• Schedule

    Mondays ~
    Tuesdays ~ Snarky
    Wednesdays ~ Dreamer
    Thursdays ~ Naughty
    Fridays ~ Dreary
    Saturdays ~
    Sundays ~

    Whenever ~ Smokey, Mighty, Eerie and Wicked

  • Snarky’s Tweets

  • Kinetic’s Tweets

  • Dreamer’s Tweets

  • Wicked’s Tweets

  • Eerie’s Tweets

  • Mighty’s Tweets

Characters on Cannery Row

CANNERY rowI am currently reading Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. I’m a fan of Steinbeck, but I have to admit I struggled with the beginning of this book. It was full of description: describing places, houses, people and even a couple pages on the Model T truck. By page 34, I still wasn’t sure what the plot was. But as I am now halfway through the novel, I realize how this Nobel Peace Prize Winning Author continues to draw me in—characters.

There are over two handfuls of unique, interesting characters in this book. While writing, I often want to reach for clique or average person, especially in secondary characters. But I want to challenge myself to dig deeper for those unique personalities that we want to read about.

Here’s an example of a secondary character, Gay, in Cannery Row that only participates for thirty five pages. And while, I don’t remember the color of his hair or body type, but I won’t forget this story anytime soon.

Doc asked, “How are things going up at the Palace?”

Hazel ran his fingers through his dark hair and he peered into the clutter of his mind. “Pretty good,” he said. “That fellow Gay is moving in with us I guess. His wife hits him pretty bad. He don’t mind that when he’s awake but she waits ‘til he gets to sleep and then hits him. He hates that. He has to wake up and beat her up and then when he goes back to sleep she hits him again. He don’t get any rest so he’s moving in with us.”

“That’s a new one,” said Doc. “She used to swear out a warrant and put him in jail.”

“Yeah!” said Hazel. “But that was before they built the new jail in Salinas. Used to be thirty days and Gay was pretty hot to get out, but this new jail—radio in the tank and good bunks and the sheriff’s a nice fellow. Gay gets in there and he don’t want to come out. He likes it so much his wife won’t get him arrested any more. So she figured out this hitting him while he’s asleep. It’s nerve racking, he says. And you know as good as me—Gay never did take any pleasure beating her up. He only done it to keep his self-respect. But he gets tired of it. I guess he’ll be with us now.”

 I laughed out loud when I first read that. Steinbeck paints gritty characters that stick with us. Two dimensional characters are easy, like neighbors that we wave to while our garage shuts. There is more out there, let’s tip over their trash and see who they really are. Let’s keep digging.

Ideaifying Pt 3: The Expandening

Last week we explored a few ideas around a word that we picked in Pt 1. That word is Evanesce. This week I’m going to take an idea and expand upon it, starting to coalesce (another fantastic word, btw) into a story idea.

Last week, two things stuck in my mind. Fade away, and Angels. I’d like to use these two words to come up with a story idea.

What is is about angels that fade away? My first thought is they just got killed. This has a double bonus of giving us some conflict right off the bat. Why did they get killed? What killed them? Can angels really be killed or just sent back to the heavens? So many questions flooding my mind from this and I do like where it’s going, but let’s stop and go back to the other phrase: Fade away.

Angels fading away doesn’t seem as violent, at least compared to what we were just thinking about, instead it has more of a “It’s a Wonderful Life” quality to it. Angels can fade away for a couple reasons, one being they are killed, or forced. Another is that they are no longer needed here and are fading away to head back to their home.

My next thought is…Okay, how do we know that angels fade away? Are they visible by all humans, or only some? If the latter, then why? Also, what are angels doing here on earth? Are they good or bad angels? I say let’s stick with good angels. And maybe they do normal angel things, like help people out, nudge people out of dangerous situations, and overall protect the population.

So what if we have a main character that can see angels? Let’s say that he is the only one that can see them. Why? Maybe he’s half angel, product of an angel and a human copulating. I don’t write romance, so I will leave that up to other writers on this blog to flesh that story out. I’m the Dreary Dwarf for a reason, so let’s take a sadder storyline.

I feel like my protagonist should have a bit of a biblical name in keeping with the angels theme, let’s call him Peter. Peter is sixteen years old and has been able to see angels wandering around the Earth his whole life. One day he wakes up and they are gone…no…no…they Evanesce. Peter is waiting on the subway one dreary morning when all the angels around him suddenly evanesce into mist. They all disappear.

This is when Peter realizes something has gone terribly wrong. Maybe someone gets hit by the subway train since an angel wasn’t there anymore to save him. (I am Dreary Dwarf btw, so yes. I can/will go there.)

So what do we have so far?

We have a protagonist, Peter. He’s 16 and he can see angels.

One morning while waiting for the subway, all the angels world-wide suddenly fade away.

Peter is the only one that notices this happening. Suddenly, bad things are happening all around the world and no one knows why. Death and accident rates skyrockets, as does crime, plunging the world into a gritty, grim-dark world.

Wait, pause! These ideas, while cool, could fill a book. We could explore Peter going on an epic journey to make his way to the land of angels to find out where they all went, and somehow bring them back. We could have this as simply backstory to a world plunged into death and depravity—a world without angels to protect us anymore. We would find out where they went, and, more importantly, why. Was it God that pulled them back, if so, why? More importantly, can Peter do anything about it? Perhaps the devil came in, or some other cosmic entity or event. Like I said, these ideas could fill a book, or more, depending on how grand you want your story.

I’m not really interested, at least with this exercise, to write a book. I was shooting for more of a short story (and content for the blog). Next week we will take these expanded ideas and solidify them into a core conflict that needs to be addressed in the confines of a short story. Spoiler: I’m leaning toward angels disappearing being part of the backstory to Peter’s life and this opens up a whole host of things that could be smaller conflicts in Peter’s life.

Ideaifying Pt 2: The Brainening

Last week I talked about ideas and waxed a little poetical about how easy they were to come up with. This week I want to continue on a short series I’m calling “Ideaifying.”  For the next few posts I want to take a small nugget of an idea and flesh it out until we have a story. In doing so I hope to shed a little light on how I come up with ideas, or at least one method I employ to come up with said ideas.

Last week I also pulled up a website and looked at the word of the day. That word was Evanesce. I want to take the word and flush it out into more of a fully-formed idea.

From Dictionary.com:

Evanesce means “to disappear gradually; vanish; fade away.”

I love this word. I really do.

Obviously gradually vanishing is a strong image. There can be many reasons why you would vanish. Quantum Leap comes into mind. But it also brings up questions, like why gradually? Are you doing it for effect? Are you trapped somehow and slowly fading away from existence? What does this life really mean if we are all but a tiny blip in the timeline that is the universe…er um..Ahem. Evanesce.

The first thing I thought about when hearing this word is the band Evanescence. I saw them in concert in Mesa many years ago, the first concert I ever saw in fact. My wife and I were two of probably one-hundred adults in a screaming throng of teenagers, only we weren’t there as chaperones.

Amy Lee, the lead singer, is incredible. Her voice is sublime and I love the juxtaposition of such an angelic voice with a hard-rock sound. The band themselves even played into this a bit with some of their music videos, particularly  the song “Broken” by Seether who had Amy on to do vocals with their band. She wore dirty and broken angel wings while they sang in a desecrated landscape…takes me back…

“Whoa Tom, I thought we were talking about creating an idea here? Why the sudden music critique? Are they even relevant anymore?”

Well, good reader, I thought I should take a second to explore what this word means to me. (And yes, they are totally relevant).

I do not have a very large vocabulary. I find myself using the dictionary function of my kindle more often then I would like to admit, but this word I did know, and it was only because of the band. I remember being in my 20’s when Evanescence’s first big hit “Bring Me to Life” hit and was blown away by Amy’s powerful yet sweet voice. This word evokes emotion in me that not many words do. There is a history, a backstory for me with this word that goes beyond the simple definition. Sometimes what a word means to you is more important than what the dictionary says it should.

This is why I giggled like a school-girl when I happened to pull up the website and saw it as the word of the day.

But this is step one. Looking at this single word and thinking about it more. Fleshing it out. What does it mean to you? What does it mean to other people?

So how can we flesh this word out to a story? Let’s do some brainstorming by jotting down words that I thought of.

Evanesce:

Fade Away

Disappear

Angels

Angelic Voice

Youth

Screaming Masses

Mass of Angels, screaming as they fade into nothing.

Of course I’m now going to have their songs stuck in my head all day, which isn’t a bad thing, but I also have some ideas forming in my mind as to where I want to go with a story.

Today we have spent a little bit of time looking at a word and exploring the meaning, both official and personal, to me. I am curious what the word Evanesce means to you? Next week I plan on expanding the initial nugget of an idea into a phrase that we can use to start working on a story. A word is great, but a phrase can be so much more. A phrase can introduce conflict!

How to Avoid Pissing Off Readers

angry woman

As I mentioned in this week’s post on my personal website, inaccuracies and factual errors in stories upset the most tolerant of us. Fortunately, there are numerous things we writers can do to avoid ticking off our readers.

Internet Research

The world is at your fingertips. You are writing a fight scene that takes place in a Russian bath house, but you’ve never been to one. Never fear. Google it my friend. You will find enough photos and videos of bath houses to be able to describe them in exquisite detail.

If you were to look at my Google searches for today you would find:

  • What does gun oil taste like?
  • What’s the Spanish word for skull?
  • How many people fit in a military helicopter?
  • How long can you live with a stab wound to the gut?

Don’t worry. These searches were for my zombie urban fantasy series. No need to put me under psychiatric evaluation….yet.

The internet isn’t perfect and you should always fact check the information you glean against other sources. However, it does provide a wonderful place to start.

Field Visits & Interviews

Visiting the locations featured in your novels, and interviewing people who are similar to your characters are excellent ways to improve the realism of your stories. If your main character is a Funeral Director, try tracking one down and seeing if they will answer some questions. Better yet, ask if they can give you a tour of their mortuary (fun for the whole family).

Don’t be shy. Take advantage of opportunities to spend time in places (and with people) that will star in your stories. For example, when Dreamer Dwarf was stranded in the vehicle repair shop, I jumped at the opportunity to join her. One of the scenes I was working on took place in a similar location. After dumping my dwarfing at her feet, I ran up to the harried looking store manager and started peppering him with questions about his shop.

As soon as he found out that I was writer, he was thrilled to talk to me. He answered all of my questions and he even pointed out specialized tools on the service floor. Of course, as soon as I asked him if he thought a horde of zombies could break through the bay doors, he suddenly got too busy to chat. Even still, I left with enough information to take my auto shop scene to the next level.

Write What You Know

This is standard advice doled out to writers like toothbrushes at the dentist’s office. There is no denying the advantage in being able to describe, with rich authenticity, the places you’ve lived and the experiences you’ve had.

I spent nearly nine years of my life working for a law enforcement agency. If I ever decide to write any crime fiction or feature police officers in any of my books, I’ll bet dollars to donuts (cops hate that association by the way) that I’ll probably have an edge over someone who has never set foot in a police station.

These are just a few methods I use to strengthen the validity of my stories. What other suggestions do you have for preventing inaccuracies and adding realism to stories?

Resolutions

darkchocolateWe are day eleven into the new year, and I’m wondering how everyone is doing with their resolutions. Granted my goal to eat healthy may be sunk as I have already eaten my second piece of dark chocolate today—so worth it by the way. But gratefully, I’m hanging onto my more realistic goals that involve writing and exercise. Here are a couple tips for all of us to make it another month or so with our goals.

    1. Write them down. Make the goal concrete and tangible by writing it down. Then place it where you can read it frequently. I like the electronic sticky pad on my computer desktop or the front of my writing binder.
    2. Get back up. I’m constantly watching my ten month old stumble, fall, and bash his head as he is learning to walk. It is painful, no doubt. He has the bruises to show for it. When working towards our goals, falling down is part of the process. Just get back up.
    3. Be held accountable. Tell your goals to a friend, a co-worker, instructor, or you can even post them here in the comment section. Make sure someone knows, and it is even better if they will want a report of how you fared. For writers, I recommend starting or joining a writing community. Find others with similar goals that will hold you accountable and push you to progress.

One of my goals was to create a personal blog and online presence. So please feel free to me on this journey at www.deannabrowne.com, on twitter @BrowneBooks, or on Facebook. My first blog is on joining this great online community. Thanks for the support, and I wish you the best in this new year!

Ideaifying Pt 1: The Ideaifying

In this mini-series, I plan on taking a word through the world-building and idea phase, and flesh it out into a short story to be published on this site. Hang on, it will be a bumpy ride!

 

Story ideas.

 

I love listening to them when other authors tell me them. I love reading about new ones I hadn’t thought of while I’m reading, and I love coming up with them.

I especially love how easy ideas are to come up with.

What’s that? Easy?

Yes, I did say easy. I truly think ideas are free. Not open and willing to try things in college free, I mean truly free from an economic sense. Ideas are literally a dime a dozen, if not cheaper than that.

Ideas are everywhere. They are there when you walk down the road in your neighborhood. They are there when you overhear someone’s conversation while you stand in line at the checkout. They come from the frustrated looks of the cashier as she checks stretches her back from soreness while simultaneously smiling at the next one, all the while worrying about the look she’s getting from her boss behind her. Why does her back hurt? Why is the manager giving her the evil-eye? Is that smile sincere or half-hearted? Is she secretly a sleeper-agent from the ninja assassin guild of Greater Boise waiting to be activated and fulfill her mission to bring flowers to the cancer ward at the children’s center?

Ideas are beautiful, they are fleeting, and they are simple. You forget them if you don’t write them down. They come at the most inopportune moments. When you are driving, showering, bored in a meeting at work, or bowling with your family on a Friday night.

I have a document filled with hundreds of ideas for stories, characters, background, religions, and settings. I could spend the rest of my life writing book about just the stories I have already and never finish them, let alone all the ones I would come up with while I wrote those.

Ideas are magical, but it takes still to implement them, and this is the crux of the matter. Ideas are easy, the execution of the idea is the tough part to accomplish.

Today I will leave you with a single word, which I will discuss next week as an example of how to take a nugget of an idea and turn it into something you can work with.

Evanesce (as taken from the front page of Dictionary.com).

To Each Their Own

Distraction

As I was writing the blog post for my personal website this week, it struck me that one of my favorite quotes, “There is always more than one right answer,” also applies to writing.

This was never clearer to me than during last week’s write-in with Kinetic and Dreary dwarf. At one point, I asked what software they were using. Surprisingly enough, it turned out that we were all writing in Scrivener.

We flipped around our laptops and showed each other how we use the program.

Kinetic was rocking the meta data features and demonstrated how she used cork boarding to help her in her process.

Dreary had designed a comprehensive Scrivener template with two chapters per act that he applied to all his novels. Having this structure was critical to his process.

I showed them how I use the color-coding features in organizing my scenes and the research folders for storing images of places/people and cover ideas. Being a visual person (and a nonlinear writer), these features were key to my writing process.

The take home message was even though we were using the same software to write novels, we were using it completely differently. We also had divergent processes that were working for each of us.

I found this discovery affirming.

Over the years, I’ve been to countless writing classes and some of those instructors have touted that their way was THE WAY.

Bull.

There are no absolutes in this business other than you must write. We all have to discover the unique process that works best for us. Learning what works for other authors, especially successful ones, can be enlightening and another tool you can add to your arsenal. On the other hand, it may not jive with your style of writing.

Maybe you need to write outdoors. Maybe you need to shorthand everything on yellow legal paper. Maybe you can’t write until your novel has first been dictated to you by your cat. Whatever floats your boat and gets the story written.

What’s unique about your writing process?

Digging for Gold? Idea dumping can help.

At a recent write-in, a couple of us needed to work on world building. In my case, I was working on names for magic ceremonies, events in the past, that sort of thing. One technique that worked well for us was what I call idea dumping (aka brainstorming).

I’m not talking about the old style of brainstorming: grabbing a pen and staring at a blank page for an hour until the perfect idea comes. I’m talking about dumping all the ideas out of your mind−good, bad and ugly—until you find what fits. We pulled up a thesaurus, and I wrote down everything that was said. My paper was a mess, cramped full of notes.

I can’t lie and say magic poured out of our mouths, but as we batted around ideas they morphed into something great. So when you’re searching for that perfect name for your next goblin or handsome hunk remember a couple of things:

*Write every idea that comes to mind, even the crappy ones.

*Write at least ten if not twenty. I find my first three ideas are generic, and middle five to ten suck. Yesterday, it was not until at least twenty or more names had floated around until I found one I loved.

*Keep the list for a little bit, percolation helps sometimes. One dwarf thought she had a name, but it wasn’t until we moved on and were talking about something else did she realize the perfect one hit.

 Idea Dumping can be used for book names, magic systems, upcoming plot twists, and more. Sometimes our creativity is laying on the service and other times we have to dig a little for that golden nugget.

New Years Resolutions

New Years Resolutions

What is it about the new year that makes us want to create goals for ourselves?

For a long time I’ve been hesitant to create resolutions every time the year rolls over. If I really had something in my life that I wanted to change, or do better, then why wait until the new year? Why not do it now? Because of this I would generally avoid resolutions every year. Too often they get forgotten about, or you work really hard in January and slack off after that. To me the word resolve just doesn’t seem to have enough punch, enough measurement built-in to be worth using. For this reason I avoided new years’ resolutions for a long time.

I’ve changed my tune a little bit though. I still don’t do resolutions, but I do set goals.

Goals are things to reach for, I know fully well going into the year that there’s a solid chance I won’t complete all my goals, but they are there and at the end of the year, or other times when I feel I want some self-reflection, I can look over those goals and see how I am doing.

So what goals did I set for 2014, and did I achieve them?

Reading: I always set a reading goal, last year it was 100 books. According to my Goodreads profile, I read 71, which I think is fantastic. 2015 I again set a goal of 100 books and I will mostly likely set that as my goal for the foreseeable future. I am a bit of a fast reader, when I’m not sucked into some other media (cough video games cough), but two books a week for me seems pretty do-able.

Writing: My goal was to finish two books last year, and I “did”. Technically. Neither of them are edited, but I did at least complete them. Working on editing one of them now. I also wrote a few short stories last year. I’m currently toying with the idea of setting a goal for short stories this year, but for now I’ll leave it as-needed.

So there are my goals, at least when it comes to writing/reading. What goals do you set and why? Do you prefer resolutions or goals, or some other word, and why?

Above all, Happy New Year from the Evil Dwarves!

My Muse has Vanished

I always have an idea of something I want to write about. When I’m doing dishes, or out driving in the car, I’m usually lost in my thoughts, plotting out some new story. But lately, my thoughts have been completely muddled. At first I thought it was the holidays, sinking their teeth in me and keeping things too crazy busy to even think. Yet, the holidays have come and gone, and I’m still stuck.

It’s weird. I’ve picked up a few pictures to “inspire” me and glanced at a few topics, hoping to write anything at all, but I’m just left sitting in front of the computer. Staring. A week ago I forced myself to keep plotting out a story I’d been playing with a month or so ago. Things started going well. I was proud of myself! And then, I realized I was writing a modified version of the book I’d just finished reading.

Ugh!

So my Muse has left me right when I need her the most. Hopefully she turns up before my computer gets too lonely.

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