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SETTING THE TABLE FOR YOUR MASTERPIECE

Once you’ve joined a writing community and have participated in meaningful ways, there will come a time when you will be asked to submit your own work.

This is not the time to panic. Relish the opportunity. I truly believe everyone has at least one story within them that needs to be told. It could be something that you or a family member have personally experienced, or it could be a neat idea for a work of fiction.

Creativity flows from the moment your put your idea in writing. This is the time to commit to a scheduled time of the day to think about, plan and write about it. Schedule it early in the morning before the kids wake up or the quiet time at night. Working this out with your significant other will make your life less stressful because you will have discussed how important this certain writing project is to you.

When you write down your idea—and this is key–mute that internal editor. Write down your idea, no matter how silly you think it might sound. Like passing laws and making sausages, the story writing process ain’t pretty. It’s even okay to reference stories or scenes from other works of fiction that you love and think would be perfect to propel your story. Don’t worry about plagiarism at this point. Remember: story themes, or  “tropes” as we call them, have been recycled time and time again. The difference comes in what you, the author, add to it.  Does the story end differently? Are the characters different? Is the setting in a new time and place?

If you get stuck, ask yourself, “What if…?”. All of the great works of fiction strive answer this question.

What if a young man unjustly imprisoned for treason seizes the opportunity to seek revenge on the men you were responsible for his misfortune?

What if the sister of kidney transplant patient sues her parents for making her be the donor?

What if a man raised by Martians is brought to earth and exposed to human beings for the first time in his life?

Then describe your story in one sentence. “This is a story about…” Check yourself by asking if this the story you really what to tell.

Once you’ve drafted and redrafted a summary of your story idea and possible endings. Worry about the “middle” later. Now is the time to delve into the characters. It’s been said that great characters write themselves. What that really means is that the author did such a thorough job of drawing a complete character description throughout the story, the character is internalized by most readers. And why was that character so believable? Because there were traits in that character that readers identified with living their own lives. In fact, if you’ve developed your characters enough, those traits will dictate how the story should end and what happens to them after the dust settles.

Write about your characters’ physical appearance, likes and dislikes and events in their lives that have shaped them up to the moment your story begins. As you start writing, refer to these character summaries often, but remember that you will not include all of this backstory in your tale. Only draw on the important stuff that necessary to move your plot forward.

Next comes the outline. We all know that there are some writers who do not document their plot in a fixed form. They have been referred to commonly as “pantsers” or respectfully as “developmental writers”. They keep it all in their own head and already know how their story is going to end. More power to them.

You will write a comprehensive outline.

This is how you record the progression of the plot for future reference and revision. Don’t think you are wasting your time on this. Taking the time to lay it all out and revise the outline will save time writing the text in the long run.

Sure, you’ll need to revise the finished work, but that is expected. As you write scenes and chapters, new plot ideas and character information will present themselves in your mind. Consider whether they will improve the telling of your story. If not, discard them.

When you start writing the text, write the chapters and scenes within the chapters that excite you most. These most likely are pivotal plot markers that pit one character against another. Then you can go in and backfill the missing chapters of the “great swampy middle” later.

Take care to write a memorable and well-written first chapter because that is the first impression your potential readers (and agent) get to see of your story. Make sure that whatever “hook” you decide to attract readers with meets or exceeds their expectations about what the book is all about.

Most everyone may think writing the novel is the hardest part, but successful promotion of a novel is often the most neglected aspect of authorship. I’ll leave that to tackle in my next post.

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CALLING ALL NEWBIE WRITERS WITH A DREAM: YOU ARE NOT ALONE

So you’ve had aspirations to write a novel since college, but the flow of life took you down a career path where your dream of writing had no place in your busy career.

Now, after years of climbing that virtual ladder of success, you experience one of two things: 1) you’ve decided you don’t want to climb any higher on the ladder because you have no desire to reach for that next rung, or 2) you’ve realized you’re climbing the wrong ladder.

Either way, you wonder if you can actually pull it off. Sure, you wrote all of those  short stories in school and worked as a beat reporter for the college newspaper or editor for the literary magazine, but that edge has dulled due to inactivity over the years.

The first hurdle is, how do I “sharpen the blade” to gain confidence in writing a full length novel?

Second, how can I organize my idea for an interesting story into a coherent plot with engaging characters?

And third, how should I go about spreading the word about my book to the world?

The answer to all of these questions begins with putting yourself out there amidst a community of writers of varying accomplishments.

For purposes of this post, I’ll focus on question number one.

You start by dusting off those dormant and/or atrophied writing skills.

But even before you do that: read. Read books by well-respected and best-selling  authors on subjects and in genres that excite you. For me, is was international espionage thrillers and epic fantasies like A Song of Ice and Fire. You will begin to rekindle those old writing skills and develop new ones by osmosis. After you finish each book, read it again, but this time read it “actively”. Pay attention to how each author builds their plot, develops their characters and describes the world they have imagined as the backdrop for the story. When something in the story happens that affects you emotionally, take note of it. This includes memorable descriptive language, important revelations, action scenes and engaging dialogue. Through the process of active reading, you will learn to recognize the methods good authors use to write their stories.

Don’t be afraid to emulate them. All those authors, famous or otherwise, do it. The differences are two-fold. First they learned to add their own spin on the same story. Second, they have a well-oiled marketing platform in place that can spread the word about their latest books that new authors simply do not have.

Your mindset should be: “I loved what author ‘X’ did, but I can write it even better!” Don’t psyche yourself out into believing that all the great stories have been written already. This is the opportunity to infuse your own life experiences into your writing that will make your story unique—which is precisely what you want. Story tropes, or as I like to say–story-length clichés–are something you should feel okay about copying.

The next step is to become part of as many writer communities as you have time for. You do not need to enter these communities with manuscripts in hand. The point is to develop relationships, whether they be in person or online, so that you become a familiar presence. For me, it was nanowrimo.org that supports both.

These online communities are wonderful because they are filled with supportive participants who answer a broad range of writing questions about grammar, character and plotting. When you feel comfortable, reply to particular questions.

Many writer’s websites such as wattpad.com ask for online critiques, that everyone should learn to provide. Don’t think that just because you haven’t written anything yet, you can’t reply with a helpful critique. As long as you can read, your opinion is valuable. Just remember to be diplomatic in these forums because someday, you will want someone to critique your writing.

As for live workshops, different groups work in different ways. There are also different levels of writer development in each one’s group members. On the informal end, there are groups of friends who get together to read each other’s works whenever they feel like meeting. Others set weekly meetings made up of seasoned published authors. Most are somewhere in between. For example, a published author’s group will require that you have published a book with a name publisher. Some schedule one author per session where participants are emailed the featured writer’s chapter before critiquing it at the meeting. Others require each participant read a chapter out loud during the meeting. And so on. As your local librarian about workshops in your local community. Join several to find out which ones feel most comfortable to you.

By joining supporting communities, you will have created a foundation for your own social media platform—and you haven’t even started writing!

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Say Goodbye to Your Civil Liberties

When my son needed to fulfill an historic site visit requirement for his Bear Cub badge, on the first gorgeous day last spring, the kids and I walked to the town cemetery that consisted of a  natural roundabout; a circular patch of green enclosed by a towering hedge, situated in middle of one of the town’s most picturesque streets.

The cemetery had markers from the late 18th century during the American Revolution. The highlight was a modern plaque before a tombstone that belonged to a one Douwe Talema, an 89 year-old great grandfather who was killed by bandits loyal to the crown at that time. These men, 100 strong, had crossed the Hudson River to invade our town, burning several homes and barns to the ground. Sadly, they also took many men here prisoner and some, like Mr. Talema, were bayoneted and left to die. The marked grave exists as a protest of the shear brutality of the invasion.         Thanks to brave patriots who fought off the British, up until now, I never woke up in the night fearing something like this happening to my family. Although the violence that happened here generations ago pales in comparison to atrocities across the globe—past and present–it nevertheless had a lasting effect on its residents. One only need to read our daily news feeds to learn of brazen civil rights violations, and the brutality that so often follows, that for many is a way of life inflicted upon the masses by governments or rebel factions within.

Most Americans had never experienced such coordinated attacks on innocents that were encouraged by a monarchy-or an external hostile force. However, that has changed.

It changed the day two jets crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Today, external terrorist groups such as ISIS, through domestic proxies, spread terror by design and seemingly at will, despite Herculean efforts by law enforcement. Until we find a way to slay the ISIS dragon, expect this to get worse before it gets better.

I shudder at the influence of internal forces, namely the potential for Donald Trump to become Commander and Chief. He touts that he is the “Law and Order” candidate, but this is nothing more than a pretext for chipping away at our civil liberties. Make no mistake–should he and his backers get their way, newly appointed reactionary Supreme Court justices will curtail civil liberties, namely the protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, among others. Terrorism and general public safety would be used to justify this.

That is why it is critical that we show responsibility by and taking part in the election process, as well as stand up for those who are least likely to bear the burden placed upon them by hostile political forces. Humanity will not survive in the long run without the will to do this.

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Sicario: All the Build-Up to a Dramatic Conclusion Without the Dramatic Conclusion

I had the chance to view this film, hoping I’d see Emily Blunt in a tour-de-force performance worthy of an Academy Award nomination. Instead what I got were endless shots of stoic facial expressions as her character constantly ponders at every opportunity what is happening around her. I think I saw her flinch one time in a dark tunnel.

Her character is chosen to participate in drug-related raids along the Mexican border because of her experience leading kidnapping SWAT teams for the FBI, but she soon learns that other entities appear to run the show.

The end game for her is to figure out why.

Besides the fact that Ms. Blunt is too pretty to be an FBI agent, in my view she really never exuded the toughness that a woman would have in such an experience.

However, Benicio del Toro’s performance is worth watching. He plays a shadowy figure with a score to settle. In fact, I really thought that he should have received top billing for his role.

Although I couldn’t tell whether or not the long pauses within the dialogue signified great acting or a bad script, unlike Blunt, when Del Toro stared down someone, I really felt his intensity.

The panoramic views of the Mexican terrain, although  gorgeous, were overdone. There was also a pointless motorcade scene that seemed to last about 15 minutes.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed Blunt’s character goes through a painful learning process as she learns the truth.

There are plenty of action scenes for those who love this genre, so the film did hold my attention all the way through.

It is still a film worth checking out.

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Brigde To Armageddon

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The Mah Jong Imperative

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