The story is called Pool Sharks. I wrote it about ten years ago. It was based upon a dream I had about a swimming pool full of sharks. I thought the story was pretty good, but admittedly, it wasn’t my normal genre (dark fantasy). I had some people look at it, they made their comments, and it just kind of sat around for a decade.
I’m not really sure why I didn’t do anything with it. Of course, I had about four or five other short stories that hadn’t gone anywhere either (a few had been rejected by some magazines).
Anyway . . . I picked this one back up about four or five months ago, still thought it was good, dusted it off a little, and sent it out for some feedback. Most everyone harped on the ending. I changed it up a bit, resent it out for another look over and bingo. People liked what they read.
Now its on its way to Tales of the Talisman. I think it would fit in well with this particular magazine, but we’ll see.
WIP Update: I hate to say it, but between life getting in the way and me being unfocused, I haven’t done ANY work on the Gideon Plan. I’m hoping to get my arse back in gear soon. I don’t really have much in the way of excuses. I’m just not doing it.
P.S. Oh yes, one more thing–A shout out to Bare Knuckle Writer who just wrote about how to acquire rejection letters, something I may have to reread when this story comes back with REJECT written on it. Knuckles writes with a hilarious in-your-face style. I really dig her posts.
A long time ago, in a video game school far, far away . . . one of my teachers gave a lecture about story. He talked about the Hero’s Journey and recommended it’s structure for story creation. His presentation impressed quite a few of my friends and though I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, I filed the Hero’s Journey to the back of my mind to be studied later.
The Hero’s Journey goes a little something like this:
In the late 1940s, Joseph Campbell, a mythologist and writer, wrote a book called The Hero with a Thousand Faces. This book argued that all ancient myths followed some type of form or pattern. Campbell called it the monomyth or the Hero’s Journey. His work greatly influenced George Lucas when he wrote Star Wars.
Over the years, I have tried to understand Campbell’s work, but I just didn’t get it. He used jargon that I wasn’t familiar with and his descriptions of the patterns seemed vague. Overall, it just seemed too academic and I kept putting it to the side.
Fast forward to my writing ‘career’ in the last year or so. One of the things I have struggled with is plot and story structure, particularly middles and endings. I read a few books on the subject, but nothing seemed to help. I decided to look at the Hero’s Journey again.
This time, things clicked. And it’s because of Christopher Vogler.
Vogler is a writing consultant for the movie industry. He has a solid grasp of the monomyth and he knew its concepts could be used to help writers. However, he found that a lot of people he worked with had the same problem I had—they just didn’t understand Campbell’s work. So, he broke it down for them into everyday lingo. He later wrote a book about it–The Writer’s Journey.
A synopsis of the structure outlined in Vogler’s book is here. It finally helped me understand the concepts of the Hero’s Journey. Soon, I was watching movies and dissecting them based upon Vogler’s structure. There really is a monomyth!
For those of you that would like to have a better understanding of story structure, I highly recommend Vogler’s work. He is NOT pushing for a formula as some people suggest, he is arguing that all good stories have a form that the human consciousness seems to understand and expect. It was a life changing book for me—pure and simple.
WIP Update: I’m neck deep in the Gideon Plan. I have decided to focus on the main character’s story first, using the Hero’s Journey as a guide. I’m writing a lot of ‘bursts’ and expect to be done at the end of the month. At this rate, I should be finished with the novel in oh . . . about five years . . .
My friend Whitney Carter is struggling a little with one of her male characters. She had always thought he looked like Kevin Sorbo, but then her character told her he didn’t look like that. Oops.
It made me think a little. I wonder how my writer friends out there come up with their characters.
For me, it’s a mix. For instance, in Bronze Raiders, my main character, Hektor, was based upon Barack Obama. I didn’t think he looked like Barack Obama, just that he acted like him—smiled a lot, positive, idealistic, charismatic. To this day, I have no idea what he looked like. I never described him in my story (no one even seemed to notice, which I found interesting).
For Hektor’s love interest, I chose Kiera Knightly. Always thought she was cute. I’ve also used Charlton Heston, and Gina Carano as templates for characters in my story. Sometimes I use people I know—like an old cowboy friend I used to know. Sometimes I use a historical character—Robert E. Lee or Nathan Bedford Forrest, for example.
Many times, though, I don’t have a person in mind. They just are. Many times I’ll start with an archetype and work off it. Sometimes I mix characters I know or imagine. I learn about them as I write my rough draft and more of their personalities come out in subsequent drafts. It’s always kind of fun (and unexpected).
So, how do you guys do it? What do you base your characters on? Real people? People you know? Celebrities? Archetypes?
Its time for this thing to get its ass kicked.
At this point, The Swann Lady is at a first draft stage, which means I’ve done everything I can to it and need people to tell me what they think. I’m posting it here if any of my writer friends wants to critique it, but I’m also sending it to my online critique group, Critters.
Its funny, I haven’t worked on this for two weeks. I thought there would be more to change. I think I edited for about an hour maybe?
So, let me throw a few guesses out there what might be the biggest issues with my readers.
- The mother’s dialogue at the beginning is confusing. Well, the protagonist found it confusing too, so I’m not sure if that’s an issue or not. We’ll see.
- Aunt Aideen’s dialogue is not Irish enough. I’ve covered this point here last week. For this story, I went with no phonetic spellings, just to see if it works. As this is my first foray into Irish dialogue, I’m open to suggestions.
- I need to show the back story in a scene. Well . . . I don’t know. We’ll see.
Now its time to get the rhino hide on. Critiques can sting. I’m usually pretty good about taking it, but it can still suck at times. It’s the only way to get better, though. At the same time, I’m curious as to what people think.
How about you guys? How do you prepare yourself and handle criticism of your stories?
Note: Artwork is called “Children of Lir” by Tyrantx and can be found at tyrantx.deviantart.com
A story isn’t just written. It evolves.
Well. Maybe that isn’t true. I guess some are just written, but for me, a story comes along slowly. Usually painfully. Its probably not unlike giving birth, but I’m a guy and though I saw my wife do it, what do I really know about . . . I’m getting off track here. . .
A story really is a metamorphosis from idea to the finished work. I’d like to invite you on my journey as I pick up another project and hack it to death. Let’s see how far along this one goes. Maybe it will end with it being published. Maybe it will end in the trash can with somebody peeing on it (well, maybe it won’t end in the trash can, but I can guarantee you it will be pissed on—plenty of times).
So, first step. You got to have an idea.
I’ve been muling over some for the last few weeks. A lot of the stories I conjure up have to do with people turning into animals or spirits or something. I had been strongly considering writing a story that took place in Colonial America and would have to do with werewolves based upon American Indian legend. Then, last night, I was reading a historical fiction (aka a bodice ripper) and I thought, why are so many stories set during this time period? Dumb question. The Victorian age is just damned cool. I just stopped writing a story set in the same century.
I thought to myself: a lot of paranormal-type stories happen during this time frame. I wonder if there was a way I could put my own spin on it. A lot of those stories had to do with high society. What if it was low society? I thought of the clichéd idea of the two lovers from different classes. But what if they were both from the slums? What if there was a werewolf in the slums? What if it wasn’t your typical werewolf? What if the werewolf was an Irish immigrant living in the New York Slums and the werewolf was more in line with the werewolves of Celtic mythology? What if it wasn’t just about werewolves, what if was magic based on Irish/Celtic lore? Well now . . . that has some legs. So, this is what I’m gonna do . . .
I’m going to write a group of fantasy short stories that are based upon Celtic mythology and legend that are set in the Irish slums of 19th century New York.
OK, so, I got the idea. Now, what I do is start some research. I’ll tackle Celtic Mythology first—get a pretty good grasp on its icons and themes. Then I’ll go do some research on 19th century slums. All the while, I’ll write down story ideas as they come to me. I’ll write down possible scenes. I’ll write down character descriptions.
So, that’s how I usually start my stories. How do you go about starting your stories? Got any advice for me as I tackle this thing?
Note: Some of you may remember the original Metamorphosis of a Story I did back in the day. That thread kind of went kaput after awhile when I ran out of steam on the project. I am renaming it to Sphinx. This will be the new Metamorphosis of a Story.
As part of my back-to-the-basics program, one of my goals was to read more of the classics. It’s not something I looked forward to as my dealings with these stories in the past have not been positive. It was often a chore to read them.
I’ve recently read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, some short stories by Poe, and “The Darling” by Anton Chekhov. Let me give you some of my findings on these classic writers.
The first thing I notice above all else is that brevity was not something authors of old valued. They can go on and on about the most mundane subjects sometimes (We don’t care about the Latitude and Longitude, Verne). They also often beat a dead horse (OK, I get Usher is a creepy dude, now get on with the story, Poe). Maybe this was great for their time, but all this narrative that could have been summarized will bore a modern reader to tears.
Something else that really struck me—one of the first things we modern writers are told to do is to show and not tell. This does not seem to be the rule with classic writers. They often explain a scene instead of letting it play out for the reader. Exposition is ok, even if it’s lengthy. Dialogue can be sparse at times. The only exception to all these seemed to be the “Cask of Amontillado.” This story almost read like a modern short story to me.
Also, though these stories may have a lot of details, they are often times low on sensory description. This really surprised me. Verne describes animal after animal, fish after fish (to the point where I skipped these sections), but I didn’t get a lot of the full range of senses: feel, smell, taste. Instead, I got a lot of visual some audio and a lot of the inner feelings and thoughts of the characters. Funny, because we modern writers are often beat over the head with this (“What did that spaceship smell like, dammit?”)
Did I learn anything from these guys? I’m not so sure I did. They are writing from a different standard for their time. To try and emulate them would not do well for my writing career. Do I respect them? Of course I do. For example, “Murders in the Rue Morgue” by Poe, became the template for Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie years later. It needs respect.
Would I recommend that they be read for a beginning writer? Not sure yet. I’ll keep reading and let you know after awhile.
How about you guys? What’s your opinion of the classics? Is it necessary that we modern writers read and study them?
Writing Update: I’m currently working on a dark fantasy short story. I hope to be finished with the first draft soon. I’ll post it for comment later on. Also, I find myself missing the Gideon Plan every single day since I have stopped. It breaks my heart sometimes.
One thing that drives me crazy as a fiction reader is when an author gives me terrible names for their characters. Too often, I can’t remember one character from the next. I’m thumbing back through the pages with a frown on my face, “Who’s this guy again?”
When I write, I’m very cognizant of my character’s names. Its one of the things I try to get right in a story. I want my names to be iconic or at the very least, memorable.
I take some cues from Larry McMurty and George R.R. Martin. Those fellas really got the name thing figured out. One of the things I noticed they do is they both use nicknames or name their characters unusual or uncommon names. Example: Dish, Newt, Pea Eye, The Hound, Hot Pie. I use this technique a lot.
For me, I want a name that reflects a character’s personality. I’ll switch them without hesitation over the writing process if I feel their name doesn’t go. For example, for my Union officer investigating the mysterious saboteur team, I initially picked the name Lucan. I thought it was a cool name and unusual, but it was a little too tough sounding for me. He’s not a tough guy. If anything, I wanted him to be the character the reader will identify the most with. He’s just a simple dude. I changed it to Lawrence. I wasn’t too fond of that name either. For one, it didn’t stand out enough. Also, it sounded a little too strong. I wanted a name that sounded like someone who may be in a little over his head, perhaps is even intimidated, but goes in bravely anyway. I finally picked the name Oliver. That seemed perfect. Its like Oliver Twist asking for more gruel.
Here are just a few of my rules of thumb I often use when I pick a name:
- Do not give your major characters names that start with the same first letter
- Give your character names different syllables or has two words in their names.
- Pick names that are within your story’s time period (sometimes there are some really unusual historic ones compared to modern day standards and will stand out–ex. Erasmus or Elijah).
- Make sure your characters names do not look similar to each other.
- Your main characters can have normal names, but give your other characters more unusual names or nicknames so they will be remembered more easily.
- Name a character whose name starts with an X, Y, Z, or Q or uses a hyphen. These are unusual for most names and will stand out.
- Name a character whose name is in a different language.
- Don’t make your character’s name hard to pronounce.
- Use the character’s last name instead of the first, particularly if it is a more memorable name.
- Pick names that conjure images of your character’s personality or appearance. Example: Tomato, The Hammer, etc.
How about you guys, you have any techniques for picking names?
WIP Update: Still going. I’m up to about 100,000 words. I’ve barely made a dent in it, folks. This is one helluva big story. I absolutely just had NO idea what I had bitten off here. Anyway. Coming along . . .