"A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings but a cat does not." -Ernest Hemingway

Monday, January 31, 2011

Who Should Tell Your Protagonist's Story?

Simply put, your protagonist has a story to tell and it’s up to you as the writer of that story to figure out whose viewpoint will tell it best.

Have you ever followed writers who write from the same viewpoint no matter the story or the character telling it?  Usually you’ll find the consistent viewpoint being used is third person or third person omniscient.  Sure it allows for viewpoints from other characters besides the protagonist and it even allows for building suspense because the reader knows more than the main character, but what about the story?  Is it being told from the best viewpoint possible?  What about you, have you experimented writing your story from different viewpoints?

Let’s explore genre.  Genre is a particular style in writing (or movies and art) which can be recognized by certain features.  Do you find most genres are told in a certain way?  Rarely do you find a horror story being told in first person because the main character is limited by their own understanding of what is happening.  Same goes for mysteries and thrillers.  Memoirs tend to be told through the eyes of the person telling the story; in other words, first person is the most popular voice for this genre.  One question begs to mind:  Are there writing rules when it comes to deciding what viewpoint to use?  I’d like to argue, no.

Every story has a face, but not all faces are alike.  It is important for every writer to discover their inner voice for each of their characters, therefore, every story they write can be unique in style regardless of genre.  So if I find my protagonist running through the woods half naked because a half baked lunatic is chasing them with a homemade chain saw and the best way to show their fear is through first person, then I should write it in first person!  If you find yourself writing about your self-proclaimed fame and it reads better from someone else telling it, then write it in third person limited or third person omniscient!  The point of my argument being, the next time you find yourself questioning why the story you are writing somehow doesn’t seem to sound right, try changing viewpoints, it just may be you haven’t discovered who can tell it best. 

Next week we’ll explore voice.

Until next time,

Keep on thriving, keep on striving and keep on writing!

T.K. Millin
The Unknown Author      

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Mysterious Characters When Writing

Most writers when asked where the ideas for their main characters, the protagonist and antagonist, come from consistently answer they either are a spin on a family member, a close friend or most commonly a spin on themselves.  Others have even said the characters came to them in a dream.  How about you where do the ideas for your main characters come from?
If you are like most authors, you spend a great amount of time developing these characters.  Perhaps you create a character sketch or simply write down these characters’ characteristics.  Most authors delve inside their main character’s minds to understand what makes them tick, what they look like (do they wear glasses, have braces, a scar, red or brown hair, freckles, etc.), their strengths and weaknesses, sometimes even plotting out their history.
No matter where you get the ideas for your main characters you probably spend time developing other characters as well.  Unless the plot of your story is for the main characters to travel through an empty world I highly recommend this.  Then when you begin to write, all your well planned characters will suddenly appear on the screen as if the stroke of an artists’ brush magically made all their individual colors join together to reveal your story.
These are important techniques for any author, but what about those characters who suddenly appear out of nowhere?  What about you, do you ever have a character come to life out of nowhere?
Often times these characters which you never dreamt of, never knew anyone like or even planned ahead of time beg to become a part of your story.  Sometimes they come about because you need someone to fill in a beat or a scene that seems empty.  Then before you know it you find them popping up in every scene and sequel (subject for future blog) and you can’t get them out of your head. 
Let them breathe and come to life!  Sometimes in life the best thing about not following a plan is that plans change.  Adapt, overcome and achieve.  It could be the best thing which happens to your story.
Until next time,
Keep on thriving, keep on striving and keep on writing!
T.K. Millin
The Unknown Author      

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Query, Query, Quite Contrary

It’s the perfect day for writing; too cold or hot to go outside, nothing worth watching on television, words and images swimming around inside your head and the desire to get them out and finally finish the last chapter of your masterpiece once and for all.
So you adjust your thermostat accordingly, put on a pot of tea, turn on your favorite music to write by and start typing away, hoping your fingers can keep up with the massive amount of words flooding out of your mind.  Before you know it you’ve just typed, The End or ###, and hit the save button. (Hopefully you also took time to back up your blood, sweat and tears) 
Still feeling invigorated and wanting to keep on writing you decide now was the perfect time to start the query letter which you know will land you the deal of the century.  After all, you have been reading everything you could find about writing the perfect query letter the whole time you were rewriting and polishing your manuscript, your mood and timing are aligned as if they were some great celestial event.   
You gather your notes you’ve so diligently collected over time and space and quickly refresh your memory:  a) Hook ‘em, b) Tell ‘em, c) Impress ‘em and d) Thank ‘em.  How hard could this be?  All you’ll have to do is grab their attention in the first paragraph, tell them what genre you’ve written and how many words and pages it has, impress them with all your writing credentials and lastly thank them for their time and explain why the two of you would be a perfect fit.  Simple, make it quick and to the point and throw in a little sugar, shouldn’t be too hard considering you just completed rewriting your manuscript in the same amount of time you could have read War and Peace threefold!
As if your nemesis, the blinking cursor stares you back in the face wanting you to become another lonely fish in its vast dark sea of unpublished authors.  You slowly watch your feet drown in piles of crumpled up paper and decide perhaps it’s time to lay your creativeness, and story, to rest. 
There is help out there . . . you are not alone.  First and foremost, never give up on your dreams, for without them you are destined to become that lonely fish in the vast dark sea of unpublished authors.
If you’ve ever played any kind of sports, played any kind of instrument or ever took up tap dancing (one of my favorite past times) then you know PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE is the key to achieving your best.  The same principle applies to authors,only you don’t have to go it alone.
Here are some recommendations The Unknown Author has discovered on their road to publication: 
PITCH UNIVERSITY has an awesome site for authors to learn, practice and apply the art of pitching their book.  (click here) 
THE CBI CLUBHOUSE is a great resource for any author, regardless of what genre they write. (click here)  
THE RENEGADE WRITER offers wonderful advice to writers whether they’re a novelist or a freelance writer.  They also offer a free packet of 10 query letters written by professional writers who landed assignments in major magazines. (click here)   
So the next time you experience another great day for writing, know you are not alone in the evil blinking cursor’s temptation.  Pick up your mighty writing sword, open up your fins and embrace the many wonderfully experienced peers you have who are waiting for you to join them in the vast colorful sea of published authors. 
Until next time,
Keep on thriving, keep on striving and keep on writing!
T.K. Millin
The Unknown Author      

Monday, January 10, 2011

What Scares You As A Writer?

This past week-end I watched the original 1962 movie Cape Fear, which was based upon the novel The Executioner by John D. MacDonald, starring Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck.  Directed by J. Lee Thompson, it is a true classic set in a time period long ago when things were different or were they?   
As I sat enthralled in the intrigue and mystery I couldn’t help but think about the recent article I read about the republishing of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, (read here), and felt a sensation of fear overcome me, not because of the movie, but because of being a writer.
How do the two connect?  Censorship.  Did you know that J. Lee Thompson had to meet with a censor to go over areas of the script they felt were “dangerous” and to suggest ways in which to portray them differently?  By doing so, the entire image of Max Cady’s character would have been changed, thus, changing what John D. MacDonald’s intent was as the author of The Executioner and James Webb’s intent was as the script writer for Cape Fear.  Thankfully, Director J. Lee Thompson did a great job of telling the writer’s story despite the strong censorship at the time (even the ending had to be made happier than the writer’s version).  In 1991 Martin Scorsese remade Cape Fear, paying homage to the original version.     
I’m not out to debate the meaning behind making Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer “politically correct” nor am I out to debate the meaning behind the words being censored I am, however, out to debate the censorship of an author’s work.  Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer were set in a time and place in history that existed; a time in which Samuel Langhorne Clemens lived to tell it as he knew it.  Every word written in these great classics are words Samuel Clemens; writing as Mark Twain, pondered over, struggled with or worked endless hours to get just right so his story could be told. 
Think about this the next time you sit down to write your next story:  Will what you have to say be changed in the future to fit someone else’s view on “how” you should have said it according to their time.  Now, what scares you as a writer? 
Until next time,
Keep on thriving, keep on striving and keep on writing!
T.K. Millin
The Unknown Author      

AMCTV.com:  http://blogs.amctv.com/movie-blog/2007/08/making-the-orig.php

The Secret Art of Rewriting

One of the best parts about being a writer is striking the keystroke to the first word in your new masterpiece and watching the characters, worlds and colors that have been swimming around inside your head all magically come to life.  Ah, what an exhilaration!    
What’s the worst part about being a writer?  Admitting finishing that masterpiece was only the beginning and somehow mustering up the same enthusiasm you had writing it to rewrite it.
As a writer I have to unwillingly confess the rewrite is the most important work an author does to polish their manuscript.  Sure you’ve spent many hours grueling, maybe even drooling, over the keyboard to create a full length novel but the reality is the first draft to any manuscript, well, stinks.  Coming to terms with that is the first sign you are well on your way to becoming an author. 
Now unless you are fortunate enough to have a team of writers, an overly devoted agent or perhaps a magic wand to help polish your story the truth is you have many, many and many more hours before you should even think about sending your manuscript out for submission.  How about you do you spend many long hours reworking sentences, plot twist and even dialogue or do you have a magic wand?
So what is the secret to the art of rewriting?  Taking time away from your newly written manuscript and digging deep down inside your writer soul to rediscover why you became a writer in the first place.  What is your passion, when did you discover it, where did you get your story idea and why can only you tell it? 
Then when you are ready, relook at your masterpiece with your rediscovered writer eyes and passionately, and consciously, rewrite the parts that stink.  You will be amazed at how many times you will find yourself saying, “Oh my, I can’t believe how bad that was!” 
Stretching yourself as a writer is the single most important goal you can set on a daily basis.  I do and it is amazing how far you will find yourself traveling down the road to publication.    
Until next time,
Keep on thriving, keep on striving and keep on writing!
T.K. Millin
The Unknown Author