Tag Archives: fictional character

Top 9 Influential Female Characters In Science Fiction

Let’s take a look at some influential science fiction female leads and see how we can use them in our writing.  Here’s some strong, complex creations … None of them scream, faint or need rescuing. They’re the ones getting the job done. These 9 are my personal trail-blazers of female science fiction. Let’s go!

1) Princess Leia

We had already seen earlier in Star Wars that Leia could handle herself. The way she dealt with Vader and Tarkin after she was captured showed us that. But it was when Han Solo and Luke came to rescue her that Leia became so much more than a conventional damsel in distress. By taking over what had been seen as the male role, rescuing herself and generally wise-cracking her way out of trouble, she created a whole new type of character.

Write Tip: Change the action around! Get your characters doing what nobody (even the other characters) expects. If you can get the reader wondering ‘Where did that come from?’, you’re halfway there.

2) Ellen Ripley

The ultimate case of the quiet one, a by-the-book member of the crew … Yet she turned out to be the baddest of the bunch. She could fight if she had to, but that wasn’t what she was all about. Ripley had heart, integrity. A woman who could rise to challenges and one-line with the best of them.

Ripley displayed a range of emotion beyond a science fiction action hero. Ripley wasn’t snappily dressed, or the Hollywood idea of a conventional female character when she first appeared but that didn’t matter … In fact, this added to her appeal. She was anyone who saw wrong and wanted to sort it.

Write Tip: A character’s journey can start with the triggering of an emotion. It creates empathy with the reader or viewer; everyone relates to them. Identify a strong one and probe it with a sharp stick.

3) Sarah Connor

Sarah had a journey too, from timid waitress to protector, to fugitive soldier. Events, as they had with Ripley, changed her. While learning you’re the mother to the leader of the resistance in the future would be enough to change anyone, Sarah handles it.

If the movie had been made in earlier days, Sarah would be screaming and fainting and waiting for rescue. Instead, she proved she could do whatever was needed to keep the people she loved safe. And while she was about it, she showed us that just about anyone could do it too, if they ever had to.

Write Tip: What doesn’t kill a character makes them adapt. Give them a logical reason to change, a vision of what could be if they do.

Science Fiction Was Never The Same Again

Thanks to these three, the world of science fiction would never be the same. It was as if the genre had cottoned on to what a lot of people knew to be true. Real women could be the focus of a story! Not just one-dimensional eye candy or a motivator for men.

These women were strong and capable. They were in control, and they did it all with a witty reposte, just to remind you that they had the answer and they weren’t afraid to lead the way. They weren’t just female versions of the male action hero with martial arts and big guns (although they could do that as well). No, they had backstory, baggage. It made them human, believable, even aspirational.

Let’s take a quick look at a few more …

 4) Sarah Jane Smith

Doctor Who companion, nosy journalist and one of the first to use her wits and intuition over muscle and firepower. As well as being totally fearless, she was one of the team, redefining the role from that of helpless decoration to one of strong equal. And doing it with an opinion.

Write Tip: Every partnership has a hero and a trusty sidekick, two parts of a whole character. Why not give the sidekick the real power (the hero need never know)?

5) Dana Scully

She was the rational sceptic to Mulder’s excitable believer, the woman of science, sent to debunk and explain. Probably the greatest reason for the show’s success, her dogged determination to find an explanation left you wondering just where the truth ended. Although not averse to action, she proved that you could be just as effective with a computer or a test tube.

Writers tip: Every story needs a basis infact, once you convince the reader that you know what you’re talking about, they’ll follow your fiction.

6) Olivia Dunham

Another intelligent one, with the baggage that made her the ideal choice to investigate the fringes. Like Scully, the quiet voice of calm when it’s all going crazy.  Reserved but with purpose and empathy, unmoved by the revelations unfolding before her. And she had a double in an alternative universe, which is pretty cool.

Write Tip: Once you’ve got your fact out of the way, always remember; nothing has to be true, but everything has to sound true.

 

7) Andorra Pett

Andorra who? I hear you ask. Well, she’s my creation, my contribution to the genre. Andorra’s an amateur detective for the space age. She’s a person more on the thinking side of things, independent and initially unaware of how clever she is. Out of her depth at the start, as Andorra’s story progresses, she learns so much about herself. What’s more, in the process, as have so many before her, she changes. She finds the strength to survive and the courage to grow.

Write Tip: Never be afraid to take your character (and your reader) out of their comfort zone. Their reactions might surprise both of you.

8) Kaylee Frye

An engineer, and why not? Women can do anything. Resourceful and yet naïve; dependable and vulnerable, all at once. As well as keeping Serenity running; she was the glue that held the crew together, loved by everyone. To top it all, she knew what a Crazy Ivan was!

Write Tip: Having engineers or other specialists in your cast gives you the ability to impart backstory in conversation, even in the middle of the action. A few short sentences between characters is so much better than pages of boring facts.

9) Kathryn Janeway

Starship commander and breaker of rules. In the same way that a man had to do what a man had to do, it was her job to keep everyone together and get them home. If the means justified the end, she was willing to try it. Sometimes emotional, sometimes calm, always adaptable, like any good commander.

Write Tip: You need a focal point, a constant. It can be part of your setting, a place or an object. Or it could be a dependable character, a rock in an ocean of uncertainty.

Which are your faves? Let me know!

By Lucy V Hay

Source: bang2write.com

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When Fiction Doesn’t Work—What Can Be Learned?

By Bonnie Randall 

Part of the How They Do It Series 

JH: You can learn just as much from a bad book as a good book.

Stephen King said “Unless you read, you do not have the tools to write.”

Books that whisk us deeply into a story, have characters who become dear friends, or use language in such a way that leaves us breathless, are powerful tools for writers, because those elements are replicable and take our fiction to higher, deeper, and more meaningful levels.

What, though, about fiction that doesn’t move you in any sort of positive way? Can writing lessons be gleaned from these pieces also? 

I am currently reading a novel that has me turning pages—but not in a good way. I am so frustrated from waiting for the reveal of the ‘Big Bad Secret’ the heroine is withholding that I am thumbing through and skimming just to get to the place where she coughs it up. The suspense is not working for me at all, and partly it’s because of the ambiguity surrounding whatever this secret is; there are no clear clues or indicators, and what is presented is vague.
Also, there has yet to be a clear reason why the character is being cagey about her secret in the first place. Additionally, while the character herself is being indirect, the plot keeps getting >thisclose< to revealing The Big Bad…and then being thwarted by convenient twists.
To add to the frustration, there are also interludes which come in the form of handwritten letters from one character to another—and said letters are heavily implied to be written by the heroine with the secret, and yet (I cheated) actually end up being written by the hero when all is said and done.

(Here’s more on What is “Bad Writing?” (And How Can We Avoid It?))

This does not feel like author cleverness to me, but instead like author trickery; it is one thing to not trust an unreliable character, but quite another to not be able to trust an unreliable author.

The take-aways from this reading experience for me are:

1. When employing the device of the ‘Big, Bad Secret’, strike a good balance that leaves your pacing on the side of suspense rather than frustration—and always have a good reason why your character is keeping their secret under wraps in the first place.

2. If you are going to use an ambiguous POV, make sure you do not leave your reader feeling tricked. There needs to be at least one Easter Egg in each ambiguous passage that raises doubt—and maybe even makes it fun—for the reader to wonder “Is this really Character X? Or could this be Character Y who is thinking / doing / saying these things?”

Now: How about you? Have you read a book that was a real miss for you, yet was still able to impart some good learning?

Please share whatever that book taught you to do (or not do), but do not reveal the title. (Because jeez…what if it’s one of my books?!) Seriously, we don’t want to book-bash, and besides: one reader’s trash is another reader’s treasure; the book I am referring to here, for example, has far more positive reviews than negative, and is selling rather hotly too (which begs the question—what the heck do I know, anyway?!)

Okay, folks. Your turn. And….GO!

Bonnie

Source: blog.janicehardy.com

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Creating Believable Villains

What are the trademarks of a villain?

Do they have dark, piercing eyes, a snarly grin, crooked-yellowed teeth, knobby fingers, an evil laugh? Or is there more to it than that? The antagonist can be the hardest character to write but also the most fun. How can we be successful at it? Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way.

Make them appear human – nobody likes a pure evil villain. They need to be likable or they fall flat. Give them a redeeming quality. Maybe we even want to cheer for them. Think Hannibal Lector or the Blacklist’s Raymond Reddington. Yes, they are evil but still have amiable qualities. We find ourselves applauding them.

Give them a clear motivation for their actions – we need to know why they’re doing their evil deeds. Their motives need to feel fair and just in their minds. Start with the basic reasons for their crime. Passion, greed, jealousy, but give it an added kick. Let’s place ourselves in their shoes. What makes them tick? Why do they think the way the do? In one of my stories the antagonist has a daughter who needs constant medical care for her deadly condition, so he justifies his actions to get the money to provide her with the necessary attention. This gives the reader empathy for the antagonist.

Give them flaws – we can’t make the villain’s life too easy. They need to work hard at being bad. Keep them in constant conflict, making things more difficult for them as the plot unfolds. Maybe they’re OCD and that keeps them from getting their hands dirty at a crime scene. Perhaps they’re disabled and struggle with getting around. Whatever the flaw, make it realistic.

Hide them in plain sight – don’t make the villain a klutzy moron. That robs the reader and makes them angry. We want to keep them guessing and surprised at the end of the story. Also, we can’t make the antagonist a minor character. This is cheating and doesn’t satisfy the plot. Give subtle clues as to who the criminal is, but make them the boy next door or the female everyone likes. This will give our stories plausibility.

Give your villain backstory – I like to do a full character sketch on the antagonist just like I do for my protagonist. Don’t cheat them in the development stage of your story. Get to know them. Sit down with them for coffee and ask some poignant questions. What are their dislikes? Loves? What is their deepest fear? What were they doing at the age of fifteen? We need to know them inside and out in order to make them come alive.

Fit their behavior appropriately – plant seeds along the way so when they commit a crime it doesn’t come out in left field. For example, if your villain is about to strangle someone give him big hands. Perhaps he works out to pump up his muscles. Or if he’s building a bomb, give him a military background or one in science. Remember, it needs to be realistic.

Creating villains can be fun. Study your favorite and then design yours to be believable and one that will keep your reader turning the pages!

By Darlene L. Turner

Source: almostanauthor.com

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Observational Walking

Observational walking is one of my favourite ways to de-stress and free my mind so I can focus in on my creative writing without distracting thoughts.

I also find it helps me if I am feeling a bit stuck, or just not sure how best to proceed with a story.

I am lucky that I live in the west of Ireland in the countryside and near the sea, so there are plenty of peaceful walks.

However, I have done this on city walks and in parks, so don’t let your surroundings stop you using this powerful tool.

Observational walking is a form of meditation and is not complicated.

You are simply walking at a pace where you can be aware of sounds and can carefully observe your surroundings.

A SLOWER PACE

old drawing of a sad man walking illustrating an article about observational walking.The pace might be considerably slower than your usual walking pace, so if you do a daily exercise walk you can do some observational walking as a warm up or slow down stage.

The key is being aware; listening and observing.

Listen for the sounds as you walk, whether that be birds singing, dogs barking, children playing, traffic, chatter.

It doesn’t matter, just listen and be aware without judging the sounds and without thinking about them.

THAT WANDERING MIND

If you find your mind begins to wonder about the source of the sounds, or other distracting thoughts then simply focus on your breath for a moment.

Each time you are distracted return to focusing on your own breath.

It doesn’t matter if you are distracted, or if your thoughts run away – you can return to focusing on observing your breath at any time.

This will provide the empty spaces in your thoughts and allow your inner creativity to emerge.

As you walk along let the sounds and sights you see come to you – rather than look around for them.

Again without judging or thinking – just quietly observing.

Observing your surroundings clears a space in your mind for creative writing ideas –  it also means you remember a great deal more.

The most trivial observation can grow into something much, much bigger.

This morning, for example, I noticed a woman stepping on a crack in the pavement. If I wanted to develop this further it might go as follows:

Mary walked quickly. She mustn’t have been superstitious, or else she didn’t notice a crack in the pavement. She didn’t slow down, and she didn’t step around it.

Jack noticed it.  Jack also noticed the small metal square embedded in the dirt. He snatched it up and dropped it into his briefcase before Mary had even walked the short distance to the edge of the footpath.

Okay so it’s not amazing but it is something. – a germ of an idea.

An idea that could be developed in a multitude of ways.

Creative writing activities such as observational walking clear the mind for ideas.

You can create anything. Even from a simple crack in the pavements like I did.

Or perhaps a strangely shaped cloud, or even a name carved in a tree or even oyster-beds in a bay.

In this newly created space in your mind ideas are allowed to form and emerge.

When you have a new idea always ask yourself what if? Here are some examples:

WHAT IF

One morning while I was out walking my dog paused to stare at a trampled trail leading to a hole in a field. I knew it was a fox hole having seen plenty of foxes in the area on previous occasions. But…what if it wasn’t a fox hole…

WHAT IF

The hole had been made by someone desperately trying to escape from something.

Or

If it was a portal to another realm.

Or

A shortcut to a children’s hiding place

Once you slow down and pay attention to your surroundings you will start to see a lot more than grass or footpaths.

There is a whole world out there ready to hand you ideas on a plate  all you need to do is stop for a moment and take a look.

‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.’

Albert Einstein

Source: practicalcreativewriting.com

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Showing Character Emotions Using the Leaf Technique

Often we assume that to show a character’s emotion we have to focus on the character. We write that her fists are clenched, that he was stunned speechless by her beauty. Or we describe the feeling itself: how anger whirled inside her, looking for an outlet, how he felt a powerful attraction unfurling in his chest.

These are valid techniques, but they’re straightforward, front-door options, and too often they tend toward cliché or generic. If you have five descriptions of anger in your story and they are more or less interchangeable, you’re missing five unique emotional opportunities.

You can take advantage of those opportunities with a method I call the leaf technique: Show your character’s feelings by writing their thoughts about an object or event that is seemingly unrelated. (I use leaves in my examples, but you can choose whatever suits your character and your story.)

The leaf technique slips us in the back way, letting us feel what the character feels in context, without ever explicitly naming the emotion. It pulls the reader into the character’s unique emotional experience, letting the reader feel not just anger or love but the experience of feeling anger or love as that specific character in that specific story moment.

Character Emotion through Leaves

Let’s say it’s spring in my character’s world. The leaves are emerging from their buds. Birds are singing. My character is feeling bitter about life. What does she think about the leaves?

The leaves came out today. It breaks my heart to look at them, all new, innocent, untouched by the ravages of entropy. I think about their future, chewed by insects, spotted by disease, stripped from their twigs by a careless child who hasn’t learned what death is.

So perfect, this leaf, delicate, reaching out into the world in good faith, translucent in the sun of May. What did it ever do to deserve this life?

The character doesn’t say anything about herself here, and yet we learn a great deal about her state of mind and experience of life. She sees the leaves very differently than, say, someone who’s newly in love:

Overnight, the leaves had come out, and even though he knew they had their own schedule, it was easy to pretend they had arrived to celebrate with him, green fireworks exploding all around, flags waving, tiny hands clapping, the birds all aflutter with the news, flying back and forth joyously to relay the story: Michael kissed Johanna! Michael kissed Johanna!

The joy the character feels is explicitly mentioned in this example, but it’s projected into the leaves in a way that brings the emotion to life in the world.

Character Personality through Leaves

A character’s attitude about the leaves can show us not just their emotions but also their whole personality:

Everyone’s talking about the leaves coming out. “It’s so green!” “Look how beautiful!” “The miracle of springtime!” As if it didn’t happen every May, as if the entirety of species on this planet weren’t programmed to grow at all costs. Yes, I see that the tree in my yard has leaves again, just like it did last year and the year before and the year before. And the flowers are blooming, too! Imagine that.

The real miracle is this novel that’s growing under my fingers. It didn’t exist last year. All alone I found it and shaped it and brought it into being. It is utterly different than anything else, but it has all the best elements — risk, love, pathos, poetry.

I should title it “Springtime.” Then maybe people will give it the attention it deserves.

Here the leaves provide an opportunity for the writer to show the character’s sarcasm and also set up a tension between what the world is ooh-ing over (spring) and what the character thinks they should be ooh-ing over (his novel), which indirectly lets the reader glimpse the relationship between the character and the people around him.

Plot  through Leaves

The leaf technique can also be used to foreshadow the plot, to set up a scenario parallel to the one the character is about to go through:

The leaves were budding out, emerging after the long barren winter. Alyssa watched them from her room high in the tower. They emerged trustingly, counting on the sun to shine for them, on the earth to supply them with nutrients. They had a role to play, and they would play it, no matter what.

After a long morning sitting motionless by the window, watching them dance in the playful spring breeze, Alyssa began to pack.

Although we know nothing about Alyssa’s story, we can infer from the narrative she creates around the leaves that she, too, has a role to play, and has finally decided to emerge into the world and trust, like the leaves, that she will be able to do what she needs to do.

Leaves over Time

Once you create the tie between emotion and external object, you can use it for the rest of your story as a subtle emotional shorthand. If the newly-in-love character later gets in a fight with his lover, the leaves can hang limp, or cling desperately to their twigs in a storm, and right away we associate the change in the leaves with the change in his emotions. If the bitter character, a few months later, looks up to see the leaves silhouetted against the sky, making a beautiful pattern even with their spots and flaws, we know she’s starting to feel better about the shape of her life.

Leaves in Bullet Points

  • The leaf technique adds richness and depth to your character by drawing on their personality and life experience.
  • It immerses the reader, giving them the feeling of being in the character’s head.
  • It creates a relationship between your character and the world.
  • It doubles as setting.
  • It adds whimsy or humor by attributing unusual characteristics or experiences to inanimate objects.
  • It creates a shorthand that you can use later on, a recurring motif that can show the evolution of the character’s emotions.

The leaf technique makes the emotion you’re writing specific to the character and the scene. It brings to life the way each person experiences the world differently depending on their mood, their personality, and the moment.

The same emotions will come up again and again in our stories (and our lives), but no emotional experience is the same. Use the leaf technique to create a unique emotional experience that will resonate in your reader’s mind.

Source: refiction.com

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What Can Flash Fiction Do For Novel Writers?

Are you familiar with flash fiction? Have you dismissed it because you write novels or screenplays or something significantly longer? Well, don’t give up on it just yet. Writing and publishing flash fiction can help in ways you probably weren’t aware, as Gila Green is here to explain.

Book publishing is a tough, competitive business. Still, there’s no reason to make the road harder to travel. Enter flash fiction—an excellent way to break into both fiction and nonfiction book publishing.

Flash fiction pieces are very short stories that still include their own character development and plot. Other names for flash fiction include nano fiction, micro fiction, postcard fiction, and sudden fiction. Usually anything under 1,000 words is considered flash, but it can be as brief as fifty.

If your goal is to publish long, you may be thinking that writing short is a waste of time. I’d like to share five ways writing and submitting flash fiction can shorten the road to novel publication.

Practice Working with Editors

In publishing you absolutely cannot have enough contacts. When you publish flash fiction you will be dealing with an editor—at least one, and sometimes two. Occasionally, you’ll correspond with an acquisition editor who accepts your work and directs you to the editor of that specific genre, or that specific issue. No matter how short your pieces are, that experience working with editors is valuable. You will be that much more polished when communicating with a potential novel editor one day.

Contacts, Contacts, Contacts

If you get particularly lucky, there will be a well-established guest editor for that issue, and you’ll have that editor’s direct contact e-mail and a reason to communicate. This happened to me recently. Imagine my delight when my piece was accepted and I received a personal email from Alicia Elliott with her comments on my work.

You might ask yourself how connecting with editors on very short pieces can really make a difference to you. First, remember that most editors of literary magazines and anthologies are published writers. When your book is under consideration and you receive that all-too common email asking about your marketing plans, you can include that editor’s name as a potential contact.

Second, if you send that editor a polite and personal email, he or she might in future consider giving you a blurb for your novel or a recommendation for a writer’s retreat, advice, or news about industry events.

Examples of a light, personal touches you might include in such a message:

  • “It was a pleasure working with you and I hope we have a chance to work together again soon in future.”
  • “Please add me to your mailing list for future issues and events.”
  • You might also join the publication’s social media and interact in a positive way. I have continued to ‘like’ magazines that have published my work and to communicate with editors on LinkedIn, briefly sharing news. You can also expand your writer’s community this way, far beyond the editor who accepted your piece.

Another point to consider is that flash doesn’t stop at magazines; there are also flash anthologies. Some of those magazines and anthologies are linked to small presses like Akashic Books—a publisher who asks for themed flash fiction and then puts out themed story collections.

This means one short piece could land you as an author in an anthology from a respected press. Not only will that be on your bio, but all of the writers published with you will be pushing that anthology. That’s a lot more marketing partners than you’d have on your own, and it is great exposure for a future novel.

Versatility

Contrary to popular belief, flash isn’t always associated with fiction. Writing a memoir? There’s a micro-memoir online magazine waiting for your submission. There’s nonfiction flash essay and flash event writing, too. Erika Dreifus has put together a fantastic list here. The wonderful versatility of flash applies to genre as well, including crime flash, romance, horror, and most other categories.

Practical Experience

Finally, flash fiction is an excellent way to develop your skills as a writer. You have to make the reader fall in love with your story very quickly, and that takes ability and talent. It’s worth practicing and will improve your novel writing, making it that much more publishable.

Flash Writing as a Dress Rehearsal

I’ve met more than one novelist who told me her novel started with an admired flash piece that she decided to expand. Don’t be surprised if you end up ditching the novel you’re struggling with and stretching out your flash piece to full-manuscript size once you see the micro version of it up on a popular site. There’s nothing like applause to stir up some imagination and motivate you to write more.

In conclusion, no matter what novel genre you’re writing, flash fiction can help you break into publishing your longer works. The most prestigious magazines, including The New Yorker, are big flash fans. If the biggest names in literature are excited about it and publishing it, it’s worth a second look.

By BECCA PUGLISI
Source: writershelpingwriters.net

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How to Talk About Policing In Crime Fiction

A few weeks back, I was drinking with some buddies at a writers’ convention when I felt a tap on the shoulder.

“I want to introduce you to a fan,” someone said.

Like any dignified author at this stage of my career, I whipped around so fast that the Brooklyn Lager bottle nearly flew out of my hand. A man in his sixties stood before me with his hand out—square-jawed, clear-eyed and firm of grip, in a well-tailored suit. He looked like exactly the kind of well-respected man who smiles and says “I don’t read novels” when I meet him in other circumstances. Exactly the kind of reader I’ve been trying to win over for most of my career. A prosecutor, I was told. Even better! Someone who had been in the trenches and would appreciate the nuances and shades of gray I tried to bring out in my novels.

“I just want to see you people get it right,” he said, shaking my hand.

“Thank you.” You people?

“Every week, I never miss the show.”

“Oh, that’s terrific.” I nodded. “Glad you like it. I’ll tell my friends who work on it.”

Of course, he was talking about one of the broadcast network television series I’ve written for. The ones in which justice usually wins out in the end, and the police and prosecutors are unmistakably the heroes.

We exchanged a few more pleasantries and then went back to our conversations. And quietly, I laughed at myself. Of course, he was talking about one of the broadcast network television series I’ve written for. The ones in which justice usually wins out in the end, and the police and prosecutors are unmistakably the heroes.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-cop by any means. In fact, I wanted to be a police officer for most of my childhood. And I don’t even think it’s enough to say, as many leftists like myself grudgingly do, “the police have a tough job.” There are parts of police culture that I don’t just respect, I envy. The hard work, the diligence, the ability to knock on doors day and night and talk to literarily anyone. And the humor. For Christ’s sakes, no one tells darker jokes or can make you laugh harder than an honest cop after a few drinks.

I have more than a few good friends who I revere in various police departments, and truth be told there have many years when I would have had a very hard time doing my job without them. Their stories need to be told, and I’m proud to have been among the people telling them, and grateful to have had the opportunity.

But those aren’t the only stories.

***

About a month after the writers’ convention, I had lunch with a guy I know named Sundhe Moses. We met at Junior’s, on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, near the housing project where he grew up. Sundhe spent 18 years in prison for allegedly shooting and killing a four-year-old girl as she roller-skated past a building in Brownsville. Earlier this year, Sundhe’s conviction was overturned and his name was cleared. In the decision, the judge cited the involvement of one Detective Louis Scarcella, who Sundhe said had coerced him into making a false confession by beating him and choking him. Scarcella denied doing any such thing, but it’s worth noting that twelve other convictions have been overturned so far in cases where the same detective is said to have abused defendants, fabricated confessions, and—this is true—used the same crack addict-prostitute as a key witness in six separate investigations.

“That’s thirteen people’s lives,” Sundhe told me over his sandwich. “People talk about police corruption. But if you take it out of that context, it’s almost more like the story of a serial killer.”

“That’s thirteen people’s lives,” Sundhe told me over his sandwich. “People talk about police corruption. But if you take it out of that context, it’s almost more like the story of a serial killer.”

Now it just so happens that I’m about to publish a novel about a cop who may be a serial killer. Such a thing is possible. A former California police officer named Joseph DeAngelo now stands accused of being the Golden State Killer, responsible for at least a dozen murders and more than fifty rapes over a forty-year period. And there are other cases around the world, including the infamous 10 Rillington Place killer John Christie, a War Reserve police officer who raped and strangled seven women in the 1950s.

But my novel, Sunrise Highway, isn’t really about that kind of individual pathology. It’s about how the rest of us could allow it to happen, in smaller ways, by being complacent, self-satisfied, or comfortable with the status quo. Making the decision not to ask the wrong questions at the wrong time, because it would unsettle the system and make our lives more complicated.

I wanted to tell a story about the pathology of a system that would not only permit a criminal to survive within it, but to rise up and get promoted as a leader (obviously, that couldn’t happen in, say, politics or corporate life). Yes, there have been books, a few movies, and a couple of TV shows like The Shield about individual dirty cops, but those are the exceptions. Most audiences want the lines between good and evil to be drawn clearly, and they want the heroes to trail no shadows in their wake. I wanted to write a book that asked some tougher questions about the world we’re living in.

“It’s not just the Scarcellas doing it on their own,” Sundhe told me. “A lot of other people have to be involved when there’s an injustice like this.”

I think it’s no accident that there’s never been a long-running TV show (at least none that I can think of) about a lawyer or a cop who defends the innocent and gets them out of jail. People want familiar stories after a long day at work and they certainly don’t want to be lectured. And I don’t blame them. I’m not in the business of lecturing anybody or showing them the light anyway. What I do want to do is give you something you’re not expecting, a suspenseful story from an angle that you might not have considered. And if you’re alive these days and halfway sentient, you have to admit the good guys aren’t always good. And getting down to the reality of that can be as riveting and scary as Silence of the Lambs.

If you’re alive these days and halfway sentient, you have to admit the good guys aren’t always good.

At the end of our meal, Sundhe, who is writing a book about his experiences, started talking about the difference between real life and what you see on the screen.

“You know what’s funny?” he said as the waitress dropped the check next to the pickles and cole slaw. “The other night I was watching a horror movie with my girlfriend. Can’t think of the name but there was all this tension in it because the killer was stalking this woman and her daughter.”

“Yeah?” I shrugged and picked up my water, thinking it could be one of a thousand films.

“And then at the end, just when you think they’re going to escape, he kills them both.”

“Ha.” I put down my glass. “Didn’t see that coming.”

“No.” Sundhe nodded. “And my girlfriend hated it. Because she didn’t think that’s how it was going to be. But sometimes life is like that. You don’t always get the ending you want.”

Source: crimereads.com

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LATE-LIFE FICTION NEVER GETS OLD

“The sooner growing older is stripped of reflexive dread, the better equipped we are to benefit from the countless ways in which it can enrich us.” ―  Ashton Applewhite, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism

Time to Tell the Stories

Don’t tell me I am too old for that.

I know how it feels, perhaps you do too……to be 60, 70, or even 80, reminding yourself that you can no longer do what you once could, wondering if you should even try.

It is instinctive, I suppose, the need to push back against those perceived limitations. Accepting that ‘age-based’ prognosis feels so much like giving up, as though my forty-year-old mind is surrendering to my eighty-year-old body. After all, I arrived at retirement years ago knowing there were still things to do, feelings to experience, mysteries to explore…along with the surprising realization that there were stories I wanted to tell.

Scratching the Writing Itch

To be sure my literary adventures, the stories I wanted to tell, have taken me down roads less traveled, but that has been the beauty of it. In this day of high-tech, low-cost Print-on-Demand publishing my storytelling efforts have not been held hostage by agents, publishers, critics, or my modest bank account. I am writing to please myself…and thankful for the opportunity to do that, even when I am my harshest critic.

Yet those less-traveled highways offer their own storytelling choices. One fork in the road may have me creating a warm and fuzzy, happily-ever-after tale, while the next one leads to twists, turns, and dangerous intersections…where unseen troubles may lurk.

Late-Life Fiction

Perhaps you can guess which path my late-life travels have taken.

LATE-LIFE FICTION NEVER GETS OLD two drops of ink marilyn l davis I call it Late-Life Fiction. It’s an obscure corner of the storytelling universe that feels like home to me.

In the course of twelve Tanner Chronicles books, my fictional friends have faced a litany of October and November challenges…good times and bad, illness and accidents, poverty and depression. Still, like real life, a healthy dose of caring love can soften even the harshest trauma. Consider, for instance, stories that include:

* Returning to the scene of an earlier desertion
* Wooing the stroke-stricken lady who was his high school crush
* A Second Chance pursuit has men playing with guns
* The down and out couple who are Going Poor together
* An infatuated pair too timid to take a relational chance.
* Life, love, and frustration with an Alzheimer’s spouse
* Life partners lost and found
* Second loves found, then lost

Even the longest journey may begin with a single stumble.

The November Adventure Stories

I have spent the last couple of weeks exploring the possibility of a new ‘November adventure’ story. In the process, I have paused a time or two to ask myself if I am on to something real. Or is the story I have in mind more apt to be cataloged under ‘Adult Fantasy’? In that case, I probably ought to turn up my oxygen, lay back, and chill out.
We all understand, of course, that ‘adventure’ is a relative term. I know beyond a doubt that the septuagenarian friends whose story I will be telling are more timid than bold, and more tentative than confident. But they have been around the block a time or two, and are the sort who keep trying, even in the face of long odds.

LATE-LIFE FICTION NEVER GETS OLD two drops of ink marilyn l davisStill, the questions remain. Can I imagine, and then tell, a convincing story about a handful of seventy-five-year-olds who are inexplicably convinced that they still have things to do, to see, to learn, and become?

Am I the only one?

Before long the next round of questions had bubbled to the surface. Am I the only November remnant, male or female, who harbors childish notions of how much potential Becoming remains at my age? Am I whistling in the dark …unwilling to face the reality of a worn-out, used-up life standing at the edge of a steep and slippery slope?

Of course, it is an ego thing …telling a tale about old folks who are unready to cash in their chips so soon, reluctant to discard the dreams they have nurtured for so long. From beginning to end my goal will be storytelling, not literature. I aim to make it quality storytelling.

Once Upon a Time, We Were…

LATE-LIFE FICTION NEVER GETS OLD two drops of ink marilyn l davisAny story that deals with what my creaky old friends can still do, and not do, will necessarily include age-appropriate depictions of the dynamic, idealistic young men and women they like to believe they once were.

Will I be able to put into words the challenges my November Knights and their ladies face? Will their geriatric capabilities be enough to win the day?

How about telling your own story?

Now or Never

What if you are among the multitude of October wannabe writers, most of whom do not share my unorthodox interest in Geriatric Adolescent fiction? Let’s say that your sort of story takes you somewhere else. Well, my friend, you are in luck. For no matter what you write, today’s self-publishing universe has a place for you.

First, however, let’s begin with this bit of cold reality. The latest numbers I have found indicate that more than 700,000 different e-books were self-published in the US in 2016. That’s right……a couple thousand a day, every day of the year. That, my friend, is serious competition, which ought to temper anyone’s expectations of finding an audience. Of course, your book might be the one that rises above the crowd, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

In my aging mind, the best approach to that reality has been to tell the stories I want to tell, the way I want to tell them, and take pride in my creations. At the end of the day, if they make a dollar or two, that’s great. If they don’t, I am still left with what I wanted.

I have charged ahead knowing that everyday people in every corner of the world are writing and self-publishing a growing tide of novels, family histories, family adventures, self-help manuals, even coloring books. Best of all in my tired old eyes, publishing an original novel in e-book and paperback formats and scoring your own Amazon Author’s page can be done for next to nothing. I have done that twenty times, beginning at age sixty-nine. You can too.

Rattle Those Bones

What’s in your closet?

Forty-five years ago our family moved to England so I could write the novel I knew was in me. We spent most of a year there, living out my foolish notion that serious writing required an exotic locale. Turned out that Winchester filled the ‘exotic’ bill much better than my original typed manuscript, which lay on a closet shelf for more than forty years before I resurrected it, whipped it into shape, and self-published it three years ago. As literature, it may have left something to be desired. As a memento of a particular time in a special place, it means a great deal to me.

By the time I was through with that project Roma was suggesting that we create a new story, recounting our family’s English adventure…the life we lived there, the sights we saw, the mistakes we made, and the life-long friends we met. The two of us spent a few months creating the story, before ordering five copies of the handsome paperback edition for Christmas gifts. Our total investment, from beginning to end was $37.00.

Is This the Day?

What is your life calendar telling you?

I cannot in good faith recommend late-life writing and self-publishing as the means to strike it rich. Yet, as an affordable and satisfying creative experience, it hits all the right notes for me.

Storytelling has allowed my June/July mind to engage with my October/November body, as I depict the forces of late-life playing in the lives I am creating.

That has worked for me.

Hopefully, others will find my results worth reading.

By Gil Stewart
Source: twodropsofink.com

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The 3 Secrets to Addictive Fiction

In today’s unbelievably competitive industry, how can you make your fiction the best?

Addict your reader.

Make reading your stories and novels an addictive experience. The reader who is addicted to your writing will plunge into your fiction and then fight to stay there forever.

But how can you addict your reader to your stories?

Use the secrets that all great authors have used throughout the ages to give the reader exactly what they want. There are literally thousands of these secrets, but in my work as an independent editor I have prioritized them and categorized them into the simplest possible arrangement—three basic categories.

I teach fiction through its three aspects:

1. character
2. plot
3. prose

However, beyond than that, I teach the secrets to making these three aspects addictive:

1. unforgettable character
2. inescapable plot
3. mesmerizing prose

 

Secret #1 Unforgettable Character

The most fundamental truism of fiction is that all great plot grows out of character.

You can design any type of plot you like. However, if it’s not grounded in the character of your protagonist, it will be nothing but a mish-mash of events from which the reader can disengage at any time and walk away.

On the other hand, you can design almost no plot at all, and if it’s grown entirely from the character of your protagonist, the reader will not only be addicted to your work, they’ll convince all their friends and relatives to become addicted as well.

Ask yourself:

How did James Bond become a cultural icon, although his plots are repetitive and he must frequently be rescued by a young woman he’s just met? What made Agatha Christie a phenomenon of her genre, although her mysteries so often hinge on her villains’ implausible acting skills and even authorial cheating? Why do we still love Cathy and Heathcliff, although Wuthering Heights is so bizarrely organized and consists almost entirely of a laundry list of inhuman behavior?

Because Bond, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Cathy and Heathcliff are the unforgettable characters from which their plots grow.

This means that character is where we always start.

So how do we make this character unforgettable? That work is based upon the character’s conflicting internal needs. These needs must be internal or they won’t be powerful enough to fuel an entire novel. They must conflict, or there won’t be any climax to this story. And they can be explored most effectively through the three basic human needs: love, survival and justice.

There’s a lot to discuss about a protagonist’s conflicting internal needs. And I’ll teach you all about them in my 2nd guest post for Write to Done: The 2 Steps to Creating Unforgettable Character.

Secret #2 Inescapable Plot

Now what is this unforgettable character going to do?

A story—short fiction or novel—is, at its most fundamental, simply an opportunity for the reader to spend time with your unforgettable character. To make friends with them. To bond. To allow this character to become a part of their life.

This means you must design a plot that gives the freest possible reins to the protagonist’s character—exploring it, exposing it, delving into it to reveal its most intriguing and hidden facets.

The paperback genre industry of the early 20th century can teach us everything we need to know about how to design plot. Those authors cranked out their genre novels regularly and reliably, treating fiction as a day job to which they showed up and worked five days a week, 45-50 weeks of the year.

What do readers get out of genre fiction?

A plot that hooks them quickly, takes them for a thrilling whirl, then throws them off a cliff.

This is rooted in our human addiction to things that come in threes: the simplest construct that exists that also retains a crucial layer of complexity.

And this is why I teach three-act structure: Hook, Development, Climax.

Within these three acts, we can refine our design based upon the importance of climax. Each act has a unique purpose, to which we can devote a full half of that act. And each act also needs a climax, to which we can devote the other full half of that act. That’s how important climax is.

Once we have these six structural pieces, we can refine our design even further by breaking each piece into six more pieces. In this way, we can quickly and easily design a plot of 36 pieces along a specific pattern.

I call this holographic design.

The reader has already unconsciously adopted this pattern through the reading of their first great story. It’s what they expect. Because it’s great storytelling. And, through proper design, it’s what we can regularly, reliably give them.

But how do we turn this simple design into a rollercoaster ride, one that will keep the reader addicted on every single page? There’s a counter-intuitive trick to this that gives your plot the essential contrast that throws your entire design into three-dimensional relief, gripping your reader, meeting their unconscious expectations, and making your plot inescapable.

I’ll teach you all about this in detail in my 3rd guest post for Write to Done: The 4 Steps to Designing Inescapable Plot.

Secret #3 Mesmerizing Prose

Finally there is the writing of this character-grown plot.

How do you turn a brilliant, well-developed idea into a novel of some 70,000-100,000 words—a novel that the reader can’t forget, can’t escape, can hardly put down even for a minute? Because 70,000-100,000 are a whole lot of words. And the reader has a life to live.

How do you write a novel that’s mesmerizing? One to which the reader is addicted?

You’ll hear a lot in the writing community these days about how to make time to write, how to write faster and more efficiently, how to get your manuscript finished. This advice is mostly about time management, on the assumption that your life is not set up for endless hours in front of the keyboard. However, focusing upon time management misses a crucial element of writing: you write because you love to.

Truly, if writing is not the one thing you love to do above all else, then go find out what is and do that. Life is too short for wasting on doing things you don’t love.

And if writing is the one thing you love to do above all else, then you don’t need time management. You need stamina. You need to stay in touch with your passion. You need, especially, to know what you’re doing.

Only through a combination of your passion and an understanding of your work can you make your time at the keyboard as productive as humanly possible. Only in this way can you produce manuscripts full of life, while also devoting yourself to the life that is your own.

Your first goal, of course, is to get a draft written. But there are tricks to the efficient writing of a first draft. And there are certainly techniques to editing that draft into polished prose.

I’ve developed a set of guidelines that I use for writing quick first drafts and then turning my clients’ drafts into powerful professional prose. And I often teach my clients these guidelines. Of course, I never teach them all—those are my trade secrets. But I learned them all from the published works of great authors. And you can too.

All you have to do is study in-depth hundreds novels line-by-line and practice for thousands of hours in order to discover what makes writing clear, strong, and vivid. Mesmerizing.

To which authors and stories are you addicted? Why?

By Victoria Mixon
Source: writetodone.com

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Fiction Writing Exercises: Narrative Arcs

Today’s fiction writing exercise is an excerpt from my book, Story Drills: Fiction Writing Exercises. This one focuses on story structure and examines narrative arcs within stories and across multiple scenes and installments of a story. Enjoy!
Narrative Arcs

An arc has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The events within an arc result in some kind of change for the story world, characters, or direction of the plot.

In serial or episodic storytelling, a story arc is an ongoing story line that spans multiple installments. An arc might last through several episodes of a television show or several issues of a comic book. In literature, an arc might stretch across multiple books in a series.

A narrative arc (or dramatic arc) is similar to a story arc, except it doesn’t have to occur across multiple installments of episodic storytelling. A narrative arc is any arc within a story, including the central plot and any subplots. Narrative arcs can occur within a single scene or span across a sequence of scenes.

Characters also experience arcs when they undergo a progression of transformation.

That’s a lot of different types of arcs. To make matters more confusing, the terms for story arcs, narrative arcs, and dramatic arcs are often used interchangeably.

Study:

You can use any type of story for this exercise: books, comics, TV shows, or films. Find a series that you’ve enjoyed, and examine a small sample of installments. For example, you can look at five episodes from a TV show or three novels from a series. Make sure you’re using serials, which use ongoing stories across multiple installments, rather than episodic installments, which are separate but loosely connected.

Make a list of three to five story arcs found across the installments you examined. Do the arcs intertwine? Are they occurring simultaneously, or are they consecutive? How does each arc relate to the central plot?
Practice:

Create a set of three story arcs that would span multiple novels in a series. If you’re already working on a series, feel free to create arcs within your project.

For example, start by writing quick summaries of at least five novels in a series (about one paragraph each, highlighting the central plot of each installment). Then come up with the three arcs, each of which would span multiple novels.

As an alternative, you can develop ideas for a television or comic book series.
Questions:

What is the difference between a story arc and a dramatic arc? Why are story arcs effective in serial storytelling? How is a character arc different from a narrative arc? What types of arcs are most important in storytelling?

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.com

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