Posts Tagged ‘storyline’


You’d think that after spending the countless hours, days, weeks and months required to write a novel, you’d get to relax. You did your research, developed your story, and invested almost all of your free time into writing it. Now 80 to 120 thousand words later, it would be nice to be able to call it finished. Unfortunately, the hard part is just beginning. Now it’s time to reread, revise and rehash.

Although this is not my favorite part of the writing process, it certainly isn’t the worst. Revisions are a good opportunity to strengthen story, add necessary detail, and perhaps most important of all, cut the fat.

I’ve learned that there are a few key things to look for in the editing process. One of them is character consistency. Are the characters solid? Do they remain true to their base nature throughout the story, and if the character goes through personal changes, are they believable? In Gallery of Dolls (the project formerly known as ‘An Evil Heart’), this wasn’t too big of a problem. My main character was very clear to me from the beginning and I was happy to see that he remained pretty true to himself throughout. There were a few lines of dialogue though, that when reread, didn’t sound like him. These, luckily, are easy fixes.

Plot consistency and holes in the plot are another, and probably the worst, potential good-story-destroyers that are commonly found in the revision process. Rereading Gallery of Dolls, Kim (my co-author) and I discovered some interesting issues. Hearing the story front to back, we think we may have to move the meeting of our two characters up a couple of chapters. This means some very serious rewriting and I am hoping that once we have a few outsiders read the story, it won’t be as big of an issue as I am afraid of. Beyond that, we found minor inconsistencies. I will need to go in and add a couple new scenes to smooth some transition but that’s about the worst of it.

Another thing to look for in revisions are wasted words. I tend to reiterate. And reiterate. This is a very bad habit that needs to stop. But that’s what revisions are for. It never ceases to amaze me how much stronger a sentence can become by taking away from it rather than adding to it. Adverbs are a fine example of this… but I’ll get into that later.

Also, a lot of what you find in revisions are total surprises. When we reread Gallery of Dolls, we found an unusual likeness in the names of our characters: almost all of them started with a C. We had Courtney, Cassidy, Claire, Connie, Claudia, Cassandra, and Carlisle the cop. We don’t know how or why this happened, but there it is. Again, this is an easy fix. We have since changed several of the names.

The last thing I like to do in revisions is assassinate the adverbs. Not all adverbs are bad, of course, but when it comes to these cute little verb modifiers, a little goes a long way. In my first drafts, I never worry too much about them. Personally, I love adverbs, but it really is true that there is usually (<—-see? adverbs!) a finer way of saying what you meant without them, so the last thing I do is an “ly” search in my document. I go through each adverb and see if there isn’t an opportunity for more powerful phrasing.

Like it or not, revisions are a necessary part of (good) writing. Many people are intimidated by the process. Others believe they are golden enough that their work requires no revision. Personally, I try to write clean first drafts in order to keep editing to a minimum, but the fact remains that in order to get the book written, you need to sit down and actually write it. In order for me to do this, I have to try my best to minimize or eliminate the need to edit as I go. If I am editing as I go… I am usually not going at all. It’s a slippery slope.

The worst part about revisions in my opinion, is that after reading your story over and over, it loses its shine and numbs you out until it’s impossible to even tell if the story is any good. I think this is a good time to put the story down for a while and pick it up when you can view it with semi-fresh eyes again. That’s where I’m at right now. I need to not look at it for a couple of weeks. Our goal is to have it presentable by October, so if I take one or two more weeks away from it, we should easily be able to attain it. Till then… I’ll be thinking of the next story…

Write (and revise) on! And remember….

 

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     In writing fiction, few things are as discombobulating as a surprise character.  You spend all this time and energy mapping out your story, putting the characters in their proper places, and then, at some point during the writing process, an unfamiliar personality appears and demands a role.  You are then faced with a dilemma.  Do you let the character take the stage, or do you simply bypass him or her and continue writing the story as you originally planned?  The answer:  it depends.

     The rule of thumb is that if a character (or a scene) helps to move the story forward, adds necessary depth to it, or contributes an unexpected twist (as long as the twist serves to further and/or add texture to the story) he or she can stay.  However, if the character doesn’t have any place except to show off his or her talents as a fictional being, you will probably need to cut them out.  The question then, is how do you know whether or not the character belongs in the story.  This is where writer’s intuition, a good sense of story, and a little sound judgment come into play.  

     I don’t believe any character should ever be dismissed entirely.  Sometimes, characters are speaking to you from the future (as in a book that has yet to be written) and will fit perfectly into a different story. These characters are jumping the gun, overly excited by their own existence, and don’t yet realize that their time hasn’t come yet.  Other times, a character is speaking to you from the past (as in a former character, probably in disguise, who doesn’t feel he or she got a fair shake the first time around.)  These guys often need to either be dismissed, or altered enough that they are unrecognizable from one book to the next.  Good characters, like good actors, should be dexterous enough that they can adapt to and blend into different storylines while still retaining their believability.  Resurrecting old characters under different names is a custom that, although common enough, can only go so far. After a while, your characters will become stale and predictable.

     When I was writing The White Room, my first surprise character was Aunt Mimi (this was before I started calling my mentor “Mimi”, by the way).  Aunt Mimi just appeared and in true diva style, demanded the floor.  I was terribly unseasoned then and never even questioned her existence.  As it turned out, Aunt Mimi went on to lend the story some much needed comic relief in those earlier scenes.  Later, in the same book, when Kendra Howell appeared, my mentor told me to stop and consider her place in my story before writing her out.  I was torn because while I didn’t feel Kendra had a very large part, my instinct told me that what little role she was going to play would be an important one.  I didn’t feel attached to Kendra like I did some of the other players but I couldn’t escape the sense that she had something of value to contribute.  After some deliberation, I decided to follow through with my instinct and let this surprise character play her part.  As it turned out, I was right.  Although Kendra’s role was a miniscule one in terms of presence and dialogue, she ended up being the answer to a serious hitch in my storyline.  As was Sir Purrcival (another unexpected presence in The White Room), my main characters irritating and ever-present pet cat.

    The same thing has happened in An Evil Heart, the book I am currently working on (and close to being finished with!) with my friend and mentor, Kim Williams-Justesen.  As Aunt Mimi did in The White Room, a character simply known as The Thinning Man appeared in the first scene of An Evil Heart.  I wrote him and then dismissed him as nothing more than a passing face that would populate and add a little color to the book. But all along, I was unable to ignore the haunting suspicion that he had a more important role than giving my main character someone to talk to in that first scene.  As the story has developed, The Thinning Man has become crucial to the story as my main characters greatest enemy and ultimate downfall.

     Also, in An Evil Heart, there have been characters that showed up, been written, and finally, been decided against and deleted.  Such was the case with Julia, a girl who felt important but ultimately contributed nothing to the story.  Maybe one day, Julia will reappear somewhere else, but as for An Evil Heart, she will not be found in the final draft at all. 

     Often times, surprise characters like to show up right before or shortly after the leave of another more important character.  In An Evil Heart, a guy named Damien showed up right before my main characters best friend Brytt exited the story.  Damien felt very important but in truth is no more than an extension of Brytt; Damien is the materialized result of my reluctance to say goodbye to Brytt.  Damien had to be stopped. Now he only occupies a negligible slice in the overall life of the story.  But Damien is significant to me, because his appearance was the first one I recognized for what it was before I wrote him out, and that is a step in the right direction.  One day, I will give Damien his just dues and allow him his own story, so long as, of course, he isn’t so much like his predecessor Brytt that he smudges my style :).

     Yet another irritating way in which characters can annoy the ever-loving bejeesus out of a writer is to deviate from the plan.  These characters already exist and are a part of the story, but they are rebels and will absolutely refuse to play the role you’ve cast them in.  As it is with surprise characters, handling rebellious characters requires intuition and storyline management.  When I was writing The White Room, a character I’d created named Winter went a completely different route than I’d intended.  He was supposed to be a bad guy.  He refused.  I threatened to delete him.  He said, “Go ahead.  See what happens…”  I tried forcing him to be deceptive and nasty.  He laughed at me.  (I realize how crazy this all sounds by the way, but personifying these characters here is the best way I can illustrate the strange nature of this process; bear with me.)  When I finally accepted that Winter would not be swayed, the story began to take a new shape.  A better shape.  “Look,” Winter said to me (after I’d agreed to have a cup of coffee with him), “if you’ll let me do this instead of that, I promise you won’t be sorry.”  I’m just kidding,of course.  That never really happened.  Winter hates coffee.  He prefers fresh blood. 🙂

     By letting Winter have his way though, a few different things happened.  First, the story got tighter and more compelling.  And second, Winter became one of my favorite characters of all time, despite his refusal to follow the rules.  So, personally, I am all for letting the characters have their own voices… for the most part. 

     The key then, is to recognize what can stay and what must go, and that key can only be found in the use of sound judgment and the observance of intuition.  Either way, it’s entirely up to the writer.  Some will tell you that must listen to your characters without question.  Others will say you must never, under any circumstances, let a character control the story. Myself, I’m somewhere in the middle. Personally, I look forward to meeting more surprise characters and seeing what they have to say… as long as it’s something I need to hear.


     So, after four long months of feeling much like I was being frisked by a police officer, I finally heard back from the New York agent yesterday.  Of course, after that amount of time, I was certain she wasn’t going to choose to take me, so it wasn’t as hard of a blow as it could have been when she told me she was sorry that she wasn’t going to offer to represent me.  Her greatest concern was that The White Room was caught somewhere between commercial and literary fiction.  I assume this means that she felt marketing the book would be difficult.  Otherwise, she said very kind things about the manuscript, and admitting she could be wrong about it, encouraged me to continue seeking other agents.

     I expected to be shattered, but strangely, I’m okay.  I am lucky, I suppose, to have the luxury of understanding how this business works a little.  I didn’t expect to write one book, meet one agent and become a an all-time famous novelist.  In fact, if I follow along the same statistical lines as the majority, I can expect an average of six or seven more years of rejections before one of them chooses to represent me.  The sad fact is, unpublished authors are a high risk.  It’s similar to a college graduate who has a hard time getting a job because they lack experience.  But how can you get experience if no one hires you?  The writing business is much the same way.  This goes to show that in any field, competition is stiff and one must always begin at the beginning, which unfortunately, is at the bottom.

     Needless to say, about a month ago, it was clear to me that this wasn’t going to happen with the New York agent, so I began querying other representatives.  This week alone, I’ve gotten three rejections and have more coming to be sure.  Thankfully, I have yet to receive any of the scathing reviews I’ve heard so many horror stories about.  The agents who have replied to me have been kind, supportive, and encouraging.  In one case, I was simply told, “I’m not the right agent for this.”  In another, I was asked to send the first five pages so the agent could get a feel for my voice.  After a day or two, she wrote back saying thanks but no thanks.  And,of course, the New York agent.

     So, what is the next step?  From conferences, my mentor, and listening to other writers, I’ve learned that it’s too early on to start thinking about revamping the story.  If I receive twelve or fifteen rejections, all pointing out the same troubles, then it’s time to revisit and revise.  But until then, a writer must keep in mind that one, or even a few agents’ opinions are not law.  They’re generally looking for a book that speaks powerfully to them and leaves them with little doubt about it’s possibilities in the market.  Some agents will read your manuscript and get a strong vision for it… and other will not.  So for now… I will keep writing, because that is my only weapon against the rejection.

     From what I have learned, one of the biggest (and most common) mistakes a writer can make is to write one book and place all of their hope into it, not realizing that it may never be published.  After having one book rejected a few times, they throw their hands in the air, call this an impossible business, and bow out of it.  I’m not going to do that.  If it takes me ten years to get published, then the way I see it is, I will have ten to fifteen novels written by then, which will create a great back log of material when my agent asks, “what else have you got?”  This is an incredibly tough, rigid business and, as I’ve been repeatedly and earnestly warned, it is not for the weak.   Times like these, writers must simply remind themselves that all the great writers have taken some pretty tough punches to  the gut in this business.  Laurell K. Hamilton was told she didn’t fit into a genre tightly enough to ever be published.  “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, by Robert M. Pirsig was rejected one hundred and sixteen times before it caught the right person’s eye… and poor Stephen King was rejected several times a month for almost fifteen years before he published “Carrie.”  So you can’t quit because someone says you’re not good enough.  This is simply that part of the process which separates the hobbyists from the lifers and, on the bright side, weeds out your competition. 

     I am lucky.  I have a vast network of supporters; people who have read my work and love my work.  These people keep me in perspective and remind me of the realities of this world that I, for some masochistic reason, insist so vehemently on one day penetrating.  So, I will let myself feel this.  I will feel bad for myself for an hour or two and then I will sit down and keep working on the next story while The White Room makes it rounds among the agents I have sent it to and the agents I will continue to send it to. The truth is, I believe in The White Room- as it is right now.  If I need to make some changes later on in order to find it a home, I will, but for now… I still believe in it and will continue believing in it until the time comes that I no longer can.  But… in the meantime, I have about a hundred more books to write…  so that’s what I’ll be doing.


        At some point in the writing of every novel, the time comes when the author (or authors) need to block out a broad segment of time, sit down and read the story from page one to the last page written, and take out their little mental microscopes and search for all the little (and large) mistakes that weaken (or entirely ruin) their stories.  This is called a “comprehensive reading.” 

     Today marks the finish of chapter ten of “An Evil Heart,” the joint novel I’ve been writing with my friend and mentor, Kim Williams-Justesen (Mimi).  I spent several hours at her home yesterday, and a few more hours this morning, finishing up the scenes that we weren’t able to write without the other person being present.  Now that the paths of her character and my character are fully intertwined, me and Kim’s “together time” will need to be multiplied.   Kim and I have chosen to do comprehensive readings about every ten chapters, so I will spend the next week revising and refining the previous chapters so that the story can be read with as little interruption as possible.  

     A week from today, she and I will get together, find a relatively private location and spend the whole day reading what we’ve written.  Because I hate to read aloud, and am more audibly oriented in my learning style, Kim reads and I listen.  This is a tedious process, but it is where all the logic flaws, plot problems, character inconsistencies and previously overlooked grammatical errors shine through.  

     Although this will be the first read-through we’ve done of An Evil Heart, we did several on my first book, The White Room (which is currently looking for a home somewhere in New York right now), so I have an idea of how this works.  It is a process that can take anywhere from nine to thirteen hours.  But it’s worth it.  In my previous read-throughs, I was continually amazed by the blatant errors an author of a novel can overlook.  Worst of all, perhaps, are the logic flaws.

     A logic flaw is just that: a flaw in logic.  During one read-through, I was made embarrassingly aware that a character had taken the last sip of the same beer three different times.  At another point, a crucifix that burst into flames and turned to ash suddenly reappeared in a characters front pocket.  These little things are so easily written but become terribly apparent when read aloud. 

    Plot consistency is another obstacle you’ll contend with during a comprehensive reading. For example, in The White Room, I had created vampires who, of course, could not go out into the daylight.  I can not count how many times a vampire appeared in the middle of the day, totally unaware of the sun shining above.  In writing entities who could only survive in the darkness, I realized I’d placed a terrible restriction on myself and continually had to change the story around to keep consistent with the “reality” of the storyline.    

     Characters also like to lose consistency throughout the duration of a novel, and some characters end up being completely unnecessary.  There was one character I really liked and wanted to give more presence to.  Reading the story through, I realized this character seemed like a kind of strange appendage of the larger characters, and really had no place in the story other than the original two or three lines she was given.  I then had to go back and cut her out of all the scenes she didn’t fit into.  At another time, one of my characters voices changed so dramatically as the story progressed that by the end, he was nearly unrecognizable.  He began as a wise type who used proper English and eventually evolved into the barely educated boy next door.  This was one of the largest problems I had with that story and it took considerable time and energy to rephrase all of his dialog as well as correct his general disposition. 

    Not all flaws are big ones though.  Reading your manuscript through, you could continually find little sentences and phrases that, when heard aloud, just sound ridiculous.  “Bob flicked concerned eyes at me.”  Oh yeah?  And from just whose head did Bob pluck these concerned eyes out of?  And why on earth did he flick them at me? 

    These are just a few examples of the potential corrections a comprehensive reading offers a writer.   If it weren’t for several such sessions of my last story, I could have easily made the fatal mistake of sending a fault-riddled manuscript off to an agent, who would take one look at it and surely deem me unfit to write fiction. 

     I am both excited and reluctant to see what errors we find in An Evil Heart.   I’m learning that we humans, unfortunately, are flawed creatures by nature and we insert a little of that nature into everything we produce.  A comprehensive reading is a good way to spot and correct enough problems that by the time the story reaches the hands of an agent or editor, it is in acceptable and semi-professional condition.  The side effect to this, of course, is that by the end, you’ll be so tired of your own story that you’ll just want to kill every character in it call it a day.  But don’t.  It’s about that time that you know you’re getting close to being done. 

   And no, it will never be perfect. But it can be damned good… and given the right amount of attention to detail, you might even find an agent who agrees.


     In September of 2010, I met my first literary agent at a writing conference in Salt Lake City.  She’d flown in from New York City to be on the panel and to meet new writers.  At that time, I was just more than half way finished with my first full-length novel, The White Room.

     This agent is maybe five feet tall, weighs perhaps ninety pounds wet, and is probably nearly ten years my junior.  I had no reason to be intimidated by her.  However, as we talked and she asked me more and more questions, I grew very anxious.  For the first time that I can recall, I broke out into a terrible and embarrassing sweat.  I was that nervous.  But she was very polite.  She asked me all about the story, the dynamics between the characters and how the story would end.  After trembling my way through the conversation, she did something every aspiring writer dreams of: she handed me her business card.  Then she said something every aspiring writer hopes to hear.  She said, “When you are finished, and if you are interested, I’d like you to send me the full manuscript.”

     “I’ll be finished by the end of November,” I said, and even as I spoke the words, I mentally kicked myself for having said them.  No way was I going to be finished that soon.

     “Don’t rush,” she said, “I want you to write a good story.  But if you can have it finished within the next six months, just send me the manuscript and your cover letter.  If it takes longer than six months, send a query letter as well, just to remind me who you are.”

     I went downstairs, not really understanding the weight of what had happened.  My mentor, Kim Williams-Justesen (Mimi) was sitting on a sofa in the lobby (we were at a hotel by the airport).  When she asked me how it went, I told her placidly that I guessed it had gone okay.  As I told her the details of my conversation with the agent, she became ecstatic.  “Do you realize what this means?” she said.  I replied that no, I really didn’t.  “It means she asked you to send your entire manuscript!  And you can send it ‘requested material!'”

     I went home that night and plowed into the story with everything I had.  For the next two months, I did nothing but write.  I wrote sometimes for twelve hours straight.  I didn’t eat.  I didn’t go out with friends.  I didn’t do anything outside The White Room.  I even called in sick to work on several occasions to write. 

     I finished the first draft of the manuscript on October 24th, 2010.  With the help of Kim, I’d been revising and polishing quite a bit as I went along, but I still needed to do a full read-through and incorporate more revisions.  That took just over a month, and by the seventh of December, Kim and I were standing in line at the post office, manuscript in hand.

     We got into my car after mailing it off.  I looked at Kim and I remember saying to her, “It’s going to kill me if she doesn’t take it, you know that, don’t you?” 

     I’d promised myself I wouldn’t get too excited.  I was fully aware of the odds.  To meet one agent, one time, on your first book, and being taken by that agent… well, that’s a lot of lightning to strike in same place at once.  I knew this.  So I wasn’t going to get my hopes up… but a funny thing happens when you’ve finished a novel and sent it out to an agent that has expressed interest in you:  you get your hopes up.  Despite the odds, despite the plethora of rejection letters every writer is wise to expect, you get your hopes up. 

      “It won’t kill you,” Kim said, “this is just part of the game.  If she says no, you’ll send it to someone else.  And if they say no, you’ll send it out again.  I hate to tell you this, but writing the book is the easy part.”

     For the first month or so after sending the manuscript off, I was fine.  By week seven, I was a mess.  According to the website, it takes four to eight weeks for the agents to respond to manuscripts sent Requested Material.  Despite my efforts, I was obsessed with whether or not the agent had read it and whether she loved it or hated it.  Then I began obsessing over whether or not it even made it to her.

     In the meantime, Kim and I began a joint project we’re currently calling An Evil Heart.  This new book was the only thing that distracted me from the imagined fate of The White Room.  It makes no sense to write a book, send it off and wait.  Most agents require sole viewing rights to your manuscript, which means you can’t print off a hundred copies of your book and send each one to a different agent to further increase your chances of snagging someone’s attention.  Well, you could do this, but it is considered unethical and unprofessional, so I surmised that with me being so new to the game, I would be wise to play by the rules.  Since this agent had personally requested my manuscript, I figured she deserved that much from me.

     But here’s the hard part about that.  As of tomorrow, this agent will have had The White Room for three full months.  If I get an e-mail, a phone call, or a letter in the mail saying, “Thanks, but… well, this sucks,” that’s three months the book could have been circulating among other agents who might be interested in the story as well.  I’d be lying if I said that didn’t bother me just a little bit.

     On the plus side, I did receive an e-mail from the agent on February 8th saying that due to the holidays, she was behind schedule and thanks for understanding.  I guess that’s something.  But again… that was a month ago.

     Truth is, I don’t know if I’m tough enough for this.  I’m not saying I will quit if the agents passes on The White Room, but I am saying that, despite my efforts otherwise, it will not be easy for me to accept.  I went into this business full knowing I was in for a lot of waiting and a lot of rejection.  I thought I could handle it.  But what if I can’t?  The waiting alone just floors me some days and I am continually astounded by the wide range of emotions this whole thing invokes.  It’s exhausting is what it is. 

     There are days I think I’ll be okay if she says no to me.  After all, there are thousands of agents out there, not to mention, I have about a hundred more books to write before I die.  But then there are the other days when I am sure that if she says no, especially after all this time, I will implode on myself and lose faith in my writing… and never dare put myself through this again.

     But this is part of the game.  This is how it works, and I know of only one thing that alleviates the agony: keep writing.  Write your ass off and start dreaming of the next storyline, the next agent… the next novel.  So that’s what I’m going to do.  I’ve decided that I need to understand the difference between the things I can control, and the things I can’t.

     This is what I can control:  I can keep writing and I can write damned good if I want to.  I can continue to search for the next great storyline and I can learn and improve the skills I need to execute it beautifully.  I can present myself accordingly and hopefully garner a reputation as professional if not a marketable writer. I can understand how this business works and continue to send my work to agent after agent after agent if I have to…

   And here’s what I can’t control:  I can’t control who publishes any of my work or when.  I can’t control what anyone thinks of my style, my content or my talent.  I can’t control the market, nor can I accurately predict what’s hot and what will sell.  In short, I can’t control the world or anyone in it.

     But, despite the agent’s silence, I am at peace now.  I’ve decided that I’m not in the results business.  It’s up to me to do the footwork and write the books, and write them well.  But it’s up to the agents, the universe, whoever… to control the results.  I can’t control any of that.  All I can do is write and be good at it, and that’s okay.  The writing of the story is the real joy of this process.  That is a fact I nearly forgot.  So I don’t need to think about my manuscripts once they’re in the mail.  It’s not my business anymore.  All I can do is… keep writing…

     So I’m gonna.


     There is a famous adage in the writing world that says, “write what you know.”  I hate that adage.  It suggests that we never move outside the confines of our current knowledge and that, in essence, we reiterate and recycle that knowledge for all our years.  It prompts a timid and all-too-cautious approach to writing that is the ultimate cause, in my opinion, of very boring material.  But I do see the point.  After all, if you don’t know anything about football, writing a story about a professional football player’s anxiety over the big game is not going to come off well.  It will be superficial and ultimately, unconvincing.  That’s why I think that whoever first made the statement, “write what you know”, really should have said, “know what you write.” 

     And that is where research comes in.

     Research for me is mostly a proactive practice.  Although sometimes you are limited and must do a lot of reading on a subject, I think it’s important that, as often as possible, you experience the things you are writing about.  For me, this has meant some very interesting and mind-expanding adventures.  Most recently, for the sake of an idea I have for an upcoming story, I have made great friends with the nicest little Jehovah Witness woman.  She’s got to be a hundred and twelve years old and she is probably the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen.  I invite her into my house and listen to her stories, all the while trying not to stare too intently at her eyebrows which, bless her ancient heart, she is no longer able to paint on straight.  We know each other on a first name basis now, and although we more often talk about her past than the Kingdom of the Lord, I fully enjoy her company and have come to consider her a great friend.

    For another project, I spent some time in a Catholic church.  I wasn’t raised Catholic and so I knew nothing about the religion except what I’d seen on television.  Attending mass, I was surprised by how aerobic being a Catholic is. Sit, stand, pray, repeat!  I left exhausted, understanding not only why their services only last about forty-five minutes, but also why they give you a cracker at the end.  Later, I had a friend of mine who is educated on the religion go with me to the cathedral and explain all the different meanings of the trinkets and shiny things therein.  It was fascinating!

     Probably the most compelling experience I’ve had in research was my exploration of the BDSM community.  I was writing something that needed my understanding of the dynamic between Masters and their human slaves.  I spent a year searching for the local kink subculture before, quite coincidentally, finally happening upon it.  I was informed of a local fetish website, which I joined and soon began making friends.  Eventually, I realized that kink was all around me.  They even have kink classes at the local university!  Soon, I was invited to an actual “play party”, which is where kinksters get together for a night of fulfilling their fetishes.  I connived some friends of mine to go with me as my human slaves.  I wore eyeliner and dressed my pets in next to nothing, put them on leashes on headed to the event with an odd mixture of trepidation and awe. Had I been more practiced, I suppose the four of us would have even gotten in and out of narrow doorways with a little more grace, but hey… I dare you to try toting two women and one man around on leashes in a cool, debonair manner!  For the most part though, we fit right in and I was able to meet some of the most fascinating people I ever have, some of whom I remain good friends with to this day.   I saw all kinds of things that fueled my imagination.  I was hesitant about participating much, with the exception of letting a trusted kinkster hit me with a bamboo stick, (yes, Martha, I did!), and I left with a deeper understanding of and respect for the community and it’s practices (as well as a big bruise on my ass).

     Perhaps hardest of all, is the research I have been doing for the project I am currently working on.  I’m writing about a narcissistic serial killer who was abused severely by his mother and later, his foster-father.   Since it’s in no ones interest for me to experience this stuff first hand, I have been doing a lot of reading on the minds of serial killers and the lives they lived.  It’s disturbing and  hellish and I am eager to be done with it.  I have learned things I’m not sure I ever wanted to know, but it’s important to me that I understand the characters I write. 

     So no, I don’t believe in only writing what you know, but I do believe in knowing what you write.   Research is a necessary part of writing, the great myth being, of course, that it involves hours of tedious reading about dull subjects.  In truth though, research is, in some ways, the best part about writing.  Something I have come to understand is that there’s a big difference between knowing a thing on an intellectual level, and truly understanding it.  I think that in order to write a convincing account of anything, a writer must possess full comprehension of his subject.  When you write something without that base understanding, readers know. 

     A lot of writers take the liberty of assuming a position of superiority.  After all, writing is a one way form of communication; you can not be interrupted and argued with mid-sentence.  But, what writers should realize is that, in truth, the reader has the power.  All he or she has to do is close the book.  And this knowledge is what prompts me to continue knowing what I write.


     I’ve finally moved past a major roadblock in An Evil Heart.  “Evil Heart” is the working title of the joint-effort book I’ve been writing with my friend and mentor, Mimi (Kim Williams-Justesen – check her out at http://kwjwrites.wordpress.com/). 

    The problems I kept encountering were aspects of the main characters past and how they served to motivate him in the present.  The trouble was, what I’d come up with so far didn’t make sense to me.  I didn’t believe that the things this guy had experienced in his life would prompt him to be such a monster.  After all, this guy is a narcissistic, nearly sociopathic, somewhat-obsessive-compulsive serial killer, so whatever he’s been through in his life (if the reader is going to sympathize with him even a little bit), it must have been some pretty hellish and dreadful things.  I didn’t want to simply slap a psychological disorder on him (although I’m certain there’s a little of that going on too), so I had to do something that was harder than I thought it would be:  I had to conjure up some of the most terrible things you could put a child through, sift through those hideous scenarios and apply the ones that made the most sense to the story.  Granted, this is not a story about a mans troubled boyhood, so I don’t have to spend a lot of time there, but it is important that I (and whoever might one day read it) understand why this man is the way he is.

     Mimi and I have been meeting on Wednesdays and Saturdays to work on this book, so this week when she came over, we spent several hours talking about this guy (his name is Sterling) and trying to determine the horrors he must have endured as a young boy.  Success in this incites a terrible contrast of emotion: you are giddy… because you have just concocted the most awful kind of abuse you can think of.  This is one of many unexpected and uncomfortable surprises I have encountered in this whole fiction writing thing.

     I am continually amazed and thrilled by the things I am learning in this.  There seems to be an endless reservoir of things I still don’t know and want desperately to understand, and what I’ve just recently learned is that it is impossible to write a character and his or her story if you don’t fully understand who he or she is.  It’s not one of those things, unfortunately, that you can make up as you go.  If you do not know where a character is coming from, it’s impossible to understand where they’re going.  The characters I have written before this one have all been pretty well-developed.  They were very old and I’d spent a couple of years mulling over them before I sat down to write their story.  In that time, without even meaning to, I came to understand them all quite well.  But this guy is new, so this is, in a sense, an entirely new experience for me.  Not to mention, this is the first character I’ve written (on this intimate of a level) who is this dark, this heinous… this capable of such wicked things.  It is enough that I sometimes squirm under the wretchedness of this guy.  But overall, it is good for me.  I want to learn to write diverse characters and the one I’m writing now is, no doubt,  going to extend my skill, burst my comfort bubble, and teach me new methods of execution.  It is an intimidating and frightening thing to see the world through his eyes, and should this book ever reach publication, I have no doubt I will be crucified by the critics… but I have avoided it for too long and I am coming to understand that this is what it’s all about: that willingness to reach into the deepest recesses of psyche and dark fantasy…

     As Mimi continually reminds me, “You have to be willing to dance with crazy.”  Now… I understand that.