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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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    In order to be a writer, one must love to read. Here, you can also find book reviews and movie reviews.

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The “Wow” Factor

The “Wow” Factor

As entertainment goes, there is a level one must ascend to reach to bring an audience. No matter the genre of the book, no matter the genre of the movie, the writer must bring something to the table that is different or fresh. This is no easy task, to say the least.

I have been given the ability to predict the outcome of any book or movie. I know I’m not the only person with this ability, and I’m sure most can predict at an earlier time, but the fact is, this ability is a curse. I want to be “wow”ed, I want to put the book down immediately to attempt to comprehend the turn of events, and I want to leave the theater saying, “Wow, I never would have guessed.”

I don’t believe this is a “born-ability”, I believe what makes this possible is that I pay attention to detail. Of course, most writers drop hints for the reader or viewer to keep them interested. This works, but there must be more ambiguity. Let me explain.

Predicting plot twists does not feed my ego. I get frustrated that I was even able to predict the outcome in the first place because I want to be “wow”ed. The plot, characters, and setting must intertwine beautifully and punch me in the gut with something so off-the-wall it leaves me saying “wow!” I wrote a post earlier about writing blind and I believe this works well with ambiguity.

If the author is writing blind, with only one or two scenes plotted out ahead of time, then the author might be surprised with the turn of events. If the author is “wow”ed, the reader will also be, without a doubt. The author needs to let go and let the characters take them wherever they please. Feeding off the characters, one might be surprised on where they proceed.

Keep in mind, plotting a book ahead of time with multiple twists may also fall victim to predictability. If the author knows how the book is mapped out, he/she won’t be interested in the journey because he/she already knows where it’s going.

As cliched as it is, writing a completely normal world, with the day to day activities normal and interactions normal, but ending it with the main character in a psychiatric ward and all of it was in his head, still works out well; if written well. The reader or viewer is immersed in the characters “normal” world with the “normal drama” tagging along with it, but then is T-boned with a plot twist only leaving them with a dropped jaw and the word “wow” slowly, methodically spilling out of their mouth.

Plot twisting “wow” factor must be handled with care. Too many twists will leave the reader confused and frustrated, too little may result in boredom. I’m not here claiming that books with twists are the only good ones, because that is not true. If and when you plan a plot twist, avoid predictability.

Joshua Ludeker

Author of Letters to a Dandelion, available at Amazon.

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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.

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.

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