The Long and Short of the Short Story

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

 

typewriterAfter writing my first three published short stories, something happened: Readers responded favorably to one of my characters. They liked this guy’s personality.

 

Of course a writer is supposed to craft memorable characters, but those are usually found in a novel. A writer has more room to flesh out characters in a 300-page novel, not a 25-50 page short story. But something was happening with my “Johnny Casino” character. His personality was too big to stay within 28 pages.

 

That’s when I realized I had more Johnny Casino stories in me. In fact, by the time I was finished, I had nine stories and 388 pages. That’s called a book. I had turned a one-shot story into what is basically a series.

 

But the journey was also a learning experience.

 

I wrote a batch of these stories and showed them to my agent. She liked them, but…she wanted more information about Johnny. She thought the stories needed a love interest, but I didn’t want the short stories bogged down with schmaltz. That wasn’t what I envisioned for my character. But I hadn’t written any reason why Johnny didn’t have a woman in his life, so I wrote a backstory. That’s when I learned a lot of new things about him. It was so detailed; it turned into the second story in the first collection, The Johnny Casino Casebook 1 – Past Imperfect.past-imperfect-cover-12

The backstory also gave me a different view of Johnny. He had his dark side as well as his sarcastic side. He was becoming a three-dimensional person. I started learning so much about him, more stories popped up. One was so compelling; it became the focal point of the second collection, The Johnny Casino Casebook 2 – Looking for Johnny Nobody.

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Since I had created a past for Johnny, I could write stories about him when he worked for the mob back in New Jersey when he was younger; after all, I had discovered that his father was a high ranking guy in the D’Abruzzo crime family. I could also do a story explaining how he became a private detective after he fled to California.

 

 

And here’s a heads up for all you multi-tasking short story/novel writers. The character I created who taught Johnny how to be a first class P.I. is the heroine in another mystery series I have been writing. I figured, if people like Johnny, they just might like the novel featuring Gin Caulfield. She is now in three novels, not short stories in this case.

 

The last thing I learned on this journey is that there is a different kind of short story out there. In classes I teach about The Anatomy of a Short Story I mention a short story is like an hors d’oeuvre. It consists of a few really good things served up in a small bite. Whether it’s a handful of cool characters in a terrific location involved in a catchy plot, the short story gets you to one location in the fastest way possible.

 

In contrast, a novel can take you far and wide with a cast of thousands with sub-plots and bits of interesting background stuff just for the fun of it, and the writer can use 300 to 400 pages to accomplish the task. But the short story writer has to chop out unnecessary characters, places, plot twists and trim down the description to its bare bones and do it in 10 to 25 pages, give or take. Or does he?

 

I think there is a new home for the short story. The Short Story Novel. The length of each individual story can be anywhere from 25 to 70 pages, but the main thing is to have a single set of characters, or in my case, one main character, in every story. Several characters make repeat appearances, and I mention one sub-plot in several of the earlier stories in any given collection that is resolved in a story of its own. Each story reveals more and more about my main character and the final story in Book One ends with a haunting question that will be answered in Book Two.

 

If this sounds like a television series, you betcha. I called it a “series” earlier in this blog and that is exactly how I visualize The Johnny Casino Casebook, whether it stays in book form or hits the TV screen. His stories might be in the “short story” format, but his entire life is a novel.

 

And for those of you who prefer to create something completely stand-alone in each short story you write, those individual tales can always be put into your own collection and published. I did just that in From Light TO DARK.

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

Second Chance Book CoverAnd to add one more thing to this blog, Johnny Casino isn’t the only short story character to be in a book of his own. Chance McCoy arrived this year. His first book is called Second Chance. There are more stories to come. And there is a second short story anthology called Only in Hollywood coming out next year. The book consists of various stand-alone stories, but one features a guy named Charles Miro, a former TV actor turned private eye. He works for a younger woman who owns the detective firm. There are several stories about these two coming up. You see, even a short story can magically turn itself into a book if you try.

Write on.

Only in Hollywood cover 2

 

Mapping Your Mayhem by G.B. Pool

typewriterWhen I was asked to teach a writing course for Sisters-in-Crime/Los Angeles, I decided I better evaluate how I wrote a story first. I write novels as well as short stories and figured there were similar fundamentals all writers use in both endeavors. Then I remembered the Aristotle course I had taken in college. I still had the textbook, The AristotlePoetics, so I dusted it off and read the part on the 5 Basic Elements in any story: Plot, Character, Dialogue, Setting, and The Meaning of the story.

 

I have covered most of these points in previous blogs, but there is one crucial thing a writer needs to make sure all these elements fit and that is a Timeline. I looked back over the files I had on all the books and stories I had written and lo and behold, I actually made a timeline for just about all of the stories.

 

What does a Timeline do? It keeps track of Who does What Where and When and sometimes Why.

 

I actually use several methods to achieve these goals. If the story doesn’t cover very much time or utilizes few locals, I write a simple timeline noting the date and time certain things happen and where the action takes place and who does what each time. If there is a lot of time covered, I use a calendar.

 

I generally have a basic idea what my story is about before I start putting words on paper. I write the opening (usually about 20 times) until I know where I’m going and the tone I want in the story. Then I jot down the relative time of day each event happens as the story progresses. I break them into no less than 15 minute intervals. Usually it is thirty minutes or by the hour. You can’t have more than 24 hours in any given day, so it keeps you honest and organized.

 

If my characters are driving around the city, take for instance Los Angeles, I use Google Maps to see how long it takes to get from point A to point B. I’ve seen TV shows where people in L.A. can get someplace in thirty seconds… Only if they use a teleporter. (“Beam me up, Scotty.”) I discipline myself and make my fiction a tad more real.

 

When I have finished the story, I’ll go back over the Timeline to see if I have crammed too much or too little into that given time frame. And I do something else. I’ll see if the plot holds together. Sometimes a destination doesn’t make sense or maybe some other character should be involved or eliminated. And sometimes I need to add a high point or low point just to give the story movement. I know movies today are all action and explosions and no plot, but I prefer plot and character.

 

Character ListThere is another type of timeline I make: A List of Characters. I include their date of birth in case they age throughout the story. You want to make sure you don’t have a character born in 1920 be only fifty in 1990. And you don’t want a character to remember seeing news of the Hindenburg when she was born in 1947. Keep track.

 

Fellow Writer-in-Residence blogger, Bonnie Schroeder, has a new book (Write My Name on the Sky) coming out in July that starts out in the late Sixties. She had to make sure the items mentioned were around then. She did it meticulously. She might have lived through that time, but she still had to make sure she didn’t drop a 21st Century gadget into the story or mention a tune that wasn’t around then.

 

I start out with a piece of paper that I print off just for this task. I pencil in the character’s name as I write them. I give a brief description of their role and age. Many times I change the name. If you will note, there is an alphabet at the bottom of that page. I circle the first letter of the character’s name in that alphabet. I want each name to fit each particular character, but they can’t all begin the same letter unless you’re having fun.

 

When I’m finished with the story, I copy all those names and descriptions into the computer and add even more description and start evaluating those characters. Do some need more personality? Does one need to be meaner? Or smarter? Or should a particular character add something to the story that is needed? Or should the character be eliminated? One time I wrote a book knowing who the bad guy (or in this case gal) was going to be, but when I was finished I had another thought. I bumped off the initial suspect and then my private detective had to go back over the case to see what she missed… or was it time to hang up her .38s and retire? It was by reviewing that list of characters that allowed me to see a “What if?” scenario. And I am glad I did. It made for a much better and far more exciting conclusion to the novel.

 

And here is another benefit in having that Timeline. It gives you an Outline for your story in case an editor or publisher wants a synopsis of your book. And even better, that quick rundown of the plot lets you see what your story is about so you can more easily write the all important blurb for the back of your book. You only need the first third to tell any reader what is in store. Think of the timeline as the dry run for that “elevator pitch” you have heard about. The fact that you have consolidated your story into a few pages of a “timelined” plot; you can easily tell someone what the story is about.

 

Anatomy  Book CoverI have put most of my writing course into a book: The Anatomy of a Short Story Workbook. It covers many of the things I have posted on our blog, but as an added bonus, it gives you diagrams and pictures of these worksheets. I use them in all my writing. I never create a story without them. Maybe they can help you.

 

Author Bio

A former private detective and a reporter for a small weekly newspaper, Gayle Bartos-Pool has several books in print: The Johnny Casino Casebook 1- Past Imperfect, The Johnny Casino Casebook 2 – Looking for Johnny Nobody, and The Johnny Casino Casebook 3 – Just Shoot Me; Media Justice, Hedge Bet, and Damning Evidence in the Gin Caulfield P.I. Series; From Light To DARK, a collection of short stories; Eddie Buick’s Last Case, Second Chance, The Santa Claus Singer, Bearnard’s Christmas and The Santa Claus Machine. She is the former Speakers Bureau Director for Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles and also a member of Mystery Writers of America and The Woman’s Club of Hollywood. She teaches writing classes: “Anatomy of a Short Story,” “How to Write Convincing Dialogue” and “Writing a Killer Opening Line” in sunny Southern California. Website: www.gbpool.com.

Chance McCoy just got the opportunity of a lifetime.

Second Chance Book CoverChance McCoy was a private detective killed during a routine case, but he is given a second chance to make good. But with his track record as a P.I., he just might blow this chance, too.

 

SECOND CHANCE is a year in the life of this P.I. who usually misses clues by a mile, but this time there just might be some help along the way. Or maybe his new pal, Harold, was right when he said: “Everything you need is inside, my friend.”

 

Hello All. My name is Thunder. I’m G.B. Pool’s P.R. Person for her latest book:

Thunder with Second Chance

SECOND CHANCE.

As you can tell from the blurb, this one is different. G. B. might write detective novels, spy novels, and a few Christmas novels, but this one will take you to a place you’ve never been… At least most of you have never been there… yet. Sometimes I wonder about a few of the good souls me and my furry friends have encountered during our lives.

That brings me to something special about this book. If you happen to find this one on your bookshelf or on your Kindle and have read the last chapter and the Acknowledgements, you’ll see what this “second chance” stuff means to the author. But something else, G.B. has made me a deal. 25% of the profits from this book go to animal shelters in the L.A. area or special ones she hears about. She already donated to Paws for Life, a unique rescue site that takes dogs literally on death row from pounds in the area and sends them to inmates doing life in the penitentiary. The inmates retrain these dogs to be good “citizens” so they can be teamed up with folks on the outside and given a forever home or if you will: a second chance. She was introduced to this worthy enterprise by author Christopher Lynch who has taught some creative writing courses to these guys. Sometimes a soul can be reached. Thank God.

So, if you find yourself in need of a summer read, SECOND CHANCE just might be your ticket. It’s a series of short stories all about this guy named Chance McCoy who gets something we all might want in life – a second chance.

Author Note: Thunder is studying to be a therapy dog with her talented mistress, Bonnie Schroeder. Bonnie’s latest book, Write My Name on the Sky is on the brink of release, but Thunder took time out from both their busy schedules to help me with the P.R. for this book. Thanks, Thunder and Bonnie.) G.B. Pool website.

Lions, Tigers, and Bears. Oh, My!

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

Friends usually have things in common. Writer friends might have even more in common because we incorporate things we have learned, researched, or stumbled across into our writing and we read each other’s work. (Books teach!) Being Facebook friends, too, brings many of those experiences into focus because we can see what each of us is doing… Sort of like a spy camera watching our every move if we happen to post parts of our lives and experiences on Facebook.

Recently, The Writers-in-Residence bunch happened to discover that we all had a strong affinity for pets… cats, dogs, birds, you name it. And something else we noticed. Those pets turn up in our pages. Even if we don’t currently have a furry or feathery face gracing our home, we have had one at one time or another that made a difference in our lives. And often we write about those experiences.

Over the next few weeks we are going to share with our readers some of these encounters. We hope you enjoy our memories and our pets and see how we incorporated them into our work.

99be9-gayle51closeupAs for me, since I have always had a pet in my house, as a kid and as an adult, I never thought it odd to put a cat or dog in a story. My Ginger Caulfield private detective character has two dogs, Sherlock and Foxtrot. In reality, my husband and I got our two Italian Greyhounds, coincidentally named Sherlock and Foxtrot, from the Los Angeles pound. The two canines don’t solve mysteries in Gin Caulfield novels… yet. Though you never know. But I will tell you one thing… no dead dogs will EVER turn up in my stories.

bookcoverpreviewcroppedThe three books in my Christmas series are full of animals even though Santa doesn’t consider them pets. After all, Bearnard, the Polar bear from Bearnard’s Christmas, works in the castle and even helps solve a mystery in the third book, Every Castle Needs a Dragon, coming out at Thanksgiving. Even the dragon, Orville by name, plays a rather large part in the story. (He reads as well as talks!) Every Castle Needs a Dragon cover trial 2 cropped

But at the North Pole many things are just a tad different from anywhere else. One of our cats, Sylvester, actually makes a guest appearance at the North Pole in Bearnard’s Christmas. Angel, Sylvester, Winston and Cookie also drop into the story.

Bearnard & SylvesterAngel0002

Sukoshi Painting 2My spy novels reference Sukoshi, the Beagle I had as a kid and up until I was working as a private detective at the age of 21. She is mentioned because the books are loosely based on my dad’s career in the Air Force and Sukoshi went to France with us when my father was stationed there. When we were visiting West Berlin, she had a very long leash that allowed her to wander under the barricade into the no-man’s land that separated West and East Berlin, so she actually got closer to the commie-side than I did.

CAVERNS is crawling with animals, mostly rats because the little dears are carving out caverns under the high-rises in Chicago. The story was actually based on something I heard from a co-worker who read about a 105 pound rat being found along the wharf area while she was living in New York City. Her story and the fact I had a case in Chicago while being a P.I. brought those two pieces together.

Most recently, I finished my latest book called SECOND CHANCE which has a rather “coincidental” tie-in to the subject of pets. Chance McCoy just got the opportunity of a lifetime. That’s the title page blurb.

Chance McCoy is a private detective killed during a routine case, but he is given a second chance to make good. But with his track record as a P.I., he just might blow this chance, too. That’s the book summary. So far, no pets… but

All through the book, Chance views people he encounters as some kind of pooch. Droopy Bloodhound eyes on one guy. A teenage girl’s bodyguards are viewed as Bulldogs. Another set of hired muscle are called Rottweilers. Chance even enlists the services of a cadaver dog named Maurice to see if a body is buried in someone’s backyard.

Fred Closeup cropped 2It really wasn’t a coincidence on my part to make these comparisons because, you see, I dedicated the book to Freddy J. Feathers, our beloved parakeet who recently passed away. I found Fred wandering in the backyard about six years ago and he got a “second chance” with us. That fact fit perfectly with this particular book. And the short piece at the end of the book ties my love of pets up with a big ribbon. (You’ll have to read that part for yourself.)

But pets, or members of the family as we call them in our house, have been a large part of my life and they seem to have played a big part in my writing as well. I guess we do leave bits of our heart in everything we write. So if you have room in your heart and your house, adopt a pet or get one from a reputable kennel. It’s one of the kindest things you can do for a furry or feathery friend in need.Valentines 2014 (13)

Ready for the Padded Cell

me-at-mellonA former private detective and once a reporter for a small weekly newspaper, Gayle Bartos-Pool (G.B. Pool) writes the Johnny Casino Casebook Series and the Gin Caulfield P.I. Mysteries. She also wrote the SPYGAME Trilogy: The Odd Man, Dry Bones, and Star Power; Caverns, Eddie Buick’s Last Case, The Santa Claus Singer, Bearnard’s Christmas and The Santa Claus Machine. She teaches writing classes: “The Anatomy of a Short Story” (which is also in workbook form), “How to Write Convincing Dialogue” and “How to Write a Killer Opening.” Website: http://www.gbpool.com.

 

“Hi. My name is Johnny Casino. I’m a retired P.I. with a past. I just hope it doesn’t catch up with me. That’s how I was introduced in the first book about yours truly. It was fun reading about my exploits. I guess when you’re in the middle of it; you don’t see what’s happening around you. But the stories in The Johnny Casino Casebook 1 – Past Imperfect do a pretty good job telling part of my life story.past-imperfect-cover-12

 

“Since the book is about pasts, mine and a few other people I bumped into along the way, it gives you a pretty good idea who I am. Anyway I thought so when I read it. But sometimes what you think you know isn’t the truth. I found that out the hard way.

 

“You see, I grew up in a Mob family in New Jersey. Nothing like having a father who is the consigliere for one of the top Mob families in the country. And my darling mother was the daughter of another Mob boss right outta Chicago. What a pedigree. My name was Johnny Cassini back then.

 

“Me and my brother were raised thinking this was the only life there was. But after a while I got tired of it. Maybe that’s because I watched a lot of old movies while waiting for protection money to be dropped off at my hotel room in those days. These were Black & White films on the movie channel. But a steady diet of Bogie, Cagney, and Edward G. Robinson opened my eyes. And it wasn’t just seeing them splattered on the pavement. Sometimes these tough men played the good guys. That’s when I started seeing a different side of things.

 

“So I fled to Miami and joined another Mob. I know that didn’t exactly remove me from the life I was starting to hate, but I was seeing it from a different perspective. I worked on a gambling ship and met a lady who changed my life. She wasn’t the only one. Not by a long shot, but this gal was the wife of the Mob boss in Miami. She was steering me away from her daughter who was even more trouble. And then everything went to hell.

 

“A dealer on that gambling ship went overboard one night, literally, so I switched identities with him and then hightailed it to Los Angeles. So Johnny Cassini died and Johnny Casino was born. But the story didn’t end there. I was having a hard time shaking my life of crime and got myself into some hot water when I was working for this guy in L.A. He had me kidnap this lady. She’s the one who really changed my life.”

 

“Let me take over from there, Johnny. Hi, my name is Ginger Caulfield. I’m a private detective, too. I was on a case and ran into Johnny during his crime wave here in Los Angeles. It was an odd meeting to say the least. He kidnapped me, but I could tell the guy had something, so when the case was over I told him to look me up sometime because I might have a job for him. He did.

 

hedgebetfinalcovercropped“Johnny worked for me several years until he had enough P.I. hours under his belt to go out on his own. I hated to see him go, but I knew he worked better alone. Most of the time I do my work solo like the case at the racetrack in Hedge Bet. I should amend that statement because I got my husband, Fred, to do some work for me. His trip to Mexico to bring back a witness led to a few choice words from him, mostly unprintable. But the guy’s a natural P.I.

 

“I had been in the detective business for a while and knew good people like Johnny when I saw them. In fact I knew a few things about Johnny that he didn’t know, but I have a reason. You see my uncle is a spy. His name is Robert Mackenzie and he has had some incredible exploits around the world ever since World War II. His story, at least the parts that can be told, are in a series called The SPYGAME Trilogy documented by a writer who I got to know through the years. She’ll explain this next part.”

 

“Hello, folks. My name is Elaine Barton. My dad was involved in Colonel Mackenzie’s exploits and I got caught up in a few exciting adventures in books like The Odd Man, Dry Bones, and Star Power. The trilogy covers about fifty years and follows not only Mac’s life but also my father’s Air Force career. Parts of my life got caught up in this tale, too, and I put it all in book form. Though you’ll see in the books, some of it almost didn’t get written.”

the-odd-man-cover-4-croppeddry-bones-cover-view-2-smallstar-power-cover-trial-2

 

“Thanks, Elaine. Since I knew my Uncle Mac had ways of checking on people, I had him check out Johnny Casino. I learned his real name, bookcoverpreviewcroppedor at least I thought it was his real name, until another story in the Johnny Casino Casebook series uncovered something that even Johnny didn’t know. It changed everything for him. It’s in The Johnny Casino Casebook 2 – Looking for Johnny Nobody. That’s when I started seeing a pattern.”

 

“Hey, Gin. Johnny here. You aren’t the only one who is starting to see a pattern. When I had a case in Las Vegas, I met one of the biggest headliners in the world, Jack Lynn. He turned up in two of my stories, but then I noticed he was also in The Santa Claus Singer about a lounge singer called Frankie Madison. He met Jack, too.”

 

“I’ve got another one for you, Johnny. One of the guys I trained after you went out on your own, Chance McCoy, has a story about him and me in the upcoming short story collection called Second Chance. Chance is a special guy. You see, he got killed on a case, but his story doesn’t end there. Not by a long shot.”

 

“I can give you another one, Gin.”

 

“Lay it on us, Elaine.”

 

“I’ve heard a rumor that there is a particular elf, yes, I did say elf, who is thinking about starting his own private detective agency to help ‘the little guy.’ How does something like this happen?”

 

“Maybe we should ask the author of all our books. Hey, G.B. What goes? The ladies and I want to know.”

 

“Okay, Johnny. I’ll confess. When I started creating this fictional world I had no idea you all knew each other, but as this world grew I saw connections between all of you. First it was Johnny knowing Ginger Caulfield. Then I wondered how Gin knew so much about Johnny’s past and I realized her uncle was Mac Mackenzie. Who else would have access to all that secret stuff?

 

“As for Chance McCoy, he told me a bunch of his stories and when he needed a fellow P.I. to help him out in a case, it just happened to be Gin Caulfield.

 

“Did I say he told me’? Yes, I did. If any of you readers have ever been to an author panel, I bet half of those writers mentioned that when they write their stories, especially the dialogue, they just sit back and let their characters speak because those people really do talk to us. That doesn’t mean we are ready for the padded cell… yet.

 

“We do ‘hear’ those voices if we have created a character with a past and a personality. And by that I mean that you should try writing a biography of your main characters and even for a few of the other people who play an important part in the story.

 

“You, as the writer, need to know as much as you can about the character you are working with. If you know where he or she was born, their education or even lack there of, or maybe even their desires or hates, you will be able to craft a character with depth. And maybe, just maybe, you will discover something about a character that they didn’t know. That’s what happened when I found out something about Johnny that shocked him and me.

 

“I can’t explain it, but by knowing who my characters are, I hear their voices and I basically transcribe what is being said in my ear. On top of that, I marvel at the fact that some of my characters actually know each other, but the small world I created is only a part of the larger world around us. I sometimes wonder if any of my other characters know or have run into these people sometime or somewhere. Anything is possible in fiction… if it is fiction. Or maybe there is a parallel universe where they all live—”

 

Knock, knock, knock.

 

“Excuse me; somebody is at the door. I think it’s the guys from the asylum. They tracked me down and they are going to take me back so I can do some more writing.

Catch you later.”

typewriter

Beginnings, Middles, and Endings

me-at-mellon

A former private detective and once a reporter for a small weekly newspaper, Gayle Bartos-Pool (G.B. Pool) writes the Johnny Casino Casebook Series and the Gin Caulfield P.I. Mysteries. She also wrote the SPYGAME Trilogy: The Odd Man, Dry Bones, and Star Power; Caverns, Eddie Buick’s Last Case, The Santa Claus Singer, Bearnard’s Christmas and The Santa Claus Machine. She teaches writing classes: “The Anatomy of a Short Story” (which is also in workbook form), “How to Write Convincing Dialogue” and “How to Write a Killer Opening.” Website: http://www.gbpool.com.

Beginnings, Middles, and Endings… A Thought or Two

When I start writing a story I usually don’t have the entire story blocked out in my head. Sometimes I have a beginning and an end. That’s the best way because I know how the story opens and blessedly where the story is going to end. Usually I have at least a sentence or a paragraph that tells me what the story is supposed to be about. Sometimes I have a page or two of the gist that provides the flavor of the story. That tells me the sub-genre: a detective yarn, a lighthearted mystery, a darker tale, or maybe a holiday story because I write those, too.

notebookIf you ever come to my house you will see small notebooks all over the place that I can grab and jot down an idea if it drops out of the sky. And they do on occasion. My fellow author, Bonnie Schroeder, gave all us Writers-in-Residence ladies a notebook and pencil set for the shower that writes in the wet. What a concept. So I am covered wherever an idea strikes.

The all-important beginning sets that Tone for any piece of writing. This is when the reader bites off a chunk and chews it to see if they might like to stay around for the rest of the meal. When these ideas strike, they have to grab my imagination, too, or I’ll discard them and wait for another inspiration.

Sometimes the initial idea is a bit of business that sets up a crime. Once I know how it’s done, I have to see who does it. The all-important villain will be the second, if not the first, character I must get to know. Remember, the bad guy or gal is the reason the story is being written. If nothing bad happens, I won’t need my private detective or amateur sleuth or long arm of the law to solve the case.

The Plot might be something that I hear on television that sparks the idea. I seldom rip a headline off the front page because I can almost hear half of the writers out there in “Fiction Land” ripping it off their newspapers and I want to write something new. But I will take a headline and turn it upside down or inside out to get a story.

That’s the old “What if?” game. If there is a story about a politician killing his playmate on the nightly news, what if the playmate sets up the politician instead in the fictional take on that account? I did that in a story in From Light To Dark, a collection of short stories that run the gamut from lighthearted to down right evil.

typewriterStories are everywhere. The writer just has to see the possibilities. But remember, as a writer, you control your world and you can twist the story into something unique if you try. Just try not to twist it into something that doesn’t make any sense. More and more TV shows are turning into pretzels that barely make sense. That’s why I read more books than watch television.

So now you have a great beginning and maybe you are lucky enough to have an ending in your head. As I said earlier, knowing the ending lets the writer know where he or she is going. You don’t want to wander. And this isn’t only for the writer’s sake. If the reader gets lost along the way, they might put the book down and never pick it up again.

Make the ending as stunning as the beginning. When you are having a great meal and the dessert is terrific, too, you know you have had an experience. When someone puts down your book or even finished your short story, you want them to feel satisfied. And you want them to come back for more.

In TV shows, I can usually guess whodunit in the first ten minutes. That’s because of the formula that shows use. Sometimes it’s the lousy actor who plays the part who just looks guilty. He read the script and knows he did it and it’s written all over his face. I hate that.

In a book, I seldom analyze the story as I am reading it to see if I can pick out the villain. I want to enjoy the story and know we’ll get to the end eventually. I never read the end ahead of time, either. I wouldn’t have dessert before the main course, so why soil the meal?

I like to read the set-up, watch for clues, and at the end I’ll go back over the story in my head and see where those clues were if I missed any of them. Good writers leave them in plain sight. Readers just don’t know they were clues. There is nothing better than to say, “Boy, there was that clue right there all the time.” I love that.

The only thing I can caution writers against is dropping the villain and the clues in at the end where the reader had no chance to pick them up. Not fair to the reader or to the story. You can do better.

fat-lady-dancerNow how about the middle? There it sits. Is it a big, hulking middle that the reader has to push around the dance floor with no music or is it thin and bony with no rhythm at all? This middle section is where the reader learns all the little things that hold the story together. Some backstory and some character traits are sprinkled in along with the bulk of the plot. Whether it’s on the high-calorie side with lots of detail or maybe a diet plate with most of the fat is trimmed off, you have to make the middle tasty.

scissorsEditing happens here. Add a little to enhance the story. Cut some off to make the pages turn faster toward the climax. Sweeten it with some good dialogue. Add some choice settings to give it flavor.

Some writers over-write their work. They cut and paste so much that they lose the story completely with all the tape and staples and glue. If your story is ponderous you will lose readers faster than if it is short and sweet.

But don’t shortchange the reader either. They paid for a story, so tell them a story. Give them the details, not an encyclopedia. You want them to know the characters, but remember: some characters are only there for color or to give some vital information before going off stage. Have a few main characters, some minor ones, and everyone else is just there to set the stage.

This holds true for novels and short stories. I have read quite a few mystery novels that packed in so much extra stuff that I lost track of the plot. The characters might be fun and the banter clever, but that dead body lying in the living room still needs to be discovered along with his killer.

Tell me a story first. I’ll get to know the people along the way. Have a beginning that pulls me in. Have a middle that holds my interest. Have an ending that makes me glad I bought your book or read your short story. I’ll look for your books on the shelf again if you can do that.

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Say It Isn’t So…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA by G.B. Pool

Okay, I’ll say it. Christmas isn’t just for kids.

They might have all the fun Christmas morning, but it took a lot of effort to make it happen. Santa brings a lot of those toys, but good old mom and dad put a few of them under the tree, too. And then there are the clerks in the stores who sold the toys and the folks in the factories who made some of them. Santa’s elves might make their share, but lots of others work hard all year to design new toys and get them on the shelves.

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And then there are the decorations. Kids make a few cute things in school, but adults make an awful lot of those beautiful things and they put up the tree and string the lights and decorate the outside of the house and bake the cookies and pies and Christmas dinner.

Then lots of adults step back, exhausted after all that work, and spend some time enjoying the holidays, too. And what better way than to watch one of the Christmas classics on TV with the family, though most of the older holiday movies were really made for adults. A kid wouldn’t understand how Jimmy Stewart’s character in It’s a Wonderful Life was taken under the wing of Clarence the Angel and shown what the world would be like without him ever being in it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOr how about A Christmas Carol? Kids might like the Ghost of Christmas Past and Present and maybe even the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, but it will take a while before they understand what the story means on a more adult level.

But that’s the gift these movies and stories are: A gift that keeps on giving as you grow older and start to understand the deeper meaning of each story every time you watch it.

Some modern stories are purely fun with not much meaning lurking anywhere or even any holiday spirit. In fact, many might as well be straight comedies because there is nothing Christmas about them. Even the holiday favorite, A Christmas Story, could just as well been about a boy’s birthday wish to get that Red Ryder BB Gun. Christmas was only in the title.

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Santas Galore

But most of us watch these movies and enjoy the season year after year. We check out the Christmas lights in the neighborhood and write our holiday cards and revel in the aromas of an evergreen tree, baked goods, and the holiday feast.As for me, I have been a collector of Christmas things for some forty years. My collection of Santas is nearing 4000. It takes me two weeks to decorate the house. We put up seventeen trees and those are the ones above 12 inches high. I have doll houses with smaller trees in them, some only a few inches tall, all decorated, so the number is way above that seventeen mark.

 

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Since I like to make things, I have quite a few handcrafted Santas. I have been crafting for years. Other than the fact we are running out of space to house these guys and a few other things that I have made, my imagination leads me into other areas.

What areas you ask? Writing holiday stories, of course. The books include pictures of things that I have made and they also include the True Meaning of Christmas in the stories.

 

santaclaussingerfinalcovercroppedYears ago I worked at Walden Books in the Glendale Galleria. At the beginning of the holiday season the mall had a Santa who sang songs when he wasn’t talking to kids. I moved the Santa to Las Vegas in the book The Santa Claus Singer and made him a lounge singer who gets laid off and who ends up playing Santa at the mall and sings to the customers. He meets a young girl who is need of an operation. He is just the right blood type and he volunteers for the gig. At the same time, he gets a job singing in one of the hot night spots on Christmas Eve. A once in a lifetime opportunity. Only thing is, he promised to visit the young girl that same night. And then his car breaks down…

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The first Christmas book that uses pictures of many of the things I have made is called Bearnard’s Christmas. I got the idea for it when I worked in a miniature shop that sold doll houses. I sketched out a design for a Santa castle, wrote the story, and then built the castle and made the figures to go with the story. It’s about a lady who loves animals and who falls asleep near her Christmas tree only to wake up at the North Pole. She meets a talking Polar bear dressed in a Santa suit. His name is Bearnard. He works for Santa. Some people want to capture him and stuff him and put him in a carnival attraction. They might just get their chance if a miracle doesn’t happen.

the-santa-claus-machine-cover-final-croppedThe newest book is called The Santa Claus Machine. I got the idea from a Christmas card. In order to modernize his image, Santa builds a series of Santa robots that are sent to stores around the world. They are programmed to tell Santa’s stories and record children’s wishes. An unscrupulous sales manager at the largest department store chain in America, along with their computer engineer, kidnap the real Santa and hide him in an ice cave. They reprogram all the Santa Claus Machines to encourage children to ask for more and more toys. When Santa learns about the change, he becomes disheartened and thinks he might have to cancel Christmas.

Each story is set during the holidays for sure, but each has a deeper meaning: something seen with the heart and the soul.

every-castle-needs-a-dragon-cover-trial-2-croppedAnd I have been working on a new story for next year. The idea came when I bought a Christmas ornament, a small dragon. I found a tiny wreath on the sidewalk while walking one of the dogs and slipped it over the dragon’s head. Then I set him on the roof of the Santa castle and said, “Every Castle Needs a Dragon.” That’s the name of the book. I bet you don’t know that dragons are the protectors of something very precious in the world. If they have the wrong champion, they can go astray and do great damage, but if they are taught well, they do nothing but good. Now someone wants to capture this one particular dragon… You will get to read the rest of the story next Christmas.

Enjoy the coming Holiday Season. See it with your heart and your soul. It costs nothing and gives back so much.

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Biography:

gayle-and-santaA former private detective and once a reporter for a small weekly newspaper, Gayle Bartos-Pool (G.B. Pool) writes the Johnny Casino Casebook Series and the Gin Caulfield P.I. Mysteries. She also wrote the SPYGAME Trilogy: The Odd Man, Dry Bones, and Star Power; Caverns, Eddie Buick’s Last Case, The Santa Claus Singer, Bearnard’s Christmas and The Santa Claus Machine. She teaches writing classes: “The Anatomy of a Short Story” (which is also in workbook form), “How to Write Convincing Dialogue” and “How to Write a Killer Opening.” Website: http://www.gbpool.com.