How To Write Fiction: FOR THE READER?
‘Cause I Got Like A Daytime Emmy
Stuff All Up In Here
Welcome to another lesson on How To Write Fiction.
To remind you: I’m using extra chapters cut from Crawler, the upcoming 5th installment of the Take It Back series, to point out some of the steps I take in my writing.
So instead of my crazy Security Tips, the blog is going to be a How To Write Fiction blog, and by default, a FREE FICTION blog, giving away scenes, stories, mystery, humor, action, thrills, suspense, and Douglas Gage’s brand of vigilante justice to whet your appetite for Crawler.
Crawler was supposed to be out last week, but something in my lizard brain told me it wasn’t ready. I listen to my lizard brain. It’s smart.
Plus, I don’t want to put out a crap installment of a Gage vigilante thriller. I don’t want to disappoint anyone who enjoys these novellas/short stories.
The Lesson Almost Begin-eth
In the first lesson, we talked about writing the first draft of a scene aware of what was going on inside and outside of your character.
In the second lesson, we talked about the secondary characters in the scene. Their inside and outside impressions/thoughts/feelings.
Lesson 3 is about your Reader.
The Lesson Begin-eth For Reals
What Do You Want The Scene To Convey
To The Reader?
I’m a popular fiction guy. The University where I studied creative writing was all about literary fiction. It was a rocky road for me there. It made me a better writer, yes, but it also gave me some sleepless nights and a drinking problem.
The literary world is all about the imagery, and the inferences, and the colors, and the subtext of the language, and the hidden truths behind the real truths behind the universal truths behind the neighbor’s garage in Jersey.
There is another description of literary fiction that says it must be about something significant, like the human condition.
Two of my favorite authors are Stephen King, arguably the most successful popular fiction author of all time, and the late John D. MacDonald, also a very successful popular fiction author, and the creator of my favorite character in crime fiction, Travis McGee.
Everything these guys wrote/write was/is about the human condition. Sure their might be vampires or murders or damsels in distress. But everything was fueled by human flaws.
I would argue that literary fiction critiques, teachers, and apologists are all full of poo-poo ka-ka.
My Hero’s: Together For The First Time
It was exciting to me, as a younger man, boy, infant, gestating embryo, to learn John D. MacDonald would write the introduction for Night Shift, Stephen King’s book of short stories and novellas.
The introduction contained a quote that I haven’t forgotten.
It seemed to be something King and John D. MacDonald agreed upon when it came to the most important thing about writing.
I learned so much from reading their books:
I, like John D. McDonald, only care about STORY.
Is it compelling?
Am I interested?
Am I excited?
Did I poop myself in surprise? Or joy? Or fear? Or because I forgot to go to the bathroom for so long because I was so caught up in the book?
When I write a scene, I think about what I want the reader to get out of the scene.
And I ask myself versions of all these questions.
And I also answer them.
I write down the questions and I write down the answers.
When the scene is being read, do I want my audience to be nervous, fearful, happy, laughing, angry, frustrated, self-satisfied, flustered, aghast, befuddled, agonized, invigorated, rilled up, crazed?
Do I want a mixture of all of them?
Do I want my reader to love my protagonist? To doubt him? To worry for her? To second guess a decision? To think several steps ahead?
Do I want my reader to have a feeling a dread? But still feel compelled to read on?
Do I want the reader to be satisfied? Do I want the reader to have trepidations?
Who do I want the reader to identify with? My hero? Or is it a victim? Or the killer?
If there is a killer.
Is this scene introducing a character? Do I want the reader to like the character? To be wary? To dislike the character?
Is the scene introducing a plot point?
Do I want to make sure the reader is crystal clear on all the details?
Do I want to leave room for the reader to misinterpret?
Do I want the reader to be confident in their assumptions, knowing the next scene will rip those assumptions apart?
You Ask A Lot Of Questions Butthead
That’s how I teach. I tell you the goal:
GOAL: What do you want the scene to convey to your readers.
And then I give you examples of questions you need to ask and answer to get you to the goal.
And remember, these are just questions I’m throwing out there. You need to come up with more and better questions for yourself. That’s going to take work.
And the more detailed you are with the questions. The more specific.
The better your scenes will be. The better your writing will be.
The better your story will be.
And that’s what matters.
Summary of first two parts of chapter:
Gage is offering his help to an elderly woman who had been conned out of her home and life savings. Her young great great niece, Naomi, is “interviewing” him about the type of help he will provide.
He is currently at a senior living facility talking to the niece, and watching Ruby, the senior citizen, enjoy a show.
THE FIRST DRAFT, OF THE FIRST CHAPTER, EVENTUALLY DISCARDED
Chapter One (cont.)
Naomi was Ruby’s great, great, great niece. I think I got that right, give or take a great. Anyway, Naomi was about half my age, and about twenty percent of Ruby’s age. You could almost see what Ruby looked like in her twenties by looking at Naomi.
Almost. You gotta remember Ruby was old AF.
We sat in the arm chairs. Mine was dark blue with orange paisley flowers. Her’s was orange with dark blue paisley flowers. Both chairs were hideous. She put her cup down on the round cherry wood table between us. Her hands were cream colored, her nails painted lavender, which matched the streaks in her hair. She had a small white stud in her right nostril and black diamond half carat stud earrings. She wore a black silk button up shirt with a collar, AGolde cigarette cut jeans, and black flats.
“You drove all the way up here from Florida because you heard loser cousin Jimmy talking on the phone?”
“I flew into Cincinnati and rented a car,” I said. “Took a couple hours to drive over.”
“I don’t understand,” Naomi said. “Why do you want to help us?”
“It’s what I do,” I said. “I help people.”
I guess I’d just decided one way I was moving forward. Not changing my vocation.
Naomi was about to ask me a question, but she was interrupted by a burst of applause as Mary finished a song. Naomi watched Ruby applaud, then Ruby said something to the woman next to her. I was pretty sure the woman next to Ruby was deaf, but Ruby didn’t seem to notice.
Still watching Ruby, Naomi said, “What does that mean? ‘I help people.’ Are you from the government? Are you like FBI or something?”
Naomi turned back to me. She waited for an explanation. I was going to give her one, but first I allowed myself another moment to take her in. She was a curiosity to me. Naomi hadn’t blanched or recoiled or gasped when we met. She’d looked me in the eye and shook my hand. Very unusual. I wondered how she was able to pull that off.
She must be a lesbian.
(I don’t even know what that means.)
I’d asked the home to get in touch with her to see if she’d meet with me. Luckily, she was walking in the door behind me at the time; bringing Ruby her new duds.
She kept staring at me. I began my explanation.
“Leo Futt bought her land for a song,” I said. “And I’m not from the government or anything. Just little ‘ole me.”
Naomi didn’t react. She turned her gaze back to Ruby.
“I only met her once before,” Naomi said. “We were driving down from Chicago going to DisneyWorld. My parents and me.”
Mary launched into an exciting rendition of Kanye’s “Niggas In Paris.”
HA! Another joke. Another mental hit to the balls. Not as bad this time. I was prepared.
Anyway, Mary wasn’t really singing Kanye’s song. She was singing “Somebody To Love” by Jefferson Airplane.
“My Dad got a call when that asshole Futt tried to buy the house,” Naomi said. “When my, I guess, what? My great, great, great grandmother died. Is that right? She left the house to both Ruby and my great, great, great something or other. Tracing the lineage, turned out my dad was Ruby’s closest living relative. He had to sign off on the deal. He explained it all to me. It was a rat’s nest.”
“That’s when you knew about the land?” I said.
“No. Found out about the land a couple weeks later. Dad thought the offer from Futt was really low ball. Even for BFE Kentucky. He tried to get another local real estate agent to look into it. But nobody would help him. He finally had to come down here himself, which really pissed him off.”
There was another round of applause. We were silent through it. Ruby was very enthusiastic in her appreciation. Mary Say was very gracious in appreciating everyone’s appreciation.
The next song was “Bobby McGee.”
“Why was he mad?” I said.
“It was one more thing he had to do. He didn’t have time for it. He had to take vacation days he and mom were counting on to go camping next summer.”
I felt for the guy. Looking forward to that one week of vacation a year was sometimes the only thing that kept people going.
“And he’s paranoid,” Naomi said. “He’s afraid the warehouse will figure out they don’t need him if he’s away. He’s always worried 2008 is coming back. He was unemployed for five years. They’ve owed so much money.”
She took a sip of her coffee.
“My parents need help too,” Naomi said.
“One thing at a time,” I said.
We both drank some coffee. It had cooled off, but it wasn’t too cool. Mary Say was doing her best Janis Joplin impression.
Janis had been dead for about fifty years. But she still had more charisma than Mary.
“You want my help?” I said. “I hope you do. But if you don’t, I’m still gonna stay here and do something about this.”
Mary Say finished butchering “Bobby McGee.” There was more applause. Naomie raised her voice over it and said, “Sure. Help. I got no f-n idea what to do.”
I didn’t want to tell her I didn’t either.
The End of discarded Chapter 1
Lesson 4 tomorrow. The Master (not me. of course.)