May 14, 2010

Building the Perfect Beast by Tom Weston

Building the Perfect Beast

As I’ve said, my approach to writing is an iterative process. To those that say that outline is redundant, I offer the following explanation for my approach:

At the risk of sounding blasphemous, I would say that, for me, writing a novel is comparable to creating a life – For we authors are godlike in the power we wield over our characters and the events in their lives – and the creation starts with building a skeleton.

I have a three stage process, and the first stage is to build the skeleton – This is the outline, and my outline is generally about 20% of the finished novel in terms of word count, but more importantly, 100% of the ideas. When I have the skeleton, I can stand it up, take it for a walk and make it dance. I can see if the beast is complete. I can also see if the beast if flawed. Yes, next I have to put flesh on the beast (the actual writing) and to give it strength and intelligence (the editing), but without a sound underlying skeleton, it’s still not going to walk on its own legs.

My novels, which meld a number of disparate themes of fact, fiction, mystery, fantasy, history, and philosophy, can be quickly overwhelmed by the complexity of trying to fit all these themes together. The outline helps me to see that everything does indeed fit.

So much for redundancy.

Now to the second argument that such a mechanical approach to writing stifles artistry. I would content that having such a detailed outline actually gives me more freedom during the writing phase to express myself. I have my skeleton. I can now work on the flesh, and heart and lungs. I can now spend my time honing a witty piece of dialogue or a cutting-edge metaphor.

Artists such as Titian and Rembrandt always began by sketching an outline in charcoal on the canvas over which they would begin to paint, usually after several preparatory sketches. I don’t know of any artist that looked at a blank canvas and said, “Hmm, let’s improvise today” – not even the Impressionists. Rembrandt is praised for his use of light and economy of brushstroke – these things determine our opinion of him as a great artist – but it was still having that detailed outline to work from that freed his hand.

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Originally from England, Tom now resides in Boston, Massachusetts. Before turning his hand to fiction, Tom had a successful career as the CEO of a consulting company, conference speaker and writer of industry articles and business books. His novel, First Night, set in Boston during the New Year’s Eve festival, introduced the unlikely heroines, Alex and Jackie, and the ghost of a 17th century Puritan named Sarah Pemberton.

First Night won an Honorable Mention in the Middle-Grade/Young Adult category, in the Writers Digest 17th Annual International Self-Published Book Awards. The sequel to First Night, called The Elf of Luxembourg, was published in January, 2010. As with First Night, The Elf of Luxembourg is also a supernatural mystery, with a blend of humor and history that has become Tom’s trademark.

Tom is currently working on Book 3 of the Alex and Jackie Adventures, and is researching the background material for the story, which will be set in Ireland. Tom has also written the screenplay, Fission, based on the true story of scientist, Lisa Meitner, and the race for the atomic bomb, and which was named a finalist at the London Independent Film Festival.

May 13, 2010

To Outline or Not to Outline – That is the Question by Tom Weston

To Outline or Not to Outline – That is the Question

I read another writer’s opinion regarding the necessity of the outline – whether it was an asset or a hindrance to the creative process. This particular writer was of the opinion that it was a hindrance to his art; that he preferred a less structured approach which allowed him to express himself freely, that his art came from that freedom – and let the chips (and the story) fall as they may.

Well maybe I don’t have that level of confidence, but I have to say my style is the complete opposite. It may stem from my earlier work as a computer systems professional, where we had to be sure of the finished product before we began, and where mistakes were costly. It meant that before any code was written, the aims of the project were analyzed, and the process of getting from A to B was mapped out in ever increasing levels of detail. This approach, I bring to my work as a writer.

But, the argument goes, eventually one has to sit down and write – To get on with it - So why waste time and energy on an outline, when it could be applied to the real task. The answer is that the process, for me at least, is iterative – nothing is wasted. I’ve been asked whether I know the ending of a story before I start, and the answer is a categorical ‘yes’. If I don’t have an end in mind, then I don’t have a story to tell. So for me the process begins with knowing what my objectives are and then building the system (or novel) that meets those objectives.

On the face of it, my approach sounds rather mechanical, and it is easy to be swayed by the arguments that this approach stifles creativity and is redundant, but the arguments, for reasons I’ll expand on in the next segment, are fallacious.

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Originally from England, Tom now resides in Boston, Massachusetts. Before turning his hand to fiction, Tom had a successful career as the CEO of a consulting company, conference speaker and writer of industry articles and business books. His novel, First Night, set in Boston during the New Year’s Eve festival, introduced the unlikely heroines, Alex and Jackie, and the ghost of a 17th century Puritan named Sarah Pemberton.

First Night won an Honorable Mention in the Middle-Grade/Young Adult category, in the Writers Digest 17th Annual International Self-Published Book Awards. The sequel to First Night, called The Elf of Luxembourg, was published in January, 2010. As with First Night, The Elf of Luxembourg is also a supernatural mystery, with a blend of humor and history that has become Tom’s trademark.

Tom is currently working on Book 3 of the Alex and Jackie Adventures, and is researching the background material for the story, which will be set in Ireland. Tom has also written the screenplay, Fission, based on the true story of scientist, Lisa Meitner, and the race for the atomic bomb, and which was named a finalist at the London Independent Film Festival.

May 10, 2010

GUILT, GUILT GUILT By Gary Morgenstein

GUILT, GUILT GUILT
By Gary Morgenstein

Guilt works every time. No, I’m not talking about forgetting a loved one’s birthday. I’m talking about writing, confronting that most awful of foes – the blank page. Since I’ve launched my own radio show, co-hosting the weekly “Purple Haze” on blogtalkradio.com/media blvd, I’ve learned the different kinds of blank pages any creative person faces.

When you’re writing, you must drive yourself to write. Simple as that. No excuses. No prisoners. If you don’t have the drive and ambition, if the characters and the story and the dialogue and the visuals aren’t impelling you to whatever method of transcribing you use, then you aren’t an artist. Pure and simple. There are names for those who simply live in imaginary worlds and talk to themselves, but writer isn’t one of them. Not that writers don’t talk to themselves!

When you do radio, you confront a different kind of blank page – your audience. You see nothing. You have no feedback. You must create a world, as I do with my wonderful co-hosts Frederic, Kenn and Shaun, of controversy, insight, humor and personal chemistry. Of course, when you get a caller, you are making contact, reaching out.

Like when you write. You’re not writing for the masses. You’re writing for one person. You have no idea who that is. You can’t imagine them because the possibilities are endless. You have to hope, as you begin writing, that you can make a connection, touch someone emotionally. Nothing is as rewarding to a writer than when a reader says, I loved your book.

That is what transcending the first draft is all about. Not writing The End, though that is critical. Approach your art by conveying what you feel. I believe strongly in the words of Robert Heinlein, who wrote, Obfuscation is the last refuge of the incompetent.

Clarity is the most powerful writing tool of all.

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Gary Morgenstein is co-host of the Purple Haze radio show, Thursdays at 9PM/ET at blogtalkradio.com/mediablvd. In addition to his dating and relationship book How to Find a Woman…Or Not, Morgenstein’s novels include Loving Rabbi Thalia Kleinman, about a divorced man who falls in love with a beautiful woman rabbi; Jesse’s Girl, a powerful story about a father’s search for his adopted teenage son, and Take Me Out to the Ballgame, a political baseball thriller, as well as the baseball Rocky The Man Who Wanted to Play Center Field for the New York Yankees. His prophetic play Ponzi Man played to sell-out crowds at the New York Fringe Festival. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, surrounded by lots of books and rock and roll CDs. He is Director, Communications, for the Syfy Channel.

Please visit him at gary.garymorgenstein.com.

May 4, 2010

Keep Your List Uncompromising…but Short by Kathi Macias

About thirty-five years ago, just after I became a Christian, I received some of the best advice I ever heard. An old retired pastor took me aside after church one Sunday and said, “Kathi, if you want to be a Christian who makes a difference in this world, read your Bible with an eye toward making a list of those things you’re willing to go to war over, and then never compromise on that list. But keep it short.”

I didn’t really understand what he meant then, but I have come to appreciate his words over the three and a half decades since he spoke them to me.

First, he was telling me the importance of defining what I believe. Using the Scriptures as my guideline, I needed to isolate those issues that were of life-and-death importance—study them, meditate on them, pray over them, and be willing to live or die by them. That was no easy task.

I was already twenty-six years old when I became a believer and I hadn’t been raised in a Christian home, so I had a lot to learn! But I dug in and started reading, studying, and questioning, until I finally came to a place that I truly knew what tenets of the faith were black and white, do or die, no-compromise issues. At that point I had to make the commitment to stand for those issues at any cost.

Christians in other countries understand that. Many people around the world lay their very lives on the line by converting to Christianity. Public baptism is tantamount to waving a red flag in an angry bull’s face. But these heroic brothers and sisters make a decision to follow Christ, regardless of the consequences, and they don’t compromise.

That should be the mark of all believers, for if what we say we believe does not govern our actions, then perhaps we don’t truly believe it. Our list should be well thought-out—and then followed at every point, even if into the proverbial lions’ den.

But what about the second part of that old pastor’s advice? Not only did he instruct me to develop a do-or-die list based on the Scriptures, but he also cautioned me to keep the list short. What did he mean by that?

He didn’t explain himself, but I believe he was warning me not to become legalistic, to add rules and regulations that were actually based in personal choice rather than God’s Word. People whose lives are on the line for their faith understand this more clearly than we can imagine.

That excellent two-part piece of advice has served me well, and it helped to birth in me the desire to write The Extreme Devotion fiction series. I pray the reading of it will encourage you to come up with your own do-or-die list—if you haven’t already.

Remember: no compromise—but keep it short.

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Kathi Macias is a multi-award winning writer and radio show host who has authored 30 books and ghostwritten several others. A former newspaper columnist and string reporter, Kathi has taught creative and business writing in various venues and has been a guest on many radio and television programs. Kathi is a popular speaker at churches, women’s clubs and retreats, and writers’ conferences, and recently won the prestigious 2008 member of the year award from AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association) at the annual Golden Scrolls award banquet. Kathi “Easy Writer” Macias lives in Homeland, CA, with her husband, Al, where the two of them spend their free time riding their Harley. You can find Kathi online at http://www.kathimacias.com/ and at her blog http://kathieasywritermacias.blogspot.com/

May 3, 2010

Fiction with a Mission by Kathi Macias

He who has the Son has life;
he who does not have the Son of God does not have life (1 John 5:12).


I’ve been asked a lot of questions lately about how/why I came up with a new fiction genre that my publisher (New Hope) calls “fiction with a mission”. Let me answer that by telling you the name of the series: “Extreme Devotion”. This particular series has to do with Christians in other countries who often pay a great price for their faith, but the term “extreme devotion” applies to anyone, anywhere, who is so in love with Jesus that all else pales by comparison.

Now if we claim to have that level of love for Christ, that should mean that we are ready at a moment’s notice to lay down anything or everything to follow Him. Anything? Everything? Really? Words may come easy, but actions are a bit tougher, particularly when those actions include following a Savior who had little or no earthly possessions, always put the needs of others ahead of His own, and then willingly died an excruciating death to purchase freedom for those who hated Him.

Hmm. Sort of stops us in our tracks and makes us think a bit, doesn’t it? And yet we know that the very same Jesus who lived and died so selflessly then rose from the grave and ascended into heaven to rejoin His beloved Father for all eternity. If we are committed to following after Jesus in life and death, then we can be assured that we will follow Him right into eternity with the Father.

What on earth could possibly compare to that? What temporal gain is worth trading for that eternal promise? If the Son of God is truly our Savior, then we already have eternal life; if we reject Him, we are dead even before we breathe our last.

It’s all about extreme devotion, living each day with the reminder that He is all and everything, and we need nothing else. What freedom and joy that knowledge brings! May you increase in extreme devotion to Him today, dear friends.

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Kathi Macias is a multi-award winning writer and radio show host who has authored 30 books and ghostwritten several others. A former newspaper columnist and string reporter, Kathi has taught creative and business writing in various venues and has been a guest on many radio and television programs. Kathi is a popular speaker at churches, women’s clubs and retreats, and writers’ conferences, and recently won the prestigious 2008 member of the year award from AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association) at the annual Golden Scrolls award banquet. Kathi “Easy Writer” Macias lives in Homeland, CA, with her husband, Al, where the two of them spend their free time riding their Harley. You can find Kathi online at http://www.kathimacias.com/ and at her blog http://kathieasywritermacias.blogspot.com/