Childhood Heroes

I have a soft spot for the fictional heroes of my childhood. The first has to be Robin Hood. I loved the old TV show with Richard Greene. I can still sing the theme song Robin Hood, Robin Hood riding through the glen. Robin Hood Robin Hood with his band of men. Feared by the bad, loved by the good. Robin Hood. Robin Hood, Robin Hood. Or at least that’s my memory of the lyrics. The characters in the show had such great names, too—Guy of Gisborne, the Sheriff of Nottingham, Will Scarlet, Little John, Friar Tuck, and Maid Marian. Such descriptive, enticing names. It made me fall in love with noble characters, history, right vs power, helping people, and outsmarting the bad guy. I was sad when I got older and found out Robin Hood probably never lived. I thought Sherlock Holmes was a real character, too, for a long time. When a character is that dimensional, they take on a life force and it’s hard to believe they never actually existed outside of the imagination. The second in my list of heroes is Zorro. He’s the California version of Robin Hood. I was born and lived in California until I was 12. The state has a rich history with the building of the missions, the fight for independence from Spain, the gold rush (yes, I know there was a lot horror involved in the treatment of the Native Americans, etc., but I was a kid. I only saw the romantic side of history.) California is also an incredibly beautiful state—the mountains, the desert, the redwoods, and above...

Missing a Climax

I recently watched a movie about a woman whose estranged husband faked his and their son’s death—lost at sea during a storm. Fourteen years later she sees her husband on a friend’s vacation video with their son, now grown up. He runs a diving charter on a Caribbean island so she flies there to get her son back.  There’s lots of good tension with the possibility of a hurricane hitting the island in a few days, trouble with the law because she doesn’t have a passport and has lied about losing it, and the fact that the husband and son are gone on a charter and may not be back in time before the law finds out she’s lying and/or the storm hits. To make matters worse she finds out that her husband is the most popular guy on the island—very generous with his time and always helping people out. People consider him a saint. Great set-up for the main character. She’s facing all sorts of problems and could even end up in jail. She only has an old photo of her son at age 3 as proof. She burned everything when she thought they had died. The husband comes back and then takes off alone for another island, leaving the son behind. Perfect chance for the mother to bond with the kid. By now the police have found out she lied about the passport. She tells the officer the truth and he forbids her to say anything to the kid while he checks out her story. But instead of checking it out, he calls the husband and leaves...

Getting Ideas

Earlier this year I was struggling to think of a new novel idea. I had been focusing on apps for the past year and a half and I felt it was time to get back into novel writing. But having been working in a different field for so long, I found it very difficult to change gears. I couldn’t think of an idea. I didn’t panic right away. Usually I get ideas from things I see—newspaper articles, news on the TV, a story I don’t like and how I would change it, etc. Generally it’s a buffet of ideas and I pick which one seems the tastiest to work on. Only this time the cupboard was bare. I figured I just needed to open myself up to ideas. I hadn’t had my mind working in that way for too long. I was busy with freelance work so I wasn’t too concerned, but then I realized several months had gone by and I still didn’t have an idea. Now I was starting to get worried. What if I never thought of another good novel idea? Okay, I realize that’s ridiculous, but there is still that little worm of doubt working away at my self-confidence. I decided to change tactics. Instead of waiting to be inspired by an idea, I would simply think of one. I went back to my old idea file to see if anything looked promising. Unfortunately, I had used most of the ideas that were worth developing and my older idea file seemed to have vanished. I think it’s on one of my old external harddrive backups...

Director’s Commentaries

Whenever I get a DVD and I like the movie, I check out the bonus features to see if there’s a director’s commentary. I always find it interesting to listen to the director’s thoughts as he/she takes you through the movie. You learn about the choices they made concerning the story, why they shot the scene the way they did, the ideas they discarded, what came from the script and what came from the actors. I learn a lot listening to how other creative minds approach their work. I recently listened to Joss Whedon’s commentary for the Avengers. He wrote and directed the movie. (Let me just say up front that Joss Whedon is god when it comes to story and dialogue.) He said that Marvel had told him up front they wanted Ironman and Thor to conflict. Whedon said his job wasn’t to create the fight (the storyboards guys did that) but to justify it. There were a lot of suggestions about having one of them under a misapprehension or a spell, but he discarded those. He said those kind of reasons were deadly. If you have guys pounding on each other over a misunderstanding then you are just waiting for them to start talking to one another. “You’re just checking a box. Ironman fights Thor. Done. And you don’t want that.” What you want are two guys with conflicting agendas. What he came up with is something that’s done in a lot of cop movies—you can’t bust the bad guy becomes he’s part of a bigger operation. That gives you an excuse to set them against one another....

Episodic Writing

I remember getting a comment back from an editor on one of my early stories that said my writing was episodic. I didn’t know exactly what was meant by that, but I knew it wasn’t good. It took me awhile, but I finally figured out what episodic meant. It meant there wasn’t enough character arc or story arc, and that the chapters were too neat, self-contained—like an episode. So I tried to correct that. I was more conscious of having arcs, of crafting scenes that built upon one another and of creating characters that pulled you through the story, which is good for a novel. I’ve recently read a novel, though, that is unapologetically episodic. In fact it doesn’t have chapters. It has episodes. The Human Division  was first released as three ebooks, and then several months later the hardback and audiobook were released. At the same time a new ebook came out with the complete book plus a couple of extra codas that the hardback and audiobook book had as extra features. I think the book needed to be episodic because of the way it was first released, which was similar to the way the stories were serialized in the paper. Think of the Sherlock Holmes stories. When I heard about this book I was curious to read it. I’m also a big John Scalzi fan. His book Redshirts is one of my all time favorites. I have to say I think it was very effective. It’s different from his other novels. It’s very much like a TV show, similar to Babylon 5 in structure. And while there aren’t...

Setting Goals Part Three

I didn’t make my writing goals this week. I had wanted to rework the middle of my first PowerForce book to add some tension and up the life and death stakes. I only managed to get one scene reworked instead of the three I wanted to do. I guess some goals can be too ambitious. I’d forgotten how hard this type of writing is for me. The first PowerForce book Attack of the Dinomatrons has gone through several edits and it’s a pretty tight manuscript at this point. It’s so much easier to write a first draft. Or at least it is for me. I’m not constrained by things I’ve already done. But when I have to take apart a polished scene and only keep bits of it while adding new pieces, it’s like taking a jack hammer to a sculpture—It’s really hard to end up with something beautiful. It takes a lot of work and control to get that jackhammer to make refined shapes. It always takes me much longer to do this type of writing than a first draft. In the end I know it will be worth it. And I know eventually these changes will be seamless. But until it’s finished it’s tortuous. Sometimes I think it would be easier to just write it fresh. I have done that with other manuscripts but usually it’s because I want to change something major, like the tense or the POV. I only need to change three scenes in this story and maybe do some minor tweaking in others to maintain continuity. How hard can it be? Judging by...