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The Passage of Time and Little Details by L.V. Gaudet

Just as in life, little things in your story would change with the passage of time.  It’s not a necessity, of course, but those little changes can bring a sub-layer of change to the reader’s unconscious mind.  And if they do pick up on it, it’s a nice touch in adding depth to the story.

 

They said goodbye in the spring.  She ran her fingers through his hair that was cut short just the week before, the hair tips following the curve of the top of the ears they were just shy of touching.  If it were any shorter, it would be called a brush cut.

She frowned inwardly at that.  She had always disliked brush cuts.  They reminded her of the father she had lost the day he enlisted in the army when she was only six.  He died years later, coming back for brief moments between tours of duty.  But something had changed in him.  When he came home for good, he never came home all the way.  Something of him was left behind in the war-ravaged wasteland that was left behind when so-called peace came and sent the soldiers home.  He killed himself ten years ago on her twentieth birthday.

 Now, years later, as she said goodbye to her own six-year-old son in the spring, it felt like a piece of her had been torn out.  She had watched him walk away, holding his father’s hand, her estranged husband, with his freshly cut short hair, she swore she would never let her son join the army like her father had.

 Her husband had joined the army too.  That’s why she left him.  She could not bear to live that again, to have her son live it like she did growing up.

 Summer is over now and fall is coming.  Her son’s summer with his father is over and school starts in a few days.

 She turned at the unmistakable racket of the approaching train, watching anxiously down the tracks.  Butterflies flitted in her stomach.  She told herself it was at seeing her son, but the reality is was over seeing them both.

 The train pulled into the station and she waited the interminable wait of one waiting for their loved ones to arrive in the designated arrival area.

 She held her breath and forced herself not to run to him, to tear him away from his father’s hand and squeeze him tight.

 There he was.  It felt like her heart would leap right out her throat.  Her throat constricted and her eyes burned.  Where is he?  Her son was alone.  How could he send him alone?  He’s only six!  But then her son turned, and he came through the crowd.  Her heart leapt and sank at once.  He was dressed in uniform.

 Her son ran to her, face cracked into the biggest smile she had seen since she said goodbye to him in the spring.  She got down on one knee, opening her arms to him, and he ran to her, throwing himself into her embrace and wrapping his arms tightly around her neck.  She ran her fingers through his hair, the tips of his hair reaching just past the top of his ears.

 “Mommy,” he sighed into her shoulder, “your nails got longer.”

 She looked up at a sense of a presence close by.  Her estranged husband stood over her looking down.

 “You look thinner,” he said. From his expression, she wasn’t sure if it was an attempt at a compliment or sarcasm.  He was still bitter at her for leaving.

 “You were supposed to bring him back last week,” she said, narrowing her eyes at him.

 

If you picked up on it, the above starts with a reference to the boy’s recent haircut and his hair being trimmed above the ears.  When he sees him again, the boy’s comment on her nails is a distraction to the reference to his hair now being just below the tops of his ears.  The ex-husband’s comment on her weight could go in any one of many directions.  It could be used as a reference to a longer space of time since she left him.  It could be a hint into his character, or her own wasting away at the end of her marriage.  It could even mean she’s become more healthy and fit since leaving him, at a healthier weight than before.

 

Even if the character doesn’t noticeably change, and neither does his or her immediate surroundings, some things can’t help but change with the years. Some things grow (plant life); other things inevitably deteriorate with age. Things become modernized as they have to be replaced. After all, that fridge in the kitchen will not last fifty years seemingly untouched by time.

 

images (4)It might be an old ice box from before the age of refrigerators, then be replaced with an early style fridge, eventually becoming more modernized as each one has to be replaced. (Just as an example, assuming the character even has one.)  Or it might be a fridge at a place the character frequents, even if that frequency is once every decade.

 

A change like that the character is certain to notice. Similarly, horses and wagons eventually become replaced by increasingly modernized cars.  Everything has a finite lifespan, whether it is a fruit fly or something that lasts for eons. A small sapling tree will grow and grow, becoming a massive tree and eventually dying.  A stone wall will weaken and crumble over time.  Look around you; everything is touched in some way by the passing of time.  Pick things that can be described well by you and easily be identified by the reader.

 

It is little details that make a story.  The odd little things that might catch one persons eye while no one else in the room even noticed.  Throw them in at the oddest of moments.  A moment so divine, that it is almost out of place – almost.

A moment of utter seriousness, where  picking out that one ridiculous detail only serves to bring home to the reader the gravity of just how serious it is.

That one out of place almost unnoticeable thing in a time of grief, to show how strangely the mind might work in a moment of stress and confusion masked by forced peace and quiet, to reinforce on the reader the many levels of the story and its characters.

 

Amidst the crowd of mourners packed into the room like cattle in a cattle car on the way to be rendered, Annie alone noticed the little loose thread sticking out mournfully from the fabric of the seat where Mrs. Peckham sat.  Annie stared at that thread, mesmerized, unable to look away.

 A stray thought teased at her mind.  With all these people staring at Mrs. Peckham, watching her sit there lost in her private world of grief, weeping for her child so tragically torn from her breast by the drunk driver, what does that thread mean?  Is the chair unraveling in sympathy to the shattered lives of all the mourners who’ve sat there day after day?

 She looked around, wondering if anyone else saw the thread and what thoughts it provoked in their minds.

 

No matter how farfetched and deep within the realm of the unbelievable a story may lay, it’s the little details that suggest it might just be possible.  It’s the ability to sell the story as a “what if”, the idea that just maybe this *could* be real if our world were shaped a little differently … that is what makes a good story.

 

L. V. where the bodies areGaudet is the author of Where the Bodies Are

What kind of dark secret pushes a man to commit the unimaginable, even as he is sickened by his own actions?

Watch for book 2 of the McAllister series coming soon at Second Wind Publishing, LLC:  The McAllister Farm.  The secret behind the bodies is revealed.

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Link to reviews of Where the Bodies Are on Angie’s Diary

https://angiesdiary.com/bookoftheweek-web/081-botwoct262014.html

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Finding the Truth of a Story by Pat Bertram

We are steeped in story. From birth to death, story forms our lives. Today, more stories are available to us in more media than ever before in history, including the stories we share with each other and ourselves. What is a daydream if not a story of the future we tell ourselves? And at night, while sleeping, our dreams tell us other stories. No wonder we have such a hard time finding a story that is not clichéd.

But original tales do exist. In fact, anyone can write a non-clichéd story if he or she does the work to find the truth of the story, but all too often writers with nothing to say look to books and movies for the truth and end up with rehashed forgeries. (This is nothing new. As Edward Gibbon wrote centuries ago, “Unprovided with original learning, unformed in the habits of thinking, unskilled in the arts of composition, I resolved to write a book.”)

Stories of pattern killers (serial killers by another name) became clichéd very quickly. How many times have we heard or read that same untrue bit about the killer being a white male between the ages of . . . Never mind. You probably know it better than I do. Because so many writers borrowed their truths from previous stories about pattern killers, the only thing new they had to add was the grisly murder pattern, each one more gruesome than the last. The way to tell a non-clichéd serial killer story is to find the truth. In a bizarre sort of way, a pattern killer story is romance between the killer and the hunter. Their relationship forms the story, not the murders. And, on a deeper level, a pattern killer story is the tale of the hunter finding the killer within himself. You may not agree with me about the truth of the pattern killer story, but that is my truth. It is up to you to find your own truth.

So how do we do we find the truth for our stories, not just pattern killer stories? By going small, by knowing everything possible about our characters, the streets they walk, the way they think, the places and people that make up their world. Some authors travel to get the feel of their settings, some take survival courses to find out what their characters would experience in wild, but not all of us have the time, money, or inclination to travel to distant places or to take physically taxing courses. Nor is it necessary. We can find the truth in our own neighborhoods. We can walk the streets and take note of everything we see. How do those streets differ from any other we have traversed? By being true to character and place, we find the small bits of action that tell the story’s truth. We are used to thinking of action scenes as car chases, fights, and other horrifying events, but an action scene can be as subtle as a look or a touch of a hand. That is where the truth lies, in the unexpected details.

A story, when set in a particular place with a particular character, will have a truth that no other story has. If we have the patience and skill to find the story’s truth — our truth — we can tell the tale without reducing it to cliché.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”

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A Few Words about “Setting” by Juliet Waldron

There are probably as many approaches to novel writing as there are writers. Some have a tendency to see things as a screenplay—action and dialogue. Others see characters and relationships first, and find that dialogue and action grow from that. Some plot carefully and make a comprehensive outline. Others just begin when a voice begins to speak irresistibly in their mind. Those novels grow organically.

Others begin with the world in which the characters will move. Science Fiction and fantasy writers often begin this way. Historical novelists may also become intrigued by a particular era, and this fascination leads to the creation of characters who will exist in a “period” world.

These writers probably have the easiest time with what I call “world building,” because setting/or period, or that “Other Land” plays a large part in the imaginary kick that got them writing in the first place.  There are plenty of examples of science fiction, fantasy and historical novels which find their inception in the particular author’s vision. (Think “Dune” or “Lord of the Rings.”)

In most writing courses you’ll find discussion of using the five senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. All need to be engaged—not all the time, of course, or nothing else would ever happen—but if your couple are seated side by side at a Regency dining table—even if they are thinking only of each other—either loving each other or hating, as the case may be—they will be surrounded by other people talking, servants coming and going, and a great deal of food. There will be ambiance a-plenty and input will be coming from all their combined senses.

In the last 40 years, people have become more than a little distracted from reality—not only by television, but by hand held games, cell phones, not to mention the artificial A/C world we inhabit during long, hot summers. As a result, we don’t really spend a lot of time paying much attention to where we actually are—and what signals are coming from our environment.

If you are walking down a street in a 3rd World Country—or on some far off planet, orLondon in Shakespeare’s day–there will be unfamiliar smells as well as unfamiliar sights. For instance, I went to school in the West Indies back in the 60’s, and rode the bus to the central market daily, and then walked up to the school through the narrow city streets. There was gray wash water running in slimy green gutters, the occasional furtive rat; there were fruit rinds and mango seeds scattered around as well as bottles.

As well as sight, I experienced unfamiliar smells too. As a sighted creature, we tend to concentrate on that, but in the West Indies of that time, there was the smell of people who didn’t have facilities for washing other than the a central pump in whatever village they’d come from, of starchy school uniforms, dark office clothes and the beginning of the day’s sweat. There was market refuse, discarded fruit and animal manure ripening in the sun, the smell of a hard-worked donkey as he clopped by, the goats that rode the bus with you.

(Have you ever imagined what a werewolf or a vampire would actually smell like?  I’m not a fan of these fantasy creatures, so in my imagination—they’d smell like–nothing good!

Is your character a temp, facing a vacated desk in a modern office? What’s the keyboard like—is it sticky with coke spills, covered with ashes? Or is it spotlessly clean? How does your character deal with this temporary workspace? Does she first head for the washroom and paper towels? Does she bring a can of Lysol with her to work with which she first sprays down everything, especially the phone?  If she does,  this is not only setting, but an expression of her character. How does she react to the environment in which you’ve placed her? These “details” become incredibly important, when setting breathes life into a character.

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Hide and Seek

My office is in the back corner of a building at work. There are times when someone in the field will need to come see me. Typically, they may know my name, but they don’t associate that name with what I look like since they may only see me if I am out in the yard when they drive in or passing me in the hall. They will go to the dispatch office and say they need to talk to me, and dispatch will direct them on which halls to take, where to turn, where I sit, and what I look like.

Driver: “I need to go see Claire Collins to fill out a form. Where is she?”

Dispatch: “Follow the halls to the left. She’s at the end.”

The driver would stand there, not knowing any more information that he had when he started. He knows he may wander around the building for awhile and stumble across me. Or, he may ask someone else.

Driver: “I need to go see Claire Collins.”

Dispatch: “Go through this door into the main building and follow the hallway to the left. When you come to the main receptionist desk, take a right. You’ll come to a big room with two girls at desks at opposite corners. Walk through that room to the door at the far end. Claire sits at the desk right through that door.”

 

Now our driver can find me. He doesn’t know what I look like, and he may pass me in the hall, but at least he knows where to find me. What if the conversation went like this?

Driver: “I need to go see Claire Collins.”

Dispatch: “Open the door to the right of you by turning the handle to the right. You will step into a hallway that has an office to the right, an office straight ahead, and a hallway to the left. Take the hallway. At the end of the hallway is an office straight ahead and another hallway that goes off to the right. Follow the hallway. There are pictures on the walls and brown carpet on the floor. You will walk by the Human Resources office, the conference room, the bathrooms, the kitchen, the President’s office, and the CFO’s office. This hallway ends at the front door. If you’ve reached that, the receptionist will be sitting to your right. She has short salt and pepper hair and she will probably be on the phone so don’t stand there and disturb her. Walk back to the other side of her desk, and there’s a doorway. Walk through that door into the accounting area where accounts payable and accounts receivable are. Carrie sits to your left at the cherry desk with the pictures on the right corner, flowers in a vase on the left corner, and a row of filing cabinets behind her. She has long brown hair, blue eyes, and she is wearing a very nice black pantsuit today with a cream colored shirt. To the left sits Francine. Her desk is a light oak color and there’s never anything on it except her computer. She is wearing a really short skirt and spiked heels and her hair is about shoulder length and dyed this really tacky platinum color that clashes with her black eyebrows.  Along the far wall is the fax machine, the copier, the folding machine, and bulletin boards loaded with all of the legal documents that have to be posted in a conspicuous place. Follow that wall to another doorway. This doorway is really wide. Through it, there’s an office to your right, and a row of desks to the left. Filing cabinets line the wall next to the door. The guy in the office is in a bad mood today so stay away from him. Through the doorway is a desk in front of the large window. Claire sits there but she might not be there because she’s always running all over the place at everyone’s beck and call. Anyway, she’s tall with long, reddish-brown, wavy hair and green eyes. She’s wearing jeans and a company shirt and tennis shoes. You can’t miss her.”

 

At this point, if our driver is still standing there, he’s been overwhelmed with useless information. It may all be true, but did he really need to know all of that to find me? Probably not. Do your readers need to know every single detail of events and descriptions to read the book? Probably not. The following is probably the best exchange of all.

Driver: “I need to go see Claire Collins.”

Dispatch: “Follow me, I’ll show you where to find her.”

 

Claire Collins, is the author of Fate and Destiny and Images of Betrayal.

www.secondwindpublishing.com

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The Art of Fluff

Words, words, words. How much filler does it take to write a novel?

 

The number one obstacle I have to overcome every time I work on my books is adding content to reach my own preset goal.

 

Word count holds me in its grip. I am like an athlete, word count is my coach, and he is screaming, “More! Give Me More!” (Okay, I stole that line from Police Academy)

 

I condense by nature. For a number of years, I have often thought my true calling as a writer was as an editor in the condensed books section of Reader’s Digest.

 

Is it necessary to describe, in minute detail, the number of leaves on the tree? Is it relevant to the story? Is there a story behind each fallen leaf?

 

What if my writing is just Fitzgerald filler? Do I need to write fluff just to fill a page with words that have no significance to the story?

 

Surprisingly, I have mixed feelings about the answer. My strong suit in writing is flash fiction. However, since I began writing full-length novels, I can see first-hand why there is a need for a bit of pouf.

 

It is probably a good thing I was not around when our long-winded forefathers wrote the Declaration of Independence. I would have condensed it to something like: We will drive your despotic ass out of our country if you try to take our freedom away and we have the Divine One riding shotgun. Pffft.

 

I continue to evolve as a novelist and, instead of trimming the fat, I am realizing that a little fat is a good thing. I am learning to embrace a bit of fluff.

 

J J Dare is the author of “False Positive” and “False World,”

the first two novels in the Joe Daniels’ trilogy

 

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