‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the garage
Not a creature was stirring, not even the Dodge.
The spark plugs were nestled all snug in their beds
While visions of sparks danced through their heads.
The inner tubes were hung by the chimney with care
In hopes that Saint Nicholas would fill them with air.
Mama in her kerchief and I, in my cap
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap.
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter
I sprang from my bunk and missed the ladder.
Ran to the window, threw open the sash,
Leaned out too far and fell in the trash.
I stood and brushed off all the new fallen snow
And greeted St. Nick with a hearty “Ho! Ho!”
He was dressed all in fur, for it was a cold night
It must have been freezing on the sliegh while in flight.
A bundle of goodies flung over his back
He looked like a peddler as he opened the sack.
His eyes twinkled through goggles, his dimples so merry.
Then, he took off his cap, but my, he was hairy.
His hair flowed over his shoulders, so white
He reached into his sack and pulled out a flash light.
Then to my surprise, what he pulled out of his bag
Was a 345 Hemi, ready to drag.
Then he pulled out some headers that looked really sweet
And to top it all off, a set of big meats.
He pulled out a tire iron, a hammer and wrench
Before I could grasp it, he pulled out a tool bench.
When all the tools were layed out in a nice, neat row,
He turned with a wave and said, “Ho! Ho! Ho!”
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight,
Merry Christmas to all, may you win tonight!
By Greg and Kaye Booth
This is not the first time this author has appeared on Writing to be Read as a part of a book tour. At the end of July I had the pleasure of interviewing Scerina Elizabeth as a part of her tour for Nocturnia and Spellbound. Today’s post is a part of the Full Moon Bites book blog tour for her most recent releases, Eternally Yours and Fangalicious Divas, with an excerpt from Ms. Elizabeth’s erotica vampire romance novel, Eternally Yours: Bloodlines. The content may be adult in nature, so this post is for those eighteen and over only.
Unlike my book reviews, where I tell you what I think and rate the work for you, an excerpt speaks for itself and lets the readers decide. So, without further ado…
We all looked at each other, waiting for either Chloe or William to explain it all. It was Chloe who started.
“We had been working for your grandmother for over ten years. I was her housekeeper while William was the groundskeeper. We were the ones who managed the estate when your grandmother fell ill and was unable to handle things on her own. She was a beautiful woman who was the sweetest thing and very generous. She allowed us to live on the estate just above the horse stables. When she was in the last stages of her illness, she told us all about you and your whereabouts. She also told us about your dark family secret which she instructed us to tell you about once you arrived.”
She continued, “Your dark family secret is something you would not believe so for you to truly believe and understand, we must show you.” As she said that, she got up and waited for us by the door that led down to the cellar.
We all followed her down to the cellar where she stood in front of a steel sliding door that was padlocked and chained where she asked me for the keys. Expertly she rifled through the keys to the right one, unlocked the padlock and pulled the chain from the doors. She tossed the chains to the side and stuck the padlock in her pocket. Both she and William pulled the heavy sliding door open. There in front of us was another set of stairs made of stone that looked much older than the house itself. She lit a torch on the wall. Once there was light and we could see better into the stairwell, it looked like something that you would find back in medieval times, like an old dungeon or something. The smell was stale and musty. You could tell no one had been down here in years. She led us down to the lower level of the cellar where at the bottom of the stairs was another heavy, steel, sliding door – chained and padlocked like the one upstairs. She opened the door as she had done before, she knew exactly what she was doing which washed away any doubt I may have had of her. She seemed to know her way around this house and knew much about my family.
The inner room lit up as soon as the doors opened. It looked like a mausoleum, very sterile and white with hints of gold and silver here and there. In the heart of the room, were three white marble slabs and on top of each slab was a coffin.
The one in the middle was an enormous gold coffin with a massive silver crucifix was inlaid with rubies and diamonds in the center of it. Along the sides were more precious gems and it had detailed artwork covering it. It was gorgeous.
The two smaller coffins were bronze with smaller gold crucifixes covered in emeralds and diamonds on them. Just like the center coffin, the two smaller ones had gorgeous detailed artwork.
At the very front of the room in the center, were two silver columns that looked like a doorway. I figured it was mere decorations since two silver columns were not only covered in detailed artwork but more precious gems and diamonds. Not paying much attention and figuring it was just a decoration, I continued to take in the room. It was a family mausoleum clearly and I could understand in a sense why the dark family secret would be kept down here but what I still didn’t understand was – what was it? I was just about to find out because William began to speak.
“What lies in these coffins is your family’s dark secret. From generation to generation your family has watched over and protected the contents of these three coffins. In the center lies your great-great-grandfather Jacob LaBau and in the two smaller coffins lies your great-grandaunts Latrelle & Charlamaine LaBau.
Now what am about to tell you, you will have trouble believing and you might want to have a seat for this next part.” He gestured towards a marble bench on the side of the room and we did as he said.
In last month’s memo I talked about ways you can use flashbacks in stories and it led to a discussion about flash forwards and a request from Kaye that I do a post about them, so I decided to focus on the difference between flashbacks and flash forwards. I’m going to primarily use films and TV shows for examples as the film/TV examples are easy to visually show what I mean.
(Disclaimer: I don’t own the rights to any of these video clips or shows. I apologize in advance for some of the quality of the clips but they were the only ones I could find at times. Many of these shows mentioned are on Netflix, so I recommend watching there if possible.)
A flashback is almost any moment when a story jumps from the present time of the story to show you something that happened in the past. It’s not just talking about the past, but actually showing the events that happened. The flashback can be just a quick glimpse, or it can be a very long section of the story.
Flashback Example 1 – The Usual Suspects:
This film opens with the explosion on the ship and then moves forward to Kevin Spacey in the police station being interviewed. When he starts telling the story of how all the “usual suspects” were rounded up the film flashes back to show this happening, and the story continues in the flashback time period until the end of the film when we return to Kevin Spacey in the police station again.
Flashback Example 2 – Forest Gump:
This one is pretty straightforward that it’s cutting to a flashback. Forest is in the present moment talking about things that happened in his past from his childhood to adulthood, and we constantly hear his voice over and see him in present day on the bench talking about his past.
Flashback Example 1 – Breaking Bad Season 1 Episode 1:
Again, we start in the present time where Walt is crashing the RV and already cooking meth, then we very clearly jump back after the opening credits several weeks in time to when he was a normal school teacher. The main story of this first episode is all flashback with the opening and ending being the present moments.
Flash forwards are tiny glimpses of the possible future within a story. Basically you get a glimpse of the future and then return to the present afterward. This future glimpse doesn’t have to be true, and it doesn’t HAVE to happen, it’s just a glimpse of what COULD happen and the audience has to keep watching to see if it does.
This technique is often used in stories involving anything with psychics. The key is the events haven’t happened yet, and may never happen depending on how the present continues to unfold. It’s a glimpse of the potential future, but the story is still taking place in the present day and will return to present day once the future glimpse is over.
Flash Forward Example 1 – The Dead Zone (film)
When Christopher Walken shakes Martin Sheen’s hand he gets a vision of the potential future. We see clips of what Martin Sheen may do, but we don’t know if it will happen or not because it hasn’t happened yet, all we know is that it’s possible to happen. Once the flash forward is over we return to the present moment where Christopher Walken is.
Flash Forward Example 2 – Scrooged:
When Bill Murray leaves the elevator he gets several glimpses of the possible future he will encounter if he doesn’t change his ways. Again, these are all brief flash forwards showing potential future moments. It’s a little different because it seems like Bill Murray is in the flash forwards, but he has no ability to change them while he’s there so it’s still a flash forward to a potential future if he doesn’t change his ways in the present.
Flash Forward Example 3 – Terminator 2
When she lays her head down, Sarah Connor has a dream vision of the future if machines are allowed to get out of control. This vision is a potential future and is the motivation for her to try to stop this outcome with her actions in the present.
Flash Forward Example 4 – FlashForward TV Show Season 1 Episode 1:
This episode actually has a flash forward AND a flashback in it. I’ve started this clip right before the flash forward moment where the protagonist gets a glimpse of his future and then wakes up after the accident, but if you scroll back to the very opening of the episode you’ll see that the story starts with the accident, then there is a flashback to 4 hours earlier leading up to the accident again to show what caused it (which was actually the flash forward). Are you confused? I know, it’s a lot.
The flash forward is the glimpse of the potential future that the main character may experience at some point later on, and then you return to the present moment. The opening sequence at the start that shows the accident is NOT technically a flash forward because it’s not a glimpse of the future, it’s where the story is NOW. Then we flashback to 4 hour earlier to see how we got there and how the accident happened.
Flash Forward Example 5 – Sherlock Holmes (film)
This fight scene is a type of micro flash forward because it tells us what will happen moments before it does, even though it’s in verbal form. It’s more of an abbreviated flash forward because it’s verbal and it’s similar to how flash forwards are often used in fiction. The narrator gives the reader a glimpse of what will be to come, but we’re still in the present moment of the story where it hasn’t actually happened yet.
Distinguishing Between the Two:
Most of the time it’s pretty easy to tell whether something is a flashback or a flash forward because it’s in the middle of the story and the story either jumps forward or back for a short time before returning to the present. However, the one area that seems to cause the most confusion is when the flashback or flash forward is used immediately at the opening of a story. Is the story starting in a flash forward? Is the main story all in flashback? What is happening? To figure out whether you’re seeing a flashback or a flash forward, think about where the scene is currently taking place and where the protagonist is in the present.
If you look at the openings of Forest Gump and Breaking Bad, both are happening as we watch and we’re not seeing a future possible event, we’re seeing the events as they happen to the protagonist, then we (the audience) jump back to see how the protagonist got to that present moment, but all of it has already happened and the protagonist is still in the present at that opening scene waiting for us to catch up to him.
Flash forward scenes are events that have NOT happened yet, and may not happen, and when they end we are returned to the present moment where the story is taking place and the protagonist is currently. Everything between that present moment and the future event we saw has not happened yet, and may not happen, but that is why we’re watching to find out. The present moment may eventually lead to that flash forward moment, but there’s no guarantee.
One of the few times a show can open with a flash forward is if it opens with a psychic event such as a dream or prophecy where we get a glimpse of what may or may not happen before a character pops awake or something and reveals it all was a vision or dream. Then the rest of the show builds to reveal whether it is something that is going to happen or not.
Neither Flashbacks nor Flash forwards:
There are a few other story methods that some people confuse with flash forwards and flashbacks but one of the main ones I want to mention is time travel such as in the Back to the Future Series. This and other time travel stories are tricky areas because it is easy to say we’re flashing back because we’re going back in time, but that’s not true in most stories I can think of.
A flashback involves looking back at past events that have already happened exactly as the person remembers them happening, while most time travel stories involve a character physically going back to these past events such as Marty does, and having influence on those events. This makes it not a flashback because Marty has the ability to change things if he does something wrong. That means the events aren’t set and aren’t just a memory of what happened, they’re fluid and changing. Flashbacks are memories of what happened prior to the present so they can’t be changed unless someone is misremembering something or lying. Marty is physically there and it’s his present time even if he’s physically living in the past, and he can make mistakes (and does) that change the future, so it’s not a flashback.
The other thing I wanted to point out is that just because a story goes forward in time doesn’t mean it’s a flash forward. A flash forward is a glimpse into the future but it doesn’t move the story TO the future. When your story jumps forward in time to a future point, if the story continues from that point on and isn’t just a glimpse of that future time, then what you have is a forward time jump and not a flash forward.
Every now and then you’ll see someone define those opening scene moments where we start the story at a major event as a flash forward because it shows a “future” event and then immediately goes back in time after to where a huge chunk of the story takes place. But these stories that start with a major event and then go back in time almost always say something like “x time earlier” which establishes that the first scene is the present time period and everything afterward is in the past, making everything after that opening scene a flashback.
Ultimately, if you’re asking “what happened to get us here?” then you’re probably about to see a flashback to find out. However, if you’re asking “what WILL happen to get us here?” then you’re watching a flash forward and you will return to the present to find out as events unfold.
Flashbacks are something that go in and out of style as time passes. For a time you’ll see them used left and right in books and films, and it’ll feel like they’re everywhere. Then someone, somewhere, decides they’re forbidden and amateurish and you’ll hear whispers about how you should never use a flashback and they’re “lazy writing.”
In reality, what happens is the same thing that happens with any other writing technique. Someone uses it incredibly well and then a crop of other writers pop up and use the same technique with a hit or miss result. Eventually it becomes overused, and often poorly used, and people begin dreading seeing the writing technique because they’ve seen it done so poorly so often. Then someone uses it amazingly well again and the cycle starts over.
So when it comes to flashbacks, when can you use them, and more importantly, how can you use them well?
If your story has a lot of groundwork to lay such as character development or world development, it can often be useful to open with a flashback scenario. If your story really starts with a key event sometime in the past, but then nothing happens for 20 years, then again, starting with a flashback might be useful. A recent example of this is “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”. It starts with a flashback on Earth. It’s not a particularly eventful scene, but it lays the foundation for a huge plot reveal later on and sets the tone for what this movie will be about – Quill’s dad. If you’re going to start with a flashback, or start in the present and then use a flashback for the crux of the story, then there are a few key reasons to do so.
- You have a slow opening and need to create tension to buy yourself time with the audience and create suspense. A lot of horror movies do this option to build suspense. Start with a big murder and then everything is calm for 20 minutes until the murderer returns. It creates suspense and puts the audience on edge, waiting for the next attack that could come at any moment.
- A major event happens far in the past and you need to establish it in order to set the tone or plot for the story to come. A lot of fantasy and science fiction stories do something like this for world building to show how we got to the world we have today. Sometimes it comes in flashback with a voice over summary (like “Lord of the Rings” talking about the Ring’s history in the beginning).
- A character defining moment happened in the past and it directly ties to what your story is about. A lot of these kinds of flashbacks are used in dramas where something major happens when the protagonist is a kid – maybe a key phrase is said to them – and then as an adult they are learning the truth of that phrase.
Another common use of flashbacks is to reveal memories of the protagonist. These can be recent or distant memories, but they usually have some relation to the plot or character development the protagonist is dealing with. Some examples include:
- The character meets someone they knew in the past and had a major event or experience with. An example of this is when a grown up individual meets their childhood bully and we see a scene of how the two interacted. Another could be if you have a protagonist gathering a group together. You might see flashbacks that establish the relationship with each of the group or their skills (like in many military or action movies when a group is brought together). The purpose of this type of memory flashback is to establish the new person’s character quickly, as well as often to establish that character’s relationship with the protagonist.
- A major event from the present connects with a major event from the past for the protagonist. An example of this is, let’s say, if a character discovers a family secret they might see flashbacks of all the things they saw as a child that didn’t make sense suddenly be given new meaning with this secret revealed. If you’ve seen those short YouTube videos going around Facebook where the son discovers the father he thought was lazy and poor was doing something special all those years that the son didn’t know about, it’s a great example of this. Once the son discovers the father’s secret, we see flashbacks that put everything the son saw in context.
- Another example of the memory from the past connecting to the present can be if something from the past is the foundation for a character – such as life advice they were told or something. Many times you’ll find in films and movies the character hears a phrase when they’re young that they didn’t completely understand and then during the film while they’re older something happens that makes them understand this. Often you’ll see a flashback in the film or story showing you the character receiving this advice.
One of the most common uses for flashbacks is in mystery or suspense type movie and stories. In these stories it is imperative to create suspense and leave questions unanswered for a time. There are numerous ways flashbacks are used in mystery stories, but a few include:
- Evidence reveals where the protagonist or another character finds the evidence that is involved in the crime and the audience gets a flashback of how the evidence is related to the crime.
- The bad guy reveal. Often times once the bad guy is discovered there is a reveal that shows him committing the crime and how he got away with it, as well as numerous dishonest or secretive things the bad guy has done since then.
- The detective reveal. This is a common trick used in stories like the TV show “Leverage” or many Sherlock Holmes stories where there is a reveal to show how the con artist or Detective pieced everything together. In “Leverage” it is used to show how the team managed to make the bad guy think he was winning when the crew had the upper hand the whole time. In Detective stories it’s used to show the moment the detective found each key piece of evidence that led them to their brilliant conclusion at the end, which solved the crime.
The key with any flashback used is that it’s 100% necessary for the story. If you could remove the flashback and the tone, character, and plot doesn’t change in the story, then it’s probably unnecessary. If you can show the events that span between the flashback and present in the story, and they add to the story, then it probably shouldn’t be a flashback and should just be part of the story.
Whenever you’re considering using a flashback, just ask yourself what it adds to the plot, character, and tone of the story and make your decision from there. Does it add tension? Does it put your audience in suspense so you can slow things down before a big event? Does it develop your character in a way that can’t be done otherwise? Does it lay foundation for the plot to come? Or does the flashback add unnecessary length and detail to the story? As long as you’ve analyzed your use of the flashback properly, and you’re positive it serves a purpose, then you should be okay to use one. But as with anything else, use them sparingly and deliberately.
Robin Conley offers great writing advice in her Monthly Memo on Writing to be Read. If you just can’t wait until next month to find out more, you can pop into her blog, Author the World, for more tips, or a weekly writing prompt.
Warning: Rant Ahead
I’ve been seriously writing for seven years, and I can’t tell you how many friends and family members have been there offering support and encouragement. For the last year, since I graduated for my M.F.A. with two novels completed they have all continued to urge me on with enthusiasm, promising to purchase a book if I get published and inquiring about getting on pre-order lists. I felt myself fortunate to have so many staunch supporters.
I’m not talking about all those folks out there that ‘like’ your posts without actually following the link and reading the blog posts, or buying the book. That kind of thing happens all the time and is to be expected, because these folks don’t really know you. No, who I’m talking about are those who actually know me, people I felt I could depend on to be there and back me up in all circumstances.
So, maybe you can see why I might experience confusion when, after my western novel, Delilah, was finally published, I expected to have a few sales, not hundreds or anything, but at least a few. When checking on it’s progress, I found Delilah had two reviews so far, with a four star rating, which pleased me to no end. In fact, one of the reviews compared me to a feminist Louis L’Amour, which is pretty high praise for a western.
However, when I inquired as two my sales, my publisher informs me that I have only two. At least both buyers wrote reviews. So where are all my avid followers who love me and couldn’t wait to buy my book? It seems all of my supporters have disappeared into the woodwork, so to speak. Not one has honored their vow to buy my book, not even my own family members.
I think the thing that makes me the angriest is the fact that they all know how hard I’ve worked to get this far, but as soon as they are asked to fork out some cash, and we’re only talking ninety-nine cents here, they vanish. I don’t see or hear from them anymore, or if I do, the subject of the book isn’t mentioned, but rather, it is skillfully danced around. And now it is apparent, they are not willing to spend a buck on my book, the work they claimed to have so much faith in. Am I wrong to be hurt and disappointed?
Since the publication of Delilah, I have worked hard to promote the book and stir up some sales. I have made blog posts talking about it, shared them all over social media like crazy, sent out ARCs to be reviewed. I did an interview with author Dan Alatorre on his authors blog, which can be viewed here. My publisher even set up two days, where readers to get the book for free, and still only two sales.
I wasn’t expecting to be an overnight best seller, and I suppose I need to keep in mind that those two sales produced very good reviews. I want to take time out here to thank those two readers who actually bought Delilah and took the time to write a review. Because, as I’ve mentioned before, these days, reviews are everything. Not that good reviews will bring increased sales, but they do make a difference.
According to Amazon you have to have the magic number of fifty reviews before they will deem your book worthy of their promotion, and I’m learning fast that fifty reviews will not be easy to get. I’d venture that most books available on Amazon don’t make the grade, and that marketing and promotion can make or break a book, because to gain readers, people have to be able to find your book and want to read it. Because they can’t write a review, if they haven’t read the book.
I imagine many authors go through these same feelings. It’s all a part of the writing game. Now that I have that out of my system, I’ll get back to the business of writing, and promoting my writing. So, wish me luck, and if you like gritty westerns, spend a buck on Delilah.
The God Complex vs. Non-Literary Sources of Entertainment
by Jeff Bowles
The written word is dying. You know it, I know it, and so does anyone else who’s taken a serious look at book sales in the last twenty-five years. Academics and the literary elite have been decrying this death for some time. Growing up in the 90s, I was told again and again my generation represented a kind of last ditch effort to save literacy before it was too late.
Does it have to be this way? Popular opinion would have you believe so. Then again, any form of creative expression that becomes less and less popular with each successive generation is doomed to fail at some point, right? Kids today. They’ve got myriad distractions. Movies, video games, the internet, comic books, television. The ones who grow up readers will probably stick with it. But young people without an inherent need to devour that latest giant book release tend to shy away from recreational reading their whole lives.
See, prose is a beautiful textual form, but it also requires the kind of attention span that went out of fashion with fax machines and cassette tapes. It requires imagination, particularly in regards to participation, and make no mistake, if you’re reading your favorite author, you’re a participant as much as a consumer.
I’ve often heard it said all great art forms thrive on limitations. Music, for instance, is built on sound, rhythm, aural evocation, but there is no visual component, and often when we listen to music, the absence of something interesting to look at often heightens the experience. Film, too. We have the visual, we have sound, but we cannot readily discern the thoughts, feeling, and motivations of the people onscreen; in other words, we can’t be inside their heads. Which is why world-class actors make all the difference. There’s an entire hidden world bubbling to the surface in great films, and our imaginations help complete the picture.
The written word is a lot like that, except that in a good piece of fiction, we may know the inner workings of our favorite characters. We just can’t see or hear them. A good book is a wonderful tool for sharpening the mind. As much as I like video games, movies, and comic books—and I do—they just aren’t as fulfilling on that level.
If you’re a fan of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, you should know your go-to genres have been coopted by video game developers and movie producers all over the world. They’ve taken the hallmarks and defining tropes you love and turned them into heightened visceral experiences that in the short term at least can blow even the best novels out of the water. I love reading about space pirates and interstellar imperial armadas. But somehow, when a PlayStation game puts a blaster rifle in my hand and lets me save the galaxy, it’s just too fulfilling a spectacle to ignore.
I’m 32 years old, which makes me a quote, unquote “older” Millennial. My generation takes a lot of guff out there, but no one can deny how skilled we are in the ways of media diversification. I have no problem switching between novels and games and comics and TV shows, because I know each unique format can render enjoyable stories. And that’s the thing, really. Stories are the key. We still love and crave them, spend a lot of time—too much time—in a kind of mad rush to consume them.
It’s just we’re less likely to turn to a good book to find them than Baby Boomers or even many Gen-Xers. The as-yet-unnamed generation coming up behind us is even less likely, and in fact, their concepts of good stories are even stranger, owing to the fact that many kids today worship YouTube and the limitless hysteria and disjointed infotainment it provides.
Oh sure, there may be a place for good books for years and years to come, but if you as a writer are in any way worried about their ultimate viability, might I recommend you study these other forms of entertainment and discover what makes them tick?
Are video games truly mindless? Or do they simply manage to capture the heat of battle like no other storytelling medium before? Are serialized “shared-universe” movie properties a waste of time, or are they the next step in branded and concise science-fictive intellectual properties?
I think we can make our prose more electric, our ideas bigger and harder to ignore. I think our fiction can be faster, more dangerous, put together like any good hybrid. Otherwise, I fear, we’re going to get out-shouted, the carnival barkers of a million different industries drowning out our unique voices one-by-one
I’ve dedicated by publishing history to this very principle, but I certainly understand the hesitancy I sense each time I tell fellow writers most of us aren’t ready for that kind of transition. Rather than allowing our favorite literary forms to die, we should encourage them to evolve. Ultimately, how many new fans a fresh-faced writer can hope to gain depends on the lengths he or she is willing to go to in an effort to stand out in the crowd.
By the way, the crowd in question? It’s full of billion-dollar storytelling giants, and the almighty dollar just ain’t what it once was. Hollywood still loves to adapt a book, though. Take my advice, folks. Write that which is entertaining enough to create and convert new book fans. The pool of international readers grows shallower every year. Let’s encourage more people to come take a swim, huh? Those who know more about Mario and Master Chief than Tolstoy or Shakespeare. It starts with you, dear writer. Just how damn entertaining can you be?
Interested in my writing? Check out my latest short story collection, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces — https://www.amazon.com/Fear-Loathing-Las-Cruces-Stories-ebook/dp/B06XH2774F
YouTube’s Jeff Bowles Central: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6uMxedp3VxxUCS4zn3ulgQ
Sometimes the hardest part of writing a story is taking the outlined idea and turning it into words on the page. It’s great to know that X and Y need to happen, but how do you make them happen in writing? How do you take that character and bring him to life? How do you take that villain and make her fun yet terrifying? How do you unravel those conflicts in words? There are a lot of different methods for bringing a story to life, but here are the few that I find help me the most when moving from the outline, to the page.
Before I begin writing a character I spend some time figuring out at least 3-4 concrete details about his or her personality. I think about their dominant personality trait that people see, their core moral value that guides most of their decisions, and a personality trait that they have that’s a flaw. I also sometimes figure out a minor personality trait that most people may not notice, but it’s a core part of who that character is. Beyond that, I like to find one physical trait I see very clearly to help me visualize the character, and I like to understand at least one solid relationship they have with someone, be it family or friend. The other two things I think you should figure out is what the characters main goal in life is, and perhaps what they’re afraid of.
I think these core details give you enough that you can easily visualize the character and write them well without having to figure out every last ounce of the characters life. These details give you an overall sense of who they are, and as you work out more while writing you can develop the character more clearly. If you need to do more to figure out the character in order to write them, try doing a free-write so you can ease yourself into the character’s voice. If you write 3-5 pages in your character’s voice, you’ll learn a lot about them and find it easier to write the character’s voice for the story.
To get your setting from outline to page, I think the important thing is to ask yourself what’s important about the setting. What about it is vital to your story? Why does the story need to take place in that specific spot? If you know these details then you know what elements of your setting to emphasize in your story. The more important a detail is, the more you want to describe it unless you’re trying to keep it subtle for some sort of plot reveal. At the very least, when writing a setting I feel you should give enough detail about it to help create a solid visual image in your reader’s head. You want them to be able to visualize where the characters are, how they’re moving throughout the scene, and why we’re in that specific place.
The hardest part of taking your outline and bringing it to the page in my opinion is how to portray the plot. You have your outline that says “Amy goes to the park. Amy runs into Ryan. They fight. Amy leaves upset.” If you write it that way, that’s an incredibly short story and has no real depth or development. So how do you write that short sequence of events and make it interesting? What parts do you expand on and what do you rush through?
For the first step in your outline “Amy goes to the park,” you want to show Amy’s mindset, give a sense of the setting, and establish some form of a goal for why she’s going to the park. Is she meeting someone? Is she trying to find some privacy? Does she have a kid she’s taking to play? Set the tone of the scene, and choose your tone with the thought of how it will change in the upcoming scenes in mind. Then as you go to the next scene, “Amy runs into Ryan,” start thinking about the implications of that scene. How does meeting Ryan change Amy’s mood? How does their interaction start? How do they meet up? On purpose or accidentally?
As you go into the final scenes, “They fight, and Amy leaves upset,” start to think about how to transition there as well. What upsets Amy? How quickly does she leave? What’s the environment around them look like? The questions can go on forever, but it’s important to focus on things that involve the tone, the setting, the characters, and the sequence of events.
If you’re really struggling to transfer your story from outline to page, remind yourself that a story isn’t just about action and a sequence of events. The details you bring out in the story will help take your story from an outline of X and Y happens, to something that has depth and is fun to read. So explore the layers of your story and try to bring them out. Remember, it’s often easier to remove details if you put too much rather than trying to add more later on. So write and explore, and see what kind of story evolves.
Robin Conley offers great writing advice in her Monthly Memo on Writing to be Read. If you just can’t wait until next month to find out more, you can pop into her blog, Author the World, for more tips, or a weekly writing prompt.