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

Write and publish with love and fury.

#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, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to End a Chapter: Shorter chapters, better books?

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Author of Cybrgrrl, Maxwell Cynn

“You will laugh your ass off!” ~ Author of Cybrgrrl, Maxwell Cynn

I wrote at length recently about how smart it is to write short. (Wow, that got meta-ironic fast.) I was talking about the length of books, the allure of serialization and the benefits to both writers and readers. Today, I’m talking about chapters.

I’m currently revising the book I wrote while wearing my big-boy underpants. This Plague of Days took a little under a year to write back when I wrote part-time. Every day, I’d go to a coffee shop to get away from distractions. I got sucked into the point of view of a boy with Aspergers Syndrome during the coming plague apocalypse. His family hides out in suburbia while much of the world dies. The longer the book goes on, day by day, things get worse around his Christlike figure. When I wrote it, I wasn’t concerned about chapter length. I’d sketched an outline packed with beats and I put my head down and plunged into the story.

As I revise This Plague of Days now, I see how I was writing to the beats and each file folder was a chapter. Each writing session often yielded more than 5,000 words, all in one file/chapter! I’m breaking that up, obviously. As I look for logical places to split the file into more chapters, the logical spots are easy to find. I go out on a beat.

It’s a principle of podcasting, stand-up comedy and entertainment generally that you go out on a high note. Cliffhangers, twists, teasers and aha moments belong at the end of the chapter to seduce readers to turn the page and go for the next chapter. The more of those special moments, peaks or beats you have, the faster the pace of the book. Make the chapters short and those peaks are closer together. More beats close together equals momentum.

Don’t overdo.

If you don’t slow down to develop character, a hundred awful, exciting things may happen but no one will care. Here’s an ugly example of a pace that’s too fast:

Emma’s fiance, Rollo, dies in a skywriting accident when he tries to put the dot under the question mark as he pens “Emma! Will you marry me?” in the sky and ends up flying too low into the meat grinder of nearby chicken factory. Grief-stricken, Emma attends the funeral where Rollo’s mother tries to kill her in a rage. Terrified, Emma escapes to Italy where she falls in love with sculpture and decides to rebuild her life around art. Then, Phillipe, a very handsome and wealthy art connoisseur takes her under his wing, but how does he know Rollo’s mother and is he, in fact, an assassin assigned to murder her after their first night of passion? THEN, ON THE SECOND PAGE…

More spikes aren’t better if the characters are undeveloped. Readers don’t care for whiplash. However, you could take a page from Mary Higgins Clark. Her short chapters skip along. The closer the reader gets to the climax, the shorter the chapters become. This heightens the sense of forward momentum and keeps my wife, She Who Must Be Obeyed, awake much past her optimal bedtime as she powers toward the end of those thrillers.

We have a strange attachment to symmetry, don’t we though? Maybe that’s why more authors do not vary the length of their chapters. I’ve even heard of one author taking perverse pride in hitting an arbitrary word count so each chapter was the same length. That sort of peculiarity may serve someone’s OCD, but your OCD is supposed to serve the story above all else. (He must have been crushed when it came back from the editor with varying word counts.)

 

Don’t under do

If all the chapters are too short, it can feel to the reader that the author was skimping. For instance, while I generally admire James Sallis’s neo-noir novel Driven, some later chapters are so short and light on detail that I felt like I was missing something. He was painting a great picture overall, but here and there he didn’t have enough paint on his brush. I had to check to make sure I hadn’t skipped pages. Don’t make readers dizzy and fill them with self-doubt.

In a book of short stories, you can get away with stories so brief they could be non-rhyming poems. I have a few short chapters in Self-help for Stoners but I don’t worry about it because I’m not fragmenting a larger narrative with a short jolt. Or you can ape Faulkner and write, “My mother is a fish” and leave it at that, I suppose, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Find the right length

You can delight readers with shorter books and shorter chapters as long as they aren’t confused. For instance, a lot of short chapters with multiple points of view can confuse the casual reader. They might accuse you of head-hopping. It wouldn’t technically be true, but that’s how your narrative might feel to them. Stephen King’s It and The Stand manage large casts, but the chapters are longer. Just about the time you’re thinking, Enough of him, what’s happening with so-and-so, you’re switching to another character’s plight.

A warning and a hope

You’ll find the break points for chapters easily and intuitively if you have enough beats. If you don’t have enough beats, you may be writing something of great literary value but it’s probably too slow to be of commercial value. And by slow, yes, I mean boring. Not every story has to drive forward with breakneck speed or maintain an even pace throughout. However, if the way stations of chapter breaks are too far apart, you aren’t giving your readers confidence that they are moving toward a destination. That’s the death of a lot of books. Give us action, engagement, obstacles, reversals, rising action, higher stakes and make us care.

If a comedy like The Big Bang Theory can make me cry over a single line uttered about a letter from Howard Wolowitz’s absent father (it did), you can make us care about your characters. Do it at a good speed.

~ I mentioned how I’d write about marketing in my next post. This is the next post so it turns out I lied. However, I’ll try to get back to that in my next post. I’m experimenting with building buzz about upcoming books with inexpensive strategies. I’ll tell you more about that in my next post. Or I’ll write about unreliable narrators. There’s that pesky meta-irony again. 

Here’s a marketing hint to tide you over:

I’m promoting two books by reading one on Vine. I’m doing it with a contest. Check out the details on that contest at AllThatChazz.com.

Have a peek at ThisPlagueofDays.com for some flavor of what’s to come.

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

#NaNoWriMo: How to make reading like cardio

A quick-moving plot with lots of surprises and a clear-eyed examination of addiction.

 Get all the details of the Seven Words or Less Contest and enter here.

Last night I wrote two more chapters for my next crime novel, Hollywood Jesus, starring my Cuban hit man, Jesus Diaz. The first chapter worked very well, but the second needs tinkering right away. Here’s what happened and my rationale for how I’m dealing with it.

The first chapter of the day was a fast-paced and clever chase (even if I say so myself). Good guy* chases bad guy/reversal/good guy’s now at a disadvantage and, as they say, the hunter becomes the hunted. The tension cranked higher when I put the good guy in a seemingly impossible situation. He’s either dead or going to federal prison or maybe even Gitmo if he’s caught. The latest police tools, tactics and technology are used against him and Diaz has to figure out a solution.

Actually, it would be awesome if my hit man figured out the solution himself, but I wrote him into a corner and I had to find a plausible way to write him out of that trap. Whenever I stick him in a bad situation, he’s looking at me going, “Get me out of here, you sadist!” I did get him off the meat hook again and it was both funny and sweat-inducing. Yay, me. Now what about the next, problem chapter?

The tension has to be cranked down from that high a little bit so there’s some kind of emotional range for the reader. However, I messed up. I cranked the tension down too far with a transitional chapter. I hate that. In the transitional chapter, I had too much exposition with not enough events occurring. After a daring escape, my hero gets picked up by his Sancho Panza with fresh clothes and a new mission to add to his growing pile of trouble. The chapter is devoted to explaining to Diaz what happened in his absence.

There’s a lot to fill in for Diaz and for the reader: A friend and an enemy are in hospital, the ultra-bad guy is on the loose and the cops are investigating the violent and creepy events of the night before. The hit man has to find these things out, but changing clothes while going for a ride in the back of a van slows the pace too much. I want the reader to have a breather for a moment, but I don’t want the reader to actually recover. For cardio and thrillers to work, you have to keep the heart rate up.

The Fix: After the perilous escape, Jesus Diaz will be picked up by his aide. However, the chapter must start at the next beat where, aside from being a fugitive from the LAPD and the FBI, he’s got a new client thrust upon him by the old client. Both are beautiful, intelligent women in danger and at the moment, both hate the hit man’s guts. I’m sticking with the conflict instead of allowing the congenial conversation with the buddy who gives him a safe, friendly ride.

But why not plunge forward, blow up the word count for the day and “fix it in post”? I see the problem now so I’m fixing it now. Dealing with the problem immediately saves me revision time later. When I go into full revision mode, I want little puzzle pieces that have to fit, not big chunks that throw off the trajectory of the story, kill the fast pacing and make me go all the way back in order to move forward.

Besides, I was already well past the word count for the day with the previous chapter. On those days I’m productive, I sleep well. The sleepless nights after a non-productive day are torture. There are only so many days.

Speaking of the next book, have you entered for a chance to get your name in Hollywood Jesus yet? Get all the details of the Seven Words or Less Contest and enter here.

* I use “good” guy here loosely. Jesus Diaz is a killer, but funny and ultimately, a sympathetic vigilante. I think of my books as Bad versus Evil.

~ The sweetest  fig Chazz ever loved was the one he stole from a tree in the former Yugoslavia. Robert Chazz Chute is the author of Bigger Than Jesus, Higher Than Jesus, The Dangerous Kind & Other Stories, Self-help for Stoners and Sex, Death & Mind Control as well as the guides for writers and self-publishers, Crack the Indie Author Code (free until Friday) and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire. For links to all the books and to hear the latest All That Chazz podcast, slip over to AllThatChazz.com.

Free until Nov. 30, 2012. Click it to grab it now!

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#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. 

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

What writers can learn from House

Chronology of Enderverse stories, showing wher...

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Fans had an interesting response to last week’s episode of House. I’m not going to spoil anything for you. Let’s just say some people loved it and some people hated it. As far as I could tell, celebrants and detractors were pretty evenly split. Many agreed the episode was a heartbreaker but they drew different conclusions about the success of the story: people loved it and hated it for the same reasons.

This is why you don’t arrive at your story by committee.

The episode was, by any measure, a success because people cared. The web was full of passion about House and lots of amateur advice about what should and what should not have happened.

The worst response to your fiction is not a negative reaction. The worst response to your story is, “Who cares?” As you write your story, listen to your instincts. And know that if you try to please everyone, you will fail.

Take risks.

And if it plays, it plays.

Filed under: rules of writing, television, Writers, 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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