Episode Title: Coming to grips with the plot
It’s good to be back with you again! Since I last blogged, I must admit that my new short story was waylaid by something even more pressing. That was the update to my third novel, MOLTO GRANDE. You may recall that I had planned to break that story into parts due to its size (261,000 words, roughly the size of three full-length novels). Upon reflection, however, I decided, with input from my wife and chief editor, that I would leave it as a single novel. Yes, I suppose I could have marketed all three planned segments, but from the reader’s perspective, I just couldn’t bring myself to ask for another purchase or two beyond the first, all just to read one continuous story, albeit a very large one. I did put the time to good use, however. Having pulled the novel from the market while considering its breakup, I went back through the entire manuscript and made what I thought were worthwhile modifications. I had often heard that it is wise to leave a finished manuscript to marinate for a number of months before publishing, and I now see why. It was as if I was reading it for the first time, and it was helpful.
Back to matters at hand. I have now given the name Elizabeth DeWilde, Lizzie for short, to my main character. She’s a twelve year old girl whose life has just taken a difficult and unexpected turn. This has caused her and her just widowed mother to move into a humbler and very different living accommodation in a trailer park. She is starting her new school a few weeks after class is back in session. This will make it difficult to find friends who haven’t already been taken. It is 1958 Bakersfield, California, which at that time is a modest-size town of fifty-thousand. I just think a smaller town is the best setting for what is to come.
In the 1950s, sixth grade girls like Lizzie commonly play hopscotch, jacks, skiprope, or on the monkey bars during recesses and lunchtime, and boys play ball, tag, or a game that was ubiquitous at the time. Without divulging its name for now, let me just tell you that Lizzie is in complete awe of the game. But when she realizes that the game is off limits to the girls, it raises one of the story’s early conflicts. Angry over the discrimination, she intends to play the game on her own, and begins to practice after school, using less than desirable game pieces. I’ll just say that the development of her skill in this “manly” sport will soon change the story’s trajectory. There’s also a friend on the horizon, a new girl who will soon be attending class with her at Jefferson Elementary.
So what story decisions have been made thus far: The name Lizzie, which I have selected because it is cute for the time, but also because it will work well in the short story’s title. The game, although unnamed for you at this point, will play an important role. The setting is Bakersfield, California. The year is 1958. And there’s a general societal attitude that girls are expected to be girls, that is, play only at a prescribed number of female activities—this will generate good story conflict.
Looking ahead, once I finalize MOLTO GRANDE’S advertising with Amazon’s KDP and Kobe, I’ll be concentrating much more on the short story. I’m looking forward to sharing my future progress with you. Keep writing!
All the best,
Dick is author of novels Joshua Rye, Serpent at the Well, and MOLTO GRANDE. Please go to my author’s page at: amazon.com/author/dickfranklin
Episode Title: First story considerations
This is my first blog to discuss the thought process that I am going through to initiate my new story. The challenge for me in this, of course, is to share enough to be meaningful to you, while not over committing myself to any aspect of the story. It is essential, in my thinking, that I retain the flexibility necessary to make changes to the storyline as the story develops. With that caveat, let’s give it a try.
Setting: I believe the story is better served by an earlier time frame, and I have tentatively chosen the late 1950s, and more specifically 1958. Why then? For a few reasons: A component of the story relates to the social relationship of boys to girls, which at that time was quite different from today. There is also a game commonly played by children then that holds a surprisingly major role in the story’s development. I also believe it was a simpler time, which allows the story to unfold without the need to dig into the more complex social matters of today. Remember, in my mind, this is a short story.
Setting: I have chosen what would be considered as a more rural town in those days. I simply believe that the story will unfold better in California’s San Joaquin Valley, than a big city environment like San Francisco or Los Angeles.
Characters: I have settled on the main character, an twelve-year-old girl who lives in a trailer park. A female protagonist works much better than a male for the story I have in mind.
Written in First Person: While most books are written in third person, I am choosing first person for this one. This means that all things will be seen through the eyes of the female protagonist. Why? I see this as a warm, coming-of-age story, and I believe that the reader will feel her experiences more in first person. The task for me, of course, is making a twelve year old’s stream of consciousness sound like it is coming from a person that age, yet still have the necessary focus to believably move the story forward. Paying attention to the typical things that an elementary school student might encounter in those days is also important, I believe, to the story’s nostalgia and charm. A further bit of research should help with that story aspect.
That’s it for now. Until next time, keep writing!
All the best,
Dick is author of novels Joshua Rye, Serpent at the Well, and MOLTO GRANDE. Please go to my author’s website at: amazon.com/author/dickfranklin
Episode Title: It’s not too late!
Welcome to Writing from Behind the Curve. This blog is written to encourage, persuade, cajole, or reason you into the world of the written word—your written word! My premise is a simple one: Within many of you awaits a story to be told—whether as a fiction short story or as a novel. It’s something you’ve thought about for years, even decades. But as with so many things, life has gotten in the way. Perhaps you’ve had a full and demanding career, or you’ve been the chief orchestrator of your family’s growth—maybe both! With time having passed, maybe you’ve decided that it’s too late for you to tell your story, that no one will want to read what you have to say. Or you may think that first-time writers are mostly young and educated to be writers. But that’s where Writing from Behind the Curve comes in. You see, this blog, while hopefully informative for people at any age, is written specifically for you who accomplished other things in the first half of your life, but still retain that latent flicker to tell a story that has been bouncing around in that noggin of yours for the past ten, twenty, or even forty years. If you think this blog’s premise is but a fantasy at this late date, please read on.
Today’s forms of advanced communications, as we know, are no more than a smartphone text or computer email away. It is this digital world that brings with it a stunning development for anyone who wishes to write—the “digital cloud.” This means that anything you write can be stored for reading, not just in your lifetime but for the next hundred, five-hundred, or thousand years! Whatever you write today becomes part of your personal legacy. Do you want your short story or novel to be read by family and friends, perhaps others, long into the future? With today’s technology, this is actually possible.
It is with this background in mind that this blog is determined to accomplish one thing: to rekindle your desire—no matter how dormant—to write. Let me also say that I write this blog from the viewpoint of the lay writer; I am not pretending to be a professionally trained writer. Accordingly, this blog is not written for the well-trained, well-educated journalist or author. What I am able to share with you, one lay person to another, however, is my personal journey from non-writer to writer, and to share the experiences gained and knowledge learned during that journey.
About now, you may be thinking that I am someone who is about to take you through a technical class on writing. No, that’s not it; that couldn’t be further from the goal here. Let me give you an example of where I am going with this. When I was regularly visiting in-residence patients at a healthcare center in Durango, Colorado, I met Hildy, a wheelchair bound woman in her late seventies. I immediately recognized her love for reading; her small half room was stacked with books in every nook and cranny. She had a wonderful vocabulary, no doubt the extension of her voracious appetite for the written word. I had just completed the rewriting of a novel and, at her request, I agreed to share it with her. A couple of weeks later, we sat together to talk through the novel’s storyline: its protagonist, its other characters, its main plot and subplots, on so on. It was then that I asked this bright woman if she had ever written anything. No, but she had often thought that she would like to. So with a small amount of encouragement from me, she began, for the first time in her life, to write a few short stories.
During my visits to Hildy over the next couple of months, she would read me her stories; they were charming, touching, clever, and well written. One morning while I was shaving, the phone rang; it was Hildy. “I’m sorry to call so early, Dick, but I just had to tell my mentor. I have just been informed that I’ve won two first place ribbons and one honorable mention for the three stories I submitted to the county fair.”
The point in telling you of this special lady, gone now, is to argue for a renaissance in the way we think about writing. Statistically, some eighty percent of adults, when polled, have indicated that they wanted to write a book at some point in their lifetimes, but that only two percent actually do. I believe there are good, corrective answers to the disparity in these numbers, and that there is a way to finally write that long lost story. It just takes a different frame of reference, as I will discuss in the next blog.
I was in my mid forties, after a lengthy career in business, before I put word one to paper, so please don’t think that your age, if advanced, is in any way a hindrance. I believe Hildy proved that. This blog is written to encourage all of us, especially those with decades of life behind them, who may have long ago given up on putting pen to paper, or should I say fingers to keyboard.
Join me in this endeavor, this attempt to create something that will finally fulfill your latent desire to write that short story or novel. Writing anything has always been an intellectual challenge for most people, but what a wonderful and worthy challenge it can be. Dementia related disorders are the concern of many today, so what a fabulous way to stimulate the mind with something important and far above the trivial. Always remember, if you have something to say—only you can say it. The end product will be your end product and no one else’s—-something to be proud of.
This is the first episode in a semi-monthly blog. Above all, I hope it to be interactive, with much correspondence not only between you and me, but an exchange of information and experiences among all of our participants. Tell me what you think about joining in. I sincerely hope that you do. It’s not too late; it never was. Please retweet this blog! Thanks.
All the best,
Note: Dick is author of novels Joshua Rye, Serpent at the Well, and MOLTO GRANDE. Go to: amazon.com/author/dickfranklin
Episode Title: A live example of the writing process!
Up until now, I have taken you through a number of the key considerations that apply to writing your first story. And, hopefully, I have persuaded you that what you have to say is worth saying, just as it always has been. I also realize, as with any good novel, that it is better to “show” than to “tell.” With that axiom in mind, during the months ahead I would like to share with you the issues that I will personally encounter in the writing of a new story. Depending on how the story evolves, I expect that in the end it will be a short story, perhaps something under 50,000 words. As with everything about its writing, however, I do not commit myself to the story’s length, any more than I commit myself to its full storyline or subplots, or to its major and minor characters, or any other of its fundamental aspects. I start only with an idea, and then let the story write itself during the act of writing. This is my personal preference for proceeding, but it does not in any way diminish the other approaches that one may choose to follow, as discussed earlier in this blog series.
As of this writing, I am also in the process of creating a three-book series from MOLTO GRANDE, my novel about two Italian brothers on remarkably different paths in 1693 Europe. At 258,000 words, MOLTO GRANDE is roughly the size of three full-length novels; it is a huge standalone read. Rather, I think it will be better to have a series that doesn’t overweight the reader. In this way, I can provide the first book in the series at no cost or at a very low price, allowing readers to experience the novel before deciding to pursue the entire story. The point in telling you this is to suggest that the writing of the new story will be intermixed with this important development for MOLTO GRANDE. Thus, future blogs will not continue to be published every two weeks, but as I have something worthwhile to share about my new writing project.
In between those times when I will write additional blogs, I’ll assume that you are busy writing your story, using many of the tenets discussed in the earlier blogs. Of course, I also continue to encourage you to write to me and our writing community about matters that you are encountering and wish to discuss. This will strengthen your writing process and our writing community at large. Remember, above all, it’s not too late to write your story; it never was!
All the best,
Dick is author of novels Joshua Rye, Serpent at the Well, and MOLTO GRANDE. Go to my author’s website at: amazon.com/author/dickfranklin
Episode Title: The “family biography” is another way to write!
We have come a long way together in the Writing from Behind the Curve blog series, and it is time for me to ask you a question: Notwithstanding all that has been discussed, are you still reluctant, for whatever reasons, to pursue your story idea? Has it become a bridge too far, so to speak? And yet, you have stayed with me all of the way to here, so I have to believe that hidden in there somewhere is a yearning to write something important, maybe just not fiction, and maybe just not now.
There are all kinds of fiction and non-fiction writers, of course, but I have a new writing suggestion for you that will make you the toast of your extended family for generations to come. And although we have spoken only of fiction writing up until now, what I am about to argue for is a brand of non-fiction writing as honest and real as anything ever written by the greatest historians and chroniclers. You no doubt remember how Alex Haley’s Roots taught us a family’s history, as passed down through many years by word of mouth. In Blog #1, I told you about my dear friend Hildy, and how she became a writer for the first time when she was well into her seventies. Another person at that same clinic was Marianne, a friend to both of us. She had a malady that required three full days of kidney dialysis each week, a very tough medical situation. But Marianne was tougher than her condition because she had a very particular thing that she wanted to complete before she died.
You see, Marianne had a sole grandchild, a teenage grandson, and she worried that he would never know the history of his family, starting several generations back. She hung on through excruciating months to finish a gift for him: a family biography. Unlike today’s DNA tests and ancestry studies, a family biography, she would argue, was the word of one generation speaking directly to all of the generations to follow. It was about much more than just her life; it was also about the family who came before her and concurrent with her. And it was much more than who was married to whom, or where people lived, or what they did for a livelihood. It was also about the nature of the people and what was important to them in their time. It was to describe how the grandson came to be. So I use Marianne’s example as the means for suggesting to those of you who wish to take a different tack in your writing, to consider writing a family biography. Do you have to be a great writer to write a family biography? No, you only have to care enough to do it—for your children, and for all of the children who will follow.
When years ago, I watched Ken Burns’ The Civil War television series, the letters sent home by the soldiers were so clearly written that their heartfelt sentiments leapt from the pages. That level of quality writing was essential at a time when the letter was most often the only way to communicate from a distance. Just as with those Civil War letters, it is the written word—those precious historical recordings through the millennia of places, people, and times—that have informed us of life as it was, more than any archaeological dig could ever hope to do. Today, as valuable as DNA tests and ancestry sites have been to the education of where one’s ancestors came from, and where the generations before us lived and worked, nothing can compare to the written history of a family’s life.
Imagine what future generations may want to know: First, what you know about every other person in your family, up to great grandma, down to great grandson. What were their personalities like? What were there favorite things to do? What schools, what sports, what religion, what careers, and what marriages helped to form their lives? And that’s not even about you yet. In your heart of hearts, what were your life and times like? Of course, the people you love, but also, your take on the state of technology, politics, travel, culture, and many more things. So, you see, there is much for you to tell in this chronicle of yours. Obviously, such a serious project will require effort and lots of it. It will require the acquisition of your family’s current body of knowledge, probably passed down orally, in Alex Haley fashion, but likely with a lot less quantity than that shared through the generations of his family. It follows, then, that one of your first efforts will be to interview every living member of your family. Before your interviews, however, before you sit down and start writing, you will want to go online and look at the suggested formats for a more systematic and comprehensive memoir that you will be comfortable with. In short, you will want to make sure that your interviews and additional research provide the necessary information to accomplish your aim to create a quality, well-informed document. And, remember, you will be creating a format that will no doubt be followed by any family historians that come after you.
Just think how much more you would understand about your family’s history, had one of your ancestors, a hundred or two hundred years ago, written about their life and times, and the family they loved. Of course, that assumes that such writings would have survived the ravages of time to get to you in the first place. Today’s digital cloud permanently solves this problem. You can know with confidence that your family biography will allow people, tomorrow and hundreds of years from tomorrow, to look back at what you thought was important to tell them about your extended family. And when you find a much younger family member who will eventually take the reins of this ongoing effort, that will start the linkage to what will hopefully be many future family historians. And think of this: They will all have one thing in common; they will owe their beloved family history to the person who started it all—you. A family biography is a gift worth giving to all who follow. It is a legacy that will hold you forever in the hearts of those who you hold most dear.
*NOTE: This concludes the first ten blogs of Writing from Behind the Curve. The next blog, the first in a new series, is meant to give you insights into my personal writing process for a short story that I am just beginning. While I am unable to share every detail during the course of the story’s writing, I believe I can provide enough of one author’s considerations in tackling a new project to make it valuable; at least, I hope so. To distinguish this series from the first, I will be spelling out blog numbers, rather than using numeric figures. For example, the first blog is “#Eleven.”
All the best,
Dick is author of novels Joshua Rye, Serpent at the Well, and MOLTO GRANDE. Please visit my author’s page at: amazon.com/author/dickfranklin
Episode Title: How do I know if I’m creative enough?
Now that you are in the first throes of writing your story, early challenges might bring you to believe that people who write must be creatively special, and that great book writers must have been those smart kids who were always raising their hands in grammar school. But let me assure you, everyone is creative. It’s just that day-to-day life does not require most of us to use our creative muscles that often. And as with any atrophy of the body, it will take some effort to get the creative juices flowing, so to speak. But the more of it you do, the easier it will become.
Are you creative? Of course, you are. The first time you stacked toy building blocks in a new way, you were creative. When you saw a new way to achieve a triple word score in the game of scrabble, you were creative. When you painted walls different colors, and accented them with your own flair, you were creative. When, at the office, you sold an idea that no one had ever thought of before, you were creative. And now you are creating your story, just as you have created so many other things before.
“Creativity” is defined as “the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.” That sounds like you, doesn’t it? With every word you write, you are in the intellectual process of creation. You are developing your story’s plot, subplots, characters, points of view, settings, and so on, all creative actions. Said another way, without you, think of how much will never be created; how your characters will never breathe, how your plot and subplots will never converge, and how you will never create the satisfaction of having fulfilled your longtime desire to write. It is your time, no one else’s. And above all, remember, you are writing first for yourself; that there is no need for you to become expert at the skill of writing, not unless you choose to do so, as I have discussed in earlier blogs. Write on and good luck!
All the best,
Dick is author of novels Joshua Rye, Serpent at the Well, and MOLTO GRANDE. Go to amazon.com/author/dickfranklin
Episode Title: How do I deal with this thing called Writer’s Block?
Writer’s Block occurs when you are literally stuck in the writing process and unable to proceed in the advancement of your story. This phenomenon is spoken of so often within the writing community that there is almost a presumption that you must experience it to be a writer. The condition can be brief, lasting only hours, or more problematic, lasting days and even weeks. The symptoms of Writer’s Block vary but include anxiety, stress, self-consciousness, lack of preparedness, lack of interest in the subject matter, and so on. The suggested solutions are just as varied—everything from therapy, to a jog around the track, to a ham sandwich.
Much of what is written about Writer’s Block presupposes that you are a student or up-and-coming writer. But you are neither—you are a mature adult and, in many cases, at least old enough to be the parent, if not the grandparent, of the younger writer-blocked group. You have finally begun to write your long-considered short story or novel, perhaps after completing decades of a demanding life. You have come to this place as one who is fulfilling a dream that often seemed far away, but is now within your grasp. Unlike many younger writers, you are not writing for a grade, or searching for a field of endeavor, or balancing writing with all of the demands of life that you have already gone through. No, you are focused and, importantly, you want to write.
I had read about Writer’s Block before writing Serpent at the Well. So I was more than a bit surprised that I never, not once, found myself in the midst of a debilitating writer’s block during the writing of a 140,000 word novel. On the contrary, my problem was not in thinking of the next thing to write, but in sorting out the story options that came to me, sometimes in Gatling Gun style, in the middle of a paragraph, or at the beginning of a chapter. So a question materializes: How could my experience be so different from the ingrained expectation that I would be doomed to episodes of Writer’s Block?
Consider, if you will, the bright young writers in the act of writing their first novels. Much of their writing is necessarily a fabrication, something not experienced but, rather, conjured within the mind. It is this need to fabricate a substantial part of everything in a novel that, I believe, is the well that will periodically run dry. On the other hand, consider the much deeper well of human experiences an older group of writers has to draw upon. This is the penicillin against Writer’s Block. With your more advance years, comes a greater number of encounters with all that makes us human—everything from marriage and divorce, to birth and death, to the causes of despair or happiness, love and desire, contentment or longing, and so much more.
So, in addition to your absolute desire to write, which will help to keep you highly focused, you also have an abundance of life’s experiences from which to write. You may still hit a roadblock here or there—after all, if your science fiction novel takes you to a black hole or a distant star at the speed of light, you may have periods of constructive challenge. But if you harness the things that make you who you are—the people, the places, the challenges, the successes and failures, the good and the bad—Writer’s Block need not haunt your work.
All the best,
Dick is author of novels Joshua Rye, Serpent at the Well, and MOLTO GRANDE. Go to: amazon.com/author/dickfranklin
Episode Title: What if my writing and grammar skills are suspect?
Throughout this blog, the overriding goal has been to fulfill your longtime desire to write, first for yourself, possibly for others in your close-knit circle, and, lastly, for the world at large. Thus, unlike a writer wishing to be published, who must present not only a good story but also a competent technical writing, you have an option available to you. And that option is to concentrate on telling your story, and then make the decision as to whether you wish to polish it beyond where your technical skills are today.
Should you eventually decide that you would like to take your writing to the next level, such as to publish an ebook or, perhaps, to present your story to a literary agent or traditional publishing company, an edit of your work will be in order. Be assured that an avid reader or literary professional will immediately recognize an unedited work and be put off by it. You may choose to perform the edit yourself, but you must be realistic about this. If you were not trained as an editor, it will take many hours of study to gain the knowledge to perform a competent review. You may, in fact, spend as much time learning to edit as you do in the writing itself. Even then, because it is your own work that you are editing, seeing fundamental plot problems and character development flaws may remain unseen by the same eyes that created these story features in the first place.
Assuming that your decision is to engage a professional editor, you will need to decide the type of edit you wish to have undertaken and, of course, what level of edit your budget will allow. There is the content edit, which focuses on the larger issues of plot, character development, scene selection, and logical story flow; the line edit, which as it name implies, is a line-by-line detailed review of everything from sentence and paragraph construction to inconsistencies in point of view, all in an effort to hone the work to a professional technical standard; and, the copy edit, which is the most intense and detailed in every respect, right down to specific word usage and fact checking, in addition to everything included in the other edit types. Depending on the length of your story and the degree of help desired, the cost may run from hundreds to thousands of dollars for these valuable services. But, again, these costs are only necessary if you decide to go beyond what is likely your initial intention, that is, to write a story for yourself and perhaps those close to you.
Should you somehow feel singled out in the need for an edit of your work, keep this in mind: Few competent story tellers are also competent technical writers. It is a simple matter of two quite different disciplines at work, much as a good baseball pitcher wouldn’t also be expected to be a good catcher. An example of this point is covered in great detail in the book, James A. Michener’s Writer’s Handbook, by James A. Michener. Within the handbook are many images of Michener’s manuscript pages, on which the editor’s notes are displayed. Here, we have the work of one of the epic writers of the 20th century being routinely corrected and corrected again by a publishing house editorial staff. And when I say “corrected and corrected again,” I mean many corrections. On one of the manuscript pages, the editor actually suggests that Mr. Michener move an extensive subplot to a whole new novel. Now, that’s editing! The only difference between Mr. Michener and the rest of us, then, is that he didn’t have to pay to have his work edited. I can’t imagine why!
All the best,
Dick is author of novels Joshua Rye, Serpent at the Well, and MOLTO GRANDE. Go to: amazon.com/author/dickfranklin