Open Your Story with a BANG!

Gayle will be at the Buena Vista Branch of the Burbank Library on Saturday, October 21, from 1-4 P.M. Drop by and say hello!

 

PART ONE

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

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Whether you are writing a novel, short story or screenplay, you use the same basic literary tools. If you want to give yourself a better chance to have your short story or novel picked up by an agent and then a publisher, you have to get their attention. If you are lucky, an agent/publisher will read your first chapter. Usually they will just read the first few pages or maybe only the first paragraph. This holds true for a short story that you might submit to a contest. They have 50-100 manuscripts stacked up and they are looking for any excuse to toss your work into the round file. You want to make your opening a grabber.

 

What exactly does an Opening Line/Paragraph/Scene in a Short Story, Novel or Screenplay do? I will explain using the Short Story, but much of this pertains to novels or screenplays as well.

 

  1. The Opening Line sets the TONE (funny/tragic/etc.), identifies the sub-genre of the story (Noir/cozy/sassy sleuth), states the problem, and hints at the solution. Put one or two of these in that opening line or paragraph.

How do you write a good Opening?

2. The Opening should get the reader’s attention:

Example: I couldn’t believe they found Brad’s body. I thought I buried him deeper. From “A Role To Die For” by G.B. Pool

3. Avoid the clichéd opening. EXAMPLE: Instead of: It seemed like a good idea at the time… or This was the worst day of my life…try: The two-by-four smacked me in the head. And here I thought the guy with the gun was my problem. (It’s the unexpected that grabs attention.)

4. The Opening should establish the RULES of the story; they must be consistent; you can’t start out as a comedy and end up with a philosophical think piece.

5. One way of setting the Tone in a short story is with a Very Strong Voice. You do this by either writing in First Person or using a strong Narrator (Third Person) describing the main character or the problem at hand. The voice will propel the short story. Whereas in a novel you can be more emotional and flowery in your delivery. A strong voice tells the reader what type of story he is reading, is more one-on-one, and holds the reader’s attention. The Omniscient Voice is colder, more remote, and unemotional. Third Person Close is more personal.

EXAMPLE: Archie Wright’s the name. Dishing dirt’s the game. My sandbox: Hollywood. The most glamorous and glitzy, vicious, and venomous playground in the world. If you come for a visit, bring your sunscreen and your shark repellent. If you come to stay, let me warn you, Tinsel Town eats up and spits out a hundred just like you every day. Sometimes it isn’t pretty, but it’s my job to chronicle the ebb and flow of the hopeful, the helpless, and the hapless. My best stories come from the dark side of Glitzville. From “Glitzville” by G.B. Pool

6. The Opening should allude to the ending or the Payoff, so you come full circle when you get to the end.

EXAMPLE – The Opening: “I already told you. I met the guy in a bar. We got to talking. Somehow he knew I’d been in trouble with the law before.”

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EXAMPLE – The Closing: “Perhaps you would like to speak to a lawyer now, Mr. Harrison?” said the cop. From “The Big Payoff” by G.B. Pool (The poor shlub at the beginning has been confessing to a cop. This isn’t known until the end.)

 

As An Exercise: Compile Beginnings and Endings of Short Stories or Chapters in a novel. Use yours or the masters. It’s eye-opening.

Open Door7. The Opening should hint at, but not necessarily give away, the ending. A good example where this is done well is the opening from the movie Sunset Boulevard. (There is a dead body floating in a pool. It is narrating the story. How he got that way is the plot.)

 

Part Two will be up in a few weeks to continue this theme… Openings are important, my friends.

The Play’s the Thing – Plot is Everything - Some thoughts by Gayle Bartos-Pool

Most of the examples used are from my short story collection: From Light TO DARK.

Past, Present, and Future

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

books-on-shelfSome months ago there was an unbelievable news story on TV. The gist was that some teachers no longer wanted to teach the classics. Unlike my reaction to other things I have heard on TV news shows (or the Internet), I actually believed the report. My snarky first reaction was that the teachers probably couldn’t read themselves and didn’t want their students to know they were illiterate. I’m still tossing around that idea.

 

The problem is: that story won’t go away. I tried to analyze the reasoning behind the decision to ban the classics and came to the conclusion that there is no reasoning involved. It’s stupid. I wrote a blog back then starting with this same premise and then went on to sing the praises of two female authors, Mary Roberts Rinehart and Anna Katharine Green who were both born in the mid-to-late1800s. I love their work.

 

So now I am going to introduce you to a few more gems that you might not know, or if you know them, you might not have read them. Paul D. Marks mentioned this particular book in one of his recent blogs, so there must be something in going back and reading the classics.

The Count of Monte Cristo bookThe Count of Monte Cristo movie

First is Alexandre Dumas (Pere). The book I recently finished was The Count of Monte Cristo. If you have seen the recent movie, you saw a very nice production, but it veered from the original story like the car chase in Bullitt. The writer/director of the movie had to cut it down to size because there are 117 chapters. That’s a lot of cutting. They rewrote the ending, too. There was so much in the book; I was breathless after finishing it. And I loved it.

 

The book evolved in basically a series of short stories that slowly pieced together the main character’s life. There was a lot of life there. The writing shows us contemporary authors what character development can be if you know your character. No shallow, two-dimensional guy here. There were layers and nuances and glimpses inside this guy that made him real. The story unfolded like a beautiful flower opening.

 

But even Shakespeare (1564-1616) is more than readable. His stories have been contemporized, but the plots and characters are solid. They even set Romeo and Juliet to music in Westside Story. The plot was universal.

 

Mark Twain (1835-1910) turned out books that both kids and adults can enjoy. I read him as a kid and when I read him again as an adult I saw even more things in those pages.

 

Recently I have been reading E. Phillips Oppenheim (1866-1946). He was known as the Prince of Storytellers. He wrote a hundred novels and numerous short stories. Many of his works were turned into silent movies. What stuns me is how contemporary his work is. They might deal with a time long ago, but the feeling and the thoughts could have been written today. True, there are no car chases or throbbing sex scenes, but there is a story, a plot, stuff happening. And no filler.

 

We were just watching the movie Youngblood Hawke (1964) about a hot-shot new writer hitting the New York literary scene. The guy’s first book was sensational, his second book was trash. During the launch party, a famed reviewer said how the margins were too wide, the type too large, and the story filled with padding. He said it should have been a novella.

 

Lots of contemporary books are written with superfluous stuff. Too many sequels to fairly nice books are filled with redundancy. The characters are strictly stock with not much personality, and those are often the main characters. These books by the Old Masters don’t have filling or padding or fluff. Not even in the 117 chapters in The Count of Monte Cristo.

 

Phillips Oppenheim, a British author, filled his pages with new things on every page. In Peter Ruff and the Double-Four, a collection of short stories about the same character, his main character starts out as a very shady guy who decides to use his criminal expertise to sometimes thwart the bad guys and sometimes help them see the error of their ways. The character is dead clever and is marvelously one step ahead, even when you don’t see it coming.

The Illustrious Prince Book.pngThe Illustrious Prince movie

In both The Devil’s Paw and The Illustrious Prince, he brings some brilliant insights to spying during the early part of the Great War. The 1923 movie made from The Illustrious Prince totally rewrote the story, but maybe it was a good movie. Havoc was a pre-war tome as well. But each gives the reader not only an interesting story, but also a glimpse of the times in which they were written. Dare I say: the history of those times, lest it be forgotten.

Fahrenheit 451

Even Ray Bradbury’s science fiction novels and stories give a look at the thinking during his brilliant literary career. We all know science fiction is just a way of telling what is happening now and how it might manifest itself in the future. His Fahrenheit 451 is about book burning in the future, a time when the classics were banned. Sound familiar?

 

One of the reasons I have so enjoyed these older works is because they are so damn well written. I read contemporary stuff. Many of my writer-friends turn out some darn good work and they recommend other authors to me. Some are good, some aren’t. Sometimes it’s just a matter of taste. Sometimes they just stink. At my age, I will actually put down a book never to pick it up again because I have better things to do with my time if the book has absolutely nothing to offer.

 

Contemporary authors occasionally write historical stories. A good author does a ton of research and if they do the job well, it shows. Sometimes the dialogue might be more modern, but unless you want your reader to carry a large dictionary with them, you keep the words fairly current.

 

While reading these older works, I was amazed how contemporary the words and phrases were. I do understand that publishers revise many of the classics to make them more readable, but still, some of these are 70-100-150 years old. A few words might be archaic, but the meaning that comes through is very clear. Most of these books have themes that sound like they were written today. That is the mark of a very good writer. Some themes are universal and timeless.

 

But mostly their work endures… as long as people can still find them somewhere. I have a CD collection with 10,000 books on it. That’s where I have been reading these classics. At least they are safe for a while. Read on.

 

The picture below is me with the inimitable Ray Bradbury. God Bless him. (The picture was taken by our very own Jackie Houchin.)

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Why Write? by Linda O. Johnston

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Linda O. Johnston, a former lawyer who is now a full-time writer, currently writes two mystery series for Midnight Ink involving dogs: the Barkery and Biscuits Mysteries, and the Superstition Mysteries.  She has also written the Pet Rescue Mystery Series, a spinoff from her Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime and also currently writes for Harlequin Romantic Suspense as well as the Alpha Force paranormal romance miniseries about shapeshifters for Harlequin Nocturne.  Her most recent release is her 44th published novel, with more to come.

Why write?

That’s a pretty basic question for authors, and yet I don’t always think about it.

Why do I write?  And, if you’re an author too, why do you write?

For me, I suppose the answer is both simple and complicated.  It’s who I am. 

I’ve always written something.  I started out enjoying writing essays for my classes in school, and then a touch of fiction, in grade school, then junior high and high school.  College, too, though what I usually wrote there were assignments rather than just doing it for fun.  My undergraduate degree was in journalism with an advertising emphasis, so my classes involved a lot of writing.

Later, I wrote articles for a small newspaper, then actually got a job in advertising and public relations–working for my father.  One of the most enjoyable things there was writing articles for a house organ magazine for the firm’s largest client, a men’s hairstyling and hair products company, though I could write nearly anything for the magazine.

Shift, while doing that, to law school.  I had a couple of articles published in the Duquesne Law Review, which was both prestigious and enjoyable. 

And fiction during this time?  Not a lot of it.  But after I got my JD degree and started working first for a law firm, then in-house for Union Oil Company, I began getting up an hour earlier than anyone in my growing household so I could write.

I soon actually began getting published, and of course that spurred me to write even more fiction, along with the contracts I reviewed and drafted.  In fact, that’s what stimulated me to come up with one of the phrases key to my life: Contracts are just another form of fiction.

My law career ultimately ended, so now I’m a full time writer.  And have you gleaned from all of this the answer to why I write? 

As I said before, it’s because that’s who I am!

I know a lot of other writers.  Some, like me these days, write full time.  Others maintain their “real” jobs as well.  But they’ll always find some time to dig in and write what they want–and that helps to make them who they are, too.

And you…?