Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

I’m a bit unconventional when it comes to being a writer. I started out my creative life wanting to be a film maker. In those early days, I shot a lot of film and video tape. I also did plenty of drawing. Storyboarding is a concept used in film making wherein you draw out your scenes like comic books in little squares or rectangles. The idea is to let you visualize a scene from beginning to end, before you start filming it.

There really is nothing like this in writing a novel, except working out and sticking to an outline. But I’m a visual person. Remember, I was a film major in school. Yes, I’m actually in the IMDB. Anyway, early on in my film making career; so early that I was still in Junior High School, my friends and I started drawing scenes from a SF movie that we planned to make in our back yards that would rival Star Wars. Did I mention we were only 14? Yeah, delusions of grandeur.

Anyway, that movie never really got made, but it was so fun drawing the starships and then actually making little cardboard models of them, that it kept us entertained for hours on end and as my dad used to say, kept us out of the pool halls. Being a diligent archivist, I kept everything we drew. From age 13 through our early twenties. Much later in life, I decided to turn those drawings into a novel. The end result was Starstrikers.

Eight-wing Starfighter

This week on my blog, I’m opening up the vault and showing off some art that we drew as kids that I’m now using for inspiration as I start writing the prequel to StarstrikersStarforgers. Not all the art that I will be showing off was drawn when I was a kid. I continue to sketch scenes from my novels to help me visualize them. I can’t help it, I think in visual terms. But fair warning, I’m not an artist in real life, I only pretend to be one. So some of the drawings are less than spectacular. Well, okay, most of them suck. But you can still see where I’m coming from with each brief description.

So how about it, do any of the other distinguished writers on Genre Bender doodle before they write?

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It takes a different kind of person to make their own dreams come alive. Not everyone is prepared to put in the long hours and hard work it takes to bring a novel to the store shelves in non-traditional ways. I’m one of those crazy, annal retentive, ego centric fools who just has to do things his own way. I’m not content to let others tell me how my books are going to look or even if they get published. That’s just not in my character.

As a youth, I saw the movie Star Wars. Not the Jar-Jar Binks version, the Han Shot First version. It captured my imagination and made me curious about how movies were made. I was all of thirteen years old when I started making my own movies and finding creative ways to reproduce the fantastic special effects showcased in that film. I didn’t just dream of being a film-maker, I rolled up my sleeves, inspired my buddies and together we made movie magic in Super-8 film. Along the way, I learned quite a bit about how films are made, I even majored in Film Production in college. In fact, you can find my name in the credits of some feature films I worked on.

Back when I was a teenager, blowing up cardboard models of space ships that I had designed, I also started writing a story that would languish in my mind for the next twenty years. It was my homage to Star Wars and all the fun times I had making movies as a kid. Eventually, I decided that the only way that story would get finished was to write it as a novel. At least that way I could control the lighting, script, camera and special effects just like a Hollywood director does in a film. After completing the novel, I shopped it around and was routinely rejected from everyone in the publishing business. I felt like I was at the mercy of an establishment that was not really interested in fulfilling my dreams. So I trunked the novel and went on with my life.

Eventually, technology started to catch up with my do-it-yourself attitude. First came the Internet and I saw the potential in HTML to bring my story directly to the people. So I created a website to showcase my novel and all the drawings of space ships and aliens my friends and I made when we were kids. The novel was on display for many years until once again, technology caught up with me. Through Print On Demand services, I could now make my own novel and sell it directly to the people without bothering to go through the traditional publishing process. But there was a problem. I didn’t know how to make a book. I was well versed in screenplays, storyboards and film editing, but I knew nothing about interior design, cover art or copy editing. So I rolled up my sleeves and started to learn.

I’ve now published two books on my own and each new book I write, edit and print; adds to my knowledge about the publishing business. I don’t know everything yet, nor will I ever. But I keep working at it and I keep learning as I go. In a way, it’s no different then when I was a kid and spending my allowance on five minute rolls of film. I was just an amateur back then, and I’m pretty much an amateur now, but I still have that desire to do it myself and make my own dreams come true. My latest book is in the process of being forged into awesomeness with the help of my friends, just like those short films I made as a kid. I have started my own press label to release my books and the books of my friends. Together we will make our dreams come true by taking our publishing future in our own hands. Will we sell millions of books and become house-hold names in the publishing industry. Probably not. But the one thing I have learned is that most of the fun in life is in the journey, not the destination. As long as we have the means to follow our bliss, we should not be afraid of the journey.

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Let’s talk about the hero and the fatal flaw. No one is perfect, therefore the hero has to have at least one flaw to be overcome during the climax.

Hero + flaw = character arc = believable character.

But, how does the hero get to the point of needing to grow beyond their flaw? We need a catalyst to reach the next step in the equation.

Enter, the villain. For many stories there is no clear villain, therefore the hero falls flat, and the plot doesn’t advance, as if the whole idea is waiting for something—or someone—to push it forward.

Flawed hero + golden villain = growth opportunity

The Golden Villain
Your villain can be another person, the hero’s own self, a deity or other supernatural being, an animal, or the environment. In any plot structure, the villain’s job breaks into three primary functions.

1-Build plot tension by creating a clear need for the hero’s success
2-Further develop the hero by providing a basis for comparison, and inciting change
3- Be a focus for opposition and conflict in order to give the reader someone/something to root against; aka: inspire the need to annihilate (from 101 Dalmatians, starring Glenn Close)

Theoretically, the more diabolical your villain, the more the reader cheers for the hero. If only it were that easy. Your villain has to be believable for the equation to work effectively.

Evil for evil’s sake does not a good villain make
Most of us can’t conceive of perfect evil or perfect good as anything more than ideals.

Mother Nature is impersonal, not malicious. Luck, ingenuity, and willpower, if applied correctly, can conquer the elements and environment, as well as animals, not to mention hubris and mishap.

As for deities, you’d think lightning bolts would be more accurate or their aim more precise. Whatever the case, the deity can be impressed, placated, distracted, or otherwise outsmarted.

Check your cinema, check your literature, check your history. Because we can’t imagine anything or anyone being more perfect than ourselves, we accord them our same flaws.

There are no perfect heroes; there are no perfect villains. Each has limitations, each has vulnerability, each has flaws, because we have them.

In a villain, these factors allow the hero the possibility of winning.

Traits of the Golden Villain
Conviction. Charisma. Leadership. Decisive. Follow-through. Powerful. Desire. Ambition. Integrity. Tendency to think in absolutes. Never wishy-washy. Intelligent.

Wait. From the above, I could be talking about the hero. That’s right; your villain is a foil for your hero. (see https://genrebender.wordpress.com/2008/07/19/characters-dimensions-and-foils-long/)

In one respect or another, each of the above traits can be admirable or detestable. If amplified, twisted, or misplaced, any trait has horrific potential.

For example, intelligence is a good trait in a hero. Intelligence denotes the ability to reason, to logic, to plan, and to discard morality. This last ability—with or without conscience—is what frightens us. A beast can be scary; a beast that just might be smarter or more cunning than me—as well as stronger, faster, more relentless, and more ruthless—is terrifying.

In my opinion, the more intelligent the character, the higher the stakes and opportunity for bad behavior. Besides, it’s hard to be a mastermind if you can’t reason your way out of a wet paper sack.

Mining for Gold
To get to the root of your villain, you are going to have to dig. This process works equally for all characters, not just villain and hero. When considering the following points, answer the basic questions of who, what, when, where, why, how. Dig. Don’t shy away because the reader will know if you do.

What personality traits do you most admire? What traits do you most despise? Study both lists. Which ones are in your hero? Your villain? Any similarities?

BE CAREFUL. Neither your villain nor your hero can encompass all of what you listed. Yes, it will make them complicated, but you won’t be able to portray them all effectively. Pick a handful of major traits and explore them, then develop them into a memorable character. How?

Consider body language, behavior, speech patterns, quirks, and standard operating procedure (SOP). These behaviors, no matter how small, buff the edges, and add depth to your character.

Notice I say nothing of physical traits. Physical attractiveness or repellence is window dressing though it can serve motivation, goal, and plot. The question is, for your villain, which aspect will better instill fear, loathing, and abhorrence: the beauty that masks the viper, or the depraved disease-ridden leper?

2-The Prize and The Bane
What does the villain want? The villain must have goals and objectives, be that gaining a love object, power, money, knowledge, or a godhead. These wants can be simple or multi-layered. Drop the bomb: let the reader know precisely what the villain considers to be the gold nugget. Be specific.

What does the villain believe to be the bane of their existence? Be specific. Is this belief accurate? How does that figure into their plans? Their prize? What do they do to offset the bane?

3-Second Place is for losers.
As with your hero, your villain is driven to succeed in their ultimate purpose and intent. In my humble opinion, they can’t waver. What true villain would be happy with a consolation prize or a platitude?

Most golden villains deal in absolutes, but you still must quantify the scale of “winning.” To what ends will the villain go to achieve their desire? What line won’t they cross, if any? As long as the prize is won, can the competition live? Can there be compromise?

What will the hero have to do to thwart the villain? What will stop the villain in their tracks, and has the villain even considered this possibility, and/or made contingency plans?

4-Disgrace vs death
Delve deep on this point. Would the villain or hero prefer to die than not achieve their goal and live in disgrace? If not death, does disgrace need to be avenged?

Would the villain prefer the hero to die, or live in abject humiliation? Which of those would be the better goal, or does the villain even care? Perhaps disgrace first, followed immediately by death? At what point would the villain allow the hero to survive, and why?

5-Pearls in the past
The reader does need to understand the villain’s motivation, or at least that they have one. Nature can only go so far before we have to consider nurture.

The seeds of present and future actions, behaviors, and thought processes were sown in the past. Culture and/or heritage; socio-economic position; education; family and personal relationships—all have a place in shaping the character. Happy memories and tragic or emotionally scaring events also play a part. In a sense, your villain needs to have more of a past than your hero.

What event made a boy into the Jason of Friday the 13th infamy? Who was Count Dracula before his vampiric star rose? Why did a highly intelligent psychiatrist become Hannibal the Cannibal?

When considering the villain’s past, we can often come up with more than a few traits and flaws. However, if they see them at all, the villain can’t see those flaws as being impediments to their plans. Villains are just as self-deluding as the rest of us, so maybe they see those flaws as strengths.

Writing the Golden Villain
Readers seek a connection to your characters, and the characters are what will keep them reading even if, heaven forbid, your plot becomes predictable. If they don’t find that connection, your book is dismissed to the used book counter.

When writing your villain, you can take a direct approach and write in the villain’s POV, or you can have another character or plot device betray the villain’s motivations, goals, and objectives. This is a style choice on your part.

By writing in the villain’s POV, you can see if they come off as diabolical and nasty as you intended, or if they come off flat. In their POV, you can study their body language and behaviors, how they think, what they think, what they feel, why they feel. In their POV, you can make the villain real. This has value.

Even if you write in single POV, make an exercise of writing in the villain’s POV for a few important scenes. You don’t have to use them in the end product, but it can be instructive. It also takes extra time, but if you can’t find your villain’s voice, if you can’t make them multi-dimensional, this exercise might make a difference.

However you accomplish it, you have to know your character inside and out, what makes them tick. You have to understand them, the lengths they will or will not go. You have to understand the whys and the wherefores in order to relay villain’s dark glory to the reader. If you don’t get it, the reader won’t either.

Remember the villain’s job within your plot. The villain spurs the hero to overcome their flaw and to triumph over adversity. If the reader doesn’t understand the villain’s motivation, doesn’t see the logic behind it, and doesn’t understand the prize, your house of cards will crumble because the reader won’t understand the imperative for the hero’s success.

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Bob Mayer and Margie Lawson

Two of the hottest conference speakers making the RWA rounds in one intense weekend!

Writers’ Master Class Weekend http://www.murderinthegrove.com

When: June 5-6, 2009 at the Owyhee Plaza Hotel
Where: Boise, Idaho


New York Times bestselling author Bob Mayer has thirty-eight books published. He has over three million books in print and is in demand as a team-building, life-change, and leadership speaker and consultant for his Who Dares Wins: The Green Beret Way concepts.

After attending West Point and serving as an Infantry platoon leader, battalion scout platoon leader, and brigade reconnaissance platoon leader, Bob joined Special Forces and commanded a Green Beret A Team.
Bob draws on these experiences as well as his Masters Degree in Education to write his novels and his nonfiction books, including WHO DARES WINS: The Green Beret Way To Conquer Fear & Change and The Novel Writer’s Toolkit: A Guide To Writing Great Fiction And Getting It Published. Most recently Agnes and the Hit Man, in collaboration with Jennifer Crusie from St. Martin’s Press.

Margie Lawson, psychotherapist, writer, and international presenter, has applied her psychological expertise to dissect over a thousand novels and analyze how authors write page-turners. A former university professor, Margie taught psychology and communication courses at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels. Her resume includes clinical trainer, professor, sex therapist, Director of an Impotence Clinic, hypnotherapist, and keynote speaker. Margie focuses her analytical skills on writing craft, developing innovative editing systems and deep editing techniques. Her deep editing tools are used by all writers, from newbie to multi-award winners. She teaches writers how to edit for psychological power. How to immerse the reader in the fictional world. How to hook the reader viscerally.
In the last four years, Margie presented full day Master Classes in forty-two cities, including cities in Australia and New Zealand. Most of her full day Master Classes sold out.
CBCRWA members – 125.00/ both days

Non members – 135.00/both days

Or $75.00 for a single day.
Breakfast and Lunch for both days included in the price.
To register or for more information: http://www.murderinthegrove.com or email inform@yahoo.com

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Well, research can be your friend, a friend that likes to drink and tell lewd stories. Turns out I guessed right in wanting to write “Bladesman” in a harboiled/noir detective style. It has all the traits of one. So I have some of the books on CD, and I’m looking for more. I hear Elmore Leonard is supposed to be good, so if anybody has any recommendations I’m listening.

I’m getting books by Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane (having trouble finding those) and Dashiell Hammett (if there are books I “just gotta read” by these or anybody else, let me know). From what I can gather, Raymond Chandler is the guy to study. Much of my research says his writing achieved the pinnacle. I have some of the “original source” material done. As a young man I read my Conan Doyle and Christie, my Poe and much of the rest. Sure, I wasn’t reading and dissecting the words and structure, and I’ve forgotten much, but I think enough lingers like stale cigarette smoke in my mind.

A murder does start the book, however there’s really no mystery of who dunnit. The “mystery” part revolves around the “why” they dunnit. There’s also the reverse detective story, the “how are they going to catch the murderer” type. And while police are still an option, it’s not one that our main character and his cohorts will ever take seriously. So without really meaning to, I’ve been wrapped in a rug and stuffed in the trunk of the hardboiled detective genre. To be sure, this is also an urban fantasy novel, can’t get around that. What else would you call a novel that’s near future, dystopian, west coast after the earthquake and a Chinese Invasion, economic collapse and it’s aftermath, all with swords and magic anyway. There’s a decidedly low-tech grunginess brought about by economics alongside the high tech geegaws and work flow. And there is magic, very limited in who can use it, but very powerful.

So now it remains to be seen if I can keep all these voices separate in my head straight to write the three novels (neo-noir, high fantasy, and contemporary satire). Or there’s going to be some weird mix ups.

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Novel Maps

I recently put together a Google Map for my soon to be released mystery novel – Null_Pointer. Authors use maps to help them write in many ways, from exploring cities that they have not been to, to getting a feel for where their characters are actually located in the real world.

I wrote Null_Pointer in my current home city of Boise, Idaho. I was well familiar with all the locations mentioned in the book, because I had physically been to each of them; well, the real locations anyway. Quite a few locations were made up.

But the purpose of making a publicly viewable Google Map of the novel was to let folks who do not live in Boise become familiar with the real places I mention in the book. While writing NP, I wanted to set it in my home city to showcase it to a wider audience. Boise is one of the best kept secrets of the American West and I wanted to set my mystery somewhere besides LA or NYC.

In making the map for the novel, I used the stick pins available through Google to place various locations of note in the novel. Some places were not available in Street View, so you will not be able to see them up close. But most of the restaurants featured in the book have enough details so that you can visit them. Many of the pins are markers for events that happen in the book.

Has anyone else used a mapping program like this for their novels?

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