Monday, November 7, 2011

7 Ways to use Exposition Correctly (improved)

[New & Improved! (Is it possible for something to be both and improved?) This updated with examples for points 4,5 & 6]
The basic purpose of exposition is to tell the reader something he must know to understand and believe in the character and story. Rarely should exposition exist in a pure state. You can combine it with narration, description, and dialogue.  But any passage who's fundamental purpose is to impart exposition to the reader should be deemed an expository passage. Long passages of expository writing and description are considered passe in modern fiction and yet it is impossible to write a story without some amount of exposition. Therefore one should endeavor to make the exposition a part of the narrative flow. The method used to impart exposition is completely dependent upon the chosen point of view. violating this rule creates a story bogged down with useless detail and explanation. The characters become unrealistic and the story becomes unbelievable. Note this example:
I sat in front of the fire well aware of the boy approaching from behind.
The boy was frightened, but continued to approach. He had dealt with outlaws before and knew how cruel they could be.
This is horrible. How is it possible for the narrator to know what the boy was feeling and how could he be privy to the boy's thoughts concerning  previous encounters with outlaws?
1. Let the character give the information to the viewpoint character through dialogue.
I sat in front of the fire well aware of the boy approaching from behind.
"Mister? I'm scared," the boy said as he continued to approach, "I've had dealings with outlaws before. I know you guys can be cruel."
2. let the viewpoint character narrate the expository information in such a way that it is apparent he received the information from another character. For example:
The boy told me he was scared. He had dealings with outlaws before. he said he knew how cruel we could be.
3. Information the viewpoint narrator wants to convey to the reader about someone who is not present can be presented through dialogue with another character:
"I tell you Frank, that kid was scared out of his wits. Seems he had dealings with outlaws before and new we could be cruel."
4.When two characters are privy to information that needs to be told to the reader it can be expressed in a disagreement or an argument. This is a simple concept where the information is generated in dialogue.

"I don'r understand why didn't you take the boy down?"
"He said he was scared."
"No kidding, that doesn't answer the question."
"He left me curious. Apparently he had dealings with outlaws before and knew we could be cruel. I wanted to find out the particulars of his dealings. It could be he met up with one of our gang before. I wanted to make certain he hadn't told anyone else."
5.Information about the past can be expressed through the reminiscences of two or more characters.

"You remember that boy who tried to sneak up on your camp one night?"
"How could I forget? He was scared out of his wits. I thought he'd pee his pants."
"He had dealing with outlaws before, right?"
"Yep, Seems he got caught in a box canyon that some outlaws were using as a base camp. No one was there when he first got there so he began provisioning himself out of their store of victuals, he was in the middle of it when the guys returned from a heist all excited and ready to cause havoc. They caught him and took all their aggression out on him before spanking him, taking all his provisions, including that which was rightfully his  and sent him on his way under threat of death."
"Well, it's no wonder he was afraid of outlaws."
6. convey information about the past through the unspoken thoughts of the narrator.

I remember that boy was scared witless. He'd had experience with outlaws before and was not very enthusiastic about have to deal with another.
7. You should test your story for faulty exposition before your final draft by asking yourself  these questions:
a  Is the information absolutely essential so the reader may understand and believe in the character and story?
b. How would the viewpoint character know this information?

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Dwell With the Lamb - a New Quest

[Sorry to those of you who don't like cliffhangers. It's getting on toward noon on the west coast of the U.S. So I've got to blog it as is. Somehow I wrote 800 words and didn't say a thing. Maybe I should get a job as a political speech writer. If I finish the scene soon enough I'll amend the post and let you all know.]

Benjamin hadn’t seen the shaman that saved him since his return to the reservation. He relished the thought of being able to thank her in his own voice.

Rebecca drove him out to the old trailers that most of them used as hunting cabins, but the shaman had made it her home. Benjamin watched the cloud of dust the old truck raised as it drove over the dry riverbed used as a road in the summer.
Benjamin knew that Rebecca came this way many times a week to ensure that the two orphans that lived there permanently had food and water, as well as schooling them. That was why she had been there the first day he returned. He also knew there was always a tribal woman there to take care of them. He had ridden along with Rebecca several times on her treks there. He came along for the ride and to visit the forest he had lived in for so long. He never thought they would be making the trip solely for him.He didn’t know what to expect when word passed to him that the shaman wanted to see him. But he had heard much about her in the days he had spent as a human. Most of his friends had told him she was evil and did spooky things. He knew another side of her if there were two sides of her and not just the ramblings of ignorance inventing a fearsome woman where none existed.
When they arrived Rebecca squeezed his hand and smiled as she opened the truck door. Benjamin smiled a hesitant smile, as he was unsure of himself and unsure of the situation. He inquired around as to where the shaman was. A rough old man in an ancient cowboy hat pointed to the forest and said, “She went into the forest early this morning.”
Benjamin’s heart beat loud in his ears. He would have to revisit the places he had been as a wolf. He rustled up his courage and with a huge sigh walked into the forest. The forest floor was replete with pine needles requiring a good eye to follow the shaman’s tracks. Benjamin’s wolf eyes were well trained in tracking even though he used scent most often to track. The ability of his wolf eyes had carried over to his human eyes. There was a faint lingering scent but his nose was not sensitive enough to discern a path, so he had to rely solely on his eyes which slowed him down.
What seemed to Benjamin to be several hours he came to a rocky clearing with a dusty game trail meandering though it. He bent down and examined one of the shaman’s tracks. She had passed this way less than two minutes before. As he hunched over the track he became aware of an animal scent. He judged by his depleted sense of smell that the animal was very near. He heard a growl from just above his head on the boulder to his right. He knew that growl well. He knew his human body could not fight the coyote, nor could he outrun it. He wracked his brain for a possible alternatives to what was sure to become a deadly encounter. The only item he had available for his defense was a knife sheathed to his belt. In his mind he could count the number of bites and tears he would sustain before he would be able to kill the beast. It was not hopeful. His best chance lay in doing the unexpected.
With out a wind up he leapt upwards and grabbed the coyote by the throat and slammed it to the ground on its back. He pressed his chest against the animal’s front legs and pressed hard on his neck. His side was being raked hard by the coyote’s rear toenails, his jacket absorbed most of the scratching. But the coyote was whining through its constricted windpipe and was close to death.
He lost his grip on the coyote’s throat and its back legs stopped defending itself. The coyote was changing shape under his hands. Benjamin was baffled. Where the coyote once was now lay the shaman coughing and choking.
“Good job, Benjamin,” the shaman croaked though her coughing.
“How did you do that? How did you become a coyote? Was it a hallucination?”
“No, Benjamin, I didn’t tell you the complete truth when I was telling you about spirit animals. Some people like me have mastered a skill of metamorphing ourselves into an animal that is of the nature of our spirit guides. My spirit guide happens to be Iceye’ye. As difficult as the trickster is at times, I always try to keep in mind he is the creator of Nimi’ipuu, the people. He is cunning, wise, and a pain in the butt.”
“Thank you for saving me from my animal prison.”
“Pshaw. I’ll accept the thanks, knowing how it has changed your life, but I have to admit I didn’t do it purely for you. I had my own agenda. I was losing young hopefuls to video games, girls, and cars. Not necessarily in that order of course. I needed to get you back to quell the fear of tradition. This generation of the Nimi’ipuu can ill afford to lose the past. It makes us what we are and teaches us better ways to live.”
“Well regardless of your motives you saved me and I am grateful.”
“You might want to hold off on praising me. I’ve got a task for you and you probably won’t like it.

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

6 Tips on Writing a Powerful Synopsis

[I was prompted by someone who was having difficulty writing a synopsis and ended up writing a chapter]

1. Outline it.
    I think this is the most important point of all. I don't mean the old Roman numerals and ABCs, use whatever method you are comfortable with to build a framework for your synopsis. Many times you can reduce the framework of your story to its most significant points. Take out a hacksaw and rip your story to pieces and find the absolutely necessary elements of the main story line or plot that gets your protagonist from the beginning to the end.
2. Do the math.
    I know that you may be a writer because math stumped you. So here  is a simple table to help you out.
# of words in story      number of words in synopsis
100,000                       480
80,000                         390
60,000                         250
40,000                         160
20,000                         80
10,000                         40

If you wrote a tome over 100,000 words I would stick to a maximum of two printed pages or 500 words. Any more and you chance losing the interest of the reader assigned to your novel and that puts your novel at the bottom of the pile or worse, on the rejection list unread. If you feel these numbers are too restrictive remember these are guidelines but I would suggest staying within 10% of indicated number (10% would be the number with the 0 loped off :-)).

3. Adjectives and verbs
    Get out your word finder and thesaurus and find the most powerful, exciting, and descriptive adjectives and verbs possible to build your synopsis. I don't mean to get flowery or grotesque to an extreme. Although, if your story IS grotesque to the extreme, ignore that advice. But you want you verbs to describe direct action. and your adjectives should excite the reader. Remember you are trying to engage the reader so they will want to read the story.

4. So far the tips are intended for both indie pub and traditional publication. We will divide the two here.
indie pub
    If you are writing to your readership obviously don't give away the climax or details you want your readers to discover through the story to build the excitement and drive the reader to the end. So be careful what you reveal.
Traditional Publication
   Don't hold anything back. Don't think that leaving a cliffhanger in your synopsis is going give you a better chance to be read. Publishers want to know that you can write the beginning, middle and end of your story in a compelling manner before they take the time to read the story. Holding back the climax is certain to hold back your story from being considered.

5. Think poetically.
   By which I mean work within the constraints of the framework you've built and use a minimum of words to convey the essence of your work. Don't take me literally and rhyme.

6. Edit, Edit, Edit, Edit
   Condensing 100,000 words into a mere 480 should not be daunting if you follow these steps. But imagine if you will any errors in your synopsis multiplied by 200. Remove any words of which you lack a complete working knowledge. Thesauruses are great tools if you use them to help you remember  synonyms you know and not to use big words that you don't know. Make certain there are no passive sentences, no spell check idiocies, and finally the result is the best possible representation of your story.

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Dwell With the Lamb - Mother's Meals

Benjamin had a smile on his face for the first time since he was back. He had found himself thanks to his father. He not only could remember things that had been forgotten, he could express anything he thought. He felt free for the first time since turning into a human.

Not everything he remembered was good. He just felt good about remembering them. He remembered how his parents would argue over how to raise him. He remembered how difficult it was to live within two cultures. One on life-support the other foreign and unfriendly. That was not only a conundrum within himself, but was the recurrent theme of his parents arguing. His mother argued for a Christian life among the white man. His father argued that to lose the past was to lose who they were. He could only imagine what they fought about after he disappeared during his vision quest.
But his father had healed him using Indian medicine. Benjamin doubted there was white man medicine that could have cured him.
His family was at the dinner table, a great meal set before them. His mother said they should have a celebration. Benjamin wondered how they could afford such a meal.
“What are you thinking about, Benjamin?” his mother asked, “You seem to be lost in your own world.”
“Nothing really, mother, just taking in this sumptuous meal.”
“You deserve so much more, like the prodigal son. Which truly you are.
“It’s just fabulous that you can talk again. Now it can be like it used to be”
Benjamin had doubts about that. Too much had changed in him. Too much had changed for his parents. They weren’t the same people. They acted different than they had before he had left. He had learned so much abut life that he could not express to them as it had happened to his wolf-self and there were no human words that could describe his thoughts and feelings of his life as a wolf.
He had learned not to gag on the burnt meat his mother served and was beginning to actually have a taste for it. He took a bite of the turkey his mother had cooked for him. He had some trouble with the vegetables not being used to them yet. The red jiggling thing on his plate had him baffled. It did look like meat or vegetable so he avoided it.Partially to distract himself from the odd items on his plate and partly to satisfy his curiosity he spoke up.
“What was it like for you two when I didn’t return?”
His father spoke up, “It was terrible at first. Your mother was inconsolable. I felt so lost. Once you were gone for a week, because all those before you have returned within a week, all the men searched for you. The hunters who are very good at tracking picked up your trail, but tracing week old tracks was difficult for all of us. It took us three days to track what we thought were your prints to a large meadow where your tracks mixed with a very large wolf. Some say they saw the wolf in the trees across the meadow and claimed he was a giant. Your tracks ended there but we crossed ten mies all around that site in hopes of finding more tracks and found none.
"It was odd that there were no bones, but with a wolf that large we figured he had crushed your bones and ate them. The men gave up but I continued to search for an entire year but found no other traces of you. I finally gave you up for lost or dead.
“You were our only child and we were too old to have another child. We were both devastated. We thought our son, who we loved beyond measure, was gone for good. And we mourned for you until the day you returned.”
Benjamin was caught up in a memory of a group of humans gathering around his boulder as he watched from the other side of the meadow.
“That large wolf had to be me. I didn’t recognize any scents when I came back later to investigate.”
He was going to add that he recognized many of the scents of the people he had met, including his father, but he figured they wouldn’t understand. Humans don’t appear to have the same ability to distinguish scents like he could, even today, and to call attention to that might upset his mother.
“Looking back,” his father said with pride in his voice, “it appears you made as good a wolf as you do an Indian.”
Benjamin smiled and returned his attention to his plate. The discussion had left him with an uneasy feeling that he couldn’t quite put a finger on. Maybe it was nothing, but he needed to take his time and review what was said. Maybe he still wasn’t getting all the human words right.
He thought about Rebecca and wondered once again about her strange reactions to him. What was she thinking? Was it interest in him as a mate or that of a playmate? She wasn’t clear about anything and her scents were undefinable. He did know that his heart beat a strange pattern when she was near him. He didn’t know if the signal from his body was a positive thing or a negative thing. He did not remember having those feelings before the vision quest.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Dwell With the Lamb - Father Heals

Benjamin was watching television, his favorite pastime as it allowed him to access a wide variety of human interaction in hope of gleaning enough information to understand his new world.
 His father walked into the living room and asked, “Benjamin, may I talk with you for a little while?”
Benjamin nodded his head and turned off the T.V. With the remote control, another human magic he had just learned to accept.
Joseph pulled a chair opposite Benjamin and sat down. He grasped Benjamin’s hands in his and stare into his eyes. Joseph’s dark eyes were pools of ink to Benjamin. His hands were warm but dessicated like stiff old leather. He smelled like a father should smell in Benjamin’s mind, a hint of wild herbs and dried sweat. Joseph squeezed Benjamin’s hands so tight as to feel uncomfortable to him.
“Benjamin,” Joseph said, “it has been enough time now. I understand that your thoughts have been mixed up for a long time, but time has passed. You have been among your people long enough now that you know our words again. You were always slow to speak allowing others their words first. That was not wrong, it was just your way.
“But, your silent time has reached its end. It is time for you to retake your position among the people. In order to do that you must speak. The words are there let your voice open and release those thoughts.”
Joseph placed one hand hard over Benjamin’s throat. His hand, that was warm in Benjamin’s hand, became a flame of heat on his throat. Benjamin’s eyes darted left and right as fear rose within him. The burning increased as it rose upward inside Benjamin’s head generating a conflagration within his mind.
“Now, Benjamin, remember your human tongue!”
Benjamin had never experiencing fear like this before. He felt trapped, unable to do his own bidding, only look into his father’s eyes and feel the fire within him.
Then came a moment when the heat dissipated. And Benjamin felt a connection from his thoughts to his throat he didn’t remember ever feeling before.
“Father,” it came out more like a frog’s croak than a word, but it issued from Benjamin’s mouth.
His father pulled him to him and hugged him tight and shouted, “Thank God, your voice has been healed by his power!”
Ben’s voice gained strength and vibrancy as he spoke, “I am thankful, father, for your healing hand. I don’t understand how, but I understand that you wanted to help me to regain my voice. I have had many words in my head I have been unable to express. So many thoughts for so long. From the day I became human to today.”
Benjamin hugged his father with all the love and unspoken affection he had held within him.
“Benjamin, it wasn’t I who restored your voice, I was just the vehicle. God, in his infinite mercy has deemed that your voice should return. You should give all praises to him.”
“I don’t understand this God you speak of, but I do understand the love of a father toward his son and his desire to have him a whole being, and I am grateful to you for your gift.”
Benjamin’s mother walked in the front door with her hands full of groceries, grousing about something under her breath.
Benjamin stood and said, “Mother, I can talk now.”
His mother’s full load of groceries hit the floor with a loud crash of cans and bottles.
She ran to her son and hugged him so tight he lost his air.
“Thank God, Thank God,” She repeated over and over again.
As her voice trailed off, she looked down at her husband and sniffed the air.
“Joseph, why? Old Indian cures are hogwash and you know it, yet you apply your superstitious nonsense on your own son. Some of those so called cures were methods of death, and yet you risk your own son to the old ways!”
“You can’t argue with success. God, through the tribal cure has made our son whole again.”
“I say he chose to heal him of his own accord, showed him his infinite mercy, and removed the torturous method of the old way.”
Benjamin sensed that they were traveling old ground from which they had never found an exit and remained silent.
His mother gave him a kiss on his cheek and began picking up the spilled groceries. His father grasped Benjamin’s hands and gave him a big smile. Benjamin noticed his father’s once dry hands were now damp and hot.