2, but those elements don’t really work in the revised version, so they’re left out on purpose. The lesson here is to not get too attached to any version or concept in your work, and feel free to kill your darlings, to eliminate things that don’t work anymore.

Thanks everyone for your input, you’ve given me hope that I really am improving my craft! And now for some XKCD love.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Revision Test!

Revision Test!

21_SS-RevisionCD I’m conducting a test of my revision skills, and I need your help! I’ve re-written a short story called “Android” and I’d like your input to see if I’ve actually improved anything. Below I have two versions, #1 and #2, basically the first ~250 words of the original version, and the revised version.  I’m not telling you which is which. Read through both, and then answer the questions below. Feel free to email me your answers at iapetus999 at gmail dot com. By the way, feel free to read either version first, just note which one it was.

Version #1

The harsh tone tore through my head. I dropped my tools and turned towards the window of my store. There, over in the town square, the procession dragged the struggling figure through the streets. My hands shook as I hustled out my customers and locked up my store.

Not another one. Not so soon. Not another android.

The crowd assembled in minutes. Anyone within the range of that tone would come running. The figure screamed and struggled as they pulled it up onto the Stockade, clamping its arms and feet to the metal beams. The sun shone high in a deep green sky, casting few shadows and warming my neck. The crowd buzzed with anticipation and dismay. I stepped closer, wondering whom the androids had stolen this time. I stopped in my tracks. Nancy Perkins? She was one of my regular customers. A wife, a mother—I considered running away, unable to stomach the thought, but this monster up on the stockade, it had to pay. They had to be stopped, one way or another. We had to remain ever vigilant against the android invasion.

I pushed my way up to the front. I wanted to know: how did an android completely replace Nancy Perkins down to the last detail? This thing in front of us, this awful, soulless creature was created to deceive us. But I knew underlying that soft, human exterior lay the cold metal of an unfeeling robot, simply programmed to subvert our community and our way of life. What had become of Nancy? Was she killed? Tortured? I shuddered to think about it.

Version #2

The throbbing notes of the town bell pummeled my heart like a jackhammer. I snatched my jacket as I rushed out of my store to observe the horrible spectacle. The town square hummed with anticipation and dread. A quick question confirmed my worst fears: a horrible android had been caught, and would be dismantled. The faces around me echoed my fear and anger. This time the androids stole Nancy Perkins. I shook my head in dismay. The crowd erupted into rancorous shouts and curses as the android appeared. In the center of the town square the android clone of Nancy Perkins screamed and protested hysterically to the stern constables escorting it to the stockade. They handled it roughly, fearful of its android mechanical power. I had barely known Nancy. A mother of two, rarely frequented my store, but I had always thought of her as a kind, beautiful woman. The men cuffed its wrists to the arms of the machine, and firmly strapped its kicking legs to the base. They clamped its head to the back, until its only possible movement remained the rapid heaving of its chest and blinking of its eyes. The android’s protests and tears didn’t fool me. It was an android, how could it feel anything? It was just an act, an attempt to create pity so we might spare its life.

Ever since I could remember, I had hated androids. They were a blight on the world, an evil presence so profound I relished and celebrated their deaths.


  1. Which version did you read first?
  2. Which version interested you more in reading the whole story?
  3. Which version would you say is better? Why? (briefly)
  4. Which do you think is the revised version?
  5. Any other thoughts? Ideas for improvement?
  6. Would you be willing to critique the whole piece (8000 words)? Send me an email offline.

Thanks for your time! I’ll tabulate the results and post them soon!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Why is the Hero the Hero?

Why is the Hero the Hero?

superman-vs.harrypotter I’m going to interrupt my Scene Structure series to look a little bit at overall Character Development. In my previous post, I made this comment (slightly altered for clarity):

Why is this particular character the hero in this story? Why does he get to be the hero? It’s almost like I'm annoyed at the author's choice for the hero.

Now there are a lot of traditional explanations, things like:

  • The Hero has the most to gain/lose.
  • The Hero undergoes the largest transformation.
  • The Hero puts others before himself.

But the thing I’m really asking today is this:

Why does the Hero of any given story deserve to be the Hero?

Why is Harry Potter get to be all magical? Why Superman have all the kewl powers? But I’m not talking about those guys. Those questions are fairly easy to answer, but often I watch a movie or read a book and think, “why is this guy getting to be Hero? Why not this other guy? Why not me?” So some kid finds a magical rock and now he’s a Hero. No, it' doesn’t work that way.  A better question would be, “why does Peter Parker get bit by a radioactive spider and become Spiderman? Why him? Why not MJ or Harry Osborn?”

A lot of people believe in the “rags to riches” story format, where the Main Character starts out as an “Ordinary Person” and becomes a Hero. Here’s the thing. Ordinary People don’t become Heroes. Ordinary People fail, they sit at home and watch TV, they go through life doing the best they can, maybe with a few nice accomplishments but overall they just exist. They keep their noses clean, they don’t make a fuss, and they pay their taxes on time, and maybe they get a little something on the side.

Let me make one thing clear. Heroes are not ordinary people. They can have ordinary jobs. They can have normal lives, a wife & 2.5 kids, a dog, and a minivan. But there is something intrinsically different about a Hero.  Here are a few things that I think distinguish Heroes from Ordinary People.

  1. Heroes Act. They struggle. They fight. They want. They desire. They have needs. They make things happen no matter the consequences. They take risks.
  2. Heroes Care. They rail against injustices big and small. They love. They help. They give. They sacrifice.
  3. Heroes have Big Problems. They are NOT satisfied with the status quo. They want more for themselves and others. They identify the obstacles in their lives. They have emotional wounds that won’t heal. They see the world in black and white, right and wrong.
  4. Heroes Dream. This may be the most important one of all. They think about what can be, what should be, what will be. They have vision (and sometimes literally have visions), and see the world differently. They can see beyond the current crisis to the final resolution.

So take a look at your characters. Is there any particular reason they are the Hero? Or are they just in the right place at the right time? What makes them extraordinary? What makes them uniquely qualified to tackle the obstacles in the story and save the day? And look deeper than, “well, he has super-human strength,” because Superman’s not Superman because he’s stronger than a locomotive.  But going back to the Peter Parker case, why him? And I think it’s because of all the things in that list above. He’s a dreamer, he acts, he has issues he needs to resolve, and he cares. Even if he hadn’t been bitten, he’d probably been a Hero anyways. The spider powers are just a bonus.

Does your Hero deserve to be a Hero? What can you do to strengthen his case?

Whoops! Blogfest – Steam Palace


Here’s my entry in the Whoops! Blogfest. Click the link to find the other entries.

NOTE: Prudencia has just arrived home after a long journey where she had gone missing and presumed dead. From my WIP Steam Palace.

The sounds of crying met her at the door. She rushed up to Bea's bedroom to find the woman on the edge of her bed, her head on her hands, sobbing. "Aunt Bea! Aunt Bea! I'm home! I'm alive."

"Oh, Prudencia!" The women hugged. "I heard you were well yesterday. I'm so relieved you're back. But that's not why I'm crying."

Prudencia released the woman. "What is it, Auntie? Why are you so sad?"

Bea flopped onto the bed. "I just completed a visit with my physician."

An icy hand gripped Prudencia's heart. "Oh, no. Please don't tell me you're at death's door. I couldn't stand it."

"No, no. It's much worse. I'm so ashamed. All my life, I've lived a certain way, believed certain things. And now—Oh, Prudencia, what am I to do?"

"Bea, what is it? What happened? Is it a dreadful disease? A hideous infection?" Prudencia couldn't fathom what upset her Aunt so.

"I cannot bring my lips to say it."

"Beatrice Harwinton, tell me this instant what is going on."

The woman swallowed. "I—I—I'm pregnant!"



Friday, February 19, 2010

Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road?

Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road?

farm10 Suppose you’ve never heard that one before, and someone casually asked you this question. You might recognize the question as a set-up for the punch line, then run potential answers through your mind.

Was something chasing the chicken?
Was there birdfeed on the other side?
Was he returning home for the day? (yes I know that would make him a rooster)
Was his wife calling?
Were his chicks in trouble?
Was the coop on fire?
Was a storm brewing?

You start thinking about motivations, about what could possess a chicken to cross a road. At least nowadays roads can be treacherous with speeding cars and trucks. You might sense some conflict in that statement, as the chicken is clearly taking direct action, perhaps against a perceived threat or opportunity.

What’s happening is that the author of this riddle (unknown) is setting up the reader for a surprise, for a twist. He’s taking everything he suspects you know about riddles, jokes, stories, and using that to invent an ending that will surprise and enlighten you. One hundred thousand word novels should be no different.

This reminds me of the ending of Gran Torino (Major Spoiler if you haven’t seen it which I highly recommend). The writer of the screenplay Nick Schenk sets up to believe that Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood)  is hell-bent on revenge and about to shoot it up with the local gang of rapists. So he confronts the gang, reaches his hand into his pocket, pulls it out quickly, and is summarily gunned down by the gang. Except…he wasn’t armed at all. Schenk had all the clues in there to Walt’s real intentions, but the audience is led to believe that he is out for vigilante justice. In that instant, the entire meaning and theme of the movie has changed.

Think about how you are setting up your readers. Are you telegraphic everything, or laying subtle hints along the way? When your readers get to the equivalent line as

To get to the other side

are they surprised at how simple yet profound the ending is? The Chicken/Road riddle works because we’re completely thrown off by the question. How can something so simple be the answer? In tons of books, the Hero eventually “does the right thing.” It’s as simple as crossing the road. It’s kind of a basic premise of all fiction, to illustrate moral values. Yet with everything else going on, it’s amazing how confused characters can become. So in literary terms, we can then convert the Chicken/Road riddle to the basic riddle underlying all literature:

Q: Why does the Main Character go on all these adventures, endure hardships, fight villains, survive ordeals, and save the world from total annihilation?
(select the text of the answer with a mouse or type ctrl-a to reveal it)

A: Because that’s what he does.

Now for those thinking this post was about something else, here are some Chicken/Road jokes I’ve stolen off the Internets.

Q: Why did the chicken cross the road halfway?
A: She wanted to lay it on the line.
Q: Why did the rubber chicken cross the road?
A: She wanted to stretch her legs.
Q: Why did the Roman chicken cross the road?
A: She was afraid someone would caesar!
Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
A: To prove to the possum it could actually be done!
Q: Why did the dead chicken cross the road?
A: I don’t know but I’m not hanging around to find out!
Q: Why did the Rooster cross the road?
A: Why that’s where the chickens are!
Q: Why did the schizo chicken cross the road?
A: So they could get to the other side.

Okay I made a couple of those up.

Next Week: How the Chicken vs. Egg riddle applies to Character Development.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Scene Structure Part III – Characters

Part of an ongoing series on Scene Structure.


So far we’ve talked about Setting, that your scene needs to take place somewhere, and Theme, that your Scene needs to matter to the rest of the story. But of course, your scene is going to require some Characters.

Let me start with a Question.

If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a scene?


Answer: Not unless it falls on the bad guy. Or onto my bedroom, as in the case in the picture above. (from Dec. 2006)

Today we’re not going to get into the myriad aspects of what makes good Conflict, but let’s talk about a few other aspects of Character and how it relates to Scenes. First of all, every scene contains a Protagonist. This is not necessarily the “good guy” or the main character. In terms of scene, this is the main actor of a given scene. Even in 1st Person POV*, if the narrator is talking about what happens to someone else, that someone else becomes the Protagonist of that particular scene. However, a good rule of thumb is that the Protagonist usually is the POV character—the  “person of interest” if you will.

A couple things identify a Protagonist in a specific scene:

  1. The Protagonist has at least one goal for the scene worth acting upon. A Protagonist does not let others dictate his immediate future.
  2. Those goals drive the Scene and the Conflict.
  3. We know enough about this person to understand why he’s here, although we may not know his motivations. If not, these reasons should become apparent. If you include a scene with a clockmaker trying to fill his quota, then he never shows up again, ask yourself if that scene was really necessary.
  4. The Protagonist acts, not just thinking, observing, or passively participating. If she’s sitting in a coffee shop working on a term paper and there’s a hold-up, then make sure this hold-up affects her goals. Maybe she acts small to avoid notice. Maybe she argues with them. Maybe they try to steal her laptop with the term paper and she goes ballistic. But if the scene is, “while she’s sitting there, robbers come in, hold up the barista, steal her laptop, and she thinks about lunch,” then you might have an issue.
  5. The Protagonist has a certain mood or emotional state. “Glad to be in the scene,” is not a valid state. Happy, sad, curious, concerned, frightened, envious, lustful, disgusted, what is their state? Is it clear?

Character Scene Structure Goals

  • Include at least one character acting on their goals. Without a character, you are just writing exposition, which can be interesting but it’s not a scene.
  • Characters must come alive on the page. Gestures, expressions, speech patterns, clothing, body language, inner thoughts, all these things can be used to reveal your character’s goals and current mood. If you were observing the scene, what would you notice about the character? If your character is the POV character, what would they notice about themselves? Others?
  • Her actions must match her mood and goals. Characters act for specific reasons. If your character’s dog just died, she’s probably not going to be that excited about going out on a date with a stranger. She’s going to act mopey and depressed, and her goal may be to exit the date as soon as possible.
  • Stories are about people who go out and do things and learn from their mistakes. Whereas most of us spend our lives sitting in front of the TV, reading books, or farting around on the Internet, fictional characters live eventful lives and go out and do interesting things and meet interesting people. So a scene where your character watches TV or reads or plays Farmville is not going to cut it. Cut it.

Non Goals

  • Don’t explicitly explain motivations and backstory or write detailed character profiles in your scene. Let the character’s action speak for themselves, and only fill in backstory when absolutely necessary.
  • Every character in your scene will have differing goals, even when they agree. This also helps distinguish your characters from one another. If you find you have two characters who essentially want the same thing, consider combining them into one character.
  • Avoid writing character actions “because this needs to happen now.” Keep your characters consistent, but not completely predictable because that’s boring. Make them have unique approaches to solving their problems, but their goals should be fairly universal, like eating, making friends, avoiding zombies, etc.
  • Reacting ≠ Acting. Even if your character is being chased by evil hordes of zombies, give him a specific escape goal like climbing to a roof or reaching the zombie-proof über-tank. Sitting there getting your feelings hurt is not acting. Sitting there getting your feelings hurt and plotting sweet revenge is better.

What are your characters trying to accomplish in a given Scene? How do you show the reader?

*POV Point Of View. We’ll get into POV in another installment.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Best Idea Ever – Friday Flash Fiction

The Best Idea Ever

funny-pictures-cat-has-an-idea You’ve all heard this before, but for the novitiates among you, let me recap. I had this idea for a story. A story beyond any story that’s ever been told or written or conceived. The most fabulous concept ever. It would break hearts and alter the course of nations. The most mind-blowing apocalyptic meaningful tome ever written. The most incredible piece of fiction ever set to paper. The Best. Idea. Ever.

But then, you’ll remember, my friend stole it.

You see, I was so excited about it that I started blabbing everywhere about it—online, in coffee shops, in my writing groups, on my blog—I mean, how could I not? This is The Best Idea Ever. People had to know. I mean, if you really follow what I wanted to lay out in my book, it would have completely blown your mind. I’m talking seizures. Cognitive dismemberment.

Sigh. Let’s just say that blabbing about The Best Idea Ever was NOT “The Best Idea Ever.”

So, I’m sitting there, just reading the online news, checking out book reviews and stuff, and there It is. Number One Bestseller. By Idea Stealer Backstabber. How did I miss this? Heck—I hadn’t really written that much of it so far—I’m a busy guy. But my “friend” really screwed me. Hard.

Day by day I watched the world digest this novel novel, translated into every language. Classes rebelled. Schools rioted. Armies formed and then disbanded. Governments collapsed. World leaders fell. Whole societies altered their way of life. All due to MY IDEA. People raged against the old system. I had exposed it all, torn it out by its foundations. I mean—let’s get real here—my “former friend” exposed it all. Sales of all other books dropped to virtually nothing. Soon, my ex-friend’s book became the only book available. Contests were held to see who could memorize every line, every word, and recite it non-stop. Pageants judged who could look and act most like the recommendations in The Best Idea Ever.

Then it got out of hand.

Every street and billboard exploded with posters about The Best Idea Ever. Every TV show raged about how they were more “in line” with The Best Idea Ever than the others. I had created a world of perfect people, in perfect harmony. I couldn’t stand it any more. I had to act. I couldn’t let my treacherous friend reap all the benefits. So I went to my lawyer, filed a lawsuit, and during the “Trial of the Ages,” produced irrefutable documents which dated the origin of The Best Idea Ever to my account. My diabolical friend was exposed.


Well, you see, there’s a good deal of “faith” involved in The Best Idea Ever. My unfortunate friend was almost a god, a gazillionaire, a world leader, and the most influential person on the planet. Except for this one small detail, mankind had the prophet they had searched for for millennia. My unfriendly friend had plagiarized me, no doubt about it. Not all the details of the book, not the implementation of my idea, just the core concepts. Okay, fine, I give my opportunistic friend credit for writing and publishing and promoting it blah blah blah. But still, it was my idea. My Best Idea Ever.

You see, without faith, there is no belief. I mean that’s right on Page Five for crying out loud!

Anyways, The Best Idea Ever had solved all the world’s problems, and we lived in a utopia beyond reproach. But now, people started to doubt The Best Idea Ever. Question it. If the author had cheated, how could they believe one iota of information in it? I mean, come on, nothing my dubious friend did invalidated the actual core idea, but...


Things fell apart like snowman in the burning desert. Hunger. Fighting. Wars. Disease. Death. All because I had to open my mouth ONCE AGAIN and BLAB. Why couldn’t I have just handled this quietly? Why did anyone have to get hurt? Now, you can argue that “maybe my idea wasn’t that good” because it collapsed so easily, but imagine if my unfortunate friend had died instead of being sued! My would-be-dead friend would be a martyr, and those teachings would live on forever. But now, the book burnings, the public humiliation, I don’t know.

We had come so close. And lost it all.

I guess the moral of all this is that if you have a great idea, and by some stupid reason you blab it, and then someone runs with your idea and changes the world, then just go ahead and kill that person. Or just forget it. You’ll sleep better, they’ll live on either way, and everyone will be happy.

Thanks for listening. Sorry for all that crap I put the world through. I hope someday you can forgive me. Anyways I just wanted to tell everyone that I’ve come up with the sequel, The Even Better Best Idea Ever, and I’m busy writing it.

Do you think I should show it to my friend?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Scene Structure Part II: Theme

Part of an ongoing series on Scene Structure.


mobydick Your book has a Theme*. It’s the whole reason you wrote the book, the point you’re trying to make. Here are some examples of themes:

  • Power Corrupts
  • Grieving is a Process
  • Love Conquers All
  • The Pen is Mightier than the Sword
  • Fight for What’s Right
  • Illness can be Overcome
  • Children are a Blessing

Every single scene in your book should contain a microcosm or a slice of the overall theme. Let’s take “Grief” for example. We’ve all heard of the Five Stages of Grief. We can assume that your character is travelling through these stages. So how does each scene encompass this theme? Well, your character is either in denial, angry, bargaining, depressed, or accepting. You may have some scenes in the beginning of the book where the character is not grieving, but even on those cases, there should be some Foreshadowing of the main theme. Why is your character uniquely set up to grieve in a way that readers will connect with? Grief comes from loss, so clearly illustrate what the character is about to lose.

Another way to think about Theme is to compare it to Blogging. You follow different bloggers for different reasons. You may follow this blog for writing tips. If today I decided to post a long analysis of yesterday’s Superbowl, comparing the Saints’ aggressive tactics with some of the greatest performances in Superbowl history, many of you would yawn and move to the next blog, and maybe a couple would be interested. This is what happens when you go off theme—you lose the reader. If you give the grieving character a love interest and start exploring themes of step-families and child-rearing, unless this love interest directly relates to the grieving process, you will confuse the reader. Sure, some would relate, and might find it interesting, but generally it’s just a distraction that will detract from the overall story. If you go off-theme, make sure you have a good reason that will make sense to the reader in the end.

Theme Goals

  • Every Scene explores part of the Main Theme. If your character adopts a puppy, their grief should color the entire transaction, from choice of dog to how they treat the pup.
  • Even the Secondary Themes must relate to the Main Theme. Maybe there’s a right and wrong way to grieve. Some of the subplots can explore how certain people get stuck in certain stages. They still must be related.
  • Each character explores a different aspect of the same theme. They play the different roles needed for your main character move forwards. Some might have dealt with grief before. How do they help? Some might never have experienced this level of loss. How does their lack of empathy hurt the main character?


  • At no time should you tell, clue, or otherwise inform the reader what the Theme of your novel is. This is for the reader to decide. You might have thought your Theme was “Grieving is a long, hard process,” but your reader might think, “the love of your friends and family help you through hard times” and never even think about the Stages of Grief. I read a YA book recently where the author put a blurb in front of each chapter explaining what the theme of each chapter was. I usually disagreed with her and found the blurbs annoying. Do not hammer your reader over the head with the theme.
  • On the other hand, don’t hide the theme too deeply. Remember, you are trying to illustrate a point or teach a lesson about life through your characters, so when you draw your conclusion at the end, the reader should understand completely, even if they weren’t sure before. If you go on and on about dealing with grief and then your character succeeds by learning that Power Corrupts and he should give away his riches, you’ve lost the reader. Why go through the grieving process if your character doesn’t learn something from it, and then a magic fairy gives him an elixir that makes him feel all better?

Do you know what the themes are in your writing? Have you checked to make sure you move them forward in every scene?

*Image is apparently the cover art for some edition of Moby Dick. What’s the theme of that book, and how does Melville show that in every scene?

Friday, February 5, 2010

World Building: The Steam Palace

World Building: The Steam Palace

Part of my revision course involves documenting my world as it exists in my draft. Since I’m a visual person, I decided to draw up a few things on my whiteboard so that I have a visual record of my world. I took a picture of the Steam Palace drawing and created The Official Steam Palace Poster. I think you can tell which part I drew on the whiteboard. If I only had a real artist’s rendition…

Steam Palace Poster 

Official Steam Palace Poster

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Real Mechohorse!

A Real Mechohorse!

My Steampunk Adventure/Romance WIP Steam Palace is filled with these kinds of mechanical contraptions, and here is one in real life!

OMG, this is my third blog today. I think I’m going to break something.

Anyways, while over at ann foxlee’s blog, I found this “Racehopper” fashioned by Brian Addison Elliot:

shapeimage_2 Yes, it’s little and tiny, and I don’t know if it even can move, but think of them scaled up by 5x, with mounted machine guns, and you’ll get the picture. Now all we need is a steam engine and some gears!

Another Excerpt of Steam Palace Online

Another Excerpt of Steam Palace Online

For those of you who can’t get enough of the wacky Steam Palace, my Steampunk Romance/Adventure set in an alternate-history New England, Victoria Mixon has graciously conducted a “Edit your Climax” for my WIP.

Check it out! I hope I didn’t give away too much…

Fight Scene Blogfest Entry

Fight Scene Blogfest Entry

Okay the blogfest was technically yesterday but I just found out about it. This is a rough first-draft sequence from Steam Palace. See the other blogfest entries.

Dirt and mud exploded around them as shells burst around them. “What do they want from us,” she screamed. She zigzagged, hoping to foul their range, but if the two columns of mechohorses on either side converged, they would be caught in a deadly crossfire of bullets. Already, a number of pellets impacted the mechohorse, but it proved resistant to their force, although Prudencia fretted about her charges hanging loose on the back with no protection. She dared not look back lest she tumble the horse with one misstep. Thomas kept steady pressure on her shoulder, assuring her that he still lived.

The trees failed to draw much closer, but the Reichlanders did. Now the air fairly filled with their deadly gunfire. Prudencia knew they had but seconds to live, when a shadow crossed the field.

To their right, a mechohorse exploded, its flywheels disintegrating into high powered shrapnel. A bomb landed near another group, rolling them over on their backs and crushing their occupants.

“It’s an airwarship, and I don’t think it’s ours,” cried Thomas. The mechohorses to their left opened fire on the ship, a giant whale of a vessel, but it unleashed a withering fire, sitting beyond the range of the ground gunners. Another airship approached from their rear, dangling ropes with loops on their ends. “Pru, they intend to hoist us up. We may have only one pass. Keep the horse straight and level, and they will come from behind. When the ropes pass us, you need to follow them, and Lily and I will put them on. Ready?”

Prudencia aimed for the woods, knowing that if this failed, they would have some shelter in there. Ropes appeared out of nowhere before her and to her left, and she headed for them. They floated overhead while the mothership laid down a withering fire on all the horses, causing them to pause and regroup. The forest drew near, and the ropes floated above them, out of reach. “They will try again!”

Prudencia maintained her heading, pulling back a notch as the pursuers were otherwise occupied. The ropes appeared once more, and this time Thomas reached up and secured two of them, a third floating out behind them. He helped Lily into hers, then put his on. “Keep up the pace! When I pat you, stand up and raise your hands. I will grasp you under the arms, and hold on tight! Ready?”

Prudencia tensed. A hand slapped her shoulder. She released the controls, and stood up, the trees just ahead of them. Strong arms encircled her, then she felt herself rise out of the horse. “Be strong, my love, we should be aboard in seconds. Don’t tell them anything.” came a voice behind her. The trees approach as the mechohorse continued beneath them. The arms tugged her, and she rose precipitously, just missing the uppermost branches. The mechohorse slammed into a tree, its front left leg detaching and the middle left bending unnaturally. Another mechohorse dead.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Scene Structure Part I: Setting

After my series on Story Structure, I’ve decided to begin a series on Scene Structure.


shrek-scenery Every scene needs a Setting. Everything happens somewhere, where it’s on the plains of the Serengeti, the inner contours of the human brain, a derelict spacecraft, or a 2-dimensional Flatland, your Setting is a crucial piece of your story.

Some people have described Setting as the Third Main Character (after Protagonist and Antagonist). It’s a great way to create Conflict: create a setting that actively helps or hinders your Protagonist. A setting is filled with wondrous objects and activities. Divide the setting into these general categories.

  • Background – The walls, the static objects, things you can’t really interact with. Use all 5 senses to describe. What can the characters see? Smell? Hear? Touch?
  • Items – Things that can be interacted with. Doors or thresholds, weapons, cell phones, steering wheels, keys, the gun that wasn’t there five minutes ago. These can be props or doohickeys or thingamajigs, all with certain rules governing their usage.
  • Activities – What is going on? Are there people chatting? Spaceships approaching? Dragons circling? Kids playing innocently? Signs flashing dire warnings? An angry crowd forming? A volcano erupting?
  • Potential Obstacles – What in the setting could be potential pitfalls? The cop sitting by the window. The growling dog. A watering system about to turn on. Laser beams crisscrossing the room.

bad coffee FryThe more lifelike you make your Setting, the more your Characters can interact with it. Think about where you’re sitting right now as you read this. I’m in a coffee shop. Nothing much going on, but let’s make this coffee shop come alive as a Character.

  • Background – Coffee products, menus, customers, newspapers, baristas, cloudy sky, coffee smell, soft music, bathroom, trash can, tables & chairs, lighting, wi-fi, TV, territorial view of gas station/strip mall, lighting. I can describe each of these in detail, but unless this coffee shop is in every scene, I should only describe a couple.
  • Items – Laptops, newspapers, coffee cups, cell phones, doors, wallets, snacks, coffee condiments
  • Activities – Man bringing in supplies, baristas cooking, cars passing by, kids playing, people coming and going, conversations, news on the TV
  • Potential Obstacles – Hot coffee, spilled coffee, loud conversations, hostile customers, annoying kids, high prices, empty wallet, bitchy baristas, no tables, piles of trash or dirty tables, “out of” your order, order made wrong, fire alarm, occupied or broken bathroom, bad music, bad news on the TV, policemen entering for drinks, random people entering with issues, cars plowing through the window,  lights failing, espresso machine exploding, loud machinery, overpowering stenches, furniture breaking, robbery of store, customer fist fight, ringing cell phones, crying babies. You can see how an innocent coffee shop is filled with peril.

So how do we turn this coffee shop into a living, breathing character? First of all, you must start with your character’s Goal. Why is he here? Why a coffee shop? Why not a barber shop or a grocery store?  Is he here with a date? Is he flirting with the help? Is he working on an important assignment?  Is he worthless without coffee? Trying to relax after a hard day? A quick pick-me-up? A clandestine yet public meeting? Applying for a job here? Delivering supplies?

Once you know the character’s Goal, figure out what he notices about the coffee shop. If he’s in a hurry, it’s the slow service. If he has a headache, it’s the loud conversations. If he’s eyeing the barista, it’s her charm coupled with her disinterest. If he’s on his way to an interview, of course he’s going to spill the coffee on himself. Make the Setting Matter. If he’s struggling with commitment, fill it with either blissfully happy or hatefully arguing couples. Think of yourself as a god. It’s your job to create a setting that guides your characters in a certain direction, like there’s an “Unseen Hand” moving your character along. If your character is in a bad mood, the cheerful flowers mock him, they don’t soothe him. If he’s in a great mood, then the coffee is outstanding, and everyone in the room hushes in his presence.

Setting Goals

  • Reflect the character’s mood. It’s a dark place if he’s in a dark mode. It’s a flowery, glittery place if he’s feeling romantic.
  • Be there for a reason. Private Eyes don’t set up meetings in schoolyards unless somehow the children are involved. They go to back alleys or somewhere obscure.
  • Interact in an appropriate way. Coffee shops don’t have copy machines and book printers. That’s an office store.
  • Include only the items that matter to the story. Don’t tell me that the coffee shop has brochures and urns of creamer, unless the brochures tell me something important or the urns contain spoiled milk. Maybe the kids are loud, but if your character is a parent of five, the kids probably don’t bother him like they would a bachelor with little experience.
  • Use all five senses. Smells are especially evocative for readers. It’s our oldest and most powerful sense. Every scene smells like something. If I tell you “the coffee shop exploded with the aroma of bittersweet java mixed with vanilla and chocolate overtones,” that’s far more powerful than saying “they offered espresso, mocha, and flavored drinks.”
  • Focus. In Deep POV or First Person POV, focus on what the POV character experiences, and nothing more. But even in wider POV’s, it’s good to limit the description to what impresses the characters.
  • Detail. The more important a setting, the more it should be described. Conversely, if your Character is only “passing through” on his way to another setting, don’t bother with much if any description.

Non Goals

  • Don’t include every detail in nauseating exposition. Stick to a couple important points. Find the most efficient (fewest words) way to convey the scene. Endless descriptions bore the reader, and leave him struggling to figure out what’s important.
  • Don’t highlight (or even mention) items that don’t matter. Don’t describe a fabulous mug for sale unless he buys it, breaks it, or throws it at someone.
  • Don’t avoid setting altogether. Give the reader something to hold onto. “We were sitting there drinking coffee…” does not imply anything about setting. Where is “there”?
  • Don’t make the setting completely static. Unless you’re in a sensory deprivation tank, there’s always something happening. Doesn’t mean describe everything, but what are the things that impact the characters?

How has Setting affected your story? How can you use the Setting for a greater impact?