Saturday, March 3, 2018

The Home Stretch

Hope you're all having a great weekend!

Just thought I'd post a picture from the progress chart for STAY, the sequel to FLEE. As you can see, I've almost hit the word count I was aiming for (80k), and I'm writing the final part of the book right now. (It might seem a bit strange to go into a book knowing how many words it'll end up being, but typically that's how I've always approached my novels. Maybe I'll write about this some other time.)

Of course, once this is done I'll still need to fine tune a bunch of things, proofread it, and then send it through the editing process, but it looks like a release by the end of April is still very feasible. So stay tuned! (Now excuse me while I order a bottle of champagne... 😉 )

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

What Writers Can Learn from Acting

Of all the modern conveniences that technology has afforded us, I’d say it’s our access to information that is the most valuable. Colleges and universities are no longer the only places to get an education; much of this knowledge is now available at our fingertips via the internet. This is especially true since the emergence of websites like Udemy, Skillshare, Coursera, and Masterclass. These websites offer paid classes in the form of high-quality video downloads, workbooks, and assignments. Of course, there are also free alternatives (though usually of lesser quality) that can be found of popular video sharing websites like YouTube.

If you’re an aspiring writer (or even a seasoned one), these videos and classes are worth your time. What’s become apparent to me, after subscribing to several courses in different subjects (Due to time constraints I skip around a lot and rarely complete an entire course, but I've dabbled in screenplay writing, stage play writing, directing, acting, and music production), is how closely linked these arts really are.

So today, I want to take a little time here to make a case for how acting relates to writing, and why writers should be interested in the art of acting.

Here’s the bottom line: actors and writers are trying to achieve the same goal–accurate, believable character portrayal. A talented actor makes us forget all about acting; we believe he is the character. Similarly, a talented writer should make us forget we are reading words on a page.

For a moment, let’s imagine a scene in a stage play. The scene unfolds in the bedroom of a teenage boy named Jack. In the scene, Jack’s mother enters his bedroom and confronts him about returning late the night before and not answering his cellphone while at a friend’s house.

Can you picture the scene in your head? Good. Don’t worry about the dialogue–that’s not important here. What’s important in this exercise is what you see the actors doing, not what they are saying. In fact, if the actors and the director are good enough, they could be having a conversation about the weather and we’d still be able to get what’s going on in the character’s heads.

But how? How would the actors really convey this? First off, they’d need to thoroughly understand the characters. And not just the characters' overall personality traits, but the characters in this moment. Remember, people are dynamic. We change from moment to moment and are constantly being molded by our surroundings. Characters in books and on the stage should be the same.

For example, the actors might ask these questions: What’s motivating the mother in this scene? What does she want? Is she simply frustrated with her son because she feels she’s being shut out of his life, or is she actually worried for his safety (or spirituality)? What about Jack? Is Jack a good kid, or is he troubled? How is his relationship with his mother? Is he trying to rebel, or was he merely being careless the night before?

For the sake of this experiment, let’s imagine the following scenario: Jack and his mom have a good relationship. He’s a diligent student and a responsible adolescent. He cares about his mom, but lately he’s been feeling too restricted, which he feels is unjustified given his good track record. Jack’s mother knows he’s trying hard, but doesn’t want him becoming independent too soon. Deep down, she doesn’t want to lose him, and dreads the day when he finally becomes his own man.

Now, given this understanding of their motivations and the dynamics of their relationship, how might the actors and director go about bringing the scene to life?  First off, Jack and his mother probably won’t be having this conversation sitting or standing in a room facing one another. They need to be moving around, doing something. But what?

Remember, we’ve already determined a few things about Jack. He’s a good kid, a responsible student, and he loves his mom. Since this scene happens in the morning, perhaps Jack is preparing to leave for school. He’s gathering his textbooks and binders and packing his bag when his mom comes in and wants to talk. Giving him this action in the scene is great–the repetition of packing his bag will allow us to see how the attitude behind his movements changes over time. (Perhaps in the beginning of the scene he's packing things neatly and carefully, but by the end he’s so frustrated that he’s just stuffing the remainder of the papers into the pockets of his backpack.)

And what about the mom? Remember, essentially Jack’s mother has a fear of him growing up. She wants to hold on to the version of her little Jack as a child. She can’t handle the idea of him growing up so quickly and becoming an adult. At the same time, she knows he’s a good kid and doesn’t want to smother him. These are two very conflicting sets of emotions, and frankly would be a challenge for any actress to clearly convey.

Perhaps the mother enters quietly, trying to be respectful in her son’s space. Maybe she’s just prepared breakfast, so she’s got an apron on, and is wiping her hands on it when she enters. Perhaps the wiping goes on a little too long, giving the audience a clue about her anxiety. Maybe, as they talk, she notices a stuffed animal on Jack’s shelf, something that he’s clearly had since he was a little boy. She goes over to it and touches it fondly or picks it up, telling us how she feels about Jack’s younger years.

Can you imagine the scene a bit better now? Did it come to life a bit more? It should have. Because we went from what could have simply been a conversation between a nagging mom and her unresponsive teenage son to a multi-layered interaction between two complex characters. The final result would be something much more interesting to watch performed on stage.

The same is true for writing a novel. Novice writers tend to tell us how characters feel by A) Having  them vocalize their emotions (“I’m so frustrated with you!” “I can’t stand this restaurant!” “I’m so excited about our trip to the Bahamas!”) or B) Peppering their writing with adverbs (“I’m leaving,” he said angrily.) Seasoned writers, on the other hand, show us how the characters feel by what they do, how they move, and how they talk.

In summary, good writing and good acting are tied by a common thread of understanding people–the way they think, they way they behave, and the way they interact. Both writing and acting require being able to step into a character’s shoes and accurately convey the complexity of their thoughts, desires, fears, and emotions.

If you’re an aspiring writer, here’s an assignment for you: take the above scenario (the one with Jack and his mom) and try to expand it into a full-fledged scene. There’s no length requirement, but make it long enough to convey the characters' emotional states.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Paradise Trap

It’s been interesting, over the last few years, to see how the climate of JW fiction has evolved. Before I wrote All Things New, I’d read some short stories by other Witnesses about paradise and the resurrection. Some were only a page or two, while others went on for a few thousand words. (To my knowledge, there were no full-length paradise novels available prior to 2013, but if I’m wrong about this please feel free to comment below.) Since 2013 however, a whole slew of JW authors has emerged, each with their own take on what life in the new world might be like.

Despite the increase in authors, though, it seems that many paradise stories fall into a similar pattern. It goes like this: a character shows up in the new world (the Guest) and is introduced to  various aspects of paradise life by a personal guide (the Mentor), who explains why and how things are the way they are.

The reason for setting the story up this way is obvious: the Guest becomes a stand-in for the reader, who has been thrown into this fictional version of paradise, and whom the writer assumes must be curious about each aspect of life, and thus the writer goes about explaining things as carefully and as detailed as possible, doing so through the Mentor.

Yes, this is precisely what I did for my first novel. Mitch Hanson was the Guest, and the various characters he met and interviewed along the way became his Mentors. And no, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this premise. In fact, you’ll find the same set-up in much of popular and classic fiction.

But there is a trap, so writers beware. Because if the author isn’t careful, the book can easily turn into a lengthy exposition about their version of the future. Instead of a story, it reads like a series of small essays in which the author explains why he or she feels paradise will be a certain way. Instead of focusing on the story, the characters, and the underlying themes, the writer finds himself or herself contriving all sorts of scenarios in order to shoehorn in various conversations about why the resurrection has occurred in a certain way, or why technology does or doesn’t exist, or why some other element of paradise life has defied common expectations.

Again, I speak from experience. When I wrote All Things New, I knew that there were some ideas I really wanted to talk about, and so I went about squeezing them into the story via dialogue between the Mentors and the Guest, or debriefings, or found documents, or whatever else I could think of. And at the time, this felt novel and exciting. Looking back, I realize this is pretty much the go-to for stories set in paradise. But can these lengthy forms of exposition be sufficient to hold up the framework of the stories they are trying to tell? Sometimes.

This isn’t to say that these stories won’t find readers; I believe they will. I think Witnesses will always enjoy reading about various versions of paradise, regardless of how compelling the stories at their cores are. However, it’s my suspicion that many readers have begun to tire of novels and novellas that are beginning to feel a bit like soapboxes for the authors’ personal visions of the future.

I think one of the most difficult challenges of writing is not knowing what to write, but what not to write. Over-exposition is the demise of many a budding author. It can be painful to cut and trim and edit out beloved chunks of dialogue, explanation, background info, and all those other bits that spent so much time marinating in the author’s head. But for real, grounded stories, cutting and trimming is exactly what must be done.

So if you’re writing a paradise novel, here’s my challenge to you: just tell the story you want to tell. Refrain from explaining and defending every aspect of your version of the new world. Try not to build your story around explanations.

Remember, even though this is all based on future realities, we’re ultimately writing fiction.

Friday, February 2, 2018

FLEE novel download now available

Just a little update to let everyone know that the digital downloads for FLEE are now available. You can grab the links (mobi, epub, and PDF) at: Enjoy!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

For the musically inclined...

Hello again!

So... as it turns out, this new project (see my last post) is actually taking shape much quicker than I had previous envisioned. While I'm still making progress on the new novels, I'm also starting to carve out a bit more time for this new project (sorry for being so secretive, it's simply too early to reveal).

In preparation for going into production for this project, myself and the other brothers managing this thing (it's a bit too big for any one person to handle), are looking for a music composer. Ideally, we'd love to find someone experienced in composing acoustic/digital music who is a brother or sister.

(Obviously, we're not looking for freebies, we know music composition is hard work!)

Anyhow, if you fit the bill and are interested in possibly collaborating, please contact me at allthingsnewnovel (at) gmail (dot) com.

If you know of someone who you think might be interested, tell them about this post and encourage them to email me for more details. (Please don't send me the email addresses of people you know who make music; I'd rather they take the initiative so I know it's something they're actually interested in.)

As always, thank you for your support! The last time I asked for some help (regarding prison witnessing experience), the response was pretty overwhelming.

Thank you!

P.S. I should probably mention here a bit of what may come as bad news to some of you… I'm no longer pursuing the audiobook option. To be fair, I looked into it quite a bit. I even borrowed a bunch of professional recording equipment from a friend, built a tiny recording area in my office, and did some online tutorials for learning how to use audio editing software. Alas, just to record and edit together a single chapter in one of my books was a mammoth project, and there's simply no way I can afford to hire out the work. (Typically, I found through my research, audiobooks are recorded over several-week sessions by a team of professionals including a voice actors (or actors), a proofreader, and an audio technician. But I'm just one guy!) Anyhow, I apologize to those of you who were hoping to listen to audiobook versions of my work, but it doesn't seem to be a likelihood anytime soon...

Monday, January 8, 2018

The last two months

…Have been busy! So busy that I haven’t had a chance to post to this blog (or even check the comments). For those who’ve commented recently on my posts, thanks very much. I especially appreciate the support regarding the post I made about updating “All Things New”. The book is still available on Amazon but I’ll be removing it shortly to work on the revision.

As for STAY, the second book in the FLEE series, it’s coming along nicely, although it’s been a bit slow going the last couple of months due to me getting tied up in another side project. (Regarding this project, I’m very eager to share with you all what I’m working on, as I think it’s something that will appeal to many readers (though it’s not a book), but it’s too early now to talk about it, so I’ll just leave it at this.)

If I’m being completely honest, this side project (which is spiritually-themed, but very different than anything I’ve worked on before), has sidetracked me a bit because it’s very involved but has me creatively engaged in a way completely different than writing a novel. However, as with so many things in life, I’m finding many connections between it and my writing, and constantly learning new things that I think will really improve the way I approach my books in the future.

I got a good reminder from a friend, though, who knows about this project I’m working on but is also a reader of the books. It was pretty straightforward: “Finish the books first!” So that was a good wake-up call, and I’m back on track with writing on a daily schedule. Feel free to badger me in the comments to keep me on the ball and get this series finished!

That said, I think you all are going to enjoy the second book. It’s been a blast to write so far. :)

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Sneak peek at book number 2

I might be jumping the gun a little here, but I thought it would be fun to share the cover for the next book in the FLEE series, appropriately entitled STAY. If you've already read the first book, the cover should immediately make sense.

I'm roughly at the halfway point in writing this book, so it'll be several months still before the book's release. If all goes well, it should be available mid-Spring, 2018.

Stay tuned!