Dropping in Quickly…Then Staying for a While

Madeline (M.M.) Gornell is the author of seven award-winning mystery novels. Her current literary focus is Route 66 as it traverses California’s Mojave Desert. Madeline is a lifetime lover of mysteries. She lives with her husband and assorted canines in the High Desert. Visit her website and Amazon Author Page.

Fotosearch_k8804412Several events/ideas have brought me to this post. My continuing interest in the importance of setting in conjunction with “taking me there,” G.B. Pool’s recent post on Openings, and my enjoyment-of and fascination-with audio books. I’ve mentioned in past posts how much I enjoy audio books—and now I’m asking myself why, in that there might be a couple writing-nuggets there worth paying attention to.

Being taken (dropped) into a protagonist’s world is what reading is all about for me, and has also been mentioned by other readers to me. In that line of thought, I’m currently listening to an audio series called Cherringham Mystery Shorts[i], and though the blurb for these audio book offerings didn’t immediately grab me, the narrator did. Neil Dudgeon[ii] I’ve liked his acting and “aura” from first seeing him in Mrs. Bradley Murder Mysteries—and I’m now realizing a lot of the like is the sound of his voice. When listening to Neil read these stories, it feels like I’m actually in Cherringham, UK. I can visualize the dual female and male protagonists, see their world. Part is the writing of course, but a large part is the immediate involvement that comes with hearing a spoken word, versus reading a sentence. Indeed, I think if the narrator reads well, the reader can so easily be “taken there.” Dropped into the character’s lives.

How can a writer do that without having Neil read their book (smile)? I suggest the knack/art/skill, is to take the reader into your protagonist’s head with your writing POV. Then once inside, see the world through their eyes. A Big deal I think, and not that easy without simultaneously stagnating the story or “dragging” the action and dialogue. But once a reader is with your character, so much easier to go into their world. There is a downside though with character identification, and one that has caused me to not finish reading more than one book. Once engaged with a character, and/or their environment, if you don’t like the character-person, interest is gone. Most recently, I didn’t finish such a book because even though the author quite successfully took me into their world, and was indeed a very good writer, I didn’t like the character or the character’s world. A future post maybe on what makes a likeable character—a protagonist you want to root for?

I’m throwing-out in this post, that a narrator, if good, does that “taking you there” easily and quickly—including setting, events, and personalities. Would very much like to hear from readers and writers reading this post on your experiences and thoughts about audio books in the comments below.

SWCoverOn a personal note, I would love to have all my books as audio, but don’t sell enough (not yet! Smile) for many narrators to take a commission-split chance on me, and can’t afford the narrator I want with a hefty flat out payment! (I’m talking about someone famous of course like Neil Dudgeon or Hugh Frasier) The talented Mei-Ling Downey, did take a chance on me and narrated Lies of Convenience, on Audible. What a joy to my writing-heart that is!

On the flip-side, a few comments from other writers have pointed out not everyone is as fond of audio books as I am! Nonetheless, the key point I’m aiming for is–paying attention to bringing your reader into your character’s world is crucial to reader enjoyment and writer success—whatever the format. Paper, eBook, or the spoken word.

Happy 2018 writing trails!Fotosearch_k8475028


[i]Written by Matthew Costello and Neil Richards about a retired NYC policeman who moves to England and lives on a houseboat solving crimes with a divorced lady co-protagonist and her two teen aged children.

[ii] Of Mrs. Bradley mysteries way back when, and currently Barnaby in Midsomer Mysteries.

A Library By Any Other Name…

by Jackie Houchin

Mention “Valentine’s Day,” and instantly visions of  cute or sentimental greeting cards, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, and bouquets of red roses come to mind. You may even dream of romantic dinners or diamond bracelets.

But it was none of these things that Kristin Molloy of Mission Viejo, California, wished for last year for Valentine’s Day.

“I love books and libraries,” she said with a smile. “So do my kids. We love to go to our Mission Viejo library to check out books. Growing up, everyone in my family had a book to read around the dining room table. I wanted my own library!”

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From left to right: Jenna Brown, Kaitlyn Schisler and Astha Parmar take a photo with the Little Free Library, a book kiosk at the Lake Forest Sports Park designed by the three from Cadette Girl Scout Troop 1859. Contractor Bradlee Rodecker helped in building the house-like kiosk.

Her husband, Kevin Molloy, a fireman, knew exactly what she meant. Earlier that year while visiting the Lake Forest Sports Park and Rec. Center they spotted an amazing tiny wooden library on a pole. Designed and built by three Girl Scouts with help from the Park staff, the cheery blue and white painted Little Free Library is a house-like box of books. Visible through two Plexiglas doors are perhaps 30-40 books for all ages. Anyone can take a book to read…free. After reading it, they can return it or bring back a different one. The organization’s motto is “Take a Book, Return a Book.”

Kristen thought her own Little Free Library would be great for their neighborhood.

IMG_2702Kevin drew plans and constructed his Valentine’s Day gift, painting it to match their house. He checked with city regulations (though not all the Libraries I visited did) and sunk a post into their front lawn three feet from the side walk and about 24 inches from the ground. Three small flagstone steps invite kids to visit. He attached a mailbox flag which is extended when new books are added.

Kristin loved it!

(The height of the Libraries is a personal preference. I saw ones sitting on a base at 3 and 4 feet high.)

The family says they have quite a few kids & teens stopping to choose books on their way to/from a nearby park. The couple’s children, Georgia and Ryan, enjoy sharing their own books as well.

Check out the organization for information on buying or building your own library, and to see an amazing variety of Little Free Libraries, including some that look like a church, schoolhouse, caboose, or English telephone booth! https://littlefreelibrary.org/faqs/

Of course, right away, I had my hubby build a Little FREE Library for ME for THIS Valentine’s Day, and paint it to match our house. (I’ll let you know how it goes in a later post, if you are interested.)

Other Little Free Libraries in Mission Viejo.

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Now let me tell you about some other things to LOVE and to GIVE on February 14th, and these are especially meaningful to us writers of books.

I love a libraryThe 14th of February is also LIBRARY LOVERS DAY.

Here are some things you can do to celebrate:

  • Visit your local library and check out a book or film.
  • If you know someone who doesn’t have a library card, encourage/help them to get one.
  • Volunteer time at the library (shelving, tutoring, reading to kids), or donate money and/or a few of your books.

Without the library, you have no civilization.” ― Ray Bradbury

“Libraries really are wonderful. They’re better than bookshops, even. I mean bookshops make a profit on selling you books, but libraries just sit there lending you books quietly out of the goodness of their hearts.” ― Jo Walton

“The library is like a candy store where everything is free.” ― Jamie Ford

“Libraries made me – as a reader, as a writer, and as a human being.”  –Laurie R. King

 

book-giving-day-bookmark-original-copyThe 14th of February is also INTERNATIONAL BOOK GIVING DAY.

Here are some ways to participate:

  • Share your favorite book with a friend.
  • Give books as gifts to your own children or to those of friends.
  • Donate books to children’s libraries, schools or charities.
  • Leave books in places where they’ll be found, such as doctors’ waiting rooms, train or bus stations, or airports.

“Give a Book” is a UK based charity with the sole aim of giving books where they will be of particular benefit including prisons.  http://giveabook.org.uk/

“Give a Book” works with Ellie’s Friends, a charity who helps women who are recovering from Cancer. They send a monthly mixed selection of light reading to be enjoyed. Each bundle contains ten titles and is delivered to a different recipient each month.  https://elliesfriends.org

“Give a Book” also works with First Story, a registered charity which places published authors in schools to hold weekly workshops on creative writing. At the end of the program, the students’ pieces are published in their own anthology.  https://firststory.org.uk/

*****

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TWEETABLES: 

What else can you do for your Sweetheart on February 14th? (Click to Tweet)

Library Lovers Day & International Book Giving Day share February 14 with Valentine’s Day. (Click to Tweet)

Open Your Story with a BANG! PART TWO by G.B. Pool

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A while back I posted Part One of this Blog. Here’s the rest of the story…

There are a few other things to think about while you are writing that OPENING to your story. Remember, it might be the only thing an agent or editor reads. Make him or her want to read the rest of it.

How To Open a Great Short Story using the 5 Basic Elements covered in Aristotle’s The Poetics: Plot, Character, Dialogue, Setting, and the General Theme or Point of Your Story (Man Against Nature Man Against Man; Man Against Himself; Love Conquers All, etc.)

 

The perfect plot is simple, not complex. Aristotle from The Poetics

 
1. The Plot in a Short Story especially, but most stories in general should –

 
a. Have a beginning, middle, and an end, but start in the middle of the beginning. This makes the reader want to see what he missed so he keeps turning those pages. EXAMPLE: “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.” (Something bad has already taken place and this guy is explaining it.)

 

b. Get to the point with very little, if any, backstory. You can add that later. EXAMPLE: “But you’re married, Janice.” (Obviously something has elicited this reaction. Now the reader will want to know what Janice has been up to.)

 
c. Hook the reader with a compelling reason to continue reading; an “out-of-whack” event; something that changes the protagonist’s world profoundly and the reader just has to know what happens next. EXAMPLE: “How long has he been in the water?” I asked, knowing by the bloated, blue body it was too long. What was left of the corpse’s clothes had shredded, exposing large masses of distended flesh. – From Damning Evidence – by G.B. Pool – (Obviously our private detective will have another murder to solve.)

 
d. A story-worthy problem or situation is the heart and soul of your story; your annual Christmas letter doesn’t cut it, neither does just a series of bad things happening to someone; there has to be some extenuating circumstances that brought about this calamity.

 
e. Or have something that changes the protagonist’s world profoundly and the reader just has to know what happens next: EXAMPLE: John Smith didn’t know he was an amnesiac. He discovered that and the fact he was married to two women when one of them turned up dead.

 
f. Make sure the Opening Scene has some relevance to the rest of the story, whether it actually figures into the plot or echoes the theme. Opening in a beautiful flower garden better reveal a dead body in the posies. Or hearing about a long ago train wreck better foretell another “train wreck.”

 

2. Characters
a. Don’t introduce all your characters at once, but begin with an important one.
b. Don’t over describe your characters at first; leave some traits for later, but start with something compelling like the smoking gun in her hand.
c. And remember, actions always speak louder than words, so have your character do something or see something right away.

3. Dialogue: It gets you into the story fast and moves the story along even faster than merely telling the story.

 
a. Dialogue can set the stage (EXAMPLE: “The bridge is out!”), define a character’s education level or regional origin by their accent (EXAMPLE: “Honey, did y’all get another dawg?”) or get into a character’s personality (EXAMPLE: “I loathe you,” she said, grinding her cigarette into the back of his hand. “Have a nice day.”)

 
b.Dialogue, whether it’s an internal monologue or between two people, performs a major function. (If it doesn’t, rewrite it.)

 
i. Dialogue with occasional body language enhances (describes) the character; (EXAMPLE: “Go ahead. Date my ex-wife,” he said and then slammed his fist into the wall.)

 
ii. Dialogue advances the plot (EXAMPLE: My name is Johnny Casino. I’m a retired P.I. with a past. I just hope it doesn’t catch up with me. Before I went legit, I ran numbers in Jersey for Big Louie “Fingers” D’Abruzzo and then busted heads in Miami for Big Eddie “Mambo” Fontaine. But at the ripe old age of twenty-four, Little Johnny beat a hasty retreat to L.A. when somebody slipped the cops a hot tip and all of a sudden, I became the fall guy for the Mob.) FROM THE JOHNNY CASINO CASEBOOK 1 – PAST IMPERFECT BY G.B. POOL

 
iii. And Dialogue gets you up close and personal as if you were eavesdropping on the conversation; EXAMPLE: Before Donald got out of his chair to greet me, I launched. “Are you out of your freaking mind? Marrying somebody before you even buried your wife! Do you want me to save your butt or direct traffic to your hanging?” I was speaking in a crescendo, starting around contralto, and ending somewhere in the soprano range.
“I never loved my wife!” he declared in clear basso profundo.
“Did you kill her?” I yelled.
“No!” he shot back.
Note: As the dialogue gets more intense, the fewer words are used.)
4. Have a terrific Setting or Sense of Place.
You want to set the stage whether it’s an attic room or a ballroom, a secluded path or a desert vista. Paint that background and then get out of the way and let your characters experience it.
EXAMPLE: It was going to be the hottest damn day of the year. Those Santa Anas were kicking up, turning the L.A. basin into a blast furnace. If it didn’t cool off, half the state would catch fire. From “Heat” G.B. Pool

 
5. The Point of the Story
Reread your story and ask yourself: Does this make sense? Does your opening tie in with the ending? Does the Title fit the story?
The Opening: 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

The Closing: “They think an animal killed him, dug a shallow trench to hide his kill for later, and must have forgotten where it was buried.” He walked closer and put his warm hand on my arm. “It was ruled…death by cougar.”
Aaron smashed the plastic bag containing the vodka bottle against the fireplace and the glass shattered. Then he took my hand and led me upstairs.
I’ll always wonder if he ever read that “cougar” book, but I’ll never ask. Lovers have to have some secrets. FROM “A ROLE TO DIE FOR” BY G.B.POOL

(FROM THE OPENING, Our protagonist obviously had something to do with Brad’s death. At the CLOSING, her boyfriend must know it, too, but they will both postpone the inevitable until later.)
As for the TITLE, “A Role to Die For,” several people died while she was securing those roles. That’s showbiz…

In Conclusion: This might be a lot to think about, but opening your story well will have readers follow it to the end… and maybe read your next story. Write On…

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Open Your Story with a BANG! PART TWO by G.B. Pool

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A while back I posted Part One of this Blog. Here’s the rest of the story…

There are a few other things to think about while you are writing that OPENING to your story. Remember, it might be the only thing an agent or editor reads. Make him or her want to read the rest of it.

AristotleHow To Open a Great Short Story using the 5 Basic Elements covered in Aristotle’s The Poetics: Plot, Character, Dialogue, Setting, and the General Theme or Point of Your Story (Man Against Nature Man Against Man; Man Against Himself; Love Conquers All, etc.)
The perfect plot is simple, not complex. Aristotle from The Poetics
1. The Plot in a Short Story especially, but most stories in general should –
a. Have a beginning, middle, and an end, but start in the middle of the beginning. This makes the reader want to see what he missed so he keeps turning those pages. EXAMPLE: “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.” (Something bad has already taken place and this guy is explaining it.)

 

b. Get to the point with very little, if any, backstory. You can add that later. EXAMPLE: “But you’re married, Janice.” (Obviously something has elicited this reaction. Now the reader will want to know what Janice has been up to.)

 
c. Hook the reader with a compelling reason to continue reading; an “out-of-whack” event; something that changes the protagonist’s world profoundly and the reader just has to know what happens next. EXAMPLE: “How long has he been in the water?” I asked, knowing by the bloated, blue body it was too long. What was left of the corpse’s clothes had shredded, exposing large masses of distended flesh. – From Damning Evidence – by G.B. Pool – (Obviously our private detective will have another murder to solve.)

 
d. A story-worthy problem or situation is the heart and soul of your story; your annual Christmas letter doesn’t cut it, neither does just a series of bad things happening to someone; there has to be some extenuating circumstances that brought about this calamity.

 
e. Or have something that changes the protagonist’s world profoundly and the reader just has to know what happens next: EXAMPLE: John Smith didn’t know he was an amnesiac. He discovered that and the fact he was married to two women when one of them turned up dead.

 
f. Make sure the Opening Scene has some relevance to the rest of the story, whether it actually figures into the plot or echoes the theme. Opening in a beautiful flower garden better reveal a dead body in the posies. Or hearing about a long ago train wreck better foretell another “train wreck.”

 

2. Characters
a. Don’t introduce all your characters at once, but begin with an important one.
b. Don’t over describe your characters at first; leave some traits for later, but start with something compelling like the smoking gun in her hand.
c.. And remember, actions always speak louder than words, so have your character do something or see something right away.

3. Dialogue: It gets you into the story fast and moves the story along even faster than merely telling the story.
a. Dialogue can set the stage (EXAMPLE: “The bridge is out!”), define a character’s education level or regional origin by their accent (EXAMPLE: “Honey, did y’all get another dawg?”) or get into a character’s personality (EXAMPLE: “I loathe you,” she said, grinding her cigarette into the back of his hand. “Have a nice day.”)
b. Dialogue, whether it’s an internal monologue or between two people, performs a major function. (If it doesn’t, rewrite it.)
i. Dialogue with occasional body language enhances (describes) the character; (EXAMPLE: ““Go ahead. Date my ex-wife,” he said and then slammed his fist into the wall.)
ii. Dialogue advances the plot (EXAMPLE: My name is Johnny Casino. I’m a retired P.I. with a past. I just hope it doesn’t catch up with me. Before I went legit, I ran numbers in Jersey for Big Louie “Fingers” D’Abruzzo and then busted heads in Miami for Big Eddie “Mambo” Fontaine. But at the ripe old age of twenty-four, Little Johnny beat a hasty retreat to L.A. when somebody slipped the cops a hot tip and all of a sudden, I became the fall guy for the Mob.) FROM THE JOHNNY CASINO CASEBOOK 1 – PAST IMPERFECT BY G.B. POOL
iii. And dialogue gets you up close and personal as if you were eavesdropping on the conversation; EXAMPLE: Before Donald got out of his chair to greet me, I launched. “Are you out of your freaking mind? Marrying somebody before you even buried your wife! Do you want me to save your butt or direct traffic to your hanging?” I was speaking in a crescendo, starting around contralto, and ending somewhere in the soprano range.
“I never loved my wife!” he declared in clear basso profundo.
“Did you kill her?” I yelled.
“No!” he shot back.
Note: As the dialogue gets more intense, the fewer words are used.)
4. Have a terrific Setting or Sense of Place.
You want to set the stage whether it’s an attic room or a ballroom, a secluded path or a desert vista. Paint that background and then get out of the way and let your characters experience it.
EXAMPLE: It was going to be the hottest damn day of the year. Those Santa Anas were kicking up, turning the L.A. basin into a blast furnace. If it didn’t cool off, half the state would catch fire. From “Heat” G.B. Pool

 
5. The Point of the Story
Reread your story and ask yourself: Does this make sense? Does your opening tie in with the ending? Does the Title fit the story?
The Opening: 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

The Closing: “They think an animal killed him, dug a shallow trench to hide his kill for later, and must have forgotten where it was buried.” He walked closer and put his warm hand on my arm. “It was ruled…death by cougar.”
Aaron smashed the plastic bag containing the vodka bottle against the fireplace and the glass shattered. Then he took my hand and led me upstairs.
I’ll always wonder if he ever read that “cougar” book, but I’ll never ask. Lovers have to have some secrets. FROM “A ROLE TO DIE FOR” BY G.B.POOL

(FROM THE OPENING, Our protagonist obviously had something to do with Brad’s death. At the Closing, her boyfriend must know it, too, but they will both postpone the inevitable until later.)
As for the TITLE, “A Role to Die For,” several people died while she was securing those roles. That’s showbiz…

In Conclusion: This might be a lot to think about, but opening your story well will have readers follow it to the end… and maybe read your next story. Write On…