Month: October 2011

HEY GANG!

First: Happy Halloween!  You know what I’m going as this year?  A fiction writer.   πŸ˜€  What about you?

So tomorrow’s the big day, eh?!  NaNo 2011.  I’m brimming with excitement!  Are you?

Got your game face on?  Do you know where it is at least?  I do.  πŸ˜€  I am all atwitter with excitement and ready to get writing on this bad boy.

And if you’re not doing NaNo, find a fellow writer and lend them a little support.  You know they’d do the same for you!  πŸ˜‰

But enough of my chatter.  You have until November 30th to get in on the Video Songfest fun.  Go here for the detailsClick here or on my sidebar to find the Master Playlist.  (This is the only video so far, but it’ll start filling up over the next few days.  Feel free to bookmark it if you like!).

The below totally awesome video–which many of you might know as the Cold Case TV-show theme–was actually off  E.S. Posthumus’ first album, entitled Unearthed.  Incidentally, all the songs on the album are named after ancient cities that were late discovered in the modern era–thus the title.  Just the way you’ll be excavating the action in your MS, eh?!

This amazing tune, paired here with stunning Planet Earth footage, is the perfect cocktail to get us all in the mood for awesomely epic world-building, off-the-hook character development and total bada$$ery.

***The world is a blank canvas, just waiting for our paintbrushes.  Now, let’s go get ’em! ***

LET THE GAMES BEGIN!!!  πŸ˜€

Hiya folks!

This is my post for the Casting Call Character Bloghop!  The point of this bloghop is to share images and other media about the characters and settings in my NaNo project.

As you may have gathered, my story for NaNo this year is one I’ve been thinking about for several years now, since my return from a year in Baghdad in February 2010, but this is the first time I have collected images to try to solidify the pictures I’ve been carrying around in my head all this time.

To orient you to my story, I offer my logline:

When a shy and diffident U.S. Army soldier fighting in Iraq guns down a local shopkeeper and suffers a loss of confidence, a fellow soldier with the innate ability to pacify the aggression of others aids him as he strives to defy his intolerant squad leader, bring the fight to the enemy, and restore his own sense of self worth.

Next, a few shots to give a sense of the setting.

The story takes place in a fictional district of Baghdad in 2005, when the fighting against the insurgents was at its worst.

We’ve seen a hundred and one war movies–many recent ones about the Iraq war in fact–so the challenge as a fiction writer will be making my descriptions as vivid as the explosive realism of current films, while also capitalizing on the advantages of fiction: better visibility of characters’ internal conflicts.

Now let’s talk characters.  My MC is PFC Jared Christianson.

Caucasian, Scandinavian descent. 24. Blonde hair, blue eyes. Built like a marathoner.

He’s a bookworm, and very intelligent. His heart is in the right place, and he tries to do the right thing when the circumstances call for it. He doesn’t always succeed. Considered a nerd and minor player by the rest of the squad.

The ‘fellow soldier’ of my logline, the one with ‘the innate ability to pacify the aggression of others’, is named PFC Michael Sedo.

PFC Sedo is from Utah. Caucasian, vaguely Nordic. 26. Almost like an albino in appearance, with piercing gray eyes. Narrow waist, broad shoulders, trim but muscular.  He’s very quiet–almost never speaks, except to those he trusts–but supremely calm and confident. He remains so unruffled in difficult situations that it’s downright scary.  His influence over the people around him is a major catalyst to the action of the story.

Finally, we have the antagonist, Staff Sergeant Richard ‘Gut Punch’ Brody.

He’s an Army careerist who’s been around the block a few times. His outlook, which once was “We have a hard job to do. Ain’t no use in bitching about it.” has morphed over the years into “You’re either with me or against me.” He believes sincerely that dissent within the ranks endangers the unit’s ability to execute the mission.

He demands unconditional loyalty and respect, and cuts anyone who does not give it to him down to size.  He rules the squad with an iron fist.

So I’m pretty excited about this story, so excited that I spent some time putting some cover/splash art together.  I thought I’d share it with you:

Did that in MS Powerpoint, yes I did.  All those hours doing slides at work isn’t a complete waste after all!  πŸ˜€  And that tag line is MINE!  Came up with it myself.  You take your hands off!  πŸ˜‰

So that’s my line up.  I have plans to spend the weekend tuning up my treatment/outline and will be an ‘up round’–ready to charge to 50k+ words–on Tuesday Morning.

How go preps for NaNo?  Are you ready to go?  

For the non-NaNoers among you, do you select pictures for your WIP characters? What else do you do to get your characters clear in your mind?

Have a totally groovy weekend, and thanks for stopping by!


Hey Guys!

This is Part Two of a two post series.  Here’s Part One.  Tuesday we spent a little time discussing loglines: what they are, the requisite elements, and we looked at a few templates.  Today we’re going to apply that knowledge.

An obvious question we didn’t talk about the other day is why worry about constructing a logline?  Why is it important to me as a fiction writer?

Understanding Your Story

Here’s my argument: drafting a solid logline will mean you have a solid understanding of your story.  If you haven’t written your story yet, then the logline provides the destination.  If you’re story is already written, then doing a logline after the fact can help you identify the story’s weaknesses.

Let me give you an example from my own experience.  My project last year for NaNo was a MS entitled Daisy.  When I started out writing the first draft, everything was copacetic.  I felt I had a clear sense of the story and where it needed to go.  But about 30,000 words in, something weird happened: Of the two primary characters, I was suddenly unsure which of their stories I was telling.

Now I did put together a synopsis last year (similar to a logline, but 1-3 sentences), and so I thought I had things nailed down, but when I went back to look at it, it became clear that there was a problem.  You guessed it: my logline didn’t clearly outline who’s story I was telling.  I never really had it clear in my head which character was leading and which was support.

The thing is that writing your story in one sentence forces you to make hard choices.  It forces you to define the overall dramatic action of your 100,000 word WIP in one or two verbs (struggled, strives, overcomes), which becomes mighty useful when you get half-way in and lose your way.

Advanced Tips

External vs. Internal:  In the best stories, the MC has both an internal and an external conflict.  In Star Wars, Luke struggles with the Force, and is also chased by the Empire.  In The Hunger Games, Katniss must fight to stay alive within the game, but she also struggles in her relationship with Peeta.  If the best stories contain both an external and an internal conflict, then the best loglines do too.

Offensive vs. Defensive: Avoid loglines where the MC is essentially on the defense, because this makes for a weaker hero, and may mean the stakes of your story are unclear.  Stories where the MC initiates the action are more dramatic–because a choice means the MC is chasing a goal.  So looking back at my Daisy story, this was another problem.  Even though Kodi’s choice to ‘kidnap’ his daughter and flee looked like a strong choice, the reality is that once they got away, it became unclear to me what they still hoped to attain?  You can’t run away from cancer, after all.

Goal vs. Opponent: Well-written loglines (and well-written stories) pit the MC’s goal and the opponent against each other (which results in the battle).  In other words, stories where the opponent doesn’t stand in the way of the MC’s ability to reach his goal aren’t very dramatic.  Even though a goal isn’t one of the key elements I originally listed, it’s inherent in the idea of the life-changing event, which forces the MC to accomplish an objective to either take advantage of new circumstances because of the life-changing event, or put his life back the way it was. 

Putting These Techniques To Work

So I thought I’d quickly walk through the basics of how I came up with my final logline for NaNo this year so you could see blow-by-blow how to apply these techniques.  Here’s the original logline I came up with, based off the template.

When a meek and alienated (flaw) young soldier (hero) fighting in Iraq befriends a soldier new to the unit who possesses the power to calm those around him (life-changing event/ally), he finds the courage (battle) to defy the domineering soldiers in his outfit (opponent) and lead the battle against the enemy to prove his sense of bravery.

I don’t think this is a bad first try, but note that the verbs are weak (befriends, possesses, finds), as is the conceptual link between the life-changing event and the overall arc of the story.  In other words, how does the befriending of the new soldier give the MC a problem to solve?

Also note that the MC’s flaw is not in opposition to the main arc of the story, since being alienated really doesn’t keep him from being brave in the end (which, by the way is his goal).  On the  positive side, I did manage to allude to an internal and an external conflict.

Here’s try two:

After a meek and disaffected (flaw) U.S. Army soldier (hero) fighting in Iraq guns down a local man under questionable circumstances (life-changing event) and befriends a soldier new to the unit with the secret ability to pacify the aggression of those around him (ally), he finds the courage to defy (battle) the intolerant, narrow-minded soldiers in his outfit (opponent), lead the fight against the enemy and restore his own sense of self worth.

This is an improvement, IMHO.  By separating the life-changing event and the ally, the story begins to come into focus.  Also, his flaw is now sorta opposite of what he’s after in the long run, right?  A meek guy trying to go up against his squadmates makes for good conflict, at least on paper.  Still, this one is a little wordy for me, and I felt the connection between the two soldiers was too tenuous.  Plus, battling a group is less specific than facing one antagonist.  Based on those notes, here’s try three:

When a shy and diffident U.S. Army soldier fighting in Iraq guns down a local shopkeeper and suffers a loss of confidence, a fellow soldier with the innate ability to pacify the aggression of others aids him as he strives to defy his intolerant squad leader, bring the fight to the enemy, and restore his own sense of self worth.

This is the one I’m happy with.  With the MC being shy and suffering a loss of confidence, he has a real problem to solve if he wants to “restore his own sense of self worth.”  What’s more, it’s clear that he must overcome the obstacle presented by his squad leader–with the assistance of the fellow soldier with the strange powers–if he wants to achieve his end goal.  Note also that both the internal and external conflicts are clearly defined and conceptually linked–since he must overcome his own flaws to succeed in the external battle and triumph (hopefully) in the end.

So, that’s it in a nutshell!  A logline is a powerful tool for helping you zone in on what’s important in your story and give you the direction required to stay on the character arc until you type “THE END”.  It’s something I’ve added to my writer’s toolbox and I hope this post series has helped you find a use for it also.

BUT, with a title like “I’m A Lumberjack”, you didn’t think I’d let you get away without some Monty Python (I’m a huge Python fan, BTW).  Watch at your own risk!

Have you played around with loglines before?  Any tips to share?  

*****

Check back tomorrow for my Casting Call Character Bloghop post!  Have a groovy day!

Before we get started today, some shameless self-promotion!  If you haven’t yet, please consider stopping by and checking out the NaNoWriMoVideo Songfest, hosted by yours truly throughout the month of November.  You don’t have to be doing NaNo this year to participate!  So swing by and see what you think!  πŸ˜€

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We can’t always what we want.  What I wanted for this blogfest was a great finale post under 600 words–but I didn’t get it!  πŸ˜€

What I did get–on this post and the others–was an enlightening experience trying my hand at a shorter story.  There are various definitions out there about what length story is considered flash fiction, and I’d say a 2,000 word story is right on the outer reaches of that category.  But 2k words is much shorter than just about any of my other projects.

So for me, this was a departure from my writing norm, an excuse to stretch myself and see what I was capable of.  During this blogfest, the challenge of cutting the fat, paring things down to a pure distillate, of still conveying the point without the luxury of endless blank pages taught me volumes.  Even though I vastly exceeded the wordcount for this installment (~1200 words), which likely puts me out of consideration–if I was ever a serious contender–for any prizes, this Blogfest has been a true blast and helped me continue to grow as a writer. 

And I’ll say it again: if you haven’t made it around to see what the other participating writers have cooking, you are truly missing out.  (I have some getting around to do myself!  :D)  Some great work has been done by great writers, and I’m happy and honored to be a part of this effort.
 
So I want to take a moment and give massive unadulterated thanks to the #REN3 Blogfest sponsors: Damyanti, JC, Lisa and Stuart for setting up this totally fun event and keeping it going throughout the month.   It was truly a blast!

*****

The Leopard’s Spots
by Jon Paul
(c) 2011

Wordcount: mumble mumble πŸ˜€
Prompt: Relationships are torn asunder.
Link to Part One (Magnus McGrool, 596 words)
Link to Part Two (Theodora Ravelstein, 597 words)
Link to Part Three (Calvin Rumpus, 600 words)

Part Four:

     CALVIN ARRIVED EARLY. On his desk he found a 5×7 photo of himself, distant and serious on the rock at the Heriot Pass trailhead, the words “Stay cool!” inscribed on the back in Theodora’s expressive hand. He was still grinning when Magnus arrived ten minutes later.

*****

     The next hour passed in a blur. Readying the Conference Room. Copying and organizing various forms. Magnus grimacing and cussing. Briefing security personnel who would be posted nearby, in case of trouble.  Calvin tried to stay focused, but a strange anxiousness made him feel out of place in his own skin.
     “You’re running the show,” Magnus had told him. “Time to step up and show what you’re made of.”
    Calvin took the news in stride, nodding in what he imagined to be a professional way. Magnus even hinted that a good performance over the next several days might earn him a shot at becoming HR Director permanently. Calvin watched his boss carefully. Did Magnus really think he had it in him? If so, then the vote of confidence felt like a real affirmation, and a wave of pride surged through him.
     At 9:00 a.m. Gladdis ushered in the first employee: an older man wearing a wrinkled avocado-colored suit. The three of them–Calvin, Magnus and some flunky from Legal–sat behind a long mahogany table.
     Calvin cleared his throat and gestured for the man to take his seat. In a quiet voice, he began to explain that the man’s services were no longer required at Barchadelli Marketing, Inc. The surprise in the old man’s eyes turned first to dismay, then decayed gradually to a bitter, tight-lipped bemusement. Calvin continued on, ignoring the ticks gnawing the insides of his stomach. This is just business, he reminded himself. Magnus looked on as well, his face a mask of blank acquiescence.
     One by one, two more employees were brought in. A woman whose left eye twitched when she was nervous. A long-limbed man with acne. Calvin went through the motions, explained their rights, conveyed the company’s regret.
     Throughout it all Magnus looked on, as cold and emotionless as a machine. How does he do it? Calvin wondered. He never betrays his emotions. Calvin had to admit it: despite Magnus’ bad reputation, he had earned Calvin’s respect in the time they’d worked together for just this kind of detached professionalism.
     Feeling a flutter of edginess as the man with acne was shown from the room, Calvin girded himself and tried to follow Magnus’ example. Being professional is a skill, Calvin reminded himself. One I can master.
     The next employee entered the room. Calvin was scribbling on a legal pad when Magnus nudged him gently and knocked him from his reverie.
     In the interview chair, Theodora sat eyeing him in profound disbelief. His mouth fell open. When he looked toward Magnus, he expected to find a cruel smile there, expected Magnus to admit to the joke. Instead Magnus’ hawk eyes articulated absolute tranquility.
     He tried to compose himself. “This is business,” Calvin mumbled, but when he began to speak out loud, he was sure his voice would falter. Theodora sat cross-legged in her chair, her face a manifestation of open defiance.
     He couldn’t look her in the eye, so he continued to scribble on his legal pad instead, going through the motions. The economy had suffered, he explained, and Barchadelli’s revenue had fallen as a result. Management’s decision to reduce the workforce was unfortunate, but it had to be done, for the survival of the company.
     “Calvin?” Theodora intoned. In the emptiness of the room her voice rang like a bell and cut through his thin words, stopping him in his tracks.
     Magnus looked over, surprised at her familiar manner. Sensing his boss’s concern, Calvin chose his words carefully. “Mrs. Ravelstein, let me urge you–“
     “No,” she said, the corners of her mouth curling into a vicious grimace. “I’m not going to play along. I’m not going to go quietly.”
     “I can see you’re very upset, Mrs. Ravelstein. I’m very sorry–“
     Theodora clamored to her feet, pointing at him. She spit words at him like daggers. “This is just what we talked about. Can’t you see? It’s flat out wrong, and you should know it!”
     Strangely, amid the chaos, Calvin caught himself noticing the graceful curve of Theodora’s jawline, the elegant slant of her nose, the way the corner of her mouth always seemed on the verge of an animated smile, even when she was angry. She was beautiful, Calvin realized. Why hadn’t he noticed this before?
     He shook his head, tried to dispel these thoughts, yet her kindnesses kept coming back to him: her compliments on his photography, their conversation over the weekend, the photo she’d put on his desk that morning. She’d warned him he was being set up. She’d said he was too nice for his own good. She’d said a lot of things, but why?
     Theodora railed at him, shook her fist, called them every name in the book. One of the security people appeared at the door. Magnus was smiling now, enjoying the show. Calvin caught his grin out of the corner of his eye and wondered again if this was all some sort of joke, wondered if Theodora had been right about Magnus’ intentions all along.
     It came clear to him in that moment that he had a choice. In his mind’s eye, Calvin saw himself standing up from the table, straightening his suit, walking toward the conference room door. He’d tell the security guy to take his hands off Theodora, offer her a winning smile. When Magnus asked him what the hell he was doing, Calvin would say it to his face, without equivocation: “I quit.”
     News of his revolt would spread through the Barchadelli offices like wildfire. Walking through the hallways toward the exit with Theodora at his shoulder, he’d call out “Who’s with me?” over and over again. Mobs of employees would materialize from cubicles, given permission to quit, freed suddenly of the yoke of responsibility, happy to be a part of something profound and brave and real at last. He’d lead the mob out the front doors of Barchadelli, leaving Magnus and the other Directors behind to pick up the pieces.
     “Calvin?” Her voice broke the spell.
     Two Renaissance PD officers had appeared from somewhere and they were hand-cuffing Theodora. He had said some things, he realized, but he didn’t know what. The storm of Theodora’s anger had broken, and she stared at the carpet, looking as if she might cry. One of the security people was holding a handkerchief to his cheek, a smudged rose of blood soaking the white fabric where she had scratched him. The guy from legal was nowhere to be found.
     His eyes locked on hers. Her confusion about him had given way to an unwavering clarity. When she spoke again, all generosity had fled from her voice. “Things didn’t have to happen like this. You know that, right?”
     He looked away, scrutinizing a picture on the far wall. As it turned out, it was a photo taken long ago of the Roundeli Mountains. It was funny what people said about them: you could never really tell if they were real or an illusion.
     “It’s business,” Calvin said at last, his eyes on the photo. “Nothing more.”
     After they took Theodora away, Magnus patted him on the back and spoke at him–some chatter about the interviews that afternoon and the fine job he’d done and how he’d known Calvin had it in him all along–but the words sounded garbled, muffled, like whalesong. Then Magnus was asking him something else. What was it? Lunch? Executive Boardroom? CEO?
     Calvin told him to go on; he’d follow in a minute.
     When finally he was alone in the room, the silence hung in his ears like the persistent ring of artillery fire. He looked at the photo on the wall again, ran his eyes along the snow-crowned summits, the rocky saddles between outcroppings, the overhanging cornices frozen still like thousands of white horses.
     From his pocket, he withdrew the photo Theodora had given him that morning. I should have realized all along, he mumbled to himself as he tore the photo into neat 1-inch squares and let them flutter to the floor. The peace he had felt that morning, the strange sense of happiness and contentment he had found in those spare moments before the day started now seemed like a distant dream, a vacant event, a carelessly scrawled fragment of another person’s life.

~fin~

Thanks for stopping by!  πŸ˜€

 Author’s Note: Part 1 of this two part series covers the basics of loglines.  On Thursday, Part Two will cover the pros and cons of the different templates I’ve discovered on the interwebs.

Loglines: What are they good for?

You ever tried to tell the story of your WIP in one sentence?

No, I’m serious.  Have you ever tried to sit down and capture some of the nuance, the complex penumbra of your story in a short collection of words that begin with a capitalized letter and ends with a period?  (I suppose you could end with a question mark, but that might raise some questions…)

It ain’t an easy job, as I’ve recently discovered.  And there’s quite a bit to know–AND quite a bit of benefit to your story if you figure it out too.  

So, let’s talk about loglines:

For the uninitiated, a logline is a film industry term for a single sentence that captures the essence of a screenplay.  This concept has since been co-opted by writers in other genres, such as fiction.

Here’s my logline from a WIP I first began developing three summers ago (this is the same story I’m doing for NaNo this year, incidentally):

It’s 2005.  Staff Sergeant James Carlson and his men are losing a vicious war in the streets of Baghdad.  As summer wears on, Carlson begins to wonder how to clutch victory from the jaws of defeat.  Then Michael Sedo, a young Private with the ability to ___________________, joins the fighting.  With Sedo onboard, can Carlson turn the tide of battle, or will Sedo’s strange ability tear Carlson’s unit apart? (I chose at the time not to reveal Sedo’s ability).

Sure, it describes a story, but knowing what I know now, it doesn’t do the greatest job of making us really understand what the story is about.  And it violates a number of loglines rules.  A single sentence.  Less than 25 words.  Suggest and inner an outer journey for the MC.

Back when I wrote this I really hadn’t played with loglines much, and I sorta winged it, hoping it would work.  Turns out there’s a science to the whole thing.  After all, every story has certain elements.  Manage to get them all in or allude to them and you have a strong logline.  Leave elements out, and your logline will suffer.

Logline Templates:

To construct a logline, you have to first understand the elements of your story. The best loglines include as many of these elements as possible: hero, flaw, lifechanging event, opponent, ally, and battle.

Here are some common examples I found on the web:

  • E.T.:  A meek and alienated (flaw) little boy (hero) finds a stranded extraterrestrial (lifechanging event/ally) and finds the courage (battle) to defy authorities (opponent) to help the alien return to its home planet.
  • Rocky:  A boxer (hero) with a loser mentality (flaw) is offered a chance by the world champ (opponent) to fight for the title (lifechanging event) but, with the help of his lover (ally) must learn to see himself as a winner before he can step into the ring (battle).
  • Casablanca: A jaded (flaw) WWII casino owner (hero) in Nazi-occupied Morocco sees his former lover (opponent) arrive (lifechanging event), accompanied by her husband (ally) whose heroism forces the hero to choose between his cynicism, his feeling for his ex-lover, and his once-strong feelings of patriotism (battle).

I’ve also seen this template floating around:

When [MAIN CHARACTER] [INCITING INCIDENT], he [CONFLICT]. And if he doesn’t [GOAL] he will [CONSEQUENCES].

Kind of a plug and play sorta thing.  (Who remembers Mad-Libs?)

But putting a quality logline together, even with a template, can actually be quite a challenge.  Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.  For example, can you tell me the movie this logline describes?

A suicidal family man is given the opportunity to see what the world would be like if he had never been born.

If you said It’s A Wonderful Life, you’re right!  But look closer and you’ll realize that the action described in this logline really only occurs in the third act of the movie.  A much better logline for this movie would be:

When a family man’s constant struggle to escape small town America for a more successful life in the big city fails, he contemplates suicide, but his guardian angel visits and the man experiences what the world would be like if he had never been born.

Maybe a little wordy, but it certainly captures much more of the overall arc of the story.  Remember: the more story elements you can fit into your logline, the better it will be.

That concludes the first half of our discussion on loglines.  Check back Thursday for Part Two–where we talk about a few handy logline rules, and take a close look at my NaNo WIP logline!

References:

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  • DON’T FORGET: Tomorrow is the final installment of the #REN3 Blogfest!
  • HAVE A FAVORITE SONG OR VIDEO?  Go sign up for the NaNoWriMoVideo Songfest hosted by yours truly.  You don’t have to be playing in NaNo to participate!
  • FRIDAY: My post for the Casting Call Character Bloghop goes live.  Don’t miss it!

P.S. If you don’t know what comedy sketch the title of this post comes from, you’ll just have to wait until Thursday to find out!  πŸ˜€