Oldie but Goodie Writing Techniques

 

featuring horror and SF by Barbara Custer

Lately, the sequel for Steel Rose and When Blood Reigns has been haunting me. Okay, I’ll confess, I used the pantser style for writing this book. I tried to outline—actually summarized chapters but then found myself lapsing into writing scenes, and I couldn’t work from an outline. The balloon lady in me wants to work on everything else—chapters for Darkness Within Magazine (love doing this); blogging, documenting my latest Mylar Balloon adventure on Facebook.

Why this sequel should give me a problem I can’t say. One of the protags thinks about, buys, and sleeps balloons, but she can quiet zombies in short order. When you get down to it, a book consists of nine types of scenes. The opening is the hook should be written within the first few paragraphs. This will set your story in motion. For the Night to Dawn magazine, I’d better see some tension on page one—you can’t pussyfoot around with a short story. All the same, I find opening scenes the hardest to write, and each book requires multiple revisions for the opening scene.

Set-up scenes are used to feed in primary background information such as the characters’ careers or motivations. It’s nice to know where your protag works, especially if the bloodletting takes place at the work site. What’s more, your protag’s career and family life may influence how he or she approaches the horrors in your story.

Verifying scenes establish the evidence for others you’ve set up and will reinforce the information you already included. I’m thinking along the lines of foreshadowing, but also if you mention that your protag is a nurse on page one, you might want to include reminders especially if that detail is essential to the story.

historical fiction novel by Michael De Stefano

Conflicts are critical for every fiction work. The battle could be with another person, an inner demon, or nature—perhaps a snowstorm, hurricane, or earthquake, and your character’s reaction to it. It must come across natural; with what you know about your character, ask if he/she would really act in a given way.

In the hindrance scene, your protag takes one step forward, then one or two steps back. Every time he/she making progress, throw a wrench into it. For example, maybe your protag finds an escape route, but the villain, being one step ahead, plants a minefield along that path.

In your turnaround scene, you’ve got the darkest moment. The character thinks he/she’s come thus far when something horrible happens, and it appears all is lost. For example, the serial killer traps the protag, their spouse, and children and pulls out a gun.

Flashback scenes should be used only if necessary. Perhaps something happens which causes the protag’s mind to flash back to previous events. This should appear in the early part of the story and have more dramatic action than what is happening in the present. If the flashback is too long, you may have started your story in the wrong place. Consider weaving this information into the story some other way.

During the climax, all conflicts are resolved. Perhaps the protag managed to slay the villain responsible for releasing the zombie infection; in a romance, the hero and heroine reach a commitment.

You’ve got your conclusion once you’ve reached a satisfying ending and have tied up all the loose ends. Endings are really tough to write. I’ve used up two or three of my best curse words, plus several Mylar balloon purchases to get the ending right.

Your thoughts?

I will be sending a $10 Amazon gift card to a random commenter.

 

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The Great Pumpkin Revisited

featuring horror and SF by Barbara Custer

Last year I gave a little history on the pumpkin and why it was so crucial to Halloween. This year I’m focusing on the Great Pumpkin that Peanuts character Linus reveres. To make things clear: 95% of me doesn’t believe the Great Pumpkin exists, but five percent suspects there might be an acorn of truth behind it, for the pumpkin fever is on me. But my version of the Great Pumpkin doesn’t fly around a pumpkin patch the way Linus’s version does. Instead, my Great Pumpkin flies into supermarkets in the form of a Mylar pumpkin. I have two small pumpkin balloons, but to get the Great Pumpkin, I’ve got to pay my dues.

Last October, I made pumpkin muffins, cooked pasta with pumpkin sauce, and drank pumpkin coffee every day. What’s more, I visited Wawa for pumpkin shakes. I kept this up for a while, but about halfway through October, I complained about having to eat so much pumpkin. My whining didn’t sit well with the Great Pumpkin, and while I had a lot of balloons, none of them qualified as the Great Pumpkin. For him to come, you’ve got to be sincere.

This year, it’s going to be pumpkin cupcakes and cookies, along with pumpkin flavoring in the coffee. I’ve started the ball rolling with pumpkin lattes at Starbucks, and I will frequent the Wawa as well. Since I’m newly retired from the day job, I’ve got no excuse, and I will stow my complaints.

The following blogs will feature my adventure at Atlantic City; a discussion with issues I’ve had writing, a short story. So while you’ll enjoy, I’ll head to the Mylar balloon aisle at all the supermarkets and keep my eyes open for the Great Pumpkin.

I will be sending a $10 Amazon gift card to a random commenter.


Traveling, Balloons, and Geographical Therapy

featuring walking skeletons, zombies and a new twist on vampiresYesterday, I headed to Reading Terminal Market and bought delicious cheeses, baked goods, and a gift for someone. The ride was my Mylar balloons’ idea.

The discussion began with my forthcoming trip to Atlantic City, where I’ll indulge in geographical therapy to spur the writing muse. Since I’m taking a Greyhound bus, I decided to confirm the trip. It took me three tries to find the confirmation number.

That was when a balloon’s cheery voice popped up. “Are you having a problem?”

“No!” I snapped. “I just needed the confirmation number. I’m good to go.”

“Uh, huh.” The butterfly balloons bobbed. “When was the last time you rode a Greyhound bus?”

“I’ve taken them many times when my mom and I used to travel back in, um, 1975.”

“1975, huh?” The balloons congregated around me. “That’s over 40 years ago. Shouldn’t you read their FAQ? They may have changed their guidelines?”

“Right.” So I studied the FAQ and learned about the tagging and baggage restriction, something not mentioned in 1975. “Guess I’d better bird-dog the station.”

“Dat’s wight, wabbit.” The balloons patted me on the head. “While you’re at it, how about walking through the Reading Terminal Market and Di Bruno Brothers? You plan to do some running around at the shore. See how that would work with your neuropathy.”

“Aw, shucks, why’d you have to mention that?” I groaned, knowing better than to argue. “Why don’t I just take a day trip to Atlantic City?”

“That won’t be necessary, but when you do go, take a cab to the hotel instead of walking. Betcha there will be cabs lined up, offering rides.”

With the balloons’ suggestions duly noted, I headed downtown. The ride to the bus station went without a hitch. Because the humidity had made yesterday a low spoon day, I needed to sit between every store I visited and I was pretty sore by the time I finished. Nevertheless, I got gf treats at the Flying Monkey Bakery. At the Pennsylvania General Store, they’ve got holiday ornaments, Philadelphia souvenirs, and other goodies. Reading Terminal Market has great cheese shops, but because I’d gotten there early, they were closed. If I don’t get my cheese, I’m gonna be an unhappy camper, I thought, so I headed off to Di Bruno Brothers. There I got my cheeses and prosciutto. After that, I went home to rest.

I got three takeaways from this: first, you can find anything you want at the Reading Terminal Market and Di Bruno Brothers, and yes, most of the shops cater to food allergies. If you leave hungry, you’ve done something wrong.

Second, bird-dog a place you’d like to visit if you’re not familiar with the area. This can apply to your writing if you want to create a realistic setting. I may bird-dog some places while I’m at the shore for my work in progress.

Finally, if you have neuropathy or any kind of health issue, travel light and consider the benches your best friends. I’ve decided to forego my laptop and opted for a journal and pens I can stow in my suitcase. Geographical therapy aside, it will be interesting to see how writing by hand affects my creativity.

Stay tuned. 🙂

Battle of the Covers

psychological horror written by Gerald Browning

The cover war started during Smashwords’ July promo. Because Smashwords had changed its formatting guidelines, two of the books that had been out awhile didn’t meet specs. I noted that Gerald Browning’s Demon in my Head had drawn attention, so I reformatted his book and ran a Facebook promo on it. During the process, I got to thinking, this is a darned good read. How come it doesn’t get more sales? That was when someone gave a vague criticism of the cover.

Designing covers are not my strong suit. The cover design is more straightforward for the Night to Dawn magazine because its cover has more real estate than the trade paperback books. I decided to apply the following maxim: if one person tells me I’m a balloon, I will ignore them. If two people call me a balloon, I’ll listen. If three people call me a balloon, I’d better get a ribbon and float.

I posted the cover image on the Facebook page for The Writers Coffeehouse. Many of my writer buddies belong to this group. Whenever I can, I go to their monthly meetings in Willow Grove. These folks recognize a good or bad cover, and I received a lot of constructive criticism with suggestions on what I could do to improve the cover. It was time to grab that ribbon and float.

After fortifying myself with a Mylar balloon purchase, I approached Gerald with the suggestions about his cover. He’d heard similar sentiments from people who read his book and was glad to get a new cover. Next an email to Teresa Jay, the cover artist for his book. She started with several ideas, and two of them looked good. Enthused, I took them back to my Writer’s Coffeehouse and got more helpful suggestions. One included using a filter to get rid of the cartoonish look on one of the images. Where I live, filters are for coffeepots or air conditioners, and I mentioned the same to Teresa. Thankfully, she has a great sense of humor. After going back another time, this is the final new cover for Demon in my Head.

I got four takeaways from this: first, if you read eBooks, you can get a great deal at Smashwords during July. Sometimes, the books are free. Second, Demon in my Head is a darned good tale, and folks who like psychological horror and the occult would find this a must-read.

Third, I want to thank Teresa Jay for her patience and good humor with making the changes. She does the back cover for my Night to Dawn magazines, and wraparounds for some of the books. I’m glad to have her. Finally, to the folks at the Writers Coffeehouse, I owe you guys a lot of thanks and balloons. I’ve proud to be a member, and I look forward to going to future meetings. To aspiring writers, I strongly recommend you go to some meetings. Initially established by Jonathan Maberry and other literary greats, the Writers Coffeehouse I attend meets the last Sunday of each month at the Willow Grove Barnes & Noble, from 12 to 2:00 p.m. Jonathan later established one at the Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego. There are meetings in Rosemont, PA, and other locations too. In any case, it’s about writers helping writers.

Barbara Custer loves Mylar balloonsand horror fiction.

A Good Reason and the Real Reason

science fiction tales by Barbara Custer

Yesterday, I headed to the supermarket to take advantage of the sales. Well, that was a handy excuse. The real reason I went was because I’ve contemplated the colorful Mylar balloons on their display shelves. Perhaps someone might cite ill health or better opportunity as a reason to quit a job, but deep down, they were simply unhappy working at their company. In both cases, we have our good reasons and our real reasons.

This principle applies to writing, too, so I have a confession to make. A while back, I blogged about The Forgotten People, citing my reasons for rewriting and publishing the stories. My post didn’t ring true. The reasons I gave were valid—the stories feature timid, bullied people who didn’t fit into society. I started working on spinoffs of these tales after the Termite Invasion of 2017. Along the way, I stumbled and needed the help of a good editor.

My real motive kept me going through the tough edits: our unstable political climate.

In particular, healthcare. The two last stories in The Forgotten People anthology, “The Forgotten Ward,” and “Good Samaritan” take place in 2050. Medicaid no longer exists, and due to the high costs, hospitals will not treat you without insurance or cash card. When your insurance runs out, better hope you have money. You can’t barter with real estate or other valuables unless you can find a buyer fast. Without money, all treatment stops. The protagonists in these tales find a way to smuggle life-saving medicine to indigent patients, but they pay dearly for their efforts.

I got to thinking about Trump’s proposed 2019 cuts to Medicare, SNAP, and Medicaid. His pending changes include Medicare enrollees paying the same copay on every doctor visit, whether it be routine or a specialist. This could shortchange specialists who may in turn refuse to treat Medicare patients (shades of “Forgotten Ward”). If I met Mr. Trump, I’d ask, “Since when did age and money define someone’s right to life and medical care?”

Granted, I took plenty of artistic license. In “The Forgotten Ward,” the sickest patients are warehoused into a dirty ward where they’re left to die. In reality, if we continue on this slippery slope, the hospitals of the future may simply discharge patients who run out of funds. But there you have it, folks: my real reason for publishing this book.

My Mylar balloons, who have an opinion on everything, from politics to writing, suggested that focusing on the real reason for telling a story may result in better writing. Methinks they have it right; it did, after all, motivate me to complete the book. Your thoughts?

Tale of Two Word Programs

Some of y’all might have read my post on Facebook about having Word 2007 and Word 2016 on one computer. Dat’s wight, wabbits, two different Word programs, one computer, and no, my quest for good PDF software hasn’t caused me to lose it. On Word 2016, I’m finding a better quality of photo when I save. According to a coworker, it has a “PDF maker,” and what’s more, if I need to make small changes on the PDF, I can do so. I plan to use 2016 for the books I send to CreateSpace and Lulu.

So then, you may wonder, why am I hanging onto to Word 2007? Well, because I process my eBooks through Smashwords. Its Meatgrinder software requires Doc files, the kind produced by Word 2003 and 2007. Now Word 2016 is capable of producing a Doc file, but you have to keep remembering to save as Doc, and according to some folks, it may cause changes to your file. At first, I felt like the Biblical person trying to serve two masters. After a discussion with my Mylar balloons, I decided to keep Word 2007, but get 2016. My computer repair person cheerfully installed the new software without overriding the old.

If my Mike were alive, he’d be smiling and nodding, then say, “Yep. That’s my Barbara.”

This blog is my first go at Word 2016. I’ve been nosing around the ribbon and found a lot of cool gadgets, but not the Adobe add-in (PDF maker). However, I found that I can set my dpi to 330 when I’m working with files that have images. I think I can reset the dpi with Publisher 2016, which I love. It gives you some nice ways to highlight and shadow your pictures. I’m really grateful for the generous dpi allowed, as Adobe wasn’t user-friendly. The other PDF programs hand trouble handling files my size.
When I get my Night to Dawn proofs, I know full well there will be tweaks needed, and if I’m right, I’ll make those tweaks with Word 2016 on board. However, I’m redoing two books for Smashwords, which necessitates Word 2007.

Do you work with more than one Word program? How has this worked for you? I’d love to hear about your experiences. 🙂

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