Asleep At The Pen

EAS 2: Authentic Character Emotion – Flaws, Growth, Arcs, and Transformation

HappySadTheatreMaskOur characters are people – real in our mind, real on the page, and real in our hearts. Make them as real to your readers as they are to you.

This is the most important part of a novel. We might have excellent plots that twist and turn with fresh surprises at every angle, or a beautiful, imaginative world that inspires us with awe. Maybe a fresh, fascinating story rarely told, or even masterful prose with transcendent knowledge and application of language. But take any book you love, replace the characters with flat shadows of people, and you are left only with empty, black ink.

From the first line of our story, invest the reader in the characters we create. Show us what they care about. It could be as important as saving the universe, or as small as caring for a single daisy. But if our characters care, our readers will care. So, how do we do this?

Real people have passions. If our character loves gardening, don’t tell us that she gardens everyday. Show us how warm she feels as the sun beats on her back, as her hands ache with the pressure of churning soil, how much she sweats as she labors away for hours, but show us her satisfaction of witnessing seeds of nothingness grow with time into delicious tomatoes, or red roses, or juicy watermelons. And she doesn’t have to be good at it. She just needs to be passionate about it.

Emotion is universal. Everybody can identify with it, so the stronger the emotion (well…this can be overdone), the stronger the connection. I recommend overstating emotion. In theatre, emotion is overstated, as it is in cinema and books. But the reader won’t be able to tell if you do it right. Exaggerated emotion is one of the keys to storytelling. This doesn’t mean our character runs around on a rampage shooting or slicing everyone up, neither does it mean our character should drive around crying everywhere after her boyfriend dumps her. Here’s what it can mean: Our character reacts internally after witnessing a herd of buffalo stampede over her freshly budded grove of plant life. Depending on what kind of person she is, she could scream, “NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!” (not recommended), or we can show her feeling the strong loss of creating something from nothing, then shoving down the exaggerated emotion, only to unleash it at a later time – directed at someone undeserving. Which is the more interesting story? Who do you identify with more? If your answer is the screaming psychopath, perhaps you should join Darth Vader and the Dark Side.

Point is, when readers identify with the characters, and when they have a stake in the story, we become invested. And when we become invested, we now have a stake in the story. We’ll flip the pages from cover to cover to see what happens next, unable to set the book down. We’ll feel both satisfied at the end, and disappointed there is nothing of the story left to read.

In the title, I also mentioned growth. In a great story, not only does our protagonist change, but our antagonist also changes. Many writers miss the latter point. This doesn’t necessarily mean our antagonist transforms into a saint, but it can mean they learn an important life lesson, or devolve into something even worse.

So, growth of our protagonists. (We can also show protagonists devolving.) What better way to show growth at the end, than flaws at the beginning. Real people have flaws, right? You have flaws, don’t you? I certainly have no flaws, but we all know you do, right? Right, where were we? Flaws, yeah. It’s okay for our characters to have flaws, especially if they’re universally identifiable. What makes a story interesting is how our characters deal with those flaws. Do they learn from their mistakes and get over hard-learned obstacles? Or do they fall to the Dark Side like our forever-friend Darth Vader? Show the story, don’t tell it. Make the reader a friend by showing our characters’ experiences as they endure them. Then leave that lasting impression by showing how far they’ve come. Key is to show our protagonists’ progression little at a time, then compound the growth with extreme experiences. But never leave them stagnant. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if our characters grow too much too quickly, they might lose that ever-so-important quality – reader identification.

Transformation also ties integrally with growth, the difference being, they are rarely recognizably the same person when comparing them at the beginning of the book to the final page. We need to be careful here. As advised above, if our characters grow too quickly, we will lose our audience. Want your characters to transform? Throw unique, interesting, and hard – very, very hard – decisions and obstacles in their paths. They need to make the emotional or logical choice for who they are at that time – which changes them forever. Then keep doing it again. But beware, always change the pace. If we have a non-stop, hard-hitting pace from start to finish, our readers will never be able to come up for air. And breathing is important for most of us.

In Elements of Advanced Storytelling, I promised to dig into the differences between active, reactive, and proactive characters, and which are the most interesting in stories. Okay everyone, raise your hands. Active? Eh, might get a few hands in the air. Reactive? Hmm, probably only one or two. Okay, what about proactive? AHA! There they are! Raise them nice and high! Yep, you are right. Proactive characters are by far the most interesting, and here’s why.

Reactive characters only do what? That’s right – react! Our antagonists will likely be the most interesting characters in this type of character story because they are making everything happen. They are making the decisions for our protagonists – shaping them, forcing them to enact whatever evil plans our antagonists are concocting. Just about the only interesting thing our protagonist can do in this situation is react unexpectedly. But that’s a far cry from our other two types. Active characters are good. They will react, but will also push back. They will create tension, and exert a moving role to drive the story forward. Now, proactive characters take charge. Proactive characters don’t necessarily always know what they want, but they always make decisions (good or bad). This makes for a much more interesting story. It is highly common for the inciting incident in our novel to cause a reaction in our character that impels the story forward all the way to the last page. But if our protagonists are actively doing something in the beginning, and drive the story forward all on their own, that’s when we get caught staying up into the wee hours of the night reading that novel we just can’t put down. This is real tension – driven purely by our proactive characters.

Outlines. Some of us use them, some of us don’t. But I recommend everyone sketch out at least enough about our main characters to understand who they are. The worst thing we can do is think we know our characters, then make them do something they normally wouldn’t for the sake of the plot. If you want a good reference for an outline, here’s my advice. Make your own. There are numerous character outlines you can download off the net. Some are very detailed, some are vague. But, we all need to find that character outline that fits our story, then make it. It could be as little as describing their personalities, their likes/dislikes, tastes, experiences, and what they would do if held at gunpoint. Yes, many characters will never face that latter problem, but you need to know your characters. What better way than to consider what they would do in a life or death situation?

Want more outlining? Okay, write down how you want them to change throughout your novel. Who do they meet? How do they interact? Write down a few jokes they would tell, or physical tics or eccentricities. Show us their turning points and future moments of clarity. The list goes on and on. We should never put it all in our novel, but as writers, we need to know. Key is, stay organized, stay on track. And remember, sometimes when we write that novel, the outline flies out the window. Allow our characters to change, to experience life beyond the bounds we’ve set forth in an outline.

Any questions or comments? Feel free to express yourself. I want to hear your thoughts. I’ve found the above to be some of the best methods (that by the way work universally), but I always keep an open mind, and I’m always striving to learn and grow – to be better than I was yesterday. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your comments. Thanks!

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June 16, 2013 Posted by | Advanced Storytelling | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

EAS 1: Hook Your Reader!

ChapterOneFrom the first line in a story, it is important to suck the reader in by showing immediate tension with the protagonist. So what makes an exciting first line? And at what point in our novel or short story do we “re-hook” the reader?

Make interesting things happen – preferably bad things. That’s the base of basics of hooking. But please, PLEASE, don’t start your piece with one of the following first lines. They are overused and generic, and unless done in some awesomely unique-never-before-seen-blow-your-socks-off way, agents and editors will cringe, and will not read on. Remember, agents look for an excuse not to read further. And don’t you want to make your piece as interesting and unique as possible? Anyway, here are my top 5 “cringers”:

  • Waking up – especially from an alarm clock: This is one of the most common first lines agents and editors read. And complain about. Whether it is or isn’t, most believe it to be lazy writing. So come on! You’re a writer! You can do better than that!
  • “It was a dark, and stormy night…”: Weather in general – whether the weather is dark and stormy, or bright and sunshiny, this is one of the most overused, so try to avoid it.
  • The bad day at school: This is more common with YA. This has both been done very well and muy terrible! But it’s still the bad day at school. As unique as your character’s bad day at school is, it is, still, indeed, the bad day at school. Most agents and editors will stop reading.
  • It was all just a dream: Starting your story with a bang is great, but if the opening turns out to be just a dream, many readers will be disappointed, and agents will in all likelihood stop reading…
  • Running through a forest (especially if it’s a nightmare): This at first glance might seem like a great idea, but many, many, many others have also come up with this idea. As many twists and turns, near-death experiences, or lost loves they have while running through this forest, agents and editors will smack their foreheads, shake their heads, and punch “delete” on their keyboards – (that is if the “delete” key has survived the abundant daily abuse).

Still reading? Okay good. You might have thrown a few expletives my way, chucked your keyboard at me, or revisited your novel a moment to check how you started your story… But there’s good news! There are PLENTY of great first lines! Here’s what makes a great hook:

  • Begin with the character. Not description. Not the weather. Not the building. Not the world. Not a prologue. The character.
  • Give the reader an immediate stake by putting the character or something the character loves in imminent danger, or start with a special flavor of comedy. Could be physical, could be emotional or psychological.
  • Start with an interesting action or thought. Make it fresh. Make it immediate and impactful.
  • Show the reader who the character is in that first line. No back story. Who are they NOW? What are they doing right now that will impel your story forward all the way to the last line?

Want some good examples? Here we go:

  • “Our story opens where countless stories have ended in the last twenty-six years: with an idiot – in this case, my brother Shaun – deciding it would be a good idea to go out and poke a zombie with a stick to see what happens.” ~ Mira Grant, Feed
  • “Prince Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning, completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity.” ~ Brandon Sanderson, Elantris
  • “It was a pleasure to burn.” ~ Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
  • “We go about our daily lives understanding almost nothing about the world.” ~ Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time
  • “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” ~ C.S. Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Nuff said? Who would stop reading any of these novels after those phenomenal first lines? Albeit, Brandon Sanderson woke up his character in the first line, but being “damned for all eternity” kind of overpowers the former. Point is – there are exceptions to everything. We can argue about genre, preference, and style, but a great first line is a great first line.

In Elements of Advanced Storytelling, I promised to dig into not only the first line, but also show how to hook a reader throughout a piece, keep them intrigued. This goes along with a later post I’ll write, “Tension, Conflict, and the Driving Force,” with a couple big differences. We establish tension by hooking a reader. The catalyst is the hook. The reaction is the tension and conflict. And oftentimes, the hook is a one-liner, or small paragraph that escalates emotion or impels action.

Introduce something new when it makes sense, but surprise the reader. Keep them on their toes. At the end of chapters, throw in a one-liner to re-hook the reader – to keep them turning the pages. In the new chapter, throw in another hook. These first and last chapter one-liners aren’t nearly as important as the first line in a novel, but most great writers understand how to cause us poor readers those many sleepless nights. This isn’t the end-all be-all of writing, but you must know where your story is heading. Keep it moving forward by keeping the reader hooked.

Re-hooking can come in many forms – dialogue, emotion, action, comedy, even literary prose. But it must make sense to your novel. I wouldn’t tell a joke at the end of a chapter if the next one begins with a torture scene. Well…unless you want to shock the reader. But that’s a different subject. Anyway, the mood of characters, the voice of your story, and the pace of your prose dictates where those strategic hooks can be placed. Sometimes, it won’t make sense to begin or end a chapter with a hook, but the key is to watch for it. Write. And read. Look for those turning points or moments in your book where one line could make a big difference. Use this in conjunction with tension and character, and you are well on your way to a best-seller.

May 26, 2013 Posted by | Advanced Storytelling | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Elements of Advanced Storytelling

CherryBlossomIn the following weeks, I’ll delve into how to take our writing to the next level. In the past months, I’ve written a lot about basic storytelling, shared best practices, shown how to hone our skills, and revealed a little about characters and world building. Here, I’ve broken out Advanced Storytelling into a number of important elements, and will detail each of these into individual posts in the weeks that follow. Hope you enjoy!

  • HOOK YOUR READER: From the first line in your story, it is important to suck the reader in by showing immediate tension with your protagonist. Next week, I’ll discuss what first lines we should avoid, which are overused, and what ingredients grill up an exciting hook. However, this goes far beyond that introductory sentence. When is it appropriate to relax the tension? When should we begin to delve into back-story? At what points in our story should we re-hook the reader with another twist? How do we end it in a way that is both satisfactory to the reader, and leaves them craving for more? Stay tuned, and we’ll delve into the details.
  • AUTHENTIC CHARACTER EMOTION – FLAWS, GROWTH, ARCS, AND TRANSFORMATION OF PROTAGONISTS AND ANTAGONISTS: I’ve shown in previous posts how important character emotion is. Emotion links us to our characters, gives us a stake in the story, and makes us truly care about what happens – connects us to fresh and new experiences. Might even have an impact on our world outside of reading. In this topic, I’ll discuss at what points in our story we should show character growth, (or the lack of), and dig into how to make this experience truly impactful to the reader. We’ll review best practices and the art of taking our characters’ arcs to the next level – both protagonists’ and antagonists’. I’ll explain the differences between proactive, active, and reactive characters. We’ll also dig into this scientifically – showing outlines and how this relates to our plot elements and increases tension.
  • TENSION, CONFLICT, AND THE DRIVING FORCE: To keep the story moving and our readers impulsively flipping the pages into the wee hours of morning, it is imperative to show the steady progression of plot and characters, the enticing details of hazards and wrenches, and the difficulties and growth that ensues. Some good advice: the more we torment our characters, the more interesting the story. When should we ramp up the tension and conflict? When should we relax? Sub-plots are at times necessary, but many times they are not. It is important to consistently progress the storyline, and at the same time, show the little steps and interesting details that keep the readers holding their breath.
  • YOUR WORLD – DETAILS, CULTURE, AND SENSES: It is easy to bog the reader down with unnecessary details, or do the opposite and not show enough. Where is the balance? This depends a lot on the story, style, genre, characters, length, and voice. But it is always important to make the world we portray real to our audience. Here, we’ll delve into the finer details and examples of great stories with interaction – and the differences of styles and how they relate to the overall theme and story structure.
  • THE THREE ACTIONS – ACTION, REACTION, INTERACTION: Characters and the world, the reader and writer, the plot and details. In this topic, I will discuss how we put it all together with the “Three Actions.” I’ll show how they interrelate and the parallels between them. I’ll reveal why these elements are so important and how they impact the storytelling experience.
  • STORY STRUCTURE AND THEMES – OUTLINING VS “PANTSING”: Hundreds if not thousands of books crowd the market, all showing the best ways to structure a story. Here, we will dig into why there are so many different methods, which to use, which to avoid, and why. Is there a “best” way, or does it depend on the style of the author? Should we conform to what the world is telling us, or enhance our natural strengths? There is much controversy here, and I will take a neutral stance in order to show the broadest picture, explain why so many authors are adamant that their own opposing and conflicting views are correct, and give my advice on how to proceed in this vast sea of style.
  • PROSE WITH STYLE AND VOICE – CLARITY, BREVITY, AND WORD CHOICE: Writing is an art, but with any art, the more knowledge and experience one has, the more likely one will succeed. The broader our experiences and perspectives, and the more we open ourselves to possibilities and ideas, the more likely we will achieve our goals. Our work ethic matters. Our passions matter. We must know ourselves, stay in tune to our strengths and weaknesses, then actively make ourselves improve and grow. Grammar might seem basic, but the more knowledgeable one is, the more command one has of language – not to mention an understanding of which rules are breakable and when. In this topic, I will discuss the differences between character and author voice, and expand on the importance of the words we use, and how we use them. There are many styles of storytelling, and I will show examples of some of the most common, and analyze their differences.

Like many, I have a passion for storytelling, but I’m also acutely aware of my strengths and weaknesses. The elements of self-awareness, knowledge, patience, understanding, wisdom, and work ethic are all fruits that set me on my path to success. To grow as a writer is to grow as a person. I look forward to your future comments and interactions.

May 8, 2013 Posted by | Advanced Storytelling | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Know Thy Character’s Character

Hands1I like action movies, spicy food, and long walks on the beach. Sounds like a dating site mantra, right? Well, there might be something more to this.

Real people have tastes, real people have likes, dislikes, and preferences. Real people discriminate both positively and negatively. Real people are unique. Shouldn’t our characters share similar attributes?

It’s easy to get lost in our plots, interactions, world building, story structure, prose, and a million other important building blocks of storytelling. But in any great book I’ve read, characters are at the center of it all. Characters who seem like real people.

My advice, learn about your characters. In an outlined, plot-driven story, it’s easy to forget about their decisions. It’s easy to make them do something because the plot requires it. But is that decision something our characters would make if truly given the option? Do we even know?

Spend some time building your characters. Get to know their families and friends. Discover what sorts of people they hang out with, and what they like to do in their free time. What decisions have they made in their past to get them to where they are today? What are their hobbies?

In addition, I recommend truly looking at whether they play inactive or active roles in your story. In other words, are your protagonists responding only to how your antagonist set them up, or are they actively progressing and growing based on their own motivations? Commonly, protagonists play inactive roles in the beginning of stories due to the antagonist’s inciting incident, then grow based on their experiences and interactions. However, most great stories I’ve read show the characters actively making hard decisions and progressing the story themselves – and from the very beginning – instead of being pulled along by the plot.

Now, should all the characters likes, dislikes, and preferences be included in the story? I say no. But as the writer, it is important you know them. Give hints to some, and reveal others. This will make a character jump out of the page and come to life.

In short, characters are people too! Know them better than your best friend, even better than yourself. You alone know their pasts, their present, and their futures. Show us who they are, connect us to them, and we won’t be able to put that story down.

April 23, 2013 Posted by | Storytelling | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Effects of Traveling on Characters

I flew from Sacramento to Denver today, and during the flight, began considering the effects of traveling. Which got me thinking about characters in books. Naturally. (I know, I’m weird.)

Traveling is hard on the body and mind. Strange to consider, because all we’re really doing is sitting there, right? Wrong.

Anytime we’re taken out of our comfort zone, our subconscious heightens our sense of awareness. For some of us, the effect is more conscious. But the more we travel, and the more familiar the locations, the easier it is for our mind to predict. Thus, lowering our stress levels, and lessening exhaustion.

Traveling must be tiring for our characters also. It can be easy to see the plot, know what needs to happen, then write it. But, it’s important to reflect on how this impacts the characters. Are they accustomed to traveling? Are they used to the methods of traveling? Are they familiar with the locations they are traveling to? The journeys our characters take affect them, change them, mold them. But, how?

Look at yourself and consider the effects on you. When you take a trip, how exhausted are you when arriving at your destination? Or perhaps you’re so excited, adrenaline kicks in and you don’t feel the effects until the next day. Interesting, no?

Characters are people too! So write them that way. Show their exhaustion on their journeys. Show their excitement. Show how sore riding in a saddle all day makes them. Show them daydreaming while driving a great distance, then realizing with surprise that they’ve driven miles.

There are many ways to show the effects of travel, but above all, show their humanity. Show realistic emotions and reactions – this will create empathy and understanding. Create tension due to the stress of traveling.

How does this change them? You decide.

April 7, 2013 Posted by | Storytelling, World Building | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Holidays: Divining Culture

EasterIshtarHappy Easter. Wait, hold on, back up. Easter? What is this “Easter thing” I speak of? Seems like a strange question, but the name alone inspires much controversy. Don’t believe me? Keep reading.

For Christians, it celebrates the resurrection of Christ. When I was a kid, the following questions always made me scratch my head. Where did the Easter Bunny and Easter eggs come from? Why is it always celebrated on Sundays? And finally, why do so many non-religious people observe it?

I won’t even begin to delve into this, but it has everything to do with old paganism. Disagree? Yeah, controversy.

Over the past week, I’ve been thinking a lot about Easter – what it means today, what it used to mean, and why it changed so much. This also got me thinking about holidays in general, which made my mind spin with creativity.

Holidays in writing. What a great opportunity to create culture in a story. So much richness, contention, and differing beliefs exist today in reality, why not transfer this over to world building?

Developing holidays gives us a chance to create cultures and conflict, back-story and religion. If you don’t know where to begin building characters, religions, or plots, you can start with holidays.

easter_egg_huntJust make something up! Call it Purple Tortoise Day! It sounds ridiculous, right? But to those of us unfamiliar, and even to some of us who are, painting Easter eggs and dressing up Christmas trees might also seem ridiculous. Call your new celebration Day of Milk Baths or create a yearly Carrion Carry!

Regardless what you choose, the more ridiculous the holiday you think up, the more interesting it will be, and likely, the richer the history. It will create conflict, religions, and tension potentially before you even come up with a protagonist.

Then, when you set pen to paper to write your story, your world will already be vast. Your characters will feel more real and relatable. Their adventures closer to home. Here’s a point I find very interesting. The majority do not know the true roots or reasons of common holidays, or understand the full picture of their histories. I find this fascinating. Holidays are traditions. Through the years, they change. Meanings lost or twisted. Reasons for certain games and their rules shift. But the spirit of the holidays can remain.

Christians, atheists, agnostics, and every other religion can celebrate Easter in their own ways, or can choose to not celebrate at all.

ChristianEasterThis is what makes holidays so intriguing. You do not need to write exposition in your story as to why it exists. You simply can show your characters celebrating it. The readers will understand your hints of meaning, and will be intrigued as to why certain traditions endure. As the writer, you don’t need to delve into the past to pique your readers’ interest. In fact, doing just the opposite can often help mold a richer culture, develop more tantalizing characters, and reveal hints of a lost history. If done correctly, you will have succeeded in sucking your readers in, and making your story feel more real.

So Happy Easter to all, whether you are Christian or Agnostic. Atheist or Buddhist. Celebrate this special day as you wish, but remember, each day is what you make of it. May you find happiness this day, and the next.

March 31, 2013 Posted by | Storytelling, World Building | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Unexpected Dreams

Yesterday, I asked my three year-old daughter, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

She said, “Umm, I think a doctor or a fire chief, or even you, Dadda.”

Such a sweet moment. My heart warmed at the sentiment. Nothing is more important than family. But it also got me thinking. At what point in my life did I decide I wanted to be a writer?

Growing up, I had unrealistic dreams like any other normal kid. I wanted to be Superman. I wanted to play basketball for the NBA. When I got older, I wanted to be a professional singer. But when I got into high school, I started viewing the world differently – in a more realistic way. But still positively.

So NBA and Superman were out. I considered pursuing music and singing, but thought again. I didn’t want to be poor. So what other potential career paths did I feel I would love? I rolled it around in my mind and thought up a few possibilities: mechanical engineer, computer engineer, computer programmer, sniper for the military, nuclear physicist, math professor, music teacher.

But never once did I consider writing as a profession.

Yes, I always wanted to write a novel, but I took that as seriously as anyone else who wanted to someday write a book. I considered it would be more of a check-mark on my bucket list – like climbing Mount Everest or taking a pilgrimage through Africa.

So after college, I found myself in the military. Halfway through my four-year term, some friends introduced me to this game called Dungeons and Dragons. I was hesitant at first to try it out – as it was associated with only super-geeks, but I played anyway.

And fell in love with it.

That moment fired my passion for storytelling. Shortly thereafter, I decided to write a book for real. I got about two chapters in, and realized it was a D&D campaign, not a book. So I scratched that story, read a few series of Fantasy novels, and came up with a new idea.

That idea turned into a book. I finished it after my four-year term in the military, still unsure what I wanted to be when I grew up. I disliked what I did in the military, wasn’t passionate about what I learned in college, and wanted to try something fresh. However, writing novels still was not an option for me. Storytelling still excited me, but it didn’t appear I’d ever make any money at it.

Fortunately, I found a balance. Needing money to provide for my family, I quickly found a new job right out of the military, then eventually moved back to California. I discovered something I thoroughly enjoyed, which allowed me to make a decent wage – while allowing myself enough time to spend with the family and simultaneously, continue my writing.

I’ve previously posted about my journey of writing, how much I’ve learned and why, and the realization of being represented by an agent.

But it all started with a dream.

A dream that began late for me. I never thought I would be doing what I am today. Life throws unexpected curve balls and people change as they grow, finding new dreams, new hopes, new skills, and learning lessons that change value structures and entire belief systems.

I know I have changed, and I continue to grow. But that passion for storytelling still blazes in my soul. If you are a writer, and feel that passion, keep kindling that flame. Though I found mine later than some, that fire can never be extinguished.

Regardless of what happens during the process, if writing is something you love, don’t let others put it out. Don’t let self-doubt or opinions squelch that flame, because you will lose a piece of yourself. Grow, keep your mind open to change, open yourself to challenges that will continue to add kindling. Writing is an art, so find your voice, discover what you love about it, and grow.

Looking back to that question I asked my daughter yesterday, I can’t wait to see that passion in her eyes for what she loves, to support her as she grows, to help kindle that flame as she finds herself.

But she’s only three years old, and a part of me doesn’t ever want her to grow up.

Whatever passions I have, they’re all secondary to my family – something else I never saw as a younger man.

May you find what matters most to you, and protect what you love. Grow and adapt, keep your mind open to what the future might bring. Inspire those around you with your passions, and overcome your troubled feelings and obstacles without taking them out on others. I’ve discovered only one constant in this universe. Change. May we all make the best of it, because all matter eventually turns to dust.

March 24, 2013 Posted by | The Journey | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Very Special Day

To many, I say Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Today, everybody is Irish! Drink a green beer, wear a green pin, or take your family and loved ones on a special outing.

But today means much more to me, personally. It signifies the fourth year my wife and I have been married. Happy Anniversary to us! Each year continues to be better than the last. We have been together for nine years, and I must say, I have grown immeasurably. I am a far happier person today than I was nine years ago. And those few people who knew me back then can vouch for my extreme turnaround. I owe it all to my wife for her patience, for showing me it’s okay to be happy.

Reflecting back to those beginning years, I shake my head. It’s a wonder how far I’ve come. In every way – even my writing. I’ve only been at it for 10 years, and after comparing my first draft to where I am today, it’s the difference between a kindergartener’s toy car and a humming Dodge Viper. There’s still room for growth, but wow, what a difference.

When I finished the first draft of my novel, I thought to myself, “Okay, what’s next?” So I began writing book 2 in the series. It didn’t take me long to realize there was something wrong with my writing, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

So, I hired an editor. She scoured through it – fixed some grammar issues, sentence structure problems – she did her best for what it was. It needed more. Much more.

I put it down for about a year, feeling stuck, not knowing where to go. Then, I had an idea. Without going back to college and earning a degree in English, perhaps there was a better way to learn that thing I was missing. A writers group.

I found Stonehenge. And on that first night I attended, I learned something. I had a long way to go before I could ever consider myself to be a writer.

Through listening, practicing, hard work, and dedication, I can now proudly call myself a writer. My work is publishable, and in fact, I even have a Literary Agent! The awesome Pam van Hylckama Vlieg, book blogger and Twitter extraordinaire with Foreword Literary.

Today, I celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, the memory of how far I’ve come, but most of all, I celebrate my anniversary with my beautiful wife. She is the greatest gift to my world, and forever inspires me to be better than I was the day before.

March 17, 2013 Posted by | The Journey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Raise Our Glasses to POV

What is a POV? Well, at my day job, it’s an acronym for Personal Owned Vehicle, but in the writing world, it’s known universally as Point of View.

What does it mean? Merriam-Webster defines it as: “A position or perspective by which something is considered or evaluated; standpoint.” Its first known use was in 1720.

Great. Now we know what it means, but how and why can it be applied to storytelling?

There are varying answers to this all-encompassing question, so let’s start with the how – the different ways to apply it, the different tenses, and the different perspectives. Here are some of the most common.

Third Person Limited: This is the hottest third person view to write from on the marketplace right now because of how easy it is for the reader to relate to the main protagonist. We see the world from the main character’s eyes only, know only what the character knows. We see his/her thoughts, feel those emotions, and sense the world with the character’s smells, tastes, sounds, sights, and touches. We know nothing about any other person or even the world except for how our main character perceives them.

This is most commonly written in past tense, and allows the reader to truly get to know him/her with immediacy and intimacy, and it illicits a strong emotional response. While reading, instead of watching the scenes progress through a window, we are right there with the character, seeing through his/her eyes, reacting when the character reacts, and thus, we have a stronger emotional connection. We have a more personal stake in the story. This above all keeps readers turning the page, keeps us interested, shows instead of tells of the scene real-time. And even though it is written in past tense, the reaction is immediate and close. Disadvantage is – we are unable to confront the world or learn anything that the character does not experience. This is most widely used across all genres except non-fiction, and less often used in Romance, YA, and MG.

Example: The moment Matt jumped from the plane, he regretted ever having agreed to this foolish notion. From the pit of his stomach, panic swelled to immeasurable heights. The cold wind howled in his ears, making him shiver as the land grew closer. He clenched his jaw, tightened his abdomen, and wondered if he’d ever have the courage to reach out and pull that cord to open his parachute.

Third Person Omniscient: This is a more old-fashioned style of third person storytelling, most often written  in past tense, but is still used today in some circumstances. This is commonly known as the narrator POV. As the reader, we can see all, hear all, know all. Writing has evolved through the years, and some consider this a lesser form of storytelling because it becomes more difficult to relate to the main characters. Personally, I believe it simply to be out of style. However, it has major disadvantages. It’s hard to feel immediacy with this form, more difficult to connect emotionally with the characters. There’s a greater distance between the reader and the protagonist. But it also allows the writer to show things that the main character would not normally see, which might be integral to the story. We can often see this in traditional Literary Fiction such as Count of Monte Cristo, in dated Fantasy and Science Fiction, and in older Historical Fiction, and Historical Fantasy.

Example: The moment Matt jumped from the plane, Joe smiled from behind. Unknown to Matt, Joe hadn’t packed the parachute properly, didn’t realize it was done on purpose. As he spiraled through the air closer to his death, both contemplated what would soon happen. But neither realized the repercussions of their decisions, or anticipated what the actual result would be.

Third Person Head Hopping: If done properly, this can create tension, illicit a strong emotional reaction, and allow the reader to see the world through several eyes at once, experience the world from more than one perspective. However, it isn’t often done correctly, and even if it is, can create confusion. The danger is jarring the reader: as soon as we are able to relate to one character, we are ripped out of their POV and slammed into another. Using this mode of storytelling makes it difficult to be sucked into only one character, and creates distance between us and the protagonist. However, it has the distinct advantage of allowing the reader to forge a relationship with more than one character at a time. Often, the POVs are separated by paragraphs, but sometimes are changed sentence by sentence. This form is the rarest used of this bunch, but can be read across all genres except non-fiction.

Example: The moment Matt Jumped from the plane, Joe cracked his knuckles, feeling giddy to finally having rid himself of this jackass. The punk had stolen his wife. Well, this would be the last time Matt robbed anything from anyone.

As Matt sailed through the air, death drawing closer with every moment, the cold wind howled in his ears, making him shiver as the land grew nearer. He clenched his jaw, tightened his abdomen, and wondered if he’d ever have the courage to reach out and pull that cord to open his parachute.

As we can see, the transition shift from the two points of views in the above example is jarring, and it takes a moment for us to readjust.

First Person Present Tense: An excellent perspective to write from, this style allows the reader closeness to the character that no other POV can grasp. It is one of the most popular of this bunch, and is primarily seen in but not limited to YA, MG, and Romance genres. Disadvantages of using this style are how description is given, and how often the pronouns “I,” “me,” and “my” are used. As a normal person, I don’t narrate myself picking up a sandwich to eat – I simply do it. But, those who write in this format often face this problem. This sometimes reveals oddness to the writing that wouldn’t be caught if written in third person.

Example: I jump from the plane and tumble down across the sky. My throat tightens and I shiver as the land grows near. My hands frozen by both cold and fear, I wonder if I have the courage to pull that cord before my young life ends. Before I get to tell Joe’s wife goodbye.

In conclusion, if you haven’t yet decided which perspective to write from, experiment a little. The most popular of the above group today are First Person Present Tense, and Third Person Limited. Find out what works best for you. None of these styles are necessarily better or worse, comparatively speaking, but all have advantages and disadvantages you should consider before choosing. My advice, choose a situation to write about, then create it from multiple POVs. Write it from the different styles, then choose the one you feel most connected with.

As all of us grow as writers, so may our styles change. But the important moral here is to learn, and continue learning. Keep our minds open to possibilities, because as soon as we form a strong opinion on the matter, we limit ourselves to growing. As a balance, we must know ourselves, know our voice, so that when faced with differing opinions, we will not sacrifice who we are for the benefit of others.

March 10, 2013 Posted by | Storytelling | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Foreword Literary Agency

As has been recently revealed, I am now represented by Literary Agent Pam van Hylckama Vlieg. Some of you are probably getting sick of me talking about it, but there’s more news! Exciting news! This agency has shifted, been created anew under a fresh name. It has adapted to the digital age, and is the very first agency to make this shift. Not only will this new agency be working with traditional publishers, Foreword Literary will also be getting their fingers dirty with e-publishing. Here’s the press release:

FOREWORD LITERARY DEBUTS IN SAN FRANCISCO
New agency to concentrate on traditional and emerging aspects
of book publishing for their author-clients

March 5, 2013—San Francisco Bay Area—A new literary agency was formed today in California’s Silicon Valley…one focused on technology and innovation in addition to the more traditional aspects of publishing. Laurie McLean and Pam van Hylckama Vlieg, both former literary agents with Larsen Pomada Literary Agents, along with Gordon Warnock, formerly a senior agent at Andrea Hurst & Associates, have joined forces to create FOREWORD LITERARY, INC. with headquarters in the Silicon Valley and offices throughout the country.

“My background for more than 20 years before I entered publishing was in high tech marketing,” McLean said. “So in 2008 I recognized the emergence of Smashwords, Kindle, self-publishing, and ebooks, as a disruptive force that would revolutionize the publishing industry. I’ve seen this type of transformation many times before, and I know how to take advantage of the opportunities that are cropping up everywhere. This is where I want to make a difference for authors and publishers.”

Foreword Literary will be a virtual agency with professionals in the San Francisco Bay area, Sacramento, Chicago and the Central Coast of California to begin with. But geographic limitations will be swept away through the use of cloud-based technology.

“Like the name says, Foreword Literary was created to move our clients’ careers and publishing forward. We keep abreast of all current and upcoming technology and plan to utilize every aspect of publishing to our clients’ favor, be it print, digital, or the newest thing since Gutenberg that hasn’t been invented yet,” said van Hylckama Vlieg.

New York Times and USA Today bestselling YA fantasy author Julie Kagawa, who landed three seven-figure deals while McLean’s client, will make the move to Foreword, as will 24 of McLean’s clients, 23 of van Hylckama Vlieg’s clients, and all of Warnock’s clients.

Warnock said, “I’m excited about what this means for our clients. We all have writing backgrounds, and we bring that passion and understanding to each of our projects. We’re also very aware that we can only be successful when our clients are successful. We’ve created an environment that is conducive to building promising writing careers, and I honestly think they’ll be some of the best served in the business.”

About Foreword Literary

Foreword Literary, Inc. is a new hybrid literary agency, blending the knowledge and skills of traditional publishing with the brash new opportunities engendered by digital publishing, self-publishing, ebooks, and technology. Partners Laurie McLean, Pam van Hylckama Vlieg, and Gordon Warnock are joined by assistant agents Danielle Smith and Jen Karsbaek, and interns Laura Cummings and John Hansen. Visit the website, http://forewordliterary.com for more information. Or follow us on Twitter @forewordlit.

Testimonials

“Gordon’s support and attentiveness are positively unwavering; it has been his compassionate encouragement and unfailing literary expertise that have carried me through the arduous process of revising and pitching my manuscript. I can’t imagine where I would be without his guidance, and would never think of making a decision regarding my career without consulting him first. Gordon has many times over proven what an excellent agent, writer, reader, and editor he is. Above all else, he has become one of my dearest friends, and a welcome addition to my community of literary folk.”
Tanya Chernov
A Real Emotional Girl

“I’m so excited to be part of the launch of this exciting, new literary agency. From working with Pam and Laurie, I’ve learned that they understand our hugely changed and ever-changing publishing culture. I have great confidence that Foreword will be uniquely positioned to grow my career as an author on every level.”
Jeffe Kennedy
The Twelve Kingdoms Series

“I honestly wouldn’t have gotten where I am without super agent Laurie McLean.”
Bestselling YA Author Julie Kagawa

March 5, 2013 Posted by | The Journey | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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