What I wish I’d known (Part 3)

This is my continuation series on what I wish I’d known when I began writing. You can check out parts 1 and part 2.

3. Study Writing to be a better writer

When I was starting out as a writer in middle school and high school no one really told me that I had to study writing to be a better writer. I didn’t like to read, I didn’t like to study, so I did neither. Because of that, my writing never grew as it should have. Once I discovered reading and how I can learn from my favorite authors I got better.

Additionally, I find it best to study what I want to write. I am a big fan of Patricia Highsmith and her suspense. So when I am writing suspense, I always read some of her works. When I want to write great characters, I read Stephen King and study his character arcs. I can emulate their styles to make my writing better.

One way that I have studied writing was to have a book by an author I want to write like open on my desk. I did this with Dave Barry’s fantastic, first novel, Big Trouble. I have read it many times. It is hilarious and a quick read. When I decided I wanted to write a comedy novel I opened his book. I studied the structure, I analyzed how he unfolded the jokes and I did my best to emulate that. When I actually sat down to write my comedy novel, I had his book open on my writing desk and introduced characters in much the same way. I read a page and structured my writing like his. I went as far as analyzing the jokes per page and did my best to have the same amount. My characters were introduced much like his and got into situations that were similar. I will say that I didn’t copy his characters, but I followed the structure so closely that I hoped my book would be taken as another book written by him.

In the end, I had only one problem and it was a major one. I can’t write anything that anyone would consider funny. I did make a pretty good story but the characters were closer to Dumb and Dumber without the hilarity.

Am I the only one that has done this type of thing or am I alone. Comment below.

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What I Wish I’d Known (Part 2)

This is a continuation of my series of five things I wish I knew when I started writing. If you have just begun please see the first entry here.

2. Rewriting your work is a chore

One of the things that makes a writer a writer is rewriting. This is where the real work takes place. This is how a story molds into its final form. When writing, you can sit and put words down and worry about them later. Rewriting is the later you had to worry about. When I write I can create a page of text in a half hour or less if I am going at a good clip. When I am rewriting, there are times when I will meticulously scour every line or word of my writing just trying to get it right. It can take at least an hour or more to get a single page to the way I really want it. To steal a phrase from Hemingway, the hardest part of writing is “getting the words right.”

Just because rewriting is a chore, it doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. I love rewriting. I have already done the hard part of making up the story that I am trying to get out there. When I rewrite I get to revisit scenes that I was excited to write and now I can make them better. I can tie everything together in that one little way that needs to exist so the story is whole.

When I rewrite I can add those transition scenes and take out the useless portions.

When I rewrote my novel, I started with 500 pages. When I was done, I whittled it down to just over 300. It was a chore, but those 300 pages are so much better than the original 500.

Come back tomorrow and see what number 3 is. Do you have  any experiences with rewriting? What do you think about it?

What I wish I’d known (Part 1)

Over the next few days I am going to introduce the five things I wish I’d known as a beginning writer. My draft got a little long-winded so I will present it in five installments. Check back over the next few days.

I am not one to create lists. I don’t like to do things in any sort of order or to check things off the list. That’s just one of the things that makes me, me. With that being written, I do have a list of five things I wish I’d known when I was starting out writing.

This list isn’t comprehensive to every experience, but it covers what I wish I knew when I was starting out. I am not saying it would have changed my mind and I would not have become a writer. No, on the contrary, I would have been a better writer sooner.

1. Writing is hard

This is something that many writers will not tell you. Writing is hard. That’s right. You read it here. Writing is hard. At times, it is downright impossible. I never knew how difficult it would be to sit down at the computer or my writing desk and put pen to paper. Making things up can be easy and fun, at least it should be, but for the most part it is not. It takes work, dedication and a schedule. It is hard to be a dedicated writer in the hustle and bustle of today. But if you really want to be a better writer, you have to understand that it takes time.

Writing for long periods of time can also make you tired, anxious, and irritable. Writing takes a toll on your body. I slouch when I write so many times I have a sore back when I am done. Sometimes I write until my hands ache and my wrists are sore. I guess you can say that I suffer for my art.

Many authors that are famous today took time to write. They showed dedication to their task. One of my favorite authors, William Goldman, hates writing. He has produced great works, but because the task takes so long, he doesn’t do it any longer. I really wish he would. I have loved almost every novel and movie he has been a part of.

Come back tomorrow to see number two (rewriting)

“Never Prosper” excerpt

Ethan leaned forward to survey the street like a spy checking for a tail. When Jenny had early morning meetings, sometimes she came home early. It was rare, but his naked guest in their bedroom was a good reason to be cautious.

The road was empty and he was glad, though the possibility of Jenny’s early arrival did add to the excitement.

He took the steaming cup upstairs and placed it on the nightstand next to Rebecca. She did not stir. Ethan looked at his watch again, checked the front window. “I have a feeling Jenny’s gonna come home any second now.”

Rebecca made a grunting sound that Ethan took for an acknowledgement.

Ethan patted her butt. “Come on. Get dressed. I’ll be right back.” Ethan headed down to the living room. They had started in there. Ethan straightened the skewed leather couch, repositioned the white shag area rug, and fluffed the multicolored accent pillows, to give him something to do while Rebecca was getting dressed.

A door slammed outside. Right then, he knew they should not have done this today. Work was too busy for them both to be away for this long. If he were gone any longer people would certainly be suspicious, especially with Rebecca out now too.  He could already hear “Mary the Gossip” whispering into Angela’s ear, “You know about Ethan and Rebecca, right.”

He went to the bottom of the stairs. “Rebecca, you ready?”

When there was no response, he headed upstairs. She could have been in the bathroom and did not hear or she could have been asleep again. He chewed on his fingernail as he listened. Come on.

“Rebecca, we gotta go now.” At the top of the stairs he turned toward his room, Rebecca still lay under the covers, sleeping.

He could feel the red rage building in his face. Ethan stormed into the room, kicked the four-poster bed. “Get up.”

Nothing.

He yanked the dark sheet from the bed. She did not budge. He smacked her on the leg, shook it, and yelled, “Rebecca!”

Nothing.

(Read more here)

James Bond is a cold dude.

I am a huge James Bond fan. I haven’t seen all of the movies but I am working on it. Amazon Prime helps, they just made a few of the movies available for April. So I started watching Goldfinger. I’ve seen it before, but it’s been a long time.

The thing that shows me how cold Bond is was this. Bond just finished blowing up some building in the precredit scene. He goes back to his room to “take care of a loose end” or something like that. Those of you that have seen a single Bond frame of film know it’s a woman. So when he gets there, she’s in the bath. She gets out of the bath and Bond’s attention is um… drawn away for a moment while an assassin is sneaking in.

Bond leans in close for a kiss and sees the reflection of the assassin in her eyes. Instead of pushing her out of the way, he uses her as a human shield and she gets the smack on the head with the blackjack. She falls to the ground. He shrugs it off and fights. Cold, but not freezing.

He fights the guy, they rumble all round the room. The fight ends with the guy getting thrown into the bath and Bond tosses a heater into the water, killing the guy. Typical Bond, unperturbed, turns to walk away. “Shocking,” Bond says. Then it gets really cold.

The girl wakes up. He sees it, says “Totally shocking,” and just walks away. This girl will probably die from head trauma or be a vegetable for life and he just leaves. Not only did he use her as a human shield but he left her to die or to wake and deal with the dead body in the tub. I mean, she has to get rid of this body on her own.

Bond is one cold dude.

Putting the Fun in “The Funeral” by Richard Matheson

Right now, short stories are my passion. I’ve read more short stories over the past few months than I have in a long time. For the most part, I’ve enjoyed all of the short stories and have been able to learn a lot from them. Sometimes I learn how to create a character in a short period of time. Some stories helped me learn how to use minimal elements to tell a complete story. But none have done what “The Funeral” by Richard Matheson was able to do. This story, to me at least, put the fun in funeral. Every movie monster shows up in this short, fun ride and I think you would enjoy it.

The story begins with a somber mood of a character planning a funeral. Funeral planning is never good. To compound this, we discover the character on the page is planning their own funeral. Interestingly enough, because this character is a vampire, he’s been dead for years. The funeral director is very nervous and is trying to be accommodating but things go terribly wrong and it seems as though he doesn’t know what to do.

I thought the story was funny, quick paced, and could be seen as the start of a short story series. I would have liked to story to be a little longer, but I honestly don’t know what could have been added to make it a little longer.

There were a few things I did learn from this story. First, when you are tackling a well-used and well-worn set of characters, you don’t need to go overboard with the descriptions. We, as readers, have seen Count Dracula so many times that all we need to be shown are his pointy teeth and know what he looks like. Likewise, we can see the witch with her cat and don’t need a picture laid out in excessive detail to know who they are and how they act.

Second, I learned that less is more in this story. Over the course of the story we are able to understand that one of the main characters, Skyline, was having a terrible time sleeping. But I didn’t read about the week of sleepless nights. I didn’t see the main character tossing and turning over the course of a week, all I was shown was the bags under Skyline’s eyes. This tells a lot without telling too much. Fantastic.

Thirdly, I learned that sometimes you need to surprise your audience by turning the common tropes on their side and look at them differently to keep them interested. Because this was undoubtedly a monster story, I as a reader knew what was about to happen. So, what happens in all monster stories? Someone gets maimed, eaten, murdered. In short, something brutal happens. If it’s a monster movie, there are gallons of blood. Anyway, this had none of that. There was not a single death and it played well. The main monster, a vampire, was the most cordial of all monsters I’ve ever seen. My favorite moment in the story was when he was asking his “mourners” to be polite and respect the funeral. This was hilarious.

Lastly, I learned that monsters can have a soft side and can be funny and they don’t have to sparkle to draw laughs. That was refreshing.

I was a little disappointed when the story ended and would have liked to see a few more monsters coming through the doors. I wondered if this would become Skyline’s real business instead of burying the dead, he just had funerals for the undead.

If you have read “The Funeral” by Matheson, I would love to hear your thoughts. If you haven’t, I suggest you pick up I am Legend and read it.

Link

At the Back of His Mind

At the Back of His Mind

This is the link to my first ever published short story. This story quickly became a top 100 seller on Amazon and stayed there for a while. It is also a top story on iBooks. This story is a suspense short and I would love for you to check it out. Here is the blurb:

Clark is an aspiring writer who is constantly in search of a great story. But when his seemingly oppressive relationship with his girlfriend, Lex, prompts him to take drastic action, Clark realizes that he has the opportunity to make a great story.

Miles away from civilization, under the cover of a stormy night, he sets out to right the wrongs in his life with a shovel, a tarp and gritty determination.

What could possibly go wrong?

Suspense and Potty Training

One of my original intentions of my blog was to use it as a platform so you could get to know me and my writing, my likes and dislikes, and sometimes random bits of thoughts. One thing I didn’t plan on blogging about much was my family. I made a choice that putting my family into the mix of my blog wasn’t something that I wanted to do. I don’t want them to be forced into my writing life, even though they are a large part of it, just behind the scenes. So I am going to do my best to draw this blog about my family into the life of a suspense writer.

Let me start out by saying this, one of my children is potty training right now. This, in itself, is an adventure. But I never thought it would be in the least bit suspenseful, let me explain.

I have a personal definition of suspense that I teach my students. “Suspense is the anticipation of the inevitable unknown.” You cannot have suspense without anticipation, you cannot have suspense without inevitability, and you cannot have suspense without the unknown.

When all three are present, suspense is only there to follow. Suspense should have you guessing at all times and it should have you full of ups and downs, thrills and chills. That being said, if potty training is not suspenseful I don’t know what is.

First there is the anticipation. Every morning, I wake before my wife to get ready for work. My first job is to check on our oldest. Since we have been potty training I wake with the anticipation of a dry pull-up. I roll out of bed and quietly walk downstairs. I push the door to my son’s room open and peek inside. I sniff the air, hoping there will be no pungent aroma that meets my nostrils. Most mornings, I push the door open further, happy that I don’t have to meet that stinky menace this morning. But it’s not over. Is he wet? Has the well sprung? I inch closer.

He rolls over and smiles at me. “Hi, daddy,” he says, a smile spreading on his cheeks.

I reach out. He sits up. “Are you dry and clean this morning?” I ask.

Can you feel that tension?

Next is the inevitability. It is inevitable that he will wake up with one of two answers. He will have either dry or wet, clean or dirty, pull-ups. This will happen, it is inevitable. I am ready for one or the other, I know it will happen but I don’t know which as I lean over to pick him up. Some mornings, I have to ask a second time and that usually means that he’s had an accident in the night. Other mornings, he is quick to answer with hopeful and joyful, “Yes.” To which he follows with “Want treat.” I would love to trust him on the answer but I must check. Like ripping off a Band-Aid it is best to do it in one quick rip, so I must check the forensic evidence. Any parent knows this is either a visual or a tactile experience. There is one answer, it is inevitable, but this brings us to the final and most menacing.

Dunn dunn dunn. The unknown. Great suspense is built upon the unknown. There is nothing more unknowable, especially in the first days of potty training, as playing the “what’s the verdict?” game of bladder and bowel control. At any minute during the day my oldest could explode or wet his pants. It could be exciting if it didn’t mean so much laundry.

There is no time where the outcome is more unknown than in the morning because on most days he’s been in bed for over 12 hours. That’s a long time for a little guy and his umm little guys. So then to the checking. After I pick him up the suspense finally pays off. I have my answer.

This morning he was clean and dry, but you never know what tomorrow will bring. And that, dear reader, is suspense.

Giraffe steaks and social media

Social media is an odd thing. I love it and I hate it. I hate it because of how much time it can take up.  As a writer, I can’t tell you how much I rely on it. I use it to tell my friends and fans about my writing. They helped me get my stories into the top 100 in Kindle books (http://www.amazon.com/T.-Marcus-Christian/e/B00BI4QILM/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1). Right now, social media is the only way I can sell my work. I don’t have a marketing budget. My publisher (http://www.electiopublishing.com) definitely helps on that end, so I am not on my own but social media is my platform. Because of social media, you may have connected with me. You may be a fan on facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/T-Marcus-Christian-Author/390961257644530?ref=hl) or you may follow me on twitter (@Writer_Marcus). You may be a friend from college or grad school and I am glad to know you.

Today, social media introduced me to something really interesting. I found out the real power of social media. As a writer, I am very curious. I like to know things. Sometimes I need to know things and Google just can’t answer certain questions with any sort of reliability.

One thing I really wondered that Google didn’t know: What does giraffe taste like?

Now, before you question me as crazy, animal hater, or something like that, don’t get me wrong, I love animals. It’s not like I go to the zoo with my mouth watering and hoping that I could maybe go into the zoo to hunt my next meal. (I have dreamed of that by the way) No, I love animals. I love them baked, grilled, broiled, or fried with a side of anything tasty like more animal or bacon. I’m off track. Let me wipe my drool.

So how do social media and the taste of giraffe combine?

Well, I entered the realm of social media and I asked my friends expecting not much in return. I mean how many people really have eaten giraffe? Is it legal? Is it a delicacy? How would you get a giraffe steak on your plate? Honestly, I didn’t expect a real answer. I expected to be left without an any answer. I did get the obvious answers from a few people saying that it probably tastes like chicken. Yeah, not good enough. Then one of my friends told me physiologically why it might actually taste like chicken. They stated that the taste buds are designed to give things flavors we are familiar with, therefore, many things taste like chicken. (Pretty cool huh?) Still not good enough.

I have a friend (Caren Story) that lived in Kenya as a missionary when she was younger and she asked her friends. A writer friend (J.L. Benet) told me he would ask one of his South African rugby mates. So I waited.

The answer finally came care of J.L. Benet’s rugby mate. It tastes like buffalo. Now, I have not tasted buffalo, but I imagine it tastes like a gamy mix of cow and deer.

So there you have it. Now I have to try buffalo and giraffe.

I can’t tell you how much social media has done for me. What has social media done for you? Please share.