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

Write and publish with love and fury.

Writing Moonlighting Top 10: There’s going to be a pie fight!

There are many ways to write and no one can say any are “wrong”. Well, the kitten sacrifice was a little much. Here’s one way to go:

Anybody remember the TV show Moonlighting? It was a comedy that was on TV when Bruce Willis was adorable and Cybill Shepherd was Cybill Shepherd. During production, sometimes the planning seemed haphazard. The lowest guy on the totem pole in the writing room would run down a hall, stick his head in the door at the props department and scream, “There’s going to be a pie fight! Get 500 pies ready!”

 

That’s writing toward a scene.

They didn’t have everything else filled in yet, but they knew they wanted a big set piece and pie would fly.

From Google: 

set piece
noun
A thing that has been carefully or elaborately planned or composed, in particular.
A self-contained passage or section of a novel, play, film, or piece of music arranged in an elaborate or conventional pattern for maximum effect.

What’s this mean to you and your readers?

Deliver maximum effect.

You’re writing your book. Events happen. Complications ensue. Characters conflict. You know. Story stuff. A set piece is a story beat but not every beat is a set piece. This strategy reverse engineers your novel. You think about the big scenes you want to deliver and sketch those out so you can lay the groundwork and build the ladder or plant the garden. Pick your writing metaphor here. Without that context, it will feel stuck on so be careful to stitch tightly and weave over the seams.

The Big Scene: Put on the Helmet of Imagination!

The Last Evil Clown fights The One Good Mime atop Mt. Rushmore. Or the nuke detonates in Dubuque just as the hero teleports away to the bridge of an exploding starship. Whatever. You could write the context that gets your readers there and excited about it.

Set pieces are big stakes scenes so:

1. Add the ticking clock device. 
2. Kill a major character.
3. See it as the movie scene where the special effects department blows wads of cash.
4. Make it a major turning point.
5. Reveal something huge.
6. Deny the protagonist their easy victory.
7. Award the main character their vengeance.
8. Reward the villain with a huge comeuppance.
9. Pay off the reader with a spectacle, or at least something spectacular.
10. Books are long. Don’t have just one set piece.
Robert Chazz Chute This Plague of Days: Season 3~ In This Plague of Days, Season 3, the big battles constitute set pieces. Not every set piece has to be a violent cataclysm though. When the big secret is revealed in the library in Season 3, that’s a set piece, too. You’ll know when you get there because you’ll suspect I wrote it high on acid. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I have something for your TBR pile. 

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

Pulp fiction doesn’t have to sound like pulp fiction

A friend of mine has a strict rule about writing: “Remove it from the manuscript if it sounds like writing.”

Writerly = Bad

Some sentences do call attention to themselves. It’s not supposed to be a good thing, but I don’t think it should be an unbending rule. To me, it’s a guideline reminding me that story always comes first (but we should enjoy ourselves along the way.) It’s up to the creator to make an informed choice about the narrative and the reader will decide if they groove on that choice.

In film, sometimes a director will take you out of the movie’s illusion by putting the camera somewhere unexpected, lingering, shaking or going for some special effect that reminds the observer, “Hey! You’re watching a movie!”

That can happen when you write something in such a way that it reminds the reader,

“Hey! You’re reading a book!”

Maybe the prose is beautiful, but some will accuse you of writing purple prose, being too precious or being maudlin. But many readers aren’t just readers. The best readers are also lovers of language. They want the reading experience to transcend mere delivery of information. When they read your writerly passage, it transports them.

I write a lot of action scenes, but I make sure to balance out the action with pauses so the reader can catch her breath before being thrown into the next chasm.

We’re pushed to begin in the middle of the action and make the pace fast. However, too many beats in too short a time sacrifices character development. Lose that, and we don’t care about the action scene.

Dare to go deeper so the bad guys don’t devolve into “Heavy #1” and “Heavy #2” come through the door with guns. You may or not remember details of the scene in Pulp Fiction where John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson take down the guys who stole from their boss. However, film buffs can recite the lines from the drive to the shoot out. Remember? “Royale with cheese.”

Take time to build tension. There are scenes (yes, even in novels about the zombie apocalypse) that pause to show how people and their relationships are changing. Sometimes the pause is a great chance to write something for comedic effect. If you can make them laugh on one page and cry on the next, they’ll love the story more.

We can use our words to communicate the power and depth of the ocean and of personalities. We can show happiness and tragedy in a few brush strokes or we can dare to go deeper sometimes, reaching for the uneasy metaphor. Readers appreciate a story that explores emotional range with developed characters they care about.

My friend, the hardliner, says, “Never sound writerly!”

“But dude!” I replied, “Sometimes it’s only the elegant turns of phrase readers remember. It’s the flourish that captures the detail that makes the scene memorable. Without a little reach in description, I feel like I may as well be tapping out the story on a telegraph.”

“You’re just writing a zombie novel,” he said. “That’s not what they’re expecting.”

“No book has to be just anything. Any writing can turn the dial up to eleven and sound epic with the right twist on the expected. We aren’t supposed to give them what they expect. That’s mundane.”

“Okay,” he said, “just don’t make it sound too writerly. You know what I mean.”

“I promise I’ll delete it if it’s too obscure or gets in the way of the story.”

Mostly, I keep my promises.

Filed under: 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, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Author Blog Challenge: The Writing Mistake You Might be Making

English: The main character in the comic serie...

English: The main character in the comic series “Lame Strips” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I sat at the front of the writing class, giving a reading from Self-help for Stoners. The story, “Another Day at the Office” is  about a guy with a skunk talking his way out of search, seizure, jail and worse at the hands of a policeman in Texas during a traffic stop.

When I finished, I looked up and asked, “How old is the main character?”

I pointed around the classroom. “22! 28! 35! 40!” they answered.

“What colour was his hair?”

“Red! Blonde! Bald! Black! Brown! Wispy Comb over!” (Good for you. I never would have thought of wispy combover for that character.)

There you go. Too much description limits your readers’ imaginations and puts their visions in little boxes that belong only to you. Be more generous and don’t assume your reader is an idiot. They’ve seen people in their lives. They’ll fill in the blanks. The readers want some ownership of the story in the theatre of their minds, too. Don’t describe too much. Was it Dashiell Hammet who said his hero was “knuckly” and left it at that? Too much description has  become a cliche that often opens a lot of books: the main character inspects himself in the mirror before heading off for work. They preen and describes themselves to the reader. Don’t. Instead, please let the action and dialogue carry me along. Let me insert my own vision of your characters. I’ll have a picture in my mind before long and I might even be annoyed if the author’s description differs with my own.

Even then, be sparing. My hit man in Bigger Than Jesus has a thing for expensive suits. It comes up as it pertains to the action and as it pertains to character. It is not there just to make up an arbitrary word count. In fact, it’s crucial to the character. No campfire story starts with a long description of what everyone is wearing unless there’s a point or a clue to character. Be just as judicious, whether you’re telling ghost stories to a bunch of kids around a campfire on their first trip into the woods or writing books for the masses.

BONUS:

Tuesdays and Fridays, I do a little podcast from my author site at AllThatChazz.com. A fresh episode (#29!) is up now in which I tackle letters from Republicans, creep out my twelve-year-old and worry, too late, about my blood pressure.

Filed under: publishing, , , , , , , , , , ,

Help your readers read quickly (no speed bumps)

Last night I stayed up late to finish an excellent book of British crime fiction called How to be Bad. It was often funny and surprising. Loved it.

However, it’s amazing how fragile a narrative is. I was speeding along having a good time when I hit this speed bump: “…she kind of shrugged with her eyes.” That bounced me right out of the author’s world for a bit. I actually had to put down the book to go look in a mirror to see if I could shrug with my eyes.With a tic and an arch I can sort of convey that with my eyebrows I guess.

When you’re writing, make sure you don’t hit a sour note or ask the impossible from your characters. Stay clear of that minefield and you have a better shot at sucking the reader into your story.

BONUS:

“Said” is the best tag. because the tag allows readers to skip along. (e.g. “Put down the bloody bologna,” she said.)

Don’t say he or she “hissed”, especially if there are no “s” sounds in the dialogue.

Filed under: writing tips, , ,

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

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

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.

For my author site and the Chazz network, click the blood spatter below.

See my books, blogs, links and podcasts.

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