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

Write and publish with love and fury.

#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: Evolving a series from one book

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

Readers love books in a series. Maybe when you’re done your NaNoWriMo manuscript, you may consider turning one book into several. I’m having an interesting experience with my crime novel series I thought I should share with you because it’s a new thing for me and it may be helpful to pull back the curtain on the process as it’s evolving.

Last year, I wrote a short story about Jesus Diaz, a hit man I included in my suspense collection Self-help for Stoners. The assassin I wrote about was a mature and experienced, cold-blooded sort of guy who, at the request of their soon-to-be ex wives, killed men going through divorce. Jesus (pronounced Hay-soose) knew what he was doing and was very slick. Still, things went awry in an interesting way. That was the beginning of the Hit Man Series, but I didn’t know that then.

The revelation came when I thought, I want to write a Coen brothers’ movie! Self-help for Stoners has a lot of funny stuff in it (my favorite is the funny erotica) but I wanted to write a whole novel that played with one character in a quirky way. I thought about what origins a guy like Jesus might have to make him more sympathetic. Despite what he does as an enforcer, he does not see himself as the bad guy. No bad guy does. He’s a victim and a vigilante caught in the gears of New York’s Machine (the Spanish mob).  Think of all those Coen brothers’ movies and you’ll get some of the flavor: The Big Lebowski, Fargo, Raising Arizona, Blood Simple and Miller’s Crossing. Death always waits on the wide and easy road out of town. Perfect fit. I write about Escape. All my books and every one of my stories is ultimately about Escape. Along the way, I try to find a balance between realism and funny. People don’t get knocked out too easily in my stories, for instance. There are some bad guys who are entertainingly dumb, but nobody’s dumb just to make the plot work. Everyone has a goal that conflicts with everyone else’s motives and perspective.

“Worthy of Elmore Leonard with shades of Thomas Harris…”

The first book in the series is Bigger Than Jesus. I wanted to start the action off with a bang, so when we meet Jesus Diaz, he’s hanging off the side of a building in New York. The book reads like one long chase scene with a few sparse flashbacks to give depth to the character. Dexter is driven by psychological issues. Jesus is driven by circumstance and a need for money and delusions of grandeur. He’s obsessed with movies and wants the life he see in them. In the first book, there’s no sex but lots of violence and funny dialogue. I’d call it more gritty than gory. The story often plunges the reader into a web of deception and, because everything is seen from Jesus’ limited perspective, we only uncover the mystery of what waits in locker #408 as the Cuban hit man discovers the truth. Jesus begins his story arc as a guy who can lie well and has some skills he learned in the military, but he’s certainly no master assassin.

I watched and listened carefully for feedback before and after publication. People loved the jokes and surprises. Some thought there should be more sex and less swearing. I kept that in mind as I got into writing the second book in the series, Higher Than Jesus. I put in more jokes and surprises and yes, more sex. We discover new things about Jesus Diaz’s history. (That’s kind of a fun tip of the hat, playing with readers as they find out that Jesus has been lying to himself as well as others.)

Higher Than Jesus has a fast pace, but not quite as fast as Bigger Than Jesus. We slow down long enough for a funny and somewhat poignant chapter in which my hit man is failing at group therapy. We get into issues around addiction, too. From the first chapter, the tension slides in like a knife between ribs with a quarter twist as Jesus kills a bad guy on Christmas Day. Complications ensue around an arms deal that has national and historic ramifications. He’s learning and getting better at his job, but things still go awry.

Free on Amazon until November 23: A quick-moving plot with lots of surprises and a clear-eyed examination of addiction.

Through each book I used research and consulted with friends, one who’s ex-military and another who is a SWAT trainer. Some clever aspects of the plot turned on technical details my research supplied. As I write Hollywood Jesus, my hit man is still on the run from the mob and the FBI. The events from the first two books are by no means erased. What’s different as I write the third book in the series is Jesus’s confidence and competence. He’s still at the mercy of Murphy’s Law, but now the book includes the latest technology and techniques in espionage and counter-espionage. Jesus is a troubleshooter for a security firm, specializing in dealing with celebrity stalkers. He deals with them in very unorthodox ways, often using their own tactics against them. None of the tactics or tech is too far out there, so it’s not like a Bond movie, with Roger Moore. However, there’s a lot of very cool spy tech that’s available to anyone commercially. 

What’s the arc of the series so far?:

#1 was a pure crime adventure with dark childhood secrets driving the character and a mystery leading to escape. That whipped the action across the finish line.

#2 goes deeper into the character, but at its heart it’s hardboiled action with a chapter that drips with sex and a lot of violent action broken up by fast, witty dialogue. There’s less swearing, especially since one bad guy hardly says a word and the other sees himself as quite pure and above all that. I’m proudest of the psychological gameplay throughout, the funny chaos, the clever kills and a fight scene that actually reveals something about the character and his past instead of fighting for action’s sale alone.

#3: I’m still writing Hollywood Jesus, but I think that, though the story starts fast, the tension cranks up with more range of emotion. Yesterday, for instance, Jesus confronted a very deadly and powerful stalker to make Jesus (and the reader) understand the enormity of the danger he faces. That night, Jesus scans the audience at a comedy club for the celeb stalker as the client does her act onstage. We got a sense of why this celebrity is so special and worth protecting. I loved writing that scene because every line is from the stand up act I’ve had in my head for a while and I think it’s pretty hilarious. (I’ve been thinking about doing an open mic at Yuk Yuks sometime, so maybe I’ll try my material onstage myself before publication to see if I get the same laughs as Legs Gabrielle.)

The tech stuff in Hollywood Jesus fascinates me and always has. I’m drawing on a large library of dirty tricks, revenge fantasies and bad guy techniques I’ve researched for years. This is an amazing time to be a crime novelist. There’s so much information to draw on.

What’s stays the same among all three books so far?

The humor. One thing I share with Jesus is smart-assery, especially when in danger. Reversals and bad fortune plague Jesus, often because his plans and my plots are so elaborate and my hit man is not as smart as he thinks he is. The assassin’s character does change through the books. By the third, he’s wary of falling in love too quickly, which is a fatal flaw with him. He begins to see himself differently by the end of the second book so, though he’s always been clever, by the opening of Hollywood, he’s more proactive and in control…or so he thinks.

Things are rarely as they appear in the Hit Man Series. I have an outline, but I’m not sure of all the details of what’s coming. For Jesus, I’m more of a pantser than a plotter. I can’t wait to see what he does about what I throw at him tomorrow.

Grab Higher Than Jesus before midnight, Friday, November 23rd

and it’s free!

(There’s an intriguing offer for more free ebooks inside and, fair warning, all the prices will be going up soon.)

~ Robert Chazz Chute writes hardboiled suspense with quirky twists. He’s also written two books about writing and publishing: Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire.

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#NanoWriMo Tip: How to finish with a flourish

Jodi McMaster asked a great question: Got any tips on how to approach endings? As a matter of fact, I do! I talk about story arcs and related whatnot in the writing guides, but here’s my take:

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!

1. Some people think you have to have happy endings. I prefer satisfying endings. A satisfying ending isn’t necessarily a happy one, but it should be generally perceived as an inevitable ending in retrospect. Surprising, yet logical and inevitable when you look back on it. That’s the ticket to reader happiness. It’s a tough order to fill, but it works every time when you do it right.

2. I love surprise endings. Twist endings are shunned in some literary circles, but the readers in those circles are squares. I once read a literary critic sneer at surprise endings as “too, too O. Henry.” Oh, please. “Too” O. Henry? As in the guy who wrote some of the most memorable, popular and enjoyed fiction of his time and beyond? It’s not a cheap ending if it’s logical and entertaining. Do that and nobody minds a surprise ending.

3. No cheap tricks, such as “And then the little girl fell out of bed and realized it was all a dream.” A really bad movie called Wisdom with Emilio Estevez did something like that. It was not wise and that’s why you’ve never heard of that movie, unless some unfortunate movie goer was speaking about lousy films on which to spit.

4. Readers should not be puzzled with your ending. If you’ve read a bunch of winning short story contest entries at some pretentious lit mag, you’ve read this sort of ending. It’s the nebulous ending favored by some very expensive MFA programs. It’s the sort of ending that’s so vague, it’s unsatisfying or downright opaque. You read it and reread and wonder if there’s any meaning behind that poetic last paragraph? Then you wonder if you just had a stroke and that’s why you can’t figure out what the heck the author is trying to say. Annoying. You can have intriguing endings. You can’t have loose ends that read like a quantum physics equation.

For Higher Than Jesus, my first ending was clear-ish. One of my beta team told me to make it more explicit and less poetic because that’s the last impression the reader gets before they go write a review. He was right so I rewrote the last paragraph for more of a punch between the eyes.

5. It should be an ending but you can hint that there’s more to come. I love leaving the door open a little. When readers invest themselves in a character, it kind of hurts to say goodbye to them. Characters should be so rich that the reader feels that the heroine’s and hero’s story will continue beyond the life recorded in the book. Hope for more from your characters in the future is uplifting. It can also uplift your sales when you turn one book into a series.

6. If you’ve got a too-easy ending, think about it longer. At the end of Casablanca — a movie I love — there aren’t any Nazis at the plane checking travel documents, the point the structure of the movie turned on. They could have wrung a little more tension out of that final plot point if there was some question of an external factor keeping Ilsa and Victor from getting on the plane, too.

7. Don’t stay too long saying goodbye. This is the dreaded viscous ending. Think of the last Lord of the Rings movie. It didn’t have one ending. It had five endings that dragged on and on. This was meant to appease lovers of the book. It made my butt numb in the movie theatre. Instead, hit your last power peak in the story and opt for the short dénouement. (Note that the end of the trilogy had a little of Casablanca’s plot niggle, too: Why all the walking when you can ride a giant eagle and zip back to the Shire in no time?)

8. Be very careful about killing off your protagonist. It’s a lot to ask of a reader to go through a whole book cheering for a character and killing them off at the end anyway. (See Point #1 again.) Remember how everybody hated Alien 3? There was lots to hate, but consider (spoiler alert) that after rooting for the little girl to live all through Alien 2, she dies in her cryotube at the beginning of Alien 3. It wasn’t a great start and it did not get better. Why? Because the audience was cheated of their earlier victory. It’s not that you can’t kill off a protagonist, but be smart about it and give the reader a payoff to make the sacrifice worth it. If you’re going to kill off Bruce Willis on an asteroid in Armageddon,  for instance, it better serve the cause of saving the planet from said asteroid. (This was back when Bruce Willis was more popular. We’re okay with killing him off earlier in the show now.)

9. More specifically to Jodi’s question: Great endings and great books spring from character. What does the protagonist want? Are they  worthy of that goal? As we make the reader care and amp up the tension along the way, the story is all about the obstacles in the protagonist’s way. When we’re through the obstacles, failures and reversals of fortune, have they won the day? Does the hero or heroine mourn the sacrifice it took to get them to end of the story but at least reach a higher level (e.g. wiser, stronger, redemption, making the family unit whole, saving the world, saving themselves, vanquishing their enemies, winning love etc.,…)? The protagonist doesn’t have to meet all their goals to provide a satisfying ending, but for the reader to be satisfied, they should feel that the trip was worth the time and the stakes were high enough.

Another example from movies  (and a spoiler alert ahead): Michael Keaton is awesome in the film Clean and Sober. However, as good as Keaton is in the drama, the ending is unsatisfying. It ends with Keaton declaring his first days of sobriety, but it doesn’t feel like he’s really earned the achievement. He goes through a lot, yes, but it seems like he gets sober through an unlikely inability to get his hands on any drugs rather than an act of will and discipline. Sobriety is something that happens to him, not something he went out and did or didn’t do. Heroes own the locus of control. That’s why everyone’s a sucker for a training montage in any sports movie.

10. The clue to a great ending is often hinted at in the beginning of the book. Your opening is a statement of the core problems the protagonist faces. Your ending is the solution to whatever that problem is. At the opening of Higher Than Jesus, I’ve got my hit man, Jesus Diaz, about to kill a guy in a sleazy after-hours joint in Chicago on Christmas Day. Jesus needs money and he has to get rid of the bad guy. I won’t spoil anything, but I will say that at the end of Higher Than Jesus, he’s clearer about his own character and why he does what he does. The payoff is wisdom and growth and…much more I can’t tell you.

My first clues to great endings were in reading Esquire magazine. Any great magazine article saves a little punch at the end. (Newspapers use the inverse pyramid model, so all the good stuff it’s up top and they edit coarsely by cutting from the bottom.) Magazine pieces always end on a strong note. It can be ironic or funny or powerful or triumphant or geared to make you cry. Read a bunch of those articles and then compare that feeling to the feeling you get at the end of your book. If you have a similar tickle in your brain and pull at your heart, you’ve got a memorable ending with punch.

~ Robert Chazz Chute is the author of two writing guides: Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire. They aren’t your Grampy’s and Grammy’s guides to writing and publishing. Lots more inspiration, zero scolding and tons of ideas and motivation for writing your books to completion. (“To completion” is not an orgasm joke. That’s a terrible euphemism. Don’t use that!)

 

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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.

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