Monday, April 30, 2012

Z is for... Zero to Hero

Nearly every fiction story that has a human main character will have what's called a character arc.. that's the progression of your character through the stages of the story to where they are at the end, a chanced person from the person they were at the beginning.

This is because if your protagonist is not challenged, if they're not forced to confront obstacles.. then what are they doing, and why do we care about them?  (Hint: We probably don't.)

The Monomyth, (The Hero's Journey) is probably the most popular character arc in fiction.. and it teaches that the Character at the beginning is the opposite of the Character at the end.  They are weak, ordinary, small, afraid, powerless, fearful, full of self doubt.. at the beginning.. but at the end of your arc they are strong, unique, powerful, and confident.

It is the course of this change that excites and involves the reader.. your character doesn't become superman during the course of your story.. in fact their moment of power and strength may just be a brief moment in time..  it may even be borrowed from another character, but it exists to help them save the day.

It doesn't even have to be physical strength.. it can be mental strength as they figure out the clues.. it can be magical, ("Neo, you're the ONE!").. it can be in whatever manner you choose to tell your character's story.. just make sure they start out weak and end up strong, and then show the reader how they became strong. That's the fantasy we're all dying to read, to escape our ordinary worlds..we want to watch someone go from how we are.. to how we'd like to be.. from weak and ordinary to strong and extraordinary.

So.. at the end of this blog challenge, here is my advice.. remember to move your Zero to Hero.. in whatever manner best fits your character, have them fail.. a lot.. along the way, but ultimately have them succeed in a manner that we didn't see coming.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Y is for... Yippee!! (Late registration for LDSstorymakers)

So I didn't think I was either eligible or available for the LDSstorymakers conference in Provo this coming weekend.. so I never checked into it.  Then I thought maybe I should give it a once over and found out that I was both eligible, (members have to be published, but the conference is open to us regular slobs too) and suddenly I was available as well.. HOWEVER the registration had closed earlier this month.

Disappointed I threw my name into the hat for a late spot, not expecting fate to smile upon me.. but lo and behold.. this morning a spot opened for the Saturday conference.. so I am registered and will be there on Saturday.

Still hopeful that something will miraculously open for Friday.. but for now I'll take my Saturday spot and be happy!!

See all you other regular slobs on Saturday!  Now, I'm off to do a truly awful rendition of a happy dance.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Thursday, April 26, 2012

W is for... the title of WRITER

It's sort of easy to see from the trappings within my blog that I aspire to be a writer.

I want to write.. I want to be published, I'd like to see my books on a shelf, to see people take one down, read a little, and tuck it under their arm and stroll to the register.

It's not for money.. lord knows the % of writers who make any actual money at the craft is less than the % of people who successfully rob a bank and are never caught.  (True story)

I just want to see me take what is in my head and put it on a page and have it connect with another person.  I'd love to see that.

Only one problem.. I'm a fake.

A Fraud.
A Phony.
An Impostor.
A Charlatan.
A Deceiver.
A Pretender...

... a hypocrite.

I am incapable of writing.

I see this:  ------>

.. and I freeze. Text never appears on the page. I stare at it, I think about it, I obsess over it, I breathe it in and out, but it never appears..  because I do not put it there.

I've started dozens of times. Every night I seem to start anew, and ever night the page remains the same.

I have ideas, many ideas. I've been to writing conferences, I've read a dozen of books on the subject, I took writing courses in College, was even a writing center tutor..

.. but I have no text on my page.

I want to be a writer, but I am not yet a writer.

I have no title.

The preceding was a writing exercise.. I am attempting to write angst without going overboard as appears in so many YA books.. this is a first draft, not a polished attempt, so the voice is not right just yet.. I just didn't want people to think I'd started cutting myself.  ;)

Please feel free to let me know what you think.. and if it's over the top or cartoonish.  The topic is one of my own fears.. not an exerpt from any story I'm writing.. I merely tried to harness my inner angst. 

Row80 Update.. What an inauspicious start

I started my Row80 a week and a half ago and thus far it's been a rolling start.. I've yet to put it all together, but I've also not had a full day of no progress towards at least one of my goals.. so I'm still moving in the right direction, just not at a uniform speed.

Ah well.. life is a journey, right?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

V is for... Virginia

V is for... Virginia... as in the State of Virginia. My wife was accepted into the James Madison PhD program for Speech Language Pathology, so we are relocating this summer from Utah to Harrisonburg Virginia.

It's not without some struggle.. we're leaving all family, our closest family once we move will be my Brother in Atlanta, Georgia. We'll have to tighten our belts for the next few years while she is doing research, teaching undergrad courses, and writing her dissertation.. but it won't be the first time we've gone through this.  Law School was a good training program for this, and luckily our kids are still young enough for this to be a fun adventure and not an attack on their social lives.

I'm sad that I'm leaving this writing hot-bed in Utah.. I've never seen so many successful and aspiring authors in such a small geographical location, but that pales in comparison to my wife completing her long-held goal of getting her PhD.  Plus, we've both wanted to give our kids an example of what is expected of them.. nothing less than a post-graduate education for all of them.

So.. in my remaining weeks here in the West, I plan to do all I can to soak in the atmosphere and support of the locals, and then I'm off to a new adventure, and much less disposable income for a little while.

At least it looks pretty there.

That's the JMU campus, bottom center. 

Discuss: How To Create An Epic Story

Monday, April 23, 2012

T is for... Time Wasters

Damm You Arthus.. I want those years back! *shakes fist* 

Time wasters.. when it comes to wasting time, I'm twinked out. I am the king of finding things to do instead of what I'm supposed to do.

My first vice.. video games.  I was introduced to World of Warcraft by a brother in law in October 2006. I was a subscriber for the next 4.5 years.  I can't count the hours I put into the game, but it's probably a good chunk of time.. a real big chunk of time.

I didn't just play, I did outline some ideas, do some research for story ideas.. I wasn't completely obsessed.. but for a while there I was close.  I'm just over a year removed from the clutches of the gaming world.. and I'm doing surprisingly well. I'm not really that tempted to get the new expansion for WOW, or Diablo III that releases in less than a month.. but I do occasionally feel a stirring to make a new 'tank'.. or perhaps twink out my Shadow Priest.. I think I'll always be an addict, as the saying goes.

But it's not just WOW.. I'm a Civilization nut as well.. first time I found the game it wasn't the PC version, it was on the original Nintendo, and I pulled an all-nighter playing it till I won. Took me around 14 hours of straight playing and by the end my eyes were literally so blurry I had to squint to read the text on the TV.. and I loved every minute. Since then I've always had my 'Civ time warp' where I simply lost a month here or there to oversaturated playing.  I've gone so far as to break the game discs, and I've deleted Civ5 off my harddrive 3 times now. Still seems to find a way to sneak back on when I'm not looking.

My second time waster isn't really that much of a waster.. but it has the same result for me.  Reading.  Now don't get me wrong.. I love to read, I am a voracious reader.. in fact I dropped over $50.00 on new books from Amazon just this morning.  But.. I have to pick and choose my reading times, because if I try to read while I'm working on a book, I'm done.  I'm the kind of reader that really delves into a story.. I don't just read and see a story.. I read and live the story. I don't even really notice if the writing is good/bad.. I have to go back through and reread with a critical eye to see that part.. but my first reading is for pure enjoyment. I just love stories.. I love to get caught up in a story, I love the suspense, the anticipation.. to me there's no better feeling than to wake up and immediately wonder what a character is going to do and how the author it going to get them out of a jam.. I just love stories.

I always, without fail, reread every book I read.. I take some time, usually I read a different book in between, then I go back and read with a writer's eye on how the author accomplishes their writing successfully, or how they struggle. This is why I never read a book review before my first reading, because I don't want anything to get in the way of the pure enjoyment of the story.

I've read some books that were just horribly written.. I mean really.. embarrassingly bad.. yet I liked the first reading because of the inventive story-line, or the unique characters or situations.. I've got one really good example of that.. but I won't 'out' the author simply because it would accomplish nothing, and when I am published one day soon.. I don't want karma to come around and bite me in the Tookus.

My last time waster is probably the one I struggle with the most at this stage in my live.

I hate to clean the house. Period.  End. I'd pretty much rather clip all my fingernails too close to my skin, and then try to open an aluminum can of pop than wash dishes or vacuum.. HOWEVER.. give me a night to write, take the kids out of the house even.. and rather than write, I'll spend 3 straight hours cleaning.

It's not that I don't want to write.. it's just that I've created this myth in my mind that I can't write if everything in the house isn't perfect. My office has to be spotless, it has to be totally silent.. all excuses.  I know that, I'm intelligent to spot them for what they are, but it doesn't lessen their impact on me.

I'm working to overcome this.. to get at the heart of the problem.. I know it's not that I"m really a clean freak.. anyone that's ever visited my house knows that's not the case. ;)  I think it's more likely an apprehension and doubt cocktail that I've just got to break through.. as of yet I'm still struggling with it, but I'll get past it.


I hope.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

S is for... Sinister Villains

Nothing makes for a better story than having a truly sinister villain. Hero's are only as strong as the challenge they face.. no hero ever rose to greatness battling the horrid 'cat stuck in a tree' monster..

Think of every really popular/memorable hero you can and you can very likely name their nemesis.. because it's the bad guy that makes the hero so good.

From Darth Vader to Voldemort.. the bad guys are just as important to your story.. probably moreso in fact, than your hero.

Sinister Villains don't have to be an individual either.. they can be events, (The Hunger Games for example is as much a villain as anyone in the first book in the trilogy), they can be organizations (W.I.C.K.E.D in the Maze Runner for example), they can even be unintentionally evil.. merely following their nature (the shark in Jaws, the hunter in Bambi, etc)

But the best Sinister Villains all have a few things in common.. (Unless they're an act of Nature type thing, in which case they're not really sinister.)

  1. They're intelligent
    1. Usually a truly epic villain's main characteristic is his intelligence. They may be strong, handsome, wealthy.. but it's their intelligence that sets them apart, and makes them a match for the epic hero.
  2. They're dedicated
    1. Nobody can achieve true epicness, either as a hero or villain, unless they're truly dedicated to their cause.
  3. They're damaged
    1. Not talking about physical damage, although that's common as well, (2-face, Joker, Mr. Glass.. see Thursday's "Q is for Quirrell for more), but emotional damage. They have to be damaged to take the steps they've taken to arrive at being an 'epic villain'. Not all villains have a reason for being evil.. some are just born that way.. but they're still a product of some damage of a sort. That's how we, as a society, can sleep at night.. knowing that evil is a result of something rather than just a random fact.. but that's a philosophical debate for another day.
So.. if it seems I spend a lot of time on villains.. it's because I truly feel they're more important to a successful story than the hero. They definitely require more focus and effort than writing a hero.  Everybody loves a hero.. it's easy to create, but a villain requires much more thought and imagination.

Hannibal Lecter may be a bad guy.. but he is also dominates every story he's in. Think Star Wars and your first thought probably isn't Luke.. it's Darth Vader. So take some time to create your sinister villain.. the payoff is worth the effort.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Q is for... how to create a Quirrell

(Harry Potter Spoiler Alert.. read no further if you haven't read the book)

Every good mystery/suspense story needs a Professor Quirrell, a character we're introduced to and dismiss off-handedly as merely a quirky secondary character to our Main Character.. somebody who's there just to give our Main Character someone to talk to, or meet, or give a ride, but that's all they're there for, right... or is it?

Professor Quirrell is introduced to Harry Potter first upon his introduction to the Wizarding World by Hagrid.. it's this status/location that allows us to dismiss him so quickly.  He's the first, in a long line of new people. He's odd, yes.. but not nearly as odd as others we'll meet.  He's meek, he's not outstanding, he's unremarkable in all ways except for one or two areas where he's eccentric.. but compared to the others he's relatively boring.  Yes, he stutters, and he wears a weird hat.. but those aren't threatening characteristics.  Not like someone else, someone who demands our focus because of their suspicious actions.  

Quirrell's are usually passive characters, meaning that the meeting of the Main Character and the Quirrell is a result of an action of the Main Character, either directly or by an introduction. Quirrell's don't usually make strong, affirmative actions because that draws attention to them, and they are much more happy to sit in the background.. unless there is a reason for them to step into the limelight.

(Da Vinci Code Spoiler Alert.. read no further if you haven't read the book)

In Dan Brown's smash hit, The Da Vinci Code, his Quirrell is Leigh Teabing. Brown's Main Character, (MC), Robert Langdon, seeks out Teabing because of his expertise, not knowing that he is the antagonist behind all of the bad things that have happened.. and Teabing is a great Quirrell because he's unassuming and because he is brought into the story willingly by an unknowing main character.

It's his status as being innocently introduced into the story that makes him such a clever antagonist. Whereas Quirrell is introduced first to allow lots of time to pass between his story introduction and the bad things that begin to happen, Teabing is introduced late, so that there is an equal amount of time between the bad things, (that start right off in the book), and his introduction.  

That misdirection on the timing of their introduction is a great way to hide their importance. Whereas the red herring character in both stories is introduced much closer to the bad acts.  Snape is introduced when Harry first feels pain from his scar, Silas, (the albino killer in Da Vinci Code), is introduced early on as the puppet that carries out the actions of 'the teacher', (Teabing.)

Another way to throw off the scent of the reader.. give your Quirrell a frailty.  Quirrell has a nervous stutter.. Teabing is old and walks with a limp.. the more you can do to make them seem harmless, the better the shock will be when they're finally revealed.  Think of M. Night Shyamalan's movie, 'Unbreakable'.. (Spoiler Alert).. the bad guy is revealed as the man with the disease that makes his bones brittle. He is physically weak, but that weakness hides his status as the antagonist to the protagonists 'Super Hero-esque' strong body.

In that way, Mr. Glass, (M Night's antagonist) is connected to Bruce Willis's hero because they're both one end of the physical spectrum.. one physically weak and breakable, the other physically strong and unbreakable.  That's another way to disguise your Quirrell.. make them like your hero and/or make them 'above suspicion'.

Quirrell is meek, seemingly scared.. much like Harry at the start of the story, plus he's a Professor.  Teabing is a history/grail fanatic and a wealthy, well connected politico.  Mr. Glass is the knowledgeable trainer of Willis's super hero and the only person who believes that a super hero must exist.  

So.. to boil all that down for you.. the ways to create, (or spot) a Quirrell are:
  1. Introduce them away from the 'bad acts'.
  2. Make their introduction passive on the Quirrell's part, (unless your Quirrell is seeking the hero ala Mr. Glass)
  3. Make your Quirrell appear unremarkable, average, common.
  4. Give your Quirrell a frailty or perceived frailty. 
  5. Make your Quirrell like/connected to your MC, give them a commonality.
  6. Make your Quirrell a member of a class that is above suspicion. (ie.. Professor, Wealthy Politico, Knowledgable trainer)
Now, go create your own Quirrell.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

P is for... Paradox

Today's blog is the letter P.

Writers often use a paradox to convey the deeper truth of a seemingly contradictory proposition. Examples of this reside in the following:

"I know one thing.. that I know nothing."
"In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it."
“All generalizations are false, including this one.” 
and finally...
"Love is a battlefield."
Paradox:  Noun
  • A statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth. 
  • A self-contradictory and false proposition. 
  • Any person, thing, or situation exhibiting an apparently contradictory nature. 
  • An opinion or statement contrary to commonly accepted opinion.

Now, with that background.. I propose that writers themselves live in a paradoxical world. It may not seem obvious to some why I say that writers live in a paradoxical world.. so I'll give a few examples of what I'm referring to.

  • First.. writers are told to to 'write what is in our hearts'.. to embrace the truth within and to make that truth sing with our words.
    • Then we're unable to find representation and told to be more focused on a particular genre, and to look at what is currently being published and to write with that in mind.
  • Then.. writers are told to 'write what you know'.. to look at your life and write from you position of strength.. 'If you're a plumber and you want to write about Space Travel, then be a plumber on a Space ship' says Stephen King.. (paraphrasing)
    • Then we're told that our works aren't marketable, that our 'position of strength' isn't interesting. Plus, how can you write Epic Fantasy, or Horror if you don't 'know' it? Who has seen a monster, or an alien, or a Wizarding Boy?
  • Then we're told 2 things you have to do as a writer.. you have to write a lot, and you have to read a lot. You have to write every day because with repetition comes better writing. Then we're told to read a lot of books.  "Read, read, and read some more".. I've heard that from nearly every author I've ever heard speak. "You have to read to know what you want to write, you have to read to recognize good writing from poor.".. it goes on and on..
    • Yet how can you immerse yourself in writing your world when you're spending time each day reading about someone else's world? I've found this to be impossible for myself.. I simply cannot read any other book while writing my own. If I do then my time is spent thinking about THEIR world and not MINE.. which makes writing impossible.
  • Finally we're told that the only thing that will improve our writing is to write.. that writing is like taking up a new sport and that the only way to improve is practice, practice, practice.
    • Then we're told that writers can't be made, that you're either born with the ability to write.. or you're not, and that the only way to improve is by copious amounts of writing. If that's true, then what good are writing books, seminars, conferences, University Classes... all the sources of the statement that 'writers are born, not made'.. so if they're of no consequence, and they're the origin of the thought that only writing improves writing.. then doesn't that negate itself?

So.. anyway.. I'm certain that you'll all find this post interesting and informational..

... I mean.. I am certainly full of doubt that this post is of any value... errr.. I mean I'm not certain at all, I'm just full of doubt that this will have any value, I am overwhelmed with doubt.. yeah that's what I meant.    :-/

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

O is for... Outlining

So.. today is all about the funnest part of writing, the work you do before you write.

You know, the thinking, and daydreaming, and wondering, and talking to yourself, and researching, and dreaming, and obsessing and....

OK, it's really not that bad. Some people skip outlining altogether and just write on the fly, 'discovery writing' they call it. To me that's makes about as much sense as 'discovery shopping', where you go grocery shopping by just driving around blind and hoping you eventually bump into a store along your path. That seems like it would take a long, long time. Sure you probably see some areas that you wouldn't see otherwise.. but at what expense? 

I know that Stephen King in his uber-phenomenal book, "On Writing" says that's how he does it.. but he must have like a built in GPS for his stories or something because I've tried doing that and I always seem to end up writing about lack of sleep or stinky diapers or college football, or something like that.

I think my problem is my real life simply has too much gravitational pull for me to get too far away from it unless I am moving intentionally away.. thus I need my road map, my outline.

I've actually been working on an outline today. I've been swatting 2 different stories around in my head for a couple of years.. and when I start working on one I seem to bleed over into the other. Eventually I came to the conclusion that it simply is because they're too close to each other in terms of where I'm planning on going with I've spent some long hours meshing the 2 stories together and come out with what I think is a pretty darn good central idea for a series.

I've spent today doing a general outline of the overall story arc, and am starting to get specific on the first book in the story. I already know most of the story, so outlining it has been pretty quick.

Now.. I've just got to do some skeleton outlines of the other stories in the sequence and I'll be good to go.  

This is why outlining works for me.. I don't need a huge outline that's 10 pages long.. most of the major scenes have already played themselves out in my head anyway.. but having a compass that points me to where I want to go is a useful tool, at least at this point in my writing career.

Monday, April 16, 2012

N is for... Nutella Poetry

A poet I am not.. but in my adoration I am moved to verse...

.. an ode to Nutella.

Oh Nutella, you chocolatey sweet treat..
I could have used your bounty to reign my untamed tooth.
To spread you on peanut butter is always fantastique..
Why did you forsake during the years of my misspent youth?
Life is barren without your taste,
Your bottle always shining,
With no mind to cost,
For you're eagerly devoured in haste,
Then I'm set to pining,
While I weep for what was lost.

Nutella Haiku

Chocolate Brown Color
With A Hint Of Hazelnut
In My Mouth You Go

Nutella Limerick

There once was a spread name Nutella
That was loved by this middle-aged fella
With his waistband expanding..
His stomach demanding..
If it fell like rain I cut up my umbrella

Saturday, April 14, 2012

ROW80.. Here I Come!!

So I've been following some blogs recently that are participating i the ROW80 Writing Challenge, (Round of Words in 80 days), and I wanted to get involved, but I missed the last entry, which started April 2nd.

However they allow you to jump in whenever, so I've decided to take the plunge and jump in now because it coincides almost perfectly with a major live upheaval for my family.. (more on that later)

So I'll be starting my 80 days on this coming Monday, April 16th.. which will put me finishing in Early-July.
(July 5th).. which is almost perfect for me.

So.. to start the ROW80 Challenge, you've got to identify and clearly state what your goals are for the 80 days of the challenge for not only writing, but just your general goals.. so here they are, and they're going to be aggressive because as Robert Browning said, "A man's reach should exceed his grasp".. so I'm going to be reaching on these goals, but that will help provide me with some motivation.

  1. Write at least 7000 words a week towards my WIP.
    1. That will have me finishing my rough draft before the end of the Challenge, which is.. again.. perfect as I'll have to take some time off after I write, and then I can come back to it and edit.
      1. No excuses about needing to research or outline.. this is actual words on page.
  2. Stick to my Diet & Exercise plan. (Goal: I'd like to lose 20% of my bodyweight.)
    1. Diet: I'm using the Online Weight Watchers program and I've had good success with it in the past, but I need to stick to it and record all my food, as well as my workouts.
      1. Stick to menu and daily schedule.  
    2. Exercise: I need to be exercising at least 5 times a week, preferably 6 times.
      1. Alternate between walking, jogging, and Insanity tapes.
    3. Sleep: I function on 2 sleep cycles, 8 hours and 6 hours. Anything more or less, I've found, is disruptive.
      1. So I need to be in bed, not reading, ready for sleep by midnight.  Which means writing done by 11pm.
  3. Find 3 more Beta Readers or Critique Partners
    1. Given my soon to be location, it's impossible for me to connect with a writing group that meets on a regular basis here in Utah, (unless it's through skype).. and I already have 2 very good internet based beta readers.. but I'd like to find 3 more for more of an internet based writing group.
  4. Have something *nearly* ready to submit to Writers of the Future by the end of the challenge.
    1. Not that I have to submit during this ROW80, but have something that is close.. so that I can spend some time cleaning it up before I submit it.
    2. This will obviously be a variation of my current WIP, so that I don't have conflicting WIP's.
  5. No video games.  Period.
    1. This actually used to be a real problem for me. About a year ago I was pretty close to what I'd consider a Video Game addict. World of Warcraft was my drug for about 5 years.. from late 2006 until late 2011. To say it held me back both professionally and personally is a gross understatement.  However I feel I've finally reached a point where I have moved past gaming. I've been Warcraft free for 11 of the past 14 months, and even lately, when I found myself spending time playing Civilization, I decided it was too much and deleted it from my computer. I've found I have much more time and focus for my writing, and my family without the spectre of 'leveling up my character' looming.

M is for... Mullet

Today is letter 'M' day.. and a fine letter it is. And with it being a Saturday, what better way to celebrate the weekend than by introducing one of the funnest 'M-words" in the english language..


All business in the front.. but a party that never ends in the back.. mullets were, I'm almost ashamed to say, all the rage in my younger days.

When I was in High School, Hair Metal ruled the airwaves, and mullets were the crowns that sat atop those metal heads.

There weren't very many popular late 80's band that didn't feature the mullet somewhere in the band. It was nearly mandatory. From pop music to punk to heavy metal to even the fledgling rap groups of the day.. nobody was immune to the allure of the mullet.

Not even Hollywood escaped the pull of the buzzed sides meshed in an unholy union with those lengthy locks in the back.

The list of people who wore the infamous coif of the rocker includes such late 80's, early 90's celebrities as.....
Billy Ray Cyrus
Chuck Norris

Michael Bolton

The mullet was so popular.. some people have yet to outgrow the style, choosing instead to wait until it returns to once again reign supreme over all hairdo's


You go.. Dog.

Friday, April 13, 2012

L is for... Lugubrious

Lugubrious: Mournful, dismal, or gloomy, especially to an exaggerated or ludicrous degree.

So today is day "L" for the A-Z Blogging Challenge.. time for some fun word play.

So to challenge your minds, and teach you something fun, here is our L word.. Lugubrious.

Just a fun word to say, to me is sounds like a worm-word.. like I see something slinking across the ground.  :)

Who hasn't feel dismal or gloomy at times? Hell, I feel that way most of the time about my writing.. but I am not sure that I can say that I've ever fallen into a lugubrious state over my writing.. yet.

But, if you give me some time, I may just be able to work up to it eventually.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

K is for... Kobayashi Maru

Kobayashi Maru:  A no-win situation caused by a set of rules that can only be won by changing the rules, in effect, cheating. This term comes from the name of a small ship in distress in a scenario shown in a Star Trek movie. According to the film, the scenario is featured in a training simulator for students attempting to become ship's captains. They receive a distress signal from the Kobayashi Maru and can either attempt to rescue it and be destroyed by enemy forces or leave it and let it be destroyed. James T. Kirk is the only person to have won the scenario--by reprogramming the simulator. In effect, cheating.

This may not be what you're expecting, given the topic.. I'm not going to talk about cheating your way out of unwinnable situations, although I do absolutely think that's a great topic.. one I'll maybe use on another day soon.. but rather than talk about the obvious, (cheating death/failure).. I'm going to talk about the idea of the Kobayashi Maru in the Star Trek movie series.

Let me preface this by saying I am NOT a Trekkie.  I like the movies, and I've watched some of the TV shows, although not religiously.. I like the concept of the show, just not enough to ever attend a conference or name a kid after a character or dress up like some space cowboy or... you get the picture.  But I recently watched the orignal Star Trek movies part 2 and 3 with my son and was struck by the continuity of the story.

If there is one thing I like about the show, it's that it knows and follows its roots.  The Kobayashi Maru concept shows up in the original Star Trek movies from back in the early 80's.. and was incorporated to play a major role in the new updated version of the movie as well.  I love it when stories are true to themselves, and when they actually plan ahead and introduce things early instead of just conveniently creating something that occurred 'off-screen' back around the first episode/book/movie and then bring it up later in the arc progression like it's well known.

(Harry Potter Spoiler Alert.)

I love the Harry Potter books. I really do, some of the best writing of our day without question imho.. but I really didn't like that the last book, the 'Deathly Hallows' was where we were first introduced the idea of the Deathly Hallows. I wish she would have referenced them somehow prior. A huge part of the final book dealt with the characters chasing after, thinking about, discussing the Deathly Hallows..something that big, and central to the story would have been better introduced earlier, imho.

Deathly Hallows Symbol
She has the cloak, she introduces the ring, she talks about the book, 'Tales of Beedle the Bard'.. but never mentions them for what they are, or introduces the symbol until the final book.

I do love that she introduces the ring in the 6th story, and that it plays a large and important part there.. that she introduces it as a horcrux, that it actually is the thing that leads to Dumbledore's death.. I just wish she'd have introduced the concept of the 3 brothers and the Deathly Hallows previously.

Now, I don't mean to be critical of the author, she has a ton, and I mean literally a ton of information and items that are introduced before they become relevant.. and I love that about her books.  In fact, it makes going back and rereading the books all the more fun because there are all these important items or concepts that are casually  mentioned and then not brought up until they're relevant. I think the foreshadowing is just tremendous in these stories, and as one who has attempted on a much small scale, something similar.. the amount of plotting and planning is outrageous. To do as many as Rowling did is simply astounding, imho.

This was just one thing that always stuck out to me in reading her books. She does this so well in all the other stories..and then in the finale, with one of the most central ideas.. the information is all contained in the final book.

I just think it could have been successfully introduced easily as a children's story, since that was essentially what it was.

However, complaining about this one thing over the entire Harry Potter series is like complaining that your desert spoon is slightly bent. It doesn't alter the end result, which was very pleasing.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

J is for... Jealousy

Damm you Waag Jones!
Jealousy is one of the fundamental human emotions. History teaches us that man, upon first walking on 2 feet and learning to communicate, was in a constant struggle to keep up with the Joneses.

Waag Jones's cave was bigger, he had a fancier club, his animal skins were always from predators, not diseased herbivores like your patched hides.. he was taller, faster, stronger, and had all his teeth.  All the females would line up to get knocked on the head by his club and drug back to his cave by their hair, but they'd run from you.

How you hated Waag, how you wanted his life.  So you hatched a scheme to have a saber-tooth tiger follow you into his cave late at night and let him devour Waag..

... ahh the machinations of man.

Jealousy is a part of human nature. It is in every part of our society. Jealousy over how someone looks, how rich they are, where they work, what they drive, what they wear, who they date/marry, their house, their possessions.. any characteristic that can be used to describe a person will cause jealousy.

I'll wager that there's something that you're jealous of right now, and you may not even be fully aware of it.. but if you spend some time, you'll think of it.

So with jealousy being so prevalent in our lives and culture, how can you ever write a story that doesn't include some?  Is the bad guy evil because he's jealous? Is the good guy torn and with a dark side because he's jealous? Is the side-kick secretly jealous of the love and adoration the hero gets? Is the love interest jealous of the other part in the love triangle that seems to usually exist in these stories?

Jealousy can be anything you want it to be, motivation, plot stirrer, catalyst for change, secret, even redeeming quality, once overcome.

So.. how can you inject jealousy into your story to add some spice, and depth, to your characters?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I is for... Isolation, Disorientation, and Misdirection

Getting back to our regularly scheduled Blogging..

For writers, one of the most vital pieces to our writing.. any sort of Fiction writing, is to be able to build suspense and tension in our stories.

When things are going good in our character's lives.. the story is over. You've reached your 'Happily Ever After'.  All you have left to do is write, "The End" and close the cover.

However, if that happens in the middle of your book you're sort of in a bit of a quandary.

So enter the 3 keys to building suspense in a novel... Misdirection, Isolation, and Disorientation.

J Scott Savage, a tremendous writer who has been very successful on a local level in and around Utah but who will be making a National splash in early 2013.. (with the release of his series 'The Grimville Case Files' on HarperCollins Children's Books).. I've been following his blog for almost a year now and he has some tremendous advice, including a great post on the topic of raising tension in his novels.

I'd like to borrow briefly from his blog post, and a few other sources to explain how Isolation, Misdirection, and Disorientation fit into the tension building framework.

  1. Isolation:  Pretty easy, if you want to create a feeling of tension in your story.. isolate your main character.  Make Harry go fight Voldemort alone.. which is almost how every one of their encounters unfolds. First Book, Harry leaves an injured Ron and Hermoine to fight Voldemort/Quirrell alone. Harry touches the portkey with Cedric Diggory who is killed and then Harry fights Voldemort alone. Even when Harry isn't fighting Voldemort.. he is still struggling alone. His fight against the Basilisk and Tom Riddle's diary.. Harry is alone. Against the Dementors to save Sirius Black in book 3 he's alone(Do you start to notice a theme here?)
    So isolation is a pretty obvious example.. and that's just one author/series. Go look back at some of the other books you love/loved. Frodo and Samwise go off on their own. Edmund is bewitched by the White Witch and leaves his siblings to go off alone.. over and over we find that if you want to bring tension and suspense.. put your characters in a box and close the lid to the outside world.
  2. Disorientation:  Again.. pretty easy. Take your character out of his comfort zone and put them into something new and exciting, dangerous even. Take an orphan and throw them into an unseen world of magic. Take your rebellious character out of her poverty stricken District and throw her into a kill or be killed arena against 23 other tributes. Take your young orphaned alien boy from a Galaxy far.. far away and thrust him into an intergalactic struggle with a magical Force.
    Really all we're doing here is taking our character from all they've known and jamming them into an unknown, and in all likelihood Dangerous situation that they are totally unfamiliar with.
  3. Misdirection:  The shell game, found on any street-corner or subway entrance in New York if you can believe the movies, (which I'm sure is accurate), is based on misdirection.. keep the Mark's eyes on one hand while you pull off the switch with the other. You give them something to watch, something to focus on.. and then you trick them with what they weren't watching. In writing it's much the same thing. You give them a Snape to focus on so that a Quirrell can sneak behind them and surprise them at the end.. or give them an Albino Religious Fanatic so that the real culprit can dodder behind the scenes as a Grail expert thrust unwillingly into the story. (DaVinci Code)
    What you're doing with Misdirection is giving the reader someone to focus on, someone to pin their suspicions on so that you can yank the rug out from underneath them at the end of the story.

Best selling author Brandon Mull, (Fablehaven series, Beyonders series) has a very simple way of describing his formula for success.. 
Try to find interesting characters and put them up against interesting problems and see what happens.
I think that it's at least in part as a result of the interesting problems where your characters become interesting. A character isn't interesting because they've got a large hook nose and oily straight black hair.. that's merely a description. What makes them interesting is how they react to the problems they face. Are they brave? Lucky? Bumbling? Sinister? Brooding? Dark? Evil? Ambivalent? 

Use one of the techniques above to heighten tension and create an interesting problem, and then see what your character does.. then write it down so the rest of us can follow along in the journey.  

Monday, April 9, 2012

H is for... Heart

There's just something special about
a father's love for his daughter

(Cont. from Saturday)

... so we'd just left the Hospital in Boise and returned to school 300 miles away in Moscow ID.  All seemed to be improving with Kanani, true she wasn't growing much, and she still didn't eat anything except what went through her NG-tube, but she seemed happy, and we were assured by the nurses that she would probably outgrow all of the maladies, so I didn't worry much.

I remember vividly how it blew my mind so completely when she started playing with a toy for the first time. It was just a little mirror with a roller toy underneath that, when you touched it, played music and had lights that lit up around the mirror. At first, when she'd trigger it, I thought she was just stretching her arm, but after doing it a few times in a row my wife and I watched her do it deliberately.. I remember the incredible sense of pride and wonder at realizing that she was doing that on her own.. that she liked the music and lights.. that she had her own thoughts and enjoyed something.. just simply that she was an independent person, even though only around 2-3 months old at that point.  The thought that she had her own thoughts inside that tiny little head just blew me away.

I remember just being flooded with such a sensation of love for this little person that was still only around 8 lbs at 4 months of age.

After Kanani had been on the feeding tube for about 4 months the Doctors decided we should just do a G-tube directly through her stomach.. it was less invasive than the NG-tube, and would make it easier for her to learn to eat.. so my wife and she went back to Boise for a quick little procedure.

.. however if you read my post from Saturday you would have read that when it comes to my daughter, nothing ever goes as expected...

.. they left Moscow Idaho in November, for what was supposed to be a quick weekend trip.. and ended up not returning for about a year and a half.

There were complications with Kanani's minor surgery, again, and she ended up staying in the hospital not overnight.. but for 5 of the next 6 months, most of that in the Pediatric ICU, including around 2 months on life support, and one incident where she stopped breathing and required CPR.

During that time Kanani had roughly half a dozen operations, culminating in open heart surgery. I remember every detail of the morning when I carried her down to the surgical room and handed her to a nurse, not knowing if I'd ever get the chance to hold her again. She was around 8 months old, and clung to me as we approached the nurse. That was still the hardest thing I've ever done.. hand over my baby to a nurse and saying goodbye, without knowing if I'd ever again see those beautiful eyes look searchingly into mine.. the memory still brings me to tears.

I've glossed over much of what we went through during those 6 months in Boise.. I withdrew from Law School in early December, right when it appeared she'd be in the Hospital for a little while so that I could be there with her and my wife during this ordeal. We bounced around from family member to family member during this time, staying a month or two here, a month or two there.. before we finally got an apartment in Boise once Kanani was released in Mid-May of 2002. We were counseled by our Doctors to be ready for her to die at any time because she was in congestive heart failure and had picked up a host of colds and infections from her stay in the hospital and her compromised immune system because of her diagnosis. They kept pushing her heart surgery back and back because they thought she was just too sick to survive the procedure, but eventually, they said, they'd reach a point where they'd have to just proceed regardless of her health because her heart was that bad.. and that occurred in April of 2002.

Amazing to think that was a decade ago.

The surgery lasted for just over 5 hours, which was a little longer than was expected, but it was the first time when everything went better than expected. We were surrounded by family and had many, many prayers offered on our behalf during that time. She emerged from the operation a new child. She suddenly had the energy to actually cry (a mixed blessing), to sit up, to play.. before she'd been a quiet observer.. now she was a participant in her life. The change was dramatic and wonderful. Within months she was babbling, then crawling and finally walking at around 2 years old.  Each milestone was hard fought, but that just made them all the more meaningful.

I returned to finish Law School the next fall, leaving my wife and daughter in Boise where they were close to her Doctors and the Hospital.  I'd drive or fly to Boise as often as I could over the next 2 years to be with them.. spending summers doing externships in Boise and then returning once again to Moscow until I graduated in May of 2004.

Our second child was born in December of 2003 on the Saturday after my last final exam for the semester, so I was able to be there for his birth. I remember packing my car the night before, getting up and taking the exam from 8 until noon, and then turning in the exam and leaving immediately for Boise, and then going to the Hospital the next morning around 5am for my oldest boy's birth.

Now.. 3 more boys later, Kanani is still my princess but we've added 4 princes to the family. I love my boys, all of them.. they're the best things I'll ever do in my life.

  • My oldest son is the kind of kid I always wanted as my best friend when I was younger, he's the All-American kid, handsome, good at sports, a great friend, and the best big-brother I've ever seen.. our youngest child adores him to the point of running to him rather than my wife or me when he awakes in the morning. He's the coolest kid I've ever known, and he's a great example for his brothers. 
  • My second  is the absolute sweetest boy in the world with an artists soul and a brilliant mind. He is astonishingly mature for being nearly 6, and is so much smarter than I was at that age it's unnerving. Not as athletic as his older brother yet, he's already reading and can beat me at video games to boot. He has the brightest eyes I've ever seen, and has the uncanny ability to understand the fundamental truth of the world around him at a level that amazes and intimidates me a little. It's like being the father of a boy with an old buddhist munk's soul residing in his body. At any moment I expect him to espouse Eastern Philosophy and ask me if I know why the wind sings so softly through the early spring tree tops.
  • My third son is a 4-year old absolute terror with no fear and the softest heart in the world. He will run full tilt into a wall and bounce off, with blood dripping down his face, laughing his head off all the while.. but if I tell him I'm very disappointed that he colored on the wall and look cross, he'll break down and weep the biggest, fattest tears you've ever seen.. but he also bounces back faster than any of our other children with only a hug from his daddy. I've never seen anyone switch from pained tears to joyful laughs so quickly, and so honestly. He is utterly without guile and loves life with a passion I wish I could emulate even if only fractionally.
  • My youngest boy, is only a year and already a born performer. At this young age, he mugs for his siblings and lights up at the sound of their laughter. He was climbing up and down the stairs by himself, to his siblings delight, but not with his parent's permission before he turned a year, all in an attempt to be in the middle of the action, which is wherever his brothers are. He's a typical youngest child.. a total ham who will do anything for a laugh and the spotlight, and that comes from another youngest sibling (me) who is still to this day, a total ham. He has also never had a bad day and smiles as much as he breathes.
Watching my sons give me the more pleasure than anything in my world. I know all too well how incredibly blessed I am, and am constantly amazed that I could have had a hand in creating these human beings who have so much potential and are already such wonderful people... they're the things I am most proud of in my life, an accomplishment I'll never top.. they'll carry on my name when I leave this life, and they'll each make a mark on this world greater than any footprint I could ever dream of leaving..

Kanani, January of 2011 visiting Mom
and her newest baby brother.
.. but it is my daughter that owns my very soul. My heart was lost the first moment she first gripped my finger in her tiny hand. She is my princess, she is my moral compass, she is my touchstone of all that is good and beautiful in the universe, and she is, without question, the purpose why I was placed on this earth. My entire reason for being is to protect her and see that she smiles every day.

That's not to say her life is easy now. She still has some medical issues, and probably will all her life. She struggles with learning and comprehending abstract concepts and doesn't understand all the intricacies of social interaction, all these struggles, and more are a part of her diagnosis of DiGeorge Syndrome/VCFS, but with therapy and lots of hard work, and with the help of her loving and protective brothers and parents, she has and continues to blossom.

She truly is 'the beautiful one' to her father.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

G is for... Genetics

I usually don't get too personal in my blog.. which seems odd to say since I bare my soul through my writing, but the soul that I share in my writing is mine only through creation. My writings are controlled and deliberate. I may not always be satisfied with them and there is usually quite a bit of editing that occurs after something is written, but nothing is included by chance, or by mistake.

That's not always the case in life.

My oldest child is my only daughter. She was born between my first and second years of Law School. My wife and I had been trying to have a child for a little over a year when we found out we were pregnant. I can still remember my Dad's response when we told him.. he was sitting on our couch after having come to visit us over the Thanksgiving break. We'd just gotten the 'positive' response from the test and when we told him he did a little 'yahoo!' cheer and actually caught air from his seated position when he thrust his arm into the air. I'm the youngest in my family, and I think my Dad just wanted to make it long enough to see some of my kids. He died a couple of years ago, but lived long enough to see 4 of my 5 so... that's pretty good.

We named my daughter after the Hawaiian word for "Beautiful," "Kanani". She came a little early that summer and weighed only 4lbs 14 oz, our smallest child by over 2lbs. Immediately she was whisked away from my wife and I because of 'wet lungs'. I followed the nurses with her at my wife's request and made sure she was safe and healthy.  All seemed good, she pinked right up and the nurses said they'd suction out her lungs and get her to us soon, so I went back with my wife who by this time was headed back to our room on the maternity floor. About an hour later we were told that our daughter had been moved to the Neo-Natal ICU.. but that it wasn't a big deal, just those wet lungs. They wanted to put her on some oxygen just to be safe.  It wasn't until about 2 hours later that we first learned of any sort of problem. A medical resident came into our room holding our chart, she started reading it and said the following, which has forever been etched in the recesses of my mind.
"Hiatt... Hiatt.. oh here we are. .. .. .. Oh yes, you're the family with the baby with the really rare birth defect. I've never seen anything like that before. Not sure how they're going to deal with it. I don't even know if there's a surgical procedure that can be done to fix the problem..."
We both melted, and the resident beat a hasty retreat. My wife and I clung to each other sobbing, not sure what to do or how to feel or where to even look.. looking at each other only hurt so we spent the next hour or so staring at the walls. The nurse came in and when she realized what had just happened, swore a very lively phrase about the resident and ran to fetch the pediatric surgeon to talk with us.  That surgeon, who would play a very prominent role in our lives for the next 4-5 years, soothed our fears. He told us our daughter had what was known as a Tracheoesophageal Fistula, that essentially her esophagus and her stomach weren't connected.. the esophagus just ended in a pouch about half way down, and that he saw this sort of thing around a dozen times a year. He said that 20 years ago she probably would have died, but that today the surgery wasn't a really big deal, (not like open heart surgery).. as long as the upper esophagus that she did have was long enough to stretch to the lower esophagus attached to her stomach.. which hers was.

Kanani had her the first operation of her life when she was around 10 hours old, but as would prove to be the case with her.. nothing went as expected. She became the first child ever in the largest Hospital in Boise, ID to have her esophagus perforated by a surgical probe. The tear resulted in an emergency thoracotomy to fix the tear.. and then another 3 days later when it was discovered that the repair had been incomplete and there was still a small hole that was leaking saliva and causing a massive infection in her chest cavity.

Kanani at 3, on her way to pre-school
The surgery and subsequent operations were painful and she suffered quite a bit for a newborn, 3 major operations plus nasty chemical burns where her vein collapsed but the NICU nurses didn't notice and the calcium they were giving her intravenously gave her 3rd degree burns on her legs.. but ultimately after about a month in the NICU, she was able to leave with us to go back to law school. All we had to do was learn to fish a NG-tube down her nose to feed her.  So that's how we left, we were discharged and drove immediately 300 miles north to the middle of nowhere (From Boise ID to Moscow ID) so I could start my second of three years of law school the next day.

We thought we were done.. that Kanani would learn to eat by mouth quickly, and that she was, after all of the drama, on her way to being 100% healthy. We'd had a bump in the road, but nothing we couldn't handle...

... oh how young and naive we were.

(To be continued with the letter 'H is for... Heart')

Friday, April 6, 2012

F is for... Fake

I've got a secret.

I'm a fake... a fraud... a phony.  I'm about as legit as a $3 bill.  I'm pretending to be a writer, but the truth is.. I have no idea what I'm doing.

I play along, I read books on writing, I spend my time daydreaming of story ideas and then I write them down and do little outlines, I even attend some writing conferences.. but it's only to keep up appearances. I've been faking it for around 3 years now, and I've even won a few writing competitions.

It all lends credibility to my charade.  I'm really starting to get the hang of it.

Just do me a favor.. keep this under your hat. Last thing I need is for my wife to find out that all that time I spend plunking away on my computer is just me pretending I'm something I'm not.


Guess what time of year it is.... FIRST DRAFT TIME!!!