I want to extend a hearty welcome to thriller writer Mary Deal, my guest blogger today! Mary is a native of Walnut Grove in California’s Sacramento River Delta, has lived in England, the Caribbean, and now resides in Kapaa, Hawaii. (I’m insanely jealous). She has published three novels: The Tropics: Child of a Storm – Caught in a Rip – Hurricane Secret, an adventure suspense; The Ka, a paranormal Egyptian suspense; and River Bones, a thriller, which was a winner in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards competition. A sequel is being written. Down to the Needle, her next thriller, is due out early 2010. Mary is also a Pushcart Prize nominee. Read More
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MA: Today I am pleased to welcome back not only a veteran guest-blogger, but the first author who appeared as a guest when I launched my blog two years ago. John Wills “guested” with me back in November 2009, and you can go back and read that original interview here: Fellow Writer John Wills is Mike Angley’s First Guest-Blogger! John and I are fellow, former law enforcement officers, and it was through this affiliation (and via a website called PoliceLink) that we met and networked to join the same publishing house a few years ago. John, welcome back! Please tell us about your law enforcement career because I know it has shaped your life and it has informed your writing.
JW: I spent 33 years in law enforcement, including the Chicago Police Department and FBI. That background was a natural springboard for me to write about what I had been doing most of my life. As an FBI agent, much of your time is spent writing things such as affidavits for search and arrest warrants, interviews with witnesses and informants, etc. The problem is that once you’ve created a document it has to go up the line for approval, sometimes all the way to FBI headquarters. By the time it returns to you it hardly resembles your first draft. Once I retired I felt the bonds of oversight were severed and I was free to create whatever I wanted. One caveat . . . if a former agent writes a book, the manuscript must first be approved by the FBI. Why? The Bureau must ensure that no active cases are being written about and no covert techniques or national security issues are compromised.
MA: With such a broad LE background, you must have had a lot of experiences to draw from in crafting your fiction, right?
JW: I had thousands of stories knocking around inside my brain from my time on Chicago PD as well as with the FBI. I began writing professionally as soon as I retired, confining myself to articles on officer survival, firearms, ethics, and training. To date, I’ve had more than 100 articles published on sites such as Officer.com and LawOfficer.com, as well as several print magazines. But those articles were non-fiction; I was interested in telling some stories and giving them a twist that would engage the reader emotionally.
MA: I’ve read your first two books which I thoroughly loved, tell my readers about the series itself.
JW: I created a fictional series, The Chicago Warriors™ Thriller Series, in which two Chicago Police detectives investigate not only the violent crimes they are assigned, but often times the political machine that is part and parcel of Chicago. The books are part of the mystery/thriller genre, but with a twist. Both characters rely on their faith to see them through the challenges that big city police work presents.
MA: Now, you don’t have a single protagonist in your stories, rather, you have two. Tell us about them.
JW: The male protagonist, Pete Shannon, is an amalgamation of several cops and agents I’ve worked with through the years. The female detective, Marilyn Benson, is based on a real FBI agent who I helped train in my years at the FBI Academy. I’ve also continued to mentor her since she is still an active FBI agent. Both characters are very strong, tactically. I’ve ensured they utilize the proper firearms and street survival tactics. I think it’s important to be correct in describing police work of any kind to ensure authenticity and credibility. In terms of their weakness . . . they are both heavily invested in personal relationships, including friendships. This sometimes has a pejorative influence on how they react to certain situations.
MA: And what about antagonists?
JW: Each book in the series has its own unique bad guy, including bad cop(s). That’s how I bring a fresh perspective to each story and create a bad guy that my readers have to flesh out as the story progresses.
MA: I know from your real police work that you were involved in a whole lot of action, so how did that makes its way into your stories?
JW: Yes, I’ve been involved in several shootings, been involved in SWAT operations, execution of search and arrest warrants, and of course, experienced many of the challenges in my own life that I transfer onto my protagonists.
MA: You have a new release in the series, so please tell us about that and what else you are working on.
JW: I continue to freelance, writing articles for magazines and websites. I’ve written several award winning short stories and have had others printed in several anthologies. I’ve also contributed several stories to a daily police devotional entitled, Cops on The Street, which was released in December.
I am working on a new novel, non-fiction, entitled, Women Warriors: Stories from the Thin Blue Line. The book will be a collection of true stories, written by the women who’ve lived them. I include not only female police officers, but also corrections, dispatchers, chaplains, and prosecutors. If any of your readers know of a woman who might like to share their story in the book, which will be released sometime this fall, please direct them to my website; http://johnmwills.com/
In my latest release, TARGETED, I’ve brought the FBI into the story which may allow me to take a totally different direction in future novels.
All of my books are also available in eBook format on both Kindle and Nook.
MA: John, thanks again for coming back to my website. I wish you well with the new release and with all your writing endeavors.
In fleshing out the narrative of a story, writers need to describe mannerisms of the characters. These gestures and habits help the reader know your story people and what makes them tick. The actions each character performs must be in accordance with the scene and their responses to it.
These seemingly innocent extras that the writer adds must be accurate. Readers, especially avid readers, know when something isn’t right as the plot moves along. A wrong point or description can stick in the readers mind and distract from their ability to suspend disbelief and to lose themselves in a story.
An example might be when you have your character making physical gestures. When they roll their eyes, make sure it fits what you having them doing. Neurolinguistics teaches that a person rolls their eyes to the left if telling a lie, also known as constructed (made up) information. So if your character is telling a lie, make sure you don’t say he rolled his eyes to the right, which is from where remembered (true) information is pulled in.
Instead of being so detailed, which necessitates accuracy, you might simply want to say something like:
“He rolled his eyes, looking disgusted, and then studied the papers again.”
That’s a simple sentence that not only provides a good description of what is happening with the character at that moment, but also allows the reader to feel the character’s emotion.
A different example is if you have a left-handed cop. You might assume all cops in your story are right-handed, but suppose you make your cop character different. To flesh out his actions, you might want to add something to the fact that in spite of being an awkward left-hander, he was an award winning sharp-shooter quicker than lightning with his left handed draw. His left hand draw was quicker than any of the right handed cops on the force.
To include something like this about the cop does not and perhaps should not all be added when the cop first enters the story. Defining actions and gestures such as these are parsed out throughout the story whenever a scene allows for them. Perhaps with the cop, he might be identified as a sharp-shooter early in the story. Deeper into the story when the scene dictates him drawing his service revolver quickly, the rest could be added. Breaking up the information like this adds cohesiveness to the telling of the tale. Readers will remember that he was a sharp-shooter and will feel the connectedness to this character.
As with psychological aspects such as rolling the eyes in one direction or another, or other physical gestures, these must be accurate or they should not be included if the writer is unsure about the legitimacy of the facts.
Keep your readers in mind at all times during the writing of a story. Know that readers have read enough stories to know when an author is weak in their research.
Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More
The following tips are some that have been reconstructed from a handout I gave at one of my workshops for writers already far along in their manuscripts. On the registration form I asked what each attendee would most like to learn. Surprisingly, the frequently mentioned information pertained to feeling insecure about submitting once the manuscript was finished, and how would they know it was ready for submission.
In order to help avoid rejection of your manuscript, you need to think through what you’ve created. Start by analyzing these points before submitting.
Does your story start off strong enough to grab a potential reader’s attention?
Does your plot contain enough twists and turns to keep the reader from knowing the ending beforehand? Or is your story so predictable that it might be boring?
Does any possibility exist that you’ve created a story that creeps along, when it should fly and keep the reader turning pages?
Do you know the difference between a slow moving, arduous read and a story that moves like lightning where the reader has difficulty keeping their eyeballs in their sockets?
Have you included your own opinions in the plot sequences instead of allowing the scenes and characters to write themselves?
Are you preachy and trying to make a statement concerning something in which you believe and wish to share? Have no doubt. It is a definite turn-off and will show in your writing.
Have you developed your story to its fullest potential? If not, that would be the same as a detective having four clues and investigating only three. Whatever happens in your story, make sure you cover all aspects and possibilities of each scene.
What about your narrative voice? Is it different from your characters’ dialogues? Does it sound realistic or forced?
Always be careful of clichéd writing, and the use of stale jargon. Use only the most recent language of the time period of your plot that people in real life would use if they were your characters. To have a story taking place in present time, but using age-old language just doesn’t work. That’s unless the author shows that their particular story requires it.
Does each and every scene pull in the reader? Are the scenes developed so the reader knows when and where things happen and how the characters fit into that scene? In other words, have you written the scenes well enough so the reader will feel a part of it all and not know that they sit in a chair reading a book?
Do you have the appropriate beginning, middle and ending? As already stated, the beginning should grab the reader’s interest and make them want to keep reading. The middle may sag if you’ve simply tried to flesh out the story by adding inappropriate information that doesn’t feed into and forward the plot. The ending should be dramatic or contain the element of an Aha! experience. Whatever the experience, the reader must feel satisfaction for the characters when the story concludes.
Are your characters’ dialogues commensurate with the types of people you’ve created them to be? Do all your characters sound the same? Even if all your characters share the same backgrounds and social status, you must make each of them unique. One of the easiest places to accomplish this is through their dialogues.
As with the story line, the same applies to the characters. Are they lackluster predictable types?
Do your characters perform to the best of their abilities while moving through the plot? They can be demure to dastardly, but whatever they are, make them true to type and the best that they can be for the situation in which you’ve placed them.
Have you had your finished manuscript edited by a new set of eyes, preferably professional ones? A relative or friend critiquing your manuscript just isn’t enough – unless the person is an English teacher, perhaps.
Too, here’s something I do:
I have my final manuscript in one long file. I do a search for various important words that I may have used throughout the book. When I find too many of one word, I replace some of them with a different word or phrase with the same meaning. To read the same words too often begins to make the writing seem amateurish, as if the author had not seen the inside of a dictionary or thesaurus.
Lastly, these are some suggestions that should be thought through before submitting your work to agents or publishers. This information also applies to short story and novella writers, even some nonfiction. Much of this information may have crossed the mind of the writer way before getting to the end of the writing phase. In that case, that author is a huge step ahead and their manuscript will show it.
Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More
Parts of a Story
Parts of a story can be seen as action scenes or major scenes tied together with other action. They can also be seen simply as beginning, middle, and ending.
Tips for writing a story are many and varied. I’ve put together some suggestions that will help you analyze your own story plot. Or you may finally be able to get your story started. You’ll be writing a book before you know it!
These suggestions apply to any stories of any length. The only difference is in genre.
In fiction, you may lead your characters to do whatever the story dictates.
In nonfiction, you will have the usual beginning, middle, and ending, but you cannot manipulate occurrences since they actually happened.
Paying attention to the details given below can help you put your own story together. Other articles on this site will cover many more aspects of building a short story or novel.
The suggestions below apply to plot action and holding a reader’s interest. Building characters, a scene, or settings will be covered in other articles.
Here then, discussing parts of a story, are some valuable tips for writing a story, or for writing a book.
Always, that’s ALWAYS; remember to include the five senses in all parts of a story.
Most always, you will write the story from the point of view of your main character’s five senses. If any other character must say something about the heat that’s about to make them faint, this is a great way to have a person other than the main character contribute to the description of a setting.
If your reader’s five senses are stimulated, you are more likely to immerse that reader in your story.
The very first word or two should grab the reader’s attention.
In books written ages ago, it might have been okay to begin “The weather was temperate. I was feeling good.” Today, this is a waste of eight first words. Today’s readers want action or something to grab their attention to entice them to read further.
One of the most important tips for writing a story is to make sure you realize the value of your very first words. They must grab the reader’s attention.
The beginnings are the most crucial parts of a story.
All the main characters should be revealed early on.
Oftentimes, when writing a book of some length, new characters are introduced late in a story or plot. This seems only a crutch to get out of a dead-end plot situation to get the story moving again. There can be no saviors dropping into a story, only characters interacting together from near the beginning and carrying the plot toward conclusion.
In multi-genre writing, characters might pop up anywhere. Still, in order to make them credible, they must have a reason for being included.
Important characteristics of each character should be exposed.
Not important is a visual run-down of what each character may look like. Most important is to build each character’s personality.
It’s okay to state a few facts about their physical appearances, but it’s best done when describing them in action. If some information doesn’t help the reader visualize the character, or doesn’t apply to action to take place deeper in the story, leave it out.
An example: If a man never ties his shoelaces, only include something like that to emphasize his lackadaisical attitude (that you’ve already established) and if, deeper into the story, it’s what causes him to fall and break his neck. Otherwise, leave it out. Every act, every word, must have a reason for being included in parts of a story.
The main dilemma of the entire story line should be introduced in the first chapter.
Of all the parts of a story, this one is crucial.
The main dilemma can also simply be strongly hinted at as long as it’s immediately and progressively developed as the story moves along. The reader must see the succession of events moving along as it reveals more and more of the dilemma.
I don’t advise stringing the reader along. Let them know the dilemma as soon as possible. Otherwise, the reader may ask, “What’s the point.” They will put your book down and may not pick it up again.
When writing a short story, unlike writing a book, the dilemma must be revealed as soon as possible.
Almost everything in the first chapter should be considered foreshadowing.
All the plot action and character traits are set-up to propel the rest of the story. I have written a great article titled Foreshadowing, which deals with exactly that – better than I can explain here in few words.
Keep in mind that all parts of a story must lead to another, must hint at the next event. A future event should cause the reader to remember something that was said or done a few pages or chapters back.
Give your characters tough situations to face that make the readers wonder how things could possibly be resolved.
Make it seem there is no resolution. The situations are what flesh out the story.
Readers know that most situations get worse before they get better. This should determine exactly where you step into the action of the dilemma. Yes, step into it. Do not try to build the dilemma. You will be building back-story.
Have the situation already happening when your story jumps into it.
If you want to have your characters having a fun picnic in a park, and then a shooter comes along and ruins the day, that’s okay too. Just don’t waste too many words setting up how nice the day turned out to be.
Think of this example as if watching a movie. We see the family having fun in the park. We SEE everything immediately. Ten seconds after the film begins, the shooter comes along. If you think of the scene this way, you will know how quickly you must start the action in your written work. You will know how much to include in the first few sentences and how much to omit.
Thinking of your opening as a movie is good practice for including only that which applies and then getting on with your story.
Back-story is information that helps show why the characters have a dilemma.
Use back-story sparingly. Introduce it in snippets of conversation, or in your characters’ memories. Use it only if it enhances the present action. Too much back-story and the plot will stall instead of plunging your reader head first into the bramble bush.
An open ending of each chapter, known as the proverbial cliffhanger, encourages the reader to turn the page.
Another invaluable point in the parts of a story is to try to have cliffhangers at the ends of each chapter. Don’t bring all the action to a close just because the chapter is ending. The reader won’t have a reason to read further.
Leave some events open and questions unanswered. All the while, infuse that chapter with all that it can hold for that particular scene.
When writing a book, you will have many chapters in which you can build cliffhangers as well as great endings when the meanings of these are later revealed.
In various parts of a story, when developing the plot and continuing the action, what the characters experience must be a result of the plot dilemma you originally introduced.
Think about what you created. If you have someone robbing a bank, the plot dictates how these people elude the police. In the end, they are caught. A simple trail to follow only made interesting by complications you add.
Another example is if you begin your story with a seamstress sewing clothes, this could lead anywhere. However, you’ve chosen a topic that may be difficult to develop enough to hold a reader’s immediate interest. Your market for such a story would be limited.
The seamstress would then have to create some gorgeous line of clothing, maybe accidentally, that propels her to fashion design stardom. Maybe she comes in contact with the socially elite, while she, herself, lives in squalor. Think how a story like that might end. Her status is either elevated, or she remains an unknown.
Parts of a story such as this might suggest this seamstress is blind to improving her lot though she wants to. The ending must show the reader how the seamstress overlooks her chance at a better life – and is, perhaps, better for it. Or maybe she finds happiness and reason to stay in her own little world.
Endings make or break your story.
If a reader reads all the way to the ending and the ending falls flat, you will have a greatly disappointed would-be fan. That reader will not suggest her friends read the book. In fact, she may never buy another of your books.
The ending must follow the action. Only one ending would be apropos for any story, with rare exceptions.
The parts of a story must come together so that, with the climax and denouement, the reader feels a degree of satisfaction at having shared the characters lives.
Many stories have more than one ending.
More than one ending would be where the plot contains one or more subplots that, while carrying the main plot, are also nearly stories unto themselves. See my article Forensic Evidence in Plots. In the case of strong subplots, you would then have the main story ending, along with a wrap up of one or more subplots.
Ideally the subplots should wrap up before the main ending. That way, the wrap up of the subplots feed into the climax of the main story line.
When crafting the climax of any story, the actions of the characters will dictate the ending.
You’ve heard the saying “Let the story write itself,” haven’t you? Your story will write itself.
Don’t be concerned about the ending till you’ve arrived at the ending. Allow your characters to perform, to achieve greatness in their endeavors or their dastardly deeds. When you finally arrive at the ending, the characters’ actions will dictate the ending.
Then, as I always say, There is always an exception to every rule.
When I wrote my Egyptian novel, The Ka, I had the ending before I began. I also had many other scenes and knew how the story would flow. But I had to massage and manipulate the story line to arrive at the ending I could not change.
The denouement is the lesson learned after the climax has been realized.
Either or both the character and reader understand the result of the action that occurred in all the parts of a story.
For example, let’s say your character bumbles around doing bad things to people. Then he is caught in a situation where he needs help and things look pretty bleak because no one wants to help him. But someone steps forward, sees the good in the kid, and gives him a chance to turn his life around.
The climax to all this would be the kid getting help in the eleventh hour. The denouement would be the realization the kid has about how his actions hurt people and almost ruined his chance for getting help for himself. The kid’s life does a turn around and he now teaches other kids about good and evil.
The denouement is his self-realization, plus what the reader gets from it also.
Parts of a story can be developed on their own.
Often times, my mind is overflowing with the action of a scene that I write the scene without anything leading to it. Later, I go back and bring threads forward into the new action.
As long as you tie the scenes together in a cohesive manner, nothing says you can’t write the parts of a story that come into your mind in a rush. Write it! Catch that spark of creativity as it happens.
Tips for writing a story, as outlined above, are meant to help you understand the creative steps along the way to writing a book or short story; steps a writer must utilize in the beginnings, middles and endings of stories.
The parts of a story are scenes of action. Tie them together. Make one action cause another, and write it one page at a time.
Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More
Writing a great character arc happens when using descriptive writing. Your writing objectives should include interesting story people who are never stagnant but change as the story progresses. These changes are known as the character arc.
Knowing the story you wish to write, some pre-planning is advisable. You’ve written character sketches. You’ve plotted the story line. You should be able to detect how your characters evolve as the plot proceeds. You will begin to understand the evolution story people experience as you begin to flesh out the details.
A character arc is the overall view of how a character changed from the beginning of the tale till the ending. When you read other books, try to perceive, even pin point, the evolution the main character goes through and how they end up changed at the ending. This applies to all characters, but at least your main character requires a character arc. Approach the overall view of the arc with the intention to put your story people through some experiences that will change them.
An example might be the cop who has tried for years to solve a cold case and whose efforts are pooh-poohed for trying to wring something more out of dead-end clues. The story begins with him worn out from years of stale clues and no new leads. About ready to give up like others investigators have, still he persists and then discovers something overlooked by all others. He can’t reveal his clue for fear of exposing people who could thwart his efforts. He tries desperately to solve the crime on his own.
In this scenario, the character arc begins with the cop, worn down, and ready to face the fact the case may never be solved. The arc evolves when he finds an overlooked clue. This is where the writer should employ descriptive writing to enhance what happens to change this cop. He’s found new motivation. The next step in the character arc is the determination he shows to get the crime solved. He’s got a new reason to come to work every day.
After he solves the crime, he is vindicated. He’s definitely a new man. The writer can make this new man an egocentric braggart or can make him humble yet full of self-confidence with a new respect from his fellow officers. You can write a character arc that may have the character end poorly or magnanimously, but changed. It’s all in the descriptive writing and what the writer wishes to accomplish with the story.
Another example is, perhaps, the main character is a stodgy matriarch whose control of her extended family never waivers. In the story, she believes something to be true. The story action then proceeds to show her changing her viewpoints. She becomes a better person for understanding in spite of her mistaken beliefs. Her status in the family doesn’t change. Her character arc is depicted when she changes her viewpoint and determines to be more open-minded and better informed. Her emotional or psychological growth arc becomes the character arc of the story; all the while her position in the family is maintained.
The character arc does not apply only to actions taken but to thoughts and beliefs as well, even if the character does nothing physically but stand her ground in the hierarchy.
Focusing on the character arc upholds the conflict or tension of the story overall. What the character experiences on an inner level affects them on the outer level and is what contributes to the story overall.
Know your writing objectives, or story purpose, and best define them with descriptive writing. Most character arcs are shown through emotional or psychological process, but the character changes can come about through physical actions that further show the inner workings of the character’s mind set. Read More
In order to flesh out a character it’s a good idea to make lists of attributes for each character. However thorough, you must then write scenes to fit each character. That is, each scene that you write when this character appears should reveal what you planned for him or her when you made your list.
Of course as the story develops, any character may take on a different persona than you first imagined. That’s not a problem. Amending the original sketch will suffice, keeping in mind how the new character image affects all the other characters and the story overall.
I’ve always been interested in how characters are set up in stories. However, it’s no longer good enough to list features and attributes in paragraph or outline form, which seems like we’re looking at a person from head to toe and describing what we see. That’s vital, but characters do something while they act out who they are. Sometimes one thing they do can set up the reader’s impression of them for the entire story. Read More
MA: My very special guest today is the former host of Georgia Public Radio’s “Georgia Gazette,” Emilie P. Bush. Emilie has traded in writing the news for writing Steampunk. For those not familiar with this type of writing, it is a sub-genre of science fiction that typically takes place in the 19th Century, but features anachronistic technologies (like digital electronics during the industrial revolution).
Emilie’s debut novel, Chenda and the Airship Brofman, sends Chenda and her companions up in the air, across a desert, through a mountain and under the sea in a thrilling adventure. Emilie P. Bush lives and writes in Atlanta. Welcome to the Child Finder Trilogy! Read More
A friend of mine—I’ll call her Judy—had written a novel and was in the process of sending it out to literary agents seeking representation. She and I knew that first-time authors typically needed to have two or more completed manuscripts in hand. Publishers do not make large profits on an unknown writer’s first book but on subsequent publications. Money is spent on publicity for the first book, to establish a reputation for an author and build readership. With these aspects already established, on subsequent books, larger profits are realized. Too, publishers were more apt to believe that a writer was capable of turning out numbers of books if they did so of their own volition. Read More
I write about Felix Gomez who went to Iraq as a soldier and came back a vampire. My stories are macho hard-boiled noir with a supernatural twist. In the latest adventure, WEREWOLF SMACKDOWN, Felix gets trapped between rival lycanthrope clans in Charleston, SC, and the impending rumble could doom the supernatural world. Read More