Real Research: Writing about faraway places – Guest Post by Stuart White

 

Tales from the Falkland Islands…and writing research tips!

I am proud to present a guest post by my friend and mentor, Stuart White. Please read his impressive biography HERE.

Real Research: Writing about faraway places

A guest post by Stuart White

I’ve been up since dawn and I’m peering across a grim, rain-swept bay to a small mist-shrouded harbor as a ship’s tiny tender battles against the buffeting gale towards the shore.

And not for the first time in my travelling-writing life I wonder,

“What the hell am I doing here?”

“Here” in this case happens to be the Falkland Islands, 8,000 miles from my home in England.

It’s off the tip of South America and there’s nothing south of it except Antarctica.

And the answer – or excuse perhaps – is, I’m doing research on a film script whose locations all lie in South America, the South Atlantic or the Pacific west of that continent.

And my trip is all the more strange perhaps since I actually wrote the script two years ago!

It’s about two now mostly ignored World War One sea battles a hundred years ago involving the British Royal Navy and the German Imperial Navy that were pivotal to the eventual Allied – including American – victory.

It’s also a dramatic story of intense personal and international rivalry involving figures like Churchill and the German Kaiser.

This trip will take me from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Montevideo,

 

Montevideo

Anchor from the German pocket battleship Graf Spee in Montevideo. The Graf Spee was scuttled in the River Plate just off Montevideo in 1939 after being badly damaged by British ships. It’s relevant to my research because the ship was named AFTER (or for, depending on usage) Admiral Graf von Spee who is the subject of my film script – an Admiral in the First World war. (photo property of Stuart White)

 

Uruguay; the Falkland Islands; round Cape Horn,

 

Cape Horn

Cape Horn (island) where one goes ’round the Cape’…the very tip of South America. (photo property of Stuart White)

up the Magellan Strait…then the Chilean fjords

Chilean fjords

Chilean Fjords – photo property of Stuart White

ending at the large port of Valparaiso and the country’s capital, Santiago.

 

South American Street Scenes

photo property of Stuart White

photo property of Stuart White

It started like this: I was commissioned to write a script called Death at Sea for a Hollywood production company, and duly did. The project is in development right now.

So far the script has had rave reviews. But….I know there’ll be re-writes, there always are. And something nagged at me. I am never comfortable setting one of my books or scripts in a location I’ve never visited.

I’m lucky in that respect as during my career, especially as a journalist and foreign correspondent, I’ve visited more than eighty- five countries, lived in three, including the United States for a total of more than eleven years. (And I’ve visited forty-four of America’s states, too).

I’d even been to four countries in South America. But…I was writing about Montevideo and I’d never been; about the Falkland Islands and…I’d never been. Valparaiso, Chile. Ditto.

So when I happened upon a ship that was visiting all those places on a 15 night voyage I knew I had to take that trip, so that when I eventually come to do the re-write I’ll be better informed.

“How so,” I hear you cry? “Come on Stuart, get with the times dude. With Google anyone can find anything about anywhere; statistics, history, maps, satellite photographs.  It’s child’s play. No need to leave your desk.”

Well yes, but in my view also – no.  Statistics and dry facts don’t tell you everything. You can’t hear them or see them – not really – and you can’t smell and feel them.

Statistics and dry facts don’t tell you everything.

I’ve read novels and scripts set in places such as Paris, New York, London and I just know the writer has never set foot there. They don’t have the sense of it, the smell of it, and the feel of it.

Absolutely nothing gives you the true sense of a place like going there…then it becomes real, and your book or script leaps from the possibly banal and clichéd (and frequently inaccurate) to one with verite.

I wanted to go to the Falklands because our script centers around two battles. In December 1914 a British fleet sank four German warships and drowned 1,800 German sailors about 40 miles off its coastline.  Six weeks earlier a German fleet had sunk two British ships and killed 1,500 men off Coronel in Chile.

I wanted to see exactly where those men died, witness the cruel sea as they did.  

I needed to feel the juddering, pitching of a ship beneath me as it battled high seas and howling gales, and try to imagine the terror of being sunk there!

And later in my voyage I had the thrilling – if eerie – opportunity of knowing the exact moment I was sailing over the precise locations where the battles had taken place; and where fathoms below me, the wrecked ships and the hundred year old remains of those brave men lay.

To me that is research. It sends a shiver down my spine now as it did at the exact moment I passed over the locations, to think that what I had written about had one day been cruel reality for these men.

When I come to the inevitable re-write, that will inform and inspire my work as nothing else can.

Next time: Precisely what I did in the Falklands and later locations in terms of actual research; and what the producers had me do also to help with the project.

And how if you can’t afford the time or expense of visiting a location, the best way of putting spice, and smell and feel and atmosphere into your research.

 

Don’t Get it Right, Get it Written! – Be Observant

GUEST POST:

Welcome back to, Don’t Get it Right, Get it Written! By Stuart White

Stuart White

Stuart White

 More on Stuart HERE

Stuart continues his tips on how to decide…Where do I get story ideas for my novel?

CONTINUED FROM,GET STORY IDEAS FROM HISTORY

Best-selling author Ken Follett wrote a thriller called The Key to Rebecca, about a WW2 German spy who came into Cairo from the desert on a camel, befriended a belly-dancer who then seduced a British officer on a Nile houseboat to get his secret code-books. The German spy used as his code cipher passages from the Daphne du Maurier book, Rebecca. I read Follett’s book and thought it was brilliant but totally utterly implausible. Spies coming in from the desert? Belly dancers? Nile houseboats and Daphne du Maurier novels? Still, great tale.

 Then I read Bodyguard of Lies and found that the whole thing was true from camels to belly dancers to Rebecca. Truth, again, was stranger than fiction.

DON’T FORGET NEWSPAPERS AS AN INSPIRATION FOR BOOK IDEAS

One day I was reading one of those newspaper columns that are full of esoteric information about obscure subjects. Someone had asked if there’d ever been a black airman in World War One. I’m a bit of a world wars aficionado and my belief was – no there wasn’t. I was wrong. Someone wrote in and said, “Yes, his name was Eugene Jacques Bullard from Georgia and he flew for the French Lafayette Escadrille in World War One. He eventually became a night club owner and millionaire in Paris.”

 Excited – I did research. It was true. So with the encouragement of a Hollywood producer who had already optioned one of my screenplays, I wrote a script called Black Jacques about the man who became the world’s first black fighter pilot, a good twenty-five years before the Tuskegee airmen.

 That script was optioned and at one point I sat down with Richard Attenborough, director of Gandhi, who wanted to direct my script!

One novel, one script; two ideas, just from READING!!!

 SEE WHAT I’M SAYING HERE?

There is an endless, and I mean endless source of story ideas out there. All you have to do is look, listen, read, observe. Carry a small pad with you and write down ideas.

Come back Monday next week and Stuart will continue his series on how to get inspired by history. SIGN UP for the blog newsletter so you don’g miss a single post!

Purchase one of Stuart’s MANY works here…a FREE sample is available when you click through the link to Amazon.

Don’t Get it Right, Get it Written! – Get Story Ideas from History

GUEST POST:

Welcome back to, Don’t Get it Right, Get it Written! By Stuart White

Stuart White

Stuart White

 More on Stuart HERE

Stuart continues his tips on how to decide…Where do I get story ideas for my novel?

CONTINUED FROM: HERE – HOW TO GET AN IDEA FOR YOUR NOVEL.

And aside from asking yourself ‘what if?’ to generate story ideas – there’s history. History is littered with amazing vignettes that can yield incredible potential novels.

An example from my own writing career

I once read a non-fiction book called Bodyguard of Lies by Anthony Cave Brown. In it I read that in 1940 the British authorities had been seriously concerned about a Nazi plot to kidnap Princesses Elizabeth (later to be Queen of England) and her sister Margaret, as an engine of blackmail.

In the same book I read an intriguing story about two German agents who had died mysteriously, one in England, one in New York. It was thought the latter had been killed by British agents.

The two things began to spark off each other like those electrical machines in a mad scientist’s 19th century lab. A royal kidnap; two mysteriously dead Germans. To pursue the mad scientist analogy I put the ideas in a beaker, stirred them, added a pinch of cogitation, a soupcon of imagination, stirred vigorously, let bake at Gas Mark 7, and eventually came up with a novel idea.

Operation Raven.

One spy comes to kidnap the Princesses. The other – with Hitler’s permission – was helping track the man, who had – I ventured – killed the second agent’s sister. And I wrote it and my agent sold it in America, Britain, Japan, Turkey and also got it serialised in what was then a Yugoslavian newspaper. It’s now an optioned film script called, ‘To Kill a Queen.’

 And to show what a treasure trove of novels that non-fiction tome Bodyguard of Lives was – well, listen to this.

 Best-selling author Ken Follett wrote a thriller called The Key to Rebecca, about a WW2 German spy who came into Cairo from the desert on a camel, befriended a belly-dancer who then seduced a British officer on a Nile houseboat to get his secret code-books.

Come back Monday next week and Stuart will continue his series on how to get inspired by history. SIGN UP for the blog newsletter so you don’g miss a single post!

Purchase one of Stuart’s MANY works here…a FREE sample is available when you click through the link to Amazon.

 

Don’t Get it Right, Get it Written! – How to get an idea for your novel

GUEST POST:

Welcome back to, Don’t Get it Right, Get it Written! By Stuart White

Stuart White

Stuart White

 More on Stuart HERE

Stuart continues his tips on how to decide…Where do I get story ideas for my novel?

CONTINUED FROM,WHAT IS YOUR NOVEL ABOUT?

YOU’RE NOW SAYING YOU DON’T HAVE A GIRAFFE-LIKE CREATURES TYPE IDEA, BUT YOU’D STILL LIKE TO WRITE A NOVEL. SO WHERE CAN YOU GET A GOOD IDEA FROM?

You can get your ideas by remembering this principle:

Learn and inwardly digest.

Most stories of any kind can be novels.  Movies or TV series start with the thought: WHAT IF?

Here are 5 famous “What if?” examples: 

* What if there were a lonely English kid who ends up in an incredible school of magic?

Answer: Harry Potter.

* What if an alien somehow got stranded on earth and was befriended by a young boy?

Answer: E.T.

* What if there was a rootless, disaffected ex-Military Police officer who went around America somehow righting wrongs?

Answer: The Jack Reacher novels.

* What if a disaffected spy and renegade Admiral decided to give himself up to the FBI and help a new young profiler solve mysterious crimes?

Answer: The Blacklist.

* What if a demented sea captain was obsessed with capturing a great white whale that had taken off his leg?

Answer: Moby Dick.

GET THE PICTURE?

And aside from ‘what if?’ – there’s history. History is littered with amazing vignettes that can yield incredible potential novels.

Come back Monday next week and Stuart will show you how to get inspired and dig up story gems from history. SIGN UP for the blog newsletter so you don’g miss a single post!

Purchase one of Stuart’s MANY works here…a FREE sample is available when you click through the link to Amazon.

 

Don’t Get it Right, Get it Written! – Is your book interesting?

 GUEST POST:

Welcome back to, Don’t Get it Right, Get it Written! By Stuart White

Stuart White

Stuart White

 More on Stuart HERE

Stuart continues his tips on how to decide…What is your novel about?

MORE TIPS: WHAT IS YOUR NOVEL ABOUT?

 

So let me ask you. What’s your novel going to be about?

 

There are often two generic sorts of answers to this question, and one of them in my experience is the WRONG way to go.

 

Here’s Answer 1:

 

“Well, I’m doing this science-fiction romance novel about a race of giraffe-like creatures that accidentally land on earth, meet a tribe of hermaphroditic monkeys, and together they colonise earth and breed a race of loving creatures and……”

 

Good! Yes indeed. Why not? Interesting idea. It’s a story, it’s different. I don’t recall seeing that before. Yup – go ahead and write it.

 

Answer 2:

 

“Well, you see it’s kind of my life story. It’s about me and my friends, and how we meet and talk, and it’s also about that bitch Charlotte who is supposed to be my friend but she is like SO not my friend, and about when I went to Summer camp and got poison ivy, and……………”

 

NO! In the name of all that’s holy stop right now. NO! Don’t do it. Come back from the cliff edge before you commit writing suicide.

 

YOU ARE NOT THAT INTERESTING

 

Sorry but it’s true. And by you I mean me, him, her, them – a good 99.9% of the population).

 

Your life story? If you’ve spent five years in the French Foreign Legion fighting the  Taliban in Afghanistan, left only to have been kidnapped by white slavers, then escaped to become a trapeze artist with the circus, go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, walk from Toronto to Tierra-del-Fuego, then marry the heir to a Nepalese fortune and set up home in an Everest base camp, now THAT is a life story!

 

For rest of us, well, our lives tend to be same old, same old, and who wants to read the same old stuff? When we read we want to be taken out of ourselves. We want to soar on emotional highs, be moved, and changed if possible. We want to – almost literally – be taken somewhere else, and that means to forget for a while our rather dull earthbound lives.

 

(And remember, this is a novel isn’t it? A novel is fiction; your life story is reality. And if you want to do an auto-biography the same rules apply. Is your life interesting enough? In all truth, probably not. Sorry.)

 

And – I just noticed something from two paragraphs back. ‘Almost literally?’ Beware of ‘literally’. Literally means you actually did something. If you say, “I literally exploded with rage,” it means that your body came apart as though a bomb hit it. “I literally went insane.” No you didn’t or you’d be in a psychiatric facility now. Don’t use literally unless you really mean it. So we don’t want to be almost literally taken somewhere else (rap on knuckles for me) we want to be figuratively taken somewhere else.

 

TO BE CONTINUED…..COME BACK NEXT MONDAY FOR MORE GREAT WRITING TIPS from Guest Author, Stuart White.

Don’t Get it Right, Get it Written!

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Don’t Get it Right, Get it Written! – Be Encouraged

 

 Welcome back to, Don’t Get it Right, Get it Written! By Stuart White

Stuart White

Stuart White

 More on Stuart HERE

Stuart continues his tips on how to….Be Encouraged

 

YOU CAN TELL A BOOK BY ITS COVER

 

  • REVIEW YOUR PROGRESS

Another tip is to remind yourself what you’re writing or what you’ve written. When I get blocked, and thank God that’s rare, I look at my published novels and go, “You wrote these didn’t you? You’re allegedly a writer? Well come on, shape up you wimp.” Luckily I live alone so I can talk to myself aloud without having men in white coats burst in and drag me away.

  • MAKE A COVER FOR YOUR NOVEL

Mock up a cover for your novel. When you’re published you can put your book cover there to encourage you to write number two. But for now mock one up. Seriously. It’s easy today with computers. Get a stock picture, mock up a cover and print it out. For our example, let’s say the title “The Philly Girl by Victoria Mascherino” over a livid sunset shot of the Hollywood sign.

Then prop that that mock cover up next to your computer. And imagine. Imagine that feeling of what it would be like to see that cover with your name on it in a bookstore. It’ll pep you up.

 

              DON’T TURN INTO A MASOCHIST

  • YOU’RE NOT SUPER-WRITER

Don’t beat yourself up too much. You’re not a reporter obliged to churn out words you either don’t feel inclined to, or haven’t got the stamina for. And you’re – not yet – a professional writer; it’s not the end of the world if you miss a day or even a week. The self-loathing only increases the block – as I know from experience. So one day if you genuinely utterly don’t feel like writing – don’t.

  • TAKE A BREAK

 

You won’t die from it and neither will the book. Maybe make some notes or even think. Thinking is under-rated. Lie on the couch, close your eyes, think of the novel, and imagine it…let scenes gestate in your mind. When you open your eyes again if you think any of that is useful, make a note of it. Then when you go back to the screen or notepad, you might possibly feel refreshed AND have some new ideas.

  • START YOUR BOOK

But above all – start. Chinese philosopher Lao Tse said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” It’s true. Take that first step. Then more steps. And the more steps you take the nearer you will be to your destination, which is the finished novel.

 

WHY I STARTED WRITING…AND HOW I KEPT AT IT

My motivation to write a novel came when I was a reporter at twenty-five. All the usual boozy journalists in the bars and pubs around the newspaper offices in Fleet Street where I worked, all boasted about the day they’d write their ‘award-winning’ novel. They always said award-winning, for some reason. The truth was they preferred to drink than to write (after all, they were writing all day).

But I wondered if I could actually write a novel – any novel. Could I actually sit down and hammer out seventy or seventy-five thousand words? So I started, on my old massive Remington typewriter. It was a crime novel set in London where it turns out the reporter is psychotic and actually reporting on his own crimes. (And in case you’re wondering, no I wasn’t actually murdering people – it was fiction remember?)

The important thing is I typed out 75,000 words. In short I ACTUALLY WROTE A NOVEL… I proved to myself I could go the distance. I sent it to a literary agent who said I had “promise,” but he didn’t want to represent me. The novel was never published, but three years later I had written two more novels and the second of those got me an agent and it WAS published.

The breakthrough for me was DOING it. I don’t know what impetus you need, but find one. Somehow set off that trigger that says, “If not now – when?” And another thing, if you decide, truly, that you can’t do it, or don’t truly wish to do it, then don’t. Don’t be ashamed. There are plenty more other useful things you can be doing with your time. Writers are not gods, so if you do genuinely feel you aren’t up to it, admit it to yourself. But not without seriously trying it first.

 

         THEN WORK – AND BELIEVE

  

You are going to give it a try. OK. Now park your ass on a seat and do it. You can if you try. And good or bad when you’ve done it you’ll know at least you can write a novel. And after that you’ll do more and better.

And when you see that book on the bookstore shelves, when you hold that first mint copy in your hands it will be a dream come true.

 

                   THE SMALL PRINT

 

Just a note here: I’ve tried to use American spelling throughout, but although I’ve been going to America since 1971, have visited 42 of the states, and have lived for over ten years in Los Angeles, I am English and now spend my time between homes in London and France.

So if I’ve lapsed into English spelling or idiom, I’m sorry and I hope it doesn’t’ distract from what I’ve written.

I hope some of my advice, tips and shared experiences help you. Good luck.

 

                     STUART WHITE’S PUBLICATIONS

 

Stuart White is the author of the novels Death Game; Operation Raven; The Shamrock Boy; Kiss of the Angel; Til the Fat Lady Sings and The Valhalla Secret. His non-fiction books include, “Zeebrugge a Hero’s Story,” with Stephen Homewood, and “You Can Run But You Can’t Hide,” with Cynthia Lewis Foreman.

He also co-authored the novels, “The Lady and the Champ,” and “Rags to Riches,” with the late Pat Booth.

 

His Pocket Novels published in America include, “A GI called Joe.” And “The Visitor.” He has a 70,000 word long  compendium of short stories entitled, “We’ll Always Have Paris,” for sale on Amazon Kindle.

 

His optioned screenplays include, To the Very Gates; To Kill a King; Black Jacques and Crossmaglen. He has also written on commission, “Death at Sea,” and “Art of the Warrior.” He is currently writing the supernatural cop TV series, Pendragon.

 

TO BE CONTINUED…..COME BACK FOR MORE and read previous posts of Don’t Get it Right, Get it Written!

Purchase one of Stuart’s MANY works here…a FREE sample is available when you click through the link to Amazon.

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Don’t Get it Right, Get it Written! – The Importance of Revision

 Welcome back to, Don’t Get it Right, Get it Written! By Stuart White

Stuart White

Stuart White

 More on Stuart HERE

Stuart continues his tips on how to….Revise Your Work!

                    OTHER IMPORTANT STUFF

 

It shouldn’t need to be said, but given what I’ve seen over the years while teaching writing, it does need to be said. Maybe not to YOU, or YOU…but hey, you over there tapping in your iPhone, YOU need to pay attention.

Each time you finish writing for the day – CHECK YOUR WORK. I can’t emphasize that enough. Check it, check it again, and then check it as much as you have time and patience to do the next day. We all make mistakes, me, you, even Tolstoy and Victor Hugo did. We’re all human. So check your words and if you can, have someone else check them too.

                       ENGLISH, USE OF

 

And make sure it’s grammatically correct. When a publisher sees a sentence that says, “your the one for me..” instead of “you’re the one for me..” Or..”I could of sworn I left that watch there,” instead of “I could’ve sworn…” then you will lose a great deal of credibility as a writer.

When earlier I typed the heading, YOUR NOVEL into this post, a green line came up under it on my computer. When I checked, it suggested I write, “You’re novel.” Well maybe you ARE novel (as in new and different) but that isn’t what I intended to write. So don’t always trust computer loaded checks.

Now you may think writing is simply about the creativity, the work, the idea and your God-given talent. Up to a point, Lord Copper, to quote a line from Evelyn  Waugh’s, Scoop. Which means, basically, no, you’re wrong, but I’m trying to be polite.

Publishers from my experience tend to think – and I agree – that if you’re using the English language you should be using it correctly.

It might be a work of staggering genius, but if it’s littered with spelling mistakes and bad grammar the genius might go unnoticed. Don’t risk that.

 OK, there are exceptions. If you write another Harry Potter, a publisher won’t care if you can only write Swahili or text language. But Harry Potter books, ideas that hit a vein, don’t come along every day. Make your work shine for its literacy as well as its readability.

Watch dangling modifiers. This is where a sentence contains two subjects and confuses them. For example: “You know Rita, my dog Betsy has been SO ill….and to make matters worse my Mom is in the hospital having an operation. She’s so sick we may have to have her euthanized.” As that sentence reads, it is the mother about to be put to sleep. Check for those because we ALL do them.

                NOW, GET IT WRITTEN

 All you’ve got to do now is write the damn thing! Here’s where I effectively bow out because I can’t actually tell you how to write it, that is now down to your talent, ability, application and desire to do it. But I can suggest ways to avoid NOT writing it, the dreaded writers’ block. The headline on this posting regurgitates an old newspaper and Hollywood saying: “Don’t get it right, get it written.”

 In newspapers it means you write the number of words you’re told to write and deliver them when they’re needed – usually NOW or sooner than that. As a journalist you can’t say, “I’m not in the mood. I’m blocked. I just can’t seem to write.”

You’re being paid, and usually quite handsomely in your later career, because you can write to order and whenever you’re required to do so. Fail to do that and you’ll be joining the unemployment line.

Additionally, you write to length. So an editor will say, “Give me two hundred words on that freeway crash.” And that’s what you write, two hundred words, give or take five either side. Somehow you learn to write to the length required. But then the Editor might say, “Hey, we’re short of space. I need you to cut that to 100 words.” So, you do. Or, “Hey, we’ve got some good pictures on that crash; give it another two hundred words.” That’s good training.

 TRY TO GET A ROUTINE

 But you’re not journalists, you want to write a book. The reason I’m citing the ‘get it written’ aphorism is because wherever possible you’ve got to train yourself to write on demand. That is, your own demand. When your heart says you’ve got to write, your head and body must follow. But unfortunately the old Nike motto of JUST DO IT seems to not just do it for many writers. But there’s a middle course, and here are some hints.

Try to have a schedule. For example, before dinner (or after) you sit down and write for an hour, or even just half an hour. You get a habit. It’s what you do. Your mind will become accustomed to it. Try that. And if you feel you just can’t write, sit down, look at the screen and say to yourself, “Writer’s write, if I want to be a writer then I must write.”

Then, write something. Anything. I mean it. Write ‘the cat sat on the mat’….’Little Bo Beep has lost her sheet’…just so that some words start to appear on that blank screen or paper. Then just think of anything to do with your novel…a scene, a snatch of dialogue, anything. Nothing is EVER wasted when you write, you can always go back and cannibalize it, strip it like an old engine and take the best bits.

 

TO BE CONTINUED…..COME BACK FOR MORE GREAT WRITING TIPS. Don’t Get it Right, Get it Written!

Purchase one of Stuart’s MANY works here…a FREE sample is available when you click through the link to Amazon.

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Don’t Get it Right, Get it Written! – Wrapping Up Your Novel

 Welcome back to, Don’t Get it Right, Get it Written! By Stuart White

Stuart White

Stuart White

 More on Stuart HERE

Stuart continues his tips on how to….Wrap up your novel. 

  ROUNDING IT OFF

 

So you come to Chapter Twenty. The end. Here’s another tip for your novel. We’ve seen full-of-hope-and-innocence get to Hollywood and tracked her delusion. We opened on her being semi-drunk with her lover, bemoaning her lost soul. But that’s not enough; we’ve all heard and read enough real-life stories like that. Why leave your novel on a sour note? Hope springs eternal and everyone – publishers especially – love a happy ending.

 

Why not have some spiritual Damascene moment for Gretchen? Maybe her childhood sweetheart turns up, now divorced, successful businessman; sick of his own shallow life. Maybe she secretly wants to open a pet sanctuary with all her ill-gotten loot. (Remember Doris Day?) Above all seeing something, maybe a pet she rescues from an alley, or the old boyfriend, or the view of a lake – something – finally convinces her she wants out.

 

She goes to the studio does her last take. Movie mogul offers her a $15 million role, she tears up his offer. Then gets into ex-boyfriend’s car, and they drive past the Hollywood sign heading East (I know that’s not geographically correct but you get my drift). She leaves the smog ridden den of iniquity called Hollywood and we see her ascend into the snow-topped alpine air of the San Gabriel mountains. Geographic contrast here paralleling moral conduct. From smog to snow, from traffic choked streets to fresh cold upland air. You’re making a moral point with a visual allusion. -And your story has taken her from belief to disillusionment back to belief and hope again.

                  HEY, HOLD ON A SECOND!

 

 And at this point you’re going, “Back the truck up here buddy, that’s not my damned story. Why is he droning on about Hollywood and smog and snow-capped mountains?” I’ll tell you why. No, it’s not your story. What I’m trying to show is what you could do with YOUR story. I’m giving suggestions – that’s all they are – on how possibly to use suspense and visual metaphors in your writing.

I’m giving you guideposts as to how to construct YOUR story. Surprise, confound, turn things on their heads when you can, but above all write a good, gripping, interesting and coherent story. Use the above as a kind of sketch of what you COULD do with your story. How to start it, write it and end it.

 

                   LET’S RECAP

 

To recapitulate:

 

* Be sure you know what your story is about.

* Be sure to understand your characters, what moves them and motivates them and physically and psychologically how they look and act.

* Plan out your story. (And don’t be afraid to rejiggle the order if you think, en route, it works better).

* Make sure your chapters – if you are able to – end on a note that leads us wanting desperately to know what happens next.

 

TO BE CONTINUED…..COME BACK TOMORROW FOR MORE GREAT WRITING TIPS. Don’t Get it Right, Get it Written!

Purchase one of Stuart’s MANY works here…a FREE sample is available when you click through the link to Amazon.

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Stuart White commentary on Jason Seare Series by Scout Semmes – Post #1

Welcome back guest author, Stuart White!

Stuart White

Stuart White

In this post he’s commenting on the chapter one, book one of the Jason Seare series, From Where I Lived by Scout Semmes.

J.Semmes Author avatar

Stuart, thanks so much for taking the time to comment and make suggestions!

Reader: Spoiler alert!!! If you haven’t read the chapter first, you might want to HERE.

 

Guest Post by Stuart White:

My first, instant and perhaps most important response when I read this was – I WANT TO KNOW MORE!

 Now that’s good, obviously. My curiosity has been aroused, my interest tickled. Who is Jason? Why has he been shot? And by whom? How did the earth get in this state? Who is this Rachel he’s desperately – if hopelessly – trying to meet. And when is this scenario set? How far in the future?

 And Laina the girl on watch? Who is she? Who are the werewolves? Where have they sprung from in this apocalyptic world? Is she (they) baddie or goodie. How is she connected, or will she be connected with Jason?

 And that’s a cute opening line, “Jason hadn’t seen the sunlight in two years.” Wow, that means something bad, and we soon learn what it is, that the sun is blacked out from a volcanic eruption and there are no alternative energy supplies because the green lobby made them redundant when they found the Mesh. I rather liked the idea of the Mesh too, a good idea and somehow very vivid and believable.

So hopefully you grabbed the reader – it grabbed this one. And, if I could, I’d go even farther. I’d re-write, or re-tweak the opening to make it even MORE dramatic. When he’s staggering along, perhaps add more graphic description, more adjectives. Make us see that stumbling, sun-starved bleeding figure in all his romantic misery.

And that song he’s singing, is that…the one from West Side Story?  “On the street where you live?” If so I like its incongruity, that a modern kid in an apocalyptic future, shot and wounded – and he’s singing a Broadway show tune.

I felt some things needed a little more clarification though. Is Laina a werewolf? I got the impression she was – or if not, was a human who got on with the werewolves. You talked about the ‘elders’ letting her play with them, and then the elders making a decision on location, like the American South rather than the Northern wastes or Canada.

I wasn’t quite sure if the elders themselves were werewolves. Now it may be that the confusion is deliberate, if not it just needs to be rejigged a little, to make it clear if Laina is human or werewolf.

 You say it had been a long time since she’d seen another “human, alive at least.”

OK, that could mean she was human too, or that she was a werewolf who simply hadn’t laid eyes on a live human for a while. And if so would she then bite them, as werewolves do?

 If you’re not saying that, and I’d understand why, it has to be phrased slightly differently to allow us to get a glimpse of WHY?

 But you leave both passages on a cliff-hanger note and that’s good.

 

         GIVE US A BIT MORE

 

I’d be tempted if it were me to write a little bit more for both segments. Bit more color, bit more description of this bleak awful world. But I’d add this. Any writer will look at someone else’s work and see it a different way, want to add or subtract or change.

 I think this generally speaking is a damn good opening that grabs the reader by the cojones and hopes his heart and mind will follow.

You’ve set the scene and told us concisely in a very short time that we’ve got a new apocalyptic world with no sunlight – and the world has – presumably tribes – of werewolves.

 You’ve also introduced what I presume are your two main characters (for now). One seems about to expire, the other is about to encounter – something?

That alone shows great skill. The reader knows what kind of world they’re in now. A bleak world, with a possibly dying man (I’ve no doubt he’ll be saved) and an odd feral girl if not a werewolf herself, certainly on friendly terms with werewolves.

 And you’ve done that in about – I’d estimate – six hundred words.

 Not bad. Good start!!

 

CHAPTER ONE, BOOK ONE, JASON SEARE SERIES BY SCOUT SEMMES 5-26-15:

CHAPTER ONE –

Jason hadn’t seen sunlight in two years. Now, he stumbled through the darkness, his bare feet catching on rubble. What was left of an Oaktown neighborhood surrounded him, shadowed by darkness and clouds of ash. Pools of dirty gray water were frozen solid and he skidded, barefoot, on them as he continued down the row of burned out shells and skeletons of structures.

Nothing remained now but the ruin that followed the clouding of the sun and subsequent collapse of civilization as it was. A civilization built upon an energy source they thought to be limitless but disappeared when the eruptions started and the volcano ash coated the air and filled the atmosphere. No sunlight could get through an atmosphere sealed tight with volcanic ash. All drilling stopped decades ago. Oil and gas had gone the way of whale oil. Drilling had been considered just as barbaric. They had been so enlightened, setting up the Mesh. The mesh had been invisible to the naked eye, but covered the entire world in a blanket of netting that gathered energy from the sun. But their enlightenment couldn’t stop the eruptions of volcanic ash.

Jason dragged himself along. Shivering and stumbling through the dark. Naked and bleeding. In a low voice, choked by ash, he sang to himself.

“On the street where you live…” He choked out what he remembered of the song. He used to have a good voice, or at least Rachel thought he did. But she had always thought the best of him. She was the only one he would ever sing to. Before he met her, then after she was gone, he would only sing when he was absolutely alone.

On the street where you live…

The song drifted in his memory. A frolic from a bygone era of top hats and musicals.  He recalled nothing but that one line of song and hiss failing consciousness repeated it in an endless loop as he limped toward his final destination, naked to the waist and shoeless. The darkness followed him, like a vulture waiting for the inevitable. He walked, oblivious of the sharp rubble he stepped over. And with each step, blood gushed from a gaping gunshot wound in his side.

Swaying as he stood, he paused and spoke, his voice cracking. He smiled at an imagined conversation and his lip split. Blood poured down his chin as he smiled and nodded. He mumbled incoherently as he held a conversation with the memory of someone who was more than likely long dead.

“Thanks for asking. Rachel’s waiting for me. Gotta go. ”

Jacon continued on, mumbling to himself, “Just going home to meet her now…just have to get there…”

His breath was coming faster as he struggled against time and blood loss. The freezing temperature and his wound dragged at him, threatening to pull him down. But he pushed on, down to the end of the neighborhood. He tried to call out, but his voice failed and he whispered,

“Almost there Rachel. Wait for me…”

***

The fog had settled low in the forest. Laina hardly should have called it a forest, for that was long gone. But old habits die hard.

High in her perch on the mushroom cap, surrounded by a jungle of assorted mushroom-like plants, she recalled what the forest had been like when she was only a girl, living with the werewolf pack, kept away from the outside world.

She had been allowed to go with the other children into the woods to play and to run, to have some other place to frolic besides inside the compound where the elders frowned on anything less than diligent work even from children. But here, in the woods, she recalled the feeling of freedom.

She sighed and took a quick sip  from her water canteen. It was warm, almost too warm, with the radiated heat from her body. She wondered why the Werewolf pack would have settled so far south in the United States, in the Southern heat, when their body heat was several degrees above the average human’s. They could easily have settled in the colder states or even crossed the border to Canada and lived in the wild. But who was she to question the wisdom of the elders…a smile quirked at her lip.

She had volunteered to be a “watcher.” To be in the mushrooms that had replaced the forest when the trees had died from lack of sun and long since been carted off. she recalled seeing the trucks from the human town from her camp, pulling down and carting off the trees to be burned. A last effort to supply heat and energy to the nearby town after everything else had been used up.

It had been a long time since she had last seen a human. Alive at least.

Suddenly, her senses tingled in the stillness. She breathed low and deep. Concentrating. Searching the ground below. Something was coming.

 

Don’t Get it Right, Get it Written! – Keep Your Readers’ Attention

 Welcome back to, Don’t Get it Right, Get it Written! By Stuart White

Stuart White

Stuart White

 More on Stuart HERE

Stuart continues his tips on how to….KEEP YOUR READERS’ ATTENTION

 

SORRY, BACK TO CHAPTERS

 

Chapter Two: We start the journey. Molly is a wretched kid. Her mother is unloving, her father a brute, but she loves school. It’s her sanctuary. One day Gretchen is asked to take part in a school play. To her delight she does it and gets applause. She gets hooked on applause. Gretchen’s just a child but now she has stars in her eyes.

Then….no I’m not going on, this is for YOU to do. As in, Chapter Three, another development, Four; another…and so on…by halfway through she’s arrived in Hollywood a young starlet.

Each chapter is taking you through another phase of the story.

 

                 ENDING AND STARTING CHAPTERS

 

Here’s a professional tip. Much like with scenes in movies, let each one propel the story forward, add to your knowledge of the story and take you on.

 And try to leave each chapter on a precipice moment. There’s nothing worse than reading a chapter that does NOT make you immediately want to read the next one. So for example, instead of, “And with that Gretchen popped another pill, and drifted off to sleep. She had a four am wake-up call for the studio.” Really? So what? She’s gone to sleep has she, yeh, yawn, I’m nodding off too, I think I’ll put the book down.

 

The Precipice Moment

 

So how about, “Gretchen drifted off to sleep in her usual moral despair. She had a four am wake-up call for the studio. But after the amount of sleeping pills she’d taken she wasn’t entirely sure she’d be alive to hear the alarm. More poignantly, as the abyss of the narcotic-induced sleep swallowed her, she prayed with all her heart that she WOULD never wake.”

Get it? Wow….she might have overdosed. This woman has everything and doesn’t even wasn’t to wake up!!!!

Now your reader isn’t drowsy at all. Your reader damn well wants to know if Gretchen will die or not.

So another tip: don’t tell them – yet. Definitely don’t start the next chapter with, “In fact Gretchen woke up quite easily when the alarm went and felt quite cheerful.” Whoa…lack of suspense.

 Better to open somewhere else. A sound stage at MegaBucksMovie Studios. “Director Harold Menton was incandescent. His star was late again. Three minutes from shooting and she was nowhere. He screamed at his assistant, “Where the f*** is this cut-price Marilyn Monroe? She’s late again?” His assistant quavered, “I don’t know Mr. Menton. We called her at the usual time but she didn’t answer. The hotel staff can’t seem to get in the room.”

 

Keep Your Readers’ Attention

 

So the reader is going, “Oh no she DID it! She overdosed. She’s dead, oh no…” Seconds later Gretchen comes sweeping in majestically looking a million dollars, kisses Harold, and says, “Dahling! Sorry I’m late, the traffic on Sunset is murderous and the studio driver is a moron.” Phew. Get the picture? Pick the reader up and hold them; tease them, tantalise, torture them with suspense if you can. Then surprise them.

 

TO BE CONTINUED…..COME BACK TOMORROW FOR MORE GREAT WRITING TIPS. Don’t Get it Right, Get it Written!

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