Thursday, April 23, 2009

What's in a Premise?

I've gone back to square one a few times already on my re-write for Good Hope, and I admit that it's been frustrating. But, after reviewing Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Mass, I realized that my premise was weak. So I've spent a week tweaking and reviewing, and I also submitted the premise to my writer's group for feedback. It sparked some debate among them, but I'm glad that I had at least enough of a story idea to create that much disagreement. I've just finished revising the premise one last time, and however flawed it may be, I'm sticking to it.

Breakout Premise: Randall Grayson, A middle-aged husband and father, finds his life adrift after his own uncaring father, who left home when he was six, dies. His wife Ayla and his children try to understand and support him, but Randall's carefully constructed veneer of accomplishment and success gives way to an almost comic obsession with pirate tales and sailing ships. After he enters a contest to become a crewman on the 1877 square-rigger Elissa on a journey to the Cape of Good Hope, Ayla takes over the family business and Randall finds himself free to leave his comfortable life for the uncertainties of severe weather, the trials of ship life, and the threat of real pirates off the coast of Somalia. He also finds himself amid a crew of men who are on their own journeys: The driven Elliot Rhine, ship captain and former Texas oilman who becomes a father-figure to Randall, and Gene Reynolds, whose sexual orientation is in constant debate, but whose zeal for life is unmistakable. And somewhere, in the fog, a phantom ship and a phantom captain who hunts the Elissa to settle a deadly score. Through his adventures, Randall will find the strength and the courage to face not only the trials of the journey to Good Hope, but also the questions that plague his troubled soul: Does he have what it takes? What does it mean to be a "real man" when so many examples have failed him? Is he destined to follow in the footsteps of his father, and will he ever return from Good Hope?

Currently, I'm working on increasing the stakes of my story with my plot outline which will take me another week. From there, I will write and revise all of my character bios before I tackle the new chapter-by-chapter rewrite. I am beginning to identify with my main character more and more as I see the challenge ahead as being almost a struggle against impossible odds. And while I know that is true, I am more encouraged to move forward than I have been in a long time.
Thanks to all of you for your continued support and comments. Keep them coming!


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Why we edit: The Story of a Sign

I was browsing the net today (instead of editing) and I came across this little gem of a film on Listverse. Listverse is a blog you should check out when you're attempting to avoid doing something for a few hours, like editing your novel. You can get there by clicking on the link to this post.

However, the film that I've selected for you is an excellent example of why editing works. Sometimes an author writes something, but if he or she is willing to accept a little feedback, those words can be transformed into a message that actually moves people.

Enjoy the film, and yes, I'm getting back to work right now.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Good Tidings Nautical Gifts

I'd like to call attention to one of my readers.

It's not so much a "who" as it is a "what."

The folks at Good Tidings Nautical Gifts, (or at least someone there) leave comments on my entries from time to time. I just signed up for their e-mail notifications today, and I'm planning on treating myself to something from their very cool selection (since no one has taken the hint and done it for me.)

Click on the link contained in the title of this entry and check out what they have to offer. If you have any love for the sea, ships, or the classic decor that comes from our nautical history, then I'm sure you won't leave the site without finding a favorite piece.

They are located in my former home state of Wisconsin, and I only wish I had known about them while I lived there. The store is located in a historic building in Algoma, Wi. So, if you're heading takes you there, don't forget to stop in and tell them Gary sent you. (I'm really pulling for a discount here...)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Why We Do What We Do: A Top 10 List

"He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it."
1 Peter 3:11

I have a great nautical adventure story in Good Hope, but all of my scenes and sequels depend on one specific turn- the hero of the story has to get on the Elissa in the first place. In earlier drafts my readers were entertained with the story, but when it came to the simple act of the hero committing to a year-long adventure of sailing to the Cape of Good Hope on a Nineteenth Century square rigger, no one was buying it.
So, I've researched the topic of motivation, and I'd like to present to you what I think are the Top 10 Reasons we do the crazy things we do. And I’m not talking about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs here. My audience for Good Hope likely has shelter, a toilet, access to food, and possibly sex on a somewhat regular basis, so that list didn’t help me at all.
For my purposes, I started with the bias that all motivations occur in two simple camps- we are either moving away from something (Avoidance), or moving toward something (Pursuit). There is a third camp, but I will reveal that at the end.

1.We Avoid Pain. Pain can be inflicted physically, mentally, or verbally. We avoid situations where our lives are threatened, our physical body could be harmed or our mental well being is compromised. In effect, we run away from death physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
2.We Avoid Fear and Uncertainty. We don’t walk into a barn that looks like it could fall down. We run from the dark hallway to the lighted kitchen when we get up in the middle of the night. We run away from the idea of death. If we are not certain of the outcome, we may avoid making a choice either because we fear a possible outcome, or the uncertainty of success paralyzes us.
3.We Avoid Judgement. And we avoid those that are under judgment. We tend to avoid those who persecute or judge us for out beliefs. This item is very similar to fear, but I think you will agree that it has every right to be its own entry.
4. We Avoid Boredom. Even comfort and luxury can be boring. We want something to stimulate us or we do not feel alive.
5.We Avoid Oppression. Don't confuse this one with judgement. We abhor being slaves in the gross sense of the word, or in the lesser sense, we reject restrictions on our life and our liberty.

1.We Pursue Pleasure. Do I have to explain this one? In all ways, we want to be pleased, fed, satisfied, or sated.
2.We Pursue Acceptance: When you are looking for that shoulder to cry on, whom do you go to? Why, the person most likely to accept you, of course. We want encouragement. We need words of affirmation. We desire recognition for our deeds.
3.We Pursue Excitement: I have included the pursuit of knowledge and understanding in this entry. The new technology, the new movie, the new religion, the new anything is exciting because it helps us feel alive and engaged. We bungee jump. We go back to school. We read a new thriller. We feed our curiosity, because it is exciting.
4.We Pursue Life: The new diet, the new health craze, the new doctor. We don’t want to die, and we are attracted to those things which affirm or contribute to our life and our health. Water is a reflection of life. Think about it. How often do we use water as a decoration in our civilizations? Pools, fountains, falls, wells, beaches, shorelines. All of them symbolize life and we are attracted to them.
5. We Pursue Freedom: I’ve heard it said that you can judge a country based on how many people are trying to get in, and how many people are trying to get out. America still appears to be a land of freedom in that regard, but I wonder for how long?

And what is the third camp I mentioned earlier?
It is the absence of movement- a motivation to do nothing. It is comfort in its negative form or the state at which we have become too comfortable to change, or too comfortable to risk change. This, I think, is the worst and most dangerous motivation of all. The greatest sin among sins is to see a need, and do nothing.
So, once again, I ask my readers to add to this list, come up with your own, or comment. We talked about freedom last time, but now it’s time to get even more personal. What motivates you? What are you running from? What are you running toward? And where in your life do you find yourself sitting on your hands?

P.S. And what motivation did I pick for my main character? We are told in seminars and books on writing to create dynamic, vibrant characters that are not one-dimensional, but leap off the page. So, as it turns out, there was not one particular motivation that fit my character, but several. It was a great lesson for me personally, and as a writer. I've found that my own motivations for doing things can be complex and sometimes contradictory. It's what makes me human. In the same way, my main character is motivated out of fear, uncertainty, and boredom, but he also desperately wants excitement and freedom. He is now much more interesting to write about than the one-dimensional character he was in my first draft, and, I must say, he's also much more human.



Yes, the title of this blog has changed. I am enrolled in "31 Days to a Better Blog," and our lesson yesterday was to refine the mission of our blog and write an "elevator pitch."
Since my blog is more of a personal essay on the challenges of writing the novel Good Hope, I decided that it needed a slight overhaul. I hope those of you who follow will appreciate the changes that are on the way. You will also be happy to know that I have finally resolved my issue with motivation for my main character, so I can continue the rewrite of Good Hope with much more assurance and speed.
Full Speed Ahead!


Monday, April 6, 2009

Something Different...

On of my fellow Humble Fiction Cafe' members, Kelli D. Meyer, has posted her award-winning horror story, "Terrible Twos", on her blog at It's a creepy new take on zombies with a twist you won't see coming, so check it out! I have to admit that even if I didn't know Kelli personally, I would still be a fan of her work.