Author: lazloferran

How to Write a Good Book – Post 6. Editing

pen6At last your manuscript about Rudolph and Santa is complete and has  gone to your beta readers for one round of testing. What next?
This is where the hard work begins. Most writers don’t enjoy it, but editing is the stage that will lift your work from just a rough story to a world-class bestseller. Well, okay, we hope it will. Seriously though, without good editing, you book will not stand a chance in an increasingly competitive market.
If you can possibly afford the cost, I recommend you get another writer or professional editor to do the final edit on your work. You can always swap books for editing with other readers, if you are short of money. Why do I tell you this? A writer reads what he thought he wrote, not what he actually wrote, when he reads it back. He or she will read the same paragraph 20 times and not see the typo. It has has happened to me in a very embarrassing situation; a submission to a pubisher had an error in the first line of the query letter. Two other people close to me checked it and didn’t spot it. I read it at least 20 times and missed it. Once the tension of submission was over and I received their rejection, I saw the error and it was blindingly obvious!
But whether you are editing somebody else’s work, or your own, the editing process is the same. Do it in this order:
  1. Development editing
  2. Copy-editing
  3. Proof reading
Development editing
Development editing is looking for ways to organise and rearrange the text to tell the story better. A good example is for Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate, as mentioned in lesson 4. Structure. I took the few pages just before the climax and inserted one paragraph at the beginning of each chapter of the book in italics. I could do this because the Main Character (MC) used a tape recorder, so we don’t lose tension by revealing whether the MC lives or dies.Copy-editing
Copy-editing is basically getting the gammar right. It is done to improve the flow of ideas for the reader, clarify what you are saying and sometimes to reduce the length of text. You will probaby find that you also correct some typos, thus saving yourself work during the last stage; proof reading.
Read this sentence:
After that, the conversation went on but I left to find the dormitory
There is a lot of ambiguity here and at least 2 typos; there should be a comma before the conjunction ‘but’ and there is no full-stop (or period, if you are American). Some writers will not use a comma after a preposition of less than five or six words. This practise is becoming more common. So the comma before ‘the conversation’ could probably be removed.
But the sentence is very ambiguous. Did the person leave before the conversation, during the conversation or after. As it stands, it suggests that the person probably left before the conversation. But think hard. Is that what you intended to say? If you wanted to say that they left after the conversation, you would want to use this form:
The conversation went on, but I left to find the dormitory after that.
And if you want to say that they left during the conversation, you would write:
The conversation went on, but I left to find the dormitory.
Notice how this is also much shorter. If you want to reduce the length of text and it really doesn’t matter whether the person left before, during or after the conversation, then use this form.
Hemmingway is a great writer for economy of prose. He never uses a word when none is required. This is the typical approach of journalists, because each word would cost money to print.
Proof reading
Now you are simply looking for typos. These are not always picked up by your wordprocessing software’s spell-checker. For instance, look at this sentence:
The convection went on, but I left to find the dormitory.
If you have your auto-correct feature turned on, you are more likely to have the wrong word in a sentence. Here, ‘convection’s is not the word we want, but it is spelled correctly, so spell-checker will probably not highlight it. Beware of misplaced words!
I would recommend turning on the grammar checker in Microsoft Word. This will put a blue underline under a word, phrase or sentence that seems incorrrect, according to common grammar rules. If you see a blue underline, take a close look at the phrase. Here is a good example:
In fact I didn’t know what was wrong.
Word will underline ‘In fact,’ because that particular type of preposition is always followed by a comma. You will learn a lot about grammar by checking phrases that are underlined in blue. But don’t feel you MUST make the change. Sometimes word simply doesn’t understand the specific situation.
Here are my top tips for proof-reading:
  1. Do it twice. Once reading forward, to improve the flow, and once as in 2.
  2. Start at the end of your story and work back, reading once sentence at a time. This way, you are less likely to expect what you read and miss the typos
  3. Use a macro to check for unmatched speech marks. I doubt there is a writer on the planet who can write a book without leaving out some or putting them in the wrong place.
  4. If something feels awkward, it is. Try rewriting it in as many different ways as you can think of. Eventually you will get it right. You might even improve the story.
DRthicknessLastly, if you think editing is a waste of time, take a look at these pictures of December Radio. The copy on the left is before editing, the one on the right after. See how much the text was reduced. In my opinion, the story improved greatly as a result. The cover on the left was my visual. And as a bonus editing tip, pick your best scene and send that to your cover designer.
DRcoversThat is the end of my series of tutorials on How to Write a Good Book. I hope you have enjoyed and learned something from it. You can find all my books online. December Radio is in bookshops in the UK and USA. And there is a special deal:
Get 4 eBooks and the December Radio Paperback for $16!  lazloferran.com
If you find any errors in my books, email me!

How to Write a Good Book – Post 5. Varying the Pace

pen5So you have your plot of Rudolph’s adventures all worked out and you know where the climax and twist will be. Now you are considering writing the climax and want to know how to show tension when Rudolph can’t get the tractor down a narrow alleyway, or gets stuck in a snowdrift. So how do you show the tension?

It’s not as easy as you might think!

Action Words and Expletives

The first rule is to use more action words when you are writing action sequences. These are words like ‘ripped,’ ‘spun,’ ‘yelled,’ ‘wrenched,’ and ‘panted.’

Here is an example. See how this sentence sounds quite calm.

– He knew he needed to get through the door. He put down the axe and walked up to the door. He pulled on the handle and it opened. He went thought the opening and all was well.

That definitely lacks tension. Let’s try it again:

– He had to get through the door. He only had seconds left! He threw his axe down, spun round and leaped toward the door. Grabbing the handle, he pulled and pulled but the door wouldn’t budge. Using all his strength, he gave it one last almighty heave and wrenched the door open. The wood cracked and splintered as the lock broke, and he was through!
“What’s the problem Rudolph?” Santa yelled.
“The door! It’s bloody stuck!”

Okay, so I went a bit over the top there; it’s twice as long. But it’s much more exciting.

Notice the use of words like ‘grabbing,’ ‘cracked.’

Also notice saying ‘had to’ instead of ‘knew he needed to.’ Forget about considered thought in tight situations. People just act and think later when they are desperate. This is one place where we definitely don’t need to know what the hero is thinking.

Also note the use of an expletive (swear word) by Rudolph. You might not want to use expletives in your writing but it’s a fact that people swear a lot when under pressure. Leave swear words out and you risk losing realism.

Short Sentences

For the last reason above, short sentences are good in action sequences. We want simple action, and short sentences tend to increase the pace.

Time

Another trick is to use time. If the hero is not only fighting against an evil adversary or obstinate door, but also against the clock, this will dramatically increase tension.

I used this a great deal in Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate.

Adversity or Obstacles

Elements of adversity of obstacle can also add tension. In the example above the door wouldn’t open easily and he had to wrench it open. Small accidents can also increase tension. He needs a key to unlock the door but he drops it, as people do when tense or in a hurry. Both accidents and obstacles also prolong the tension, which also helps create tension.

Use of Commas

The use of less commas during action sequences can increase tension, but this is a technique not all authors employ. If you try it, you still need to observe good grammar rules.

A Word of Warning about Length of Description

As you probably noticed in my example above, quite often action sequences can make the prose longer. For this reason, you will need to allow a bit more space for describing action, perhaps as much as 50% more space. But on the other hand, if you use short sentences carefully and avoid any description of inner feeling, you can sometimes keep the prose in action scenes as short as elsewhere.

Slowing the Pace

It may sound crazy, but sometimes you will want to slow the pace!

You can’t have climactic scenes throughout the whole book. This would be exhausting to read, and would ignore the whole point of climaxes. But you may want more than one climax. In The Devil’s Own Dice I knew there would be a big battle in the middle of the story. Inevitably this has to be very tense and a climax of some sort. But I didn’t want it to be the final climax. This made things tricky. I got round it by making the lead up to the battle quite leisurely and keeping the tension high afterwards. I also had a strong ‘insight’ scene after the battle, so that we see a previous love affair in detail and how it affected the main character. This kept the pace up, because of the tension of an affair, but also allowed the reader a bit of a contrast to battle. I had to make sure the final climax was even more exciting, but on the whole I think the reader feels they got a bonus, rather than a let down

Using Chapter Breaks and Scene Switching

I put these 2 factors together because they sometimes amount to the same thing.

Because you will want the climax somewhere near the end of the book, each chapter should, on the whole, be more gripping than the last. This drags the reader along and won’t let them put the book down. For this reason, you should normally end each chapter on a cliff-hanger. That is, they should either be just about to learn something, or have just seen some action but not know the outcome. This will make the reader want to turn the next page.

If the book has a large cast and a complex arena of action such as the invasion of Earth in my science fiction book Worlds Like Dust, you might try switching between different areas of action, either at section breaks or chapter breaks, rather than trying to describe it all simultaneously. Allowing yourself to describe one piece of action completely before switching to another increases tension, because the reader is wondering in the back of their mind what has happened to so-and-so in the other scene. Tolkien does this brilliantly in Lord of the Rings. You must handle continuity very carefully when you do this.

So, in conclusion, to vary pace, use:

  1. Action Words and Expletives
  2. Short Sentences
  3. Time
  4. Adversity or Obstacles
  5. Reduced Number of Commas
  6. Chapter Breaks and Scene Switching

Join me for the final part of this series 6. Editing in two weeks’ time.

Let me know what you think of my tutorials by commenting below:

Coming Soon! RIP – the greatest story adventure!

RIPSubscriptions will soon start for RIP – a scifi, paranormal and  alternative history adventure in the online magazine format.

There is a RIP in the fabric of time space which allows two spirits, joined by the dream of a world that might break out of a cycle of progress and destruction, to seek each other out, again and again. Omah is a man with a key, but he knows not what it will open. Bri is an empath of outstanding ability. Together they will find a way to open up the RIP and find man’s destiny.

Subscriptions will be for $0.99 for 2 chapters per month (RIP Prime), or $0.49 for one chapter per month (RIP Stream 1 or 2), of a story that will build into seven novels of up to a million words and take years to complete.

You will be able to get all chapters or choose your genres from two streams:

Stream 1: Mostly Alternative History and War thriller, with some Romance

Stream 2: Mostly Science Fiction and Romance, with some Alternative History

The first two chapters will be FREE! And you will get one month free after you subscribe and a further month’s trial subscription after that.

Be the first to hear of the start of this new story by subscribing to the Lazlo newsletter:

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How to Write a Good Book – Post 4. Structure

pen4So Rudolph is desperate to guide the tractor on Christmas eve, but his nose won’t glow properly. Erma makes him an enormous apple pie to make him happy and promises him a good night in bed afterwards. She wants that new TV!

How do you you get the structure of your story right?

First Draft

For your first draft, don’t worry about structure. Just get the story down. It will come out chronologically, that is, with the events in the order in which they happen. They may not stay this way, but that’s fine for now. Too many writers worry about writing a blockbuster with their first draft. You won’t. All writers have to write a second draft, so don’t try and avoid it.

Second draft

By now, you will have the basic story written, and hopefully the characters will be starting to interact naturally and seem real. You will also have enough ideas to keep the reader’s interest, but the pace may be uneven and the first few pages may seem a bit bland.

All stories, including those of Tolkien, J K Rowling and plays by Shakespeare, have a beginning, a middle and an end. In plays, these are called the first, second and third act. But they can be subdivided. Your story needs to have this basic skeleton:

  1. Beginning
    1. Hook
  2. Middle
  3. End
    1. Climax
    2. Optionally, a twist
    3. Ending or denouement

What is a hook?

The hook is really what happens on the first page, and probably in the first paragraph or even the first sentence. It is the bit that hooks a reader into wanting to read the whole story. Research has proved again and again that when a potential reader sees your book description, likes that and then decides to read the first page (as they almost always do in a bookshop, or on Amazon), they will decide within a few seconds, thirty at the very most, whether they want to read the rest or not.

That is all the time you have to really grab them! So make your first paragraph, and if possible, your first sentence, really grab them. Make it unusual, even odd, and make sure it contains some emotive words. For instance, have a look at this first draft of the first sentence of our Rudolph and Santa story:

Santa asked Rudolph to meet with him. He then proceeded to tell Rudolph that he has lost his sleigh, so they will have to hire a van. Rudolph says okay but he has to check with Erma, because he told her he should always check any changes to his working conditions with her. ….

That is okay, but it’s not going to make somebody want to read the rest of your book. Let’s try again:

The telephone rang in Rudolph’s apartment.

“It’s for you Rudolph!” his wife, Erma, yells up the stairs. “It’s Santa. Says its urgent!”
Rudolph turned away from the bathroom mirror and ran to the phone.
“My nose will never glow properly again!” he told himself.
“Rudolph! Is that you?”
“Yep, it’s me Santa.”
“I’ve lost my sleigh! It’s Christmas Eve. You know what that means?
“No.”
“I will have to use a van! That means I don’t need you!”
“I can’t pull the sleigh? Okay. Wait, Erma is trying to tell me something.”
Erma tells her husband. “Your union rules say you have to deliver the present. That means you have to drive the van!”

Now this is much better. First of all there is a lot of dialogue. Readers tend to prefer dialogue. They want the characters to show them what’s happening. They don’t want the narrator to tell them. It’s called ‘show, don’t tell,’ and is an important trick for story-telling. Basically people want to work things out for themselves. Good writing should have at least 50% dialogue, or monologue.

You can see also that there is a sense of urgency and tension with the dialogue. And already we can see that Erma is going to be instrumental in the events that follow.

The Climax

How do you write a climax? First of all, you should work out in your head what sort of climax it is. If its action, then you will need to use many more action words like ‘ran,’ ‘desperately lunged,’ ‘screamed,’ ‘screeched to a halt,’ etc. Try to use shorter sentences at this part of the story too; it makes for more tension. By now the reader should have had all the insight they need into the main characters’ emotions and motivations, so you can spend much less time on this. Focus on the action and make the reader anticipate the moment of climax by building a scene of terror or dramatic tension or scenery.

On the other hand, your moment of climax might simply be psychological. If you are writing an emotional love story, it might be the scene when the man finally proposes to his long lost love. Draw it out. Use lots of warm phrases like ‘heart burst with happiness’ or ‘finally she knew she had found true love.’

In our story it might be that Rudolph delivers all the presents on time and gets a big bonus from Santa. Not only can they get a really good wide-screen TV but he can take Erma on the honeymoon they never quite had (due to heavy work schedules at the time).

The Twist

A story doesn’t need to have a twist, but a twist can leave the reader feeling, ‘Wow! That was a great book!’ so you might want to try it.

There is not much I can tell you about the twist, except that you should have planned it from the start and given readers small clues that something peculiar might happen. And then when it comes, it must be as big a surprise as possible. They will feel cheated if they either anticipated it, or if there have been no clues whatsoever that something was coming. Leave them gasping or saying “Wow!” and you have a fan for life! A really good example is the twist at the end of The Sixth Sense and. In our story it might be that Rudolph’s father was actually a farm reindeer, and so Rudolph turns out to be the best tractor driver ever!

The Ending or Denouement

It might seem a bit obvious to say a story needs an ending, but it does need to be structured. It needs to leave the reader with the message you worked into the story (see the Themes tutorial) and don’t forget the character needs to show that they are changed of have learned something. You might also need to explain the twist a bit. But if you know there will be a sequel, you might not want to explain anything, but simply put the twist in the last sentence and leave the reader desperate to read the next book (as I have done in The Synchronicity Code). This is the moment when you want all the strands to come together so that the reader says, “Ah! Ha!”. Then they will be satisfied and want to read your next book.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this tutorial, you might need to address other matters of structure during the second draft.

Structural editing

The second draft is really where you take the first editing step; structural editing. If you are paying a very good editor, they will suggest these changes to you. But what is structural editing?

If you have a lot of background and character building to get into the first chapter, it’s going to seem slow to some readers. Other readers won’t even buy the book, unless they get a feel for how good the climax is going to be. Fortunately, you won’t need to worry about this once the reader has read a few of your book. But how do you get round this problem with your first book?

I have found that sometimes it helps to take a preview out from just before the climax and put it in near the beginning or even before Chapter One. For instance, in Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate, the climax is a confrontation between the main character and his arch enemy. Fortunately for us, he has recorded what happened on a tape-recorder, so his wife can set down the events. This is done in the form of a small insert, in italics, at the beginning of each chapter. In this way, I feed the reader a taste of what is to come later, and make them want to read more. Judging by the reviews, this technique seems to have worked quite well.

Take a Tip From the Movies

Lastly, I have discovered some very useful techniques used by movie makers. You might not want to try these ideas at all, but here is the structure for Gladiator. See how it develops the tension and keeps the watcher glued to the screen? You might want to try something similar with your books, especially if they are action adventures.

  1. A film should start with a scene that shows the main character doing what he/she does best
  2. Then comes the opportunity
  3. And then the new situation

Find out more at: http://www.whatascript.com/screenplay-structure-11.html#sthash.nsU1CVMf.dpuf

See you next time when we discuss 5. Varying the Pace.

And if you are wondering about the third draft, this will come later, in tutorial 6. Editing.

Let me know what you think of my tutorials by commenting below.

Get 2 eBooks and the December Radio Paperback for $16!

Now in UK too!

December Radio cover
December Radio cover

To celebrate December Radio’s release I have arranged a bargain offer for you! The paperback ( click here to see on Amazon ) is available to order in USA and UK book stores, which is by far the cheapest option.
Click here for my other books at Amazon.

List of book stores stocking December Radio

If you can’t get to a book store, you can still get 2 eBooks free by ordering December Radio paperback online at Amazon or Barnesandnoble.com. Simply email me the receipt!

But if you are near a book store, here’s the deal for 2 eBooks:

1. Call or go into any book store in the USA or Waterstones in the UK and order or buy my book (B&N: $16.19, Waterstones: £15.50). This is the cheapest option but you can order online at Amazon or Barnes & Noble and pay delivery costs if you wish!

December Radio by Lazlo Ferran. ISBN-13: 978-1942981473

My other eBooks are priced at up to $9.99 and you can choose any of these formats: pdf, ePub, pdb, lit, html, kindle format. So you can’t lose!

2. And either:

Go to my Facebook page and post a selfie of you with the book there with the title “I bought December Radio” (or on your Instagram or twitter page) and message me.

Or email me a photo of your receipt: lazloferran@gmail.com

Don’t forget to specify which 2 books and formats you want!

Read Chapter One of December Radio in FREE eBook Inchoate: (Short Stories Volume I): on Amazon or Google Play (pdf version only), or start reading the preview at top of the right hand column.

NB. I am sorry but the December Radio eBook is not included in this offer.

That’s it! Have fun.

Continue reading “Get 2 eBooks and the December Radio Paperback for $16!”

How to Write a Good Book – Post 3. Characterisation

writing3Basic Rules of Characterisation

So, in our story about Santa’s sleigh problems, we have Santa, Rudolph, and Rudolph’s wife, Erma!

Now how do you create characters for them? There are no hard and fast rules, but be wary of simply writing the story as it comes into your head without setting the characters. If you do this, the most likely outcome is that all the characters will sound like the same person, or sub-personalities of the same person. For instance:

“Wow! I got an egg for my birthday. Thanks Erma. I really love you. It’s exactly what a male reindeer wants!”
“It’s okay Rudolph. Wow! I really love you too. I’m glad it’s what you wanted.”

Can you see some things wrong with this conversation?

  1. The both say, “Wow!” In reality, two people rarely use the same expressions as each other. Erma, being female, is probably younger than her partner (I am being politically correct here!), so she might say, “Dude!” instead.
  2. ‘Rudolph’ is a name of 2 syllables, unlike ‘Erma.’ If they have been living together for years, she would probably have shortened it to save time. ‘Rudy’ is more likely.
  3. She is female, he is male. Males don’t say, “I love you” as much as females. Males usually cover their  emotions so he is more likely to say something like, “You’re sweet,” or, “So nice of you.”
  4. And men tend to say as little as possible in emotional conversations. So Rudy probably wouldn’t expand by saying, “It’s exactly what I want.”
  5. Males tend to be less expressive of their emotions at all times, so there will be less exclamation marks in their conversation.

Now let’s try the conversation again:

“Wow! I got an egg for my birthday. Thanks Erma.”
“It’s okay Dude! I really love you too. I’m glad it’s what you wanted?”

See how the dynamics have completely changed. Now we begin to see their characters emerge. I deliberately left in the word ‘too’ in Erma’s reply because it accidentally adds something Erma might add on purpose; if she wanted to be sarcastic and elicit a further response from Rudolph. Also note that I added a question mark at the end of her reply. She might be uncertain whether she had satisfied him; women are more sensitive to the emotional state of partners so they are constantly probing to find out what it is. They also like to engage in conversation more than men so add cues in this way.

So you have seen how factors like gender, age, race etc. need to be taken into account in conversations between characters. And ALWAYS been vigilant for signs of them sounding the same. If you are unsure, swap the speech round. Pretend that Rudolph is saying Erma’s lines. If it sounds false, then you need to rework it.

But those are only the basic rules. The reader will want to see character development.

What is character development?

When writing any novel, there are certain elements always seem to enhance a book’s appeal. One is that the main character should always be changed by their adventure or learn a lesson from it. In this way, the reader sees that the character grows and the reader can grow with them. Great examples are:

Harry potter becoming more worldly as his adventures progress

Frodo Baggins learning that pity can be a good thing and in general becoming so wise that the Elven folk invite him to go over the sea and into the West with them at the end.

Luke Skywalker growing from a farm boy to a worldly Jedi knight.

As in real life, this is a long process so don’t make it happen in the first few pages. Plan what things will change them and plan the scenes to show this. But in order to do this, you will need a sense of the person’s core character.

The Character’s Core

It may seem a little odd to you but I will come to the character’s physical appearance last. The core of the character is what we are concerned with here. The trap that many writers fall into is to make the main character in their own image. In other words, the main character seems just like the writer. It’s very easy to do, and in fact, almost impossible to avoid completely. You need to develop a good deal of depth for the main character (MC), so it’s natural to draw on your own traits and experiences.

But we all have sub-personalities. We all have a side that gets angry very easily or is prone to love too easily. As we grow, we learn to control these ‘sides’ of ourself. However, writing is a great opportunity to let these people back out into the open again. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I love writing so much!

For instance, my main character in the Ordo Lupus books 1,2 and 3 is an ex-secret agent with the rare gift of being able to see Evil before it happens. He is also incredibly unlucky, but because of his talent is always able to survive and even turn these events to his advantage. I based these characteristics on myself. Although such moods or events are rare in my life, they do seem to happen. Readers seem to recognise these traits in themselves and many have written to me saying how much they identify with the MC.

If you use this technique, you will find endless inspiration in your own life without giving too much away about yourself. If you are writing about somebody in a bad situation, writing about it as a sub-personality will also keep you more sane that writing about your whole self! This technique works equally well if you are writing about somebody of the opposite gender to yourself.

For secondary characters, you could use sub-personalities of your self but I like to use 2 other techniques.

The first method is to think of somebody you know well or have known well in the past. It needs to be somebody with whom you have laughed and cried with, or at least had an argument. Base your character on them, and use the same physical attributes if you like. If you are really bold, you can tell your friend you are doing this as a compliment. But ALWAYS change the name! Don’t embarrass somebody. Also be aware that if your friend knows that the character dies horribly or does something terrible, they may not like it.

The second is to use somebody famous; maybe an actor or actress. This can work very well if the actor/actress is very well loved and has done great emotional scenes in movies or on stage. I have used this technique to good effect in one of my books.

Appearance

I left this until last because in many ways it is the least important factor. But a physical appearance can reinforce a trait and become an effective cue for the reader.

For instance, dark hair or dark eyes can often suggest a malevolent personality. It’s probably a Western prejudice but nevertheless it exists. If you make a baddy blonde, good-looking and blue eyed, be prepared to make him or her really bad to compensate. Two examples that work well are Bond’s adversary (played by Xavier Bardem) in Skyfall and the priest assassin in Angels and Demons.

My MC in the Ordo Lupus books 1,2 and 3 has eyes of a different colour. This not only suggests a weakness but also a strangeness and rare gift of sight.

In general, you should always give a weakness or fault to a main character. Without this, it will be harder for the reader to identify with them. In our case, le’t say that Rudolph’s nose only shines brightly when he has had too much to eat and he is happy. So at the moment it is not shining, which means that he cannot guide the sleigh properly. See how you already feel sorry for him? Or at least, I do!

Lastly, I always keep a separate word file filled with a list of characters’ physical and psychological traits. Not being able to find out whether you gave a character blue eyes or brown at the beginning, and having to hunt to find out can be very frustrating.

So to recap:

  1. Take gender, age, race, sexuality, culture etc. into account when writing dialogue
  2. Use sub-personalities of yourself for the main character(s)
  3. Use friends for lesser characters
  4. Use actors or famous people for lesser or minor characters

In the next tutorials we will look at:

4. Structure

5. Varying the pace

6. Editing

If you want to ask me anything, or have an opinion to express on these tutorials, don’t hesitate to leave a comment:

 

 

 

 

 

2 Film Reviews: Fury and The Yakuza

fury_article_story_large
Brad Pitt as Wardaddy in Fury.

Fury (2014)

I first saw this film when it came to cable TV. I wasn’t impressed. The penultimate scene, whereby one of the main characters gets blown up by a grenade, looked totally unrealistic. German grenades were about half as powerful as allied ones but in a confined space like the turret of a tank, there would be still be little left of a man to identify, let alone a complete body with only a few stylish blood stains on its face.

But recently, I had to do some research for a book I am writing so I watched it again. Having written off the movie as an authentic document, I took a more relaxed approach and, I must say, I enjoyed it a lot more.

It’s probably a habit of historical writers to watch WWII movies with the intention of nit-picking the details. We forget most movies are made as metaphors; they are not literal and are meant to be taken as a mirror of what is going on inside the soul of the main character.

Once I reminded myself of this I saw that the movie has a lot to recommend it.

The music is unsettling. The uneasy main theme is a just couple of chords, like a fragment from of Beethoven’s late quartets, which does not resolve, but keeps burning a feeling of desolation and loss into your brain.

It’s debatable whether the director considered Pitt or Logal Lerman to be the main players in this ensemble piece. But PItt and Lerman are equally good and their deepening relationship is well portrayed. If you take away the tank, and replace it with a Shakespeare stage, its the simple story of a father figure trying to shield a young man from the worst of life while saving his only sanity in the process. ie Prospero.

As an ensemble piece it relies on the crew of the tank, named ‘Fury,’ to portray a tightly knit crew in the last weeks of the War. All the supporting actors do a fine job and the scene in the house of the mother and daughter, who are terrified of the German civilian concept of Americans as rapists and murderers, is a particularly fine example of their efforts. While Pitt’s character ‘Wardaddy,’ attempts to steer Lerman’s character ‘Norman’ through his first taste of glory, while himself enjoying some civil comforts, the rest of the crew act as obscenely as possible, attempting to remove the meal to an ogre’s party. You can really feel the tension, and when the young girl bursts into tears, you know how fragile the humanity trait is. It may be an unconscious metaphor on the part of the director, but the eggs they are eating reinforce this idea.

There is one moment I particularly like, which underscores Pitt’s growing ease with his own talent. Norman has just seen the death of his first lover and is miserable. Pitt, with a slightly wry smile, simply watches the emotions rippling across Lerman’s face. Wardaddy is indulging a feeling of protectiveness, and at the same time, almost disgust, at his young charge’s naivety.

Penultimate scene aside, this film is worth taking a second look at. I don’t know what it is that really works about this movie but I think its the cyclical, double-act of the hypnotic music and Pitt’s understated performance. When I went to bed after the movie had finished, the music and ambiance of the film continued to drill into my subconscious remorselessly, much like the horror of war, I suppose.

The Yakuza (1974)

I have seen this film several times over the years but never really ‘noticed’ or rated it much. Its a quiet film with little pazazz in its presentation.

It’s main attraction has always been it’s star. If you are a fan of Robert Mitchum’s understated acting, you seek out any of his films. Even mediocre westerns are lifted by his acting performances, underrated at the time, but now considered to be some of the finest.

It’s also probably the first Hollywood take on the Yakuza story; man insults honour of a Yakuza and has to pay the price but his friend is going to try and save him… You know the story. It’s been done many times. Later movies like Showdown in Little Tokyo, Year of the Dragon, Rush Hour II and any number of modern martial arts movies made a formula of it but this was one of the first.

The cast includes Richard Jordan, a fine actor who is seriously underused here in a supporting role with few words to say, and Brian Keith, who does a solid job in the kind of supporting role that either George Kennedy or Brian Dennehy would have done equally well. It’s good to see Christina Kokubo popping up too in her first and last major international movie since Battle of Midway as Eiko’s daughter. Curiously, Mitchum was also in that film. I wonder if he suggested her for the part?

I won’t waste time on the main plot, except to say that Mitchum’s Kilmer, an ex WWII military police officer, now retired, has to go to Japan to save the life of his mate, Brian Keith’s character.

But it’s the subplots where the film scores. First of all you have a delicately portrayed love affair between Kilmer and Eiko, a flame lingering long into the shadows of late life. She cannot marry him and he cannot forget her. There is a beautiful scene where he sees her for the first time in 20 or 30 years and asks her again to marry him. She again says no and he says something like:
“Well, at least we got that over for the next 20 years.”

There are some lovely settings in Kyoto and the dialogue is kept minimal, even cryptically so. In a style that I first noticed in Point Blank (1967) and Get Carter (1971) and became accentuated later in films like Blade Runner, very few clues are given as to why certain things happen in the movie. A good example is the scene where Jordan and Mitchum’s characters go to a Yakuza safe-house to rescue some drugged girls. The only clue as to why this happens is a single line of perhaps two words spoken by Eiko’s brother, himself ex-Yakuza in an earlier conversation with Kilmer. But it’s so mumbled that I can’t here what he says, despite rewinding several times. It’s probably something like ‘Your emissary,’ meaning that he will lead Kilmer into the Yakuza territory and create a means to meet with the head of the gang, with whom they have to negotiate. I am convinced the director asked the actors to mumble these lines, because Kilmer replies:
“I couldn’t ask you that.”
But on first listening it sounds like:
“I couldn’t ask her that.”
And that  would give a whole different meaning to the film.

It’s a fine performance from Mitchum, as usual. He looks hungover; you would expect nothing less from a hard-drinking actor at his peak. The wide brow, the doleful eyes, the caved-in cheeks, the look of a crestfallen superhero cast in stone. He is truly a man in glorious decay. Still standing rod-straight and tall enough to make suits look good, he doesn’t stride thought the movie, as he once did, but meanders. Mickey Roarke later took up this style quite successfully.

I once saw the director talking of Story of G.I. Joe about Mitchum’s role in the film. The director wanted Mitchum to show shock when somebody lobs a grenade and some men die. It was a long shot and Mitchum stood up and didn’t move. At least that’s what the director saw. He shot the scene again and again, telling Mitchum;
“I want shock! Show me shock!”
To which Mitchum replied:
“I am! I am!”
The director wrote the scene, and Mitchum, off as a lost cause and finished the day’s shooting. But when he saw the rushes, on a 70 foot wide screen, he saw Mitchum’s raise his eyebrows, a subtle expression that looked totally authentic for a battle-hardened solder. The director was stunned. This probably proved the real launch of Mitchum’s career.

Brando could possibly have taken The Yakuza and done a better job than Bob Mitchum. But Brando would have quickly become bored with the lack of dialogue and started toying with it. He would have added complexity, which would have taken away from the ‘zen’ minimalism of the film.

So if you want a brash movie, forget The Yakuza. But if you want to see an underrated Hollywood great in an underrated movie, give it a go.

If you have views on these two movies, add your comments below.

How to write a good book – Post 2. Developing the Themes

Now I will talk about themes, the threads that bind a story together.

As I mentioned in part 1, no single idea will make a complete book. If it’s a good idea, it will spawn more ideas. Let’s assume you have your ten ideas as well as your main idea:

Main idea: Santa’s sleigh breaks down on Christmas Eve

Spawned ideas:
Santa has to hire a van
The hire company has no vans
So he has to hire a tractor
But Rudolph is in a union
The union says Rudolph has to be the driver for Christmas deliveries
So Rudolph has to drive the tractor
But Rudolph is a reindeer
So Santa has to teach a reindeer how to drive with specially made gloves
But Rudolph is also married and his wife won’t let him drive
Santa has to persuade Rudolph’s wife Erma

Now this is all very well but besides a funny story, are you actually saying anything? If the reader wants to hear a joke, they can watch a stand-up comedian or watch a Tom and Jerry cartoon. What they want is something that will completely absorb them. People love to solve puzzles and they very often get bored easily so you need sub plots and themes. This gives them the feeling that something is building behind the scenes and allows them to say, “Ah Ha!” once in a while.

Sub plots

Sub plots are stories within the main story. For instance, here it might be that Rudolph let Erma down last week so she is particularly angry with him. Or perhaps she wants a new TV, in which case, if Santa is going to pay Rudolph triple-time, then it makes everyone’s life easier.

You can see how subplots can vary the intensity of the main flow of the book. They can slow it down, speed it up, provide a break, give you more insight into a character or a situation, or raise or lower tension.

Themes

But even sub plots aren’t enough to keep the attention of most readers and in fact you can end up with a disjointed story.

What you really need is subtle threads running through the story and the sub-plots, to keep the reader’s attention and bind the whole thing together. Themes also serve the purpose of developing the mood of the piece, and if you want the reader to go away at the end of it thinking about your book, it’s your chance to put in a subtle message.

In our Rudolph story we might try a theme like this:

Alcohol is corrupting Lapland (Santa’s traditional home country in the north of Sweden)

You must be very subtle about this, but you might say that some of the elves are secretly stashing bottles of Jack Daniels when they are ordered for a husband’s Christmas present. Later they drink it.

To get an idea how themes work, think of your favourite book and look for the main theme. Here are three examples:

  1. In Harry Potter, one theme is loneliness and isolation. Harry is adopted and lonely as a child.
  2. In Lord of the Rings, pity is one theme that jumps out at me. Both Frodo and Gandalf pity Gollum.
  3. In Blade Runner, illusion is a constant theme. Deckart is trained how to break down the illusion created by some replicants that they are fully human.

Try this exercise with your own favourite book. Then try it with a book you are currently working on.

Now you have to develop this theme.

In Blade Runner for instance, we have the other detective making the little origami figure of the unicorn. Unicorns are mythical so a kind of illusion. But one also inhabits Deckart’s dreams so he starts to doubt his own dreams and whether he is in fact human.

This theme is developed to its ultimate conclusion when Roy Batty doesn’t kill Deckart but dies while releasing a white dove. This says that although Roy knows he is not human, he is in fact more than humane, and in his own way, more human than most humans.

If you watch the film closely, you will find many allusions to illusions: the Japanese girl advert on the side of buildings, the snake scale, the mechanical dolls etc.

Try looking at your favourite book and writing down as many scenes as you can that develop the theme you have identified.

Lastly, do the same exercise with your own story. If you cannot find many scenes, then begin to plan how to include some.

Themes are an opportunity to get your underlying message across; perhaps something about philosophy, religion, politics or human relationships.

The next parts will be:

3. Characterisation

4. Structure

What have been your experiences of writing? Do you agree or disagree with my experiences? Are you working on your very first book and don’t know where to start? Let me know by commenting.

December Radio Paperback is out Today!

December Radio cover
December Radio cover

This is just a brief mention that December Radio is out on Amazon as a Paperback today! http://bit.ly/decradi

Watch the trailer below the description.

Description

What would have happened if the Nazi’s developed ‘THE BOMB’ first?
Based on real events. If German scientists had developed nuclear fission first, the world would be changed.
What if? Actually, German scientists were far ahead of the United States in creating the first atom bomb. It was only through the daring exploits of brave men and women that the US succeeded in obtaining the first nuclear weapon and saved the world from being subject to German Nazi rule. Hitler, driving his scientists to extraordinary means, almost achieved domination over all mankind. The thought of such a ruler is chilling, yet could well have come to past.

Based on actual events, Ferran draws the reader into the frightening concept that such a possibility did in fact take place and a few men and women were faced with the ultimate sacrifice. Could such a possibility exist today?

Grab a copy of Ferran’s best seller today: http://bit.ly/decradi

The Journals of Raymond Brooks – 2nd Edition is out!

The Journals of Raymond Brooks cover
The Journals of Raymond Brooks

Almost 2 years ago now, I edited a great book – The Journals of Raymond Brooks. It has now been released as a second edition and it looks stunning.

The link for the book is always on my Editing Services page.

Click here to see what you think!

 

 

Description

Raymond Brooks was born a thousand years ago, an orphaned boy lost in a foreign land. Growing up during the Dark Ages was no easy feat. Reaching old age was highly unlikely. Surviving to see the turn of a millennium? Impossible!

These are The Journals of Raymond Brooks, a mythical figure from the Dark Ages.Uncovering the mysteries and adventures he experienced during his unimaginable lifespan. The Journals force humanity to face a terrible realization: there are monsters of horrifying power hidden from mortal eyes. They pretend to be sheep when they are wolves, pulling our strings and making us dance…until now.

Could the supernatural creatures really walk amongst us? And if they do, they must preserve their secrecy at all cost. Why then would Raymond commit virtual suicide by revealing their existence? What happens now, when all hell breaks loose?

 

 

How to Write a Good Book

Rachael Tyrell from Blade RunnerRachaell Tyrell from Blade Runner. Who hasn't been inspired by this marvelous film or book?
Rachael Tyrell from Blade Runner. Who hasn’t been inspired by this marvelous film or book?

This will be the first post detailing what I have learned about how to write a good book. Note, I am not saying a great book. I don’t feel I have written a great book yet, and by that I mean something like Lord of the Rings, A Tale of Two Cities, Wuthering Heights, Far from the Madding Crowd or Silas Marner. When I do write such a book, I will be sure to update the title of this post. I will make permanent pages for these posts so that they are always available as pages in the menu at the top. So let’s gets started

1. The idea

Ideas will come to you in dreams, when you lie awake in bed, when you are walking, or from friends. If it’s the last, be sure to get permission to use it and make sure you credit your friend with something like ‘Idea by X’ at the front of the book. But most important; write it down!

Let’s say your idea is ‘Santa loses his sleigh on Christmas Eve’

So what do you do if you get an idea?

This could be your first urge to write a book or perhaps you have already published. The process is still the same. A single idea will not make a good book. I repeat A SINGLE IDEA WILL NOT MAKE A GOOD BOOK. Turn the idea around and look at it from all sides. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Will it interest a wide range of people (or at least a wide enough range to sell plenty of books)?
  • Will it involve a situation or locations with which I am familiar and can write authoritatively about?
  • Will it sustain my interest during a writing period that may take more than a year?
  • Can I think of some main characters to carry this idea forward in a story that will last 60000 words (40000 for a novelette)?

If the answer to all four is Yes, you may be on to something. But don’t get excited yet. A good idea will spawn other ideas and you will need at least 10 for a novel to work. It should also suggest plot twists, a gripping beginning, a middle and a climax, although you may have to invent these separately, and that is fine if the idea is good enough. A really good idea is going to sustain you for a year of writing and spawn all the ideas you need, maybe even too many to get into one book. Then, you probably have a great idea.

Let’s say some of these other ideas are:

Santa has to hire a van
The hire company has no vans
So he has to hire a tractor
But Rudolph is in a union
The union says Rudolph has to be the driver for Christmas deliveries
So Rudolph has to drive the tractor
But Rudolph is a reindeer
So Santa has to teach a reindeer how to drive with specially made gloves
But Rudolph is also married and his wife won’t let him drive.
Santa has to persuade Rudolph’s wife Erma.

What should you do next?

Unfinished Cologne cathedral, 1856 with ancient crane on south tower. One of my inspirations for The Synchronicity Code
Unfinished Cologne cathedral, 1856 with ancient crane on south tower. One of my inspirations for The Synchronicity Code

I always juggle an idea round in my head for up to a year before starting writing. I often pass it by a close friend quite early on and if they are not interested, I usually drop it. I rarely suffer from writer’s block, but I think that is because I always work on at least 3 books at one time; one for which I am simply thinking up the idea, one I am actually writing, and one which is being read by beta readers  – more about those later – or edited. It takes about 3-12 months to write a book and the same to edit it so there is no point sitting around waiting for an idea to be finished. You may as well be writing or editing something else. This variety tends to stimulate the mind more. So you should have plenty of time to develop ideas once your first book gets going. And don’t worry if it does take you a year to get that first idea into a workable framework, or even longer.

The last stage  is to write down a basic framework or outline of the book. It should show the main plot, some of the more important sub-plots, the introduction or hook, the middle and the climax, as well as the ending, which is slightly different to the climax. It can be written down quite early on if you like and will usually show up any major flaws in the idea.

I remember, while on holiday in Spain, writing the first chapter of a book and then realising that it simply didn’t sustain my interest. And if a story doesn’t sustain the author’s interest, it surely won’t sustain the readers. So I abandoned it. I wish I had written a framework first because then I wouldn’t have wasted so much time. Actually, my main point of interest had been the main character but I couldn’t find a story for her. I finally did, more than 5 years later, and you will be introduced to her as Yulia in a forthcoming book.

The next parts will be:

2. Developing the book’s Themes

3. Characterisation

What have been your experiences of writing? Do you agree or disagree with my experiences? Are you working on your very first book and don’t know where to start? Let me know by commenting.