Prologue – Use it or lose it?

The Greatest……not really

Prologue 1

A couple of years ago I wrote the world’s greatest prologue. It was an amazing piece of art. Trust me, why would I lie? Yes, you may doubt me all you want but I knocked this baby out of the park.

All twenty pages.

My world’s greatest prologue was woven into a maze of intrigue, adventure and suspense.

In a nutshell it was freaking wonderful.

 

Trouble on the Horizon

Not long after I wrote this epic piece I focused my attention to my on-line writers group. There were eleven in that group and at the time I was certain their positive replies were a mere formality.

It took about a day for their feedback to trickle in and as they trickled the foundation to my world’s greatest prologue slowly chipped away.

All of them were confused. All of them said no. And in the end all of them questioned my sanity for writing such a piece.

 

But….it’s great….I know it is…

Convinced they all had issues….what are the odds…I took my masterpiece across town to a writer’s group looking for a new member.

Prologue 4

The group consisted of seven writers looking to add one more to their group. They had the choices narrowed down to three. It was an excellent group. Full of well-respected writers from the valley. They had a wonderful eye for detail. One was a published author and none of them, I was certain, were dealing with issues from my silly on-line group.

By the end of the evening all seven passed calling my prologue an unnecessary piece. They also passed on me.

 

So there I sat

The world’s greatest prologue went to bat 18 times and struck out every time. For those of you good at math one thing is certain: Numbers don’t lie.

Prologue 2

The following day the prologue was cut. I still have it and I still love it but someday it may be turned into a short story.

The entire experience led me to a question: Do prologues work?

Even though it failed I still liked what I was trying to do. My goal was to give the reader a bit of a flashback of the protagonist’s life long before the story was told.

But the reader said no and that is who we listen to.

 

What do we do?

Even though mine failed does that mean prologues fail? Does the reader need it?

Does it make the story better?

At first I thought a 20 piece prologue was way too long but after a looking at it a little closer 1 page would have been too much.

Some stories just don’t need it which is a bummer because they’re fun. I know, as a reader I like to be in on a few things before I dive in. Kind of like being prepped before meeting the girlfriend’s parents.

So maybe it comes down to the story or in my case it all comes down to the writing. As you can see I still haven’t figured this prologue thing out yet.

Someday I’ll get it right but when I do it’ll be because the reader and the story wants it. I’m beginning to see how closely tied those two are.

It is a mystery I’m sure I’ll never solve. How is it possible I went 0 for 18? You would have thought one would have liked it but writing groups are important and this here is the best example.

prologue 3

Lesson learned.

SPONTANEOUS FRIDAY

A few weeks ago my good friend at The Stubborn Australian – https://thestubbornaustralian.wordpress.com/  – posted a really cool question and answer thingy on his blog.

I have no doubt he was dying to take credit but the true source of this fun little gem came from Claudia Blood – https://claudiablood.com/

I don’t know Claudia but I do know her blog. I suggest you check it out.

Speaking of Claudia I plan of using her name in my future books. It’s one of those names that stands out in a crowd. Unless she can claim ownership, I plan on stealing it.

Anyway, on with the show.

You may notice a list of questions below. I will do my best to answer each one. I will try to be as honest as I can and of course, express as little humor as possible.

Laughter is over-rated. Correct?

 

Would you rather be beautiful, an astronaut or able to walk up, any surface (ie up walls and along the ceiling)? Why?

Beautiful is probably nice but I have witnessed the disadvantages of this gift. Who needs endless free drinks and free backstage passes at rock n roll concerts?

I’m sure an astronaut leads a fantastic life but the image of Earth moving away at a rapid speed is not my thing. Nor this whole anti-gravity bit. I’m a feet on the ground kind of guy.

That leads to walking on walls or ceilings. As mentioned in my previous post, my fear of spiders, who have a habit of walking on our ceilings appear to be quite good at it. If I can’t beat them I might as well join them.

 

Would you rather physically age, mentally age or visibly age?

I am big on youth. Mental youth that is. I’m the one who’s always giggling at things at the wrong place and time. Curiosity, jokes and wearing bizarre shirts that have no place in the world are my thing. Take away the physical and visible stuff but leave my mind alone.

 

You get a time machine watch that can only go up to an hour into the past or future. What would you use it for?

 Super Bowl Sunday. One hour past the end of the game. Las Vegas betting line on speed dial. Need I say more?

 

What small something would you change right now?

Portland, Oregon’s Willamette Writer’s Conference. I will never forgive what you did.

 

What are your plans for getting older?

Happy and curious but most all I will embrace the change.

 

How do you want to spend your time when/if you stop working? Where do you want to be?

Working is writing. I will have a pen in my hand on the day I take my final breath. Where do I want to be? Oh, that’s easy. Surrounded by those who matter the most.

 

You find out (probably from a magic floating wizard or by text or something) that nothing you do today will have consequences. What’s your itinerary for the day?

I will eat sushi for the first time just to see what the big deal is. While I’m eating this strange stuff I will be wearing a really bright skin tight lavender yoga outfit. I will do all of this in my driveway on a busy summer day surrounded by neighborhood garage sales.

 

When you die your ghost will be trapped in the place of your death, where do you want to die?

Now that I know this will happen I might as well have some fun with it. There’s a cool looking house here in Eugene that has all the makings of a haunted house. When the big one strikes I will have them rush my barely alive body to the floors of this magnificent place. Oh, the fun I will have.

 

That concludes my question and answer portion. Hope you had as much fun as I did.

 

Happy Friday Everyone!!!

Haunted House

 

Listening: We’re Really Good at It

Listening

If you don’t like people who are excellent listeners avoid writers.

We are constantly studying people. We listen to their words, the level of their tone and the reaction to the words they hear.

Most of the time we don’t even know we’re doing it. It’s simply the way our minds work. If our mind detects a type of sound we’ve been searching for there’s no stopping it.

 

On the Lookout

 We’re always on the lookout for new characters. It could be a protagonist and their side kick or a one page character of the ultimate antagonist.

Be warn: The ultimate antagonist is one of our favorites.

There are times when we move away from listening and search for a physical specimen but most of the time we’re listening.

That seems to be our favorite.  

We search for these sounds in busy streets and stores. Maybe a bus stop or two or sometimes it could be as simple as the sounds we hear while walking our dog.

One of my favorites was the time I overheard a child explaining to his friend the delicate art of fort building. The look on his friends face and the sound of the fort builder’s voice was pure perfection.

Listen 2

 

We’re not nosy….really, we’re not.

We listen not because we’re nosy, we listen to make our stories real. Readers are smart and they will figure us out the second we’re in over our head. If we want to lose them the best way to go at it is to create someone we know nothing about.

I write about the kind of people I know. It’s my comfort zone. It’s my confident place to be. My goal is to entertain and that’s the only place I know.

When we listen we have a way of detecting emotion in your words. We can tell in an instant the type of day you’re having. We can create the cause of your problems or happiness in an instant and have our own version of your world long before you step out of view.

Our minds are constantly working. Trust me, I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve searched for the off switch. We find tiny bits of information and create the biggest of tales.

The world around us is our playground with parts that are constantly changing and people always on the move. Name me another playground that could match ours or offer as much fun?

How many people can do what we do? I don’t know the number but I’ll tell you one thing: I doubt they’re as good.

Listening 1

 

Do not annoy me

We are silent and we are deadly and we will make you the villain if you annoy us. But not all is lost. If we recognize your forgiving ways we will listen carefully to your warmth, we will search for your smile and sometimes….if we travel deep….we will see your pain.

You give us so many things to write about and it all comes down to the sound of your voice. You will never know who we are but we thank you anyway.

In the end you make our characters deep. You make them real. We could not do this without you.

Don’t mind us as we stand behind you in the checkout line or sit next to you at the game. You are adding layers to our newest novel that someday you may end up reading.

We can’t thank you enough.  

Listen 3

SPONTANEOUS FRIDAY

To all of my dear friends in Australia – You have some nasty spiders.

Australia Spider

 

I have a problem

I have Arachnophobia.

I am not 100% messed up, just 75%. True me on this, I worked out the numbers. On the bright side I actually have a history of kindness towards these scary little creatures.

I guess that’s where the 25% comes in.

I have spared small spiders, skinny ones and numerous daddy-long-legs. There is an argument that they are not actually spiders but I’m going to say they are.

Daddy Long Legs

Just last week a small garden spider found her way near our front door and cast a beautiful web near the light switch. Knowing location is everything and this being a poor one, I grabbed the nearest plastic cup and took her outside to a nearby tree.

 

STOMP!

These are nice stories and equally nice rescues on my behalf but if I spot a thick body spider running across my floor I will flatten it like a discarded pancake.

If you’re a spider and you happen to be reading this…first of all thank you for the follow…I have no problem if you do your thing outside, but the moment you make my home yours, well, we have a problem.

 

Minding my own business

Yesterday morning I was at ease at my kitchen table outlining novel number two. I was in a nice zone, writing an equally nice scene.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw something. It only took a second to know what it was.

I’m not sure this is the kind I saw but you get the idea.

Oregon Spider 1

I have had my gold star days when it comes to good deeds and as I have noted spiders are a part of them. When the girls were little they became huge fans of Charlotte’s Web. As luck would have it a giant egg sack full of baby Charlotte’s hatched in our garage.

Under the guidance of my four and six year old daughter’s, yours truly found a safe home for all the babies in a nearby bush. I was so proud.

But on this particular night as I worked on novel number two there were no good deeds to be found as an ugly black and white spider dashed across my pages.

The spider dodged the killing machine otherwise known as a paperback. Within seconds the thick body sprinter disappeared.

 

Do Spiders think about me?

spider cute

I often wonder if spiders can think. Do they have days where they’re happy, sad or bored? Do they self-medicate by way of a blackberry root, do they join up at the local water cooler and share lies about their day?

I doubt we’ll ever know the answer to these important questions but there is one thing I do know: That annoying black and white pest had a sick sense of humor.

Later that day after a good day of writing I settled into my favorite easy chair for a late afternoon read. Ten minutes into my adventure the star of my blog flashed his black and whites across our walls.

Was he near my feet? Was he on my chair? Wherever he was he could now be located inches from the ceiling directly over my head.

With my book as my weapon I paused and secretly admired his versatility while hoping to squash him like a grape.

As the day moved to evening we spent our remaining hours watching our favorite show. Halfway through we noticed the lead character appear unaffected as an ugly bug danced across her face.

Realizing it was my old friend I sat helpless as the little beast touched the entire screen like a ballet dance on center stage.

I was pretty sure it was following me. I don’t know why it chose me. Clearly I’m not the one to make friends with especially if you know my condition. But somehow we were bonding in the most unusual way.

 

A final farewell

Spider 3

With the wife and kids calling it a night I spent my final hour of the evening in the exact location where I began. But this time there was one added feature:

A large plastic cup.

As I was about to call it quits I spied him. Edge of the table near a spare envelope just north of the water bill. It was about this time that the theme song to Gun Fight at the OK corral appeared –not really but you get the idea. 

With the plastic cup in my hand and my eyes focused I readied myself for the next move.

We seemed to be deadlocked in a staring match. The only question: Who would blink first?

Suddenly the little guy made his move sprinting east like a sprinter stealing second. In one swift move the plastic cup came crashing down followed by the envelope containing the water bill underneath.

A minute later my little black and white friend was scurrying away into the unknown otherwise known as our backyard.

I would like to think he turned and waved as the adventures to our day came to a happy end. Being a writer I guess I can make that up and say that he did and you being a reader can pretend it was true.  

Now that’s my kind of spider.

Spider Web

 

Happy Friday Everyone!!!!

What if your story is boring?

On July 3rd I laid out a series of pictures of my first draft. It’s a neat trick of allowing the mind to look over the landscape of notes, thus creating a mini-movie inside our minds.

20180703_152823

At the time I took those pictures I was in the final stages of the first draft of my second novel. The chapter outlines that I created were strong. I had a pretty solid beginning, middle and end.

Well…maybe not the end….but I had something. All I had to do was decide what direction to take.

Easy as pie, right?

Last week I sat down and got to work. First drafts are usually quick. I’m pretty sure all of you can agree a lot of it has to do with tossing everything against the wall. It’s a free and fun time to write.

Let’s be honest: It’s the only time we have where others aren’t involved.

My goal was to complete it in six weeks. Four if I was lucky. But after completing chapter one I knew I was in trouble.

The characters in book two have been floating around in my head for years. The only reason I held back was the plot. It was boring and I couldn’t find a way out.

It has to be fun

Dempsey’s Grill was fun. The plot was fun. The characters were fun and the way I see it, if the writer is having a good time so will the reader.

Not only was Dempsey fun but it keyed to my strength. Not once did I worry I was out of my league. I stayed within my comfort zone, never overstepping my boundaries. The characters knew what I was trying to do and they were willing to help.

Let’s face it, we all excel at what we do best which is why many of us do well when we write. But I ignored the red flags in book two. I decided to push though, positive that in the end everything would settle and find its way.

Book two came in two parts. While part one was a breeze it was part two where the bottom fell out and after a morning of writing I knew it was beyond repair.

Young Minds

Later that day my 14 and 16 year old daughters were having a snack before they went off to their gym class. Distraught over my dilemma I joined them and explained my troubles.

In typical teenage fashion they shrugged their shoulders and asked a very good question: Why are you making it boring?

Sadly, I didn’t have an answer. This was followed by a second question: Why do anything if it isn’t fun?

In that moment reality hit: I would have to scrap the entire outline. If I’m bored the reader will be bored. Why bother reading it?

So why did I invent a boring plot? Well, at the time I saw it as a challenge I didn’t see it as boring. It took me in a different direction, forced me to create something out of nothing but most of all….at least I thought….it took me out of my comfort zone. Which seemed like a good idea at the time.

Why do anything if it isn’t fun?

Shred Pic 1

Creating a novel should be fun. Yes, it’s hard work, but if it’s fun we don’t mind the sweat.

So this morning I took to the shredder and said goodbye to my outline. Yes, it was lots of hard work down the drain but this is the world we choose and sometimes it has to be done.

Tough love, they say.

Earlier today I sat down and asked myself a question: What would make me laugh? Then I turned it around and asked another question: What would make you laugh?

In the end it’s all about you, the reader, and that was my problem. I made book two all about me.

Now I’m starting over but I don’t mind. I’m already laughing and having fun. I can see the adventure, I know these characters well and I can feel the energy that was lacking before.

Book one

Boring is….well….boring and who wants that?  Now, on to book two.  

SPONTANEOUS FRIDAY

SLIDE3.2

My Favorite Birthday

Last week was my oldest daughter’s 16th birthday. Like me, she loves celebrating birthdays. We love holding the mystery package in our hands. That moment of curiosity and anticipation. The sound of ripped paper and finally, those precious few seconds before the mystery is revealed.

The other day I was thinking about birthday gifts and I asked myself did I have a favorite. At one time in my life did someone give me something that was perfect and unexpected?  

At first I thought it would be an impossible answer. There are certain times and certain gifts for every occasion. How could I pick just one?

But it didn’t take long for my mind to twist and turn the way it does when searching for clues and in a heartbeat my memory took me back to the summer of 1990.

I’ve mentioned my grandfather on a few occasions. His name came up when I did a piece about my cat, Morris. In my first post I compared writing a book to building a shop and I used his shop as an example.

His name was Joe. Iowa born and raised on a farm in South Dakota. He was an amateur boxer, spent time in the CC camp and worked in a steel mill for 40 years.

ImageX0502

He didn’t have a lot of regrets but his biggest was not being a part of World War 2.

As a boy he and his brothers stole moonshine from bootleggers. When he grew his hobby advanced to Saturday night bar fights.

When grandma came along she put an end to that.

The summer of 1990 marked the eighth anniversary of his retirement. But even in retirement he was independent, hardworking and lived by his own set of rules.

In June of that summer I came home from college. Little did I know I was about to receive the best birthday gift ever.

He wasn’t the type to ask for advice but that summer he did. An old log buried deep beneath his garden had been a thorn in his side since I was a boy. To my surprise he wanted my opinion on ways to remove it. For reasons I couldn’t understand it had to be removed that summer and he wanted my help.

We took endless trips to the hardware store as I figured out ways to remove the log. I remember being surprised at his patience. He was always the teacher but this time I was on my own.

We worked on the log in the morning and sometimes at night. It never occurred to me that I was doing most of the work.

During the day I worked at a friend’s restaurant and in the evening, if we weren’t working on the log, we would relax on the deck as I told him about my day.

When my birthday arrived I was taken to my favorite restaurant. I couldn’t believe he remembered I had such a place. To my luck and surprise it was all you can eat crab leg night and believe me, I ate them all.

We watched baseball in the evening and not once did he fall asleep. He wanted to know the stories of the teams along with my favorites when I was a kid.

By late summer, covered in sweat, on a hot Northern Washington afternoon the last of the log was removed. I’m pretty sure I imitated Rocky as he celebrated on the steps in Philadelphia. I do remember standing where the log once laid happy with our achievement as dirt and sweat covered my face.

It was around this time that I noticed he was losing weight. A summer cold, he explained, that took away his appetite. But he promised he was feeling better.

In a blink of an eye summer was over. On the morning that I left for college he was up before me. As I packed my bags into my car he said the most unusual thing:

“Great summer, kid. I’ll miss you.”

His words were followed by a hug and a tearful goodbye. Things he had never done before.

Five weeks later he died.

Sympathy was not his thing and the lung cancer that was killing him would have to wait until summer was over.

For years I was angry that he never told me but I knew deep down it wasn’t his style.

If I had known we never would have played pool in our competitive way. Canadian wrestling and the 4th of July rodeo would have taken a back seat.

And the log? I may have said why bother.

Looking back to my favorite birthdays I now see it was an easy answer. It was the summer of 1990.

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Happy Friday Everyone!!!!  

Synopsis and Queries and other headaches

Bang Head 2

I am positive that there is one person in this world who has mastered the art of writing a query and a synopsis. This person, I am predicting, wrote a really good book and, with the same amount of effect it takes to butter bread, completed their query and synopsis with ease.

Because of this they are able to turn the heads of agents and publishers. Their really good book has more offers than they ever dreamed and it’s all due to their excellent query and synopsis.

 

They wrote it all by themselves!

I do not imagine this person wearing any kind of cape or any other super hero attire. I see them as average looking with normal clothes and maybe a bit out of shape.

I’m positive they live in a nice normal town. Location: Anywhere, Planet Earth.

They are unaware they possesses such an amazing gift and I doubt they ever will. As far as they are concerned every writer has the ability to create a top notch query and synopsis with ease.

I have never met this person but I am convinced they exist. But until I meet them, and learn their secrets, my days of trying to write my very own query and synopsis are over.

To save time, space and achy writer fingers I’m going to call the synopsis and query the Syn-Que.

I agree, it is cool!

 

I hate Syn-Que’s

Hate You

I have learned the hard way that the Syn-Que is a necessary evil. Necessary because it has to sell and tell. Evil because of their ability to cause the worst kinds of headaches.

The query is all about selling. Not only our book but us, the writer. It has to sparkle. It must be exciting and it must cause the agent or publisher to put on the breaks and ask – Who is this person?

The synopsis is a bit easier. In two pages, sometimes three, we tell them our story from start to finish. Not easy but easier. There is a difference.

 

I suck at it!

For the longest time I tried to write my own. None of them were any good. I rambled, I missed the point but my personal favorite was the time I forgot and added a description that I had deleted.

That was a fun one.

I had friends who tried to help me. Their intentions were good. Check that, great. Our endless rounds of rewrites were well….endless. I remember banging my head against the wall causing the nastiest of dizzy spells.

I’m not sure if the dizzy spells or common sense took over, whatever it was a moment of clarity bulldozed my frustration and confusion.

Writing a Syn-Que is hard if you’re the one who wrote the story. When you think about it, of course it’s going to be hard. We create the characters, the storyline, and the backstories. We know every fiber of this deep and rich novel that we created but now we are expected to grab certain pieces and forget the rest.

Asking the author to highlight key events is right up there with writing your own obituary. Where do you start? What do you include? Who do you leave out? Sorry Aunt Jane.

My answer to this problem was simple: Hand it over to my editor.

 

A simple solution

Solution

She knew the story just as much as I but it wasn’t her story and that’s the difference.

   My editor cared about it and was invested. She was also being paid to care and invest. Unlike me she did not have the emotional bond that a writer carries with their stories. There was no guilt or panic when it came to what should or shouldn’t be included.

It didn’t take long for her to present a winning query and an equally winning synopsis. They were so good that I tested the query to a handful of agents at the Portland, Oregon Writer’s Conference. I walked away with positive reviews.

Could I have achieved similar success had I wrote it? I doubt it.

So here’s a thought: If you have struggled like me maybe it’s time to put on the breaks and ask yourself if the wrong person is writing it.

Take a long hard look at your beta readers, critique partners, writer groups or your editor. They are a gold mind but most of all they are not emotionally invested in your book.

Nobody ever said it was up to us to write the Syn-Que so maybe now is the time to look elsewhere.

Happy Writer 2