Friday, December 23, 2005

Merry Christmas and A Great New Year!

This will be my last post of 2005 as I take off time to be with my family through New Years. I will begin posting again on Tuesday, January 3.

BGs, I want to send you the warmest Christmas wishes in blogdom. You certainly deserve them. You all have hung out with me this year through all kinds of things. We've gone from the erudite (craft of fiction talk) to the ridiculous (drugs 'n' dentists, now there's a match). For months you followed me through my Never Ending Saga about my journey toward publication, until one day it finally become the Now Ended Saga. Who'd ever have guessed it would go on some, what was it, 60-some posts? Maybe more. Hmm. Wish I could put that word count toward the book I'm writing.

You have blessed me and encouraged me, and I've loved reading your feedback and comments. Those of you who've never commented, thanks to you, too, for taking the time to stop by regularly. This blog is read by authors who are unpublished to those who are multi-published, and by agents and editors. An interesting community of people and opinions. And I'm thankful for every one of you.

I pray for you and your families this season to experience the joy of having each other, and to experience renewed amazement and wonderment at the birth of Jesus. As for the new year, I would pray for us all to pursue a closer walk with our Savior.

Throughout next year I hope you'll tell me of topics you'd like to discuss. I want this blog to continue to be entertaining to readers and helpful to those writing their own fiction.

I have some great things to look forward to in 2006. As you know, two more novels of mine will release. Web of Lies is coming real soon now. And Violet Dawn will release in August. Violet Dawn was my first novel to be written while this blog was going on. Some of you even gave me ideas for some of the secondary characters' idiosyncracies. (Those of you who did are, of course, in the book's acknowledgments.)

In a few months the marketing will gear up for Violet Dawn and the whole Kanner Lake series. As an addition to Zondervan's marketing campaign, I came up with my own unique ideas for marketing the series, which Z has now approved. There are details to be worked out. When all details are in place, I will tell you the plans. In fact, you BGs will be the first to know. The plans are going to be a lot of fun and innovative. And they're going to involve as many of you as would like to participate. There will be incentives for those of you who do. (BGs will get first dibs at filling the slots of participation before the opportunity is extended to anyone else.) For those of you who don't want to participate, it will be a kick just to watch what happens. Nothin' like puttin' the process out there for everybody to see. Y'all might see the ideas fall flat, or you might witness the whole process taking off like a rocket. I'd prefer the latter, but no doubt the path to the former would still be entertaining.

So here's to 2006. Hope you'll stick with me. Y'all have been a joy and a delight, and great encouragement to this cabinet-kickin' author.

A wonderful, big, warm Merry Christmas to you all!

Please feel free to post your season's greetings to the rest of the BGs.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Song Lyrics--Part 4

Yesterday in her comment, Becky said she didn't feel nearly as empathetic with the guys (she called them "clowns"!) in the song we're looking at as I evidently felt. But, she admitted, maybe that's because she hadn't heard the song. She said: Doesn't the music play a significant part in how we feel in a song? And maybe in novel writing too, if we pay attention to creating lyrical prose???

Yes, a valid point. After all, in a song, the venue is the tune. If I don't like the music, I'm probably not going to listen to a song just for its lyrics. This song "The Right Side of Wrong" put me in the mood to listen to its lyrics in the first place by starting with a slow, ballad-type tune. Well, I happen to like rock ballads, so when I heard that, I was ready to listen.

Becky's right that this can translate into novel writing. A great story idea and even great characters can still make for a poorly executed novel if we don't learn the craft well. How do we put readers in the mood in the very first page, even paragraph, to listen to our story? By writing with a strong voice, a voice with authority, that you can believe. And there ain't no quick way of obtaining such a thing. Years of practice is what it takes.

Becky used the term lyrical prose as the thing to strive for. Yes, I'd agree creating lyrical prose helps give a writer a strong voice. It's just that folks may interpret that phrase in different ways. (And, Becky, I'm not sure what your interpretation is.) To me lyrical prose means the unusual turn of phrase, descriptions using metaphor and simile, story with embedded symbolism, etc. That's great stuff and makes for good writing, as long as the "lyrical prose" isn't a means unto itself. An author can easily wax too eloquent in a phrase, and in so doing, diminish the emotional impact. I think in the end lyrical prose (as I define it) has to be mixed with strong characterization and story structure. These together give an author that authoritative voice that pulls readers along.

So maybe the rest of you out there, who've never heard "The Right Side of Wrong", were like Becky. Sheesh, I didn't care about those guys; I thought they were idiots. How funny. Guess it's kinda like reading ho-hum back cover copy, then listening to someone else rave about how great the book was and thinking, Huh? Didn't sound like much to me.

Comparing a song to a novel also reminds us that no way are we going to please everyone. Those of you who hate rock music, or at least this particular artist, wouldn't listen to the song we've discussed if someone paid you. Couldn't care less what it has to say, either. Just ain't your cup of tea. Doesn't make it a bad song; it's just not for you. Unfortunately, that's all too true for our novels. The fair readers will say, "Well, the book may have merit; it's just not my kind of story." The unfair readers will say your novel is terrible just because they don't like the genre.

I'm wrapping up this discussion today, but I would like to see your comments. If you want to continue the topic further, you can take it over to the discussion board. Although I'm thinkin' at this point our thoughts are turning to Christmas and all the presents we haven't yet bought, and the guests about to arrive.

I will post tomorrow, then will take next week off. Tomorrow's post will wrap up this year and talk a little about what you can expect next year from this blog. Hard to believe I've been blogging for almost a year now. I'll also ask for any ideas you might have for this blog in '06.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Song Lyrics--Part 3

Yesterday in looking at the lyrics of "The Right Side of Wrong," we established all the groundwork laid for the story in the first two stanzas. We talked about how we as listeners (or readers, if this were a book) are pulled to empathize with the two protagonists. I think we'd all agree that by the first two stanzas, we're with these guys, foolish as they might be in what they're planning.

Then the song cuts to the chorus:

I got a half tank of gas, and if we run all the lights,
We'll slip across the border on the wrong side of right.
And just like Butch and Sundance, we'll ride until the dawn,
Sipping whiskey, singing cowboy songs On the Right Side of Wrong.

Interesting, the elements that happen here. (1) The first line ups the ante of the underdog nature of the protagonists. Everything has to go perfectly right for these guys. They have no plan B. They don't even have gas to spare. All the lights better be green so they can keep on going. My immediate reaction is, sheesh these guys are never gonna make it.

As a novelist, how could you translate the effect of the chorus's first line into a plot point that would up the ante for your protagonists?

(2) The second line is the first time we see that the protagonists know deep down that what they're doing is wrong. They admit that, even if they make it, they'll be on the "wrong side of right."

(3) Line three is a reaction from line two, as if the protagonists don't want to face that moral reality. So they pull back from it, begin to romanticize what they're doing. They're likeable guys, like Butch and Sundance. (Never mind that those two got blitzed in the end--let's not talk about that.)

(4) Fourth line continues the romanticizing. It'll all be cool! We'll drink and sing, life will be merry! And look at the final chorus phrase: on the right side of wrong. Wow. What a turnaround from line 2. They're totally lying to themselves at this point. Rationalizing what they're doing.

Fascinating inner conflict. How could you use a similar type sequence in a book?

Next stanza:

We picked a helluva of a night, from the shore I see the skyline.
In a couple of hours from now, Rick, we're gonna get out of this life.
We'll stop for smokes. I brought a six pack. We'll stop at lookers on the way back.
We'll laugh this off, keep your fingers crossed that all goes well tonight.

This whole stanza is more romanticizing. Everything is fine and dandy. They're obviously now on their way. I can picture these guys in their car, talking about how fine the night is and how great life's going to be. For me, it's at this stanza when I know they're not going to make it. They're not focused on what they have to do. They're too busy dreaming. It has the feeling that something drastic is going to go wrong.

I'm so empathetic with them at this point that I'm not even thinking, well, they never should have attempted a robbery in the first place. Instead, I'm thinking, drat, if they don't get themselves focused and make a few better plans, they're going down. Now--if this stanza had come sooner, it would have make these guys unlikeable. I'd think--not only are they immoral, they're just plain stupid. But by taking the time in the first two stanzas to establish their plight and their strong Desire to overcome that plight against all odds (the underdog effect), the story has led me to like these guys enough that when I see their frailty and stupidity, I feel sad for them.

I think this is a key point for us novelists, esp. as we deal with protagonists who may not be that likeable. We do have to take time establishing what is likable and understandable about them before we layer on their more difficult characteristics.

Back to chorus, then next stanza:

We'll make the grade, they'll know our names. I need a friend to drive—here,
Wear my necklace of St. Christopher and talk to him while I go inside.
I'll take that suitcase, get the cash and we'll be gone before you know.
Wait until we tell the girls we're moving down to the Gulf of Mexico!

The time to "do the job" is approaching. For a minute they get serious, but by the last line it's back to dreaming again. Although I have this sense that now the moment has come, these guys really are scared, and the last line of the stanza is self pep talk. What's so sad about this last line is that it reminds us of everything that's at stake. If these two guys are caught, their families go down with them. They will ruin many lives. I think of their wives, who probably have no idea what they're up to. This heightens the tension again--so much to lose.

At this point, the song goes into a guitar solo. Good place for it, storywise. It makes us dwell in the crisis, pulls out the tension as to what will happen. Never a good thing to rush through the crisis.

Final stanza:

A friend of a friend needed a favor.
Life was just what happened while we were busy making plans.
We never saw nothing. There was a run-in.
.9 millimeter steel was coming for the windshield of that Oldsmobile
As the cop said, “Show your hands!”

Here's where it all goes wrong. I get the sense they might have pulled it off had they not lost their focus. But they were too busy making plans. And I, law-abiding citizen that I am, feel sorry that they've been caught. I see the sadness for so many people, the waste of it all.

The song ends again with the chorus, which is a poignant reminder, because it puts us back to the moment when the guys were dreaming big and felt on top of the world:

I got a half tank of gas and if we run all the lights,
We'll slip across the border on the wrong side of right.
And just like Butch and Sundance, we'll ride until the dawn,
Sipping whiskey, singing cowboy songs On the Right Side of Wrong.

So few words, yet a full story. One that makes us empathize with protagonists who have questionable morals, dreams based on lies, and bottom line, aren't all that bright. Now if I'd come to you and said I'm going to write a story about two protagonists with those features, you'd probably think no way you'd care what happens to such folks. But a mere song, in less than 200 words, did make us care. I say if a song can make us empathize with characters who on the surface sound unlikable, we should be able to pull off the same in a novel. And this song has given us a few techniques on how to do it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Song Lyrics--Part 2

It's just so hard to figure out how to make characters sympathetic, especially if they're spiritually far away from God at the opening of the story, or making wrong choices. What makes me relate to a character might not make someone else relate at all. How do you evoke sympathy? How do you measure it? -- Camy

Camy's question is exactly why I posted the song lyrics yesterday. The lyrics are compelling because they tell a whole story with very few words. The protagonists are involved in something that's illegal, something we wouldn't approve of, and know could lead to a very bad end. Yet we connect with them. Why? I want to take the song apart today and tomorrow and see just why. And perhaps in doing so, we can answer Camy's question--one that all we novelistsface.

A friend of a friend needs a favor.
No questions asked, there's not much more to say.
Me and the wife, we need the money.
We've got four kids all hungry, one on the way.

In the first stanza we (1) meet the protagonists, (2) learn their plight, and (3) see beginning characterization.

One thing the protagonists have going for them right away is that we're in their POV. We're seeing the world through their eyes. In Ricky's eyes, a guy needs his help--someone whose family is starving. No questions asked. There's not much more to say. Those two lines say a lot about this relationship. Ricky trusts that this guy is telling him the truth. Perhaps they're close friends, and Ricky has seen with his own eyes the plight of the guy's family. Ricky is basically a person who'd help a friend, period. He doesn't need to be asked twice.

So we've got a guy, unnamed, who wants to help his family, and Ricky, the willing friend. What we've got here is a strong Desire (remember those four Ds?) for the protagonists. And the Desire is backed by believable, empathetic motivation. We understand someone who wants to take care of his family. We understand a friend being willing to help.

I submit to you that these things begin to answer Camy's question. Even if a character or characters are going the wrong way, making foolish choices, we can still care about them if we're allowed to (1) fully see the world through their eyes, (2) empathize with their Desire and (3) understand the motivation behind it.

If you have a protagonist who's hard to like, is his/her Desire (even if wrong in itself) and motivation for that Desire based on something that is universally understood and admired?

Slip these sweat socks in your shirt and pray they think your packin'.
Be sure to keep your head down, don't look 'em in the eye.
And don't get fancy, Ricky, we ain't Jimmy Cagney.
Look at me. Let's do the job, and let's get home tonight.

This is a wonderful second stanza of further characterization, which pulls on our empathy even more. We're allowed to see three things. (1) these aren't hardened career criminals. In fact, they really haven't a clue how to pull off what they need to do. In other words, they're the Underdog.

Readers (and song listeners and movie watchers) love to cheer for the underdog. It's a part of Story that goes all the way back to the Greek myths, where poor mortals contended with powerful gods.

(2) We're shown their preparations for the job they must undertake. (Or in Hero's Journey terms, the preparations for the journey they embark on to obtain the elixir. See how well this short song follows the steps in the hero's journey?) Watching these preparations heightens our feelings about them being the underdogs, and builds within us a fear for their safety. Even while we like them more for their naivete, at the same time we fear for them more, because of that same naivete.

Interesting--how one piece of characterization such as this increases our stake in the outcome of the story. We're now really with them, seeing the world from their eyes, planning with them as underdogs. Yet as readers/song listeners, standing back and watching them, we're worried for their safety.

When a reader is concerned about the character, worried about what will happen to that character--he/she keeps turning the pages to see what happens.

(3) We're shown the ending of the story as they envision it. They'll "do the job," then get home. Criminal life behind them, money in their pockets, guy's family saved. Again, this is more of the world through their eyes. Yet here again, the more we see the world through their eyes, the more we see what they have to lose, and how things could go wrong.

We'll look at the rest of the song tomorrow. Feedback?

Monday, December 19, 2005

Learning From Song Lyrics

I love music. I love good tunes. I really love good lyrics. Lyrics that tell a story, that capture you. Unique, poetic lyrics.

Good lyrics inspire me as a writer, particularly those that tell a complete story. I’m captivated and challenged by such songs. Just think of how very few words there are in a song. If you’re going to tell a good story in a song, every word has to count. And here’s the key—the listener must be drawn in immediately to the story. Must immediately care about the main character’s plight and the outcome.

We authors, who tend to spend way too much time on backstory and introduction of our characters, can learn a lot by listening to good ballads. Here’s one from Bon Jovi, one of my fave rockers. (Keep in mind it’s a secular song.) It’s called The Right Side of Wrong. (If you want to get a better feel for the song, you can listen to a portion of the chorus
here.) I choose this song because the first time I heard it, I noticed how quickly I was drawn into the story. Immediately I connected with these guys—even though they’re doing something wrong. And it led me to examine the song—what elements in the lyrics pull me in? To make me almost want them to get away with their crime?

The Right Side of Wrong

A friend of a friend needs a favor.

No questions asked, there's not much more to say.
Me and the wife, we need the money.
We've got four kids all hungry, one on the way.

Slip these sweat socks in your shirt and pray they think your packin'.
Be sure to keep your head down, don't look 'em in the eye.
And don't get fancy, Ricky, we ain't Jimmy Cagney.
Look at me. Let's do the job, and let's get home tonight.

I got a half tank of gas, and if we run all the lights,
We'll slip across the border on the wrong side of right.
And just like Butch and Sundance, we'll ride until the dawn,
Sipping whiskey, singing cowboy songs On the Right Side of Wrong.

We picked a helluva of a night, from the shore I see the skyline.
In a couple of hours from now, Rick, we're gonna get out of this life.
We'll stop for smokes. I brought a six pack. We'll stop at lookers on the way back.
We'll laugh this off, keep your fingers crossed that all goes well tonight.

I got a half tank of gas, and if we run all the lights,
We'll slip across the border on the wrong side of right.
And just like Butch and Sundance we'll ride until the dawn,
Sipping whiskey, singing cowboy songs On the Right Side of Wrong.

We'll make the grade, they'll know our names. I need a friend to drive—here,
Wear my necklace of St. Christopher and talk to him while I go inside.
I'll take that suitcase, get the cash and we'll be gone before you know.
Wait until we tell the girls we're moving down to the Gulf of Mexico!

(guitar solo)

A friend of a friend needed a favor.
Life was just what happened while we were busy making plans.
We never saw nothing. There was a run-in.
.9 millimeter steel was coming for the windshield of that Oldsmobile
As the cop said, “Show your hands!”

I got a half tank of gas and if we run all the lights,
We'll slip across the border on the wrong side of right.
And just like Butch and Sundance, we'll ride until the dawn,
Sipping whiskey, singing cowboy songs On the Right Side of Wrong

What do you think? What makes us care for these guys so quickly? What can we learn from this song about making our own characters empathetic?

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations--Part 5

So how do the 36 situations fit with the Campbell/Vogler Hero’s Journey? Just fine. They’re two different aspects of a story.

You can take any story, as we did with Esther yesterday, and ferret out the various situations used within it. However those situations are put together, the protagonist still needs to weave through all the conflicts that arise in order to obtain his/her desire in the end (or not obtain it, as the author might have it). That pattern of steps the protagonist must go through (regardless of the situations involved) form the “hero’s journey.” The protagonist is still going to start in the Ordinary World, then Receive the Call and want to Reject the Call, etc., as the steps go. (If you are not familiar with the steps in the hero’s journey,
Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey is a must read for your shelves.) This is going to happen whether your story is mostly based on the Supplication situation, or Remorse, or Pursuit, or whatever.

When it comes to creating a story, the 36 situations can be another helpful way to come up with twists. (Note to you new BGs—I covered my approach to creating twists in a series of posts beginning August 31.) What if the premise of your plot looks like it’s one situation, when a major twist reveals it’s really been about another situation all along? This is particularly effective when the two situations are opposites.

This is what happened in that wonderful twisty movie The Sixth Sense. (Warning—spoiler ahead. If you’ve somehow managed to miss seeing this movie, rent it before you read on.) After a near fatal injury, the protagonist sets out to help a young boy who claims he sees dead people. Apparently these dead folks come to the boy not to scare him, but because they need his help in some way. The protagonist wants to help him stop seeing them. It looks like this is a movie based on situation #2—Deliverance (rescuer of his own accord helping the distressed). But after it’s all over, and we see the protagonist had actually died from his wound before he met the boy, we realize the movie was really about #1—Supplication (someone in a weak position, e.g., the protagonist, begging help from someone in a position to help—the boy).

What if situation #3—Crime Pursued by Vengeance—twists into #5—Pursuit (where the fugitive is often innocent)?

What if #7—Falling Prey to Cruelty or Misfortune—twists into #17—Fatal Imprudence?

What if #20—Self-Sacrificing for an Ideal—twists into #16—Madness?

Hm. All sorts of interesting possibilities.

I used the 36 situations once when I needed to create a story (already contracted) and had absolutely no idea for one. I knew I wanted a cool twist. So I looked for those situations that are opposite in nature and went from there. How could the premise, based on the first situation, twist into the second? This method got me started when I had no inspiration.

And that—lack of inspiration—is one huge reason for this kind of study of the craft of fiction. Not just studying how to write POV and dialogue, but the underpinnings of story. Because sooner or later, all of us will need to write and will have no inspiration whatsoever to do so. (Trust me, if you keep writing, this will happen.) It’s one thing for it to happen when you’re not contracted, and you can just give yourself a rest. But what if you have a deadline—and no idea? All you have to fall back on is your knowledge of the craft.


See y'all Monday.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations--Part 4

Today I wish my wonderful Energizer Bunny mom, Ruth Seamands, a VERY HAPPY 89TH BIRTHDAY!! (Many of you know her from ACFW.) You're the best, Mom!

And now back to our regularly scheduled program.

So—only 36 different situations. How come there’s a gazillion stories out there? The nuances and differences lie in these factors:

1. Depth and uniqueness of the ties of friendship/kinship between characters. Look at #32, Mistaken Jealousy, for example. A mother/daughter story, in which the daughter is jealous because she believes her widowed mother is showing some suitor more attention than her, is a very different story from Othello, where two lovers are involved.

2. Degree of free will and conscious knowledge toward the end the characters are pursuing. I think this includes, but isn’t limited to, the conscious desire vs. unconscious desire story. A character may be pursuing Ending A, while really what he/she wants is Ending B. In this scenario, the story premise can be based on two different situations—one representing the conscious pursuit, and one representing the unconscious desire.

3. The energy of the actions in the situation. For example, murder can be diminished to a desire to murder, or even to only a blow or a too-hasty word. Or it can be multiplied and aggravated.

4. Instead of two adversaries, one or both can be substituted with a group of characters focused on the same desire, but reflecting that desire under a different light.

5. The situations are combined, putting two, three, four, any number of them together. One situation can lead logically to another, or the character faces more than one at a time, or one character faces certain situations while another character faces others, etc. The possibilities are endless.

In his conclusion Polti defends himself and his “36 situations” system, saying he hasn’t tried to diminish art or put it in a box (my modern paraphrase of his rather antiquated language). Rather, he has shown its various forms so that artists can mold and combine as they choose, resulting in endless stories. We can use Polti’s system both to understand others’ stories—figuring out what situations they’re based upon and where the uniqueness lies—and in building our own stories.

One helpful exercise: take any book you’ve read recently, or any movie, and discern its situations. And then ask yourself: how did combining these two particular situations (or three, or four) change each of them?

Take the biblical story of Esther. It’s founded on #1, Supplication--twice. First Esther’s relative, Mordecai, begs her to save the lives of her people. Then Esther goes before the king to beg for the Jews. But there’s also an element of #7, Falling Prey to Cruelty or Misfortune. This is the situation that leads to the need for supplication in the first place, because Esther’s people are about to be slaughtered, thanks to nasty ol’ Haman. And there’s an element of #21, Self Sacrifice for Kindred, in that Esther knows the king may kill her for coming into his presence unannounced (people didn’t just “drop in” on the king). So in the main plot, we have #7 leading to #1 twice, the second time being mixed with #21. Already you can see how some of the five ways listed above for bringing uniqueness into the story are being used (i.e., depth of kinship ties).

But wait a minute. What about the backstory? How does Esther, a Jew, get into the king’s palace in the first place? Well, Queen Vashti denies her husband’s summons. Not a smart thing to do. Sounds to me a lot like #17, Fatal Imprudence. Especially since the king retaliates and issues an edit to banish her from his presence forever. This is done to keep peace in the land. If he doesn’t make an example of his rebellious wife, all those other wives in the land won’t listen to their husbands either, and utter chaos will reign. At least, so say the king’s wise men who “understood the times.” (Don’t you just love the undercurrents of that line?) Situation? #23, Necessity of Sacrificing a Loved One. (Here, nuance #3 listed above comes into play. Vashti isn’t killed; she’s merely banished.)

Then the inevitable. King Ahasuerus chills out, and the guy starts getting lonely. “What have I done, I’ve banished my fave wife!?” So now he’s got to get a new one—and he can take whomever he pleases. So he finds knock-em-dead-gorgeous Esther. Situation #10, Abduction.

Back to where we started. And on from there.

Becky asked how Polti’s situations fits with The Hero’s Journey. We’ll talk about that and other stuff tomorrow. For now, you might have fun taking any story and pulling it apart, as we just did with Esther.

Read Part 5

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations--Part 3

Continuing with the 36 situations:

21. Self-Sacrifice for Kindred. Hero, kinsman, creditor or person/thing sacrificed. Example: Cyrano de Bergerac.

22. All Sacrificed for a Passion. Lover, object of fatal passion, person/thing sacrificed. Although the passion is often sexual, it doesn’t have to be. In the example, it’s the passion/lust for alcohol. Example: Leaving Las Vegas.

23. Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones. Hero, beloved victim, necessity for sacrifice. Example: Abraham and Isaac.

24. Rivalry of Superior and Inferior. Superior rival, inferior rival, the object. Example: Rocky.

25. Adultery. Deceived husband or wife, two adulterers. Examples: Bridges of Madison County, Same Time Next Year, The Piano.

26. Crimes of Love. The lover, beloved. These crimes can include incest, murder, and others. Examples: Chinatown (incest), The Apostle (murder).

27. Discovery of a Loved One’s Dishonor. Discoverer, guilty one. Presents a similar struggle as to that in Sacrifice of a Loved One, but without the attraction of a high ideal. Here, the ideal is replaced with shame. Example: Redeeming Love. (In that the wife, Angel, returns to her prostitution. However, this book also presents other situations, such as #2, Deliverance.)

28. Obstacles to Love. Lovers, an obstacle. This is a situation present in every modern romance. Love can be prevented by inequalities, family, and myriad other circumstances. Polti apparently was none too fond of this situation—and would be appalled at the number of romances selling today. “Whether the piece treats of sociology, of politics, or religion, of questions of art, of the invention of a gun, of the discovery of a chemical product, of it matters not what—a love story it must have; there is no escape. Savants, revolutionists, poets, priests or generals present themselves to us only to fall immediately to love-making or match-making. It becomes a mania. And we are asked to take these tiresome repetitions seriously!” (Sheesh. Take that, Danielle Steele!)Example: Pretty Woman.

29. An Enemy Loved. Beloved enemy, lover, hater. This one can cross into Obstacles to Love. Example: Romeo and Juliet.

30. Ambition. Ambitious person, thing coveted, adversary. Can lead to Daring Enterprise, Enmity of Kinsmen, or Rivalry of Kinsmen. Example: Jerry McGuire.

31. Conflict with a God. Mortal, immortal. This is the situation of most ancient treatment, upon with many of the Greek myths are founded. Modern example: Rosemary’s Baby.

32. Mistaken Jealousy. Jealous one, object of jealousy, supposed accomplice, cause or author of mistakes. The last element is either not personified or is personified as a traitor. Example: Othello.

33. Erroneous Judgment. Mistaken one, victim of mistake, cause or author of mistake, guilty person. Includes false suspicions, accusation of innocent. Sometimes the guilty purposely sheds suspicion on another. Example: Body Heat.

34. Remorse. Culprit, victim or sin, interrogator. Includes false guilt. Example: Crime and Punishment.

35. Recovery of a Lost One. The seeker, one found. Includes recovery of a stolen child, of one wrongly imprisoned, etc. Examples: The Man in the Iron Mask, The Deep End of the Ocean.

35. Loss of Loved Ones. Kinsman slain, kinsman spectator, executioner. Example: Love Story.

Tomorrow, Polti’s conclusion to his book, which focuses on nuances of the situations, and how they produce an infinite number of stories. Here's where it gets interesting.

Read Part 4

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations--Part 2

I should tell you all that The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations has been reprinted, and is now easy to buy from for under $16.00. A much better deal than I got.

And now . . . more situations:

10. Abduction. Abductor, abducted, guardian. This one can stray into some others (as numerous of the situations can) and shouldn’t be confused with #35—Recovery of a Lost Loved One, which focuses more on the one who is seeking the lost. This one seems to focus more on the one abducted. How about somebody supplying an example?

11. The Enigma. Interrogator, seeker, a problem. Can be seeking a person or thing on pain of death. Example: Turandot. Or can be about tests to understand a mental condition. Example: Seven.

12. Obtaining. Solicitor, refusing adversary; or an arbitrator and opposing parties. This presents an end to be attained, but at what cost and by what means? Can be a contest between reason and passion. Can include temptation. Examples: Screwtape Letters, Gump.

13. Enmity of Kinsmen. Malevolent kinsman, hated or reciprocally hating kinsman. The closer the bonds, the greater the thing that cuts them, and the greater the resulting hatred. Example: Kramer vs. Kramer.

14. Rivalry of Kinsmen. Preferred kinsman, rejected kinsman, the object. This situation can lead to Murderous Adultery, Adultery Threatened, or Crimes of Love. Example: Legends of the Fall.

15. Murderous Adultery. Adulterers, the betrayed. Example: Diabolique.

16. Madness. Madman, victim. Example: Psycho.

17. Fatal Imprudence. Imprudent, victim or object lost. This includes causing one’s own misfortune or dishonor through imprudence (Example: A River Runs Through It) or through curiosity (Example: the Greek myth Cupid and Psyche). Or one character’s imprudence can cause the death or misfortune of another.

18. Involuntary Crimes of Love. Lover, beloved, revealer. Focuses on the discovery of loving one’s own relative. Example: Oedipus. This one, and #19, says Polti, are the most “fantastic and improbable” situations. The situation can be put forth in one of two ways: (A) the fatal error is revealed simultaneously to the reader and character, only after it is irreparable (as in Oedipus) or (B) the reader knows the truth while the character doesn’t, and watches the character walk into the deed.

19. Slaying of Unrecognized Kinsman. Slayer, unrecognized victim. The blind premeditation is the focus and pathos of the story. Example: Anybody got one?

20. Self-Sacrificing for an ideal. Hero, ideal, creditor or thing sacrificed. Example:
Joan of Arc.

I’ll finish listing the situations tomorrow. Then we’ll look at how they’re used and mixed to create story. Anyone writing a wip based on one of these today? Or anyone have more examples for us?

Read Part 3

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations

One of my favorite writing books is The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations. I had to hunt the thing down because it was out of print. Ended up paying over $40 for the hardback, which sold originally for $8.95 when it was reprinted in 1981. The first edition came out in 1921.

TTSDS is by Georges Polti, a French writer. The whole idea of the book is there are really only 36 basic plots in all of literature. Polti’s idea was not new. In brief, the idea had been bandied about by Carlo Gozzi (playwright who saw his Turandot turned into an opera), and picked up by Schiller (who translated Turandot into German) and Goethe . But Polti was struck enough by the idea to take a hard look at the situations and see for himself. Voila, yes, he said. There are only thirty-six!

I first read this book over a decade ago, when I was in my large learning curve of deciphering the craft of fiction. (Remember how often I’ve said I believe learning the craft is 50% writing and 50% reading.) As I read I took notes on the 36 situations, putting each one is its barest terms and looking for examples in modern books/movies. (Since Polti’s examples were a bit outdated, and heavy on stuff like Greek literature.) I wanted not to just read the text, but to understand it enough to use in my writing. I wanted the concepts to become a part of my craft.

You can find Web sites that break down the situations to their bare bones, such as
this one. But I’d like to take a few days and look at these situations via going through my notes. At the end of the list will be an important addendum—what elements within stories make their plots different from each other. We authors gotta love that part. Otherwise this topic can leave us in that Solomon there’s-nothing-new-under-the-sun depression. Also before we conclude this topic I want to show you how I used my understanding of these situations to help me construct a story. After all, what good is theory if it ain’t practical?

So here we go. I’ll list the title, necessary types of characters, and an example.

1. Supplication. Persecutor, supplicant, power in authority who must make decision whether or not to help. Can include an intercessor. Example—the book of Esther.

2. Deliverance. The unfortunate, threatener, rescuer. This is sort of the opposite of Supplication, in which an unfortunate appeals to a power for help. Here, the rescuer helps the distressed without being asked. Example—The Terminator

3. Crime Pursued by Vengeance. Avenger, criminal. Example: All detective stories. Columbo.

4. Vengeance for Kindred Upon Kindred. Avenging kinsmen, guilty kinsmen, relative(s) of victim. This is a mixture of #3 and #27—Discovery of the Dishonor of a Loved One. Example: The Lion King

5. Pursuit. Punishment, fugitive. Opposite of #3. Hero of the story is the fugitive, who is empathetic. Example: Les Miserables. Often he is innocent. Example: The Fugitive.

6. Disaster. Vanquished power, victorious enemy or messenger. In this situation the powerful can be overthrown and the weak exalted. Example: Faust. Includes abandonment by lover or spouse. Example: An Unmarried Woman. Includes natural catastrophes. Example: The Birds.

7. Falling Prey to Cruelty or Misfortune. Unfortunate, a master or misfortune. Example: Schindler’s List.

8. Revolt. Tyrant, conspirator. Example: A Tale of Two Cities.

9. Daring Enterprise. Bold leader, object to be won, adversary. Often has clearly drawn conflict, a clever plan and a victory. Example: A Bridge Too far, Saving Private Ryan, Men in Black.

What other examples can you think of from books, movies or plays for any of these first nine? Does your wip fall into one of these categories? (Of course, in order to categorize a piece of work, we have to look at its basic premise. Many stories are combinations of the situations. And each subplot can take us in yet another direction—but this is part of the differentiation discussion for another day.)

Read Part 2

Friday, December 09, 2005

Christmas List

It’s Friday, thank goodness. I have had an unproductive week. I am really tired of unproductive weeks. Somehow I always manage to get a book out by deadline—and I manage to like the thing in the end—but every time I think maybe this one’s going to do me in.

At any rate, in my unproductive mode, I do not wish to teach or wax eloquent on any literary subject. What would really make me feel better is a good rant.

However—I fear ranting in a blog. Those of you who know me personally, or have been coming to this blog for a while, could put a rant in context. But what if a brand new reader visits my blog and happens upon a full-fledged, out-and-out, unabashed rant? Whatever would become of my stellar reputation?

It being the Christmas season, I therefore will soften my rantings and put them in the form of a Christmas list. Anyone out there looking to send me a present, please feel free to select from one of these items:

1. New plastic packaging for CDs that a person can actually open. I would like to buy a CD, return to my car and not have to stab the thing, bite it, jab it with the car key, and generally make all manner of frustrated remarks about lack of user-friendliness.

2. Decent customer service at businesses. You know, simple things, like—when you arrive, they look at you? Acknowledge your existence? Instead of focusing only on the current top person in line for minute after minute, after five, after ten, pretending you are not there so they don’t have to worry about all the time you are waiting when you really could be doing something else because goodness knows, you have better things to do than—

Oops. Sorry.

3. The national rule that all online stores must include a phone number. There are times in life when the computer freezes, or we mess up in online ordering, and just might like to talk to a real person.

4. A new DNA “I love to clean my room” gene that automatically kicks in during teenage years.

5. While we’re at it, another gene for the teenage years that makes one violently sick to the stomach the minute the cell phone call/text message limit has been exceeded.

6. A face cream that really does take away wrinkles. Every blessed one of them. Forever.

7. A million new loyal readers. Overnight shipping on this one, please.

8. The need for only four hours’ sleep a night. That way, when my entire day is unproductive, I can still crank out the pages from two to six in the morning.

9. A body that simply will not gain weight, whatever nonsense I eat.

And most of all . . .

10. A perfectly executed, all-the-reviewers-love-it, internationally best-selling masterpiece that writes itself.

Dare I ask what lovely new item might be on your list?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Third Person POV--Part 6

Two days ago, Becky left an interesting comment regarding our third person POV topic. She was right to say that the narrative voice in the passage from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities remains equally distant from all characters. Like a camera in the room or up in a tree somewhere, taking all action in, but showing the thoughts of none. This is the extreme version of third person omniscient, i.e., the most removed form of voice.

Then there’s the omniscient form on the other end of the spectrum—that modern day omniscient that we often call head-hopping. Rather than being removed from characters, it zooms in to become close third person—but doesn’t stay in any one character’s head for very

long, flicking from one to the next. Becky came up with this as an example:
John flashed his brightest smile. What a lovely woman--as courteous as she was beautiful. And she was beautiful, a real example of what a Christian woman should be. Good thing Katie was in her fifth grade class. He shifted his gaze to his wife.

Angie glanced at her husband before staring at Miss Snyder once again. That woman had the gall to show up here after her rude comments. How was a mother to teach her daughter in such a classroom environment with such a teacher.

When Miss Snyder noticed Angie's penetrating gaze, she nodded toward the couple. Not that she wanted to. They were the epitome of all she desired--loving, healthy, rich--and seeing them sent twists of jealousy through her. If only she could swallow the biting words that jumped to her mind, but if she approached their table, something vicious might slip out. Then the whole community would know what she already knew about herself. She couldn't risk that and would need to stay clear of their table.
Three paragraphs, three POVs. A rather extreme example of head-hopping, as most authors who do this don’t move quite so quickly from character to character. But Becky wrote it like this to make her point, and it’s a good one: "This shift from person to person to person keeps readers wondering what really is the case. We have such disparate views and if that went on for long, readers would quickly lose interest because trying to tell which character was seeing things most accurately would be hard and not having one character to cheer for would leave readers unsympathetic to any."

Yes! This I what I feel when I read head-hopping scenes. I don’t know where to land as a reader. I feel pulled here and there. And as a result of being yanked around, I feel what is no doubt the opposite effect from what the writer want me to feel. If the author is trying to give me equal intimacy with all the characters, he/she has actually cost me intimacy with any of them.

So what are we left with from third person omniscient? From the Dickens’ example, less intimacy with the characters because the voice is so removed. From Becky’s example, less intimacy with the characters because the voice is so close and constantly moving. Very different forms of omniscient, but the same result.

This is why, when new authors say to me, well, shoot, so-and-so changes POV in a scene, so why shouldn’t I get away with it? My answer—why would you want to? I strongly believe the writing’s forced to be better, ultimately more intimate and strong, when we stick with one POV per scene. I’m not denying there are good, successful storytellers out there who don’t follow this guideline. But I do argue that those good writers would create stronger scenes if they decided not to head-hop.

Head-hopping is easier. That’s why so many new authors naturally gravitate toward it. (I certainly did.) And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from experience about writing fiction, it’s this: if it’s easy, it’s probably wrong.

In summing up, I wanted to discuss third person POV to show that it isn’t just one POV. It’s broken down into different kinds—close, removed and omniscient. And omniscient is even further broken down into two kinds—the old, “classics” kind of totally distant voice, and the modern kind that’s called “omniscient” because it knows all, but in reality is third person close in disguise—that jumps from character to character within a scene. So if you hear an author say, "Changing POV was good enough for the classics authors; it's good enough for me," make sure they know what they're talking about. They're thinking distant omniscient, while most likely planning to write close third person head-hopping omniscient. They're comparing apples and oranges.

Thoughts as we close this topic? Comments, disagreements, agreements? Did you learn anything new about the various third person POV forms?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Power of Words

I got two separate topics going, thanks to my blog yesterday on “unusual” words and third person POV. Because of some comments yesterday, I’m going to talk more about words today and pick up on the POV thing tomorrow.

C.J. asked: I want to know, do these words just come to you, or do you read the dictionary for fun? Not that that's a bad thing ...

And Becky said:
I agree with your assessment of most of your words: viscous and enervated are not words I would have called unusual. Not particularly common in speech, but common enough in writing, I think. Sisyphean? I haven't looked it up yet and don't remember the context from any Greek lit I studied. But that's OK--told you, I think a few of these stretch readers and that's a good thing, in my opinion.

Sending off my track changes of Violet Dawn to the editor, I realized there were other perhaps unusual words in the manuscript that hadn’t even been discussed, and so I’d forgotten them. I had this sudden recollection of using the word rataplan. I checked. Yup, it’s in there. Her heart drummed like the rataplan of rain on the roof. Obvious through the context, even if a reader doesn’t know the word. But isn’t it a great word? Kind of onomatopoeic . (Sheesh, I always have to look up how to spell that.)

Becky mentioned the word Sisyphean. I used it in the phrase Sisyphean task. It’s derived from Sisyphus, in Greek mythology. Bad ol’ Sisyphus angered the god Hades when he chained up the god of death, thereby keeping people from reaching the underworld. But Hades knew how to get even. He put Sisyphus to the eternal punishment of pushing a heavy stone up a steep hill. Just as it reached the top, and the exhausted guy thought he’d finally done it, the stone would roll back down to the bottom, and he’d be forced to start all over again. Imagine the sweat and tears of this—for eternity.

Sisyphean task, when written into context, should be understandable even if the reader doesn’t know the word. But what the reader is missing out on! That one adjective takes a whole paragraph to explain, and then the meaning becomes wonderfully rich. This is why I love to use words that incorporate rich, multi-layered meaning. But in the end, if the reader doesn’t understand—communication has been hindered, not helped.

Drat. So I’m back to asking myself—is such-and-such an unusual word or not?

C.J. asked about studying words. You know, I don’t study them enough anymore, but in the early 90’s, when I was struggling to learn the craft of fiction, and reading a lot during that learning curve, I purposely went about assimilating new words. I think to build a good vocabulary, you have to be somewhat purposeful about it. When I saw a word I didn’t know in reading, I’d write it down and look it up later. I also would buy those little tear-off-sheet Word-A-Day calendars. They were particularly helpful because they’d include the history and derivative of the word. I started a file of new words, writing them on 3x5 cards. I made a point of memorizing these words.

Funny, today I look in that old file and find words such as these: ablution, cerulean (oops, think I used that in Violet Dawn, too), effete (and this one), febrile, incorporeal, legerdemain, nacreous, pemmican, sartorial, stygian (another great word from mythology), taciturn, truculent, vicissitude. And I think, “Huh, I didn’t know those words?” Because today they’ve become a regular part of my vocabulary. Just goes to show it’s all so relative. What’s uncommon to some of us may be perfectly common to others.

Something I’ve done recently, to take up my purposeful learning of words: subscribed to an e-mail from
A Word A Day. You ought to try this out. You can do it for free. Yesterday’s word: Prufrockian. Didn’t know that one. What a great word to learn!

And, oh, the power of the perfect turn of phrase. A gal told me her 15-year-old daughter loved to learn words. The kid got mad at another girl and called her a “meretricious slattern.” In other words, a slutty-acting slut.

Whew. Now that’s some accusation.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Third Person POV--Part 5

Finished the track changes for Violet Dawn last night. Here is the fate of various “unusual” words. (Rather a subjective thing, I still argue. I don’t think any of them are that unusual).

Obdurate: replaced with stubborn. This was a POV issue, as we discussed last week. The character probably wouldn’t think the word obdurate, so at the editor’s suggestion, I changed it.

Flexuous: allowed to stay. Even though the editor admitted she had to look it up. I think it’s understandable through context (“. . . flexuous road,” already described as winding, snaking.)

Umbra—deleted merely to tighten writing. Didn’t need the word or a replacement. I’ve always really liked this word.

Viscous: I really don’t think this is unusual. At any rate, it stays. Understandable through context, I believe.

Enervated: Stays. Understandable through context (I hope). (This isn’t all that unusual a word either, is it?)

Sisyphean: Stays. Understandable through context. But really, is this all that strange a word? You sit through Greek lit, you know what Sisyphean is.

And now, back to Third Person POV. Today—Omniscient. That removed voice, that camera up above, looking down upon all.

To illustrate this voice from the classics, I’m going to run one of my favorite scenes from A Tale of Two Cities. As you read, pay attention to where the voice is. Is it ever close enough to be in a character’s head? Is it removed equally from all characters? How is this voice different and/or the same from today’s “head-hopping?” Leave your feedback, and we’ll discuss these questions and answers tomorrow.

Setting – 1775, in Saint Antoine, an impoverished district in Paris, near the beginning of the French Revolution. For years the common people’s anger has been building against the French aristocracy, who stuff themselves with delicacies and the best things in life while sneering with contempt at the villagers, who must scrabble for a mere bit of bread. Wine-shop owners Ernest Defarge and his wife are leaders of the revolutionists. They and their followers have already swept through Paris, forcing their way into the Bastille and releasing its prisoners. But the mob’s anger against individuals who have persecuted them is still not vented. A week has passed since the storming of the Bastille.

Madame Defarge, with her arms folded, sat in the morning light and heat, contemplating the wine-shop and the street. In both, there were several knots of loungers, squalid and miserable, but now with a manifest sense of power enthroned on their distress. The raggedest nightcap, awry on the wretchedest head, had this crooked significance in it: ‘I know how hard it has grown for me, the wearer of this, to support life in myself; but do you know how easy it has grown for me, the wearer of this, to destroy life in you?’ Every lean bare arm, that had been without work before, had this work always ready for it now, that it could strike. The fingers of the knitting women were vicious, with the experience that they could tear. There was a change in the appearance of Saint Antoine; the image had been hammering into this for hundreds of years, and the last finishing blows had told mightily on the expression.

Madame Defarge sat observing it, with such suppressed approval as was to be desired in the leader of the Saint Antoine women. One of her sisterhood knitted beside her. The short, rather plump wife of a starved grocer, and the mother of two children withal, this lieutenant had already earned the complimentary name of The Vengeance.

‘Hark!’ said The Vengeance. ‘Listen, then! Who comes?’

As if a trail of powder laid from the outermost bound of the Saint Antoine Quarter to the wine-shop door, had been suddenly fired, a fast-spreading murmur came rushing along.

‘It is Defarge,’ said madame. ‘Silence, patriots.’

Defarge came in breathless, pulled off a red cap he wore, and looked round him! ‘Listen, everywhere!’ said madame again. ‘Listen to him!’ Defarge stood, panting, against a background of eager eyes and open mouths, formed outside the door; all those within the wine-shop had sprung to their feet.

‘Say then, my husband. What is it?’

‘News from the other world!’

‘How, then?’ cried madame, contemptuously. ‘The other world?’

‘Does everybody here recall old Foulon, who told the famished people that they might eat grass, and who died, and went to Hell?’

‘Everybody!’ from all throats.

‘The news is of him. He is among us!’

‘Among us!’ from the universal throat again. ‘And dead?’

‘Not dead! He feared us so much – and with much reason – that he caused himself to be represented as dead, and had a grand, mock-funeral. But they have found him alive, hiding in the country, and have brought him in. I have seen him but now, on his way to the Hotel de Ville, a prisoner. I have said that he had reason to fear us. Say all! Had he reason?’

Wretched old sinner of more than threescore years and then, if he had never known it yet, he would have known it in his heart of hearts if he could have heard the answering cry.

A moment of profound silence followed. Defarge and his wife looked steadfastly at one another. The Vengeance stooped, and the jar of a drum was heard as she moved it at her feet behind the counter.

‘Patriots!’ said Defarge, in a determined voice, ‘are we ready?’

Instantly Madame Defarge’s knife was in her girdle; the drum was beating in the streets, as if it and a drummer had flown together by magic; and The Vengeance, uttering terrific shrieks, and flinging her arms about her head like all the forty Furies at once, was tearing from house to house, rousing the women.

The men were terrible, in the bloody-minded anger with which they looked from windows, caught up what arms they had, and came pouring down into the streets; but, the women were a sight to chill the boldest. From such household occupations as their bare poverty yielded, from their children, from their aged and their sick crouching on the bare ground, famished and naked, they ran out with streaming hair, urging one another, and themselves, to madness with the wildest cries and actions. Villain Foulon taken, my sister! Old Foulon taken, my mother! Miscreant Foulon taken, my daughter! Then, a score of others ran into the midst of these, beating their breasts, tearing their hair, and screaming, Foulon alive! Foulon who told the starving people they might eat grass! Foulon who told my old father that he might eat grass, when I had no bread to give him! Foulon who told my baby it might suck grass, when these breasts were dry with want! O mother of God, this Foulon! O Heaven, our suffering! Hear me, my dead baby and my withered father: I swear on my knees, on these stones, to avenge you on Foulon! Husbands, and brothers, and young men, Give us the blood of Foulon, Give us the body and soul of Foulon, Rip Foulon to pieces, and dig him into the ground, that grass may grow from him! With these cries, numbers of the women, lashed into blind frenzy, whirled about, striking and tearing at their own friends until they dropped into a passionate swoon, and were only saved by the men belonging to them from being trampled under foot.

Nevertheless, not a moment was lost; not a moment! This Foulon was at the Hotel de Ville, and might be loosed. Never, if Saint Antoine knew its own sufferings, insults, and wrongs! Armed men and women flocked out of the Quarter so fast, and drew even these last dregs after them with such a force of suction, that within a quarter of an hour there was not a human creature in Saint Antoine’s bosom but a few old crones and the wailing children.

No. They were all by that time choking the Hall of Examination where this old man, ugly and wicked, was, and overflowing into the adjacent open space and streets. The Defarges, husband and wife, The Vengeance, and Jacques Three, were in the first press, and at no great distance from him in the Hall.

‘See!’ cried madame pointing with her knife. ‘See the old villain bound with ropes. That was well done to tie a bunch of grass upon his back. Ha, ha! That was well done. Let him eat it now!’ Madame put her knife under her arm, and clapped her hands as at a play.

The people immediately behind Madame Defarge, explaining the cause of her satisfaction to those behind them, and those again explaining to others, and those to others, the neighbouring streets resounded with the clapping of hands. Similarly, during two or three hours of brawl, and the winnowing of many bushels of words, Madame Defarge’s frequent expressions of impatience were taken up, with marvellous quickness, at a distance: the more readily, because certain men who had by some wonderful exercise of agility climbed up the external architecture to look in from the windows, knew Madame Defarge well, and acted as a telegraph between her and the crowd outside the building.

At length the sun rose so high that it struck a kindly ray as of hope or protection, directly down upon the old prisoner’s head. The favour was too much to bear; in an instant the barrier of dust and chaff that had stood surprisingly long, went to the winds, and Saint Antoine had got him!

It was known directly, to the furthest confines of the crowd. Defarge had but sprung over a railing and a table, and folded the miserable wretch in a deadly embrace – Madame Defarge had but followed and turned her hand in one of the ropes with which he was tied – The Vengeance and Jacques Three were not yet up with them, and the men at the windows had not yet swooped into the Hall, like birds of prey from their high perches – when the cry seemed to go up, all over the city, ‘Bring him out! Bring him to the lamp!’

Down, and up, and head foremost on the steps of the building; now, on his knees; now, on his feet; now, on his back; dragged, and struck at, and stifled by the bunches of grass and straw that were thrust into his face by hundreds of hands; torn, bruised, panting, bleeding, yet always entreating and beseeching for mercy; now full of vehement agony of action, with a small clear space about him as the people drew one another back that they might see; now, a log of dead wood drawn through a forest of legs; he was hauled to the nearest street corner where one of the fatal lamps swung, and there Madame Defarge let him go – as a cat might have done to a mouse – and silently and composedly looked at him while they made ready, and while he besought her: the women passionately screeching at him all the time, and the men sternly calling out to have him killed with grass in his mouth. Once, he went aloft, and the rope broke, and they caught him, shrieking; twice, he went aloft, and the rope broke, and they caught him shrieking; then, the rope was merciful, and held him, and his head was soon upon a pike, with grass enough in the mouth for all saint Antoine to dance at the sight of.

Monday, December 05, 2005

I Survived (World's Worst Dental Patient--Part 5)

Well, auspicious day for this post to be late. Y'all probably thought I died. Nope, just Internet problems. As you can see, I survived.

I have a new outlook on drugs.

Never took illegal drugs in my life. Don’t drink. Take aspirin when I absolutely have to. That’s it for me. Until now. Those dentists—they’ve got some powerful stuff, BGs.

Last week I told you the dentist gave me a baby pill to take at home--all of .25 milligrams worth. (I told him I was super sensitive to the stuff.) I was to take it at 7 a.m. and report to his office at 8:00. Well, of all possible timing, at 7 a.m., the 700 Club airs in our area. So I popped the pill and settled down on the couch to watch the show that would include the segment on my healing.

First fifteen minutes of the show—not me. Second fifteen minutes—not me. Third fif—ah. There was my segment, about 40 minutes into the show. I watched it with my family. My 16–year-old even stopped putting on her make-up long enough to watch. It was great. Thought they did a good job. By 7:46 it was over. Time for hubby (who’d just appeared on TV with me, whoohaw) to drive me to the dentist.

Suddenly, I am feeling . . . strange.

I get up. Start to walk toward the kitchen. I don’t know, the wall moves or something. Right into my path. I bounce off and try again.

I have this vague recollection of getting into the car.

At the dentist’s office, the doc sees me through the window as we pull up. His assistant is out the door before I can even get out of the car. She takes my arm. I’m saying I’m fine. Not. The doc’s doorway moves as I fumble my way inside. I bounce off it and continue on, dignity intact. I think.

“Hey, doc! I’m here, let’s party!”

Only I don’t think it sounded quite like that. More like, “Heeeey, doooccc, mmm heeeere, lesssss paarrrrteeeee.”

I remember moving to the chair. The chair that I normally hate. That normally wigs me out just to look at it. Now I don’t care. I plop right down. “Lessss doooo thiissss thinngggg.”

Doc gives me more drugs. Whoooohawwww. They’re crystals under my tongue. Taste like Sweet ‘n’ Low. He let’s me sit so I can . . . drift.

After awhile he comes back. Asks me if I’m ready. “Nuhhh-uuhh. Hittt meeee with sommmme mooorrrre.”

He obliges.

I have this vague recollection of asking for a third hit.

At some point he asks if I’m ready. I’m ready, all right. For anything. All fear gone. You hear me—all fear. And I’m in the dentist’s chair, for heaven’s sake! Man, I can take on the world!

As long as I don’t need to stand up to do it.

I feel the needle go into my cheek for the numbing. I don’t care. Another needle. (Remember, I had three crowns to do.) I don’t care.

The Big D comes my way. By this time I should have a heartbeat of 500, sweat pouring off me. But now? I don’t care.

The drill goes on. The fun begins in my mouth.

I don’t care.

I don’t remember sleeping. I thought I was awake. I suppose I was in and out. ’Cause next thing I know, doc’s telling me I need to wake up a little so I can tell him if the temporary crowns in my mouth feel OK. And all of a sudden, I’m coming out of my drug haze. Just like that. It’s the craziest thing. I ask the doc, “How does this happen?” He says he’s kinda figured out how much to give a person so they’ll be out of their mind just long enough for the procedure. I ask what time it is. Almost 12:00. Twelve o’clock! Four hours in that chair?! Where has the time gone?

They call my husband to come get me. Doc’s assistant holds my arm as I get out of the chair. I say I’m fine. I think. Except that a wall shifts on me—just a little. Mark comes in and signs some paper and walks me back out to the car. But not before I tell Doc those drugs of his are the best things since sliced bread, and he’s the best dentist in the whole wide world. I am so relieved, I could cry.

I come home and feel quite fine. Hit my computer, do some e-mails. Then decide to take a nap. Hey, I’ve had a rough day.

Doc calls to check on me around 6:00 p.m. (Told you he’s a great guy.) I tell him I’m fine, and did I mention how awesome those drugs are? He asks me to tell him the secret code.


“I always tell my patients the secret code—ABC123. Only two people have remembered it later.”

Not remembering is bliss.

Of course as soon as my brain was totally on straight (if it ever is), I started thinking about those drugs, and how I could use ’em for much mayhem in a story. Trust me, the day will come.

Two days later, I’m still amazed at the whole thing. There’s a lesson to be learned in all this madness, although I’ve not quite figured it out yet. Something about fear, and how it hinders us—and how amazing we can be when it’s totally gone. Well, I suppose some fear is healthy, like the fear of jumping off a tall building. But you get the idea.

The new hero in my life? A drug-totin’ dentist. From now on, bring on the Big D! Just gimme those hoppin’ Little Ds under my tongue first, and I’m good to go.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Third Person POV--Part 4 & Etc.

Well, it’s Friday. The day my segment shows on the 700 Club—and the day I die. That’s right, it’s dentist day. I report at 8 a.m., Pacific time. Already doped up on some pill I’m supposed to take at 7:00. I am so sensitive to that kind of stuff, the dentist gave me a “baby pill” to take. Then, at his office, I’ll get hit with more stuff. “Doc,” I told him when I saw him Monday, “I wannna be totally out, understand? I wanna be in a coma.”

“No coma.” He gave me apologetic look. “But you’ll be way out of it. You won’t remember much of it later.”

“I don’t care whether I remember it later! I don’t wanna know when I’m living it!”

He soothed me. Told me I’ll be fine. Said a man who’s scared to death of dentists had a similar procedure done, and when it was all over, commented, “It was pleasant.”

I bugged my eyes. “Pleasant? Doc, you are a great guy and all, but you will never hear me say anything like that about what you do. The most you can expect from me—if you put me in a coma—is, ‘hey, it wasn’t quite so bad.’”

He held up a hand. “If I heard that from you, I’d be . . .” he searched for the words. “Thrilled beyond measure.”

So that’s what we’re going for today, folks. Y’all pray that the Doc is thrilled, okay?

Also today is the 700 Club thingy. That show is on a lot of channels, a lot of different times during the day. I plan to watch it here at 6 p.m., thinking by then my dopiness will be worn off enough for me to distinguish between the TV and the microwave.

Now, besides the events of this auspicious day, we were discussing third person POV. Some comments to you commenters. Cara—don’t take me too seriously when I mention your profession. I’m one of those people who loves lawyer jokes. Stuart—waytago, man. Very cool excerpt. I felt sorry for the guy. Dragon. Creature. It. Whatever.

Bonnie—some comments to perhaps clear your confusion. A paragraph break often means the author is switching from one person talking to another, or from a person talking to the thoughts of the POV character. This is the case in that Eyes of Elisha excerpt you mentioned. You also asked this: I now understand that one scene should be one person's point of view, so is it mostly the editor's point of view on whether you've accomplished this (since there's close third person and removed third)?

The author sets the tone for the work. The author should do all he/she can to stay in one POV per scene, and not to switch too much from one kind of third person POV to the other, i.e., from the close to the removed, as the removed may then sound contrived, or out of place, or too “telling.” But the editor is there, with his/her fresh eyes, to help make sure this happens. By the time we poor authors finish a book, we’ve looked at the words so many times, we can’t see them anymore. A fresh read can see all sorts of things we’ve overlooked.

We still need to take a look at the third kind of third person POV—Omniscient. Here’s a thought to leave you with. True omniscient is not the same as “head hopping.” The problem with head hopping, at least as I see it, is that it flits from one character to another, boring into the brain of each with close third person POV, then flitting on. The result is that the reader never quite knows where to settle. True omniscient is a camera in the corner of the room, watching all, telling all. But it remains removed. It has that distant, more formal tone. This is the POV of the classics, and one that’s generally now fallen out of favor.

By the way, I think omniscient POV isn’t popular today because of the intimacy and pacing our culture has created through TV, movies, video games, etc. We’re used to close-ups of the camera. We’re also used to skipping from one quick scene to another.

Therefore, when aspiring authors point to the classics, or even fiction published a decade ago, and say, “They used that POV, so I want to also,” they’re not really thinking of writing in that classic, formal tone of omniscient. They’re thinking they want to be allowed to head-hop.

In other words, they’re comparing apples and oranges.

Do you agree?

More on Monday—if I survive.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Third Person POV--Part 3

Happy Thursday, BGs. It’s December!

Received this letter yesterday: “I really want to thank you for your book Getting Into Character. What a huge help in writing the novel I'm working on! Loved the ‘understanding a serial murderer’ bit. It helped me to tap into feelings I'd buried long ago and needed to resurrect to understand the characters I’m writing.”


Some interesting discussion yesterday about our topic and the excerpt I pulled from Eyes of Elisha. I actually think everyone’s opinion was right, for various reasons. Stuart, you picked up on the fact that the thought about lividity sounded “dictionary” like. Yes, true, because that’s Reiger’s personality. He’s been on the police force for many years and has picked up that copspeak. He’s a by-the-book kinda guy who lives by law enforcement’s rules and definitions. Which is why he’s so thrown by Chelsea Adams and her visions. In fact, the visions vs. The Law is one of the underlying themes of Eyes of Elisha. In biblical days, God called the shots. Folks drew lots—and voila, there’s your guilty guy. In today’s rational world, there’s no room for God and his miracles at all in the eyes of the law. The mere thought sounds absurd. Everything must be proven by rational means. So when Reiger, as a Christian (albeit a rather nominal one) meets out-there Chelsea Adams, who speaks honestly about the visions God sends her, no matter how weird they make her sound—a dilemma arises within him. This God’s-miracles-vs.-law theme occurs later in the book, also, when lawyers get involved. (Things always get more complicated when lawyers get involved.) I give you this long explanation to make a point—the thoughts we insert for a character aren’t really about our style of writing. They should be about the character, and how he would think. The thoughts themselves should be characterizing. So, Stuart, even though you may not have realized it, you got Reiger just as you should have.

Let’s talk now about the second type of third person POV—Removed. One of my favorite authors is Dean Koontz. Great suspense writer. He often writes in removed third person. Results—(1) We feel a little less close to the character, (2) more “telling” vs. “showing” can be used, and (3) Koontz’s narrative voice often is stronger than the voice of the character. Which means—drum roll—Koontz can get away with using more unusual words. (Which is how we got on this topic in the first place.) And he uses quite a few of them. We don’t have to worry so much about being pulled out of the story by the use of an unusual word, because it doesn’t matter whether the character would know the word or not. It Koontz’s voice we’re listening to.

No unusual words here, but consider this removed third-person passage from his recent book, Velocity:

He popped the tablet and forked lasagna into his mouth, washing everything down with Elephant beer, a Danish brew boasting a higher alcohol content than other beers.

As he ate, he thought about the dead schoolteacher, about Lanny sitting in the bedroom armchair, about what the killer might do next.

Those lines of thought were not conducive to appetite or to digestion. The teacher and Lanny were beyond rescue, and there was no way to foretell the freak’s next move.

Instead, he thought about Barbara Mandel, mostly about Barbara as she had been, not as she was now in Whispering Pines. Inevitably, these reminiscences led forward to the moment, and he began to worry about what would happen to her if he died.

Are we in the protagonist’s head? Well, yeah. We know his thoughts. But we’re not really sitting in his mind, are we. It’s more like we’re standing in the room watching him, and a narrator is telling us what he’s thinking.

If I were to write these lines, my editor would flag them for sure. Since I normally write in close third person, these would stand out as “telling.” In track changes, the editor might suggest a rewrite of the second and third paragraphs like this:

As he ate, he thought about the dead schoolteacher, about Lanny sitting in the bedroom armchair. What would the killer do next?

Forget this. These thoughts were hardly helping his appetite or digestion. Nothing he could do for the teacher or Lanny. And who knew what the freak would do next?

Quite a difference in feel, isn’t there? Do you know other authors who write in removed third-person? Or do you? Can you give an example through some excerpted passage?

In closing for today, an announcement for those who haven’t heard via e-mail loops. The 700 Club's segment on my healing from Lyme Disease airs tomorrow, (Friday, December 2.) If you receive the Family channel, you can watch The 700 Club weekdays at 9 a.m., 11 p.m., and 3 a.m. EST. If you receive The Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), you can watch the show weekdays at 3 p.m. Eastern Time or 12 p.m. Pacific Time. If you receive FamilyNet, you can watch The 700 Club at 1 p.m. Eastern Time. Check here for all other channel listings nationwide. If you miss the show, check the 700 Club's Web site to view the interview on your computer.

I hope you and your friends and family will watch this segment. You will be blessed at the reminder of our God's power. I was certainly blessed just taping it!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Third Person POV--Part 2

Before we move on in this topic, I’d like to respond to some comments/questions from yesterday.

Stuart made an interesting point about introducing words in his science fiction that nobody on earth would understand without an explanation: “It can be frustrating to get the right amount of context around the word to convey the meaning without people complaining that you haven't explained it in detail . . . That is probably why you see a lot of sci-fi and fantasy written in removed to pseudo-omniscient third person. The author has more leeway to define terms without breaking character.”
Then Jennifer’s question, arising from Stuart’s comments: “. . . use of jargon or any kind of specialized terms or knowledge in close POV. Obviously, the character isn't going to think or say the definitions, so I'd love some ideas on how to get meanings across while remaining true to the character.”
Stuart is right—if you’re writing about another world, in which many things will need to be explained, it’s much harder to write in close third person and explain things effectively. If you explain everything, you can easily find yourself constantly jumping from the character’s POV into the author’s narrative voice. Or, if you try to explain through other means such as dialogue, it’s likely to sound contrived, because the characters wouldn’t feel the need to discuss the meaning of things they already know.
If you do want to stick with close third person POV, and you need to explain numerous things, there is a way to do it effectively by inserting narrative sentences into the character’s POV. These sentences can flow naturally, particularly if you’ve delved deeply enough into the POV to give the reader the full view of what the character’s thinking. Sounds almost counter-intuitive that the deeper the POV, the more natural the insertion will appear, but I do think it’s true. Here’s an example of how I tried to do this during a crime scene investigation in Eyes of Elisha. The tech and detective have just approached the body (found in a canyon), with the tech speaking his observations—some obvious, some not—so the detective (POV character) can write everything in his notes.
“She must have been here at least twenty-four hours.” Hal peered at the stage of fly larvae on her face, then leaned back. “Obviously a jogger. Shorts and running shoes.”
Not a good sign. Joggers rarely carried identification. “Look at the right shoe.” Reiger pointed. “She’s got one of those little fabric cases on it. Maybe we’ll find something there.”
They continued their survey of the body and surrounding area, being careful not to touch the corpse itself. Legally, a coroner’s investigator had to be present.
“I gave the coroner’s office an hour’s lead.” Reiger bent for a closer look at a broken twig. “I don’t know who they’re sending.”
“Mm.” Hal wrinkled his nose as a breeze tousled a strand of the victim’s blond hair. “Probably find lividity stains on her backside. Must have been killed up there and then sent rolling. I doubt she’s been moved since, other than by animals.” His voice was grim.
Lividity—the flow of blood to the lowest point in a body, due to gravity—caused brownish-red stains on the skin. It was a clear indication of the body’s resting position soon after death.
“Man,” he muttered, “there’s not gonna be much to autopsy here.”
Certainly no chance for a liver temperature probe, Reiger thought. Sometimes it took a while for creatures to smell remains, but they hadn’t seemed to waste any time here. Most of the tissue between her neck and groin had been eaten. That meant no proper weight for either the body or major organs.
Dear Lord, Reiger prayed, help this poor woman’s family.
Knowing that I would have quite a few scenes of detective work and crime lab investigation in which things would need to be explained, I tried to introduce these characters from the very beginning with a fully developed POV that shows all the smells, sights, textures, etc. they encounter in their work. Then, with this foundation, the explanatory sentences were inserted where they’d flow best, and where they’d most appear as the character’s actual thoughts. Sometimes the inserted sentence is followed with dialogue that picks up on the explanation, to better give the sentence the feeling of remaining in the character’s POV:
They continued their survey of the body and surrounding area, being careful not to touch the corpse itself. Legally, a coroner’s investigator had to be present.
“I gave the coroner’s office an hour’s lead.”
It wouldn’t work for Reiger to tell Hal that they can’t touch the body until the coroner’s investigator shows up, because Hal already knows that. But to insert that piece of knowledge for the reader, followed by Reiger’s telling Hal that they have an hour’s lead until the investigator gets there, makes the inserted sentence feel like Reiger’s thoughts as they’re observing the body without touching it.
The explanation of lividity works here, I think, because it’s inserted in the middle of Hal’s observations, again as part of Reiger’s thoughts about what Hal is saying. When Hal is done speaking, Reiger goes on to think about the liver temperature probe, picking up on his previous thought about lividity.
Lynetta’s question: “I’m writing in close third person. My protag is a young woman who often says the opposite of what she's thinking. She thinks sarcastic and proud thoughts but speaks in a more formal tone with exaggerated politeness and humility, as she was taught. The story, I think, is much better if I can sprinkle in some thoughts as she's thinking them (in the present tense). I've seen this done sometimes,where the author puts the thoughts into italics. However, I've also read editors frown on italics. Do they make an exception in the case of present internal thoughts?”
This is a very good question and one that authors commonly face. As you can see from the above excerpt, most of Reiger’s thoughts have been kept in normal type. This keeps his thoughts in third person. When you move to italics, you’re writing the actual thoughts, and must move to first person. For example, look again at the first sentence in the penultimate paragraph:
Certainly no chance for a liver temperature probe, Reiger thought.
As opposed to making this an actual, italicized thought:
I sure won’t have much chance for a liver temperature probe.
Editors frown on the latter technique for good reason. Too many actual thoughts slow down the action. And they’re far more jarring, because (1) they change type face, and (2) they switch POV from third person to first. Too many italicized thoughts is kind of like seeing those annoyingly jarring camera shots that are so popular on TV nowadays. The reader’s jerked back and forth. I do include one italicized thought in the above excerpt, but I do this rarely and only to give a greater effect to the thought. If a lot of the character’s thoughts were like this, the italics would lose their effect.
Bonnie’s question: “Is it acceptable to show multiple points of view if it's done during dialogue, as in stating their emotions for the particular things they are saying?”
If you’re meaning head-hopping, no. Stick with one POV per scene. The writing will be harder to do, particularly when you want to show the emotions of all the characters, but when you take the time to do this right, the scene will be much stronger. Hopping into someone’s head to express an emotion ends up in “telling” writing. But when you have to stick in Mary’s head and still display John’s emotions, you have to show us. You’ll be forced to use voice inflection, body language, facial expression. These things flesh out a scene far more than a sentence that tells the reader how a character feels.
More thoughts/questions? Tomorrow, more on the subject of close third person POV vs. removed third person POV.
A final note. Please visit the Charis Connection blog today to read the post about an editor's viewpoint regarding Christian publishers and their decisions about what is published.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Third Person POV

I had a problem with posting today. This post showed up yesterday on the blog, thanks to this program I'm trying out called Blogjet. You're supposed to be able to write in Blogjet, then post a "draft." Well, this ain't the first time the "draft" ended up posting for real--all by itself. And I was very careful to click the right thing, so I know it's not my error. I had to delete the post and repost it for this morning. Unfortunately, as a result four comments already posted were also deleted. One was a question. Lynetta, if you'd like to re-post your question, I'll try to answer it.

If anyone has any words of wisdom for me regarding this Blogjet business, I'm all ears.

As I said yesterday, the comments regarding my post last week on “big words” got me thinking. Many of you said an unknown word here or there wouldn’t bother you, or may even cause you to run delightedly to the dictionary. Others said (my paraphrasing), “You dictionary types need to get a life. I don’t want to be pulled out of the story by an unknown word.”

As much as I wish I could use all the unusual words I wanted, I don’t—because I see both sides of the argument. I’ve tried to stick to a few per book, and sometimes even have to fight for those. In light of this topic, I’ve been thinking about what my editors tend to flag in my track changes edits—and why. And I realize that the flagging of unusual words is the result of the editor’s concern over the same thing—that the reader will be “pulled out of the story.”

It’s easy to see why a reader may be pulled out of a scene if the story is written in first person, and some high-falutin’ word is used that the character wouldn’t know or would never think to say. But the lines become blurred in the more commonly-used third person POV. When might a “pulling out” be more likely to happen?

It depends upon the type of third person POV.

There are three types, or levels, of third person POV. Using my non-erudite, not-rocket-science terminologies, I’d label them: (1) Close, (2) Removed, and (3) Omniscient.

Close third person is as near to first person POV as you can get. The reader is placed completely within the character’s head, seeing and perceiving the world as the character would. Words, phrases, terminologies, odd ways of speech, etc., all reflect the character’s personality and the way he/she would describe the situation. Close third person is all the rage these days, and what we’ve grown accustomed to reading. It’s become the norm for good reason, because it has a lot to offer. (A) It’s very intimate, and therefore highly characterizing (if used effectively). (B) Because of its intimacy, it adapts itself to that ubiquitous “show, don’t tell” rule. Readers “see” what a character is thinking, for example, as opposed to being “told” what he’s thinking. (C) At the same time the reader is afforded this intimacy with the character, the third person aspect allows the author to show various viewpoints within the story, unlike first person POV, in which we have the intimacy at the expense of other viewpoints.

Removed third person steps outside the character a bit, inserting some psychic distance between the action and the reader. The reader can still feel somewhat in the character’s head, but not as completely. This POV is less warm, less emotionally intense, but can be very effective in the hands of a skilled writer. For in this POV, the author’s narrative voice is often louder than the voice of the character. In this POV, we’ll find more “telling” than in close third person. But here, the telling—again, if it’s done well—will seem appropriate, and even compelling. Far fewer contemporary novelists write in removed third person. But one author who comes immediately to my mind does it extremely well.

Omniscient third person pulls the narrative voice way back, inserting the greatest amount of psychic distance between the reader and the action. This is the old classics modus operandi, a la Dickens and Chekhov and the like. Readers don’t feel that they’re in the characters’ heads at all. It feels more like hovering in the corner of a room, watching the action. As a result, the author’s narrative voice has full control, all the time. In the classics age, this POV also resulted in a very formal, stiff-sounding use of words.

So, you see how this fits in with the unusual words issue? In close third person, the author has to pay attention to what words the character would use. In removed and omniscient, the author is more free to use his/her choice of words. Therefore, “bigger” or more unusual words can be used more often in the removed and omniscient voices without making the reader feel pulled out of the story.

More tomorrow. We’ll spend some time thinking about all this, and how it affects us as readers and writers. Your thoughts so far?

Read Part 2