When a story falls flat

I would like to apologize if this post is full of mistakes. I came down with food poisoning Sunday morning. If any of you have experienced such a thing you know the feeling. For those who haven’t, may I suggest other forms of entertainment.

Personally I would welcome salty vinegar on an open wound in replace of what I experienced that day.

By Monday I was no longer sick but I was exhausted. Apparently the best remedy for the after effects of food poisoning is to lay on the couch, watch a movie, nap, repeat process.

 And the best part: Zero Guilt.

When the movie selection rolled around I choose one of my favorites – Ocean’s Eleven.

I’m sure many of you have seen it and for those who haven’t, in a nutshell it’s a heist movie of thieves stealing the loot out of a Las Vegas Casino.

What’s not to love?

After the movie ended I curled up on the couch and took a two hour nap. Waking somewhat refreshed I decided it was time for movie number two.

There were sequels to Ocean’s Eleven but they never lived up to the original. Suddenly I remembered a movie that came out recently of an all-female cast called Ocean’s Eight.

Curious I tried it on for size.

When the movie ended I could tell something was lacking. Not knowing what that could be I took another two hour nap and woke with the answer.

Enjoy:

 Ocean’s Eleven wasn’t just a heist film it was a connection between two people who were still in love even though their relationship ended. This side of the story worked because of the stars chemistry and it had a lot to do with the success of the movie.

George Clooney and Julia Roberts nailed it and because of that the audience rooted for them.

Ocean’s Eight lacked that element. It was all about the heist and revenge but there was nothing to root for and nothing to relate to.

How many of you have successfully robbed a Las Vegas casino? For those who said yes, call me. For those who haven’t it’s hard for us to relate to and if that’s all the story has to offer it kind of leaves the viewer empty.

If the writers would have given Sandra Bullock, the lead character, a need that the audience could relate to you would have had an audience that cared.

The characters that we write have to want something that our readers can relate to. By doing so a connection is made between audience and character but in Oceans Eight I saw none.  

We related to Ocean’s Eleven. In many ways it was about regret of a past love more than it was about a heist. We all have something that we regret and that single element created a connection thus creating a successful story.

This is something to keep in mind for all of us when we write. The more we connect with our audience the more our characters come alive.

I hope I didn’t ramble too much in this post. As you can see there are no pictures. I think my picture mind is turned off for the day. Thankfully I am on the mend.

Eat healthy everyone and I’ll see you in better health.

SPONTANEOUS FRIDAY

I am an athlete – Hear me Roar!!!!

I have discovered that being a writer is a lot like being an athlete. On the plus side there is no tackling, no concussions and no knee injuries.

knee 1

On the other hand that’s not always the case but we’ll discuss my defeated knee another day.

In the world of an athlete there’s lots of pep talks. Lots of training and a lot of head games. On the bright side there isn’t an actual loser unless we count form letter rejections as one.

I learned the hard way that nutrition plays a huge part in my day to day creation. Gone are the days where I woke to the familiar tune of Captain Crunch and Fruity Pebbles.

Call it body chemistry or the expansion of my waistline I realized the two would have to go.

 

How Could You???

I remember the day I discovered the value of nutrition and how it became such a factor in my writing. My lovely bride had the audacity to ignore the grocery list items of my treasures. The cupboard was bare. My Captain Crunch and Fruity Pebbles extinct like the Dodo bird.

knee 2

I was forced to munch on a banana or apple. What has the world come too?

But something really cool and magical appeared. A rather odd source of energy ran through my veins allowing me to focus, giving me hours of creativity.

Soon the banana pushed my Fruity pebbles to the side and became my morning specialty. Some days I’d mix it up and have an apple/banana combo.

Quoting the late great Tom Petty – I was born a rebel.

knee 3

 

Can Pizza really kill you???

Daring or not the work was getting done and I was achieving this mighty task without the help of an empty sugar rush.

This strict regimen has given me lots of rewards but every now and then I do jump off the wagon and for those following my example I suggest you do the same.

Eating healthy is the best but once a week I give myself a reward. When the weekend arrives my writing takes a break. Sure, the writer’s mind never stops but the actual writing does.

Saturdays are snacks and gooey chocolate stuff while Sunday’s are official pizza and burger days.

So many carbs so little care and just a dash of Samuel Adams to wash it all down.

Are they bad? Could they be dangerous? Why of course but so is roller-skating on thin ice.  

Okay – Bad Example.

We Deserve It!!!

All of us deserve a reward. Writing is hard and we all climb that rocky hill day in and day out.

But every now and then put that pen down, step away from your laptop and chase that burger, sin that beverage and enjoy the slice of life.

We do something every day the majority of people wouldn’t dare try which is reason enough to take a break and eat the good stuff

Pizza and Beer

 

Happy Friday Everyone!!!

How a work in progress is born

little girl 4

A while ago my friend Ari posed a question on Twitter:

#TheMerryWriter – D27: What was the 1st idea spark for your WIP (eg char idea/setting/a what if)

My answer: We were at the San Diego Zoo in the elephant section. A little girl holding a balloon was jumping up and down with excitement. A few feet away a man (20-ish) looked bored.

Something just clicked.

I didn’t do too much when I answered her question. She’s always posting the type of questions that make us think and even though my answer was not exactly detailed it made me think.

How did I get my idea or better yet, can I remember the moment it happened?

The Little Girl

Little girl 1

I don’t know why the little girl with the balloon and the bored looking man caused my creative wheels to turn. All I remember is how both of them stole the show.

No longer did I care about the elephants. Something was going on in this brain of mine and there was nothing stopping it.

On an average day things come and go. We’re at work, we’re at play or we’re relaxing on a nice Hawaiian beach. Humor me.

Whatever it is little pieces of a story float in the breeze. Most of us ignore it but some we catch. Why is that?

I have five carefully drawn out ideas of future novels. I know every section of each. Offhand I cannot remember how they came to be. I wish I could but I have to say it’s common to forget.

 

The story stays but the reason for its birth does not

For some reason the little girl and the bored man took roots. A tiny moment lasting no more than a minute but long enough to spark an idea igniting a novel.

I don’t know about you but I cannot force these moments. Believe me, I’ve tried. I have taken walks through the University campus or a stroll downtown but I always come up empty.

I was either stuck in the middle of highly caffeinated college kids or in the middle of a busy street. But when it does happen it always comes out of nowhere.

My recent discovery came during a walk through a store. I entered past an end stand when I came upon an address that somebody left behind. A simple note with an address and number brought all kinds of possibilities.

 

Random acts or something more

So is this it? Do our ideas come about at random moments? Was it nothing more than a lucky break when I saw the child and the bored man?

Or was it the red balloon?

I often wonder if these ideas were always there and all it took was a little push in the right direction for me to see it.

Our creative minds are unlike any other. They work in a way that others would find impossible. So it comes as no surprise, at least for me, that the stories we write come from places that most ignore.

Places like a little girl, a bored man, elephants and red balloons.

Little girl 2

SPONTANEOUS FRIDAY

Memories, Music and Milk

milk

Memories are fascinating, aren’t they? I have often wondered why we remember the things we do?

Why is it I can remember a trivial little thing from 1980 but I have no clue what I had for dinner last Tuesday?

Music, movies, colors and smell all ignite a memory. Give me sawdust and I’m a kid in my grandfather’s shop. Fill the kitchen with the smell of roast beef and suddenly it’s Sunday night and tomorrow’s school.

 

Games

A couple of weeks ago I decided to play a game. What is the earliest memory I can think of and how early was it?

I tried music but that wouldn’t do. Those early memories had little effect with music. So I had to come up with something else.

I looked at pictures of people, I even tried a whiff of sawdust but nothing from my early days came to mind.

I gave up on the game and moved on. No since trying to force a memory if it just wasn’t happening.

But a few days later an odd thing happened.

 

Milk and Memories

I came home from the store and was putting milk in the refrigerator. In that moment my mind pushed forward and released a hidden memory.

Suddenly I’m riding in my grandfather’s old grey truck. I could not see over the dashboard. The ride was bumpy. The sky blue and I wanted to stand to see where we were going.

The truck stopped and the passenger door creaked open. It was a long way down and I remember his big hands placing me on the ground.

The smell of farm filled the air.

farm 1

The Giant Milk Jug

I could see cows, hey, goats and cats. An old tractor stood in the distance and stranger waved from a farm house. 

I remember a giant glass container that appeared to be as big as me. It sat next to my feet and appeared just as confused as I. We stood inside a giant cold room where I stood near something that looked like a facet.

I suddenly felt excitement followed by anticipation. I looked up to my grandfather as he smiled and gave orders to turn the knob.

Milk suddenly appeared as my eyes grew wide watching the container fill to the top. Suddenly his hand appeared and stopped it, inches from flowing over.

It was amazing and in a way it still is.

 

My Aunt to the rescue

SLIDE9.1

I was curious how old this memory was so I called the only person who might know.

At first my aunt didn’t believe me. That was a long time ago, she explained. That was old man Pearson’s barn and dad use to get free milk every week.

As I gave more detail she understood it was a memory and an old one at that. Her best guess I was three, maybe younger.

I found it hard to believe. I never thought we formed memories at such a young age but if that’s true, why that particular memory?

Why was the flowing milk so special? The cows, the goats and the smell? Why were they able to survive in this head of mind?

Memories are amazing, aren’t they? They come to visit like an old friend. Some stay for a while others leave and never come back.

Whatever they do they carry a journey from a long ago time that is special and full of wonder. It is a mystery I will never tire of.

ImageA2901

 

Happy Friday Everyone!!!

 

The Accidental Outline

Authors

One of the fun things I love about this blog of mine is the work in progress.

One of the pleasures of sharing my work is the feedback I receive from some of you explaining better ways of doing things. The other pleasure I enjoy is your work.

I like to see how you do it and why you do it and how you can turn a troubled scene into a success.

I will never stop learning and I don’t want to. Learning makes me better and the best teachers I have are the writers I listen to everyday.

 

Pantsying and other Goodies

A while ago I wrote a piece on outlining and pantsying. I tried the pantsying rout once but I felt lost. I kept having this bad feeling I was headed in the wrong direction.

Kind of like being lost in the woods.

In my last go around I did a scene by scene outline. I must have done something right because I wrote the entire novel that way. I felt good about it but at the same time I wondered if I could improve.

 

Can I do better?

You’ve read my experience with novel number two.  As with any novel things don’t always go as planned but that didn’t stop me from completing an entire outline before I wrote one word. 

20180703_152823

I believed in it. I felt it was the best direction to go and for a while it felt right. But somewhere along the way something was missing. A certain feeling I couldn’t describe but I knew I had to pay attention to it.

Becoming restless like I do I knew I had to get started. This book wasn’t going to write itself. I decided to go back to my scene by scene outline. This time I did a little better, I turned it into a chapter outline.

A little broader. A little better.

As I moved along I discovered a rhythm that was lacking. The confident feeling that I had when I wrote book one returned.

It didn’t take long before I hit the 15,000 word mark. When that happened I stopped and realized I had made a strange discovery. Something I should have seen a long time ago.

 

It was in front of me all along

authors 1

It turns out I’ve been writing an outline all along. I just didn’t know it. It’s what you and I call the first draft.

When I wrote my first novel, draft one was a mess. Just ask Jo, my editor. But aside from that mess a story was laid out. The characters were developed and the plot understood.

The groundwork that I created in that first draft was far better than any outline I could have created. My struggles, my mistakes and ultimately my success in that first draft was the best outline I ever did.

We all have our own style. This is a tough gig we’re trying to do and I’ve learned the hard way whatever works do it. 

For me I need to know these people. I have to understand where they’re going and who they are. But most of all I need to know why.

I have discovered that the answer to those questions can be found in draft one. The accidental outline. We never stop learning, do we. 

authors 2

 

SPONTANEOUS FRIDAY

My Green Thumb

I am not much of a gardener but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be. I always thought it would be cool to have a green thumb. To be one of those who could grow anything with little to no effort.

Yes, it’s an ego thing but I have to be good at something, right?

 

You didn’t tell me I had to water ‘em

dying plants

When I was a kid I took a handful of beans and stuck them in a pot full of dirt. I remember being amazed when a little green thingy poked its head out. That was followed by a bunch of vines growling all over the place.

Being the kid that I was I grew bored, forgot to water it and it died. Nobody told me this gardening stuff required maintenance. Who knew you had to pluck weeds, trim this and cut that?

Who has that kind of time?

But things changed a few years back and it all had to do with the day I bought a mango.

 

Clean up on aisle 6!!!

I never had mango and when I saw it in the store it had to me mine. But like most things in my life it didn’t take long before I saw something shiny and moved on.

Sadly the mango did not.

A funny smell filled our kitchen on a warm afternoon. Buried deep behind the bananas and the can opener a really ripe mango sat.

I remember taking a long look at the mango and suddenly a clever idea sprang into action.

What if I try to grow it!?

 

A Mango in Western Oregon. What could possible go wrong?

I did a little research, created a mini green house and within weeks the little thing started growing.

mango

My mango was amazing. A little leaf appeared followed by another. I counted four, maybe five tiny little leaves. Yes, I need a life but it was exciting.

I placed it outdoors next to things that belong in our state and hoped the other flowering thingy’s would treat it nice.

But two things happened while my little mango grew:

1) It was living in Western Oregon where it had no business to be. 

2) Did I mention I have a short attention span?

We said goodbye to summer and hello to fall. Sadly for my mango winter was next and a cold one at that.

winter

 

Goodbye Mango, hello something yellow

With the demise of my mango I decided it was time to try my hand again. Responsibility is key, I reminded myself as I searched for my newest challenge.

I arrived at the same store that once housed my dearly departed mango. I saw apples. Boring. Oranges. Not interested and beans. Bad experience.

But as I turned to aisle three something yellow caught my eye.

Lemons 5

 

I promise, only one will grow

Lemons 4

Organic lemons were on sale that day. Miniature lemons four to a bunch. Excited with the possibility I brought them home before my attention took me elsewhere.

Out of the four lemons in my possession I rescued seven seeds. A little research and a little greenhouse I was on my way.

I promised I would not make the same mistake I made with the mango. My little lemon tree would stay indoors and if it survived I might have a nice miniature tree on my hand. 

I figured one would survive. Maybe two. Fast forward a month later seven little lemon trees poked their heads from the darkness known as dirt.

Lemon 2

Just my luck.

I haven’t a clue what I’ll do with them. None of them are in the mood to die. Not even the runt of the litter.

Lemon 1b

In my life I have accidently killed a lot of plants. Maybe this is nature’s way of giving me a second chance. Now all I need to do is figure out where to put them.

Lemon 2e

 

Happy Friday Everyone!!!

Comedy, Romance and Nightmares…..oh my!!!!

Scary

A while ago I wrote a piece on finding old stories in my computer files.

It was a situation I am sure many of you have experienced. It is amazing all of the things we find and those that survive.

The story that I found was supposed to be a scary old thing. At the time I was convinced I would be a horror writer.

I had just finished back to back Stephen King books – Salem’s Lot and IT. So it was natural in my thinking that I would follow his path.

 

An Unexpected Twist

What I didn’t realize at the time was that the genre picked me, not the other way around. I don’t know about you but having the genre do the choosing feels natural as if there’s no other way.

But something strange happened last year that puzzled me. I submitted a horror short story to my writer’s group that I wrote at the same time I was writing my romantic/comedy novel.

To my pleasant surprise it scared some of the members of my group. Come to think of it, it kind of scared me to. Especially after our meeting when I walked across a dark and lonely parking lot.

Scary 2

I was advised to enter it in contests, especially during the Halloween season. I finally did and I hope to enter it in a few more.

This leads me to a question: Why are all of my short stories horror driven while my novels are not?

 

Do I scare ‘em or not…..

Scary 1

I have given up trying to understand how we come up with our ideas. I have also given up why we pick the genres, or in my case, the genre picking me.

I could never write a horror novel. It might have to do with empathy towards the characters or maybe I hate to scare people. Especially in those empty parking lots.

But if you give me a short story something happens. My goal is to put a fright in you that’s so bad you’ll never dangle your feet over the bed again. I’ll guarantee every light in your house will be on.

But if you ask me to write a novel I’ll have you laughing and crying at the same time. My goal is to make you smile.

Does this apply to others? Can some of you turn a switch and immediately become a different writer? How many of us are Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde via pen and paper?

 

Something Lurking behind the Screen Door

It’s becoming clear this path I took is a mysterious one. There will be places along that path where funny moments and happy endings welcome every step.

But if I turn a corner and take a sharp right I’ll be your worst nightmare.

A part of me says I should drop short stories but another suggests I continue with a different name. A secret identity if you will.

This Jekyll and Hyde thing is becoming more and more real.

Whatever happens I do know this: The creative mind is full of mysteries where many of the answers will never be found. And you know what? I’m glad.

Sometimes we don’t need to know everything.

Scary 3