Fiction that explores the monsters and strangers among us.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Revise for Creative Word Use

The idea for this exercise came from thinking about hooks. Suspense writers are good at grabbing their readers through action. But if you read Charles Dickens, who knew a thing or two about hooks and action, you’ll find he holds you with the beauty of the language. “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”

Part 1, start with a typical timed writing exercise where you are given the first sentence. Jeremy Majewski provided this inspiration from his current WIP. The idea in a timed exercise is to write whatever pops into your head without self-criticizing or editing. Just write it down free-flow style.  This is a great exercise for overcoming writer’s block. Over time, doing this type of exercise will improve your writing and grow your creativity. 

To create your own exercise, pick a sentence out of any novel. Any sentence will do. Or make up your own. This gives you the first sentence. Or the last if you want to really challenge your writers. Depending on how challenging you think the sentence will be, give a time limit from three to five minutes. I chose three minutes for Part 1.

Part 2, revise your timed writing result for creative use of the language. The idea is to make it more poetic or add literary devices like irony. This part requires time to think so I gave five minutes.

My results

Part 1 – 3 minutes, first sentence given
“Beautiful night isn’t it,” she said to him as she wrapped her arms around his waist.
“Wahooo, your hand is cold!” Roger jumped a foot off the ground and hit his head on the oak branch. He bounced his butt off the pavement.
“Ouch,” she said.
“What do you mean ouch?”
“That must have hurt.”
Roger rose to a kneeling position and rubbed his butt and his head at the same time.
“Do that often?” she asked.
“Only on dates with you.”

Part 2 – 5 minutes, revise for creative word usage
Beautiful as a night on earth’s moon, glowing as sunshine off a rose, Imogene stretched her heart, her  mind, her arm to snare love where previously she had least expected it.
Rising precipitously above the grey and hardened deck, Rogere gave a shout of exuberance. “Wahoo. Your hand, like your heart and your mind is of a temperature far below the freezing point of water.”
Rogere’s buttocks rebounded off the wine dark pavement .
“Ouch,” she said.
“Please define your meaning?”
“Obviously, you have experienced excruciating pain.”
Rogere arose to a position based on his knee contacting the hardened pathway.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


We've been talking about subplots on the ACFW Suspense loop this week. Is it possible to have a subplot in a fast action, high drama suspense story? My answer is yes. Here's why...

Subplots in suspense happen the same way an actor or actress takes over a movie. Think Lauren Bacall in "To Have and Have Not." Minor character becomes the star.

Sometimes you create a character who has "star power," usually without intending to. This character becomes so interesting you have to explore her life a bit more, especially as it relates to the main plot.

The other way it happens is you plan it.

The main thing is -- It has to work!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday

They spin. They whirl. They reel about. It’s a hurly-burly trying to make a big wind with its vanes. But the gizmo has it backwards. The hurry-scurry doesn’t make the wind. The wind makes the fins gyre and twirl.

We live in a backwards world, you and I. It’s a world where winter storms rage and people dress for summer. The world is an unforgiving place. One mistake and you’re out. But the world has a promise maker – a God who offers life even in the face of death.

The blades coil round and round until they are invisible. We hear the hum and see the waves of moving air and know the knife-edges are there. The propellers are not the action’s cause but rather the acted upon. We are like them, twisting and gyrating to no useful purpose until acted upon by a loving, gracious God.

Our God forgives our wayward corkscrewing and sets us in the right direction. We may be upon a flight of fancy but we’re powered by a force that’s real. See. Our slicing knives are rotating. Praise the Lord. He wheels our vanes in the right direction.

Do not resist the pull of the cutting edge. Do not try to brake them. Let the blades, by God’s own hand, take you to the sky. From up upon the highest peak, from up upon a cloud, we’ll flit and dance to God’s triumphant beat.

The world may not be ready for a soul that swivels and gambols, but the soul is ready, when to God it goes. Swirl upon a clear blue sky. Spiral upon a cloud. Whatever passes far below, God provides the ride.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Steam Punk

Somewhere there is a place where it is always the nineteenth century, where steam powers the machines of commerce. My writer's group asked to do a steam punk writing exercise, and since we had just finished a writing exercise where you put "of doom" after every noun, it made sense. Bill Price came up with the exercise. He gave us the first paragraph. The challenge was to write for four minutes. Here is my contribution.

The evil doctor chortled madly at his lovely assistant. “The train will be along soon dear, and we’ll be free of the evil of doom. “

“But Doctor Smithereens, won’t the Professor just morph into a bat or wolf or something and follow us?”

“Mere rumors, my dear. Professor Motley is as human as you or I. He’ll follow in his airship. Ah, here’s the train.”

The engine wheels screeched to a stop. Doctor Smithereens took Hildegard’s carpet bag.

“Let me take your satchel, my dear.”

“Be careful of the revolvers, Doctor Smithereens. You know how they explode at the least provocation.”

“Yes, it’s those darn bullets with the nitroglycerine. Ah, here’s our state room.”

“Oh, Doctor Smithereens, there’s but one bed in this room. Where will you sleep?”

“Why, my dear, naturally…”

“Oh, Doctor Smithereens…” Hildegard sighed.

“Perhaps the engineer might perform the ceremony, my dear.”

“Like a ship’s captain?”

“Precisely, my dear. Or the conductor.”

“The conductor?”

“Why not? It’s just for the weekend anyway.”

The squeal of the steam whistle drowned out Hildegard’s response.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Noir continued...

Comments: I'm picking up the noir story where I left off with a bleeding Mike Tankerton wondering if he would make it across the Michigan Ave. bridge before it could be raised. The story needs a title moving forward. A plot would help. For now I'm just having fun as "pantser" -- one who writes by the seat of his (or her) pants.

Tankerton Intro Continued...
Mortenson, O’Leary and Haggerty reached the blinking bridge sign together. They were arguing with arms flailing about until Mortenson pointed at my bus. I bolted from my seat, burst out the back door by jamming my good side against the double door rear exit. I crossed the street running full out for the bridge, the beeping noise and the blinking lights.

I may have made the bridge before it went up but for the hazy blackness that hit me out of nowhere. You can only lose so much blood before you find yourself in dreamsville with no chance for a wakeup call. I was still conscious when my head hit the curb and I bounced in the direction of the cars waiting out the bridge opening. My last memory included the sounds of rough voices and somebody rifling my pocket where I had stashed the PK380.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Organized Chaos Reorganized

Comments: I revised yesterday's first draft to address the POV issue. Expanded the story a bit to get inside the main character's head. Gave the character the name Robert. Well, he told me his name was Robert. You know how it is with characters.

Organized Chaos
The background noise of conversation in the Ragamuffin Coffee House, located in beautiful downtown St. Charles, Illinois, connected Robert in a spiritual way to the brick walls. And the rhinestone fireplace. Also the rough old finish on the table where he sat, pen poised over notebook with the rest of the writing group.

He loved the red and black rag rug on the floor, which he pretended to be staring at diligently every time he desired a glimpse of Sarah’s legs sticking out of her way-too-short skirt across the room. The house blend coffee, with its fruity, nutty flavor formed a great complement to the coffee aroma wafting through the place.

He sat at the end of the long, mahogony table. When he peered up from his notebook, he caught a glimpse of Sarah gazing at him and then glancing downward when he returned her gawk.

She likes me, he decided. Wow. Finally, a babe likes me. Okay, not a babe. A gorgeous hunk of womanhood likes me. Be nice. An attractive young lady admires my male attractedness. Hmm. Not a word.  My maleness. There you go. Wait. Is she checking out Marvin? Marvin who can’t rhyme patootie? Marvin who gives away the solution on page one of every mystery story he writes? How can she like Marvin? No wait, it’s me. It could be me. I have to talk to Sarah. Is she liking me or Marvin? She better make up her mind.

If rag rugs could talk, the faded one on the floor at Ragamuffin would tell tales of loves lost and won, coffees savored and spilled, some in anger, yet others dribbled away in the silliness of youthful joy.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Organized Chaos

Comments: What follows is the result of a long ago writing exercise from a writer's group meeting at a now defunct coffee shop. The challenge was to capture the mood or atmosphere of the place. You're looking at the original rough draft. Later, I'll edit. One issue I'm interested in pursuing is Point of View (POV). Notice the switch from first person to third between the first paragraph and the second. Another POV switch occurs in the second paragraph as we learn what's on Sarah's mind.

Organized Chaos
I love the background noise of conversation in this place. It helps make me feel connected to the brick walls, the rhinestone fireplace, the rough old finish on this table I’m writing on, the rug on the floor. The tea’s not bad either.

He sits at the end of the group writing. From across the room, Sarah admires his rustic features, but she thinks that guy next to him ain’t so bad either.

If rag rugs could talk, the faded one on the floor at Ragamuffin would tell tales of loves lost and won, coffees savored and coffees spilled, some in anger, yet others spilled in the silliness of youthful joy.

Monday, April 4, 2011

1st Person Noir

Comments: Noir fiction is often written in the first person. First person creates an immediacy that's compelling. It hints at the survival of the main character because he or she lived to tell the tale. Unless, of course, the tale is being told by a ghost. One of the downsides to 1st person is you don't know who the speaker is until another character happens to mention it. Or the main character has a reason to reveal it, for example, in a phone call. "Detective Larson? This is Mike Tankerton." The introductory scene needs to occur early in the first chapter. Our opening scene doesn't present this opportunity, so it will have to happen in the next paragraph or two after this scene.

The first person character doesn't necessarily have to be the main character. A sidekick can tell the tale. You may want to use a sidekick if your main character speaks in grunts and groans, like Rocky Balboa. Or if your character isn't the brightest light bulb in the cast. Or so brilliant, like Sherlock Holmes, he or she has no need to write a story, leaving that task to lesser minds with a literary bent.

Look for the way I adapted and polished the copy for first person. My editing challenge is to eliminate at least one-half of the uses of "I." Overusing the word "I" creates a feeling of self-focus that can kill your story. You don't need an over-sized ego in the first person. If your main character has a big ego, tell the tale in third person. In first person, scratch out their "I"s. Enjoy.

1st Person Noir
I couldn’t remember how the Walther PK380 ended up in my left overcoat pocket, but it was pressing hard against my side. I shifted my weight around on the bus seat to relieve the pain. As I stared out the window at the Magnificent Mile passing by, I counted how many shots I had fired. One, two, three, four, five. Four bullets left. I leaned my head against the window to rest, but the pain burned. I leaned the other way.

Outside, the darkness closed in like an assault team as the night sky sunk to the level of skyscrapers. Clouds boiled and rolled like flood waters from a deluge. As the CTA bus made its way down Michigan Avenue toward the river and Wacker Drive, I watched for Tomlinson’s men. A large flowered red umbrella blew inside out in the November wind that also lifted the owner’s black skirt near Ontario Street. A man in a tan London Fog stopped to gawk at her.

My right hand rested over the backpack like a protecting mother eagle. I smiled at the thought because the job went over like a diving eagle swiping the catch off a fisherman’s hook. The backpack was worth the five shots fired in anger. Six counting one from their side.

I glanced out the black window again. Neon lights painted a cityscape abstracted by the rain drops. The girl with the upside-down umbrella and flapping skirt was gone like all the other women in my life.

Blood dripped now from under my coat and over the back of my left hand. I let it run between my fingers. If they didn’t raise the bridge, I had a chance. But up ahead I could see the bridge lights blinking in the rain.

Friday, April 1, 2011

21st Century Noir

Comments: Read yesterday's post first if  you haven't already. I revised my first draft to be more consistent with modern suspense writing where you want to open with a strong hook. I'm writing hard boiled suspense so the hook has to grab the reader. I upped the ante on the suspense, adding teasers related to the character's love life, the purpose of his current mission, and the state of his health. I expanded the details to paint a stronger picture.

In the early noir stories, it was okay to say your character carried a 45 or a 38. Today's readers are more sophisticated. They want to know the  make and model of the weapon. Details breathe life into the story. I chose a Walther PK380. Knowledgeable readers will know that it's a limited edition, highly refined product of German engineering, imported by Smith and Wesson. This clues the reader that our main character is a professional. What I haven't told you is whether he is a professional hit man or a professional good guy. I also haven't told you if the writer knows his character's occupation. The research on the weapon took about 10 minutes with the help of my friend Google and the detailed content of the Smith and Wesson website. Enjoy.

For critique: What is the correct use of the verb form for "don't" in the last sentence? Should it be "don't" or "didn't?" How does switching the verb form change the story, if at all?

21st Century Noir
Phil Tankerton shifted his husky torso to relieve the pressure caused by the Walther PK380 stuck between his left side and the inside of the bus. The Walther, stuffed into his overcoat pocket, had a way of shifting in the wrong direction whenever he sat down. He tried to remember how many shots he had fired. One, two, three, four, five. That meant four bullets left. He relaxed.

Outside, the darkness closed in like an assault team as the night sky sunk to the level of skyscrapers. Clouds boiled and rolled like flood waters from a deluge.

As the CTA bus made its way down Michigan Avenue toward the river and Wacker Drive, Tankerton watched for Tomlinson’s men. A large flowered red umbrella blew inside out in the November wind that also lifted the owner’s black skirt near Ontario Street. A man in a tan London Fog stopped to gawk at her.

Tankerton turned his attention to the backpack on the seat next to him. He rested his hand over it like a protecting mother eagle and smiled. It was worth five shots fired in anger. He glanced back out the black window. Neon lights painted a cityscape abstracted by the rain drops splashing against the bus window. The girl with the upside-down umbrella and flapping skirt was gone like all the other women in his life.

Blood dripped now from under his coat and over the back of his left hand, running between his fingers. If they don’t raise the bridge, he had a chance, but up ahead he could see the bridge lights blinking in the rain.