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Writer’s Mail
Tuesdays with Story
June 19, 2019

The first word . . .

“Making people believe the unbelievable is no trick; it’s work. … Belief and reader absorption come in the details: An overturned tricycle in the gutter of an abandoned neighborhood can stand for everything.”
– Stephen King (1947- ), novelist/short story writer

Tuesday eve at the B&N . . .

“They’ve been dropping like flies,” Jack said as we looked over the slim number of writers gathered around one table on the bargain books floor. A single table. Larry was on the road to Cleveland for a meeting. Chris had fallen ill. Paul was helping a friend. Mike was turning in early after a hard day of house painting.

Still there were six of us to examine the works of four of our colleagues. Here are some of the thoughts that were shared:

Cindi Dyke (chapter 1 rewrite, The Mansion Secrets) . . . Great suggestions came from the group on placing the story in 1980’s. Jessica suggested a classroom photo of President Reagan and Vice President Bush or something about Michael Jackson. Later in the book there are movie/TV references and wall phones to place the time period, but these are great ideas to establish the 1980’s at the beginning of the book. Jerry pointed out opportunities to have information coming from Michael’s POV. Tracey suggested there are many opportunities to remove filters.

Jack Freiburger (chapters 47-48, A Walk upon the Water) . . . The inside Sean’s head stuff seemed to go over well. As expected, the bio of the brothers was too long-winded and the photo collage Sean’s dad is building gets a bit lost from its symbolic primacy. A page of rewrite required.

Jessica Smith (chapters 1-2, Holding the Balance) . . . People liked the premise of the story. It was suggested to:

  • Get rid of the first page completely, seems like too much information and it’s unnecessary.
  • There is confusion about what “wards” are. Writing a prologue or clarifying the meaning would be helpful to those who don’t often read fantasy.
  • Add some more specific information, names and such of officers.
  • Make stronger the magical guidance that Laurel is getting, i.e. why would she remember her credentials and case file but not an umbrella?
  • Add Laurel putting on booties and such to walk into the crime scene.
  • Make Dylan more personable, give him a character and describe how he looks.
  • Have there be a reason for Laurel always looking at Dylan. (They know each other from the past.)
  • During Laurel’s drive to the police station have her go through her memories to explain the magic and her abilities to the reader.

John Schneller (chapter 8, Broken rewrite) . . . An overwhelming plethora of wisdom stated that the rescue of Broken was unreasonable for oh so many reasons. The reader (not the author) needs to believe the action/motivations.  Thanks for the urging. A solution rose out of the ashes on the way home. The mountain boys will reveal a tattoo common to the Protectors in the city, thus making the giving of help true to their nature, and giving Broken a reason to believe them. Hope that works for all.

Who’s up next . . .

July 2: Lisa McDougal (chapter, The Tebow Family Secret); Kashmira Sheth and Amit Trivedi (chapters, untitled novel); Amber Boudreau (chapter, Mavis); Jack Freiburger (chapters, A Walk upon the Water); Bob Kralapp (chapter, Capacity); Larry Sommers (chapter, Freedom’s Purchase); and  Jerry Peterson (???).

Fifth Tuesday . . .

It’s coming. July 30. Put it on your calendar. Larry Sommers and his wife will host us at their home on the westside of Madison.

We do have a writing challenge and here it is: Write a story with a deus ex machina ending.

What? you ask.

Let’s start with a definition. From Wikipedia: A deus ex machina ending is… a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the inspired and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability or object.

Think of the movie Jurassic Park. Several of the characters are running from a dinosaur intent on eating them. They are doomed. Nothing they do can save themselves from becoming dino snacks. And then another dinosaur shows up. It kills and eats the first dinosaur, permitting the humans to escape. An unexpected intervention.

Dramatic? Yes, but not fully believable.

So that’s your assignment for Fifth Tuesday. Write a story with this kind of over-the-top, unbelievable ending. Go for the laughs. Make it funny. And do it in no more than 500 words.

Now should you be tempted to write this kind of ending for real in the novel you’re writing, here’s some guidance from Novel Writing Help dot Com:

How to avoid a deus ex machina ending

The literal translation deus ex machina is “god from the machinery,” and it derives from Ancient Greek theater. The characters in the play would get themselves into a terrible mess, and the only way to sort it out was for the gods, or the actors playing the gods, to emerge from the “machinery” of the stage and put the world to right again with their divine powers.

For our own plotting purposes, a deus ex machina ending means a contrived, awkward or unbelievable ending. It’s one which fails to flow naturally and logically from the events that came before it.

An example

Imagine a detective in a good old-fashioned Whodunnit. We’ll call him Smith.

Now, we know that Smith will unmask the murderer by the end of the novel (because that’s what happens in crime fiction). But for this unmasking to satisfy to the reader, the name of the guilty party must come to Smith as a result of his own skills and efforts.

Smith spends the bulk of the novel searching for clues, interviewing suspects, piecing together the evidence. In short, he does all the things a detective usually does in a crime novel.

Sure, he makes mistakes as he goes. And his initial thoughts and theories are proved wrong. But the reader has faith that his skills will eventually lead him to the truth.

And eventually Smith would have discovered the identity of the murderer, if his creator had been any good at plotting novels. Unfortunately, though, the writer calls in the “gods” and settles on a contrived ending instead.

Smith, you see, has reached a seemingly hopeless situation…

All of his leads have come to nothing. To solve the crime, he needs a mental breakthrough, one of those moments in old-fashioned crime novels when the detective suddenly exclaims…

Of course, they did it with mirrors!

But instead of Smith experiencing an epiphany of this sort, which is what the reader hopes for and expects, we get a deus ex machina ending…

Smith just happens to walk in on the murderer in the process of strangling his latest victim. The killer is arrested, Smith gets a pat on the back, and everyone is happy. Everyone except for the novel’s unsatisfied readers, of course.

Why are they left unsatisfied?

Because the crime was solved through Smith just happening to be in the right place at the right time, totally by chance.

The resolution came about because of forces outside the detective’s control, by the Ancient Greek god of “luck”, if you like. It didn’t happen as a result of his own skills and efforts. That difference is critical.

So how do you avoid a deus ex machina ending?

Keep the “gods” out of it. Leave it to the mortals in the novel to sort out their own problems. In practical terms, that means two things…

First, make sure that the eventual solution to the novel’s problem comes about because of the character’s own efforts. Whatever “breakthrough” happens in the third act of the novel, it needs to be an effect of something the character did or thought earlier in the story.

Second, plant “clues” to the resolution along the way, so it seems believable and logical to readers when it happens. If the resolution happens out of the blue, you’ll have a deus ex machina ending. And that’s not good!

From the ending, we go the beginning, to great first lines . . . and the last word for this edition of Writer’s Mail . . .

Joe Fassler, a top horror fiction writer, interviewed Stephen King in 2013. He asked King to talk about the importance, the magnitude of a novel’s first sentence.

Said King, “An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.”

The first sentence sets the stage—however long or short the text—and hints at the narrative vehicle by which the writer will propel the book forward.

Said King, “Context is important, and so is style. But for me, a good opening sentence really begins with voice. You hear people talk about ‘voice’ a lot, when I think they really just mean ‘style.’ Voice is more than that.

“People come to books looking for something. But they don’t come for the story, or even for the characters. They certainly don’t come for the genre. I think readers come for the voice… An appealing voice achieves an intimate connection—a bond much stronger than the kind forged, intellectually, through crafted writing.”

Wrote Gawker columnist Jason Parham in a follow-up to that interview, “There are thousands of classic opening lines in fiction—A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens and Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison come to mind—but often the most well-known are not always the best. First sentences, of course, have different functions—to amuse, to frighten, to mystify—and the mechanics a writer uses to achieve this connection vary from genre to genre. In looking for the best opening lines, I took all of this into consideration. What follows are the 21 best. These are the sentences that say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.”

“The time has come.” – Dr. Seuss, Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now!

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” – Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

“They shoot the white girl first.” – Toni Morrison, Paradise

“Dear Anyone Who Finds This, Do not blame the drugs.” – Lynda Barry, Cruddy

“An abandoned auto out in the San Berdoo foothills; Buzz Meeks checked in with ninety-four thousand dollars, eighteen pounds of high-grade heroin, a 10-gauge pump, a .38 special, a .45 automatic, and a switchblade he’d bought off a pachuco at the border—right before he spotted the car parked across the line: Mickey Cohen goons in an LAPD unmarked, Tijuana cops standing by to bootsack his goodies, dump his body in the San Ysidro River.” – James Ellroy, L.A. Confidential

“It was raining in Richmond on Friday, June 6.” – Patricia Cornwell, Postmortem

“The man who had had the room before, after having slept the sleep of the just for hours on end, oblivious to the worries and unrest of the recent early morning, awoke when the day was well advanced and the sounds of the city completely invaded the air of the half-opened room.” – Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Dialogue with the Mirror

“Pale freckled eggs.” – Nadine Gordimer, The Conservationist

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

“Back in the days when everyone was old and stupid or young and foolish and me and Sugar was the only ones just right, this lady moved on our block with nappy hair and proper speech and no makeup.” – Toni Cade Bambara, The Lesson

“Don’t look for dignity in public bathrooms.” – Victor LaValle, Big Machine

“I can feel the heat closing in, feel them out there making their moves, setting up their devil doll stool pigeons, crooning over my spoon and dropper I throw away at Washington Square Station.” – William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch

“The magician’s underwear has just been found in a cardboard suitcase floating in a stagnant pond on the outskirts of Miami.”  – Tom Robbins, Another Roadside Attraction

“You better not never tell nobody but God.”  – Alice Walker, The Color Purple

“I’ve been cordially invited to join the visceral realists.”  – Roberto Bolano, The Savage Detectives

“Chris Kraus, a 39-year-old experimental filmmaker and Sylvère Lotringer, a 56-year-old college professor from New York, have dinner with Dick _____, a friendly acquaintance of Sylvère’s, at a sushi bar in Pasadena.” – Chris Kraus, I Love Dick

“See the child.” – Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” – Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.” – Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

“Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo says when he describes the cities visited on his expeditions, but the emperor of the Tartars does continue listening to the young Venetian with greater attention and curiosity than he shows any other messenger or explorer of his.” – Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

“I’m pretty much fucked.” – Andy Weir, The Martian

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Writer’s Mail
Tuesdays with Story
October 19, 2018

They gathered at the bookstore

John Schneller led 11 TWS members gathered in the writers circle through critiques of the works of seven of their colleagues. Here is some of what was shared:

Lisa McDougal (chapter 6, The Tebow Family Secret): There was some confusion about why Adam gave Jessica a Sprite instead of a beer when she asked (under age). It was suggested that the African mask be made less valuable so that it would be more believable that Adam would have it. Also to rework line about camera being new. Tracey recommended I change the lines from the movie because of copy right issue. Larry thought the ending wasn’t subtle enough.

Millie Mader (Short story, rewrite, “Stone Cold Stripper”): My only contribution is that I’m going to do more rewriting. (sigh!!)

Jack Freiburger (chapter 18, A Walk Upon the Water):

Bob Kralapp (short story, part 1, “Capacity”): (more…)

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Writer’s Mail
Tuesdays with Story
September 8, 2016

 

The first word . . .

“Making people believe the unbelievable is no trick; it’s work. … Belief and reader absorption come in the details: An overturned tricycle in the gutter of an abandoned neighborhood can stand for everything.” – Stephen King (1947- ), novelist/short story writer

 

Millie Mader, published author!

Said Millie in a recent note, “Just letting you all know that my novel is now available on Nook and Kindle!!!! Without Pat’s help it could never have been published. I did credit Tuesdays, and I thank all of you for the years of helpful critiques – especially Jerry.”

Here are the links so you can download Millie’s ebook, Baby Blue:

– Kindle . . . Baby Blue on Kindle

– Nook . . . Baby Blue on the Nook

Now do one more thing. Go to Millie’s book pages on Amazon and B&N and post a review of Baby Blue.

 

Who’s up next . . . (more…)

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Writer’s Mail
Tuesdays with Story
April 7, 2016

 

Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones.” – Stephen King

Here are some things I have found interesting.

Writing sources:/Blogs/Places to learn extra writing stuffJ

http://thewritepractice.com  Joe Bunting is the founder of the Write Practice. He loves the sound of a good sentence and would like to think of himself as a literary snob but can be kept up far too late by a page turner meant for thirteen-year-old girls. He would like for you not to know that, though. He lives with his wife, Talia—of the extraordinary food blog taliabunting.com, and two sons in Atlanta.

I found this an interesting place to discover new books. http://delanceyplace.com/index.php. I get an email from them everyday with a short summary of the latest non fiction book they recommend. Today’s book was about Octopusus. Here is a little blurb. (more…)

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WRITER’S MAIL
Tuesdays With Story
November 5,2015

Nov. 2nd Meeting

Lisa- The Tebow Family Secret, Chap42, A Trusted Friend  Alicia thought the plot moved well.  Pat suggested that the reason for Sadie’s presence in this chapter be explained.  Rest of the group thought it moved well.

Millie– Poem, “Using The Pen To Heal”, Lisa thought there were two voices in each stanza, in the alternating stanzas.  Pat liked the line “Life will turn new pages.”  Bob suggested writing from last stanza back.  Cindi felt like it was a poem in which narrator is counseling others.  Alicia suggested adding in some personal anecdotes in between.

Bob– “Letters”, Part 2.  Alicia liked anecdotes about the war.  Group suggested that Bob put more steaminess into the letters so as we know why they’re to be kept from the kids.  Cindi asked about the main character.  Bob said the main character is the husband and that his reactions to the letters give ideas of how he was as a young man.

Amit and Kashmira- 1st and 2nd chapters—Lisa felt Kedar seemed more interested in keeping friends than getting back to Uma, his fiance.  Everyone liked the chapters.  Amit said that beginning with Uma’s preparation for wedding started story off on softer foot, than beginning with Kedar in middle of the crisis and chaos of the division of the country.  Alicia suggested they put in a short prologue to explain the historical conflict, and to add in a map of the region, as well. (more…)

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Writer’s Mail
Tuesdays with Story
May 7, 2015

He said it . . .
“When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.” – Stephen King (1947-), horror/sci-fi/fantasy novelist

Who’s up next . . .
May 12: Jim Salimes (chapter 1, Tones of Home), Carol Hornung (scene, The Ghost of Heffron College), and Jeannie Bergmann (2 poems).

May 19: Lisa McDougal (chapter, Tebow Family Secret), Amber Boudreau (chapter, Stone), Mo Bebow-Reinhard (???), Kashmira Sheth & Amit Trivedi (chapter, novel), Bob Kralapp (short story, part 2, “Flamingo”), and Jerry Peterson (chapters 5-8, Killing Ham).

May 26: June 2 : Pat Edwards (???), Kashmira Sheth & Amit Trivedi (chapter, novel), Cindi Dyke (chapter, North Road), Millie Mader (???), Alicia Connolly-Lohr (chapters 20, Coastie Girl), and Andy Brown (chapters, The Last Library).

Our May editor . . .
Jerry Peterson is our editor this month for Writers Mail. Send your good stuff to him. (more…)

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Writer’s Mail
Tuesdays with Story
February 4, 2015

 He said it . . .

“You know, sometimes people say to me, ‘Why do you choose to write that creepy stuff?’ And I usually say, ‘What makes you think I have a choice?’ ” – Stephen King, novelist/short story writer (1947- )

 Neither snow nor sleet nor dark of night . . .

 Yes, Madison got three inches of snow yesterday afternoon and evening, making a mess of rush-hour traffic. Nonetheless, four first-and-thirders proved they had no fear of winter’s worst and trekked into B&N.

Kashmira Sheth and Amit Trivedi (chapter 12, novel) – This story, set in 1947 India after the partition of India and Pakistan, is about the love of two young people frustrated by circumstances over which they have n o control. The major discussion centered on when is the best time to provide a detailed description of a character, when the character first appears in the story or when the character becomes important to the story? (more…)

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