Wednesday, October 24, 2012

"Q" Review: Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success."

 August, 2012

The most recent “How To” book I’m reading on the craft of writing is titled
“Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success ” by K.M. Weiland  (2011).

“How To” books can be hard for me to adsorb sometimes. Once I’ve read a few, they start to sound repetitive. I have to really search for a title that tells me something I didn’t already know. Sure, these books can bring me insight, but what they don’t do is hone my craft for me. No matter how many of these books I read, I realize I won’t get any better at my writing unless I practice. And practicing means I need to make mistakes. And making mistakes means I need to take time to learn to fix them. (The tedium.) 

I chose “Outlining Your Novel” initially because it caught my eye as I skimmed through a list of writing books on I thought, “I’m an outliner, and so what can this book tell me that I don’t already know and practice?”  I figured it would be an easy read, and “Wham. Blur. Goodbye Sir…” I’d be done. Another “how to” book down the writing hatch and assignment completed.

That being said, this book surprised me. The first thing that grabbed me about it was the writer’s style. Weiland starts out with misconceptions about outlines and outliners and lays it on the line. I appreciated the author’s voice and the simplicity that she used to get the point across. She has a voice I like to read, which is odd because (as a woman) there’s not many female writing voices I like. Women tend to write passively, and are seldom strong without being their writing voices. Weiland’s voice was confident and steady throughout this manuscript, and I found it was influential as well as logical.

In her first chapter, which covers misconceptions about outlining and benefits of outlining I felt she was trying to convince the “pantsers” out there that they could indeed outline and benefit from it if they gave the idea a chance. As an outliner AND pantser, I could see her points but I wasn’t sure a pure pantser would agree with her. What I know is that it helps me if I have a basic roadmap to follow. I start with deciding how I want the beginning, the middle and the end of the story to go.

The first chapter addresses the war between outliner and pantser factions, and tries to bring the arguments together to meet in the middle. One of my favorite quotes in the first chapter is: “The individual writer is the only expert of his own proficiency.” 
It’s very true. It’s also depressing when I take time to realize I’m not as proficient as I’d like to be. Life gets in the way. I can’t write a page a day. I’m way to busy to do that, and I’m a perpetual procrastinator. I’d rather write ten pages in a sitting.

I also take on too many daily projects at once. The end result is that I do everything at the last minute. I also tend to get them done, but not necessarily to the best of my ability.

September, 2012

I've been able to take in a few more chapters since I started reading this.  Chapter 9 is my favorite so far. This chapter gets into some major veggie-pie of the writer's organizational skills. I understand that decisions are best made before writing much of the story. Getting the writing done ahead of time will save the author a great deal of rewriting work. Even though the assertion is that a pantser "likes to find out" how the story is going to go by writing without an outline, if they compromise and do some basic  gumshoe research first, they will be so much better off. (Thus says the woman with 2 novels that are only 3/4 written.) And I've realized through experience, as well as this book, to always always be sure your story contains humor, action and relationships. And for horror writers . . . lots of blood. Don't skimp on the blood.

October 2012

The final chapters. And so Weiland brings the art of outlining all together in the final pages. It's not like some major magical secret shrouded in veils of riddles. It really is a call the putting together the outline as the "road map" for the novel. Furthermore, Weiland really works hard to entice 'pantsers' that his was will help them.  I find myself visualizing pantsers much like the Frenchmen on top of the castle in The Monty Python and the Holy Grail. "Tell them we already got one!" And they chuckle while King Author appears extremely puzzled since it is his personal quest.

And so, whether outliner or pantser, our goal or quest if you will, is to complete the novel with elements of humor, action  and relationships in such a way that the reader feels drawn in and doesn't feel a sense of they've done the same thing over and over. Let the reader experience something new. Even cooks make new dishes using regular ingredients in a whole now way. Let's inspire. Let's DARE to do prose differently. And then. Oh my. Just THEN . . . we might even excite the reader.



Saturday, October 20, 2012

"David. If you kill him, ...

...he will win." William Somerset  (Seven - with Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey)

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This movie is a deep psychological thriller with strong elements of horror. It follows much of the same pattern as other movies of its kind, but whereas some of those films lack emotional intensity this one is extremely powerful. In this twisted tale, human beings are used in a game where the killer has created his own rules and everything comes down to one character defining moment. 

"David, if you kill him...he will win."

I love this movie now as much as the second time I saw it. I say the second time, because the first time, like the high a serial killer must get from her very first kill, there is as no comparison. It was a shocker that left me (literally) with my mouth gaping wide as I stared at the screen.

The script is fantastic. The story-line is action packed, suspenseful and extremely compelling. The actors play their characters well and the scene development of the murders is phenomenal. I won't spoil it for those that haven't seen the film yet, but I will say, "Don't watch trailers. Don't read any more about it. For the best impact, stop reading and see it now. The ride is worth more than the wait."

Seven Movie Poster by rodolforever
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"Cathy gazed down in horror at a close-up of neatly chiseled letters—

--an inscription at the base of the outcropping on which the mummified body of Tommy Campbell was standing. It read simply:   FOR DR. HILDEBRANT." 
The Sculptor - by Gregory Funaro (2009)

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I can't rave about this novel, nor can I thoroughly condemn it. I've read several polar opposite reviews on this work and I find my personal opinion of it mixed somewhere in the Vegemite that sits between two pieces of stale bread.

This novel starts out with Cathy Hildebrant's mentor, Janet Polk, telephoning her that a FBI agent from the Behavioral Analysis Unit is looking for her in relation to the disappearance of a well known football player because she is an expert in the field of Renaissance art. I found the premise interesting, although I found the prose difficult to read. There was a lot of unnecessary narrative and Cathy's character (part Asian/part German) did not come across as very real to me. I felt more like an outsider 'seeing' Cathy, than a reader 'being' Cathy on a protagonist journey.

The actions and the lifestyle of the Sculptor was what I found most interesting in the book. This was a  man who was independently wealthy, a nurse who cared for his disabled father at home and who practiced his grisly art in a space near his home on a mortician's table.  Chapter 7 was one of the most engaging chapters because the author really gives the reader a look inside the head of the killer. And that is what I think is the most interesting thing about serial killers and psychopaths. It's not the crimes they commit. It's how they think. It's examining the clockwork and wondering if, even in the darkest places of my own mind, if I could ever do something so sinister. So unfathomably vile.

There are things in this novel that every 'learned' writer (this decade) knows not to do. For example, the reader gets a picture of what Cathy looks like because she looks in her bathroom mirror. Any writer who has grown up in a solid MFA writing program knows that this is considered a "no-no." It announces to the writing community that this is the work of 'novice.' In addition, there are several passages littered with passive voice. The "had been's" become distracting to read over time. And there were liberal use of adverbs and some obvious tense problems on different pages. As a reader, I had problems with visualizing exactly how in the world a killer would be able to put a statue together ,such as Michelangelo's Bacchus, by himself, to include constructing a satyr with the top half of a human boy and the bottom half of a goat.

And then there were cliche's that writers know to steer clear of. Although cliche's are sometimes hard to avoid, one cliche' I never really understood is "being caught dead." How a person minds "being caught dead" anywhere, is beyond my comprehension. I mean, you're dead right? So why would you care? And if you are dead, then how are you really "caught?" It's not like you're running to get anywhere. To this day I have no idea how that phrase ever came into being, but I'm always surprised when someone uses it. I blame the content editor of a novel when a sentence like that is allowed to own a space on a published page.

(example: "Cathy could not deny that she had been a nerd all her life—never had a taste for sports; would much rather have listened to a lecture on Donatello than be caught dead at a football game in college."~ Funaro, G. (2009) The Sculptor (p. 10). Kensington Publishing Corp. Kindle Edition. 

"Show, don't tell." It's a writer's mantra. Yet chapter three provided way too much information on "The Sculptor" from the antagonist's point of view. The details about him could have deliciously leaked out of each page bit by bit. And there's the overuse of The Sculptor's chosen name. Each paragraph used it over and over, and it was unnecessary. This trait continued throughout the novel, and much could have been cut from it  (40 or 50 pages) to make a faster paced and more interesting read.

All in all, I find myself wondering who Funaro had as a content editor for this piece of work. Kensington Publishing is a mass market publisher and descriptions of it state that it publishes over 600 titles a year to include romance and women's fiction. That's enough information to make me think this  novel may have been the victim of a publisher that agreed to print it while paying little attention to the work. And perhaps the writer really needed the sale and did what he had to do to get it on the shelves. 

I do believe that this was Gregory Funaro's first published novel, and if so then I feel a greater understanding about this work. He now has a second novel available titled "The Impaler," and I wonder if his work has improved and/or if he had a better content editor on that piece. I'm not sure if I'll give "The Impaler" a chance, but I may.

After all of the varying reviews of "The Sculptor," I find myself wondering if fellow writers will be as considerate with me when my first novel hits the press. Will they look at the work I've put into it and realize that the market is literally flooded with other writers who accept next to nothing for their work? Will they value the fact that I worked hard to produce a story, or that I needed to sell it? These are questions which don't have answers. I'll only know once I read reviews of my work on peer blogs, or on Goodreads. One thing is for sure. I'll have several eyes on my work before it's published, and many critique partners and editors will provide feedback and necessary surgery to the pages before I let it loose on the world.

Chin up, Funaro. Keep on writing. And consider getting another editor and publisher. You deserve better.


Note: One last thing I found interesting in my background research was that there was a novel titled "The Sculptress" (1993) written by Minette Walters. It has a very similar approach to "The Sculptor." The prose of "The Sculptress" is decidedly more developed but I couldn't help but wonder if it was the inspiration for this novel. As an added mention, Minette Walters won an Edgar Award for her novel in 1994.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

"She can’t be dead!” Annie Wilkes shrieked at him."

"Her hands snapped open and closed in a faster and faster rhythm. “Misery Chastain CANNOT BE DEAD!”

~Misery - by Stephen King (1988)

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My husband hated the movie made from this novel. He still does. Hates it with a passion. And Kathy Bates did such a good job in her hobbling scene that he can't stand to watch her in a movie ever again.

Like so many of the other assignments in this "Readings in the Genre" course, I'd seen the movie Misery a couple of times, but only read the book once several years ago. I was grateful for the opportunity to read it again last week and it brought back a ton of sketchy memories.

I won't do a synopsis of the story because synopsis of stories are overdone, but I will describe what I really enjoyed about this novel and what I thought could have been improved in it along the way.

Stephen King is a MASTER at character creation, and his development of Annie Wilkes is priceless. Paul Sheldon's character is stale in comparison, but I think the part is meant to be that way. Annie Wilkes is the colorful bird in this story. Zany, crazy and as whacked out as they come. Scary part is she always reminds me of my mother, 'whoever/whatever is out/in there, her soul.' 

I identified pretty strongly with Paul throughout the novel (feeling trapped and powerless) although I think I would have wised up faster than him and made my dear fan worshipper happy with whatever the hell she wanted just so I could get out of there. But King's dialogue that came from Annie, and the descriptions of her, burst disturbingly to wicked life throughout the pages. I admit I kept seeing Kathy Bate's face as I read. Movies do that. Replace imagination with something you've seen. But I certainly didn't sleep well the night I finished the book.

The one thing I could have done without in the book, and where I thought improvement could be made, were the minute details that seemed to drag the story down. Details are good things in a novel, but there's such a thing as too many good things. As an example, the long diatribe about the Royal typewriter was unnecessary. A few of the details were fine but after a while I was ready to smack the writer hard and tell him to get on with it. I wanted to pound that typewriter into steel granules, and overdone scenes like this make me want to stop reading (or at the very least, skip to the next good part.)

But despite some of the long and painful descriptive passages, I enjoyed this book and it reminded me of what an incredible writer Stephen King is. There's one book of his which I haven't read yet and really need to (as my friend Gina keeps reminding me) and that's the book "IT." When I get the time, "IT" will be next on my list. Send in the Clowns.


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Friday, October 5, 2012

"First principles, Clarice. Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing ask:...

. . . what is it in itself? What is its nature? What does he do, this man you seek?"
The Silence of the Lambs - (said by Hannibal Lector/Anthony Hopkins)

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There are a few films in my life that I've watched over and over again. Silence of the Lambs is one of them. I saw this movie before I knew it was a novel, and I saw it before I read the accompanying novels "Red Dragon" and "Hannibal." 

Since then, I've read all of the novels and I've seen the films. Of all of them, Silence of the Lambs is (hands-down) the best. Perhaps it's the chemistry between Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins that is most compelling. Stories about serial killers are a dime a dozen these days. Gruesome details abound in real life, and a fiction author is sure to put together a combination of details from news stories (old and new) in order to stupefy and scare readers out of their google-eyed minds. Silence of the Lambs utilizes some grotesque scenes to horrify watchers, but for the most part the scenes are done with taste. . . a gruesome finesse. 

And, for me, it's the mind game play between Agent Starling and Dr. Lector that is ultra-seductive, savory and alluring. Part of me has always wished I knew a Hannibal Lector in real life, and wondered if I'd be worthy in his eyes. And should it, or would it matter if I was? I've enjoyed this movie so often, and was eager to watch it again. This film is one that never disappoints and never fails to leave me with a little chill at the end that chases me into my dreams at night. It's one that makes me shudder with the flutter of a moth's wings against my cheek and sends me to peek into the depths of depravity of man's secret desires. Alone.

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