Archive for the ‘Suspense’ Category

Writing: Reputation Vs. Character

Sunday, October 5th, 2014

“A man’s reputation is what other people think
of him; his character is what he really is.”

~ Jack Miner

Reputation vs. character. How can they differ? Perhaps the story behind the reputation differs from who your character is.

In the television show Burn Notice, Michael, the protagonist, is a spy who discovers he’s been removed, “burned,” from the CIA. Cut off from financial resources, a web of support and contacts, he has unseen enemies within the organization and outside of it. As he works on private cases, attempting to untangle the mystery and get back into his old job, his goal is helping innocent people while earning a living.

Through it all, his encounters with government agents allude to his past: he’s a ruthless killer. Is Michael’s character, as we know him, different than his past? What’s the story behind the story? Was he set up to be the fall guy?

As the story behind the story is revealed, suspense with the audience, or with a book, the reader, grows.

Writing Prompts:

Create a character who acts one way while shields his true self.

  1. Take your protagonists and put her/him into a situation where reputation, beyond control, is cast in a negative light. What is the story behind the story which casts the character differently?
  2. Now write the opposite. An antagonist takes credit for everything good, while acts deviously behind the scenes.
  3. In the photo below, write what happens when this dog’s family arrives home. Next, write the story behind the story. How can the pooch’s reputation differ from his true character?liz photo

 

 

What impresses readers? Analyze your Squirrel!

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

Hawk Vs. SquirrelConflict in nature, as shown by this hawk and squirrel behind our house, keeps life dangerous, emotionally driven and exciting. The squirrel hid inside his hole, but used the element of surprise to his advantage.

The hawk waited . . . . waited . . . and . . .

Pop!

The squirrel’s head burst out of his hole!  The hawk jumped backwards.

Yes, if we had captured a video of this, people would laugh.

Isn’t this what we desire of a good book? Capture readers emotionally, add an element of danger and surprise to create an exciting and humorous story.

 Writing Prompts:

  1. Where in your current writing project or art can you add the element of surprise for humor or shock value . . . or both? Remember, it’s all in the timing. Wait, wait, and boom!
  2. How can you engage your readers emotionally? Build your character’s needs and desires so they are real. Empathy for your squirrel increases the impact.
  3. Develop your antagonist so we see more than a cardboard evil character. What are her needs and desires? Why does this character act the way she does? Add this depth for a well-rounded story.

 

Make a Scene with Jordan Rosenfeld

Monday, April 14th, 2014

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How can you write a scene with emotional impact, reader involvement, and suspense? 

Author Jordan Rosenfeld spoke to the California Writers Club, Mt. Diablo Branch and shared valuable tips for writers of all genres.  

 With every scene you create, ask yourself, what is the point of the scene?  Does it move your story forward, or is it just a block of setting description?  In showing setting, make your character interact with her surroundings

Great advice!  I critiqued manuscripts at one conference where a writer created a lovely Victorian Christmas which dominated the first chapter.  I suggested she weave in the setting elements as the character acted and reacted, foreshadowing the mystery ahead. 

She said, “Great idea!  But this house doesn’t play a role in the rest of my story at all.”  So why include it?  Once she began writing with her plot and character in mind, her character acted, reacted, and experienced the setting through sensory images.  It wasn’t overblown this time, and she created a reason for her scene to be there: she introduced characters and hinted at the mystery coming.

Rosenfeld advised writers create tension through emotional complexity.  Characters can experience more than one feeling at a time.  The uncertainty can be showed through their thoughts and dialogue, the writer’s word choice, how a word sounds, and imagery

For more information, read her book, Make Scenes, published through Writer’s Digest, and visit her website:  www.jordanrosenfeld.net  

Writing Prompts:

  1. It’s your turn!  Create a scene by involving your character in the setting shown through the elements above.  Make sure your scene moves the story’s plot forward.  Ask yourself:  Why must it be here?
  2. Tony Serra, attorney for Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Cow, at a federal court appearance said, “Law enforcement is supposed to investigate crime and criminal activity.  In this case, they created crime and criminal activity.”  (Source:  Heather Knight, San Francisco Chronicle.)  Use this quote to create a scene employing Rosenfeld’s advice. 
  3. Write an article, nonfiction piece, or essay with a scene focusing on the tips above.

 

Three Ways Which Show Editors You Are Professional!

Monday, March 31st, 2014

What’s a writer to do?  With so many submissions sent to editors, how can you make your writing stand out from the crowd?  Make sure you show you’re a professional? 

Don’t let your manuscript scream AMATEUR from page one!

 But how?

  1. Reduce adverbs.  Many of those pesky words which describe verbs – - many ending in “ly” aren’t necessary.  They tell and don’t show.  Rather than describe how someone does or says, show through an action.  

 Example:  “Don’t come back!” she said angrily.

Instead:  “Don’t come back!” she said, throwing a shoe at him.

Cut useless adverbs, such as very, extremely and really. 

 2.  Remove purple prose, unless you are writing romance, melodrama, or creating a satire. If writing is melodramatic and flowery, it will draw awareness to the words themselves, rather than the meaning.  The Bulwer-Lytton Contest awards writers for purposely using purple prose in order to be funny.  Note all of the adverbs in the example below. 

Example:  The 2013 winner, Chris Wieloch, from my home state of Wisconsin, has created this:  “She strutted into my office wearing a dress that clung to her like Saran Wrap to a sloppily butchered pork knuckle, bone and sinew jutting and lurching asymmetrically beneath its folds, the tightness exaggerating the granularity of the suet and causing what little palatable meat there was to sweat, its transparency the thief of imagination.”

  3.  Follow the rules.  Break them only if it’s for a specific reason

Example:  Although your grammar check will correct you for using fragments instead of a full sentence, sometimes they’re useful.  Why?  People use fragments while talking, so it’s okay to place them in dialogue. If fragments are in humor or suspense, it speeds up the pace, which increases the humor and suspense. It also provides emphasis to strengthen the meaning of words.  But use them sparingly, or the device, overdone, won’t serve its purpose any longer.

Writing Prompts:

1.  Revise your latest writing projects.  Rewrite sentences where you’ve used adverbs.  Show with action instead.

2.  Cut out your purple prose.  How can you use show don’t tell and description in a non-cloying way?  Create with poetic images which go along with your themes.   

3.  Grammar check your writing.  Go against the rules only when you have a specific purpose.

4.  Read other good, humorous entries for the Bulwer-Lytton Contest.  Write your own submission.  Have fun!

www.bulwer-lytton.com/

How YOU Can Create Memorable Characters!

Monday, March 10th, 2014

Hollywood Producer/Agent Marilyn Atlas led an excellent writing workshop where focused on character.  She gave a multitude of terrific writing tips and I’ll share one of them.  She discussed three reasons characters resonate with readers or viewers.

The characters are:
1. fascinating or
2. mysterious or
3. relatable 

Writing Prompts:

1. Study a memorable character in literature or film.  Is this person fascinating?  If so, how?  Mysterious?  Explain.  Can you relate with her/him?  What makes him/her relatable?
2. What about the piece you are composing now?  If your protagonist isn’t fascinating, mysterious or relatable, invent back story and layers so he/she will be compelling. 
3. Before you write your project, spend time crafting your characters.  Draft scenes of conflict.  Every page should have tension, which can be done in subtext.
4. What is subtext?  Express characters through dialogue about one thing, while under their words remain an underlying meaning. 

 

10 Tips for Winning Writing Contests, Scoring an A, or Attracting an Agent/Editor

Monday, January 27th, 2014

1. Hook your readers with a vivid scene right away. How? Read on.

2. Specific senses will get your reader to experience your story.

Example: Gary D. Schmidt’s Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy begins like this: Turner Buckminster had lived in Phippsburg, Maine, for fifteen minutes shy of six hours. He had dipped his hand in its waves and licked the salt from his fingers. He had smelled the sharp resin of the pines. He had heard the low rhythm of the bells on the buoys that balanced on the ridges of the sea. He had seen the fine clapboard parsonage beside the church where he was to live, and the small house set a ways beyond it that puzzled him some. Turner Buckminster had lived in Phippsburg, Maine, for almost six whole hours. He didn’t know how much longer he could stand it.

3. Show the protagonist’s problem right away. Turner’s is shown in his feelings shown in the last sentence.

4. Character dialogue must move the story forward. If it’s just talking back and forth to talk, remove it.

5. Use adverbs sparingly. Change them to verbs.
Example: He said loudly. Change to: He shouted.

6. Create suspense with tension. Author Steve Mooser employs the element of time. He says, “If the bad guys are due into town at sunset, if Friday is the day of the school play – that’s the easiest way to build tension.” In Frank L. Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, the hourglass shows how much time Dorothy has to live.

David Almond created atmosphere with action verbs and specific images in Heaven Eyes:
Mud. Black, sticky, oily, stinking mud. It was January who dared to lean out of his raft first. He dipped his hand into what should have been water. He touched mud, black mud. It oozed and dribbled from his fingers. The raft settled, and mud slithered across its surface, onto our clothes. It seeped through to our skin. It seeped through the tiny gaps between the doors. I took my flashlight out, switched it on, saw the doors disappearing as they sank . . . saw that we were being slowly sucked down into the sodden earth . . . Our feet, our hells, our knees were caught in mud . . . I grunted, whimpered, groaned. I slithered forward. . . My head filled with the mist and darkness.

7. Everyone loves humor. The unexpected is funny. Two unlike characters or objects placed together can be funny.

8. Read your piece out loud. Is it balanced? Not big chunks of description or pages of pure dialogue, but evenly paced?

9. Eliminate vague words: Possibly, many, pretty, terrible . . .

10. What has the protagonist learned or how has your character changed in some small way?

After several drafts, put away your manuscript for a while. When you return, read it aloud with fresh eyes. Are you having fun? If not, rework the story until it’s just right. You’ll feel that tingle of excitement when it works!

The Good Fall: How do your Characters React to Trauma?

Monday, January 20th, 2014

While examining tide pools at the coast, I hopped from one wet, slippery rock to another. Down I fell . . . Bam!

As I lay on my back in the water and stones, pain throbbed from my knees, legs elbow and back. But relief did too. Nothing was broken. Within seconds, Bob stood above me, screaming.

“Get up! Get up! Get up!”

Starring into the blue sky, I reassured him. “I’m fine, really. Water seeped from the tide pools into my clothes. My back felt each stone and rock.

“Get up! Get up! Get up!”

“Bob, I just can’t pop up. I need a moment.”

A wrinkled face appeared on the opposite side of where Bob stood. “Take your time,” said the stranger, his voice soothing me and my anxious husband. “There is no rush.”

Then I noticed a crowd gathered around me. Many sets of eyes peered down. I could imagine their thoughts. “Would she get up? Do we call an ambulance?” As white clouds floated by I wondered if this was similar to a death watch. Then another strange thought popped through my aches. Did I hurt any marine life in the tide pools below me?”

Perhaps I groaned as I steadied myself into a sitting position before rising.

“Shall I take I take you to the hospital?” Bob said.

“I’m fine,” I said. “Just banged up.”

Later, while recounting the incident, Bob said, “I yelled ‘Get up?’ Really?”

And me? Bruised and battered, I walked with a ‘hitch in my get-up’ as my Aunt Mary would have described. My knees and shins swelled to twice their normal size. My entire legs looked like I had been in a boxing ring.

But.

I was fine.

Writing Prompts:

1. Write about two characters in a traumatic scene. How do each of them react?
2. Take that scene and slow-down-the-moment, using your senses. Over-write the piece!
3. Next, choose the best tense. (Past? Present? Future?) As you rewrite, choosing which senses are the most important, and verbs which are active.

Memorable Movie Moments Help Our Writing

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

Every great movie has one or more ultimate memorable moments. A few lines of memorable dialogue:

* In “All About Eve” Betty Davis says, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
* In “The Wizard of Oz” Dorothy proclaims, “We’re a long way from Kansas!”
* In “The Wizard of Oz” the witch cries, “I’m melting!”

Then there are the images which stay with you forever.

*Also from “The Wizard of Oz,” the sand running through the large hourglass timer
*E.T. and friend riding their bicycle across the face of the moon
*Wile E. Coyote hanging suspended in air

Every scene, whether it is from a short story or a movie, must include four things:
Desire, Action, Conflict and Change. (Thank you, Robert McKee!) Your character desires something more than anything in the world, takes action in some some or large way, runs into someone or something creating conflict and the character changes. The change can be slight, but there must be change. At the end of the scene, to be truly memorable, it should have a punch – a line of dialogue or an action that gives it an extra oomph.

Writing prompts:

1. What is a memorable moment from a movie you have recently seen? Why do you think it is indelibly etched within your memory?
2. Learn to identify these memorable moments within movies and the books you read as well as the desire of the characters, their actions and conflicts and their changes.
3. Write a scene with a character you have created or know well. After you write your piece, identify any memorable moments within it. If you can’t find any, structure the pacing of your story and the tension so as to create them. Remember desire, action, conflict and change.
4. Write a personal narrative scene with these same elements.

Got Plot? Need Character?

Thursday, September 20th, 2012
 
 
Author David Corbett
Deconstructing Chinatown
Master Class in Character and Plot
            October 6, 2012, 9 a.m. to 12 noon             
 
$50 in advance and $60 on the day of the workshop
Includes continental breakfast
                 Upstairs at the First Street Café                        
 
Critically acclaimed author David Corbett will lead a writing workshop on October 6, 2012, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. in Benicia, California, Upstairs at the First Street Café. David notes, “Almost everything you need to know about writing a great story can be learned from wisely analyzing the classic, entertaining film Chinatown — which students will come to recognize as a modern update of Oedipus the King by Sophocles.” David will lead the class in a group analysis of the story to explore such techniques as:
 
–Understanding how character determines plot.
–Orchestrating the opposition from an offstage opponent.
–Employing “four-corner conflict” to create moral complexity.
–Developing a symbol system to underscore your thematic concerns.
–Using subtext in dialog.
 
For more information, contact Carolyn Plath at carolynplath2003@yahoo.com or visit our website at www.benicialiteraryarts.org. To register by mail, send $50 and your contact information to Benicia Literary Arts, c/o Marc Ethier, the Benicia Herald, 820 First Street, Benicia, CA 94510.  www.benicialit.org. Read more about the author at http://www.davidcorbett.com/
 

Chocolate Suspect

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

Today I walked into a candy story to buy a gift and faced a group of employees huddled around their counter.

“Welcome!” said one clerk, rushing over to me with a candy tray.  “Care for a sample?”  She burbled with excess energy.   In contrast, the others seemed grim, frozen in place.

“Thank you,” I said. 

She shoved the tray in front of me.  “Your choice – - choose two!” 

This woman overdosed on cheer and friendliness this morning.  It didn’t feel real.  Why was she working so hard?  Getting an employee evaluation?

As I made my selections and chose my gifts, she prattled on, asking me questions about my life and candy preferences. 

Was this a new corporate policy here?   Best friends buy more?

Making my way to the mix-and match-chocolates, the clerks at the end of the counter asked one young man employee, “Do you want to help her?”

He said, “Will you guard the money?”

I chose my husband’s favorite white chocolate crunch for him and sidled down to the register where the young man rang up my purchases.  The other clerks had all disappeared save one, who stood next to me, her hand firmly on the doorknob leading to the back room.  Her face, planted one inch from mine, was ominous as she glared, fiercely defending her turf.  I wanted to reassure her I really was only there to buy candy, but I held my tongue. 

As I left through the door, I heard a decisive click as she turned her keys in the lock after me. 

 Ah ha.  I had accidentally walked in an unlocked door early, before the store was open and they had their cash out.  They weren’t ready for customers, but were stunned I had gotten inside.   No wonder electricity sparked the air.

Writing Prompts

1.  Every person reacts differently.  Write a backstory and scene about the fun-loving nonstop talking clerk who reacted to stress with friendliness.  Next, write a scene and backstory about the suspicious clerk who acted with intimidation. 

2.  What if?   What if it wasn’t chocoholic me who walked into the store the morning they forgot to lock the door?  Write past the stereotype.  Can you create a scene that isn’t what you would typically expect?  Use humor?  A quirky character?

3.  Use one of these to motivate a story, poem, or personal narrative:  chocolate, doors, locks, being someplace at the wrong time, being someplace at the right time, the clerk at the candy store.