C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

The publishing revolution already happened.

#NaNoWriMo: Take a chance. Deliver.

I’ve finally begun reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63: A Novel.

Feeling a bit burnt out, I reached for an old reliable author to get me into relaxed creativity mode. The fire in the wood

Stephen King at the Harvard Book Store.

Stephen King at the Harvard Book Store. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

stove is burning bright and hot as a cold blizzard’s squalls pull at the house. Under my wool blanket, I’m cozy and this book feels comfortable, too. Different story, same old friend in King. I’m one of his Constant Readers. To my delight, King has an Easter egg for writers right off the top. 

His hero, a teacher grading essays, complains about his students “writing like little old ladies and little old men.” Heh. Yeah, I know exactly what he means: Grammar and spelling correct, but boring. Tried and true narrative, but too safe. I want surprises. The development of the story has to be logical, sure, but please, take a chance! Dare to take the reader by the hand and shove them on the roller coaster they didn’t plan to get on. Give them the adventure they didn’t know they wanted.

For instance, in Season One of This Plague of Days, I did a lot of plausible things with strange characters (and I put the implausible in a context that makes it believable.) In Season One, you see a kid on the autistic spectrum operating in our world (i.e. at the end of it.) That was cool, but to heat up the narrative and quicken the pace, I had to go deeper into the implausible and still attempt to make it as believable as it was fanciful. 

In Season Two, the story takes some new turns and we’re in Jaimie Spencer’s world more than he is in ours. Though many people loved Jaimie in Season One, I wasn’t interested in making Two a copy of One. If One is a siege and Two is basically The Road, I had to take the crazy train to places people hadn’t seen before in an apocalypse. The virus that came to kill humanity keeps evolving and that takes us down unfamiliar roads. The Plaguers and I are happy with it.

People love Same Thing Only Different. Too different is a gamble, but some gambles pay off.

Changing a character people love is uncomfortable at times, but certainly do it if the story demands it. (By the way, nobody loves Jaimie more than I do, but he ends up doing a lot of questionable things for a Christlike figure.) I demanded development and change, so I got dreams, a touch of magic and some big questions for the surviving humans caught in the teeth of the gears of existence. If Sartre could read my apocalypse over a lunch of cold milk, ham sandwiches and angst, I think it would spark an interesting discussion about the existential subtext of ambition versus chaos theory. You know…sliding in the thin spaces amongst the bloody zombie attacks, scary new species and terrorized, grieving humans.

Dare to be wrong and, surprise! You’re right.

Sometimes it’s just simple mechanics where writers wimp out and opt for their grammar book over Art with a capital A. In Higher Than Jesus, for instance, a character uses the non-word “father-in-laws”. The correct plural is “fathers-in-law,” of course. Trust your readers to figure out that you know when you’re wrong. Better to stick with what’s true rather than what’s correct. The speaker of “father-in-laws” is an old, homeless guy whose education isn’t terrific. Talking like a Harvard law professor does not fit, so wrong is right.

Most readers will go along and the very few who will think you’re an idiot were never going to like your work, anyway. Grammar fascists don’t read for the enjoyment of reading, so relax and focus on the readers who are with you for the right reason. That reason is Story (and to forget we’re all going to die, and maybe soon, in Death’s razor claws and unforgiving, crushing jaws.)

I like prose that is edgy. Lots of book lovers love it when we’re gutsy.

I like Chuck Palahniuk a lot, perhaps especially when he cruises the experimental. I like much of Norman Mailer’s work for its simplicity. However, I love Stephen King. The narrative is straight A to B. Snobby readers might call it “muscular” or “workmanlike.” That’s old code for not “literary” enough or too pulpy by half. But who do you want telling you a story? An arid auteur who tells it correctly or a writer who get it across right? The writing I’m talking about is visceral. It affects you. It makes you think but it doesn’t have to call attention to itself too much. Have something to say and mean it. Lofty’s fine if your feet stay on the ground. 

Don’t give me fancy writing tricks. Tell me the story, please.

You know all those New Yorker short stories with the super-opaque endings where it’s so very arty you can’t figure out what the hell the last paragraph is supposed to mean? Where they try to trick you into thinking vague ends equal powerful conclusions? You’ve surely read those stories so bathed in antiseptic that they have no honest feeling or real humor. The words are all in the right order but they can’t make you care. It’s hard to define, but when a book has no heart, you know it. 

I suggest you do the opposite of all that empty scribbling and I’ll try to do the same.

A good short story, or a solid book, should deliver a punch and satisfaction (or at least anticipation of the next book in the series) with its last line. It should not generate a confused look on the face of an intelligent reader. 

A great story can be read aloud in the flicker of a dying campfire. If the story’s solid, your rapt audience will worry about the characters in the book. They will be blissfully unaware of the starving bear watching from the woods behind them, sniffing the air, drooling, and measuring the distance to the fading circle of light.

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute: author, podcaster, perpetually worried. If you want to learn more about This Plague of Days, go to ThisPlagueOfDays.com. Or just zip over to AllThatChazz.com and buy some books. That would be good. Also, Season One of This Plague of Days is in paperback and Christmas is coming. I’ll let you connect the dots from there. Thanks!

Filed under: NanNoWriMo, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

#NaNoWriMo: Story stuck and stalled? Try this.

You’ll probably get stuck from time to time. Most everyone does, so don’t panic.

If you get stuck often, outline more to save writing time and stay on track. Keep in mind that outlines are merely guidelines. You’re just dating your outline casually. It’s not serious and you don’t have to marry it. With the shadow of commitment gone, you still have your free and fun, bright and shiny creative mojo working for you.

I’m a pantser, but I do have an idea where my stories are headed. We may take a winding trip to get to our destination, but we will get there, hoping we won’t get stuck and be forced to back up thirty pages or so before we can move forward again. I’ve had to do that. It sucks, sucks away forward momentum and saps confidence. So let’s crash through that mental block and get unstuck.

Solutions to get out of the ditch

Season One of This Plague of Days is the siege. Sutr-X was the pandemic. Sutr-Z's next and it's coming for you and the Queen's corgis, among others.

Season One of This Plague of Days is the siege. Sutr-X was the pandemic. Sutr-Z’s next and it’s coming for you and the Queen’s corgis, among others.

A random, alluring word, place, fact or event can give spinning wheels traction. For instance, the word “chiroptera” gave me a new direction when I wrote Season 2 of This Plague of Days. Sometimes I choose words, events or facts at random and noodle with them to see how they might fit into the narrative. Or I’ll draw from mythology, philosophy, politics or religion to discover new dimensions in the narrative.

Here’s the surprise: I always find a way to make those intriguing things fit naturally into my story.

I bet you can, too. Don’t load up on $10 words when a nickel word will do, of course…or at least don’t do it for its own sake or to show off. However, if something seemingly random can serve your story, use it (or dump it if it fails.) Readers like learning things as much as you do. They like characters with depth and to discover hidden significance behind meaning.

Get random

Autism, Latin, the Existential Abyss and references to Superman. That's pretty random, but it all fits.

Autism, Latin, the Existential Abyss and references to Superman. That’s pretty random, but it all fits.

This exercise in the writing process is about bouncing new electrical flashes through the writer’s brain, making new connections and getting synapses firing to see nonlinear possibilities. Frequently, you can find something new that influences the story simply by opening a dictionary and pointing. An atlas and a Wikipedia search might give you a random fact that sparks something. I found Gas City, for instance. The name alone captured my imagination and got me thinking about a new track to follow in Season 2. New characters and furious battles evolved from the way that slapped my brain.

If you’ve got an area of interest (baseball, plumbing, woodwork, salmon fishing, animal husbandry, whatever) work it in to give your characters depth. I’ve got a sensitive soldier with expertise in military history who shows up in the zombie apocalypse. I’ve also got an Irish cop from a tiny Irish resort. The place informs the character. These are the sort of factors that make the people on the page real. Jack (Jacqueline) Spencer majored in Elizabethan poetry. That makes her feel pretty useless when society collapses, but her development now has an arc. Up from zero, she gains experience on the road east to a hoped for haven from the apocalypse.

For me? It’s pathology that fascinates.

I studied anatomy first and was awed by our biological complexity. Then I studied Merck’s Manual and I’ve been a hypochondriac ever since. It’s startling how fragile we are, so pathology often finds its way into my books, one way or another. I know a lot about how the body breaks, so I’m sure you can guess how that might play into a crime novel.

I know a lot about migraines (and the many variations of headaches.) His inability to act shows up in one of my WIPs and becomes crucial to the protagonist’s predicament when the cops come calling, asking for an alibi. My protagonist in This Plague of Days is autistic which, naturally, gives him a unique point of view on the end of the world. Another character has Desmoid tumours. This is a rare condition, but it turns out to be very relevant to the story. Her disease saves her from a worse fate than Desmoid tumours (in a way I can’t divulge yet, of course. That’s Season 3 stuff.)

Take a fragment and build your next chapter around it. Make the fragment an element.

These general suggestions are random sparks. If an atlas or a dictionary or a quick Google search can make your story catch fire, and if you can make these new variables seamless, you’ll find their inclusion can get you unstuck.

Therefore:

a summer camp in Columbus, Ohio with too many mosquitoes

the ruins of a castle hidden under heavy snow

a rusted can opener, forgotten in the kitchen’s junk drawer

a tippy chair with one short leg

angina

Captain Cooke’s death

her mother’s wedding ring inscription

Try one of some of those for a start. How might they fit in your narrative? Keep going and don’t worry if you get stuck. The next step will come to you and, if not, go find that next step. Finish your story.

Tips and inspiration for the writer's journey to publication.

Tips and inspiration for the writer’s journey to publication.

~ Hi. I’m Robert Chazz Chute. I wrote a couple of books full of inspiration to get writers to get their books done. I also write about a kid on the autistic spectrum facing the end of the world, zombies who aren’t really zombies and vampires who aren’t really vampires. There are also jokes and Latin proverbs. It’s…oddly engaging and does not suck. See all the books here.

I also host the All That Chazz podcast and the Cool People Podcast. To learn more about This Plague of Days, go to ThisPlagueOfDays.com.

Filed under: NanNoWriMo, Writers, Writing exercise, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writers, Writing and When to Swear

TPOD 0420 2

Apocalypse Art for This Plague of Days by Kit Foster of KitFosterDesign.com

As I work on This Plague of Days revisions, there’s a big difference: This is the first of my books my 13-year-old daughter is allowed to read. No one is swearing in TPOD and any sex is PG-13, at most. Sometimes I think this serial (to be released at the end of May) could be suitable for Young Adult. However, I’m also not pulling back on elements of horror that range from Hitchcockian allusion (The Birds) to classic horror (a gross-out or three). It’s a post-apocalyptic world and things aren’t pretty. 

Crass Commercial Considerations

A cross-genre flurry about  society's collapse under the crush of the Sutr Virus combined with a boy's love for odd words, Latin dictionaries and his father.

A cross-genre flurry about society’s collapse under the crush of the Sutr Virus combined with a boy’s love for odd words, Latin dictionaries and his father.

I’ll admit it: I want This Plague of Days to sell to a wide audience. I want it to go huge! Multiple translations and audiobooks and mass consumption. I want this serial to be made into a movie or a franchise with TPOD lunch boxes and T-shirts at conventions. I don’t want to return to a day job and a very popular serial without cursing will help me toward that goal. I watched an interview with director Kevin Smith recently in which he breaks down the movie market. The same principles apply to us: R sells less than PG-13. Soften the blow. Make more money.

Yes, I know Fifty Shades of Gray is bondage porn that makes a ton of money off a wide audience. However, this isn’t that. This Plague of Days is about an autistic boy who is a selective mute. A plague spreads across the earth and as the mayhem goes up, society spirals down. Bad things happen. However, the story revolves around the boy and, though it’s third-person limited omniscient, much of it unfolds through the boy’s filter. His special interest is English dictionaries and Latin phrases. Nothing is lost if I don’t make TPOD a cursefest and I’ll gain more readers.

The Irony I Frankly Don’t Understand

Many people are comfortable with just about any depiction of violence but get squeamish about certain words and sex. We’re downright weird about cursing. It’s in mainstream media and on any school playground, but in print, daily newspapers put in coy asterisks like this: f***. As if our brains don’t just fill in the word automatically. Swearing is ingrained in everyday conversations, but we pretend it’s not.

Watching a show like Dexter on a non-Showtime channel, censors ensure the dialogue sounds silly. “Mothertruckers?” Really? (The practice was played to great comedic effect when, in the latest Spider-Man movie incarnation, our beloved hero blurts, “Mother Hubbard!“)

Meanwhile, I get queasy about certain entertainment that is considered mainstream even though it’s extremely violent. I’ll never see Jodi Foster in The Accused and I refuse to watch A Time to Kill. Frank depictions of sexual assault and child rape are not something I want to

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

see. I can’t watch CSI or its many iterations. That whole Special Victims Unit thing feels way too voyeuristic and definitely not for me. (I’m not campaigning for a cleansing, by the way. I don’t want art censored. What I don’t like, I don’t watch, read or listen to and that solves my problem nicely.)

Ever since I had kids, I’m generally more queasy about violence that’s too realistic. I’d rather keep my violence diet to thrillers like Bigger Than Jesus. Though there’s plenty of death and even allusions to Jesus’s abuse as a young teen, it’s treated carefully, not graphic, and balanced by the hero’s sense of humor. The funny makes the horrible feel safe, somehow. 

This Plague of Days’ post-apocayptic genre puts the story into a realm that isn’t ours…at least not quite yet. 

Sex and Curses Have Their Place: Serving the story

Jesus is resurrected in Chicago. Sex with the Queen of Giants. Violence with Very Bad Men.

Jesus is resurrected in Chicago. Sex with the Queen of Giants. Violence with Very Bad Men.

My crime novels are funny but still gritty and hardboiled. The swearing in the Hit Man Series is a need. It would have been unnatural to write workarounds for simple, salty language. Acting too coy would have drained too much realism away. 

As for sex, in Bigger Than Jesus, Jesus Diaz is constantly running for his life. The book plays out like a long chase scene. Beatings and murder don’t put the hero and heroine in the mood, even for a quickie. There is a great romantic love interest in Lily Vasquez, but her intimacy issues with the hit man aren’t about sex. Lily and Jesus’s drama deepens character and shows the impact of his awful history on his life. Through their interaction, the reader understands Jesus more and sees why he’s so screwed up (particularly about women). The reader ends up empathizing with a guy who kills for money. As for Higher Than Jesus, the sex scene with Willow Clemont and Jesus is both integral to the plot and erotic. Sex raises the stakes.

The Balance:

Despite any commercial considerations and the joy I feel at being able to show my daughter what I really do,

story has to come first.

Gee, I hope she likes it.

~ Chazz has new websites: CoolPeoplePodcast.com, onlysixseconds.wordpress.com, DecisionToChange.com. In the latest podcast at the author site, AllThatChazz.com, there’s some swearing (in a funny rant) and a fresh reading from Higher Than Jesus.

Filed under: book marketing, Genre, Horror, rules of writing, This Plague of Days, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

#NaNoWriMo: The key tip to write a much better book

When we plunge into writing a book, there’s lots of enthusiasm on the front end of the challenge. But how will we fill all those pages, especially in that saggy middle where we really don’t know exactly what’s going to happen? How will we give our story verisimilitude? How will we make readers care about our characters and give the book depth? Where will all the conflict come from? How will we sustain our enthusiasm all the way to the end of NaNoWriMo?

There is a solution that many writers shy away from to their detriment. They want their protagonists to be likeable so they make them Christlike figures. This saps a lot of juice from your book. Here’s why you must make your characters more flawed:

1. With flawed characters, there’s much more to write about. A former writer on Seinfeld said recently that stories that focussed on Jerry were always the hardest to write because he had the fewest flaws. George and Kramer and Elaine had plenty of neuroses and quirks, so that allowed the writers plenty of material with which to play. Give your detective an obsession or a hobby that doesn’t help him. Nero Wolfe had the orchids upstairs. Monk has OCD. Everybody has a blind spot or maybe even a fatal flaw that your plot can turn on.

2. Flawed characters have an interesting past that has a bearing on the present and future. My hit man in Bigger Than Jesus and Higher Then Jesus was abducted and abused as a child. Those scars interfere with his love life now. He wears very expensive suits and can’t stand to have sex without his clothes on because he has emotional scars. He also doesn’t want a lover to see the physical scars across his chest. His psychological quirks go deep, dealing with PTSD, addiction and his relationships with women. He falls in love too quickly always searching for a woman he can idolize and worship. Or is he really looking for mom?One of my favorite chapters in Higher Than Jesus is the one in which my hit man goes to group therapy (and fails miserably at it.)

You don’t want to stop your narrative cold with flashbacks too often, but if you can weave those flashbacks into the story well — and if those flashbacks are compelling enough — you’ve got a tool to give your readers a much richer story.

3. Flawed characters create tension. Your plot should spring from character. For instance, Jesus Diaz is prideful. If there’s a problem, he feels he has to handle it. Other circumstances conspire to make him feel he can’t simply call the police to handle his issues, but his resolve is key to that plot point. Higher Than Jesus would be at least a third shorter if Jesus solved problems the same way normal people solve problems.

4. Flawed characters have more conflict with their world. Jesus has a hard time relating to anyone else as a “boss”, for instance. He’s not a guy who is meant for the 9 – 5 world, especially with his limited skill sets in finding people, his inability to work in law enforcement because of his shady history and the creative uses he finds for super glue. Tension and heat increase from friction so be mean to your protagonist and make at least some of his problems his own damn fault.

Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire both have bonus offers of free ebooks. Buy two books and you get four!

5. Readers relate to flawed characters. A novice writer asked me to read a chapter from her paranormal romance. The hero was very heroic — blandly so — and had an impossibly heroic name. The heroine was everything you’d expect from a heroine and more. They’d never done anything wrong and never would. They were always right, always predictable and always relatively safe because they were amazingly capable. Meanwhile, most readers think they should get to the gym today and most of us won’t make it. When you write your hero as if he’s Superman, he’s boring and you have a book the length of a comic book with just as much believability. Go Batman. In the ’60s comics, he was written as The World’s Greatest Detective, kind of Sherlock Holmes in a cowl with a cool car. The character’s real surge came when writer Frank Miller tuned into the underlying subtext of Batman’s vibe: He’s a billionaire with Daddy issues who trains himself to become a psychotic badass vigilante who won’t kill, but he’s no boy scout, either. That’s much more interesting than relentless virtue.

My hit man is obsessed with movies (just like me). Movies are our society’s touchstone, so Jesus has seen the same movies you’ve seen and sees the world through that Hollywood prism. He not only wants the Happily Ever After ending; he thinks he deserves it. Through movies, I make readers share a common interest and knowledge base with a hit man.

Consider Elmore Leonard’s characters: They’re often a bunch of criminals doing crazy things you’d never do, but some of their traits remind you of your crazy, racist Uncle Larry or that nutty girl you shared a room with in second semester before she dropped out to go to Art School. Flawed characters are people we know and believe because we’re surrounded by people who are flawed.

Resist the urge to make your characters better than human. In fact, we’ll like and believe them more if they aren’t perfect.

For more tips, inspiration and motivation for National Novel Writing Month, check out Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire, on sale now.

~ Robert Chazz Chute is the author of Crack the Indie Author Code, Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire, Self-help for Stoners, The Dangerous Kind & Other Stories, Bigger Than Jesus, Higher Than Jesus and Sex, Death & Mind Control (for fun and profit).

BONUS:

A fresh podcast is up at AllThatChazz.com which explains how you can get free ebooks. 

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Don’t dream about the look of the story too long

I’ve met with a couple writers lately. They had designed elaborate worlds. One guy had invented new physics and had some interesting ideas about gravity.  He made notes, but he was much farther from publication than he thought he was.

The problem was that neither of these writers had a story in mind at all. There was no rising plot boiling characters whose needs cross swords. Complications did not ensue. There were no people/aliens/sulphur-based plants doing anything. When these writers do some further inventing, they might have interesting environments for their protagonists.

When you’re thinking about your book, ask yourself, “What’s the story?” These folks had a where but no what. Where is less important.

Filed under: publishing, queries, , ,

You never know what's real.

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

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