About Those Resolutions

Hello 2016, Goodbye 2015, Happy New Year everyone!

I’m here to confess another little tidbit. I’m an amateur guitar player. I’m very serious about being an amateur, I’ve been doing this for close to 30 years now. Never had the time, nor the inclination to become professional about this either. It’s too much practice if we want to get down to it, and quite frankly, I am not one to play for a crowd of any kind, so why bother? So yeah, I can pull off some pretty nice tunes (rhythm guitar, forget solos), but that’s just for me, myself and I.

It’s a real kick for me to succeed in playing a riff I like. If I can pull it off, it doesn’t really matter if it’s just part of a song with 10 more riffs. It’s about the chord progression. If I can make it from chord 1 to chord 3, or 8 or whatever without messing it up, I’m satisfied. Those in my immediate proximity might be very irritated until that happens, but what can you do…

Great chord progressions start somewhere, go through some turmoil and can only end with a resolution. You might not understand what I’m saying, but trust me, every riff you like is resolved one way or the other. It’s that chord, or note that let’s you release that breath you were holding. That final note that, only once played, a new progression starts. It’s the progression of different notes that takes you on an emotional ride and the resolution is the satisfying end. It could very well be a surprise, but it is absolutely satisfying.

Stories are like chord progressions. They too, have a beginning, middle and end. They too, take you on an emotional ride, and… yes, they too, should be resolved in a satisfying way.

What does it mean to resolve a story?

Well, stories (good ones) are based – in a nut shell – on the gap between what a character wants, and the hand that life deals her. That creates problems. These problems need to be resolved by the time we put the book down.

Otherwise, we remain frustrated.

Note, that I keep using the terms “resolve” and “satisfy“. These absolutely do not mean that every problem is resolved to our hero’s best interests. It does not mean a “happy end” and it does not even mean our hero stays alive…

It only means that every question raised during this emotional ride gets answered in a logical (logical within the story) and believable way. No loose ends. No little sub plot left hanging. No “leave it to the readers” as in – let them write the end of the story. Yeah, an end might leave things for the reader to ponder, but it’s up to the writer to answer the main questions, to show how each story line ends – even if the end is not absolute (say, a couple gets married – we don’t necessarily have to know if they stay together or have kids [Only if it’s directly tied to an open story question]).

Think about the best books you’ve read. They may differ in many ways, from style to subject matter. One thing I absolutely guarantee they have in common – being great – is that they are all resolved with a satisfying ending.

I sincerely hope that 2015 is ending in a very satisfying way for all of you – and this time I do mean a happy ending. Let’s all ride into the sunset with the loot and the girl, and live happily ever after.

Happy 2016 everyone,

 

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Two Faces Of The Same Coin

Welcome back folks,

Hope you’re well on your way to get all your holiday shopping done (cause God knows it ain’t about the holiday anymore…). If you got a minute, I’d like to let you in on a little (not very secretive) secret.

I like the bad guys in books and movies.

I have nothing against a good hero (as have been documented on this blog, more than once… Or twice…), but as likable, capable or strong as the on-screen good guys are, the protagonist is only as good as the antagonist makes him. Want to test this theory? Let’s look at some of the best protagonists:

  • Clarice Starling / Hannibal Lecter – How good is Jodie Foster’s character in this story? You got it. As good as Anthony Hopkins’.
  • We sure loved Jack Nicholson’s McMurphy as opposed by Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher).
  • Dr. Richard Kimble was framed and threatened by some devious men, making his flight and fight far more interesting.

We could run down the imdb database for hours here, but instead I wanted to talk about one “bad guy” in particular. Well, “bad guy” is not really doing him justice. He’d prefer “Outlaw“, or if you insist, a man living truly by his own set of rules.

Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins)

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(Image credit: http://www.breitbart.com)

I love Raylan Givens’s character. I love Timothy Oliphant’s job as the Marshal. But try to imagine this with a lesser rival than Boyd. Not only is this a match made in TV heaven, a phenomenal casting job. It is first, and foremost a well crafted character.

A villain can be extremely malicious, cruel, even psychotic. He can be a megalomaniac, demonic and a generally nefarious prick. But every once in a while, you find a villain who is not as extreme. In fact, sometimes, the better villain is someone who is just bad enough to oppose our hero but not very far at all.

The reason I love Boyd Crowder as an antagonist (again, with all credit to Walton Goggins) is that when things are said and done, he is Raylan’s childhood friend. He is a lot like Raylan in many ways (least of which is his attitude towards “norms”). He is nothing if not your normal small town Joe. Sure, he’ll go outside of the law to achieve his goals, and do some really bad things in the process. But not only does he truly believe what he does is right (my favorite kind of villain – a villain who thinks he’s not one), he always play right around the line between right and wrong. Is he hurting people? Yes. Is he looking to hurt people? No. Stay out of his way and you’ll be fine.

Put a Hero who’s all of the above, just inside the confines of law, and you have conflict, but with so much room for story development. These guys can interact in ways that others can’t (not believably anyway). You have freedom to explore developments which may put these rivals on the same side of a fight, while putting their own rivalry “on-hold”.

The amount of banter gold (see a few samples below) couldn’t have possibly be written in, unless there was a significant familiarity and shared experience (and shared partners).

Justified – one of my all time favorite TV shows – ended aptly, with these two friends doing what friends do. Sit down for a chat. There was no real need for these two to go out guns a blazing. It was never their weapon of choice anyway. Raylan might be the fastest gunslinger east of the Mississippi and Boyd was an explosive expert, but what they got, they normally did by using their deep well of words.

And on that note, allow me to end this post by sharing some of these words (credit: imdb.com):

Raylan Givens: I’m Raylan Givens!
Boyd Crowder: No, I’m Raylan Givens!
Raylan Givens: Are you trying to be funny?
Boyd Crowder: A little.

Another one:

Raylan Givens: You didn’t happen to bring your rocket launcher, did you?
Boyd Crowder: I didn’t think to pack one.

Another:

Boyd Crowder: Truth always sounds like lies to a sinner.

And another:

Boyd Crowder: Well if my survival is a happy bi-product of my selfless act, so be it.

One last time…

Raylan Givens: Well, I suppose if I allow myself to be sentimental, despite all that has occurred, there is one thing I wander back to.
Boyd Crowder: We dug coal together.
Raylan Givens: That’s right.

Boyd Crowder: We dug coal together.

If you haven’t watched Justified, too bad. Go watch it. Now.

Until next time,


Guest Post – “Writing: Agony Or Ecstasy?” by Christina Ranallo

Happy Monday everyone!

Today, I want to share a motivational post, written by my friend Christina Ranallo of PenPaperWrite. No further preamble necessary. Here it is:

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Raymond Carver said:

“Writing’s not terrible, it’s wonderful. I keep my own hours, do what I please. When I want to travel, I can. I’m doing what I most wanted to do all my life. I’m not into the agonies of creation. “

So why is it that so many writers show up at our writer’s groups with pained expressions when they talk about the craft Carver anointed as wonderful, liberating and life fulfilling?

Did they miss something?

Carver makes writing sound like a dream come true but for the majority of new writers the dream is often a nightmare and it looks like this:

“I keep rewriting and rewriting.”

“I don’t know where to start”.

“I never seem to finish anything.”

Then there is the agony masked by logistics:

“I can only write a paragraph a day because I work.”

“I have no place to write.”

“My family doesn’t understand that I want to write.”,

“I have an old computer” and the list goes on.

Raymond Carver’s casual dismissal of suffering for the sake of creation hides a life filled with obstacles that one would argue caused more than mild upsets along the writer’s path to success.

Carver’s life as a writer started out as a teenage father submitting stories for cash to help ally financial difficulties. In his own words from a Paris Review interview (1983):

“Nobody ever asked me to be a writer. But it was tough to stay alive and pay bills and put food on the table and at the same time to think of myself as a writer and to learn to write.”

Carver turned to drinking full-time, abused his wife, cheated on her and finally got sober, and remarried less than two months before his death from cancer at fifty years old.

Doesn’t sound agony free to me.

The point is Raymond Carver saw writing as wonderful. He saw it as liberating and life fulfilling. Take this as a lesson in focus. Facing obstacles in a matter of fact way leaves writing a path all it’s own.

Whatever task it takes to bring your words to the page do it. Whatever excuses stop you from writing, discard them.

If people tell you that you can’t write, ignore them.

At the end of Raymond Carver’s short story Cathedral a blind man asks the narrator to close his eyes and draw a cathedral.

In the end all creation comes from the same place; the idea waiting to be born, to see the light. How difficult it is to bring that idea into the world is up to you. Avoid the agony or embrace it, either way it’s up to you, the writer to find the wonder.

It’s worth it. Writing is worth it.

Christina

QUESTION: Is there agony in your creative process?

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Can you answer that question?

If you’re a writer, or want to be one, you would’ve drawn some strength from these wise words 🙂

If you liked this, please make sure you visit www.penpaperwrite.com and see how it can help you (I know it can).

See you soon with a post all of my own.

Someone Call Billie Joe Armstrong

Hi everyone.

Not sure why, but this September has been very slow on this here blog. Well, I do have some pretty convincing reasons, not the least of which is being a busy little bee, plotting a novel. I also, you know, work and otherwise committed to householdy things, so there’s that. But even if I did have the time to sit and actually write a post, it seems like my brain (or that  part of it in charge of coming up with things to say) was as foggy as the Georgia skies have been these past weeks.

And so, I find myself humming Green day’s tune “Wake me up when September ends”.

Although the original video for this song can be considered a leading candidate for “cheesiest video in history” award, the lyrics say something else. They talk about transformation, which is what we’re here to talk about.

Quick shout-out before we continue to Christina, whose workshop – the 60/60 method is as good as it gets. A real eye opener!

I rarely “promote” anything, so when I do, you should know it’s something of real value. Not your usual “come see what a great writer I am” scheme. This is the real deal folks. Ask me and I’ll say (a lot) more.

The reason I bring this up is that I was reminded again, that transformation is THE heart of our writing adventure.

It’s pretty clear that the most significant lines in this song are:

Here comes the rain again
Falling from the stars
Drenched in my pain again
Becoming who we are

Change is not easy (Well, no shit Sherlock). But transformation, a real change that make one who s/he turns out to be? That – in most cases – involves pain. It could be an agonizing, seemingly unbearable pain, or a sudden jolt. It could last a long time, or not. But while sitting comfortably, we rarely come to any real revelation. Why would we? If we’re nice and cozy – what’s the motivation?

That’s true in fiction to an even greater extent.

If in real life, the pain can vary depending on the individual and their tolerance, in fiction we simply can’t settle for anything less than dramatic. Losing a job in this day and age could be extremely difficult and bring about severe repercussions. That would be a heart wrenching story. In a newspaper article.

In a book, losing one’s job (and I am generalizing here) doesn’t quite cut it. As opposed to real life, where we wish everyone a smooth journey to happiness, as writers of fiction, we cannot expect a reader to accept a transformation based on something less than dramatic. Nor can the reader accept a transformation based on a single event as tragic as it is.

Come to think about it, there’s a lot to be said about real life transformations, in comparison to fiction. But that is for another post.

Just like Billie Joe, some things must come to pass and our hero must be drenched in pain before emerging, renewed.

  • How was your life transformed?
  • How was you your hero’s?

Let me know what you think and otherwise feel free to comment and share the pain.

That’s all for today, wake me up when September ends.

2014 – revisited

Merry Christmas and a Happy new year everyone! Hope you ring in the year on a positive note. Just do me a favor and be safe!

I wanted to take this opportunity and look at what we talked about here in 2014. But unlike the standard-issue photo collage that Facebook randomly generates, I wanted it to be more reflective. More meaningful. So… for that purpose, I picked a post from each month, and put it here for you (There are more, don’t believe me? look for yourself!). I hope you enjoyed reading almost as much as I did writing it 🙂 So with no further delay, here we go: (Each photo is a link to a post)

January:

I started this year with a few words about my second Novel. Words that would echo in one of the final posts of this current year (last one in this post). Talking about the Novel I wanted to write and the one I needed to write.

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February:

In February, among other posts, I made a short comparison between “Dexter” and “Breaking bad“. Fun and games folks, not to be taken too seriously.

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March:

In this post I talked about what bores me and what will always pique my interest, regardless of the media. Be it Facebook, face to face conversation or a work of literature.

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April:

April marked the induction of Nirvana into the Rock n Roll hall of fame, and being a huge fan of Nirvana I took a break to pay honors to this awesome band.

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May:

Here I listed 15 reasons NOT to write. Are they enough to stop you from writing? You be the judge.

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June:

I shared a nice Q&A I had with an Iranian friend I made over the interweb. Peace!

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July:

Sometimes you stumble on greatness. This is what happened to me with the band Muse. And some of their materials I found, are very important, beyond the music.

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August:

Having finished watching “The Wire” I found a few parallels with another great series…

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September:

A post about the woes of a writer whose English is a second language.

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October:

Oh the things we can eat, Oh the things we can do, your mother will not mind at all if you do! 🙂

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November:

In November, as public service (You’re welcome), I finally defined “Love” for you. Don’t mention it.

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December:

In December, 2014 came full circle and I went back to discussing my second Novel, its completed first draft and the advantages of writing a novel before writing a novel…

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T-t-that’s all folks! Come back next year for more, and in the meanwhile, let me know what you think right here below.

Want to write a novel? How about writing a novel first?

Welcome everybody!

Today I celebrate. But just for a moment. because, as advertised I was committed to completing the first draft of Novel #2 by the end of the year. Guess what? I did! Hurray! Huzzah! and other strange words!

Now, Instead of boring you with what I already wrote, let me share a little advice. This is mostly for any of you who ever thought about writing a novel. Whoever is wondering whether they can. And keep in mind that my advice is not Isaac Asimov’s or Stephen King’s. Just little Ole’ me.

Disclaimer in place, let’s move on.

So you want to write a novel. I got plenty of advice for you. But perhaps, one advice needs more weight in the grand scheme of things.

If you want to write a novel, perhaps try writing a novel first.

Wait, what?

Yes, I said that. But what I mean is that perhaps you need to write A novel before you write THE novel. Makes more sense? Let’s wrap our brain around that one.

I’m a true believer in the idea that everyone has a story in him/her to tell.
I’m also a firm believer in that everyone is capable of telling a story.
Another adage I subscribe to is that “If you ever wonder ‘Why isn’t anyone writing a story about____?’ it’s your responsibility to write one.”

But how? How to I write a novel?

Oh, the tools are plenty. Just try google for size. Knowing what I do today, I’d advise you to be very prudent before you put your trust in any of the following search results. I know of at the very least 5 different “methods” or “techniques” or “philosophies”. I read my share of “How to” books, not the least important ones are Stephen King’s ‘On Writing‘ and Larry Brooks’s “Story Engineering“. These two are polarizing examples of really great pool of knowledge and experience. If I was to start from scratch today, I’d say start there.

But that’s just the start. At least for moi.

Working with a writing coach has been the greatest choice for me.  Participating in a really honest writer’s group is priceless. If you’re a first timer like I was (and to some extent still am), I wouldn’t underestimate the importance of guidance and brutally honest feedback (Yes, that excludes mom).

So, here’s why I suggest to write A novel first:

It takes time to write. It takes time to write well. The more you write, the gooder you shall be. Well, in most cases.

So why not write A novel? Shave on its figurative beard, Make all the classic mistakes, get lost on the way, find Jesus (or Allah, or Moses…) and get to know the effort and sacrifice that writing a novel takes. Then, when you have A novel written, it’s time to write THE novel.

This time with fewer mistakes. Note – ‘fewer’. not ‘none’. This time getting just a little lost but finding your way quicker.

I can tell you that while writing THE novel was by no means easy, it was far less frustrating than the first time around. If only due to the fact that I was less defensive about it.

Now listen to me. with an impressive track record of 2 drafts unpublished (as of yet). But I’m merely repeating a lesson I learned for myself, which was taught to me by far more experienced and prolific masters of the craft. My current draft will change, and the end product? well, it might not be the peak of my creative magnificence. But it sure as hell is going to be better than the first 🙂 and guess what – the third will be better than this one – provided I don’t slack off.

So write A novel. Then please – write THE novel and let me know. Just finished a really good book.

Questions? Comments? Tips? Write them all down here at the comments section.

Book Report – December 11th 2014

Hello everyone and welcome back.

It slowed down here a notch this week, but that doesn’t mean I was idle. In fact, I was everything but idle.

While I enjoy writing these blog posts, I do have my main project in the works and have been for a while now. To recap, after writing a second draft for my first novel, I decided to use that experience and write the story that begged to be written. I’ve placed Novel #1 on figurative ice and started Novel #2 from scratch.

What that means is of course, coming up with a new idea, concept and create a plot, A to Z. It means a heck of a lot more, of course, but with your permission, I’d skip the lecture and summarize this by “writing a lot of words that move the story forward, from the introduction of my hero through to tying all loose ends.”

So words I’ve written this week. Plenty of those things. 14,068 words this week, but who’s counting? In terms of progress, I obviously feel great. I’m at the part of the story where writing becomes as fast as – hopefully – it would be reading. Think last quarter of the book when the heat is on.

You might be wondering what type of book I’m writing, to which the answer is – A politically charged thriller.

So there you have it. That’s what yours truly has been up to these past few days. I tried to keep this place interesting with a fantastic blog post by Jake Threadgood about his experience in Iran. Until I complete my first draft (Judging by current rate, we’re talking end of 2014), you may notice slower updates on this here blog, but stay tuned. I promise some shenanigans.

For now, I write, cause writers write, they just do, that’s how we roll!

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