Archive for March, 2012

After writing my post the other day- “Finish What You Start!” -my daughter made the statement, “I have a hard time starting a story.” her complaint wasn’t that she didn’t have good story ideas or characters, but that she couldn’t come up with that perfect opening line. The question became “How do you start writing a new story?”

My answer is, you type. I know, I know, one of the most important parts of any story is the opening line or the first paragraph. It needs to catch the readers attention and draw them into the story, making them feel a connection with the characters and build a desire to know where it’s going. But waiting around for the perfect line to pop into your head is like waiting on the Lotto check to magically appear in your mail box. Most of the time it’s not going to happen.

When I wrote Rock Bottom, I came up with my opening line and the story formed from it– Life! That’s what it is, just life. When I started the prequel, Rookie Case, I didn’t have a great opening, but I started writing. As I’ve worked on the project, I’ve slowly refined the beginning and now have it almost where I want it. The important thing is I wrote. Getting something down to work with is crucial. Just like a potter can’t form anything until he has a lump of clay, a writer can’t edit, fix or adjust his work if he hasn’t written anything.

That question- why -I wanted answered more than anything, but now feared asking. I had chewed on it since receiving his summons, turning it over and again in my mind during the daylong trek across the estate. Had I done something wrong or failed him in some way? In all my years of faithful service, I had never met my employer.  My father, who worked the land before me, only met him once and rarely spoke of it. The image of him I created in my ignorance had been of a fat and lazy lord living in posh comfort while his subjects sweated to produce for him. Now being here in his presence, my impression changed. The hard lines and scars on his face displayed the years of toil and effort. My gaze turned to his strong, weathered hands. They looked as hard and worked as a blacksmiths hands. My eyes traveled back met his examining gaze. The stone look in his eyes caused me to shudder and search my mind again for anything I could have done wrong and still came up blank.

“No sire, I don’t know.” I relented.

His armor creaked as he leaned back against the heavy oak chair, steepling his fingers in front of his face and resting his elbows on the arms of the chair. His brow furrowed and his lips pursed as he sat in silence –for what seemed like an eternity to me– eyes staring at the fire and I could see its orange reflection lapping in them. I leaned forward watching him, waiting for him. I could feel my heartbeat quicken. What had I done?

He drew in a deep breath. “I want to know if you are a warrior.” He said with his eyes still glued to the blaze.

My jaw dropped and I felt my eyes widen.  A what? I would have laughed at the question, had it come from anyone else, such an absurd question. I did my best to wipe the astonished look from my face. “Sire, I have never been trained in the arts of war. I am simply a farmer.”

“I didn’t ask if you were a soldier!” He huffed, dismissing my statement with a swat of his hand in the air as if shooing off a mosquito. “Soldiers are trained. They take an ordinary man and drill into him the necessary Lessons to make him affective on a battlefield.” His right hand reached across his chest and grabbed the hilt of the sword leaning against the left arm of the chair and with one smooth effortless motion swung it up in front of him, tip to the ceiling. The mirror finish reflected the fire and I watched his eyes admire it, they took it all in from hilt to tip and back. “They become a weapon to be wielded, not unlike this sword.” Then with a quick snap, he spun the sword around driving the tip to the floor between us with a solid thud that startled me back into my seat and echoed off the stonewalls. “A warrior cannot be made, you are one or you’re not, simple as that. So are you a warrior?”

I cleared my throat, still staring at the glimmering blade that now separated us. His words echoed through the hall and hung in my mind as an icy chill ran down my spine. I have always been a farmer, why would he suspect me of being a warrior? The chill ran its course and settled in the pit of my stomach as a cold knot. I brought my eyes up off the sword to find his furrowed brow and eyes burning into me as he now leaned forward in his chair.

“I’m not sure what you are asking sire. I have worked for you all my life. You know I am just a farmer.” My shoulders slumped and I dropped my eyes to the floor in embarrassment. He called me here for nothing. Surely, I have disappointed him. I could count on one hand how many times I held a sword and I never learned how to use it properly. Give me a hoe or a rake, I know how to use those but a sword I have not a clue.

“Do wolves ever threaten my flocks?” He asked in a calm and steady voice.

“Yes Sire.”

“And when those wolves come, do you let them ravish my flocks?” Before I could answer, his voice boomed the answer. “No, you don’t. You fight off the wolves,” He shook a clenched fist in the air, “sometimes putting yourself between the wolves and the flock.” He nodded his head and took in a breath. “Could the wolves harm you?”

“Yes, they could. I can’t tell you how many times I have looked in the eyes of a snarling wolf bearing it’s teeth at me.” I lifted my head and felt my back straighten as I answered, my embarrassment gone for the moment.

“So you don’t fear the wolf?” He asked arching one eyebrow and I thought for a moment that I could see the beginnings of sly grin forming on his face but as quick as it appeared it vanished leaving just his icy gaze.

“Oh yes Sire, they are viscous animals. I have seen them tear a young calf apart. They are unpredictable you never know quite what they might do.” Images of the different encounters passed through my head sending a shiver through me.

“So you stand up to the wolf despite your fear?” He arched his eyebrow again. “That shows courage.” His brow furrowed again and his eyes showed a new intensity. “Courage is not the lack of fear but rather the ability to act in spite of the fear.” He lowered his voice and spoke with pure conviction. “Men who go into battle and do not fear their own death are fools or disturbed, but a man who fears his own demise and still does his duty, now that is a man I want next to me in battle” He paused and slammed the tip of the sword on the floor again punctuating his point. “A warrior has courage.”

I had this conversation with my son the other day. His mind is full of great story ideas, they seem to just flow from him like a well spring of fiction water. He has started several stories, but as of yet not finished any. He works on one for awhile then comes up with a new story line, setting the first one aside to work on the new one. He works on that one for a bit then another new one pops in that talented head of his and the process repeats itself. Truth be told, he comes by it naturally. I tend to do the same thing. While writing “Rock Bottom”, I had the idea for a sequel and wrote the first few pages. I had to force myself to set it aside so I could finish the first book. Now I have three stories started including the sequel and am finding it hard to work on any of them.

When writing, my mind becomes fully immersed in the world of my story to the point I find it hard to participate in real life. I have to set time aside to spend in that world or I wont accomplish anything. Switching between that world and reality becomes frustrating add in multiple worlds of different stories and I’m the literary equivalent of a vegetable.

Let’s face it. We all like to tell stories, that’s why we write after all, but putting that story down on paper in a way that other people will read and enjoy, is the hard part. It takes work to gut out the middle of story. Writing the beginning is exciting. Exploring a new world or new idea, building the foundation. As I journey into that story I become impatient, I want to get to my destination, I want to get to the end. The finale is what we are all after. Our good guy won, our bad guy lost and the world is a better place because of it. The tough part is building all the roads in the middle to get your reader, and your characters, from that great beginning to your fabulous ending. Human nature is to avoid what is hard. I think that is why it is so tempting to jump to a new project in the middle of another.

I have made the commitment this week to set two of the stories aside and focus on one until it’s finished. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying to ignore new story ideas. By all means write them down, make good notes to come back to at a later date, but don’t start a new project until you finish the last one. I understand that every writer is different and I will concede that there could be some writers out there that can multitask well enough to be able to write more than one story at a time, but for the majority of us it just isn’t possible.

If you are like me and have more than one project started, pick one and finish it. I’m choosing to finish the shortest one first, then move on to the second shortest. That way I can see progress and keep myself motivated.

Good article on driving hits to your books website, from BookDaily.com

http://www.bookdaily.com/authorresource/blog/post/1044425