Rest in Peace…

This is a dead blog. No, really. The only reason I haven’t gotten rid of it is that I don’t want to have to cut and paste all of the entries somewhere else.

If you’re interested in what I’ve been up to since, oh, March 2009, go here: http://www.valroberts.wordpress.com.

See, I figured out some of the writing business stuff. Ha!

Thanks,
Val

Published in: on March 22, 2010 at 12:35 am  Leave a Comment  

Writing Ghost Phenomena

There’s more to experiencing a ghost than just seeing—in fact, the full-body apparition is just about the rarest form of ghost phenomena. There are several theories of what a ghost actually is: a person without a body, a recorded event that replays, a non-physical intelligence, or even a figment of the imagination. Most of the phenomena can be associated with any of those theories.

The most common phenomena are sounds and smells. For example, my husband and I, with our realtor, were inspecting a house after the seller moved out, before our closing. We were in the basement when we heard the floor (or ceiling, since it was coming from the main floor) creak in exactly the same way it would creak if a person entered the front door and walked through the living room and down the hallway.

I went upstairs; not only was there nobody in the empty house, the front door was locked, as was the back door and the patio door. I went back downstairs and both my husband and our realtor wondered who it was as both of them had heard the floor creaks, too. I felt kind of silly telling them it was a ghost; the house was two blocks from a cemetery.

I have a good friend whose father was a chain-smoker. She has never smoked, her husband has never smoked, and they live in a house that has never been the home of a smoker. Sometimes, one corner of a room will smell strongly of cigarette smoke. There is no logical explanation for the odor when and where it occurs. To her, of course, it’s simply her father stopping by for a quick visit.

Cold spots in an otherwise warm room or building are another common occurrence associated with ghosts. The theory is that an intelligent entity (such as a disembodied soul) requires energy to manifest, and the air temperature can provide that energy. This is also an explanation for fully charged batteries that suddenly drain to no charge in a matter of minutes or seconds. It doesn’t work very well for the recorded events theory, however.

Moving objects, such a s a hanging light that swings, can be caused by minor earthquakes, but if you have a row of them, say over a bar in a restaurant, and only one of them swings, it’s either a very odd tremor or something else. Other moving objects—light switches, faucets, power buttons—are also plausible ghost phenomena.

Some people believe very strongly in orbs, tiny balls of light that they claim show intelligence in their movement. I don’t buy it, because they look exactly like backlit dust close to a still or video camera lens; a video camera is going to show intelligent movement because of the intelligence behind the lens.

Then there are the very rare phenomena—disappearing/reappearing objects, shadow forms, partial apparitions, and full-body apparitions. Since they are rare, you want to use them sparingly.

Published in: on January 14, 2009 at 5:31 am  Leave a Comment  
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Check out this group blog

Genre Benders is a new blog by and for cross-genre unpublished writers.

Sometime in the near future, I’m going to post about the obsession with futuristic swear words in SF romance.

Thanks,

Val

Published in: on December 20, 2008 at 7:04 am  Leave a Comment  

The McGuffin Concept

Tonight I’m going to see the original film version of The Maltese Falcon, quite possibly the most famous McGuffin in American literature. I used the term recently in a gathering of mostly pre-published mystery/suspense writers and none of them recognized it. Ooh, not good.

So on behalf of aspiring novelists everywhere, this is my treatise on the estimable McGuffin.

The word itself was popularized by Alfred Hitchcock. So what is it? It’s the thing that everybody fights over, kills over, betrays each other over and generally covets. It’s the mechanism that moves the plot forward, although it might not have much intrinsic value.

For example, in “The Maltese Falcon” the McGuffin is a statue of a bird. People lie and scheme and kill…over a statue of a bird.

That’s not to say the McGuffin cannot be intrinsically valuable. For example, in the Pink Panther series of films, it’s an extremely valuable diamond. In “Star Wars” the McGuffin is R2D2 and/or the Deathstar plans he’s got stored in his memory cells.

Nor does a McGuffin have to be a tangible thing; in “Braveheart,” the McGuffin is freedom.

Do you have a McGuffin in your current work?  If not, could it benefit from the addition of one?

–Val

Published in: on August 12, 2008 at 11:36 pm  Comments (1)  

The First Chapter of a Novel

Entering your manuscript into a contest for unpublished writers is a good way to get feedback about what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong and how to improve your work. Judging a manuscript contest for unpublished writers performs magic on your writing.  And because most contests are about the first 15 or 25 or 50 pages of a manuscript, it shows you how not to start a book.

Short-story writers have long had a Latin phrase to help them start: in media res. Translated, it’s supposed to mean “in the middle of things.” In other words, do not waste your first chapter, your first five pages, or your extremely precious first page on background, backstory, description, introspection, the geology of Hawaii, or whale biology (although it’s technically chapter 13 of Moby Dick, it’s still completely bizarre).

First, take off your writer’s hat and put on your reader’s hat; I know you have one. Go to the bookstore and find your genre. Pick up five random books published in the last ten years that you haven’t read. If you can’t find that, pick five that you haven’t read recently.

Now read the first five pages of each and I’ll bet you have at least the beginning of the inciting incident. Where the trouble starts. The day that’s different from all the days that have come before. The call to adventure. The hook. Whatever you want to call it.

While this is entertaining and informative, a published book isn’t as useful as an unpublished manuscript (or a couple of dozen of them over the course of a year or two) in helping you figure out what works and what doesn’t work. Published books have all the bugs worked out, the kinks removed and the warts frozen off. Contest entries, on the other hand, still have the bugs, kinks and warts.

I once read 25 pages of a mystery novel where the amateur sleuth is a life insurance agent. Seemed quite plausible, as life insurance agents get to know their clients a bit and would probably notice something odd about a death.  In the first two pages, the main character receives a phone message (not the phone call, mind you) that a client has died and proceeds to drive to the client’s home. For the next twenty-plus pages he describes what I presume is every character in the novel, and, in an entire first chapter, doesn’t get to the client’s house.

To give the writer his/her props, the first-person narrative was snappy with a strong voice (remember, voice is like pornography; almost impossible to legally define, but you know it when you find it), which is the only thing that made the entire opening chapter of non-action readable.

Do develop a strong, readable, entertaining voice. Don’t open with 25 pages of backstory. Please.

Published in: on July 8, 2008 at 12:20 am  Comments (1)  

Where to Start with a Synopsis

Take out pen and paper, or create a new file in your word processor.

List the numbers one through ten on the left-hand side of a page, leaving space in between them to write a couple of sentences. 

 

Next to the number one, write, “The trouble begins when” and fill in the first plot point or inciting incident of your story. 

Leave number two blank.

 

Next to the number three, write, “Everything gets worse when” and fill in the next plot point or the first turning point. 

Leave number four blank.

 

Next to the number five, write, “Everything gets much worse when” and fill in the next major plot point. 

Leave number six blank.

 

Continue that way with your plot turns until you get to the book’s climax or dark moment.  Next to that odd number, write, “All hope is lost when” and fill in the climax.

Now you have a list of all the major plot turns in your story. 

Go back to the even numbers and write down what your characters do about the plot point written just above. You don’t have to cram it into one sentence, but you do need to get a sketchy bridge from the last plot point to the next plot point.

 

Go back and remove the numbers.

 

You now have a rough synopsis of your novel. 

No it’s not perfect, and it probably won’t wow an agent or an editor, but you’ve done the really hard part – simmered that 400-page work of blood, sweat and tears into something of the proper length that you can edit into the world’s greatest synopsis.

               

 

Published in: on May 5, 2008 at 2:21 am  Leave a Comment  
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