On Giving Up. For authors, and, well, everyone else.

Nick Rowe_0008“Look to your left. Look to your right. One of you won’t be here by the time this is over.”

That seems to be the refrain for many authors now (actually it would be more accurate to say: none of you will be here if you believe that BS). I’m reading the ranting and raving about Amazon changes in KU, about the planets not being in cycle, about a monopoly by Amazon (while still selling your books on it) about this and that, and frankly, my dear, I don’t give a shit.

The opening statement was one we got at the start of Beast Barracks at West Point and most of the schools we went to in Special Ops. From the Special Forces Q-Course, Ranger, Jumpmaster (we graduated 14 of 87, and all were already Spec Ops qualified—tough, smart men), Danish Fromandkorpset Combat Swim, Mountain Climbing, Winter Warfare, Survival, Aardvark Wrangling, etc. etc. etc.

The latter was very hard. Them damn aardvarks. Lost an eyeball to one of them. But I’m better now. Only hurts when I laugh.

SEAL bellI’m seeing authors throw in their towels, whining all the way to ringing the bell. If you don’t know what ringing the bell is, then you haven’t read one of the five million SEAL romance/erotica novels; or you haven’t been in Special Ops. Or watched GI Jane.

Any person who has graduated those schools will tell you that ringing the bell simply wasn’t an option. It didn’t even fraking cross the imagination. When told one of you, left or right, will be gone, you always thought “Gee, sorry fella on my left, and probably right.”

My first semester squad at West Point had five plebes in it. By Xmas, three were gone. Good guys. Just not their thing. And that’s fine. Same with writers. I actually had a ton of respect for some of the guys who threw in the towel there because they had to face a lot of shit for saying no to something that everyone else thinks is so fraking great. Maybe not the right place for some people? I went there out of the Bronx to survive, which maybe isn’t the greatest motive.

For over 25 years while making a living as a novelist, I always told wanna-be’s: Play the lottery. Your odds are better. And it’s a lot less work. And if anyone actually took that to heart, then they simply didn’t want it bad enough.

When you game the system and the game changes, then you’re, how shall we say: fraked? It’s not a game! It’s writing. It’s about pouring blood on the page.

My career has been a trainwreck. Do not do what I did if you want to succeed. I wrote in whatever genre I wanted. Wrote about whatever interested me. Not a good plan.

SEALnever-quitBut here’s the odd thing. I’m still writing for a living. I’ve always said the moment an author thinks they have it made, their career is over.

I write because I love taking some crazy stuff in my brain (you know if time travel is ever invented, then it exists now—me and that damn eye-ball stealing aardvark know it) and putting it into words and I’m constantly amazed people actually read it.

Like, seriously? Thank you readers!

Point of View and Voice—Craft Tuesday at Write on the River

Toolkit_TNAfter many years of writing and teaching novel writing, I firmly believe that perspective or point of view is the number one style problem for most writers. It is also one of the easiest problems to correct with awareness of both the problem and possible solutions. For the sake of simplicity, I will stick with the term point of view, although it is interchangeable with perspective.

Here’s a question: What is reality? Ultimately it’s what someone perceives it to be. Thus there is no one, singular reality among people. Thus your choice of the point with which to tell your story taints the story for the reader. The same story told from two different points of view is a very different story.

In real life if three people see an event, you have three different points of view. When writing your story, the point of view the author chooses to channel the scene through is the point of view the reader gets.

So who is telling the story? You are. But whose voice does the reader ‘hear’ when they read? The point of view through which you relate the story. It could be yours in omniscient voice, or channeled through various characters in third limited, or simply be a narrator telling a story in first person.

When considering how to tell your story, the first thing you have to do is select a point of view. This may be the most critical decision you have to make. Often the type of story you are writing will clearly dictate the point of view, but a good understanding of the various modes of presentation is essential because this is one area where beginning novelists often have problems. They may select the right point of view, but it is often used poorly because of a lack of understanding of the tool itself.

Regardless of which point of view (or points of view) you choose, there is one thing you must have: you as the author must have a good feeling about the point of view with which you are telling the story. If you don’t have a warm and fuzzy about that, this confusion will most definitely be translated to the reader. Remember, ultimately, point of view is your voice as a writer.

Some people write like a music video: point of view flying all over the place, giving glimpses into each character but never really keeping the reader oriented. I say this because the best analogy I can give for point of view is to look at it as your camera. You as author are the director: you see and know everything in your story. But the reader only sees and knows what the camera records: the point of view you choose. You must always keep that in mind. You see the entire scene, but your lens only records the words you put on the page and you have to keep your lens tightly focused and firmly in hand.

Player,-TheThe key term to know, like a director, is the word ‘cut’. A cut in film terminology is when the camera is either a) stopped, then restarted later, or b) stopped and another camera is then used. To a writer, a cut is a change in point of view. In a music video, they go about three seconds before having to ‘cut’. Robert Altman, in the beginning of The Player, uses an extremely long single camera sequence before the first cut—another reason to watch the film.

The most critical thing to remember about point of view is that you have to keep the reader oriented. The reader has got to know from what point of view they are viewing the scene. Lose that and you lose the reader. Thus, as with everything else, there is no wrong point of view to write in, or even mixture of point of views to write in, but it is wrong to confuse the reader as to the point of view through which they are ‘seeing’ the story.

Take the camera point of view a bit further. When directors do a scene, they immediately look into a viewfinder and watch the recording of the take. They do this because, although they saw what happened, they have to know what the camera recorded. As an author, you have to get out of your own point of view as the writer and be able to see what you write as the reader sees it.

What point of view do you write in and why did you choose that point of view?

“Don’t forget the boat!” A lesson in plotting and a moose

Sometimes my obtuseness astounds me. Early in my career, while writing one of my Green Beret books, I knew my characters would need a boat later on in order to conduct a mission. Except, the thing is, they didn’t know they would need it. So, to get around this problem, I simply had one character say “Don’t forget the boat” and they sling load a zodiac underneath a Blackhawk helicopter.

My wife, with the memory that allows no winning of arguments about the past, reminds me about this every so often. Where, when we know the plot ahead of time, we tend to move the plot to those events, rather than let things unfold. Because maybe, if they didn’t have a boat, they’d have figured something more interesting out?

I used to outline a lot. Now I go with the flow. But there’s a problem in the other direction. I, unlike my wife, have the memory of a rock, aka a man. I have to put my Excel spread sheet story grid to the left of my keyboard and fill it in as I write or I’ll completely forget what I’ve written.

BURNERS(fist)Anyway, I’ve been worried about two events coming up in my current WIP: burners.

It’s set in the Puget Sound area after the “Chaos”. I won’t go into much now about the plot, but essentially, I need two twin, Grace and Millay, to meet. I’ve got two burners to help them. But first, Ryker has to figure out how to meet Millay. Because he’s on the north side of Agate Pass Bridge and she’s on Bainbridge Island and the bridge is guarded by Dealers, machines that enforce the Code.

agatepass_aerThen I remember a mission (one I wrote about, sort of, in The Green Beret: Dragon Sim-13) where, during planning, we knew we had to cross a fast-moving, freezing, glacial river to get to our target after infiltration. So, since we were a maritime operations team, we packed a dry suit into one of our rucks (I believe it was mine and it was heavy). The theory being a lead guy goes across the freezing water with a line and we make a rope bridge. Except when we got to the river, we saw a huge moose try to cross. And the current took that moose and he was gone, downstream. Hmm. Scratch the guy swimming across the dry suit.

So we moved to where a bridge crossed the river. It was a main highway. And my team sergeant looked at it and said: Let’s cross under the bridge. What he meant was (since we’d been to mountain climbing school too) we use the girders underneath the roadway to cross.

And cross we did and no moose problems. So Ryker is going to cross underneath the Agate Bridge to meet Grace. Problem solved.

CannibalsBut back to “Don’t forget the boat.” So in another earlier scene, Ryker is being taken out to the Void (the Olympic Peninsula) by the ferryman, Charon. For various reasons, Ryker kills Charon while halfway across. Tosses his body into the Sound. Rows across. Beaches the rowboat and heads into the Void, where he’s attacked by cannibalistic jokers (there is a card game them to this story since a computer, Dealer, runs everything). Anyway, my problem for a long time was: how is Ryker going to get Millay across Puget Sound to meet her sister since he killed the ferryman?

Duh. Double-duh. Seriously. I’ve been pondering this for weeks as I get closer and closer to having to get them together. And? You already know, but I’m a guy.

Just because he killed Charon doesn’t mean there isn’t the damn boat! So I go back to earlier in the book, have him pull the boat up above the tidal line, hide the oars and it’s waiting for him when he needs.

In this case, I shouldn’t have forgotten the boat!

For more brilliant insights like this sign up for my newsletter (where we give stuff away) up above to the left, or join my super-secret A-Team on Facebook where we give even more stuff away. Just send an email to bobandjen@coolgus.com

Nothing but good times ahead.

Except for the moose.

 

Thomas Jefferson & John Adams died on the same day and . . .

TNBetterJeffersonit was the 4th of July, 1826, exactly fifty years after the official signing of the Declaration of Independence.

And that’s how my novel, The Jefferson Allegiance opens. This book reached #2 bestseller status when released (couldn’t beat our The Help) and is one of my favorites as it mixes history and thriller. It’s .99 today only on Amazon, Nook and iBooks.

It’s the first book in the Presidential series with the second book being The Kennedy Endeavor.

The book revolves around a secret deal brokered between Jefferson and Hamilton to insure our country stays on course.

Do you know what was the very first law enacted by the very first Congress?  That was just one of the fascinating facts I learned while researching this book. People often refer to the Founding Fathers as if they walked on water, but they were real men who had to deal with real issues– or in some cases, such as slavery, not deal with it.

If you want to be eligible for giveaways and special promotions (we just ran one today) sign up for my newsletter (to the left, top). I only send it out about every 6 weeks to two months, so you won’t get beaten to death with it.

Have a great summer!

Bob

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