Monday, October 25, 2010

Belly Flops and Flashes of Light - Cliffhanger Blogfest

Photograph by Corey Leopold
Brenda Drake Writes is having a Cliff Hanger Blogfest today.  I love reading a chapter, getting to the last word, and screaming...'.What Happened!?!'

I thought I'd enter a piece from my finished novel, Ruby Dawn. The two main characters, Ruby and Tom, are confronted by Antonio and Blaine who are drug dealers they've been tracking. Trapped on a boat with the two killers, Tom is tries to distract them long enough to get Ruby off the boat. 

Ruby is a doctor so when Antonio says 'Doc' he means her. Tom is DEA. Blaine is a doctor also, and the mastermind of the operation. Antonio was the muscle and street connection. The 'Jason and his sister' that Tom refers to are the other partners in the drug ring who've been arrested.

Ruby Dawn

Antonio looked back at me, his tongue darting out from between his pink lips. “Guess you ran out of that freaky luck, didn’t you, Doc?”
Tom’s eyes shot to Antonio, a strange look on his face then turned to Blaine. “We took Jason and his sister alive.”
“You don’t know that.” Blaine’s hand squeezed my arm painfully. I hissed in a sharp breath.
Tom eyes never left Blaine’s. “I was slipping him meth on the sly. The guy is over the edge.” Tom shouted to Antonio. “Isn’t that right?” Turning back to Blaine; “Bet you Jason was already talking on the ride over to the police station. He can’t evade questions, not in that condition, right doctor Blaine?”
“You said the DEA doesn’t have anything.” Blaine shouted.
“On you,” Tom clarified.
The boat rammed over some waves, and I cringed. What was Tom doing?
“What does that mean?” Antonio snapped from the wheel, a nervous look crossed his features.
Tom leaned back, his voice loud. “Who met with Jason? Who harassed the clinic? Whose face is all over the news right now as wanted in connection with Dakota’s murder and the clinic firebombing?”
Antonio’s face pulled into a grimace. “What?”
Blaine sat upright, his gun hand shaking. “Don’t listen to him Antonio. He’s just trying to—”
Blaine needed someone to pin things on if things went south, Antonio.” Tom’s voice never cracked, never wavered. “You’re wanted all over the city. Not Blaine, he kept everything at arms length. He set you up.”
“My face is what?” Antonio yelled from the driver seat. He turned and took the steering wheel with him sending the boat into a sideways lurch.
 “Shut up,” Blaine yelled. He jumped to his feet, his gun arcing toward us but Tom was faster. Arms shooting forward, he shoved Blaine to the floor, the gun going off.
I flinched, as the bulled pinged off the railing. Antonio dove to the floor, the boat careening wildly with no one at the wheel. Everyone pitched sideways, toppling to floor. Blaine’s gun skidded across the deck lodging under the tackle box.
Tom scrambled to his feet, speaking quickly to Antonio. “The hit on Ruby, the arson, everything is on you. Blaine gets away clean.”
“Don’t listen to him,” Blaine shouted and climbed to his feet. He pointed to Tom, his voice cracking. “He’s a liar. He’s paid to lie!”
The boat slowed, with no one pressing on the gas, we lolled in the water.
Antonio, leaning against the railing of the boat, pointed his gun at me and glared at Tom. “I should just kill all of you. Then the DEA won’t have anything. ”
I swallowed back the bile in my throat.
“We have DNA from your blood at the Sports Clinic,” Tom said quickly. “It proves you were there, that you attacked her. Whether or not Ruby testifies, we have you.”
Antonio’s face fell. Then his eyes went to Blaine, angry. “You sent me to kill her. I’m not going down for it alone. I got our phone conversations recorded.”
Blaine’s mouth contorted into a tortured grimace in the dim light and he yelled at Antonio, spittle flying from his lips. “You what?”
Tom’s body coiled with tension, his eyes watching their exchange.
Listing without power, the boat lolled, I clung to the canopy pole, almost going overboard when we hit a swell.
“You think I’m just a stupid gang-banger,” Antonio screamed. “You think you’re going to lay this all on me?” He screamed, his gun leveling at Blaine’s chest; the two of them squaring off.
Tom moved blazingly fast, his hand coming up and blinding cloud of light exploded from it, flash powder. Blaine staggered back screaming, his hands going to his face. Ramming into Antonio, he threw him to the deck.
“Go, Ruby, jump!” Tom yelled.
Seconds slowed to frantic snapshots of movement. Blaine lunged at me. His eyes watered, he couldn’t see.
I jumped out of his reach, bounding onto the bench seat and running along the back of the boat. To my right, the lights of an approaching vessel pierced the now dark sky.
“Tom!” I yelled, dodging Blaine’s grasp. I pointed to the lights. To help.
Blaine growled and swung at me again, but I hopped onto the back railing, teetering on it like a tightrope walker.
“Jump, Ruby!” Tom yelled again.
I couldn’t move. I couldn’t leave him.
Tom ripped himself from Antonio’s grasp, scrambling towards me. He elbowed Blaine to the side like a raging lineman.
“Dive down!” Tom yelled and slapped his palm into my back, launching me over the side of the boat.
A scream ripped from my lungs as I belly flopped into the dark water. Stunned, the frigid swells sucked me down and I kicked my legs, slicing deeper, putting distance between me and the surface. Overhead, a muffled popping sound warbled through the water as someone fired into the ocean after me.
Lungs burning, I surfaced, coughing. Almost fifty yards off, I saw the back lights of the boat pulling away. A flash of light from within the boat and the resounding crack of gunfire tore through the night.
I screamed, sobs ripping my heart open. “Tom!”

That is it for my cliff hanger entry. Check out some of the other blogs for some spine-tingling suspense! And until next time...Go Write!

Friday, October 22, 2010

I Thought I Was Being Punked

Photograph by mcfarlandmo

 So yesterday was both great and not great. I got a request for some chapters -- great! 

My computer fritzed out and typed like

NOT Great. It took me four hours to complete my edits on four chapters and send them to the person who needed them.


Needless to say I was an absolute basket case when my hubby returned home. He'd been trying to get me to do a total system recovery on my five-year-old laptop. Yes, they made laptops back then. 

I'd been resisting because I also keep all of our pictures and homeschool records on my laptop. The family computer is for games and downloading junk that will freeze it and we just do restore points and move on with life. 

But my computer has all the books I've written, the proposals, the research...everything.

Now, I've had Mozy for months now. For those who don't know, its an offsite data storage company. So my computer is backed up regularly.  Also I've saved stuff on a pen drive and emailed copies of stuff to myself. 

But unless you've met me and see first hand what a distrustful and cynical, "my glass is probably poisoned" type of techno-phobe I am...then you won't understand how after all of those precautions, I was still wracked with nerves as my husband wiped the computer back to factory settings.

Thirteen gigs minutes.  Ahhh!

So now I'm downloading everything from Mozy. Its called a Web Recovery and I only freaked out on the Help-Line Chat Dude once! Progress, people...this is what it looks like. 

I have twenty-eight dowload files to load and they each take twenty minutes to dowload. I'm gonna be busy for a few days. Also, they're zipped so I have to extract them all. I don't know what made it and what is floating in cyber la-la land forever out of my reach.  I'll keep you posted.

Anyway, I'm working off of the family computer for now. I'm going to use this writing down time to research oil derricks, tensile strength, and sand boiling under levees. If you don't hear from me soon the FBI probably took me in the middle of the night. 

Until next time...Go Write!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Rise From The Ashes!

Photograph by Gabor Dvornik

Okay, so here's the often hear as a writer that you need to develop a 'Thick Skin'. This makes sense because in order to survive the constant 'suggestions,' criticism, and rejection that comes with this business, you need to be able to shrug off the words that hurt.

On the other hand, criticism that is constructive is something you do not want to shrug off, you want to embrace it. 

Over the years, I've participated in several critique groups and writer's circles and one thing I've learned is that everyone's knee-jerk response to criticism is to defend your work...MISTAKE.

In going on the defensive and explaining why we made our particular choices, we might miss out on some great insight into our own work.  

This can be hard though, especially if you've struggled with a particular piece and then it gets shredded by the 'poetry guy' over coffee and cookies.

Here are some tips from the book, The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell on using critique to your advantage...

When You Get Criticized:

  • Take a deep breath and DO NOTHING for about a day.  If it means screaming in the closet or binging on gummy worms then so be it...just let it sink in for 24 hours.

  • The next day you have distance...NOW consider the criticism with a cool head. Was there anything in it that totally hit home for you right away? If you find that you agreed with a comment immediately, then there may be something there.

  • On the other hand...was any of it aimed at you personally...if so, then disregard the critique AND the critic.

  • Get specific. Was the criticism aimed at your character development or your dialogue? Find out exactly what needs work. If possible, ask the critiquer directly.  Don't settle for vague answers. Was it your pacing, are your characters cliche'd or predictable or unlikeable?  The more specific the feedback, the more helpful it will be to you.

  • Finally, go about figuring out how to fix it.  If your weakness is plot, then work on it.  Writing prompts, books on technique, a class and reading your favorite author for tips on how their writing works are all easy and effective ways to improve.

  • Rise from the ashes like phoenix and write on!

I hope that all of this was helpful to you. As a member of a few critique groups, it helps to know that unless they're a jerk...most people genuinely want to help you.  Think of the critique as the gift that it is...someone took time away from their own work to help you get better. 

Until next time...Go Write!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Snapshot Sentences

Photograph by Idea-Listic.
Some of the coolest descriptions of characters come from cop novels. 

As a fan of Dashiell Hammett, John Sandford, and Michael Conelley I marvel at how they describe both the personality and look of a character in one sentence snapshots. 

These guys don't use descriptions like: Eyes like crystalline glass...or raven hair that fell in a wave...bleh!

They are masters of the the snapshot describe a person, a scene, an idea.  This make all of the rest of their long prose paragraphs, melancholy musings, and clipped action all seem to tie together.

For example, in The Poet, Michael Connelly describes his dead brother's partner, a detective named Wexler, like this:

Wexler was built like a small bull, powerful but squat.

You get the image of a man squeezed into a detectives shirt and tie, the muscles and power, but no finesse.  All that from a few words.

Connelly also describes a scene, a macbre one, where a crime scene photo shows a man who'd shot himself in the head leaning back in the carseat.  Connelly doesn't get graphic or even detailed. He uses one sentence and its chilling:

Blood had worked its way like a thick necklace around his neck from the back and then down over the sweater.

No description of color, consistency, splatter, or gore...just a snapshot image. A powerful one.

My absolute favorite cop drama author, John Sandford who writes the Lucas Davenport "Prey" novels is wonderful at introducing characters. Lucas, a former street cop, has a lot of that wry suspicion that comes out when he assesses someone.

In Broken Prey, Sandford introduces a character like this:

He was short, big nosed, red haired, pugnacious, intense, never wrong, willing to bend any ethical rule, and three years out of journalism school.

This was a great introduction to the smarmy, conniving, character that Ruffe Ignace turns out to be.

I've tried to do this type of thing in my own writing. When introducing a motorcycle gang member from the point of view of the main character, a chemist, I wrote this:

Crawley had the rat-faced scowl of someone who grew up around too little food and mean adults.

My hope is to convey more than what a simple description of his clothes and hair would allow. 

So here is my challenge for you today...use the comments to write in one of your own character introductions...I'd love to see how other writers work. 

Until next time...Go Write!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Avoid Landing on the Jagged Debris!

Photograph by Chefranden

You never know when random knowledge might save your life. For instance, I was thrilled to learn that a woman escaped drowning when her car went over a cliff into a river because she knew from researching a book she was writing, that you need to open your door right away to avoid being trapped.  Excellent return on those hours of work!

I've blogged about my collection of weird books before. I have survival books, dare devil how-to books, secret society books, and the list goes on. I write a lot of suspense and action in my novels.

So I thought I'd impart some important information that might prove useful during a zombie apocalypse or a football fan riot.

Say you discover a secret plot to melt the planet, but you were caught spying and are now being chased across a bridge. You discover that somehow, the evil genius has trapped you by positioning his minions at the only other exit from the bridge.  You HAVE to jump.  What can you do to improve your odds of surviving?


  • If you see boat traffic below you...try to land in the channel where the boats go under the bridge. It is the deepest part of the river.

  • Try not to land near a support leg of the bridge...debris tends to gather there and you are more likely to get hurt by landing on jagged, rusty stuff.

  • Jump feet first, squeeze your feet together, and try to stay vertical.  Finally...spread your arms and legs out immediately after you hit the water to slow your decent.
All kidding aside, the more realism you put into the actions and behavior of your character, the more believable they become. Details are what make a scene come alive...even an action scene.

No one likes to get thrown from their "Fictional Dream" experience by coming across a glaring mistake. 
Part of your job as a writer is to research and be accurate.  It makes for a better story.

I hope that no one is ever actually chased by evil geniuses off of a bridge...but now you at least have a fighting chance.

Until next time...Go Write!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

There's Too Many to Count!

So here's the thing. I'm trying to write this fast-paced thriller with twists and turns, unexpected tension, deep characters....

This is my REAL life. Thank the LORD for writing!

What are some hindrances you have to your writing mojo? Is it deadlines at work or kids at home? Do you find you're too tired or uninspired?

I encourage you to go to that coffee house and plug into the wall and just...write. Doesn't have to be perfect, just has to be on the page for now. 

In the wise words of one of my favorite authors, "Larry" from Throw Mama from the Train...
"A writer writes, always."

Until next time...start typing!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Raising the Stakes on Your Character

I was talking to my critique 'group' this weekend about stakes. Not the juicy kind you eat, but the type of stakes that your character faces.

I've been re-reading Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, and if you haven't read this book...then run right out and get NOW!

For those of you who aren't familiar with this man, he is a literary agent in New York who's sold many bestsellers to publishing houses. His book takes your writing to the next all aspects.

One of the things he talks about is stakes -- both public and private for your character. In chapter three of his book, Maass asks you, the author...

"Are the stakes in your current manuscript as high as they possibly can be? Can you define the stakes? Can you point to the exact pages in which the stakes escalate, locking your protagonist into his course of action with less hope of success than before?"

If your answer is no...then you may have a problem. With your plot, your characters, your concept.  You see Maass writes to authors of all genres, not just the suspense or the mystery writer, and low stakes are a common problem with beginning writers.

Ask yourself these two questions: What is my character's goal?  What happens if they don't achieve this?

So...*coughs nervously* let's put this into practice, shall we? Lets take a storyline from my WIP, Bayou Blue.

What does my character want? 
She wants to prove her brother was falsely accused of a terrorist act.
What happens if she doesn't achieve this goal? 
Then a plot to ignite a natural gas tanker will incinerate Boston harbor. private stakes are high, her brother is charged with terrorism and all that entails. And public stakes are high...lots of death and destruction.  Woo Hoo! Now we're cooking with gas!  No pun intended.

I'm off to a good start and with some more tension, character layering, and TONS of hard work...I'll have a story worth telling...

But the stakes also don't have to be as far reaching as mine are. Maass gives an example of public/private on a small scale in his book when he explains how Thomas Harris turned the hunt for a single man into a harrowing psychological ride. I'm talking about the breakout hit, The Silence of the Lambs.

The book, not the movie, is a great example of raising the stakes by deepening the characters. Look at his players...Buffalo Bill a crazed serial killer who skins his victims, Dr. Lecter, a brilliant but psychotic man who alone has insight enough to stop the killer, and Agent Starling, a young woman with a driving need to understand and stop what is happening. 

Harris raises the stakes in his novel, not through formulaic plot points, but by pushing his characters to the edge and beyond.

Agent Starling is so intent on stopping the murder of not just any woman, a Senator's daughter, that she is willing to give up pieces of herself, her most dark and painful memories, to the one man who can help her stop the carnage.

Whew...Talk about high stakes!  And there is no galactic calamity or worldwide plague to deal with here.  One man, one woman and the chase to stop a murder.  But the characters are so vivid, so deeply written, that your emotional investment goes through the roof.

So now I challenge you to take a look at your characters and plot. What are your stakes both public and private...are they compelling or ho hum?

Until next time...Go Write!