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    I am the author of LETTERS TO A DANDELION. It is available at Amazon.com in the kindle version.
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What Makes Good Storytelling?

What makes good storytelling?

I was having a discussion on one of my favorite forums (shout out) with a fellow aspiring writer about what makes a writer a good storyteller. I decided to dedicate this post to the art from a reader’s aspect, rather from a writer’s.

Telling, not describing.

There are books out there where I cringe and trudge through acres of text describing scenery, or a characters clothing, or a dog. What inspires me to continue on is hopes that the author will dig the reader out of the describing hole and onto more entertaining plot lines. The problem I see is that the author ran out of interesting scenes and focuses on an object, just to get the words onto paper. This is what a rough draft is for (or three or four).

Instead of describing these nuances to the reader, tell them to me. The reader needs to have an imagination or the concept is depleted. If the author creates an evil antagonist and wants, no demands us to hate him for his evil deeds, the author has failed on giving the character a fat chance in ever changing his ways. I love villains for two reasons; I like to see and understand why it is he is evil, and I want to see how he changes throughout the course of the story. If the author wants us to hate him for his evilness, we will and the story has a plotted dead-end.

There is a master of the art (I humbly apologize for not remembering his name) who once said; If you present a gun in scene one, that gun better fire in scene two. This is wonderful advice because it is completely true. Readers do not want to read a four paragraph description of an ice cream truck if it never gets blown up. These little chunks of text need to be thrown into the pit because the reader is now bored and asking why. So, if your antagonist picks up a gun from a pawn shop, impatiently waiting for the legal time limit, he better walk out of that shop firing.

Too many adjectives.

There is such a thing as too many words. As I trudge through writing novels, in the back recesses of my cob-webbed mind, I worry about word count. Yes, worrying about such trivialities take away from the art itself, but it’s a sickness I can’t help. I’m sure there are many others that think about the same issue and, unfortunately for the reader, these extra adjectives come out clunky and thick.

As I said above, this is what rough drafts are for. Write, write, and write until you physically can’t anymore, then cut that baby until she bleeds. Most times I’m unsure and unaware myself that I’m using too many adjectives and adverbs. One helpful tip is to read the text out loud. If it doesn’t roll off the tongue it will have the same effect on paper.

In essence, I enjoy reading a novel that tells a wonderful story. I don’t chuck a hardback for not using commodious words, nor do I throw it out if it describes too much. There needs to be a gap between the author describing an object and the reader filling in the blanks. Writing is a crazy art, but you know you love it.

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Book Review: ABC’s Castle, Heat Wave

ABC’s hit show Castle, starring Nathan Fillion as Richard Castle and Stana Katic as Kate Beckett, roused my interest from the pilot episode Flowers for Your Grave. Richard Castle is a murder mystery author who, by pulling strings by a poker buddy judge, gets to “ride-along” with Detective Kate Beckett for research for his upcoming novel, HEAT WAVE.

The pilot promised an interesting spin on the average police story drama. On their first day together two murders are committed and are eventually formed back to Castle, as the murderer is playing out one of his books verbatim. As a writer myself, I would be professionally flattered and morally disturbed.

Castle is now readily approaching Season 3 and has long lost the originality of a detective story. Even still, I thoroughly enjoy the series and applaud the show as they take their media to a whole new level.

HEAT WAVE is written by Richard Castle in the show, but also published and “written” by him in the real world. Here is the summary:

Mystery sensation Richard Castle, blockbuster author of the wildly best-selling Derrick Storm novels, introduces his newest character, NYPD Homicide Detective Nikki Heat. Tough, sexy, professional, Nikki Heat carries a passion for justice as she leads one of New York City’s top homicide squads. She’s hit with an unexpected challenge when the commissioner assigns superstar magazine journalist Jameson Rook to ride along with her to research an article on New York’s Finest. Pulitzer Prize-winning Rook is as much a handful as he is handsome. His wise-cracking and meddling aren’t her only problems. As she works to unravel the secrets of the murdered real estate tycoon, she must also confront the spark between them. The one called heat.

If you have seen the show, you know Castle boasts about a juicy sex scene he created due to their spark, which is hilarious on all kinds of levels I didn’t even know existed. Like I said, I applaud their effort and they are denying the real author, still giving credit to the fictional character, Richard Castle.

Overall, the book was good. I’m not a big fan of watching a movie, then reading the book. But, in this case, I knew all the characters, knew all their mannerisms and facial expressions, and actually read it that much faster. Also, if you have seen the show, the book’s outline is identical to an episode.

Here are the first ten chapters of Heat Wave, and yes it is also in bookstores.

During the summer break from the show, Richard Castle is at it again giving one chapter hooks to his next novel, NAKED HEAT.

Bravo, ABC, bravo!

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

Storyboarding vs. Writing Blind

Storyboarding vs. Writing Blind

There are many ways to write a novel and each novelist has their own way of plotting their story. The secret is testing.

Writing Blind

When I wrote LETTERS TO A DANDELION, I wrote blind. I had nothing but the next two to three future scenes plotted out in my head and my characters took the story there. Many of the greats, Stephen King for one, write in this manner. They allow their characters to pull the story along and give them free-rein.

The issue I encountered with using this method is that I hit quite a few stumbling blocks. I didn’t consider this “writers block”. I considered it as poor planning. I wanted to write the next sentence, paragraph, or chapter but I was lost. I was stuck at 30,000 words for a week, blindly stumbling along. Eventually, events formed themselves and my characters spoke to me once more.

I do not dispute this method. I actually love it. Writing blind kept me interested and intrigued for the next crisis and was anxious to see what my characters would do next. In this sense, I knew my readers would feel the same way.

Storyboarding

For my next novel, tentatively named THE KNIGHT PARADOX, I wanted to test another method; storyboarding. Storyboarding plots out the entire novel, broken up by chapter, before writing the novel itself.

Here is an example (I use Microsoft PowerPoint to storyboard).

THE KNIGHT PARADOX

There are many benefits to this method, namely completing the synopsis before completing the novel. As it stands, my plan is to complete the storyboard, branch a synopsis from there, and then fill out the novel.

Many novelists dispute this method, claiming the characters are “destined” for an end, rather than forming their own. I understand this point, but my counter argument is I’m really not taking anything away from the characters. I still have to creatively plot the novel from the start and my characters are already a part of that. As I write the novel, I put the characters in a tree (crisis), throw stones at them (plot complications), and then bring them down (direction). The plot points are already established, so I’m not taking anything away from the character, they will bring themselves out by emotion and reaction.

Again, there is no right way to write a novel and everyone has their own methods. I cannot argue storyboarding to be better for me yet, because I am far from completion. As it stands, I’m enjoying this method because of its structure.

Related articles:

Traditional Plot Story Layout

Fiction Writing Plot Development Storyboards

Text Message Murder

Writer’s Digest hands out writing prompts to tickle the creativity bone that lives somewhere in the body. Many are silly, but every once and awhile one comes along that I can’t resist.

Text Message Murder (750 wds or less)

You’re sitting at work one day and receive a text message from an unrecognized number. The text says, “I have the money and hid the body.” You think this is a practical joke from a friend, so you play along at first. But the more texts you receive, the more you realize that it isn’t a joke. Write the text conversation you have with this unknown texter.

“AC 371, Tower, runway 27, position and hold.”

“AC 371, position and hold.”

“Messaba 243 contact Departure.”

“Over to Departure, good day.”

“AC 371, Tower, cleared for takeoff 27.”

“Cleared for takeoff, 371.”

The day was overcast, hot, and the bank had started. During this time, I can’t so much as avert my eyes from the fifty story tower I sit, than take a breath. That day, I remember easily, I got a message. My phone vibrated on the table next to me and I glanced down. The outer readout on my phone read, “Unknown”.

“Delta 41, Tower, traffic holding short, cleared for landing, 18 center.”

“Cleared 18 center, 41.”

“Comair 421, Tower, hold in sequence.”

“421, hold in sequence.”

“AC 371 contact Departure.”

“Departure, 371.”

My arm was vibrating again, another unknown. There was a short break; I took the chance and flipped open my phone. Two messages; first, “I have the money”, and second, “The body is taken care of.”

I shot my head up, scanned the crowded tower, everyone deep in weeds, when I caught sight of a man I had only seen once. He was in training, maybe his first or second day, and I hadn’t met him yet. He was eyeballing me, paying no attention to his trainer jabbering away.

“Tower, Comair 421.”

I pounded the keys as fast as possible, “What?”

“Um, say again.”

“Tower, Comair 421, number one, are we clear?”

“Affirm, Comair 421, tower, runway 27, cleared for takeoff.”

My phone buzzed again, “I said, the situation is taken care of.” I glanced back over my shoulder to see the new guy’s head hung, slouched, holding a phone. I texted back, “Sure, bud, whatever you say.”

“Comair 412 contact Departure.”

“To Departure, good day.”

Another message; ground control was sending me another ten, maybe fifteen departures. I held back my rage and read the message. “He wants to see you, now.”

“Tower, Freedom 6124, visual 27.”

The new guy held his phone and looked up. We made eye contact, something clicked, but he looked away just as fast. I sent another text, “Who?” I watched him close, his mannerisms changed, and he opened his phone and started tapping the keys. My eyes grew wide and my face drained all its blood. He looked back at me, my phone vibrated, and it said, “Him”. With sudden confusion, I snapped my head back to the new guy to see him nod his head towards the guy sitting next to me.

“Tower, do you copy, Freedom 6124?”

Frank, a long time friend and colleague, was neck deep in traffic. Sweat beaded his forehead only to be caught by his black-haired comb-over. His thick, out-of-date glasses sat on the tip of his wart-infested nose. I looked back at the new guy only to find him gone.

“Tower, do you copy?”

“Freedom 6124, Tower, repeat.”

“Freedom 6124, visual 27 for landing.”

“Cleared for landing, Freedom 6124, runway 27.”

“Frank,” I said. He most likely couldn’t hear me, seeing as how his radio ear piece was lodged in his left ear. “Frank.”

“What? I’m a little busy here.”

“I know, I got this message saying the body was taken care of and to talk to you. What the hell?”

He continued his commands and pushed his spectacles further up his nose.

“Frank,” I said.

“Damnit, I thought we had an agreement!” He slid his chair closer to me as I held back the urge to jump out the window. He lowered his voice, “Listen, it is taken care of. We agreed to not to discuss it here. Do you know how much shit we can get into? Like the message said, it is taken care of; over, done, forget about it.”

“What? I don’t…”

“Listen to me, goddamit. I brought the new guy in so we can get it done clean, no problems. You said so yourself, you wanted this done. You said she wasn’t changing, you wanted kids and she didn’t. I tried to talk you out of it but you insisted it be done. It’s done, man; time to move on.”

“What? When did I say this?”

“Seriously? We had this discussion last night over drinks. You don’t remember?”

The memory flashed; beer bottles and tequila shots.

I jumped from my chair, threw off my headset, and said, “What the hell did you do to Susie, you prick?” My phone vibrated in my hand as I glared at Frank. I reverted my gaze to the phone.

“Susie was nice. I had some fun with her before it was over. So sad, she would have made one hell of a wife.”

I ran to the stairs on the other side of the tower, pounded the down button to the elevator, and what seemed years later I was outside. I shot my head this way and that; tears welled in my eyes and then caught sight of a car exiting the parking lot. It was the new guy. He raised his arm out of his car window and waved.

The One Line Pitch

Being a new author, or rather completing my first book, I thought the hard work was complete after finishing the writing. I thought, Man, this feels good, now all I have to do is get it published. That is a whole animal in and of itself, but what I didn’t realize is that I needed to condense it, make it marketable.

One night my wife and I had a few friends over for dinner and drinks. She had told all her friends about me completing a novel and everyone was so astounded and excited to hear about it. Then, I got the dreaded question; “What’s it about?” I cringed; I clammed up, and said, “Uh, well, it’s rather difficult to explain.” Dull! Loser! I just failed miserably at selling to people of whom I was certain would buy.

Finishing the novel was not the hardest part. Now, I have to condense my story into one sentence, a paragraph, and a two paragraph paraphrase. Kill me! The actual writing took me about a month and a half to complete. I trudged and wrote until my fingers bled, and now, I have to write a ONE sentence pitch? I’d rather jump from an airplane, thank you.

Then, when I thought all hope was lost in the wind, I came across a very helpful article by a literary agent, Nathan Bransford, who explained how important it is to condense your story to make it interesting and marketable. If only I had read it prior to my get together, I wouldn’t have this nasty scar on my wrist.

Here’s my attempt for LETTERS TO A DANDELION:

One Line Sentence Pitch: Two children witness a murder and stumble upon a box of letters written by the murderer’s wife that alter their future by truth.

One Paragraph Pitch: Marie Eckers, the wife of a murderer, was diagnosed with lung cancer. In her final days, she writes letters to log and memoir her life, when it falls into the hands of two boys after they witnessed her husband’s act. As the truth unfolds, Dax Sheppard takes on a quest to rid himself of the past and create a new by following specific instructions from those letters. His childhood friend, Chris Lonestine, embarks on a fuller future as a US Marshal in hopes to bandage a lifetime of heartache for not stopping one crime as a child when he had the chance.

Two Paragraph Pitch: Struggling from a broken childhood, Dax Sheppard and Chris Lonestine witness an act so terrible, their impending lives can never veer from. To Chris’s most demanding opposition, Dax enters the home of the murderer to confront him to where he finds letters written by a loving hand, while involving Emily Strickland, the two’s school crush.

As the two grow apart, Chris pairs up with US Marshal Melissa Easton and Dax moves about in a psychological delusion, powered by the words from the murderer’s wife. After a bank robbery, the three are forced to confront their past as their normal, present lives come crashing to a halt when they realize they are chasing the one man of who is committing those insane acts, Dax Sheppard.

This took me a week to write, no kidding, and I still don’t like it. But, if there are authors out there now with a new book idea, might I suggest starting this first. Get the idea out in one sentence, then formulate from that into one paragraph, and then two. From there, work the idea into a synopsis, or a short story, and then it will morph into a whole book. Granted, this is only one way of writing a book – everyone has their own way – but this will certainly be a test of mine for my next one.

Again, writing a pitch (for me, anyway) was harder than the actual writing, but it is very important. Good luck and keep writing!

Street (Flash Fiction)

Since the beginning of time, from Adam and his mythical first-wife-born-from-dust Lilith, to Adam and born-from-Adam’s-rib Eve, there has been a never-ending battle between Good and Evil. Each of God’s creations is faced with moral dilemmas every day, hour, and minute on which path to choose; concerning their own moral decency and pose. More often than not, evil will win; then spreads like wildfire. Evil is an ever-changing, ever-powerful virus that once created, will replicate itself so fast that there is no comprehensible way to put an end to them.

Legend has it that there is one man who is said to be the most powerful Demonologist; one man who nobody has seen or spoken to, but calls to from the depth of their own evil-infested soul, named Street.

**

The darkened room was only lit by one flickering candle, sitting atop a small nightstand, throwing shadows across the room in soothing, rhythmic beats. Street knelt on the floor in the middle of the small, somewhat comfortable room. A sheet-less cot, shoved against the battered concrete wall, a bucket filled with one can only assume to be rotting human feces and the candle-holding nightstand were the only physical presence in the room. The darkness elsewhere encompassed space like a thick fog, never breaking. He pulled a small piece of chalk from his beaten and seen-too-many-days leather satchel that was slung over his shoulder. The chalk itself had also seen too many concrete floors, walls, and ceilings in its days and Street felt a faint panic rise to his throat. Many things were hard to come by and he wasn’t sure if he’d ever find another piece of chalk if he tried.

Street pulled a self-rolled cigarette from his satchel, lit it and inhaled deeply. “One of the very demon’s curses” he muttered to himself. He then gently grasped the chalk from his satchel in one hand, careful not to pinch his fingers too hard, and started his ritual markings on the floor. The actions that followed are so deeply embedded in his mind that he’s not sure even remembering learning and quite certain cannot be taught. He lightly drew a circle, about two feet in diameter, and then drew a large X through the middle, which each stem drawn further out, north and south. Street dug through his satchel once more and found what he was searching for. He pulled a pocket-sized Bible out and placed it on the floor above the circle, in between the northbound stems of the X, then placed a silver plated Crucified Cross opposite. Street slid off his knees and into a sitting position, squinting between the smoking cigarette between his lips, and began to prepare his mind.

The flame from the candle wavered slightly, almost too slightly to notice, which woke Street from his meditation state. He stood up, knees popping the sound of a pistol crack, and slung his leather satchel that rested on the small of back. He quickly tightened his belt, which there slung two ancient revolvers waiting patiently and quietly for their number to be called, and rested the palm of both hands on the butt of each revolver. The flame wavered more violently now, then winked out. There stood Street, in the thick of the darkness fog so thick it was suffocating. The only light left now was the cherry burning on his cigarette, which he now grasped and flicked towards the middle of the circle. He sighed deeply, pulled out both ancient revolvers, and rested them at his side.

“It has begun.”

There was a rumble that came from outside the room. Street rested his chin to his chest and concentrated. This was the part he hated; this was the dirty work, and this part was what stole his sleep. The first rumbles and screeches came and went from outside his room, and Street waited. He was hoping against hope that the ever-changing demons still succumb to his own bullet concoction; another he can’t remember learning. He felt goose bumps; all hairs rose on his body, and then knelt to one knee. A rush of cold air, so cold and so fast it ruffled his hair as it blew over his head. The room was still black, but their stench follows them. Street opened fire. Each bullet that raced from the barrel cracked with deafening precision, light flashing with each powerful kick, lighting the room to catch glimpses of the retched demon. He did not need to know where he was firing, he knew where they were at all times; he could feel them, smell their disgusting stench. The intruder flew at him, just as he knelt, and got caught in the world-wind circle he had just finished drawing. Screeching came in deafening bursts that not only hurt his ears, but felt tearing at his soul. Street could see the beast with each bullet blasting, piercing him in different regions as the demon got caught in the upper corner of the room. Its flesh, if blackness can be given such a name, was tearing apart with each bullet never missing. He unloaded his clips into the howling thing as it let out one more deafening screech. It twisted and twirled, being drawn by some force not of its own. Street took a step back and watched haggard. His mind started to wobble, his vision blurred, and his leg muscles started to give out; all the while never losing eye contact with the demon. The demon was still screeching, stuck in a whirlpool of force, spinning around the room about the drawn circle. Each time it passed over where the Bible and cross lay, the screech would intensify. Spinning, circling, and with one last gnash of its black hole mouth, struck Street across the cheek, then vanished with a pop.

Street spat blood to the floor and whispered, “May God have mercy on your soul.” He holstered his still smoking ancient revolvers and stepped out the door.

A Brothers Love : 2

A Brothers Love : Part 1

The hardest thing to overcome, to me, from the passing of my brother was the initial horrified shock; obviously. For the first two years, any memory I tried to pull up for him was the traumatic passing, car accident scene (which I never saw in person, just my over-creative image I created myself), where I was standing when I first heard the news, and the funeral. I had a very difficult time moving away from those initials thoughts, so I trained my mind away from him in general, and basically blocked it out. I would tell myself that he is gone, nothing I can do about it, and just plain move on. That worked for an extended period, my conscience mind idling in the background accepting it, and it turned out that wasn’t enough; again, obviously.

My brother and I were living together at the time. I remember the day, five years ago, with such clarity, like it was just last night. My daughter was three at the time, I had just put her to bed for the night, and I was watching college basketball, unwinding. He walked into the door with a couple bags in his hands, just off work. He said, “Can you believe how much it costs for common bathroom shit?” He had purchased a few toiletries – toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, and a lamp (I’m quite sure) – and basically dropped them in his room.

I laughed at his interesting comment, such a true statement, and continued watching the game. Minutes later he walked to the door again and the last conversation, however short, I had with him went like this:

Him: “Well, I’m off to B-Dubs to watch the game.”

Me: “Ok, see ya.

Him: “Peace.”

I didn’t hear him enter the apartment that night, but something did wake me; the sound of a helicopter that flew just overhead. I woke immediately knowing in the pit of my stomach that something or someone was not right. I checked the clock, 3:13AM. I shrugged it off, attempted to go back to sleep, pushing away all negative thoughts that presented itself.

My daughter and I woke up the next morning to an empty apartment. He had not returned the night before. This wasn’t a complete uncommon action of his, but the past few months of that time was completely out of character for him. At that point I realized that by now whatever had happened the previous night would be on the news. I clicked the TV on, switched to the news, and started to read the ticker at the bottom.

Car accident overnight was as far as I got on the ticker when my phone started to ring. I was actually pissed, this is the reason I didn’t get sleep last night and I needed to know why. I found out soon enough as my stepdad on the other end was breaking the news.

A sheriff showed up at my mother and stepfather’s house that morning. I still haven’t figured out how or why they stopped there first. I don’t believe that was his last known residence and my mother had a different last name. Anyway, this is what my stepdad was telling me, and anyone experiencing this knows too well, just unbelievable. My first thought was that he would never walk out of his closed bedroom door again. I broke. My stepdad asked if I could call my father to let him know and I said I did, and would.

I hung up the phone, attempting to wrap my head around this foreign idea that my brother had passed away, and dialed my father’s number. I immediately hung up after the first ring. How the hell was I supposed to tell my Dad that his son had died in a car accident? Forget the fact that this is my Dad too, how the hell are you supposed to tell a parent that their child died before they did? I couldn’t do it. I hope my Dad understands that I wanted to be the one to call him, but I just couldn’t. I couldn’t.

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