DISCOVERY WRITING VS. OUTLINING

How do you approach writ­ing? How do you think your favorite author does? Do you just sit down and start typ­ing with­out know­ing which direc­tion you are headed, or do you put in ample fore­thought, plan­ning out the path you mean to later tra­verse? Are you a dis­cov­ery writer or an outliner?

The Explorer

In dis­cov­ery writ­ing, you cre­ate the events of the story as you go. You allow the story to unfold nat­u­rally from one sen­tence to the next, line-by-line, paragraph-by-paragraph, page-by-page, cre­at­ing and craft­ing on the fly.

Winding path in a peaceful nature walk

The path unfolds one step at a time. It branches out in var­i­ous direc­tions, some­times it takes a ninety degree turn, yet it does so in a nat­u­rally organic and plau­si­ble way. You may not know what lies at the end of the path, but that is half the fun.

Dis­cov­ery writ­ing has a very cre­ative, fun, excit­ing feel to it for the writer. You are an explorer in the unknown—how could that not be fun?

Another way to think of dis­cov­ery writ­ing is as a zoomed-in approach to writ­ing, in which you are actively present in the sen­tence and the con­text that sen­tence is within. You are work­ing from the inside-out, not always see­ing the for­est from the trees, but mov­ing along nim­bly and deftly.

The Map­maker

With out­lin­ing, you make a lin­ear list of your plot points and make sure you note every­thing you wish to achieve before writ­ing the actual prose and sentences.

mapmaker

You are draw­ing out your path on a map before you set out on that jour­ney. You know every twist and turn you will even­tu­ally make, and where you will even­tu­ally end your jour­ney, and although this may take the fun out of it, there is a com­fort and struc­ture to it.

Out­lin­ing has a very ana­lyt­i­cal and sys­tem­atic feel. You are the map­maker, so it goes with the ter­ri­tory as a planner.

Another way to think of out­lin­ing is as a more zoomed-out way of writ­ing, where you are tak­ing a wider look from the outside-in at all the puz­zle pieces.

Pros & Cons

As with most things in writ­ing, and life, both dis­cov­ery writ­ing and out­lin­ing have their advan­tages and disadvantages.

Dis­cov­ery Pros

One major advan­tage of the organic dis­cov­ery writ­ing is that all the plot points feel plau­si­ble and real­is­tic. Noth­ing feels forced or con­trived. Since you are closeup in the details, in the thick of the path, you will be bet­ter pre­pared to answer the ques­tion: What would my char­ac­ter do next?

It makes sense: as you move sen­tence by sen­tence, the intri­ca­cies of what you are writ­ing are fresh on your mind, allow­ing for pro­gres­sive details to form organ­i­cally and branch out in a real­is­tic fashion.

With this method, I think the nar­ra­tor and char­ac­ters write the story as much or more than the actual writer.

And usu­ally, it’s just more fun and can often keep your cre­ative fuel burn­ing longer and brighter.

Dis­cov­ery Cons

But, because you do not always know what is around the next cor­ner in the path, you can write your­self into cor­ners with dis­cov­ery writ­ing. Then you have to go back the way you came, take out your machete, and hack out a new path.

Unfor­tu­nately, you can also write a bland story through dis­cov­ery writ­ing. You become focused on the indi­vid­ual steps you are tak­ing on the path and the flow and rhythm of the plot unfold­ing nat­u­rally and real­is­ti­cally from one thing to the next that some­times you find your­self in a very plau­si­ble yet bor­ing room at the end of the path. And not at the oasis you orig­i­nally were seeking.

You can also get lost and just start writ­ing scenes that serve noth­ing to the larger story.

All of these pit­falls can lead to a lot and lot of rewriting.

Out­lin­ing Pros

Since you are zoomed out with this approach and can see the entire map, you can more eas­ily move around the chunks of story to arrange them in the best pos­si­ble order for max­i­mum effect. You can bet­ter answer the ques­tion: What do I want the reader to get out of this scene?

Before you even begin writ­ing, you can make sure you include every excit­ing ele­ment you enjoy as a reader: char­ac­ter deaths, new set­tings, sur­prises, and plot twists. Also, you can save a lot of time writ­ing (which is always help­ful) because you are fig­ur­ing out which ideas work and which don’t before you put count­less hours into them.

Out­lin­ing Cons

Some­times the plot points in your out­line are too dif­fi­cult to con­nect once you actu­ally get to the writ­ing. But you like your out­line so much that you force the con­nec­tions between the plot points. This can cause your story to feel implau­si­ble, unre­al­is­tic, and con­trived. You may like the end­ing you picked out so much that you end up writ­ing a ridicu­lous begin­ning and mid­dle just to get to it.

Also with out­lin­ing, you are plac­ing more con­trol in you as author than in your nar­ra­tor and char­ac­ters. This can lead to a more cold and dis­tant feel­ing story, or just some­thing very dif­fer­ent than you orig­i­nally desired.

Also when mov­ing about such large pieces of story, it’s easy to become a per­fec­tion­ist with your out­line. Be wary of try­ing to achieve some per­fect skele­tal model based on clas­sic novels.

So…?

So, what kind of writer are you?

I imag­ine you are a writer who wants to cre­ate the best ver­sion of your story pos­si­ble. If to do that you need to use one method com­pletely over another, then def­i­nitely do that.

For me, slid­ing around the spectrum–if you think of dis­cov­ery writ­ing and out­lin­ing as oppo­site ends on a pole–as I need to often results in the best story.

I don’t think one method is objec­tively bet­ter than the other. Try not to think rigidly about these two meth­ods. These are not hard and fast rules, just an assess­ment of the approach writ­ers take.

The impor­tant thing is the result, the story.

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I’d love to hear what kind of writer you are in the com­ments. What are some advan­tages and dis­ad­van­tages you find in each method?

-Dis­cov­ery Writ­ing vs. Out­lin­ing is writ­ten by Michael DeCesaris.

Why Reading Fiction is Better for Avid Readers

Fic­tion works are writ­ten from the imag­i­na­tions of writ­ers. The fan­tasies of the writer come alive in the words that are put down on paper. The best fic­tion sto­ries are those that are shaped by some research in real-life events, occur­rences and tech­nolo­gies that are then used in a fic­tional way. Some fic­tion works are also writ­ten to explain phe­nom­ena that is puz­zling or other occur­rences that have remained mys­te­ri­ous over the years.

Image for wordtrance.com

It is not very inter­est­ing to read fic­tional sto­ries that go over­board in their plots. Some authors write works that tend to bor­der on lunacy such as ogre sto­ries in a mod­ern soci­ety set­ting or occur­rences of intel­li­gent undoc­u­mented ani­mals. Such are sto­ries that would not serve to influ­ence the think­ing of read­ers or offer a new per­spec­tive of eval­u­at­ing things.

Con­spir­acy fic­tional works are eas­ily the most loved and widely read of all works of fic­tion. Read­ers love these works because they offer expla­na­tions to events that have baf­fled peo­ple for a long time. They also trig­ger the minds of read­ers to con­cep­tu­al­ize new tech­nolo­gies, gad­gets, and sce­nar­ios that are affected by inno­v­a­tive ways of think­ing and doing things.

Read­ing fic­tion is ben­e­fi­cial to read­ers in sev­eral ways. Sci­en­tists say that read­ing a grip­ping novel and being immersed in its world leads to increased con­nec­tiv­ity in the brain for up to five days. The changes are mea­sur­able for up to five days after one fin­ishes read­ing the novel.

Sci­en­tists from Emory Uni­ver­sity, USA dis­cov­ered that read­ing a good book leads to height­ened brain con­nec­tiv­ity and neu­ro­log­i­cal changes that linger in a man­ner sim­i­lar to mus­cle mem­ory. Neural changes asso­ci­ated with phys­i­cal sen­sa­tion and move­ment sys­tems implied that one can be trans­ported into the protagonist’s body by read­ing a novel.

In the study, 21 stu­dents were given the novel Pom­peii to read. The novel is noted for its thrilling plot. The 2003 novel by Robert Har­ris fol­lows the story of a pro­tag­o­nist who is out­side the city of Pom­peii and then notices some steam and strange activ­ity around the vol­cano. The novel shows true events in a dra­matic and fic­tional way and has a strong nar­ra­tive line.

The stu­dents read the book in the evenings for 19 days in por­tions and then were sub­jected to daily fMRI scans. For up to five days, the scans showed resid­ual activ­ity thereby show­ing that the impact was not only an imme­di­ate action but also had a last­ing influ­ence. The pro­fes­sor calls this ‘shadow activ­ity’ that is sim­i­lar to mus­cle memory.

Another effect apart from cog­ni­tive ben­e­fits is that the reader of a good intrigu­ing fic­tion work gets an enhanced social per­cep­tion of things. The reader gets an open mind and learns to be will­ing to appre­ci­ate new social occur­rences and events. The emo­tional intel­li­gence of the reader is also improved. Emo­tional intel­li­gence alludes to the abil­ity of the per­son to read the emo­tions of oth­ers and those of him­self, and then react accord­ingly so that they do not end up hurt­ing oth­ers. Hav­ing a good emo­tional intel­li­gence also helps in build­ing and sus­tain­ing good inter-personal relationships.

The third effect is an increase in empa­thy. A reader of fic­tion (and some­times the author too) gets absorbed into the story as it unfolds. There is usu­ally an antag­o­nist and a pro­tag­o­nist in fic­tion sto­ries. The reader will in most cases take sides with the char­ac­ter who is per­se­cuted in the story or the one who faces the worst odds in the fic­tion story. This empa­thetic feel­ing is what grad­u­ally leads to the devel­op­ment of greater empa­thy by the reader. It is very much pos­si­ble that greater absorp­tion in a story leads to greater devel­op­ment of the empa­thetic feel­ing and social acumen.

Well, there you have it. It is said fig­u­ra­tively that read­ing a good book can put you in the main character’s shoes, and now sci­en­tists are telling us that it is not only phys­i­cal but also bio­log­i­cal too.

The author of this arti­cle is an expe­ri­enced writer and pro­fes­sional author and advi­sor. He has many arti­cles writ­ten on fic­tion writ­ing and pub­lish­ing at Essay Jedi.

Night Watch

Rec­om­mended Read: Night Watch

Russ­ian title: Ночной дозор, Nochnoy Dozor
Author: Sergei Lukya­nenko
Trans­lated by Andrew Brom­field
Pub­lished orig­i­nally in Rus­sia: 1998
Pub­lished in US: 2008

Night Watch cover

Cover design by Gregg Kulick; Cover pho­to­graph © Bayram Tunç/Getty Images

The Story

Night Watch is a thrilling urban-fantasy about the uneasy truce main­tained by two oppos­ing orga­ni­za­tions com­prised of mag­i­cal beings known as “Others.”

Set in modern-day Moscow, the tit­u­lar Night Watch is the orga­ni­za­tion com­prised of the Light Oth­ers, who are essen­tially the good guys. The oppos­ing orga­ni­za­tion is called the Day Watch com­prised of the Dark Oth­ers, the bad guys.

The Oth­ers live in secret along­side human­ity. In the past, Light Oth­ers and Dark Oth­ers bat­tled con­stantly result­ing in mas­sive death and destruc­tion to nor­mal humans and each other. So, they decided to sign a treaty, oblig­ing them not to attack each other or humans or to sub­stan­tially alter the course of the world for good or evil, some­thing they nor­mally would be striv­ing for. Thus through­out the years, they have main­tained a frus­trat­ing, bit­ter bal­ance that tips close to the precipice of all-out war more often than not.

The story is told mainly in first per­son by Anton, an Other who has just moved out of the office onto patrol duty. He is an everyman—as far as you can be among a group of mag­i­cal beings pos­sess­ing fan­tas­tic powers—and he thus makes for a relat­able entry into this unusual world.

Night Watch is told in three con­nected sto­ries. The first called Des­tiny is about both Watches deal­ing with a cursed woman who could destroy all of Moscow. The sec­ond, Among His Own Kind, fol­lows Anton try­ing to clear his name after being sus­pected for recent mur­ders of Oth­ers. The third, All for My Own Kind, deals with a mys­ti­cal arti­fact capa­ble of turn­ing the tides of power for either the Light or Dark Oth­ers. Each part builds upon the pre­vi­ous, and all the loose threads cul­mi­nate in the third part.

Good and Evil

Night Watch fea­tures a hodge­podge of com­mon fan­tasy and hor­ror tropes: vam­pires, witches, magi­cians, psy­chics, and mag­i­cal pow­ers. But where it is unique is in its treat­ment of the con­cepts of good and evil.

At first glance, there is a very clear delin­eation between the two. The Oth­ers are inher­ently bound to either the Light or the Dark. This moral alliance is not so much a choice as a per­ma­nent affil­i­a­tion bound to their char­ac­ter when they enter the mag­i­cal realm known as the Twi­light and first acquire their mag­i­cal abilities.

But with this clear delin­eation as a back­ground, the novel does explore the gray between the two.

There is much gray in the story, in how the char­ac­ters act and in philo­soph­i­cal mus­ings on the nature of Good and Evil, their sim­i­lar­i­ties, dif­fer­ences, and how they can be two sides to the same coin.

For instance, what is grayer than the forces of Light and Dark aban­don­ing the hope of win­ning the war com­pletely? How about the fact that they allow each other indul­gences for their nature, such as the Light Oth­ers give licenses to vam­pires some­times to hunt a set num­ber of humans. And also, should one side breach the Treaty, the oppo­site side is given the right to make an equal offense to the other side.

Indeed a bit­ter, dark melan­choly per­vades the book. Anton strug­gles con­stantly with the nature of good and evil. Ratio­nal­iz­ing and jus­ti­fy­ing his actions, debat­ing phi­los­o­phy and how much good the Oth­ers really do. He strug­gles with the sense that they are too small to affect great change in the world. He ago­nizes over whether what they are doing is right or wrong, as maybe the con­cepts of Light and Dark don’t nec­es­sar­ily align with the con­cepts of right and wrong.

Yet, hope seems to rest below these gloomy waters, how­ever deep it may seem buried at times. And, although Anton may strug­gle, he demon­strates such moments of under­stand­ing and com­pas­sion that we are ele­vated from these suf­fo­cat­ing emotions.

So, the novel takes a sim­ple and a com­plex approach to this theme.

Fun

Fea­tur­ing plenty of mys­tery, intrigue, espi­onage, action, mag­i­cal pow­ers, and adven­ture, Night Watch is a thrilling, fun time not to be missed out or mis­con­strued as just another run-of-the-mill urban fan­tasy to pass on. Being a Russ­ian novel, a dif­fer­ent feel is pre­sented to the reader that I think will feel fresh for many Amer­i­can readers.

Series

Night Watch is just book one of five. Each one pro­gresses the story, yet there is not a direct pres­ence of a larger loom­ing threat con­nect­ing all the books such as Vol­d­er­mort in Harry Pot­ter. Yet the books do progress in order and advance the larger world’s mythol­ogy and characters.

There are also two short sto­ries or nov­els set in the world of the Oth­ers, but I believe they are not pub­lished in Eng­lish. So, let’s read more of this author’s work and hope more is trans­lated, not just of this series but of the many other books he has written.

Always on the brink of all-out war should the Oth­ers’ Treaty be bro­ken, this high-octane urban-fantasy world is not to be missed.

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If any­one has knowl­edge of the qual­ity of the trans­la­tion of the Night Watch books from Russ­ian to Eng­lish, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Links:

Author Sergei Lukyanenko’s offi­cial site

Movie’s offi­cial site

New York Times arti­cle on the movie

This arti­cle is writ­ten by Michael DeCesaris

5 Rules to Break (every so often)

We tend to adhere to estab­lished rules and prac­tices of fic­tion writ­ing, most of which were formed with good rea­son. But, rules cover a broad, gen­er­al­ized range. We can eas­ily over­look the more rare excep­tions to the rules that could enhance our fiction.

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Always Use the Active Voice

We’re often told that using the pas­sive voice makes for weaker, less effec­tive sen­tences. And, that the bet­ter option is to write sen­tences in the active voice, ones that have the sub­ject per­form the action on the object.

Active Voice Exam­ple: The cham­ber­lain lec­tured the servant.

The cham­ber­lain is the sub­ject and the ser­vant is the object. In gen­eral, this is the effec­tive voice to use to give the most punch and clar­ity to your sen­tences. But, some­times your writ­ing will be more effec­tive by using the pas­sive voice, such as if you are try­ing to con­vey to the reader a sense of sub­mis­sion, weak­ness, timid­ness, pas­sive­ness (obvi­ously), or vagueness.

Pas­sive Voice Exam­ple: The ser­vant was lec­tured by the chamberlain.

In a pas­sive sen­tence, the sub­ject isn’t doing any­thing. The sub­ject is hav­ing some­thing done to them. Although it may not cre­ate a dras­tic dif­fer­ence, the pas­sive form of this exam­ple rein­forces and empha­sizes the weaker social sta­tus of the servant.

For an in-depth expla­na­tion of active ver­sus pas­sive voice, check out Gram­mar Girl’s arti­cle about the subject.

Avoid Adverbs

Yes, the oft-overused adverb–those words that often end in –ly and mod­ify verbs, adjec­tives, and other adverbs–is a dubi­ous writ­ing tool. The adverb is often cited as explain­ing or telling the reader that which should be inferred from the larger con­text of the story, thus mak­ing for weaker, less effec­tive writ­ing. It’s also said to be cum­ber­some and wordy, espe­cially when using it with dialogue:

With the Adverb: The guard said loudly for the gates to be opened.

With­out the Adverb: The guard yelled for the gates to be opened, is slightly shorter and uses a more evoca­tive verb.

So, in the exam­ple above, it is bet­ter to get rid of the adverb. But, there are instances when it is okay, if not prefer­able, to use adverbs. For instance, there just might not exist the right verb you are look­ing for to describe a very spe­cific action.

Exam­ple The mon­ster laughed per­versely at the knights.

If I couldn’t come up with a verb that detailed the pre­cise laugh­ing response I wanted the mon­ster to give to the knights, I could opt to use an adverb. But what about just paint­ing a visual of his grotesque face you may ask? Well, more often than not that would take con­sid­er­ably more words. And, some­times depend­ing on the flow of the story, you just need to be quick.

I agree, avoid adverbs, but don’t shun them com­pletely. Keep the option available.

Show, Don’t Tell

Oh, how you hear this all the time.

Show­ing is paint­ing the scene vividly for the reader, instead of just telling them what is hap­pen­ing. It usu­ally makes your writ­ing more effec­tive as it bet­ter con­veys what you want to get across to the reader.

Exam­ple: Instead of “John was mad,” a more effec­tive sen­tence to con­vey (show) his anger to the reader is: “John hurled his fist through the wall with a gut­tural scream.”

It’s a great rule, no doubt about that, but we’re feel­ing rebellious.

There are sit­u­a­tions where you will want to be quickly direct and clear with your reader. For exam­ple, epic, long back­story can often become con­fus­ing, clut­tered, and cum­ber­some. Parts of it or the entirety of it could ben­e­fit greatly from just directly telling the reader in one sen­tence what you could not clearly con­vey in ten pages. Show­ing takes more words and thus is longer by nature. So if you think a sit­u­a­tion would ben­e­fit more by being clearer or quicker with your reader, then just tell them what’s what.

Exam­ple: Using a full para­graph describ­ing a lot of pater­nal actions to try to nat­u­rally con­vey to the reader that one char­ac­ter is the father of another. What about just say­ing in one quick sen­tence: Bob was Ted’s father. Some­times, you just need to get that across right away, because it’s not what you want to stress writ­ing about any­way (it’s not very impor­tant), and you would rather focus on what you have come before or after that information.

Check out this great arti­cle for fur­ther information.

Don’t use Flat Characters

You are often told that if you want to write some­thing inter­est­ing, don’t use unchang­ing, stag­nant char­ac­ters. Round, three-dimensional char­ac­ters are the way to go, ones who change over the course of the story learn­ing some­thing or com­plet­ing an emo­tional arc.

I don’t dis­agree with this gen­eral rule of course, but some­times flat char­ac­ters are more effec­tive. Take for exam­ple Sein­feld. Those char­ac­ters don’t change over the course of an episode, let alone the course of the series, but the viewer doesn’t com­plain. Why? Well, in this instance, their unchang­ing nature makes for a bet­ter spring­board for the com­edy in the show than hav­ing char­ac­ters strug­gling through an emo­tional arc would.

Avoid Long Sen­tences, Para­graphs, & Chapters

Nowa­days espe­cially, you are told not to use long sen­tences, para­graphs, or chap­ters. Mod­ern read­ers like com­plete seg­ments that they can quickly con­sume and digest in one sit­ting, espe­cially with the rise of e-books and read­ing on one’s phone.

But, but, but…!

Maybe you want to con­vey a more poetic, flow­ing struc­ture. A longer sen­tences may work bet­ter. Or maybe you want to sim­u­late the ram­bling thoughts of a dis­turbed indi­vid­ual. What about using a long sen­tence in which the char­ac­ter turns many cor­ri­dors, climbs a series of stairs, passes through many rooms, opens many doors, and finally descends into a base­ment, so that you styl­is­ti­cally sim­u­late the length of his wan­der­ing in the large building.

Yes, They’re Rules for a Reason

Please note, the stan­dards and rules exist for a rea­son. Mostly because much more expe­ri­enced and tal­ented writ­ers than we have already put count­less writ­ing tech­niques through the process of trial and error and have con­cluded with what is most effec­tive and works best.

But there is usu­ally always an excep­tion to a rule. By under­stand­ing the excep­tions, you will under­stand the rules all the bet­ter. And, you will have a bet­ter idea just when those rare times come up in your own writ­ing to break the rules.

Other poten­tial rules to break: Don’t write in the sec­ond per­son, Don’t switch between tenses or view­points in a short amount of time, and Avoid exposition.

Remem­ber it’s about effec­tive story-telling, not how well you adhere to rules.

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5 Rules to Break (every so often) is writ­ten by Michael DeCe­saris. Let us know in the com­ments what rules you rec­om­mend breaking.

Immortal L.A.

We are very pleased to present a story from the brand-new novel Immor­tal L.A. by Eric Czuleger.

The Meet­ing

His fin­ger­nails are clean. His belt buckle is sil­ver. You can see the ceil­ing in the toes of his shoes. He speaks in a silken baritone.

“My ques­tion is this: Are you using it for anything?

“Because if you’re NOT using it for any­thing, why have it? You know what I mean?

“I had a– you know? A Bowflex once. You know the Bowflex, right? Yeah, the Bowflex. It’s a work­out machine. I was going to get in the best shape of my life. I don’t really NEED to work out, but I thought I would see what the fuss was about.

“I ordered the thing off of the TV because IN THOSE DAYS

“In those days– you could order stuff off of the TV.

“I’m old. I get it, but I don’t look a day over 30 right?

“I know that the answer is ‘no’ so don’t bother being polite.

“I was around in the days when you ordered from the Sears and Roe­bucks cat­a­logue! I was around in the days when you went to a black­smith. I was around in the days when you snuck up on another per­son in the for­est and tried to break their head with a rock so you could take their food.

“I’m old.

“Online stuff is new to me, but it’s good. I’m adjust­ing, that’s the secret to longevity in this busi­ness or any other. Always adjust. Oh, so the Bowflex! I get the thing. I don’t know how to put it together. I don’t know how to use it. The instruc­tions didn’t even come with it. So, what does it do? It sits in its box. It col­lects dusts. It’s not help­ing any­one and no one is help­ing it. It may as well not be there. If a friend came by and said, ‘Oh hey, a Bowflex.’ I would say:

“‘Yeah! Do you want it? I’m not using it.’

“I’m a good friend. I’m a good friend with some use­less crap that I’m not using. First and fore­most though: I’m a good friend.

“I’m not say­ing that it’s use­less crap. I’m just ask­ing you… Are you using it?”

 

Rachel shifts in her chair. The chair is rich, expen­sive leather. She wants to be wrapped in it for win­ter hiber­na­tion. It sits across from an enor­mous mahogany desk. This is the only office on the top floor of a com­pletely empty build­ing at the cor­ner of Fran­cisco and 7th street in Down­town Los Ange­les. It is the kind of build­ing that you dis­miss as another hon­ey­comb of cor­po­rate work­spaces or multi-national bank offices, pop­u­lated by the face­less yet well dressed.

If you have the time to watch and wait you will see that no one ever enters that build­ing except for the occa­sional home­less man look­ing for a place to use the restroom. You will see a blonde sec­re­tary at the front desk. You will see a secu­rity guard with a baton and a hand­gun. The sec­re­tary is smil­ing, the secu­rity guard is not. They are both wait­ing, watch­ing. If you go at any hour of the day or the night you will see them: wait­ing, watch­ing. But you won’t notice this, because you are too busy doing other things. There is only one secu­rity guard and one sec­re­tary because there is only one office. All of the other floors are com­pletely empty. Steel sup­port columns, con­crete, and whistling wind.

Rachel sits in his office. He waits for her answer. There are no walls. Only win­dows. The sky­line of Los Ange­les encir­cles a desk and a chair. An ele­va­tor bank and a wash­room spring up from the floor. Inte­rior archi­tec­ture of the infa­mous and infi­nite. He is the most impor­tant per­son in Los Ange­les and he knows it. This makes him the 14th most impor­tant per­son in the world, though he thinks he is the 4th.

He sits on his desk. His feet do not touch the ground, because of its size. He kicks his feet back and forth like a child. He is never still. He moves like a dancer, like a cat. He is coiled energy ready to spring. His rep­u­ta­tion pre­cedes him like a freight train.

“Are you using it?” he asks again, smile broad­en­ing like melt­ing butter.

Rachel con­sid­ers her answer to his ques­tion and adjusts in the leather chair. She wears her best clothes, a red pen­cil skirt, white blouse, and a red Prada jacket that she plans on return­ing imme­di­ately after this meet­ing. She can­not afford this jacket. When she got an invi­ta­tion to this build­ing she imme­di­ately vom­ited and then went on a juice fast. She used a teeth-whitening kit three times, she hit her yoga class twice a day and began going to bed at 9 P.M. when her sched­ule per­mit­ted. Which was never. She is hun­gry, and tired, and minty, and flex­i­ble and shiny, and she looks won­der­ful. She feels like a hol­low cathe­dral. She does not know the answer to the ques­tion. He doesn’t mind.

He hops off his desk, and his shoes clack on the black mar­ble floor. He sucks air in through his teeth and rubs his pure white hands together in slow con­cen­tric circles.

“Don’t answer yet. I’m not a name­drop­per. I don’t need to impress any­one. You know about me because you know about me.

“You prob­a­bly have some idea of who I am and what I do. No one can drop my name because no one knows my name. That’s a valu­able asset. This is all about devel­op­ing assets. I want you to be an asset to me. I could tell you a long list of names of peo­ple who are assets to me. These are peo­ple who do good, won­der­ful, things in the world for you and me and starv­ing chil­dren and every­one. They’re able to change the world for the bet­ter because they have come into my unique fold.

“This, like so many offers, is only a one-time thing.

“I’m sorry to say that, but it is the case. I need a pro­ducer for this project, and it needs to be some­one I have on the team. It has been handed to me per­son­ally by… Well, let’s say the team cap­tain. I want you on my team. So, what do you say Rachel?”

Rachel feels like she is breath­ing either too quickly or too slowly, she can­not tell which. Her calf is shak­ing and she is try­ing to silence the rhyth­mic tap-tap-tap of her heel on the mar­ble. She speaks.

 

“I think I use my soul.” Silence, except for the tap-tap-tap. He smiles.

“And, I’m… If this… If what you’re say­ing… if this is a real thing…” Rachel leans for­ward and raises her eye­brows, giv­ing him a chance to announce that this is all an over­dra­matic test of ethics. He leans for­ward and raises his per­fectly man­i­cured eye­brows. He says nothing.

“I… I try to be a good per­son,” Rachel con­tin­ues. “I try.

“And I use my soul.”

The word try echoes in her head like a scream in a cave.

She just told a lie. She knows that she shouldn’t lie. The room feels wrong because noth­ing feels wrong about it. A leather strap is pulling tight deep in her gut. She is promis­ing her­self bed, Xanax, and celebrity news if she can make it out of this office with­out falling to pieces.

He runs a hand across his face and up the back of his neck. He smiles like a sun­beam com­ing through an open win­dow, gen­tly warm­ing a piece of car­pet that a cat is nap­ping on. He leans casu­ally on his desk.

“See, that’s not your fault. That’s the cul­ture. That’s just THIS cul­ture. You’re mis­tak­ing reli­gion for business.

“You’re mis­tak­ing belief for ethics. You’ve got it all mixed up!

“Here, in this place, and this time, it’s all divided. But busi­ness is dif­fer­ent. We’re talk­ing busi­ness here.

“You have some­thing that I would like to trade you for.

“I will trade you astro­nomic suc­cess for your soul. Sim­ple sim­ple. No mon­sters, no saints, no big bad wolves, no ulte­rior motives. I get some­thing, you get some­thing, and we all get a movie.

“Is it a cliché? Yes. I’m aware of that. Do clichés come from some­where? Duh. Do I have this exact con­ver­sa­tion every sin­gle time I meet with some­one here? Oh, you bet. I’m not going to say names, but there is a rea­son that these win­dows don’t open any more. We’ve had some things hap­pen. But I know who to bring up here and who to leave down there.

“I know that you’re a climber. I hear things. I see things. Your name comes up in cer­tain cir­cles. I invite you to my office. And here. We. Are. Get good and bad out of your head. If you’re think­ing good and bad, you’re not going to get any­where here. We’re just talk­ing about two sides of the same coin. We’re talk­ing about THE MOVIES gosh darnit!

“It’s all make believe.”

He walks around his desk. He picks a screen­play and he drops it on his desk with a loud slap! He looks at her. He jumps up on the desk and kicks his legs back and forth. He picks up the screen­play and flips through the pages.

“What… What is that?” Rachel asks.

He tosses the script across to her and it lands per­fectly in her lap. It reads Unti­tled.

“Is it good?” She lev­els her eyes toward him. A smile splashes on his face and she wants to per­ish in it. She puts out the flame. She needs to nego­ti­ate. She knows how to nego­ti­ate. He clears his throat.

“Hon­estly, no. It’s not great. It’s not so much that it’s BAD, it’s just been done about a bil­lion times. But it’s the movies! We rein­vent the wheel every day; we just pack­age it in dif­fer­ent ways. It’s exactly the kind of thing WE like. It’s the kind of thing the inter­ested par­ties I rep­re­sent appre­ci­ate. It’s vam­pires, and angels, and per­mis­si­ble teen eroti­cism under the guise of fan­tasy. Fun, fun, fun stuff. Harm­less. The good thing is; we get every­body into the the­atre. Tweens, teens, inbe­tween­ers, mil­lenials, twen­tysome­things, flirty-thirties, DIRTY-thirties, and of course the for­got­ten for­ties, every­one else will be dragged by some­one they know.

“Block­buster mate­r­ial here. Peo­ple wait their whole lives for a stack of pages just like that.”

Rachel sud­denly has to pee. She squeezes her knees together and rif­fles the pages. Words, phrases, char­ac­ter names, screen direc­tions, jump out at her, mean­ing­less with­out con­text. Doesn’t mat­ter. If he says it’s a win­ner it is a win­ner. She runs a tongue along her slick white teeth. She squeezes her knees together tighter. She won­ders what her fam­ily in Fair­field, Iowa would say about this if she told them. They’re tran­scen­den­tal med­i­ta­tors and Olympian rel­a­tivists. They share the con­ve­nient dinner-party accept­able beliefs of the eco­nom­i­cally for­tu­nate. God is a dif­fi­cult word prob­lem that isn’t on their test.  She would not tell them. She couldn’t tell them. They would not rec­og­nize her in her jacket.

She feels her heart beat­ing in her chest beneath her Prada jacket. With each beat she has to pee more. She won­ders if her soul is some­where between her heart and her blad­der. She imag­ines it like a blue mist with a soft light at its core. It emits a gen­tle warmth, and it helps her dis­cern right from wrong. It tells her what music she loves. It smells like the melt­ing sugar on the top of a crème brule. It grows brighter when she holds her dog to her chest. She can’t afford her dog, but she loves him. She won­ders what it would be like to just have a heart in her chest with no soul to accom­pany it. What would it be like to feel your heart beat­ing and noth­ing else?

“I just need a pro­ducer. And I need a pro­ducer that no one knows. We like to pro­mote from the very bot­tom. We’re in the busi­ness of mak­ing dreams come true after all.”

He smiles. It is the smile from an adver­tise­ment for men’s watches. It is a smile like a good arm­chair. It is a smile that would make babies have sweet dreams and old women wink at one another. She crosses her knees and bites her bot­tom lip.

Rachel pro­duces inde­pen­dent hor­ror films and pub­lic ser­vice announce­ments about the dan­gers of huff­ing paint thin­ner. She takes jobs that are jobs. She takes as many jobs as she can. She crushes her per­sonal life under the heel of the boots she can­not afford. She will have love and friend­ship and late night talks over cheap bot­tles of wine with peo­ple who she can share secrets with. She will have these things when she can afford them. She pushes and pushes against this city for­go­ing every­thing for the oppor­tu­nity to afford stillness.

The screen­play is heavy, thick white paper. It feels good in her hands. She crosses her knees tighter and digs her nails into the paper. She wants it. She doesn’t care what is in the pages. She wants it. She goes for the kill.

“Fine. I know who you are. I know the rep­u­ta­tion that you have. I would be an idiot to not take this project. And if you know about me, you know I am not dumb.” Rachel uncrosses her legs.

“So, why do you want my soul?” She raises her eyebrow.   

“I want it because I want it.” He runs two fin­gers down the sides of his silk tie, smooth­ing unseen wrinkles.

“That’s not good enough.” He stops smil­ing. She takes a deep breath and continues.

“You don’t just invite any­one up here and I’m here. I bet that it’s a lit­tle bit harder than just find­ing any­one to pro­duce a movie. You can’t swing a cat with­out hit­ting some­one who calls them­selves a pro­ducer around here. So, what do you want MY soul for?

“I don’t really believe in all of that, so it’s mean­ing­less to me. I’ll give you my soul like my busi­ness card. Except my busi­ness card is worth more. I buy the expen­sive card stock.”     That is another lie, her busi­ness cards are cheap and flimsy, but she needs some wig­gle room.

“As far as I’m con­cerned, you’re an eccen­tric money guy who has a good track record for pick­ing win­ners. I want a win­ner. I want to be an asset for you. But if I’m indulging you by claim­ing that I’ve got a soul, and that I can give it to you, you have to meet me half way. What do you want to do with my par­tic­u­lar soul?” She felt like she was going to explode, but she couldn’t excuse her­self to the restroom, it would show weak­ness, it would be a retreat.

He walks slowly around his desk. One. Step. At. A. Time. He sits down and kicks his feet onto the cor­ner of the desk. He looks at her. His face is blank. He places his fin­ger­tips together under his nose.

“I’ve never talked to some­one about the logis­tics of what I do before. This is interesting.”

Rachel grinds her teeth together and lev­els her eyes at him. Rachel is going to die if she can­not relieve her­self.  “Cards on the table. I’m a col­lec­tor and an adver­tiser. A brand man­ager really. Peo­ple in my posi­tion exist in, let’s say, areas of influ­ence. I am try­ing to get a point of view across.

I am try­ing to pro­mote my employer’s brand. What my employer cares about is what any employer cares about. They want their num­bers up and their brand rec­og­niz­able. I make that hap­pen, and I have incred­i­ble resources. How­ever, I need to make sure that any can­di­dates are on the level. I need a commitment. 

“Some peo­ple are Pepsi peo­ple, some peo­ple are Coke people.

“Let’s just say, I want every­one to be a Pepsi per­son. Two sides of the same coin. That script has a lot of prod­uct place­ment in it. Do you take my meaning?”

Rachel shifts in her seat. She fan­ta­sizes about knock­ing the chair over and hurl­ing her­self towards the restroom. Then she sees it. She sees a bit of sad­ness float past his eyes. She has a foothold. She stead­ies her voice.

“Am I to under­stand that you are an asset of your employer? You gave away your soul, too?” He looks out the win­dows at an unchar­ac­ter­is­ti­cally dark cloud mov­ing across the Hol­ly­wood hills. He nods his head. A smile crosses his lips and then passes.

“Do you miss it?”

He takes a deep breath in and lets it out slowly.

“I don’t remem­ber what it was like to have it. But, yes, some­times I think I do miss it. Some­times. It’s been a long time. It’s fine though. I’m great. I’m fine.” He looks to Rachel and places his hands on his desk, spread­ing them wide in front of him.

“Was it worth it?”

He nods his head. Slow, mea­sured, absolutely sure.

“You love what you love in the world. You do what­ever you can to keep doing it. I love the movies. I always have, and I always will. I have a very clear under­stand­ing of what always means. I know you love the movies too. So yes, it was worth it. I get to make those lights hap­pen on that screen. If I had to explain to you why that is impor­tant, you wouldn’t be here.”

An arrow sinks deep into her heart. A chill runs down the back of her neck. The warm blue cloud in her chest pulses brightly, her heart beats.

“Okay. I’ll do it. I’ll give you my soul.”

He looks at her. He does not smile.

“You don’t believe in it any­way do you?”

“No.” She hears the word com­ing out of her mouth.

“Good. It’s bet­ter that way.” He opens the top drawer of his desk and takes out a contract.

“Do I sign it in blood?” She stands up and moves to the desk, try­ing to walk as nor­mally as pos­si­ble. She would sell her soul twice over to run to the bathroom.

“A pen will work. Blood is very dif­fi­cult to write with. Some peo­ple stick to the old ways. We’re odd­balls. Our office is try­ing to become entirely paper­less to reduce our car­bon foot­print. This has to be signed in per­son. Hon­estly, it makes no sense to use as much paper as some of the other offices do. Just sign there.”

He points to a line with an X on it. The entire con­tract reads, I promise my soul to ________.

“Why isn’t the name filled in?”

“We fill it in later. Let’s just assume that you’re promis­ing your soul to Pepsi.” He hands her a heavy sil­ver pen. It feels cool and beau­ti­ful in her fin­gers. Her hand signs the doc­u­ment before she real­izes what she is doing. She gives the pen back. He places his hands around hers. They feel warm and strong. He curls her fin­gers around the pen.

“Keep it. You’ll want it. I still have mine.”

“Thanks. Can I use your restroom?”

“Yeah, right back there by the elevator.”

Rachel tries not to run to the restroom. The mar­ble floor makes her ner­vous in her heels. She throws her­self into the bath­room and slams the door behind her. She wrig­gles free of her skirt, and her Spanx and for­goes the layer of pro­tec­tive paper between her and the seat. She relieves her­self with eye-rolling intensity.

She gets up and begins strap­ping her­self back into her armor. She catches sight of her­self in the mir­ror. She undoes the but­tons on her blouse and leaves her skirt around her knees. She is ribs and abs, with pale skin pulled tight. She can see the crow’s feet and laugh lines blos­som­ing on her face. She sees every­where she is hard where she should be soft, wrin­kled where she should be smooth, and fleshy where there should be muscle.

She looks into her eyes. She can­not tell if there is a soul miss­ing from where it should be. She smiles. White, straight, clear as the beach after a good rain. Those whiten­ing kits must have worked. She washes and dries her hands under the blow drier. She doesn’t look at her­self as she leaves.

Rachel car­ries the screen­play under her arm. She walks two blocks up 7th street to the park­ing lot where she left her Prius so no one would see it. The screen­play rides shot­gun. She thinks about buck­ling it into the seat. She plays no music in the car. She lis­tens to no NPR. She feels like the sound that an empty water tower makes when you hit it with a shovel. She looks at her cell­phone; she wants to call some­one and tell them every­thing. She real­izes that she doesn’t have any­one to tell even if she could tell them. She is hun­gry, but she wants noth­ing to do with the vanilla Power­bars and coconut water she keeps in her glove com­part­ment. She picks up a bur­rito and a bot­tle of wine. It’s dark out when she falls into her apartment.

Her dog stands smil­ing next to a pool of its urine. Its small pink tongue pokes out with every huff­ing breath. Rachel leaves her bur­rito, bot­tle of wine, and screen­play on an upturned mov­ing box. She has lived in this apart­ment for nine months. She keeps mean­ing to throw the box out and get a real side table. She cleans up the pee with head­shots from a long past audi­tion. Her dog jumps onto its hind legs and paws at the air. It spins in cir­cles for her. She scratches the roll of fat at the back of its neck with her man­i­cured nails. She strips her­self out of her clothes. She lays the Prada jacket on her bed so that she can return it in the morn­ing. She washes her makeup off, puts her glasses on, and jumps into sweats and a t-shirt.

She watches The Actual Per­sian House­wives of Los Ange­les. She drinks wine. She eats her bur­rito. Her dog watches her. She pats the space next to her on the couch. The dog hops up with a lit­tle bit of help. It head-butts her ribs play­fully. She puts her arm around the dog. She squeezes. She feels her heart beat. It licks her cheek. She feels her heart beat. She holds it out in front of her and looks in its big dumb eyes. She feels her heart beat.

She turns the tele­vi­sion off. She puts her bur­rito down. She picks up Unti­tled. She turns the first page. She feels her heart beat harder.

The open­ing screen direc­tions read: We open on Angel.

© 2014, Eric Czuleger

Immortal LA Cover

Cover Art for Immor­tal L.A.

Full Book Descrip­tion: The San Andreas Fault is the gate­way to hell. The Hol­ly­wood Hills are mass graves of angels. William Mul­hol­land defies God him­self. Satan gets plas­tic surgery on Sun­set Boule­vard. A dead boy is stuck in traf­fic next to a vam­pire who can’t sleep, and an angel who has a an audi­tion for the role of an angel. The stars are in the sky and on the pave­ment. The wolves are prowl­ing. The weather is per­fect. The screen­play is writ­ten. The soul is sold. This movie is going to be big– really big. Wel­come to Immor­tal L.A. You’re going to love it here.

Visit Eric’s site and buy the full book at www.ericczuleger.com

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Eric CzulegerImmor­tal L.A. is writ­ten by Eric Czuleger, a nov­el­ist, play­wright, & returned peace corps vol­un­teer. He is the author of Falling Dreams, Moon­burn, No. Saints Lane, Head Over Heels, L.A. Lights Fire, and the writer/creator of Live The­atre Blog. His plays have been seen in Los Ange­les, New York, Ken­tucky, Wash­ing­ton D.C. & live streamed over the inter­net to twenty dif­fer­ent coun­tries. Full texts of his work are avail­able for pur­chase from this site.

Fol­low him on Twit­ter @Eczuleger

Things I Hope Fiction Writers Will Do

Things I Hope Fic­tion Writ­ers Will Do by Megan Potter

I like read­ing fic­tion. It is enter­tain­ing. Although these sto­ries are just made up, I can relate to some of them or their parts. How­ever, there are some other aspects of this genre that hin­ders me from totally lov­ing it. There are some works which have in them things that ham­per my read­ing and appre­ci­a­tion. Some­times, I need or want to stop, some­times tem­porar­ily and some­times permanently.

But because I am enter­tained when I read fic­tion, I would like to con­tinue read­ing this genre. And while I am at it, I would like to tell fic­tion writ­ers what dis­cour­ages me from read­ing their works and what I hope they will do to make my fic­tion read­ing activ­i­ties more enjoy­able. Espe­cially for other peo­ple who really love fic­tion, these can be the things they hate about it. I believe they would agree with the things I hope fic­tion writ­ers will do.

writer

Write Short Paragraphs

For me, read­ing fic­tion is a form of recre­ation. It has not got­ten to a point where it has become a task I need to do. Yes, I love to read non-fiction and love it enough that I do not mind doing the chore of fol­low­ing through lengthy para­graphs just to make sure I don’t miss any detail that will prove to be impor­tant. For fic­tion, being an enter­tain­ment for me, I would like to enjoy it but many of its long para­graphs give me headaches.

Use Sim­ple Language

When I read fic­tion, I would like it to be like view­ing a film with the least need of rewind­ing to a few sec­onds before because I missed a frame in the scene or was not able to hear clearly a few words from the dia­logue. Words I do not under­stand do the trick for me when read­ing fic­tion. I need to pause and find a the­saurus when this happens.

Read Their Work Aloud

There are times when I have dif­fi­culty under­stand­ing short para­graphs and even sen­tences. I have to read over and over and then, when I am still not able to make some sense of it, read aloud. This delays my read­ing and takes away some of the enter­tain­ment fac­tor. There are even times when I needed to make a con­clu­sion of what the author would have wanted to say in a sen­tence or a series of sen­tences. When I do this after read­ing their words aloud, I ask myself whether the writer had done so (read their work aloud).

Less on Set­tings, More on Actions

Just like long sen­tences and para­graphs, lengthy descrip­tions of set­tings lead me to lose my inter­est to con­tinue read­ing. What I, and I think many oth­ers, look for are more actions from the char­ac­ters. I believe that long descrip­tions of set­tings take the space which are sup­posed to be given to nar­ra­tions of actions among characters.

Less on Descrip­tions, More on Dialogue

Again, just like lengthy sen­tences, para­graphs and descrip­tions of set­tings make me feel as if I’m being led astray from the real story, long descrip­tions of the char­ac­ters tend to cut the enjoy­ment I am expe­ri­enc­ing. Just the same, I feel that the time given to these should be given to more exchanges of words and actions by the char­ac­ters. I also believe that the dia­logue and the move­ments that the peo­ple in the story say and do can bet­ter describe their character.

My Prayer

I hope what I am say­ing here makes sense. Mean­ing, I hope that these things that I hope fic­tion writ­ers will do are indeed fea­si­ble and can be good solu­tions to the prob­lems I encounter when read­ing fic­tion. My request for the bud­ding and estab­lished fic­tion writ­ers out there is that they can make their work sim­pler for the many sim­ple read­ers like me.

I request that the words they will choose to use will be eas­ily under­stood so that I will not need to stop my read­ing to look for a dic­tio­nary to help me under­stand. I hope they will write shorter sen­tences, para­graphs, set­ting nar­ra­tions and char­ac­ter descrip­tions. Only these things have hin­dered me from shift­ing from lik­ing to lov­ing fiction.

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About Megan Potter:

“I love learn­ing and writ­ing. I also love shar­ing my learn­ing through writ­ing. I want to pro­mote edu­ca­tion and good morals to make a dif­fer­ence in the soci­ety.
Fol­low her on Twit­ter, Face­book, and Google+

America’s Love For Alcoholic Literature

America’s Love For Alco­holic Lit­er­a­ture by Cindy Nichols

The mythos of the Amer­i­can writer sit­ting at his chair with a type­writer and a bot­tle of alco­hol next to him has per­vaded the lit­er­ary scene for gen­er­a­tions. Writ­ers such as Ernest Hem­ing­way, Stephen King, Hunter S. Thomp­son, Hart Crane and F. Scott Fitzger­ald have con­tributed to the rep­u­ta­tion that in order to become a great Amer­i­can writer, one must also be a drunk. Or, as Hem­ing­way him­self said, “Write Drunk, Edit Sober”.

It comes as no sur­prise that alco­hol played a role in the deaths of some of these famous authors. One notable author who died from alco­hol poi­son­ing was Robert Lewis Steven­son, who wrote The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a story about a man who became a deformed human-like mon­ster after drink­ing some­thing strange he had con­cocted in a lab.

License: Royalty Free or iStock source

Ernest Hemingway’s Home in Cuba
License: Roy­alty Free or iStock source

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

The par­al­lels between the trans­for­ma­tion of Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde and the trans­for­ma­tion some peo­ple have after drink­ing has been noted in the lit­er­ary world, as well as hav­ing been used in the lit­er­a­ture of Alco­holics Anony­mous itself.

It has been sug­gested that Ernest Hem­ing­way is really the one who started such a stigma. He felt that he was one of the kinds of authors who could actu­ally han­dle his liquor, and chose not to really con­ceal the amount of liquor he was drink­ing; he felt it was nobody elses busi­ness. In every one of his books, sev­eral of the char­ac­ters are heavy drinkers.

Can­nery Row

Take, for exam­ple, his famous novel Can­nery Row, wherein the main char­ac­ter, Doc, buys a bot­tle of beer every night from the gen­eral store across the street from where he lives. And the vagrants who live near the same gen­eral store are always in search of money in order to buy liquor. One char­ac­ter in the group of vagrants even takes a job at the nearby bar just so he can bring home dif­fer­ent cock­tails of dis­posed liquor to his friends each night.

It has been noted that authors such as Hem­ing­way and Fitzger­ald suf­fered from depres­sion and anx­i­ety at a young age. Such ail­ments are alle­vi­ated by drink­ing and doing some­thing pro­duc­tive such as writ­ing. As a result, the two tended to go hand in hand. It can be spec­u­lated that this may be the cause of other writ­ers hav­ing the rep­u­ta­tion of being heavy drinkers.

Roman­tic Notion Of The Idea Of The Drunk

There is a romance around the idea of the drunk, famous author. It may almost seem as if in order to be a famous writer, one has to become a heavy drinker as well; heavy drink­ing and good writ­ing would appear to go hand-in-hand.

But the lives some of these men lead were any­thing than roman­tic. Many had had sev­eral failed mar­riages, bore chil­dren who had to be the child of divorced par­ents, one of them being a heavy drinker, and other unat­trac­tive things as such. Heavy drink­ing leads to extreme iso­la­tion and bad health prob­lems. Many of them attempted to get sober, some suc­ceed­ing, and some failing.

It should be noted on the minds of the Amer­i­can lit­er­ary scene that heavy drink­ing has a heav­ier cost than the ben­e­fit of being a good writer. One can only spec­u­late as to what may exist nowa­days if some of these peo­ple had in fact got­ten sober or had never been heavy drinkers at all, what they would have made and how much more they could have con­tributed to the world.

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Cindy Nichols is an addic­tion spe­cial­ist and treat­ment advi­sor who spe­cial­izes in alco­hol detox pro­grams at Recov­ery Now.

Of Same and Similarity

Of Same and Sim­i­lar­ity by Ailyn Koay

Lately I have been read­ing too many books with a reoc­cur­ring ‘some­thing’; that ‘some­thing’ might be a char­ac­ter, a back­story, any­thing that makes me feel like I have read it some­where else before. It irks me greatly, hav­ing that feel­ing of déjà vu so fre­quently that I would just skip to the end­ing just to find any dif­fer­ences. If you are a reader, how often do you come across a book so sim­i­lar it felt like you have read it some­where before?

Of Same and Similarity by Ailyn Koay

I real­ize that peo­ple can be influ­enced by what they are read­ing and the cur­rent fad in the book world. How­ever, there are no excuses for let­ting your read­ers feel cheated out of a good read. Read­ers like some­thing orig­i­nal; some sim­i­lar­i­ties can be for­given; but when I start to relate to a dif­fer­ent title that I have read before, that is tak­ing it too far. It is hard to give an unbi­ased review when I have inad­ver­tently com­pared works from two dif­fer­ent authors. I believe it is unfair to all authors when I com­pare, as all are unique words from a spe­cial person.

Since the con­cep­tion of the Vam­pire Diaries book by L. J. Smith and its tele­vi­sion series, there are the Vam­pire Acad­emy series by Richelle Mead, the House of Night series by P. C. Cast, and the Evernight series by Clau­dia Gray. Let us not for­get Stephanie Meyer’s teen vam­pire romance story: Twi­light. There are count­less more, but the theme is sim­i­lar, and some­times hav­ing read one or two I would know where the whole story is going. That is a sad real­i­sa­tion for me: no ele­ment of sur­prise. You will also note that the Sookie Stack­house nov­els (also known as the True­blood series in tele­vi­sion) by Char­laine Har­ris is not on this list, because I do not think the vio­lence and sex suit­able for teen vam­pire genre.

If it is not orig­i­nal enough; you are set­ting your­self up for com­par­i­son. Worse, too much sim­i­lar­ity can end up look­ing almost like pla­gia­rism and you might have a law­suit on your hands. Writ­ers take copy­right very seri­ously, who wants their hard work to be copied by oth­ers? Take Nora Roberts, she had sued Janet Daily for pla­gia­ris­ing her work after a reader blew the whis­tle. You can read about it through Nora’s author page on Goodreads.

In the basis of writ­ing for research, pla­gia­rism is when you used another person’s words with­out given per­mis­sion and giv­ing recog­ni­tion. In research jour­nals it is called ref­er­enc­ing, and in books it can be titled as bib­li­og­ra­phy or acknowl­edge­ments. Even song titles have to be given per­mis­sion to be used in a book. You can read Blake Morrison’s per­sonal expe­ri­ence as he relates the pricey per­mis­sions in The Guardian, here at Blake Mor­ri­son on the cost of quot­ing lyrics. Even from blogs, you have to link back to the orig­i­nal source where you find the infor­ma­tion from, as most blog­gers now put a copy­right license link to show that they can and will take action against stolen ideas.

I hope that this makes it clear that writ­ings that resem­bles another person’s work should be viewed as an author’s night­mare. Sim­i­lar sto­ries set you up for com­par­i­son, if you are unlucky it would be you against your favourite writer, who might have years of writ­ing ahead of you. When some­one catches your work hav­ing the same words as another author, pre­pare your­self for some seri­ous trou­ble. It is not worth copy­ing ideas, and do not assume that you will not get caught.

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Ailyn Koay

Of Same and Sim­i­lar­ity is writ­ten by: Ailyn Koay, blog­ger for Piece of My Mind, a blog at: http://bgtell.blogspot.com.au/

Fictional Characters Born In Scotland

Fic­tional Char­ac­ters Born In Scot­land by Trudi Cueto

Although there are some char­ac­ters who are syn­ony­mous with Scot­land, whether they were cre­ated here or not there are oth­ers who have had the plea­sure of sim­ply being born here. Scot­tish writ­ers have cre­ated char­ac­ters from around the world who still main­tain a sense of Scot­land and here we’re look­ing at some of the most mem­o­rable ones out there.

License: Image author owned

Sher­lock Holmes

He’s cer­tainly not Scot­tish but his back­ground is. The world’s most famous detec­tive who made Lon­don his home was the cre­ation of one of Scotland’s most famous authors – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Conan Doyle also based Holmes’ char­ac­ter in part on Edin­burgh sur­geon Dr Joseph Bell. Holmes has reg­u­larly escaped the page mak­ing it onto TV screens and into cinemas.

Inspec­tor John Rebus

The most famous of Ian Rankin’s cre­ations Rebus is Scot­land through and through. The pro­tag­o­nist in a long series of Edin­burgh based police pro­ce­dural nov­els and the hard-boiled nature of the plots has led the genre sur­round­ing Rebus, many oth­ers copy­ing Rankin’s style, to be known at Tar­tan Noir. It doesn’t get much more Scot­tish than that.

Robin­son Crusoe

With­out know­ing his back­story there is very lit­tle to con­nect Cru­soe with Scot­land. How­ever, with a lit­tle dig­ging you’ll soon see that it’s widely believed that Crusoe’s story is heav­ily influ­enced by the life of Alexan­der Selkirk. Defoe’s research led him to Selkirk’s story – an inter­est­ing tale of a Scot­tish cast­away who made a life for him­self for four years on a remote island near Chile.

Harry Pot­ter

He may not be the first char­ac­ter you think of but Harry Pot­ter sprung from the mind of one of Scotland’s most famous res­i­dents. Rowl­ing made Edin­burgh her home in the early nineties when she had only just started writ­ing about the world famous teenage wiz­ard. The idea for Pot­ter may have been formed in Rowling’s imag­i­na­tion but the major­ity of his adven­tures were writ­ten as she sat in cafes across Edin­burgh includ­ing The Ele­phant House and Nicholson’s.

Ren­ton and Begbie

Not the most savoury char­ac­ters but cer­tainly mem­o­rable, espe­cially after Danny Boyle’s film, Irvine Welsh’s anti-hero Ren­ton and socio­pathic side­kick Beg­bie are not to be for­got­ten. Welsh’s Leith dialect writ­ing style is a clear indict­ment of the Scot­tish nature of his char­ac­ters. Nei­ther Ren­ton nor Beg­bie could be from any­where else but Scot­land! Beg­bie and Ren­ton also pop up in other Welsh nov­els and of course the sequel and pre­quel Porno and Skagboys.

Putting together a top five lit­er­ary char­ac­ters born in Scot­land was a dif­fi­cult task and when choos­ing them many oth­ers came to mind too. There are hon­ourable men­tions here for Muriel Spark’s Jean Brodie, the dark and gothic Frank Cauld­hame from Iain Banks’ Wasp Fac­tory and one of the first famous Scots Tam O’Shanter a cre­ation of the great Rob­bie Burns.

Scot­land and espe­cially Edin­burgh has a rich lit­er­ary his­tory. All of these world famous char­ac­ters began life in Scot­land or were inspired by it and there­fore deserve a spot in our top five.

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About the Author:

Trudi Cueto works for The Edin­burgh Apart­ment, with prop­er­ties located in the most con­ve­nient loca­tions around Edin­burgh. If you are vis­it­ing the city, make sure to stay close to all of the sights.

Adapting a Screenplay into a Novel

Adapt­ing a Screen­play into a Novel

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Creative Commons License Joe Flood via Comp­fight

It seems like more than two thirds of all movies made and released these days are based on books. Pro­duc­ers are look­ing to pub­lish­ers for fresh mate­r­ial instead of going through stacks of spec screen­plays. And why not? Many are writ­ten in ser­ial form lend­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of sequel and tril­ogy films bring­ing in mil­lions and even bil­lions of dol­lars with far less adver­tis­ing required after the ini­tial film’s release. Thus it makes sense.

So then why would some­one want to turn a screen­play into a novel? There are two cases; the screen­play was made into a wildly suc­cess­ful movie and view­ers are anx­ious to read the story in book form…or a screen­writer with an unsold script would like to rein­vent the mate­r­ial and bring atten­tion to it in hopes that it will either then attract pro­duc­ers or at least turn him a profit. The lat­ter is of course the more com­mon case.

As a screen­writer and script con­sul­tant I’ve recently found myself in this sit­u­a­tion; unsold screen­plays with great sto­ries just wait­ing to be released to the world. It took me far too many years to finally find the time and courage to write a novel and put my work out in the open to be judged. What I thought would be sim­ple ended up tak­ing me months to complete.

For years I had been paid to turn authors’ nov­els into screen­plays in a mat­ter of weeks. It was easy for me. It made sense. Screen­writ­ing was sec­ond nature; I thrived on the sci­ence of it, a pre­cise struc­ture with rules and stan­dards. Adapt­ing from a novel meant break­ing down the story, plot­ting it out into a beat sheet then trans­fer­ring the lan­guage of the story into a for­mu­lated screen­play. Easy. Most peo­ple write books, not scripts. What the major­ity of writ­ers con­sid­ered dif­fi­cult and for­eign was a walk in the park for me. How hard could adapt­ing a screen­play into a book be?

I had no idea what I was get­ting into going the other way.

In terms of word count screen­plays could be con­sid­ered short sto­ries. You aren’t given much to work with in terms of length so every­thing must be extremely con­cise. Nov­els are free­ing. Overly free­ing. Sud­denly you’re allowed to go on tan­gents, include flow­ery adjec­tives and get inside the character’s head, explor­ing their thoughts as well as mak­ing assump­tions for their actions. It’s a whole new world…and very easy to get lost in the process. When I began adapt­ing one of my first screen­plays, Sleep­ing in the Morgue, into a novel I strug­gled until I fig­ured out a more struc­tured approach like what I had been used to for numer­ous years. So, I devised this sys­tem to make the process of adapt­ing a screen­play into a novel as sim­ple as possible.

  • Read the script sev­eral times and write a new syn­op­sis detail­ing the main plot and subplots.
  • Have a cou­ple “fresh sets of eyes” read your script and write a syn­op­sis or tell you what it’s about includ­ing sub­plots. Doing this will give you an idea of how oth­ers see the story. Out­side read­ers also might pick up on dif­fer­ent ele­ments of the story which gives you some­thing to con­sider elab­o­rat­ing on in the novel.
  • If you don’t already have one, cre­ate a scene by scene outline.
  • Review­ing the out­line, think about how the story was told as a movie. Was it sequen­tial? Did you incor­po­rate flash­backs? Voiceovers? These ele­ments don’t trans­late as well on the page so you need to decide how best to tell the story to a reader not viewer. Also con­sider per­spec­tive. You can tell this story from sev­eral dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives. Decide what will suit your nov­el­is­tic style and best serve the story.
  • Hav­ing taken all the items pre­vi­ously men­tioned into con­sid­er­a­tion, develop a chap­ter outline.
  • Start writ­ing your novel using your screen­play as ref­er­ence, but not for line by line translation.
  • Don’t stop writ­ing your novel!
  • Once your first draft is done set it aside for a cou­ple weeks. But check your word count. If you’re like me, it’s prob­a­bly a bit short of the aver­age novel so you may be on track to pub­lish­ing a novella instead.
  • Come back and read it. Jot down notes, more ideas, areas you can expand upon and of course, errors that need fix­ing. Remem­ber that short word count – these are the items you can use to increase your num­bers. I’m not talk­ing mean­ing­less fluff – I mean qual­ity mate­r­ial which will take your story to another level and make read­ers want to know when your next book is com­ing out.
  • Edit and rewrite.
  • Reread.
  • Edit and rewrite.
  • Reread.
  • Send out to a few trusted read­ers and ask for feedback.
  • Edit and rewrite.
  • Reread.
  • You’ll never be “ready” but when you think it’s shiny and new send it out for the world to enjoy! Con­grat­u­la­tions, you’ve adapted your screen­play into a novel.

My biggest piece of advice is “don’t be scared.” I was, for a long time. I was ter­ri­fied of fail­ure so I clung to my old screen­plays and didn’t dare try to adapt them because well, then there was no excuse for my short­com­ings and no judge­ment from read­ers. If your screen­play is a great story then you can make it a great book as well. I wish you the best of luck. If you have any ques­tions, com­ments, con­cerns, frus­tra­tions or anx­i­eties I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to con­tact me any­time on Twit­ter, Face­book or through my web­site www.jennifertressen.net.

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Jen­nifer Tressen Bio

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I grew up in the enter­tain­ment indus­try as a child actor but found my pas­sion when I was in film school at Chap­man Uni­ver­sity. I love writ­ing. I really do. Any­thing. From let­ters to my chil­dren to fea­ture length screen­plays to nov­els. It’s a love that dates back to my child­hood and the pas­sion for lit­er­a­ture my mother instilled in me. She always said, “You can go any­where in a book. You can be anybody.”