Monday, November 26, 2007

A Process of Experimentation

“If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?”-- Albert Einstein

Hah! Nor would it be called “writing.” *wink* We are mad scientists of the written word. We start with the germ of an idea… “What if…?” and begin our process of experimentation. Set the stage, shove in the players and let’s see what dastardly circumstances we can conjure up. Pit falls and red herrings, misdirection and misconception, we’re more than ready to throw every obstacle in our character’s way. Happily Ever After becomes the cheese dangling at the end of the maze.

Yet strangely enough, the kinship we feel with our characters blossoms out of a shared struggle. Both fictional characters and author are racing down one blind corridor after another. The distinctions blur. It becomes impossible to discern who needs that Happy Ending more, the hero and heroine or the author herself. The struggle for a resolution is shared, and just as our heroes and heroines need an extra push, so do we. In our wacky experiment, the perfect ending is as enticing and as elusive as that fragrant end-of-the-maze cheese.

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” –Albert Einstein

Deadlines, markets, editing and endless rewrites, all are obstacles that every author must face. Yet, it could be that our biggest obstacle is really our own damn selves. When the pressure of pushing forward becomes too intense we’re sorely tempted to pull away. To let go the effort. To even… *gasp* give up. And, if we’re going to be realistic, sometimes the only way to renew our faith is to retreat for a time. Retreat, rather than surrender. Approach the knotty problem from another direction, sometimes that’s all it takes to find the solution.

“You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created.” Albert Einstein

So writers then must balance between pushing forward and knowing when to pull back just enough to revitalize our spirit.

Plus, of course, there’s one nagging little issue. We’ve covered this before but it bears repeating. Writers Create Something Out of Nothing. And in the barest beginning of our experimentation, the idea may seem a little… well… Out There.

“If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” Albert Einstein


One of the trickiest dilemmas that aspiring-to-be-published writers experience is to magically discover somewhere deep in the cavern of imagination The Utterly Brilliant and Unique Idea. No matter how agents will assure you that Great Writing Tops All, the truth is, unless you’ve dreamed up that one-of-a-kind twist and offbeat hook, they’ll toss your query aside without a qualm. *shakes fist* So… Give your imagination free rein! Imagine a world where the absurd rules. As actors are often told—Play it big, then pull back. When the story is being created, brainstorm first. Second-guess later.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” Albert Einstein

Questions will often take you farther than answers ever will. Which is why so many writers love techniques like the “character interview.” Remember, in fiction, there’s no handy answer guide. There’s no blueprint to follow. You’re soaring on wings of imagination and there are no limits. After reading an article on poltergeists and telekinetic activity being linked to adolescent girls, Stephen King’s mind lingered on his own experiences in school. How certain girls were singled out and picked on. Teased, bullied, pushed around… What if a young girl’s angst exploded in telekinetic activity? What might she do? Scary thoughts, yet the speculation led to a published (and bestselling) novel.

Yet sometimes we do worry. We wonder if it’s worth it. Wonder if we can write one more page, send out one more query, come up with one more idea. This is a quandary we all relate to. Writing is exhilarating but also exhausting. My idea is this… Remember the old saying that the journey is the destination? There’s something to that. What is our end goal here? I say that every story we write enriches our lives. Every page we finish and every idea we explore. We are stronger and more creative as a result. So… even if just for a week or even a day, let’s try something new…

“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” Albert Einstein

Let’s recognize that our writing is valuable. Let’s open up each document and think how incredible a gift we have—we write. We Create. We are the Magic-Makers. We are writers…

Monday, November 19, 2007


“Why do writers write? Because it isn't there.” ~~Thomas Berger

Thanksgiving, for those of us in America, has grown and evolved like most holidays. Pilgrims, turkey (or Tofurki), football, parades, and pumpkin pie. Yet tucked within the basting and touchdowns is the root of an idea. Thankfulness. For family and friends, for prosperity and health, and for life itself. And let me add one more item to the list… Thankfulness for creativity. I love being a writer. Don’t you?

“One nice thing about putting the thing away for a couple of months before looking at it is that you start appreciate your own wit. Of course, this can be carried too far. But it's kind of cool when you crack up a piece of writing, and then realize you wrote it. I recommend this feeling.” ~~Steven Brust

I love pulling out stories I have written. Even the fumbling attempts from several years ago (when POV was just a concept *grin*). Is there a greater thrill than marveling over a sentence that you recognize is really damn good? Just like that gorgeous homemade pumpkin pie beckoning to your taste buds from yonder table, the story your eager eyes pore over started with a few simple ingredients. You stirred it up, baked it in a feverish oven of imagination, and after a suitable frame of time, produced a marvelous dish. Except one little difference. It’s all yours, baby. There are no other “pies” quite like the ones you bake. We Are Originals. How about that?

“The novel is an event in consciousness. Our aim isn't to copy actuality, but to modify and recreate our sense of it. The novelist is inviting the reader to watch a performance in his own brain.”~~George Buchanan

It’s astonishing, really. The courage and strength it takes not only to compose an entire novel (wow!) but to allow others to read it, well… that’s truly amazing. I’m thankful for the sheer audacity within my soul. Do you realize what a pioneer you are? How gutsy and innovative it is to even attempt to write fiction? What an incredible career we have. We Are Writers.

“Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.”~~ Cyril Connolly

Yet one of the dilemmas we face (and with rare fortitude) is The Big Choice. I salute us all for taking the risk to write what we please. To recognize that success is measured by happiness and self-satisfaction. Persistence does pay off (ask any of the published writers here) but they’ll no doubt agree that unless you write a book which pleases you, no worldly success will satisfy. So… if, when you read what you’ve written at the end of the day, you feel a rush of pleasure, my friend, You Are A Success.

“Forget all the rules. Forget about being published. Write for yourself and celebrate writing.” ~~Melinda Haynes

Celebrate and relish the joy that comes from this unique gift. To write is like nothing else. Nothing can compare. Harry Potter appeals to the masses because the stories tap into humankind’s deepest and fondest fantasy. To create magic. Well, dear friends, that’s exactly what we do, every time we write a story. We are magically creating something out of nothing but the barest wisp of imagination. We Are Magic-Makers. We Are Writers.

“I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten - happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another.” ~~Brenda Ueland

Celebrate the joy, the exhilaration, the rush of pure pleasure as you write. This is a wonderful time to embrace this delightful opportunity of ours: to create magic on a regular basis. To be thankful for the gift, for the spirit, for the opportunity to express ourselves. Yay! We Are Writers!

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone…

--Chiron O’Keefe

Monday, November 12, 2007

Creating the Universe--One Word at a Time

“A blank piece of paper is God's way of saying how hard it is to be God.” --Sidney Sheldon

I love this quote. *smile*

Authors are the Ultimate Creators of a Universe. A highly personal, crazy, wacky world where our characters are expected to ponder, giggle, exchange sloppy kisses, and live happily ever after.

So… why am I staring at a blank screen and tossing around potential plot points like soggy croutons in a limp salad?

“Creativity is a type of learning process where the teacher and pupil are located in the same individual.” – Arthur Koestler

I have three books under my belt. Creating those manuscripts has taught me much. An unmistakable lesson is how writing fiction really is a lifelong learning process. It does create a split personality of sorts. After all, there are hundreds of techniques and “rules of writing” and yet there’s only one person who knows what method works best for you. And sometimes she’s at a loss as well, eh?


There’s no mistaking the rush of excitement when a moment of clarity sizzles inside the brain. The two sides of our being mesh in that moment—we become the creation we struggle to create. We Are WRITERS!!

“There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly.” --Buckminster Fuller

All we have to do is move past that “blank page.” Jeez-Louise! So… what do we do? How do we push past the frustration born out of our need to *see* the theme, the dark moment, the turning point, the inner conflict, the character arc, and everything we’ve decided is essential to making a good story?

Life is "trying things to see if they work." ~~Ray Bradbury

There’s really only one way. We experiment. We doodle out ideas in our brain. Mix and match possibilities. We take a chance.

Indecisiveness is my curse. My biggest stumbling block. What I realized is that I needed to let go of my debilitating fear of Making The Wrong Choice.


Here’s what I found. There are no wasted words. If I write a whole chapter and later decide that direction isn’t working, I can easily start over. The time I spent writing has strengthened me and helped to improve my craft. Had I invested the same amount of time staring at blank screen fretting and worrying over a blank screen, I’m left with nothing. And here’s the rub—I will no doubt feel worse than if I had “wasted” time writing a discarded chapter.

“I learned you have to trust yourself, be what you are, and do what you ought to do the way you should do it. You have got to discover you, what you do, and trust it. ~~ Barbra Streisand

It all boils down to trust. Trust that we are writers. We experiment and explore the potential within. We take risks with our ideas and dabble in intricate possibilities. We dare to move forward knowing that sometimes the direction will need to be changed. We do it all and more because…


And what do writer’s do? Writers WRITE.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Know Thyself

“The world is but a canvas to the imagination.” --Henry David Thoreau

Years ago, during a stroll down Main Street, I remember spying a poster slapped on the side of a newspaper bin.

“You don’t grow old; you are old when you stop growing.”

Like a flaming arrow, that phrase lit up the dark night. I felt that spontaneous burst of agreement that most of us label “an epiphany.”

In the grind of daily living, we often forget what may be the essential purpose of life itself. We are here to Become Our Self. The process of Self-becoming is also a process of Self-discovery. Part of the process of discovery requires an acceptance of and awareness of how growth requires change.

“If in the last few years you haven't discarded a major opinion or acquired a new one, check your pulse. You may be dead.” ~Gelett Burgess

There are two kinds of conversations. One is where an individual espouses his or her views as FACT, and wants acknowledgement that those views are right. The other form of conversation is where an individual recognizes that views are merely opinions and exploring those opinions can lead to a greater understanding of life itself. A person’s beliefs can become as hardened as arteries. The “flow” is restricted and the subsequent pressure can lead to all sorts of maladies.

What happens is that we can forget that self-discovery is not a static condition. You don’t carve your Self out of rock and perceive the views of others as weather—to be endured and ignored. Self-discovery is a process of growth, where we prune and plant, encouraging the tender shoots and ripping out weeds as needed.

“There's a period of life when we swallow a knowledge of ourselves and it becomes either good or sour inside.” ~Pearl Bailey

Self-discovery brings as much pain as pleasure. No person can truly grow without acknowledging bitter truths. There’s no getting around this fact. However, there are a number of methods of avoidance, all of which most people have tried in the attempt. *smile* Avoidance, projection, denial.

I remember this great episode of Friends I watched long ago. The three women are laughing over a copy of Playboy they found. “Remember the good old days on the farm when we’d unbutton our blouse and lean backwards over a fence?” They’re giggling and having fun when Monica asks casually, “So if you were a guy, which one us would you date?”

Rachel answers immediately that she couldn’t choose, which Monica happily agrees with. But Phoebe says, “Rachel.”


Monica is incensed. She demands how Phoebe could say such a thing (translation… Why wasn’t I your choice?). In typical blunt fashion, Phoebe says that Monica is a bit of a control freak and Rachel’s more of a pushover. Yikes!

Monica is astonished and pissed. “Oh yeah? Well, we think you’re a flake.”

Now, Phoebe is in touch with herself enough to recognize, acknowledge and embrace her flaws as easily as her assets. She nods vigorously and agrees, “I am a flake. That’s true. And I’m okay with that.”

The girls are nonplussed. Monica then throws out, “Well, maybe I’m okay with being a control freak and Rachel’s okay with being a pushover. How about that?”

Phoebe, once again, doesn’t miss a beat. “Good for you!”

I love that episode. What great examples of psychology at work!

“We run away all the time to avoid coming face to face with ourselves.” --Author Unknown

It’s a scary business, this coming face to face with ourselves. Ah, but how liberating! The process of self-discovery is the ultimate creative act. We aren’t just brushing paint on a canvas, we’re Creating Ourselves. How awesome is that? The world is but a canvas to the imagination…

And we are the artists.

This is the last “daily” essay. I will, though, be posting the motivational essay I write for my chapter every Monday. And occasionally, I might post my thoughts when time permits. Thanks to everyone who’ve been so supportive! I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts even a fraction as much as I’ve enjoyed sharing them.

--Chiron O’Keefe

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Essence of Heroism

“Responsible persons are mature people who have taken charge of themselves and their conduct, who own their actions and own up to them--who answer for them.” --William J. Bennett

“Self-responsibility is the core quality of the fully mature, fully functioning, self-actualizing individual.” --Brian Tracey

We live in a time where Reality Shows create celebrities, and being notorious can lead to instant fame. Let’s face it… Self-responsibility is not hip. This is the age of Gangsta-Rap. A time when being a victim of circumstance is celebrated and the true heroes who strive for honor and integrity get lost in the shuffle.

I read this great article by Naomi Rosenblatt in “Women of the Bible,” a U.S. News collector’s edition. I’ve long been intrigued by mythology and theology, and, with a Jungian perspective, like to explore the stories that lodge within the collective consciousness of humankind. This article, titled “The First Rebel” reexamines the Adam and Eve myth with a unique view.

The details we know. Eve tastes the fruit and offers it to Adam. Although Ms. Rosenblatt explores a common theme—the fruit represents an awakening of sexuality—the writer twists off into a new direction. When the first couple hears God, they panic and hide. God calls out “Where are you?”

Now, being all-knowing, the deity obviously is well aware where the two are hiding. And what they have done. Yet he questions them. Why? To find out how they will choose to handle their transgression. Their choice immediately becomes apparent. Adam blames Eve and the serpent. Eve blames the serpent.

This leads to a revolutionary interpretation of the age-old story. One where the Original Sin is actually Avoiding Responsibility.

“It is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities.” --Josiah Stamp

Self-responsibility is not glamorous. There are people who file for bankruptcy not because they’ve been hit by hard times but because they racked up too many credit card bills and they’re not willing to take the action necessary to pay them off. Who wouldn’t want a clean slate? Especially when the only thing lost is self-responsibility. And maybe the last shreds of integrity. Too many people find that a small price to pay.

I once knew a woman who insisted I provide emotional support no matter what actions she took. If I objected, she would throw in my face that she’d support me no matter what. “If you were to become a Russian spy, I’d still stand by you.”

Except I wouldn’t have become a Russian spy or whatever outlandish thing she proposed. To say to another, I'd love YOU even if you had no ethics whatsoever is a perfect ploy. It implies that you're shallow and mean if you don't offer the same. It's also convenient, since the ethically-challenged person making the lofty proclamation knows full well that you won't ever cross that line. The strategy is common among conmen and thieves. By tapping into their victim's own moral code they elicit and imply trust.

Had I been wiser and stronger, I would have objected long ago. I wasn't. And I was hampered by the love I held for this person for many years. I simply wasn't clever enough to see the manipulations for most of my life.

Had she wanted to convince people she was the Princess of Caraboo and not demanded my endorsement, it might have been different. But that wasn't the rule she laid down. If she were to tell everyone that she was actually from another planet and used me for a reference, I was expected to back her up. No matter what. If I didn’t, I would be labeled judgmental or be told I had no compassion, no heart. Basically, I was a Bad Person unless I compromised my integrity entirely. Lovely.

“It is not size or age that separates children from adults. It is responsibility.”— Jules Feiffer

I finally called a halt when she created an elaborate childhood fantasy that I supposedly took part in. Something akin to Athena springing from the head of Zeus. The indignation and anger I’d suppressed for decades came flooding out. I simply couldn’t take anymore.

“Half of the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don't mean to do harm. But the harm does not interest them.”--T.S. Eliot

Everyone yearns to be special. Yet few yearn to be self-responsible. Today’s essay is a personal exploration of a quality that gets little fanfare in today’s world. To me, it is the essence of life itself.

“I believe that all of us have the capacity for one adventure inside us, but great adventure is facing responsibility day after day.” --William Gordon

I’ll be posting another essay tomorrow before switching to a weekly publication. My other writing is demanding more of my time. A good thing, right? Thanks to all who’ve been reading my words.

One final quote for the road.

“Self-truth is the essence of heroism.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Embrace your heroic self!

--Chiron O’Keefe

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Choice Not Chance

“It's choice - not chance - that determines your destiny." --Jean Nidetch

We all make choices. Some are conscious, others automatic. What is most frustrating, I think, is our inability to perceive how each decision affects the outcome of our lives. We blame other people or outer circumstances, not realizing (much less acknowledging) how our own decisions led us to whatever path we’re currently stumbling down.

With writing, the choices seem easy. Before faced with the daunting prospect of piecing together a plot, the initial idea of writing a novel appears simple. Like… baking a yummy dessert. Choose your ingredients, give ‘em a stir, and pour the batter in the pan. Piece of cake! *grin* Yet what I discovered when I began to experiment with fiction writing is much more complex.

The choices I make impact my life. The choices my characters make are just as significant.

Unless you grasp how compelling each choice is, in fiction as well as in life, your story will seem haphazard. We can ignore our own decisions and go along with the happy illusion that the consequences we face are bad luck, karma, or a nefarious conspiracy by those who seek to undermine us for reasons beyond our ken (the World Is Out To Get Us syndrome). Yet that won’t fly in fiction. Darn it.

We can avoid self-responsibility in many areas of life, except when writing a novel. Grrrrr. *smile*

How many times have you witnessed a friend or co-worker lament about some personal grievance for which they blamed everyone but their own actions, while you hid your reaction and privately thought “Well, what did you expect?”


In a novel, that person doing the inner “Duh!” is your reader. And it’s an intricate balancing act because your protagonist has only so much leeway before the reader gets disgusted and believes s/he is too dumb for words. Of course, we may think that privately about the people in Real Life shooting themselves in the foot. *grin* The difference is that the novel can be tossed away and most often, the person griping about their constant headaches (while banging themselves repeatedly on the noggin) often must simply be tolerated.

"The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense." –Tom Clancy.

Let’s all give a nod to the choices we make and strive to recognize the impact those decisions have on our life. Fiction isn’t the only thing that has to make sense!

--Chiron O’Keefe

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Literary Kiss

Research tells us fourteen out of any ten individuals likes chocolate.--Sandra Boynton

Who can argue with statistics like that? *smile*

To me, reading is like tasting chocolate. As a tiny tot I remember stumbling over to grab books that were beyond my reach. A passion for reading developed. A passion that expanded the older I got. A vivid memory still amuses me. The local librarian refusing to let me check out books that she deemed beyond my comprehension. Perhaps it was a tad unusual for a ten-year-old to be lugging a stack of books geared towards high-school and beyond. Yet within my household, despite the usual smattering of dysfunction, one rule stood out. We could read whatever we desired. A wonderful gift for any reader, although I was the only one of three children who saw this as the equivalent to being handed the keys to a candy store.

Mom let me peruse her sci-fi and mystery novels, her psychology books and Alfred Hitchcock magazines. Heinlein, Rex Stout, Agatha Christie, the best in pulp fiction all at my fingertips. She took delight in my ability to comprehend and enjoy literary works written for adults. When the aforementioned librarian looked down her nose and refused my reading choices, my mom raced over and confronted her in person. Words were bandied about, fists shook with indignant zeal, and within short order the restrictions were lifted. My reading list would no longer be censored. And one better. I no longer needed to limit my pile to the standard three books. Thanks to Mom, I could check out an armful that would leave me staggering for the door. It’s no exaggeration to think I read over a dozen novels a week.

What baffles me to no end is the recent statement made in the press stating one out of four adults say they never read books.

How can that be? How can anyone not derive the same wriggle of pleasure when their eyes pore over the written word? Even now, when the internet age provides podcasts and Youtube as a clear alternative, I can’t let go. Watch a news video or read the same article? The choice is clear.

Not that I don’t love movies and television. Not at all. Falling into a story is rather like swimming in warm fudge, after all. Yum! But without the reading, I’m lost. As a kid, I would read the cereal box while munching away, rather than do without.

This leads to the latest news. The writer’s strike is underway. Contracts are up and the time has come when the people who pen the words that make us chuckle believe they deserve to get a piece of the profit. As a writer, I applaud them all, despite my grief over any missed Daily Show episodes.

For all they do, the writers of the world, I’m grateful. From the daily comic strips to the lengthy commentaries, from the brilliance of Herman Hesse to the light-hearted romps of Janet Evanovich. May writing, and reading, never go out of style!

--Chiron O’Keefe

Monday, November 5, 2007

Fresh Beginnings

This is a repost of the motivational essay I write for my RWAOnline Chapter:

Every morning is a fresh beginning. Every day is the world made new. Today is a new day. Today is my world made new. I have lived all my life up to this moment, to come to this day. This moment--this day--is as good as any moment in all eternity. I shall make of this day--each moment of this day--a heaven on earth. This is my day of opportunity.— Dan Custer

Last Monday, when I realized the day for reopening the Challenge Board drew closer, I felt a tingle of anticipation. A Fresh Beginning. I love that feeling. Something NEW. Yet how often do we forget the excitement with the ongoing stress of Finishing a Book, Sending Out Queries or Meeting The Deadline?

Ever watch a child at play? Their sparkle and glow comes from a freshness of experience we now only carry in our hearts as a faint memory. We’re like the lazy cat watching, amused in a distant sort of way, as the kittens leap and tumble ecstatically in the air. Youth recognizes instinctively that every new day is a new life. After many years of patiently greeting my cat when she’d arise from one of a dozen daily naps, I woke up to the fact that her enthusiasm wasn’t just because she loved me. To her, each new awakening was a Brand-New Day. “Good Morning, Good Morning,” she purrs. “Aren’t you thrilled? A New Day!!”

Imagine that. A dozen mornings in a scant twenty-four hour period. It boggles the mind.

When I read the above quote, I felt shivers. This is my day of opportunity. How might my world view change if I make this my chosen perspective?

Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.--Meister Eckhart

While the birds chirp out a vigorous salute to the morning sun, we too can celebrate each day as if our world was today newly born. I relish the experience and wisdom I have garnered with each writing year I tuck under my belt. Yet if I don’t remember to approach my work as a beginner, I may become complacent or worse, jaded. Somehow, I suspect, when I read a “NY TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR’S” work and become dizzy with a POV that jumps with erratic glee six times in one paragraph, that this is a writer who doesn’t care. Not anymore. We all know such laxity would never fly while in the desperate process of seeking representation or publication. Perhaps there’s a sense of relief to reach a point of success where one can just phone it in. I hope that won’t be me. Or you.

So many authors here sweat out the hours required to pore over each manuscript with a magnifying glass—smoothing out the wrinkles and sewing up the gaping holes. We may curse the effort required but what makes the work truly stand out is that willingness to be a beginner, every single day. And besides the obvious reward of having a manuscript that is “blemish-free”, something else occurs when you give that extra push. Something magical and wondrous.

Sometimes when you think you are done, it is just the edge of beginning. Probably that's why we decide we're done. It's getting too scary. We are touching down onto something real. It is beyond the point when you think you are done that often something strong comes out.--Natalie Goldberg (author of Writing Down the Bones)

Ah-ha! And it’s true. We all know it. Writing the “good stuff” takes more than effort. It takes courage. Tapping into that primal spot deep within your soul can be as pleasurable as… well… la petite mort. *wink* Yet sometimes it’s more like a damn root canal. Ouch! *heh-heh*

The result, though, is paramount. A story that resonates. That’s what we all yearn for, right?

So… touching down on something real, remembering to approach each page with a beginner’s eye, and seeing that This is our day of opportunity. What else could be left?

“You don't have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.”--Joe Sabah

Oh, yeah. *grin* There’s that.

Welcome to a new week of writing! Let’s carve out some goals.


Friday, November 2, 2007

Checking the Ingredients

“If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.” ~Carl Sagan

How’s that for a goal?


Ironically, that’s exactly what a novelist must do. Create the universe. One page at a time. It’s an awesome power and yet… Oh-so-fun!

Writers have their own methods of creation. Some start from the outside in. Methodical research of locations and time periods, detailed lists of characteristics for each hero and heroine, specific arcs of change and action, and a complete outline before beginning page one. Other writers get a *feel* for the story, coupled with an intuitive grasp of their characters and let the fingers fly.

No matter which category you fall in, one rule remains the same. The universe must be consistent. Whether your novel is set in historical times or present day, whether your protagonist is a demon-slaying vampire or a lingerie-turned-bounty hunter, no matter what the locale, consistency is essential. Think of it as Point of Focus. If the first lesson a novelist must learn is to keep the Point of View from wandering, the second lesson must be to maintain a Point of Focus.

If the unknown killer is methodical enough to put on gloves and sneak up on the dentist (who’s whiffing laughing gas for relaxation), then reach out and hold the mask down on the victim’s face while flipping the dial down on the oxygen tank to asphyxiate the dude, well… your killer can’t then turn out to be a crazed half-wit who responds to questions with hysteria while waving a butcher knife. It just doesn’t make sense.

This is where beta-readers or critique partners come in handy. They’re the ones who will point out faults in your logic or say “Huh?” when you’ve wandered off track. While television gets away with outrageous leaps of logic—some of the most memorable ones: the Brady Bunch dog who is there one episode and gone the next, the infamous Darrin replacement on Bewitched—books simply don’t have that luxury. You must maintain consistency throughout.

Even the authors who write spontaneously (we call them “pantsters”, since they write by the ‘seat of their pants’) should take the time and work up a methodical sweat going over the story to make sure all the pieces fit together.

By the time you finish and edit the first draft, you should know:

The hero and heroine’s backgrounds. Now’s the time to check… Do their actions, their choices, and their dialogue match up with Who They Are?

Your voice. The personal expression must have the same feel from that delicious opening line to the satisfying conclusion. If your thing is short, snappy lines crackling with witty dialogue and sparse description, and you spontaneously decide to toss in a few pages of prose which could come straight out of a Dicken’s novel, your reader will get confused. Or bored. Yikes!

The chain of events. This means Time-line as well as the arc of action. What season is it? What month? What day? What time? If you don’t know, neither will your reader.

The place. Are you in the midst of a busy city or a tranquil suburb? Is the air gritty with smog or fragrant with the scent of a newly mown lawn? Details bring the story to life and (once again) help maintain the consistency of your story.

Ready for your rewrite? Good!

So then… pull up a chair, dish up some ice cream, and help yourself to a fresh slice of your homemade universe.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Persistence, Patience, Faith...

“A leaf that is destined to grow large is full of grooves and wrinkles at the start. Now if one has no patience and wants it smooth offhand like a willow leaf, there is trouble ahead.” --Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Ah, those pesky first drafts, and the ensuing edits. That first glimpse of a lovely idea, plots branching out all over, leaf-pages that are smooth as lovely and completely wrinkle-free.

And here I am stuck with a couple of acorns and a muddy plot.

So what's the key? Persistence, Patience, Faith.

Persistence—It's not enough to wish or want, one must DO. Just as we urge our characters to take action to resolve the many dilemmas we put them in, WE must take action and push ourselves to keep on writing.

Patience—Rome wasn't built in a day. Nor was it made out of paper. Yet here we are with the power of Olympian Goddesses, able to construct vast worlds, birth amazing heroines and heroes, and pick those (sometimes) hapless heroes and heroines up and toss them in the most delightful muck we can think of. However, no matter that the mind can race faster than a speeding chariot, the fingers can only do so much. We may envision the whole book in one day but barely make it through a scene in our precious writing time. So… patience. One word-brick at a time. Build the foundation. Add some walls. Throw in some roads. The city will be built.

Faith—We must believe. There's no getting around it. The Wright brothers didn't say, "Oh, well, if it doesn’t work the first time we can always just go back to repairing bicycles." No way! They believed Man was Meant to Fly. Just as your book is meant to be written. Believe. Look in the mirror as you brush your teeth. As soon as you've spit out the toothpaste and rinsed your mouth, tell yourself, "I am a writer."

And away we go!