Category Archives: Story Narrative

Biting the Bullet

The choice is easy. The path is not.

The choice is easy. The path is not.

It seems my dilemma with River of Lost Souls has come to an important crossroads. In an earlier post (To Hatch Or Not To Hatch?) I fought with the idea that the book might have resurrected too soon, thus explaining my reluctance to bite the bullet and dive into the arduous task of preparing it for publication.

Have you ever tasted brass laced with lead? It’s not a 5-star delicacy even in an army mess hall. The lead is too soft and the brass is too tough. Irreconcilable textures aside, the taste is flat, and to swallow the lot could mean real trouble.

Try as I might, I couldn’t resolve to bite hard enough and long enough to break through the casing to get to the black powder (as if that would bring just reward for my long-suffering).

So, finally, I did the only sane thing and spit the bullet to the ground and kicked it far enough away to temp me no longer.

That was over a week ago and as of yesterday my decision to bail out continued unflinchingly steadfast.

Today, however, I experienced a revelation: But a moment of heady enlightenment it certainly was not.

River of Lost Souls isn’t a book before its time. It’s a book much too disjointed and unfocused to waste precious time on!

There, now I’ve said it. Now you know. If only you could imagine the realization’s impact on my professionalism.

What? I’ve written a complete book, 150,000 words, and it’s an abysmal failure?

Yep, pretty much. The story is schizophrenic and the focus is worse than Hubble before eyeglasses.

Pardon the hand-wringing and the pathetic whimpering. How could such a thing happen? An entire book a complete waste!

Simmer down, Gary. The book is indeed a train wreck, but at least it traveled down the tracks long enough to crash.

Huh?

Yes, debris covers the rail bed and the right-of-way, and the crash site stinks of spilled diesel and charred remains, but much of what’s left is salvageable.

Salvageable? At what cost? Do you have any idea how much work you’re talking about?

Hey, I’m your alter-ego, buster. Of course I know how much work we’re talking about. Believe me, I’ve no intention of leaving you in a lurch. I’ll be right there with you, through every change of plot, every rewrite of dialogue, through every painful moment of altering the outline, through every wretched throb of trying to piece the wreck back together again.

Yeah, but why bother? Why not toss it and write another book. In my experience, that would be immeasurably easier than rebuilding a disaster.

Because you said earlier that Javier DeSomo is a decent and well-deserving boy. And such a fine youngster should have his coming of age, should he not?

Uh, perhaps. But oh so much work.

But oh so much weakness. Is not a good book worthy of such effort?

Oh my, yes ,,, if the book turns out good. Maybe it derails again. How will I ever endure?

Quit your sniveling.  Had we not learned a few important lessons on the first draft, would we be capable of discrimination now?

I … I guess not.

Are you not partly responsible for the ideal that “Writing is Fun”?

Quit attacking me with simplicity. A rewrite of River of Lost Souls will take months.

Years if you don’t quit stalling. Buck up, Mr. Professional and take you medicine. Javier DeSomo needs to grow up and so do you. The book promises the stars and you quiver like a noodle in a boiling pot. Negativity be gone. Pick up the first piece of wreckage and analyze it. Is it broken or not? Can it be reused? If not, replace it and pick up the next. Just that simple. Writing a good, even a great book isn’t about shortcuts. It’s about recognizing what’s broken and fixing it. Here are your work gloves. Put them on. I’ll take this side of the track and you take the other. We’ll rebuild until we meet in the middle and then Javier DeSomo will have grown up with us along with him.

River of Lost Souls isn’t just about Javier’s coming of age. It’s about our coming of age too.

Pass me the pain ointment, partner. It’s time we turn left and not right.

I’ve Got a Secret

Open at your risk

Open it and assume the risk..

Shh, are we alone?

Nobody followed you?

You powered down your phone?

No snooping devices?

Good, now listen, because I can only say this once.

No, you can’t record this on your phone.

You are wearing a bug, aren’t you!

Okay, I’m satisfied now. Sorry for my paranoia.

Get on with it, you say.

But what I’m about to tell you is “Top Secret”.

You sure you won’t tell anyone where you heard this?

Okay, here goes.

Editing is a better teacher than writing.

Yes, I know it sounds incredible.

Of course, I’m not lying.

I know because I gleaned it from my source.

Would a source remain a source if I divulged it?

Thanks, for believing. Now here’s the skinny:

There are two worlds in a writer’s makeup.

World one is ego.

World two is id.

World one says you’re a fantastic writer.

World two says prove it.

It’s kind of like slaving away over a project at work to at last hand it in and have your boss ask, “Are you sure this is your best effort?”

Your first response is egotistical.

Of course! I worked until I could no longer work.

Your final response is pragmatic

No it’s not. I let fatigue overrule my judgment.

Ego is weak and breaks with ease.

Id is steadfast and demands accuracy.

When you write everything reads great, because you’re concentrating on logging thoughts, responses, actions and ideas.

When you edit, your need for excellence surges to the fore.

Ego is objective.

Id is subjective.

Writing is the coach who let you slide.

Editing is the teacher who demanded 110% and got it out of you.

Writing is telling a story.

Editing is telling a story well.

Writing is too soon satisfied.

Editing is forever demanding.

Writing speaks.

Editing shows.

Writing is a harried wordsmith.

Editing is a satisfied reader.

If you want your book to please you,  write.

If you want your book to please the reader, edit.

Yes, I’ve got a secret.

Now you have it.

Spend more time in world two than world one and allow your book to flourish.

Psst, burn the envelope and bury the ashes.

This is Agent Double-O-Aught hightailing it.

C-3PO at His Finest

If it rings like metal, it's metal.

If it rings like metal, it’s metal.

 

I never intended to create a robot out of my protagonist; he was supposed to resemble a flesh and blood man, young and supple and not forever bending only one joint at a time. But, alas, he rings like metal, so he’s definitely a robot.

Of course, the protagonist I’m referring to is Sam Claiborne, my lead in the latest project I’m editing — Heller’s Canal.

Sam, please allow me to introduce the actor who can best play you in the movie version of your story.

Sam, this is C-3PO of Star Wars fame. C-3PO, this is Sam. (Ha, you should see all the herky-jerky handshaking.)

By the way, kudos to the casting director, Sam and C-3PO have so much in common it’s uncanny. But I digress.

So, when I wrote Heller’s Canal the words poured from me like warm honey. The book took three months to write, and, years later, 30 seconds to recognize its flaws.

Sam is a fine young man, the usual wrangler off the range, who finds himself mixing with civilization out of necessity. (Age-old plot, but when it comes to plots, nothing is new under the sun.)

Sam is affable, rugged, handsome, independent, the usual lead in a Western, except he wears a derby and not a Stetson.  Hey, nobody’s perfect, least of all Sam.

Sam’s problems stem from his rigidity, his total lack of flexibility. He walks a lot. He laughs too much. And his speech is excessive. So, try as I might way back when, Sam came off more robot than human.

What a shame, because Sam so impressed me back in 2004, when he first broke upon the range, youthful, vigorous and confident. (This is the point where I was supposed to show devastating disappointment. But strange as it seemed, it never occurred to me.)

I guess it happens that some young people suffer from rigidity well before their time. But laugh and talk like a stiff, too. Definitely a robot.

Thus, realizing that Sam’s got oil in his tubing, I didn’t discard him, but decided, instead, to tear him apart and rebuild him more like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character, the humanlike cyborg in Terminator 2.

First thing I did was go after Sam’s shallowness.  Oversimplification defined his character — a character that did way too much of way too little. You see, Sam never sauntered, moseyed, shuffled, marched, stomped, or stormed anywhere. All the poor guy did was walk. (But how can anybody expect advanced robots back in 1872. Hey, this is the 21st century, Sam. Step it up.)

To attack this flaw, I went through the entire book and loosened up the fella a little. Soon his body responded more to his emotions and his environment. Sam had grown muscles to control his titanium endoskeleton. Hmm, nice improvement, Sam, but still you have those other problems.

In regard to Sam’s laughing, he must surely be on peyote.

No, he assures me, so I fixed his boring laughter the same way I fixed his invariable walking.

Before the fix, Sam thought everything was funny. Now Sam uses his laughter to express his mood. Sometimes he chortles, other times he snickers, often he howls, roars or shrieks. Sam has learned that laughing is a refined reaction, expressing happiness, fun, disgust, mocking and even abuse.

Next I addressed Sam’s speech. Let’s face it dialogue is tricky, and in Sam’s case even trickier, because he insisted on explaining everything about his story with another character. Solution here was to give Sam an inner voice, the internal dialogue one always carries on with one’s self.

Suddenly, Sam is more human. He moves like a person. He demonstrates individual reactions. And he mulls things over to better understand the world around him.

So, in closing, I offer these words of encouragement. Smile and be happy when your story has flaws and your lead character is made of metal.

The flaws are there for a purpose. They’re there to test your mettle, so attack each like you would a cyborg T–1000.

“Hasta la vista, baby.”