The day I listened to the protagonist

A funny thing happened

Character 2

The other day I was looking over the topics of today’s post. I always keep a number of items on hand and I know all I have to do is pick one. But something happened the other day that I would like to share.

As some of you may know I have been struggling with my second novel. For the longest time nothing seemed to work.

It wasn’t the storyline. I can only write what I want to read and this particular story was exciting to me.

So what was the problem? Why was this so hard?

 

It was all so easy

When I wrote my first novel I wrote it in first person. The unreliable narrator as we like to call them. Looking back I could have written it in third person and nothing would have been lost. But I purposely keyed on one person.

The weakest in fact and it worked.

But when I decided on novel number two I was determined to do it in third person. This would be a good experience for me, I convinced myself. It would broaden my scope and display a well-rounded writer.

But there was one problem: I made it all about me. Not once did I listen to the story or the characters.

 

My biggest mistake

In these last couple of months my focus was on finding ways to make myself better. By moving from first to third I might impress the agents, the editors or a publisher.

By now you can see where this is going.

 

The author’s greatest gift is listening

characters

Novel number two centers on a guy who loves the spotlight. In a nutshell he’s an egomaniac who will crash and burn and slowly pick himself up.

Last week out of frustration I gave in and wrote a scene in first person. I didn’t plan on keeping it. To be honest I had no idea what I was going to do but by the end of the morning I had over 2000 words all in his voice.

What the hell?

Suddenly it no longer felt like a job. I was actually having fun.

So what does all this mean? I haven’t a clue.

On one hand maybe I can only write in first person but on the other maybe I’m following what the story dictates. What he dictates.

What I do know is this: A writer needs to listen to their characters. The stories we write are not about us, they are about people and places and things and for reasons unknown they chose us to tell them.

 

It took me a while.

My egomaniac protagonist pushed away the third person version that I was trying to tell. No matter how many times I tried to gift wrap it he saw through it and stomped it like a bug.

So now I’m knee deep in his voice. He is telling me where this story will travel and surprisingly he has opened up and allowed me to see his world.

Doing it my way was a mistake I hope I never make again. Check that: Will Never Make Again.

Like I’ve always said: Characters come to us so it only makes sense that we listen and write their adventures their way.  

Characters 1

SPONTANEOUS FRIDAY

The Catcher in the Rye – A look back

JD

Weeks ago I discussed my experience when I first read Catcher in the Rye. I loved Holden when I was 15 and hated the kid when I was 20.

Now, a little older and a tad bit wiser, not to mention a father of two teenagers, I was curious how I would view Holden the third time around.

The results were interesting.

Before I started I had planned on taking a lot of notes and at the beginning I did but I soon discovered it took away my concentration and overall feel of Holden and his journey.

So I decided to read it like any other book, give it some thought and write my conclusion in the most honest way I know how.

Keep in mind this is simply my opinion of this young man and my conclusions can be as right as it is wrong but regardless of right or wrong I saw him through a father’s eyes.

My eyes, that is.

The book was published in 1951. I read somewhere it took JD Salinger about a decade to write it but I pretended the days spent with Holden were from the year it was published.

1951 America was a conservative time. It was post World War 2. We were involved in the Korean War and the threat of communism had dug itself into the heart of most Americans.

I wasn’t around in the 50’s but I have a feeling the way people dealt with emotions, particularly the loss of a loved one is far different than the way we handle it today.

In today’s world we are much more open, our feelings are expressed and encouraged but in 1951 something tells me the opposite took center stage.

The story was told in Holden’s words. He had an older brother, a young brother and the youngest, a sister.

His little brother Allie died in 1946 of leukemia. He was eleven years old. This tragic event made me believe that this was the heart of the story.

JD 2

Most of Holden’s grief was dealt with internally. I kept getting the impression the family swept their emotions under the rug resulting in a volcano ready to erupt.

The older brother lived in California, Holden was sent off to college in New York City while leaving his little sister behind. The story opens with Holden being expelled for bad grades and I feel his bad grades were calculated.

He wants to go home to grieve and to protect his little sister from death. 

I can understand why the book was shocking for its time. He questioned religion, talked about sex and used lots of profanity. All of this taboo in 1951.

JD 3

Most of the topics Holden discussed were whispered behind closed doors in the 50’s. I can’t help but wonder if people saw themselves when they first read it and were ashamed or embarrassed at what they saw.

If this book were written today I doubt it would have received the same attention it did back then. But that’s a good thing. It shows how much we have grown.

As a father I wanted to tell this young man to stop running. Embrace your emotions, Holden. Cry. Take care of your little sister and never be ashamed of anything.

You deserve the right to miss your little brother, to protect those you love and to be mad at death for what it did to you and your family.

In other words get it out. Scream from the roof top and tell the world how angry you are that the grim reaper took away your little brother.

I’m happy I read it again. I now have a new appreciation for JD Salinger and the courage he displayed. I have a feeling it became a trying time for him once the book became popular.

This might explain why he became a recluse.

As for Holden, I’ll come to my conclusion some other time on what I feel happened to him in later years. If there’s ever a fan fiction that needs to be written this is it.

JD 1

 

Happy Friday Everyone!!!!  

How to ruin a great idea

So Much Promise

Movie 3

A few weeks back I was watching a pretty good movie. It had a great plot involving a robbery gone bad. It began with a chase, fun dialog and, unfortunately for the robbers, death.

Curious as to why they would kill off all the stars so close to the beginning I was pleasantly surprised at the spin of the plot where their wives picked up the slack and finished the job.

For about 45 minutes the story ran a straight line. It was solid with the protagonist, the antagonist and the side characters committed to one goal.

In a nutshell it was super cool fun.

 

Then Suddenly

But just as I was about to place this in my favorite movie of the year category it all came crashing down and for the remaining hour and twenty minutes it turned into a shell of what it started out to be.

What caused the wheels to come off and turn a memorable storyline into a forgettable one?

Three Words: Too Many Subplots.

 

How Writers Mess Up

Color

Subplots are important to every story. We need them. We write them. The reader wants them. We also need spices for our tasty dish. But what happens when you add too much garlic?

You get the idea.

The movie in question began to add layers upon layers of subplots. So much so that it caused me to forget the actual plot. It was as though a new team of writers came in and ruined the original idea.

 

Remember the Audience

As a story teller we must constantly remind ourselves we are here to entertain not to hand down layers upon layers of messages.

I’m guilty of adding way to many subplots when I began a story but I’m fine with that. In fact I want to. But as the rewrites begin so do the killing of my darlings.

Anytime I watch a movie or read a book containing endless subplots I am always frustrated. Especially if I see potential.

I encourage all of us to toss our subplots against the wall and see which ones will stick. A writer who listens to their characters and follows the path of their story will choose the ones that work.

There has to be a balance and the focus of the plot has to be clear.

The last thing you want is a person like me turning away from an excellent beginning. We all know how disappointed one can be when seeing such a promise turn into a mountain of goo.

goo

SPONTANEOUS FRIDAY

A visit with Ellen

For those of you who know me I am a huge fan of friendship. I’m sure all of you can agree a good friend is an important ingredient in our lives. I rank it right up there with healthy eating and juicy cheeseburgers.

Let’s face it, the better the friends the better our lives. In most cases a good truck load of friends can lead to a long and healthy life or at least a ton of laughs.

 

A heavy dose of explosions

When I entered college in 1989 I had pretty much ruined a huge handful of great things that came my way. Present to me the perfect girl who could give me the perfect life and I would present to you a shiny hand grenade.

Yes, I had a habit of blowing things up. Come to think of it, it was more like a hobby.

When I entered college I was mentally and physically burned out. For a brief time I wondered if I belonged in a dark and dank cave. It’s easy to see why I choose to move so far away. I burned every bridge. Even the bad ones.

 

Enter Ellen

Her arrival was perfect. She was smart, funny and beautiful but most of all she taught me the value of friendship and reminded me how good of a thing it was and how bad I sucked at it.

For the entire year we laughed, we argued, we fell asleep on the couch. We ruined classic songs with our out of control singing voices and still found the time to play the Ouija board in lonesome staircases.

We experimented with alcoholic drinks which in most cases ended badly but most of all I grew up in those months and understood the responsibility it took of keeping important people in my life.

 

Times passes but she’s still here

Ellen now lives on the east coast. She is happily married and a mother of two. But that doesn’t stop our friendship from growing. We’ll always be there for one another. Yes, she taught me that too.

Once a year she comes out to my town to visit her family. During her stay we always find time to meet.

For a little while we’re kids again. We laugh and joke and share secrets like we did in the past. We complain about our spouses and kids and quickly tell one another how lucky we are.

In that moment it’s 1989/1990 all over again but this time the alcohol is replaced with ice cream and laughter.

An old friend is like a favorite song. They are full of memories that run deep. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Here’s to all the Ellen’s of the world. I hope you have one just like mine.  

Friends

Stories behind the novel

Books 4

Writing a novel is tough. I don’t need to go into detail on that. For those of you who write novels you know exactly what I’m talking about.

We all have our different ways of approaching it. For me I have to see it and feel it before I jot down a word. I have to know these people, feel their emotions, but most of all see their world.

 

Do I say goodbye

There are times when I want to walk away. Sometimes an idea is impossible to write. Let’s face it, some things are not meant to be.

Sometimes we have better, stronger stories with deeper settings and believable characters. They are easier to write and that’s the simple truth.

A few weeks back I had one of those moments. A bad scene, a bad chapter and pretty much a bad idea. The setting was wrong and I knew something had to be done.

I started having doubts and I began to wonder if the idea was just that and nothing more. But that’s when I saw them and soon my mind changed gears.

 

They are always with us

I saw the people I created give me a long hard look. Suddenly guilt ran through my veins and shot passed my writing fingers.

How do I explain to them that I run at the first sign of trouble? Is this the new me? Am I returning to old habits?

So I put my pen down and pushed everything away. I stopped complaining and took a stroll through my favorite bookstore.

books 6

I walked down the aisle and pretended I could see the characters sitting on the shelves and talking to one another as I passed by.

I thought about the people who created them and the tough times they had. How many times did they think of walking away?

How many close calls?

 

Just what I needed

Before long my story was bright and real. The voices loud. Little things started making sense. I have a feeling I was forgiven for walking away.

It’s still a struggle, I’m not going to lie. Of all the story ideas I have it seems I chose the toughest to tell. But these people have a story to tell and they chose me to tell it and because of that there is no way I could look them in the eye and say no.

Trust me, this bunch will haunt my dreams until I write the final page.

books 5

SPONTANEOUS FRIDAY

wrestling

Life was good

I grew up in a wrestling family. My grandmother’s cousin was a wrestler during the 1950’s and because of him a collection of wrestling fans were born.

When I say professional wrestling I’m talking Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant and the earliest of super stars, Gorgeous George.

As a child and into my teens it was all real. There was no rehearsing. There was no fix. There was hatred. Blood. Broken bones. It was legalized violence to the extreme.

What’s not to love?

 

Suddenly, life wasn’t so good.

But all of that changed on a day in Tijuana, Mexico.

I was visiting my dad in San Diego. His super cool girlfriend Wanda and her three kids took me down to Mexico for the first time.

It was there that I saw the baddest wrestler of them all: 

The legendary Bull Ramos.

 

Shaking in my shoes

Wrestler 3

He was the biggest, the meanest and the most feared wrestler in the world. He never played by the rules. It was his world, his rules and that’s all we needed to know.

I once heard a rumor in school he killed two wrestlers in one night.

Wow!

I remember walking down the street when I heard his voice. He was sitting on a bench shooing away a street salesman when he looked up and caught me staring at him.

There I was, a skinny kid, my mouth open, my eyes wide. How is it possible the street salesman is still alive, I wondered?

With all the courage I could muster I took a deep breath and introduced myself.

 

Why are you so normal?

 “You’re Bull Ramos,” I said. My voice was probably shaking as much as my extended hand.

I remember he paused and smiled and with a gentle voice he replied, “I sure am.”

I watched as my hand disappeared into his giant paw. It was the same hand that eliminated hundreds of challengers. Probably a thousand. I could not believe I was actually touching the hand of a living legend.

I quickly asked what brought him to Tijuana. Not surprisingly he had a match in San Diego the night before. With a day off this was a perfect way to spend it, he said.

I probably glanced at his hand to see if the blood of the challenger was stained to his knuckles. Another notch on his belt I presumed.

To my surprise he wanted to know about me. What was my name? Where did I live and what did I like to do? In a way he sounded like a parent talking to someone’s kid.

Odd.

 

You’ve got to be kidding me!?

As my mind was racing to conclusions as to why the meanest wrestler in the world was acting so kind two little girls raced passed me and pulled on his giant arms.

They called him daddy and told him it was time for lunch. Suddenly my mind became twisted into knots. How is this possible?

Daddy? Lunch? Do they realize who they’re talking too?

As the illusion of the biggest and baddest wrestler ever to walk this earth blew up in my face a beautiful woman and an older woman the girls called grandma appeared.

 

This isn’t happening!!!!!

Bull Ramos obeyed their orders and stood. With his massive frame inches away from my skinny body he laid his giant hand on my shoulder and expressed how nice it was to meet me.

With a shake of my hand and a pat on my back I watched with utter confusion as he slowly walked away.

As I watched the living legend being led away by two little girls, a beautiful wife and his mom I started to wonder if professional wrestlers had a secret life.

No. Impossible, I said, as I quickly turned and walked away.

Wrestler 2

My Dang Knee

First of all I apologize to my good friend for stealing some of her blog’s name. But it’s such a cool name I just had to steal part of it.

 

I’m watching you

I hardly ever talk about the physical side of things. My physical side that is. The main reason is the example I have taken from all of you.

At one time or another many of you have mentioned limitations in your body or a sickness or your lack of sight. You did it with such class and determination that I remember feeling foolish mentioning my knee operation last November.

Looking back the only reason I did was because I had to step away for a while plus all of the drugs I took would limit my writing even if I tried.

Since then I have been able to study how you handle new challenges in your life. You see it as another chapter and you simply turn the page. It is a strength I will always admire.

 

Changes

A few weeks ago I was forced to swallow a giant reality pill. My knee may never be the same again.

The reality of all this came during a meeting for a European trip I am taking this summer. The meeting included a group of people I will be traveling with. By the time the meeting ended it felt like a punch in the gut.

I knew it would be impossible for me to keep up.

Not surprisingly my wife stepped up to the plate. She has always had this way of doing the right thing at the worst possible time.

She talked me into checking out wheelchairs. She convinced me I could blend the trip into walking and riding. Instead of trying to keep up I’d be slowing down with my new set of wheels.

It all made sense but I still wanted to push it away. Forget the trip, I kept saying. I’ll be in the way. Yes, I was pouting.

 

A Surprise Voice

The following day I received a call from a dear friend. Her son was experiencing health problems and through the strength of her voice she reminded me where my head was and where it should be.

It didn’t take long for my eyes to open. Not only did I feel the strength and hope in her voice but I remembered feeling the strength in your words as well.

 

It all comes back to you

I realized none of you run away from anything. You look your troubles in the eye and you never blink.

Maybe a lot of this has to do with writing. We all chose a difficult path. For some, impossible, but none of us have plans on stopping.

This journey of ours is way too exciting.

The other day my wheelchair arrived. I took it for a little spin and now I have serious plans on experimenting at the skateboard park.

A long time ago I mentioned that listening was the best thing I ever did when it came to writing. Now I have taken that new found discovery and placed it elsewhere.

Not a bad choice. I got this.

Racing