Newsflash for Scriptwriters

Sorry, I bet you already know this. I didn’t because I’m not a scriptwriter, but here it is:

If you build your Hollywood script around a “paradigm,” “formula” or “set of rules,” we’re now told that nobody in Hollywood will read it.

I heard this from Corey Mandell on YouTube. He was a successful script writer for 11 years then quit the profession because he disliked the lifestyle and hated how angry it was making him. Now he teaches scriptwriting. Yeah, I know, but watch his video. This guy’s sincere, knowledgeable and authentic.

Although Corey doesn’t spell it out specifically, the “too predictable paradigm” he’s talking about has dominated Hollywood forever and is probably best delineated in Save the Cat, by the late Blake Snyder, God rest his genius soul.

Now Mr. Mandell says Hollywood is looking for “pitch-perfect, authentic” scripts. These do have a structure, but as best I can tell from listening, the new “structure” bends to the story rather than vice versa. Wish I could say more about it.

Here’s one of Corey Mandell’s videos. It’s part of a series of 15 short videos, full of wisdom and value if you write stories of any kind…

For novelists (as opposed to scriptwriters) who seek traditional publication, a gatekeeper’s trend away from rigid story structure may come soon, if it’s not already here.

I wish I knew. If you know, please tell us in a comment below.

Even for indie novelists, it’s probably worth trying to discover whether the traditional gatekeepers are now rejecting “paradigm structured” novel manuscripts. Because you never know, maybe Amazon readers are changing too.

Cheers,

Talmage

Disclosure Statement: I have no affiliation with Corey Mandel.

 


Nonlocal Love (Chapter 10) “Hapa Girl DNA” by M. Talmage Moorehead

Maxwell takes the fetal position shivering. He buries most of his face in the rug and hides his head under his thick arms, speaking into The Ganga’s Indian carpet. “This year I spent every dime on prescription opiates.” He glances up at me and shakes his head in self-reproach. “I don’t suppose anybody here’s gone cold turkey off Oxy’s.” He scans us.

Vedanshi and I shake our heads, no.

James looks down silently.

“Opiate withdrawal’s the worst,” Maxwell says. “Your blood’s on fire.” He looks at me. “I’m really sorry, Johanna.”

“Don’t be,” I tell him. “Anyone with ambition is addicted to something. It’s just a matter of what.”  I pat him on the shoulder. “I’m addicted to the dream of doing Earth-shaking genetic work in a lab of my own. It drives me into a two-dimensional thing – ideas and deadlines. No life.”

“That’s true,” James says with admiration.

“If you’re talented,” I say to Maxwell, “an obsession feels good for a while. Then you start accomplishing things, and one by one your goals ring hollow. You make bigger plans, raising the dose, but it’s temporary. No one understands you. Even the people who understand your work don’t know you as a person.” I look at James. “Remember how Dad would say, ‘Nothing kills your dreams like reaching them?'”

“Yeah… I never did get that,” James says.

“Nobody knows who you are when you’re an addict.” I jostle Maxwell’s right shoulder. “The substance makes no difference. You taught me that, coming in early all those mornings and making me have normal conversations with you.” I slap the back of his head gently, but he doesn’t look at me. “I owe you. For that and for rescuing me this morning. You should be proud of who you are. Risking your life like that. Not many people are as brave and caring as you are.”

“You don’t owe me anything,” he says. “I’m not afraid of the ocean because I surf in it. I jumped in hoping I had a chance with you.”

“You mean, dating?” Stupid question.

“Yeah.” He looks up apologetically. “That was before this happened.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small plastic bag of jade pills.

“Good man,” James says. “It would have been easy to pop one of those and stay hidden.” James grins at me and says, “Kowabunga.” He worries because I’ve never had a boyfriend.

And wow, I thought I was mission work to Maxwell. Save-a-geek, or something. “I like junkies,” I say to him, taking the bag of pills from his hand. “Your addiction doesn’t change what I think of you. Mine never bothered you. Not a bit.” I raise a crooked eyebrow at James. Maybe there’s hope for me. Socially, I mean. “But I got to say,” I tell Maxwell, “I’m surprised you believe in the disease model of addiction. I sure don’t. I don’t think the data supports the model.

“What data?” Maxwell asks.

“Most addicts quit on their own. It’s a suppressed fact. When you define yourself as a disease victim, your addiction stats get worse – according to my reading, anyway.”

“That’s not what I was taught in school.” Maxwell sits up, folds his arms and rubs his shoulders with trembling hands. “But I’d feel sheepish trying to argue about it in this condition.”

“Good,” James says. “I’ve seen guys give up right where you’re at. ‘Cause hell, it’s a disease.” He throws up his hands. “Oh-well, I’ve got a disease. Nothing I can do about it.” He sticks an imaginary straw up his nose and inhales.

I never realized James knew about drugs. “Do that again,” I tell him. “With a Scottish accent.” I find myself smiling at him with this love that overpowers me no matter what he does.

He gives Maxwell a dangerous look. It’s scary how James’ eyes can get so dark. “It’s easy to believe you got an incurable disease,” he says. “It feels kind of natural. But try believing some supernatural dude’s going to cure you. With holy magic.” He looks at Vedanshi. “Every year of my life I get a new science teacher preaching how primitive and dumb people used to be back when everyone believed in God. Then I run into a real problem and it’s all different. Some 12-step guy’s in my face saying, ‘Hey kid, remember that god delusion? Guess what? You’re going to die if he doesn’t save your diseased ass.'”

“James,” Vedanshi whispers and puts an index finger under her chin. “God has to hide and work through coincidence. Otherwise we’d be afraid of displeasing him. There would be no honest talk, no knowledge of ourselves, no free will, and no true love.” She unzips her purse, pulls out her green cylinder and starts to hand it to Maxwell, but stops. Her eyes widen at the morphing symbols on its surface. “My God, Johanna! You have a circulating clone!”

“Acute Monocytic Leukemia,” I blurt out. “I’ve got a month or two, maybe. I’m trying to skip denial.”

Tears well up in Vedanshi’s eyes. They run down her cheeks and fall off the edges of her angled jaw. One finds the carpet, rounds up and stands beside me. I look out at the Great Pyramid. The Japanese half of me is unafraid to die. The Jewish half – I don’t know, honestly. A Coptic Christian pathologist told me that the Jews built the Giza Pyramids. She was sure. But why does that seem relevant now?

“You can fix her, can’t you?” James asks Vedanshi. “With that green thing?”

She closes her eyes for a moment. “There could be a medical suite on the Easter Island base. I haven’t seen all the rooms yet. But I wouldn’t know how to operate the equipment. Or how to fix it if it doesn’t work.” She wipes her eyes with her wrists and looks at me blinking. “Let’s get you into the River. You need to learn everything we knew about leukemia.”

Giza’s transcendent pyramids shrink beneath us and the Earth begins to turn. Russia slides under and Siberia grows.

“I know a place where the magnetic field was a standing toroid,” Vedanshi says.

The Earth blurs then refocuses. We’re facing a cliff of geometric rock.

Russian

Maxwell fumbles with his boots, lying on his right side. He wants a chance with me? Nobody like him ever gave me a look.

Except this one guy in my General Physics class at the University of Hawaii. But it turned out he only wanted my help, not my love. Boy, did I help him. He changed majors before I was done tutoring him. Before he was done using me. I stayed in my room most of the week he dumped me, agonizing over the cold brutality of the word, “friends.” Of course, he was seventeen and I was ten. What did I expect?

“Can you make him feel better?” I ask Vedanshi.

“Oh, sorry,” she says and hands Maxwell the cylinder. “Press it to your forehead and you’ll go to sleep. Epigenetic changes happen during withdrawal. They make you crave the drug, so we’ll fool your body into thinking you’re not withdrawing. I can let you sleep through everything as long as you don’t snore. The Ganga can’t tolerate snoring.”

“I don’t snore,” he says. The cylinder has so many symbols on it, it’s almost black now. He takes it, thanks Vedanshi and looks at me. “You thought you were as good as dead. That’s why you tried to drown yourself.” He sits up, scooches next to me and takes both of my hands in his. “If these people built a flying machine that hates snoring, they also found a cure for every type of leukemia. That’s a given. Once you learn what they knew, you’ll use the knowledge better than they did. I guarantee it.”

“Thanks,” I tell him. “I appreciate your assumptions.” My fingers feel strange. It’s like direct current is flowing from his hands into mine.

“I’ll help you,” he says. “I’m not sure how, but I’ll bring you food and water if nothing else.”

“You’re not a water boy,” I tell him. “You’re a brilliant clinical scientist.”

“A brilliant junkie.” He squints in pain. “You’re the last person on Earth I would have chosen to see me like this. Of all the people to disappoint…”

“You haven’t disappointed me.” The idea feels upside-down and backwards as my fingers touch the side of his rugged face. “You saved my life. I’ll save yours. I’ll find a safer addiction for you to worry about.” I put the bag of pills in my shirt pocket. “I might even let you to ask me out. As long as you abandon this lame disease model. I hate learned helplessness, Max. It’s the overall harmony, the inspiration, the connecting thread and the subtext of every government school class I’ve ever taken.”

“The overall harmony?” He laughs.

“That’s my definition of inspiration. Don’t knock it.” I like the way he calls me out.

“But you’re sure addiction’s not a disease?”

“Pretty sure,” I tell him. “Multiple genes are involved. Widely diverse genes. But addiction is an acquired taste if you ask me.”

“Listen to her, dude,” James says.

“Nothing’s black and white in genetics,” I say to Maxwell. “The relationship between DNA and the mind may be inherently incomprehensible. If it is, it’s designed that way for a reason.”

Maxwell shivers. “I better do this,” he says. He lets my hands go, puts one end of the cylinder against his forehead and lies down.

Vedanshi presses her palms together in front of her face, bows her head for a moment, then looks at me. “You need months of progress in days. Just like I did. Take the lotus position and hold your breath for ten heartbeats.”

I do as she says, sensing her power. No doubt it comes from being raised by a queen to become a queen.

“Good,” she says. “When you’re done with that, breathe slowly. Full breaths in a constantly changing pattern. Make a decision about each breath. We want variably increased CO2 tension to open your prefrontal blood flow.” She inhales with a growl. “We should be in water. Nothing triggers the mammalian diver’s reflex like total submersion.”

“I barely swim,” I tell her.

“You wouldn’t need to swim. But close your eyes now, and listen to this old wall. See if you can sense it.”

Mount-Shoria-2

I’m not going to tell her that scientists call this thing a natural formation. It’s embarrassing.

“When I was three,” Vedanshi says, “my father brought me here to see if I could sense the bending of the magnetic field. The wall was less weather-beaten. Twice as tall, I think, but I was a toddler so everything was huge.” She closes her eyes. “I want you to take a deep breath and hold it for fifteen heartbeats this time.” She opens her eyes and looks over at James. “I think this wall was constructed in the era right before mine. The one that ended in thermonuclear holocaust.”

“They had those bombs back then?” James asks, but doesn’t wait for an answer. “Weird.” He folds his legs. “So would you guys mind if I try to do what you’re doing? Max is crashed out. My money says he snores very soon.”

“Join us,” Vedanshi says brightly. “Maybe you’re a pilot. Your head’s nice and full in the back.” She pats the back of her own head, giggles, then sits tall with her eyes closed. “If you’re seeing ones and zeros, imagine they’re falling into your head and lining up on the base of your skull.”

I close my eyes and it’s raining ones and zeros. I let them stand on either side of my sella turcica, but they heap up.

“The time-space portion of the true self is a Planck’s volume of conscious awareness,” Vedanshi says, “like the tiniest spark moving nonlocally through the brain. If you could see it, it would look like a cloud because of its rapid movement. The cloud shifts and changes like a ghost. Brighter spots are decisions and feelings. Softer areas are things like physical movements involving the parietal cortex and cerebellum, usually. When you’re awake, all your neurons are in the same place relative to the true self. But when you’re asleep, nonlocality vanishes. So there’s no free will in dreams.”

I try to decode the layers of ones and zeros in my head, but there’s no hope.

“Imagine the suffering of a five year-old boy in a cold orphanage,” Vedanshi says. “Sores cover the roof of his mouth. Memories of his mother’s warmth and gentle voice keep him awake. The cloud of your awareness extends up into your mirror neurons and down to the limbic system, bringing the boy’s suffering into you. You can feel things as he does.”

“Poor little guy,” James says.”

“When another person’s pain matters to you as much as your own,” Vedanshi says, “it’s nonlocal love. You’ve discovered it. This is humanity’s highest calling, and God’s remedy for self-sabotage.”

“Does everything have to be religious?” James says.

“Actually, God isn’t religious,” she says. “He didn’t say anything religious when we spoke. He doesn’t worship a higher power or cower in fear of punishment. He does what’s right because it is right, and he suffers with us because he’s full of nonlocal love.”

I hope she’ll tell us her story. Researchers estimate that 13 million adults have had near-death experiences in the US alone. If Maxwell wasn’t a fast runner, I might have seen the white room myself this morning.

In the white room with black curtains near the station.
Blackroof country, no gold pavements, tired starlings…
…As I walked out, felt my own need just beginning.

“The Ganga’s afraid you’ll think I’m crazy,” Vedanshi says to me.

“Don’t worry,” I tell her. “Near death enlightenment isn’t rare these days. Scientists actually study it.”

“No kidding?” she says. “I’ll bet they studied it in my day, too. And kept their findings locked away from young people.” She leans forward and touches the top of her head to the carpet in front of her crossed legs. She stretches her arms out behind her back then raises them like wings. “Now, if you’ve got any numbers, let the code lie there. Don’t try to sort it or understand it. It must understand you.”

As I stare at golden zeros and ones, they change from Arabic numerals to symbols I haven’t seen as numbers. The ones look like vertical shepherd’s crooks and the zeros are fancy commas. I hold my breath and suddenly it’s as if I’m looking through someone else’s eyes at a pair of aged hands. I recognize Vaar’s signet ring on her right middle finger. I hear her voice saying she doesn’t intend to do what I told her. She’s calling someone on a phone. A large crater appears, full of huge machines. Two of them are shaped like UFO’s. The sky is black. Shadows are harsh. It’s the surface of the moon. It must be. I recognize the dust.

M. Talmage Moorehead

Personal note to fiction writers…

I’ve been lacking discipline during my interstate move, so a couple of days ago I started James Patterson’s course on fiction writing. He’s had 19 consecutive number one NY Times best sellers, as I recall.

So far, I’ve merely listened to him talking about his process on video. Inspirational. I wrote all day today, noticing a new sense of freedom and energy.

Patterson, like Stephen King, derives happiness from writing. But unlike King, Patterson uses “outlines” extensively and considers them essential to avoiding “writing himself into a corner,” (i.e. creating a problem that can’t be logically solved and therefore requires writers to abandon months of writing, a phenom that happens a lot to me because I don’t stick to my outlines), avoiding boring chapters, and creating more interesting twists by allowing greater flexibility ahead of the actual writing.

I’ve always agreed with the proponents of outlines and envied them because my characters ignore mine. But I’m not giving up. Partly because of this…

An eye-opener for me was reading the thing he calls an “outline.” It’s actually an informal, modestly detailed synopsis of each chapter. The kind of thing I could struggle to do after writing a chapter, but wouldn’t attempt before writing it.

His course includes a complete final “outline” of his novel, Honeymoon. He does three to six re-writes of an outline before beginning the writing. He says a person should be able to tell if it’s a good story by reading the outline. I wouldn’t have believed it, except that I read his outline and found it to be true. The outline was hard to put down.

Imagine the implications.

Obviously, I can’t make a final judgement for you on Patterson’s course until I finish it. But preliminarily I’d have to say that just hearing Patterson’s brief videos has been worth my 90 bucks. It was exactly what I needed right now.

By the way, I’ve got no conflict of interest to disclose. I wish I did. I wish I knew the guy.

The above story starts here.

My humble and yet infallible e-book, “Writing Meaningful Page-turners,” is here.

Please email my URL: http://www.storiform.com to your favorite aunt or uncle.

Thanks for everything! Keep writing. You were intelligently designed for it.

Talmage


Writing Fast is Interesting and Fun

image011

Seventeen days ago I quit medicine. I was a pathologist. I didn’t quit to become a writer, there were other reasons. But I’ve always loved writing, so I’m going to do it full-time now.

That means I have to start thinking differently.

If I’m going to make it as an indie writer I’ll have to write a ton of books. Realizing this is an important step ahead for me. I have to change my writing habits to have a snowball’s chance.

An indie writer must be prolific because each book is unlikely, statistically speaking, to bring big sales. An indie book is, however, likely to bring in a steady stream of sales for a long time.

So if you’ve got fifty novels each bringing in a modest steady income, you’ve got a nice business. If you’ve got only one or two, not so much.

That means you either have to write very fast or very long. Both seem to be viable.

One prolific indie writer says he doesn’t write fast, he just writes for prolonged hours each day. I already do that and it doesn’t work for me because I edit obsessively and take too many breaks.

Another prolific indie writer says she writes only five hours a day, five days a week, but at the blistering rate of 10,000 words per day. She explains how she does it in a blog which I’ll link to at the bottom. It’s an amazing article.

The main thing she does is a brief dream walk through the scenes she’s about to write.

I’ve tried it. I take a tablet of paper and force myself to see the scene in my head as I create it for the first time. I take sketchy notes by hand on a pad and then start writing, referring to the notes occasionally.

Notice that we’re not talking about the familiar (arguably optional) detailed outline done days or months in advance of the writing.

This remarkably efficient author is talking about spending at least five minutes at the beginning of each writing session to create (visualize) the next little part of your story in your head (some dialogue is included) while you jot down notes by hand on paper.

To me, doing the preview in the same sitting as the writing session seems to be the key. And it really works. It’s fast, tiring and fun!

Obviously you have to note the time you begin and end each portion of a session if you take breaks like I do. For me, that’s tough to remember. I take a lot of breaks because I have Halo, my dog, here demanding attention at random intervals.

My fastest writing so far has been 3,562 words in 5 hours and 55 minutes. It took me basically all day to do that, though, with all my breaks. I didn’t realize I take this many breaks until I started timing myself!

Like everybody who’s a little old school, I was concerned that the quality of my writing might suffer if I pushed my speed. So far it seems OK. In fact, my storytelling (as opposed to wordsmithing) has improved, probably because I now weigh the options at every little turn, listing several and picking the best. Before adopting this preview approach, I always went with whatever popped into my wee little head – on minor twists, anyway. (Update 5/15/15: The fast approach, in retrospect, led me away from the detailed emotional connection with Johanna – my protagonist – and all the minute important things that bring her alive for me as the writer. As a result, I left this version of the story and began searching to connect with Johanna in the first-person story that’s posted here. I talked about this in detail at the end of chapter 9 of Hapa Girl DNA, here. All in all, I think the technique of a dream walk prior to writing is potentially quite helpful to plotting, but writing at a breakneck pace tends to disconnect me from the viewpoint character, so I need a balance. I need to minimize editing during first drafts to move ahead faster, but I must go slowly enough to see and feel the little details of past present and future character emotion. William Greenleaf is the brilliant author and book doctor who helped me come to this realization. I highly recommend him! You don’t have to wait until your first draft is finished to ask for his help.)

Here’s the prolific author’s article. Rachel Aaron writes 10,000 words in an average five-hour session, and does it five days a week: http://www.sfwa.org/2011/12/guest-post-how-i-went-from-writing-2000-words-a-day-to-10000-words-a-day/

Wow. I’ll have what she’s having.

By the way, I’m back to using my real name on my blogs again. The identity theft scare that made me use a pen name (Talmage Eastland) seems to have blown over without materializing. Maybe it was a false alarm.

Take care,

Morrill Talmage Moorehead, MD

If you’re interested in intelligent design, weird artifacts, genetics and psychology from the perspective of a nineteen-year-old “Hapa Girl,” my in-progress novel may be a fun read. The protagonist, Johanna, is a genius geneticist with a younger brother who struggles with depression, though you wouldn’t know it to meet him. Her evolving story starts here.

It’s an experiment called, Hapa Girl DNA, and is a hybrid itself – a tightrope crossing of fiction and non-fiction. “Hapa” is the Hawaiian term for “half.” Johanna is half Japanese and half Jewish. In writing her novel, she and I ignore some important fiction-writing rules, partly because we like to test dogmas and partly because it’s fun to try new things.

But the “rules” are essential knowledge to anyone crazy enough to either break them or follow them mindlessly.

So you could download my e-book on fiction writing, the second to last chapter of which gives my current opinions on many of the dogmatic rules of fiction writing. Downloading that 19,000 word pdf will place you on my short list of people who will be politely notified when my traditional novel is done – possibly before the next ice age. (No spam or sharing of your info. I haven’t sent an email to my list yet. It’s been over a year.)

Next time you’re writing emails, if you think of it, please tell your best and hopefully weirdest friend about my blog (www.storiform.com). Thanks! I appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Talmage


My Show-Don’t-Tell Obsession

7-30-09 Mt Bachelor and Museum 012

If the sharpest tool in the box is description, and hearing J.T. Bushnell explain it (previous post) was a breakthrough for me, does the rule “show don’t tell” deserve my obsessive compulsive devotion from now on?

I’m reading “The First 50 Pages,” by Jeff Gerke. He’s telling me that if I break the rule “show don’t tell” in my first fifty pages, my story will be instantly rejected by the professional slush pile browsers. He says he ought to know, he’s read the beginnings of thousands of submitted stories and has rejected almost all of them, and for what he thinks are good reasons. He tells exactly why he rejected stories and what the criteria were. He discusses these problems in detail. It’s compelling the way he’s put it all together. Yes, buy the book, by all means and read it, but Jeez…

It threw me into a slow-mo panic.

I went back to my first chapter and started deleting all kinds of important stuff about Johanna. I don’t want to “tell” the readers that she has a condition called “perfect autobiographical memory” or that she’s related to an ancient Samurai. I don’t want to “tell” about how she blames herself for the kidnapping of her brother. I’ve got to make up scenes that naturally cover all this important stuff. Boy is that going to be contrived and boring. At one point I have her looking at a picture of her family and “telling” about how her parents died. I cut most of that, too. And I’m feeling the sleeves of this “How To Write” straitjacket pulling my arms back again. I don’t like it.

It always seems to me that the people who are actually selling novels in copious quantities are breaking a lot of the rules. What about this one? I googled “show don’t tell, exceptions in popular fiction?” And guess what…

I found this:

LEE CHILD DEBUNKS THE BIGGEST WRITING MYTHS

Sweet!

“In his ThrillerFest session “Tell, Don’t Show: Why Writing Rules are Mostly Wrong,” Child battled a few of the biggest writing myths out there, and explained what really keeps a reader reading until The End.”

I like this guy already. I’m going to go buy one of his books now. Meanwhile, here’s a bit more of the article on Child’s heretical views…

Picture this: In a novel, a character wakes up and looks at himself in the mirror, noting his scars and other physical traits for the reader.

“It is completely and utterly divorced from real life,” Child said.

So why do writers do this? Child said it’s because they’ve been beaten down by the rule of Show, Don’t Tell. “They manufacture this entirely artificial thing.”

“We’re not story showers,” Child said. “We’re story tellers.”

Child said there’s nothing wrong with simply saying the character was 6 feet tall, with scars.

After all, he added—do your kids ever ask you to show them a story? They ask you to tell them a story. Do you show a joke? No, you tell it.

“There is nothing wrong with just telling the story,” Child said. “So liberate yourself from that rule.”

Child believes the average reader doesn’t care at all about telling, showing, etc. He or she just wants something to latch onto, something to carry them through the book. By following too many “rules,” you can lose your readers.

OK, I’m back. I bought “Killing Floor,” the first of a best-selling series about (a first person POV character) Jack Reacher. I just read the first chapter. Wow. Now I respect Child’s opinions. The guy can write. Especially for an average reader like me. Like I? No. Forget I asked.

Part of the reason why Child is able to disagree so easily with the show-don’t-tell dogma is that he’s writing in first person. When you do that, the telling sounds a lot less like telling, I’ve noticed. Here’s what I mean…

In third person it sounds like “telling” for sure:

“Johanna’s luck brought her perfect autobiographical memory, a gift that provided straight A’s, double grade skipping and, according to the scant literature, a tendency toward pathologic grudge holding and major depression.”

That was telling. Someone slap my wrists. But now I’ll write it in first person and it will sound a lot less like an info dump of “telling,” and more like a new friend of yours letting you in on an intimate secret:

“It turns out I’m mental. Something called perfect autobiographical memory. It’s so rare the shrinks don’t know much, other than I’m going to grow up to be an unforgiving ass who probably murders herself.”

Man, I wish I had the guts to write a female protagonist in first person! (Update edit: I finally got the nerve to do it, here.) There is so much I want to “tell” my readers. I’m an ideas guy. I want to chat with my readers about stuff that interests me as I write my stories. If I wrote in first person I could get away with a lot more of it. In third person, I’m thinking I’m going to get tossed into the trash somewhere in the first fifty pages.

Hmm.

Help me out, somebody, please. Seriously, tell me how you deal with this dilemma.

Thanks!

M. Talmage Moorehead

PS: I did some more searching on this topic and found an article that casts a realistic light on the subject: pcwrede.com/show-vs-tell

If you’re interested in intelligent design, weird artifacts, genetics and psychology from the perspective of a nineteen-year-old “Hapa Girl,” my in-progress novel may be a fun read. The protagonist, Johanna, is a genius geneticist with a younger brother who struggles with depression, though you wouldn’t know it to meet him. Her evolving story starts here.

It’s an experiment called, Hapa Girl DNA, and is a hybrid itself – a tightrope crossing of fiction and non-fiction. “Hapa” is the Hawaiian term for “half.” Johanna is half Japanese and half Jewish. In writing her novel, she and I ignore some important fiction-writing rules, partly because we like to test dogmas and partly because it’s fun to try new things.

But the “rules” are essential knowledge to anyone crazy enough to either break them or follow them mindlessly.

So you could download my e-book on fiction writing, the second to last chapter of which gives my current opinions on many of the dogmatic rules of fiction writing. Downloading that 10,000 word file will place you on my short list of people who will be politely notified when my traditional novel is done – possibly before the next ice age. (No spam or sharing of your info. I haven’t sent an email to my list yet. It’s been over a year.)

Next time you’re writing emails, if you think of it, please tell your best and hopefully weirdest friend about my blog (www.storiform.com). Thanks! I appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Talmage


J.T. Bushnell is Brilliant

J.T. Bushnell blew my mind at my first-ever writer’s conference in Kalama, Washington last week.

What do you think your most powerful tool is as a writer?

Dialogue? Characterization? Description?

Bushnell pointed out that scientists have taken people who were born blind and hooked them to a chair that brings information to them through their skin (by use of vibrating plates) – information about things happening on a screen in front of them. They postulated that the information was processed in the occipital cortex of the brain because of the way the test subjects responded.  At one point, a blind test subject was said to have literally ducked to avoid something on the screen that “appeared” to be coming at him. Bushnell said that in these sorts of neuroplasticity studies, emotions appeared to appropriately go to the “primitive” lower areas of the CNS, while complex thoughts and interpretations found their way through higher cortical areas.

Here’s a link to a Wikipedia article that discusses a bit of this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Bach-y-Rita#cite_note-8.

Norman Doidge’s book, The Brain that Changes Itself, also discusses this research.

A PDF file of the original article (P.Bach-y-Rita. 1967. Sensory Plasticity. Acta Neurologica Scandinavica, 43:417-26) can be purchased here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1600-0404.1967.tb05747.x/abstract .

Similar things have been done using a postage-sized stimulator placed on the tongue. Here’s something on that: http://www.biomedsearch.com/article/use-tactile-vision-sensory-substitution/247030733.html

Bushnell says the developments in neuroplasticity tell us that the emotion’s central processing unit (the limbic system) can be reached directly and appropriately regardless of how the original stimulus arises and finds its way to the brain. Since vibrating plates can cause the visual cortex to “see,” and make a blind person feel the urge to duck, there must be hope for fiction writers.

Bushnell also said that one emotion can spill over into an area that deals with another emotion. So a smell in a story might evoke a feeling that spills over and adds zip to the neurons taking in an action scene.

Taking these ideas, he combined them to make the point that a writer’s description is the most direct, natural and effective way of reaching the reader’s emotions. This was a breakthrough moment for me. I work harder when I understand why the heck I’m working. Being told, “Show, don’t tell,” is telling, not showing.

I tend to consider description the “work” of writing. It’s something I’ve been told sets the backdrop for the good stuff, the characterization, plot and dialogue. I try to make descriptions live by having the vp character express feelings and opinions about the scenery, a technique that was discussed, in fact, in another excellent workshop earlier that day.

But now, such techniques reflect an old paradigm for me. It’s no longer as if description is an inherently weak element that needs a good trick to make it shine. Science is saying it’s the sharpest tool in the box.

The point was made that emergency medical techs calm the emotions of accident victims by asking questions designed to recruit the cerebral cortex. Questions like, “Who is the president?” and “What is your address?”

Why ask? Apparently, linear thoughts stir up the cortex which quiets the limbic system’s emotions. It’s analogous to giving Adderall, a stimulant, to hyperactive kids. The stimulant awakens the prefrontal cortex (so the story goes) which inhibits the lower parts of the brain, calming the kids down. Somehow I’m not comfortable with that analogy, but anyway…

This implies that interesting and complex ideas in a story may rev up the cerebral cortex and thereby dampen the limbic system’s emotional response. Readers tend to think or feel. Not both at the same time.

Man, is this counter-intuitive to me!

A description, on the other hand, may bypass the reader’s scientific curiosity and math skills, but go directly to the limbic system, making the reader feel what you’ve written.

A page-turner is born in description.

In an interview, Hemingway once said, “…I was trying to learn… and was searching for the unnoticed things that made emotions, such as the way an outfielder tossed his glove without looking back to where it fell…” (Here’s a link to the full interview:  http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/4825/the-art-of-fiction-no-21-ernest-hemingway )  Bushnell contrasted this with a “telling” of the emotion: “The outfielder was dejected.”

Notice that when Hemingway speaks about conveying emotion, he goes straight to description and searches for “unnoticed things.” For him, the description of unnoticed things “made emotion.” He didn’t say that emotion is made by dialogue, clever twists of phrase, word rhythms, the scarlet letter worn by all adverbs, the plot, the OCD of consistent viewpoint… not even characterization.

Notice also the visuals that Hemingway did not mention here: “an outfielder tossed his glove without looking back to where it fell…”  He left out “in the air,” “behind him,” and “as he walked away.” He showed these details without mentioning them. I think this is respect for the reader, and embodies the most significant reason to strive for tight prose.

Bushnell said that symbols in description can evoke disproportionately powerful emotions because they “connect with the primitive brain.” For instance, he discussed a story about a man who stopped smoking. The man’s beloved father had been a smoker. As a child, the smell of smoke and the color of tobacco were associated with his father. Although his father had died years before, when the son gives up smoking, it feels as if the last remnant of his father has been taken from him.  He gave up more than an addiction.

The fact that all this was never spelled out, but was left in the vague realm of symbolism, made it powerful to the readers – at least to those who “got it.”

A reader’s sense of personally “getting it” in symbolism is analogous to the I-get-it nature of humor. Similarly, the reason why great writers say we should “show the reader some respect” by not spelling everything out, is that it leaves the door open for little “I get it” moments along the way that lend emotional power and perhaps art to our work.

Here’s a link to J.T. Bushnell’s bio: http://oregonstate.edu/cla/wlf/bushnell-jt

What a guy!

M. Talmage Moorehead

If you’re interested in intelligent design, weird artifacts, genetics and psychology from the perspective of a nineteen-year-old “Hapa Girl,” my in-progress novel may be a fun read. The protagonist, Johanna, is a genius geneticist with a younger brother who struggles with depression, though you wouldn’t know it to meet him. Her evolving story starts here.

It’s an experiment called, Hapa Girl DNA, and is a hybrid itself – a tightrope crossing of fiction and non-fiction. “Hapa” is the Hawaiian term for “half.” Johanna is half Japanese and half Jewish. In writing her novel, she and I ignore some important fiction-writing rules, partly because we like to test dogmas and partly because it’s fun to try new things.

But the “rules” are essential knowledge to anyone crazy enough to either break them or follow them mindlessly.

So you could download my e-book on fiction writing, the second to last chapter of which gives my current opinions on many of the dogmatic rules of fiction writing. Downloading that 10,000 word file will place you on my short list of people who will be politely notified when my traditional novel is done – possibly before the next ice age. (No spam or sharing of your info. I haven’t sent an email to my list yet. It’s been over a year.)

Next time you’re writing emails, if you think of it, please tell your best and hopefully weirdest friend about my blog (www.storiform.com). Thanks! I appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Talmage


Write the High Points and Forget the Rest

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Starting a new story is so much easier than plowing ahead in the middle of a novel you’re already writing. The feeling is different in the middle. The sky is no longer the limit. A blank canvas is no longer telling your imagination to run anywhere it pleases at a whim.

Instead, the middle of your novel brings you limits, organizational tasks, and fears of letting down the magic you hope you’ve created.

Writer’s block lives in the middle of novels.

But what if you could start every chapter as if it were the beginning of a new story?

To some extent you can. Ask yourself to pretend there are no limits, worries or plot responsibilities weighing on the middle chapters. There’s only that burning desire to share something shocking, different, real, and maybe a little angry.

Start writing about it. Write anything you feel strongly about.

When you’ve got the feeling back, the sense that you’re creating something that fulfills you, ease up on the throttle and throw in some plot development to move things forward.

Don’t be afraid to skip unimportant things.

Because of the How-To books I’ve read and the OCD that I deny having, I feel compelled to describe the drive to the airport, the parking of the Hummer, the walk through the terminal, the quick trip to the bathroom before boarding the plane. This is counterproductive and boring.

Write only the high points of your story.

It’s not merely OK to exit from the heat-to-heart talk at Maxwell’s place and start the next chapter abruptly at 40,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean with the protagonist and antagonist meeting for the first time, it’s actually necessary to write this way… from peak to peak.

One of the keys to writing a meaningful page-turner is forcing yourself to leave out the humdrum of real life.

I’m often afraid to do this because of that word, “real.” I want my story to feel real. Really real!

But if nobody ever reads it, it won’t feel real or otherwise.

The sense that a story has come alive and found reality comes from the quality of the reader’s emotions, not from the way the story details mirror linear events in a beautifully realistic way.

Reader’s emotions are dictated by the emotions of the main characters. The main character’s emotions are strongest in the high points: the deeply meaningful scenes and the action-orientated passages.

Try to move from one high point to the next, leaving the intervening steps blank, as much as possible. I know it’s hard.

But doing this lightens your work, side-steps writer’s block, and makes the reader’s time more exciting.

You’ll sound like a more confident writer with a strangely fearless voice.

M. Talmage Moorehead

My current in-progress version of Johanna’s novel is not merely character driven, it’s written by a girl from a parallel universe. If you’re interested in intelligent design, weird artifacts, genetics and psychology from the perspective of a nineteen-year-old “Hapa Girl,” it may be a fun read. The protagonist, Johanna, is a genius geneticist with a younger brother who struggles with depression, though you wouldn’t know it to meet him. Her evolving story starts here.

It’s an experiment called, Hapa Girl DNA, and is a hybrid itself – a tightrope crossing of fiction and non-fiction. “Hapa” is the Hawaiian term for “half.” Johanna is half Japanese and half Jewish. In writing her novel, she and I ignore some important fiction-writing rules, partly because we like to test dogmas, and partly because it’s fun to try new things.

But the “rules” are essential knowledge to anyone crazy enough to either break them or follow them mindlessly.

So you could download my e-book on fiction writing, the second to last chapter of which gives my current opinions on many of the dogmatic rules of fiction writing. Downloading that 10,000 word file will place you on my short list of people who will be politely notified when my traditional novel is done – possibly before the next ice age. (No spam or sharing of your info. I haven’t sent an email to my list yet. It’s been over a year.)

Next time you’re writing emails, if you think of it, please tell your best and hopefully weirdest friend about my blog (www.storiform.com). Thanks! I appreciate your thoughtfulness.


Never Rewrite for Mortals

Puma-Punku

OK, so I abandoned my work on the version where the protagonist was supposedly a real person with a web site. It was an experiment that failed on my vast readership (my wife).

So I got back out the traditional version, worked on it feverishly for a few months and asked her to read the first few chapters. You’ll never, never guess what happened…

She said I had changed everything. Before this butchery, my story had “moved along.” (That was over a year ago.) But now the thing didn’t become interesting until – I don’t know – page 45 or so, I think.

No problem. I stopped writing for several weeks because of that diced roadkill feeling. Then I started all-the-heck over again from the top.

I got caffeinated to the max, cast backstory to the wind, listed the stuff that I thought was most interesting, re-wrote it and left the rest behind.

Man, did I leave a lot of stuff out this time!

But the useful thing to understand here is how all that stuff crept in.

My wife was sort of incorrect in thinking that I “changed” everything. What I actually did was add a little here and there, many, many times over many months.

The process is poison. See if you recognize it…

Each time I sit to write, I read over some of what came previously, so I can get my place and feel the mood. With each pass I edit as I’m reading. Always while editing I think of another detail that fits perfectly and makes things resonate. The details seem to flesh things out. Sometimes they seem clever as hell. Sometimes they seem necessary because they make things more believable. But…

Almost none of them bring new plot points or additional action. It’s almost all about characterization.

And dialogue.

As a rule of thumb, good dialogue is snappy. Unfortunately, adding dialogue fights snappiness, because added dialogue makes the yakking longer and…

Brevity is the second main ingredient of “snappy” dialogue. (Content is first.) Add a few more great words and you go from snappy to soggy. Even in milk.

I once read a “How-To” book on writing fiction that emphatically stated that you should never do any editing or rewriting for anyone but an editor.

That seemed alien, unrealistic, and personally impossible.

About the same time I read another such “How-To” book, written by a professional creative writing teacher who said that among his students, he had never seen any success from those who refused to rewrite.

I sided with the second guy, naturally. But I should have noticed the obvious…

The guy who said you should never rewrite except on editors’ orders was a professional fiction writer. The other guy was a professional teacher selling a book on rewriting.

As we all know, it’s one thing to know what you ought to do, but quite another to actually do it.

Here’s my promise. If you will keep breathing – day and night without stopping – I will stop adding “good stuff” to my story each time I work on it.

Deal?

OK, no cheating.

M. Talmage Moorehead

My current in-progress version of Johanna’s novel is written by a girl from a parallel universe. If you’re interested in intelligent design, weird artifacts, genetics and psychology from the perspective of a nineteen-year-old “Hapa Girl,” it may be a fun read. The protagonist is a genius geneticist with a younger brother who struggles with depression, though you wouldn’t know it to meet him. Her evolving story starts here.

It’s an experiment called, Hapa Girl DNA, and is a hybrid itself – a tightrope crossing of fiction and non-fiction. “Hapa” is the Hawaiian term for “half.” Johanna is half Japanese and half Jewish. In writing her novel, she and I ignore some important fiction-writing rules, partly because we like to test dogmas, and partly because it’s fun to try new things.

But the “rules” are essential knowledge to anyone crazy enough to either break them or follow them mindlessly.

So you could download my e-book on fiction writing, the second to last chapter of which gives my current opinions on many of the dogmatic rules of fiction writing. Downloading that 10,000 word file will place you on my short list of people who will be politely notified when my traditional novel is done – possibly before the next ice age. (No spam or sharing of your info. I haven’t sent an email to my list yet. It’s been over a year.)

Next time you’re writing emails, if you think of it, please tell your best and hopefully weirdest friend about my blog (www.storiform.com). Thanks. I appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Talmage

Totally off subject: That picture up top is supposedly a piece of ancient rock-work found at Puma Punku. I borrowed the image from this web site: http://beforeitsnews.com/alternative/2013/07/12-facts-about-puma-punku-2703022.html There be weird stuff on the net! Hope it’s not a fake. I’m a little suspicious, because I haven’t seen this particular image before and I’ve been looking at online images of this place for several years.

Update: 11/1/13

It looks like the picture is not a fake. I just found a video of ancient South American rock work that includes it. It’s a long video. This piece (pictured above) shows up near the end of the video at 1:25:34. Here’s the link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGW0-wYo48E&feature=em-subs_digest-vrecs If you don’t mind taking a chance of being convinced that history needs some revision, I think you’ll enjoy this. But be careful. If you start believing weird stuff about anything, it can make you an outsider. That can be unpleasant. With all the sociopaths in the world, things like this can be faked to the point where anybody would almost have to believe.


Choosing Adjectives… or Not.

The how-to books on writing page-turners basically say that you should use adjectives sparingly. I suppose they’re right, but it ain’t necessarily that simple…

If your viewpoint character is an artist, she’s going to see color, contrast and shadow. When she talks (inner monologue, regular dialogue and description), she’s going to use specific names for colors that would require a troglodyte to get out a thesaurus after asking his wife what color the old Volvo was – not purple or red, but…

“Mauve,” my wife would say, or maybe, “Burgundy.”

Mauve or burgundy would work if your narrator (vp character) is an artist (a painter). The fact that you’re an artist, however, is no reason to write like one. You may be a famous artist as well as a poet with a vocabulary of caged puppies ready to burst out, but if your viewpoint character is a garage mechanic, she’s not going to burst out with you and describe the “azure skies.”

Additionally, a mechanic isn’t going to use as many adjectives as a poet would, because she doesn’t have the breadth of vocabulary – as a rule.

And in the same vein, she might not use simile at all. Ever.

She might not say, “The grease on my hands is like the petulance of unwashed children, sinking under my skin and arcing the finite patience that is mine.”

But even if the viewpoint character is an artist, poet and sensitive soul working in oils, he’s got to go easy on the adjectives (quantity-wise) for the sake of the reader.

The toughest thing about writing a meaningful page-turner is probably maintaining an energy flow from the book to the reader. Adjectives move against that flow, taking more energy (brain power) from the reader than they give – as a rule.

But the truth of the rule is relative to the reading skills of the reader.

You are almost certainly a better reader than I am. When you read something like, “The water rushed over the rocks,” I would imagine that you take it all in at a glance.

I certainly don’t.

I usually read word for word, saying each word to myself, sometimes moving my lips.

OK, I’m working now on that problem with a program called, “7 Speed Reading,” http://www.7speedreading.com/ and it’s helping me. But if I stop using the program for too long, I’ll be right back to sub-vocalizing each word the way I learned to do in grade school.

Anyway, this next thing is sort of vital for you as a writer to believe:  Reading the way I do (slowly and arduously) is fairly average.

If you’re going to reach millions of people with your stories, you’ve got to believe that the act of reading is hard work for most people. Therefore anything you can do to reduce the work of reading is invaluable.

It feels like magic to an average reader when a story gives more energy than it takes. Books go viral because average readers talk about “this amazing book” that they couldn’t put down.

Gifted readers are not as easily impressed.

For you, reading “The water rushed over the rocks,” probably takes the same amount of brain energy as reading, “The crystal waters of melting snow bore down upon the ageless granite rock.”waterfall at kalama river 6-15-12

That’s because you’re wired for reading. It’s a gift that most highly intelligent people don’t seem to realize they have.

This gift makes you prone to seeing adjectives as things that add to the story’s worth without taking. But the truth is, adjectives (as essential as they are) take from the page-turner’s essence:

“A story that gives more energy than it takes.”

Fine. So some dyslexic infallible hack says adjectives must fit the viewpoint character who’s telling the story. And adjectives ought to be used sparingly because they make the average reader work hard and run out of gas before reaching the end.

How then do you know when an adjective is right or wrong?

First, don’t worry about it while you’re writing.

Just get into the mind and mood of your viewpoint character and stay there. Focus only on how she feels.

Don’t get carried off by what she sees or smells or hears or touches or tastes or thinks unless it makes her feel something new. If the azure skies move her, show them to me. Please.

Otherwise, I already know there’s sky up there. You might not need to mention it at all, let alone giving it a color.

My rule of thumb: When the adjective adds to the viewpoint character’s feelings, use itWhen it doesn’t, cut it.

But do your cutting later, when you’re not creating new story. (Don’t cut adjectives or think about them at all when you’re doing a first draft or creating new material in a later draft. It’s a bad habit that conjures up the technical thinking of the left cerebral hemisphere, pushing against the emotional creativity that comes from the limbic system and probably the right hemisphere. Editing and censoring are self-conscious activities, the likes of which kill artistic magic.)

“And you tell ’em that you heard it here first on Roller Derby.” (Ceech and Chong in Evelyn Woodhead Speed Reading,” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKP06aWPQhg)

M. Talmage Moorehead

My current in-progress version of Johanna’s novel is written by a girl from a parallel universe. If you’re interested in intelligent design, weird artifacts, genetics and psychology from the perspective of a nineteen-year-old “Hapa Girl,” it may be a fun read. The protagonist is a genius geneticist with a younger brother who struggles with depression, though you wouldn’t know it to meet him. Her evolving story starts here.

It’s an experiment called, Hapa Girl DNA, and is a hybrid itself – a tightrope crossing of fiction and non-fiction. “Hapa” is the Hawaiian term for “half.” Johanna is half Japanese and half Jewish. In writing her novel, she and I ignore some important fiction-writing rules, partly because we like to test dogmas, and partly because it’s fun to try new things.

But the “rules” are essential knowledge to anyone crazy enough to either break them or follow them mindlessly.

So you could download my e-book on fiction writing, the second to last chapter of which gives my current opinions on many of the dogmatic rules of fiction writing. Downloading that 19,000 word pdf will place you on my short list of people who will be politely notified when my traditional novel is done – possibly before the next ice age. (No spam or sharing of your info. I haven’t sent an email to my list yet. It’s been over a year.)

Next time you’re writing emails, if you think of it, please tell a friend about my blog (www.storiform.com). Thanks. I appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Talmage


Complex Monologue Must Have Emotion

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It’s 99.9987% impossible for me to read my fiction with objectivity, but on those occasions where life has dragged me away from it for a month or more, I think I catch glimpses of how it might sound to someone else.

I once hired an author (of some excellent fantasy work) to take a pen to one of my stories.

He crossed out most of the inner monologue.

Like this…

Action…dialogue…more Action…then this inner monologue: “She knew he had to be kidding. After all, a nuclear physicist couldn’t be this naive.” Action…dialogue… etc.

So I was scratching my head because I kept coming across page-turners with inner monologue everywhere.

What’s the deal?

Suddenly today, feeling unusually awake and anxiously separated from my story by several weeks, I was reading from the top and cringing at how self-conscious and amateurish the inner monologue sounded.

OK, let’s pretend I didn’t admit that, so you’ll still read the e-book I’m working on, Writing Meaningful Page-Turners.

Reading my inner monologue sections, I couldn’t help but picture some gallant author with something interesting to get across to his (two reluctant) readers. This “interesting something” would also show the brilliance of the stuff that goes through this character’s head. Two birds with one stone.

But it didn’t work because…

It didn’t sound like the character was thinking any of this stuff. It sounded like the author was wedging in pet thoughts.

Self-consciously.

Dang!

The books say not to “slow the story down,” with this sort of thing.

I say, where’s the fun in that? I’ve got ideas. What, am I supposed to keep them to myself? Forget it.

And the truth is, stories are full of important ideas.

It’s just that when professionals create inner thoughts for their characters, they don’t slow the story down, they make everything more interesting, more real, more important to the character and more gripping to the reader.

They make it sound as if their clever thoughts are actually coming from the character herself, not from an over-caffeinated author.

How do they do it?

Somebody get me a pen…

The way to make inner dialogue sound natural, like it’s coming from the character rather than from you, is to attach it to sharp emotion.

If your character feels strong emotion in her inner monologue, people are going to believe it’s really her.

She could be thinking about something as dry as statistical significance (p-values), but if she cares about it, the story moves and builds.

For instance, this sounds self-conscious, like the author is thinking:

“P-values were relevant. Only statistical significance separates penicillin from snake oil. Scientists like these guys should know that, she thought.”

But this rendition of the same thing sound like the character is doing the thinking:

They’re all idiots! She shook her head. A bunch of amateurs who wouldn’t recognize a significant p-value if it bit them in the leg.

M. Talmage Moorehead

My current in-progress version of Johanna’s novel is written by a girl from a parallel universe. If you’re interested in intelligent design, weird artifacts, genetics and psychology from the perspective of a nineteen-year-old “Hapa Girl,” it may be a fun read. The protagonist is a genius geneticist with a younger brother who struggles with depression, though you wouldn’t know it to meet him. Her evolving story starts here.

It’s an experiment called, Hapa Girl DNA, and is a hybrid itself – a tightrope crossing of fiction and non-fiction. “Hapa” is the Hawaiian term for “half.” Johanna is half Japanese and half Jewish. In writing her novel, she and I ignore some important fiction-writing rules, partly because we like to test dogmas, and partly because it’s fun to try new things.

But the “rules” are essential knowledge to anyone crazy enough to either break them or follow them mindlessly.

So you could download my e-book on fiction writing, the second to last chapter of which gives my current opinions on many of the dogmatic rules of fiction writing. Downloading that 19,000 word pdf will place you on my short list of people who will be politely notified when my traditional novel is done – possibly before the next ice age. (No spam or sharing of your info. I haven’t sent an email to my list yet. It’s been over a year.)

Next time you’re writing emails, if you think of it, please tell your best and hopefully weirdest friend about my blog (www.storiform.com). Thanks. I appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Talmage


Inside the Loving Character

Did Melanie in the movie, Gone with the Wind, make you cry or maybe feel a little insightful? Did you understand her?

As a writer, you want to make a difference in the world. The bigger the better.

To do that, it might stand to reason that creating a character capable of unconditional love would be useful, perhaps almost essential.

To create her, you first need to believe that such people exist. To believe it, you need to feel unconditional love for someone.

Unconditional love is no problem for you, of course.

But some writers are prone to depression and the jaded views that depression imposes. What, me?

Jaded and/or depressed writers can taste unconditional love emanating from their souls and flowing in the vague general direction of another person by simply trying something called “loving kindness meditation.”

It’s the quickest, easiest way to broaden your understanding of Melanie and hopefully the  “too-good-to-be-true” character you’d like to make 3D and believable in your own page-turner.

There’s a little scientific evidence that loving kindness meditation can increase the flow of electrochemical info from your brain to the various organs via the vagus nerve. This increased “vagal tone,” as they call it, is associated with happiness and can be deliberately manipulated to some degree in a number of ways, including loving kindness meditation. So you might want to google the subject for the sake of your own emotional issues, if not for your characters.

There is a good instructional video on loving kindness meditation right here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sz7cpV7ERsM .

For me, it was a little icky. Perfect word.

Being a brutish man with chiseled features and a cavalier disregard for things emotional, I found it useful to focus my “loving attention” on a toddler for this exercise. You know, a cuddly little innocent person, rather than some adult who warrants more emotional distance due to the inherent ickiness factor of grown-ups?

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No?

But honestly, just the term, “loving kindness meditation,” is a little off-putting to me.

Nevertheless, I pushed ahead and found the experience refreshing. I can imagine that it might be life-changing for a person who went at it the way some folks pursue yoga.

By the way, I wouldn’t admit this to anyone but you, but my wife has dragged me off to yoga classes. And dagnabbit to hell if I don’t like yoga now. Freakin’ YOGA! It’s almost euphoric when it’s not killing me.

Sheezee, what’s going to become of my uncompromisingly macho image here?

Anyway, please check out “loving kindness meditation,” even if it sounds too touchy-feely for a normal person like you. Do it for the character you might create later today.

Contrast is power in art, music, and potato chips. Nothing raises the ceiling on kindness like a character who can show unconditional love for a difficult person. Her very presence in your story will make other characters more differentiated, unique and defined.

Come on now, work with me. Watch this video and see if there’s any way you could possibly do this weirdly great-feeling thing:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sz7cpV7ERsM .

M. Talmage Moorehead

My current in-progress version of Johanna’s novel is written by a girl from a parallel universe. If you’re interested in intelligent design, weird artifacts, genetics and psychology from the perspective of a nineteen-year-old “Hapa Girl,” it may be a fun read. The protagonist is a genius geneticist with a younger brother who struggles with depression, though you wouldn’t know it to meet him. Her evolving story starts here.

It’s an experiment called, Hapa Girl DNA, and is a hybrid itself – a tightrope crossing of fiction and non-fiction. “Hapa” is the Hawaiian term for “half.” Johanna is half Japanese and half Jewish. In writing her novel, she and I ignore some important fiction-writing rules, partly because we like to test dogmas, and partly because it’s fun to try new things.

But the “rules” are essential knowledge to anyone crazy enough to either break them or follow them mindlessly.

So you could download my e-book on fiction writing, the second to last chapter of which gives my current opinions on many of the dogmatic rules of fiction writing. Downloading that 10,000 word file will place you on my short list of people who will be politely notified when my traditional novel is done – possibly before the next ice age. (No spam or sharing of your info. I haven’t sent an email to my list yet. It’s been over a year.)

Next time you’re writing emails, if you think of it, please tell your best and hopefully weirdest friend about my blog (www.storiform.com). Thanks. I appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Talmage


The Predator’s Laughing at You, Kid

I’m quoting an Egyptologist as he tells us how stupid we would be to disagree with him:

“I laughed the first time I read that idea somewhere in a more speculative forum.”

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No matter the topic, the tone of this quote embodies the most convincing argument against any idea, especially an idea that can’t be refuted with hard data, logic or reason.

The haughty, condescending put-down laugh IS The Predator.

Unless we inoculate ourselves, we become trophies of the “informed” elites in any field, the wielders of the laugh.

History is heavy with experts laughing down innovators and thinkers. But some underdogs prevail.

Pathologists look at tissue sections under a microscope to see if a patient has cancer. The malignant cells invade tissue. The slide is a “snapshot” of the action: killers and victim fighting and dying with their hands on each other’s throats.

Once upon a time in real life, a non-pathologist outsider had the gall to scrape cells off the cervix in search of cancer. He said he could look at the killer cells and identify them without seeing their victims. (Cytology.)

“Absurd,” the pathologists said. Smearing loose cells on a glass slide? They laughed the outsider to scorn and said:

“He isn’t even a pathologist.” Snort!

If you can get this kind of laugh on paper, it will improve your story.

The outsider was the great Georgios Papanikolaou. His absurd idea (the Pap smear) has already saved the lives of over six million women.

Although his findings were published in 1928, many pathologists hate and despise cytology to this day. (I’m a pathologist and I’ve heard the disdain.) That’s the power of “the laugh.” The predator’s laugh.

It’s the most effective argument against anything, at least in the short-term.

Truth prevails eventually, though. It may take centuries.

Your story’s character might be too smooth to say, “It’s amusing how intellectually beneath me you are,” but you can let his laugh says it all for him.

Using the put-down laugh against your hero makes her enemies seem to be people from a culture where “experts” have incubated traditional ideas for generations.

If your hero suffers public humiliation at the experts’ laugh, she becomes sympathetic, closer to the reader’s heart. Her refusal to cave in to authority shows moral courage.

See if this illustrates the laugh at all:

Joey finds a way to beat the stock market. He needs seed money.

He goes to grandpa who’s made his fortune as an entrepreneur, pulling all-nighters, paying employees instead of himself, bankrupt twice, lost his house, but finally made it in business.

Joey makes his plea for money to Grampa, who says…

“That’s nuts, Joey.” He looks at his wife and smirks. “If…” He suppresses a laugh. “If you could make money on your ass.” He looks at Joey “What pressing buttons?” He chuckles. “Everybody would be doing it, Joey. Hell, why work?” He looks at his wife. “I’ve been a fool all these years!” He raises his hands and shrugs.

Joey’s lips won’t move for him anymore. He presses them together.

Grandma sees his face and stops laughing. “Joey, honey,” she says…

If your hero is part of an elite group, then “the laugh” can be directed at the bad guys. This helps convince the reader that the good guys believe they are true experts.

The arrogant put-down laugh has another relevance to writers…

I knew a gifted writer who was convinced that writing popular fiction would make him a prostitute.

He became a lawyer and hated his life.

No logical argument can be made against paying a writer for her work.

Those who feel a need to keep gifted writers away from money resort to name-calling (whore) and chuckling warmly downward from moral and intellectual high ground. Supposedly. But they make me sick.

Imagine an NBA basketball coach telling his star, “You’re better than this. You shouldn’t be on TV making money. You have the soul of a great basketball player. Don’t be a whore in the NBA. Go back to college ball.”

Do you see a fundamental moral difference between fiction writing talent and other rare talents?

I don’t.

Write for love, but get paid, too. If you possibly can.

M. Talmage Moorehead

Note: That picture up top is a statue of The Predator. I did some effects to try to make it look infrared. Remember how the Predator laughed at Arnold at the end of the first movie? The alien hunter lay there half dead, ready to blow himself up and take Arnold with him. That was a nice put-down laugh.


Writing in First Person Totally Kicks Ass

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Best selling stories are impossible to put down after ten pages or so. What hooks me is the bond I feel with the main character. I have to sense that she should be a friend of mine.

As my son the psychologist-in-training tells me, so far the only scientifically documented difference between people with friends and people without friends is their ability to share feelings.

If you want your reader to love your hero, that protagonist has to share her feelings with the reader, but not necessarily with the other characters.

The single most effective way to nudge your work in this direction is to write in first person. (“I” instead of “he” or “she”.) This makes it seem like your hero is divulging secret emotions to the reader in a way that she wouldn’t do with anyone else in the world.

Here’s an example from The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins:

“I want to tell him that he’s not being fair. That we were strangers. That I did what it took to stay alive, to keep us both alive in the arena. That I can’t explain how things are with Gale because I don’t know myself. That it’s no good loving me because I’m never going to get married anyway and he’d just end up hating me later instead of sooner. That if I do really have feelings for him it doesn’t matter because I’ll never be able to afford the kind of love that leads to a family, to children. And how can he? How can he after what we’ve just been through?

“I also want to tell him how much I already miss him. But that wouldn’t be fair on my part.”

You might say there’s not much dialogue in The Hunger Games. That’s true, except for the fact that it’s all dialogue.

The whole story is Katniss talking to me. Occasionally she looks over into my eyes while I’m reading to see if I really get what she’s just said. You know?

It’s possible for the hero to talk fairly directly to the reader in a second-person story, too, but it’s more difficult, sometimes awkward and less intimate.

See if I’m right. Here’s part of the same passage of Hunger Games with one small change, it’s now re-written (ruined by me, please forgive) in second person:

“She wants to tell him that he’s not being fair. That the two of them were strangers. That she did what it took to stay alive, to keep them both alive in the arena. That she can’t explain how things are with Gale because she doesn’t know herself…”

To me this sounds relatively clinical, removed from the raw emotion.

Now I know what you’re thinking… you were wondering what I did on Dec. 27, 2012.

Here’s the true story. I’ve written it in first person.

There were three of us. The white water sucked us downstream toward a giant log that had fallen across Washington’s Elochoman River, blocking the whole thing.

Just before aluminum hit pine, our guide, the only man in the drift boat with any experience shouted, “We’re going to lose the boat. We’re f~~ed!”

I didn’t say anything, but I wondered how badly f–ed we were exactly. Certainly he didn’t mean dead. Did he?

We hit the log and stopped instantly as the river rushed on around us. The guide and my son-in law crawled out to the left on the log, but I had to crawl out to the right because there wasn’t time to stand around waiting for the boat to flip. On my side, the log tapered to about the width of a telephone poll. It might have been slippery, I think. My left knee slid off and before I knew it, I was dangling with my legs downstream in the whitewater.

If I’d fallen to the right, on the upstream side of the log, I would have been dragged under and, hopefully, pushed out the other side. But people don’t generally make it all the way under logs in these circumstances. They get dragged under, and they drown. So I’m told.

Next thing, I hear the guide’s terrified voice, “Oh no, Talmage!” Too ignorant to be afraid, I said calmly, “I’m cool. I can hang here all day like this, no problem. Save your boat.”

I dangled there as the whitewater pulled my camo pants down over my ankles. It sounds pretty, but my jeans stayed up, so we’re good. My fingertips found bumps on the log, and I held on there for the longest time while the other two saved the boat.

When the big guy, my son-in-law, came over, he grabbed my right wrist and pulled like hell, but I must have weighed a lot more than usual with the wet coat and wet jeans, and boots full of water, so he finally had to give up. Actually, I had to convince him to give up, and then insist that he let me go.

“OK, let go!” I says. And he does.

The December rapids took me, and honestly, the water felt warm compared to the idea of drowning. Breathing water scares me a little.

With my outer pants around my feet like chains, I couldn’t swim much, but I finally found the bottom of the river with my feet and pushed off toward the edge, caught a small log that was hanging from the bank, jumped up and crawled onto it. It must have taken me fifteen minutes on that log to undo the velcro around my ankles and free myself from those camo pants. I felt old.

And lucky.

But let me tell you something that went through my head while I was hanging by my fingertips off that first log, waiting for my son-in-law to hopefully fish me out. It was a prayer. Don’t worry, I’m not going to get religious on you. I just want you to hear what I said, verbatim:

“I hope you can get me out of this.”

That was it. There wasn’t any, “Dear God,” or “please” or anything else.

Obviously I’m not saying a miracle was involved, or that my mortal hide is worth God’s time in any way. I just think my prayer sort of shows where my head’s at with this divine intervention thing.

I’m not sure, but I think God’s hands are sometimes tied by the cause-and-effect web of our own free choices. Our free wills. Without natural consequences, there couldn’t be free choice. Therefore sh-t must happen if human beings are going to exist in a non-robotic state.

If the deacons will please rise for the morning offering. Sorry, was that too religious?

First person story telling, though. I like how it feels, don’t you?

Suppose someone told you that same story in second person. It wouldn’t feel like we got to know each other at all, would it?

Writing complex stories in first person is said to be difficult or impossible because a vp protagonist can’t be in more than one place at a time. That’s got to be true, I guess.

But what’s more important to you, touching millions of people with your soul, or writing a grand, complex story that only a few beyond your inner circle of brilliant writers will ever appreciate?

There are many reasons why writing in first person isn’t the default mode for most authors. I get it. I myself am not yet comfortable writing my female protagonist’s story in first person, because I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman, and I doubt I could fake it in first person where everything is raw and totally exposed. And I’m too in love with my protagonist to start another story without her. Maybe this is the “sentimentalism” that some great authors say they hate.

So shoot me.

But a zillion readers, all hammering through your book to the end, telling people what a night they’ve had with your hero? If you write in first person you’ll get the emotions from your hero to your reader more powerfully and more naturally than you probably will in second person. Try it if you don’t believe me.

Check this out, now. It’s Katniss again…

“As the lights dim and the seal appears on the screen, I realize I’m not prepared for this. I do not want to watch my twenty-two tributes die. I saw enough of them die the first time. My heart starts pounding and I have a strong impulse to run. How have the other victors faced this alone? During the highlights they periodically show the winner’s reaction up on a box in the corner of the screen. I think back to earlier years… some are triumphant, pumping their fists in the air, beating their chests. Most just seem stunned. All I know is that the only thing keeping me on this love seat is Peta – his arm around my shoulder, his other hand claimed by both of mine. Of course the previous victors didn’t have the Capitol looking for a way to destroy them.”

Can you feel the draw of this special person, Katniss, telling you every detail of how she feels?

 The contrast between how openly and honestly she speaks of her feeling to the reader, and how much she hides from other characters creates a bond, too.

See if you can’t go back and rewrite one of your second-person babies in first person. Or start something new in first person.

I predict that you’ll get closer to a meaningful page-turner than ever before if you dare to write intimately in first person.

M. Talmage Moorehead

Seriously, opt into my mailing list so I can pay my electricity bill someday. Email lists are a big part of that – so they tell us indie writers. I won’t spam you, share your info… I’m not even planning a “news letter” thing at this point. I won’t bug you. Please click here and we can stay in contact better.


“Attribution adverbs rule,” he said sardonically.

“Get off your lazy butt,” she whispered softly.

“I’m not lazy,” he said defensively.  “I’m a creative writing professor, I frickin‘ cross out adverbs all day long!  It’s hard work!”  He set his coke can gently on the coffee table.  “Especially adverbs modifying verbs of attribution,” he muttered woodenly.

She rolled her eyes and barked back, “All the bestsellers use adverbs of attribution, but what do they know!?  You’re the unpublished expert.”

Attribution adverbs, such as, “he said flatly,” are fine, in my humble and yet infallible opinion (imhayio), as long as they’re not out of place omniscient-viewpoint things (words arising from an all-knowing perspective that may not exist in your story).

Attribution adverbs need to be the viewpoint character’s interpretation of something that was spoken.

Ask yourself, “is my viewpoint character coming up with this adverb, or is it me?”

Here’s what I mean…

Example of a decent attribution adverb from the vp character’s perspective:

“‘I love to be brutalized,’ he squeals jokingly. Or is he serious? With that lampshade on his head, I’m not sure.”

The viewpoint character is telling the reader how she interprets the guy’s words.  The fact that she doubts her initial interpretation after she tells you that he was joking, makes this clear, I think.

Now here’s a hack’s “god-like” omniscient adverb in the same setting:

“‘I love to be brutalized,’ he says jokingly, though I’m just stupid enough to think he’s serious.”

Note that it’s a third-party, the all-knowing author, who has informed the reader that the guy is joking. The vp character thinks he’s serious, so she couldn’t have done it.

The viewpoint character is ready to bare her soul to the reader, but an all-knowing voice jumps in with an omniscient adverb and puts objective distance between everyone.

Avoiding omniscient adverbs is especially important in young adult work where many authors write from the limited viewpoint of a first-person character’s perspective (first person narrative) in present tense.  Here’s an example…

I stumble on the rolling deck. It’s icy, 2:00 AM. I’m shaking. “Joseph, I know she’s here. I smell that stupid perfume of hers.” My brother’s pistol feels cold in my hand.

In first person narrative, present tense, it’s as if the vp character were telling the story word-for-word in real-time.  Notice that the vp character is unaware of things she couldn’t logically know. 

But here’s the point I wanted to make: if you’re aware that attribution adverbs (in the first person, present tense narrative, at least) should be provided by the viewpoint character and not by the author, the knowledge frees you to use these taboo things… to express the vp character’s emotion and her interpretation of other’s emotions.

Emotions are the key to most things in fiction writing, I believe.

Ultimately, if a writing professor were to cross your adverb out, you could say to yourself, “This is the way my viewpoint character told me the story. She’s not as well-educated as I am.  If I cheated on her behalf, and made her sound like a university professor, I’d be hiding the truth of who she is.”

Writing as if you are “channeling” the vp character frees you from the university dogma, “Don’t use adverbs of attribution,” and its unspoken corollary, “always feel self-conscious about your writing voice and the quality of your prose.”

When the dear professor does this:  “‘No!’ she said flatly.”

Say to yourself, “The vp character said, ‘flatly,’ I didn’t.”

If this starts a discussion that finally brings your professor to denigrate authors such as Suzanne Collins, his negativity reflects denial of how infinitely more difficult and worthwhile it is to create a riveting story with living characters than to obsess over inbred, outdated writing rules that are being abandoned faster than creative writing classes.

I say, use adverbs whenever your viewpoint character feels them.

Never doubt the voice of your viewpoint character. Don’t think too much about your own writing voice. For the most part, it’s not you, it’s the viewpoint character doing the writing.

M. Talmage Moorehead


Happiness, Flow and Writing Fiction

IMG00035Recently I watched a documentary on happiness. The scientists listed things associated with happiness across cultures around the world. Besides the usual suspects – a tight set of friends, community involvement, church attendance, having fun, etc., they talked about something new called, “flow.”

Flow is being “in-the-zone.” Many different things take people there. For distance runners it’s that moment where your body moves effortlessly, for basketball players it’s the euphoria of a shooting streak, for day-traders it’s a feeling that the sixth-sense is back again.

Researchers say that when you’re in “flow,” time passes silently. Hours seem like minutes.

People who try transcranial direct current stimulation to certain brain areas prior to playing video game report better scores, and a bewilderment about the strange disappearance of time.

Does that sound familiar?

When I write, time disappears. On a good day, eleven hours feels like four. I look at the clock in disbelief.

Happiness and flow?

Call it coincidence, but I’m happier now that I’ve started writing fiction again. (I quit writing for a while, discouraged at how tough it was to get an agent. But don’t you be discouraged, I’m a hack, you’ve got talent.)

Now that I’m back as a hack, things are better all around in my life.

The curse of a science background prevents me from saying objectively that writing caused the striking improvement in my life via “flow,” but there’s an undeniable association… in this anecdotal report where n=1.

Fortunately, though, as luck would have it, I’m infallible. So I can go ahead and tell you: writing fiction will improve your life, it will make you a happier person. Count on it!

Just don’t worry about getting published. It’s going to be nice if it happens, but not as nice as the journey toward that destination. The happiness and fulfillment that comes from writing fiction can last the rest of your life if you find characters you love, and keep spending time with them.

But wow, imagine getting paid for that! It wouldn’t feel right to some people.

Start writing a story.

“RUUUUNNN! GO!!! GET TO DA CHOPPA!!!!!” — Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger)

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M. Talmage Moorehead