What Lies Beneath the Surface? by G.B. Pool

Discovering Aspects of Your Main Character That Even He Didn’t Know Existed

 

People 3Aristotle said there were five basic parts of a story: Plot, Character, Setting, Dialogue, and the meaning or point behind a story. People have argued for ages which is the more important, plot or character, but even though I agree with Aristotle that plot is the most important, we do like stories brimming with compelling characters.

I personally want the main character to be someone I would invite into my home; after all, we will be spending some quality time together, often in bed early in the morning… What I mean by that is simple. After my husband has left for work and I am curled up with a good book, I want the hero to be someone I can trust or the heroine to be someone I can go to lunch with or maybe to some breaking and entering with, if that’s the caper.

People 4When I came up with Johnny Casino, the character who inhabits the pages of the three books in The Johnny Casino Casebook series, I wanted someone with a past. The opening line from Past Imperfect, number one in the series is this: My name is Johnny Casino. I’m a retired P.I. with a past. I just hope it doesn’t catch up with me.

Of course his past does catch up with him, often. In fact, every “guest star” in each case in the first collection of short stories has a past, whether good or bad. It’s up to Johnny to sort it out. But along the way, he has to come to terms with his own past.

As I delved into his background while I was writing these stories, he explained a lot about himself. It might sound odd that I am giving credit to my character, but any writer will tell you these “people” have a life, if not a voice, of their own and when they whisper or yell in your ear, you listen.

People 2The first story I wrote had Johnny mention that he once worked for the Mob. I was channeling his voice and the words just came. Then I realized I needed to know a little bit about the Mafia. An ex-cop acquaintance with a rather interesting connection to the Mafia told me what books to read and he also shared some insights that you might never find in a book, but if you did, you would think it was fiction.

This revelation made me dig deeper into Johnny’s character. Even the names of the Mafia guys Johnny worked for changed. One was called Eddie Fontaine, but it changed to Big Eddie “Mambo” Fontaine when I knew him better.

People 1Elmore Leonard once mentioned when he gave one of his characters the wrong name, the guy wouldn’t talk, but when he changed the name, he couldn’t shut him up. The man was on to something.

It’s these layers that build up, like a pearl, that allow the writer to “create” a three-dimensional character. The first story I wrote briefly mentioned Johnny’s Mafia history. The second story, a flashback, shows it in somber detail and it also explains why Johnny has a problem with women. He will be a knight-in-shining armor to a lady in distress, even if she is less than virtuous, but he can be tough, too.

HollywoodAs I was on this road of discovery, I realized I had given Johnny the title: Hollywood Detective, but I didn’t have a story with a movie star. I do now, and a few of these legends make a return engagement in subsequent books. I decided not to use actual names of stars, but I did borrow heavily from stars I liked from the past, but mostly it was their stature and the era, since I doubt if any of these luminaries had too many dead bodies in their own past. That would be another story.

But I learned Johnny had a code, and sometimes that meant breaking the law to do the right thing or maybe covering up something illegal for a friend. But one of the coolest things I discovered in writing the first book was that Johnny’s past might not even be what he thinks it is. That question is answered in the next book in the series – Looking for Johnny Nobody. The first book sets the stage and lets you meet a few other characters that inhabit his world. And as I said on the back cover of the book – everybody has a past.

By the time I started book three, Just Shoot Me, I let Johnny take over and write those stories. He had discovered some new things about his own life that changed everything for him and he was going to carry on with this new identity that he had. But there was something else… He was growing. He was becoming a real character.

Open DoorMy newest character in a series is Chance McCoy. I bill him as a third rate P.I. in a secondhand suit who blows half the cases he takes on. Not a great track record. Then Chance is shot… and killed. But Chance gets the opportunity of a lifetime. He gets to come back, alive. Now he can fix some of those old cases and take on some that challenge even the brightest detectives. What does he use? As the guy who sent him back tells him: You use what’s inside. Chance’s discovery process is a trip in book one: Second Chance. Finding different aspects in this character was definitely a trip for this writer as well.

People 5Aren’t memorable characters what writers want to create? And isn’t that what readers want to read. You betcha. Write On.

Don’t Call the Cops by G.B. Pool

Police CopIn this litigious society, it isn’t worth the time, money, or headache to use a real person when writing fiction, unless the character is used as a colorful extra, or the person has given their permission. I won’t even write a review of a book or play that I don’t like just because I really don’t want the hassle of somebody’s nose getting out of joint. And remember: Silence speaks volumes.

When I worked as a newspaper reporter on the Whitehaven Star in Memphis, I told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Facts backed up what I wrote. I never worried about being sued.

That being said, the bottom line is that I wouldn’t go out of my way to run somebody down in print, no matter how idiotic I think they are. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they know they’re a moron, so why waste the ink. I also won’t shame anybody or point out his or her flaws in public. It doesn’t do anybody any good. If I don’t like them, I ignore them. If I like them and they are a tad odd, I would rather protect them and their quirks.

Of course, if you are talking politics…all bets are off. But I don’t go too far out on that political limb in my stories, either. I use historical fact and let that tell the story. If a reader has a different view of history, that’s their problem.

My name (or a close facsimile) turned up in a book, Tommy Gun Tango, written by a friend, Bruce Cook, who wanted to use my hyphenated name for a character. The girl is wild as they come, not necessarily based on my personality, but hey, maybe Bruce knows something others don’t know. (You can wait for my memoirs.) But seriously, he did ask permission to use a variation of my name. I told him I’d be happy to be a potted plant in one of his books, so go ahead.

Newspaper 2Next to never have I started a character based on somebody in a current news story, but if I chanced to take a fraction of somebody’s tale, I would invariably flesh out the character and make him or her into my own creation. My story would take a totally different path, too. After all, we have been inundated with the wall-to-wall coverage of high profile cases in the news for decades, who would want to read yesterday’s news?

Since I wouldn’t be privy to the motives of the people involved in real stories, I would be making it all up anyway. So I prefer to create the entire character on my own. It’s the character’s inner feelings that I want to capture and then craft my own story about who they are and what they do. That makes the character real to me and hopefully to the reader.

Actual people might be a starting place, even if their characteristics are totally off the wall. But I would rather create my own people with motives I think fit the part they are playing in my story. And anyway, when the character takes over the writing, which they do, they can fill in the blanks themselves.

In my Ginger Caulfield novels (Media Justice, Hedge Bet, and Damning Evidence), I definitely use my husband, Richard, as the character Fred; and Gin Caulfield is mostly me, personality-wise. My agent at the time asked if I would deepen Gin’s character. In “agent-speak” that means give her a flaw, something gritty. So, I had to add some backstory to make Ginger a slightly darker character. It does make her more interesting and I have added sub-plots using this flaw, so it works. But the creativity is mine. I’ll take the arrows if it doesn’t fly.

So lawyers and the police and the Feds can move on. Nothing to see here. I write fiction. If I do use a real person, more chances than not they are no longer living and you can’t libel the dead. (There are a lot of lawyers in my family and I know the drill.)

How about you, my fellow writers? Do you use real people – family, friends, or someone in the news in your writing? Do you have a good lawyer?Lawyer

Who Was That Guy? by G.B. Pool

Dapper Dog“There are no small parts, only small actors.”

The truth in this Hollywood line is that any actor can make his part better by bringing out every ounce of character in the role. Thelma Ritter did it in spades in roles like she had in All About Eve and Rear Window. Her presence and personality did a lot for the part, but let’s also give some credit to the playwright. And in a book or short story, you have to give ALL the credit to the author… or the blame if he or she doesn’t make every character work, large or small.

But what about those minor characters?

 

  • They bring the background to life. Example: regulars in a cheap dive bring out the seedier side of life while diners at the Ritz show us how the other half lives.
  • They provide information about the surroundings and specifics. They can run in and tell us the bridge is out or mention that so-and-so’s nutty sister is still in the institution or just got out of the slammer.
  • They add mood and comic relief. Example: Joe Pesci in a Mel Gibson movie.
  • They can be places the hero might not be able to be. This works especially well in a first person narrative. The main character can’t be everywhere, so Old Clem can fill our hero in on what’s happening somewhere else.

Gas pump

  • They can advance the plot. Sometimes you need to dump information without making it sound like an information dump. When the old lady down the street can tell our hero every move of the mysterious guy who rents the small house on the corner, get out of the way and let her blab.
  • In mysteries, Secondary Characters are called suspects… or victims.

 

Flat vs. Round Characters (Amongst our Minor Players)

 

Flat characters can be described in one or two sentences. They fit their surroundings, sometimes the way they dress tells us if we are in the city or a rural environment. Since they have a minor part, often they don’t need a name because they aren’t on stage or the page very long.

 

Example: The butler, with the demeanor of an undertaker, escorted the police detective and the other officer to the business wing of the large house with solemnity befitting a funeral procession. It was slow and wordless, like a bizarre pantomime. The men were ushered inside the large workroom and the door firmly shut behind them.     From “A Perfect Alibi” in From Light TO DARK by G.B. Pool

 

The term “butler” alone says we aren’t in a flop house in the Bowery. If you are writing a short story you can eliminate a lot of unnecessary words by dropping in a character who fits a particular situation.

 

Round characters are those who have something to say about the situation. They inform the reader and/or the main character of facts not readily available.

 

 

Example: She stood there, all five foot-one of her, petite, platinum hair, looking up at me through glasses thicker than the bottom of a shot glass. She must have been eighty-five. Why did I seem to attract folks lingering in God’s waiting room?

“You’re Johnny Casino, aren’t you?” she said, her faded blue eyes squinting at me, sizing me up. “You came to my house when you were looking for that dead girl, didn’t you? She wasn’t dead, was she?”

I managed a “no,” but that was all.

“I told you I heard their voices. All those dead girls. They’re still there, you know?”

I remembered her, all right. She looked like Ruth Gordon in that Clint Eastwood movie with the orangutan. Just another nutty old lady who sees things that aren’t there and hears things that were never said. She swore she could feel the vibes from scores of dead girls buried in her backyard.

“Have you talked to the sheriff?” I said, resuming my quest for the perfect cold brew.

“He thinks I’m crazy.” She tugged my sleeve. “But I’m not.”

“We found the missing girl,” I said over my shoulder. “She wasn’t dead. You don’t need to worry anymore.”

“These girls are dead. I can feel it. I hear them screaming, ‘Stop! Stop! You’re killing me, or am I already dead?’”

From “The Snuff That Dreams Are Made Of” in The Johnny Casino Casebook 2 by G.B. Pool

 

The fact that this is an old lady is slowly revealed one word at a time until we get to the thick glasses part. She adds to her part by not letting the detective get a word in edge-wise. The old lady gives Johnny information that he needs to solve this case. And she has personality up the wazoo.

 Typewriter Vintage

Here’s a brief exercise to work those creative muscles of yours.

 

Minor Character WorksheetDescribe a lumberjack or deep sea fisherman who is a minor character in a story.

 

____________________________________________________________

____________________________________________________________

 

NOTE: Okay, this was a trick… If you wrote out more than a word or two about either the fisherman or the lumberjack, you were working too hard. The very fact both of these occupations come with a built-in look, all you had to do was mention that occupation. Most readers will assume you mean the guy with the yellow slicker and wading boots on a fishing boat or the big guy with the plaid shirt and an ax over his shoulder in the woods. You needn’t go much further than that unless there is something unique about the guy like maybe one is three-feet tall or one had a peg leg. Stock characters are just that. A mention of their occupation or places they frequent tells the reader all he or she needs to know. Save your word count for something important.

 

Without a handful of great characters, all you have is a travel guide. Readers want someone to care about and be willing to travel with, but in a short story you will have fewer people to go along for the ride. In your novel, you can have a few more of these folks to carry your story along.

But remember this, if the character has no purpose, if he isn’t imparting valuable information or if she isn’t describing the surroundings, eliminate them. You can also combine several of your walk-ons into one character so you don’t have too many folks populating your story.

 

PeopleAlso, if you have too many minor characters, they will start to clutter up your story. Your reader won’t know if he is supposed to remember this character or if the person is just an information-dropping entity.

 

If you don’t give the minor character a name, it will be assumed they aren’t a major player. That might help. But most of all make sure they have a reason for being there. Remember, there are no small parts…

 

 

 

 

YAK SHAVING REVISITED…. by Rosemary Lord

Candy                    Well, it all started because of the chocolate. You know – all that extra chocolate that abounds over the holidays. You can’t leave it sitting there. It has to be eaten. It would be rude not to.

But then, in the cruel light of day, you realize that your clothes really, really shrunk in the wash – especially around the middle…  Then, it was that late-night infomercial for exercise equipment that beckoned. Just what I need, I told myself. And it was on sale.

Problem was, that when stretched out to start my work-out, the equipment was over 8 feet long. This is where the Yak Shaving kicked in again. (For those who missed it, I wrote about ‘Yak Shaving 101’ in the April 2017 Blog on this site. It’s the system of the many unintentional, side-tracking steps one goes through to achieve one’s original goal.)

In order to make room for this work-out equipment, so I could use it in the living-room – several things needed to be removed. Best place for those boxes of files, DVDs and things left there ‘to deal with later,’ was in my office cupboard. Yak Shaving fully in gear, I had to clear out the office cupboard first.

Boxes

Over the next two days, I got rid of six large bags of trash, shredded two large bags of financial papers and gave a car-load of things to the local Cancer Discovery Thrift Shop.

I really didn’t need those four reams of assorted colored copy paper, six unopened boxes of Sharpies, when one would suffice – stacks of used folders with names scribbled all over them, and plastic bags. What was I saving Barnes and Noble plastic bags for?

A whole shelf was filled with pay-slips from acting jobs and residuals going back too many years to own up to. I pulled out a few important ones, just as reminders of what I had once done. The rest got shredded.

But the other side of this challenge reaped all sorts of rewards. Apart from loads of empty space, I even found a $100-bill in an old note-book!

I went through boxes of my old photos from shows and films I had worked on, before I quit acting to focus on my writing-career. I had forgotten many of the great adventures I had in my life – some reckless moments that had me wincing, as I came across plane, train and boat tickets. Did I really go there alone at such a young age? Crazy! A lot of “what was I thinking?” moments, too.

 

As Guardian in Dr. Who

But I sure met a lot of interesting people in my travels. And, of course, the movie premieres I attended, visits to the Cannes Film Festival when the real movie stars and legendary directors, producers, composers were still around. I found notes from a flying lesson. (What? Where? Why?) And the myriad of odd jobs I have done since I left school so early to pursue my dreams. (Photo from Rosie’s performance in Dr. Who)

I also came across a couple of Trader Joe’s chocolate bars – too old to eat, alas. How did they get in there? Probably hidden from my late-husband, Rick, who would devour chocolate if he saw it – and either he was on a diet and should not eat it, or more likely because I wanted to eat it and I knew the chocolate bars would not remain if Rick came across them. (It’s an old, married thing – for those singletons out there.)

Trip of a Lifetime 2009 240

I found some very special mementos from Rick, incidentally. Notes we had written each other, more birthday, Christmas and Valentines cards. Re-reading those simultaneously brought a big grin to my face, warmth to my heart – and a lump in my throat. I remind myself constantly how lucky I was to have loved and been loved by my husband.

In so many adventures along the way, I learned new skills: like turtle-catching, for one. The horse-back riding lessons were not quite so successful. But I can dance a mean Charleston, and cook up a tasty meal from left-overs with a recipe Cary Grant told me he got from Doris Day. I can still cut a basic sewing pattern from my days in Fashion Design, (carefully) handle snakes, write a good Press Release and can tell you lots about the early history of Hollywood. Until this enforced de-cluttering, I had forgotten the many roads I traveled.

I started making notes, as I uncovered more treasures: another splendid Yak-Shaving side-step. But the memories I noted, the dates, the forgotten names recovered, were all heading in one direction. More writing projects.

 

Yak

This Yak Shaving has its good points. I am delighted to open my office cupboard door to see so much space. Those boxes that had to be moved into said cupboard in order to make space to use the new exercise machine? Well, once I focused on the de-cluttering and asked those required questions: “Do I love this object, do I need this, does it bring me joy?” The answer was “no” all round. So I got rid of those boxes, too.

Shelves

And as I now have the space to do all the push-ups, pull-ups, leg and stomach exercises I want – I can contemplate the new stories, articles and books I intend to write as I work out.

As I look through those recovered memories, would I do things differently, given the chance? Sometimes, yes. But mostly ‘no.’ I wouldn’t be where am I am now and I like where I am. Yak-shaving complete – and surprisingly successful.

If you dig back through your own past – would you do things differently? And if so, what? Hmmm, Food for thought – as long as it’s not chocolate.

 

 

Rosemary Lord

The author of Best Sellers Hollywood Then and Now and Los Angeles Then and Now, English born ROSEMARY LORD has lived in Hollywood for over 30 years. As an actress, her credits include Monty Python, Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, Days of Our Lives, L.A. Heat and more. She did voice-work on Titanic, Star Trek, Shakespeare In Love, The Holiday and Pirates of the Caribbean amongst others.

Also a former journalist, she wrote about Hollywood’s Golden Age, interviewing such luminaries as Cary Grant, James Stewart, Tony Hopkins, John Huston. She was a Senior Publicist at Columbia Pictures.

Rosemary lectures on Hollywood history and is the President of the Woman’s Club of Hollywood. She is a member of MWA and Sisters-in-Crime.

She is currently writing a series of murder mysteries set in the 1920’s Jazz Age Hollywood featuring Lottie Topaz, an extra in silent movies.

 

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…

typewriter

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…

Short Story Workshop

Join Mike Befeler and G.B. Pool (Gayle Bartos-Pool) at the Glendale Central Downtown Library (222 E. Harvard Street, Glendale, CA) this coming Saturday, January 20, from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. when they teach a short story workshop for all you writers out there.  anatomy-book-cover

If you aren’t in the area, you can find Gayle’s book, Anatomy of a Short Story Workbook, on Amazon. It covers even more than the class and has oodles of examples.

Hope to see you there!

 

Gayle and Mike